Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

Published: 26th  June 2018
Publisher:
Simon and Schuster
Pages: 372
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

After a shout-out from one of the Internet’s superstar vloggers, Natasha “Tash” Zelenka suddenly finds herself and her obscure, amateur web series, Unhappy Families, thrust in the limelight: She’s gone viral. Her show is a modern adaption of Anna Karenina–written by Tash’s literary love Count Lev Nikolayevich “Leo” Tolstoy. Tash is a fan of the 40,000 new subscribers, their gushing tweets, and flashy Tumblr gifs. Not so much the pressure to deliver the best web series ever. And when Unhappy Families is nominated for a Golden Tuba award, Tash’s cyber-flirtation with a fellow award nominee suddenly has the potential to become something IRL–if she can figure out how to tell said crush that she’s romantic asexual. Tash wants to enjoy her newfound fame, but will she lose her friends in her rise to the top? What would Tolstoy do?

I bought this book because of the high praise of asexuality rep and I’m glad I did because it is a great book. Alice Oseman has set a high standard with Loveless but what I liked about this was that is showed not all LGBTQIA books have to be the same. Some are about coming out, some are about realising your identity, some are about living your life and your gender and sexuality has nothing to do with any of it but is still represented. Tash Hearts Tolstoy is a little bit of all three.

There’s diversity without it being a focal point, Tash’s family is split between Buddhism and Eastern Orthodox Chrisian, as well as a celebration of different cultures. I love how things are a non-issue so the things that are an issue become the focus. The divide in the family between food preference and faith is easily managed and has become a routine practice in the family. The celebration of family is a huge factor which highlights how close knit and important family is to Tash and I loved seeing it discussed and expressed so beautifully, both through absence, distance and change.

The story explores friendship and family dynamics really well and the complexities of friendships as you grow up. Knowing someone their whole life doesn’t mean you know everything about them and people’s own assumptions can cause tensions and Ormsbee shows this throughout.

Ormsbee gives us a strong family bond but also shows that they’re not perfect and you never know what’s going on inside people’s heads. The imperfect sisterly relationship shows that there’s no rule that sisters have to get along and I loved how Tash acknowledges that being close in age doesn’t mean that sisters will be best friends.

To her credit, Ormsbee blends all of these complicated feelings and topics together well. A lot of themes are touched on throughout but they sit comfortably side by side and mix together well that it never feels like too much is happening.

I loved the exploration of YouTube and making a web series. I have watched some fantastic web series over the years and despite having never read Anna Karenina I would love to see how Tash’s web series was done. I liked Tash’s complexity as a character, her love of Tolstoy, her ambitions as a film maker, but also her side vlog about reading and tea shows how invested in the online and book community she is.

The built up to the awards was done so well and we see Tash fall deep down the rabbit hole of internet fame and juggling fans and subscribers and being a team player. I also loved the ending because Tash’s growth and reflections are important and Ormsbee could have ended it so many ways but I loved the route she took.

I bought this for the asexuality rep but I think I ended up loving it for everything else. The story flows easily and you keep turning the page, the story pulling you along. Even when I picked it up with the intent of only reading a few pages I found myself drawn back in to this story of Tash and her web series and these characters and couldn’t put it down until I had finished it.

You can purchase Tash Hearts Tolstoy via the following

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An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (#1) by Hank Green

Published: 25th September 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Dutton
Pages: 343
Format: Paperback
Genre: Science Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

The Carls just appeared.

Roaming through New York City at three AM, twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship—like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armour—April and her best friend, Andy, make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day, April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world—from Beijing to Buenos Aires—and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the centre of an intense international media spotlight.

Seizing the opportunity to make her mark on the world, April now has to deal with the consequences her new particular brand of fame has on her relationships, her safety, and her own identity. And all eyes are on April to figure out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.

I waited a very long time for this book and it did not disappoint when it finally came. I was excited to see what Hank Green’s stories would be like given his love for science fiction as well as his internet experience and what I got was an absolutely remarkable story (I had to I’m sorry!).

Green pulls you along with intrigue and a casual writing style that you fall into comfortably. There’re also so many twists and turns that keep you guessing throughout that it’s hard to put it down for want of knowing what is happening next. The mystery of the Carls and their influence on the world plus April’s involvement and the impact it has on her life is so gripping and astounding it really shows the highs and low of internet fame.

You can certainly see Hank’s years of YouTube knowledge and experience coming through, also perhaps in part his experience of internet fame, maybe not to the extent shown in the book, but it feels like it stems from truth. I liked how we are shown the best and absolute worst of the internet and it never sounded exaggerated or unbelievable. Parts of this story also reminded me of Ready Player One which was delightful because I adore that book, but I think that’s just my mind seeing similarities.

I loved the complicated, flawed characters and their friendships and connections with one another. April’s friendship with Andy, as well as her relationship with her girlfriend, could be just as complicated and messy as the drama surrounding the Carls. Human nature is on show and the behaviour of society felt real and scary and the imperfectness of these characters was refreshing in a way.

The ending was the best kick in the guts you could ever want and because so much has happened you don’t even know how to process it. After going on this wild adventure and all that happens my mind pretty much short circuited when it finished and then the intense desire of not only wanting but needing the sequel kicked in.

You can purchase An Absolutely Remarkable Thing via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack

Published: 1st May 2018 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Little Bee Books
Illustrator: Stevie Lewis
Pages: 40
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

In this modern fairy tale, a noble prince and a brave knight come together to defeat a terrible monster and in the process find true love in a most unexpected place.

“Thank you,” he told his parents. “I appreciate that you tried, but I’m looking for something special in a partner by my side.”

Once upon a time, in a kingdom far from here, there was a prince in line to take the throne, so his parents set out to find him a kind and worthy bride. The three of them travelled the land far and wide, but the prince didn’t quite find what he was looking for in the princesses they met.

I love this book so much.

The story follows the same fairy tale style as you’d expect but the prince doesn’t want to choose from his line-up of princess suitors – he wants a suitor of a different kind. I love this because it maintains the fairy tale structure without diverting or changing it and instead it substitutes one character for another with no consequences.

The illustrations are absolutely beautiful. I cannot stress enough how beautiful Lewis’ illustrations are. They are colourful and full of depth and a few of them I even wanted to hang on my wall they were so wonderful.

This is a fabulous story and one I’m glad exists. It has all the classic fairy tale elements like a prince looking to marry, dragons, kingdoms in peril, everything you need but with some more diversity and representation.

You can purchase Prince & Knight via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Two Weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleitzman

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 4th March 1999
Publisher:
Penguin
Pages: 133
Format: Paperback
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

“Dear Your Majesty the Queen,

I need to speak to you urgently about my brother Luke. He’s got cancer and the doctors in Australia are being really slack. If I could borrow your top doctor for a few days I know he/she would fix things in no time. Of course Mum and Dad would pay his/her fares even if it meant selling the car or getting a loan. Please contact me at the above address urgently.

Yours sincerely,
Colin Mudford.

P.S.
This is not a hoax.
Ring the above number and Aunty Iris will tell you.
Hang up if a man answers.

I know this probably doesn’t quite count as a true LGBTQIA book so I may be cheating a little here including it in my Pride Month. I first read this for uni back in 2009 and really enjoyed it. I loved the play on words Gleitzman has with the title and I liked how such a short story could contain such deep and meaningful content while still being simple and at times even humerous.

The narrative is told through Colin’s third person perspective and it’s a great tactic to understand Colin’s age and mindset. His naivety and childlike logic about what is happening and how every problem has a simple solution or was an egregious injustice made you understand that even at twelve Colin’s world had simple answers and solutions.

When I first read it I don’t remember thinking how strange it was to send Colin away to England while his brother was sick. I understand the reasoning of his parents but I also feel that it would be a terrible and selfish thing to do and I love how this is reflected in the story. Colin’s various schemes to cure his brother are fanciful but full of heart and with the logic of a twelve year old who doesn’t know any better they make perfect sense in his head.

It is a fleeting moment Colin spends with Griff and Ted, fleeting really in a lot of ways because of the length of the story but Gleitzman has captured a lot of heart, a lot of innocence and a lot of compassion in a light on the outside deep and moving on the inside narrative. Having Colin know and understand about AIDS and homosexuality as well as the slurs used towards gay men at the time is beneficial because the narrative explains it to readers through Colin’s comprehension without it needing true explanations from adults in the story. I also liked that Gleitzman has him knowledgeable about these things but doesn’t let the stigma interfere with his good nature and kindness.

The realism is beautiful and heartbreaking and Gleitzman balances this sweet story of a kid writing to the queen and trying to track down doctors to help his brother alongside serious social issues and medical realities that don’t always have a happily ever after.

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silveri

Published: 18th October 2018
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Childrens Books
Pages: 437
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

I love collaboration novels because it is interesting to see the two different authors and voices coming together to make a single story. Both Albertalli and Silvera bring their characters to life on the page and their uniqueness and their complicated relationships and histories are captivating to read which results in an incredibly sweet story that pulls you along through the endearment of the two narrators.

This is a massive character driven novel. The relationships each character has with their friends and family is the centre point of their lives and the different relationships they have with those around them drive this story. The combination of the quiet, reserved Ben with outgoing and talkative Arthur sounds like it wouldn’t work but it does, they are super cute together and watching them fall in love and develop a friendship in unconventional and uncertain steps was great. Both Arthur and Ben are flawed but they also are allowed to grow in this story and find their feet which is amazing.

I love Arthur’s optimism and hope in the world around him, but I also love that he isn’t entirely idealistic either and understands there are harsh realities in the world as well. Compared to Ben’s introverted life of playing Sims and writing a fantasy novel the two are total opposites in some aspects but have a lot of similarities in others. Their personalities come across so well on the page that Arthur jumps right off while Ben’s reserved nature sits quietly in the background.

Ben’s story explores the issues about people overlooking his culture and assumptions made based solely on appearances. I like that he gets to show off his culture at home so freely and that we understand as readers without it feeling like a Message is being forced upon us. Ben’s conversations are important and perfectly suited in story and even with misunderstandings it’s a great way to get Arthur and Ben to get to know each other, it adds to the fragility of their relationship and the newness of knowing one another.

As someone who hates being late to things I cannot cope with Ben’s complete casual nature of being late to everything. It would drive me absolutely insane, especially if there are reservations or starting times to adhere to. So that is some fun stress and anxiety in the story I can side with Arthur on. I loved though how these factors impact on their fragile relationship, which is an odd thing to say I know, but sometimes it doesn’t always need to be huge events, sometimes people conflict and clash over little things and that’s where tension comes from.

There are cute romance scenes and small gestures, little relationship moments that make you smile; Arthur and Ben respect each other’s limitations and boundaries, and their nervousness and eagerness to know one another is incredibly sweet while they try and work out what they’re doing. These two make even the simplest things seem sweet and wonderful. The entire world revolves around them and even when other friends get involved, it is so much the Ben and Arthur show it’s pure delight going on this road of discovery with them both.

Do-overs are a big factor in this and I for one would like a do over of that ending because I demand more concrete answers and the ending I have fabricated in my mind while nice may not be right. Thank goodness there is a sequel coming because I cannot not know how this plays out. I love these two and I need to stay invested in their lives for a lot longer.

You can purchase What If It’s Us via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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