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The topic of this month is Favorite Trope (a favourite theme – amnesia? Secret baby? Fairy tale? Friends-to-lovers? Etc.)
Published: April 2016
Genre: Historical /Regency (1816)
My Rating: 4 stars
This is a recent addition to my TBR pile, as it was published in April.
I think my favourite Romantic trope is friends-to-lovers, but I do also like ‘second chance at love’ stories for the same couple.
In that sense, ‘second chance at love’ is a tricky trope. There has to be a serious reason why these people could not be together in the past, not a silly misunderstanding. And at the same time, that problem they had in the past has to be perfectly solved to provide a believable HEA. After all, this couple did not go well in the past, so the reader has to be convinced that they will have no problems this time around.
The reason I chose this book is because it has another thing I love, which is opera. OMG, yes, opera. I have looked for a romance novel set in that world for years.
Max and Tessa, the main characters in this book, met in Oporto when they were very young (19 & 17, if I remember correctly). She is beginning her career as an opera singer and he is a rich English noble. They fall in love but things happen and they go different ways.
Fast forward several years. They meet again in London, when Tessa, after having a great success in all Europe, decides to make her English debut. She has signed a contract with an opera house that is the rival of the one Max has created. He is a huge opera fan and has designed this place following the model of great Continental venues as La Fenice.
The thing is that he is still single and his mother wants him to marry. So they make a wager. If he hasn’t achieved a success with his theatre in two seasons, he will marry the girl of her mother’s choosing. If Tessa is a huge success in the rival theatre, Max will lose the bet. So Max tries to get the public out of that theatre and into his, but not always in an honest way.
The thing I loved most about this book is of course, that operatic setting. Tessa is a character that she has created inspired by two real sopranos of the Regency times: la Catalani and La Malibrán. And the operatic moments that appear in the book are quite well-known, so you can imagine them easily and yes, they made me enjoy the book more. The only piece I didn’t know was one bravura aria composed by Dr. Arne, “The Soldier Tir’d of War’s Alarms”, but I searched it in You Tube and found this performance by Joan Sutherland. But if you don’t know anything about opera, you can still enjoy it; it’s not an obtrusive part.
The second thing I loved most about this book is this idea that none of the main characters is a perfect person. They have to change to get their HEA.
Each one of them blames the other about what happened years ago. When they meet again, although they are older, is like being young again -and naive and angry. So they don’t keep calm and try to have a simple and adult conversation in order to clarify what happened in Oporto so they can get over it. No, at the beginning, they behave as a couple of sulking teenagers, so angry that they cannot have a dialogue.
Max hasn’t changed much. After his experience with Tessa, he thinks that all women are mercenaries, so he does not want to marry and only have relationships with opera singers. But he is young, and rich, and belongs to the privileged class so he hasn’t been forced to change. He loves opera and has created this theatre as his personal project. But it looks like he still has to mature, to grow up.
He is still in love with the image of Tessa as she was in the past. And although he can be attracted to the splendid woman she is now, he does not like her, because of the things he thinks she has done.
Tessa has had a more difficult life. She left Oporto and went to Lisbon, where she eloped with an Italian that helped her in her career. Her husband created this persona of Tessa as a diva, Teresa Foscari La Divina, with wonderful jewels, sexy and opulent dresses, the lover of emperors and one who’s got temper tantrums and likes throwing china each time anything goes against her wishes. Tessa assumed that public image and up to a certain point, has become that person. Some things are not true, for instance she has not had imperial lovers. But that thing about china-throwing? Yes, that’s true.
Her late husband was unfaithful, and tips are given about a sexual problem that does not allow her to marry again. He was very good with business, at least, about the contracts, although he spent all the money his wife earned, so now Tessa faces financial problems. That’s why she decided to to England in the first place, with this contract that she signs not knowing what it really implies. Listen, romantic heroines, you always need a lawyer to oversee these things. And she has got this vague idea of looking for her father’s family, whom she does not know.
Her interior journey is bigger than Max’s. She has lived a lot. She resents her public image. Sometimes she even hates singing and has this dreamy idea of becoming an English lady, in the country, far from the great capitals and stages of Europe. So part of the book is her discovery of which elements of La Divina belong to the real Tessa, discarding the rest. Only accepting who she is and what she wants to do with the rest of her life, she could be ready to overcome her sexual inhibitions and love Max again.
Apart from that, I have to mention that there are several sex scenes, quite well-written, and with a meaning inside the plot.
Did I enjoy it? Yes, a lot. I couldn’t stop reading. It’s one of those books that, if you open while having breakfast, there’s a risk – perhaps you don’t arrive to your job on time.
Why didn’t I give it a five stars grade? Well, I was very happy when I ended this book, and with a smile on my face. But it was not one of those books that you keep remembering the following days. I usually say that a 5-stars book is one that leaves me ‘as if I had a hangover’ that does not allow me to read anything romantic for days or weeks, as the glowing experience of that book overshadows anything you try just afterwards. No hangover, therefore, a 4-stars review.
Secrets of a soprano has gotten a B- review in All About Romance. There’s a joint review of this novel in Dear Author, with another B-. You can learn more about it in ‘First Look: Miranda Neville’s Secrets of a Soprano (April 11, 2016)’ in the Heroes and Heartbreakers webpage. And last but not least, Keira Soleore received an ARC and wrote a quite insightful commentary about this book in her blog.