Book Review: The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat — An Imaginative Fantasy Retelling That Provided Me a Refuge from the Harshness of Life

Hi guys! Last semester, I met the amazing Christina Soontornvat at the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival when I asked David Arnold (who I met for the second time) for a picture! We talked a bit and she was so kind and even gave me a copy of her debut novel The Changelings to read. If you haven’t seen it in the #kidlit world, Christina is going to write a nonfiction book depicting the cave rescue of the Thai cave rescue, using her knowledge of STEM from her background in the field and her knowledge of Thai culture and geography since she is Thai herself. I am so happy and excited for her, and today I am reviewing her debut novel The Changelings, an MG fantasy! Hope you enjoy!

And if you want to check out my LILbooKtalk with Christina Soontornvat and K. E. Ormsbee on “Finding Your Narnia: Transporting Readers to Fantasy Worlds,” check it out here!


About the BookThe Changelings

Izzy’s family has just moved to the most boring town in the country. But as time goes on, strange things start to happen; odd piles of stones appear around Izzy’s house, and her little sister Hen comes home full of stories about the witch next door.

Then, Hen disappears into the woods. She’s been whisked away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to save her. Joined there by a band of outlaw Changelings, Izzy and her new friends set out on a joint search-and-rescue mission across this foreign land which is at turns alluringly magical and utterly terrifying.

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4 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free signed copy of this book from the author for review consideration. This will not affect my review in any way.

A great fantasy novel will provide me a special refuge from the outside world. I want to become immersed in the magic, the adventure, the characters, and the world-building to the point where I do not want to leave. Once I picked up The Changelings, I became dazzled and awestruck by the fantastical world of Faerie; and the story was brimming with action, adventure, magic, creatures, family, and friendship! The Changelings is an imaginative retelling based on a classic tale that will enchant and warm the welcome hearts of readers regardless of age. Faerie is a world that I didn’t want to leave, and I really want to revisit it in the sequel.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat — An Imaginative Fantasy Retelling That Provided Me a Refuge from the Harshness of Life”

Author Interview: Sarah Jean Horwitz, MG Steampunk Author of The Wingsnatchers

Hi guys! I hope you are having an awesome August! Today, Sarah Jean Horwitz is here to talk about her Carmer and Grit series, a Middle Grade duology that combines fantasy and steampunk together. I won both books in a giveaway hosted by Sarah, and I am super excited to read them, especially after reading her epic interview! I hope you enjoy!


About the BookThe Wingsnatchers

A stunning debut about a magician’s apprentice and a one-winged princess who must vanquish the mechanical monsters that stalk the streets and threaten the faerie kingdom.

Aspiring inventor and magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III would rather be tinkering with his latest experiments than sawing girls in half on stage, but with Antoine the Amazifier’s show a tomato’s throw away from going under, Carmer is determined to win the cash prize in the biggest magic competition in Skemantis. When fate throws Carmer across the path of fiery, flightless faerie princess Grit (do not call her Grettifrida), they strike a deal. If Carmer will help Grit investigate a string of faerie disappearances, she’ll use her very real magic to give his mechanical illusions a much-needed boost against the competition. But Carmer and Grit soon discover they’re not the only duo trying to pair magic with machine – and the combination can be deadly.

In this story perfect for readers of the Lockwood & Co and Wildwood series, Sarah Jean Horwitz takes readers on a thrilling journey through a magical wooded fairyland and steampunk streets where terrifying automata cats lurk in the shadows and a mad scientist’s newest mechanical invention might be more menace than miracle.

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Sarah Jean Horwitz Interview

1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

I love writing because I love storytelling, and writing happens to be a pretty great way to share your stories with the world. I took some creative writing classes and wrote terrible fan fiction in high school, but it wasn’t until I took my first screenwriting class in college that I really fell in love with writing. Screenwriting has a very specific format and structure, and I found that very attractive as a new writer, as opposed to the terrifying abyss that appeared in my mind when someone said, “Write a story!” I took screenwriting classes throughout college and found that education to be very helpful when I turned my hand to children’s books.

2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

The Harry Potter books were my favorite books for much of my life and still hold a very special place in my heart. Harry Potter has probably influenced me as a writer the most – something I think readers can tell, with all the Harry Potter references sprinkled through my books! I’ve been reading a fair bit of YA fantasy since high school and college. Maggie Stiefvater is a favorite of mine. I’ve often though to myself, “When I grow up, I want to write fantasy as good as Maggie Stiefvater’s!”

3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

I write part-time and also have a day job as an administrative assistant at a real estate company. When I’m not writing, I enjoy watching TV, hanging out with my partner, reading, and circus arts. Most recently I’ve been practicing handstands and trapeze.

4. The first novel in your Carmer and Grit series—The Wingsnatchers—follows aspiring inventor Carmer and faerie princess Grit as they investigate the recent disappearances of many faeries, only to discover that a mad and deadly scientist is behind them. Since Carmer and Grit infuses magic and steampunk together, could you describe to us your world-building process for your series? What drew you to steampunk as an author and a reader? The Wingsnatchers

I always joke that the steampunk element of my books is the most accidental element, and it really is. The very first idea that I ever had for Carmer and Grit was a mental image of a boy in a top hat with a fairy with a mechanical wing sitting on the brim. Naturally, I had to at least partly build the story world around the existence of that mechanical wing. This led to research on clockwork, automatons, and the Industrial Revolution. When I also made the decision to pair fairy light and electric light in the plot, that of course took me straight to Thomas Edison and the late 1800s and the first power stations. And suddenly, bam! I found myself with an alternate Victorian era setting and a plot that heavily incorporated steam power and futuristic technology. And so: accidental steampunk! It just so happens that I love the aesthetic of that literary traditional as well, so I had great fun incorporating a lot of that imagery into the books.

Continue reading “Author Interview: Sarah Jean Horwitz, MG Steampunk Author of The Wingsnatchers”

Duology Double Reviews!: Midnight without a Moon (FC) & A Sky Full of Stars (ARC) by Linda Williams Jackson

Hi guys! Back in October, I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting with Linda Williams Jackson, who is super nice and wonderful, at the Southern Festival of Books, and she got in touch with her publisher to send me review copies of her MG historical fiction novels Midnight without a Moon and A Sky Full of Stars, the latter being released next month! I hope you enjoy these reviews, and please consider buying these books either for you or for a loved one for Christmas! You will NOT regret that decision!


About Midnight without a MoonMidnight without a Moon

It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. For now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation. Then, one town over, an African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When Till’s murderers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change and that she should be part of the movement. Linda Jackson’s moving debut seamlessly blends a fictional portrait of an African American family and factual events from a famous trial that provoked change in race relations in the United States.

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4 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free hardcover finished copy of this book from the publisher HMH in exchange for an honest review.

The moment I read the first chapter of this novel, I knew Midnight without a Moon would be spectacular. My heart was actually pounding from the events that unfolded in just the first few pages, and I tore through the pages like lightning. This year, I have found so many middle grade books that pack the punches, and I am so glad to include both novels of the Rose Lee Carter duology on the list! Jackson’s stunning debut truly shows the struggle of being an African American in the 1950s and presents Rose’s story in such a beautiful way that as you turn the last page, you would either be filled with hope or with tears of joy.

Continue reading “Duology Double Reviews!: Midnight without a Moon (FC) & A Sky Full of Stars (ARC) by Linda Williams Jackson”

Exclusive Interview with Austin Aslan

Hi guys! Today I have an exclusive interview with an author that is very sentimental to me! It was actually become of Austin Aslan’s books that started my love for Young Adult fiction. I was so hesitant to read The Islands at the End of the World at first because of the length, but when I picked it up and opened it, I devoured it! It’s up in my favorites because it means so much to me! I’m so happy I’m able to interview this wonderful author, and I hope you enjoy this interview!

austin-aslan

 

1. What are your books The Islands at the End of the World and The Girl at the Center of the World about?sandiego1-body

Hi, Kester. Thanks for inviting me onto your blog. I’m excited to be here. ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD is a young adult disaster/survival novel with science-fiction elements. The story involves a catastrophic global blackout but it takes place entirely on the Hawaiian Islands. It’s about a 16 year-old girl named Leilani who is half white, half Hawaiian. She lives on the Big Island but she and her father are on the island of Oahu when the global blackout happens. The islands are suddenly thrust into darkness and isolation. No one knows what’s going on. As days without electricity, without airplane travel, and without food/gas shipments turn to weeks, tensions grow, hunger sets in, and the situation on the islands becomes desperate and violent. Lei and her dad set off on their own to get home to the Big Island by any means necessary. A lot of crazy things happen in this book, and there are some cool science-fiction things going on, too, but this novel is really about a strong father/daughter relationship that’s strained to the limits on a dangerous journey to get back home to family.

The sequel, THE GIRL AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD, continues the saga started in the first book. GIRL is different from book one in a number of crucial ways. The difficult geography of Hawai`i, the sense of separation, the urgency to get home—these are all powerful, compelling story elements that come together to make ISLANDS wholly unique. Developing a fresh, exciting sequel to such a singular story was quite a challenge. With GIRL, I wasn’t interested in trying to repeat the feel of ISLANDS out of some unspoken sense of obligation to match what I had already done. I wanted to engage in a new kind of storytelling and a new set of scenarios. The important thing is that I returned to the characters! I think I hit just the right mix of old and new with GIRL.

2. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

I’ve always been a writer. I once turned in an 11-page short story in sophomore English class for a simple page-long vocabulary assignment. Looking back, one of the greatest insights of my life was long ago identifying writing as a possible way to escape my destiny. Writing is cheap. It costs NOTHING to put pencil to paper and go. What other creative pursuit can you engage in with the potential of making a career out of it without spending a dime? For the cost of a Number Two pencil and a notebook we can stop the globe spinning. We can blow up buildings. We can create and destroy entire lives, entire solar systems. We can make people cry and laugh and beg for more. It’s pretty astounding.

3. Who are your favorite authors, and which ones have had an impact on you? Who has affected your writing style the most?

I grew up reading Stephen King and Douglas Adams and Michael Crichton. Almost exclusively. Not the greatest variety, unfortunately. But I caught up with reading all those books I was supposed to read in high school when I entered the Peace Corps. I read the 100 most influential English-language books of the 20th Century during those years. And it was important for my development as a writer to do so.

4. What are your favorite genres to read and write? What are your favorite books?

I have no favorite child, and the best books I’ve read are all unique enough to defy direct ranking against each other. But for what it’s worth, my best reads have all been somehow transcendental, somewhat epic in form, and illuminate something profound of the Human condition. 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera fit the bill. LOTR does, too. Brothers Karamozov. The Gunslinger and The Shining. Cloud Atlas, for its sheer versatility. And one of the few series I read over and over again: Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea books. Simply sublime. I don’t know what these books do to my own writing, except to humble me, and ignite my love for the written word.

5. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?austin-aslan_islandsattheendoftheworld_sfwa

I now write for a living. I NOW WRITE FOR A LIVING! I avoided a mid-life crisis by THIS much. I no longer shy away from that “What do YOU do for a living?” question at parties.  I’m cuter. I’m younger. (Not.)

I like to hike and backpack and get outdoors. I thru-hiked the entire Arizona National Scenic Trail last winter. It’s 800-miles long, absolutely gorgeous, and it took me almost three months to complete. You can read more about those adventures here: http://www.gore-tex.com/blog/author/a_aslan/

6. Have you been to Hawaii before? How was living there? How did your experience in Hawaii help shape the story?

I lived in Hilo, on the Big Island, when I was getting my masters degree in Tropical Conservation Biology. My field sites were high up on the forested slopes of Mauna Loa Volcano. I was coming home from a rainy day of doing pollination experiments with rare Hawaiian flowers and I drove down through the clouds and suddenly had a great, clear view of the ocean surrounding the island. I was struck by how alone and isolated the Hawaiian Islands were (this is something that people in Hawaii think about frequently, and it wasn’t a new thought for me, either). At that time, I happened to be thinking about a haunting post-apocalyptic book by Cormac McCarthy called THE ROAD. The idea popped into my head that it would be really interesting to set a post-apocalyptic story on the isolated Hawaiian Islands, and the story and characters just started flowing out of me like lava! I thought to myself, Everybody know what happens at the end of the world in New York and LA, but what would a global disaster mean for Islanders? 95% of Hawaii’s food is imported every day. The islands are home to 1.5 million people. If things got tough there, where would all those people go? There are no mountain ranges or Great Plains to escape to. Everyone is stuck. Hungry. No way to escape. When I arrived home at the end of my drive, I started writing the book immediately, that night, and I had my first draft finished 83 days later—all while going to class and doing field work for my degree!

7. Can you speak Hawaiian? Do you know any words?

I only know a few words of Hawaiian. The book doesn’t have much pidgin, and that was an editorial decision, as much as it was a product of the reality that I have no command of the dialect! My editor also works with Graham Salisbury, and they both long ago came to the conclusion that sales to general audiences dwindle as a direct function of how much pidgin appears in the text. Mainland readers just don’t have the patience to wade through too many unfamiliar words and phrases.

The biggest challenge for me was feeling comfortable and legitimate in writing about a Hawaiian main character and crafting a story deeply-rooted in Hawaiian cultures and traditions, even though I’m haole (white) and don’t come from the islands. I’m not Hawaiian, and there’s two problems with that. The obvious problem is that I don’t “know” the culture. There’s a lot to learn and I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface. I’ll never be an expert, though the book has to feel authentic not only to general readers, but to islanders, as well. The more complex problem is that, as an outsider, I struggle with claiming the right to tell a story set in Hawaii. I’m not only writing as a half Hawaiian when I’m not one. I’m also writing about thorny scenarios involving “sovereign nation” perspectives, and one of my bad guys is pure Hawaiian (though most of my Hawaiian characters are very noble, and I try to make all of my characters, regardless of race, as three-dimensional as possible). This issue has a lot of complexity around it, and I’m most comfortable approaching it with a great deal of humility. Ultimately, I think that any author has the right to tell any story they want to. The question is: can you get away with it? Will your effort be respected? Will the people whose voice you’re trying to assume authenticate your attempt or not? So far, the books have been respectfully received in different circles. I feel that I’ve approached this dynamic with awareness, humility, honesty, and good faith.

8. Did you really appear in the movies The Getaway with Alec Baldwin and The Postman with Kevin Costner? Did you get to meet them? Who’s the biggest celebrity you have met?

Yes. And I did get to meet both of them. I had a slice of Pizza Hut pizza on location with Alec while we waited for the crew to set up the scene for a car chase. Kevin actually directed me in a few scenes during Postman filming. Super fun experience. Those are two of the biggest celebrities I’ve ever been around, if you don’t count national politicians (I’ve worked on projects with more than I can count in another job). I’m looking to round out my rolodex, though; know of any you could hook me up with?

9. What would you do if technology fails? Could you live without it?

We have become so reliant on certain technologies, basic and advanced, that their sudden loss would be catastrophic to the normal functioning of society. How long do you think it would take for the more unstable forces in our communities to run Henny Penny into the street and self-fulfill a falling sky?

Though, to be clear, I don’t think the conditions of your question will ever actually be met. I think that a “sudden lack of energy” befalling our world is highly unlikely. Loss of technology and the power with which to run it is much more likely to be a slow, gradual process that we don’t even realize we’re adapting to, if it happens at all.

10. You’ve performed research on rare Hawaiian plants. How was your work, and have you discovered anything new?

I studied mutualism:  some creatures help each other out for so long that after a while they turn into special species that need each other to survive.  Plants and birds (and a lot of plants and bugs) can do this.  Pollination is one way that plants and birds help each other out.  Birds can get food from the flowers of plants.  In return, the plants can transfer pollen from one plant to the next by using the birds.

In Hawaii, an example of this is Hawaiian honeycreepers and a type of plant called lobeliads.  The honeycreepers have very long bills, which they use to reach the food deep inside the very long flowers of the lobeliad plants.  When the bird visits the flower, it gets pollen on its head, and then brings the pollen to the next flower to help the plant reproduce (make new plants). But what happens when one of the two species goes extinct? What happens to the other species? Will it also go extinct? In my study example, the flower is now being pollinated by a newly-introduced bird from Japan. The conventional wisdom is that introduced species are bad for ecosystems, but my research has helped to develop a narrative within the scientific community that this issue is more complicated than we want to realize.

11. Could you describe your reaction when you got “the call” that your books will become published?

“The Call” is a misnomer, at least in my experience. It’s an involved process, spanning many days. I went back and forth with several editors from different houses, and all the while things remained in flux, though at some ambiguous point it became pretty clear that someone was going to make a final offer. I was sick in bed with a cold the day things got finalized. I was pretty ecstatic, and took my wife out to dinner, but it all kind of felt forced at the time.

I dreamed and dreamed and dreamed of becoming a published author, and I half expected my life to suddenly transform into glitz and glamor and whatever once I finally realized my dream (don’t we all day dream about that?). But the truth is that I believe that circumstances don’t change who people are. Change in one’s life comes from within; it’s rarely external. The good fortune I’ve had so far hasn’t changed who I am or how I act or who I hang out with. The biggest difference for me is that I’m now able to make writing my job. But I don’t actually feel that I’m writing more often than I used to. I’m just getting paid to do it now. So, it has freed me up somewhat, but that just means I have more time to attend to the thousand other responsibilities of raising a family!

12. Who was your favorite character to write about and why?img_6459

Leilani, for sure.

Leilani was such a miraculous surprise for me. I had no idea I could write someone like her. My “model” for her—my own daughter—was only seven years old at the time I wrote the novel. I did my best to project forward into her teenage years as I wrote. It seems to have worked out fairly well! Leilani is so awesome because she’s every bit as strong as Katniss Everdeen but she’s so much more. She operates in the real world, and her challenges are the kind that any one of us could face on a bad day. Her courage and her wits are exceptional, and she’s constantly saving her father rather than the other way around. She’s mixed race (half white, half Hawaiian), which presents its own set of hardships in our confusing world, especially in the context of a scenario in which society is unraveling at the seams! Leilani also suffers from epilepsy. Lei isn’t intended to be cool or special because she has a disability, or because she’s able to navigate a terrifying world in spite of her setbacks. She’s not inspirational or pitiable because of her disability. It’s just a part of her that she struggles with and manages, at times, to accept. It’s who she is.

Now, there are fantastical elements to this story. Lei finds herself in a position to make a big difference in the world. But she’s no “Chosen One.” I hope that’s sufficiently conveyed in the text. The abilities that she finds she has are not unique to her. She just happens to be in the right place at the right time to seize the moment and the initiative. Her successes and her failures are completely hers to choose. I don’t believe that she operates under any mandate of destiny, as occurs in so many fantasy and science-fiction stories, so, yeah, ironically, this is another big thing that makes Leilani special and unique.

And one last thing, since we’re on the subject. I’m very hopeful that readers will find Lei a very refreshing departure from the star-crossed girl who is inexplicably caught up in romantic engagements even though everyone has bigger problems at the moment. This book doesn’t have any love triangles. Lei is a sixteen-year-old girl who occasionally crosses paths with interesting guys, but the “love” in this has nothing to do with romance. It’s about family. It’s about her father. Something I hope most readers can connect with in a very real and visceral way.

One of the very first decisions I had to make before I started typing this story was whether I wanted my main character to be a boy or a girl. The choice was easy for me. I have a daughter. I could easily imagine myself as a father feeling the burden of keeping her safe if we were in the situation of my book, having to hop islands to get home while society disintegrates. It was scary to think about. I also knew I wanted to write a YA novel, so the youth had to be the main character. Once I was convinced that my MC would be a girl, writing as her wasn’t that hard. I just channeled my daughter as best I could and assumed (for better and for worse, in some cases) that for all the ways we like to portray boys and girls as impossibly different, they’re actually pretty similar. I think it worked out just fine. I was fortunate to find a voice for Leilani quickly, and then I just stayed authentic to that voice throughout the book. When my agent and I were shopping the novel around, an editor at a major publishing house said that she was surprised to learn that I was a guy. I was very flattered by that, and took it as a good sign that I had effectively managed to pull off a girl MC!

13. Have you written any other works? What are also your current plans with your writing career?

As a matter of fact, yes! Several projects. Different genres. I recently finished a draft of a new disaster adventure set later in the 21st century. I’m very fond of that project. I’m also developing a series of chapter books with an environmental theme. I have two fantasy project in the works, as well. In this industry, the key is to keep writing, and I plan to continue doing just that for the foreseeable future.

14. Do you have any tips to any aspiring authors or writers?

Keep writing. And by that, I mean new material. You may not find publication for your first project, no matter how polished and perfect you can eventually get it through revisions. (I’ve written seven books and only published two!) You need a wide array of projects to shop around. As they say, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

I love that I’m living proof that perseverance will eventually pay off. If you want to be a published author badly enough, you can make it happen. Writing is one of those rare careers these days where new people still constantly break in and become successful. It is honestly true that agents and editors are looking at the quality of your material first and foremost. Who you are, where you came from, your education level, your rap sheet…none of these things matter in this business as much as your story, your characters, and your voice. Anybody can do this. It took me ten years and six novels to finally make it all the way through the door, but I always trusted in the system to judge me fairly and my learning and growth finally paid off. So, if you really, really, really want to publish a book, you will. The trick is, of course, that “really wanting it” recognizes that there are certain ways to play ball and you have to respect the process and you have to continuously hone your craft and strive to be a better writer. Getting published is like going to the Olympics…you honestly have to train HARD to make it. But it’s also better than going to the Olympics, because you don’t need to be born with an athletic body that predisposes you to competitive ability—you just need a sharp mind and a good story and LOTS of practice!

Thank you so much, Austin! It was fun interviewing you! Thank you for writing such brilliant books that made me interested in Young Adult fiction!

If you want to check out more of Austin’s works or social media accounts, click below to check them out!

Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads

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Hope you enjoyed this interview! Please continue to share and like our posts, as well as follow us to keep track of our latest interviews and giveaways! Don’t forget we have two giveaways- Marie Silk and Melanie Ifield– so go check those out! And