Book Review

Choose Your Side

Renegades (Renegades, #1)Renegades by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

Hero or villain, all prodigies were powerful. All prodigies were dangerous.

Renegades is actually the first book I’ve read about superheroes and villains. Novels about such characters (e.g. Batman and Wonder Woman) have been trendy nowadays, but I never bothered to add them to my TBR because the film industry has already made me so familiar with the Marvel/DC universe. With that in mind, I probably wouldn’t have requested this book from the publisher if it wasn’t penned by one of my favorite authors. Marissa Meyer never fails to make me happy, so it should go without question that I’ll read anything written by her.

In her brand new novel, Marissa Meyer deconstructs the notions we have about heroes and villains. Logic dictates that heroes are “good” and villains are “evil”. However, after reading Renegades, you’ll most likely find yourself questioning the validity of such reasoning. There are two organizations in this book: the Renagades (heroes) and the Anarchists (villains). In spite of their many differences, they have one thing in common: the desire to make the world a better place. Nova Artino, the female lead, is an Anarchist who justifiably yearns for the destruction of the Renegades. Adrian Everheart, the male lead, is a Renegade who only wants to solve the mystery of his mother’s demise. When the paths of these two teenagers converge, you’ll have a difficult time choosing your side.

While reading Renegades, I found myself partial to the Anarchists, who were supposedly or strictly malevolent. Most of the book was told from Nova’s POV, and her musings about the Renegades were surprisingly accurate and thought-provoking. For instance, her main complaint against the Renegades was that they were making ordinary people so lazy or passive. Since the Renegades were there to solve everyone’s problems (they were just a call away), people became unwilling to help others and even themselves. Nova couldn’t help but see this psychological phenomenon (diffusion of responsibility) as a disadvantage, and I totally agreed with her. In fact, one of my favorite sayings is “God helps those who help themselves.” The Renegades were inadvertently weakening the agency of ordinary people, so I sympathized with Nova’s desire to stop them. Maybe Nova’s childhood would have been happier if the people around her weren’t so passive.

I also sided with the Anarchists because there were Renegades who didn’t deserve to be called “heroes,” in the truest sense of the word. Some Renegades abused their privileges and saw themselves as superior to Nova and the other Anarchists. Of course, as their name implies, the Anarchists weren’t totally innocent. Still, they didn’t deserve to be treated inhumanely. Also, if I were to focus on Nova alone, I would say that she was the one who deserved to be called a Renegade. She belonged to a villainous group, but many of her actions reflected heroism.

It was no surprise that Adrian made me think twice about my loyalty. He wasn’t one of those narcissistic Renegades. As much as he wanted to attain justice, he wasn’t willing to compromise his integrity. Furthermore, even though he was the son of the founders of the Renegades, Adrian wasn’t smug or complacent. He treated his peers with warmth and respect, and he even managed to be compassionate to his enemies. The best thing I liked about him was his willingness to listen to other people’s opinions or suggestions. Despite his elevated rank as a Renegade, he didn’t believe that the Renegades and their policies were perfect. In retrospect, his only flaw was his gullibility. :3 All in all, Adrian was a perfect example of what a Renegade should be like. And let me tell you, Nova acknowledged this fact.

Putting Nova and Adrian side by side, it was utterly difficult for me to stay loyal. I deeply sympathized with Nova, but I didn’t want her to succeed at the expense of Adrian’s happiness. With that in mind, I really loved this book because it gave me moments of deep, philosophical introspection. Marissa Meyer wrote Renegades in such a way that categorizing characters into heroes and villains wasn’t as easy as pie. I had so much fun practicing my critical thinking skills.

Honestly, I couldn’t find major flaws to discuss in this review, but for objectivity’s sake, I felt a bit jaded about one of the plot twists because it was reminiscent of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising.

In conclusion, Renegades is one of the most thought-provoking books YA has to offer. Anyway, you’re probably a silly person if you expect me to give a Marissa Meyer book less than 5 stars. HAHAHA. Even though it didn’t exactly reach the bar set by The Lunar Chronicles, I can say that I genuinely loved this book. If you’ve read it, too, please don’t hesitate to fanboy/fangirl with me! 😀

P.S. Other noteworthy virtues of Renegades include:

1. Diversity (i.e. Nova is half Filipino <3)
2. An almost romance-free plot
3. A mind-blowing ending that more than compensated for the mentioned “flaw”.

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Author Interview

Q & A with Margaret Rogerson

Thank God it’s Friday! Before I go back to my hometown for my mom’s birthday, I’d like to express my fondness for my new favorite book, An Enchantment of Ravens. Many people have been raving about it on Goodreads and Instagram, and I’m glad to say that the hype is legit. All of my though can be read in my review. Margaret has the gift of painting with words and creating such intriguing characters. If you love enthralling fantasy books, you should grab a copy of AEOR when it comes out on September 26, 2017. 😀 I’m very thankful for the opportunity to get to know Margaret through this brief interview. ❤

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1. How was the plot and world of your book conceived? Who or what inspired you to write a love story between a human and fae?

“I came up with Enchantment while I was in the shower one morning, and there was really no rhyme or reason to it—it was like getting struck by idea lightning. But I was definitely inspired by a few things, including my fondness for traditional folklore, and a couple of books: Beauty by Robin McKinley, and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I knew I wanted to write a fairy tale romance with a capable Robin McKinley-esque heroine, and I also wanted the story to involve fairies in a Regency era setting, like JS & MN.”

2. If you were a gifted maker of Craft like Isobel, would you paint Rook in the same way she did? (i.e. Would you pick a different emotion?)

“That’s a very good question! My actions would depend upon how much I knew about the fair folk and the consequences of painting sorrow in a fair one’s eyes. If I knew it would get me in trouble, I wouldn’t do it! In Isobel’s shoes, however, I would have painted him the same way she did, because she wasn’t aware of what would happen.”

3. If you had an immortal boyfriend/husband, would you find a way to be with him forever at the expense of something very important to you?

“This might sound terrible, but no! I think the events of the book speak to what I believe myself, which is that life and love and art are meaningful because of their impermanence. Spending eternity with a loved one seems great in theory, but I imagine that much like one of the fair folk’s enchantments, the choice would eventually turn
sour—especially if you’ve given up a key part of your identity, or even your humanity, to achieve it.”

4. How do you react when you see readers comparing/contrasting your work to other popular YA novels (i.e. ACOTAR)?

“For the most part, I’m incredibly flattered. I’ve heard great things about Sarah J. Maas and the ACOTAR series, and she has such a huge, passionate, talented fan community. Seeing that outpouring of love for her work has been awe-inspiring and I’m grateful to have been touched by it. I also believe I owe most of the buzz surrounding Enchantment
to the ACOTAR fanbase, which I appreciate so much. If I ever meet Sarah in person, I owe her a lifetime supply of chocolate.

“On the other hand, as anyone can probably imagine, it’s rough to have your debut novel constantly compared to another book. I began writing An Enchantment of Ravens before ACOTAR came out (the road to publishing a debut novel takes years), and I vividly remember seeing an announcement about ACOTAR and thinking, “My god, this looks really similar to what I’m working on right now.” That happens a lot in publishing and it can be a crushing experience. As the buzz started mounting, I kept thinking to myself: Sarah J. Maas is a beloved pro author with several bestselling novels under her belt—how can my first book possibly live up to her fans’ expectations?

“Fortunately, I think the similarities are mostly on the surface, and while I haven’t read ACOTAR yet, based on what I’ve heard the books are really quite different. But that does come back to bite me occasionally, because I think a lot of readers have already gone into An Enchantment of Ravens expecting it to be a very different kind of book than what it is.”

5. Gleaning upon Gadfly’s morally gray personality (I’m not sure if I could call him an antagonist), what is your take on “the end justifies the means”?

“Personally I don’t believe the end justifies the means, except when I’m plotting a novel and planning to do awful things to my characters. But I do have to put myself inside the heads of characters whose philosophies oppose mine, and I have to admit, Gadfly certainly did get results.

“I wish I could say more about Gadfly without venturing into spoiler territory. I loved writing him in all his manipulative, pastry-obsessed glory.”

6. How do you create your fictional characters? Do you consider particular archetypes (or reader expectations) before writing, or do your characters come to you in a natural, free-flowing way?

“I think it’s a combination of both. I start out with archetypes and they come alive on the page as I write them. For example, I wasn’t expecting Rook to turn into so much of a cinnamon roll, as readers have been calling him (or a pumpkin roll in some cases, which is delightful). I do begin writing with a clear idea of how I want the dynamics between the characters to feel, though.”

7. If someone mysteriously “mauled” all of the copies of AEOR, what chapter or portion of the book would you salvage?

“I love this question! It would have to be the scene with the teapot.

“Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog, Josh!”

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About the author:

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Margaret writes fantasy for young adult readers. Her books draw inspiration from old fairy tales, because she loves stories in which the beautiful and the unsettling are sometimes indistinguishable. She lives near Cincinnati, Ohio, and when she’s not reading or writing she enjoys drawing, watching documentaries, making pudding, gaming, and exploring the outdoors in search of toads and mushrooms.

Visit Margaret’s website

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Book Review

Strange the Booknerd

Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1)Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Laini Taylor is one of my most favorite authors. I really loved her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, so I was really excited to read Strange the Dreamer. Since I enjoyed her previous books, I was amazed again by her gift in telling stories. I really loved how she created such wonders with only the use of words. Her descriptions were so vivid, and it was amazing how I could easily imagine the world she created. Her writing style appealed to all of my senses – I could see, hear, smell, feel, and taste like I was a part of the story, and that alone, was magic.

This book is somehow similar to her previous books – full of magic, mystery, and wonder. Laini Taylor yet again created another fantastic world with fascinating people and other creatures. Myths, monsters, magic, gods and goddesses, plot twists and a nerdy protagonist… all that good stuff, you can find it here!

The main character, Lazlo Strange, as the title would say, is a dreamer, but I would call him a booknerd. He loves to read books, and he is obsessed with this mysterious, magical city. As readers, we can all relate to him. We love discovering new worlds hidden in the pages of a book, wishing that they really exist. We devour stories like they are food that we need to survive. At times, stories are escape pods from reality, and as far as I can tell, Lazlo feels the same way.

While I really enjoyed reading this book, there were some parts that I found a little bit slow. If I compare these parts to an electrocardiogram, they would be the flat, horizontal lines. It took me 2 months to finish the book because I often got bored and lost interest when I reached those flat lines.

The last few chapters made up for the slow parts of the book though. The climax was an emotional roller coaster. So much stuff was happening, and it was overwhelming! I couldn’t believe that I felt so many emotions – happiness, excitement, anxiety, sadness, grief, dread, anger – in just a few chapters! I devoured these chapters as fast as I could, always wanting to know what would happen next…until I’ve reached the end, and my heart stopped beating.

I still want to talk more about this book because there are so many things to talk about, but it’s best to dive into this book without knowing a lot to maintain the “mysterious vibes” that it wants the readers to experience. I really enjoyed Strange the Dreamer even though it took me a very long time to finish it. I highly recommend it!

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Book Review

If ACOTAR Were Rewritten

An Enchantment of RavensAn Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

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

I have never met anyone more frustrating, or brave, or beautiful. I love you. —Rook

Sasha Alsberg was right when she said that people who loved ACOTAR would enjoy this book. An Enchantment of Ravens has been trending both on Instagram and Goodreads, and I am very pleased to tell you that the hype is legit. Although there really shouldn’t be any competition or comparison between the two (ACOTAR is NA, while AEOR is YA), I thought that this book was way better than ACOTAR (i.e. there wasn’t unnecessary, steamy content).

Essentially, AEOR is a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It follows Isobel, a gifted painter who is popular among the fae. She eventually garners the attention of Rook, the powerful, brooding prince of the autumn court. Unlike her peers, Isobel possesses the unique ability of making her fae subjects look human in their paintings. When she inadvertently creates a masterpiece that reflects Rook’s hidden vulnerability, he becomes enraged and demands that she stand trial in his domain. On their journey to the autumn court, Isobel and Rook gradually come to a mutual understanding. Unfortunately, their relationship may cost them their lives…and more.

For me, AEOR was a meaningful love story. I was already familiar with some of the plot’s aspects, but I didn’t feel bored or jaded because the characters were so delightful and well-developed. I particularly admired Isobel for her desire to stay herself. She genuinely loved Rook, but she refused to become immortal at the expense of her humanity (i.e. her artistry). This side of Isobel’s personality made me grin because it was so “anti-Bella,” if you get my drift. Hahaha. I loved Twilight when I was a teenager, but I was ecstatic to encounter a heroine who wasn’t willing to give up everything just to be with a boy forever. High five to all my empowered female friends!

As for Rook, he was like Disney’s Beast in that there was a lot of depth beneath his glamour (which hid his supposedly frightful appearance). Isobel assured him that he wasn’t the monster that he thought he was, and I completely agreed with her. Rook was definitely the main source of humor in the novel. He was the type who could make people laugh even though he didn’t intend to be funny, at least most of the time. Furthermore, it was fascinating that Rook’s nature as a proud and vain fae made him much more likable. Charming, even. Pride and vanity aren’t traits that I find attractive in real life. However, the author crafted Rook in a manner that made me realize he actually had a right to be that way. Thankfully, these traditionally negative qualities didn’t influence the power relations between Rook and Isobel. In fact, the ending of the book had a surprisingly Feminist tone. 😉

Since Isobel was a painter, art played an important role in this book. As I read it, I couldn’t help but wonder if the author were an artist herself. There were a lot of details about how Isobel used a variety of natural ingredients for her paint, as well as what kinds of paint she used to produce particular portraits. With that in mind, I also enjoyed this book because of its mildly educational content; it was like my very own Painting 101 class.

If you check out other reviews of AEOR, you might notice that most of them have one thing in common: they praise the author’s flowery writing style. Hmm…I myself enjoyed the language in this book, which reminded me of some of my favorite, elegantly written works, like Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse and Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen. It was clear that Margaret Rogerson had a talent for painting with words. Still, there were times that the writing became overwhelming. It was good that my Kindle had a built-in dictionary because otherwise I would’ve had a difficult time checking out many unfamiliar, literary words. Of course, this criticism is subjective. You won’t have any problem if you have a super expansive vocabulary. ^^

In the end, AEOR made me bask in complete wonder and happiness. It was like ACOTAR, but so much better. It was basically a glorious painting in literary form. I’m definitely adding this to my shelf of favorite books! ❤ Be prepared to have a happy book hangover. :3

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

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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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