A Guest Review by Cole
Review Summary: A beautifully written rags-to-riches story of the four guys who make up the band The Wayward Sons which had me laughing, crying, and falling in love right along with the characters.
Jake Brenner has too many wild oats to sow to fall in love—or so he claims. Besides, he’s much too busy with his band, the Wayward Sons, to go looking for romance. His reticence has nothing to do with his embarrassing crush on Chris, the band’s lead singer and Jake’s erstwhile best friend. But that was before enigmatic wanderer Parker McAvoy signed on as the band’s new lead guitarist.
He can only deny his attraction to sweet, dorky Parker for so long before the urge to do something about it becomes impossible to ignore. The trouble is, Parker knows all about Jake’s philandering ways—and oh, yeah, he’s not gay. Or so Jake thinks until a string of related events provides encouraging new insight. Can he convince Parker to overlook his colorful past and give him a chance? Or will this love song fade out before it even begins?
Jake Brenner is a conflicted man, who like most 21 year old gay guys, is too busy with music, parties, and men to stop and self-reflect enough to see that he is conflicted. He has no time for love, but he isn’t sure if it is because no one has really come along yet, or if he’s still getting over that 3 year supercrush on his best friend Chris. He’s over that now, of course, after realizing that Chris would always be straight and that that kind of emotional turmoil could seriously mess up the good thing he has going — the band he started with Chris and their other best friend Jimmy — The Wayward Sons. Jimmy’s girlfriend Kylie is their lead guitarist and after a particularly well-played gig and a night of druken revelry, Jake and Jimmy stumble home to find Kylie and Chris in the middle of some serious cheating (on Jimmy) and rule-breaking (Band Rule #2: No sleeping with another bandmate). Kylie was moving anyway, though, so they are now a lead guitarist short. They set out to audition as many people as possible, but the potentials keep getting worse. Then one day, as Jake is drinking a beer on the stoop, a man carrying a guitar walks up to him and Jake asks him to play something for him. The man’s name is Parker and Jake knows immediately that Parker’s talent is going to make them famous. The way he plays music is like a dream and unlike anything Jake has ever heard. On top of that, Parker can play any instrument that they place in his hands — he’s a prodigy.
Parker, however, is a man with a troubled past. For months, while their band is taking off, he refuses to devulge exactly why he never speaks to his family, why he hates New York City, how he was so classically trained, and why he never seems to show interest in any of the men or women who hang around after gigs to hit on the musicians. Jake and Parker become best friends and roommates and still Parker keeps his past a secret. Jake indulges him because he can see how Parker must have been traumatized in some way — he’s skittish, jumpy, and endearingly demure. But their big break is about to come, and as they work their way through the pifalls of the industry and navigate the trappings of superstardom, Jake begins to fall in love with Parker, a man who he knows with his whole mind and heart and a man who he doesn’t really know at all.
I knew immediately upon reading the blurb that I wanted to read this story. I absolutely love Cinderella types of stories, where a commoner falls for a famous or successful person. Whether they be royals or movie stars, sports stars or musicians, this type of story captivates me because it relies on two fantasies that almost everyone entertains: (1), fame, riches, or success (it is embarrassing how many times I fantasize about winning the lottery); or (2), that a man who could have anyone would choose me. Its a heady thing to fall into just one of these categories, but into two? This story plays off of both of those fantasies, but the difference with American Love Songs is that they take the journey to get there together. From what I can recall, many of these types of stories always start the narrative off sometime later in the story and show the evolution of their rise to fame in flashbacks. But here we get to know the characters long before they become famous. They are normal guys who have flaws and we get to travel the same road they do as each piece of success and fame settles into place. By the time they are superstars, I felt like I had made the same choices and sacrifices as they did — a fifth member of the band.
This wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the amazing writing in this novel. The quality of description and prose in American Love Songs is rare. The writing is very sensory. There were many times that I felt dialogue wasn’t necessary because Ashlyn Kane described the characters’ body language and the emotion betrayed on their faces so well. She utilized all of the human senses to show Jake’s feelings for Parker, but most especially in creating mystery around Parker’s demeanor (which is austere to say the least). The setting was so rich with detail and the emotion sparking between the different characters was so tangible that I ended up getting to know these characters much better than those in most of the books I read. Jake and Parker’s relationship is also celibate for most of the novel (with good reason), which combined with the emotionally charged prose, lit up the pages with sexual tension. It is the mark of a naturally talented writer when looks or mere casual touches can be so erotic.
Jake is the narrator in this story (with occasional input by Parker) through a semi-epistolary format and autobiography of their relationship and the band’s subsequent rise to fame. Each segment of the novel (and some in between) start with a blog entry by Jake on the band’s website, which are often interspersed with press clippings or interview transcripts. Each time, the blog entries segue into a memoir style with footnotes which quote the things Parker and Jake are saying as they read over the story. This sounds confusing, but it really isn’t. Ultimately, the footnotes worked really well, injecting the story with humor as Jake and Parker often use them to tell the things that were happening behind the scenes at the time. This serves to give us more of Jake’s personality and unique voice and this is large part of our understanding of him — how open he is speaking to the public. Not only does he wear his heart on his sleeve, but he is rarely embarrassed or ashamed of anything about himself or his friends (which ultimately gets him into trouble, as Parker is the exact opposite). The camaraderie that Jake and Parker share (as buds first for over a year) is the foundation of their relationship. The became friends immediately, but they didn’t grow to love each other and act on that love until they were both ready to accept it from the other. Therefore, their love was even more rewarding for me to read, because it seemed that they had exhausted all possible avenues to make sure that it was solid, dependable, and lasting. They never lose that best friend banter:
“In what world can [work] not wait an hour and a half?” Parker asked, grabbing another small towel to rub the moisture out of his hair.
“The one where we’re playing New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and the Grammys.”
Jake waited for a moment for the news to sink in. Parker’s cloudy eyes went wide, and then his mouth dropped open in surprise. Then Jake added, “And I’m going to need your help picking out my meet-Ryan-Seacrest outfit.”
Parker stared at him for another moment, then snapped the towel at him. “Like you’d ever leave me for Ryan Seacrest.”
If there were anything to criticize about American Love Songs, it is that I wish we got more time with Jimmy, the drummer of The Wayward Sons. He usually serves to inject a snarky comment here and there and it is only later that we realize how intelligent he is. Yet, though he is always there in the background (which is true to his personality), I didn’t feel like we get to know him as well as Chris, the lead singer and Jake’s former crush/best friend, who tended to steal as much attention as he could — like this:
Sierra shot him a perky smile. “Oh, I like you. What say we hit up the deli a few streets over? They deliver, and they make a mean Reuben.”
“Sold,” Chris told her, turning the charm up to eleven with a smooth smile.35
35 [Jake]: Somewhere in hell, a devil got his horns.
I recommend this book to everyone, because sometimes, no matter the plot or sub-genre, a story is accessible to anyone just on the merits of its writing. I loved it and I hope you will too. Highly Recommended.