The Ensemble by Aja Gabel
The addictive debut novel about four young friends navigating the cutthroat world of music and their complex relationships with each other, as ambition, passion, and love intertwine over the course of their lives.
Brit is the second violinist, a beautiful and quiet orphan; the viola is Henry, a prodigy who’s always had it easy; the cellist is Daniel, the oldest, the angry skeptic who sleeps around; and on first violin is Jana, their flinty, resilient leader. Together, they are the Van Ness String Quartet.
In The Ensemble, each character picks up the melody, from the group’s youthful rocky start through to adulthood. As they navigate devastating failures and wild success, heartbreak and marriage, triumph and loss, betrayal and enduring loyalty, they are always tied together—by career, by the intensity of their art, by the secrets they carry together, and by choosing each other over and over again.
Following these four unforgettable characters, Aja Gabel’s debut novel gives a behind-the-scenes look into the highly competitive, mysterious world of high-level musicians. The story of Brit and Henry and Daniel and Jana, The Ensemble is a heart-skipping portrait of ambition, friendship, and the tenderness of youth.
I received The Ensemble in my first Page Habit box and I was so thrilled when it came in the mail. I saw that cover and honestly did not care whether or not I enjoyed the story itself, because the book itself is stunning! I am happy to report that I feel as though the story inside is just as amazing as its cover.
The Ensemble is a story that is completely driven by it’s characters and their development throughout the novel. The four characters who make up the musical quartet are each flawed and wonderful in their own unique ways. There were moments where I was rooting them on and then there were moments where I found them to be completely frustrating. It is so amazing when you can get that passionate about character’s decisions! It is truly a credit to Aja Gabel’s writing.
The pacing of the book can feel a bit slow, and it did take me a little while to really get in to the story. I think that might be part of the beauty of the novel. We see the characters when they first meet and form the quartet, and then we see there journey thoughout the years. We witness all of their successes and failures, both personally and professionally. It feels as though we get to know the characters better as they themselves get to know one another.
It was clear that the author has a passion for classical music, and it was a joy to see that passion reflected on the page. I also love when books center around music, and The Ensemble was no exception. It is a wonderfully story, especially if you prefer character-driven novels that take place over the course of many years.
Chasing the Wind by C.C. Humphreys
Smuggler. Smoker. Aviatrix. Thief. The dynamic Roxy Loewen is all these things and more, in this riveting and gorgeous historical fiction novel for readers of Paula McLain, Roberta Rich, Kate Morton and Jacqueline Winspear.
You should never fall in love with a flyer. You should only fall in love with flight.
That’s what Roxy Loewen always thought, until she falls for fellow pilot Jocco Zomack as they run guns into Ethiopia. Jocco may be a godless commie, but his father is a leading art dealer and he’s found the original of Bruegel’s famous painting, theFall of Icarus. The trouble is, it’s in Spain, a country slipping fast into civil war. The money’s better than good–if Roxy can just get the painting to Berlin and back out again before Reichsmarshall Hermann Goring and his Nazi pals get their hands on it . . .
But this is 1936, and Hitler’s Olympics are in full swing. Not only that, but Goring has teamed up with Roxy’s greatest enemy: Sydney Munroe, an American billionaire responsible for the death of her beloved dad seven years before. When the Nazis steal the painting, Roxy and Jocco decide that they are just going to have to steal it back.
What happens when Icarus flies too close to the sun? Roxy is going to find out. From African skies to a cellar in Madrid, from the shadow cast by the swastika to the world above the clouds on the Hindenburg’s last voyage, in the end Roxy will have just two choices left–but only one bullet.
Chasing the Wind was a wild ride! I was not expecting to have so much fun while reading this book. Roxy Loewen is the perfect character for a story like this one. She is confident, sarcastic, and independent, but still has moments where she appears so human and vulnerable. It was so interesting to read a story from the perspective of a female pilot, and I am now on the hunt for similar books!
As I have mentioned a few times in the past, I absolutely love WWII fiction but I think that I read so many books in that genre that nothing felt original anymore. Chasing the Wind was the absolute perfect book to read to help me once again fall in love with my favourite genre. It was a completely unique perspective on WWII. It actually occurs right before the war begins, and we get to see how Hitler is rising to power. The reader obviously knows what is happening behind the scenes and what will happen in a few years, and it leaves you with such an uneasy and strange feeling.
It was obviously that C.C. Humphreys put a lot of research in to this time period, which I really appreciate, especially when it comes to historical fiction. There were some historical references that I knew nothing about and were definitely interesting. At one point, Roxy attends the Hitler Olympics and thousands of pigeons are released. This was obviously not well thought out as pigeons=bird poop. I turned to google, and this was something that actually happened!
The only thing I was not sold on was the romance, but that is a me thing because some times I feel like romances are just thrown in to stories when they are not needed.
I highly recommend reading Chasing the Wind if you are looking for a unique perspective on WWII and enjoy books with a heist and a lot of adventure and action!
Every Note Played by Lisa Genova
From neuroscientist and New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice comes a powerful exploration of regret, forgiveness, freedom, and what it means to be alive.
An accomplished concert pianist, Richard received standing ovations from audiences all over the world in awe of his rare combination of emotional resonance and flawless technique. Every finger of his hands was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.
Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralyzed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce—his divorce.
He knows his left arm will go next.
Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralyzed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.
When Richard becomes increasingly paralyzed and is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.
Poignant and powerful, Every Note Played is a masterful exploration of redemption and what it means to find peace inside of forgiveness.
Lisa Genova is an absolutely genius!! Reading Every Note Played has reminded me why she is an auto-buy author for me. The topics she takes on are always so devastating and she handles them with care and compassionate, as well as a lot of research and knowledge.
Every Note Played is about a concert pianist who is diagnosed with ALS and how that news affects not only himself, but his ex-wife and daughter. Just sitting here writing this review brings a tear to my eye. The story is so honest and raw, and Genova does not shy away from giving every detail about what happens to someone who has ALS. She herself is a neuroscientist so she has a lot of knowledge about the disease, but she has interview people who have been diagnosed. This is one of those books where the author’s notes and acknowledgements are definitely worth reading.
Watching Richard try to come to terms with not only his diagnosis, but also the mistakes he has made in his life and his regrets, was inspiring. It is a book that reminds you to be there with the ones you love while you can, and say what you need to say while you still have a voice. I also appreciated that we were given the perspective of Karina, who is his ex-wife. She become his caretaker, and I think it is important to note that the book also touches on caretaker burnout, which is very real and should not be downplayed or overlooked. Watching how Richard and Karina navigate their relationship is really at the heart of this story, and had me absolutely sobbing by the end.
Please read Every Note Played. It was eye-opening and might just be my favourite Lisa Genova novel, which says a lot considering I have loved everything she has written.
I really enjoyed all three of these books in completely different ways. I would love to know if you have read any of these and what you thought about them!