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Five Great Books with MUSIC at their heart

5th October 2019

Without music, life would be a mistake” ― Friedrich Nietzsche. Five Great Books with music at their heart

Five Great Books with MUSIC at their heart

Twelve Bar Blues by Patrick Neate, set in Africa, New Orleans and New York.

Spanning three continents and two centuries, Twelve Bar Blues is an epic tale of fate, family, friendship and jazz. At its heart is Lick Holden, a young jazz musician, who sets New Orleans on fire with his cornet at the beginning of the last century. But Lick’s passion is to find his lost step-sister and that’s a journey that leads him to a place he can call ‘home’. Meanwhile, at the other end of the century, we find Sylvia, an English prostitute, and Jim, a young drifter. They’re in search of Sylvia’s past, lost somewhere in the mists of the Louisiana bayou.

Patrick Neate has written a story that straddles time and space, love and friendship, roots and pilgrimage and everything between. Poignant and hilarious, it will hook you – like a favourite tune – till the end.

The Last Concerto by Sara Alexander, set in Rome, Sardinia and Sicily

Famed for its natural beauty and rich history, Sardinia in 1968 is notorious, too, for the bandits who kidnap wealthy landowners for ransom. Eleven-year-old Alba Fresu’s brother, and her father, Bruno, are abducted by criminals who mistake Bruno for a rich man. After a grueling journey through the countryside, the two are eventually released―but the experience leaves Alba shaken and unable to readjust to normal life, or to give voice to her inner turmoil.

Accompanying her mother to cleaning jobs, Alba visits the villa of an eccentric Signora and touches the keys of a piano for the first time. The instrument’s spell is immediate. During secret lessons, forbidden by her mother, Alba is at last able to express emotions too powerful for words alone. Ignoring her parents’ insistence that she work in the family’s car dealership and marry a local boy, Alba accepts a scholarship to the Rome conservatoire. There she immerses herself in a vibrant world of art and a passionate affair.

But her path will lead her to a crossroads, and Alba will have to decide how to reconcile her talent with her longing for love and family, and convey the music of her heart…

The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris, set in Cremona, Kent and Paris

Between the simple melody of running her violin shop and the full-blown orchestra of her romantic interludes in Paris with David, her devoted partner of eight years, Grace Atherton has always set her life to music.

Her world revolves entirely around David, for Grace’s own secrets have kept everyone else at bay. Until, suddenly and shockingly, one act tips Grace’s life upside down, and the music seems to stop.

It takes a vivacious old man and a straight-talking teenager to kickstart a new chapter for Grace. In the process, she learns that she is not as alone in the world as she had once thought, that no mistake is insurmountable, and that the quiet moments in life can be something to shout about …

A Woman of Note by Carol Cram, set in Vienna and Paris

Virtuoso pianist Isabette Grüber captivates audiences in the salons and concert halls of early nineteenth-century Vienna. Yet in a profession dominated by men, Isabette longs to compose and play her own music—a secret she keeps from both her lascivious manager and her resentful mother. She meets and loves Amelia Mason, a dazzling American singer with her own secrets, and Josef Hauser, an ambitious young composer. But even they cannot fully comprehend the depths of Isabette’s talent.

Her ambitions come with a price when Isabette embarks on a journey that delicately walks the line between duty and passion. Amid heartbreak and sacrifice, music remains her one constant. With cameos from classical music figures such as Chopin, Schubert, and Berlioz, A Woman of Note is an intricately crafted and fascinating tale about one woman’s struggle to find her soul’s song in a dissonant world.

The Violinist of Venice by Alyssa Palombo, set in Venice

Like most 18th-century Venetians, Adriana d’Amato adores music—except her strict merchant father has forbidden her to cultivate her gift for the violin. But she refuses to let that stop her from living her dreams and begins sneaking out of her family’s palazzo under the cover of night to take violin lessons from virtuoso violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi. However, what begins as secret lessons swiftly evolves into a passionate, consuming love affair.

Adriana’s father is intent on seeing her married to a wealthy, prominent member of Venice’s patrician class—and a handsome, charming suitor, whom she knows she could love, only complicates matters—but Vivaldi is a priest, making their relationship forbidden in the eyes of the Church and of society. They both know their affair will end upon Adriana’s marriage, but she cannot anticipate the events that will force Vivaldi to choose between her and his music. The repercussions of his choice—and of Adriana’s own choices—will haunt both of their lives in ways they never imagined.

Spanning more than 30 years of Adriana’s life, “The Violinist of Venice” is a story of passion, music, ambition, and finding the strength to both fall in love and to carry on when it ends.

And some terrific bonus books!

The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin, set in New Orleans

New Orleans, 1919. As music fills the city, a serial killer strikes . . . 

New Orleans, 1919. As a dark serial killer – The Axeman – stalks the city, three individuals set out to unmask him . . .

Though every citizen of the ‘Big Easy’ thinks they know who could be behind the terrifying murders, Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot, heading up the official investigation, is struggling to find leads. But Michael has a grave secret, and if he doesn’t get himself on the right track fast, it could be exposed . . .

Former detective Luca d’Andrea has spent the last six years in Angola state penitentiary, after Michael, his protégée, blew the whistle on his corrupt behaviour. Now a newly freed man, Luca is back working with the mafia, whose need to solve the mystery of the Axeman is every bit as urgent as that of the authorities.

Meanwhile, Ida is a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and dreaming of a better life, Ida stumbles across a clue which lures her and her musician friend, Louis Armstrong, to the case – and into terrible danger . . .

As Michael, Luca and Ida each draw closer to discovering the killer’s identity, the Axeman himself will issue a challenge to the people of New Orleans: play jazz or risk becoming the next victim. And as the case builds to its crescendo, the sky will darken and a great storm will loom over the city . . .

Inspired by a true story, THE AXEMAN’S JAZZ, set against the heady backdrop of jazz-filled, mob-ruled New Orleans, is an ambitious, gripping thriller announcing a major new talent in historical crime fiction.

Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale, set in Bristol and Weston-super-Mare

1970s Weston-Super-Mare and ten-year-old oddball Eustace, an only child, has life transformed by his mother’s quixotic decision to sign him up for cello lessons. Music-making brings release for a boy who is discovering he is an emotional volcano. He laps up lessons from his young teacher, not noticing how her brand of glamour is casting a damaging spell over his frustrated and controlling mother.

When he is enrolled in holiday courses in the Scottish borders, lessons in love, rejection and humility are added to daily practice.

Drawing in part on his own boyhood, Patrick Gale’s new novel explores a collision between childish hero worship and extremely messy adult love lives.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, set in London

Perhaps a “guy” novel, it tells of life through the wounded eyes of Rob and his ending relationship with Laura: she is a solicitor, he “only” runs a record store. The first pages are worth the read alone, beautifully written, wonderful sense of humour, dark on occasion.

 

 

An Equal Music by Vikram Seth, set Europe

When The Maggiore, an English Quartet undertakes a challenging work of Beethoven’s, violinist Michael Holme is taken back to memories of playing this piece in Vienna as a student. At the same time he falls in love with Julia McNicholl, a fellow musician. They separate but find each other again in London. They confront their love as they tour with the Maggiore.

 

The Magic Strings of Frankie Preston by Mitch Albom

At nine years old, Frankie Presto is sent to America in the bottom of a boat. His only possession is an old guitar and six precious strings.

But Frankie’s talent is unique, and his amazing journey weaves him through the musical landscape of the twentieth century, from classical to jazz to rock and roll, with his stunning talent affecting numerous stars along the way, including Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Carole King and even KISS.

Frankie becomes a pop star himself. He makes records. He is adored. But his gift is also his burden, as he realises, through his music, he can actually affect people’s futures — with one string turning blue whenever a life is altered.

At the height of his popularity, Frankie Presto vanishes. His legend grows. Only decades later does he reappear, to change one last life . . .

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro, set around the world

In a sublime story cycle, Kazuo Ishiguro explores ideas of love, music and the passing of time. From the piazzas of Italy to the Malvern Hills, a London flat to the ‘hush-hush floor’ of an exclusive Hollywood hotel, the characters we encounter range from young dreamers to cafe musicians to faded stars, all of them at some moment of reckoning. Gentle, intimate and witty, this quintet is marked by a haunting theme: the struggle to keep alive a sense of life’s romance, even as one gets older, relationships flounder and youthful hopes recede.

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, set in Sarajevo

In the background of this book, a cellist sits at the same spot in a bombed street at the same time every day for 22 days and plays, this is his way of remembering the the 22 people who were killed there by mortar shells while waiting to buy bread. This book tells of the lives and experiences of 3 people and their struggle to survive.

 

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain, set in Switzerland

What is the difference between friendship and love? Or between neutrality and commitment? Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in ‘neutral’ Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem a distant echo. But Gustav’s father has mysteriously died, and his adored mother Emilie is strangely cold and indifferent to him. Gustav’s childhood is spent in lonely isolation, his only toy a tin train with painted passengers staring blankly from the carriage windows.

As time goes on, an intense friendship with a boy of his own age, Anton Zwiebel, begins to define Gustav’s life. Jewish and mercurial, a talented pianist tortured by nerves when he has to play in public, Anton fails to understand how deeply and irrevocably his life and Gustav’s are entwined.

Fierce, astringent, profoundly tender, Rose Tremain’s beautifully orchestrated novel asks the question, what does it do to a person, or to a country, to pursue an eternal quest for neutrality, and self-mastery, while all life’s hopes and passions continually press upon the borders and beat upon the gate.

Music and Silence by Rose Tremain, set in Denmark

King Christian IV of Denmark is, in the year of 1630, living in a limbo of fear and rage for his life, his country’s ruin, and his wife’s not-so-secret adultery. He consoles himself with the weaving of impossible dreams and with music–played by his Royal Orchestra in the freezing cellar at Rosenborg while he listens in his cosy Vinterstue above. Music, he hopes, will create the sublime order he craves. Kirsten, his devious wife, is a continual maker of Beautiful Plans to outwit, avenge, feed her greed. And she detests music.

The awkward duty of assuaging the King’s miseries falls to his English lutenist, Peter Claire, his “Angel”, whilst Emilia Tilsen must bend to Kirsten’s every whim. Yet what Peter and Emilia seek is each other, largely in silence both necessary and cruelly imposed. Other stories, each of them full of fabulous and often joyful and witty invention, intertwine through the Royal Court’s machinations: the King’s mother who hoards her gold in secret: his boyhood friend, Bror, a tormenting memory: the villagers who suffer and wait in the frozen Numedal: Emilia’s mute young brother Marcus. And in Ireland, Johnnie O’Fingal, once a kind father and husband, is driven mad by hearing music of utter divinity in his dreams, but which neither he nor Peter Claire can make earthbound. His devoted but spirited wife has distracted herself with Claire, but now finds herself rejected. Palpable with desire and longing, this extraordinary narrative builds its grand themes in storytelling that is both profound and wonderfully satisfying.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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