YA

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.

May’s Illumicrate Box

May’s Illumicrate was just the best! But before I get into what’s inside, here’s a little about Illumicrate. Illumicrate is a quarterly YA subscription box based in the UK. It costs £29.99 per box, with free shipping to the UK. It does ship internationally but it has shipping costs that varies depending where in the world it’s travelling to. Illumicrate contains one new release (and sometimes a bonus ARC as well) and 4-6 goodies, some of which can be exclusives.

Now I had cancelled my Illumicrate subscription as I’d moved to a new house, I was now paying more monthly expenses etc etc but when I heard what some one the goodies would be related to, I knew I had to get this box. Seriously, mention Black Panther and I’m there!

The first thing I saw when I opened the box was the Black Panther item. It’s a book sleeve designed by Risa Rodil featuring T’Challa, Shuri, Nakia and Okoye and I LOVE IT!!! I love the design (I’d seen some of Risa Rodil’s work before and loved it so I’m so happy I have a book sleeve by them) and how big the sleeve is.

Next there was a box with Fangirl-inspired artwork by Alice Oseman. I really liked this item as it’s something I’ve not seen in subscription boxes before and it’s the perfect thing for keepsakes or your lunch. There was a Camp Half-Blood enamel pin with a pegasus on it from Fable and Black, tarot-style art cards inspired by the Infernal Devices featuring Will, Jem, and Tessa from taratjah, and a set of elements page markers from AnotherStudio_ inspired by Avatar: The Last Airbender. All of these items were Illumicrate exclusives which is pretty awesome.

Also included were promotional items like pin badges, bookmarks, samplers and postcards for Grey Sister, How Do You Like Me Now?, From Twinkle With Love, I Was Born For This and A Reaper at the Gates. And there was an exclusive edition advanced readers copy of Light Years by Kass Morgan which sounds like a great, mysterious yet romantic sci-fi adventure.

Now for the book. It was A Thousand Perfect Notes by C.G. Drews and this copy was an exclusive copy with red sprayed edges. It came with a signed book plate, a letter from the author and a bookmark. This is a book I’d seen murmurings about on Twitter, and after reading the blurb I can see why. It’s a contemporary story about friendship and music and overcoming parental abuse. I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

I loved everything included in this quarters Illumicrate box and I think it could be the best yet. I like how it has a real eclectic mix of items from different fandoms and I’m looking forward to reading both books, especially as they are books I might not have bought myself. I think this Illumicrate box might be their best yet, it’s truly great.

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.

Wildest Dreams Book Box: Female Voices

This week my first ever Wildest Dreams box arrived. Wildest Dreams is a UK based book subscription box that aims to be a more affordable option. Starting at £18 a month, the box contains a book, tea, a bath/body product and maybe a few extra little bits too.

Each month there is a theme and this month’s theme was Female Voices. I’d been meaning to give Wildest Dreams a go and this theme caught my attention. Without further ado, here’s what was in this month’s box.

I really liked how everything was packaged. Everything came in a smaller box compared to the other subscription boxes I’ve tried, but that didn’t stop it being all neatly presented. The contents was wrapped in tissue paper and the book itself was wrapped in brown paper – giving it that extra little bit of protection and making it more fun to open.

The first thing I saw was the tea. The tea is called Reset Yourself, it’s chamomile and lemongrass and is made by Rosie Lea Tea. It also came with disposable teabags which is always helpful as so often when you receive loose leaf tea in a subscription box, you don’t have anything to actually make it in if you don’t possess your own tea strainer. This tea was chosen by author Holly Bourne which is pretty cool.

The bath/body product included in this months box was Bone Season inspired soap. It’s a handmade dusky sole and almond soap, it’s blue, yellow and red, and it smells like sweets! I’ve honestly been sniffing it a lot as I’ve been writing this post like a right weirdo. The soap was made by the Glasgow Soap Company.

The book included was I Stop Somewhere by T.E. Carter. First of all I love the cover, it’s such a beautiful colour and image of a broken moth (or it could be a butterfly) is striking, and second of all, it’s a book I’d never heard of before.

Reading the blurb, it sounds like a hard-hitting but important contemporary YA book. It’s about Ellie, who just wanted to blend in, but that’s until popular Caleb tells her she’s beautiful and makes her believe it. Ellie’s not sure if she actually likes Caleb because the way he treats her, showing her with love one minute then ignoring her the next, his possessive tendencies and harsh tone. Then one-night Ellie learns what kind of monster her boyfriend really is. She’s not the first girl Caleb rapes, but she as the first she murdered. Now Ellie’s trapped, unable to move on, and stuck watching Caleb do the same thing other girls. Ellie’s powerless and alone, and she just hopes that someone can help her.

I’m especially interested to see how the story presents Ellie being dead but still present, seeing Caleb’s actions. I think I Stop Somewhere has the potential to be a really sad story but I would like it to also offer a sense of hope to Ellie and the reader.

In this box there were also a couple of Holly Bourne-related stickers, some chocolate chip and vanilla biscuits (which I’ve already eaten, and they were very tasty), a bookmark, a letter from the author and signed bookplate.

I really liked the Wildest Dreams Book Box. It’s a simple but well put together subscription box. As someone who enjoys all the goodies you get in subscription boxes but very rarely uses them all, I think this box is great as the soap is something I will definitely use and, if I don’t like the tea, my friends at work love tea so it can find a good home with them. I don’t think I’ll be getting the Wildest Dreams Book Box every month, as while it definitely one of the cheaper subscription boxes, I don’t really have the money to pay for a subscription box every month – plus, I want to make a dent in my large TBR pile before I regularly get subscription boxes again.

Wildest Dreams’ June theme is Love YA and it’s always a good idea to follow their Twitter as they often give out discount codes to make the box even cheaper! They’re awesome like that.

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.

REVIEW: The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

Grace is the preacher’s daughter and the new girl in school. Rosina is bold and outspoken and dreams of music rather than working at her family’s restaurant. Erin is often misunderstood but her love of science and order doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel. The three of them are brought together by the idea of changing things, of justice for Lucy Moynihan – a girl who was run out of town for accusing the popular guys at school of gang rape. Together, Grace, Rosina and Erin form the Nowhere Girls, an outlet for their rage and a place of strength and decide to avenge the rape of a girl none of them knew.

The Nowhere Girls is a phenomenal book. It’s like Asking For It meets Moxie but it’s its own thing and what a powerful, heartfelt thing it is.

The Nowhere Girls is told in alternating perspectives, so you get to be inside Grace, Rosina and Erin’s heads, as well as see glimpses of what other girls at their high school think and feel. Having these moments from other characters points of view, some of which are unnamed characters, shows the wide scope of feminism as one black girl muses the movement must’ve been started by white girls because if a black girl did it they’d be seen as disruptive, while a trans girl wonders whether or not she’d be included in the group or would be seen as a spy.

All three main protagonists are well-rounded characters with their own problems at home, whether that’s an over-bearing parent or a family member with dementia, but they form a unique bond over their passion to change things. They are also a diverse group of characters. Rosina is Mexican-American and a lesbian, she’s comfortable with her identity but she’s not sure if she’ll ever tell her mum about her sexuality, Grace is fat and has a lot of faith in God but not necessarily in people and Erin has Asperger’s and is reserved but smart and is trying to live her own life.

What Grace, Rosina and Erin do together is start a movement in their school for the girls. It crosses the boundaries of normal high school cliques, as girls come together to talk openly about sex and boys and how both make them feel – the good and the bad. It’s a very open and honest take of girls’ sexuality and it’s refreshing to see girls talk to one another about it and share their experiences. Through this movement, the girls at the high school become empowered and have a sense of unity that crosses social circles like they never had before – it’s wonderful to see.

The ending of The Nowhere Girls made me cry because it was so hopeful, emotional and inspiring. Grace, Erin and Rosina start something amazing but it’s every other girl in the school, and some boys too, who stand up and stop letting the boys who say sexist or racist or homophobic things getting away with it.

The Nowhere Girls is so great I read it in three days. I couldn’t put it down as I longed to give these girls a hug and to tell them how amazing they are, seeing the strength of the solidarity between young girls was just brilliant. It is one of those books that everyone, especially young people, should read. The Nowhere Girls does deal with a tough topic, but it’s handled well and sensitively, and shows there is hope that justice can prevail. 5/5.