A Thousand Perfect Notes (C. G. Drews)

A Thousand Perfect Notes (C. G. Drews)A Thousand Perfect Notes by C.G. Drews
Published by Orchard Books on June 7th 2018
Pages: 300
Goodreads

An emotionally charged story of music, abuse and, ultimately, hope.

Beck hates his life. He hates his violent mother. He hates his home. Most of all, he hates the piano that his mother forces him to play hour after hour, day after day. He will never play as she did before illness ended her career and left her bitter and broken. But Beck is too scared to stand up to his mother, and tell her his true passion, which is composing his own music - because the least suggestion of rebellion on his part ends in violence.

When Beck meets August, a girl full of life, energy and laughter, love begins to awaken within him and he glimpses a way to escape his painful existence. But dare he reach for it?

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★

Okay, you’re probably sick by now of me saying “I don’t really read contemporary but…”, but honestly, the stats back this up, only 10% of my reading last year was contemporaries.  (Does this mean I’m more likely to write a review for a contemporary because I don’t expect to like it? I mean maybe, but that’s a whole other post). Anyway, the reason I’m starting with this is because yet again I’ve read a contemporary and been pleasantly surprised!

A Thousand Perfect Notes is written by C.G. Drews, who in case you don’t know, is Cait of paperfury.com (who I am regularly astounded by), so I had a few expectations about the book when I picked it up – largely that it wouldn’t be a fluffy, light read, that it would try and stomp on my emotions and that it would almost certainly contain cake.  Safe to say, A Thousand Perfect Notes lived up to all of those expectations.  Beck’s story is dark, and twisted, and full of scenes that will tug on your heart-strings or infuriate you on his behalf (or, frequently, both).  Beck is miserable – he hates playing the same musical parts over and over again, and he hates the way his mother treats him.  This could easily become a depressing story, but it somehow never does.

Cheerfulness is irritating, but it suits some people. Some people are born for sunlight and orange peel smiles and running on the beach and wild flowers in their hair.

The characters are interesting: from Beck himself, to August, who’s so cheerful, and kind but also opinionated, impulsive and generally super enthusiastic about life, the universe and everything.  I think one of the main reasons Beck’s story doesn’t get depressing is because he has a little sister called Joey who’s like a little ball of adorable, insane, darkly twisted child, and is definitely my favourite character.

August did feel a little bit manic pixie dreamgirl to me at times, and she fell into stereotypes at times which irritated me a bit.  The romance side was predictable, which didn’t bother me, but Beck’s interest in August picked up just a little quicker than I would have liked.

 Chocolate is a substance worth existing for.

The story is quite dark and twisted, and if you like authors like Christina Henry or A.G. Howard but wish their stories were a little more based in the real world, this would be a perfect fit for you. your stories more real-world, I imagine you’ll like this.  If I’m totally honest, my primary interest in A Thousand Perfect Notes came from being curious about the author, more than the premise, and if this were a book by an author I’d heard nothing about and stumbled across by accident, it’d be 50/50 as to whether I’d pick it up.  For me to then fly through in a few days says a lot about Drews’ writing style and skill.  The snarky, funny writing voice we see from paperfury shines through really well without ever being overpowering or too much.  She somehow blends that down-to-earth tone with some beautiful writing, and similies and metaphors that remind me a little of Laini Taylor’s beautiful writing style.  While there were a couple of occasions when it got a bit too flowery for me, generally Drews’ writing is definitely a style I could see myself reading more of, and I’ll be waiting anxiously for some of her fantasy-based books, which will be more up my alley!

One StarOne StarOne Star

Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire)

Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire)Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children, #1) by Seanan McGuire
Published by Tor.com on April 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 173
Format: audio
Source: Scribd
Goodreads

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward ChildrenNo SolicitationsNo VisitorsNo Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

 

It’s no secret by now that I’m a big fan of Mira Grant’s books, but having pretty much exhausted all of her works recently, I decided to start on the series she’s written under the name Seanan McGuire instead.  One of the first I’ve picked up is Every Heart a Doorway, which I chose for a couple of reasons – I saw Ellie’s review of Down Among the Sticks & Bones (another book in the series), I loved the sound of the premise, and it happened to be available as an audiobook on Scribd at the moment I went looking.  Seemed a bit like fate really!  Every Heart a Doorway tells the story of Nancy, who travelled to another world but has ended up stuck back in ours, desperately wishing she could go back.  Driven to desperation, her parents send her to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, where she meets other kids just like her, who’ve been to other places but now find themselves stuck where they started.  All of the students at Miss Eleanor West’s home want to travel back through their doors more than anything, but when a student is killed they get drawn into the mystery and wondering if they might be next.

“Her parents loved her, there was no question of that, but their love was the sort that filled her suitcase with colors and kept trying to set her up in dates with local boys. Their love wanted to fix her, and refused to see that she wasn’t broken.”

Students have travelled to worlds that are so unlike our own, but also so unlike each other’s, and each of them is changed by the experience.  They’ve also been affected by OUR world too though – for whatever reason, most of them felt they just didn’t fit until they found their door and what lay on the other side.  The cast of characters is great; each feels unique, and well-developed, and as is often the case with Grant/McGuire books, they’re wonderfully diverse.  For some characters, their diversity is crucial to their plot and story, and for others it’s just an incidental background fact, which is great.  I liked the characters, and I especially loved Jack and Jill, so I knew I’d definitely want to follow this up with Down Among the Sticks and Bones, which explores their backstory.

 “Nobody gets to tell me how my story ends but me.”

The story is quite dark and twisted, and if you’re a fan of Christina Henry, I imagine you’ll like this.  The premise is great, the cast are great, and the murder mystery is intriguing, but I didn’t love it quite as much as I wanted to, or as I felt like I should.  There’s a lot crammed in, and the reflection on our world gives you plenty to think about and dwell on all on it’s own – but it’s a very short story.  I would have happily spent a lot longer with these characters and their world, so I do wish this was a full-length novel.  It’s definitely worth a read though, and you can bet I’ll be picking up every additional story McGuire gives us in this world.

“Real’ is a four-letter word, and I’ll thank you to use it as little as possible while you live under my roof.”

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

[Series Snapshot] The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan

by Rick Riordan
Published by Disney-Hyperion, Hyperion Books, Hyperion Books for Children Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy, Middle Grade
Format: audio
Source: Scribd

[Series Snapshot] The Kane Chronicles by Rick RiordanThe Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
Published by Disney-Hyperion on May 4th 2010
Pages: 516
Goodreads

Since their mother's death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane.

One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a "research experiment" at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives.

Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them —Set— has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe - a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.



Series stats

Author: Rick Riordan
Number of books: 3
Total number of pages: 1404


Opening line:

We only have a few hours, so listen carefully.


Status on my shelves:

I borrowed all three from Scribd as audiobooks.


Why I picked this series up:

I’ve been catching up with Rick Riordan’s books, because I have several friends who are fans.  Having finished Percy Jackson & The Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus series, the Kane Chronicles seemed like the next logical step! I was nervous about new characters and new mythology, but I decided to give it a go anyway.


Overall thoughts:

The first thing to say is that these work excellently as audiobooks.  The books are written as if they’re typed transcripts of an audio recording which has been left by Sadie and Carter, so they’re the ideal format for audio.  I listened to the unabridged BrillianceAudio editions, narrated by Katherine Kellgren (for Sadie’s chapters) and Kevin R. Free (for Carter’s chapters) and I thought both did a great job!  The story begins when Sadie and Carter watch their Egyptologist father summon something in the British Museum before disappearing.  Sadie and Carter have been raised separately – Carter by his father, travelling the world and homeschooling, and Sadie by her grandparents in London.  These two relative strangers are forced to work together as they get caught up in a world they never knew existed.

One of Riordan’s strengths is his character cast, and while I didn’t find anyone to top Leo (my favourite character so far!) or Nico, Riordan’s characters are as always well-rounded and relatable.  As I’ve come to expect from Riordan now, we also get characters who are diverse but who’s diversity isn’t a driving plot point: it’s just a reflection of the world, and I love that.  Sadie and Carter are both likeable, relatable characters.  Sadie is witty, and sarcastic and generally made me laugh the whole way through. She’s also very believable: she has both friends and people she doesn’t get along with, she isn’t a character who’s astoundingly smart and perfect and does no wrong, or sounds like she’s much more mature than she truly is.  While I didn’t love Carter as much, he too has a convincing, authentic voice throughout the series; older, feeling burdened with responsibility for his younger sister, but still ultimately a teen at heart.  The supporting characters – Anubis, Walt, Bes, Bast and the others – are also interesting and likeable.

The first book picks up quickly, and this series doesn’t suffer from middle-book-syndrome: it keeps up the pace from book 1 right through to the end of book 3.   I won’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but I really enjoyed the way Riordan worked the Gods into this series – it feels fresh and interesting, and it makes for some really interesting twists and the occasional ethical dilemma.  Having said that, the mythology feels shallower in this series than the Greek mythology in the Olympians/Heroes of Olympus.  That’s obviously to be expected when there are only three books to play with here, compared to 10 for the Greeks, but this series does somehow feel a little less in-depth generally, a little less mature, certainly in comparison to the Heroes of Olympus series.  The series is quick and enjoyable though – I finished all three books within about two weeks, which doesn’t sound fast but is pretty much unprecedented pace for me and audiobooks.  All in all, I didn’t love it as much as his other series so far, but if you’re a fan of the other series, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this one too.

One StarOne StarOne Star

I Am Thunder (Muhammad Khan)

I Am Thunder (Muhammad Khan)I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan
Published by Macmillan Children's Books on January 25th 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher
Goodreads

Fifteen-year-old Muzna Saleem, who dreams of being a writer, struggles with controlling parents who only care about her studying to be a doctor. Forced to move to a new school in South London after her best friend is shamed in a scandal, Muzna realizes that the bullies will follow her wherever she goes. But deciding to stand and face them instead of fighting her instinct to disappear is harder than it looks when there's prejudice everywhere you turn. Until the gorgeous and confident Arif shows an interest in her, encouraging Muzna to explore her freedom.

But Arif is hiding his own secrets and, along with his brother Jameel, he begins to influence Muzna with their extreme view of the world. As her new freedom starts to disappear, Muzna is forced to question everything around her and make a terrible choice - keep quiet and betray herself, or speak out and betray her heart?

A stunning new YA voice which questions how far you'll go to protect what you believe in.

Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

I often say I’m not much of a contemporary reader, but I knew I wanted to read I Am Thunder as soon as I heard about it.  I grew up in a city with a huge, diverse, multi-cultural population. If you were asked to think of a city with a large Asian population, I can guarantee it would be one of your first guesses.  There are plenty of people in the city who care a lot more about the things they have in common – a shared hometown, a common favourite food, a TV show they both love, whatever.  Sadly, as with anywhere, there are also people who can’t see beyond the things that make us different.  In my city at least, the hate language often isn’t targeted at Muslims specifically, but blindly at anyone who ‘looks Asian’.  As a white, non-religious woman, I’ve never been on the receiving end, but I’ve had friends and co-workers who’ve reveived exactly the kind of abuse Muzna gets in I am Thunder.   I Am Thunder addresses real world issues that should be talked about more – stereotypes, prejudice, racism and extremism – and is one of the very few YA books I’ve come across that have a Muslim protagonist.

The book feels authentic the whole way through. Khan is a teacher, so the interactions between the teens and their responses to things feel believable, complete with slang language.  This is one of the novel’s strengths, as well as a possible weakness: the teens sound like current British teens, making it feel believable, but may put off readers from elsewhere and the language may not age well, so that’s a thing to bear in mind.

It was cruel to bring me up in Britain, make me go to school with British kids, then expect me to act like a girl from back home. Outside of having brown skin, speaking the language, and half-heartedly cheering the cricket team on with Dad, I had no real idea of what it meant to be Pakistani.

Muzna is a great character.  She worries about the expected teen problems: worrying about her weight and her looks, wondering what to do with her life, feeling torn between the strict rules her parents put on her and her desire to fit in at school.  On top of that, and the concerns that come with starting at a new school, she begins to fall for a boy who’s extreme views of the world have her questioning everything.  She’s not ashamed of her Pakistani heritage, but she does feel removed from it, having grown up in Britain.  She feels like it makes her a target – and indeed, sadly it does.  The way she slowly gets drawn in by Arif and his extremist views is believable, and her sympathetic nature makes her struggle with what to do both plausible and emotional.  There may be moments when you curse her for being easily drawn in, and I personally wasn’t convinced by the love interest, but it felt like she made normal teenage decisions – some good, some bad but none forced for the sake of plot. She’s flawed but likable, and is definitely the star of the novel. The she supporting characters weren’t as strong, but they were believable enough.  Arif is interesting, although I felt the twist at the end was a bit unecessary – he’d have been believable enough without it.

“Tough though innit? Black man commits a crime, people say he’s a gangbanger. If it’s a muslim, he’s a-”
“Terrorist.” I interrupted.
He nodded. “But if it’s a white guy, he gets called a ‘lone wolf’, and suddenly it’s all about mental health issues.”

I love the way Khan talks about the differences between culture and religion, as well as the fact that there are many different ways people follow their religion.  I Am Thunder will make you furious at the society we live in and the pernicious prejudice Muzna faces every day, as it should.  It has witty, funny moments that made me laugh out loud, and poignant, heartbreaking moments.  It has empowering moments that will make you cheer for Muzna and inspire you.  I flew through the novel in a day, and it’s definitely one I’ll be re-reading eventually, because it deserves to be really thought about and considered.  While it isn’t necessarily a perfect novel, it’s powerful, it’s emotional and above all it is necessary – it deserves to be applauded and should be on everyone’s TBR.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Skitter (Ezekiel Boone)

Skitter (Ezekiel Boone)Skitter (The Hatching #2) by Ezekiel Boone
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Horror, Post-apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Format: Hardback
Source: Library
Goodreads

Tens of millions of people around the world are dead. Half of China is a nuclear wasteland. Mysterious flesh-eating spiders are marching through Los Angeles, Oslo, Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, and countless other cities. According to scientist Melanie Guyer, however, the spider situation seems to be looking up. Yet in Japan, a giant, truck-sized, glowing egg sack gives a shocking preview of what is to come, even as survivors in Los Angeles panic and break the quarantine zone. Out in the desert, survivalists Gordo and Shotgun are trying to invent a spider super weapon, but it’s not clear if it’s too late, because President Stephanie Pilgrim has been forced to enact the plan of last resort: The Spanish Protocol. America, you are on your own.

SPOILER ALERT: As this is book 2 in The Hatching series, there will be spoilers for The Hatching throughout this review.

Plot: ★★
Characters: ★★★
Readability: ★★★

I was addicted to The Hatching, so I went into Skitter with high hopes – and sadly, the book didn’t live up to those at all.  Looking at the goodreads reviews, I’m definitely in the minority with my opinion, so you might love it, but I thought it was a classic case of middle book syndrome.  The Hatching was great – the problem started seemingly small, and rapidly expanded.  We saw what seemed like mostly unrelated characters discover the problem and try to cope with it, revealing their possible connections in the process.  It was fast-paced, it was creepy, and it went straight onto my list of instant-favourite-post-apocalyptic books.

And then came Skitter.  I don’t even really know where to start reviewing this, except that to say that somehow for a dramatic book, I feel like this was a case of running in place without getting anywhere.  I feel like the only purpose of the book was to take the big disaster of book 1, and make it a HUGE CATASTROPHE ready for book 3.  Aside from a few fun interactions between characters, I felt like basically everything in this book could have been accomplished just as easily with a time-jump between the first book and the last, cutting this one out altogether.  Instead, we had a book that felt mostly like filler, and given how much I loved the first one, it was very disappointing for this one to feel like, to be frank, a bit of a waste of time.  I’ll still be picking up book three, but I do feel like perhaps Mr Boone/the publishers felt this had to be a trilogy because that’s what sells, when really it would have been a fantastic duology.  On the plus side, it’s a quick read, I just didn’t feel like I got much out of it.