April 3, 2021

The Song Book of Benny Lament

The Song Book of Benny Lament

by Amy Harmon

Published March 16, 2021
by Lake Union Publishing

Rating: 5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Historical Fiction / General Fiction (Adult)

From the Publisher:

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. 

My Thoughts:

You know a book is really, really good when you can’t wait to find out what happens next but you also don’t want it to end. That’s how I felt about The Songbook of Benny Lament. This book encompasses so many aspects of life in America in 1960: music (obviously), race relations and interracial relationships, politics, the mob, and so on. The main action takes place in late 1960 and early 1961, but the author has interspersed between chapters, snippets of a radio interview that takes place at the end of 1969, whetting our appetite for what is going to happen in the following chapter. There are even a few mysteries to try to unravel throughout the book! 

“If you want people to change, you have to show them what it looks like.”

I loved how Amy Harmon mixed very believable fictional characters in with quite a few real people, like radio personality Barry Gray, Ray Charles, Berry Gordy of Motown fame, and one of the founders of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun. I was a kid in 1960, so I wasn’t all that aware of what was going on in my hometown of New York City at that time, but over course of the 1960s I was one of many faithful pop radio listeners and remember WMCA and their “Good Guys” fondly, along with other radio personalities on rival stations WABC and WINS. I even went to a couple of live shows hosted by these radio stations, of the sort described in the book. So this all felt very real to me. The interracial relationship between Benny and Esther was so well written. I loved Esther’s brothers too, and Benny’s father. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

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