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

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

Review: All the Truth that’s in Me by Julie Berry

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared from their small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago, only Judith returned, permanently mutilated, reviled and ignored by those who were once her friends and family. Unable to speak, Judith lives like a ghost in her own home, silently pouring out her thoughts to the boy who’s owned her heart as long as she can remember—even if he doesn’t know it—her childhood friend, Lucas. But when Roswell Station is attacked, long-buried secrets come to light, and Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice, even if it means changing her world, and the lives around her, forever. This startlingly original novel will shock and disturb you; it will fill you with Judith’s passion and longing; and its mysteries will keep you feverishly turning the pages until the very last.

This book isn’t really at all what I thought it would be. Based on the cover I thought it would be modern, but it’s historical fiction (though the year is never mentioned). Also since the name of the town is Roswell Station, I latched onto “Roswell” and figured it would have something to do with aliens. However, there are no supernatural/fantasy elements to the story.

I enjoyed Berry’s writing style, though it took a bit to get used to. It’s written in Judith’s 1st person POV, as if she is talking to her childhood friend/crush/love Lucas. I’m not sure if this is technically 2nd person POV or not. Lucas is always the “you” she is referring to and I always think of 2nd person using an impersonal “you” to a general audience. The story is broken up into four “books”, each “book” divided into several mini “chapters” that are often not more than a page. The timeline shifts between past and present without notice, but always with reason. All of this helped the story to seem fast-paced, even though there wasn’t often a lot going on.

I liked our main character, Judith, even though I didn’t always understand her. Despite all that she’s been through and all she’s still being put through by the town and her mother, she still has hope for the life she’s always wanted and she still works hard to help provide for her mother and brother, which is a pretty thankless job.

I liked Lucas, Judith’s love interest, as well. They grew up together as friends so their relationship is real and not the “insta-love” that often plagues YA. He’s hard-working and kind and protective. There is a fairly large cast of secondary characters in the eclectic townsfolk. Some were likable and some were really not. I especially ended up liking Judith’s new friend Maria, mostly because I ended up being completely wrong about her.

Overall, I really enjoyed All the Truth that’s in Me. It was different than anything I’ve read before. The writing and the story were unique and the characters were strong. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that this is a standalone and not part of a series, which is part of my 2014 Bookish Resolutions.

Rating (out of 5)
Plot: 4
Characters: 4
Readability: 4
Enjoyability: 4
Overall Average: 4 stars