Mike and I are mildly obsessed with Tennessee, specifically the area around Nashville and Murfreesboro. So when I saw Jennifer Echol’s Dirty Little Secret on NetGalley, I pounced. Country music (Mike hates it, I love it), Nashville, and Jennifer Echols? Yes please! Tho to be fair I’m only 1 for 2 on Echols, I loved Going Too Far, but couldn’t finish Forget You. Dirty Little Secret lands somewhere in the middle.
Bailey and her sister Julie were raised on bluegrass and country music, so when the talent scouts pick up Julie and not Bailey, Bailey is jealous and bitter. She resents that they were raised as a duo and now she’s being asked to disappear. Nobody wants the public to know about the secret sister who was ditched, so Bailey is supposed to stay home, stay quiet and above all don’t play any music. Bailey has been moved in to live with her grandfather while her sister kicks off her tour and has taken a job playing music in the mall- some days she’s “Dolly Parton”’s sidekick, some days she’s back up for “Merle Haggard.” It’s the sort of job that flies under the radar and her parents aren’t aware of it. Within a few days on the job tho, she meets Sam, a talented guitar player with own band who is looking to make it big in Nashville. Sam is convinced that what he needs to make it big is Bailey and her fiddle. Sam is very persuasive and Bailey finds herself playing a gig with his band, and not surprisingly, they are good. Great, in fact. But is being in a really great band worth risking her future, and possibly that of her sister?
I really enjoyed a lot of this one. I loved the music scene and the Grand Old Opry and all of the technical music talk. I loved Bailey herself and I came to love Julie as well. Bailey is hurt and resentful, for good reason, but she progresses as the book does, and comes to realize that maybe she’s overreacted just a tiny bit. She learns to take risks that are for her future, as opposed to risks that would damage her future. Those aspects of the book are really well done.
Then there is Sam. Sam is completely manipulative, as is stated over and over, and it’s really hard for both the reader and Bailey to know what aspects are really his feelings and what things are just what he’s saying to get what he wants. Sam has exactly one focus in life- to get a contract- and he’s willing to use any connection at all to get there. It’s hard to know if what he feels for Bailey is real, or if she’s just another stepping stone. He is slick, he gets all the adults to eat out of his hand, he has his other band mates following his every lead, even when they can tell he’s using them or Bailey. In the context of Nashville and the music parts of the book, this works very well. You can’t help but root for him to be successful. In the context of a Sam and Bailey romance, however, I never quite felt that he really had feeeeeeelings for her. I didn’t buy into the happily ever after. The book ends on a high note, but doesn’t tie up all the loose ends. It’s a satisfactory ending and fits the rest of the book well, but I was really hoping for one that would knock my socks off with the romantic tension as Going Too Far did. It’s possible this will be that book for some people, but all I saw was the (well done) manipulation. I suspect a lot of people will love the ambiguity, but we all know that I’m in it for the romance.
Have you read Dirty Little Secret? What did you think?