A to Z Reading Challenge

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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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.

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.

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.

REVIEW: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Best friends Charlie, Taylor and Jamie are heading to SupaCon! Charlie is a blogger and actress promoting her first film at SupaCon and it’s her chance to show the fans she’s completely over her breakup with co-star Reese Ryan. When she meets super famous online personality Alyssa, Charlie begins to think her long-time crush isn’t as one sided as she thought. Taylor’s more reserved than Charlie. Her brain is wired differently making social situations often terrifying and a fear of change makes her constantly re-evaluate what she wants from her best guy friend Jamie. But when she enters a fan contest to meet her favourite author, Taylor begins to rethink her lifelong goal of always playing it safe.

Queens of Geek is a super quick read, I flew through it. It’s all set during one weekend at a fan convention called SupaCon so there are a lot of geeky references to comics, cosplay and fandom in general. It’s kind of a love letter to fandom, and how people can find safety and comfort in fandom and the TV shows/films/books that people can bond over. It’s a nice looking into the world of comic cons and how they can be very overwhelming but also be a place to meet likeminded people and make new friends.

The story is told in alternate perspectives, Taylor and Charlie’s. Taylor has anxiety and Asperger’s and it’s insightful hearing her explain how she feels in certain situations and about life in general. She’s almost constantly struggling but still loves her friends and her fandom. Taylor is bisexual and has had a past relationship with a boy and during her time at SupaCon gets to know Alyssa. Their romance is really sweet and they both talk about how their past relationships have affected them and what they’re looking for going forward.

The amount of communication between Taylor, Jamie, Charlie, and Alyssa (and all combinations of thereof) was extraordinary. Any misunderstandings are more likely to last a couple of paragraphs than a couple of chapters. It’s both great to see a solid group of friends or a potential love interest be so open about their thoughts, feelings and fears with one another, but also a bit disconcerting as it’s something that is (unfortunately) so unusual in fiction, and often in real life as well. So often one character gave an encouraging speech to another character that it felt unrealistic.

Queens of Geek is definitely a character driven book. There’s not really any plot twists or big moments, instead it highlights various important diverse topics like sexuality, mental health, body image and unhealthy relationships. All these topics are handled well but the story sometimes felt like it had been put on the backburner in order for a character to say their piece about a certain topic.

Queens of Geek is a cute, quick read with some great characters who really support one another. Jamie, Charlie and Taylor have a solid friendship and each of their personalities shines through. However, it’s not a memorable read for me as it felt like it was trying so often to tick as many important, diversity boxes as possible that it didn’t end up grounded in reality. 3/5.