Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Book Review: Music of My Heart, by Sophia Isaac

Music of My Heart
(Music of My Heart, Book 1)
Sophia Isaac
Trade Paperback, 331 pages
Cut to the Chase Press
October 28, 2018
Christian Fiction, Christmas Romance, Contemporary Romance, Diverse Reads, Holiday Romance, Inspirational Romance, Interracial Romance
Source: Amazon

Synopsis: Alyson believes her divorce is the end. Marcus wants to help mend her wounded faith. Will these friends become lovers or will the pressure to change cause their new friendship to crumble?

Alyson Stefanelli pushes everyone away. She’s convinced she is marked by her divorce and unworthy of love. The young mother of two is determined to start over on her own and doesn’t want help from anyone, especially not her good-looking temporary employee who reminds her of her ex. She must maintain tight control of her world, or risk everything falling apart. If life has taught her anything, it’s that you can’t depend on anyone but yourself.

Marcus Powell is a gifted musician who plans to write movie scores in Hollywood someday—but someday never seems to come. Instead, he’s still dodging his family’s expectations that he’ll take a pastorship in his father’s church.

When Marcus uses his talent to help Alyson on the job, their friendship blossoms. He sees how hurt she is and wants to help mend her wounded faith. He persuades her to spend Christmas with his large family so she and her sons won’t spend Christmas alone.

Over the holidays, their defenses break down, secrets come out, and the feelings between them grow stronger than either ever imagined.

But getting involved with a young mother will surely curtail Marcus’s Hollywood dreams. And Alyson refuses to let herself fall for someone again when it can only result in heartbreak.

Sometimes, a broken heart is a blessing in disguise.

A truly satisfying stand-alone read, Music of My Heart is the first book in the Music of My Heart inspirational romance series. If you like raw emotion, family-based dramas, and clean romance, you’ll love this page-turning series. Pick up and enjoy Music of My Heart today.

Book covers have always pulled me toward a book, and this one really called out to me when I first saw it! It was mostly the guy on the cover that made it so appealing. Not only is he extremely handsome, but the loving, tender way he's touching the woman's face makes it obvious that this is a good, kind man. And she definitely appreciates him for that, and returns his feelings! 

Indeed, throughout this novel, Marcus is described as a man of deep feelings, which he brings forth through his music. And the title says it all -- it is music of his heart.

This is a story in which strangers are thrown together at work, and, over the space of a few days, realize that they are attracted to each other, and end up falling head over heels. 

Marcus and Alyson meet at the mall store where she works as an event planner in charge of the new store event, "Winter Wonderland". She's also playing Mrs. Claus, while Marcus -- all six feet plus of him -- is dressed as an elf. So there's definitely some humor in this story, as well. 

Marcus is a temporary employee, hired for the holiday season, and Alyson is his supervisor. When the new store Santa shows up drunk, and is dismissed, his immediate replacement turns out to be late. Marcus saves the day by stepping in and telling stories to the waiting kids and their parents, as well as leading them in singing Christmas carols. This is a revelation to Alyson, who is surprised by his beautiful voice, as well as his way with kids. She then finds out that he's her older son's music teacher. And her son, Darius, hero-worships Marcus.

I loved the contrasts and similarities in this couple's personalities, and how, over the space of a few days, they got to know one another, sharing their deepest feelings and cherished dreams. They were both hurting people; Alyson had gone through a difficult divorce, and thought that she was actually unworthy of experiencing love again, while Marcus had a rough time dealing with his father's and family's expectations, which, of course, adversely affected his relationship with Alyson, as well as with his family.

The main conflict of the story was actually based on doubts about their feelings for each other. However, Isaac resolved this conflict beautifully, through a series of heartfelt family scenes that had me turning pages even while I was hoping the book would never end.

The secondary characters were wonderful, as well! There are few romances in which family members are such an integral part of the story. In this novel, the author presented a slice of family life, creating other memorable personalities -- the members of Marcus's family. His mother, who insisted on being called "Mama Dottie", instead of "Mrs. Powell", was one of these memorable personalities. 

Initially suspicious of Alyson, she quickly realized that the "mystery white girl" was someone worthy of her son's love, and began to treat Alyson as one more daughter. 

Marcus's sister, Gail, found an ally in Alyson, having gone through the bitterness of divorce herself. 

Mama Dottie's own mother, who has dementia, is a wonderful character, as well. She has moments of lucidity, and, during one of them, tells Alyson the story of her life with her own soul mate, a jazz musician named Milton, who was Marcus's grandfather and musical role model. 

And then there's Darius. At 8, he's a precocious kid who is obviously headed for a music career himself. He's also a lot of fun, and his antics provide much of the humor in the story.

While the plot of this novel is a bit predictable, it's Isaac's storytelling style that makes it enjoyable in spite of that. I just loved the way she handled everything, especially the characters, and how they all got to know each other, how they all accepted one another.

This was just such a satisfying Christmas read -- it combined romance with family and faith, and everything was woven together beautifully. Marcus was a man of deep faith who never judged Alyson for her own spiritual doubts, but instead, gently modeled God's love to her. At no point during the novel did he attempt to force her to return to God. Instead, he made sure she felt accepted and loved as she participated in his family's Christmas activities -- going to church with them, enjoying Christmas dinner with them, and just having her feel as if she was already part of the family. 

The romance between the two main characters is also bittersweet and very realistic in its depiction of their inner struggles. The push and pull of their attraction to each other is caused by these struggles, and is nicely resolved by the author.

Of course, I loved Marcus! The cover artist captured the essence of this wonderful man, who was always caring toward Alyson, always concerned about her welfare, but without pushing her into a relationship before she was ready. This is the type of guy who can win a woman's heart without really trying, because he respects the woman he loves, because he sees her inner as well as outer beauty. 

One of the most important aspects of this novel to me is that, in contrast to other Christmas romances I've read this year, it really DOES have a well-described Christmas atmosphere. There's the Santa Claus event at the beginning of the story, the descriptions of holiday decorations, the opening of presents on Christmas Day, the church service, and the singing of carols. The plot and characters actually revolve around this holiday, instead of the holiday being peripheral to them. 

One might think that the reason Isaac made this holiday such an intrinsic part of her story is that she writes inspirational romances, but I've also come across well-described Christmas settings in other romance novels that don't specifically fit the inspirational category. The novels of Mary Balogh, for example, are really more secular, yet, her writing evokes all the warmth and joy of this beautiful season. I really don't see the point of labeling a romance novel as "Christmas romance" if this holiday only plays an incidental part in the story.

This is certainly a well-written debut that would make a wonderful Christmas movie! And the fact that it's also an interracial romance is definitely a plus. The holiday season is a time of love, friendship, faith, and family. There's no room for such negative things as bigotry. Sophia Isaac has definitely crafted a story that brings to vibrant life the love at the heart of the season! 

Although this novel can be read as a stand-alone, it's actually the first book in a series. The second book, titled Hollywood Heartbreak, follows Marcus and Alyson's continuing story. I will definitely be on the lookout for it! Kudos to Isaac on this wonderful debut!      


Sophia Isaac writes inspirational contemporary romance and women's fiction to share stories that make you think, make you laugh, and fill you with hope.

She insists on a world where goodness is attractive and inspiration is where you least expect it. A classic introvert, she loves spending time alone with her imaginings, studies, and art projects--or as much as her tabby cat overlords allow. Fun times with her dreamer hubby and his ongoing search for the best live-music burger joint round out her days.

Her blog's focus is learning to live--and be healed by--a creative spiritual life. San Antonio is her hometown, but she dreams of becoming a nomad someday. Especially when the heat index is over 100 degrees.

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