By Wesley Stace

(Overlook, $26.95,  352 pages)

Who is this author?

You may know him better as musician John Wesley Harding, who released 15 albums and has appeared widely live and on TV, or as the founder of the Cabinet of Wonders variety show on NPR. He also writes for the New York Times. Wesley Stace also is a novelist whose books include Misfortune, a Washington Post and Amazon best novel of the year; By George, a New York Public Library’s 2007 Book To Remember; and Charles Jessold, Considered As a Murderer, a Wall Street Journal’s best fiction book of 2011.

What is this book about?

This is a “be careful what you wish for” story, about a British rock ‘n’ roll group called the Wonderkinds, who long for fame and fortune. In a kind of pact with the devil, they get all that and more….but as a group called the Wonderkids, whose audience is screaming little ones and their doting parents.  Well, as Jagger and the guys told us, “You can’t always get what you want…” Led by Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear fan Blake Lear, who has renamed himself for his two fave poets, the Wonderkids become hugely successful in the US of A, but calamity lurks, as it is wont to do. The story is told by Sweet, Blake’s adopted son, who may be more of a grown-up  than the adults depicted here, and it is one wild ride.

Why you’ll like it:

Sex, drugs, rock and roll, backstage shenanigans, fathers and sons: there is plenty going on here to amuse or confuse the reader. Stace, from his years as Harding, has a deep understanding of the rock scene and showbiz in general, and this novel offers an insider’s view of the ups and inevitable downs of unexpected fame.

What others are saying:

Booklist says:  “Musician Blake Lear named himself after his favorite artistic influences, William Blake and Edward Lear. As the lead singer of the British band Wonderkids, Blake utilizes these influences in his songs, a combination of silly and nonsensical yet catchy lyrics that brings Blake and his group more attention than they ever imagined. When the band is offered a lucrative record deal, stardom seems to be just around the corner. The only catch is that their promised adoring audience will be children. The Wonderkids agree to become the combination Beatles/Teletubbies of their generation, wowing screaming kids and their parents in full-to-capacity venues around America. Their story is narrated by Sweet, a young boy Blake adopts who becomes the group’s de facto manager, merchandiser, counselor, and CEO of damage control as the band battles censorship, a drug bust, and various sticky personnel issues. Fast-paced and full of details only a music insider would know, novelist and musician Stace’s latest is a funny, untamed, highly pleasurable read, a wise and witty visit to a world few of us have experienced.”

“Hilarious . . . Winningly dry . . . Marvelously drawn . . . The Wonderkids’ increasingly unhinged antics and eventual . . . flameout, which culminate in Blake’s seeming to expose himself onstage at the “Pack ’n’ Play Festival” (Stace has a marvelous time with names), are entertaining. And there are some absolute gems in the final chapters,” – says The New York Times Book Review.

Library Journal says: “In a novel that is equal parts Almost Famous, That Thing You Do, and The Family Fang, musician and author Stace has taken the unpredictable lifestyle of rock and roll and given it a twist. After years of living in an orphanage and foster home, teenager Edward Sweet finds himself the newly adopted son of a children’s music superstar, Blake Lear. Blake is the front man for the band The Wonderkids, which has found massive success playing nonsensical songs for children. Their concerts are wild performances filled with props, feathers, and toddler mosh pits, but backstage, it’s your stereotypical rock scene filled with drugs, arguments among band members, and sex with mom-groupies. Edward spends his formative teenage years learning the ins and outs of life on tour and, in later years, coping with the dysfunctional relationships formed from these lessons. As Blake’s initially endearing, wacky behavior and ideas eventually start to unravel and become more unstable than genius, the band slowly falls apart. VERDICT After a slow start, the novel gains momentum and its identity as a story of a father-son relationship set in the whirlwind that is rock music fame. Readers who enjoy rock fiction and memoirs will enjoy this outing by a writer who knows the score,”

When is it available?

Wonder no more. You can find this book at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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