Title: Aria (a Blue Notes novel)
Author: Shira Anthony
Cover Artist: Catt Ford
Length: 236 pages
Five years after a prestigious scholarship jumpstarted his opera career, Aiden Lind has it all: fame, choice roles, and Lord Cameron Sherrington to share his life with. Maintaining his façade takes effort, but under his poised, sophisticated mask, Aiden is still the insecure kid from rural Mississippi. Then he walks in on Cam with another man, and the illusion of perfection shatters.
Philadelphia attorney Sam Ryan never moved on after his partner died, though he tried. Instead of dating, he keeps himself busy with work—but when he unexpectedly runs into ex-lover Aiden while on a rare vacation in Paris, he’s inspired to give their love a second chance. First, though, he’ll have to get Aiden to forgive him. Because when Sam was still grieving five years ago, he broke Aiden’s heart.
When rekindled lust blossoms into a true romance, it seems like the start of something wonderful. But Aiden’s career has him on the road much of the time, and the physical distance between him and Sam starts translating into an emotional disconnect. If Aiden and Sam can’t learn to communicate, their separation may prove more than their love can bear.
To paraphrase Chekhov: If the gun has been presented in Act 1, it must be fired by Act III. Aria has an uncomfortable number of undischarged firearms lying about.
The author went to considerable effort to create the backdrop of professional opera and law, and set up a confluence that never materialized. Over and over I waited for a promised payoff, and over and over I was left wanting. If this was a deliberate attempt to avoid the obvious, then why go to all the effort of the set-up?
The set-up is delicious—Sam the employment law attorney is having a lot of trouble continuing with his life after losing his partner of several years. Nick, the deceased lover, is still very much with him, and a tentative attempt at dating a year after his death is only enough to bring Sam together with Aiden for a few heady weeks before opportunities in his world of professional opera take him away.
Five years later, they have the chance to pick up again and find out if they could be good together.
Both men have had their lives devastated by loss—Aiden’s is more recent and accompanied by betrayal. The first third of the book sets all this up, and lets our hearts break with Aiden’s when he finds his aristocratic lover doing the unforgivable, after having shattered with Sam and his grief. I snuffled a little and turned the pages anxiously.
When the men do reconnect, it’s tenuous—Aiden travels a lot from gig to gig, and Sam has a secure life back in Philadelphia, and making these two things jibe isn’t easy. Aiden doesn’t quite get over the feeling of being a guest in what should be his home, nor does Sam relax enough to let Aiden feel comfortable. It’s understandable in a way—beginnings are delicate, but the things, major and minor, that they don’t talk about are, well, just about everything. “It’s okay” says Sam, or “I don’t mind” says Aiden, but it’s not and he does, and what could have stayed small and been healed grows huge and festering until it threatens to tear the men apart.
Even something as small and obvious as calling to wish Aiden well before a performance seldom occurs to Sam, who surely should be intelligent enough to set a clock to London or Vienna time. A “brace yourself” phone call from Aiden to Sam regarding the paparrazzi’s intense interest in him, plus an explanation from the source, shouldn’t be out of Aiden’s ability. For the second third of the story, I wanted to deliver frequent blows with the cluebat. These guys think but they don’t act. They lie to each other and find it easy to ignore the lie, as Sam muses at one point, and it won’t be until they are brutally honest with one another that they truly have a chance.
The text is sprinkled with promises of events to come that never materialize, not least of which is an intersection between Aiden and Sam’s careers. This is foreshadowed early on, and while the difficulties duly arise, the troubles are resolved via a third party, not by one of the MC’s skills. This has the effect of flattening out an already understated and uncommunicative relationship, and wastes a lot of potential. Aiden and Sam could have been any couple where one is rooted and the other nomadic, a teacher and a long haul trucker, for instance, though the trucker might have borrowed his pal’s bass boat instead of an ocean-going yacht. We barely see Sam’s legal career, or have the chance to follow Aiden on stage and feel his passion for the music, which would have been a good counterpoint to the drippy greasepaint we did see. Nor do we sit with Sam in the concert hall to hang on Aiden’s every golden note. Where one character needed the other’s expertise, it doesn’t happen—they barely discuss what’s wrong.
What we do have, leaving aside the unused possibilities, is a competently told story of learning to love again and the difficulties of an intermittently long distance relationship. Nick hangs over the couple like smoke, creating tension, and the tabloids’ interest in Aiden provides horrible jolts for both men. We also get some lovely appearances of characters from the first two Blue Notes novels. It was nice to see Jason and Jules happy.
I still enjoyed the book, even while seeing how a more thorough use of the various elements could have lifted this story from good to great. 4 marbles