The Scribbling Scrivener Reads: The Mussorgsky Riddle by Darin Kennedy

Hello and welcome to the first book review on my site! It is my pleasure to have selected The Mussorgsky Riddle by Darin Kennedy as my first selection.

HOUSEKEEPING: It is my plan to review one book each month. I’ll try my best to select a fairly current release as well as select a variety of genres. Also, instead of a scale of 1 to 5 stars, I’m going to rate books on a scale of 1 to 5 pencils.

What a debut novel this is. It’s wildly imaginative, an enjoyable read, and truly keeps you guessing. Or at least me since I’m rubbish when it comes to solving mysteries of any kind.

The story centers around Mira Tejedor, a psychic brought to Charlotte, NC by the Faircloth family after 13-year-old Anthony suddenly falls into a near comatose state.  Neither his mother nor the boy’s therapist can figure out what caused this state so they take a chance that based on Mira’s reputation. Naturally the boy’s therapist is skeptical until Mina’s first session with the boy. Quickly Mira becomes determined to help Anthony as soon as possible in an effort to cure or retrieve Anthony, the real Anthony, trapped inside his own mind.

To say Mira falls through the rabbit hole or crashes through the looking glass is a huge understatement. Anthony’s mind has been so fractured by whatever trauma he witnessed that as a coping mechanism he recreates composer Modesto Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition a multi-movement masterpiece based upon the artwork of Viktor Hartmann, a close friend of Mussorgsky who died unexpectedly. Each picture in Anthony’s mind represents either a part of Anthony or someone in his life whom he’s close to like his older brother, younger sister, etc.

The further Mira explores Anthony’s mind, the more their two worlds mesh. At one point he essentially calls to her from across the city and parts of her mind spill into his world. As a psychic, a gift she inherited from her mother & grandmother, Mira sees a similar gift in both Anthony and his younger sister.

Quite by accident the situation switches from being retrieving Anthony to solving the disappearance, and mostly likely death, of one of the students at Anthony’s school who happens to be the ex-girlfriend of his older brother. She’s reluctant to pursue this as it brings back memories of the missing person’s case she is most well-known for. But it becomes apparent to her that Anthony’s state and the disappearance of Julianna Wagner are connected and she must solve the case to help the boy. Only by solving the riddle will both Anthony and Mira be free.

The Mussorgsky Riddle is clever and inventive with cheeky name references of characters related to not only their ability, Mira is very close to the Spanish verb for ‘to see’, as well as last names of Wagner and Holst just to name a few. When we get inside Anthony’s mind, all the characters take on names reflective of their particular piece of art. Kennedy does a wonderful job bringing in all five senses into the prose. In addition to Mira being a psychic and empathetic, she also smells emotions except for when she’s inside Anthony’s head. I loved how it married music and art with the modern world creating a magical realism quality. All the characters are fleshed out and I appreciate how gray the characters are. The flow of the story is excellent with tight, emotional storytelling.

This is a book that even if you don’t read a lot of fantasy or haven’t considered heading fantasy, it is a book you can appreciate. For those of us who do enjoy fantasy, this book, while set in modern times, will satisfy.

So on my completely subjective scale of pencils, from 1 to 5 I give The Mussorgsky Riddle 4 ½ pencils.




Weekly Musing: Cease and Desist

Last week I happily explained what my 5 favorite words in the English language are. But because with the good there has to be some bad, or at the very least, annoying, here I present my 5 least favorite words. These are words, or a phrase, I wish could be struck from the dictionaries and people’s vocabulary. Some of my choices are fairly recent words that have entered the English language while others have been firmly entrenched for a while.

Baby bump: Throughout history, uptight societies have come up with many euphemisms to describe a pregnant woman because for some reason just saying the word pregnant was repugnant. You have the phrases such as “with child “or “in the family way” or “babe in the belly” before sometime past I Love Lucy it became somewhat okay to say a woman was pregnant. History fact: It was taboo to say pregnant on TV as well as have a married couple share the same bed for a long time. Now, though, we have the grating term of “baby bump.” Thank you entertainment news shows.

What I find most annoying about this term is it is cutesy and utterly juvenile. Does anyone describe their dog or cat as having a puppy or kitten bump it they’re pregnant? No, because it sounds silly so why apply it to grown women?

Moist: This word just makes my skin crawl. Unless one is talking about cake or other baked goods, this word should never be used to describe anything else. I’m not alone in this. A few years ago on NPR’s All Things Considered, they had a fun year-end piece about peoples favorite and least favorite words. Guess which word was mentioned frequently? Yup, moist. Biggest reason given? It just sounds kinda gross.

Liberal & Conservative: I’m lumping these 2 words together because my reasons for disliking both are the same. I dislike these words because when people use them they make it sound as if one is better, or worse, than the other is.

While labels are part of human nature, they serve a purpose in helping us determine how we will approach a person or group, the biggest problem with labels is people forget to look at the individual. In the case of these two particular words is it so flummoxing that there are good conservatives as well as bad ones? Or that there are good liberals as well as bad ones? Just because an idea originated in one group or the other doesn’t mean it’s inherently evil.

Selfie: Ahh, another one of these newfangled words. Yet it really isn’t. It’s just a shortened version of self-portrait. Artists have painted and sketched self-portraits for years whether as a way of studying anatomy, to experiment with a new technique, on just because, the idea of a self-portrait is nothing new.

People taking self-portraits with a camera isn’t new either. Pretty much since the invention of the camera, people have taken pictures of themselves. This didn’t seem to be a big deal until the last few years.

The reason the word selfie gets on my nerves is because of how close it sounds to selfish. Perhaps it’s because so many of us, myself included, have taken and posted selfies, all over the place. Get over yourself; you’re not that interesting!

It also grates on me because it is misused. Selfie means one person taking a picture of them self and only them self. Start adding other people in and it’s not a selfie even if you are taking the picture while being in it.

Pussy: Avert your eyes if you don’t want to read the rest of this. I can’t stand this word. It goes beyond its substitution for vagina. I hate it being used for a cat. I think the plant pussy willow needs to be renamed to something else willow. It’s an insult to be called a pussy because apparently one is weak based on the notion of women being weaker than a man is.

It’s just a gross word with no real application other than talking about the pussy willow plant. Just saying it feels gross. I need a Purell shower now.


There are plenty of other words that bother me. I hate racial slurs yet realize they unfortunately help some people express themselves while demonizing others. Language is beautiful even in its ugliness because it reflects life as we humans see it. Should their usage be limited? It would be great but just because it offends me doesn’t necessarily mean it offends other people.

In light of Charlie Hebdo, and other incidents worldwide, language and free speech are under more scrutiny. Free speech is something I’ve always held dear to me not only because I’m a writer but as a lover of books and history. When societies start censoring is when we as a people begin losing our freedoms. This is something the founding fathers understood. We all have a voice and we are all entitled to use that voice whether it is to go with the status quo or against the grain.