July 4 2021

Heroes of the secret underground, by Susanne Gervay

Heroes

Heroes of the secret underground, by Susanne Gervay

Title: Heroes of the secret underground
Author: Susanne Gervay
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Historical fiction. WW2. Timeslip.

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.

Historical fiction isn’t usually my genre, but when a dear friend writes a novel inspired by the experiences of her family, I’ll make an exception. Heroes of the Secret Underground by Susanne Gervay is a time slip novel in which Louie, Bert and Teddy find themselves transported from the grand old hotel they live in with their grandparents in Sydney, back to a world at war – Budapest, 1944. As Louie attempts to unravel the secrets of the rose-gold locket that acted as their portal to the past, she also uncovers other secrets that her grandparents never speak of – painful memories of a painful past that Louie and her brothers find themselves trapped in.
It’s often hard to effectively convey the pain and trauma of events such as war in narratives for younger readers, but this book does that really well. Susanne’s personal connection with this story – inspired by her own family’s escape from Budapest during the war – shines through, and there’s a real sense of love and heart in this novel. The enduring message of learning from the mistakes of the past is evident, and I love the emphasis on the power of each individual’s story to make a difference.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 104/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

July 2 2021

Lord and ladies, by Terry Pratchett

Lords and Ladies

Lords and ladies, by Terry Pratchett

Title: Lords and Ladies
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre/ issues: Fantasy. Comedy. Discworld.

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.

Whilst a long distance relationship isn’t always easy, there are some things I love about what Jacob and I share through all of this. My favourite #longdistancedatenight is Jacob reading to me. We’ve enjoyed some wonderful books together, and the latest has been Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett. From the Witches collection of #Discworld, it revolves around wedding plans as King Verence prepares to make Magrat Garlick his wife. Magrat isn’t at all prepared for the responsibilities of being queen, however … and then there’s the issue of the crop circles, which Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax worry herald the arrival of “circle time”, a convergence of parallel universes which mean the Disc is susceptible for invasion by Elves from a parasite reality.
Like all Discworld books, this is incredibly funny, with some clever takes on tropes found in both contemporary society and fantasy worlds. I particularly loved Dwarfish lothario Casanunda, and Magrat’s desire to channel the “memory” of Queen Ynci and become a warrior queen to take on the enemy elves (blissfully unaware that Ynci is a fiction and the armour she dons was made of old cookware). More than that, though, I loved getting to share this story with my best friend, to curl up in bed and to enjoy his fantastic narration. There’s something incredibly special about hearing a story read aloud by someone with respect for the power of words, and #JacobReads beautifully. I’m very much looking forward to our next book, as we move onto Guards! Guards!, the first City Watch book.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 103/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

July 1 2021

Shockingly good stories, by RA Spratt

Shockingly good stories

Shockingly good stories, by RA Spratt

Title: Shockingly good stories
Author: RA Spratt
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Comedy. Short stories. Fractured fairy tales

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 have to admit, I’d not read anything by RA Sprett before I picked up this gem. I’ve met her, I’ve admired her passion for storytelling and her ability to engage with her readers, and I’ve gifted many of her books to people in my life (including the reader pictured!) but I’d not gotten around to reading any of her work myself. Shockingly Good Stories is an incredibly entertaining collection of short stories – fractured fairytales from Nanny Piggins, previously unpublished Friday Barnes mysteries, and a bunch of other witty, hilarious and entertaining tall tales. It’s perfect for fans of her work, or for those who need convincing that they should really pull that box set they bought last year off their shelf and get stuck into it! (Yes, self, I’m looking at you.)
One of the things I love the most about the writing in this collection is how much Spratt obviously respects her young readers. Some stories deal with some fairly higher-order concepts, including stereotypical gender roles and discrimination. Spratt manages to handle the complexity of these issues with both brevity and humour, without talking down to her readers – there’s an implicit acknowledgment and respect of the ability of young readers to understand and appreciate the nuances of such ideas. I’m definitely a fan, and will be incorporating some of the storytelling tips scattered throughout the book into any future presentations on why stories matter.
This gem is out tomorrow – it’d be a great gift, or a fab addition to your read-aloud story collection.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 102/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

June 30 2021

Are you there, Buddha? by Pip Harry

Are you there, Buddha?

Are you there, Buddha? by Pip Harry

Title: Are you there, Buddha?
Author: Pip Harry
Genre/ issues: Middle grade. Verse novels. Coming of age.

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.

Happy book birthday to the wonderful Are You There, Buddha? by the very talented Pip Harry. The second I saw this book I was transported back to my early teens, reminded of the impact that Judy Blume’s novel had on me, and I was thrilled to discover that the title was no coincidence. The verse novel introduces us to Bee, whose mother left to find herself in an ashram in India, and whose stepmother gives her a copy of Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret, in her ongoing attempts to connect with her. Bee reluctantly admits that it’s not a completely terrible book, and starts talking to Buddha in an attempt to feel connected with her mother, and begs for her first period to not arrive. Bee is a talented swimmer, and whilst she doesn’t have a close group of friends at school, her BFF Leon is a surfer, a fellow member of the swim team, and the hottest guy in year 8.
We follow Bee through starting high school, navigating a swim season, dealing with family changes, and her experiences with puberty hitting whether she’s ready for it or not, against the backdrop of bush fires, smoke haze and water restrictions. It’s beautifully written, insightfully capturing the voice of a unique, engaging and resilient main character who I quickly loved and cared about. Whilst it’s a beautiful homage to Blume’s timeless novel, Are You There, Buddha? is an important and powerful novel all of its own. A must-read for middle-grade and YA readers who could do with some reassurance that their experiences of navigating family, friends, and their changing bodies are completely normal, as well as adults who could do with the reminder of just what our young people are dealing with. A joyous, sweet and emotional book that is one of my favourites of the year so far.
Content notes (and spoilers): contains description of parental pressure and abuse of a side character, and description of the process of figuring out how tampons work. Neither are extended or explicit, and are presented with a gentle and insightful sensitivity and honesty to support readers and Bee through these experiences. It’s out today- get yourself a copy!

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 101/2021

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 28 2021

Pyramids, by Terry Pratchett

Pyramids

Pyramids, by Terry Pratchett

Title: Pyramids
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre/ issues: Comedy. Fantasy. Discworld.

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.

“The kingdom reassemble[d] itself, like a smashed mirror that is put together again and reflects the same old light in new and unexpected ways.”
Book 7 in the #Discworld series is a standalone, and we meet Teppic as he completes his training with the Assassin’s Guild in Ankh-Morpork. Destiny has other plans for him, though, and shortly after passing his brutal final exams he inherits the throne of his desert kingdom Djelibeybi earlier than expected. Playing with notions of mythology, traditional, inheritance and mathematics, it’s incredibly funny, and one of the first books in the series I remember reading back when I was an undergrad. It’s been a joy to revisit it!

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 99/2021

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 24 2021

Paper Girls and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (vol 2)

comics

Paper Girls and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

Title: Paper Girls volume 2
Author: Brian K Vaughan
Illustrator: Cliff Chiang
Genre/ issues: Comics. Sci-fi. Time travel. Mystery.

Title: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl volume 2
Author: Ryan North
Illustrator: Erica Henderson
Genre/ issues: Comics. Sci-fi. Superheroes.

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 couple more comics off my huge comic TBR shelf! I’ve read volume 2 of both Paper Girls and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl over the past couple of days, and I think there are as many commonalities between them as there are differences.
📚Paper Girls by Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Chiang is a kick ass sci-fi mystery comic about a group of newspaper delivery girls from the 80s. Think punk, Stranger Things, Stand By Me and War of the Worlds with some time travel thrown in for good measure. I love the non-nonsense get shit done approach of these fab 12 year old girls, and I am OBSESSED with the colouring in this comic. It’s unapologetically saturated in shades of pink and purple, and manages to simultaneously evoke the atmosphere of the narrative whilst playing with the stereotypes of feminine colours – this is a girls story, but there’s nothing weak or princessy about it. Or rather, these princesses take no shit. Adding volumes 3 and 4 to my Kings Comics cart, stat!
📚I’ve had Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson on my radar since I first met my awesome friend Penny, but I only started reading it last year, and as I sunk into volume 2 I remembered just why I love her. She’s kind, funny, unapologetically enthusiastic, and a fantastic friend. Plus, she’s STRONG. Infinity War would have been a different film if they’d just tweeted Doreen to pop on over to “eat nuts and kick butts”. But her real strength is her empathy, which runs through every panel of this fab collection of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl numbers 5-8. Adding more to my cart? Why yes, yes I am. How did you guess?

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 95-96/2021

Happy reading,

Tamara

 

 

June 22 2021

A pile of picture books

 

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.

Picture booksTitle: Eyes that kiss in the corners
Author: Joanna Ho
Illustrator: Dung Ho
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Asian representation. Diversity and acceptance.

Title: I am every good thing
Author: Derrick Barnes
Illustrator: Gordon C James
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Black excellence. 

Title: I am perfectly designed
Author: Karamo Brown
Illustrator:
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Family. Self esteem.

📚Eyes That Kiss in the Corners  a love story to family connections and to celebrating oneself. A young girl notices her eyes are different to her friends … but her eyes kiss in the corners and shine glow like warm tea, crinkle like crescent moons, and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future. It’s a beautiful book, and one is highly recommend.

📚I Am Every Good Thing is a powerful celebration of Black boyhood, of all the amazing features that make each individual special and unique and wonderful. Stunning artwork, and a powerful emphasis on the importance of recognising your place in the community of strong men who have come before you.

📚And continuing the theme of “books which celebrate YOU”, I am Perfectly Designed. Super sweet illustrations with a diverse range of skin colours represented, it tells the story of a conversation between a father and son reminiscing on their past experiences together, and about how perfectly designed they are for each other and for the role they play in the world. So lovely, it’s be a wonderful text to read with someone you love to remind them how special they are.
Picture books setTitle: Oona
Author: Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrator:
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Fantasy. Exploration

Title: Ernest the Elephant
Author: Anthony Browne
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Exploration. Family. 

Title: Small in the city
Author: Sydney Smith
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Isolation. City life.

📚Oona is a fabulous mermaid with an appetite for adventure, by @kellydipucchio and @rizzyfig. She spends her time treasure hunting with her pal Otto, and she’s got her eye on a particularly sparkly treasure, but it lurks too far down in the deep for her to reach. Does she look like that’s going to stop her, though? I adore this book, and I’m always enthralled by illustrations that are obviously 2d but convey such a sense of movement and life. This is a gem!

📚The Shape Game by Anthony Browne is one of my favourite picture books to teach, so when I saw Ernest the Elephant I knew I’d be adding it to my pile. Ernest is on a trek with his family when he spots the forest, and despite warnings from his mother, he decides to go exploring … but of course he gets lost! Vibrant, engaging, and as full of life and hidden adventures as you would expect from this master artist.
📚Small in the City, by Sydney Smith. Wow. It’s hard to capture in a brief description what this book is about, because the deceptively simple narrative about being lost in the city is so multilayered and complex. It’s visually stunning, and lends itself to a number of rereadings as you get lost alongside our protagonist. This could definitely be a favourite for the year.
I didn’t select these three books to be posted together for any particular reason, but now I’m realising that they all have the overarching theme of finding your way in your world as someone small – in the ocean, forest or city, there’s always a place for the littlest of us. If you’re after a book for a little person in your life, you can’t go wrong with any of these, but I’d perhaps recommend Smith’s as suitable for older readers as well. It’s be a great text for visual analysis in an upper primary context I think!

Picture booksTitle: Where the heart is
Author: Irma Gold
Illustrator:
Genre/ issues: Picture books. True story. Environment.

Title: Hike
Author: Pete Oswald
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Worldless. Family. 

Title: Leilong the library bus
Author: Julia Liu
Illustrator: Bei Lynn
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Libraries. Stories.

Title: The art of words
Author: Robert Vescio
Illustrator: Joanna Bartel
Genre/ issues: Picture books. Words and language.

📚Where The Heart Is, by @irma.gold and @oh.susannah.illustration is the beautiful story of Bindim, a young penguin who washes up on the beach in Brazil and is rescued by Joao who nursed him back to health. Based on a true story, it’s a lovely celebration of the power of friendship, and it’s so beautifully illustrated!
📚Hike by @peteoswald follows a father and son on a hike. Almost completely wordless apart from some onomatopoeiaic words, it’s utterly lovely, displaying both the beauty of nature and of the bond between parent and child. Stunning.
📚I can’t resist a picture book about libraries. A dinosaur library book? Hell yes! Leilong the Library Bus by Julia Liu and Bei Lynn sees Leilong try to join his friends at Storytime – but he doesn’t have a library card and is too big to successfully follow the rules! A super cute book which emphasises that libraries are for everyone.
📚The Art of Words by Robert Vescio and Joanna Bartel is my favourite kind of book – one that celebrates the magic and power of words, with a nod to the important role that punctuation can play in how we engage with words. An absolute gem.

#TamaraReads #2021readingchallenge 85-94/2021

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