August 23 2021

Book Week 2021: A story of stories

Book week 2021

It’s book week. The 75th year it’s been celebrated in Australia, and the 40th (give or take) that I can remember experiencing. For the second year in a row, here in NSW at least it’s a very different prospect. No book week costume parades at primary schools, no read-ins or teachers dressing up at high schools. Instead, my incredible teacher-librarian colleagues have adapted, and are running a range of lockdown book week activities, including online quizzes, virtual storytimes, and dressups at home. One amazing friend is in an inflatable T-Rex costume, crashing her school’s zoom meetings and causing havoc a-la Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (yes, it was a book before we saw it on the big screen!)

For me, it’s another year of not being in a school. I’m mostly ok with this – I love the job I’m doing, and I feel honoured to be able help shape the direction of how students engage with stories. But I do miss school. I miss being surrounded by students, talking about books and helping build a fiction collection that will engage and inspire them. I miss spending my days in a library, working with colleagues to develop teaching and learning activities, and to lead the information literacy plans of the school. But mostly, I miss getting to engage with the multiplicity of stories that surround me in the best space in any school.

Libraries have always been important to me. From the small room at Wallerawang Public School, to the community library in town, to the university libraries I hang out in at every opportunity, and the state libraries I add to the itinerary every time I’m planning a trip, there’s something intensely comforting to me about being surrounded by books. You only have to walk into my house to realise that, with 7 book cases in the lounge room, 2 in my bedroom and another 3 in the study.

Shelf

I don’t really remember book week dressups when I was in primary school, but I do remember stories always being an important part of my life. From the children’s books that my mum passed down to me, to the stories I discovered for myself, I always found comfort in immersing myself in the lives and adventures on the page. I remember the joy of reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the first time, and desperately wanting to dive down that rabbithole with her, or skip along the yellow brick road with Dorothy. I remember the wonder of owning my own Golden Book Treasury, a collection of 4 hardcover books with hundreds of stories to escape into. I remember as a teenager seeing myself reflected on the page in the work of Judy Blume, and I recall vividly being seen the first time I read T S Eliot’s The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock.

This has continued throughout my life. In good times, I can curl up and relax with a good book, going on adventures and exploring other worlds. In difficult times, and boy have their been some of them, I can find comfort, reassurance, hope. I can be reminded, through the experiences of my fictional friends, that difficult things can be overcome. And throughout all of this, I can learn, discover and grow. (I also dress up for book week, just quietly … lots. See below.)

AliceWonder womanDoctor who

I know that not everyone loves to read like I do. My youngest daughter hasn’t really enjoyed reading since she was in primary school, and I’ve been ok with that. Her relationship with books and stories is her own to figure out. She was finding her passion through other outlets. This year, she’s started reading online fan fictions and has been devouring them, so when she recently mentioned she was caught up on her stories, I offered her a book I thought she’d like. She took it, and over the past week has read it plus another book by the same author, and just sent me a “yay! They arrived!” text after the package of books she requested I send arrived at her share house today. And I don’t expect that everyone SHOULD read like I do. It’s my passion. It’s my joy. It’s my thing. But I do think that everyone can have a connection with stories, and should be able to access their benefits when they need to.

Often, when we talk about the benefits of reading, the tendency is to link it to academic achievement. And there’s good reason for that. People who read generally see improvement in measurable academic outcomes and cognitive skills, such as comprehension, vocabulary, and the ability to make sense of what they see, hear, feel and understand. There are also studies which show that reading helps reduce the impact of age-related cognitive impairments, and has a whole host of other positive impacts physically and neurologically for the reader.

All of this is true. All of this is important. And all of this has shaped my personal, academic and professional pursuits. And yes – the data is important. It should matter that reading is good for you. We should dedicate the time to reading, both in schools and in our personal lives, because it helps students learn and grow. But I think in book week, it’s ok to take some time to focus on the more intangible and immeasurable, but equally important, outcomes. Reading matters because it helps us make sense of who we are. Reading matters because it can carry us through those incredibly difficult times. And I think we can all agree, we’re stuck in the mire of one of those times right now.

So, here’s my wish for you, on Book Week 2021. I wish you a story that will comfort you. I wish you a story that will speak to your soul. I wish you a story that will put a smile on your face, and linger in your mind in the days and weeks after you’ve finished it. If you’re lucky, that’ll all happen in just one story. If you’re luckier still, your wish will be granted many times over, in many stories to come.

Need some ideas? You can check out the 2021 CBCA Book of the Year winners. I particularly love the Younger Readers shortlist this year, and think that any one of them could have been worthy winners – especially Worse Things (so much love for this book!) and Bindi (ditto!). Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal and The Lost Soul Atlas from the older readers shortlist are 2 of my favourite books from this year. You could also check out one of the many books I’ve read this year. My #2021readingchallenge target was 100 books. Last night, I finished my 130th, and I’ve enjoyed pretty much all of them for different reasons. (I know, the last one I posted was 117 – I have some to catch up on posting about!) Or, if you’d like to read something but don’t know where to start, hit me up. I’ve been told I give good book recs. It is, just between you and me, one of the greatest compliments I can be paid!

 

Happy Book Week, and happy reading,

Tamara

 

August 19 2021

This Winter, by Alice Oseman

book cover

This Winter, by Alice Oseman

Title: This Winter
Author: Alice Oseman
Genre/ issues: YA. Relationships. Mental health.

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

Another Alice Oseman gem in the world of the Spring family. We get to see the world through Tori’s eyes in Solitaire, and Heartstopper shows us Charlie’s experiences. This Winter is a novella that invites us to join the whole family for Christmas Day, with a section dedicated to how the festive season plays out for them both, as well as their younger brother Oliver. It’s as nuanced and complex as you’d expect from this master of both storytelling and characterisation, and was a lovely quick read. You don’t need to have read either Heartstopper or Solitaire to enjoy this, but if you start here it’ll be a little spoilery so be warned.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 128/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

August 19 2021

Solitaire, by Alice Oseman

book cover

Solitaire, by Alice Oseman

Title: Solitaire
Author: Alice Oseman
Genre/ issues: Mental health.

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

One of my literary joys of 2020 was discovering the work of Alice Oseman. I’m jumping around in their work, not reading in any particular order, and over the past couple of days I’ve finally gotten to their first novel. What a powerhouse of emotion Solitaire is! Set in the same world as the Heartstopper series, this novel focuses on Charlie Spring’s sister Tori. She sees herself as fundamentally serious – “As far as I’m concerned, I came out of the womb spouting cynicism and wishing for rain.” She finds herself increasingly disconnected from her friend group, and caught up in the mystery blog, Solitaire, which is pulling increasingly elaborate pranks around their school and is building up to something big. And then there’s two guys who come into her life at the same time. Lucas, who was her childhood best friend, was seemingly wants to rekindle their friendship. And Michael. Michael Holden, who acts like they already ARE BFF’s, and insists on spending time together. Tori doesn’t hate it … but she also doesn’t understand it. Because … well, why would anyone want to spend time with someone as messed up as her?
Solitaire has the same characters as Heartstopper, and similarly deals with mental health, however it’s quite a different tone. Whilst Oseman balances light and dark beautifully in all their work, Heartstopper skews towards the light. Solitaire explores the dark. That might explain why, despite the emotional and mental health triggers for me in this book, I felt so comfortable inside its pages. It felt like home to me. I appreciated the reminder that sometimes “alone” is more a feeling than a reality. A powerful and beautifully written novel that will stay with me for a long time.
CW: references to suicidal ideation and attempts, depression, eating disorders, and OCD. Oseman’s website contains more detail about possible triggering ideas and content, and is worth referring to before you read any of their work.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 127/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

August 16 2021

The Deception Engine – Part Two and Part Three, by J-L Heylen

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The Deception Engine – Part Two and Part Three, by J-L Heylen

Title: The Deception Engine – Part Two and Three
Author: J-L Heylen
Genre/ issues: Steampunk. Queer fiction. 

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

My e-reader experiment continues – I read part 2 of JL Heylen’s Deception Engine on my resuscitated kindle, and part 3 on my iPad. Sigh. I really need a new ereader. The important part of the process though? The books. I can’t say much without being too spoilery, as they very much rely on you having read part 1 first. I will say, though, I found these as thoroughly engaging as the first volume, with some fantastic character and relationship development throughout. Witty, quirky and a whole lot of fun.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 125-126/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

August 15 2021

Some more comic love

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The StoryTeller: Fairies, by Jim Henson and Monstress. Vol.1: Awakening, by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda

Title: The StoryTeller: Fairies
Author: Jin Henson/ Various
Genre/ issues: Fantasy. Anthology.

Title: Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening
Author: Marjorie M. Liu
Illustrator: Sana Takeda
Genre/ issues: High fantasy.

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

I took a couple of comics outside to read today, and it was a lovely crisp winter’s day to venture into two completely different fantasy worlds.

The first is an anthology of stories about fairies in the world of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, which is one of my favourite shows from childhood. It’s a credit to the writers and artists of this collection that I completely heard the voice of the inimitable John Hurt in my head as I read these. Fairy stories from a range of cultures and traditions, but in a style that captures the whimsy and magic of Henson’s original series. Gorgeous, and I can’t wait to read the other collections.
Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takada is utterly stunning – equal parts Art Deco beauty and steampunk horror. It creates a fully realised and detailed fantasy world in which Maika Halfwolf, teenage survivor of the apocalyptic war between humans and arcanics, searches for answers about the past that she can’t quite remember. The monster that is beginning to awaken within her isn’t the most brutal element of this series, although it’s pretty dark – what’s more scary is the exploration of fear, inhumanity and exploitation. One of the blurbs on the back cover refers to this as “big, beautiful, terrifying, violent magic”, and that feels appropriate. I’m glad I have volume 2 on my shelf to pick up soon

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 123-124/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

August 15 2021

Comics for #FCBD

Comics

I Hate Fairyland, by Skottie Young, and Middlewest, by Skottie Young and Jorge Corona

Title: I Hate Fairyland
Author: Skottie Young
Genre/ issues: Fantasy.

Title: Middlewest
Author: Skottie Young
Illustrator: Jorge Corona
Genre/ issues: Urban fantasy. 

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

My first 2 reads in honour of #freecomicbookday yesterday come courtesy of @skottieyoung. I picked up Middlewest because of a tiktok recommendation, and I Hate Fairyland because of that cover art (the @neilhimself rec didn’t hurt either!)
First, Middlewest. Abel lives in an average, ordinary, boring town – until one day, it’s levelled by a storm. And the storm knows his name. He flees to find safety, from both the storm and his volatile single father, and ends up searching for a solution to the weird glowing mark that has suddenly appeared on his chest in a quirky travelling carnival. This was really enjoyable, and the artwork balances charming and terrifying beautifully.
Speaking of terrifyingly charming – I HATE FAIRYLAND. I freaking love this, and currently have a @kingscomics cart building with the rest of the series. Gertrude finds herself sucked into Fairyland through an Alice-esque portal. She needs to find a magic key to get back home. Easy, right? Well, it’s been nearly 30 years, and she’s now a badass pissed-off grownup in a six-year-old body, and has had enough of this shit. So has the Fairy Queen, who wants Gertrude gone, and is frustrated by the rules of the land but is determined to get rid of this green-haired girl once and for all. This comic combines artwork and colouring beautifully reminiscent of Alice In Wonderland and other candy-coloured fantasies, with a healthy (or unhealthy?) dose of blood and gore. Imagine Deadpool trapped in Disneyland, and you’ll get the gist. Fantastic, and I can’t wait to read more.
I also just discovered, as I dived down the “Tamara obsesses over a newly discovered creator” rabbit hole, that Skottie Young has done a Wizard of Oz series with Marvel. Get. In. Mah. Cart!!!!

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 121-122/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

August 13 2021

The Deception Engine: Part One, by J. L. Heylen

 

book cover

The Deception Engine: Part One, by J. L. Heylen

Title: The Deception Engine: Part One
Author:
J. L. Heylen
Genre/ issues: 
Steampunk. 

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

I’ve been struggling with the decision about whether to buy a new e-reader or not. I used to have a kindle which I used a lot, but when it died I didn’t replace it, thinking I’d just use the apps on my iPad. Spoiler alert – I did not. I’ve tried it a few times, but the backlit screen and temptation to switch to other apps don’t work for me. I’ve been toying with a few options, and would prefer a non-Amazon product, but my mum gave me her old kindle yesterday so I’ve been testing it out. Whilst I don’t think it’s going to be a good long term solution (so far it can’t be unplugged for more than a few minutes!) I did find some ebooks I’d forgotten I’d purchased! So last night, I started the Deception Engine series by JL Heylen.
Why don’t I read more steampunk? I really love it, and this is the first steampunk book I’ve read set in familiar surroundings! Hilary Templestowe arrives in colonial Sydney after her husband’s death, looking for a new start and some adventure. She finds it, in the form of wo/man about town, Phyllida/ Mister Phil Thorn. A mystery unfolds. There’s some spice, as Phil and Hilary discover some delightful ways to repurpose a rising crop. And, most importantly, there’s a cracking narrative with some interesting and engaging characters. I particularly love the wry and sardonic humour that weaves its way through this book (most notably in the fab chapter titles!) and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into parts 2 and 3 of this book soon! CW: mentions of rape/ physical abuse (brief but very present). Mentions of homophobia/ family abandonment due to sex/gender issues. And, as one of my favourite chapter titles warns, best not to read this one to the kids.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 120/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

August 11 2021

Ash and Quill, by Rachel Caine

book cover

Ash and Quill, by Rachel Caine

Title: Ash and Quill
Author: Rachel Caine
Genre/ issues:

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

 

Book 3 down. Book 4 up next. The Great Library series is … well, really great.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 119/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

August 8 2021

Paper and Fire, by Rachel Caine

book cover

Paper and Fire, by Rachel Caine

Title: Paper and Fire
Author: Rachel Caine
Genre/ issues: Fantasy. Alternate history. 

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

Paper and Fire, by Rachel Caine, is book 2 in the Great Library series, and explores what might have happened if the Library of Alexandria was not destroyed, but instead preserved, and went on to become a powerful and untouchable force in the world.

It’s hard to do a decent review of this book without being all spoilery for book 1, so I’ll just talk in general terms about what I find so compelling about this. Firstly, it’s no secret I’m a great lover and supporter of libraries. Their ability to support and empower communities by providing free and equitable access to ideas and information is something I value so highly. The importance of that concept is something this series strives to hammer home – how different would the world be if libraries sought to control that access rather than to enable it? It’s a powerful idea to ponder, particularly in a world which takes easy access to information for granted (sometimes at our own peril!)
Secondly, found family. My favourite trope. It’s probably the great strength of this series for me – seeing the bonds that are formed between the unlikely group of friends and mentors. It’s not always easy though, as a number of characters have to grapple with notions of trust and honesty – when is it right to withhold information from the people you care about? Who gets to make that decision, and is it right if it’s for their own protection?
This book contained one of the most emotionally devastating scenes I’ve read in a while – again, trying hard to be spoiler free, but I’m not exaggerating when I say I got to the end and took a moment to hug my bookshelves. (It took a while. There are a lot of them). The final chapter felt a bit rushed and book-2-cliff-hangery, IYKWIM, but I’m not sad about it. Mostly because I’m starting book 3 when I wake up in the morning. Not a bad way to spend yet another weekend in Covid lockdown, I guess

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 118/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

July 31 2021

Truly Tyler, by Terri Libenson

Truly Tyler

Truly Tyler, by Terri Libenson

Title: Truly Tyler
Author: Terri Libenson
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Graphic novels. Friendship.

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

I had plans to keep reading my Murakami today, but the headache that’s threatening to develop into a migraine has kept me laid up in the dark for most of the day. I didn’t want to let the day pass by completely story-free, though, so I decided to finish this delight. Truly Tyler is the latest edition to the Emmie & Friends series by @terrilibenson, and we get to learn more about Tyler as he teams up with Emmie to work on a comic for their art project. Both Tyler and Emmie are dealing with some friendship issues – Tyler has had enough of friends teasing him over his new “girlfriend”, and Emmie is worried that the people who are teasing her friend Sarah are looking at her the same way too.
I love the “story within a story” structure of this, as the alternate chapters from both main characters’ points of view are interspersed with the comic book that they are writing together. A great middle grade read, with a nice mix of comic/graphic and text elements that make it an easy and engaging read.

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#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 117/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara