"You have to teach your heart and mind how to sing together…then you'll hear the sound of your soul."
Mia Kelly thinks she has it all figured out. She's an Ivy League graduate, a classically trained pianist, and the beloved daughter of a sensible mother and offbeat father. Yet Mia has been stalling since graduation, torn between putting her business degree to use and exploring music, her true love.
When her father unexpectedly dies, she decides to pick up the threads of his life while she figures out her own. Uprooting herself from Ann Arbor to New York City, Mia takes over her father's café, a treasured neighborhood institution that plays host to undiscovered musicians and artists. She's denied herself the thrilling and unpredictable life of a musician, but a chance encounter with Will, a sweet, gorgeous, and charming guitarist, offers her a glimpse of what could be. When Will becomes her friend and then her roommate, she does everything in her power to suppress her passions-for him, for music-but her father's legacy slowly opens her heart to the possibility of something more.
So I've been sitting here looking at the blank review screen on my laptop for what seems like forever, trying desperately to formulate words and condense my feelings into tangible ideas. Why is that so difficult? Because there's a lot going on in my brain and I'm kind of all over the place. Don't get me wrong, I gave this book four stars on Goodreads for a reason, that reason is primarily Renee Carlino's lovely writing, but I did have some issues with the book. Looking back, however, there was more I loved than didn't love.
The prologue for this novel is one that sucks you in immediately and is told from the POV of a character not completely tied to the story as a whole. It's an interesting concept and one I thoroughly enjoyed. This same character closes out the story as well and I thought it was a truly brilliant move on the author's part and the use of this character at integral stages of the novel is genius. I'm not sure I've seen this done before, at least not in this way, and I have to say that it was one of the most inventive, original concepts I've seen. And the execution? Flawless.
Once into the meat of the story Ms. Carlino's writing is so effortless and smooth it's easy to get wrapped up in the world she's created. This isn't an action-packed novel, it's totally character driven, and there's very little in the way of drama, so the ease with which Ms. Carlino captivates the reader is a testament to her ability. I am a reader who is easily distracted, my mind tends to wander and it's very easy for me to walk away from a book, especially a book like this. It takes a special kind of something to keep me engaged and this author has it.
Now, that being said, I had read some reviews that complained about the heroine in this story. At first I was like, WTF? Get off Mia's back, she's awesome and I love her. But as the story progressed, I understood the complaints. While I may not have reached the irritation level of some other readers, I totally got what they were complaining about. Without getting spoilery, Mia's in NYC to take over her dead father's cafe. She's uncertain what she wants to do with it as it's not part of her life plan but decides to live in her father's apartment and take over the cafe in the hopes of figuring it all. On the way to NYC, she meets Will. Being some serious music lovers they hit it off immediately and it's clear they have dynamic chemistry. Eventually, Will rents the spare bedroom in Mia's apartment and the two become platonic roommates. It's clear, however, that Will really adores Mia and would like more. Their relationship has its highs and lows as the story spans a year and a half period but most of these lows are attributed to Mia's inability to see Will as anything more that her "buddy".
As I said, I got Mia at first. Her father just died, it caused a major upheaval in her life and it's evident from the beginning that Mia was sort of lost to begin with. Mia's real problem is that she has created rules for her life that are so rigid, so utterly unbend-able that she's boxed herself in. The new life she's living is in such direct contrast to this envisioned, structured life that Mia's thrown into a tailspin. I. GET. IT. When you're young and have a particular idea about your future, it's really difficult to see beyond it and the author really created an environment made to rip apart Mia's sense of reality. Again, this book is a character study and a necessary component of that is to sometimes gut your characters. Now I know I've kind of wandered around a bit with this but stick with me because here's where the novel needed a little bit of help. With all that Mia was going through independent of her conflicted feelings about Will it was absolutely understandable that she was often a mess. A hot mess. She did and said some things that, under other circumstances, I would find unforgivable. She was sometimes cruel, often caustic, and the vitriol she spewed at Will was occasionally too much to take. But still I got it. HOWEVER, that was because I kept having to remind myself of that tailspin she was in. What this story lacked was a deeper exploration of those elements. Truly, I shouldn't have had to remind myself of the subtext, it should have been there for me to touch. The result would have been a crisper, more relate-able Mia. Had the author explored more, Mia wouldn't have come off so annoying. Not to suggest that Mia was totaly unlikable, she wasn't, but there were elements that could have been better fleshed out.
Where Will was concerned, he was remarkably understanding and patient. Seriously, by the end he deserved some sort of award. At least a medal or something. He was sweet, kind and completely smitten, and that Mia gave him such a hard time was where I began to find her annoying. He played by her rules only to find that she would get angry with him for following them. And, yet, there he was, ever-patient, always loving, forever putting her first. Give that boy a standing ovation please. When these two were getting along, it was simply magic. Their chemistry, their absolute adoration of each other was blissful. I loved the music they created with each other, the way they related through song and instruments was divine. It was clear to everyone but Mia that they belonged together and it was really frustrating at times that she was so stubborn and opposed to the idea that she tortured Will without apology. I think if you're going to read this you have to be prepared for that and always keep in mind that Mia is not only someone who's living through the aftermath of losing a parent but is also living a life they never envisioned. If you can't do that, this may not be the book for you. It truly isn't until the end of the book that Mia gets it and being that this is 300+ pages, it's an investment of time. So if you're unable to see Mia for who she is under all of her bitchy, you may wind up disliking her.
I don't want to suggest that Mia is all bitch, all the time. That's not at all true. There are really some lovely scenes in this novel. As the story progresses she has moments of clarity, times where she's accepting that life isn't going to be what she expected. The scenes with Robert (a love interest) are very telling, both to Mia and the reader. It's evident that this pair, while looking great on paper, are so inappropriate together it's painful. The relationships Mia has with the staff of Kell's (her father's cafe) help her to ferret out her true self but, again, this takes time. I wished there was more about Mia's dad in this book, I was desperate to know more about him. His impact on Mia's life was so huge it seemed warranted but this aspect did fall a little short. Mia's mom did help to fill in some of the blanks but it still left me craving more.
The last several chapters of this book is like a punch to the gut. It's the crescendo of the mess which is Mia's life. All of her fears and strife catch up to her and she's left with the consequences of her actions. It's appropriate, though difficult to read. It needed to happen because without it nothing would have been earned and the story would have suffered. I appreciated that the author had the guts to eviscerate this character. It was brutal but cathartic. Don't worry, though, it turns out beautifully.
I'm not sure whether or not the author plans to write a companion novel. There are some scenes from Will's POV which have been posted to a couple of blogs and they helped to fill in some blanks. While I don't always like or appreciate companion novels, oftentimes they add little to the story as a whole, I would definitely read this story again from Will's POV. I suspect it might make me like Mia more and, as I mentioned, I loved Will and would like the opportunity to read his story. There are many instances in this book where Will's presence is missing and I truly missed him and wondered what he was up to. I think if the author decided to do a companion piece it would make for a more fleshed out story.
In any event, I definitely recommend this book. Ms. Carlino's writing is superb and she writes a damn good story. Just bear in mind what I've said about Mia and give her a chance. She's going to mess things up. She's going to be bitchy about it and make you mad, but she has her reasons and at the end of the day I got her. I didn't always like her, but I got her. And in the end, she makes right all her wrongs.