The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes by Xio Axelrod

By  0 Comments

The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes is penned by Xio Axelrod, who grew up in the recording industry and began performing at a very young age. She writes different flavors of contemporary romance and what she likes to call “strange, twisted tales.”

It’s the story of Antonia (Toni) Bennette who, at 12, is sent to live with her father, Mo, whom she has never met. Mo owns a dive bar in the little town of Bordon, Pennsylvania. When the taxi drops her off her first night in Bordon, she meets Sebastian Quick, a year older. The pair grows up together, scrambling to survive in the harsh, small-town world of Pennsylvania, Mo and dive bars.

The only thing that makes their miserable lives a little better is that they both love the guitar and are good at playing it. Toni’s mother, Mary, gave Toni her prized guitar, a cherry-red Gibson, nicknamed Minx, that Mo promptly confiscates and calls his insurance policy. He hangs the guitar behind the bar and forbids Toni to touch it, and as far as she knows, neither does anyone else.
The story skips ahead; Toni, 24, is playing small gigs at her favorite club, the Electric Unicorn in Philadelphia. Toni likes playing her guitar, an old Fender, but she swears she doesn’t want to become a star. She has seen the destructiveness that comes with chasing fame from her mother. Toni prefers the Electric Unicorn where she feels comfortable and at home with the familiar audience.

She gets the opportunity to play with Jerry Kant, a local folk-rock musician, in the recording studio Phactory Sound Studios. Toni has always had an acute sense of pitch, or “ear,” and she hears a guitar that’s out of tune. Turns out, it was Kant’s, and Toni has committed the double sin of speaking out as a session musician and calling out the star. Kant is furious. Chaos ensues. Kant’s manager calls in another session musician and throws Toni out without paying her the full fee. Sebastian Quick shows up, and Toni is furious to see Sebastian as her replacement as well as secretly glad that he is okay. Seb had disappeared seven years before. Toni never knew why or where he went.

Sebastian has his own problems with The Lilly’s, a girl rock band that is on the verge of a breakout. They are playing a showcase, and Seb’s responsible for getting Candi, their guitar player, to the event. The problem is that Candi is also into partying, drugs and alcohol. In a moment of carelessness, Seb takes a drink at the party and wakes up the next day in his apartment with a hangover. He and Candi missed the showcase event.

Lilly fires Candi. Candi doesn’t take it seriously; she believes that the band can’t survive without her. Someone calls Toni B to try out for Candi’s spot. Toni is convinced that Sebastian had her name put on the list of possible replacements for Candi. The band and Toni click. As Toni settles in, she realizes that with the band and their friendship, she is not as worried about performing in front of a large crowd as before. As she gets into the gig, she becomes mesmerized by the music and forgets about the crowd.

The love story and the plot line are fairly predictable, but the novel is a tour de force on the music industry and its history. What makes the novel stand out is the use of rock and roll industry slang in ways that fit seamlessly into the dialog while at the same time explaining it to the reader. Xio Axelrod says she is not a guitarist but a pianist who can pick out simple lines on the guitar. Even so, her knowledge of guitars, guitarists, their riffs and the history of the bands and their members, especially female rockers, is fascinating. She doesn’t just stop with Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde. She goes on to others who were early influencers, such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who may not be as well known to today’s audiences.

Axelrod grew up in the music industry, where her dad wrote and produced R&B, soul and disco for many artists. She enjoys writing songs and performing her own songs on stage in addition to writing novels of romantic fiction and contemporary romance. The score for Hurt U is included in the bonus material of the book. She is working on The Girl with Rhythm in Her Heart as the follow up to The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes. It promises to be a sequel worth waiting for. ■