Read an excerpt of The Girl With Stars in Her Eyes.

By Maureen Lee Lenker
October 16, 2020 at 10:00 AM EDT
Advertisement

Music is the food of love in Xio Axelrod's new rock romance — and we've got your first taste.

Axelrod, a recording artist and author, kicks off a new series with The Girl With Stars in Her Eyes (out April 6), a book that's like A Star Is Born (the Gaga edition) meets Taylor Jenkins Reid's Daisy Jones and the Six. EW has the cover reveal for the novel, as well as an exclusive excerpt and a song Axelrod recorded to accompany the book.

Set in the high-stakes world of the music industry and drawing on Axelrod's firsthand knowledge, the series centers on the Lillys, an all-female band on the brink of making it big. Axelrod and her band covered the song above, "I Burn," to bring the Lillys' music to life. In addition, Axelrod is also writing music to accompany the book.

The Girl With Stars in Her Eyes follows Antonia "Toni" Bennette. As a young woman, Toni cherished two things: her guitar and Sebastian Quick. Older and wiser, Seb was Toni's way out, until he turned 18 and left town without looking back.

Now that Toni B. is all grown up and making a name for herself in Philadelphia's indie-rock scene, she thinks she's moved on. When she gets a shot at auditioning for the hottest new band in the country, she goes for it — not realizing Seb is one of the decision-makers. And what will she do with the man who still holds a piece of her heart, as well as the keys to her future?

Check out the cover below, and read on for the excerpt.

Credit: Sourcebooks

Excerpt from The Girl With Stars in Her Eyes, by Xio Axelrod

The multicolored lights were hot and bright in her eyes, but she smiled at the smattering of applause that greeted her introduction to the tiny stage.

Toni lifted her weathered Fender and looped her guitar strap over her head. It settled into its usual place on her shoulder. She shifted it with her thumb to stop her bra strap from digging into her skin and tried to stretch the tension out of her neck. She could feel every pair of eyes on her, ready to pass judgment. On her skills. Her appearance. Her everything. Ugh.

Taking a moment to collect herself, Toni stared over the head of the patrons. She focused on the bar’s logo—a mural of an anthropomorphic unicorn rocking out on an electric guitar—and turned up the volume on the guitar enough to strum out a few chords and check her tuning. After a quick run to warm up her fingers, she was good to go.

“Freebird!”

A few patrons laughed, and Toni gave a small salute because it was such an original joke. Maybe he’d take it easy on her tonight.

“You gonna play some Tracy Chapman for us? Or…or how about some Beyoncé?” he called out. “Show us some moves, sister thang!”

Or not.

Toni squinted in the direction of the disruption and caught the exasperated glower of Elton Pepple, the Electric Unicorn’s owner-slash-manager. His scowl, and a very stabby finger, were aimed at a guy sitting at the bar.

The guy held up his hands, apparently pleading his case.

Elton looked at her and shook his head. She offered him a wan smile, once again questioning why she’d accepted his offer of a residency. Oh, right. The money. There weren’t many steady gigs in Philly with a guaranteed payday. Toni knew how lucky she was, but every time she stood under the lights, they burned a little.

“Now or never,” Toni muttered to herself as she stepped up to the microphone. “Uh, hey, Unicorn.”

On cue, a screech of feedback burst from the speakers. Toni jumped back, shielding her eyes as she squinted in the direction of the sound board tucked in the front corner of the bar.

Luca, the sound person, waved and gave her a thumbs-up.

Heckler dude’s laugh rang out. Great. Not that she needed to impress him, but it would be nice to shut him up.

Approaching with more caution, Toni stepped back to the mic and smiled. “Let’s try this again.”

A few people laughed with her, and Toni exhaled some of the apprehension that had coiled at the base of her spine. The idea of performing in front of a room full of strangers always filled her with dread. Toni loved to play, and she played often—in the studio, or sometimes for a few friends. But situations like this unnerved her because, once she was under the lights, it was too easy to get caught up in it. Too easy to accept the adoration, even to expect it. Too easy to let the audience get under your skin and tear you down when things didn’t go their way.

Toni took a deep breath. She was too much in her head tonight, and she didn’t want to let Elton down. She had this.

“What’s up, Electric Unicorn? My name is Toni B.”

“Tone-eeee!” A man yelled her name from the back of the room and lifted his glass to her. Ah, that would be Sticks, one of the Unicorn’s regulars.

This place wasn’t much, but it was hers.

Toni tried on another smile, which quivered at the edges. Ugh, stupid nerves. She nodded at Sticks and twisted the volume knob on her guitar up to seven with shaky fingers.

Strumming a fat F-sharp chord, Toni closed her eyes and let it ring out for several seconds before stepping on the pedal of her loop station.

A bass drum track she’d recorded earlier in the week thumped out a 4/4 beat, and Toni launched into the opening riff of Alice in Chains’ “Man in the Box,” a move that seemed to make Sticks sit up a bit straighter in his seat. Recording the guitar loop, she pressed the pedal again and layered another guitar part over it, something that never failed to draw the audience in.

Sure enough, when Toni let her gaze sweep over the Unicorn’s crowd, many—including the heckler—were leaning forward, their heads bobbing. She had their attention. Good.

Toni sang her version of the melancholic rock anthem, using the smoky quality of her voice to infuse it with a bit of soul and turning it into a pseudo torch song. By the time she finished, a few people had abandoned their seats altogether in favor of standing at the foot of the stage.

She fought against her need to put more distance between her and these strangers, completely fine with them loving the performance. After all, it’s what she’d come to give them. But so often, people wanted more. And more wasn’t something she was willing or able to give.

For the next forty-five minutes, Toni let the songs breathe for her. She let her guitar be her voice, let the music put her soul on display for a little while. And then, before she knew it, it was over.

Related content:

Comments