Poetic mix of beauty and violence

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What Hell is Not by Alessandro D’Avenia

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

“Take away love and you will have hell.  Give love and you will have what hell is not.” Father Pino

In Palermo, Sicily in 1993, violence runs rampant in the Brancaccio section.  Mafia bosses incite fear into the hearts of the teenage boys there.  That fear is what causes these young teenage boys to carry guns as they begin to test their own violent tendencies.  One teenager, Federico, is more privileged than some in Palermo.  He is a lover of words and has been nicknamed “Poet”.  His teacher, Don Pino, has asked him to help him at the youth club.  A whole new world opens up for Federico as he gets to know what some of these young boys face each day.  When Don Pino is murdered by the mafia, it is left to the young Federico to continue his loving work.

This book is based on the real life of Giuseppe Puglisi, which makes the story even more poignant.  I can’t help but think of the author as being the teenage boy, Federico, since they both have the heart of a poet.  Each short chapter of this book is a work of poetic beauty, some showing the transformative power of love and some showing the devastation that hate brings into the world.  The author’s poetic wording is in sharp contrast to the ugliness of some of the events in the book, which makes the horror seem even more horrific.  It’s not an easy book to read.  First, there are some hard-to-read violent parts, though the author does not resort to using gore to shock his readers.  Also the writing style of the author took me some time to get used to and may not be to every reader’s taste.  He doesn’t always make it clear who’s speaking and because his writing is so poetic, I didn’t always understand what he was trying to say.  It was quite a slow read due to that.  But there are moments of beauty in his writing that make the effort well worth it.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publicist in return for an honest review.

Compelling tale of a piano and the two women who loved it

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The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

In 1962, 8-year-old Russian Katya receives a piano, which is bequeathed to her by her elderly neighbor, who recognizes the music in Katya.  The piano is a German Bluthner. Katya becomes a gifted pianist and she brings the best out of the piano.  But her piano is lost to her when her husband decides to leave Russia with high hopes of starting a new life in America with Katya and their son.

In 2012, Clara is torn about whether she should sell her Bluthner piano, which was given to her by her beloved father as an early 12th birthday present.  She never learned to play it and has had to have it moved every time one of her relationships ends.  But the piano is special to her since her father gave it to her shortly before he and her mother died in a fire.  When she impulsively decides the piano must go, the buyer brings a connection with the piano that completely takes Clara off guard and brings her on a unique road trip through Death Valley.

I loved how this book begins with the building of this particular piano.  The details in this chapter are fascinating, from the slow choosing of the right tree to the long drying out of the wood to the final building of the exquisite piano in a factory in Leipzig.  It made the piano come alive in my mind and immediately built a connection with it.  In alternating chapters, the author introduces the two women who have such a love for this piano – Katya and Clara – and carefully weaves their stories together.  Their stories are beautifully told, with a slow and careful intent towards the brilliant ending.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Excellent addition to the Marlowe collection

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Only To Sleep by Lawrence Osborne

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

At 72 years of age, Philip Marlowe has retired.  But when he’s offered a case by an insurance company, he decides to have one last adventure.  They want Marlowe to investigate the death of Donald Zinn.  They’ve paid Zinn’s widow a very large sum of money but something doesn’t seem right and they think Marlowe is the man to get to the bottom of it.

Who doesn’t know and love Philip Marlowe?  What a perfect delight to have an author such as Lawrence Osborne bring him to life once again.  The Robert Chandler Estate asked Mr. Osborne to write this book and they couldn’t have picked a better author to do the job.  Osborne has done a wonderful job of creating an older Marlowe.  And he has done an excellent job of depicting a man who has led an adventurous life but now is headed to a more sedentary life and all of the conflicting emotions that go along with that.  So enjoyable to once again join Marlowe as he takes on his last investigation.

This is a bit different from Mr. Osborne’s other books in that he adapts the Chandler style of telling this story.  But his particular talents still shine through.  He’s lived in many countries and has quite a knack for detailing each location that he brings his characters to.  Most of this book takes place in different locations in Mexico and the author brings his readers right there with him.  With all the sights and smells and colors, you’ll completely forget that you’re not actually there.  I do hope that one day Mr. Osborne will once again bring Mr. Marlowe out of retirement for another adventure.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Dig in and explore this literary work

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The Family Tabor by Cherise Wolas

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Harry Tabor is about to be honored as Man of the Decade for his charitable works.  His family are on their way to his home to join him and his wife, Roma, who is a child psychologist.  His son, Simon, is a lawyer and will be bringing with him his wife and two young daughters.  His daughter, Camille, is a social anthropologist and his daughter, Phoebe, is a lawyer.  They’re all so proud of Harry and each of them have their own reasons for wanting this occasion to be a family-bonding one.

But Harry’s mind seems to have been playing tricks with him and hiding some vital memories.  Those memories start to resurface, helped along by a voice in Harry’s mind and even a vision or two.   As the memories increase, Harry’s jubilation at his upcoming honor starts to crumble.  Is he the honorable man he thought he was?  His children, whose lives seemed all so perfect, are also struggling with their own demons.  Simon can’t sleep at nights and has discovered a desire for Judaism, Camille is having career setbacks and has taken a job at a hospice and Phoebe has an imaginary boyfriend as she can’t face her family with her loveless life.  None of them are being truthful with each other or their parents.  Poor Roma knows her husband and children are having problems but can’t get them to confide in her.

I was completely blown away by this author’s debut book, “The Resurrection of Joan Ashby”.  While I can’t say the same about her newest effort, I did enjoy it.  It took me awhile to become invested with the characters and the writing was sometimes a bit too ponderous for me.   But I grew to care for this family very much.  I think Simon’s story touched me the most.  He was a good father and husband and his new-found desire to explore his Jewish roots should never have had the outcome it did.  I felt so crushed for him.  Roma took on the troubles of each of her loved ones and was such a true-to-life character.  As for the Man of the Decade, Harry, his journey in this book is definitely a compelling one.

I think the book may not be to everyone’s taste and that’s a shame because there are such wonderful literary tidbits throughout.  There’s no fast paced plot here and the writing can be a bit heavy at times.  But to those who like a book that you can dig into and explore like an archaeological excavation, I do recommend this one.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.