Review: The Songbook of Benny Lament by Amy Harmon

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the bestselling author of What the Wind Knows and From Sand and Ash comes a powerful love story about a musical duo who put everything on the line to be together.

New York, 1960: For Benny Lament, music is his entire life. With his father’s deep ties to the mob, the Bronx piano man has learned that love and family can get you in trouble. So he keeps to himself, writing songs for other musicians, avoiding the spotlight…until the night his father brings him to see Esther Mine sing.

Esther is a petite powerhouse with a gorgeous voice. And when Benny writes a hit song and performs it with her, their collaboration thrusts the duo onto the national stage…and stirs up old issues and new scrutiny that the mob—and Benny—would rather avoid.

It would be easier to walk away. But the music and the woman are too hard for the piano man to resist. Benny’s songs and Esther’s vocals are an explosive combination, a sound that fans can’t get enough of. But though America might love the music they make together, some people aren’t ready for Benny Lament and Esther Mine on—or off—the stage.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

The Songbook of Benny Lament publishes March 16, 2021. 

This book was excellent! Every time I read an Amy Harmon book I can’t believe that I somehow forgot what a beautiful writer she is. She continues to just blow me away every time.

The story is told through Benny Lament’s first person POV with excerpts from a radio interview several years later between each chapter. I loved the use of the radio excerpts to help tell the story and I adored Benny. I really felt like I got to know and understand him and I just wanted good things for him. I loved his relationship with Esther, as well. Right from the start, they had terrific give and take and there wasn’t really a scene between them that I didn’t like.

One big thing that the synopsis doesn’t mention is that it’s not just Esther and Benny performing. Esther is part of a band, Minefield, with her three brothers, Money, Alvin, and Lee Otis and they are all there for the adventure. I really liked all they brought to the story, especially Alvin.

There’s a lot more to this book than just music, though. It’s set in the 60s, with a backdrop of the mob, corrupt politics, and the civil rights movement. Though it all happened decades ago, it felt incredibly relevant to today. While the world has come a long way in some regards, it definitely still has a long way to go. I felt like Harmon had a lot of issues to juggle and threads to connect and she did a good job with it. If there is one complaint that I have about the book, it’s that there is a reveal to a mystery that felt a little anti-climactic compared to everything else going on.

Overall, The Songbook of Benny Lament is a beautiful book. I have read and loved many books by Amy Harmon and this is without a doubt one of her best yet. I’m sure this will show up on my Best of 2021 list. I definitely recommend this one!

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

The Tutor’s Daugher by Julie Klassen – 3 stars (out of 5)

 

The Tutor's Daughter

The Tutor’s Daughter is Julie Klassen’s latest Christian Historical Romance. I’ve read and mostly enjoyed most of her books, though my favorite has always been The Apothecary’s Daughter (no, they’re not all titled after someone’s daughter).  The Tutor’s Daughter follows Emma Smallwood as she travels with her father away from their fledgling school to become private tutors to prominent family, the Westons. Two of the Weston sons, Henry and Phillip, previously attended the Smallwood’s school and Emma had very different relationship with them. Henry was antagonistic towards Emma and liked to play pranks on her. Phillip was sweet and friendly. And you will never guess who she ends up with.

The Smallwoods are greeted coolly by Lady Weston, Henry and Phillip’s stepmother, whose sons, twins Julian and Rowen, are supposed to be tutored. Sir Giles Weston is affable, but generally absent. Also residing with the Smallwoods is Lady Weston’s ward, Lizzie, who strikes up a friendship with Emma, but is hesitant to talk about her past.

Emma is tormented through increasingly threatening pranks and a good deal of the story is dedicated to trying to discover who is behind them. Other central themes include discovering the secret of the North Wing, which is figured out about half way through (I found this plot development reminiscent of Jane Eyre);  Emma’s growing friendship with and affection for Henry; and Henry’s desire to help rescue shipwrecked sailors, which there is apparently a lot of in their coastal town.

Thoughts:

I felt like there was too much going on and it was all happening very slowly. The pranks on Emma were mostly nothing more than an annoyance, until the final one that actually is life threatening. The discovery in the North wing was not very surprising and there was too much build up for it.

The romance between Emma and Henry, like all of Klassen’s romances, was sweet and probably the most enjoyable part of the book. It felt organic, developing over time and not “at first sight”. The only bad thing I’ll say about it is the cliché of falling for the man you initially can’t stand. But this is no surprise to readers of Romance novels or viewers of Chick Flicks.

When it comes to the Christian part of “Christian Fiction”, I feel Klassen handles it well. She is never preachy, which can put off non-believing readers, but she lets the characters’ lives provide the witness. The discussions Henry has with Emma about God seem like natural segues and are never forced.

Overall, The Tutor’s Daughter was a quick and pleasant read.  It was not one of my favorite Julie Klassen novels, but one I would recommend to those interested in the genre. I would also recommend The Apothecary’s Daughter and The Girl in the Gatehouse.