books · shanti

A Question of Fiction: Far From the Tree

Hi Virtually Readers! It’s time for another round of A Question of Fiction, the feature that never quite goes away on this blog. We invite characters on to the blog to answer questions, and it’s usually terrifically fun (yes, really). Today we have Maya, Joaquin, and Grace, three unexpected sibilings, from Robin Benway’s exquisite book Far From the Tree. (and ngl it’s been like a month since I read this and I’m really worried that I’ve forgotten an important detail but I’ll do my best)

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Interviewer: Can you guys tell me a little about your childhood?

Joaquin: Well, Maya and Grace were adopted, because they’re girls, and they’re white, and that makes it easier to be adopted. Sorry, girls, but it’s true. I grew up in a variety of foster homes. That was okay. There are good ones and bad ones.

Interviewer: yeah, I get it.

Grace: You absolutely don’t, but continue.

Interviewer: Um, well, let’s go for something a little lighter. What’s your favourite kind of cake?

Maya: Way to transition out of an awkward topic! But I’ll take the bait. I like chocolate cake, or preferably double chocolate cake. My girlfriend and I will eat it together when we need comfort.

Grace: I like the slightly weird flavours. Redcurrent red velvet, for instance.

Joaquin: I don’t know. I haven’t had a great deal of cake in my life. But one birthday my foster parents got me an icecream cake at the shop, and so I like that, I guess.


Interviewer: Can you tell me a little more about your family situation?

Grace: Back to this. Okay. So a few months ago, I…I started thinking a lot about my birth mother. What had she been going through when she gave me away? I was talking about it with my parents, and they told me about Maya and Joaquin. We emailed for a bit, then met up to look for our birth mother. We’re a strange set of siblings, and Maya has a little sister of her own, but we’re getting better at it.

Interviewer. Whoa. Okay. And did you find your mother?

Maya *winking*: that would be telling.

Interviewer: So with your family situation… could you tell me, in three or four words, what family means to you?

Grace: It means sacrifice, trust, and love.

Maya: I mostly agree with Grace, but I would add that family also means…I don’t know how to put it. Something sacred, I guess. Something that shouldn’t be broken.

Joaquin: Uncertainty.

Interviewer: Do you think about family differently after meeting each other?

Joaquin: Yeah. I mean, we grew up apart. It’s not like we were instant friends. But we had something in common, and realized we had to fight for it. Of course, it took some fighting each other too…

Grace: Yeah, I mean I’ve always thought of family as something more complex than mere biology, because I was adopted. But meeting these guys has reminded me that being biologically related to someone is it’s own kind of comfort. Of course, you can’t be unadopted. I wish that was possible, sometimes. But our mother, our first mother sacrificed a lot for us to have the lives we have. That’s permanent. And it’s what we have in common. I guess the other thing is that I’m still learning to make sense of that, and I don’t have all the answers, and it’s hard to say it in a straightforward manner. Parenthood, and being part of a family, is a lot more difficult than it seems when you’re young.

Interviewer: Thanks for that, Grace. We’ve talked a bit about how you guys are similar—and looking at you, I can definitely see a family resemblance. But how are the three of you different?

Maya: Well, if we exclude the obvious stuff—I’m a lesbian, Joaquin is a boy, we all have different dads—I would say that I’m a lot more rebellious than Grace and Joaquin.

Grace: But you own it. You’re like a calm rebel.

Maya: it’s because I have so much to hide.

Grace: Yeah. We all have our secrets, I guess. I like classical music, because I’m more cultured than these swines.

Joaquin, laughing : Ri-ight. I hate oranges. They really tease me about it.

Interviewer: Well, thanks for the interview! I  had a good time.

Grace: Yeah, so did we.

Have you guys read Far from the Tree? What did you think of this? And are there any books which write really poignantly about family that you’ve read?


books · shanti

awkward situations books have gotten me into

Hi Virtually Readers! As a book lover, I  have a bigger brain have a wide variety of experiences, some of which have actually happened to characters and not to me. Whoops. I have all sorts of associations and memories which have to do with books, and this has gotten me into some troublesome situations in the past.

Continue reading “awkward situations books have gotten me into”

shanti · writing

Beautiful People, Author Edition

Hi Virtually Readers! I’m a writer as well as a reader, and at the moment I’m busy writing the first draft of my novel lighter places. I’m 40k words in (!) and feeling good about it (like good in the sense that the plot totally sucks and I need to change everything) Anyway, Beautiful People is a linkup for writers, hosted by Cait @Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In. This month, the questions are not about our books but about ourselves as writers. SCARY.


How do you decide which project to work on?

I mean, so far with novel-sized projects I’ve only had time in the summers, so just whatever then. But in the next six-eight months, I have more time, so I have to make some calls. Anyway, in general I try to shift between chasing those plot bunnies and editing what I have already.

How long does it usually take you to finish a project?

I mean, so far I haven’t got any novel to the point where I could say that it’s finished. But I like the idea of Nano style drafting (what I’m doing at the moment, actually, with some of my own adjustments) and…I haven’t really figured out editing yet. With short stories, it depends (for example if it’s for a class project it’ll be faster), but working sporadically, short stories which I do for fun amidst other commitments take about three months (and lots of feedback from others) until I’m happy.

Do you have any routines to put you in the writing mood?

Apart from opening my laptop, not really. I guess I like to put on some nice music, like a musical soundtrack, quiet acoustic based songs, or instrumental covers of pop music, and read enough twitter/news that I don’t mind writing for a few hours haha.

What time of day do you write best?

I like to write in the mornings, I think, because the creative stuff takes more focused, and then I sort of have it out of the way and can feel productive for the rest of the day. But I *can* write anytime depending on my schedule.

Are there any authors you think you have a similar style to?

Hmm, my natural style is first-person present tense. I remember thinking that I was sort of similar to Rachel Hartman when I read Seraphina and Shadow Scale last year, but I can’t remember why…. I don’t really know who else I’m similar too, because when I read finished books, they’re WAY more polished than what I write.

Why did you start writing, and why do you keep writing?

I guess I started writing because I wanted to create stories like the ones I loved. Most of these involved cliched generic fantasy plots that were never finished haha. I keep writing, because there are stories that don’t exist yet, stories which I think are important, and that I’m qualified to tell them (for whatever reason)

What’s the hardest thing you’ve written?

There was this short story called Draconian which I finished this year, which was really hard to do well, and as it is, I still think I want to create a fourth draft so I can feel happier about it. I’ve also been trying to write this short play, tentatively titled Coming Into Money, because I think plays are really fun to write (I had to do one for Creative Writing class), but every single character believes something different about the other characters, so I haven’t figured out the details yet, so I”m only a few thousand words in.

Is there a project you want to tackle someday but you don’t feel ready yet?

Yes. It’s about loss. And that’s all I want to say about it for now.

What writing goals did you make for 2017 and how are they going?

I just went and looked at them, and the goals were ‘write short stories’ (done), ‘and poetry’ (yes), ‘work on Lighter Places and Entreaty’ (yes to the former, no to the latter), ‘write essays’ (not yet…that is I started one, but I haven’t quite found the perfect lense yet. I have read some books of essays though! I also wrote some essays I’m really proud of for school), and ‘keep thinking’ (I certainly have.) The goals were intentionally vague, but anyway, these are my writing plans for the rest of the year: July: finish first draft of Lighter Places. August: work on short pieces. September: Outline the fantasy trilogy that I had the idea for while on holiday (that is, it’s an idea based on a previous idea, but you know). November: NaNoWriMo the first book of said trilogy. *At some point*: edit Entreaty. I want to get it into a state where I”m comfortable with others reading it, which will require some research and a lot of plot restructure, which I sort of know the gist of. I initially thought that this would be a light edit, but there are SO MANY issues which I didn’t really fix in the second draft, so yeah, I just have to suck it up and do that. If I don’t have time, the light edit will happen, but it’s hard to see the point when the plot sucks so absolutely. Anyway, hopefully by the end of the year I can find some critique partners (several of my family members have volunteered already) and do that. And I’ll keep writing poetry as well.

Describe your writing process in 3 words or a gif!

I can’t be bothered to find a gif, so: Write, then worry. (the worrying usually leads to ideas which help me fix it. At least, that’s the idea)

Sorry this post is so long, lol, I clearly love to talk about myself. So, do you write? What’s something you’re proud of writing? (blog posts or essays for school or even tweets totally count)

books · not books · shanti · tags

The Liebster Award (the second)

Hi Virtually Readers! I’m adventuring in the mountains somewhere, but May @ Forever and Everly tagged us for The Liebster Award, which was really sweet of her. I’ve already done this once and am somewhat over it, just because it’s been around so long, so I’m not going to tag anyone.

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  • Thank the person(s) who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  • Answer the 11 questions they gave you.
  • Nominate 11 blogs and let them know they’ve been tagged.
  • Give them 11 questions to answer.


  • If you were to stop blogging, what would be the reason?

I’m not planning to stop blogging anytime soon, but it would probably be because I was really busy, or maybe if I got a lot of hate comments or if another big life event consumed me. Hopefully this won’t happen for a while, though I’m not sure that I’ll be blogging forever.

  • What are some hobbies you have?

Well, apart from reading, I’m really into playing music! I’m okay at viola and piano. I also love baking, going for runs, and crafting. Oooh, and sewing and knitting. (which are like subsets of crafting but y’know)

  • Would you rather be dead or die? (Yes, there’s a difference.)

I prefer the present tense, thank you very much.

  • Do you like mangoes???


  • What book would you not feel guilty about stomping on, tearing, and burning in a fire?

Love in the Time of Global Warming, or The Spectacular Now. (not even gonna give them the respect of links to their goodreads pages)

  • What blogs do you ALWAYS look forward to reading? (Or, if you’re afraid your dear readers might feel bad: What type of blogs do you tend to follow? ie. book blogs, lifestyle blogs, writing blogs, etc.)

I mostly follow book blogs, and I always look forward to reading Loony Literate, Drizzle and Hurricane books, Musings from Neville’s Navel, Happy Indulgence and Miriam Joy Writes.

  • What’s one moment in your life you’d choose to play over and over again (aka re-experience over and over again?)

I’m not sure…maybe when I did one of my presentations a few weeks ago and it went well, or the moment when I received Strange the Dreamer. Ooh or the moment when I was told that I was the new newspaper editor at school.

  • You have the choice of reading a book you HATE, every single day, or reading one good book per year. Which do you choose?

Reading one good book per year…I think it’s better to have one good book than a continuously hateful reading experience.

  • What’s one food you will never get tired of eating??? (ONE food, people, ONE.)

Toast. There are so many variations. Vegemite, jam, chese, and let’s not forget the avocados.

  • What would you do if someone walked up to you and gave you 100 bucks?

I would ask them why, and then I’d like to think I’d be selfless enough to give it away (or maybe spend it on something I really needed)

  • How are you right now?

I’m doing pretty well, thank you very much. I’m a little wet because I just got back from the pool, and there’s a cat next to me and soft acoustic music playing and I’m trying not to think about how much I hate leaving to go hiking….

How are you at the moment, Virtually Readers? Tell me in the comments!

book review · books · shanti

Literally just a book about YA books

I heard about Literally a few weeks ago. It’s a book about a girl called Annabelle who discovers that she’s living in a YA book. It’s less fun than you might think. It was a lot of fun, and very easy to read, but didn’t quite achieve the trope reversal it promised.


Tropes include….

    • falling in love with your brother’s best friend (about equivalent to your best friend’s brother)
    • a love triangle
    • many underdeveloped elements (which I’ll get to)
    • White middle class girl with professional parents
    • divorce
    • background best friends
    • realising you love someone at a party
    • surfer boys
    • driving everywhere (there were a *few* cycling scenes which made a nice change
    • “normal” “good” girl finds freedom in rulebreaking
    • and more

There were more, too, but those were the ones that came immediately to mind. Now, I’m not totally against tropes, and some of these are ones I actually liked. A lot of the tropes were used in a very self aware way, but other’s weren’t. For example, “Lucy Keating” wrote the perfect boy into Annabelle’s (the protagonist’s) life, but made a love triangle, yet Annabelle fell for the “unobvious” person in the love triangle. The whole point of love triangles is that there is a conflict with who to choosed, because both have good points and represent some part of the protagonist’s personality. There was none of that here. I was waiting the whole time for Lucy Keating to prove that the love triangle thing was silly by having Annabelle fall in love with someone else–but no, that didn’t happen. (I don’t really think that’s a spoiler). Basically, it was hard to tell how many of the tropes were intentional; I’m okay with that ambiguity I wanted to be okay with that ambiguity; the trope reversal could have been more clever than it was, but I do see what Keating was trying to do. Still, I was not on board with either side of the love triangle.
Then there were a lot of things that were underdeveloped. The biggest one was my pet peeve: Annabelle was editor of the school newspaper. As a high school senior at like the exact stage of life before graduation that she was AND A NEWSPAPER EDITOR, I wanted to see her being stressed over newspaper and have it consume her life (that’s what happens in real life) but that did not happen. I did relate to this quote though: “I love to take a group of words that just aren’t working and turn them into something readable and interesting.” Same thing with her getting into Columbia. YA makes Ivy Leagues look easy, but Annabelle didn’t talk about this much. Her parents getting divorced didn’t impact her much; she jsut decided not to talk about it. And a lot of the details of the world (how was the author able to actually talk to the characters? Why did “Lucy Keating” tell Annabelle about writing her life? WHAT IS REAL?) Again, I can totally see how this could have been self aware underdevelopment (for instance, the bland best friend, Ava, was absolutely self aware) but I wouldn’t have minded a bit more development (which would have enhance the whole metafiction thing). After all “What’s the harm in living outside the lines?” (or writing outside the lines, as the case may be).
Still, despite the tropes, I really like what Keating was trying to do here. She clearly reads a lot of YA, and was able to imagine how annoying it would be to be a main character.  Annabelle was an interesting character, clearly coping with a lot of things (like most teenagers) and doing her best to understand. I related to her “just a teenager” thing, too; as a seventeen year old, this made a lot of sense.

“There are no promises here. But I’m seventeen years old […] And maybe tomorrow, it will all be different. But I don’t care.”

Both Keating and Annabelle got how crazy it all was, and I liked that the book made fun of how unrealistic YA while also examining why it’s appealing to so many people. There was lots of fun banter, and Annabelle was interesting, and the ending worked really well for me. Also, these are some quotes I liked.

“You’ll find your Happy Ending, and it’s not about with whom you end up. I am only just beginning to figure that out.”
“And just because something ends doesn’t mean it didn’t mean anything. Sometimes, you just have to take the risk.”
“Life is filled with plot twists. That’s what life is.”

So, Literally was sort of all over the place, but it was relatable to me, and it was self aware (even if it could have taken everything a step further). This and Dreamology have shown me that Lucy Keating writes really cool concepts that are fun to read, and so I’ll keep reading her books.

What’s a book that hasn’t quite worked for you? Do you enjoy tropes, or making fun of tropes? And have you read Literally? tell me in the comments!