Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review: "Bellweather Rhapsody" by Kate Racculia

Kate Racculia's Bellweather Rhapsody is a sweet, slightly goofy, rollicking romp of a book that may be a tiny bit overly ambitious, but it's tremendously infectious, and I can't get the characters out of my mind.

It's the winter of 1997. In upstate New York, high school musicians from across the state are gathering for the annual Statewide festival at the Bellweather Hotel, a once-grand place which has become a little rundown in recent years, and reminds many of The Overlook Hotel in The Shining. (There's more than a few references to The Shining in the book.) Fifteen years ago, the Bellweather was the site of a tragedy, a murder-suicide of a couple that had just gotten married in the hotel. Since then, the hotel has had a bit of a reputation for being haunted.

Coming to Statewide are twin siblings Alice and Rabbit Hatmaker. Alice is a bit of a diva, a singer/actress who is in her second year at Statewide, and she expects to be treated like the celebrity she thinks she is. Rabbit, a bassoonist, has always been a bit quieter, as he has lived in Alice's shadow, but he is desperate to be himself for the first time, to live his own life, and find love. When they first arrive at the festival, a chance encounter with the conductor of the orchestra turns Rabbit into a bit of a celebrity, and Alice bristles that suddenly she is being left behind.

Things go from bad to worse for Alice, as the first night, after she does a tarot reading for her roommate, Jill, a young musical prodigy and the daughter of the ruthless acting director of the festival, she finds that Jill has hanged herself. When Alice returns after summoning help, Jill's body is gone, the cord has been cut down, and a note reading, "NOW SHE IS MINE," is the only evidence left. And it turns out this all happened in the same room where the murder-suicide happened years before.

Jill's mother insists this is a prank designed to embarrass her, but Alice knows what she saw, and she has an unusual ally. As a young girl, Minnie Graves witnessed the tragic murder-suicide at the Bellweather, and it has haunted her ever since. She returned to the hotel to try and get her life back on track, but when she hears another crime has been perpetrated in the same room, she is determined to uncover the truth about both incidents. But amidst the investigation into Jill's disappearance, rehearsals are still going on, rumors are being spread, relationships are blossoming and ending, and lives are changing, as the Bellweather readies for what appears to be the snowstorm of the century.

What I loved about this book is that despite the craziness happening at the festival (and I've only scratched the surface in my description), this is at its heart a story about having the courage to be your own person, standing up for what you believe in (as well as yourself), the importance of love and friendship, and the thrills that come from performing. It's also a book about how one person's behavior towards another can have a truly damaging or truly uplifting effect.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and the chapters switch perspectives among many of them. That mostly works, but at times it's a little more confusing, so I had to go back and re-read a few things to make sure I understood who was talking or what was happening. But by and large, I loved these characters, and was glad that more of the plot was spent on character development and story rather than more of a whodunnit about what happened to Jill. As a former choir student who once made it to All-Shore Choir (there weren't a lot of tenors back then so I lucked my way in), this book brought back some great memories. Really fun.

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