The Codebreaker’s Secret by Sara Ackerman (Historical Fiction)

Writing: 4/5 Plot: 3.5/5 Characters: 4/5


Very engaging story about Isabel Cooper — a crack codebreaker serving in Hawaii during WWII. While the plot is a little clunky, the writing draws you in, the characters are wonderful, and the descriptions of Hawaii, code breakers, and smart women playing chess were well done and lots of fun. I thought the author did a decent job of portraying intelligent, working women at the time: no heavy handed agenda — just women getting along as well as they could (and that was pretty well!) given their situation. Decent male characters as well. Romance and an a multi-generational mystery thrown in. Very Enjoyable.

Thank you to Harlequin Trade Publishing and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on August 2nd, 2022.

Metropolis by B. A. Shapiro (Literary Fiction)

Plot: 3.5/5 Characters: 4/5 Writing: 4/5
The Metropolis is an old fashioned self-storage unit in Boston — with variable sized units many of which have windows. The best part of this book is the peek into the lives of those who have found themselves in need of excess storage space and the way they use said space. Liddy Haines, wife of the uber wealthy (and not terribly nice) Garrett Haines, keeps her children’s things in the unit when they are shipped off to boarding school courtesy of the not-nice daddy; Jason, the black Harvard educated lawyer who found himself at odds with his corporate employer, houses his office there; Marta, a beautiful Venezuelan on the run from ICE, has moved in, feverishly focussing on her Sociology PhD thesis on how disparities at birth play out in life; and Serge, a brilliant and increasingly mentally disturbed photographer.

The unit is owned by Zach as an effort to go legit and managed by Rose who has her own set of issues. Everything is going along tickety-boo until an “incident” occurs in the unit elevator…

I love the premise of the story — who doesn’t think about all the diverse lives contained in such a collection of rooms with no other commonality? The characters were well-drawn and relatable, though I found their situations were all over-the-top and each was a little tropish. I always love her art commentary, in this case focused on Serge’s extraordinary photographs.

A fun read!

Thank you to Algonquin Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 17th, 2022.

The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander

Writing: 4.5/5 Plot: 4.5/5 Characters: 4.5/5

Captivating novel about the lifespan of an antique (circa 1905) upright Blüthner piano and the two women whose lives are inextricably bound to it across place, time, and culture. Katya grows up in Leningrad. She inherits the piano at a young age from the blind pianist in the building with the note: “Even a blind man could see the music beating in your heart.” She devotes her life to music and the Blüthner until she is ripped from everything that she loves by her husband’s unilateral decision to leave Russia for a better life in the U.S. (~1980). Life is not easy for Soviet Jews in that time period (well, any time period in Russia, really).

Clara is a mechanic. Born to academic parents in Santa Monica, she loses everything in a fire when she is twelve. Only the Blüthner piano that her father gave her a week before he died is saved, having been in the shop for repairs at the time. She is insistently self-reliant, having learned long ago the heartbreaking loss when someone you depended on disappears abruptly. She grows up with an Aunt and Uncle in Bakersfield, and while she never develops any musical skills, the Blüthner is her prized possession. When a professional photographer offers to rent her piano for a series of desert shots in Death Valley, she is reluctant, but persuaded by the large sum on offer. She impulsively follows the piano on its journey and ends up discovering more than she ever imagined about her own history and approach to living.

Told through alternating narratives, the story is intricate and riveting. I loved the descriptions of music and the myriad ways it affected different people. Katya’s favorite piece, and one which threads through both narratives, is Scriabin’s Prelude #14 in E flat minor. Clara’s father’s attempt at characterization: “It’s poetry and color and imagination. In any of the languages I know, I can’t find the right words for it.” The depictions of Death Valley and the piano-centered photographic essay process make for both an inspiring travelogue and a photography primer for the uninformed (that would be me) — worth the price of admission all on its own.

As one narrative proceeds from bittersweet to utterly heartbreaking, the other narrative flows towards understanding, growth, and release. A full and satisfying read full of characters with depth for whom we cannot help but have great empathy.