Monday, April 18, 2016

Commentary: Secrets of a Soprano by Miranda Neville

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I'm a huge fan of classical music and opera (and sing in choirs) so this musical book hit all the right notes for me. Neville is clearly knowledgeable of the Regency era opera scene and the life of famous singers. I enjoyed how authoritatively the story was written. We don't get "research"; we get competence and rich historical details.

I liked Max and Tessa's gentle love story—I'm fond of quiet tales. I bought into how their young love changed to suspicion and hurt feelings, then anger and resolution, and finally to genuine adult love. Neville does a wonderful job showing how Max and Tessa change and adjust to the events around them and how they make change happen instead of always being reactive. I like to see characters having agency.

I'm not fond of Le Big Mis (misunderstanding) trope. But Neville's sophisticated storytelling does not devolve to a clichéd retelling of a tired tale. Max and Tessa do go through the initial motions of being deeply hurt by the other, but they eventually get to a point where they talk and thrash out what happened in the past. And then they move on from there. They build on the embers of their young love. Max is the first one to fall in love all over again; Tessa is more cautious. Her experience with her faithless husband makes her leery of jumping in with both feet.

I enjoyed seeing how Tessa connected with her extended family and the joy it brought her. I liked seeing how her character matured in this short section. She had this picture in her mind about what she might want, but reality forced her to re-examine what was really important to her. And she came away being surer of herself and what she needs from life.

I had a tough time reconciling Tessa's tendency to throw things when agitated to the rest of her character. The way it's written, she feels anxiety coming on and relieves it by throwing ceramic and porcelain things. She was encouraged into this habit by her then husband, Domenico, to promote a diva-like persona. However, now that her husband is dead, she's ashamed of those tantrums and is trying to control them once by hitting a high note and other times by deep breathing. The times in the story, Tessa has felt the urge to throw things, i.e., the times she felt this acute anxiety happen is often enough, that I had to wonder if she needed therapy. Blaming Domenico for encouraging her is not explanation enough. That she feels such anxiety over not very stressful situations is the root cause.

She also has these genuine nightmares and terrors because of what Domenico did to her before he died. I can understand those panic attacks and her extreme reaction to them. However, the resolution of these terrors is very pat. Given how deeply-seated the fears are—there's an excellent scene between Max and Tessa about this—the one short sex scene that magically resolves this issue once and for all rings false. I would expect the impact lessening over time rather than in one fell swoop.

These quibbles aside, I enjoyed this musical story with its rich historical background very much.

For an excellent review of this book, visit All About Romance here.

[Please note: I received a print ARC of the book from the author.]