10/23/17

Contemporary Character 2017: A Song for the Season

Published: 2017. Author: Kellen Hertz. Cover design Angela Jun.

Summary

Following an exhilarating performance at Belle Starr’s final stop in her world tour, Tenney and Logan find themselves gaining more and more internet fame—enough to justify their own, much smaller tour. They’ll play five locations around Nashville the week before Christmas, returning home Christmas Eve. Tenney is excited, but sad she’ll be missing out on some of her holiday traditions and time with her friends, mom, and siblings (her dad is coming, as is their manager). Logan is more reserved, worried about Jude. But they set out optimistic.

The first performance is a nightmare. The sound system goes haywire, and by the time it’s fixed, half their allotted time is gone and much of the audience has left. Tenneyand Logan power through, bringing back some viewers, but are understandably disappointed with how things went. The next performance has a hitch as well: they’re double-booked with a children’s choir. They work out singing some songs with them, which delights both the younger children and a set of sisters who drove a long way to see them. Zane gives the sisters tickets to their next performance, which will be in a proper concert hall, unlike the two previous bookings. That one goes well, aside from Logan slipping up a few times. Well, and Tenney snapping at him on stage about it (away from the microphone, fortunately).

Logan’s been so tense and withdrawn during the trip, no matter what Tenney does to draw him out of his shell (maybe leave him alone for half a second?). And one evening Tenney overhears her dad and her manager discussing how if Tenney and Logan don’t stop getting on each other’s nerves, maybe they’re not ready to record an album. Tenney tries to find a time to talk to Logan, but it never seems right. Finally, on the way to their last venue Christmas Eve, she gets her chance...when the van gets stranded in a snowstorm (her dad walks to get help while their manager tries to flag down a passing car). Logan reveals that he’s upset not just because of his brother, but because he figured his dad had so much fun touring that he rarely visits, but seeing how much of it is draining and grueling makes him wonder how his dad can choose that over his family.

By the time the group gets towed into town, Tenney and Logan have made up. But while the fix is relatively simple, the shop is backed up and the snow has closed a main road. They’re stranded until at least the morning. The group checks into a hotel, worried about how they’ll spend Christmas. Tenney decides to make the best of things, and with the okay of the hotel owners, her dad, the manager, and Logan, she and Logan put on a performance right in the lobby for other stranded travelers.

The morning greets the group with a working car and clear roads. They’re all able to make it back in time to spend at least most of Christmas with their loved ones.

Misc

Dedicated to Mikayla, Kaiya, Owen, and Kieran.

Aubrey wants to learn to play another instrument, because she only knows accordion. I understand wanting to expand her repertoire, but accordion is hard! If she’s good enough to say “only accordion” shoe must be really good.


One concert is in Franklin, TN. I have a fridge magnet from there, with (fake) ladybugs on it.

We stayed in a hotel last Christmas Eve, and in 2014 (planned). Both times the hotels had festive decorations, not dusty relics like in this book, and last year the staff put a stocking on everyone’s room with some treat so inside. We use that stocking for our pets now. That hotel was in Washington, the 2014 one in Texas.

10/16/17

Contemporary Character 2017: Tenney Shares the Stage

Published: 2017. Author: Kellen Hertz. Cover illustration: Juliana Kolesova and Sonya Sones

Summary

Tenney and Logan are starting to mesh well as a duo finally--not perfectly, but with help from Portia and encouragement from Zane, they're able to bring out each other's good qualities rather than antagonize each other. They're meeting more often, despite Logan's odd insistence on not being able to work certain days or times. The turning point seems to be when Tenney writes out some frustrated lyrics to go with a song Logan wrote...not very vaguely describing how he annoys her. Logan responds with a second verse about how Tenney annoys Logan. The song's really good though, and they have fun playing it together. It ends up showing them how to work together.

But just when things are going so right, Logan fails to show up to a meeting with Zane and Portia to perform their new song. He's not just late, he never comes. Tenney is surprised to find herself wanting to defend Logan and explain his absence, insistently reminding the adults how much Logan loves music. Soon the reason for Logan's disappearance is revealed: he was arrested for shoplifting.

Tenney and Portia go to Logan's house (Tenney and her father had given Logan a ride home a few days before). Logan's not there, but his mother and younger brother are. Logan's mother explains: Logan's brother had had an asthma attack, and when Logan went to pick up his new inhaler at the pharmacy, he'd forgotten his wallet. He intended to pay the pharmacist back later, and thought he had an understanding with her, but when he took the medicine another worker saw and reported it as theft. It turns out that Logan's dad has been on a music tour for months, and might not be back for another few months. Even worse, he won't be paid until the end of the tour. Logan's been trying to help by watching his younger brother and even working as a janitor at his mom's hospital (his mom is a nurse; she's been picking up extra shifts). Tenney tries to be understanding but does an imperfect job of it, and Logan's embarrassed of his circumstances. He ends up quitting the duo.

Tenney is more upset than she expected she'd be. It was only recently that she never wanted to see Logan again, but now that she knows him better and sees how well they work together, she can't imagine performing without him. Her parents and Zane tell her to move on, because Logan either can't or won't focus enough on his music, and will hold Tenney back. But Tenney just has to try once more. Her older brother Mason understands, and drives Tenney around to look for Logan. She finds him at the hospital where he works, and just before his shift is over she meets a young girl with a chronic condition (it's not specified what she has). Logan's told the girl, Alice, about Tenney because Alice is one of Tenney's biggest fans. Meeting Alice gives Tenney an idea for fixing everything.

With Mason's help, Tenney gets permission from the hospital to put on an acoustic session for the sick children there. Logan is happy to agree. Tenney doesn't tell him that she's inviting her parents, Logan's mom, Zane, Portia, and just for good measure, Belle Starr (she's probably too busy, plus Logan's quitting meant cancelling a schedule gig opening for one of Starr's private shows in Nashville). Of course, she doesn't tell anyone besides Mason that Logan's going to be there. They're all peeved when they find out, but it's too late to cancel with all the hopeful children waiting for there performance. After it's over, everyone agrees that with a little help (for example, Logan's brother can come to the Grants' music store for rehearsals and play with Aubrey so that Logan doesn't need to baby-sit) Tenney and Logan are back together.


Misc

Dedicated to "John--I love sharing our song with you."

The Southern (or "Southun" as my Georgia-born granny would say) really shows up a lot in this book. Lots of y'all and Southern foods are mentioned, more so than in the previous two books.

Another thing that shows up more in this book is Tenney's habit of assuming she knows what people are thinking and forging ahead with those assumptions, which are often wrong. As in, "Logan must be upset because of X; I'll try to reassure him about X without asking if that's actually the problem."

To her credit, Tenney does realize that she has a pretty privileged life: a loving, supportive, and stable family, and the money and opportunity to foster her natural talent.

Tenney's younger sister Aubrey plays accordion for one of the songs during the acoustic performance. I can't quite imagine how accordion would sound with guitar, but I'm not very musical. The audience loves it, and Aubrey is apparently very good at accordion.

10/9/17

Contemporary Character 2017: Tenney in the Key of Friendship

Published: 2017. Author: Kellen Hertz. Cover illustration: Juliana Kolesova and Sonya Sones

Summary

Tenney's excited to start recording her songs in a professional studio. There's a steep learning curve though; things that she thinks sound perfect aren't quite right and need tweaking from Zane Cale (the recording person who sought her out) and Portia. Then Zane pairs her with Logan Everett, a drummer her age. Logan seems to think pretty highly of himself, barely giving Tenney the time of day while taking over her songs with his drumming.

Tenney's also distracted by the fundraiser Jaya's working on. Jaya's cousin lived in Bangladesh, and her school was badly damaged in a storm. They need three thousand dollars for the necessary repairs, or the school year won't be able to continue. And if all the teachers leave to seek work elsewhere, there might not be school the next year either. Tenney wants to help Jaya, but she's so busy with her songwriting that she can't devote the time needed. Jaya ends up enlisting the help of Holliday, of all people. While Tenney acknowledges that Holliday is great at organizing things, she can't quite over Holliday's mean streak. And then Jaya agrees with Holliday that Logan might improve Tenney's music.

Fuming at the idea of Logan touching her songs, Tenney tries to get sympathy from her family and from Portia, but they all remind her that much of music is collaborative, and encourage her to set aside the abrasiveness and irritation from her first meeting with Logan and really try to listen to his music. Tenney has to admit that he has some good ideas; the drum beat that he sent her via text is a good fit for her song. She takes Portia's advice to focus on the music rather than the tension between her and Logan, and the next recording session goes much more smoothly. They get the new song sorted out, and everyone agrees it sounds great.

But then Zane mentions the date of the performance he has booked for Tenney and Logan: the same day as the book sale fundraiser for Jaya's cousin. Tenney doesn't want to screw up her chances with music, so she doesn't tell Zane about the time conflict, reasoning that she can just be late to the fundraiser. She's sure Jaya will understand, but Jaya gets very terse with Tenney when she tells her about it.

The performance goes well, despite Logan playing faster than they had practiced. He says he was reading the crowd and responding to what the people wanted, but Tenney feels like he was competing against her rather than playing with her. Still, she had fun playing, and even gets to talk to her younger sister's favorite musician, Belle Star, and get some advice about keeping friendships through all the hard work. And it's then that Tenney realizes she's stayed too late. She rushes out to her dad's car, but by the time they arrive at the book sale, it's been over for half an hour and everyone's cleaned up and gone home. Tenney calls Jaya and leaves a message, but Jaya doesn't respond. After a while, Tenney takes her dog on a walk to Jaya's house. She starts out apologizing fine, but then it deteriorates into an "I'm sorry you're mad" rather than "I'm sorry I screwed up" apology. Jaya says they need to accept that since Tenney's been "discovered" she doesn't have as much time for friendships, and their friendship will have to take a backseat.

Tenney is surprised to find guidance in Holliday, who points out that Jaya feels ignored, and she's worried about her cousin, who she wasn't able to help as much as she wanted (they only raised a third of the needed amount from the book sale). Holliday suggests Tenney do something to show Jaya that she cares about the things (and people) Jaya cares about. Tenney thinks if she puts on a benefit concert at her dad's music store, she can raise the remaining amount. Given the limited number of people who can fit in the store, the tickets would need to be $15 each, a lot for a benefit concert. But maybe between Tenney have personally talked with Belle Star and Holliday's dad being vice president of Star's recording company, they can get her to come. That would be worth $15! Jaya is touched and happy that Tenney is showing such interest in helping her cousin. And Holliday is ready to help organize. Together, the three girls are sure they'll raise the money easily. Portia will play in the concert too. Tenney even reaches out to Logan to have him perform with her. Due to some rude things Tenney said (both intentionally and unintentionally), Logan says he'll perform to help the cause, but then he and Tenney are going back to solo. She happily agrees--Logan's not the most polite person, either.

Unfortunately, Belle Star is touring out of the country, and can't make the show. But she does post about on Twitter and encourages her fans to go--resulting in more people showing up than can safely fit inside the building! Quickly, they set up in the parking lot, allowing more people to see the show--and buy tickets to rebuild the school. The crowd loves the music, and they raise $5,000, more than enough to rebuild the school. Jaya's cousin sends a thank you video of her class singing Tenney's newest song, inspired by her friendship with Jaya (Jaya's mom recorded the performance). Between the success of the concert and the publicity from Belle Star, Zane says that they should start booking small venues, a step on the way to a recording contract. "They"--he wants Tenney and Logan to be a package deal. When Tenney sees that Logan has already signed the contract (her parents looked it over to be sure Tenney was being treated fairly), she agrees. She and Logan are learning to get along, and to play well together. She's excited to see how far they'll go.


Misc

Dedicated to "Mom and Dad, who taught me to sing my own song, and Katie, who was always there to listen to it."

A boy is added to a traditionally-female group (American Girl dolls; Logan's available as a doll), from the South, with blonde hair, named Logan... Remind you of anyone? Louisville isn't even three hours from Nashville.

This book is better about people liking different styles of music than the first one. The big performance that Tenney and Logan have is even at the home of the pop star Tenney's little sister likes, and Tenney is a bit star-struck by her. The pop star's music isn't Tenney's taste, but she's still a professional musician like Tenney wants to be. Tenney also specifically mentions liking Taylor Swift.

10/2/17

Contemporary Character 2017: Tenney

Published: 2017. Author: Kellen Hertz. Cover illustration: Juliana Kolesova and Sonya Sones

Summary

To say that twelve-year-old Tennyson "Tenney" Grant comes from a musical family might be an understatement: her father plays all manner of stringed instruments, her mother plays autoharp and sings, older brother Mason plays mandolin and drums (and likes repairing and working on electric instruments), younger sister Aubrey is learning accordion, and Tenney plays guitar and banjo, and writes songs and sings. Her dad is a member of a band, and various members of the family have been in it at times. Currently Tenney does backup vocals, and Mason plays in it too. Living in Nashville, TN is a great place for a family so into the music scene. There are tons of opportunities, even down to organizing a jamboree with the senior center through Tenney's middle school.

Tenney gets a huge opportunity (and surprise) when the band's lead singer suddenly quits before a performance. She volunteers to sing lead, and while it doesn't go perfectly, once Tenney gains some confidence she has a blast and does a great job. Not only that, but a representative from a record label heard her perform and invites Tenney to sing in a showcase at the Bluebird Cafe--the same place singers like Taylor Swift got started, where Garth Brooks and Faith Hill have played. Tenney's elated at the chance to break into the professional music scene, but her parents are more trepidation. They're not sure she's old enough.

The next time Tenney's class meets with the senior center residents about the Jamboree, Tenney ends up talking about the showcase with her senior partner, Portia. Portia plays guitar too, and encourages Tenney that the most important about music isn't age or this one particular showcase, but finding her voice. Tenney has a melody for a new song, but can't find the right lyrics. Maybe doing so will help her find her voice.

Tenney's mom tells her about the time she had a potential record contract, and how the label wanted to change her (including telling her to lose weight not for health but for show). Her own mother even signed over the rights to the songs she'd written, so even if Tenney's mom had wanted to sing her own songs, she wouldn't be able to. Not being able to be herself turned off of the music business, and is why she's so reluctant to let Tenney get so involved at a young age. But if Tenney agrees to take things one step at a time, listen to her parents' guidance, and remember what's really important in life, she can perform at the Bluebird Cafe. The performance is exhilarating, but has a rough start. The man from the record label says that someday, probably soon, Tenney will be ready to sign, but for now she needs to mature as an artist. Tenney tries to focus on the positive (being able to perform, overcoming the difficult opening) but she'd let herself daydream about signing right then.

She's still down the day of the Jamboree, to the point that she doesn't want to perform. She tells Portia, who expresses surprise and disappointment; she loved Tenney's new song (even helped her fine-tune it). Then Tenney gets a big surprise: Portia will play instead. She's been reluctant to perform since a stroke, but not only is she good with music, she was a star in her day, performing under a stage name. She was famous enough that Tenney's mom recognizes Portia instantly when they meet. In fact, Tenney's favorite song was one of Portia's! And Portia has a request: she wants Tenney to get up on stage with her. Her confidence restored by the knowledge that a music legend thinks she's talented, Tenney agrees. The duo perform Portia's famous song, and Tenney does her own song again.

The next school day, Tenney learns that someone filmed the performance and posted it online. Her song has over ten thousand views, and counting! Other students are asking for her autograph, and when her album will come out. Maybe sooner than Tenney thinks: when she goes to her dad's music shop after school, the man from the record label is there. He saw Tenney's performance (Portia is a friend and he came to support her return to the stage) and figures that while she's not quite ready for the big time, if he doesn't sign her someone else will. After talking with her parents, Tenney agrees to accept his tutelage.


Misc

Dedicated to "John, who taught me how to listen, and for Kieran, who dances to his own beat."

Tenney's mom owns and operates a food truck.

There's a strong vibe of snobbery against pop music (for example, immature Aubrey liking a singer who her older siblings think is beneath them). I know it's not the same as classical, but it's popular for a reason--even if some of it (okay, a lot of it) isn't my taste, looking down on a huge subset of people for not liking music the "right" way or not liking "real" music bugs me. Especially since on the cover, Tenney looks like Taylor Swift.

Tenney first sings lead at a concert for a "neighborhood association." Sounds like an HOA thing. Not my cup of tea--when were looking for a house last year, there was one really nice one that we concerned making an offer on. But then we found out that not only was it in an HOA neighborhood, the HOA recently elected new leadership that was about to significantly raise the dues and add a bunch of rules.

There's a little subplot with a Mean Girl, Holliday Hayes, who scoffs at Tenney's attempts to break into the music business because she's "nothing special." Holliday's own mother hears Tenney perform and starts going on about how if Holliday hadn't given up on her music and voice lessons, she could have cultivated her talent too. Tenney doesn't take the opportunity to gloat and instead points out Holliday's own talents, like the way she organized the Jamboree.

Mason is heartwarmingly supportive of his sister when the record agent seeks her out, volunteering information about her song writing and singing talents when Tenney is too stunned to talks herself up. Aubrey is helpful in her own seven-year-old way too; making a hairpiece with guitar picks for Tenney to wear at her debut.

Tenney's best friend Jaya is endlessly supportive and confident in Tenney's ability's as well. She's a gifted artist, and designs a logo for Tenney to use when she makes it big.