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

WWW Wednesday: March 3, 2021

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WWW Wednesday is hosted by Taking on a World of Words.

What did you recently finish reading?

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The Songbook of Benny Lament by Amy Harmon. I loved this! My review will post next week.

What are you currently reading?

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A Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses #4) by Sarah J. Maas. I liked the original three books well enough and I remember liking Cassian enough that I was interested in this book, but honestly after only a couple chapters in I’m pretty over it. I read through some spoilery reviews and I feel pretty sure that I will end up DNF-ing this.

Bookshop by the Sea by Denise Hunter. There’s not really much going on by way of plot right now, but I’m enjoying it well enough.

What do you think you’ll read next?

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My hold for Love at First just became available at the library, so I’ll probably go with this.

What are you reading?

Reviewing the Unreviewed: February 2021

I read a lot of books that I don’t end up reviewing for whatever reason. Some because I wasn’t impressed. Some because I didn’t have the time. Some I just wasn’t feeling it on whatever particular day I finished. Reviewing the Unreviewed is my monthly post where I share my few thoughts on all the books I didn’t formally review.

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Nate by Tijan. Read February 18-21. 3 Stars.

I liked this, but I didn’t love it. Usually I hate the “Surprise! You’re a father!” trope, but there was kind of a twist on it here, so I didn’t mind it as much. I loved all the times we got to see Nate interacting with Logan and Mason. I was never fully on board the romance, though. It felt a little icky to me since Nate had previously been with Quincy’s sister.

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Romancing Mister Bridgerton (Bridgertons #4) by Julia Quinn. Read 21-24. 4 Stars. 

I have really been enjoying this series so much more than I ever expected to and I think this book has become my new favorite so far. Collin has been one of my favorite characters in the last couple of books – he always has the best lines. His banter with Penelope (and so many others) definitely did not disappoint. Since I watched the show before I started the books, I already knew who Lady Whistledown was, so that reveal felt a little drawn out to me, but I didn’t mind it too much. I loved the relationship between Penelope and Collin and I had a lot of fun reading this one.

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Wrong For Me by Meagan Brandy. Read February 24-26. 2 Stars. 

After reading a couple Tijan books recently, I was kind of in the mood to continue with that type of crazy, angsty read and I came upon this while browsing KU. This book was ridiculous. Like every single crazy thing that happened was more ridiculous than the thing before it. I honestly don’t know why I kept reading it, but I did and that’s why it’s getting 2 stars instead of 1. It’s definitely not one I would ever recommend to anyone, though.

*****Back on the TBR*****

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Enjoy the View (Moose Springs, Alaska #3) by Sarah Morgenthaler. I’m a little concerned that this series might be a one hit wonder for me. I loved the first book in this series, but I couldn’t get into the second book despite trying it several times and I couldn’t get into this one either. I’m hoping it’s just my mood and I will try this again sometime. 

*****DNF*****

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An Unexpected Love Story by Ellie Hall. DNF @ 10%. I was browsing Kindle Unlimited and thought this could be cute, but two chapters in and it was way too sappy for me.

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If It’s Perfect by Summer Dowell. DNF @ 26%. I just wasn’t very impressed with this. I didn’t really like the characters or the writing. It was around the time the main character called someone a “scoundrel” that it really lost me.

*****Books with Future Reviews Scheduled*****

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People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry – 4 Stars

The Insiders by Tijan – 3 Stars

The Songbook of Benny Lament by Amy Harmon – 4 Stars

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Releases for the First Half of 2021

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, is: Most Anticipated Releases for the First Half of 2021.

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1. The Song Book of Benny Lament by Amy Harmon. Publishes March 16, 2021.

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2. Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson. Publishes March 23, 2021.

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3.  Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne. Publishes April 13, 2021.

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4. Where Secrets Lie by Eva V. Gibson. Publishes April 20, 2021.

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5. Sunkissed by Kasies West. Publishes May 4, 2021.

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6. Find You First by Linwood Barclay. Publishes May 4, 2021.

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7. People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry. Publishes May 11, 2021.

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8. The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren. Publishes May 18, 2021.

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9. The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary. Publishes June 1, 2021.

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10. Anne of Manhattan by Brina Starler. Publishes June 1, 2021.

What new releases are you looking forward to in the first half of 2021?

2020 End of Year Survey

This survey was originally developed by Jamie over at The Perpetual Page-Turner. I maybe got rid of over half the questions – the original is long!

**2020 READING STATS**

Number Of Books You Read: 143*
*As of 12/29/20, it’s likely to go up by one or two before the end of the year

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Best Books You Read In 2020?

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Beach Read by Emily Henry and The Heir Affair (The Royal We #2) by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan.

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

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Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I just have to give up on reading horror novels. I never appreciate them.

 Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?  

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The F List by Alessandra Torre. I went into this with no expectations and it became one of my favorite books of the year.

 Favorite new author you discovered in 2020?

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I loved The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler.

Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

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I don’t read much historical fiction anymore, but I loved Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon.

Favorite cover of a book you read in 2020?

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Fallen Crest Forever by Tijan. I think this cover is just so cute and romantic.

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2020 to finally read? 

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Life and Death by Stephenie Meyer (originally released in 2015).

Favorite Book You Read in 2020 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

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No Way Out by Cara Hunter

Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

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The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren. I know a lot of people didn’t love this, but I really enjoyed it!

Hidden Gem Of The Year?

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I thought A Path to Redeeming Love was a very good devotional and recommend it if you’re looking for one!

Most Unique Book You Read In 2020?

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Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

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One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2020 But Will Be A Priority in 2021?

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. I bought a hard copy of this when it first came out and still haven’t read it.

Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2021?

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People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry. Beach Read was one of my favorites of 2020 so I have high expectations for Henry’s next book.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Winter 2020-2021 TBR

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is: Books On My Winter 2020-2021 TBR. I’m going with a mix of anticipated releases, ARCs I currently have copies have, and KU books I mean to read before my subscription expires.

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1. Marrying Mr. Darcy (Love Manor #2) by Kate O’Keeffe.

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2. Varsity Rulebreaker (Varsity #3) by Ginger Scott.

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3. You Love Me (You #3) by Caroline Kepnes.

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4. The Newlyweds by Arianne Richmonde.

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5. The Love Proof by Madeleine Henry.

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6.  A Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses #4) by Sarah J. Maas.

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7. Nate by Tijan.

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8. The Song Book of Benny Lament by Amy Harmon.

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9. The Minders by John Marrs.

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10. A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams

What books are on your Winter TBR?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Should be Adapted into Netflix Shows/Movies

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, is: Books that Should be Adapted into Netflix Shows/Movies.

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1. The Simple Wild series by K.A. Tucker

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2. The Royal We series by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan.

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3. Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg

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4. Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters

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5. The F List by Alessandra Torres

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6. The Beartown series by Fredrik Backman

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7. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

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8. Making Faces by Amy Harmon

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9. When it’s Real by Erin Watt

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10.  This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills

What books would you like to see adapted on Netflix?

Books I’ve Read with the Highest Average Ratings on Goodreads

Last week I took a look at the lowest average rated books on my Read shelf on Goodreads and compared them to my own reviews. This week I decided to take a look at the books from my Read shelf with the highest average rating. I usually disagree with hype, so I’m actually really surprised that I rated most of these highly, as well.

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1.  A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses #2) by Sarah J. Maas
Goodreads Rating: 4.64 Stars
My Rating:  3.5 Stars

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2. Awaken by Priscilla Shirer
Goodreads Rating: 4.62 Stars
My Rating: 4 Stars

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3. An Echo in the Darkness (Mark of the Lion #2) by Francine Rivers
Goodreads Rating: 4.62 Stars
My Rating: 3 Stars

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4. Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo
Goodreads Rating: 4.6 Stars
My Rating: 4.5 Stars

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5. Fallen Crest Forever (Fallen Crest High #7) by Tijan
Goodreads Rating: 4.58
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

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6. A Voice in the Wind (Mark of the Lion #1) by Francine Rivers
Goodreads Rating: 4.56 Stars
My Rating: 5 Stars
(*Note this is one of the few books I rated 5 stars from my pre-blogging days)

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7.  Gemina (Illuminae #2) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Goodreads Rating: 4.51 Stars
My Rating: 4 Stars

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8. The Crushing Depths (Coastal Guardians #2) by Dani Pettrey
Goodreads Rating: 4.50 Stars
My Rating: 4 Stars

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9. Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon
Goodreads Rating: 4.50 Stars
My Rating: 4 Stars

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10. Oblivion (Lux #1.5) by Jennifer L Armentrout
Goodreads Rating: 4.50 Stars
My Rating: 4 Stars

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11. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
Goodreads Rating: 4.50 Stars
My Rating: 4 Stars

Memorial Day Reading Recommendation

Happy Memorial Day! I hope you take a moment during your reasonably sized, social distancing appropriate cook outs to remember the men and women who are the reason for this holiday.  If your plans have had to shift due to the current state of the world, it’s always a good time to pick up a book! Allow me to suggest one of my favorite books that highlights a military man who returns home after losing several of his friends in the line of duty:

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Making Faces by Amy Harmon. You can see my review HERE.

Ambrose Young was beautiful. He was tall and muscular, with hair that touched his shoulders and eyes that burned right through you. The kind of beautiful that graced the covers of romance novels, and Fern Taylor would know. She’d been reading them since she was thirteen. But maybe because he was so beautiful he was never someone Fern thought she could have . . . until he wasn’t beautiful anymore. Making Faces is the story of a small town where five young men go off to war, and only one comes back. It is the story of loss. Collective loss, individual loss, loss of beauty, loss of life, loss of identity. It is the tale of one girl’s love for a broken boy and a wounded warrior’s love for an unremarkable girl. This is a story of friendship that overcomes heartache, heroism that defies the common definitions, and a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast, where we discover that there is a little beauty and a little beast in all of us.

Review: Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

In this epic and haunting love story set on the Oregon Trail, a family and their unlikely protector find their way through peril, uncertainty, and loss.

The Overland Trail, 1853: Naomi May never expected to be widowed at twenty. Eager to leave her grief behind, she sets off with her family for a life out West. On the trail, she forms an instant connection with John Lowry, a half-Pawnee man straddling two worlds and a stranger in both.

But life in a wagon train is fraught with hardship, fear, and death. Even as John and Naomi are drawn to each other, the trials of the journey and their disparate pasts work to keep them apart. John’s heritage gains them safe passage through hostile territory only to come between them as they seek to build a life together.

When a horrific tragedy strikes, decimating Naomi’s family and separating her from John, the promises they made are all they have left. Ripped apart, they can’t turn back, they can’t go on, and they can’t let go. Both will have to make terrible sacrifices to find each other, save each other, and eventually…make peace with who they are.

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

Where the Lost Wander will be published on April 28, 2020. 

While I used to read a lot of it, Historical Fiction hasn’t been my genre of choice for awhile. That made me a little hesitant going into Where the Lost Wander, but Amy Harmon’s beautiful writing definitely made me a fan again.

I may be dating myself here, but who remembers playing Oregon Trail as a kid? Where you cheered if your wagon made it across a river without capsizing or losing an oxen and you hoped the character named after you wouldn’t die from dysentery. It was a fun, supposedly educational game, but it wasn’t more than that. This book made those aspects of the game we laughed at feel real and horrifying. How easily sickness could spread through a group and kill multiple people. How if a wagon capsized while crossing water, everything a family owned could be lost. Harmon does an excellent job of painting a vivid picture of what life on the trail looked like.

That said, the story felt extremely slow paced, as it focused mostly on the day-to-day tasks on the trail or with a Native American tribe. Don’t get me wrong, I was deeply invested in the characters and their journey. Harmon’s writing is just as beautiful as it always is and that kept me reading. It just took me a little longer to read this book than I would expect for a book this size. The pace was slow and not a lot really happened for much of it, but I think it’s a testament to Harmon that those things didn’t really lessen my enjoyment of the story.

The story is told through dual POVs of Naomi and John and I thought it was used very effectively. I absolutely loved John. I found Naomi a little frustrating at times, but I did like her overall, as well as her family. I liked Chief Washakie and his friendship with John. And, of course, I really shipped the romance between John and Naomi. It wouldn’t be any Amy Harmon book without an epic romance and she definitely delivered.

Overall, I enjoyed Where the Lost Wander. Though it was a little slower paced than I like, I really loved the characters and the writing. I am impressed by how much research Harmon did for this book and how she really made the Oregon trail come alive. I definitely recommend this one to fans of Historical Fiction.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars