book review

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: Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Bleak House is a saga with the legal case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which is about an inheritance dispute, at its centre. There are many characters and subplots in Bleak House, but the heroine of the story is Esther Summerson, a young woman who is taken under guardianship of John Jarndyce, and who’s connections become a focal point of the story.

Bleak House has two narrators, Esther Summerson and an unnamed omniscient narrator. To begin with, their stories seem to run parallel to each other and there’s not much that connects the two of them but as the story progresses the narratives merge and characters from both perspectives interact with one another.

I think listening to the audiobook is what got me through Bleak House, if I’d been reading the physical book I would’ve given up on it. The audiobook of Bleak House I listened to was narrated by Hugh Dickson and I think he did a fantastic job at making each of the many many characters sound different and, more often than not, memorable. This made the story and its many sub-plots and characters easier to follow. Also, I think the more humorous moments or dialogue were easier to understand when listening to it, compared to reading it, because the language was easier to comprehend

Bleak House is a dense story with is subplots and characters, but it also has an interesting mystery and is sometimes funny too. There’s so much going on in Bleak House it’s hard to give a summary of it or go into all the characters – I will talk a bit about Esther Summerson though. Esther grew up unloved, so she is very self-deprecating and grateful for every little thing. Even though she grew up in an unloving home, she’s someone with a big heart and a lot of love to give. Her relationship with Ada, another of John Jarndyce’s wards, is lovely as they support one another and quickly form a solid connection.

I’m happy I’ve finally read Bleak House, it’s been sitting on my shelf for nearly five years, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It’s a story with a legal battle, with romance, with family drama and it’s a detective story too. It’s so many things and it’s a commentary on the poor in London and the tough and potentially hopeless situations they are in. 3/5.

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: Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

After the Secret Service is informed that the Bank of England’s gold is being stolen, 007 James Bond is put on the case to track down the mysterious Auric Goldfinger and find out how he’s been accumulating so much gold. But as Bond delves deeper, he discovers Goldfinger’s dangerous connections and that he has much bigger plans when it comes to gold.

While I have watched the film version of Goldfinger a number of years ago, enough time had past that I didn’t remember much of the plot, and even if I had the book was it’s own unique thing compared to the film adaptation.

After having the physical book on my shelves for years, I listened to the audiobook narrated by Hugh Bonneville who did a great job. Goldfinger is a fast-paced story and Bonneville did a great job at getting inside Bond’s head. The action sequences were exciting but the slower, spy stuff was just as compelling.

I love the character of James Bond in this story. He’s a mess, and an argument could be made for him being depressed when we’re first introduced to him in the opening chapters. He’s sick of his job, the travelling and the killing and he’s so very tired of it all. The thing I loved about Bond is that while he is a good spy, he is human and makes mistakes. Also, when times are tough and he’s in real mortal peril, his inner-monologue is emotional and reflective. James Bond also has a sarcastic sense of humour which I loved and there’s so many times he uses either wit or sheer luck to get by. For instance, at one point he blames a cat for something in the hopes that Goldfinger doesn’t figure him out.

Goldfinger and his trusted bodyguard Odd Job are both intimidating foes in different ways. Goldfinger is very smart while Odd Job is deadly. The language used to describe Odd Job and the other Korean workers Goldfinger employs is definitely racist and can be sometimes uncomfortable to listen to. I guess that’s the sign of the time it was written in.

The same it can be said of the way women are presented. Pussy Galore is a lesbian and the book states this multiple times. However, by the end it’s alluded to that she was only a lesbian because she hadn’t met a real man like James Bond yet. It’s eye-rolling stuff. That being said, while Bond is a self-confessed womaniser, there are moments, especially at the start of the novel, where it does show he can and does respect women. There may be some rather outdated views of them, but on the whole there’s less than one might expect from a James Bond story when all you’ve seen previously are the film adaptations.

I enjoyed Goldfinger far more than I was expecting to, to be honest. It’s a fast-paced thriller and Bond is much more interesting, funny and layered character compared to the almost archetype that’s seen in the various film adaptations. 4/5.

If you’re interested, as a part of my Bondathon three years ago I watched and reviewed the film adaptation of Goldfinger, along with every other Bond film. You can read that review here.