Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Note Yet Unsung by Tamera Alexander

I read this book for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2017 Reading Challenge. For more info about what this is, click here.

Most readers tend to get into a loop; they know what genres they typically like, and what genres they typically don't like, and then they go out and pursue books that are in the category of the former, while actively (or subconsciously) avoiding the latter. Even though I'm a late starter to the romance genre, I've quickly learned that there are many, many subgenres in romance, and some of them tend to repel me more than others. Case in point: christian fiction.

I wanted to choose a good book for the 2017 Reading Challenge in my romance group, because christian fiction can be a mixed bag. I've read a handful of christian historical fiction that I actually liked quite a bit, my favorite being TIFFANY GIRL by Deeane Gist, because of its feminist themes and amusing love story, but as a non-religious person, some of them just feel so "preachy," judgmental, and even borderline-misogynistic. I realize it's unfair to judge an entire genre by its duds - especially in a genre that doesn't have me in mind as an audience - but man, when christian romance gets it wrong, it gets it wrong. Would my choice for the christian fiction category, A NOTE YET UNSUNG, get it right?

A NOTE YET UNSUNG actually has several wonderful/interesting/cool qualities that set it apart from other romances. One, that cover is gorgeous. And I loved the fact that she was holding a violin in the middle of a concert hall. She's a musician! That was what drew me in, because I have a history in music, and the idea of reading about a heroine who desperately wants to be a musician in an age when it was considered illicit for women to do so was incredibly intriguing.

Two, while this is the third book in a trilogy, it appears that they're an interconnected set of standalones revolving around a real person in history, Mrs. Adelicia Acklen Cheatham, plantation-owner and mansion-owner who was, at one point, the richest woman in Tennessee.

Three, this romance novel actually has some prevailing feminist themes. Rebekah, the heroine, wants to be a musician and is unwilling to let men - or society - tell her "no." She's actually quite sneaky and enterprising in how she goes about advancing herself, and is willing to settle for a less prestigious position in order to do or be around while she loves, all the while plotting how to advance herself.

Religion is present in this book, but it isn't used to judge; instead, it is used for comfort in times of need, or to meditate on one's desires and pray for what one desires - either for oneself or one's loved ones. I didn't mind this at all, and thought it added, rather than detracted to the story, and I enjoyed the use of religious music in this story to show how it can bond people together.

The reason this book isn't getting a higher rating is because of the love story, pointless drawn-out scenes with the hero's family, and some questionable actions on the hero and heroine's part.

The hero and heroine disliked each other at first. He starts liking her first, and when she likes him it feels so sudden! He also treated her quite badly at points, and while there are reasons to explain his bursts of anger and irritation later on, which do make sense, it was still annoying.

I also could have done without the long interludes spent with Tate's family. I didn't think they added to the story, except to make Rebekah look like a good person that was meant to be with Tate, and since the rest of the book was leading to that conclusion anyway I feel like it could have been cut out to reduce the page count and make the book a little breezier. I almost marked this book as "DNF" because the middle bogged down so much, but it picked up as soon as they left Casa Tate.

Finally, the questionable actions. At one point, due to a misunderstanding where the spying heroine finds some laudanum bottles, she assumes that he's taking them to an opium den to get high. Since he is a conductor (and she, his assistant), she decides to follow him to said opium den and then lecture him about how he's ruining his career and - more importantly - her own. It turns out that he isn't going to an opium den, though; the laudanum is for a terminally sick family member. Oops.The way Tate reacts to this is weird; he forgives her, and hardly gets angry at all, which isn't in line with his temperamental character. Me, I'd be furious if someone pulled that crap with me. Who does that??

There's also an abuse subplot in here with an evil stepfather stereotype, and that was also kind of awkwardly handled. He's creepy AF, though, so kudos for writing him as unambiguously the bad guy as possible, I guess. Others might be put off by the "happy black servant" stereotypes, done in the style of GONE WITH THE WIND, and the fact that the N-word is used, seemingly for shock value, by the bad guy to cement what we already know: that he is, in fact, the bad guy. This was an interesting contrast to me, because right now I'm reading Octavia Butler's KINDRED, a book that's also set in the 19th-C South, except it's brutal in highlighting injustice and the treatment of black men and women. The main character herself actually mocks the way black slaves are portrayed in books like GONE WITH THE WIND, as being a very sugarcoated, rose-tinted way of looking at the past.

Adelicia Cheatham's character was the bomb, though; many of the best lines were hers (I've quoted a couple in my status updates for this book if you want to look). And honestly, Rebekah's character was okay, even if she could be incredibly annoying at times. I'm glad I read this book because it was in a genre that I don't normally read (and even sometimes avoid), and it was good enough that I'd check out other publications by this publisher.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2.5 out of 5 stars.

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