Song of the Lark
by Sonya Birmingham
(Leisure, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0-8439-4393-9
**
Song of the Lark is the story of a beautiful, innocent young mountain girl who charms her way into the heart of a widower and his son. Jubilee Jones arrives in Asheville, North Carolina, one morning in 1875 looking for work. Her granny is sick, and Jubilee needs the money to pay for a doctor. Nobody is willing to hire a raw mountain girl, but Jubilee finally lands a temporary job caring for the mute young son of Stephen Wentworth, one of Asheville's richest men.

The boy, Tad, has been speechless since the death of his mother a year before. Jubilee soon charms a few words out of him, enough to make Stephen decide that she should stay on for the summer and continue to help Tad speak. Stephen lusts after Jubilee. She seems fresh and charming with all her country manners and beliefs, and her body keeps him awake at nights. But he has vowed never to remarry after the death of his beloved wife. Therefore, anything between him and Jubilee would come to no good end, and he avoids it.

Jubilee quickly falls in love with Stephen. When her granny takes a turn for the worse, Jubilee convinces Stephen to let her take Tad into the mountains for the rest of the summer, so she can return to her home. Stephen agrees and Jubilee returns to her birthplace, Tad in tow.

I really enjoyed the first two chapters of this book. The premise was catchy and showed lots of promise, and Jubilee's interactions with Tad and Stephen were spunky and intelligent. But the book quickly disintegrated into predictable plotting, flat writing, and silly/contrived behavior on the part of the characters.

Jubilee decides to butt in and write to Stephen's estranged brother when she finds out that Stephen's finances are in dire shape. The fact that this is absolutely none of her business is glossed over, because she's sure it's for Stephen's own good. Jubilee's brother, Micah, has been injured at a Wentworth mill, of course, and therefore hates all Wentworths. There's a scheming almost-fiancée mucking about in the background. Tad loves Jubilee. Jubilee loves Stephen. Stephen loves Jubilee, or at least her body, and his behavior during the second half of the book diminished his stature as a hero, at least in my eyes. There's a Big Misunderstanding. And you know what's going to happen to Jubilee after they sleep together twice, don't you? Uh huh.

The actions of the characters seemed implausible at times. Stephen is presented as fearful of loving and losing, but he willingly agrees to let Jubilee take Tad away from home. And this after he's known her for only a couple of weeks. Jubilee tells him she fell in love with him the minute she met him. Rather than romantic, this seemed immature, like a high-school kid with a crush. It was exasperating.

I wanted to like this book. I really did. I wish I could give it higher marks, but as I read it, the biggest feeling I got was… tired. Everything that happened after chapter two was absolutely predictable, and by the time I was done, it didn't feel like a very good use of reading time.

Song of the Lark hit a sour note for me. Perhaps you'll have a better reaction than I did.

--Cathy Sova


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