Book Reviews

The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander

The Weight of a Piano by Chris CanderRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Weight of a Piano is carefully tuned literary fiction. It finds the perfect moment to tug at all the right emotions, leaving you in a reverent, contemplative silence by the end. 

Each chapter switches back and forth between the POVs of Carla, the current owner of the piano, and Katya, the former owner. 

Carla is a young mechanic who lost her parents in a tragic fire; the piano being the only physical object that remains of the fond times with her family. 

Katya is a Russian immigrant who was obligated to leave her beloved piano in Europe when she left to seek refuge in the United States. 

The piano is a metaphor for both of their lives, a placeholder for both of their souls and essences.  

Eventually, and for reasons that she can’t quite articulate, Carla finds herself on a road trip across the desert, trailing behind the moving truck that carries her piano for the photographer she lent it to.

This book is absolutely lovely, gripping and poetic. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re the kind of person who enjoys self-reflective indie movies about cathartic road trips.  

I would recommend this to (see above), as a beach/travel read, or to people who enjoy a little romance in novels but don’t want to read from the romance section. 

The Weight of a Piano comes out on January 22nd 2019!

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Book Reviews

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Rating: 🍁🍁🍁

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Once Upon a River has the familiar feel of a wordy Britishy novel set in a vague past. 

Even though the blurb tells you this book is about a mysterious little girl, she’s just the main motivator behind the other characters’ actions and doesn’t necessarily take part in the plot herself. We usually only hear about her through other people’s invented stories and imaginings, but that says more about the storytellers than it does about the girl.  

So instead, this is the story of the series of families who coincidentally all lost a child of this age and appearance, and are wondering if this is her.

Therefore, there’s TONS of characters and side-plots; so the first half of the book is spent building up all of their background information and it’s only after the 50% mark that Once Upon a River really picks up and starts to hold your interest. There’s so, so many stories in here that I feel it would work even better as a binging TV mystery/drama, than as a nearly 500-page book. 

After the halfway point, the two most interesting characters to keep your eye on are Rita, the unofficial doctor in town, and Henry Daunt, the photographer. It’s through them that this story finds its fuel and transitions from “creative gossipers blathering aimlessly at a small-town inn” to “wow it’s a shocking mystery novel now”. 

Another very interesting character to keep an eye on is Mr. Armstrong; but he hides a lot about himself, and the connections that tie all of his stories together just take too long to coalesce. However, his whole story is very dramatic in the end and it’s worth waiting for. 

Not really sure who I’d recommend this to since the book felt quite long and uneventful for the majority of it. If you’re willing to sit through 240 pages of exposition, the ending has quite a number of shocking, eyebrow-raising twists that are well worth it. And if you’re looking for the same gothic feel from The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Setterfield, you won’t really find it here, but it does have some of the same dark mystery feels. 

p.s. This book uses the word “gypsies” multiple times, and the word “negro” at least once. It IS set in the past but I know some readers prefer to be informed anyway.

This book comes out on December 4th 2018!

Book Reviews

Hold Strong: A World War II Novel about Freedom, Forgiveness, and the True Story of the Deadliest Accident in U.S. Military History by Jeff Langholz and Chris Crabtree

Hold Strong- A World War II Novel about Freedom, Forgiveness, and the True Story of the Deadliest Accident in U.S. Military History by Jeff Langholz, Chris CrabtreeRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

I received an ARC from one of the authors in exchange for an honest review.

Hold Strong is the first published novel of debut authors Jeff Langholz and Chris Crabtree. 

This book is a fictionalized account of historical events that were exhaustively researched by the authors. And by exhaustively I mean: in the Notes section they have listed their references by chapter, page, and down to the SENTENCE they were used in. Anytime you have a question about historical accuracy, rest assured there will eventually be an answer. 

Hold Strong is the story of the hellish set of tragedies and mass torture suffered by U.S. POWs aboard the Arisan Maru, a WWII Japanese hell ship. This eventually became the site of the “worst naval disaster in U.S. history”, but the authors take the full picture into account and also consider it THE deadliest accident/tragedy of ALL U.S. military history. 

For those reasons, Hold Strong is not an easy book to read. It is downright GRISLY. Few books I’ve read have delivered such psychologically harrowing scenes, displaying every awful violation that can possibly be inflicted upon the human body, including vampirism. It is not for the faint of heart, or something you want to read before bedtime. It is a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life. 

Thankfully, most of that happens during Part I and the first half of Part II. (And to be honest I wasn’t sure if I could handle it and only pushed through because I promised to write this review.)

But I don’t regret it, especially after that literally jaw-dropping ending! (I audibly gasped!) Few times during the hundreds of books I’ve read have I been so surprised by an ending. It is the main reason why I knocked this up from 4 stars to 5. 

The authors took the history of the Arisan Maru and inserted fiction into it to fill in the blanks where not only accounts don’t exist, but also where a more dramatic and profound story could be developed. 

Sam, the main character, is used a vessel to represent the spiritual journey of surviving such an ordeal, experiencing and representing every facet of the human condition. It is because of Sam, and his dear friend Father Thomas Scecina, that you want to read this book. 

Also if you are teaching a literature course, there is so much here to unpack and discuss. It would also work really well in a book club setting. (The book includes discussion questions at the end.) 

I would recommend this to: people who are into grisly endurance stories a la The Road by Cormac McCarthy, people who have tons of WWII books and always casually have a WWII documentary playing in the background in their living room, and Catholic or Christian adherents who would like to read a shining example of a truly good Christian.* 

*p.s. If the mention of religion repels you, don’t let that dissuade you from reading this book. There’s no avoiding it since one of the main characters IS a priest, after all; but religion here is presented more in a spiritual sense that all humans can relate to, rather than as indoctrination. Also, if you know where to look, whiffs of Eastern philosophies are also clearly present in the book.  

Pick up a copy on Amazon!

Book Reviews

Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen

Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen

Rating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Pilu of the Woods is a tender pick-me-up suitable for children and adults alike.

The main character on the cover is Willow, a child who has lost her mother and is struggling with all the (very visible) demons that come with that. (Another book that does this very well is Brave Chef Brianna by Sam Sykes.)

Willow runs to the forest and finds Pilu, a girl of the woods who is crying because she also has troubles with her family.

Together, Pilu and Willow find metaphors in the woods to illustrate  their current feelings and the consequences attached to ignoring those feelings. Comparing their intangible emotions to physical objects helps open up many layers of meaning in the readers’ mind.

Overall, this is a very sweet and heartwarming comic. I highly recommend it, but especially to: children of all ages, adults looking for something cute to read, and people who enjoy a tenderly illustrated, woodsy comic.

(p.s. I listened to Kishi Bashi while reading this and it paired beautifully.)

This book comes out on April 17th 2019!

Book Reviews

The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross

The Beast's Heart by Leife ShallcrossRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

The Beast’s Heart is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, narrated entirely from the Beast’s perspective. The Beauty in this book is named Isabeau, and the story focuses a lot on her sisters, Claude and Marie. Isabeau also doesn’t have any prior suitors or an angry village mob to worry about; it’s purely about her family, the Beast, and her. 

The writing style is long, flowery, and elaborate; reminding me a bit of Jane Austen’s novels. 

And this book -feels- long. Despite seeing the story from the Beast’s perspective, at points it felt like he was just the narrator of Isabeau’s sisters’ lives, whom he spends seemingly most of his days spying on through his magic mirror (he’s hooked just like us watching Instagram stories in 2018).  

The Beauty and the Beast was one of my favorite fairy tales growing up because I melted at the idea that a love so pure could magically fix a monstrous person… Until I grew up and learned how harmful that idea is in the real world, because it disregards the fact that a person needs to -want to- fix themselves for anything to change, regardless of the amount of people that are trying to help. Outside of fairytales, a girlfriend can’t fix an abusive boyfriend out of love alone. 

But the HUGE plus in this book is the Beast wants Isabeau to grow to love him, even before he knows she is indispensable to break the curse. And there’s no ulterior motive; he KNOWS that the only way to achieve both of those goals is to genuinely become a better person. He does commit a series of glaring mistakes (that I’m sure feminist readers could easily spot, and also anyone who hated Twilight), but he is self-conscious and regretful about them and actively thinks of ways to improve not just his behavior, but his overall essence. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though it occasionally felt too long, and the action between Isabeau and the Beast was very repetitive at times.

I would recommend this to: readers who love fairytale retellings, someone who wants to read a book that contains romance but isn’t in the romance section, and people who have always felt compassionate for the Beast and wanted to hear his side sometime. 

This book comes out on February 12th 2019!

Book Reviews

Ida and the Whale by Rebecca Gugger

Ida and the Whale by Rebecca GuggerRating: 🍁🍁

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This book looked quite cute but the story leaves much to be desired. 

The art is pretty, yes, but it doesn’t fill in the blanks or add much more of interest to the very uneventful text. 

It frankly felt like many other picture books I’ve read before, with nothing to set it apart. 

This is fine if all you’re looking for is a bedtime read for a child, but there’s definitely more interesting books out there. 

I would recommend this to: people who like whales and would enjoy the pictures anyway. 

This book comes out on April 2nd, 2019! 

Book Reviews

Watersnakes by Antonio Sandoval

Watersnakes by Antonio Sandoval

Rating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This is my first introduction to Antonio Sandoval and I need MORE. 

Watersnakes could very well fall into the Weird Fiction genre. It’s hard to say much more about it without spoiling anything, but everything in this story is intentionally calibrated to make it as dreamlike, surreal, and mildly unsettling as possible.  

As summer is ending, Mila, the main character, meets Agatha, a zany pale-haired girl with unbearably attractive teeth. Her teeth are important objects in the story, which makes the whole package all the more oneiric. As summer ominously shifts into autumn, Mila falls into a number of nightmareish supernatural events. 

Just let yourself fall into this story like you would into a nap. Take the unusual things the characters say at face value, and feel free to glean your own meanings from there. (I haven’t checked if the author picked specific dream dictionary symbols but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.) 

The art keeps it gothy with a limited color palette of stark blacks and whites and highly desaturated neutrals accented with turquoise skies and shadows, plus the occasional spatter of bright red or dark orange blood. (On that note, there are a handful of gory scenes at the end but I found them easy to stomach and I usually can’t handle that sort of thing.)

Agatha reminded me of the many paled-haired girls in dark gothicy settings such as: The Girl from the Other Side, Moorchild, Kigeki, and The Water Mirror. If you enjoyed any of those, chances are you’ll enjoy this too. 

I would recommend this to: fans of the gothic genre, someone looking for a trippy comic, and people who like dark artwork. 

This book comes out on November 20th!