RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Sonata for a Scoundrel by Anthea Lawson


Title: Sonata for a Scoundrel
Author: Anthea Lawson
Publication Info: Fiddlehead Press October 2013
ISBN: 978-0615885940
Genre: Historical: European

Book Sonata for a Scoundrel This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by El7. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Historical Romance category.

The summary:

The Muse…

Clara Becker is a supremely gifted composer—a talent of little to use to a woman in 1830s Europe. Her compositions only have worth when they are published under her brother’s name, yet this deception barely enables them to scrape out a living in the poorest quarter of London.

Meets the Master…

Darien Reynard, the most celebrated musician in Europe, pursues success with a single-minded intensity. When he comes across Becker’s compositions, he knows that this music will secure his place in history. Darien tracks the composer down and, with some difficulty, convinces the man to tour with him. Mr. Becker agrees, but with the most unusual condition that he bring along his sister…

And here is El7's revliew:

Anthea Lawson’s Sonata For A Scoundrel is set during the Romantic Period, around 1830. It’s a period that doesn't get much love in Romancelandia compared to other historical eras. Perhaps this RITA winner can change the tide.

I always read the first few pages of a novel before buying, and this one was no exception. What really got my attention was the evocative way the author described the experience of listening to music. Clara, the heroine, is only listening to it in her head in that first chapter, but it still rings true. I figured that anyone who could write that unique captivation so convincingly deserved a closer look, and I wasn't disappointed.

Clara Becker is a gifted composer who has to hide her light under a bushel due to the prevailing views of the day. She has been publishing her compositions under her brother Nicholas’s name to keep her family from being turned out on the streets. If word ever got out that she was the true composer even that meager income would be ruined.

By chance one of her compositions is heard by the great violinist Darien Reynard. Reynard has an upcoming duel with a rival violinist and he needs an edge in order to maintain his reputation as the premier maestro of his generation. He hears genius in the work that he believes was composed by Nicholas Becker, and puts his formidable willpower to work at securing Nicholas’s services for the continental tour that will culminate with the contest.

Nicholas and Clara are actually close siblings, which was gratifying to read. Nicholas is ill at ease with accepting accolades that are meant for his sister. He has some wooby moments in this novel, but nothing unforgivable. The entire relationship, from the tender moments to the uneasy arguments, is rendered believably.

Clara and Darien, or Dare as he prefers to be known to his friends, possess chemistry that escalates in a credible fashion. He has a history with bringing a woman on tour that colors his initial perspective on having Clara along, since he is attracted to her. The fact that her brother is also on the trip creates more tension. Dare’s past affair with opera singer Francesca Contini gets closure in the narrative, and thankfully Francesca turns out not to be a villainess. It’s nice to see an ex portrayed as just a person on a separate path for a change.

The real villain in this piece is the rival violinist, Anton Varga, and he is a piece of work. He is Dare’s former student, who repaid Dare’s excellent tutelage with backstabbing. He seems to be such a blatant sociopath that I had to wonder what on earth possessed Dare to take him on as a student in the first place. Even Dare admits that the guy was “a very difficult student. Most of our short time together was spent with Varga trying to prove he was the better player.” How in the world Dare let his guard down long enough for Varga to learn enough to represent a threat to him is never explained. This is especially troublesome given Dare’s backstory as an adult child of an alcoholic who used his musical talent to rise above childhood poverty. This is a man whose guard is not down as a general rule.

Another minor quibble in what was otherwise a very enjoyable read was the manner in which the lovin’ got underway. Clara is a virgin. Dare is not. He gets her off by frottage over the dress. She then wants to know, “Is there an answering pleasure a gentleman might feel?” Clare’s tactful frankness is one of several things I really liked about her.

Here is where Dare could have taught her the delights of noninvasive sexual activity. But instead, he moves right on to intercourse. This is especially frustrating because their very next sex scene is all about the foreplay. I kept thinking the two scenes ought to have been switched around.

Despite Varga’s never-explained ability to overcome Dare’s natural wariness, and the love scene that felt initially rushed, I really did like this novel and would recommend it to others. The denouement also feels a little rushed – the epilogue could have been left off to make room for a longer falling action – but I still felt like cheering along with the fictional audience. It’s an A- for me. Brava, Anthea Lawson!

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Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    Musician hero? Composer heroine?

    RIGHT THEN. This has my attention, I’ll be checking it out.

  2. 2
    Cordy says:

    I will have to check this out, too – “historical lady who is a genius but has to hide it” stories are my catnip! Thanks for the review!

  3. 3
    Laura says:

    I loved the set-up:  female composer who can’t take credit for her work, handsome master violinist who came from a poor background.  I did believe the love story and the sex scenes were memorable.

    My problem was how both the hero and heroine treated her brother.  They both see that he’s on his way to a breakdown and yet they both keeping pushing him.  I also didn’t understand why the hero needed the composer to accompany him on tour.  He did well enough performing the first piece without having met the composer; maybe I missed something.

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