4 stars

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.

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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.

REVIEW: Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) gathers a crew to pull off the impossible, stealing a $150 million necklace from around actress Daphne Kluger’s (Anne Hathaway) neck at New York City’s Met Gala.

Ocean’s 8 is a spin-off from the George Clooney-starring Ocean’s movies from the 2000’s. Besides from a small cameo near the beginning of the film, which is a nice touch rather than feeling desperate, Ocean’s 8 is its own thing and stands on its own merit.

There’s something immensely satisfying watching women who are good at what they do, go and get the job done. There’s all the usual types of characters when it comes to a heist film. Lou (Cate Blanchett) is Debbie’s right-hand woman, Tammy (Sarah Paulson), is a fence, Rose (Helena Bonham Carter) is the one who has to stick close to their target, Amita (Mindy Kaling) is the forger, Nine Ball (Rihanna) is the hacker, and Constance (Awkwafina) is a pick-pocket. They are all so great in their roles and the chemistry between them all is wonderful too. I have to say Hathaway is the standout when it comes to the cast’s performances. She’s the epitome of a diva here, funny, outlandish and deceptively smart too.

The heist itself is clever and manages to fool the target and the audience though Ocean’s 8 lacks the style seen in previous Ocean’s movies. That being said, the costumes more than make up for that – all these women look fabulous. The soundtrack is also pretty great too.

Ocean’s 8 is an entertaining heist film with characters you root for. I really hope there’s a sequel because I’d love to see these women steal more amazing and priceless stuff. 4/5.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible (1996)

As the latest film in the Mission Impossible series is released at the end of July, I thought I’d rewatch the series and review them all, posting a review a week leading up to Fallout’s release.

When his team is killed, and he’s presumed to be a traitor, Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) must discover and expose the real traitorous spy without the help of his organisation.

Mission: Impossible is great because it feels like an old-fashioned spy thriller rather than a full-on action film. It focusses on the mystery behind who is the real mole in the organisation and while the set-pieces it has are gripping, it’s very much a character driven film.

The settings also make it feel almost timeless. The way the foggy streets of Prague are lit gives the scenes there an almost film-noir feel. Those scenes introduce the team, led by Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), showing how each of them fits into their roles, and some of their cool gadgets too, and how things can quickly unravel when there’s potentially a traitor in their midst.

The iconic sequence midway through the film, you know the one – Ethan Hunt is hanging on a wire, into a room where he cannot make a sound or touch the floor – is fantastic. It’s so tense and thrilling and a large part of that is due to the fact that there is no music. As soon as Hunt enters the room, it’s just the sounds the characters make that you can hear, nothing else. This cranks up the tension to almost nerve-wracking levels.

Mission: Impossible is a great spy thriller with a lot of twists and turns. The few action sequences are great, though the finale is a bit over the top. That being said, it’s a finale built on the revelations that Hunt, and the audience, has been seeking throughout the film, so it’s pretty satisfying. 4/5.

REVIEW: About Time (2013)

When Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) turns 21, his father (Bill Nighy) tells him the family secret – all men in their family can travel back in time. Tim learns that changing events in his life isn’t as easy as you might think, especially when he uses it to find love.

About Time is a charming and funny romantic drama. It blends together the science-fiction of time travel with all the best stuff about love and family. While it is funny, About Time is also incredibly sincere – it’s definitely the kind of film you should embrace wholeheartedly and leave any cynicism you may have behind.

When Tim meets Mary (Rachel McAdams) things go awry when he uses his time travel skills. Slowly he begins to realise that changes to his past have consequences and it can be tough keeping track of it all. The way the relationship between Tim and Mary develops is really sweet. There is the potential for it to be a bit creepy, what with Tim learning more about Mary each time he might time travel but to her it’s a first encounter, but the chemistry between Gleeson and McAdams and a heartfelt script makes it Tim’s awkwardness more endearing than sinister.

While the main focus of Tim’s story is about his romance with Mary, About Time is also about family. Tim adores his sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), their relationship is just the best and he always tries to help her, with and without time travel, though it doesn’t always work out. And then there’s Tim and his dad – these two have one of the most touching, and realistic, father-son relationship I’ve seen in a while.

There are some issues with About Time. It’s perhaps a little long with the middle dragging slightly and some may find it too sentimental, but all in all it’s a beautiful film. About Time is funny and romantic and shows off all the highs and lows of what life truly is. Yes, Tim may have time travel to help him out now and again, but it’s much better to take the time to experience life in that moment. 4/5.

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.

REVIEW: Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Maya Aziz loves making films and dreams of attending film school. But she’s torn between two worlds; there’s the one where her parents expect her to be the perfect Muslim Indian daughter, attending school close to home and getting a boyfriend her mother deems “suitable” and there’s a dream one, where she can attend film school and maybe finally say more than two words to the boy she’s liked since grade school. But when a there’s a horrific crime hundreds of miles away from her home, and the suspect has the same last name as her, Maya’s whole life is turned upside down as the community she’s been a part of all her life becomes consumed by fear and bigotry.

Love, Hate and Other Filters is an engrossing read and that’s mainly down to how compelling Maya is as a character. She’s sarcastic and funny and loves everything about filmmaking. She also loves her parents but doesn’t always feel they understand her. I loved her relationship with her aunt Hina, they are both rebellious in their own ways when it comes to tradition and it’s nice that Maya has an adult in her corner when things get tough with her parents.

Maya’s so compelling because you can totally understand where her fears and frustrations come from. There’s so much bad stuff happening in the world and while her parents are justifiably worried, they take it to a level that Maya just can’t deal with as she’s desperate to be more independent and follow her heart.

The romance between Maya and Phil is sweet and they both learn so much about themselves by being honest with each other. They both have dreams that are different to what their family and friends might expect of them and it’s great to see them find each other. Maya’s best friend Violet is brilliant as well, she’s outspoken and loyal and is the kind of best friend we’d all want – especially when you’re trying to navigate high school.

While Love, Hate and Other Filters is told from Maya’s point of view, there is a short passage at the end of each segment from the point of view of the terrorist. It’s unsettling and I’m unsure if it’s needed as Maya’s story is so interesting on its own.

Love, Hate and Other Filters is a fast-paced story that’s heartfelt and funny but also heart-wrenching at times. Maya is such a great character and her parents are so well-rounded too that it hurts when they fight but you never stop wanting Maya to be able to do what she truly loves. Love, Hate and Other Filters is a great #OwnVoices debut novel. 4/5.