Book Review

The Perks of Being a Fake Royal

The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, #1)The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t want power or wealth, Conner. I want to stay alive. —Sage

Surprise, surprise! It’s been a while since I’ve read a middle grade book. Heck, it is a truth universally acknowledged that YA books have dominated my TBR for the past decade. With that in mind, I am very pleased to critique this unique, wonderful, and gripping novel.

The False Prince is the story of a 14-year-old orphan named Sage, who lives in Carthya, a kingdom on the brink of civil war. Unlike most of the kids his age, Sage has a very independent and strong-willed personality. He does whatever he can to survive, and he really doesn’t care if he has to break the law to get what he needs. Sage’s life becomes more dangerous when he is recruited by Conner, a nobleman of the court. Sage and three other orphans are trained to impersonate Jaron, the king’s long-lost son. Only one of them will be installed as the false prince, and Sage is determined to win and stay alive.

I genuinely enjoyed this book because it was reminiscent of The Kiss of Deception, one of my favorite books. Like the latter, The False Prince could be described as very misleading, in that Sage hid a lot of information from the reader. Consequently, the plot twists became more surprising and delightful. Sage did leave some clues every now and then, but I was rendered too excited/restless by the plot to stop and take note of them. Seriously, don’t be shocked if you find your mouth ajar while reading this book.

I also loved the narrator, Charlie McWade. Although his “female” voice logically sounded weird sometimes, he was generally an excellent narrator. His smooth, boyish cadence was the perfect accompaniment to Sage’s narrative. I highly recommend checking out The False Prince on Audible.

Sage was undoubtedly my favorite character. He was always the star of the show, and I loved how he managed to outwit even the smartest of his foes. In light of his supreme intellect and knack for strategy, Sage was practically the male version of Kestrel from The Winner’s Curse. As a bonus, Sage’s skill with the sword was also a force to be reckoned with. I honestly found it hard to be believe he was merely 14.

Conner and the other villains were likable in their own way. Like Sage, they were naturally secretive, forever plotting to do something unexpected. In this epic battle of minds, Conner was definitely a worthy opponent. If the author published a novella about him, I would read it in a heartbeat.

For me, romance was the only weakness of this book. I wasn’t a fan or shipper of Sage and this particular girl. Nothing physical happened between them since both of them were still young, but I couldn’t bear to imagine them as a couple in the future. The heavily political plot of this series is already great, so I would still be happy if the next books didn’t have any OTP or love triangle.

In totality, this middle grade book was way better than a number of YA fantasy novels I’ve read. Sage was so cunning, mature, and admirable, and I couldn’t get enough of his fast-paced story. The False Prince is a welcome addition to my shelf of favorite books. Please don’t hesitate to pick it up! ❤

P.S. Movie rights were already sold back in 2012, so what happened? Huhu

*The featured image was contributed by Dessa Mae Jacobe (@dessatopia)

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Book Review

Beyond the Gorgeous Cover

The Book JumperThe Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s the same everywhere in the book world: Readers are not allowed to intervene. Under no circumstances. You must always stay in the margins, between the lines. —Shere Khan

Raise your hand if you also bought this book because of its absolutely gorgeous cover! I love everything about it: the old-fashioned font, the smooth texture of the jacket, and the whimsical illustration. If I were to judge this book by its cover alone, I would happily give it five stars! ❤

In regards to its content, The Book Jumper is practically fan service for bookworms. How so?
Amy Lennox, the main protagonist, has the wonderful gift of literally jumping into books. I’m sure all of us here wish that we could visit or live in the books we enjoy and love. What we wouldn’t give to be able to interact with our favorite characters, who are as real to us as people outside the book world. Raise your hand again if you are also jealous of Amy. Hahaha.

Unfortunately for Amy, the book world is gradually entering a state of chaos. Someone is stealing the ideas of the stories she visits, causing major plot holes and even killing a number of characters. With the help of a Scottish lad named Will and her new fictional friends, Amy hunts for the villain before literature becomes messed up for good. The plot does seem juvenile or middle-grade, but the content as a whole is more appropriate for us young adults. 🙂

Since The Book Jumper was originally written in German, I cannot evaluate the author’s writing style. However, I can say that the translator did a fantastic job. Romy Fursland’s written voice was very descriptive but easy to comprehend. In fact, it was one of the reasons why I finished the book relatively quickly. I can’t speak German, but I want to believe that Romy Fursland was able to retain the essence of Mechthild Gläser’s work.

Even though I was inevitably jealous of Amy, I genuinely enjoyed this book because it was so relatable. I loved that Amy and the rest of the characters lived and breathed literature. I loved that they wanted to protect literature at all costs (as silly as it sounds). If I had their gift, I would jump into this book and make them my best friends. I’m sure that I’m not the only bookworm who has no bookish friends outside the Internet. Ugh. I hate the geographical distance that separates us. xD

I also enjoyed this book because it was predominantly unpredictable. It definitely kept me on my toes. Actually, I lost patience when I couldn’t find out the identity of the villain; I became restless enough to read the last chapter and spoil myself. And lo and behold, all of my guesses were wrong! Harharhar.

I would have given this book five stars if the ending weren’t unsatisfying and quite convenient. Something unfortunate happened, but I immediately had a hunch that it was only a false alarm. Hence, it didn’t affect me that much. Furthermore, some of my questions about Amy and her mother’s history remained unanswered. I was a little sad that I didn’t get to know more about their supposedly problematic life in Germany.

Nevertheless, I recommend The Book Jumper to every bookworm out there because it’s the perfect expression of our deepest, bookish wishes. This book really made me happy and wistful, and I hope that it will do the same thing to you.

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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.

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  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:

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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”.

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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!

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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. 😀

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

*The featured image was taken from Andrew’s website

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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.

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Book Review

Princess Problems 103

The Beauty of Darkness (The Remnant Chronicles, #3)The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead

I am yours, and you are mine, and no kingdom will ever come between us.

This is undeniably one of the best books I have ever read. It made me feel a myriad of emotions, ranging from uncontrollable joy to heartbreaking grief.

After Lia barely escapes Venda, Rafe brings her to Dalbreck, where he plans to make her his queen. Unfortunately, Lia’s happily ever after is obstructed by a mind-blowing plot twist: the despicable Komizar is still alive. Guided by her Gift of knowing, Lia is determined to expose the wicked in her own kingdom and thereby convince everyone to prepare for war.

It took me around three weeks to finish this book, but it was not because it was boring or dragging. I really just wanted to savor each chapter because I did not want to say goodbye to my favorite characters, my fictional BFFs. With that in mind, I was so thankful that I had 679 pages to get through. It was definitely a slow yet unforgettable journey.

Lia was already amazing in The Heart of Betrayal, so I was surprised that she still had further development in this book. She became more attuned to her Gift, and she learned how to convict every man who underestimated her, including her beloved Rafe. Throughout the novel, Lia exhibited a lot of virtues, such as bravery, fortitude, and wisdom. All in all, she was utterly and positively different from the Lia we met in The Kiss of Deception.

I am sad to say that Rafe somewhat became annoying in this book, especially in the first half. His desire to protect or shelter Lia was often too much; it was the cause of many heartbreaking arguments, aka Yelling Sessions. I did not know what to do with myself when they parted ways. Thankfully, Rafe was able to redeem himself by helping Lia in Morrighan. Lia was indeed a formidable female, but she would probably be dead without Rafe. (To be fair, Lia first saved his life in Venda.) In totality, I admired Rafe because of his integrity, as well as his unconditional love for Lia.

Given my history with Kaden, I was surprised by the realization that he could actually be likable. In this book, he wasn’t such an insufferable THIRD WHEEL. He was always by Lia’s side, but he finally stopped trying to win her over. I never shipped him with Lia from the start, so I was so happy that he ended up with Pauline (who was adorable, btw). If anything, I guess I loved that he was so loyal to Lia despite his connection to the Komizar.

Overall, The Beauty of Darkness is a beautiful ending to an unforgettable series. I loved literally everything about it. The evocative writing. The gripping plot. The rich, mythical world. And most of all, the precious, well-developed characters. Prepare to be enthralled.

I also gave 5 stars to the previous books, so I can confidently say that The Remnant Chronicles is one of the greatest series YA has to offer. I will definitely read it again someday just to relive all the feels.

P.S. I must give an honorable mention to Jeb. May he rest in peace. 😦

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Author Interview

Q & A with Roshani Chokshi

It really makes your day when one of your favorite authors accepts your request for an interview. The Star-touched Queen is one of the best novels I have read this year, and I am so proud and happy that it was written by a fellow Filipino. If you want to know more about my thoughts on TSTQ, feel free check out my review. Roshani’s new book, A Crown of Wishes, just came out last month, and I am confident that it will be an addition to my shelf of favorite books. I hope that this interview will encourage you to read Roshani’s outstanding works. 😀

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“Hi Josh! I loooove these questions. Thank you so much for taking the time to come up with them! I really appreciate it. My answers are below!”

1. How did you express or manifest your Filipino heritage in the Star-Touched Queen (and/or A Crown of Wishes)?

“While my Filipino heritage was not explicitly referenced in TSTQ and ACOW, the motivation behind why I wrote the stories is a direct result of my Filipino and Indian heritage. Because I wasn’t taught my parents’ native languages, myths and fairytales from across the world bridged that cultural gap.”

2. Compared to many YA heroines, Maya is significantly empowered; Amar, her love interest, is depicted as both her equal and supporter. With that in mind, is The Star-touched Queen intentionally Feminist?

“I love this question! TSTQ is intentionally feminist in the sense that no sense of female power is denied. I wanted to express this not just in TSTQ but also ACOW, where the main character (Gauri) is equally comfortable in traditionally “masculine” and “feminine” settings and subverts both to possess the only identity that matters: hers. Gauri loves makeup. She loves swords. Maya loves strategy and power. She also loves fairytales. I wanted to challenge this idea that femininity is a soft thing, because it is intense and multi-faceted and I want my female readership to know that they contain multitudes and HAVE it all.”

3. Kamala, Maya’s horse, is a very peculiar character. What was the inspiration behind her creation? I actually imagined her as Maximus from Tangled. xD

“LOL! Kamala is actually based off of me and one of my childhood best friends. We have a rather dark sense of humor and I kinda imagined what *I* would be doing in a quest story, and honestly, I’d never be a main character. I’d be the sidekick constantly derailing the plot to go find something to eat…”

4. Are Maya and Amar self-sufficient characters? Hypothetically speaking, would they be able to attain a “happy ending” without each other?

“I don’t think so. And I don’t mean that in the sense that either of them needs a significant other to “complete” them or give them contentment. The reason why they need each other is because of the perspective and depth that comes from their relationship. Because of the value added to their existence by knowing each other. We don’t go through life as islands. We draw on the nourishment of relationships (platonic, romantic, familial, etc…) to bloom and grow, and I think that’s just as true with Maya and Amar. Perhaps they could’ve figured out how to find fulfillment without one another, but I’m a sucker for love stories <3″

5. Let’s go back to basics. As Filipino teachers ask, what is the “moral lesson” (#Redundant xD) of The Star-touched Queen?

“The moral lesson is that fate is a squishy thing that we must forge for ourselves.”

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About the author:

Roshani Chokshi is the New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen. Her work has appeared in Strange HorizonsShimmer, and Book Smugglers. Her short story, The Star Maiden, was longlisted for the British Fantasy Science Award.

Visit Roshani’s website

 

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