Books

Talking about books (when I have time to read for fun)

REVIEW: A Thousand Perfect Notes by C.G. Drews

Beck hates his life. He hates the Maestro, his mother who will except nothing but the best when it comes to playing the piano. Beck is forced to live out her dreams and expectations and nothing is every good enough – it makes him hate music. That is Beck’s life. That is until he’s partnered with August on a school project. August is bright and carefree and can’t stand to see anyone or anything in distress. Beck begins to see that there is more to life than music and fear, but can he take the steps to rescue himself?

Trigger warnings for emotional and physical abuse from a parent to their child.

A Thousand Perfect Notes is often heart-breaking. It’s told from Beck’s point of view and his fear; confusion and the glimmer of hesitant hope he has deep down are all palatable.

To say Beck’s mother is horrible would be an understatement. She is angry that she can no longer play the piano, so all her energy and passion is directed at making Beck love the music she claims to love. Nothing but perfection is good enough for her and she can always find fault with Beck’s playing. And when she finds fault she can be cutting with her remarks or violent with her hands.

Beck’s little sister Joey is the one bright spark in his life before August, and his mother knows this and threatens Joey in order to make him practice and be on the piano. Joey and Beck’s relationship is just lovely. She’s such an authentic young child, who manages to be wiser than her years but also really sweet and loving.

August is like a breath of fresh air for Beck. Their friendship grows organically as she’s stubborn but sensitive to Beck’s moods as he doesn’t know how to act around her, or how to act around anyone who is kind to him. Watching their relationship develop, and how Joey fits in with the two of them, was great.

A Thousand Perfect Notes is a tough but brilliant read. Having it be a relatively simple story with its focus on Beck and his life makes it a sad read but that focus allows you to get to know Beck so well that you can’t help but put yourself in his shoes and want his life to be so much better. One thing I really liked about A Thousand Perfect Notes is that it never says Beck is a victim, he has an inner-strength that even he doesn’t necessarily realise is there to begin with and the story allows him to use that to rescue himself. It’s not that once August is around, everything becomes OK – it’s so much more than that which is wonderful as anything less would’ve been a disservice to both Beck and August as characters. 4/5.

I chose A Thousand Perfect Notes to be my pick for this months Monthly Motif Challenge “Read a book you think is a perfect vacation read and tell us why” as I always think it’s easier to read and enjoy a hard-hitting story when the sun is out and you have little to worry about when you’re on holiday.

Advertisements

Ninja Book Box: ‘Journeys’ Summer Reading Box

Welcome to this very late unboxing of the ‘Journeys’ Summer Reading Box! I received this exciting package two weeks ago today, but due to work being super busy and life in general being a bit hectic, I didn’t have a chance to write this post until now.

Ninja Book Box is a UK-based quarterly book subscription box that’s all about sharing independently published books. There’s different genres every quarter and some goodies included too. Ninja Book Box also runs a monthly book club for independently published books and anyone can vote for the next months book which is pretty cool too. They are opening their own online second-hand independent books bookshop very soon as well! The fabulous brain behind Ninja Book Box never stops.

Now onto the books. I bought the ‘Journeys’ Summer Reading Box. This is the second year Ninja Book Box has done a summer reading box and it focuses on the books, not the goodies – though there were some nice surprises in here! Each book was individually wrapped in tissue paper which is a nice touch.

The first book I unwrapped was The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock – I love the cover of this book, it’s beautiful. The story sounds great too as it starts off in the late 1940s with US Air Force test pilots racing to break the sound barrier. By the 1960s the space race is in full swing and Jim Harrison and his colleagues are offered the chance to be the world’s first astronauts. But when his young family is thrown into crisis, Jim must decide whether to accept his ticket to the moon, and if he does, what will it cost. I’m intrigued to see how much of this book is fact and how much is fiction. I do enjoy historical novels that blend the two together, and the space race is always interesting! There was an interview with the author included as well.

The next book I unwrapped was The Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell and it was signed which is always a bonus. The Red Beach Hut is about eight-year-old Neville and Abbott, a man who’s on the run after panicking over what he believes to be a homophobic cyber-attack. Abbott takes refuge in the red beach hut, and slowly he and Neville form a friendship, but Abbott’s past threatens to tear him away as others interpret his and Neville’s friendship in their own ways. This is a relatively short book and it sounds like a poignant story.

And finally, the last book was Dust by Mark Thompson which came with a signed bookplate, a bookmark and an interview with the author. The story follows J.J Walsh and Tony ‘El Greco’ Papadakis, two inseparable friends in one formative summer in the 1960s. They face religious piety, alcohol, girls, and tragedy but it’s a road trip through the heart of southern America that shows a darker side to life. It shows the divided nation where wealth, poverty and racial bigotry collide.

All three books sound compelling in their own ways, and while The Last Pilot is the sort of book I’d pick up if I saw it in a bookshop, the other two aren’t. That’s what I love about subscription boxes like Ninja Book Box, it gives me the push to try something a little out of my comfort zone. I really like how all three books definitely fit in with the theme of “Journeys” – whether it’s a physical journey across the country or into space, or an emotional one. I’m looking forward to reading how all these journeys unfold.

Make sure you check out Ninja Book Box’s website and their various social media channels, especially Twitter, so you can keep up with all their bookish news.

READ THE WORLD – Indonesia: Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan

Ajo Kawir is one of the toughest fighters in the Javanese underworld. He’s fearlessness is powered by a painful secret – he’s impotent. When he meets the fearsomely beautiful bodyguard Iteung, he falls in love. But can he ever make Iteung happy if he can’t get it up?

Translated by Annie Tucker. Trigger warning for rape, violence and sexual language.

When Ajo is a young boy he sees a violent sexual assault and ever since then he could never get an erection. This leads him to be a bit odd, talking to his penis and imagining it replies to him.

Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is a relatively short book and the way its written makes it easy to get through. It does have chapters, but it’s told in short snapshots, that are maybe a page or less, and there’s a lot of page breaks. This makes it easy to get through, but it adds a bit of distance between the characters and the reader.

The first half of the book follows Ajo’s childhood and meeting Iteung and the second half is set a decade later when he’s a truck driver. While it’s got these two distinct halves, there are mentions of future events in the first half of the book, so this blend of time periods can be a little disorientating.

Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is an odd mixture of romance and black humour that won’t be for everyone. It has larger than life characters who often get into outlandish situations and the story manages to be both surreal and tragic.

REVIEW: Who Runs the World? by Virginia Bergin

Sixty years after a virus almost wiped out all the men on the planet, the women of the world have grieved, pulled together and moved on. Life is pretty good if you’re a girl, but not so much if you’re a boy. Fourteen-year-old River wouldn’t know that though, as until she meets Mason, she thought boys were basically extinct.

What Who Runs the World? does very well is that it doesn’t just say men are bad and women are good. Though it makes it very clear that in this world, a lot of violence and crime was committed by men, it also shows that that doesn’t stop women from getting angry or lashing out.

River’s world is one without gender expectations. People are expected to be open, communicate and share their problems and work together to solve any issues. When Mason is discovered it’s clear he comes from a different world, one where from watching porn and playing videos games he has a certain idea of what women should look and act like. River has a certain idea of what men should be like too and seeing their beliefs clash is fascinating.

Mason has been brought up surrounded by toxic masculinity, believing he must be physically strong and it makes him lesser if he cries. River, and other girls and women who have grown up without men, on the other hand has grown up being taught that showing emotions isn’t a weakness and in fact sharing your thoughts and feelings is a good thing.

Kate, River’s great-grandmother, is an interesting character as she remembers life before the virus wiped out the male population. She was a teenager when it happened, so she and other women her age understand the loss of losing their husbands, fathers, brothers and friends and that indeed not all men were dangerous people. She remembers the various social cues that were just there and made men and women act differently. She remembers the good and the bad and now being confronted with Mason gives her some hope that boys and men are out there and can join the society she’s a part of now.

Who Runs the World? is great because it doesn’t just look at gender, it’s also a fast-paced mystery. River, her mother and Kate are all trying to understand where Mason came from and what that means for all the other men and boys that might still be alive somewhere. It would’ve been nice to learn more about where Mason had come from and there’s a lot left up in the air. River’s life has changed by meeting Mason but besides from that there doesn’t seem to be many long-lasting affects from the events in the book. It’s like nothing will get better or get worse in this world, and that River and all the other women are in limbo. 4/5.

My #ReadtheWorldathon TBR

It’s 1st July on Sunday and that’s when the #ReadtheWorldathon starts. The Read the Worldathon in a month-long readathon that I’m co-hosting with A Novel Haul and Ninja Book Box. The aim of this readathon is to read books from a variety of different countries and there’s a bingo card you can “travel across” to make things more fun. For more info and an explanation of all the squares, see my announcement post here.

Now onto my TBR. I’ve planned my route across the bingo card, as you can see I have two possible routes, one taking 7 squares and one taking 5 so if I’m running out of time in the month I’ve got some options. I’ve also said what other squares a book can be used for in case anyone might have it and be unsure of where best to use it for themselves.

Celebrate WOC
Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan – Philippines
I have the ebook of this. I stumbled across it when browsing books on my kindle and it’s a highly praised detective story. I’m really looking forward to this one.
Other squares it can be used for: Genre, Asia, Firsts

Caribbean
Augustown by Kei Miller – Jamaica
Set in 1982 on the precipice of something major happening, a boy is distracted by Ma Taffy asking him, “Kaia, I ever tell you bout the flying preacherman?” I bought this book second-hand in London at the beginning of the year I know next to nothing about it.
Other squares it can be used for: Historical

Middle East
I have two choices for this square.
De Niro’s Game by Rawi Hage – Lebanon
This is an audiobook I have borrowed from my library. It’s about two long-time friends who grew up together in war-torn Beirut.
Other squares it can be used for: Firsts

The Nimrod Flip-Out by Etgar Keret – Israel
A collection of short stories that was a recent purchase and the only thing I know about these short stories, is apparently they can be a bit weird and satirical.
Other squares it can be used for: Short Stories

Non-Fic
Summer is my Favourite Season: A Memoir of Childhood and War in Kosovo by Ilir Berisha – Kosovo
A memoir from footballer Ilir Berisha. I’ll admit he’s not a footballer I know of, but I think it’ll be an interesting insight of what it’s like growing up in Kosovo – a country that’s not recognised as its own independent state by some countries.
Other squares it can be used for: Firsts, Europe, Political Controversy

Americas
Never Stop Walking: A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World by Christina Rickardsson – Brazil
Another book I’ve got on my kindle. This sounds like a potential sad autobiography as Christina Rickardsson was born in Brazil but at the age of seven she was taken to an orphanage and then to a village in the north of Sweden.
Other squares it can be used for: Celebrate WOC, Firsts, Non-Fic, In Translation

In Translation
Another square where I’ve got some choice.
Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi – Myanmar
Aung San Suu Kyi is a politician in Myanmar and this collection of letter from her are about how she sees her country and its people – both the good and the bad.
Other squares it can be used for: Political Controversy, Non-Fic, Celebrate WOC

Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke – Belgium
Thirty Days is about a musician who moves to the countryside to be with his girlfriend, and how they and a local doctor start to Afghans and Syrians at a refugee camp – something the locals do not like.
Other squares it can be used for: Europe

Africa
And my final square offers me some choice too – I’m all about the choice when it comes to TBR’s for readathons!
The Last Gift by Abdulrazak Gurnah – Tanzania
Another audiobook from my local library. This is about a man who’s kept his past a secret but when he gets ill, he starts to share how he came from Africa and made a life for himself in the UK.
Other squares it can be used for: ?

Secret Son by Laila Lalami – Morocco
I think this book is about the relationship between a son and his mother and how it becomes strained when his absent father renters his life.
Other squares it can be used for: Celebrate WOC

That’s my TBR for the next month! I hope to manage to make my way across the bingo card and if I do manage to read all these books, I do have some other books I could read for random squares on the card.

Do let me know if you’re planning to take part in the #ReadtheWorldathon – I would love to see your TBR’s! I’d also like to know some of your favourite international books or authors too. There’s so many books out there from so many countries, there’s just not enough time to get them all.

READ THE WORLD – Pakistan: Kartography by Kamila Shamsie

Karim and Raheen have grown up together, they finish each other’s sentences and speak in anagrams. They are irrevocably bound together and to Karachi, Pakistan, a city that’s violent, vibrant, corrupt and magical but is also their home. Time and distance bring a barrier of silence between them until they are brought together in Karachi during a summer of strikes and ethnic violence. Their relationship stands poised between strained friendship and fated love – one wrong action, or reaction, can tip the scales.

Kartography is a book I picked up over a year ago but didn’t get further than the first few chapters. I am so pleased I gave it another go as this time a sped through it.

This time I was almost instantly submerged into the vivid city Raheem and Karim grew up in. The city, and to a lesser extent the country of Pakistan, is a character in its own right. Karachi is a part of Raheem and Karim and while Karim attempts to distance himself from the place after looking for and finding all of its darkness, Raheem purposely avoids thinking too much of the violence and corruption that’s rife in her city.

Kartography shows that while history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, present events do tend to parallel the past. There’s definitely an element of “the sins of our fathers” here, though the children are often unaware of what those sins actually are which leads to misunderstandings and more hurt than if people had been honest with them from the start.

Kartography takes place across several years. There’s Karim and Raheem’s early teenage years in the 1980’s and when they are young adults reconnecting in the mid-90s. But events that transpired before they were even born, most notably 1971 and the civil unrest that affected their parents when Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan, had a knock-on effect on to the people they grew up to be. This book is a historical novel and while it references many political events, it doesn’t feel it has to explain everything. Shamsie trusts the reader to either have prior knowledge on this period of history, or to go a research it as they’re reading if they want to. That being said, if like me you have limited knowledge of that time period you can still follow what’s happen really easily.

Kartography is about barriers. Religious, ethnic, gender and class – all these barriers come into play and some are easier for characters to cross or accept than others. The writing in Kartaography is beautiful, the characters are flawed and sometimes frustrating, but they are still people that you enjoy reading about. Kartography is a wonderful story and one I enjoyed far more than I thought I would. 5/5.

REVIEW: I’m Travelling Alone by Samuel Bjork

When the body of a young girl is discovered hanging from a tree, the only clue the police have is an airline tag around her neck. It reads “I’m travelling alone”. In response, seasoned investigator Holger Munch is charged with assembling a special homicide unit. That means tracking down his former partner – Mia Krüger – a brilliant but troubled detective who’s plans are to die. Reviewing the file, Mia finds something new – a thin line carved into the dead girl’s finger nail; the number 1. This is just the beginning. To save the other children Mia must push aside her own demons and see the bigger picture before the murderer becomes a serial killer.

I’m Travelling Alone is told from multiple perspectives meaning that the action never really lets up and while you may have more information than the detectives, that doesn’t mean you can see how everything’s connected straight away. There’s subplots that on the surface don’t look to be related to the main case but slowly the people become connected and the way everything is interwoven together is very natural.

The chapters are very short, often less than 10 pages, and they nearly all end on a mini cliff-hanger which makes this over 500 pages story a quick read. I’m Travelling Alone is often tense and it definitely has some unexpected twists and turns as the case develops and it becomes clear that there’s something seriously disturbing about the killer.

Mia and Holger are very different people but the way they work together is great. There’s the mentor-mentee relationship but Mia is so good at seeing patterns and the connections between things that she’s often smarter than Holger. That doesn’t mean Holger’s an idiot though, they each bring something to the partnership and the scenes when they bounce ideas off each other are enthralling. The whole team is great and it’s clear why they have been brought in on this case and they all bring a unique perspective to the team.

I’m Travelling Alone does end somewhat suddenly. Everything’s been building and building, and then it doesn’t really have the closure that I was expecting. Besides from that, it is an enjoyable and engrossing detective story. 4/5.