Book Review: Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel

Reading format: Hardback

Content warnings: fire, mention of sex, non-gory emergency room scenes

Rating: 3.25/5

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Best friends for decades, Bridget and Will have finally found a third member for Forsyth Trio, their chamber group they started in college. Content with the knowledge that they’ll have a violinist for the autumn season, Bridget ventures to her cottage in rural Connecticut to relax and spend time with her boyfriend Sterling. But her plans are sent flying when he breaks up with her via email and her two grown children decide to spend their summer at the cottage with her, unannounced. With Bridget’s summer plans upended, what other curve balls could life possibly throw her way?

I should preface my review by saying this is not a book genre that I typically frequent (women’s fiction/general fiction). But my neighbor loaned it to me so I thought I’d give it a shot. I found it to be an easy read and a nice palate cleanser in between reading sci-fi/fantasy books. The author, Amy Poeppel, is a wonderful writer and I didn’t notice any of my usual writing pet peeves (incomplete sentences, overuse of ellipses). The writing isn’t too elementary nor too complex, but instead is just right (Goldilocks, anyone?).

This story includes such a variety of characters and/or personalities that I think most readers might find someone with whom they can connect. There’s Will, a pianist who has no desire to ever marry again; Bridget, an independent, single mother who’s a cellist; Oscar, Bridget’s son, who works in Washington, DC and hits a road bump in his marriage to Matt; Isabelle, Bridget’s daughter, who decides corporate life isn’t for her; Edward, Bridget’s father and famous composer with an iron will; and those are just a few of the cacophany of characters!

This light-hearted book is essentially about a modern, upper middle class white family who are trying to figure out which paths they want to take in their respective lives. And with that comes both discord, harmony, tears, frustration, and laughter.

However, there are a couple of things that knocked down my overall, subjective rating of Musical Chairs. My first minor critique is there are so many characters that I found it difficult to recall them all at times. Several times Poeppel just introduces a character by name once they enter the frame; but there are so many other moving pieces that there isn’t much character-building for these secondary and tertiary characters. I also feel like this story abruptly ended. I expected a well-rounded conclusion to the summer splendor, but instead it fell a little flat for me. It’s not an open-ended finish; but I personally would have liked to read an excerpt of Bridget, say, three months later.

Regardless, if you’re looking for a genre switch and find humor in good-natured family chaos, give this a shot. I’m known to be nitpicky, so decide for yourself!

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