Fiddlehead Press, $4.99
Historical Romance, 2013
This month, the TBR Challenge theme is “Lovely RITA”, which means I have to use my surgical tools on a book that has been nominated for or have won a RITA. Given that I have not followed that thing since… 2009? Anyway, I have scrutinized the list of nominees and winners of the last few years and, hey, there is one title that fits the bill and it involves musicians! Intrigued, I went ahead and purchased a copy… what, I’m cheating? Well, it’s either that or getting around the rules by having my friend Rita select a book for me to review. She selected a book featuring horny centaurs on a rampage, and then decided to borrow the book for herself first. So, sorry, people, we’re stuck with Anthea Lawson’s Sonata for a Scoundrel today.
Clara Becker composes brilliant music. The thing is, because she’s a woman, her father sells her compositions under her brother Nicholas’s name, so she never gets any credit for her work. Her music is barely keeping a roof over their heads, given that they had spent nearly all their money on treating her mother’s illness before that poor dear went ahead and died anyway. And then, one day, deliverance arrives in the form of Europe’s most famous – and handsome – violinist of the moment, Darien Reynard. He arrives at their doorstep wanting to pay Nicholas to accompany him on his tour as a music partner (both Nicholas and Clara are talented pianists) and to let him play the brilliant new works of “Nicholas Becker”. Clara has to come along as part of the deal, as not only because she’s the real composer who has to make sure that the squiggle on every treble clef is perfect, she is the only one who can help Nicholas cope with his bouts of melancholy.
Because this is a romance novel, Darien wastes little time trying to sneak his paws into Clara’s bloomers. How lucky for him that Clara is so besotted with him that he doesn’t really have to do much other than to pout his lips and wag his fingers.
Yes, this is a competently written and readable story. I can’t say I’m in any pain while reading this story. However, a sense of disquiet starts to build early in my reading, and this disquiet breaks into an outright sense of “Oh, this is just not right!” by the time I’m in the late third of the story.
My first problem is this: Nicholas and Clara are entirely dependent on Darien’s mercy because, from what I gather, Daddy Becker does nothing but to pretend that he’s Joe Jackson, so Nicholas and Clara cannot quit on Darien. Nicholas is distraught after catching Darien pawing and kissing Clara, and he wants to quit the charade, but Clara insists that they can’t because they need the money. Darien says that he has to stay away from Clara, but that is just lip service. He has no problems making sexual advances to Clara every time he has the opportunity. I guess it’s okay that Clara wants him enough to put out for free, but what happens if she’s not into Darien? Can she say no to Darien? Given how Darien just keeps doing that “horny octopus wants in” act on her, I do wonder, and I suspect that I won’t want to know the answer. The siblings are deliberately cast in a very desperate situation by the author, and no matter how many orgasms Clara enjoys out of the whole thing, there is a big power imbalance here that affects my ability to appreciate the romance.
My second problem is that poor Nicholas is obviously depressed, and the stress of the deception is accelerating his breakdown. If that is not enough, Darien keeps pushing Nicholas hard, and when Nicholas tries to confide in Clara, she in turn insists that they have to keep up the deception because… well, they must, for Daddy’s sake as well as theirs. So, while the poor guy is on his downward spiral, Clara is enjoying herself being shagged bandy-legged by Darien. This is not right, someone please free poor Nicholas from this horrible duo and their selfish antics! Sonata for a Scoundrel has a problem when I start thinking of the hero and the heroine as some kind of stage parents from hell.
Finally, for a tale of musical passion and what not, Sonata for a Scoundrel turns out to be a disappointingly familiar fare. Darien is arrogant and confident, and rarely shows vulnerability to make him seem more human. Clara is basically that infatuated cow who at the same would do everything for Daddy – there is little else to her. These two are so talented, everything she composes and everything he does on his violin is the best ever, to the point that the incessant accolades for their performances grow tedious and monotonous fast. Any problem here is caused either by Nicholas – who is not awesome like Clara and Darien – or Darien’s cartoon nemesis.
So, take away the music, and what is left is basically two cold and uninteresting characters sitting on a poor depressed man until the guy loses it completely. But I’m supposed to be okay with all this, because the hero and the heroine are so awesome in a Mary Sue squared way and they have great sex here. Whatever, really. I really wish I had that centaur book back in time for this TBR challenge, because I suspect I’d have a far more interesting time with it.