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Nocturne (2013): Pas de Deux

Andrea Randall and Charles Sheehan-Miles, Nocturne (Andrea Randall and Charles Sheehan-Miles, 2013)

full disclosure: this book was provided to me free of charge by one of its authors for review purposes.


photo credit: Charles Sheehan-Miles

Shouldn’t quotes from the book be in quotation marks?

I’ve been reading Charles Sheehan-Miles’ books for twelve years now; I got a copy of Prayer at Rumayla back in 2001. After reading and reviewing it, I was on a roadtrip from Cleveland to Providence, RI (twelve and a half hours each way if you get stuck in rush hour traffic in New York City, unfortunately) with a friend of mine, a veteran of Gulf War I, in March of 2002. I gave him my copy, and he spent most of the trip immersed in it. Instead of giving it back to me, he passed it on to a person he’d served with. I like to think that all these years later, it’s still making the rounds among Iraq veterans. I’ve been reading Sheehan-Miles’ stuff ever since. Andrea Randall, on the other hand, is new to me. It’s a mark in Nocturne‘s favor that I couldn’t tell where one writer left off and the other began. (I’m assuming it’s facile—and spurious—to simply assign Gregory’s bits to Sheehan-Miles and Savannah’s to Randall.) On the other hand, it makes me want to pigeonhole all the book’s shortcomings to Randall, which probably isn’t fair. I’ll try to avoid doing so, and I apologize in advance if I fail.

It has seemed to me for the past decade and change that, speaking very broadly, there are two kinds of romance novels these days: there’s the classical romance novel, where the main characters don’t end up together until the very last page, and then there’s the “new” romance novel, where the characters actually end up together about halfway through the book and must face a united front against external pressures attempting to tear them apart. Telling you which of these types Nocturne is would be a major spoiler, obviously, but here’s another mark in the book’s favor: by a few pages into this book, you will think you know which of them it is. You are incorrect. Given the inherent limitations of genre romance, with predictability being at the top of that list, any chance an author has to throw a few curve balls into the mix is a good thing.

Plot: The authors waste no time in kicking boundaries; when we first meet Savannah Marshall, Nocturne‘s heroine, she’s seventeen years old, auditioning for a spot at the New England Conservatory. We meet her form the perspective of Gregory Fitzgerald, an instructor at the school and the youngest principal cellist in the history of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, twenty-seven at the time. We dodge the possible ephebophilia with Part One of the book taking place three years later, when Savannah is in her junior year and in a music theory class that Gregory is tabbed to teach at the last minute. Sparks fly from the get-go as Gregory’s traditional ideas towards music collide with Savannah’s progressiveness. Doesn’t help that each thinks the other is exceptionally easy on the eyes. From there, well—must I tell you? It’s a romance novel.

There’s some great setup here, and Gregory and Savannah are well-drawn characters who—mostly, at least—react in believable ways to the situations they find themselves in. Though that does lead to the book’s first drawback, as one of the ways in which our authors get things to happen on the book’s schedule is the deus ex machina of “and then three years passed”, which I mentioned above. (It is invoked more than once in this book.) That kind of undercuts the believability, especially that first time; this is not a big, anonymous school, or at least that’s the impression I get; is it reasonable to assume that our main characters would be able to completely avoid one another for three years?

The book’s other shortcomings are, in the main, either more nebulous or more minor. There are a few places the language slips up. (“…her breasts were swollen against his chest…”? That’s not sex, that’s an infectious disease.) Some of the minor characters are not nearly as well-drawn as the principals, which combines with another problem, that some of the subplot ideas were dangled in front of us and then just kind of disappeared. During the final third of the book there’s a character who seems to have been introduced for the sole purpose of creating a sort of love-triangle tension, but then after the first chapter or so where we meet said character, whose sex I am trying not to reveal in order to avoid spoilers (which is making this very difficult to write, I must say), s/he only appears every once in a while, delivers a cutting remark, and then vanishes back into the woodwork. Eh?

I also mentioned up top that for the most part, our main characters approach the situations they find themselves in/make for themselves in a logical, believable way. There is one huge exception to this. Going into it would constitute a major spoiler. But you’ll know it when you see it.

None of these shortcomings is enough to say “you shouldn’t read this book.” (And neither is the cover. Graphic is fine. Text chosen…not so much. But you already noticed that when you saw the cover graphic above, didn’t you?) With the obvious caveat of “if romance novels are your bag”—in other words, if the unspoken baggage that comes along with genre romance is okay with you (the general predictability, the sometimes-stretched bits where characters walk into conversations a little too late and thus misinterpret everything—though I will rush to add that in this particular novel, that sort of nonsense is kept to a minimum, and the one pivotal point where it happens here is very well-thought-out)—then yes, absolutely, you want to pick up a copy of this. Let me put it this way: when I signed up for the blog tour, I (arbitrarily, if you must know) decided I’d post on August 31st. The book popped up in my email box a week before that. What? You want me to read and review a book in a single week? For the love of… (my current record for time lapse between view and review is eighteen months, which is why I never do deadlines). In any case, I fired it up on the Kindle for PC and saw that Nocturne has, roughly, seven thousand “locations”. (Hey Amazon, can’t you just use page numbers like everyone else in the world since, oh, Gutenberg?) Okay, I thought to myself, that’s a thousand locations a day and still time to dash off a review. By the end of the first day I’d made it to the magic number of 2112, and the second day, I finished it. Both of these authors know how to keep the (virtual) pages turning, and turning quickly. I think it probably could have used one more round of sand, coat, and polish before being completely ready for prime time to smooth out a few of the lumps mentioned above, but if you’re looking for a good, solid read, Nocturne will fill the bill. ***

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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