Berkley Sensation, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-25120-1
Historical Romance, 2013
Kate Noble has some good things going for her. If she’s in the right mood and the planets are aligned properly, she can create a fantastic heroine. Unfortunately, her stories in the past were such that the idea seemed far better than the actual book that was the result of the idea. Something was always missing, or something was done in a way that had me going, “Honey, why do you do that to your story?” Let It Be Me is easily one of the best books she has done so far, but it’s not going to change my current opinion of her books, unfortunately.
Bridget Forrester is a fantastic heroine. It is as if the author had done some magic trick and snatched my mind and placed it inside the heroine’s head, because everything about Bridget’s insecurities feels so real. You know sometimes a person is quite normal in many ways, but just can’t fit in? That’s Bridget. She loves music, and she’s never happier then when she’s playing the piano, but this isn’t something that your average English lady in 1824 is encouraged to do.
The poor dear is also constantly overshadowed by her sister, who is the ideal English debutante in so many ways, and, as a result, she often feels so insecure and even defensive when she’s in town. Her insecurities cause her to become stand-offish in society, and she develops some kind of acerbic humor as a defense mechanism. Without really doing anything, she ends up with a reputation for being “shrewish” as well as weird.
One day, she receives a letter from Vincenzo Carpenini, a music composer that she once met when she was younger. Back then, he was apparently very impressed with her piano playing, and when this letter shows up asking her whether she’s interested in being his pupil, it’s like, oh god, finally, someone recognizes that she’s good at something. It turns out that the letter was written by Vincenzo’s buddy, Oliver Merrick, who was hoping that Bridget would help them reverse their fortunes after Vincenzo slept with his patron’s daughter and jeopardizes his position as the powerful Marchese di Gribaldi’s favorite music composer.
Bridget learns of the change of plans after she has let the whole of London’s Ton believe that Vincenzo is coming over to find her, which as you can imagine is a situation best described as “beyond awkward”. When circumstances allow her to go to Venice and meet Vincenzo in person, she may however finally find the adventure of a lifetime. Oliver is one of the happiest people in the world to see her, but alas, she seems so taken by his buddy that poor Oliver finds himself standing awkwardly in that sad place called “friend zone”.
One thing that flows very clear from every word is the beauty and even sensuality of the music that we know today as classical music. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 23 in F Minor, the piece that Bridget would play in a competition that would hopefully restore Vincenzo’s position as the favored one in town, becomes a powerful and evocative representation of Bridget’s sensual awakening as well as coming of age. The best scenes in this story are those where Bridget just closes her eyes and live the music. This is one of the reasons why Bridget is a fantastic heroine: her passion for her music feels very real, not some kind of hobby a romance heroine pretends to be interested in until she finds a boyfriend.
The rest of the story is, alas, quite bland in many ways. It shouldn’t be bland, because Bridget is a fascinating character and Oliver is in many ways her male counterpart. He too can’t fit in, as he is the son of a more typical English nobleman and an Italian diva. He loves theater, music, and opera, but he was made to feel awkward and out of place for this. Their romance is sweet, but that’s the problem: it’s merely sweet, and is therefore completely overshadowed by Bridget’s love affair with her music. I find myself wishing that the romantic scenes would somehow go away so that it is all about Bridget and her piano.
Having said that, I do like this story, only I’m waffling between calling this book pleasant and thinking that it is good. That is, until I come to the climatic moment of this story. Here, the author simply floors me by delivering something unexpectedly delightful. You know that cliché where a heroine discovers true artistry and the meaning of passion by being boinked by the hero? I was expecting another “he loves me so now I am whole and wonderful” thing, but instead, I get an amazing moment where Bridget’s entire life up to that point becomes the catalyst for her coming out of her cocoon. It’s not just Oliver’s love – which is, of course, a big chapter in her life story – but also, her discovery of her own self worth, her experiences outside of being felt up by Oliver, and her own dreams and heartbreaks that allow her to finally break away from her baggage to embrace the music. I really like this, that Bridget, not Oliver, is the reason that Bridget is now awesome.
Let It Be Me has plenty of intensity and lots of burning emotions for an unexpectedly sensual coming of age story, but all the hot stuff is between Bridget and her piano sheets. Still, the sweet romance makes a decent filler for those really good moments in this story. I like this one, but I wish the romance has been as unforgettable as the heroine’s character arc.