Title: The Stars That Tremble
Author: Kate McMurray
Cover artist: Aaron Anderson
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Amazon: Buy Link The Stars that Tremble
Genre: contemporary m/m romance
Length: 200 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
A guest review by Sirius
Summary: Likeable characters with believable motivations and romance set against opera settings – what’s not to like?
Giovanni Boca was destined to go down in history as an opera legend until a vocal chord injury abruptly ended his career. Now he teaches voice lessons at a prestigious New York City music school. During auditions for his summer opera workshop, he finds his protégé in fourteen-year-old Emma McPhee. Just as intriguing to Gio is Emma’s father Mike, a blue-collar guy who runs a business renovating the kitchens and bathrooms of New York’s elite to finance his daughter’s dream.
Mike’s partner was killed when Emma was a toddler, and Gio mourns the beautiful voice he will never have again, so coping with loss is something they have in common. Their initial physical attraction quickly grows to something more as each hopes to fill the gap that loss and grief has left in his life. Although Mike wonders if he can truly fit into Gio’s upperclass world, their bond grows stronger. Then, trouble strikes from outside when the machinations of an unscrupulous stage mother threaten to tear Gio and Mike apart—and ruin Emma’s bright future.
Mike and Gio belong to two different worlds. As you can see from the blurb Mike is a blue collar guy who renovates kitchens and bathrooms and Gio is a former opera singer who now teaches young singers. It felt like fantasy to me that two such seemingly different men would be attracted to each other and would have a chance to built a relationship together, but part of the reason why I enjoy Kate McMurray’s books so much is because even if her plot has fantasy, over the top elements, her guys more often than not behave close to how real people would behave. That in my mind makes over the top plot believable – because the interactions between the characters ring true to me.
I completely bought that while their connection started with physical attraction, both men started to connect more and more because of things they had in common, They may have belonged to different worlds but they both knew grief. And while they were grieving over different things, they both knew huge loss and they could relate to each other, feel for each other. I really loved how Mike’s grief over loosing his partner was handled and how real it felt to me that even decade later he still felt his loss. I mean, obviously everybody’s experiences are different and I cannot say that Mike’s experiences and mine are the same, but in so many ways I could relate to him. Obviously I cannot relate to him being a gay man, but I could relate to how he dealt with what life threw at him.
Mike always assumed that the worst would happen to him after something good took place in his life and in Emma’s life – in other words he was being such a worrywart. And oh my god I could relate to that so much. I also kept shaking my head as to how bad Mike was at accepting the compliments. It was really funny when you find something which you want to get rid of from your personality in fictional character. It did not happen to me for quite some time, I have to admit 🙂
And at the same time we do not see Mike falling apart because he lost a loved one – he had a daughter to raise and he could not afford to give in to the darkest corners of his soul. Mike’s being a single parent was a huge part of who he was and to make his daughter who lived and breathed opera happy, Mike was ready to risk entering the world he knew nothing about, or almost nothing about, because he wanted to give his daughter a chance at achieving her dreams. I really liked that the guys were not perfect and while they wrestled with their attraction because Emma was Gio’s student even if only for the summer, they still caved in. I really liked that the issue of the teacher sleeping with the parent of one of his students was explored, even if it was not expressly forbidden and even if Gio took several steps to avoid any appearance of impropriety, and the actions of the characters actually had consequences which made them sweat, even if eventually all ended mostly well for them.
There is a lot of opera in this book, if you are interested, you can go to the author’s blog and listen to some arias which feature in the story. I loved that the music, the art is such an integral part of the story. You do not need to love the opera to enjoy this book, because first and foremost this is a romance with opera settings, but it may certainly help. I thought it was very interesting how the author showed that even though Mike endured opera mostly for Emma’s sake and loved different kind of music, that Mike also had “music in him” as Gio put it. It was just so beautiful:
“Play us something romantic,” Gio told the cellist.
The guy appeared to think for a moment, and then he nodded and placed bow to string. Mike did not recognize this piece either, either, but Gio definitely did, letting out a gleeful little noise, kind of a squeak in his throat. He grabbed Mike and pulled him into his arms, and soon Mike found himself slow dancing with Gio to some achingly beautiful piece of music. The lights from Lincoln center shone on the sidewalk and reflected off the water in the fountain, creating an effect almost like candelight, as if there were thousands of little flames surrounding them. Gio grasped Mike’s shoulders and let him in a dance that wasn’t quite what Mike was used to, but he figured out how to follow. It was a little odd; Mike knew he was a big guy, and as such, he was used to leading, but Gio’s hold on him was firm and confident”
I thought that secondary characters were very nicely drawn too. Emma may seem like the teenager who has too much motivation, but I had known some people who live and breathe art (not opera, different kind of art) and Emma reminded me of those people so much. And why should it be out of realm of possibility that fourteen year old knows very well what she wants to do in life? It was believable to me, especially since even though Emma was very motivated, she was still a teenager who loved to discuss cute boys with her friend and was going through everything she has must have glitter on it phase :). I really liked her. I thought Mike’s friend Sandy and several other characters also came alive on page.
P.S. I have to say that while it is definitely too early to be sure that this book will end up being memorable for me, I came back to polish this review give or take couple of weeks after I wrote the first draft and so far the book has not disappear from my memory at all. And some books disappear couple days after I read them :).