The Secret Chord by Virginia Hale

sarabisto's review against another edition

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Fucking loved it

iwanttoreadandgetpaid's review against another edition

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I would have loved to read this from Tilly’s perspective, to see thru her eyes the changes she goes through. Still a good read and the author’s writing is better with each novel.

patricia71's review against another edition

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Not my book. Started because of the great reviews. But the surroundings felt very depressing. So DNF after 7%

judeinthestars's review against another edition

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Wow wow wow. I had to make myself stop halfway to get some sleep before going back to The Secret Chord as soon as I woke up this morning. This novel is a rollercoaster of feelings, emotions and angst and I’d happily go for more.

Tilly and Kate were schoolmates at St. Joan’s Catholic school, they were roommates and then a bit more but didn’t go very far, as Tilly was planning on becoming a nun. When they meet again twelve years after graduation as temporary teachers at their old school, Tilly is engaged to a much older man, a vicar who seems mostly interested in her as a nanny for his two young children. Kate, on the other hand, is still as in love with Tilly as she was at sixteen.

I don’t know what it is with books involving Catholic characters but I often postpone reading them (I’m not a Catholic, which might be partly why) only to find that they’re often the most intense. Reconciling religious feelings and being attracted to women makes for a great romance when it’s well done. Tilly is so naive and at the same time so willing to understand, so strong and sweet and complicated, Kate doesn’t stand a chance. My heart was breaking along with Kate’s and mended with hers as well. It could be very annoying, this back and forth Tilly is doing, but it’s so cleverly written that it’s inherently poignant.

This book is going to stay in my mind for a while, no doubt.

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

elvang's review against another edition

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This is a difficult review to write. I love this author and am impressed by her writing skills but this story did not work for me.

Pros; Hale develops her characters so well. She takes the time to let us get to know Kate and many of her students, their pasts and their passions. Her settings are vivid and easy to visualize. She pulls you into her stories and makes you feel like you are right there among the teens on the passenger ferry, listening to their weekend chatter. She challenges you to ponder the lives of both Kate and Tilly and the reasons their lives turned out the way they have.

Cons; Tilly and her naivete. Time spent with Tilly made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. A cloistered life is one thing. Reality in this world of social media and round the clock news channels made her innocence feel almost comical. The students on the island were more mature than Tilly. I struggled to stay engaged with this read because I didn’t feel Tilly was worth the effort on Kate’s part.

When I don’t engage with the characters in a novel a read becomes an endurance challenge.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley for review.

3.5 stars

jimjack's review against another edition

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emotional reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? N/A
  • Strong character development? N/A
  • Loveable characters? N/A
  • Diverse cast of characters? N/A
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? N/A


evelynhugoo's review against another edition

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no but this was beautiful, and reading it while listening to folklore and evermore was even better

mjsam's review against another edition

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ARC received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I seem to be an outlier here. I haven’t read anything else by Hale, but chose this based on strong reviews. I liked it, but wasn’t blown away like the other reviewers.

Main premise is that two women who attended the same boarding school as kids are now teaching at the boarding school as adults. It’s a catholic boarding school, and located on an island.

Kate, whose POV the book is told from, is on a year long contract as the music teacher, her BFF from way back, Tilly, is now coming back to the island to fill in on a short term contract and will be there for the end of Kate’s term. Kate and Tilly were best friends, who also liked to kiss each other in the bell tower when they were in their teens. Kate adored Tilly, but Tilly had always wanted to be a nun and Kate obviously couldn’t compete with that. The two haven’t seen each other for about 12 years.

So, all of this is an interesting premise, I’m usually a sucker for nun books, but this isn’t quite that, in that Tilly never became a nun, so while there are nuns in the story, because the nuns are the majority of the teachers at this school, Tilly is simply highly devout, but never took her vows. Kate is more surprised to find out that Tilly is engaged to a protestant vicar, who is decades her senior. She and Tilly are also sharing a cottage, so lots of forced interaction via that plot device.

I’ll start with the pros. I loved Hale’s writing style, the setting, the characters (bar one, I’ll get to that in a minute) and the exploration of faith/values. Kate was a great MC, and I felt her frustration with wanting to live an authentic life while still being adhered to her beliefs about faith. She treated everyone well, and only wanted the same. The nuns were also interesting, and I liked the exploration of how they moved within the contraints of their own faith. The girls at the boarding school were also fairly well fleshed out, and I enjoyed the side forays with their characters and their interactions with Kate.

Ok, so now the cons. Pretty much all of these revolve around Tilly. I could NOT warm to her. She’s just so... repressed. Her relationship with Declan was unfathomable, she ran hot and cold with Kate for the vast majority of the book, and I got tired of reading about her innate kindness by the 50% mark. Not only was she repressed, she was boring, and in all honesty, kind of stupid. I get that she wanted to help people but inviting people you don’t know to stay in your cottage (on a remote island!) is dangerous and Kate was flat out right about that. Not to mention the ridiculousness of bringing someone to an island full of nuns and girls and not caring about the possible danger she was placing them (or Kate) in. Sure the guy turned out to be harmless but Tilly couldn’t have known that for sure. She’s also ridiculously possessive of Kate, while still being engaged to someone else. Honestly, there was nothing about this character that I liked. Tilly describes herself this way “I’m hard to love. Maybe even hard to like.” and she is not wrong.

So, that made it hard to really immerse myself in the book, because my aggravation with Tilly (who also had a terrible name, Matilda Wattle, which as an Aussie just made me cringe every time I read it), kept cropping up and making me wonder why Kate wanted her, and then I’d be annoyed at Kate. I’d usually have finished a book this size in a day, but had to keep putting it down because Tilly was annoying me.

I enjoyed enough of this to plow through, and would try others by Hale, but didn’t love this. 3 stars.

brennooth's review against another edition

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Oh god, those two. I don’t even know what to say. She bought the house! God, what a ride... Kate and Tilly are amazing and everything and perfect for each other. Kate being so gentle with Tilly.. my heart. Jeez.

mgncpr's review against another edition

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his is a wonderfully poignant slow burn, second chance romance that has lingered in my mind for days after I finished reading it. The story unfolds slowly but I never felt bored - I was captivated from the fist page and that lasted right to the last one. There's just the right level of angst and pining to propel things along but this isn't a total hand-wringer. Instead, this is an intelligent and mature novel of love.

The story itself is pretty simple - Kate, a music teacher, takes a year long position at the isolated Catholic boarding school she had attended as a young girl and finds herself reunited with her first love, Tilly, who has also returned to the school as a teacher. The complexity is in the characters and the way the story unfolds - I really was really impressed with Hale's writing as it drew me in and kept me engaged.

Kate is a fantastic character who carries the book - she has a remarkable level of maturity that is underscored by her vulnerability when it comes to Tilly. Knowing that she has and always will love Tilly - she struggles with accepting that Tilly may never be able to return her feelings. Kate's honesty, in her own thoughts as well as in her interactions with others, is refreshing and particularly amusing. I loved her scenes with the students -some of the more humourous moments of the book and I found myself invested in each of the girls and their exasperating antics but they also had flashes of compassion and maturity. Her love for Tilly shines through the entire book.

The story is told in third person narration from Kate's perspective. This allows the reader to build a strong bond with Kate, but the down side is that Tilly is a bit of a mystery ... to Kate and the reader. We see Tilly through Kate's lens, but she is almost over-romanticized and too good to be true - beautiful, caring, innocent and naive with a strong devotion to God (and a bit uptight and repressed). She appears to spend most of her time devoted to helping others and working in the gardens while Kate pines and convinces herself not to try and interfere in Tilly's decisions. Through their interactions, Hawkins shows rather than tells Tilly's feelings and conflicts.There's a lot of conflict that her character has to deal with - raised by her aunt in the convent, she has a strong and clear devotion to God, but the feelings she doesn't want to acknowledge are at odds with the teachings of the Church she so desperately loves. She is, without a doubt, a good person - better than most, but that innate kindness and love leaves her open to be taken advantage of, especially by the rather vicar who's own religious devotion seems more shallow and self-serving.

I really enjoyed this one and it was a welcome change from the cookie cutter lesfic romance or intrigue novels I've been reading lately.

Strongly recommended.