Review: Encore (Blue Notes #5) by Shira Anthony

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Encore-BuildWhen teenagers Roger Nelson and John Fuchs  meet in the band room of Maryville’s Senior High School in 1971, they discovered they shared the same passion for music.  Roger Nelson with his violin and John Fuchs with his dream of conducting.  Each teenager came from different backgrounds and moved in different circles in high school, Roger Nelson, the “cool kid” popular with all crowds and John Fuchs, the stuttering, shy transfer from St. Barnaby’s, an expensive private school.  Brought together by music, they soon developed a deep friendship that made them inseparable.  Then it turned into something more.

John had always known he was gay so his love for Roger seemed natural and right. However, Roger’s attraction and love for John confused him, making him feel unsettled and insecure especially in the 70’s where homosexuality was still looked at with disgust and ignorance.  Together through college and graduation, John and Roger continue their secret romance despite growing opposition from Roger’s parents. Then two tragedies occur that immediately impact Roger and his family.  The ripples from those events serve to separate Roger and John, shattering their romance but not their love for each other.

For the next several decades, the men’s lives intersect only to  be pulled apart time and again.  When one more event brings them back together, will this be the encore they have been waiting for or will their last chance at love slip away forever?

Encore is Shira Anthony’s most ambitious and deeply layered Blue Notes story to date.  Over the course of the Blue Notes series, Anthony has been building a symphony of characters deeply involved in the world of music and their relationships.  Whether it was a pianist or conductor, violinist or opera singer, cellist or lawyer in the musical entertainment industry, Shira Anthony has introduced us to the men whose passions for music has driven their lives, loves, and careers. But those previous stories, for the most part,  have had a specific  short time span for the men and their love affairs.  Now in Encore, Anthony goes for the larger picture, not just a movement but the whole composition.  Here she strives for a symphony and achieves it.

Encore is a musical term derived from the French word “again”.  It is a repeat performance or an additional musical piece that occurs after the main piece or event concludes and it is the perfect term to apply to the on and off again relationship of Roger Nelson and John Fuchs, two characters introduced as a couple in previous novels.  Starting in 1971 and ending in 2006, Anthony creates a romance that encompasses a 35-year time frame.  It will see the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic, the fight for gays rights, and finally the beginnings of social acceptance of homosexuality.  Against such a historic and dramatic background, the author has created her most textured and multidimensional romance in this or any other series.

Even at the beginning of John and Roger’s relationship, each young man has their personalities already firmly in place.  John is already comfortable being gay, even in 1971.  The kids have already taken note of his “difference”, an aspect of his personality that will only deepen as John ages and finds his own style, totally comfortable in his skin and element.   And while John may stutter in emotional situations, his belief in himself and his music is unwavering.  I loved John.  I understood his behavior and his emotional outlook on life and his music because Anthony has made him so transparent and accessible even with all his layers.

Then there is Roger.  The wonderful, exasperating, heartbreaking Roger.

Roger Nelson inside is the antithesis of his outward appearance and behavior.  On the surface, Roger is all “coolness” and popularity, his easy nature and charm crossing high school and then college social circles.  But inside, he is a tumultuous mess.  Pressures from his parents, society, and their expectations for Roger’s future collide with his own dreams for himself and the resulting avalanche will derail everything Roger and John had planned for their lives together.  While all Roger’s friends and family is aware he loves music, none but John understand how crucial it is to Roger, that music and the violin are fundamental parts of Roger, as necessary to him as food and air. It’s that essential part of Roger that is lost or an aspect of it is lost.  And for the reader, it is important that we are able to connect with that feeling in order for us to really understand  Roger and his actions.  For Roger, the loss of music and his ability to play the violin is nothing less than the deepest wound to his soul, like losing an appendage.  The hole it leaves behind can never be forgotten or overlooked.  Roger too feels so real, a living, breathing walking gash of a man.  And, due to the author’s deep connection with her character and her ability to bring this man to life, Roger is also the character that will engender a wide spectrum of feelings from the readers.

Roger has the ability to become such a misunderstood character in this story if the reader doesn’t take the time to put him into perspective, both historically and emotionally.  John never had the pressures put on his that Roger has had throughout his life.  Nor has John had to deal with the worst thing that could possibly happen to himself and Roger.  That is the loss of their music, the destruction of all their hopes and dreams and that is exactly what happens to Roger early on in their story.  This loss guts Roger.  It takes his heart and shatters it, leaving Roger incapable of going forward with his life as a whole person.

I think that Shira Anthony captures that feeling, that crushing loss, and it’s resulting reverberations on someone’s emotions and behavior realistically and with great pain and insight.  The author has stated that in many respects “Roger” is her.  Roger, his  character, is her outlet to express the emotions and heartbreak she felt upon leaving her career as an opera singer behind.  And it shows in the realness, the pain, the constant turmoil and upheavals in his life that Roger finds himself going through.  She made me believe in Roger totally.

At times the reader will be frustrated with Roger’s  actions.  Trust me, I was.  But again, you need to keep in mind that the man going through the various stages in his life is a man bereft of his center, his heart.  Then Roger becomes someone who needs our compassion and empathy as well as our understanding.  I think so many of us can point to moments in our life when things went awry.  Maybe it was a slight altering of goals or a detour taken that we notice only in hindsight.  But for Roger and so many others, there are life shattering events and decisions that send them off on a journey they never expected or wanted.    Accident or warfare, a missed step or terrorism.  The why is sometimes less important  than what happens after.  And here, in Encore, Shira Anthony lays it all out for us as it takes Roger 35 years to come to grip with his eviscerating loss and his love for John.

As we watch Roger and John come together only to separate once again, I am reminded of the various acts in an opera.  Just as an opera has various acts, stages it must go through,  so is this book divided into different periods.  Each division moves the story forward, sometimes just a couple of years or so, sometimes a decade until we arrive at the last act and the highly satisfying encore.  This is an emotional journey, full of the cracks and crevasses that come over time and with two such diverse men at the center.  Have the tissues handy, you will need them. as this story has the ability to make you weep as well as smile.

I can’t say it enough, Encore is such a remarkable story.  It is definitely one of the best of 2013.  It is a symphony of emotions, its instruments the men Shira Anthony has created along with their deep love for music and each other.  Encore will have you calling for a repeat performance from this incredible author.  Brava, brava!

As with all her stories, here is the link to the playlist for Encore. http://www.shiraanthony.com/books/encore/#extras 

Cover art by Catt Ford.  This cover is perfection in every way, from the picture of the two men as boys to the branding that keeps it similar in look to the other Blue Notes covers.

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) Expected publication: December 25th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press

Book Details:

Review: Knightmare (City Knight #2) by T.A. Webb

Standard

Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Knightmare coverEx cop Marcus Prater spent that last several years devastated from the loss of his lover to a street crime.  Then Marcus met Ben Danvers, college student, prostitute and damaged soul and a fragile relationship was born.  But the men who raped Ben are out of jail and Ben disappears.  Now Marcus must call on all his old friends and contacts to help him find Ben and fast.

Ben’s worst nightmare is happening all over again, can Marcus and friends save him in time?

With Knightmare, T.A. Webb weaves the City Knight series into the full tapestry of the Pulp Friction universe, and the result is a marvelous concoction of mulit dimensional characters, convoluted plots and combustible romances to knock your socks off.

In the first installment, we meet two different yet equally damaged men.  Marcus who had a deep and wonderful love, Jeremy, who died in a small time robbery.  Then Webb gives us (and Marcus) Ben Danvers.  Ben had been brutally attacked, raped and left to bleed out on the college campus where he was a student.  The two men responsible were caught and jailed but emotionally, Ben has never recovered.  To make money to finish college as well as living expenses, Ben sells himself on the street.  And each transaction has further harmed his self esteem and ability to love.

Webb made us believe in these individuals and their problems. We hold our breath as they tenuously move towards a relationship because we are aware of all the obstacles still between them.  Then the author proceeds to fracture their fragile new status with the news that the men who attacked Ben have been released from prison.  Given today’s headlines and the often shortened prison sentences, this is a realistic, horrifying event to happen.  Then Ben disappears. Gone.  And Marcus is terrified that he is going to lose another love just as soon as he found him.

This is how Knightmare starts out for Marcus and  the reader as we are dumped right into the middle of Marcus’ scene at the end of City Knight:

Marcus stood in the alleyway, letting the shock he’d initially felt bleed out of his system. The blast of adrenaline that made everything speed up and slow down simultaneously had burned through his body and now he was able to focus. He took a deep breath and let his experience take over.

As he calmed and his vision cleared, he shoved away all the fear that crawled through his body like an army of fire ants and looked around the alleyway. Saw. And began to process, his mind functioning again. His cop instincts made notes and started a mental file on the crime scene. He moved slowly into the dark, pulling a flashlight from his jacket pocket and painstakingly covering every inch of the alley.

No blood that he could see. No obvious signs of struggle. No overturned garbage cans, not a goddamned thing. No sign of his Benjamin. How in the hell was that possible? Ten minutes…he had only been ten minutes away.

Marcus’ panic and disbelief are visceral in their power and believability. T.A, Webb does such a beautiful job in describing the intensity of Marcus’ feelings that the reader feels the emotional impact of the situation as deeply as Marcus does.  And as the situation escalates, so does the anxiety level of the reader.

And the people Marcus calls on for immediate assistance are those same individuals we have met in the other series.  Chance DuMont, Wick Templeton, Zachary and Archer (and Jeremiah).  All here as well as their various story lines, weaving the complicated relationships and past histories together to form a formidable conglomeration of dynamic personalities, remarkable intellects, and a diversity of talent that is not always to be found on the side of the law.   Talk about a powerful group dynamics and all focused, albeit temporarily, on finding Ben for Marcus.

As with most serialized stories, there is another cliffhanger to be found at the end of this story.  It’s shocking and guaranteed to send you running to the next story as it should.  It’s terrific story. And the series is so explosive, really quite addicting in every way.  Trust me, just go with the flow (and Scattered Thoughts) over to the next in the series.  I am running to the next one as quick as I can.  Join me.

Don’t miss out on any stories in this series but do start at the beginning.  I have listed the book below in the order they should be read. Consider them all highly recommended.

Stories in the City Knight series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and events to follow:

City Knight (City Knight #1)
Knightmare (City Knight #2)
Starry Knight (City Knight #3)
Knights Out (City Knight #4)

Book Details:

ebook, 50 pages
Published April 15th 2013 by A Bear on Books
ISBN13 9781301938292
series City Knight
 Book Details;