Monday, October 21, 2013

Interview with the Twinjas

My guests today are Libertad and Guinevere, the ladies behind Twinja Book Reviews. That's right, a double feature!

I first met the twins on Goodreads, and later started following their blog. And while their reviews are interesting, and the books they review varied, the best thing about their blog is that it features literature with characters that are not your typical mainstream protagonists. Multicultural settings, multicultural characters, and multicultural reviewers. What could be better?

So, without further ado, here are my guests.

About us:

Well we are a set of fraternal twins who have a scary obsession with books and geek culture. Luckily for us our mom didn't give us awkward twin names like Tia and Tamera(which doesn't matter because that's all people know us as anyways)but rather Guinevere and Libertad. Libertad got lucky with her name because people always seem to ask her about her heritage when they meet her but me? More people know my name and its always a conversation starter. But we both have in common that no one has a clue on how to pronounce either!

Anyways....together we run a book blog called Twinja Book Reviews. We both take Tang Soo do, Wing Chun and a gymnastics like art called Tricking and seeing how we're twins everyone just started calling us the Twinjas. The nicknames stuck so we thought it would be a cute way to establish a web persona. This is corny but even in our 20s we're still really happy to be twins and its part of our identity so why fight it?

On our blog we review a multitude of books but there's a catch....the main protagonist or the love interest has to be a person of color, disabled, plus sized, part of the lgbtq community or of a non Christian faith. While this limits the reviews we accept, it's opened a door for us to read more fiction featuring characters very different than ourselves.

Growing up in a Cuban American household we had just that experience and the experience of the world seeing us as African American, so we wanted to start reading characters who reflected the people we see, not just the people who make up the majority.

Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?


Well currently we are opening our review policies out to some different books. We started out just reviewing Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, YA, Middle Grade, children's fiction, and contemporary fiction but we've started to include New Adult, Mystery(even though we're really limited to this genre), Crime thrillers, Historical Fiction, literary fiction and Romance. As far as favorite, I think we both stand by Fantasy being our favorite to review! Especially epic or heroic fantasy! It just doesn't get old for us!

On average, how many books do you review each month?


Well that's kind if hard to say. When we first started we were only doing between the both of us 3-4 reviews a month, but we've been getting so many requests lately that we've managed to read between the Both of us 8-14 books a month. It's easier since there's two of us, whomever reads the fastest takes on the next arc or request outside of books we choose ourselves. It could possibly be more in the future because this has become part of our lives now!

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?


Well we do accept unsolicited review requests. Most of the books we review are requests, because our blog only reviews books with multicultural themes and characters its been a wonder that so many authors have stumbled across our humble blog interested in sharing their books with us! Books with diverse characters have gained a reputation of not selling as well as books with white protagonists, but I think the reason is these books don't often get the same promotion, which is why we started our blog in the first introduce readers to books that feature different kinds of characters instead of the default.

But we do have a ton of books we but personally. For every 3 review requests we get and finish, we then move onto something we purchased personally. The review requests we try to make first priority as most of the time authors prefer them by a certain time.

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?


Well we try to make it known that we are really open to self published titles. Most books with people of color in them  are self published.(at least in our experience of searching for them) I do notice that some self published authors are kind of....stalkerish and take not so glowing reviews badly, but the bad experiences hasn't completely turned us off to reviewing them, just putting some research into the authors etiquette.

But I will say a large percentage of the books I read and loved this year were self published. At least 60%, so our support will always be there for indies!

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?


As reviewers we ALWAYS state honest opinions! Too often I've purchased a book off of glowing reviews just to find out that the reviews weren't as honest. We have a particular rating style where we rate based off a point system, so in all honesty the only way a book would score insanely low(lower than a 3)is if it was poorly edited and suffered from pacing issues. We do score on diversity so for books that don't have diversity the highest you can get is a 4. But I think our system is pretty fair. There are some books I felt deserved Lower based on my personal feelings with the author or plot itself but our system forces us to be unbiased, which is why we made guidelines for it.

Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?


Well that's a difficult question to answer. I'm not sure any one author comes to mind. But there are some trailblazers I don't mind giving credit to. Octavia Butler, for being one of the first black authors to set the standard for Science Fiction with obvious African American characters.

 Sci fi/fantasy Ursula Le Guin for constantly sticking it to the industry for always white washing her characters.

Stephen King for being so diverse and dedicated to his craft.

And I have to add J.K. Rowling. Yea, I know her books is about a young boy and wizards but so many young people I know started reading after that book. It brightens my day to meet young kids who actually like reading and if an author can make readers out of thousand of kids and adults alike, I have to give props where props are due!

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?

Guinevere & Libertad:

That's easy! The lack if diversity in our favorite genres. When we started our blog we weren't sure anyone would find interest in it. The blogs I searched for that highlighted diversity seemed to give up on the idea or lacked the patience to really bring awareness to diversity in books. So we thought we wouldn't find any like minds in the blogging world.

But because we're one of the few that focus on it, it makes it insanely easy to find us! We're one of the few that pops up in the searches. And we've gotten a lot of requests, so authors have been making the effort to find bloggers who do find this important. It's not about making a big deal about authors and books who don't incorporate diversity, it's highlighting the ones that do! And that's kinda what we are all about!

The massive support we've gotten from other bloggers and authors is what keeps us going. If it wasn't for readers that want to see diversity in books and authors that write diversity in books, our blog would be pretty lonely and lacking content.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?


Well the genres that we consider favorites have a tendency to release a lot of similar stories a month so it's a challenge on finding a story that's truly unique. But I've noticed that books that include lores and myths of different cultures tend to introduce something different and non mainstream. The research and effort it takes to incorporate African, Asian or even South American legends makes a lot if books stand out, but that only works with fantasy and Science fiction.

When I look to other reviewers for their reviews on books we're interested in, I look for comments like "Oh if you've read Harry Potter, you've basically already read this". If I read more than 3 reviews like that, I tend to skip it and look for something else; but it doesn't mean I won't ever read it.

I like to think authors are trying to introduce new themes and new ways of telling stories but the truth is many traditional publishing houses aren't open to releasing books that won't make them money, which is why they would rather release similar themes over and over and over again. But self published titles definitely try to release something different, so I think it's not hard to find the authors that try to stand out.

Out of all the books you've read, are there any particular books or characters that stayed on your mind?


Well for me I just read a book called "I hunt Killers" by Barry Lyga. Although its a YA book it's very scary and dark and if I'm to be honest, it gave me nightmares. The book follows Jazz,the teenage son of a famous serial killer and for a 17 year old boy, his thoughts were insanely scary. He had been taught how to murder and mutilate women by his father and fought every day not to become the killer his father was. The author did a great deal of research in that field and his characters just really stuck out to me! But I will confess, I look at men a whole different way now XD Anyone could be a serial killer...that's what the book convinced me of.


Thinking of it now a book called The UnNaturalists, a steampunk fantasy in an alternate London really stood out to me as far as characters and story wise. The book featured a lot of characters of "Asian" descent(since its fantasy they really don't say they're Asian but how they are described and speak Mandarin as an ancient, almost dead language kinda told me they were. Then the author confirmed it for me!) And the main character was female, which is a plus for me! I can't put in a few words how much I loved it and still think about it, but yea that's the one for me!

What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?


Well for me, I'm pretty much proud of all my reviews! But there was a review I left recently for a book called Hush Puppy by Lisa Cresswell. I really loved it and my review talked a lot of my friends into getting it, so I mean what's better than people taking your opinion seriously?

Guinevere: Libertad I'm proud of all my reviews too but I recently read an arc from an author named Helen Wan, titled The Partner Track. The book was highly uncomfortable to read as it exposed the harsh realities of being a minority in the corporate world. But I couldn't put it down! My thoughts on that book were thought out and truthful and I hoped the author saw it as so.

You can find out more about Libertad and Guinevere by visiting their blog: Twinja book reviews

I would like to thank my guests today for sharing their thoughts with me. Please show them your support by visiting their blog and/or leaving a comment. Reviewers are a vital part of the literary community. 

If you would like to see someone featured on my humble blog, please drop me a line. 

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