Grace Ombry’s second novel will draw you in, keep you up past your bedtime, and make a home in your heart. The storytelling craft on display in Smokin’ and Cryin’ is masterful. It’s written as a series of letters, news clippings, legal depositions, and other scraps of evidence that piece by piece, reveal the story of a 70s teenage rock god’s meteoric rise to fame and then mysterious disappearance. The multiple voices not only capture the feel of the era, but also immerses the reader in the illicit joys of spying on someone’s private affairs without the frustrations of real archival research, with its myriad dead ends and incoherence. In this story, each juicy new tidbit gives you exactly the thing you needed to know next.
Ombry conjures (and occasionally skewers) characters with stunning efficiency. Better than just about any writer I’ve read, she knows how to shine a light on most important truth about them, how to bring whole, complex humans to life using short strings of words. She also writes young children better than anyone I’ve ever read. The relationship between the young rock god and his baby half-sister makes me tear up again just thinking about it.
The only thing that strikes an occasional false note, and this is really only in retrospect, not in the reading of the book, is that slightly too many of the characters are occasionally possessed of Ombry’s own devastating wit. An elder statesman of rock gives the young protagonist a talking to about how “The word *groupie* is a shit stain on the undershorts of your vocabulary” that’s honestly alone worth the price of the book. His brother, referring to the down-low queerness of a couple of the band members, says, “You think you spot a freak flag flying? Your only job is to salute.” An A&R rep for a record label that tried to sign the band writes, “Smoky Topaz knocked my socks off. They knocked everybody’s socks off. When the smoke cleared, I guarantee you no one was wearing socks anywhere in Ingham County.”
But if the worst thing you can say about a book is that perhaps too many of the characters are possessed of the same sparkling wit and deep insight about human behavior as the author, that’s basically the opposite of damning with faint praise. Praising with faint damnation? You only wish you lived in a world where everyone is as witty and insightful as her characters occasionally get to be, by virtue of being created by her. Reading this book is the best approximation you’re going to get of that better world. No wonder I already wish I could go back.
Grace takes sensitive and painful topics and intertwines them with humor. She skillfully develops her characters, and the reader comes to accept (and maybe even like) all of them (even the ones that have terrible flaws.) This is a book worth reading, so I did not give a synopsis. You need to read this one for yourself, and I recommend that you do.
Ombry’s first novel “State of Love & Trust” was beautifully melancholic and romantic (not unlike a Pearl Jam ballad,) and I expected a similar feel from this one. But wow! Smokin’ and Cryin’ kept me on my toes like a 70s rock band. Every memory, news article, album review and snippet had me wondering what was next. I devoured this novel almost immediately upon opening it up. The twists and turns in this were excellent, and I found myself desperately missing an era I hadn’t even been a part of.
“State of Love & Trust” is not the kind of book I normally read. I am not a rock music fan and so missed the meaning of the many references to rock songs, albums, and stars. However, I found the book intriguing and hard to put down! Probably because at its heart the book is about resilience, love, and our common humanity more than rock music. Ms. Ombry does a terrific job of developing the characters and unfolding the twists and turns of their funny/tragic lives. Ellie and Clive Rafferty had the kind of beginning that often results in hardened losers on the fringe of society. But, we see them living, hurting, learning and still loving. I found myself caring about them and hoping they would find a way to be happy.
I won’t give the story away… but recommend that you get the book and read it for yourself.
This is a brilliantly crafted book set in the early ’70s about a band and its 16-year-old front-man, Robin Chelsea, and (not a spoiler) his disappearance right before the release of their third album. The story is told through a variety of formats (narrative interspersed with newspaper and magazine articles, occasional letters, and found notes) that develop the story with an intensity that draws you in. It’s filled with deep, believable characters (as was her first book) and a storyline in which everything belongs. The story unfolds with detail that is wonderfully imagined (such that I often forgot it is totally fiction) but never bogging down the pace. You agonize over the challenges, and celebrate the successes of the young band, knowing all the while that _something_ is going to happen. But above all that, what I love most is falling in love with her characters.
I just finished reading this book, and I didn’t ever want to put it down. Grace Ombrey writes a realistic story about a young rock band and their brief career. Her characters feel familiar to music lovers, but then again, they are unique as well. Robin Chelsea is a sweet young man who adapts quickly to all the craziness his life becomes. Arthur is a believable older brother-sometimes protective and sometimes a rival to Robin. I really like how Ombrey writes him as a bit naive and sometimes just oblivious to things happening around his sphere. There’s something a bit familiar about The Odette Brothers. I had fun recognizing some of the real-life elements she modified and incorporated into this novel. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did!
I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.
Grace has a knack for portraying the music genre and the 70s in a truly engaging manner. I loved everything about this book. She makes the music come alive through the characters and the story. The music is almost another character in the story, and it shines. The characters and their conflicts and quirks make damaged people understandable and personal conflicts feel personal. After reading this I can look back at my youth in the early 70s through a happy lens of music, and I feel better for it.
Grace took on the difficult subjects of love, relationships, abortion, family, and children in this story and wove it together into a compelling tale which left me wanting more and shedding tears. The heartbreak and deep love were beautiful and I hope to read more from her soon.
I found this book to be massively entertaining, regardless of the fact that I know next to nothing about Pearl Jam and I’m admittedly snobby about fiction. It’s funny, relatable and refreshingly unpredictable. The characters are fully formed; they endure drama and trauma, but remain buoyant – often hilariously so – which made me care about them as if they were new friends. I hope Grace Ombry writes more so I can catch up with Ellie and Clive and my personal favorite, Saint.
While this book is a bit outside my reading realm, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Grace Ombry crafts a compelling, absorbing read about fictional band Smoky Topaz. Her writing and in-depth storytelling had me asking myself if I’d missed it and they were a real band (confession: I actually googled it to make sure). I highly recommend!
I just finished reading Smokin’ and Cryin’. I have had 2 nights reading until after 1:30, and finished it with my morning coffee. If you are looking for a great story get this book. Grace is gifted with the ability to bring the characters to life. Pour a cup of coffee (or honey tea with a plate of pecan sandies) and enjoy.
This novel made me cry on public transportation twice and miss my bus stop once—it was that absorbing and heart-rending. Unlike several of the main characters and the author, I have no particular love for Pearl Jam, but the references to the band weren’t crucial to appreciating the story. Perhaps they’d add another dimension for another fan?
The real magic, which anyone should be able to enjoy, is how wonderfully developed the main characters are and the way the story unfolds, with real tensions and conflicts emerging just as they do in real life, not because anyone’s evil or necessarily does anything really wrong, but because people have understandable fears and insecurities and make mistakes. Also, sometimes they have to deal with incredibly hard things. I admit, a few of the minor characters did seem just a bit two-dimensional (especially a mother-in-law type who’s almost too awful to be believed), but in some ways that just served to highlight how nuanced and appealing and fully fleshed-out the main characters were.
I realized as I was reading it how few other novels I’ve read that really center on working-class people. The kind of people who’ve had experiences in the foster care system, had to negotiate sub-optimal living situations and imperfect means of getting to work, people who have to scramble to come up with the cash for unexpected expenses. That gave it a refreshingly down-to-earth perspective you don’t often get from mass-market books and movies.
It’s also a real page-turner. I had to stop myself from racing through it and exercise some real discipline not to stay up way too late reading it on multiple nights. Especially recommended for fans of gripping literary realism, high drama, Pearl Jam, and/or Michigan.
As a child of the ’70s and a lover of this genre of music, this book did not disappoint. From the brilliant storyline told through the perspective of each character, the imagery was on point with the nostalgia the author creates from this era. Loved everything about this book & would highly recommend.
Not my usual genre, but it kept me hooked the whole way through. I literally couldn’t put it down during the final third of the book. To put it simply, it’s amazing. Definitely worth the read.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel! The last 100 pages I had a difficult time putting it down! The author effortlessly transports you back to the 1970s to the rising stars of the rock band Smoky Topaz. I loved being along for the ride. Thank you for a wonderful read!
Source: Review submitted to this site via our web form
I just finished reading this book and it’s a great read. The first half was interesting, but it was the second half that was a page-turner. I feel like I can really understand the characters and how they make their decisions. The combination of tragedy and love is something I could really feel through the characters and the storytelling.
If you have ever loved a band, been an outsider, or struggled to forgive yourself, you will recognize these characters. These anti-heroes will have you rooting for them. I found this story to be very well-written. The narrative was not predictable, yet it made complete sense. When I finished this novel, I found I wanted to spend more time with them. I hope Ms. Ombry continues to write. With a first novel like this one, I can only anticipate her future novels.
A State Love and Trust is a captivating read that you don’t want to put down but eventually have to because it’s 2 am and you have to get up in the morning to go to work. It’s that kind of book. It’s fast-paced and easy to get lost in. You will laugh and probably cry but only best books have the ability to make you experience such emotion. I highly recommend this book.
I truly loved the book and thought I was so lucky to read it for free.
This book is about Robin Chelsea, a fairly normal teenager who ends up becoming the lead singer of American rock band Smoky Topaz in the 1970s. This is an interesting storyline as I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel that was so focused on music before, or specifically on the happenings of a band on the rise. It’s a bit of a documentary novel, as it’s filled with poems, pop culture references, documents, letters and interviews which make it more realistic but also more of a young adult novel. I have nothing against that, but I guess some people might. The language and writing style are also very simple and smooth, which make this book feel young, laidback and fresh.
Set in the 70s, the themes of music, being young, family and love come together with sadder themes such as death, addiction, the Vietnam war and the fact that teen boys were sent there to die. In fact, three of the members of Smoky Topaz are veterans from the Vietnam War and Robin himself joined the band to avoid recruitment, which obviously adds a layer to their personalities and interactions. I really liked the funny dynamic between the band members, as their egos clash and as they bond show after show. I also liked the fact that two of the band members, Robin and Arthur, are half-brothers, as it’s not often that I’ve found such a good representation of sibling dynamic in a book.
Even if this book deals with heavy themes and interesting concepts, even conspiracy theories, the part of the novel that deals with the rise of Smoky Topaz is so upbeat and fun that I think on the whole the book is a happy one. I can’t reveal much about the ending, but just know you will be surprised by unexpected twists as you read about what happens to the members of Smoky Topaz as they record their second album, Smokin’ & Cryin’.
In conclusion, I thought this book was cute, easy and fun to read, and anyone with an interest in music or in the 70s era will find this book lovable and worth reading.
I hope you like it too! 🙂 x
Source: Reedsy Discovery
On Facebook, Ms. Ombry revealed she had gotten her first bad review & she shared it. It was sooooo bad, I wanted to understand why. OMG what a gift for Ms. Ombry! She is an amazing author! I was hooked from page one. Obviously the last laugh is with this very talented author!
Source: Submitted to this site via web form
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Smokin’ & Cryin.’ Ombry’s ability to draw from her vast knowledge of 1970s American rock music to create colorful yet realistic characters makes it incredibly entertaining. Though it’s fiction, I wanted to see photos of the band members because I felt as if I knew them. I’m eagerly anticipating Ombry’s next book, and more of the intriguing plot twists that drew me into this story, and kept me there until the end. If you enjoy well-written fiction, I’m betting you’ll like, if not love, this book. If you enjoy well-written fiction and rock ’n’ roll, you’ll love, if not adore, this book. So do yourself a favor. Read it now.
Read this book in just a few days—I couldn’t put it down! Grace Ombry has created memorable characters that in equal parts I loved and related to, but also sometimes wanted to punch in the face. 🙂 That’s the beauty of the story she writes—we’re all human and flawed, but have the best of intentions. The story sucks you in. You’re not sure where she’s going to take you, but you want to go along AND she keeps you hanging until the end of the book. I possess only limited knowledge of Pearl Jam but feel it didn’t get in the way of me understanding the story—it added to the context. State of Love and Trust is a worthwhile read by a talented and upcoming writer—I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.
I’m not a big fiction fan, but I am a big Pearl Jam fan and I absolutely loved this book. As one of the other reviews states, it does take a few chapters for the characters to develop, but once you get past that it is one of those books that is hard to put down. The Pearl Jam references are nice, but you don’t need to know anything about the band to get the full context of the book and story. It’s a great read, real people, real characters and a book I would certainly recommend to anyone.
I was a little unsure of the story working through the first few chapters, but once these characters clicked, I was drawn in. The events in these characters lives—the tragedy these twins survived early in life excepted—feel very real, very true to who they are. And that makes them relatable, even if you haven’t experienced these relationship issues. As a fellow Pearl Jam fan—the author clearly is—I enjoyed appreciating the backstory on a fellow fan. Often times we meet and talk about the band but we never peak behind the curtain. It’s useful to be reminded that we all go through our own stuff, but we always have this band’s music to bind us. If you’re thinking of dismissing this book because it’s self-published, don’t. It’s well written, with a tight story, that vacillates nimbly between the two first-person narrators.