Friday, May 15, 2009

Review: The Wonder Singer

Summary: The Wonder Singer is an operatic literary caper about one young writer's manic ambition. The ghostwriter's best chance at fame almost disappears when his Diva dies suddenly in her bath. His solution is to steal the tapes, liberate the Diva's aging husband, and write the autobiography on the run.

Mark Lockwood’s life is a small one. He’s made his living as a freelance writer, producing a series of little books for hire called How to Talk to Your Teen about . . . . But for the past few months he’s been at work on a ghostwriting assignment beyond his dreams. To prepare her “autobiography”, he has been interviewing the internationally renowned diva, Mercè Casals. When the Señora dies suddenly—floating sizable in her elegant scented bath—she is suddenly a hot property and a celebrity biographer arrives to take over the writing of her book.

But Lockwood realizes this is his one chance at greatness, and so he runs off with the interview tapes. Abetted by the beautiful but scrupulous Perla, the Señora’s nurse, and by a female impersonator who considers himself the diva’s greatest fan, Lockwood locks himself into his study, endlessly plays the tapes, and begins to craft his greatest book. Once the three conspirators rescue the Señora’s husband from the home she put him in, Lockwood’s sense of his own heart begins to expand beyond his considerable imagination.

Moving by turns through the diva’s lyrical account of her life and the frantic pace of Lockwood’s notes from underground, The Wonder Singer portrays for us just what it can mean to live a beautiful life to its fullest. -- Unbridled Books

As I mentioned last week, I am a big fan of the books that Unbridled publishes. I seem to like every one that I've read, and they are all special in their own right. So when I picked up THE WONDER SINGER by George Rabasa, I figured that I was going to be in for a treat. I was right -- I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I especially enjoyed the characters.

But I have to say that THE WONDER SINGER wasn't exactly what I was expecting. As I re-read the book's description, I think it does explain the story very well; however, I'm pretty sure that the cover through me. I have an older ARC copy of this novel and the cover is different (it's actually the hardcover version.) Like all Unbridled books, the cover is absolutely gorgeous; but is definitely less whimsical than the one they chose for the paperback publication. When I began reading this book, I thought is was going to be much more serious than it actually was. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book was a great deal of fun to read. It did have some serious parts, but the majority of this book was fast-paced, action-filled, and very funny. In fact, the cover letter refers to it as a "literary caper," and I just think that captures this story perfectly.

There were a lot of things that I liked about THE WONDER SINGER. The first thing that comes to my mind is the story itself - or should I say stories? I loved learning about Merce's life which was a great read in itself, but I also liked the story about Lockwood. He was kind of a loser in both his professional and personal life; and the actions surrounding his attempts to write his book, hide the tapes from the other (more famous) writer, and figure out his personal relationships were extremely entertaining. And while I thought this book was very funny; I also appreciated the "historical" aspects -- when Merce was young and growing up in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Mr. Rabasa did a wonderful job of incorporating the history of this war with Merce's life.

Another thing that comes to my mind was the author's writing style -- I just loved it! I appreciated how he was able to tell not only Merce's life story, but also Lockwood's story about trying to get his book written. And, I was just amazed by how easily the book went back and forth between Merce's chapters (which were written in first person Merce's voice) and the antics of Lockwood and his friends (which were written in third person.) As the chapters alternated between the two stories, I was impressed with how the story's pace changed too -- Lockwood's chapters were almost happening at a frantic pace while Merce's were much less chaotic and actually gave the reader some things to think about.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how terrific the characters were in this book. I thought Mr. Rabasa did a great job of developing them, and I especially appreciated the character of Merce. As a former opera star, she was definitely larger than life; however, the author did a great job of making her seem real to me. I loved the parts of this story where Merce was talking about her life in her own words; and I very much enjoyed that the reader was able to see not only the highlights of her life, but the troubles and struggles she experienced.

I wasn't familiar with Mr. Rabasa prior to THE WONDER SINGER, but I was happy to see that he has written some other novels as well as an award-winning collection of short stories. If you'd like to learn more about Mr. Rabasa, Minnesota Public Radio conducted a great interview with him; and you can also check out his website. Another thing you might find interesting is an iTunes play list which features some songs mentioned in the novel.

Thanks to Libby from Unbridled Books for sending me an ARC of this book.

Also reviewed at:
Diary of an Eccentric


bermudaonion said...

Sounds like another winner for Unbridled. I agree with you - they have the best covers out there.

Anna said...

I loved this book, too. Rabasa is a great writer. I've added your review link to my review post.

Diary of an Eccentric

Serena said...

I am still reading this one and I love the covers that unbridled chooses...they are fantastic.

Beth F said...

Wow! Sounds super. I love Unbridled Books too.

Anonymous said...

This one sounds great. I've already added it to my wishlist.

S. Krishna said...

I love Unbridled as well and will have to check this one out. Thanks for the review!