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 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

 

 

October 25 2020

Somebody give this heart a pen, by Sophia Thakur

Give this heart a pen

Somebody give this heart a pen, by Sophia Thakur

Title: Somebody give this heart a pen
Author: Sophia Thakur
Genre/ issues: Poetry. Identity. Listening to your inner voice.

I read most of this book last night. I finished it this morning, and then reread a decent chuck of it again. When I was halfway through it last night, I commented to Jacob that it was ok but I felt like it was suffering from being on the page rather than delivered orally, and I don’t deny that this would be exceptionally powerful delivered as a spoke word performance by Sophia Thakur, who is an expert in this art form. But I think, reflecting on it this morning, that I was just struggling to engage with some of the messages because they are deeply relevant to me, and sometimes that’s hard to hear.
This collection of poems charts the journey through love, loss, pain and self-discovery. Poems which deal with embracing your pain, giving yourself permission to speak, listening to your inner voice … they hit hard this weekend, particularly as I’m struggling with the looming sense of imposter syndrome as I face my first NaNoWriMo. I’ve always wanted to write, but there has always been a part of me that has shouted that desire down. I’ve largely listened to that voice, and now, as I give voice to that part of my heart that wants to write, my inner imposter syndrome is flexing its muscles. He’s had more practice at this than I have in listening to my heart, so he’s better at these arguments. But I’m going to write anyway.
So, Someone Give This Heart a Pen. It’s a great collection of poetry by a thoughtful and insightful poet. Sunday morning Tamara highly recommends it, even if Saturday evening Tamara struggled. You really do need to read things at the right time, huh? Check out this short clip of Sophia performing one of the poems from this collection. Beautiful stuff.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 73/100

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

August 4 2020

Clap when you land, by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap when you land book

Clap when you land, by Elizabeth Acevedo

Title: Clap when you land
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genre/ issues: Verse novel. Family. Culture. Race and gender.

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, search Indies to locate your closest independent bookstore, or find it on Booktopia. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

I started reading this book over a week ago, and loved it but have been finding it hard to get back to. Part of me didn’t want to finish reading it. Tonight I dove back in, and read until the end. It’s brilliant, sad, and wonderful, and I’m so glad to have read it … but sometimes books just hit on a scar in your soul that you thought had healed, don’t they? They tap insistently at a hurt you thought you’d moved past, and you’re reminded that some pains endure much longer than you think. They’ll be firmly a part of your past, but their presence can not be ignored.
Clap When You Land is a verse novel by @acevedowrites, about two sisters separated by borders and secrets. They discover each other’s existence when their father’s flight crashes, and they have to figure out how to live without him, and how to reconcile the existence of this hitherto unknown sister into their world.
This is the second book by Acevedo that I’ve read in the past month or so, and both of them are cracking contenders for my hotly contested Top 10 reads of the year. I love verse novels, and the way that different rhyming patterns are used to represent the two sisters, and then woven together as their stories combine, is so good it makes me want to write a verse novel. I doubt I’d do the form justice, though, with this model to look up to.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 49/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

July 15 2020

Long way down, by Jason Reynolds

Long way down

Long way down, by Jason Reynolds

Title: Long way down
Author: Jason Reynolds
Genre/ issues: Verse novel. Generational violence.

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, search Indies to locate your closest independent bookstore, or find it on Booktopia. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

Whilst I was typing up my last post, Mad Sweeney decided for snuggle up with the book. I figured it’s the kind of book that could use some snuggly kitty content. This book is a quick read – a verse novel, sparsely told and spanning the time it takes for the elevator to go from the floor that Will lives on to the lobby. That elevator ride is an incredibly powerful one, that hits with the force of a bullet. Will is on his way to avenge the shooting death of his brother, and he is visited by ghosts of his past. Through their stories, and his engagement with them, we gain a stunning insight into the impact of generational violence. Words like “stunning”, “astonishing”, “magnificent” and “masterpiece” adorn the cover. They may be underselling it. A graphic novel of this is coming out soon. I’ll be buying it. You should too, and get this one in the meantime.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 44/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

July 2 2020

The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo

The poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo

Title: The poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genre/ issues: Verse novel. Gender. Family. Finding your voice.

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, search Indies to locate your closest independent bookstore, or find it on Booktopia. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

“One of the best books I’ve read this year” is a category that just keeps expanding, and The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo slammed its way into those ranks last night. I read it in one sitting. I’m planning on reading it again. It’s a stunning verse novel that reminded me why I love words, and how powerful words can be in the right hands. Xiomara is Dominican American from a Catholic family, who goes through life living up to the strict moral code imposed upon her by her mother. Her twin brother is facing his own battles, and whilst they’re connected by their special twin bond, they each need to find their own paths. For Xiomara, that means coming to terms with her relationship with her body, the body in her science class, and her passion for poetry.
This book is exceptional. About a quarter of the way through it I knew a certain special friend needed to read it too, so I messaged her letting her know I’d lend it to her when I was finished. By the time I was done, I had dog-eared so many passages I wanted to remember, and I decided that she needed her own copy so I hopped online and ordered her one. Spoiler alert, Sam – parcel arriving early next week!

You should read this book. You should get the teens in your life to read this book. Have I mentioned that I thought it was outstanding?

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 39/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

June 21 2020

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander

Crossover

Crossover, by Kwame Alexander

Title: The Crossover
Author: Kwame Alexander
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Verse novel. Sports. Family. Relationships.

Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, search Indies to locate your closest independent bookstore, or find it on Booktopia. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.

In order to expand my reading horizons this year, I’ve been consciously choosing books that wouldn’t normally be ones I’d gravitate towards. Sports books fit firmly in that category, and in an effort to decolonize my bookshelf, I’m reading books by BIPOC authors as much as possible this month.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander is EXCELLENT. I love that, in fiction in general and verse novels like this in particular, you get such incredible opportunities to care about and empathise with characters who are so innately different from you. This book definitely provided me this experience, as we get to see the struggles of the main character, a basketball star, and his twin brother, who start to drift apart as they go through the junior high school year. Their father is a former basketball star himself, with health issues and a dislike of doctors that causes friction amongst the family. It’s beautiful, compelling poetry, with such incredible heart and soul. Highly recommended, and well worth all the awards it received upon its release.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 35/52

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

May 20 2020

Worse things, by Sally Murphy

Worse things, by Sally Murphy

Title: Worse Things
Author: Sally Murphy
Genre/ issues: Middle grade/YA. Verse novel. Contemporary fiction. Refugees. Identity. Finding your place.

Shop local where you can: search Indies to locate your closest independent bookstore, or find it on Booktopia.

This arrived in the mail today, and I just devoured it in one sitting. This verse novel by Sally provides the parallel narratives of three teens all dealing with their own issues. A footballer who breaks his arm in the first game of the season, and is frustrated at not being able to play. A hockey player whose mother wants her to be a Hockeyroo but who’d rather be doing almost anything else. And a refugee who is still struggling with the stupid language and the strangeness of his new home.

I really loved this book. It’s a deceptively easy read, but extremely powerful despite that simplicity, and with a series of sparsely scattered illustrations that serve as a sucker punch for the emotions filtering through the poetry. One particular poem had me sobbing so unexpectedly hard as I thought about the refugee kids I used to teach and show through the library – it took me a solid 5 minutes to recover enough to keep reading. Thank you for this, Sally. It’s a wonderful piece of work.

#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 28/52

Happy reading,

Tamara