Let it Be Me by Kate Noble

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London weather is chilly—and the social scene even more so. Luckily, Bridget Forrester is just getting warmed up…

Bridget longs to meet a gentleman who doesn’t mention her beautiful sister upon shaking her hand. But since being branded a shrew after a disastrous social season, Bridget knows she’s lucky to even have a man come near her. It’s enough to make a lady flee the country…

So Bridget heads to Venice for music lessons with the renowned Italian composer Vincenzo Carpenini, with whom she’s been corresponding. But not only is Carpenini not expecting her, he doesn’t even remember her! His friend, theater owner Oliver Merrick, does, though. And one look into her tantalizing green eyes has him cursing his impulsive letter-writing, which brought her across the continent. Yet before Merrick can apologize, Carpenini has ordered her away.

Little does either man know that they will soon be embroiled in a wager that will require the beautiful Miss Forrester’s help—or that there’ll be far more at stake in this gamble than money…

Rating: A

*sigh* Musical boo-boos aside, this was a truly lovely book.

Although Let it Be Me is billed as the fifth in a series of books and features the Forrester family from If I Fall, I don’t think it’s necessary to have read that book or the others in the series in order to enjoy this one – and enjoy it, I did.

The heroine of this story is Bridget, the middle Forrester sister, who has spent much of her life in the shadow of her beautiful older sister Sarah. Overlooked by almost everyone, Bridget has resigned herself to being on the shelf after a rather disastrous first season during which she gained a reputation for being standoffish and a bit sharp-tongued.

Although she does get tired of being recognized simply as “Sarah’s sister,” Bridget is not jealous of her success. All she really wants is to be seen for herself – to be seen as a person in her own right rather than just be known in relation to another. And deep down, she knows she has the means to be just that, for Bridget is a prodigiously talented pianist – far more skilled and capable than the majority of the misses of the ton who can count musicianship amongst their many ‘accomplishments.’

So Bridget had determined, in that first season, to amaze polite society with her talent and to finally emerge from Sarah’s shadow. Having received praise from – and an invitation to study with – the great Italian maestro Signor Vincenzo Carpenini, Bridget had been unable to resist insinuating that she was more than ordinarily talented. But as the axiom says, her pride led to her downfall, as Bridget suddenly collapsed under the weight of society’s – and her own – expectations, played extremely poorly and fled the scene. Since that event, she has been unable to play in front of any but her own family.

Bridget’s fortunes take a turn for the better however, when the family home is damaged in a storm. As another axiom dictates, clouds have silver linings, and she persuades her mother that a trip to sunnier climes is in order, so they depart for Venice, Lady Forrester completely unaware of her daughter’s determination to seek out Carpenini and take those promised lessons.

Finding Carpenini, Bridget also finds Oliver Merrick, the young English gentleman with whom the maestro had traveled to England some years before. The two men are like two sides of the same coin – Carpenini is volatile and often rude where Oliver is calm and sensitive to others; Carpenini is confident about his talent and his place in society where Oliver has an awareness that he doesn’t quite fit in; the product of an Italian mother and English father, he is neither fish nor fowl, his olive skin and dark hair marking him out among the English as not one of them; his bearing and light colored eyes marking him out as not wholly Italian either.

He has an awkward relationship with his father, having left England to follow his artistic heart some five years earlier, and although in receipt of an allowance, has used it to purchase a run-down theater which he plans to transform and use to mount his own productions. An accomplished actor, he knows that he does not have the drive to succeed in that profession and prefers instead the challenge of directing and producing. He does, however, have the ability to recognize talent in others and to discern how best to nurture it.

Oliver is an absolutely adorable hero and watching him fall in love is a real delight. He’s insightful, confident and steady. With the perfect blend of artistic sensibility and practicality, he grounds Bridget and knows how to calm her, distract her, or make her laugh. I like a tortured hero as much as the next woman, but sometimes it’s refreshing to read about a man who isn’t dragging a shedload of emotional baggage or who isn’t afraid to show a woman that he cares for her.

I also enjoyed seeing Bridget finally come into her own, through her love for music and her love for Oliver. While Carpenini is her teacher in terms of the technical side of her craft, it’s Oliver who teaches Bridget how to see beyond the page, showing her passion and helping her to transform herself from a gifted amateur into a great musician.

I adored the tone of the book. The writing was lyrical with a definite musicality to it, and there was a pervading sense of gentle tenderness that I really liked. Kate Noble’s descriptions of the music – both heard and played –manage to convey the sensations one can experience when listening to or performing great music incredibly well – not an easy thing to do. There’s a wonderful moment when Bridget is listening to the first performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony:

So often, she had found herself transported by music. She would get lost, lose herself to the time and fullness of the tones, the way it conjured up air around her as she listened or as she played. But this, she thought, one did not get lost in this music. One was delivered by it.

And then later, she tells Oliver that she at last understands that Beethoven, “pushes feeling at you, he does not allow you the leisure of discovering it for yourself.” I found both these descriptions very insightful.

There were also some well-drawn supporting characters in Bridget’s mother and sister, and in Oliver’s valet and the diva Veronica Franzetti. I thought that Venice itself really came to life through Ms. Noble’s descriptions of the light and the sights and sounds of the city, and I loved the scenes where Bridget and Oliver wandered through the streets, just talking and getting to know each other.

Their deepening friendship and subsequent growing attraction to each other was beautifully written and the love scenes, while not explicit, are full of sexual tension and sensuality.

I did have one or two minor problems with the book which I am sure will not bother the majority of readers, which are to do with the musical terminology rather than the story-telling. Being a musician myself, I always like to find books in which the hero and/or heroine are musically talented or in which music plays a large part in the story. But in Europe, we don’t use expressions such as “thirty-second notes.” They’re “demi-semiquavers.” “Three-quarter time” is “three-four time,” and so on. I also found the constant reference to the piano sonata by Beethoven that Bridget is learning as “No. 23” or “Number 23” incredibly jarring to the point of annoyance. I know that the name by which we know it now (Appassionata) was not adopted until a later date, but to just refer to it as “the Number 23” felt wrong. Bridget says, “I understand the No. 23 now,” (or words to that effect) and it sounded completely wrong in my head. “Sonata number 23,” or “the twenty-third sonata,” or even just “the sonata” – as by that time the reader was well aware of its nomenclature – would have read and sounded better, in my opinion.

I also spotted one huge clanger, which I’m surprised got through the editing process. Ludwig van Beethoven was not Austrian. He was German.

Despite those things, however, I enjoyed the book immensely. Let it Be Me is a beautifully told, emotionally satisfying story and one I have no hesitation in recommending to others.

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