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New Yorker Sadie Maddox is the toast of the classical music world—and a bit of a diva. But lately her CD sales are sagging, not to mention parts of her anatomy. Maybe it's time for a change. So when her agent suggests a professorship at a small liberal-arts college, Sadie decides to give it a go. Besides, she needs the money.

But the college is in rural Iowa. Sadie's colleagues are intimidated, her students aren't impressed, and she has to live far too close to farm animals. ...

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Act Two

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New Yorker Sadie Maddox is the toast of the classical music world—and a bit of a diva. But lately her CD sales are sagging, not to mention parts of her anatomy. Maybe it's time for a change. So when her agent suggests a professorship at a small liberal-arts college, Sadie decides to give it a go. Besides, she needs the money.

But the college is in rural Iowa. Sadie's colleagues are intimidated, her students aren't impressed, and she has to live far too close to farm animals. Will she find the courage and grace she needs to embrace her Act Two?

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781434765727
  • Publisher: David C Cook
  • Publication date: 1/1/2010
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,131,270
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Kimberly Stuart holds degrees from St. Olaf College and the University of Iowa. After teaching Spanish and English as a second language in Chicago, Minneapolis, Costa Rica, and eastern Iowa, she took a huge increase in pay to be a full-time mom. She makes her home in Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband and two young children.

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Read an Excerpt


A Novel in Perfect Pitch


David C. Cook

Copyright © 2008 Kimberly Stuart
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4347-6572-7



I once had a therapist who blamed my dislike of children on the Korean War. I was never entirely sure how she made that connection. Something to do with my father's inability to serve because of bunions. Or maybe it was my much-analyzed only-child complex. At any rate, she left private practice to become a consultant for Montel, and I was left with my visceral distaste for Baby Gap and Shirley Temple healthy and intact.

Children unnerved me. They moved like their internal remote was stuck on fast-forward. I never knew how to protect myself. That particular winter morning, for example, I was tempted to think the little girl with a velvet ribbon in her hair was benign, cherubic, even. And the next thing I knew, she reached over to wipe a cocoa-sopped little mitt on my new Burberry skirt.

"Not so fast, young lady," I said to the criminal as I put out my hand to stop hers. I took a step back and locked eyes with the girl. She looked to be about five. I cleared my throat and enunciated like I was in diction class, working to be heard above the throng in Tasia's Coffee Shop. "Your mommy is nearly finished paying."

Mommy half turned, keeping her palm open above the counter to catch her change. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes flickered like those who have been subjected to endless hours of child-adult interaction. "Francesca," she said to the girl, who stared at me with doe eyes. Francesca was still holding her wet hand in front of her and letting cocoa drip onto Tasia's floor.

"Can I help you?" A teenager with a pierced lip slouched behind the register and looked at me.

"You may," I said and rattled off my usual. "Large decaf soy white chocolate mocha. Light on the chocolate with a sprinkle of nutmeg." I edged around Francesca in a careful arc and set my mahogany leather clutch on the countertop. "Extra hot." I watched the barista move rapid-fire to concoct my drink. My eyes stayed trained on my cup, as my request for nutmeg had been ignored in times past.

"Sorry to bother you." Mommy poked her head around and invaded my personal space. Must have been genetic.

"No harm done," I said without looking up from my purse. I handed the cashier a crisp ten. "There are extra napkins near the door."

She kept staring until I turned to face her. "It is you!" she exclaimed. Her voice was nasal and high. "I can't believe it. You're Sadie Maddox, right?"

I dropped the paltry change from my ten into my clutch. After a careful sip of my mocha, I moved to make room for the next customer. Mommy followed me with a bouncing Francesca close behind. "I am," I said with a slow nod. I smiled before taking another sip.

"My mother is not going to believe this," the woman said. "She used to play your records for me when I was in junior high. We'd try to sing along with the Italian, which never went too well, but I really feel all that foreign language stuff gave me an appreciation for high culture, you know?" The woman wore a jaunty red beret, which did not quite contain a head of light blonde curls. The timbre of her voice could have caused epileptic seizures; I realized I was squinting in some kind of misguided self-defense. Nevertheless, she did appear to be earnest.

"I appreciate your kind words," I said. "Give your mother my regards." I meant this as a parting gesture but she stayed.

"There was this one song I just loved. I can't remember the name but it went like this." She started in with a hum that cut through the buzz of Tasia's noon rush. This woman was nothing less than remarkable.

I remained silent, as I most certainly did not recognize the melody through that narrow nasal passage. I shot a glance around the room for Avi but saw no sign of him.

"Remember?" the woman asked. She was a tenacious, humming bulldog. "It always reminded me of the beginning of 'Let's Get Physical' by Olivia Newton-John."

All right. "Yes, well, it's been a pleasure to meet you and best wishes for a happy holiday." I tried moving to the side but was startled when little Francesca jumped out and roared.

"Sorry," Mommy said with a little laugh.

I clutched my heart.

"She's really into roaring. We saw Lion King on Broadway a few months ago. Franny loves music, don't you, sweetie?"

Franny roared again, this time showing me her fangs.

"Is that right?" I said, waving to Avi, who had just entered. He was shaking the snow from his coat and didn't see me. "Francesca, do you like Italian art song like the other women in your family?"

Mommy shook her curls. "Oh, no. We don't even have a record player any more. She's more into Disney." She stopped her yammering and cleared her throat. "But we really should buy more classical CDs. I've been meaning to get around to that." She looked embarrassed and busied herself combing her fingers through Francesca's mop of hair. The child stared at me and stuck out her tongue when Mommy wasn't looking.

"Yes, well. You'll excuse me," I said, nodding to the two of them and eking out a tight smile before escaping with my mocha to a table by the window.

* * *

So now you know. I'm famous. It seems indelicate to say it that way, but we might as well be out with it. I am an artist, a singer to be more precise. I trained at two of the most prestigious conservatories in this country, did a widely coveted apprenticeship with a European opera legend, and spent a decade being flown around the world to sing all the major roles for a mezzo-soprano. The incident with scary little Francesca and her mother still played out several times a month, though most times without the humming, for which we could all be grateful. To be recognized in a city like New York was a coup. I saw it as a barometer of sorts to gauge if I was still a presence in the fickle music world.

Visibility is everything, my agent always said, and would likely say again when he returned to our table with his cappuccino. I smirked into my steaming mug. Visibility offered only so many choices to a woman who'd just turned forty. Couldn't be flashing my groceries to the paparazzi, for example. Sordid love affairs weren't as titillating when the flesh factor sagged more than it sweated. One had to be crafty at this age and combine class with sass.

I straightened in my chair, newly pleased that I'd called this meeting with Avi. If anyone was capable of helping me map out a plan, it had to be Avi Feldman, that shark of a New York agent who signed a new client only if six-figure fees were involved. I bit the inside of my cheek, freshly chagrined at the exorbitant percentage the man skimmed from each of my paychecks. The price would pay off, I assured myself, flashing my new veneers at him across the room. Didn't one have to spend money to make money? Avi would know how to engage the likes of fanged Franny and her beret-sporting mother.

Record player, indeed.

* * *

"Happy Hanukkah," I said and leaned over to peck him on the cheek.

"Thanks," Avi said around his return kiss. "And Merry Exploitation of Your Own Messiah." He smirked while unwrapping himself from a charcoal leather coat and silk scarf. "You Christians do have a way with pagan holidays."

"Watch it or we'll get a hold of Yom Kippur and start selling Day of Atonement cell phone accessories."

"Appalling," he said and turned to face me. "You look fantastic," he said by way of professional appraisal. "Did you get your eyes lifted?"

"Thank you, and no," I said, pleased and huffy at the same time. "Not all women over forty resort to the scalpel."

He snorted into his doll-sized cappuccino mug. "Since when are you so well-adjusted?"

I took a deep breath, exhaled slowly. "I'm embracing the fullness of age."

Avi raised one eyebrow. I suspected he waxed. "Yes, about that." He tipped back his cup to drain it. "How are you feeling about your audience turnout lately?"

I felt my eyes widening. "I feel fine. Positive, I should say. The recital at St. Mark's—" The show hadn't sold out, but then I'd agreed to do it as a favor to an old friend. "We were—what—three-quarters full?"


"Half. Well." I smoothed my hair. "Respectable, anyway, particularly so close to the holidays."

"Sadie, I think you should try something new. Think total departure, breathing new life into old ideas, well-worn songs, familiar repertoire."

"Yes," I said, nodding vigorously. I put one hand over his and couldn't help but notice my manicure was stunning. "I'm so pleased you're saying this, Avi, because I've been giving this issue a lot of thought. I think I need a late-career reinvention of sorts."


"Because I'm not that Lindy Lohan girl."


"Yes, of course. I'm not twenty but I think I'm better than I was at twenty. I'm wiser, more comfortable in my own skin, better able to choose what suits my voice." I paused, tilting my head in thought and breathing in Tasia's intoxicating aroma of cinnamon, cloves and caffeine. After allowing a moment to bask in the magnitude of female maturity, I returned my gaze to his face. "I'm more, Avi."

"Well," he said, leaning back in his chair and opening his arms. "You'll be pleased to know I have the perfect opportunity for you and your fuller, wiser, better self."

I cupped both hands around the waning warmth in my mug. "I'm open to absolutely everything. What's our next adventure?" I winked as I took a last sip of my mocha.

"Visiting professor of voice at a small liberal arts college." Avi waited for my reaction.

My sip became a pull even though the last dregs of drink had gone cold. "Professor of voice. I see. I don't have a PhD."

"They couldn't care less. You're Sadie Maddox."

True enough. "Would I have to teach classes or just have a studio of students?"


I tapped one finger on the porcelain saucer and took a moment to think. My eyes drifted around the room. Tasia's was decked out for everybody's holiday. Lit wreaths hung in each of the five tall café windows in front, silver menorahs lined a glass shelf behind the counter, and Kwanzaa candles were for sale by the register. I loved New York.

Avi cleared his throat. "And the best part is that you'll be able to escape the craziness of urban life."

I snapped my eyes back to his. "Why on earth would I want to do that?"

"Because the college is in Iowa."

I paused and then burst into schoolgirl laughter. "Avi, come on. Tell me where this school really is. Which borough? Brooklyn? Queens? I'll even go to Long Island in a pinch." My smile was conciliatory.

Avi took both of my hands in his, leaned forward, and kissed one cheek. "Sadie," he whispered. He kissed the other cheek and whispered in my other ear. "Iowa." He kept his cheek on mine, likely to discourage a dramatic response.

I pushed him away and shrieked, "Are you insane?" People turned in their seats but I ignored them. People staring at me was nothing new. "What, in the name of all that is good, is in Iowa? Corn? Cows? Wal-Mart?"

"Honey," Avi said in the voice of a therapist. He made his living working with hysterical people. "I can understand your reluctance. I've seen Music Man and Field of Dreams. But you just told me you need a fresh direction, am I right?"

"Fresh does not mean mind-numbing, culture-barren, provincial—need I go on?"

Avi took a manila envelope out of his satchel. "Take a look at the particulars," he said, handing it to me. "Even without subletting your apartment, this is a financial no-brainer. You'll have a break from the recital circuit, you can cultivate fans in a different part of the country—"

"You mean all twenty-four of the people who live there."

"—and you can try your hand at teaching. It might just be the perfect fit."

I'd come to this meeting thinking a Gap ad, a spot on Martha Stewart, at the very least a cover story in Good Housekeeping or something equally maternal. And Avi was suggesting Iowa. Things must have been worse than I thought.

"How are CD sales?" I asked, shoulders slumped.

Avi cleared his throat. "Not very good. And your performance calendar is nearly empty for the spring." He looked at his watch and stood. "Listen, love, just think about it. Look over the materials, consult with all the smart people you know, and you'll end up admitting I'm right on this. One semester. That's it. They're in a time crunch, they'll fork out the cash, and you could use it. It's not Carnegie, but you said yourself that hall is overrated anyway." He leaned down to kiss the top of my head. "Call me."

He walked away, leaving me to wallow in a stack of glossy brochures with photographs of people with bad hair. So thingswere worse than I'd feared. Not only was I getting old, losing audiences, and selling fewer CDs, I was a prime candidate for midwest living.

Merry blasted Christmas.


West Nineties

Later that afternoon, I dragged my tired feet back uptown after five hours of shopping and errand running. The wind had picked up to the point of being ridiculous, and I found it impossible to be pleasant. When I reached Jasmine, my neighborhood Indian restaurant, I gritted my teeth and pulled the door open against a gust of arctic air. The door slammed behind me, letting loose a peal from a cluster of tiny bells hanging above.

Atreya, the gentleman who ran Jasmine with his wife, Pakshi, hustled from the back of the restaurant. His face lit up when he saw me. "Miss Sadie, welcome. You look, ehm, rather cold. Would you like some tea?" His brow creased in worry to see my face unchanged from its horror of the outside.

"Atreya," I said, "rest assured I am trying to smile at you. My face is still thawing."

"Yes, yes, of course," he said, leading me by the elbow to sit down at a nearby table. "Pakshi is finishing your order. Please, sit and relax. Please."

I nodded. "Here," I said. I rummaged through my purse and extracted the nearest credit card. "Twenty percent gratuity."

"Thank you, Miss Sadie," Atreya said, and left me for the cash register.

After twenty years of living in New York, one would think I'd have been better acclimated to harsh winters. One would be wrong. The wind, the sleet, the snow, the cold—I had nothing redemptive to say about any of it. At least in other parts of the country winter had a purpose. Didn't farmers, for instance, want things to freeze? Something about the death of all living things, circle of life, Elton John, and such. But what, exactly, were we presuming to water in New York City? Concrete? Steel? One good sprinkler system would take care of the whole of Central Park, our only formidable green space. Harsh winters were nothing but archaic in the urban jungle and yet they continued to visit with all their ferocity and bad manners. And so by mid-December each year, I became an embittered woman who could not be cheered even by good cashmere.

"Miss Sadie," Atreya said when he returned carrying a large paper bag. "You will find the naan still hot from the oven and extra slices of lemon for the chicken tikka masala."

"You indulge me, Atreya," I said, feeling steam rise to my face from an opening in the top of the bag. "You tell Pakshi that she makes the best Indian food in all of Manhattan."

Atreya grinned and patted my gloved hand. "I will tell her, thank you. Take care in this weather, Miss Sadie." He peered into my face. "It is not for the weak-hearted."

"That, my friend, is the problem," I said and closed my eyes to prepare for reentry to the tundra.

My apartment building was only a block and a half away, but I cursed the distance anyway. Should have called for delivery, I thought as Bach's Fugue in C Minor began to play deep within the pocket of my wool coat. My pace slowed to a shuffle, and I tried to extract the phone without dropping my dinner. Just before voice mail swooped in to rescue my caller from a tiresome fourth ring, I flipped open the phone and yelled, "Hello?"

"Have mercy, woman, must you shout?"

"Richard," I said. "We're having gale-force winds. Can you hear me?"

"Darling, all of Long Island can hear you."

"I'm almost home," I said, crossing the street during a yellow light and ignoring the honking horns that accompanied my passage. Civility was dead.


Excerpted from ACT TWO by KIMBERLY STUART. Copyright © 2008 Kimberly Stuart. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 19, 2009

    A thoughtful, yet humorous read

    Another great one by Kimberly Stuart. She has such a delightful sense of humor in her books. She has characters with a real faith that is easy to relate to, wherever you are in your walk. It was nice to see the main character discover things within herself and learn to trust in God and in other people.
    I would also highly recommend Balancing Act and Bottom Line.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A delightful contemporary romance

    Classical soprano superstar Sadie Maddox is a diva in every connotation of the word she lives in Manhattan and thinks her ex husband lives among the barbarians, somewhere on Long Island. However, her CD sales are drooping and her agent Avi ¿the Shark¿ Feldman tells her she has no gigs as no one wants a forty years old except Moravia College in Maplewood, Iowa. Desperate she accepts the visiting teaching position in the Corn Belt knowing that she will spend time in a designer shoe store desert.---------------- In farm country, Sadie realizes her peers like voice teacher Kent Johansen loses his voice when she is near him or like conductor Gunther Rienhart flirty and her student assistant Mallory Knight is snippy when she is being kind. However the worst is living on a pig farm with Cal and Jayne Hartley and their three kids. Finally there is the veterinarian Mac who shockingly has her reconsidering her countdown back to the real world of culture even though she is appalled that even though it is not country western, he has never heard her sing.------------------ ACT TWO is a delightful contemporary romance between two opposites as the fish out of water diva and the local vet fall in love in his pond. The story line is owned by Sadie, who finds Iowa to live down to her expectations only somehow she makes caring friends and realizes mentoring Mallory actually makes her feel great.. Mac is her perfect contrary as the city slicker and the country animal doctor prove love has no artificial boundaries except the individual¿s construct that can destruct.------------------- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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