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Ellen Zacarias

Hey there. I’m Ellen, and I graduated with a lit/writing degree from UCSD. As the chosen major suggests, I love books and working with text, and in addition to that, my other interests include style, MBTI and travel.

When I’m not working, reading or writing, I enjoy walking along trails, spending time with my family, and thinking about imaginary realms and characters.

You can contact me at ellen.ly@gmail.com.

Don't Leave Your Cookies with a Cranky Old Lady: Macaron Murder by Harper Lin Review

Macaron Murder, written by Harper Lin, is a short mystery novella that takes place in Paris. Clemence Damour returns to her parents’ posh and fancy apartment in Paris after some global adventuring. Her parents own a successful patisserie, which sells delicious pastries and desserts that are good enough to appease even the crankiest of neighbors, la gardienne.

However, the day after delivering the macarons to la gardienne, the cranky old neighbor is found dead in her apartment with a half-empty box of macarons nearby. Because of this detail, Clemence is immediately placed as a suspect, so she goes out of her way to investigate the other possible suspects in order to clear herself and to find the true culprit. In the meantime, she is also developing chemistry with a cute guy with a typewriter, and she spends time with her good friends at the patisserie.

True to the cozy subgenre, Macaron Murder treats the murder of la gardienne lightly, as well as sex scandals between the inhabitants of the posh apartment. Murder? Quite awful, but just a problem to solve. The light tone of the story kept the novel easy and fun to read, for its short length. However, the downside of having such a short length is that side characters don’t enough space to be fleshed into three-dimensional characters. We’re stuck with some simple caricatures such as the gruff and dismissive inspector. Clemence comes off as a bit distant at times, but ultimately I found her intelligent and likable.

With that in mind, the novella is fun and reads fast. The narrator’s little explanations of French culture were welcomed for context. The vision of Paris painted by this novel is clean, posh, and sweet. Overall, I recommend this book as a quick read. It won’t take long to finish it and the mystery is fun to follow, as Clemence goes through her list of suspects to find the true culprit of the crime.

As of February 19, 2015, the Macaron Murder ebook is free on Amazon. Go for it!

To Fans of Gossip Girl: Meet The Secret Diamond Sisters

Title: The Secret Diamond Sisters

Author:  Michelle Madow

Genre: YA Fiction

If you were a fan of Gossip Girl, you’d probably enjoy The Secret Diamond Sisters by Michelle Madow. It’s about three high school sisters, Savannah, Courtney, and Peyton who find out that they’re actually the daughters of a really wealthy businessman in Las Vegas.

They move from their sleepy down in California to Las Vegas and wow! The lush descriptions make anyone who loves nice things drool. From luxurious drapes to chandeliers–and SPACE! A world of difference away from the cramped apartment that the three sisters lived in.

Of the three sisters, Savannah, the youngest one, is the most eager to soak up the posh lifestyle. Courtney, the middle child, is the responsible one who wants to use Dad’s cash for necessities only. She’s also the most studious and likes to read. Peyton, the oldest, has seen the worst out of all sisters. She witnessed her mother’s many boyfriends, some more sketchy than others.

Crazy, elaborately designed theme hotels. Limos. Nice cars. Expensive night clubs. Cute guys.

And also included in the Las Vegas package: Madison, a rich antagonista who needs to be in control all the time. Madison sees the Diamond sisters as competitors to her reign over the school, as well as her favorite boys. What will she do to stop them from taking over?

It’s hard to read this without comparing it to Gossip Girl. I would say that the rivalry between Madison and the Diamond sisters lives up to its catty and juicy potential. However, the characters are a lot more redeemable and likable here than in Gossip Girl. The sisters genuinely care about each other, and even Madison has a conflicted conscience, despite her ambitions to be alpha queen.  I come away from finishing the novel feeling pretty good about everything.

One issue I had with this novel is slut-shaming. The practice of slut-shaming is common in high schools, and it exists in this novel as well. Male characters in the book get off scot-free for sleeping around–even glorified, while girls are shamed for doing the same thing. The Secret Diamond Sisters isn’t necessarily promoting the practice of slut-shaming (because Madison is also portrayed as a sympathetic character at times), but it is also not attempting to subvert that mindset, from what I can see. There’s the double standard of being “easy”, which applies to girls but not guys.

When it comes to class and money, The Secret Diamond Sisters is a lot more sympathetic towards poverty –it portrays working class people as respectable, even in their poverty. While characters in Gossip Girl tended to regard working class characters with disdain or even shame, the attitudes that the Diamond sisters’ family takes is different. The sisters’ dad respects the employees in the hotel who actually need the money to live.

Overall, I enjoyed reading about the Diamond sisters’ new and glamorous life in Las Vegas. The sisters are barely getting started, but the drama is already delicious. 

Find out more about The Secret Diamond Sisters by Michelle Madow:

Goodreads | Amazon

Author Interview: Jen Minkman Discusses Her Dystopian Fantasy Series – Part Two

This is part two of the Q&A session with Jen Minkman, author of the Tales of Skylge series. The questions here are regarding Minkman’s process of creating the Tales of Skylge. I was intrigued about the history behind the colonial tensions between the Anglian ruling class and the native Skylgers. On top of that, Sirens, a type of merfolk, play a large role in this series.

Jen Minkman was happy to answer my questions about where she got the ideas for the setting, mythology, culture, and history of the island, as well as her opinions on characters.

If you haven’t read part one, click here!

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1. This is your second series (that I’ve read) that deals with two very different societies that live together on an island. What is the appeal of using an island as a setting for your worlds?

Because it’s isolated, I guess. I like solitude. I also like the sea. When I was a child, I read the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton and would be in total awe of George Kirrin, who owned her own island. That was such an awesome thing!

2. The fantasy-dystopian series is an interesting combination of genres that isn’t as often used as dystopian science fiction in young adult fiction. How did you decide to use those two genres in the Tales of Skylge series?

Because I couldn’t choose! I felt like writing a series set on one of the Dutch islands with a mystic feel to it, but I also didn’t want to go overboard with that, so I wrote most of it like it could happen in the real world (but in a sort of alternate timeline). That’s why most of the conflict in the book arises from class inequality and oppressive leadership, which also turned it into my other favorite genre to write – dystopian.

3. How was the research process for Sounds of Sirens and Light of Lorelei?

Basically, I had it easy. I visited Skylge a couple years ago on a vacation trip with my husband. I’ve always had a thing with islands, so when I was looking for a new location for one of my stories, I thought about Skylge with its Brandaris Lighthouse and its rich history of Frisian settlers, English almost-invasion in 1666, and ties with the Frisian, Groninger and German coastal towns. Enna’s house was my holiday cottage. The island capital is called West in real life, but I named it after the lighthouse and the patron saint of coastal light. The Dead Men’s Casket lake also really exists and has various local legends associated with it, of which I used a mix.

4. What’s your favorite Siren/merfolk myth/story?

I loved Disney’s rendition of The Little Mermaid, but I recently also read an alternative sort-of mermaid story called Cerulean by Anna Kyss. I offered to translate it to Dutch for her and split the royalties 50-50, because I was so impressed by it!

5. What are some of the challenges you experienced in creating this series?

The Dutch names! Initially, I wanted to keep everything the same as on the island, but foreigners have no idea how to pronounce certain diphthongs in Dutch. The music festival in Sound of Sirens (Oorol) really exists and takes place on the island every year, but the locals write it Oerol (the oe sound is like English oo). So I changed some spellings in the end. As it is, some readers were already having a hard time with all the foreign names!

6. Why did you choose to base Skylge on the Dutch island of Terschelling?

Because I’d been there and the setting inspired me to write a story. Also, I thought it was about time I set one of my books in Holland. I am from Holland, after all!

7. What is the historical inspiration/basis for the colonial relationship between the Currents/Anglian ruling class and the native Skylgers?

Because the English almost invaded Skylge in 1666. Basically, they just torched the island capital and then went on their merry way, but in my story, they stayed. Hence the alternate timeline.

8. What’s the difference between “Currents” and “Anglians” in Skylge, and how did these two names come to be?

The name ‘Currents’ is what the original Skylgers usually call the Anglians. It’s like Indians calling the European colonists ‘pale-faces’ or ‘washichu’. The Anglians themselves won’t call each other Currents, because the use of electricity is not a point of contention for them among themselves.

9. Your Island series is described as a series of novellas. In the past, novellas was a difficult format to sell—publishers would lump the novellas together in an anthology to make it a sellable “size”. Do you think digital publishing has made novellas a more commercially viable storytelling format? (How’s the relationship between digital publishing and the length of your work?) What’s your experience with digital publishing?

Yes, I definitely think that digital publishing has made the novella more accessible. Some people just want a quick but satisfying read that will allow them to read the book in one sitting. I think writing a novella is one of the hardest things to do for a writer – you have to make it long enough to give your characters a chance to breathe, but short enough to call it a novella in the first place. The 20,000 word restriction on The Island (it was written for a writing contest in Holland) taught me how to write concisely and yet tell a full story.

10. Who designed the covers?

Clarissa Yeo designed the first cover as a pre-made, and I designed the two others inspired by her first design.

11. Who is your favorite character in Skylge and why?

I think it’s Tjalling. For now. Because he’s so tragic, in a way, and so wise at the same time.

12. Do you know how many books will be in Tales of Skylge?

Yes. Three! I’m currently making a planning to wrap things up nicely in Book 3. Having said that, I’m not saying ‘no, never’ to a fourth book, but it’s not something I’m planning for.

13. Do you know what your next series will be about?

Yes. My next series will be a duology spin-off of the Island series. I plan to write the two books in Spring/early summer. After that, I have a sci-fi/dystopian romance set on Mars on the menu. It’s something I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. I LOVE sci-fi and space travel.

***

This is the second and final part of the interview with Jen Minkman. I hope you’ve had a great time meeting her. Do check out Minkman’s blog or Goodreads page to find out more about her or her work.

If you haven’t read part one of the interview with Jen Minkman, click here!

Author Interview: Jen Minkman Discusses Her Life as an Author – Part One

Part 1

Jen Minkman, author of the Tales of Skylge series, hails from the Netherlands, and has published novels and novellas in both Dutch and English. Some of her books, such as The Island, have been published in several languages.

In the Netherlands, she is a trade-published author of paranormal romances and chick lit, while internationally, she is known for her dystopian literature, poetry, and paranormal romances.

Below is the first installment of the Q&A with Jen Minkman, regarding her life as an author and her thoughts of the Dutch and English book industries:

1. The YA Fiction (young adult fiction) genre has exploded in popularity in the last decade. What do you like about YA lit and what do you not like about it?

What I love about YA lit is that it focuses on the troubles and worries young adults experience when they grow up. They’re discovering the world, and that’s one heck of a journey. It doesn’t matter if the book is peppered with paranormal or fantasy elements – people will be people, and I love reading all about ‘what-if?’ scenarios involving young people being confronted with tough choices, young love (with or without vampires or angels), and what to make of the world.

What I don’t like about it is probably that it’s so commercialized right now. Publishers are running the risk of only publishing run-off-the-mill stories that are a lot like stuff we’ve seen before. But I also read a lot of indie authors and they still write whatever they like without paying heed to ‘what’s hip this year’.

2. How is the Dutch-language book industry like compared to the English-language book industry in the Netherlands?

People like reading in Dutch a little bit more than in English, but both languages are very popular in my country. People generally speak good English and love reading the bestsellers from the US and the UK. Sadly, our market tends to be dominated by Dutch translations of those bestsellers, pushing out the local authors who want to shine (with the exception of some very famous names that have been around since forever). This is why I signed with and now work for Storm Publishers, because they ONLY publish local YA authors from Holland and Belgium writing in the Dutch language. Those are the authors who aren’t picked up by big publishing houses because they represent more investment risk than just buying the translation rights to a big bestseller from the US. I believe in Storm Publishers’ mission 100%.

3. How would you compare the experiences of writing a novel in Dutch and writing one in English?

Writing a novel in English sometimes feels like I can’t say 100% what I want to say. It’s close, about 90%, but there’s always that elusive 10% that tells me I don’t know all the right words to express myself or give my characters life. That’s why I will never give up writing in Dutch. Admittedly it’s a lot more work to first write stuff in Dutch and then translate it, but I think it’s worth the effort.

4. What is your favorite thing about being a writer? Least favorite?

My autonomy. I’m self-published abroad and trade-published in my home country, but I currently make most of my money selling books in English (no surprise there). I can write whatever I like. If my publisher in Holland doesn’t like something I’ve written, I go ahead and publish it in English anyway. My work always gets a chance to reach readers, and my hobby has turned into half my livelihood. The downside to that development is that I’ve had to become much more business-oriented, so much so that I now spend a lot of time on marketing and advertising too. If I don’t, people won’t find my books. Sometimes I feel like it eats into my writing time, so my New Year resolution for the year 2015 was that I should write ‘just for fun’ a little bit more. So that’s what I’m doing in the month of February: I’m translating a book as part of my job for Storm Publishers in the Netherlands, and I’m writing a sort-of Lost In Space sci-fi romance drama on the side. It will never get published, but I just enjoy writing it. Maybe I can use elements of that story in a novel that does have marketability potential later on! It’s all practice; writers have to practice just as much as Olympic sportsmen and sportswomen.

5. What is your work schedule like when you are writing?

When I sit down to it, I write about 3 or 4 hours a day. After that, I burn out. I just can’t go on anymore. But whenever I’m in a writing flow, I block out everything else in a sort of hyperfocus. That’s why I feel truly connected to my worlds. Sometimes, I’m in the car driving home and I literally can’t wait to ‘meet up’ with my characters again and submerge myself in my made-up world. It’s like meeting up with your best friends for the trip of a lifetime.

6. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Reading, traveling, making music (I play the piano, guitar, and viola), and watching good movies on TV or in the cinema.

7. How would you describe your writing style? What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I have NO idea, actually. I guess I write like a machine gun sometimes. Short, fast sentences. But on the other hand, I also tend to make sentences too long by inserting dashes. I love dashes a bit too much, haha! Whatever the case, I like writing original stories that hopefully haven’t been done before. And whenever I read a review on Goodreads or Amazon saying that the reviewer ‘has never read something like this before’, I feel like patting myself on the back. J

8. For your writing process, do you go by a rough outline or do you wing it as you go?

First, I wing it as I go along. Once I’m a few chapters in, I set up a rough outline. Sometimes, my main characters want to do something different, though, and I almost always oblige. They know best!

9. When did you start writing for fun? What was your first story or novel about?

I’ve written for fun as far as my memory goes back, I think! I learned how to read at a very early age and I always created worlds in my head. I wrote my first real ‘book’ when I was ten. It was based on a dream I had about a crash-landed UFO and I learned how to use my dad’s typewriter in order to write it.

10. Which books have influenced you most? (Could be fiction, non-fiction, your family’s cookbook, anything!)

My God… it would be unfair to just name a few. I read so much that I get inspired all the time. I guess when I really have to stick to just a few, I’d have to go for the books from my childhood, because they made such a huge impression on me. I loved all books by Enid Blyton, but I also read loads of books by Tonke Dragt and Thea Beckman (famous children’s writers in the Netherlands) that had the power to completely take me away to a different world. I regularly re-read those books even now.

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Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed meeting Jen. Find out more about Jen Minkman:

Goodreads | Jen Minkman’s Blog

Album Review: Attack of the Titans: Hyperbubble Takes Synthpop to the Next Level

Album Title:  Attack of the Titans (Original Soundtrack)

Artist: Hyperbubble

Genre: Synthpop, electropop

Label: Pure Pop for Now People

Original Release Date: July 31, 2014

For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of experiencing Hyperbubble’s work, Hyperbubble is a duo from San Antonio, Texas whose work consists of both visual and performing arts, including synthpop and electropop music. Synthpop is a music genre in which the synthesizer is the main (dominant) instrument.

The golden duo that forms Hyperbubble is Jeff and Jess DeCuir. Hyperbubble is known not only in the United States, but also around the world, including the United Kingdom, where synthpop arose as a distinct genre of its own during the post-punk movement during the late 1970s to mid-1980s.

Attack of the Titans is Hyperbubble’s sixth album. The cover of the album screams retro. At first glance, the cover could almost pass as a re-release of a record from the 1970s, something my dad might have picked up in a music store as a teen.

The cover claims, “Guaranteed 100% electronic. No strings attached,” which is clever because all the instruments used in this album are electronic, including speech synthesizers and noise machines. Hyperbubble takes the concept of synthpop (using a synthesizer as the dominant instrument) to the next level (using a synthesizer as the only instrument). I wouldn’t know how to dance to Attack of the Titans in a dance club, but I’d listen to find out what someone creative and talented can do with various synthesizers.

Within the tracks of the CD, Hyperbubble proves true to the cover’s retro sci-fi feel: the whirring of spaceships from a 1950s black-and-white science fiction flick, the synthetic beats that would have populated a primitive video game, and the chorus of metallic robot voices.

Visualize: the vision of the future from the folks in the 1950s through 70s. Robots made of humans dressed in aluminum foil.  Huge, cheesy space saucers that make The Thing (1982) quite proud.

Overall, this is a playful album that utilizes retro sound effects as well as the synthpop movement in general. The feel I’m getting from it is fun, nostalgic and futuristic at the same time, possibly because of the album’s nod to older science fiction movies.

My Thoughts on Four Songs in the Album:

“Sky Smasher” features the eerie sequence that screams “Spaaace! Aliens! Robots!”

“Pure Panic” evokes the suspense scenes introducing the entry of a very large, water-dwelling dinosaur. 

“Bring Me the Hose Brigade” is a clever piece because it evokes the sound of a neighborhood band with a drummer with beats so quick in succession to each other that it’s almost inhuman. There is even the sound of a whistle.

My favorite track in this album is “Lazer Breath”, which sounds like an old-school arcade game. It makes me miss playing Pacman on my dad’s old computer. 

Find out more about Hyperbubble:

Interview with Paris Hilton

Paris Hilton Discusses Her Reality Show Career, Her Pomeranians, and Her Childhood Fear of Clowns

Heiress. Model. Reality TV show star. Actress. Singer. Author. Entrepreneur. DJ artist.
America’s favorite heiress has come a long way since the day she secretly signed a modeling contract.

The Simple Life, which premiered in 2003, launched Paris Hilton into mainstream fame as one of the first stars of the reality TV show era. Over the next few years, Paris starred in five seasons of The Simple Life as well as movies and shows. Since then, Paris has been busy working on multiple projects, from her memoir, Confessions of an Heiress, to managing her retail stores around the world.

The past three years have been even more exciting for Paris. She has been focusing on her DJ career, her new record deal with Cash Money records, and her entrepreneurial projects which consist of her clothing lines, her stores, and her new perfume called With Love. She saw her hard work pay off last November when she earned the “Best Female DJ” award at the NRJ awards. 

Paris currently has several new projects lined up in development, including her children’s clothing line and her single, “High Off My Love”. In this interview, she shares her plans for future projects, including her books on giving dating advice to women. Below is an excerpt of the interview where she talks about about her two new pomeranians, reality TV show career, and her childhood fear of clowns. The rest of the interview will be available in the College News Summer 2015 issue! 

Pomeranians

CN:  I heard about you getting two Pomeranians and that you got one for your mom, like for her 35th anniversary. How did she react? Was she excited, or like, shocked?

PH: She was so happy and so excited. She loves puppies, and she’s been wanting to get one and I found her like, the perfect, littlest, tiniest one.

CN: Yeah, it sounds really exciting. I heard the other one was also to keep Prince company.

PH: Yeah, Prince, I wanted to get him a little girlfriend so that he wouldn’t feel alone because all the other dogs are kind of jealous but they’re too big for him, so I just wanted him to have a little girl who’s smaller than him.

CN: Okay. Yeah, so how’s Prince doing now? I saw the video a while back where he was nibbling on a carrying case. It was adorable.

PH: He’s so cute. I love him so much. He’s doing really well, he’s just the best dog, I’m so obsessed with him.

Her Reality TV Show Career

CN: The Simple Life started the wave of what we now consider the “reality TV age”, so before, there wasn’t really anything like it, and so the concepts were fresh and funny. How was it like? Tell me about it.

PH: It was so much fun, you know, I had no idea what we were getting into. I had never done anything like this before, and never seen anything like it before. We had no idea what to expect. It was all so, like, real, and so crazy, being with my best friend and traveling around the world through like, these crazy little towns and doing all these jobs that we would never get to do in life. So it was a really fun learning experience. We just had so much fun doing it and it was hilarious watching and we had no idea what a huge success it would be, and that it would last for five seasons…

CN: Absolutely.

PH: So it was a lot of fun to play those characters in that show.

CN: I recall that you mentioned that the producers asked you to portray yourself in a certain way. So, it’s kind of like your on-screen persona. It’s not necessarily like, the complete you, but it is a facet of you. Can you explain that a little?

PH: Yeah, on the show, the producers told Nicole and I to play these characters for me to be, like, the blond airhead who, you know, never knows what’s going on, and kind of acting stupid all the time, and then Nicole to be the troublemaker who’s always starting trouble, and, um, you know.

CN: The naughty one.

PH: Yeah, being mischievous and naughty. So we would play the characters, and you know, kind of a little bit how I am, this side so they could see I’m fun, and I’m funny.

CN: Yeah, you’re really colorful!

PH: But, the part of me, yeah, like I’m asking about Walmart, or what’s on, or anything like that, that was me playing into the character, and just kinda for the audience, because I knew that they would enjoy that.

CN: Was it hard to, um, get into your character, or was it like, kind of a natural process? Like, you just had to bring out elements…

PH: It was pretty easy. I’m like a really shy person, so I think being that character was, made it easier for me because I can kinda like, hide behind the character instead of, you know, fully being myself, and being shy, but I think it was fun because just kind of pretending to be someone else, and you could, have more fun with it, and not be as shy.

CN: Yeah, it’s like your, outer like, outgoing alter ego.

PH: Yeah, exactly.

Her Childhood Fear

CN: What were you scared of as a kid?

PH: Um…clowns. [Laughs.]

CN: Oh, me too.

PH: [Laughs.]

CN: I saw this really creepy movie about killer clowns from outer space. That one traumatized me.

PH: Yeah. I was always scared of clowns when I was little. I don’t know why. At my grandma’s house there was this one hallway with all these clown paintings…

CN: Why? Just, why?

PH: …and I remember being so scared to walk down the hallway. I was so scared, I don’t know what it was about. [Laughs.]

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton: Magical Realism and Finding Love

I have been reading this book on and off for a few months. I finally sat down to read it on my day off, and it makes me regret not getting into it sooner, especially at the height of the hype for this book.

Some of the things I heard about it:

  • family drama
  • magical realism
  • pretty language

I‘ll just go ahead and say it: THE WRITING IS SO BEAUTIFUL IN THIS BOOK. If writing were like dancing, Leslye Walton would be a ballerina pirouetting on the pointy tip of the Burj Khalifa with ease.

Yes. The Burj Khalifa.

All of the things I heard about this novel were true. The strange and beautiful sorrows of Ava Lavender begin not within her own life but further back in her family’s past: her itty-bitty, quiet, great-grandmother in France. Then the narrator eventually moves on to the lives of Ava’s grandmother after the family’s move to Manhattan, then Vivienne (Ava’s mother), then finally Ava, a girl born with angel-like wings. The story pays particular attention to their love lives–how they acquire and then lose their first loves.

Ultimately, the story is a matriarchal family saga that comes across to me as the love child of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate and Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. I’d say that it looks more like its mother than its father.

Even though the title mentions Ava, the true main characters are Emilienne and Vivienne. Ava doesn’t show up until around half point of the story, and even then, she’s unconscious for a larger part of the story (and still operating as an omniscient narrator).

A large theme in this novel involves the characters dealing with different possibilities of love: the beautiful, the ugly, the messy, the delusional, the sweet… “Love” may have become a cheesy concept, but the emotions in this novel are very real. We all hear about girls who get pregnant, sisters who fight over the same guy, people who delude themselves into thinking their romance is something it’s not, and people who move on after trying to cling onto the possibility of a relationship for the longest time.

Like real life, there are no clean and conclusive Hollywood endings to any of these stories, but the characters do search for closure, and what they do find is satisfying for me as a reader. The novel reads fast. After starting over from the beginning, I finished it within two days. If you have better concentration than I do, you can finish it in one.

As for the magical realism, I wasn’t thinking about it when I picked this book up again. I was admiring all the beautiful metaphorical language until I had trouble picturing a character glue yellow feathers all over herself and chirp…Wait. She turned into a bird. Not figuratively…but literally. As with characters in most magical realistic stories, the family sees her transformation as a tragic inconvenience but copes with it. 

Jen Minkman's Sound of Sirens Borrows Geographical and Historical Elements from the Netherlands

After finishing Jen Minkman’s The Island series, I was stunned by how differently Sound of Sirens reads in comparison to the ones in her former series, possibly because in this novel, possibly because Minkman draws inspiration from the history of her home country, the Netherlands. Sound of Sirens is well written, and while it took a while to set up, I loved the characters and the cultural and geographical details incorporated throughout the book. 

Sound of Sirens takes place in an island in which two groups of people live: the Currents and the Skylgers. The Currents are the rich ruling class who came from across the sea, while Skylgers are natives to the island. Electricity exists, but the Currents hoard it. The island is surrounded by mysterious merfolk whose siren calls lead hypnotized island folk to their watery doom. It seems that neither Currents nor Skylgers are immune to the call of the Siren.

Enna, the Skygler main character, is the daughter of a woman who died after heeding the Siren’s call. After her brother who returned from a long voyage gives her an LP that can only be played by electric devices, she befriends a Current guy named Royce. Who’s hot. And popular with the girls. And somehow indifferent to all except Enna.

Thus begins a taboo Skygler-Current relationship, meanwhile Enna learns more about the monopoly that the Currents hold over electricity, and that there is more to the history of the island of Skylge than what was taught in history class.

Sometimes Enna comes close to falling into what I consider the “Bella Complex” in which she considers herself plain compared to Royce, and Royce is such a girl magnet that it’s a wonder he doesn’t sparkle in the sunlight.

However, she is not a Bella, because she’s curious and passionate about the larger politics of the island. She doesn’t want to hide or even defend herself from the scary politics; she wants to change the bigger picture–proactively. She wants to learn more about the history. She is proud of her Skylger culture and language, which is slowly disappearing beneath the Current rule.

The language in this book is simplistic and minimalist, and compared to her other series, Minkman writes with more familiarity about the details of Skylge because she is drawing ideas from her home country this time. It took some time to set up the world and its conflicts, but not too long. Once the island of Skylge was established, I wanted to find out how far Enna would go to discover the truths of the island, and how far the Currents would go to protect the status quo.

Find out more about Sound of Sirens by Jen Minkman on Goodreads.

Reading Inappropriate Books on the Bus

What I Miss About Public Transit

One thing I miss about public transit is being able to catch up on reading (whether academic or for pleasure) while someone else handles the wheel. I took the bus and trolley for about two years while going to community college, and I really enjoyed reading while the streets and trees and people flitted past the window.

Text itself, because of its nature as a code, lends a form of privacy to the reader. Unlike most images, a person has to decode and translate text in their heads in order to understand it. After many years of reading (or many hours of Hooked-On-Phonics), we’ve learned to do this fast in our dominant languages. Text, in its pure physical form, manifests as black marks across the page.

This is how I hid my naughty, inappropriate, and embarrassingly awful literary adventures from my mother for so many years–under the pretense of academic reading. Rip off the steamy, six-abbed cover of a Harlequin novel and you have an appropriate “literature” book… Anyway, I digress.

At first glance, a fellow passenger wouldn’t really know whether I’m reading some high-brow classics, obscure hipster literature, or weird kinky stuff, unless the cover is extremely recognizable. And even this can be prevented by using an ereader.

Unless, of course, while I’m reading and having a great time, their rapidly-decoding eyes happen to land quickly on the words moan, caress, and thrust. Especially thrust.

To that poor passenger on the MTS back in 2011, I am sorry for what your eyeballs had to go through. 

Someone I knew would take off the dust jackets of his books to read on the bus for privacy reasons. He said that with the huge tome, people just assumed he was reading the Bible and left him alone. I like seeing other passengers with books, and I was quite guilty myself of trying to catch a glimpse of the cover to see if they were reading something I recognize.

Nowadays, I drive to work, so I don’t get the chance to read during transit. I tend to zone off when hearing audio books, even while on Zombies, Run! missions. But if you read on the bus, trolley, or train, kudos and happy reading to you.

French Fashion Designers Unite Against Terror

The French Fashion Industry Shows Solidarity Beneath “Je Suis Charlie” Campaign on Social Media

“Je Suis Charlie” Started By French fashion industry

When we think “fashion”, it’s hard to imagine it without thinking of the iconic French fashion houses such as Chanel, Hermes, and Givenchy. Several legendary designers from major French houses have united under the “Je Suis Charlie” campaign to show their support on social media for the expression of free speech after the attack on the satirical French newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.

In protest of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the “Je Suis Charlie” campaign has manifested in the form of mass protests, people carrying signs with the slogan, and the popularity of #jesuischarlie hashtags on Twitter.

Jean Paul Gaultier, who is known for using unconventional models at his exhibitions (tattoos, older men, full-figured women) as well as his playful designs when he was the creative director of Hermes (2003-2010), posted a photograph of himself and his staff standing at a staircase and holding up “Je Suis Charlie” signs on his Instagram account.

Karl Lagerfeld, who was born in Germany but works in France as the head designer of Chanel, described his sorrow for the attacks, “It’s horrible. I’ve been physically sick since Wednesday.” He posted a photo of himself holding up the sign, “Je Suis Charlie”, with his face obscured by the sign and only the white tufts of his hair poking out from the top.

Riccardo Tisci, the menswear and accessories designer of Givenchy, joined thousands who posted a famous quote from Voltaire: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

The creative director of Dior Homme, Kris van Assche, told WWD, “Freedom of expression is a core value of our civilization and is central to any kind of creation, from comics to fashion. Beyond the horror and the shock of [Wednesday’s] dreadful news, freedom is at stake. As a citizen, as well as a creative director, I shall stand for it.”

Some members of the French fashion industry noted the feelings of trepidation at the upcoming shows in March, but for the most part, the French fashion industry has stood in solidarity with the Je Suis Charlie campaign on behalf of its sister of the press, Charlie Hebdo.

Other members of the French fashion industry who participated in the “Je Suis Charlie” campaign to express their support for the freedom of the press include: Felipe Oliveira Baptista (the creative director of Lacoste), the staff team of Elle France, Pierre Berge (co-owner of Le Monde), and Inès de la Fressange (former bust model of Marianne, symbol of the French revolution).

Amid the campaign against silence and fear, an indirect sense of “justice of the press” has emerged: the terrorist attack and subsequent public outrage have thrown the formerly struggling satire newspaper into the spotlight.

Over the past few days, Charlie Hebdo has become an international household name and top trending phrase on Twitter, Facebook, and Google. The newspaper’s circulation has exploded from 60,000 to a million copies thanks to the coverage of the attack as well as the public’s outrage through the news and social media.

Find out more about the French fashion industry’s reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attack: Vulcan Magazine, Vogue UK, WWD, and Style.com.