I spent the last week reading the first chapter of nearly every “to-read for blog” book on my Kindle. This was in an effort to weed out the books I really didn’t want to spend time on right now, and to prioritize the remainders. See my blog post on making a good first impression for more about that. When all was said and done, this was the book that screamed “READ ME!!” the most to my brain, and so this is where I started. And I’m glad I did.
As the main character, Brynn, put it:
Like the moment when you first open a book, uncertain of whether or not you’ll enjoy it. You decide to read the first page, and word by word it draws you in until you’ve reached the end of the first chapter without realizing it, then the second. Could the rest of the story live up to the promise? You’d have to wait and see.
A very enjoyable read, with complex, relatable characters. A definite treat! This is in that newish category “New Adult”, aimed at college age readers and with a college-age protagonist. It is a brainy romance, weaving music, mathematics, fairy-tales, and the recovery process from deep psychological wounds into a story both sweet and compelling.
College age readers (probably women), and for those of us who can remember our college days with that rosy haze of nostalgia.
HOW I FOUND THIS BOOK:
This book was advertised on eBook Deals Daily for free.
This was a true pleasure to read, with strong characters who still had fragile aspects to their personalities and pasts. Brynn is a girl who lost her loving mother too young to a horrible tragedy and had to deal with an uncaring, critical step-mother and step-sisters. This gave her an understandable lack of self-confidence, and a sanctuary from the twisted words of her family that she could only find in mathematics. Elliot is a man who has loved and lost, and with that loss misplaced much of himself – becoming a hermit, obsessing over solving a complicated mathematical problem that he hasn’t made any progress on in nearly a decade, and finding his only solace in playing piano.
Even though this story is superficially a partial retelling of Cinderella, it also has strong ties to “Beauty and the Beast”, and mixes the two together into a much more layered and nuanced narrative than any one story could give. Elliot is both Charming AND the Beast. Brynn is the hard-working yet ever-cheerful Cinderella and the smart Belle, and bears the scars and determination of both. The combination (and tossing in hints of “Little Red Riding Hood”), set against a backdrop of snow, castles, scenic Budapest and a dangerous forest, make this fairy tale perfect. And the vibrant chemistry (true love **hearts**) that exists between the two main characters is the icing on the confection.
What impressed me the most was that these were two characters with past traumas that still haunted them in very realistic ways. I’ve read a lot of “I lost my parent” or “I was in a car accident” romances where the trauma is superficial and easily overcome. Not so with this book. In part I think the use of Brynn’s in-depth confidential asides at the ends of the chapters help with her “smiling on the outside” character. Elliot’s trauma left literal scars on him, inviting questions and attention. His trauma manifests with PTSD symptoms and isolation. Even at the end of the story, they aren’t “cured”, they are moving on. Although this book could work as a stand-alone (no cliff-hanger), there is still a lot about their individual pasts that has not been confided to their partner. I look forward to reading the second book in this set to see the rest of the story.
I was confused by where “Valentina Alastair” came from. [spoiler] I understand that the false identity, the missing girl and the searching Prince was important for the Cinderella tale, but there was a place in the initial narrative to put in that it was fake – ie. I hesitated for only a split second before saying the name of my favorite soap character. “Valentina,” I replied. “Valentina Alastair.” …. Or something. In the second chapter even the character herself is puzzled why she lied. Besides, pseudonyms do not come from nowhere… and yet this one did. It would have been better – an early insight into the character – to use a name with meaning like her mom’s name, or her Grandmothers, or a famous mathematical. To even say it was a character in a novel would have sated my curiosity. As it is, the ruse is unexplained (if understood later when Brynn discloses some of her history).[/spoiler]
AS A WRITER:
Aubrey Rose has a deft touch when it comes to story-telling. There was no concept introduced which was not used – some in straightforward ways, and some as reoccurring themes or concepts that built to a crescendo of character growth and intimacy.
Thematically, I adored the use of the color red to add an element of attraction and to cast the shadow of trauma. The music played on the piano also came back repeatedly, as a shared interest, a backdrop to intellectual discoveries, and finally to more intimate ones. Mathematics was more than a prop – the principles of Elliot’s interests allow Brynn to shine and have confidence, and evolved into a secret language used by the end to express the love and healing the characters had undergone.
There were however two pieces to the story-telling and writing that nagged at me – one that was systemic, and one that was incidental and mostly in the first part of the book.
The first is that the POV is split between the two main characters – common in romances – but that the female half is told in first person, and the male half in third-person that nevertheless revealed his thoughts and emotions. The story and writing is strong enough to alleviate most of the discord of presenting the story this way, but I personally would have been more comfortable with either dual first-person or dual third-person. Because of the asides (italicized) sections that read like diary entries from Brynn, I think keeping THOSE first person, and the rest as third-person would have worked the best. But despite this POV switching there was never narrator confusion because of the use of scene breaks – a section was told from one character or the other, never both. There was time overlap in the sections, but that is far preferable to head-jumping (one of my personal pet-peeves).
The second discordant thing to a smooth read was the repeating of certain words within the space of a few paragraphs or even sentences – namely “prestige” and “contribution”. Some of those were buzz/trigger words for the characters, but they were still repeated too often in too short a space. Not a real issue, more of a hiccup.
I’ll be doing a “Recommendation” post next, for Ben Aaronovitch’s River’s of London urban fantasy police procedural series, and next week I’ll be reviewing Ashlyn Forge’s “Chrysalis And Kings” science fiction series. See you then!