"I felt like I would only have one shot to get the scene right." - An Interview With Robin Benway

Robin Benway
Credit: Lovato Images
Hi Robin! Congratulations on the success of your latest book, Far From The Tree. How did the idea for this one evolve?
The idea originally came from a Florence + the Machine song, of all things! I was sitting in the car when “Cosmic Love” started playing on the radio and it immediately made me think of familial love and all of the different ways that people can create their family.

The topic of adoption is fascinating to read about but must take a lot of thought and care. What kind of research did you do whilst writing the book?
I spoke to anyone that would speak to me about adoption and foster care: attorneys, adoptive parents, foster parents, adoptees, social workers. I was also fortunate to speak with several people who were kind enough to share some details of their lives with me. That really helped me discover more about Maya and Joaquin’s families, and how to best portray their individual struggles. Without the generosity of all of these people, Far From The Tree would not exist.

I loved reading about Grace’s struggle over her own adoption story and how much to tell her siblings. What inspires the way you write about family dynamics?
I love writing about families more than anything because they provide so much material for me – how they’re made, broken, and built again. Your family is an inherent part of you, so it’s fascinating to me to explore how different people accept and deal with that. For Grace, she’s struggling not only with the adoption of her daughter, but also how to present this news to Maya and Joaquin. She’s trying to put her best foot forward, but often times in families, things get complicated.

What was the most challenging scene for you to write and why?
There’s a scene in the book where Grace receives a handwritten letter from the adoptive parents of her daughter. In the days leading up to that scene, I was so nervous and cranky because I felt like I would only have one shot to get the scene right. Sometimes as a writer, you can overthink a scene to the point where it no longer feels natural when you put it down on the page. And other times, you can underthink it and then it’s sloppy and underserves the characters. I just wanted to make sure that I could write it well the first time, so I went to a local café, sat in the back facing a wall, and typed out the letter while crying. That was the turning point of the book for me, and everything from that point on felt much more manageable.
As it all comes down to family, Far From The Tree is such a fantastic title for this book – is there a story behind it?
It’s from the saying “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” which means that children are like their parents. I don’t necessarily think that that’s true, but I liked the idea of all three siblings being united in this family, and yet so far away from each other, both physically and emotionally.

Refinishing furniture stage one
I’ve read a lot about your journey into becoming an author and I’m sure in many ways you’re living the dream. What are the best and worst parts of being an author?
The best part is being independent and not having to go into an office every day. I love being able to work from home, on my own schedule, and have the time to figure out my stories. The downside is that it’s not a particularly steady job and sometimes it can be stressful when an idea’s not working and your publisher or agent is asking when the next book will be ready. At the end of the day, you have to send your book out into the world and hope people will love it as much as you do.

I’ve seen your advice for writers being to really live life and have experiences to write about. When you’re not writing, what do you like to be doing?
Refinishing furniture stage two
One of my favourite hobbies is refinishing furniture! I love repainting dressers and polishing drawer pulls and hunting for used treasures. It’s a nice way to turn off my brain. I also love to go for walks and make playlists. More often than not, if I’m stuck on a particular scene, going for a walk will help unlock it.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done? 
Quit my job and became a full-time writer. I still can’t quite believe that I did it.

What else do you want to achieve or do in your life? 
Refinishing furniture stage three, the final look
I want to go to Iceland and see the Northern Lights, I want to finally be able to do a headstand in yoga, I want to spend more time with my family, and I want to be able to keep writing books.

Lastly, what have you read recently that you’ve enjoyed?
Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. I read it in one fell swoop on a plane and loved it.

You can get Far From The Tree here.


REVIEW: Goodbye, Perfect - Sara Barnard

Goodbye, Perfect - Sara Barnard
Published by Pan Macmillan on 8th February 2018.
My rating: 5/5
Book depository purchase link.

I was so excited to read Goodbye, Perfect. Mostly because it's by one of my favourite YA authors, Sara Barnard, who is fantastic at touching on really important topics and making them completely compelling at stories. 

Just like Barnard's other books Beautiful Broken Things and A Quiet Kind Of Thunder, Goodbye, Perfect is rooted in friendship. Eden and Bonnie are our two leading characters and they're best friends. Where Eden is relaxed about her studies, Bonnie is dedicated. Where Bonnie struggles to relax, Eden brings the fun. That's why Eden doesn't see it coming when Bonnie runs away. With her boyfriend. The music teacher. 

Eden quickly buries herself in a web of lies to support Bonnie but begins to wonder how she could have missed such a big part of Bonnie's life. The story quickly becomes addictive as Eden is one of those characters that could walk off the page and into your life. The plot may be intense, but her teenage perspective gives the book a level of humour and adds some much-needed lightness.

The way that Bonnie is both a victim to her relationship with Mr Cohn yet also sometimes so manipulative over Eden makes her one of the most interesting characters I've read about in a long time. However, now that I've talked about most of the key characters, can we have a moment of appreciation for how nice Eden's boyfriend Connor was? I would've loved a boyfriend like that at 15. When Eden's pushing for an argument, he always manages to say something that makes her smile. His skinny, non-masculine, body and his care-giving for his family made him a genuine guy and we need more Connors in YA! It made me realise how many YA novels focus on handsome, 'perfect' guys who date flawed female protagonists. I put 'perfect' in '' because actually I think Connor is a lot closer to perfect than the rest of them.*

*Must remind myself that he is a) way too young for me and b) fictional*

Goodbye, Perfect calls into question friendship, love, responsibility, morality and so much more. For all those people who might trivialise YA fiction, this book stands up and screams: "WE MATTER!"

I hope I've convinced you to pick this book up or, if you've already read it, that you should leave a comment with your thoughts. I'm just going to say it - Goodbye, Perfect is Barnard's best book yet.

Love, Jess

Thank you Pan Macmillan for my copy.

REVIEW: I Am Thunder - Muhammad Khan

I Am Thunder - Muhammad Khan
Published by Pan Macmillan on 25th January 2018.
My rating: 5/5
Book depository purchase link.

Finally, a book about an issue that's at the front of many people's minds. One that doesn't shy away from issues that could be offensive or controversial. I long for this kind of story. What's the point in avoiding one of the most obvious issues in our society today? There has been a huge gap in the YA market for a book on radicalisation and here it is. More importantly, it's told from exactly the right voice.

Muzna is a British girl with parents from Pakistan. They mix up traditional Pakistani values with Islam in the way they raise her and Muzna gets irritated by their lack of consistency. They have decided that she's going to become a doctor, not an author like she wants. She feels a gap between them. 

That gap is filled by Arif, an attractive guy at Muzna's new school. He quickly sticks up for her in class and from there a friendship is formed. Arif is funny, loyal and understanding of Muzna's problems. He gets what her parents miss. 

As Muzna begins to develop feelings for Arif, her whole perspective on Islam, Pakistan, womanhood and what it means to be British shifts. She feels ashamed around Arif's older brother Jameel and makes some changes to find her new self. But this is self-discovery like no other YA novel.

Written with the gripping pace of a thriller but the characterisation of The Hate U Give, the book progressed to a breath-taking final few chapters, making it a story I won't forget for a long time. In fact, I read it back in October and it's still playing on my mind. Muzna is a fierce female character with a story that will shake you.

This book is bold. 

I adored the writing style and the ability to open the pages and climb into Muzna's head. It's a space I haven't spent much time in but I find endlessly fascinating. Whatever your background is, whatever your reading taste is, this book is essential for your TBR.

It is a story on radicalisation during the war on terror.  It's a story with characters that could be real people. Nothing could be more timely or powerful. Perhaps Muhammad Khan is the strongest new voice in YA. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Love, Jess

Thank you to Pan Macmillan for my copy.

What If Time Was Currency? Reviewing Everless By Sara Holland

Everless - Sara Holland
Published by Orchard on 4th January 2018.
My rating: 4/5
Book depository purchase link.

What if time was currency? If you did something right, you gained an hour. If you did something wrong, you lost one. Or a day, a month, a year. It's a terrifying concept and one embodied in Sara Holland's new fantasy series, Everless.

Jules needs more money to pay the rent and more time because it seems that her father is running out. In this world, there is only one option - go to Everless and work for the royal family. Against her father's wishes, Jules does just that. But then she wonders why he was so desperate to stop her.

As someone who doesn't read much fantasy and is often put-off by the overused trends and staples of the genre, I was impressed with Everless. I loved the descriptive writing style because it made me feel like I had been to Everless and that really helped me connect to the story. The luxury life of that small portion of society starkly contrasts the home that Jules has grown up in and gives it a Hunger-Games-esque feel. 

Unlike The Hunger Games, there is love in this story but it's far from the focal point and I respected that. It's refreshing to have a series that is more about the girl and her power. It takes a real badass to confront mortality like that. I can only compare this to Cinder but with a far darker and more twisted edge...

While I thoroughly enjoyed reading Everless at the time, it's not stuck with me as much as I hoped and the twists and turns of the plot have grown foggy for me already. Yet, for me, it's more about standing out in the moment. It did that very well. Fantasy readers, you have to try this.

Love, Jess

Thank you Orchard for my copy.

Girl In Snow: Paula Hawkins Meets Megan Abbott

Girl In Snow - Danya Kukafka
Published by Picador on 11th January 2018.
My rating: 5/5
Book depository purchase link.

This snowy weekend, I tried something new. I did Readathon By Zoe for my YouTube channel. It's a 24 hour period to read as much as you wish. Considering that I've had very little time to read on the weekends lately and I always say Oh, I'll read that on the weekend, I needed this. I blocked the day out, I picked some books and I am so glad I did.

To begin the readathon, I read Girl In Snow. It seemed a fitting title for the winter season and I was in the mood for a thriller. Not to mention, this cover is absolutely stunning and one of my favourites of 2018 already. I've seen so little about Girl In Snow and was surprised to find that it's been out since August (at least as an eBook). Seems a bit of a strange time to publish a book that's all about the cold. 

The novel is set with the premise of a death. A 15 year old girl is found in the snow by the night janitor at the local school. The police come and they draw up suspects. The parents, the ex-boyfriend, the stalker, the janitor. Three perspectives  draw a picture of what really happened, Cameron, Jade and Russ. Cameron is a social outcast, Jade seems to have no emotions and Russ is the police officer with a questionable past. 

The literary prose is absolutely stunning and hints that Kukafka could be a classic writer of her generation. Fuelled by characters, this story is all about perception. How one character perceives another, how we as the readers perceive them, how they anticipate being perceived. It shapes their actions and their stance and I loved exploring each of them. 

The chronology is all over the place. The story is divided into the days straight after the body is discovered but within each perspective there are flashbacks that are scattered across the previous years. Each section is short and provides just enough detail to lull you in, but not enough to give you any firm suspects on 'who did it'. 

Paula Hawkins meets Megan Abbott in this chilling story of what it means to really know someone. I urge you to pick it up.

Love, Jess

Thank you Picador for my copy.

REVIEW: The Inexplicable Logic Of My Life - Benjamin Alire Sáenz

The Inexplicable Logic Of My Life - Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Simon & Schuster on 30th November 2017.
My rating: 4/5
Book depository purchase link.

Please do not judge this book by the cover. The cover does not do it justice. It may be packaged in a paperback with a stereotypical starry backdrop and some questionable font, but the story inside is utterly enchanting.

Sal lives with his adopted father, who is Mexican and gay. He has a best friend called Sam who despises her mother and a friend called Fito whose mum is a drug addict. The story follows Sal as he and his friends go through a particularly tough year. Full of loss, bullying and change, they have to learn how to adapt and that fundamentally comes down to being confident in who they are. 

We live in Sal's mind and this coming-of-age story is unique in that Sal isn't just the guy who is sitting quietly in the corner like a wallflower, but he's the guy that throws punches. He's overwhelmed with emotion and questioning whether who he is comes down to his biological father. It's a question of nature vs nurture.

Written in the almost philosophical style of John Green, with quirky characters and deep meaning, The Inexplicable Logic Of My Life tackles some big issues. You can tell that much from the title. But it brings them to light in such a gentle way that I found it a smooth read. I was triggered in parts by the loss, but quickly reigned in by the thoughtfulness that surrounded these sections.

I loved the short chapters and found myself flying through this story even though it's over 400 pages long. Sal and Sam have a Word For The Day and many chapters begin or result in them picking a word that entirely sums up the events. It's clear that Benjamin Alire Sáenz feels passionately about the power of words. Not only did his characters discuss words as a topic, but it felt like each word of his novel was chosen with care.

I finished reading this book a week ago and it's still circling around my mind and that's why it's taken me so long to sit down and write this review. I've since bought Aristotle and Dante Uncover The Secrets Of The Universe as an audiobook because I need more. I completely see why people rave about Sáenz.

If you love John Green and Patrick Ness or if you want some slightly heavier YA, this one's for you.

Love, Jess

Thank you Simon & Schuster for my copy.

REVIEW: Some Kind Of Wonderful - Giovanna Fletcher

Some Kind Of Wonderful - Giovanna Fletcher
Published by Michael Joseph on 16th November 2017.
My rating: 5/5
Book depository purchase link.

I hadn't read something with relationship drama, female empowerment or best friends in ages and when I saw the blurb for Some Kind Of Wonderful, I was instantly excited. 

Lizzy and Ian met in their first year of university and have been a couple ever since. 10 years have gone by and in that time life has been safe, steady (or as the Tories would have you believe, strong and stable). The only thing is, they still haven't taken the next step and Lizzy is still waiting on a proposal. In their relationship, this kind of move needs to come from Ian. Lizzy is completely invested in their relationship but it's always seemed that Ian isn't quite there yet. Will he ever be?

When I came home from work to find that Some Kind Of Wonderful had reached me, I literally jumped around with excitement. I dropped the book I had already started and threw myself straight into Lizzy and Ian's world. It had to be done.

The book began in the most heartbreaking way, with a holiday to Dubai that should have resulted in the proposal that Lizzy was longing for. Instead, Ian turned out to be cruel and heartless and Lizzy returned without even a boyfriend. Just imagining losing a 10 year relationship gave me the chills. I can't begin to imagine how horrible that would be.

With Lizzy's life completely overturned, she moved back in with her mum and revisited her teenage self. This is where the book becomes a story of self-discovery and finding what it means to be happy. I loved Lizzy's rambling voice. She overthinks and stresses and pressurises herself until she can't think straight anymore and needs a good night with her best friend, Connie. Her family is even more entertaining, especially Michelle, Lizzy's younger sister. She's a few steps ahead of Lizzy in life - with marriage and children on the horizon. Their dynamics were always pushing the limit between friendship and rivalry in the best kind of way. 

Giovanna Fletcher is one of my favourite vloggers and I loved her shoutouts to certain messages I recognised from her channel, like CoppaFeel and her opinions on breastfeeding. It really made this book a Gi book and just like her backlist, notably Dream A Little Dream, I loved it.

Some Kind Of Wonderful was exactly the kind of entertaining winter read I was looking for. The spark of people coming together, shaping each other and pushing themselves towards contentedness is exactly what the season is about. As well as sisters calling each others bitches and all that....

So that's why I'd recommend giving it a go and if you already have, let me know what you thought.

Love, Jess

Thank you to Michael Joseph for my copy.

Meet The Impress Prize Winner 2016 - Magdelana McGuire

Home Is Nearby - Magdalena McGuire
Published by Impress Books on 1st November 2017.
My Rating: 3.5/5
Book depository purchase link.

The Impress Prize is known for bringing out the best of debut adult fiction and the 2015 winner, The Joyce Girl, remains to be one of my favourite works of historical fiction. So, to receive a proof copy of the 2016 winner, Home Is Nearby, was exciting. I knew the team of judges would have picked something special. I saved it for my holiday to York recently because what's more fitting than a historical book for a historic city?

Ania comes from a rural village in Poland where she lived with her father. When she meets Dominik at university, her whole perspective on life shifts. She begins discovering her artistic talents and her creativity emerges. Unfortunately, so does the Polish Crisis of the 1980s. As censorship becomes the new norm, Ania must find a way to balance her career, loyalty and friendships in a country that is spiralling out of recognition.

The Polish Crisis is a part of history that I've never learnt much about. Really, it's embarrassing. Ania's story brought that whole world to life for me in a literary style. Magdalena's writing is every bit as brilliant as I thought it would be, capturing Ania's anguish and her determination in one powerful tone. I appreciate good literary fiction and I'm picky when it comes to writing that is overdone and stupidly complex so I'm glad to say that McGuire got the balance just right.

As Ania found herself, and lost herself, I found myself wincing at her awful situations. She's quite a moral character so when crap happened, I sympathised with her completely. She's a good person trying to make the best of a difficult situation. Her relationship with Dominik is painfully real and I was completely rooting for them throughout the novel. 

In spite of all the dark times that Ania goes through, this book brought a bit of light to my holiday to York. I urge you to pick it up if you're after high quality story-telling this autumn.

Love, Jess

Thank you Impress Books for my copy.

YA Thrillers: The New Trend?

It's not secret that my two favourite categories are YA and thrillers. When I found out that one of my favourite adult thriller writers, C L Taylor, was turning her attention to young adults with her newest release, I was so excited.

The Treatment is about a facility centre for troubled youth. Drew's brother Mason has been sent there and she thinks nothing of it, until a doctor tracks her down and hands her a worrying note. Soon enough, Drew has to find a way to get into the treatment centre and break Mason out. C L Taylor described the novel to her agent as 'Prison Break meets One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest but for teens' and she could not have captured the story in a more accurate way. 

The emotions of teenage Drew combined with the trauma of the treatment creates an addictive combination. As she makes alliances and tries to figure out the workings of the building, it's a race against time to get out. The pacing, tension and horrifying set of consequences make it a page turner. Can you tell that I enjoyed it?

The Treatment is one of not that many YA thrillers around, but I definitely can see this genre on the rise. After Stephanie Perkins' There's Someone Inside Your House, a YA horror novel released this month as well, and the growing popularity of murder mystery One Of Us Is Lying, which has been optioned for TV, it's looking promising for the category.

What's not to love? All the emotions and identity searching of a YA novel with the chilling stuff of thrillers . After years of popularity surrounding domestic thrillers and the psychological spin that's entranced millions of readers, it's time for something new. For both YA and thriller readers, this is an exciting step.

The Treatment is out on 19th October, published by HQ. Here's a link to where you can buy it. I highly recommend getting stuck in because this category is around to stay!

Love, Jess

Thank you HQ for my copy of The Treatment.

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