August 19 2021

This Winter, by Alice Oseman

book cover

This Winter, by Alice Oseman

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

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

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

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 128/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

August 19 2021

Solitaire, by Alice Oseman

book cover

Solitaire, by Alice Oseman

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

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

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

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 127/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

August 11 2021

Ash and Quill, by Rachel Caine

book cover

Ash and Quill, by Rachel Caine

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

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

 

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

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 119/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

August 8 2021

Paper and Fire, by Rachel Caine

book cover

Paper and Fire, by Rachel Caine

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

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

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

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

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 118/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

July 30 2021

The called us enemy, by George Takei

The called us enemy

The called us enemy, by George Takei

Title: The called us enemy
Author: George Takei
Genre/ issues: Memoir. History. Graphic Novel. Racism. WW2.

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.

They Called Us Enemy: expanded edition, by George Takei. A stunning memoir tracing Takei’s life and experiences as a Japanese American, interned with his family for the “crime” of having Japanese ancestry during World War 2. The deceptively simple black and white illustrations capture the historical trauma of this time, retold with the maturity of hindsight but still capturing the experience through the eyes of a child, excited by the train rides and the vacations and not fully understanding why everyone around him is so scared and upset. I’ve read a few different memoirs about this time, and I’m always struck by the complex emotions that they evoke. Wonder at the strength and tenacity that families showed to endure such treatment from a place they called home. Sadness that there was a need for such strength. Horror that people were treated this way – and moreso that they are still, as Takei points out as he parallels Trump’s orders around Muslim immigration at the beginning of his term in office.
Perhaps the key enduring message from this beautifully told piece of history is the importance and power of democracy. Of the impact of using your voice to speak out for what is right. Representation matters, in politics, in social justice movements, and in our media – which is something that Takei represents on a great many fronts. I’d highly recommend picking this gem up.

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#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 116/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

July 25 2021

Lost in the Never Woods, by Aiden Thomas

Lost in the never woods

Lost in the Never Woods, by Aiden Thomas

Title: Lost in the Never Woods
Author: Aiden Thomas
Genre/ issues: YA. Fairytale retelling. Peter Pan.

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 love Peter Pan. I’m a sucker for a fairytale reimagined or revisited. And I thoroughly enjoyed Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas when I read it earlier this year. So, when Lost in the Never Woods found itself on my TBR, it was an insta-read for me.
Wendy Darling has just turned 18. Her younger brothers have been missing for five years, and Wendy herself was missing for months as well, but returned with no memory of what happened. It’s a safe quiet town, but when other children start disappearing, the police come knocking on Wendy’s door to see if she has any answers. She doesn’t- but the boy she finds in the middle of the road might. Peter, who she thought only existed in her stories, needs her help. But in order to do so, Wendy is going to need to face her fears in the woods, and to revisit the traumas of her past … is she really ready for that?
This is a fabulous book, examining the impacts of trauma on the dynamic of the family and the people it touches. The last few chapters felt a little rushed to me, with some monologuing filling in details to get us to the end, but it didn’t detract overly from my enjoyment of it. I particularly enjoyed the exploration of the purpose of Neverland and Peter’s role in caring for the lost boys. A solid 4.5/5 read for me, which solidifies Aiden Thomas as one of my favourite new author finds for 2021.
And, just an aside – this is book 111 for the year, which is as many books as I read in 2020! I wonder what this year’s total will be?

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 111/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

July 18 2021

Flash Fire, by TJ Klune

Flash fire

Flash Fire, by TJ Klune

Title: Flash fire
Author: TJ Klune
Genre/ issues: Superheroes. Science fiction. Queer fiction.

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

“Perfect? Never.
Good? Always.”
I enjoyed The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune last year, so much so that I preordered the sequel- an honour usually reserved for Neil! The above quote from the sequel, Flash Fire, encapsulates for me how I feel about this series. I really enjoy it, and I’m looking forward to book 3. But there are times when I’m jarringly reminded that I’m probably not the target audience.
But I digress. Book 1 introduced us to Nick, who is obsessed by the extraordinaries in Nova City and writes a racy fanfic about PyroStorm, before discovering that he knows the superhero better than he realises! Book 2 sees us explore the developing relationships between both partners and parents, as well as some added complications. New extraordinaries arrive in the city, and figuring out who and what you can trust is a mammoth task, as Nick faces challenges to everything he knows about justice, family, and being extraordinary.
So, the good. Diverse and authentic representation of queer characters, and nuanced discussions of issues such as race and abuse of power in policing. Whilst the superpower plot raises questions that seem larger-than-life, the intimate and personal struggles of these wonderful characters really hooked me, despite some of the problems I had with it otherwise.
Ok, “problems” might be too strong a word. And I’m not bagging fan-fiction, but it’s just not my jam. So the framing of this book around the ongoing fanfic by Nick to his Extraordinary crush just did not hit for me. Don’t get me wrong – it ABSOLUTELY works for the book, the narrative and the character. As a reflection of a gay neurodivergent Nick obsessed with PyroStorm it’s perfection. So, my issues with it should be notched up to my own personal reading preferences, and not as an indication that this is badly written, because that’s not the case. TJ Klune is a fantastic author who skilfully creates unique and interesting characters that you care deeply about. Their writing is also clever, sensitive and smart, and one of the new Extraordinaries we meet in this book has a backstory and name that made me squeal with joy. More new adult than young adult, it’s a really fun read.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 107/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

June 29 2021

Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine

Ink and bone

Ink and bone, by Rachel Caine

Title: Ink and Bone
Author: Rachel Caine
Genre/ issues: YA. Alternate history. Power and authority.

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.

“Tota est scientia. Knowledge is all.”
I doubt this is a surprise to you – I love libraries. What they are, what they represent, and what they can offer the communities that they serve. The Library of Alexandria is a loss that strikes my soul hard every time I think about it. So when an instagram follower mentioned a series called The Great Library the other day, my library-senses tingled. After a quick google, I was hooked and went on a hunt for it! And whilst my local library is closed at the moment (because lockdown) my daughter-in-law works there and was able to pick up my reserved copy for me.
Oh boy. What a tale this is. Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine presents a world in which the Library of Alexandria wasn’t destroyed, but instead preserved, and went on to become the centre of knowledge throughout the world – so much so that they control access to all books by way of a codex which distributes mirrors of the original to readers on their blank books. Owning books is not allowed, and Gutenberg’s revolutionary printing press was never invented … or rather, it’s invention was suppressed and destroyed before its treasonous goals could take hold.
Jess Brightwell is the son of a black-market book smuggler, and is sent to the Library to compete for the rare and valued position of Scholar. As the ranks of postulants thin, however, Jess discovers not only does he have friends that he wouldn’t have expected, but that the truth about the most revered institution in the world is even darker than he could have imagined.
I don’t know how I’ve not heard of this book or author before, but I’m glad I’ve found them now. It feels apt to have borrowed the first volume from the library, but I’ll be adding the whole series to my private collection very soon. Yay for libraries and an accessible printing process – because whilst books are precious and should be treasured, they should also be widely accessible.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 100/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

June 27 2021

Thunderhead and The Toll, by Neal Shusterman

Scythe

The arc of the Scythe, by Neal Shusterman

Title: Thunderhead and The Toll
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre/ issues: YA. Dystopian fiction. Sci-fi. Artificial intelligence.

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 read Scythe last year, but didn’t immediately move onto the rest of the series. I’m glad now, because the dystopian world Neal Shusterman created has kept me somewhat distracted from my own personal and pandemic-related woes over the past 2 days as Sydney has gone back into lockdown.
The Arc of the Scythe series is killer. Pun intended. Characters I cared deeply about, moral dilemmas that hurt my head and heart, and one of my favourite concepts in futuristic and/or sci-fi novels – when does an AI cease to be “artificial”? The series starts with Scythe, as we are plunged into a future Earth where death by natural causes has been eradicated, but population control is still required. So, Scythes now glean people, with honourable rules around how this process is carried out. Citra and Rowan are apprenticed as scythes, but soon discover corruption amongst the ranks. Book 2, Thunderhead, sees Rowan acting as a vigilante tracking down and gleaning dishonourable scythes, whilst Citra finds her own path as the compassionate Scythe Anastasia. And whilst a terrifying plot unfolds around them, the Thunderhead, global all-seeing AI who observes and controls everything that the scythes do not, watches on, but can’t intervene … or can/will it? The final book, The Toll, sees the Thunderhead go silent, leaving the world in turmoil and under the apparently relentless control of the vicious Scythe Goddard.
I often find trilogies variable in engagement and storytelling. Many readers have opinions on the second book slump. Scythe doesn’t suffer from that – in fact, I think Thunderhead is my favourite of the three volumes. The storytelling across the whole series is sustained and masterful, and I was immensely satisfied at the conclusion of this fascinating exploration of life when death is no longer a constraint. I’m glad I hadn’t read book 2 without being able to dive straight into the final sweep of the arc – the suspense may have killed me! Fab reads, both.
And whilst my tally says 97 and 98, that’s only because I have a couple of reviews I can’t quite post yet – these books see me hit 100 books read in 2021, which was my reading challenge goal for the year! I’ve loved tracking this on TheStorygraph this year.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 97-98/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

June 21 2021

The Infinite Noise, by Lauren Shippen

The Infinite Noice

The Infinite Noise, by Luaren Shippen

Title: The Infinite Noise
Author: Lauren Shippen
Genre/ issues: YA. Superpowers. Queer fiction. 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.

“If he’s blue and I’m yellow, being around him makes everything green … I guess I just really like being in that green place.”
The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen is a lovely dual perspective narrative based on The Bright Sessions podcast. Caleb is an Atypical, a human with the enhanced abilities to feel the emotions of everyone around them. He gets particularly caught up in the feelings of his classmate Adam, who struggles with his own mental health issues. Their lives come together in ways that neither of them could have predicted, but that feels somehow right to both of them.
This is very much a character driven book. There’s little in the way of over-arching plot, and I wasn’t at all bothered by that, because the journey of self-discovery I went on with these beautifully complex souls was really fascinating. I’ve just added the podcast this book is based on to my queue, and will be tracking down the next book in the series. A good solid 4/5 read for me – probably not going to crack my favourite books list for the year, but only because I’ve read so many 5⭐️ books already that I know it’s going to be hotly contested! Content warnings: mental health/ serious depression, including self harm.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 84/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara