Author Interview

Q & A with Andrew Shvarts

Last week, I finally experienced crying over a book. This special debut novel, entitled Royal Bastards, just came out a week ago. I’ll never forget how it positively wrecked me. If you want to know more about my thoughts and feels, check out my review. I loved reading this book, so I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know its author. Hopefully, other readers would feel the same way.

Capture


 

  1. Did your love for video games manifest in Royal Bastards? (P.S. I love Final Fantasy and other JRPGs)

“What a great question! I hadn’t really thought much about it, but now that you mention it, I definitely think there’s a lot of jRPG DNA in Royal Bastards. Growing up, a lot of those games (especially ones like Final Fantasy 7 and Chrono Trigger) were incredibly influential, and in a lot of ways, made for my favorite kind of stories: groups of misfits and outcasts, coming together for a great journey, overcoming their demons and bonding along the way.”

  1. What was your inspiration for the world and magic system in Royal Bastards?

“Hmmm, I think there were a lot of different influences. Obviously, there’s a little bit of Westeros in the mix, with the different noble Houses and the way the world is run on violence and intrigue. But I also wanted to do something different than the typical ‘European pastiche’ fantasy, which is why the geography resembles the Pacific Northwest. The magic system just sort of wrote itself, honestly… I knew I wanted it to be based in something physical, like Rings and martial forms, and to have clear rules and parameters. I tend to like fantasy worlds where magic is rare but powerful, and where it’s explicitly shaped the contours of society.”

  1. Which character was the hardest (and easiest) to write about? Do you have a favorite character?

“Easiest and most fun was Jax; he’s all heart and jokes, which meant any scene with him was an absolute delight. Zell was a lot trickier; because he’s so stoic, guarded, and taciturn, he’s pretty much the opposite of me, so it took a lot of effort to figure out his voice.”

  1. Zell (who reminded me of FF8’s Zell) was sometimes called a “barbarian.” With that in mind, how did you implement diversity in your work?

“I believe diversity and positive representation in fiction is incredibly important, and something I strive for in everything I write. From the start, I knew that Royal Bastards would be a diverse fantasy world with many POC characters and cultures; beyond just the social good of writing diversely, I think it makes for vastly more interesting fiction.

“Regarding Zell, I hope it’s clear that any perception of him as a ‘barbarian’ by the non-Zitochi characters is purely their own prejudice, refuted on the page; the Zitochi, with their rich history, democratic government, and egalitarian norms, are arguably the most modern and progressive culture in the novel.

“On a thematic level, I think ROYAL BASTARDS is about that point in adolescence when you really start to question the way you were brought up; that means realizing your parents aren’t the heroes you may have always believed, but also realizing that some beliefs you’ve been brought up with are actually harmful prejudices.”

  1. Gleaning upon your novel, how do you think bastards/illegitimate children are seen and treated in our own society nowadays?

“Interesting question! I think, by and large, we’ve moved away from seeing a given child’s ‘legitimacy’ or heritage as critical to their role in the world, which is unquestionably a good thing. I think categorizations like that tend to exist to reinforce power structures, which invariably serve as systems of oppression. This is something you’ll see explored more in the sequels to Royal Bastards, the extent to which a given culture’s ingrained norms exist primarily to ensure that the powerful stay in power.”

  1. How did being color-blind and tone-deaf affect your writing process?

“Tone-deafness hasn’t affected much, except my ability to sing karaoke, but being color-blind has had a fairly formative impact on how I tend to think. When you’re color-blind, you just have to accept that your own perception is wrong, and rely on others; no matter how much your eyes tell you two colors are the same, if you want to function, you need to trust others when they say they aren’t. I think that’s made me more open to feedback as a writer, and more willing to question my choices.”

  1. Can you disclose anything about the sequel(s)?

“I can’t say much, but I will say that you’ll learn a lot more about the nature of magic and the history of the Volaris… and that I wrote an action scene that has my favorite kill I’ve ever written!”


 

About the author:

AuthorPhotoFinal

Andrew Shvarts is an author of novels and video games. He has a BA in English Literature and Russian from Vassar College. He works for Pixelberry Studios as a designer, making mobile games like High School StoryChoices, and more. Andrew lives in San Jose, California, with his wife, toddler and two kittens.

Visit Andrew’s website

Standard
Book Review

A Roaring Romance

Roar (Stormheart, #1)Roar by Cora Carmack

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

She was a bundle of contradictions, but one thing he understood all too well was her independence.

Roar is one of the most unique and romantic YA fantasy books I’ve ever read. Before this, I hadn’t read anything by Cora Carmack. Hence, I really didn’t know what to expect. Still, looking at the covers of her already published works, I had a hunch that I was in for a lot of cheesiness. :3

Essentially, Roar is a fusion of Veronica Rossi’s Under the Never Sky and Mary E. Pearson’s The Kiss of Deception because it is about a runaway princess who lives in a world ravaged by powerful, fantastical storms. Also, like the latter trilogies, Roar contains a plot that is rich in action, political intrigue, and romance. Despite this lack of originality, I am willing to give this book a high rating because it hooked me from start to finish.

Calling this book “cheesy” is not an exaggeration. From the very first chapter, sparks were already flying between Princess Aurora and a certain fishy man. When Aurora ran away, she met her real love interest, and there were mounds of melted cheese everywhere. With large servings of sugar. Flirty banter was rampant, as well as stolen Xs and Os. Haha. For the most part, it was very entertaining, but there were times that I couldn’t help but sigh and roll my eyes in disdain. It was like this book was the epitome of raging, teen hormones, or better yet, Selena Gomez’s Hands to Myself. Be sure to take some water breaks while reading this novel. 😀

My favorite aspect of the book was its unique world and magic system. Aurora and the other protagonists in this book were Stormlings, special people who could destroy various storms (firestorms, thunderstorms, and more). They were also capable of stealing the jeweled “hearts” of such phenomena, thereby gaining magical powers. In that sense, the relationship between humans and storms was not necessarily bad. The storms themselves were surprisingly sentient, having emotions like the humans they aimed to harm. It was honestly my first time to read a fantasy novel that personified natural disasters, so I found Roar to be a breath of fresh air.

The not-so-major problem I had with this book was its lack of a climax or conflict. Many events happened throughout the novel, and although they were relevant, I kept on waiting for something more serious to happen. The most probable cause of this flaw is, unsurprisingly, the book’s focus on romance. A lot of effort was put into building romantic tension to the point that more meaningful plot points were neglected. Don’t get me wrong; I do love a good OTP. Nevertheless, that’s not the only thing I look for in books.

In totality, Cora Carmack did a good job in writing her first YA fantasy novel. In spite of its shortcomings, Roar is a book worth reading. I particularly loved its fascinating take on the connection between humans and the natural world. If you are an avid fan of the author’s previous, romantic works, you’ll probably enjoy this book more than I did. Happy reading!

Standard
Book Review

Legitimate Tears

Royal BastardsRoyal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I buddy read this book with the charming bookish king, Solomon, and the empowered fangirls, Cait and Ambs.

LO AND BEHOLD, THE VERY FIRST BOOK THAT MADE ME CRY.

Exactly 18 hours ago, my heart broke. Please send help because I haven’t gotten over that painful yet beautiful plot twist. I really did not expect to be emotionally invested in this book. I’ll do my best to convey my thoughts without sulking, bursting into man tears, or giving any spoilers. :p

description

Royal Bastards follows five teenagers who are caught in the middle of a civil war. Tilla, Jax, Miles, and Zell are bastards (illegitimate offspring), while Lyriana is the daughter of the ruling King. Falsely accused for the murder of the King’s brother, the group goes on a breathtaking journey full of action, adventure, and even romance. This book is marketed as a mashup of Game of Thrones and Six of Crows. I haven’t read both series, but you might want to check out Royal Bastards in light of that blurb alone.

description

I loved this book because I found it to be simultaneously plot-driven and character-driven. It featured an intriguing and relatable cast of protagonists who were shoved into such thrilling situations. I lost count of the times they nearly lost their lives! The perfect pacing of the plot more than compensated for the inadequate world building.

description

Among the protagonists, Tilla and Jax were my absolute favorites. They were half siblings who belonged to different walks of life, but they were as close as heck. I was particularly fond of this aspect of the story since I myself am close to my siblings. In fact, I liked it even more than the romantic relationship between two certain characters. 😉 Literary romance is quite overrated for me at this point, so I would rather be entertained by brotherly or platonic love.

description

Lyriana was my other favorite. She seemed to be a typical dim-witted princess at the beginning of the book, and I was very pleased when she proved me wrong. I specifically admired her insightful thoughts on chastity, which is a rare character trait in YA. I should’ve remembered that readers should never judge characters by their socio-economic status. xD

description

The antagonists (I refuse to disclose their names) were fascinating in their own twisted way. Their reasons for anarchy were actually legitimate. Honestly, I sympathized with their desire to free their province from the clutches of the Kingdom. However, the things they did to achieve their goal were unquestionably unethical.

description

Many fantasy novels nowadays have been criticized for their lack of diversity. If you’re one of those haters of such “politically incorrect” literature, you’ll probably find Royal Bastards as a breath of fresh air. Zell and Princess Lyriana are people of color, and one of the male side characters is said to “prefer the company of men”.

description

I cannot finish my review without shining a light on the book’s unforgettable plot twists. One of them made me cry, as you already know. I’ve read many emotional books that made me teary-eyed, but Royal Bastards was the first one that actually made the tears flow. My throat was so heavy last night when I tried to bottle up my emotions in front of my brother, who understandably laughed at me. Looking back, I had a hunch that something bad would happen. Still, I didn’t assume that it would be that evocative. GAH! I AM SO TEMPTED TO SPOIL EVERYONE JUST SO I CAN SHARE THE PAIN!

description

In the end, it must be clear that I genuinely enjoyed Royal Bastards. I’m not sure when I’ll finally get over it. Probably not for a week or two. The beauty of this book nearly gave me a reading slump, so please tread carefully. To the author, Andrew Shvarts, thank you for creating such an outstanding debut novel. 😀

description

P.S. I managed to schedule a written interview with Andrew, so stay tuned! 🙂

*The featured image was taken from Andrew’s website

Standard
Book Review

I’ll Make a Woman out of You

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist, #1)Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I buddy read this baby with the bookish beauties, Cait and Ambs

The only power a man has over you is the power you give him. —Okami

I actually forgot most of the events in Mulan, since I watched it around eleven years ago. Still, I was very excited to read Flame in the Mist because Mulan is markedly empowered compared to other Disney princesses. I’ve always been attracted to both Feminist literature and Japanese culture, and I am glad to say that this book met most of my expectations. I can’t wait for the rest of the YA community to devour it like I did.

Flame in the Mist tells the story of Mariko, who is practically forced to marry the emperor’s bastard son. Resigned to her fate of domesticity, she travels to the city of her betrothed. Along the way, a group of unidentified men attacks her caravan. In the aftermath, Mariko promises to unveil the truth behind her failed assassination and thereby prove her feminine worth.

I found this book to be better than The Wrath & the Dawn duology, particularly in regards to character development. Mariko was not exactly a femme fatale, but I quickly perceived her inner and outer strength. The men around her treated her horribly, but she did not let them quench the fire in her heart. Mariko’s ability to invent deadly bombs out of scratch also made her a force to be reckoned with. In other words, she was anything but a damsel in distress.

In one of my reading updates, I expressed how I despised the men in this book. Generally, they were arrogant, insensitive, and downright insufferable. I liked to think of them as literally cocky. :p Mariko’s love interest was not an exception. I won’t divulge his name because I don’t want to spoil anyone. For now, let’s just call him X. I honestly did not expect Mariko to fall in love with him because of his douche bag behavior. I understood that X treated Mariko like he would a fellow man, but I was annoyed nonetheless. I only managed to like him by the end of the book, when Mariko’s secret was revealed. He suddenly acted like a Feminist, so he finally won me over. I SHIPPED THEM SO HARD!

The only boy whom I liked from start to finish was Kenshin, Mariko’s twin brother. I was attached to him because of his “emasculating” humility; it was so easy for him to acknowledge Mariko’s intellectual superiority. Furthermore, his confidence in his sister’s tenacity made me smile a lot. Essentially, Kenshin and Mariko’s relationship was very heartwarming in that it rekindled my desire to have a sister. I already have two lovable bros, but…you get the point. Hahaha.

The otaku side of me affected my appreciation of this book. Only God and my brothers know how much I love anything that has to do with Japan: anime, music, books, you name it! Hence, I had a lot of fun immersing myself in the harsh yet intriguing world of feudal Japan.

Ironically, the main problem I encountered in this book was the elusive glossary. There were many unfamiliar Japanese terms throughout the novel, and I was too lazy to check them out online. I also did not bother to navigate to the end of the e-book (100%), which was the location of the said glossary. Huhu. It was too late; I wish I could undo my confusion.

Overall, Flame in the Mist is an excellent retelling of Mulan. It is a testament to Renee Ahdieh’s growth as a writer. With that in mind, I can only imagine what else she has in store for us.

Standard
Book Review

What the Fluff

Just FriendsJust Friends by Tiffany Pitcock

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Their past might be fake, but their future was real. It was theirs to build. It was real, unscripted, and unplanned.

If you’re also one of those readers whose TBRs vary per season, then you’re probably reading lots of contemporary novels like me. Only God knows why love stories are perfect for summer. It must be the HEAT. xD If you want to feel more of the latter, then by all means, pick up this cute book. However, Just Friends isn’t 100% fluffy, so it is actually worth your time.

Just Friends is about the complicated relationship between Jenny and Chase, two teenagers who both struggle with family-related problems. Jenny and Chase also have divergent personalities; the former is a stay-at-home nerd, while the latter has built a reputation of promiscuity at school. When a childish class requirement forces them to pretend that they’re best friends, Jenny and Chase decide to keep up the charade. Soon, sparks fly between them, and they have a difficult time being just friends.

YA contemporary novels are usually written in the first-person POV. Hence, I was surprised and delighted that this book was written in third-person. Also, the chapters were narrated by Jenny and Chase alternately, giving me a balanced understanding and appreciation of both genders. The author’s vocabulary was also very light and comprehensible, so I was able to finish the book rather quickly, in two sittings, to be precise.

Plot-wise, I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened. I bet most readers can also predict the ending of this book. However, I must say that the pacing was flawless. Each short chapter featured events that made me want more.

Despite their opposite personalities, Jenny and Chance were actually very compatible because they managed to bring out the best in each other. Jenny evoked a sense of loyalty in Chance, and Chance challenged Jenny to finally step out of her comfort zone. All in all, these two teenagers had a very healthy “friendship.” 😀

Sadly, I didn’t have a favorite character in this book. Jenny and Chase were very likable as a pair, but I wasn’t a fan of them on an individual level. Looking back, the main conflict of the book wouldn’t have dragged on if they didn’t take everything at face value. Furthermore, I also did not like the characters’ attitude towards their own virginity. I admit that this criticism is subjective, but I need to point it out for the sake of readers who might also be conservative.

I generally enjoy contemporary novels because they often contain a lot of family-related discourse, which I always find to be relatable. However, in the case of Just Friends, this feature backfired. As I’ve mentioned earlier, both Jenny and Chance had family issues. To be more specific, Jenny was quite envious of her divorced mother’s budding romance, while Chance resented his parents, who apparently couldn’t stand each other. Jenny’s hang-ups were somehow understandable, but I struggled to sympathize with Chance’s dilemma. I just couldn’t fathom how his parents supposedly argued 24/7. All that was said about them was that they loved to fight. Such a phenomenon seemed almost fantastical. Essentially, Just Friends delineated parenting in a very pessimistic manner. With that in mind, I probably would’ve liked this book more if it hadn’t bothered to include family-related discourse.

With all that said, I gave this book three stars primarily because of its entertainment value. It did make me smile and chuckle sometimes. Nevertheless, for the most part, it was predictable and even frustrating. Looking at the bright side, it’s possible to enjoy the book completely if you don’t read it too critically. It’s summer anyway, so I guess we readers don’t have to be so serious while reading fluffy literature. xD

Standard
Book Review

You Found Me in a Constellation

Eliza and Her MonstersEliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, HarperCollins, for giving me an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Like life, what gives a story its meaning is the fact that it ends. Our stories have lives of their own—and it’s up to us to make them mean something. —Olivia Kane

Before I read this book, I was a stranger to Francesca Zappia. I remembered that my previous boss at work told me to check out a book named Made You Up, but I only made the connection recently. If you’re planning to pick up this novel in light of your love for the said book, prepare yourself for moments of deep introspection. Also, I beg you not to read the blurb/summary on Goodreads because it contains a major spoiler. (I’m currently thinking of using my librarian privileges to fix the latter problem.)

Eliza and Her Monsters is essentially a character-driven novel. It is about a girl named Eliza (like..duh!), who is extremely introverted. Ironically, she has a massive presence online. Under the pen name LadyConstellation, Eliza publishes a web comic entitled Monstrous Sea. Her work turns out to be so popular, having more than a million readers. Despite her success as an artist, Eliza’s life is not perfect. Her relationship with her parents and siblings is unfathomably strained, and her social life outside of the Web is…nonexistent. Everything starts to change when she meets Wallace, the most popular writer of Monstrous Sea fanfic.

I honestly had a difficult time deciding how I should rate this book. For me, Eliza and Her Monsters is the epitome of the term “mixed feelings”. Even though I didn’t love it, the thought of giving it three stars made me feel unsettled, regretful, even. The strengths and weaknesses of this book played a game of tug of war in my mind. The beautiful writing and story were on one side, while the annoying characters were on the other. Basically, the struggle was real, people.

I have always been a fan of stories that emphasize familial relationships, so I had no trouble delving into this book. Being a devoted hermit, Eliza spent most of her time at home. Logically, she had plenty of opportunities to interact with her family. I loved that Eliza’s parents and two brothers (Church and Sully) were given a lot of screen time. However, I was annoyed by how she treated them. She always snubbed her parents, as if they were obstructions to her happiness in life. As for her brothers, she avoided them because she sincerely believed that they hated her. To put it mildly, Eliza was not a good daughter and sibling. Looking back, Eliza’s parents were not exactly victims. After all, they were so frustratingly permissive.

In a similar fashion, Wallace’s family was placed under the spotlight. His family was actually very fascinating because he had both step siblings and half siblings. (You have to read the book to understand how that happened.) Unfortunately, Wallace also had problems with his parents, particularly with his father. :l I will never get tired of expressing my disdain for this Bad Father Trope in YA. Can’t we have lovable fathers for a change? :p

Now in regards to Eliza and Wallace as a couple, I liked that their relationship was excellently fleshed out. If my memory serves me right, physical appearance wasn’t even described as a catalyst for their love. There were cheesy moments in the book, but romance really wasn’t the main focus of the story.

In the end, I decided to give this book four stars because of its depiction or exploration of mental illness. Wallace reminded me of Mouse from The Problem with Forever (one of my favorite books) because he was a selective mute. He was such an inspiring character because, like Mouse, he didn’t let his condition prevent him from living life to the fullest. As for Eliza, she didn’t show clear symptoms of paranoia (severe anxiety) until the climax, so I was initially confused by the book’s marketing. I realized that this was actually a good thing because it did not give a sense of “exoticness” to mental illness. Throughout the novel, Eliza seemed like a perfectly “normal” and angsty teenager. In other words, I loved that Eliza’s condition didn’t make her any less…human. I had a lot of issues with Eliza, but I understood that the story would have lost its essence if she weren’t such a problematic character. Her growth at the end of book thankfully eclipsed my negative feelings.

Ultimately, I did enjoy this character-driven novel because it made me reflect on significant things like family, introversion, and mental health. I encourage you to add this to your shelf of meaningful YA contemporaries. Now that I’m aware of the author’s talent for emotional play, I am excited to devour more of her works.

Standard
Book Review

A Love That Is Anything but Twisted

HuntedHunted by Meagan Spooner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead

There’s no such thing as living happily ever after—there’s only living. We make the choice to do it happily. —Meagan Spooner

This was my third buddy read with my admirable friend, Bentley (Book Bastion). I’m still not over the live action film of Beauty and the Beast, so this book was a pleasure to read.

Essentially, Hunted is a super Feminist retelling of BatB. Set in the rich and mythical world of Russia, this book is also reminiscent of Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale. Most of the plot stays loyal to Disney’s BatB, but Meagan Spooner also made some changes in order to make her story one of the best fairy tale retellings YA has to offer.

For me, the best feature of this book was its lack of instalove. Enraged by the death of her father, Yeva was determined to exact vengeance on the Beast. Consequently, nearly 50% of the book was about Yeva honing her archery skills and plotting to kill the Beast. I admit that this made the plot relatively slow-paced, but it was for the best because Yeva and the Beast’s relationship felt more authentic.

To my surprise, Meagan Spooner also explored Stokholm Syndrome in her novel. Since Yeva was temporarily a prisoner in the Beast’s castle, her sisters were bewildered to discover that she developed romantic feelings for him. However, Yeva clearly stated that her reasons for falling in love were anything but twisted. It is also important to note that Yeva realized her affection for the Beast after she plunged a knife into his throat. In light of her very active agency, it would be ridiculous to describe Yeva as a victim of Stokholm Syndrome.

I enjoyed Yeva’s character arc, but the Beast was actually my favorite character because of his intriguing complexity. He always referred to himself as “we” (because of his dual nature as man and beast), he was very secretive, and he was adorably bookish like Yeva. Furthermore, I savored the poetic voice of his chapters, which unfortunately were only 2 to 3 pages long.

In addition to Yeva and the Beast, Hunted also featured a memorable cast of side characters. Among them, Solmir was the one who piqued my interest the most. He was basically a new version of BatB’s Gaston, so I immediately expected him to be a charming villain. Surprisingly, I found myself shipping him with Yeva because of his generous and respectful attitude. Overall, I liked him because he had a talent of defying my negative expectations.

With all that said, I genuinely enjoyed Hunted. The only weakness I found was its relatively slow pacing; some of the chapters made me sleepy because they were uneventful. Nevertheless, I am glad to have read it because it is unquestionably an outstanding retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I will never forget its confusing yet utterly beautiful ending.

description

Standard