January 12 2021

Emmie and Friends series, by Terri Libenson

Emmie and friends

Emmie and friends, by Terri Libenson

Title: Emmie and Friends series
Author: Terri Libenson
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Friendship. Identity. 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.

This is a lovely middle grade series that looks at a range of friendship issues faced by a group of friends and peers in a middle school. All 4 books have a lovely part illustrated text, part comic panel presentation, with a sweet and engaging illustration style and a lovely colour palette. The characters are all flawed and interesting, and face a range of authentic problems that would be recognisable by most 8-12 year old readers navigating their own friendship problems. I love that these books model the process of seeing things from another person’s perspective, and encourage a sense of empathy. I also appreciated the practical methods to dealing with conflict that are modelled by characters on all sides of the issues. Each novel in the series deals with the problems of a different protagonist, and they could be read individually but are interconnected. Each novel also has its own interesting “twist” at the end – I’m not gonna lie, one of them completely threw me, even though I was on the lookout for something to happen!
If you’ve got middle to upper primary children in your life, and you’d like them to read something sweet and engaging with some great lessons to learn about how to be a good friend and to deal with conflict, this would be a great option.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 6-9/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

January 4 2021

#2020ReadingChallenge wrap up

2020 books readBuckle in, readers, this is going to be a long one!

I started 2020 with the ambitious goal of reading 52 books throughout the year. but ended up more than doubling that. I read some incredible books – in fact, there’s almost nothing on here that I wouldn’t recommend to someone. There were indeed some stand-outs, and I’ve compiled my top 5 books in a few different categories, as well as a top 5 and top 20 books overall – because it was hard to narrow it down! I’ve really enjoyed challenging myself to read new things this year – I read more non-fiction than I normally do, I got back into reading comics again, and most of my books were written by own voices and/or BIPOC authors, and feature diverse and authentic representation of characters and experiences.

My stats:
📚 Total books read: 111
📚 New-to-me authors: 68
📚 Books featuring significant diverse content/ characters: 84
📚 Books by diverse authors: 73
📚 Rereads: 7
📚 Non-fiction: 11
📚 Comics/ graphics: 36
📚 Picture books: 13
📚 Audiobooks: 16
📚 Main genres: Contemporary (46), Fantasy (31), Sci-fi (27)
📚 Most recommended books: The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, Euphoria Kids by Alison Evans
📚 Most purchased book: Euphoria Kids.

I focused a lot this year on #diversifyingmybookshelf – consciously reading books by authors of colour, and featuring BIPOC characters that were authentically represented. I’ve always read queer literature pretty extensively, and one of my increasing focuses as the year went on was the representation of mental health and disability in my reading, particularly in YA books. I’ve enjoyed some of these #ownvoices reads most of all, and will be seeking out more fiction that presents these types of issues and characters in authentic and meaningful ways.

2020 was a good reading year for me, and I was surprised to see that I’d read more contemporary than anything else – I think of myself as a sci-fi/fantasy girl! I’m using TheStorygraph to track my #2021readingchallenge, so I’m interested to see how those stats come out at the end of this year – the above info is taken from my highly unscientific excel spreadsheet dump, after I realised that GoodReads wasn’t going to give me the goods.

Top 5 books

Top Books Overall

I’ve been debating how to present my top 10 list of reads from 2020, and figured out that whilst I can do a top 5 easily, narrowing the next 5 down was considerably more difficult. So, here are my top 5 reads of last year, along with a top 20.

Every single book in my top 5 I will read again, and have recommended to multiple people. I’ve also purchased multiple copies of them to give as gifts for birthdays, Christmas, and “just because” gifts throughout the year.

In no particular order:

  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
  • The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by Victoria “V.E.” Schwab
  • Euphoria Kids by Alison Evans
  • The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
top 20 booksThe rest of my top 20 are all excellent reads, and all for different reasons. Some made me laugh. Some made me cry. They all made me think, and feel a whole lot of feelz. They all made me proud to be a reader, and inspired me more to strive to be a writer. At least half of them could have made it into my top 5 if one of the aforementioned authors had done a less-than-perfect job on their books. So here are 6-20 on my top 20, in no particular order:
  • How it feels to float, by Helena Fox
  • Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz
  • Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann
  • The Strangeworlds travel agency by LD Lapinski
  • Children of blood and bone by Tomi Adeyemi
  • Long way down by Jason Reynolds
  • The poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • Anxious people by Fredrik Backman
  • Future Girl by Asphyxia
  • They both die at the end by Adam Silvera
  • Snow, glass, apples, by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran
  • Wonder Woman rebirth by Greg Rucka
  • Catch and kill by Ronan Farrow
  • Black enough: stories of being young and black in America, Ed by Ibi Zoboi
  • Peta Lyre’s rating normal by Anna Whateley

top 5 ya

Top 5 YA reads

I read a lot of YA – most than half the books in my 111 total for the year were young adult, and all of them great, so this was hard to narrow down. I didn’t include Euphoria Kids, which was on my top5 best books overall list, and that gave me room for one more on here, which I desperately needed.
I didn’t realise until taking this photo that this collection has a nice spread of issues and characters – queer, neurodivergence, race, mental health, disability – and it probably more fully captures my reading interests than any of my other top5 lists!
In no particular order (well ok – in the order they appear in the photo, but not in any order to assign preference, because they all freaking rock and you should read them all if you haven’t yet):
  •  How it feels to float by Helena Fox
  •  Future girl by Asphyxia
  •  Peta Lyre’s rating normal by Anna Whateley
  •  Children of blood and bone by Tomi Adeyemi
  •  Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
 Reiterating here – read these books. I will say, though, some/ most of them deal with some heavy content at some point. Trigger warnings particularly for mental health issues in HIFTF and PLRN, suicidal ideation in HIFTF, some extreme violence/torture/ racial discrimination in COBAB, dystopian issues around food insecurity in FG, family abandonment in PLRN. I’m not telling you this to discourage you – I just really believe you need to know what you’re getting into sometimes, and if these issues might be particularly triggering for you right now, wait until you’re feeling more able to cope with their fictional representation before you pick up these books. But please, pick them up. Outstanding novels, all.

top 5 poetry

Top 5 Poetry reads

My top 5 poetry reads for 2020 are all verse novels. I love the verse novel form, and I read quite a few last year. My faves, in no particular order, are:
  •  Worse things by @sallymurphyauthor
  •  Long way down by @jasonreynolds83
  •  The poet X by @acevedowrites
  •  Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann
  •  The crossover by @kwamealexander
A couple of these could also have made their way onto some of my other Top 5 lists – Worse Things is an excellent middle grade/ lower secondary novel, and The Poet X is one of the best YA books I’ve read this year. They’re all excellent reads. If you have slightly reluctant readers, or those who struggle to find the time to read a full-length traditional novel, I highly recommend the verse novel format as a way to help bridge that gap for them.
One of the features I love about verse novels is how the form seems to allow us to connect with characters on a deep emotional level, and after reading a few of these earlier in the year I started dabbling in writing in verse for my NaNoWriMo project. I’m really loving it, both as a reader and a writer. If you’ve not read a verse novel before, any of these would be great places to start.

top 5 picture books

Top 5 picture books

My top 5 picture books are all very different. Ranging from sweet easy read-along books suitable for younger children, to something to inspire deeper thought for middle grade readers, to deep and complex examination of capitalism, exploitation of workers, and human rights.
My top 5, in no particular order, are:
  •  How to make a bird, by @megmckinlay and @mattottleyart
  •  Migrants, by Issa Watanabe
  •  Julian at the wedding, by @jesslovedraws
  •  Diamonds, by Armin Greder
  •  Alphabetical Tashi by Anna and Barbara Fienberg
I love picture books. I believe that they offer incredible opportunities to engage with stories for readers of all ages and skill levels. And yet, when it came to including them on my #2020readingchallenge list, I still kind of felt a bit like I was cheating. They don’t take nearly as long as a full-sized prose novel. Could I really justify including a book with no words on a reading list? Turns out, yes. Yes I can. Because the length of time a book takes to consume doesn’t influence its impact. What matters is that you find a world to immerse yourself in that engages you, that entertains, inspires, challenges or comforts you while you read it, and hopefully beyond that. All of these books did that for me, from the nostalgia of Tashi to the inspiration of How to make a bird to the challenge of Diamonds. If you want to read more, but don’t feel like you have time, head into your library and ask them to point you to their collection of picture books for older readers. They aren’t just for little kids until they’re ready to move onto “real” reading. What was your favourite picture book of 2020?

top 5 comics

Top 5 Comic/ Graphic reads

2020 was the year of rediscovering my love of comics. I used to read them a bit when I was a kid, but stopped when I was around 12 – I don’t remember why. For the past few years I’ve wanted to get back into reading them, but there always seemed to be such a big barrier to entry and I didn’t know where to start. After a discussion with Jacob, though, I did a bit of research, asked some comic nerd friends for advice, and bit the bullet. I’ve read 36 comics and graphic novels this year, and I’ve loved the diversity of the worlds and characters I’ve discovered. One of Jacob’s friends recommended “anything by Greg Rucka”, and that has proven to be useful advice indeed. My top 5 comic/ graphic reads for 2020 are:

  •  Ms Marvel, vol1
  •  Wonder Woman Rebirth, vol1, by @ruckawriter et al
  •  The old guard, another Rucka masterpiece.
  •  Heartstopper, by Alice Oseman
  •  Lumberjanes, by @gingerhazing et al
If you don’t read comics but would like to, here are my tried and true tips for getting started!
Pick a character from pop culture you like and do some googling. Comic fans somewhere will have debated the best entry point to get into their story!
Have you loved a tv show that’s based on a comic or graphic? Get that! You already know you’ll enjoy the story and characters, no matter how weirdly different they may be in comic form (I’m looking at you, Umbrella Academy).
There are plenty of graphic novels adapted from traditional novels – check to see if there are any made of books you like.
If you find the prospect of a whole comic series daunting, try a shorter arc. I’m currently reading Marvel 1602 and I think it’s be a great comic entry point for MCU fans who want to start reading comics (plus, it’s written by @neilhimself!)
And finally, do some research to find your most helpful local comic store. I’ve loved the service at @kingscomics, and they’ve really helped me develop my comics collection this year. I tend to do most of my inquiries online, because whilst they all seem great in person, I still have some “middle aged woman in a comic store” hang ups when it comes to asking for advice in store. The staff are great, though, and know their stuff.

top 5 middle grade reads

Top 5 middle grade reads

One more top5 for today- my fave middle grade reads of my #2020readingchallenge. Some are solid middle grade books, others are transitional middle grade/ YA – all are excellent reads.
  • George, by @alexginoofficial
  • The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, by @ldlapinski
  • Ghost, by @jasonreynolds83
  • Bindi, by @kirli.saunders and @dubleffler
  • Hollowpox: the hunt for Morrigan Crow, by @digressica
There’s some diversity here. An illustrated verse novel about Indigenous family and community. A black kid finding his place on a track team. A trans girl dealing with coming out to her family and friends. And a couple of cracker middle grade/ YAish fantasy books with fantastic complex characters. I think Hollowpox is the pick of the Morrigan Crow series, for what it’s worth, and I have high hopes for what comes next in the Strangeworlds series. Younger readers can deal with deeper and more complex issues than we give them credit for, especially when those issues are presented with such beautiful, sensitive and thoughtful writing as it is by these authors.
Have you read any of these? What do you think?

top 5 non fiction

Top 5 Non-fiction reads

My top 5 non-fiction for 2020 is an eclectic bunch. I don’t tend to read a lot of non-fiction, so the fact that I had enough for a top 5 was a surprise to me – in fact, 10% of my #2020readingchallenge was non-fiction books.
The best of them for me were:
  •  Stamped from the beginning: a history of racist ideas in America, by @ibramxk (YA version pictured – I listened to the audiobook on Spotify)
  •  Dragon Hoops, by @geneluenyang
  •  Astronauts: Women on the final frontier, by @gtlabsrat and @mariswicks
  •  Living on stolen land, by Ambelin Kwaymullina
  •  Catch and Kill: lies, spies, and a conspiracy to protect predators, by @ronanfarrow
It’s an eclectic mix. A detailed historical examination of racist ideas in the US. A graphic novel memoir of the author’s life in parallel with his portrayal of the championship basketball team at his school. A graphic novel history of women’s involvement in the space program. A verse novel manifesto about the importance of acknowledging Indigenous custodianship of the land. And, finally, and expose on one of the key cases of the #metoo movement. I’ve enjoyed consciously reading a bit more non-fiction this year, and will be looking for more, particularly those in non-prose form. I’ve enjoyed the graphic novel format for non-fiction, and it allows for some deeper reflections on the nature of memory and recreating history on the page.
So, that’s my 2020 in books. At the time of posting this, I’m already about 8 books into my 2021 reading challenge – I’ve not set myself a number target this year, but I am hoping read a similar amount of diverse and interesting stories. I’m starting a reread of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, which I’m really looking forward to, and I’m going to read more middle grade books – it’s an area that I don’t read widely from. I hope you read something great last year – if you didn’t that’s ok too. Start now! If you want any recommendations, hit me up – it’d be an honour to help you find your next favourite read.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 111/111

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

December 30 2020

Illegal, by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin

Illegal

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin

Title: Illegal
Author: Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin
Illustrator: Giovanni Rigano
Genre/ issues: Contemporary. Refugees.

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.

Illegal, by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin and illustrated by Giovanni Rigano. Wow. What a beautiful book, telling such a heartbreaking and terrible story. Illegal tells the story of Ebo, who along with his brother attempts to find refuge and safety by making the perilous journey from his home in Northern Africa, across the Sahara and then across the ocean to Italy. Whilst fictional, Ebo’s story reflects the reality of countless numbers of people who are desperate for a better life for their family – not just a better home or an easier life, but the fundamentals of safety that so many of us take for granted. A powerful read, and a timely reminder that there’s nothing illegal about being human.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 110/100

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

December 29 2020

Bindi by Kirli Saunders and Dub Leffler

Bindi

Bindi, by Kirli Saunders and Dub Leffler

Title: Bindi
Author: Kirli Saunders
Illustrator: Dub Leffler
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Verse novel. Indigenous relationship to the land and environment. Family. Bushfires.

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.

What a wonder this book is! Bindi by Kirli Saunders is illustrated by Dub Leffler and it’s as beautiful as you’d expect from his work. In Leffler’s signature muted, detailed style, the illustrations create an embracing sense of the land and community that fill the narrative. And what a narrative it is. An upper-middle grade verse novel, Bindi tells the story of a family and community impacted by the spectre of bushfires.
The use of Gundungwarra language as an inherent part of the way that Bindi sees and talks about her family, traditions and community is a powerful signal as to one of the key concepts of this book – how integral Indigenous culture is to our First Nations people, and by extension, how integral it should be to the way we (non-Indigenous) see and treat the land on which we live. I found this books incredibly moving, and I highly recommend it.
Often books that deal with potentially complex and sensitive subject matter such as this for younger readers can feel heavy-handed, preachy, or overly mature, but there’s a subtlety and sensitively to Kirli’s poetry that balances the serious and the light-hearted so incredibly well. Great for the upper primary readers in your life, right through to adult. A multilayered visual and poetic feast.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 108/100

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

December 23 2020

Nerdy babies: rocks, by Emmy Kastner

Nerdy kids

Nerdy babies: rocks! by Emmy Kastner

Title: Nerdy babies: Rocks
Author: Emmy Kastner
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Rocks/ geology. Non-fiction. Science.

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.

A lovely picture book, from what looks like a great series, Nerdy Babies: Rocks delves into the complex world of rocks around us! With language that is accessible for younger readers, it also features a great sampling of scientific language and explores the paths that a fascination with rocks can lead you on. I love a good non-fiction picture book, and whilst this isn’t up there with the CSIRO ones for me, it’s super cute and a lovely addition on a shelf for your early readers, or as a readaloud.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 99/100

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

December 20 2020

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

The graveyard book, held by Jacob

The graveyard book, by Neil Gaiman

Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
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.

It’s no secret that Neil Gaiman is my favourite author, and I usually love him narrating his own work. Over the past month or so, I’ve gotten to experience The Graveyard Book as read by my all-time favourite narrator – my wonderful partner Jacob.

One of our long-distance date night traditions is us reading something together – which usually means I lay in bed with an unopened copy of the book on my bedside table, and he reads to me. The greatest joy of this particular novel was getting to share the final few chapters in person, curled up on my couch, and not separated by thousands of kilometres.

The book itself? Wonderful. One of my favourites of Neil’s (aren’t they all though?) There’s such depth and complexity to this tale of Nobody Owens, orphaned as a toddler at the hands of a mysterious murderer who would have slaughtered Bod too if he wasn’t adopted by ghosts and granted the freedom of the graveyard. A funny, smart, thoughtful and tear-filled story of life in the midst of death. Bonus review content: Jacob’s potential “serious voice actor” headshot. His work is great, but usually performed to an exclusive audience of 1. I’d recommend booking him for your next narration project but I plan on keeping him pretty busy – we have more Gaiman to get through.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 97/100

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

December 13 2020

Brightly woven, by Alexandra Bracken

Brightly woven

Brightly woven, by Alexandra Bracken

Title: Brightly woven
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Genre/ issues: Graphic novel. Fantasy. Magic.

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.

Brightly Woven is a graphic novel adaptation of the 2010 YA fantasy novel by Alexandra Bracken. A lovely story about magic and the balance required to wield it, as well as the power in discovering your own skills. I enjoyed this beautifully illustrated narrative – a great, uncomplicated and accessible fantasy graphic for upper primary or secondary school readers.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 96/100

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

November 29 2020

Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret, by Judy Blume

Are you there, God? Book cover

Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret, by Judy Blume

Title: Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret
Author: Judy Blume
Genre/ issues: Middle grade/ YA. Adolescence. Family. Friends. Religion. Puberty. Relationships.

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 remember reading Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret when I was in year 7 at a catholic high school in a small country town – many, MANY years ago. I have a vague memory that there were a group of us who passed the Judy Blume books around among us, like a clandestine secret, but I can’t actually remember if they were banned from our library, or we had heard rumours about them being banned elsewhere, so we felt all renegade and rebellious. I suspect it was the latter, because I never felt restricted in my reading choices from our small country town catholic school library – I am the reader I am today in part because of the literary journeys I took whilst there.
Revisiting Margaret today was a joy. I remember feeling completely seen by her – or, rather, in seeing parts of myself in her experiences, and in the paths taken by Nancy and Laura in particular. Despite being 50 years old this year, the struggles of Margaret and her friends hold up now. I think that’s probably a testament to how ground-breaking and revolutionary it was at the time of its original publication. Thank you, Judy. I’ll be revisiting more of your work soon, I think. There are a lot of old friends I feel the need to catch up with. It’s been far too long.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 92/100

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

November 28 2020

A pile of picture books

Picture books

A pile of picture books

Title: Alphabetical Tashi
Author: Anna and Barbara Fienberg
Illustrator: Kim Gamble, Arielle and Greer Gamble

Title: Old man Emu
Author: John Williamson
Illustrator: Simon McLean

Title: A walk like no other
Author: Lara Bury
Illustrator: Anahit Aleksanyan

Title: The great realisation
Author: Tomos Roberts
Illustrator: Nomoco

Title: What we’ll build
Author: Oliver Jeffers

Title: The Tree
Author: Graeme Base

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 reading a bunch of picture books today –  all lovely for different reasons!
I’ve always loved Tashi by Anna Fienberg, and this exploration of the alphabet provides some beautifully illustrated glimpses of some beloved Tashi characters. A wonderful way to reinforce alphabetical knowledge, with a lovely narrative tour of the Tashi universe. An utter joy.
I’m sure most Australians are familiar with Old Man Emu, and this illustrated version is super fun – I couldn’t help but sing along as I was reading through it! I genuinely laughed out loud at the kangaroo with a tan line once he loses his pants. Super cute.
My friend Lara has just had her first picture book published. I know it’s been something she’s wanted to do for ages, and I’m so proud of her! A Walk Like No Other follows Sapphire as she races home, wanting to be first but also getting distracted by all the exciting things happening in her neighbourhood. Cute and colourful illustrations, and a lovely message about running your own race.

I love Oliver Jeffers’ work, and What We’ll Build is a beautiful story of a parent and child building their future together. As is common with Jeffers’ work, it’s deceptively simple but speaks deeply and powerfully to the kind of world we want to live in – nurturing, accepting, protective and forgiving. So wonderful.

The Great Realisation started life as a poem on YouTube about what we can learn from a time of crisis. A response to Covid, and a call to reflect on what truly matters to us as individuals and as a society. The illustrations are stunning – this one is definitely going into my permanent collection.
And finally, The Tree by Graeme Base. It goes without saying that the illustrations in this are photorealistic magnificence. The story ties nicely with the themes of the other two books in this post – Cow and Duck both live in the same tree, one in the roots and the other up high in the canopy. When a big storm comes, they try to protect their home, but are suspicious of each other. Can they find a way to live together in peace?
If you’re after some great fun read-aloud books, the first three are for you. If you are looking for some picture books to add to a collection which reflects the positive benefits of a diverse and harmonious society, accepting of differences and nurturing the world around us, then the last three would all be great additions.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 80-85/100

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

October 20 2020

How to make a bird, by Meg McInlay

How to make a bird

How to make a bird, by Meg McInlay and Matt Ottley

Title: How to make a bird
Author: Meg McInlay
Illustrator: Matt Ottley
Genre/ issues: Picture book. Creativity.

Happy book birthday to this gorgeous thing! How To Make a Bird is a stunning story by @megmckinlay which explores the process of creativity and bringing to life your vision. I’m endlessly in awe of picture book authors who convey such insightful messages with such a brevity of words. Combined with this is the magic of @mattottleyart’s illustration, which is utterly breathtaking, and captures the joy and hope of McKinlay’s story so beautifully. This is a gorgeous picture book and I’m glad I read it when I did – it reminded me of the power of the hope that lies within me. Highly recommended for all ages.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 71/100

Happy reading,

Tamara