Review: Symphony in Blue (Blue Notes #4.5) by Shira Anthony

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Symphony in Blue-build (1) coverThe holidays are a time for friends and family to come together in celebration and thanks.  Symphony in Blue brings together all the couples in the Blue Notes series for a very special occasion.  Aiden and Sam are ready to get married but before that can happen Cary and Antonio’s baby daughter decides to make her appearance into the world earlier than anyone had anticipated. So instead of the huge reception planned, David Somers and his long time lover Alex Bishop bring everyone to their villa in Milan for a homecoming and Thanksgiving that they will never forget.

Join Sam and Aiden, Jules and Jason, David and Alex, and Cary and Antonio and friends as each couple shares something they are thankful for. Played out in four movements, this symphony is a celebration of friendship and love, orchestrated by David.

I have loved this incredible series since the release of the first story, Blue Notes.  With the Blue Notes series, Shira Anthony (and for Prelude, Venona Keyes), has created an ensemble of musicians and their lovers that has intrigued us with their personalities, enthralled us with their music and beckoned to us with their love stories.  Whether it was violinist Jules Bardon (with manager/lover Jason Greene), cellist Cary Redding (and his partner, entertainment lawyer Antonio Bianchi), operatic baritone Aiden Lind (with partner lawyer Sam Ryan), and finally conductor and Chicago Symphony Music Director David Somers and his partner, violinist Alex Bishop, Shira Anthony has used this incredible octet of musicians and their loves as the “voice” through which she has moved us with her deep love of and passion for the world of classical music as well as knowledge of the various art forms within.

A former opera singer, Shira Anthony was at one time as deeply immersed in this world as her characters are and it shows in every element, every note that threads itself through these stories.  It is there in joy and in sorrow, through all the difficult times and choices these men have had to make.  And because she has been there herself, her series has a realism and authenticity that gives these stories depth and texture.

As these couples sit around the Thanksgiving table in Milan, each reflects on their lives as they share with their friends (and readers) something specific they are thankful for.  Anthony presents us with an intimate setting and a ritual I suspect occurs in more than one household around the country.  For each man, each couple, the things they share brings the reader up to date in their careers and presents us with glimpses of their present day family life.  I have to admit that Cary and Antonio’s memory is my favorite, with Cary (and Antonio) trying to deal with their son’s Massimo’s jealousy over the new born in their midst).  It’s so real, with elements that will break your heart and then put them back together as father consoles child and reaffirms their love for him. One couple after the other, with emotions high, celebrate love and family among their dearest friends.  It feels familiar and immediate and oh so lovely.

At 73 pages, Anthony packs a lot of feeling and music into her story.  Yes, let us not forget about the music, such an integral part of the Blue Notes series.  The story itself is a composition by David Somers, the dedication written by him.  The performer list is that of all the characters in the series and the story plays out in five movements, each movement a sharing by someone at the table. This is an inventive format that works beautifully for this story and is so reflective of the entire series.

In many ways Symphony in Blue and the Blue Notes stories are a series of love letters from the author, sharing her passion and deep appreciation of the musicians and the music they live their lives by.  I highly recommend not only Symphony in Blue but the entire Blue Notes series.  If you are a fan already, then you will love catching up with all your favorite couples.  If you are new to the series, then go back to the beginning as this story contains spoilers for all the rest.  Either way, this one is not to be missed!

Listed below are all the stories in the Blue Notes series.  The author has noted that she considers it a series of interrelated, classical music themed standalone novels that can be read in any order.

Knowing (Blue Notes, #0.5) a free read at Goodreads
Blue Notes (Blue Notes, #1)
The Melody Thief (Blue Notes, #2)
Aria (Blue Notes, #3)
Prelude (Blue Notes, #4) by Shira Anthony and Venona Keyes
Encore (Blue Notes, #5)
Symphony in Blue (Blue Notes, #4.5)

Book Details:

ebook, 1st Edition, 73 pages
Published December 25th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1627983945 (ISBN13: 9781627983945)
edition language English

Review: Metal Heart by Meredith Shayne

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Metal Heart coverIt is 1990 and a local band called King Phoenix is looking for a lead guitarist to round out the band.  When 20 year old Scott King shows up to audition, his music and song writing abilities mesh perfectly with the songs and sounds King Phoenix embodies and they welcome him into the group.  Scott also bonds closely with their lead singer, Ash Walker.  As the rock band evolves from anonymity to fame, Scott and Ash form first a close friendship which turns into a intense, sexual and romantic relationship that lasts for four years. But unlike his other band members, Scott starts to experience stage fright the bigger the venues they play.  His coping mechanisms coupled with some bad friends, start Scott on a downward spiral that Ash and the band are first unaware of, then unable to stop.  Pressure mounts until the stresses and rumors of Ash leaving the band, cause Scott to implode, ODing on drugs and alcohol.  While Scott lies in a coma in the hospital, the band leaves to go on tour without him.  There will be no further communication between the band and Scott until 16 years later.

2011, Berry, Australia.  Scott King has worked hard since coming out of rehab to become a successful music producer with his own studio.  He’s healthy having been clean for 16 years.  Scott likes his quiet life, he lives with his twin sister and his niece, he has friends and ex lovers, and is mostly content.  His past is safely secured in a box tucked away in a closet in his bedroom, a box that never gets opened lest the past bring out all the old demons he has fought for so long.

Then he gets a phone call from the past, his old band manager, who wants Scott to play at a benefit gig for King Phoenix’s old sound man who is dying of cancer.  The benefit is to raise money for his wife and child and Scott is needed to reunite the band.  Prodded by his sister and fond memories of their sound man, Scott agrees against his better judgement. But seeing Ash, who wants to take up where they left off,  starts to shatter Scott’s self control as does the stage fright that starts to come back.  Can Scott handle the stress of seeing the only man he has ever loved under the same conditions that once broke him? Or will this reunion cost Scott everything he has worked so hard to build, including his sobriety.

I love a good rocker book and Metal Heart is terrific.  It is my first introduction to Meredith Shayne and I will eagerly check out the rest of her library. Metal Heart has so much to recommend it, including a gritty look at the effect of drugs and alcohol on someone vulnerable enough to let them take over his life.  Actually, I think this element of the novel is perhaps the best part of the story, elevating it even over the lovers reunited.

Shayne starts off by giving us the character of Scott King, a naive 20 year old gay musician.  A friend and later band manager drags him to audition for a scruffy local band called King Phoenix.  Scott is someone who loses himself in his music, from the compositions he writes to the lead guitar he plays.  Shayne gives him a vulnerability that shows the reader how open emotionally Scott can be to all things, including love in the form of Ash Walker.  I love this character and we watch him grow and struggle over a 16 year period.  For Scott, the best part of his life is the early  years with Ash, before the band caught on and became famous.  Young, impressionable, artistic and happy, those are his defining years.  But the stresses of playing to large crowds, as well as hiding their romance and sexuality from all around them, places such a strain on Scott that the cracks start to appear and fissure, and we feel helpless as we watch it happen.  The author then goes on to demonstrates how readily available drugs and alcohol allowed musicians and others to cope with the demands of touring and the pressures of fame.  The scenes where associates introduce Scott to drugs rings true as does the resulting addiction that others are helpless to derail.

This leads us into discussions of therapy and rehabilitation as well as the fact that once you are an addict, you are always an addict. Shayne is careful to give us an authentic portrayal of someone in the throes of an addiction to someone living the life of a recovered addict.  The temptations to succumb to the pressure to use again are always present and Scott is that addict personified.   Really, this is just a remarkable characterization.

The character of Ash Walker is one that, while he didn’t quite work his magic on me, will be a favorite of most readers.  A little older, Ash is less vulnerable and more savvy than Scott, even at the beginning.  And while we never doubt the love he holds for Scott, he comes across as the most secure and  ambitious of the two.  He wants fame, and is at ease with the pressures that come with it, unlike Scott.  And while there is more to his story than is revealed at the beginning, I still found myself disconnected from this character, especially after he continues to pressure Scott to resume playing while acknowledging that Scott is showing the symptoms of cracking under the stress.  I did find it realistic that the band members would be so self involved not to understand what was happening to Scott in the 90’s but for them to consider his actions that of a “jerk” when he is clearly trying to protect himself and his self control in 2011, well I found that to be less feasible, more objectionable than anything else.

This also applies to the “aha” moment of the story which I won’t divulge here.  But one thing that is repeatedly brought up is the fact that Scott “disappeared” and that in 16 years Scott never tried to contact the band members.  They all knew he was in rehab and a little research would have shown that those in rehabilitation are not to have contact with those that helped enable them.  Plus Scott King became a successful music producer, and they couldn’t find him until 16 years later? Again, that just doesn’t seem all that realistic.  But those qualms aside, this author delivers a vibrant, enthusiastic portrait of young rockers, love and the price of fame to life in Metal Heart, and then leaves us with the promise that sometimes love is enough, even after 16 years apart.  For me, this is still a HFN, instead of HEA and there seems to be plenty of room for another book to see where they take the relationship next as not all obstacles have been cleared away.  Either way, this story will please fans of rock n roll stories and bad boys with music to burn as well as those of romantic lovers reunited at long last.  All fans will be left satisfied at the end of Metal Heart.  Pick it up and happy reading!

Cover art by Anne Cain.  Love, love this cover.  From the graphics to the color choices and fonts, just perfect.

Aria (Blue Notes #3) by Shira Anthony

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Rating: 4 stars

AriaPhiladelphia attorney Sam Ryan has never fully recovered from the death of his lover, Nick.  One night during yet another attempt to go forward, Sam goes to a bar and meets Aiden Lind, an aspiring opera singer.  One passionate week later, a fearful Sam lets Aiden walk out of his life rather than deal with his own issues of loss.  It is a moment Sam handles badly, hurting Aiden in the process.

Five years later, Aiden Lind is a successful opera singer, living with Lord Cameron Sherrington, a wealthy music patron.  But Cameron’s cheating ways lead to a painful parting and shortly after Aiden runs into Sam Ryan again.  Once more the sparks fly between the two men and they start a long distance relationship strewn with obstacles to overcome whether it is Aiden’s insecurity, Sam’s refusal to deal with his loss of Nick or just poor communication between lovers afraid to damage a new love.   As the demands of their careers puts new stress on an already strained relationship, Cameron returns to Paris determined to win back Aiden at any cost.  Both Sam and Aiden will need to take a hard look at themselves if their love and their relationship is to survive both themselves and their pasts.

I am such a fan of this series and Shira Anthony in general.  Blue Notes captured my heart from the beginning by seamlessly folding romance and love into the world of classical music.  Because of the author’s background, the love of music and her intimate knowledge of the world of the classical musician has provided the reader with a series that moves to the sounds of a cellist playing ‘Dvorak Cello Concerto in B Minor’ or a violin pouring out the strains of “Bach Sonata 2 in A Minor”.  Music is at the heart of this series as much as romance and the combination has proved to be as compelling and  potent any I have read before.  So I am at a loss here when I have to say that the one thing I am missing from this book is the one thing that makes this series so memorable – music.

Aria is Sam Ryan and Aiden Lind’s story and as a tale of a developing love between two opposites, it is both realistic and a little frustrating.  The story moves back and forward along the relationship time line of these two men.  It starts at the present day, then returns five years in the past in order for us to capture their painful beginnings and then back to the present where Aiden is breaking up with Cameron.  We switch from present day Aiden dealing with the stress of his job but mostly his unequal partnership with Cam to present day Sam who is still dealing poorly with the loss of his Nick.  At the beginning, this interrupted timeline did more to impede the reader’s involvement with Sam and Aiden’s relationship than it did to promote engagement with it.  You would just get into the flow of the scene and then it would break away to another year and stage in their lives.  But after Sam and Aiden agree to try a long distance relationship, then this format actually works to help the reader understand the frustrations each man is dealing with within the framework they have set up for themselves.

As Sam and Aiden get increasingly frustrated and stressed out over a lack of time spent together, so does the reader ride the same emotional currents with them.  The couple is not communicating at all with each other which puts additional pressure on their frail relationship. The constantly shifting locations mirror the same shifting stages in their love affair. One discordant scene follows another, each moving forward by months, an effective, realistic way to portray a romance in crisis.   But it is done without the accompaniment of music.

Aiden tells us he is to sing a certain aria but we never “hear” him sing or feel his emotions about the songs or operas.  We hear a little about the rehearsals or about the mechanics of the performance,but almost nothing of the heat of the moment, the feelings that the songs engender.  How Aiden is connected to his music, his profession is entirely absent.  In Blue Notes or The Melody Thief, we never questioned Jules or Cary’s passion or commitment to music, it had them in thrall.  Concertos and sonatas flowed through the passages of those books as blood does through our veins.  Where is that passion here?  Where is that feeling that Aiden would rather die than not sing?  It is missing and we feel its absence deeply.

At one point in Shira Anthony’s blog about The Melody Thief, the author gives us a link so we may hear Anthony singing Tosca,  It is clear from that recording that she loves singing and was terrific at it as well, the deep wells of emotions flowing out on every note.  Shira Anthony has blogged about the pain that was created when she chose family over her career as a professional opera singer.  And I wonder, was this subject too close to her heart to treat subjectively? With Aiden as a stressed out opera singer dealing with a long distance relationship, was the storyline too close to her own history? Was the material too painful to be able to relate to the reader by way of Aiden what it felt like to let the music flow through you like a vessel created for that purpose and that purpose alone?  I don’t know, only the author herself can answer those questions.

I know that the fourth book in the Blue Notes series, Prelude, has been written.  It’s main character is David Somers, conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a foundation character who has supported the people in each book to date.  Now he gets his own story and that of crossover violinist Alex Bishop.

I am hopeful that with a return to the orchestra’s conductor and violinist, that the music will return to the series as well. I enjoyed Aria, the romance was realistic and well done but curiously devoid of music in a series called Blue Notes.  And where this story should sing, there is only silence.  I love this series and its music.  I can’t wait for its return.

Here are the series in the order they were written. The author has stated that each book can be read on its own.

Blue Notes (Blue Notes #1) – read my review here.

The Melody Thief (Blue Notes #2) – read my review here.

Aria (Blue Notes #3)

Prelude (Blue Notes #4) coming soon from Dreamspinner Press.

Cover:  Just an outstanding cover by Catt Ford, unfortunately it pertains more to the music than the story within.