Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A Review of Starfish

Starfish is a book by Akemi Dawn Bowman. Kiko Himura struggles with anxiety. She's half-Japanese through her father's side, but feels like she doesn't understand her heritage. Her mother is emotionally abusive and she suffered sexual abuse from her uncle when she was younger. When her uncle moves in with them coupled with a rejection from the art school she wanted to go to, she heads West with Jamie Merrick to rethink about her art.

This book really should come with a trigger warning for emotional and sexual abuse.

That being said, that doesn't mean people shouldn't pick this book up. It's very worth reading. I like that books can allow us to learn about serious topics in a safe way. And that's really what trigger warnings are about - allowing people to pick stuff up when they are ready for it. Starfish manages to write about dark subjects but still in a beautifully written style that makes me see every moment vividly.

All my adoration to Kiko for being an actual geek as well as an art nerd. She likes geeky things, but has her own individual likes and dislikes within those categories. She likes comics and Superhero movies, but doesn't like Batman. She likes video games, especially fantasy ones. I was cheering when an early scene mentions her wearing a Legend of Zelda shirt. She likes Japanese animation as she can see herself in them - her brother is the manga fan.

As many people have said, Kiko is a very realistic depiction of someone with anxiety. However, not everyone with anxiety presents in exactly the same way. I'm okay at doing things by myself, but I often think that people wouldn't want to go with me to places anyway. I don't like starting conversations because I assume people don't want to talk. I hate talking on the phone and big groups. But I've had some of the best experiences of my life when I've pushed myself outside my comfort zone.

The romance, well. Jamie's not perfect. He's sometimes not sure how to handle Kiko's anxiety. And they wasted so much time that wouldn't have been if Jamie had gone around to his childhood friend's house to just say "hey, I'm staying with my cousins nearby, want to get coffee sometime?" But they were sweet. And A++ for her supportive friendship with Emery. I don't know if you could call her relationship with her brothers good, but I think they're at the point where they could contact each other if need be. And I loved the relationship she develops with the Matsumoto's! And with her father's other family, who I believe would have stepped in more if they knew how bad things were for the Kimura children.

And I'm absolutely here for the Japanese food appreciation.

I would recommend this book to people with an interest in art and with anxiety.

Monday, 16 April 2018

A Review of American Panda

American Panda is a novel by Gloria Chao. Mei Lu is a seventeen-year-old starting premed at MIT, since skipping forth grade. She's trying to follow her (parents') dream of her being a doctor, contend with her own phobia of germs, and work in her own love of dance. When she starts having feelings for her classmate Darren Takahashi, and get back in touch with her estranged older brother, will she be able to stand up to her family when it matters most?

I loved it! I went through quite a bit of East Asian and immigrant literature when I was younger, and this can hold it's own with the best of them. And, there is good amounts of food. Not only are food descriptions just fun to read, they help draw you deeper into the world of a book and someone else's shoes.

I love that Mei's relationship with her family, while not solved by the end of the book, get better once she and her mother have a real conversation. From the early part of the book, she and her mother seemed to have a good relationship when it wasn't falling into some standard Asian parenting patterns. This style of parenting is discussed, and deconstructed, quite thoroughly within the book.

Also, there's a lot of girls supporting girls in this book! Mei stands up for her mother against her Aunt and Grandmother, gets on well with her roommate in the end, and discusses her family with Ying-na. I would have actually liked to see more of Helen, Mei's friend from school. She's only in briefly, though.

I also liked how Mei, while not feeling suited to being a doctor, also wasn't uninterested in science. Biology bored her, but she did pick up scientific facts over time, and she did like maths.  I also liked the solution to her dream. She was still doing her dancing on the side and wanting to open her own studio, with her MIT degree as a back-up. I think it is important for people to understand that a back-up plan isn't always a bad idea.

During the early part of the books, Mei gets an itch down below. How many times have you seen this issue discussed in books? Not many? I certainly haven't. This is what I needed when it first happened to me. The causes of something like this are hugely varied - Mei's was caused by her jeans. I needed to actually let someone take a look and not buy over-the-counter thrush creams in the hope they would work, because I was too shy to let someone see.

One of the later parts of the book has Mei going to a comedy club. Stand-up comedy, like music, is one of those things that is hard to represent in novels. So much of it relies on the atmosphere, and listening to the person speaking and their tone of voice. But in this case, I could imagine myself sitting in the club, listening to Ying-na. Her jokes are very, very well-written. Some may have gone over my head, but surely that's all the more reason for someone like me to watch her perform, so that I'd learn something.

I would recommend this book to people who like a cute, fluffy read with a little depth to it.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

A Review of A Thousand Perfect Notes

A Thousand Perfect Notes is a debut novel by C.G. Drews, who reviews books over on Paper Fury. Beck Keverich is forced to play the piano by his mother for hours a day. It effects his schoolwork and his social life. He's terrified of her, and scared for his little sister, Joey. When he gets partnered with August Frey for a school project, all he wants is for her to leave him alone. Will she manage to break through and get to know the real Beck Keverich?

Received an ARC for Kindle through Netgalley from Hatchette Children's Group. As this is an ARC, I'd like to recommend that the final version contains some sort of warning for child abuse and thoughts of self-harm.

My reading certainly has some odd patterns. This is the third book with a musically inclined teen with strict parents that I've read this year.

Drews has been a book blogger and reviewer for a long time, and I think that shows in her writing. Reviewing encourages you to think critically about the media you consume. However, it is still a debut novel, and I think there are places where she can improve. This isn't a bad thing - if no-one improved, if we all remained at the same level, they would be no motivation to try and get better.

I liked how Beck still enjoyed music and wanted to compose, despite his understandable dislike of the piano. I think he'd have been quite justified in throwing it all to the side. Joey is precious and I want to protect her. I was surprised her pre-school didn't raise concerns of an abusive household. Uninterested parents and unusual violent behaviour are things we look for. It is easy to write August off as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and on the surface, she is. She's the catalyst for Beck to change his life, and does quirky things such as going barefoot. But that discounts August's motivations, wanting to be with Beck because she liked his personality, and needing good grades for her future plans. I also think this discounts Beck's own development. I think he would have stood up to his mother at the end no matter what, as she had begun to turn her anger to Joey.

Books based on music are always tricky for me, since I have basically no ear for it. Also, it is one of those things that's hard to show in books. We can't actually hear someone play, so we have to rely on what we are told about a character's talent. It can hit show-don't-tell for me, because I want to see it.

Abusive parents have been an odd subject to me. Since my mother passed away from stroke, I haven't wanted to seek books out with them as a subject. I've preferred to read books where familial relationships are, if not always sunshine and rainbows, ones that can be solved with a good talk. This is not that book. This is the book where everything is not going to be okay, where leaving is the only option. And Beck's mother had a stroke, in the backstory. Just... I hate everything about stroke, okay?

Spoilers: I did like how Beck managed to get himself and Joey away from his mother. Sometimes, that's the only solution, and I would like to see more YA books normalising this outcome, saying that it is okay to leave abusive family members.

Reading on a Kindle was a new experience for me. Please don't take this as anything against the book, but a personal musing on myself. I'm a very sensory person. I like to be able to feel pages under my fingers and the book physically getting smaller. I like to be able to flick back to a cover and run my fingers over different textures on the front. This helps me keep my attention on the book. I was reading it in short little bursts, too.

I would recommend this book to people who enjoy music, piano or composing.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

A Review of The Lucy Variations

The Lucy Variations is a book by Sara Zarr. Lucy Beck-Moreau, a gifted pianist, was a bright young thing in the world of music. However, after being lied to about her Grandmother's illness before a performance, she walks away. Her strict Grandfather lets her know that in his eyes, she has quit for good. When her brother's long time piano teacher dies, a new person, Will, takes her place. Will wants to let Lucy rediscover what she always loved about playing.

I can pretty much divide my thoughts about this book into The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good:
Family relationships that are rocky but still work! I loved Lucy's relationship with her Grandfather and how they eventually talked it through to make it work.

With any skill you do for others, whether that is something professional like piano, amateur baking or even something just for fun like this blog, it's easy to fall into the trap of doing it for someone else. Writing what you know someone else would like, playing someones favourite songs to appeal to them or baking their favourite cake. While this is often a nice thing to do, you have to watch that you don't lose what makes it fun for you in the process.

I also liked the side that was Lucy having been out of school for a while for her piano tours having to adjust to being on a schedule. Like it can be a huge jump for teenagers going from having a lot of freedom to being more restricted. I know when I started back at school after the summer, it was a bit of a shock. And the opposite is also true! School does not do enough to prepare you to work independently in places where you have to manage your time yourself, such as college or university.

The Bad:
Lucy's personality? Like I'm a firm believer that female characters don't need to be perfect, they just need to be people. But she was so self-centred at times that it was hard to take. This may or may not be a bad point, but apart from her music, she really didn't have much of a personality.

A girl fight that was over literally nothing. Lucy asks her best friend to accompany her to a party that she knows she won't enjoy. Lucy's best friend complains because Lucy was ignoring her to flirt with her music teacher, and leaves her without a ride.

The Ugly:
Lucy has a tendency to crush on older men. Especially her teachers. The narrative presents this as a natural extension of Lucy having grown up fast and dealing with adults a lot. And her teachers do nothing to discourage it, especially Will, who's married. I wish it had been presented negatively, or at least Lucy had discussed it with an adult in her life, like her parents.

Oh, and stroke. I hate it.

It's a shame that a book with a lot going for it was dragged down so much by the last point. I really don't like thinking that teenagers may get the idea that this is appropriate behaviour from adults in their life. I might give it a tentative recommendation to people who can see how unacceptable Will's is.