MEC reviews Hammers, Strings and Beautiful Things – Morgan Lee Miller

When the book starts, Blair Bennett makes a less than stellar first impression.  Still reeling from the death of her grandfather, she breaks up with the girlfriend who has supported her through his illness and death with the dreaded “It’s me, not you …I’m not in the right place” rationale that she’s just too messed up to be in a relationship.  Like I said, not a great first impression – Blair comes off as a rather selfish heel.  So I started this book with the idea that I wasn’t really going to like either Blair or the book.  I may be turning into an old fuddy-duddy, but I just felt that Blair was a bit too young and reckless for my liking and then there’s the whole fluffy pop music setting (omigod, I am an old fuddy-duddy – next thing you know I’ll be shouting at the kids to get out of my yard). By the end, I was engaged in the story and was impressed how Ms Miller handled Blair’s character and growth.

The story begins shortly after the death of Blair’s grandfather, when she and her best friend/band mate are starting as the opening act for the US leg of pop star Reagan Moore’s world tour.   Rather than a self-absorbed diva, Reagan is a pretty sweet and down to earth young woman who keeps herself apart from most people as the pressures of fame have forced her to guard her privacy.  There’s a unmistakable connection between the two women which builds slowly on the tour with both so hesitant to be the one to make the first move – whether its the first kiss or admitting that the relationship is more than just a convenient hook up.

Told from Blair’s POV, this is really more about her than a straight up romance. I think this would fit into the New Adult category as Blair is really still trying to find her place in the world – she may be 24 but her choices and actions seem much younger and hedonistic.  Even though she’s been raised in a loving and supporting family, she has a penchant for trouble, not thinking about consequences and the disappointment some of her escapades engender. Don’t get me wrong, Blair isn’t an unlikable character – she’s a real one.  She is deeply passionate about her music and Miller captures the thrill and love Blair feel for music and performing as well the highs and lows of the emotions as she tries to make sense of her relationships with Reagan, Miles and her family.  Deeply affected by her grandfather’s death, she struggles with the grief and her new found fame and the relationship she is building with Reagan.  She is talented, intelligent, loyal and genuine and its very obvious that she has strong and supportive relationships with her family and friends.  Her actions are sometimes questionable and there’s a subtle escalation of self-destructive behaviour that sort of sneaks up on you just as it sneaks up on Blair – it makes you appreciate how sneaky that slippery slope is – one small or inconsequential things leads to another until it hits a critical point.  Miller deftly leads both Blair and the reader to some pretty serious realizations without hitting you over the head with them.

 The romance is a central part of the story, but it isn’t the standard kind of romance – the attraction is there, but the leads enter a relationship both so hesitant to allow themselves to be vulnerable that its is more of a friends with benefits rather than an initial all consuming passion.  The realization and ability to admit to themselves and each other the depth of their feelings is hampered by Blair’s internal struggles and Reagan’s obsessive guarding of her privacy.  There’s a realism of both character’s insecurity as to whether the other person felt the same and whether to take the chance that I thought worked particularly well. At times they speak to one another more honestly through cover songs that they play during the concerts, hoping that the words will express what they can’t seem to talk about.  It’s kind of sweet (and cheesy) but effective and I found myself asking Alexa to play a few of the songs while I was reading.  There’s a particularly heartwarming memory of Blair’s when she asks her grandfather how he knew he was in love – he tells her a story about listening to Annie’s Song which Blair thought was lame as a teenager but suddenly makes sense. ( I couldn’t remember the song at first – but when Alexa played it, I was completely in agreement – lame, sappy and just totally gives you the feels.)

I ended up liking this book a lot more than I originally expected.  There’s more going on than first appears and I was impressed that Ms. Miller won me over with a well written book  that deals with some more serious issues.

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