Monday, February 20, 2017

A Note Yet Unsung by Tamera Alexander, 2017

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Despite her training as a master violinist, Rebekah Carrington was denied entry into the Nashville Philharmonic by young conductor Nathaniel Whitcomb, who bowed to public opinion. Now, with a reluctant muse and a recurring pain in his head, he needs her help to finish his symphony. But how can he win back her trust when he's robbed her of her dream?
(448 pages)

I want to start by saying this book is not quite as "soft" a story as the cover and description suggest. It's true that it's essentially a love story, and that most of the pages are full of character descriptions and increasing romantic tension between the two leads, but we also get (relatively vague) flashbacks to the time Rebekah's step-father attempted to rape her in her childhood. There are a few more "modern-day" creepy scenes with the man sprinkled throughout the book, despite Rebekah's attempts to avoid his company at all costs, and the material is still pretty heavy even though it's handled as gently as possible.

Besides Rebekah's relationship with Tate (i.e. Nathaniel Whitcomb), which I'll get to in a moment, there were several storylines that received generous time in the spotlight throughout the book. I was impressed by that, because I always hate when books seem completely wrapped up in the romance with a plot only thrown in as an afterthought. We get to watch Rebekah struggle in a man-dominated world, trying to find a way to join a symphony in an age where women were considered too "delicate" for such grueling work. We also get glimpses (though not quite as much as I would have liked) at Rebekah's strained relationship with her mother, who is completely oblivious to her husband's abuse and bitter about Rebekah's independent and liberal life choices. That storyline doesn't really get a conclusion, which is too bad. We also get to see Rebekah working to tutor a young girl on the violin, but–again–this isn't given as much page space I would have liked.

The biggest "side issue" that's in the book, actually, is probably race relations. The story takes place about a decade or so after the Civil War ended, in Nashville, and Rebekah's own family used to own slaves. They still keep on one or two of them as "servents," and Alexander is careful to depict Rebekah as an open-minded woman who sees African Americans as human beings (and who dearly loves the black housekeeper who essentially raised her). I can't say for sure what struck me as being a little off about the treatment of African Americans in the book, because I honestly think the author did make her heroine as liberal as she possibly could while remaining within the confines of historical realism, but reading about how Rebekah's mother beat her when she went to sing in the slave quarters as a little girl, or about what happened to the black slave who protected her from her stepfather that night, it's sad to see snippets of the racist, slave-upholding society of the period. I suppose my discomfort is more with the basic facts of slavery and of racial discrimination, though, so I don't hold them against A Note Yet Unsung–in fact, I think the book provides a good starting point for thinking about such issues.

Now for the romance. I've left it until the last for a reason, and it's a simple one: I really don't care much for romance. I don't dislike stories about people falling in love per se–I've read many Grace Livingston Hill books just for their cute old-fashioned romances, for example–but I truly hate descriptions of people panting after each other, of how their bodies "thrum" every time they touch or of how their minds stray, in the middle of conversations, to fantasizing about getting physical with the other person. It's fine for characters to be attracted to each other, of course, but when they keep focusing on each others' bodies then that debases the romance for me, turning it from a beautiful meeting of sympathetic minds to a baser lust. I will definitely say that the romance in A Note Yet Unsung is far less obnoxious than many others I've read, and that the main characters clearly clicked on professional and emotional levels before their thoughts got too mushy. They had some ridiculous thoughts, not just about kissing each other but also about realizing "I truly love him!" despite having despised each other for most of their relatively short acquaintance. These lapses into foolishness were relatively few, though, and even near the end of the book they didn't become as cloying as I'd dreaded. The author never loses her grip on the plot of the book, and she introduces some very serious issues throughout the story to keep all readers–even those not interested in the mushy thoughts–hooked.

I won't say this is the best book I've ever read, but I will say it's probably one of the best Christian historical fiction romance novels I've come across. I was impressed with how much substance the book had, despite the fact that it's essentially marketed as a sparkly romance novel, and I'm glad I decided to take the plunge and try a genre I don't usually read. If more books in the Christian romance genre were like this one, then I'd probably read them a little more often.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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