September 16 2018

If I Tell You, by Alicia Tuckerman: On growing up in small country towns

TitleIf I Tell You
AuthorAlicia Tuckerman
Genre/ issues: OzYA. LGBTQI+. Contemporary fiction. Romance. 

“That’s the thing about hearts […] they’re not vases – you can’t keep em up high on a shelf for fear of them breakin’. You’ve just gotta hope the people you share ’em with are careful.”

I have always loved to read, and for as long as I can remember I’ve found characters in books that have helped me make sense of my life, of the world around me. When I was a teenager, though, growing up in a small country town and feeling like an alien, not fitting in with anyone around me, I found reading always to be an exercise in travel. Books transported me to other worlds – quite literally, because they were never set in places that seemed familiar to me. The few books I recall reading when I was in high school that featured an Australian setting were either urban or historical. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – Playing Beattie Bow and Harp in the South are still firm favourites of mine from that period. But if I think about the books that really spoke to me, that impacted my experience and helped me develop my sense of self? They were all set in the US, and mostly in locations and families that reflected nothing of my reality. That’s part of the beauty of fiction, I guess, and one of the things I love about reading, but I remember wanting sometimes to just read a book that felt like home.

This book though? I wish I’d read this when I was in high school. From the first few pages it felt familiar to me. Two Creeks is the country town I grew up in, although the families in my area relied more on mining than farming. These kids were the ones I survived through high school with. The challenges of being not quite normal that are faced by the central character felt so authentic to me, despite them being different in nature to what I experienced. I was fully unprepared for the emotional impact of this book, and the tears sprung unbidden as I neared the end. The sense of feeling like you need to hide your true self because the people around you won’t understand, and won’t accept you? I wish I could say that’s something I experienced only as a teen, but it’s followed me into my adulthood. It’s getting easier to deal with as I get older, but those intense pangs of first opening up to someone, and trusting them with your heart, they’re still fresh.

This book is an important one on the OzYA landscape, and if I was still in a school library I’d be promoting the hell out of it to my teen readers. Its authentic setting is one young readers need to see – it makes a difference to see your world reflected in the stories around you. And this goes doubly so for the representation present in the characters. Lesbian love stories don’t appear much on paper, and certainly not for young adult readers. Alicia Tuckerman’s love story matters, and thankfully it’s beautifully written, so I’m not just recommending it because representation matters. It’s a quality read, even if you aren’t a country girl thankful to finally see her reality reflected in fiction, or a gay girl who’s sick of reading every other version of a love story except yours. Get this book into your face. You won’t regret it.*

*Take tissues though. You’ve been warned.

Happy reading,

Tamara

May 27 2018

The Love That I Have, by James Moloney: on timing.

The love that I have

Title: The Love That I Have
Author: James Moloney
Genre/ issues: Historical fiction. WW2. Holocaust. Survival. Relationships.

There’s something to be said for timing in regards to books. It is, in fact, a critical element of the plot of this particular novel, a surprising gem by one of my favourite Australian YA authors – Touch Me still rates as one of the best books I’ve taught. When I started to read The Love That I Have, it had just arrived on my desk as an ARC, and I dove into it because, well, James Moloney. But it didn’t really grab me. I’m not gonna lie, it started off feeling a bit like someone decided they wanted to write the next Book Thief or Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (which are, incidentally, both mentioned in the “if you liked” blurbs by the publishers of this book). I read maybe a third of it, and put it down, moving on to other things.

And then, this book was published, and it started to appear in my news feed. There’s something to be said for Facebook’s marketing algorithms, right? New Australian YA book posts – yep, Tamara will get hooked by them. And indeed she did. So I picked it back up again, and from that point on I really loved it. I don’t know if it’s a book that is slow to start, and builds as it goes through, or if I was not in the right head space to be reading it when I started. I don’t know if I will ever know, really, as I can’t go back and read it again with fresh eyes, so if you’ve read this one, I’d love to hear what you think!

And, to the book itself. It’s a beautiful story about a girl who works in the mail room in a concentration camp, and who starts pretending to be someone else in response to the letters written by one of the prisoners. The idea that captured me most was how much we can create ourselves and our reality through our words, and it made me miss writing letters. (Not that I’ll probably do anything about that, to be honest, but for a moment there I was seriously longing to start handwriting missives to everyone I know.) There are some elements that seemed a little contrived to me – I mentioned the importance of timing in this novel earlier, and it seems to me that a great deal of what happens relies a little too much on good luck, and good timing. But, despite that, I really enjoyed the premise, and I was invested enough in the characters that by the end I was moved to tears on the train. The last few pages hit me with an emotional punch that I was simply not expecting.

So, my recommendations? I think it’s a good book, and if I had it in my book room as an English teacher I certainly would give it a go with the right class. I personally don’t think the comparison to The Book Thief holds up, because there’s something completely brilliant about Zusak’s book that I don’t find in Moloney’s, but that doesn’t discount its quality for me. A compelling, emotional story, which provides an interesting insight into life in Germany from a few different perspectives – often ones that are overlooked in the traditional historical fiction narratives dealing with WW2 under the Nazi regime.

Happy reading,

Tamara

May 15 2018

Turbitt&Duck and Nathan Sentance: On Cultural Collections

Turbitt & Duck: The Library Podcast

Turbitt & Duck: The Library Podcast

Title: Turbitt and Duck: The Library Podcast
Episode:  14, Nathan Sentance talks about cultural collections, looking for authentic sources, and being critical.
Issues: Cultural representation, authority, and respect.

I stumbled across the Turbitt & Duck podcast just before the recent Sydney Writer’s Festival – a library geek I follow was featured on a recent episode, and I tend to stalk people pretty relentlessly on social media when I admire their work, so naturally I downloaded the podcast and started working my way through it, so thanks for getting this on my radar SnarkyWench! The real bonus for me is that there’s not a huge back catalogue to catch up on – often when I discover a great podcast I’ll start from the beginning and the sheer volume of episodes to catch up on can be quite overwhelming (I’m looking at you, Chat10Looks3). They chat to real people working in the library field, and it’s a fascinating view inside the enormous range of library and information services in this country. Library nerds are the best.

The episode I’m reviewing today is the latest, and it’s a fascinating discussion of the impact of curating and collecting indigenous works in various collections. They chat with Nathan Sentance, a Wiradjuri man who grew up on Darkinjung country, and works as project officer in First Nations programming at the Australian Museum. It ranges over a lot of ground in regards to indigenous collections – what struck me in particular is the discussion around what we need to consider when labelling and identifying works from first nations communities? I’ve always been fascinated by the power of language – I remember long detailed conversations during my early uni days about the power of words to represent our reality, and this is the aspect of Nathan’s discussion in this episode which struck me the most. When a mask, for example, is labelled as “creator unknown”, what does that tell us about the cultural history behind it? What does it say about the society that decided it was worth keeping as a piece of history, but didn’t make the effort to record any information about the person who created it, their nation, their heritage its purpose and meaning to them and their people? It’s a powerful reflection on how we label historical and cultural artefacts, and something I’ll be thinking about whenever I read those little plaques next to works at galleries in the future.

Nathan also provided the example of “spear” actually not really being specific enough as a signifier to describe that long pointy wooden thing hanging on the wall – that there are, in many indigenous nations, many different ways to talk about spears, depending on their purpose, their design, and who they’re used by. The act of homogenisation of culture is a really important one to be aware of, and something I’ve been really working to educate myself on as I’m looking at indigenous literature. The idea that one group’s nation, language, history and culture could stand in for every other is something that would be laughable in white society – just think of the outcry that would ensue if you called a Canadian “American” or accused an Irish person of being from England. Or, for the sportsing amongst you, imagine calling someone a Queenslander when you see them wearing a football jersey around State of Origin time, despite the fact that it’s blue – they’re basically the same thing, right?

So, another thing to think about as I continue to curate a giant booklist. Representation matters, and the importance of representation being managed by those reflected in the representation matters most of all. I had a bit of a moment on the train listening to this podcast – I freaked out a bit, going “bleeeerrrggghhh how am I supposed to deal with this, as a middle class white CIS woman? How do I ensure that what I’m doing isn’t just tokenistic?” But then I realised that this podcast is part of the extraordinary diverse network that I can call on to help me out with these decisions, and  serve as a great reminder that sometimes these decisions aren’t mine to make, and sometimes they are – and as long as I’m aware of this fact, and ensure I talk to the right people when needed, I’m doing my job. And that’s ok.

A couple of final thoughts about this podcast – it’s really cool to hear someone speak who says “interesting” with about the same frequency as I say “awesome”. (I think it’s Amy? The problem with podcasts is I always forget which name goes with which voice.) Also, I’m adding the phrase #GLAMnerd to my lexicon. And hopefully to a badge, coming soon to a chest near you. (If you’re near my chest. In completely non-weird ways. Hmmm. That sounds wrong, but I’m committed to it now, so it can stay.) As far as podcast episodes go, it works nicely with my commute – around about an hour, so I can listen to an episode in on leg of a trip. If you’re a fellow #GLAMnerd I’d recommend checking it out.

Happy listening,

Tamara

May 13 2018

True Stories: Selected Non-Fiction, by Helen Garner

True Stories: Selected Non-Fiction

True Stories: Selected Non-Fiction

Title: True Stories: Selected Non-Fiction
Author: Helen Garner
Genre/ issues: non-fiction. Families. Education. Relationships. Writing. Feminism. So much more.

This was my first foray into Helen Garner’s work, and it won’t be the last. I’m an English teacher, lover of Australian fiction, and feminist, so I’ve heard Helen Garner’s name mentioned in a great many circles in the past, but had somehow never read anything of hers. I’ve recently started listening to Chat 10 Looks 3, and Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales fangirl over Garner like I do over Gaiman, so I figured it was worth giving her a go. I’m glad I did.

True Stories is a collection of Garner’s non-fiction work, spanning 25 years. As a bonus, the audiobook version was narrated by her, so you’re getting her work in her voice. And it’s utterly captivating – I will be revisiting this in hardcopy, so I can savour the singular beauty of the way she uses words. That’s how sentences are supposed to work. Sigh.

Her piece about discussing sex and relationships with a class when she was teaching brought to mind the connections that I loved the most as a teacher – a discussion about STD’s in particular, and why not every parent necessarily has one, particularly came back to me, making me both laugh and weep. Her story about sisters made my eyes leak – “Now that we can sing together, surely none of us will ever die, surely.” The awkwardness of forced relationships, forged by proximity rather than familiarity. The complexity of feminism and disagreements over gender lines. I love this book, and it has, as is typical, led me down the rabbit-hole of NAORH – New Author Obsessive Reading Habits. I’m currently working my way through Cosmo Cosmolino, which I’ll no doubt review here soon. I’ve got Monkey Grip cued up after that.

I finished reading?/listening to? this a few weeks ago. What I’m discovering, as I write this review, is that whilst I remember absolutely loving it, I’m finding specific details hard to recall, and I’m discovering that this is a fairly common phenomenon for me when I consume a story via audiobook. It’s a format that works extremely well for me  – an hour and a quarter each way commute, Monday to Friday, and my diminishing eye quality combined with long days working on a computer mean that listening to a book is a welcome relief. But I think that I’m also often distracted, not as attentive to the story as I am when I’m physically reading. As I’m sitting here thinking about other books I’ve listened to over recent months, I can remember really loving some of them, but not actually being able to remember specific details about them. Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you find the same thing happens, or is it just that I’m easily distracted by people watching on trains, and should not be trusted to do two things at once?

Anyway. Helen Garner. If you’ve not read her before, I highly recommend it – and this collection is as good a place as any to start. Thanks, Crabb and Sales. I’m glad for the recommendation, and I’m glad to have discovered such exquisite writing.

Happy reading,

Tamara

May 10 2018

LIFEL1K3, by Jay Kristoff: On being human-ish.

Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff

Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff

Title: Lifel1k3
Author: Jay Kristoff
Genre/ issues: Post-apocalyptic YA, Giant Mechanical War Machines. Sexah Androids. Mutant Powers. Doomed Romance. Warring Corporations. Cybernetic Bounty Hunters. Sassy Robot Sidekicks. Rebellions. Chases. Escapes. Betrayals. Lies Upon Lies. Splosions. “Romeo and Juliet meets Bladerunner, while Fury Road plays a guitar solo in the background.”

I have to confess to stealing my “issues” blurb from Kristoff himself, because I couldn’t have said it better. This book freaking rocks. It starts off with Eve trying to win big in an epic robot battle, and just gets more exciting from there. Eve and her best friend find an android in a scrapheap after witnessing a plane crash, and what follows is a skillfully written, funny, clever, brutal, thought-provoking trip through the murky world of artificial intelligence, fanaticism, and finding your place when you don’t really know who you are.

Robots are slaves in this futuristic USA. Artificial intelligence is on the outer, as is anyone who displays abnormal skills or powers. If you’re familiar with Doctor Who (and if you’re not SHAME on you!!) then there are elements of this book that put me in mind of the philosophical conundrums of The Rebel Flesh episode – you know, white goop turns into copies of people. At what point are clones, copies of a consciousness, actually conscious themselves? Kristoff’s reality is different from what the Doctor discovers on the acid mining colony, but the fundamental question is the same – and where he takes this book? Well, it’s a wild freaking ride.

I have to confess – I got to the end, and I was mad. Like, seriously freaking angry. I tossed the book across the lounge room – my daughter yelled at me for it. And I, in turn, yelled at Kristoff. Not because I didn’t enjoy it – on the contrary. I loved it. But where we ended up at the end? Well, I was not expecting it. It hadn’t occurred to me at all that that’s where we were heading until it hit me in the face. And, to add insult to injury, the last line clearly marked that there is Book 2 to come. Which is a good thing, I guess. But it also means it’s well over a year before I get to read the next installment. This, dear readers, is why I hate trilogies, unless I only discover them after the last book is already out into the world. No real sense of delayed gratification.

So I rate this book A+ top tier. I’d bet on this girl to win. Jay Kristoff is rapidly becoming one of my new favourite authors. And my gift to you is this little ditty – which was my ear worm throughout the novel. I don’t know if the reference was intentional (note to self: ask Jay about it when you catch up with him!) but if you know this song, you’ll probably recognise the reference when you get to it in the book too. If not, enjoy. (Because who could resist the opportunity to indulge in a bit of gratuitous Amanda Palmer?)

Happy reading,

Tamara

April 29 2018

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness: On not being The Chosen One.

The rest of us just live here

The rest of us just live here

Title: The rest of us just live here
Author: Patrick Ness
Genre/ Issues: contemporary YA. Mental health. Eating disorders. God-like powers. Cats. Being Not The Chosen One.

Imagine the most normal high school scenario you can. In contemporary YA, it’s usually teens dealing with relationships, exams, graduation, and in the case of US based fiction, prom. Now imagine that whilst this is going on for you and your friends, there are supernatural cosmic forces at work in your town, with major events going on in your periphery. That’s basically what this wonderful beast of a novel is – the story of everyone else. If this was Hogwarts, we’d be reading about the lives of everyone in Hufflepuff while Harry and Draco duke it out in Duelling Club. And it’s not all normal … soul-eating ghosts and vampires have lurked in this average ordinary town before we arrive here fresh off the pen (keystroke???) of Patrick Ness.

That’s not to say that life is easy for the cast of this novel, just because they’re not facing down the Immortals. They’re facing up to their own issues. Living up to the god-like (or actual god) reputation of your grandmother. Dealing with mental illnesses. Eating disorders. Relationships. New friendships, and their impacts on the old. This book is beautifully written, with some thoughtful and thought-provoking ideas around how much of who we are comes from what we’ve dealt with in our lives. I read this as I was prepping for a fairly anxiety-inducing event, and without getting too spoilery, I found Mikey’s resolution around this idea really encouraging.

I rated this book 5/5 on goodreads. I’ve recommended it to a whole bunch of people since I finished it. And it’s definitely going to be one that I reread. You should too!

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

April 27 2018

Munmun, by Jesse Andrews: On why size does matter.

Munmun by Jesse Andrews

Title: Munmun
Author: Jesse Andrews
Genre/ Issues: Contemporary YA. Societal inequality. Wealth. Power.

I remember reading Gulliver’s Travels as a child, and being enthralled by the sheer magic of the tale of a giant in a world of tiny people, and visa versa. I studied it again during my Honours year at university, and was floored by the politics that younger me had missed the first time around. Munmun by Jesse Andrews puts me in mind of Lilliput. It reminded me strongly of the doublespeak in Brave New World (or was it 1984? Whichever one features that. I’ll edit this later to fix up that reference. Probably. Maybe.) It’s equal parts captivating and horrifying.

Your height, in this oddly familiar world, is determined directly by your wealth. Ditto your access to services – there are no schools for the littlepoor, and no doctors small enough to fix them, so they just have to muddle along however they’re able. If they can accrue some wealth, it’s off to the bank with them to move up in the world, literally – to “scale up” and increase their size, and hence their social status. Our entry into this world comes from littlepoor narrator, Warner, introduces us to life when you’re the size of a rat. He learns to read much later in life, so his narration is littered with phonetic spellings and misunderstandings that only serves to highlight the fundamental inequalities that underpin his society – and indeed, our own.

This is a challenging book. As Warner and his sister Prayer experience multiple levels of this size-driven society, you can’t help but consider the parallels to our own. The powerlessness of the poor is skillfully represented as the littlepoor are quite literally not heard by those with real power/ height – their voices don’t carry up that far, and the wealthy bigrich with their giant ears so far from the ground are almost unaware of those bustling around their feet, more like ants than equals.

A skillfully written and insightful book, I’d recommend this one if you’re interested in writing which examines social structures and makes comment on inequalities that abound around us. I must admit, the ending left me a little wanting – I loved it less when I finished the last chapter than I did at about the halfway point, I think. But still a great read, with some wonderful references to some of the dystopic classics.

Happy reading,

Tamara