I Need To Take The Pressure Off

This is weird. Whenever I sit down to write a blog post it's almost always me trying to formulate my opinions on a book or interviewing an author. It's hardly ever something personal, but here we are. 

I need to take the pressure off.

If I keep going the way I am then I'm going to end up not blogging any more. I'll probably delete my YouTube account and it might even kill off my love of reading. I'm pretty terrified. 

Over the past few years, I've been cooking a pressure soup in my brain. It started off with just reading 100 books a year, then I added in the spice of reviewing books, then I added my YouTube channel and now I think the soup is burning (sorry for anyone who may be eating soup while reading this).

I set myself lots of abstract and meaningless goals. Make this many videos a month, write this many blog posts, get this many views, this many subscribers, read this many books, and it's all way too much. More than that, it's silly. I read because I love reading, not because I need people to know about that or hear my opinions (although it's lovely to discuss books with friends online).

But just telling myself that I don't need to have these goals isn't enough because before I know it I'm right back where I was and having a tantrum on a Saturday morning because I can't get the technology to work or the lighting is shit or I've woken up too late to film two videos. Before I know it, half my day is gone. A quarter of my weekend has been spent with my stress levels almost above my head. What is the point in that?

I need to put it in writing that I'm not going to let this keep happening.

When I started blogging and vlogging, I absolutely loved it and most of the time I still do. I have so many ideas for content I can make and I'm proud of a lot of things I've posted on the internet. However, right now the pressure soup is making things uncomfortable. That's why I'm going to be slowing down. I'll still be reading, blogging and vlogging, but just not at this horrific speed.

While I want to keep my mental health issues personal, pressure is something that crops up a lot and it's something I need to be aware of. I know now that there's no way to go through the pressure - no matter how much content I make, it will never be enough. 

If this happens to you to, I hope this helps you think about it. And no - this does not count towards some stupid blog post goal. This one's for me.

Brb while I throw out this soup.

Love, Jess

Review: The Exact Opposite of Okay - Laura Steven

The Exact Opposite of Okay - Laura Steven
Published by Egmont on 8th March 2018.
My rating: 5/5
Book depository purchase link.

Calling all fans of equal pay, Holly Bourne and women having the vote, this is the newest feminist YA book that you need in your life. Not only is this cover stunning, but the book inside is too and one that has made quite a large impact on me.

I love reading feminist YA, from Moxie to The Nowhere Girls and It Only Happens In The Movies, these books are empowering examples of why teenage girls (and everyone else) needs to stand up for equality. It's for all of those people out there who say feminism "isn't needed anymore". For those who don't realise their own sexist behaviour because it's so normalised.

That's where The Exact Opposite of Okay comes in. Welcome to the witty world of Izzy O'Neill. She's a self-labelled "tragic orphan" with an interests in screen-writing, partying and living with her grandma, Betty (legend).

Izzy's not ashamed to be a teenager that has one night stands. Why should she? If the guys at her school are practically worshipped for their sexual endeavours, why can't she have a little fun? It's not something she thought too much about before that night. 

When a photo leaks and a website launches, Izzy's life changes. She might joke about it on every page of the blog she's turning into a book but, understandably, it's an incredibly hard thing to go through. 

The thing that makes this book so great is that it doesn't just deal with nude photos, sex scandals, and objectification. It also covers the friendzone and nice guy complex too and I don't think I've ever read about that in YA before. Izzy's voice is powerful and distinctive so if you're a fan of character-led YA, this one's for you.

I absolutely loved how, right from the offset, Izzy stood up for herself. She recognised the shit she was being put through and tried to verbalise that to those around her. The worse it got, the more she dug her heels in. There was no learning curve, Izzy knew herself from the beginning and that made this book even more incredible.

Anyway, to sign off. Bitches Bite Back!

Love, Jess

Thank you Egmont for my copy. All links are affiliate links which means I receive a small commission if you purchase the book via my link.

New and Exciting Middle Grade Books: Spring 2018

In my pledge to read more middle grade books in 2018, I have very kindly been sent a variety of new and exciting books by publishers this spring. As I'm pretty new to reviewing middle grade books, I decided that the best way to talk about these would be through a quick-fire blog post, detailing the books I've been reading and my thoughts on them.

Here goes!

1. Not If I Save You First - Ally Carter

I was hesitant to start this book and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was the bright pair of yellow sunglasses that came with it - they are way too badass for me. 

Maddie is the daughter of a secret agent and after a close-encounter, finds herself in the Alaskan wilderness. Of course, danger follows and soon enough she's on a mission and this time she's in charge of ensuring the safety of a royal family member. 

I found this book to be a fast-paced and gripping read. It's got some serious girl-power, plenty of action scenes and some great sarcastic lines.

2. Dear Katie - Katie Thistleton

This was my first (recent) experience of non-fiction in the MG category and it was definitely a gentle introduction! Katie Thistleton is a well-loved kids TV presenter who took questions from young people and answered them in an agony aunt style to create this book. With the help of a GP and psychologist, there's some great advice here. It's written and presented in a magazine style so I can imagine it being very appealing to those looking for some answers about puberty, family life and friendships. 

Overall, it was an encouraging read and one I'd recommend to all young people. I found it repetitive and some of the GP/psychological advice was a bit random and not really targeted to the specific question, but that didn't hold it back too much! 

3. The Nothing To See Here Hotel - Steven Butler

This was brilliant! So funny, imaginative, exciting and full of wonderful illustrations. My favourite MG book of 2018 so far, and yes there's a long way to go, but it deserves such a title. Frankie and his family run a hidden hotel full of magical creatures. It's hard to run smoothly at the best of times but then a goblin prince shows up and everything well and truly turns to madness. It was a smooth read with clear characters and a great story. 

4. The Eye of the North - Sinead O'Hart

This adventure story was beautiful in more ways than one. The cover is gorgeous and beyond that, the writing is beautiful and full of adventure. Emmeline receives a letter from her mother one morning to say they must have died and so she must go to stay in France. There are a lot of family secrets that come out. I loved the scientific backdrop, the elements of friendship and the writing (I have to mention it again, it was that good). Although, it wasn't 100% absorbing for me, it was a great experience of MG fantasy. 

Thank you to Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Stripes for sending me these books.

"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 cafĂ©, 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.

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