Dirty Little Secret
MTV Books / July 16, 2013 / $16.99 print, $8.89 digital
Bailey wasn’t always a wild child and the black sheep of her family. She used to play fiddle and tour the music circuit with her sister, Julie, who sang and played guitar. That ended when country music execs swooped in and signed Julie to a solo deal. Never mind that Julie and Bailey were a duet, or that Bailey was their songwriter. The music scouts wanted only Julie, and their parents were content to sit by and let her fulfill her dreams while Bailey’s were hushed away.
Bailey has tried to numb the pain and disappointment over what could have been. And as Julie’s debut album is set to hit the charts, her parents get fed up with Bailey’s antics and ship her off to granddad’s house in Nashville. Playing fiddle in washed-up tribute groups at the mall, Bailey meets Sam, a handsome and oh-so-persuasive guitarist with his own band. He knows Bailey’s fiddle playing is just the thing his band needs to break into the industry. But this life has broken Bailey’s heart once before. She isn’t sure she’s ready to let Sam take her there again.
Jennifer Echols writes for both adults and young adults, and has recently begun to publish in the new subgenre of New Adult. Her newest novel, Dirty Little Secret, is listed as a young adult book, but the ages of the protagonists, the mild sexual content, and discussion of sex might make it fit into New Adult as well. Regardless, the novel will likely appeal to all of those audiences. Fans of the television show Nashville might be especially intrigued: it’s set amid the music clubs along Nashville’s Broadway, and both hero and heroine are talented musicians who haven’t yet had their big break.
I really enjoyed heroine Bailey Mayfield’s point of view. She’s only just graduated high school, but she’s been performing on the fiddle at bluegrass festivals since she was small. Along with Bailey’s first real romance, the plot revolves around Bailey’s musical abilities and how she expresses them. She and her younger sister Julie were a duet until Julie got a large recording contract. Now Bailey, rejected and bitterly angry, must decide how important performance truly is for her, and whether she has the same ambitions. When she starts college in the fall, will she major in music, or in the biosciences?
There are all sorts of lovely tidbits of musical detail scattered throughout the story, adding realism and demonstrating how much Bailey’s music is a part of her character.
Besides being an old hand (or hack) onstage, I knew just about every song there was. The ones I didn’t . . . well, there were basically three chords in all of popular music—major one, major four, and major five—with an occasional minor six or (gasp!) crazy-ass minor three thrown in to get everybody titillated. The solo break came at the same place in every song. The fiddle took a solo first, guitar second. I always knew what key we were in. I could predict where the music was going. Anyway, the audience didn’t notice mistakes. They noticed hesitation.
…“What do you know?” Mr. Hardiman asked.
Again, I assumed he meant me.“Everything.” Even to my own ears, I sounded weary as I said,“I know everything.”
“‘Soldier’s Joy’ then, in E.” He had to name a key for me this time. This song was older than America and had probably been recorded in all twelve keys at one time or another. I felt my adrenaline spike at the idea of playing one of the first tunes I ever learned on fiddle, a staple of late nights messing around at the edge of a bonfire after the main events at a bluegrass festival were over. The casual audience had gone home by then. Only us diehard campers, my family and several other families of musicians we’d grown close to over the years, were left to close down the night with ones and fours and fives and ones. Somehow this happy tune woke up those tired chords for me and made their familiarity a good thing. Or maybe it was Sam who’d turned my mood around. As was typical, we played a couple of verses, took turns with solos, and then sang one verse. Bluegrass singing was about harmony….
Bailey and Sam’s musicianship meshes more harmoniously than their romantic relationship, leading to all sorts of dramatic tension as they try to decide how much they can trust each other, and whether they dare give in to their physical and emotional attraction. I would have been pleased to read a much longer book about them and their fellow band members. If you’ve never tried Echols, this might be a good place to start.
Learn more about or order a copy of Jennifer Echols's Dirty Little Secret, out July 16:
Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.