Review: Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

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Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee is a fantastic tale of internet fame,  summer holidays, and friendship! After totally adoring the author’s other book, Lucky Few, I was really keen to try this one.  Plus, you know, I might’ve wanted to see if I could glean tips on how to get half a million followers over night on social media. As you do when reading these kind of books.  That might not have happened, but I still absolutely adored this hilarious, sweet, and addictive story! I was also really keen to finally read a book with an asexual protagonist, because asexuality seems woefully underrepresented in Young Adult books. And, of course, this book features a lot of appreciation for Russian literature. (Hey, Tolstoy on the front cover!)

The story basically follows Tash who runs a web-vlog series that’s a modern adaption of Anna Karenina that suddenly goes viral. It’s acted out by her friends and classmates and they take filming very seriously. Tash directs and writes scripts with her best-friend, Jack, and they’re a bit of a salt and vinegar mix, but truly do love each other. Jack and her brother Paul are like Tash’s “siblings from another mother” and they’re all super close. Although Tash might have a small crush on Paul, something she thinks she can never act on because she’s asexual and doesn’t think Paul would want a relationship without sex. Life turns even more complicated when the sudden fame also brings slews of haters and trolls out. Tash has to figure out how to balance this without being paralysed from creating and without pushing her friends away in an attempt to keep everything afloat.

The book also has such a nice summer-vibe, with plenty of banter amongst friends as well as work in their web-series. It was just so pleasurable to read! I loved the character dynamics the most. You end up just wanting to faceplant yourself into the book so you can hang out with Tash, Paul, and Jack and basically never leave. It takes an excellent book to bring the characters off the page so well!

Now don’t fear if you don’t know much about Russian literature! I still found the book entirely awesome despite (a) never having read Anna Katerina, or (b) not actually being a youtuber myself! There was still so much to be engaged with and connect to.

Plus I really appreciated the fact that it was so internet-focused. I mean, I’m a blogger and tweeter, so just reading about teens who share the same internet-centric interests as me was really refreshing and fun!

I also liked how it did show the darker side of “fame”, especially on the internet. Things can get quite snide and snarky very fast online, and the story didn’t paint a purely rosy picture of what was going on. It was realistic and also super interesting!

Shout out to the friendships for being the absolute best! Tash’s dynamics with her neighbours were so much fun. And I enjoyed getting to know (although slowly) the rest of the cast of her vlog-crew. There are a LOT of characters here, though, which took a bit of getting used to. But I have such a weakness for childhood-friends growing up together, and it’s stinkin’ adorable.

The writing style features lots of banter and wit, which was super engaging to read. Plus it was easy to just keep flipping pages! I’d devoured half the book before I even noticed.

Tash Hearts Tolstoy is definitely the kind of book you need in your life. It’s funny and bittersweet, with some occasional sadder undercurrents and some very meaty food-for-thought. I loved the sibling/friendship dynamics and the internet focus! It was just the most pleasant book to read and definitely one to recommend!

Review: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is such a heartwarming WWII story! My cold dead heart warmed like a whole 3 degrees and that is amazing. I loved the visual writing and the copious amounts of scones (!!!) and the adorable protagonist, Ada. British books are always delightfully pleasant. And I do see why this book has won the Newberry award! It’s so beautifully written (if very slowly paced) and definitely a classic to get middle-grade children into reading about the second World War.

9780803740815What’s It About?

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn t waste a minute she sneaks out to join him. So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother? This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity a classic in the making.

It’s an child evacuation story, featuring Ada and her little brother Jamie. They’ve been horribly abused by their mother because Ada is crippled. Her mother finds her repulsive and disgusting and is so cruel to her. Be prepared for some horrible scenes where the mother locks her in cupboards and cuffs her and denies her any happiness. I think the representation of PTSD was spot on. The repercussions of being unwanted your whole life? Ada was forever flinching away and kindness towards her was often met with meltdowns because she had been so unloved her whole life.

Ada also has a clubbed foot. I’ve never read that before! She spent the first 9 years of her life crawling in the dirt because her mother was so disgusted with her disabilitity. Ada’s bravery and strenght are totally to be admired. And it’s understandable that this drove her to a lot of bitterness and anger. This could’ve made her into an unlikeable character who is hard to read about…but it did not! I 100% loved and rooted for Ada.

Ada and Jamie are sent to live with Miss Smith in the English countryside. It reminded me a bit of Good Night Mister Tom and also The Chronicles of Narnia! I loved Miss Susan Smith. She was really snappy and kept claiming she was “not nice”…but the wonderful things she did for those children! It was so heartwarming. I love how she taught them manners and cleanliness and stood up for them when they got into trouble. And also fed them copiously. What a wonderful women. Her growing love for the children was just my favourite thing.

The children also have plenty of adventures in the countryside. There’s horse riding and spies to catch and school to attend. And lots of scones and tea, luv, because this is a British book.

All in all: it was a delightful WWII story with a totally winning protagonist. If you haven’t read much WWII stories, then this is a good one to start with! It’s definitely suitable for ages 9+ I’d imagine. There is parental abuse at the beginning, but it’s not graphic. There’s also death, but this is history. (Plus that is also not graphically described or anything.) Thanks for warming my old soul, little delightful book.

[purchase here]

Double Dipping – Terrific reads for Tweens & Teens

As children shrug off their tween years and enter the tribulation-ridden terrain of teenage hood, the art of telling stories for them becomes more exact and tenuous. Tales still need to entertain yet they must also strike such firm and resounding accord with their intended audience that for readers to abandon them would be like dissing out on themselves or at least, their friends. Two new titles in town, which address each of these age groups with terrific virtuosity flow from the pens of Michael Gerard Bauer and Tamsin Janu and deserve closer scrutiny.

Figgy and the PresidentFiggy and the President is Tamsin Janu’s second book featuring Figgy, a young African village girl with limited world reference but enormous ambition and tenacity. Figgy is one of the most endearing characters I have ever met. She and her Ghanaian friends and family are so richly portrayed; it is a delight to be part of their adventures. The characters are complete enough that this tale could take place almost anywhere. That it is set in Ghana is merely an enriching added bonus. As with Figgy in the World, this story is full of warmth and originality.

Figgy in the WorldIn this current snap shot of Figgy’s life, she and her best friend, Nana dream about their future careers, speculating on their successes and mapping out the paths for their chosen occupations. Trouble is deciding on a career is not as straightforward as Figgy imagines so when she unexpectedly lands a role as an actress in a locally made film, she immediately fancies this might be the future for her.

However just as she embarks on her newfound career, Figgy’s erstwhile absent, now heavily pregnant mama appears throwing Figgy into even more confusion and uncertainty. Figgy is then forced to abandon her own misgivings when Nana is mercilessly ripped out of their lives causing her to attempt to rescue him.

Figgy and the President is a superb story of tenacity, childhood resourcefulness, and friendship that mid primary readers will cherish. It reads with an innocent fluidity that I imagine tween-aged children influenced and shaped by our (often-trivial) First World dilemmas will find entertaining and fascinating, thereby giving rise to a stronger sense of empathy and humanity. A perfect follow up to Figgy in the World but able to be read alone.

Omnibus Books for Scholastic May 2016

It’s no secret that many of Michael Gerard Bauer’s books leave me quaking at the knees, usually with laughter and emotion. Surprisingly, this one is not at the top of my favourites list of his but I have a feeling it will be a hit among gaggles of school guys and gals nonetheless.

The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy and MeThe Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me is a new YA comedy that I initially found cloying (a bit like attempting to swallow a whole clotted-cream-and-jam-smothered-scone in one go) – not just because the title is so mouth-filling but partly due to the rabid use of capital letter actualisation and metaphoric description; this coming from someone with a pathological obsession to metaphoric-ise practically everything (see afore mentioned scone and cream example).  Nevertheless, like my predilection for scones and clotted cream, I could not give it up either. Discomfort is often  born from self -realisation, and whilst the way Maggie Butt thinks and reacts is a painful reminder of my own metaphoric inadequacies, figuratively speaking (and she does this a lot) her behaviour brilliantly mirrors the  psyches of many a teenager  whom I am certain will find this an outrageous and comforting connection.

‘Me’ is Maggie Butt and her teenage life is messy and mucked-up. Every time she gets close to achieving one of her ‘Three Specific and Realistic (life) Goals’ they are lampooned out of the water. There’s a drama queen quality about Maggie I found slightly unnerving at first however Bauer’s injection of sweet satire and ability to weave a generous amount of heart and soul into his storylines saved not only me, but eventually also Maggie and a few others besides.

Michael G BauerBauer seems well accustomed with the fickle affections and feelings of pre-adult youth having raised a couple, taught dozens more and presumably been one himself portraying Maggie and her school mates with a raw sincerity I found touching . His 15-year-old female voice rings alarmingly loud and true, at times almost too convincingly so it is a relief when we are eventually shown Maggie’s true emotional turmoil, her warring desires, and not-to-much-to-ask-for expectations. Sir Tiffy, Sista Lista and a dude on a motor bike all help us (and Maggie) see what really truly matters whilst completing an intricate tapestry (stolen metaphor) of characters and satellite storylines.

In true Bauer style, The Pain…is more than it initially appears. It is wry and cool. It is funny and sensitive. It is a glorious collection of intelligent and side-splitting word play. It is unquestionably a riotous encounter of the teenage kind which connects solidly with today’s reader and transports older ones (like this one) back to nights with Paul Young (figuratively speaking), controversial casual-ware (see the T-shirt incident pg. 146) and thankfully possesses an ending that I’d cross  an ocean of metaphors to experience again.

Witty, relevant, and snappy, this junior novel will appeal in spades to younger YAers, as well.

Omnibus Books for Scholastic May 2016

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What I’m reading this Christmas: Claire Smith, Walker Books

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Claire Smith. Spark

You’re the marketing assistant at Walker Books, Australia, and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and some books you’ve been working with.

Walker Books  (based in Sydney)  is known for its children’s and YA books. Which do you work on/prefer?

Being in marketing and publicity, I’m lucky enough to get to work on most books that we publish. Children’s publishing is one of those great industries where you really do see a variety of work from a wide variety of people. We often have to stop in meetings and ask “Are we really having this intense discussion about a book on the history of poo?” It really does make for some good stories when people ask what you do. From a reading perspective, I really get into our dystopian YA like Rachael Craw’s Spark, but I also love a beautiful picture book and am a big Jon Klassen fan.

This is not my HatYou’re a marketing assistant – what does a marketing assistant do?

A marketing assistant is really a team all-rounder. I get to liaise with our international offices in London and Boston which allows me a sneak peek at some of the great international titles we sell. I’m also lucky enough to work on our community partnerships and get to donate our books to amazing causes and help to get our authors out to smaller community festivals and charity events. The children’s book industry is so incredible and supportive, it is amazing to be a part of and to keep meeting so many great people in the industry.

How did you get this job?

In 2012 I completed a Masters of Publishing at Sydney Uni. This involved getting to know the business and allowed me to complete an internship as part of my studies. I interned for a few months in the publicity department at Hachette and fell in love with the hustle and bustle of being part of a marketing and publicity team. That experience helped me get the job at Walker, which I am incredibly grateful for. For anyone looking to work in publishing, an internship really is the way to get your foot in the door and find out if this industry is one you can see yourself in.

I suspect you love all the books you promote, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of.

I do love all the books we promote! I am especially proud of Spark by Rachael Craw. It was one we all loved as soon as we got our hands on the manuscript. After some incredible work by our editorial team, it was even more spectacular. And my friend Amy did an amazing cover for it that everyone raves about. We met with Rachael and talked about what we can do for her marketing wise, but also what she can do for herself. She took like a duck to water with social media and has been winning fans left, right and centre. We are all really proud of how well Spark and Rachael have done, and so excited for the next book in the series!

What is different/special about Walker Books? 

Where to start with what is special about Walker?!? It is honestly one of the most inclusive and joyous places to be. The people are hard-working, funny, kind and above all so passionate about what they do and the children’s book industry. It is these wonderful people that really help to make the books what they are – their creativity, their eye for quality and their drive to produce the best children’s books available. We are all grateful for the opportunity to work and learn at Walker, and even if we sometimes feel tired or busy, we will all strive to do the best work we can. It really is an awesome place to work, especially for someone just starting out in the industry – getting to learn from these people every day is so wonderful. And getting to be friends with them? Cherry on top!

What are some awards Walker has won that have particular significance for you?

I recently got to attend the KOALA Awards with Bob Graham who won Honour Book for A Bus Called Heaven. It was so A Bus Called Heavenexciting to attend an awards ceremony in a hall full of kids who had been reading all year and who had voted for their favourite books. That really is why we do what we do – so kids can continue to read quality books. It was also really exciting to get to spend time with Bob Graham – who is an absolute master at what he does and one of the sweetest people you will ever meet.

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry?

I think the book industry – especially the children’s industry – has a bright future ahead. Seeing how hard authors, illustrators and publishers work can only mean good things for the industry in general and great things for readers. The children’s industry is also so well connected that everyone who is a part of it is constantly doing their part to make it vibrant, inclusive and fun to be a part of.

What are some must-reads over Christmas?

Christmas reading for me is always those big tomes that were a little too daunting earlier in the year. Last Christmas I managed to get through The Luminaries before the new year started – it’s great to be able to give all your attention to a book without anything else getting in the way.

The LuminariesWhat is your secret reading pleasure?

At the moment I’ve become a little obsessed with crime fiction. I flew through all three Gillian Flynn novels, including Gone Girl, and am now reading anything I can get my hands on by the wonderful Irish author Tana French. Her prose is fantastic and I love anything with a good twist at the end. I don’t know that much about Ireland, but her novels are great regardless.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Claire. The Secret Place