January 16 2020

The life-changing manga of tidying up, by Marie Kondo

The life-changing manga of tidying up, by Marie Kondo

The life-changing manga of tidying up, by Marie Kondo

Title: The life-changing manga of tidying up
AuthorMarie Kondo
Genre/ issues: Graphic novel, non-fiction, organisation and life.

I don’t read a lot of manga or graphic novels usually, but this has been sitting on my TBR shelf for a little while now, and in the spirit of clearing space for new books I decided to give it a go. It’s quite lovely actually! I know that KonMarie takes a bit of a beating in the world of book lovers, as people get all up in arms about a statement Marie made about 30 books being ideal FOR HER, but I really like the simplicity of her method. I think focusing on what is important to you, and what contributes in positive ways to the kind of life you want, is a valuable skill to have. This was a quick read – it took me about an hour or so to whip through it. If you have teens or younger people in your life who have expressed an interest in wanting to get areas of their life in order, it’d be a good read for them.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 8/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

January 16 2020

Curious: Life hacks through maths, by Lily Serna

Curious, by Lily Serna

Curious, by Lily Serna

Title: Curious: Life hacks through maths
AuthorLily Serna
Genre/ issues: STEM, maths, numbers and patterns in everyday life.

I started Curious by Lily Serna yesterday on the way home, read a few chapters on the couch last night with Minerva overseeing, and have just finished it on the train into the city. What a joy this book is! I know it’s anathema to say, as you’re supposed to either be English or Maths and never the Twain shall meet, but I’ve always been a bit of a number nerd.
Curious is a delightful romp through dinner party maths, monopoly strategy, and how to look smart through quick mental calculation tricks. Any book which dedicates a few pages to working our value for money when ordering pizza has my vote, and the section on the Special Pancake Number had me smiling so hard. Lily’s sheer joy for maths is contagious, and she does that rare and wonderful thing of taking potentially challenging and confronting ideas and breaking them down into supportive and simple components so that those who think they aren’t really maths people can come away with something new.
I love her view that “arithmetic is to maths what words are to English. Words are, of course, the building blocks of language. However the value of a beautiful piece of processor a poem is greater than the sum of the words that form them.” Patterns, processes and predictions in maths are fascinating, and I’d recommend this book for both number nerds and the number challenged alike. It’s a really friendly, funny and supportive romp through maths in your everyday life. 

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 7/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

January 15 2020

Boy Giant: Son of Gulliver, by Michael Morpurgo

Boy Giant, by Michael Morpurgo

Boy Giant, by Michael Morpurgo

Title: Boy Giant, Son of Gulliver
AuthorMichael Morpurgo
Illustrator: Michael Foreman
Genre/ issues: Middle grade, refugee stories, reimagined classics.

I’m a sucker for a book which takes a classic narrative and gives it a contemporary twist, so a rewrite of Gulliver’s Travels should be right up my alley, right? Well, yes and no. I appreciate the message around finding your place in a new world as a refugee. The multiple narrators convey an interesting story, the illustrations and typesetting are fab, and the voice of the eponymous Boy Giant, Afghani refugee Omar, is authentic and linguistically well represented. I think there will be some readers to whom this book will speak loudly and powerfully, but I’m just not one of them. I’m a firm believer in the idea that when the right people and books come together, Magic happens, and for me, there was no magic here. If I was still in a library, though, I’d have no hesitation recommending it to younger readers. I think the interplay between classic British literature and migrant story that happens in this text is really interesting, and I’m glad I read it. It would probably have helped, truth be told, if I actually enjoyed Gullivers Travels!

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 6/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

January 13 2020

George, by Alex Gino

George, by Alex Gino

George, by Alex Gino

Title: George
AuthorAlex Gino
Genre/ issues: Middle grade, queer, trans.

I’m really interested in books which represent queer characters and stories. It’s been gratifying to see many more of these being published for YA readers in recent years, but there’s not been a lot for younger readers. I picked up George from a cute little bookshop just near Central Park in New York last year. and have just gotten around to reading it. It’s totally lovely. For middle graders who might be questioning their own gender identity, it provides an insight into what sharing that story with the people you love might look like. For young people who might find themselves dealing with someone “different” in their lives, it provides a sense of empathy. A sweet, sensitively handled story of a girl discovering how to tell her family and friends that her name is Melissa and not George. If you’ve got kids in your life trying to get their heads around what the T stands for in the acronym, this book is the perfect gentle and non-confrontational read for them.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 5/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

January 12 2020

How it feels to float, by Helena Fox

How it feels to float, by Helena Fox

How it feels to float, by Helena Fox

TitleHow it feels to float
AuthorHelena Fox
Genre/ issues: YA, mental health, family/ relationships.

There were tiny oceans in my eyes as I finished this exquisite book on the train home tonight. At one point I couldn’t make out the words of the final chapters as the tears overtook me. Mental illness is something quite difficult to capture beautifully on a page, isn’t it? Helena Fox has created something quite extraordinary in the world of Biz.

The blurb of the book says:

“Biz knows how to float. She has her people, her posse, her mom and the twins. She has Grace. And she has her dad, who tells her about the little kid she was, and who shouldn’t be here but is. So Biz doesn’t tell anyone anything. Not about her dark, runaway thoughts, not about kissing Grace or noticing Jasper, the new boy. And she doesn’t tell anyone about her dad. Because her dad died when she was seven. And Biz knows how to float, right there on the surface–normal okay regular fine.

“But after what happens on the beach–first in the ocean, and then in the sand–the tethers that hold Biz steady come undone. Dad disappears and, with him, all comfort. It might be easier, better, sweeter to float all the way away? Or maybe stay a little longer, find her father, bring him back to her. Or maybe–maybe maybe maybe–there’s a third way Biz just can’t see yet.

“This is a mesmerizing, radiant debut, at once heart-rending, humorous, and impossible to put down. Helena Fox tells a story about love and grief and family and friendship, about inter-generational mental illness, and how living with it is both a bridge to someone loved and lost and, also, a chasm. She explores the hard, bewildering, and beautiful places loss can take us, and honors those who hold us tightly when the current wants to tug us out to sea.”

The metaphor of floating is pervasive in this wonder of a debut novel, and as someone who has dealt with anxiety, depression and at one particularly low point in my life persistent suicidal ideations, I could completely recognise and empathise with that feeling of not being in control, of wanting to just give up and let the waves of mental illness carry me away. I found myself gasping frequently as I read, completely overwhelmed with Fox’s extraordinarily skillful and beautiful use of language.

I’d implore you all to read this book, and I totally believe you all should, but I also think you need to make sure that you’re in the right headspace to gently ease your way through someone else’s trauma. Books like this, that offer a window into a personal experience of mental health, are important in so many ways – they help provide a sense of visibility to those who are or have dealt with something similar, and they provide a sense of empathy to those who have not experienced anything like this in their lives. It’s also important, though to take care of yourself, so if these issues sound like something you’re in the throes of dealing with, then maybe this is a “later” book for you.  I’ll be buying many, many copies of this, and I know it’s a big call not even halfway through January, but I’m happy to call it my book of the year.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 4/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

January 9 2020

Catch and Kill, by Ronan Farrow

Catch and Kill, by Ronan Farrow

Catch and Kill, by Ronan Farrow

TitleCatch and Kill: Lies, spies, and a conspiracy to protect predators
Author: Ronan Farrow
Genre/ issues: Non-fiction, investigative reporting, #MeToo.

I don’t usually leave the office for a lunch break – I’ll grab some food and sit at my desk. But today, I was so close to the end of this compelling book that I took myself to the park across the road and found myself crying though the last few traumatic chapters. It’s tough going, this tale of predation and sexual assault, made tougher because we all know someone whose been through something like this. The #MeToo era has brought so many stories to light, but so many more still fester.
It’s a big call, but I’m gonna say it – this is one of the most compelling and powerful pieces of non-fiction I’ve read. Ronan Farrow’s style of weaving personal and professional narration is brilliant, despite what I will say is one of the worst attempts at an Australian accent I’ve heard in an audiobook. I’m glad to have finally read this, and I’m glad there are men like him in the world, willing to stand up for what is right, and women who have the courage to fight through the institutional and societal mire to speak out their truth. Because, as Farrow says, “in the end the courage of women can’t be stamped out, and stories, the big ones, the true ones, can be caught but never killed.”

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge  3/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

January 5 2020

The Deathless Girls, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

TitleThe Deathless Girls
Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Genre/ issues: Gothic, feminist, rewriting classic fiction.

This is my current #TBR shelf. Yesterday I needed a new book to start and grabbed a couple to check out, and Tayla picked one for me based purely on the cover. And what a cracker of a book it was! So much so that I stayed up until about 2am finishing it.

The #BellatrixBooks project by Hachette provides leading female authors the opportunity to give voice to women of the past and present who have a million stories that are untold, mis-told or unheard. The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is the story of Dracula’s brides, relegated in Stoker’s novel to sensual stake fodder but depicted here as strong, complex and utterly fascinating. Not just a vampire story, this book examines class, race, family and destiny, and delves deeply into the questions of what you’d do for the ones you love. My only criticism (and it’s a minor one!) is that it feels a little brief – the pace of the novel is cracking, and there were a few points where I felt like a little expository monologueing could have been expanded into a chapter that I’d have loved to sink my teeth into (pun intended). I love it when a work read turns out to be also a really great holiday read!

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 2/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

January 4 2020

The Fowl Twins, by Eoin Colfer

The Fowls Twins, by Eioin Colfer

The Fowls Twins, by Eioin Colfer

Title: The Fowl Twins
Author: Eoin Colfer
Genre/ issues: Action adventure. Mystery. Suspense. Fantasy characters reimagined. Precocious kids doing precocious things.

The official blurb for this book reads:

“One week after their eleventh birthday, the Fowl twins–scientist Myles, and Beckett, the force of nature–are left in the care of house security (NANNI) for a single night. In that time they befriend a troll who has clawed his way through the earth’s crust to the surface. Unfortunately for the troll, he is being chased by a nefarious nobleman and an interrogating nun, who both need the magical creature for their own gain, as well as a fairy-in-training who has been assigned to protect him.

The boys and their new troll best friend escape and go on the run. Along the way they get shot at, kidnapped, buried, arrested, threatened, killed (temporarily), and discover that the strongest bond in the world is not the one forged by covalent electrons in adjacent atoms, but the one that exists between a pair of twins.”

If you’re familiar with the world of Artemis Fowl, then you’ll know what you’re getting into with this new series about Artemis’ younger siblings. I loved the original books, and this is a great new addition to the world in which fairies are an organised covert military force, and kids (at least the Fowls, anyway) have serious technological and political smarts. The Fowl Twins is as smart and funny as its predecessors, in is a cracking read for anyone who loves a good twist on traditional fairy lore. I’m looking forward to what comes next for The Regrettables!

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 1/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

November 26 2019

The ticking of a clock: on timing.

Monday night soundscape.

Thunder. Rain falling. Ticking, ticking clocks.

I love the sound of a clock ticking. The mechanisms of an analogue clock fascinate me, as does the way they each have their own distinct sound.

The black one was a Kmart buy years ago, and used to live in a reading nook in the corner of my library. The hands stopped moving the day I packed it up to bring it home, along with so many of my personal pieces that were no longer required in the space I loved, but it still gives out a low gentle beat occasionally, marking a time that hasn’t moved on in over three years.

The green one I found in a little shop one day, and I’m not gonna lie, I kind of built my entire bedroom colour scheme around it. It marks each second, reliably keeping time with a deep regular thud.

And the silver and cream beauty was sitting in a box of freebies on the front fence of a home I pass by every day on my way to work. It’s a frantic little thing, 3 ticks a second, trying to fit as much into a minute as it can.

Time. It’s a funny thing, huh? Staying with us long after it’s gone, and yet wasted as we rush through it, trying so desperately to fit so much in. #clockwork #time #tickingclocks

I posted this on Instagram and Facebook last night. It had been a weird sort of day, after a long, wonderful, emotional and exhausting weekend. About half an hour later, I got a phone call from my partner and best friend, who had decided he just needed to read me some poetry by Neil before I went to sleep. Timing, huh? I couldn’t talk to him – didn’t even really know what to say about how I was feeling. But he just knew. He knew not to ask me too many questions, and he knew just what I needed. Sometimes it’s just all about the timing. And he’s got the best.

September 30 2018

Tamara dances: on burlesque, body positivity, and embracing anxiety.

If you follow me in instagram or facebook, you’ve probably seen my #adventuresinburlesque over the past few months. I’ve been posting about my “firsts” – first fan class, first glove reveal etc etc – but in truth, this journey started years and years ago. Indulge me, if you will, as I tell the epic adventures of Tamara, the Dance Mum who Finally Took to the Stage.* Warning: this is a long post. Lots of words, few pictures. Sorry/not sorry. I’ll be adding some photos to a future post as they become available, but for now this is just my post-performance-day brain dump.
(* Title a work in progress)

I didn’t dance when I was a child. I was a baton twirler for years, and loved it so much, but the more lyrical parts of that art form always seemed to ellude me. I always felt too much – more Fantasia dancing hippo than graceful dancer. I look back at pictures of myself now, in my leotards and ultra-stylish hats and boots , and am so sad for that little girl, who couldn’t see past her body to recognise what a talent she had. I was a good baton twirler. No, I was great. And I think part of what I loved about it was that it gave me permission to move. To express myself through something physical. As I hit my mid teens I stopped twirling, in no small part because I was starting to feel more and more uncomfortable in lycra, and less and less comfortable in this body that carries me through the world.

I left school, went off to uni, became a mother soon after, and quickly my life became about other people. My husband, my children, my step-children, my students, my colleagues – I prioritised other people’s needs over my own because it just made sense to me. They were important. I was not. So the idea of moving, of dancing? Well, it wasn’t even on the radar, let alone something I wanted to do but didn’t have the time or inclination to prioritise. So I went through decades of my adult life feeling blah about my body, and disinclined to do anything that drew attention to it, both from others and for myself. I did karate for a few years in my early 30’s, and loved the feeling of strength that it allowed me to recognise in my body, but hated every week putting on that white outfit. It drew attention to everything I thought was wrong with my body, and I couldn’t wait to take it off after each class.

A few years later I started going to the gym with some friends, mostly so I could do a Combat class- all the things I loved about karate, but in the dark, to music, and I could wear leggings and an oversized shirt. Winning. What I didn’t expect was how much I’d enjoy learning the choreography, and soon I found myself loving Sh’Bam classes more than Combat. If you’ve not done Sh’Bam, imagine Zumba with a whole bunch of different dance styles thrown in. It was amazing, I loved it, and I still miss it, but some personal circumstances soured it for me and meant that even now I can’t really think about going back to it.

There was one Sh’Bam track that I loved the most, and (I’m sure this is no great revelation here) it was a burlesque one. I loved the way it felt, to be given permission to move my body, to appreciate the way my hips moved, the way my body felt when I just embraced it. At the beginning of last year, I saw a facebook post about body positive burlesque classes in the Mountains, and mentioned it to Jacob, who encouraged me to go along, and after much anxiety and deep breathing in the car park, I did. For one class. And then never went back again. Not because I didn’t enjoy it – I did. I loved every second of it. But it felt a little too much. So I used every excuse possible to not go back. It was on Saturday, and I had to take Tayla to dancing. It was too far away. I had housework to do. The list when on, and before I knew it almost 18 months had passed from that first class. I knew that I missed it, and wanted to go back, but whilst I’ve been getting better in recent years, it’s still hard to prioritise myself in my life, you know?

A few months ago, though, Porcelain, the lovely lady who runs Stone Cold Fox Dance Collective, posted about new classes that were happening this term in Springwood on a Tuesday night. 2 of my main excuses dealt with. So, in a fit of tax-return-fueled inspiration, I decided to book myself in to both the burlesque and fan classes for the whole term, fully paid for so that I couldn’t change my mind and back out. Thank goodness I did, because without wanting to oversell it I think it’s been one of the most profoundly impactful things I’ve done for myself. Truly.

I started off just attending the classes, fully thinking that the optional performances would be something that I -might- go along to watch, but would definitely not perform in. Nope. No way. The classes themselves have been my little oasis in each week. Even on days when I’ve been tired from work, or stressed from whatever has been happening in my life, I’ve still dragged myself there – mostly willingly, although there was one night a few weeks ago where I needed some gentle persuasion to drag my sorry arse off the couch. (Thanks Jacob, for not saying “I told you so” when you were well within your rights to do so!) As the term progressed, though, I started to think that maybe I would perform. Possibly. We’ll see.

So, the great costume hunt began, but I fully believed that I’d back out before the performance arrived. In truth, last weekend I almost bailed, and had a fairly major meltdown over it. But thanks to some wise counsel and even more sympathetic listening from my partner, I got through that. I stressed out on Friday about my hair and makeup, but just organised something rather than stressing about it too much. And we arrived at show day.

I was feeling really anxious as the morning started. When I dropped Tayla at dancing for her ballet rehearsal, she hugged me and wished me good luck, telling me that she knew I’d be amazing, and I headed out to the car where I sat and cried for a bit. But then I headed to the hairdressers. I went home and packed. I visited my son’s girlfriend who did my makeup. And I went to the theatre, as ready as I could be. Feeling moderately anxious, but not prohibitively so.

We had a run through of my group routines, and we had tech rehearsal. I had a glass of champagne, and waited for the nerves to kick in. Because, as I’ve blogged about before, I do anxiety really well. I recognise the signs, those stomach-churning hand-trembling horrors that usually grip me relentlessly just before I take to the stage to speak. And I waited. But apart from a little nausea early on, there was nothing. Truth be told, now I think about it, the nausea could be attributed to the fact that all I’d only consumed champagne and hummus all day.

What strikes me the most, as I look back on last night, is how comfortable the whole experience felt. I loved doing my fan routine, and was sad that it was over so quickly. I had a slight costume issue in my Gatsby routine which meant that I couldn’t quite get my glove off – at least not by stepping on it, anyway, because my newly completed fringed skirt was far too tight to allow me to bend over properly! Normally, I’d obsess about that 6 counts and forget about everything that went right. But nope – it was just a blip on an otherwise super-fun routine, which I’m pretty proud to say I rocked.

More than being comfortable on stage, though, I was comfortable in my skin. I put on my black outfit for the fan routine, looked in the mirror, and smiled. I really liked what I saw, bumps and curves and all. I felt similarly confident in my Gatsby routine. And I’ve gotta tell you, I loved how that felt. It’s not something I’ve ever really experienced fully – an occasional “yeah, I look good” moment, but to feel that to the extent that I could walk on stage, shake and shimmy all the parts of me that I usually agree need desperately to be changed, and take of half my carefully prepared costume and toss it deliberately and carelessly aside? Never before have I felt that freedom.

I think a large part of it was being in the dressing room surrounded by so many amazing performers – some of them pros, some of them first timers like me, but such a diversely wonderful group of souls, and they made my heart happy. So many different body shapes, and such beauty in each and every one of them, and I didn’t feel out of place in that at all. It felt good, and it’s such a credit to the culture that Porcelain Rose has created in the Stone Cold Fox Collective. I’m so incredibly grateful for her support and encouragement, and so proud to be a part of her world. I know that I’ve still got a lot to learn as a burlesque performer, and I’m ok with that – this journey that I’ve just started on is going to be an enduring one, and I’m so glad to have found this wonderful community. In fact, I’ve already started thinking about future costumes (TARDIS corset, anyone?) and was disappointed to discover that I’m not going to be able to do the next showcase performance in the mountains. Sad face.

Thank you, if perchance you stumble across this, lovely Literary Ladies. Whether you knew it or not last night, you were a part of an incredibly powerful moment for me, and I’m so glad to have shared it with you. And thank you to Porcelain. Amidst this brain dump, I can’t really find the words, but there are a lot of them, and they add up to an incredible gift. You’re a gem. Thank you, thank you, thank you. xoxo

So, that’s the story so far of my Adventures In Burlesque. This isn’t the whole story – just a prologue and opening chapter or two. But you know when you start a book and can just tell from the first few pages that it’s going to be a good one? Yeah, that’s what I’m dealing with here. I’m excited to see where it goes.

If you’re in the Blue Mountains area, and have been thinking about doing something for yourself, I’d highly recommend checking out Porcelain‘s classes. They run in Katoomba and Springwood, and will be starting up in Emu Plains next term too. You won’t be sad, and I’d love to dance with you!

Happy dancing,

Tamara