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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.

DEFIANT: Three Dystopian Novellas by Mara Li, Jen Minkman, and Lis Lucassen

Race, Societies Built by Children, and the Law

Defiant. When the civilization you live in turns out to be a giant, messed-up deception, what do you do? Each of the teens in these three novellas (translated by Jen Minkman) rises up to defy the rigid social order of their worlds. 

Meet the Defiant

Meet Emma in The Red Messenger by Mara Li, whose twin sister Sophie recently died in a mysterious accident. She lives in an alternate reality in which the Nazis took over Germany. Think: a world with email, internet, and electricity coexisting with the continued torture of Jews tucked away in concentration camps and ghettos. Emma finds out that there was more to Sophie than she’d previously known…
Meet Leia in The Island by Jen Minkman, a strong-willed teenager who grows up in an isolated island society with rules and traditions based on one pre-apocalyptic book (Star Wars) that preached about the Force.  An aggressive young leader named Saul holds his power over the children using the doctrines of the Force. Leia must uncover the mystery behind that holy book…
Meet Justa in The Tribunal by Lis Lucassen, who lives in a post-World War IV society torn into two classes: Sectorals (the blond and light-colored ruling class) and Stateless (folks with more melanin, apparently). “Segregation is needed to maintain the established order. The Sectorate therefore upholds Inequality in order to prevent future uprisings…One exception only to Sectorial Segregation is acknowledged – before the Tribunal, all are equal.” 

My Thoughts & Comments About Each Defiant Novella

The Red Messenger by Mara Li
I had learned about World War II concentration camps while I was in middle school, but I never imagined a dystopian world in which similar racism-induced horrors take place, but with modern and digital technology. This is a great concept, and I think it was well executed overall, with the exception of a few instances of plot-induced stupidity on the part of Emma that were used to push the story forward. The issues of racism and state-enforced athiesm are covered in this book. 
As an American, I was surprised at first about how directly this novella tackled the issue of the Jewish concentration camps, but then I realized that the Netherlands were deeply affected by the existence of Jewish death camps during the Second World War. 75% of the Jewish population was deported from the Netherlands to these concentration camps, and many Dutch authorities collaborated with the Nazis to achieve this. This is a painful part of the Netherlands’ history, and I think this novel draws very well from the horrors of that era. The last part of the novella felt like it was straight from the 1940s. 
The Island by Jen Minkman
A wall divides the island, and there are rumors of the Other society living in it, called the Fools. When a mysterious guy washes up ashore one day, Leia’s world is totally rocked as she comes to understand the truth behind her society. This is a civilization built by children after an epidemic wiped out most, if not all of the adults in the world. I didn’t like the idea of a society built around a Star Wars book for kiddos, but I liked the novella explores how a society built by children would be like after a few generations. 
The Tribunal by Lis Lucassen
This one reads like a good courtroom drama. In light of Trayvon Martin’s death and the 2014 Ferguson unrest in the United States, the theme of a lower-classed person being screwed over by a biased law system (thatpurports to be fair) corresponded strongly with the issues of our time. The Tribunal explores the issues of racism, bias, and corruption in a law-based society which is segregated firmly by color. 
Find out more about Defiant, a collection of three novellas by Netherlands authors Mara Li, Jen Minkman, andLis Lucassen:


Gene Simmons' Son Nick Simmons Launches Unisex T-Shirt Collection Benefiting Charity

Edgy T-Shirts Help Support Sophie’s Place

Nick Simmons, son of KISS bass-guitarist Gene Simmons, launched his 3-piece unisex T-shirt collection with The Style Club. Proceeds benefit Sophie’s Place, Sophie Simmons’ charity organization in Vancouver, Canada that provides a safe haven and resources for children who come from abusive households. 

About Nick Simmons’ T-Shirt Collection

The three T-shirt designs are edgy, hand-drawn, rocker-inspired, and fit in perfectly with the Christian Benner x The Style collection’s theme of “A Place Where Dreamers Go.”The collection is available now exclusively at www.TheStyleClub.com

The shirts are cute. On The Style Club website, the Simmons siblings model the shirts together. 

Each piece in the collection is made from a soft cotton/polyester blend and retails for $98. Each shirt is customized by Christian Benner, a creator from the depths of New York’s underground fashion scene who has created custom pieces for celebs like Brad Pitt. This is Nick Simmons’ first fashion collection. 

Nick Simmons, Sophie Simmons, and the The Style Club CEO Speak Out Regarding the T-Shirt Line

Nick Simmons: “Sophie’s Place is our first priority, and I’m so proud of Sophie for taking such initiative for such a great cause. I wanted to follow her lead and contribute in any way I can. I’ve always loved the fashion of outliers–those who embrace their own aesthetic regardless of trends. Our intentions are that the shirts will do some good, and look cool too.” 

Sophie Simmons: “I am proud that my brother has lent his designs to this amazing cause and a great company such as the Style Club.”

The Style Club CEO Hilary Novelle Hahn: “We believe that Nick’s creative input; combined with the partnership with Sophie’s non-profit – Sophie’s Place – will showcase Christian’s talent while supporting a worthy cause that the Simmons family has championed for years.”

About Sophie’s Place

Sophie’s Place is a charitable organization based in Vancouver, Canada which provides a place of sanctuary and support for vulnerable young people today. Founded by Sophie Tweed Simmons, the center focuses on providing specialized services to physically, mentally, or sexually abused children up to 18 in a child-friendly setting. For more information or to donate, visit http://cdfbc.ca/Sophies-Place/index.htm.  

Fresh Off the Boat, Episode 9 Recap: License to Sell

Jessica Huang Insecure in the Face of Successful Real Estate Agents

In Fresh Off the Boat Episode 9, “License to Sell”, Jessica Huang (Constance Wu) experiences a moment of vulnerability when she sees more successful real estate agents than herself. Eddie, in his quest to impress Nicole, takes on piercings and tattoos as her test subject for beauty school.

Jessica Becomes Insecure When Confronted with Successful Real Estate Agents

Fresh Off the Boat Episode 9, “License to Sell” starts with Eddie’s mom, Jessica. Jessica (Constance Wu) realizes that she has to get a real estate license in order to sell houses, but when she goes to take the license exam, an extremely successful woman intimidates her into deserting the exam.

Jessica spends the rest of the episode hiding from her family and friends. To her annoyance, Honey (Chelsey Crisp), her neighbor and friend, jogs around the city and frequently comes across her eating lunch. 

Jessica Huang is usually very confrontational, but here, we see her avoiding situations because of her vulnerability after discovering that she’s not the best and can’t compete in terms of experience with other real estate agents who have been selling homes for ten years. 

Young Eddie Gets Piercings and Tattoos for Love

Meanwhile, young Eddie (Hudson Yang) is still trying to impress Nicole (Luna Blaise), his next-door neighbor who is a few years older. He goes to his dad, Louis (Randall Park) for advice. Louis advises Eddie to spend time with her by showing up in places where she goes. Eddie takes his advice and this leads to the boy getting piercings and henna tattoos from Nicole, who is practicing her beauty school skills. Ultimately, despite initial shock, his parents are supportive and tell him to be himself. 

Better a Loser than a Quitter

Eventually, Louis finds out from Honey and confronts Jessica about not taking the real estate exam. She admits that she didn’t, and that it’s hard to not be the best especially when she pushes her sons to be the best. However, Louis points out that she can set the example for her sons by trying her best and not quitting. 

“I like quitters even less than losers,” Jessica admits. 

Today, we learned: Try your personal best, and don’t sacrifice your sense of self when chasing a mate. 

My Thoughts:

I didn’t like this episode as much as the previous ones, partly because there were no memorable lines. Overall, this Fresh Off the Boat episode came across as trying to impart a moral lesson to the audience, which is fine, but is shallow compared to other episodes which have mixed humor with societal commentary. While the Huang family continues to be very likable, this episode wasn’t as entertaining or as witty as the previous ones.

Grappling with Religious Faith: How I Stopped Believing​ in God

“So, they finally brainwashed you, huh?”

A letter came in the mail today. It was a plain white envelope that had been repurposed from its former role as a greeting card sheath. Well, maybe it was whiter once. Because it was a faded sort of white, with slight little stains that came from insect pee, guinea pig pee, coffee, whatever. The way my name was written,“Mrs. Uriel Zacarias”, I knew who had sent it right away.

When I was ten, I met Mrs. Doyle at the Boys and Girls Club of Imperial Beach after I had begged my parents to let me have piano lessons. I had been listening to classical music on a CD that my mom had received in the mail for free and wanted to replay or even create that sort of beauty on my own. The beginning piano class had about seven to ten people in there, some teenagers, some younger than me at around seven. She was a woman around her fifties, with curly brown hair and bright green eyes. She liked me because I was quiet and practiced a lot, but after a couple of years she moved away from the Imperial Beach area so she stopped teaching at the Boys and Girls Club. But I still had her information, so in middle school, I wrote her a letter, and she wrote back. Soon enough, private lessons were arranged at her house.

She lived with her husband and her parents, and quoted Bible passages every few sentences she spoke. I had been fairly religious myself before, but she inspired me to be more religious in my Christian beliefs. Naturally, I was shy and usually avoided doing such things. But own passion for God was contagious for me at a time when I was curious about religion. She would bash the public school system for banning praying, the reading of the Bible, etc. She subscribed to fundamentalist Christian magazines and shared them with me. My parents weren’t very religious themselves, but they approved of my interest because it kept me away from drugs and promiscuity and the Bible preached obedience to parents, which was also a Confucian value.

She was a lot gentler on Judaism than the “pagan” religions, probably because her family was Jewish. She prayed for her elderly parents a lot. She told me that the Jews would have a place in heaven as well, and cited some Bible passages to back up her claim.

Even at my most religious phase, I wondered why Mrs. Doyle was so devout. She told me and my mother about how her family had “warned” her against marrying her Vietnam-vet husband (she was his fourth wife), sometimes when he was well within earshot. She had gone through a phase when she wasn’t religious, but didn’t reveal much about that time. All I knew from her unreligious period was that she admired Hemingway as an author, and was disillusioned when she realized he had committed suicide later on in his life. And she probably married John during this period.

I had joined a Lutheran church, but she recommended that I go to a Church of Christ. She drove me there one day. It was a small little church on 10th Street in Imperial Beach. We went in. The pastor was a woman, which surprised me because fundamentalist Christians tended to be wary of female leaders within the Church. She looked like Rosie O’Donnell.

The service was what I expected from a church, until I realized I couldn’t understand the prayers that people were uttering. It sounded foreign and strange, but beautiful. Mrs. Doyle was also engaged in such a manner of prayers. A member of the church noticed the stunned look on my face and sat next to me.

“What is this language, Hebrew?” I asked.

“They are speaking in tongues,” replied the church member. She was plump, and her blond hair was cropped short. “It is the Holy Spirit speaking through them. Would you like to speak in tongues? We can teach you if you like.” Her pale blue eyes were piercing.

“Maybe later,” I said, looking around. Most of the people, like Mrs. Doyle, had their eyes closed and were raising their arms to the sky while speaking in tongues. One guy had his eyes rolled back in his head and was screeching the Holy Spirit like a megaphone. The blond church member told me that I needed to relax and let go in order to speak in tongues, but I couldn’t relax. The clashing voices of the Holy Spirit blended to produce this discordant melody that disconnected with my own spirit, which felt like it had been pulled out from me in front of everyone and torn into shreds. I crossed my hands in my lap and sat very still, watching and listening.

After the tongues speaking, the pastor went on with her sermon about homosexuality and the sinfulness of modern society. She told a story of when she went to Britain and saw a muscular, broad-shouldered black man prancing out of a clothing shop in a dainty, pink dress and mocked his voice with its intonations that we normally associate with female speech patterns.

After that day, I spoke little about religion, as Christianity and its many derisagreeing denominations cast doubt in my mind. Taking AP World History in tenth grade also helped me see the history of humankind from a more distant, less Eurocentric perspective, as I learned about civilizations that formed and bloomed for hundreds, thousands of years without contact with Judaism or Christianity.

I did humor Mrs. Doyle though, when she would talk about her faith. When she asked me about why I stopped going to the Church of Christ, I blamed the fact that the pastor was female, and Mrs. Doyle would nod sympathetically, but offer to recommend a different church. I declined.

In time, she caught on. When I returned from a volunteering trip in Taiwan, she asked, “Did you tell your new friends about Christ?”

“Mmm, no,” I replied.

“Did you tell anyone about Christ?”

I shook my head.

There was a pause.

Then, “Are you still a believer?”

I hesitated before saying no.

The enthusiastic gleam in her eyes faded. Her voice was cold and hard. “So, they finally brainwashed you, huh?” She meant the school system. I chose to stay quiet at the time, but sometimes I silently chide myself for not saying anything, for not turning the tables on her and her fundamentalist magazines and 7000-year old Earth. But arguing with her would have solved nothing. She had clung onto her faith despite several hardships for decades, possibly even a quarter of a century. Having a petty fight with a teenager would not have shaken her religious faith. She was a molded and baked piece of clay that had stood for decades, and I was an ugly, little chunk of raw clay that had been thrown into a bucket of water. Both of us had made up our minds, but pitting my newly found unfaith against her long-held faith would have been like blowing on a brick house.

I opened the envelope. Inside was a pretty bookmark of a flower photo, a little piece of stationery, and a yellowed religious tract. I tossed the religious tract in the recycling bin and opened the stationery, which showed a short note written in blue-inked cursive that flowed and sprawled wide.

Dear Mrs. Zacarias, Wishing you blessings from God on your birthday! Love in Christ, Mrs. Doyle

Holding the bookmark and envelope in my hand, I went over to my desk and began to write a thank-you letter. The tract remained in the recycling bin.

Paris Hilton Celebrates 10 Years of Perfumes by Releasing Paris Hilton Limited Anniversary Edition

With seventeen (and now eighteen) perfumes in her fragrance lineParis Hilton has built an impressive perfume empire over the past ten years. To celebrate her fragrance line’s 10 year anniversary, Paris Hilton is releasing her 18th perfume, Paris Hilton Limited Anniversary Edition for Women.  

Fragrance: How It Smells 

Paris Hilton Limited Anniversary Edition for Women is a more concentrated version of her original “Paris Hilton for Women” perfume from ten years ago, which continues to sell like crazy around the world. It smells sexy and feminine, but not old-lady. It’s more like fresh and sophisticated. 

At the top: Apple, juicy peach nectar, muguet (lily of the valley) and wet ozone. Mmm…apple. I’m such a sucker for apple. 

At the heart of this fragrance: Florals. Lots of florals. 

Other scents include: Mimosa blossoms, sheer freesia and jasmine petals, and tuberose (for depth and texture). 

At its base: Creamy sandalwood, oakmoss, feminine ylang-ylang blossoms, musk. 

Pheromones are used in this perfume. I don’t know about the rest of the opposite sex, but my SO can vouch for it. While he’s apathetic about most of my perfumes, he really liked this one. I’m not sure if it’s because it has a jackpot combo of fragrances, or the pheromones used. And more importantly, I like it a lot. 

What They Say

Paris Hilton: “I’m thrilled to celebrate 10 years. I keep getting requests all over the world for more fragrances and so I’m happy to keep creating them. Paris Hilton for Women was an obvious choice for the Limited Anniversary Edition as it was my first fragrance when I was 23 and will always be very special to me.”

Angela Budd, VP of Marketing and Brand Development for Parlux Fragrances LLC: “Paris’ commitment to her fragrance portfolio and the authenticity she brings to each and every facet of the creative process is a direct reflection of its global appeal and success. Her energy and clear strategic vision, coupled with her tireless work ethic and enthusiasm, make her an incredible partner for Parlux.”  
Master Perfumer Steven DeMercado (who created Paris Hilton Limited Anniversary Edition): “Paris Hilton has always shown the world that she is one of a kind, a true original…This 10th anniversary fragrance is just that: Spirited, Stunning….Perfect, just like Paris.”

With retail sales of more than $2 billionParlux reported to Women’s Wear Daily last Fall that Hilton is their “longest-standing celebrity brand to date, and over time, it’s likely she will be the most profitable”. See article, “Paris Hilton: Building an Empire”:http://www.wwd.com/beauty-industry-news/people/paris-hilton-building-an-empire-8017031

Paris Hilton Fragrance Collection

 Here are all the perfumes that Paris has released:

Paris Hilton for Women (2004), Paris Hilton for Men (2004), Just Me by Paris Hilton for Women (2005), Just Me by Paris Hilton for Men(2005), Heiress by Paris Hilton for Women (2006), Heir by Paris Hilton for Men (2006), Can Can by Paris Hilton for Women (2007), Fairy Dust by Paris Hilton for Women (2008), Siren by Paris Hilton for Women (2009), Tease by Paris Hilton for Women (2010), Paris Hilton Passport Collection for Women: Paris Hilton in South Beach, Paris Hilton in ParisParis Hilton in TokyoParis Hilton in St. Moritz (2011),Dazzle (2012), Can Can Burlesque (2013), With Love, Paris Hilton (2014), Paris Hilton Limited Anniversary Edition (2015)

Packaging, Where to Buy

Paris Hilton Limited Anniversary Edition for Women is packaged in a beautiful, glamorous 3.4 oz bottle covered with tiny, “diamond-inspired” crystals. It’s really cute.  

Paris Hilton Limited Anniversary Edition is available in a 3.4 oz EDP now while supplies last at Perfumania stores nationwide and online at www.perfumania.com. (MSRP: $65.00)

Best Etsy Shops to Follow this Spring

Eye tattoos, ear cuffs, and more

Tired of shopping at the same old mall stores? Try looking for unique accessories on Etsy, the haven for everyday crafters. Some of the ideas begun on Etsy become popular enough to start trends that eventually find their way into mainstream stores like Forever 21. Here are some of my favorite Etsy shops that sell interesting accessories:

Ear Cuff Golden Crystal Lothlorien, $16

Ever wanted to be an elf from a fantasy world? While I don’t see them wearing the same sort of jewelry in the Peter Jackson movies, I think ear cuffs are the sort of jewelry that an elf (especially a princess elf in a different worldwould wear. 


ImageCclstore sells temporary eyeliner tattoos of countless breathtaking designs that would otherwise take forever (and a lot of dexterity) to do by hand. Beautiful. 



Sherry and Dan at the Pendant Emporium sell handcrafted pendants with artwork protected by durable high-gloss epoxy resin (the shiny stuff on the surface). Some of the categories of the vast options of artwork include: “Art, Design, Abstract”, “Fairy, Myth, Mermaid”, “Halloween, Xmas”, “Tree, Bird, Nature, Animals”, “Music, Movies, People”.



Braided Leather Bracelet, $33

FitsyDesign sells leather accessories including sunglasses cases, but the piece that stands out the most would be the braided leather bracelet, which comes in different colors. The bracelet would add a boho element to any springtime outfit.



ThoughtBlossoms sells mantra bracelets such as this runner one (above), and they also sell bracelets that can be stamped with medical ID information, which is good for people who have allergies or special medical needsThe shop owner of ThoughtBlossoms is Heather Sanchez, who purchased two charms “believe” and “gratitude” from Etsy in 2007, wore them every day for three years, and was inspired to pursue a new path for her creative career. 


Interview: Chef Stephanie Izard Creating the First-Ever Pinterest Cookbook with Lays Chips

Bravo’s Top Chef Winner to Draw Inspiration from Fans for Recipes

Bravo’s Top Chef Winner, Chef Stephanie Izard is helping to create the first-ever Pinterest cookbook, and you can help inspire which recipes will go into that cookbook.

Chef Stephanie Izard will create five scrumptious recipes from the 20 most-liked combinations featured on the “Lay’s Wavy Recipe Inspirations” Pinterest page. The cookbook will include 40 recipes determined by fans and inspired by different flavors of Lay’s Wavy potato chips. The first 20 recipes will be available for download this May. 

As the chef and partner of the award-winning restaurants Girl & the Goat and Little Goat, Stephanie Izard will be putting her unique twist on an array of everyday dishes for the Pinterest cookbook.

Below is the transcript of the interview with Chef Stephanie Izard. You can watch the full interview on: http://kefstream.com/embed/lays_pinterest/collegenews.html

CN: You graduated with a degree in sociology before entering the culinary program at Le Cordon Bleu…I was wondering how you reached that decision to go into culinary school. Did you go right away or did you take some time of soul searching after you graduated?

Chef: I actually ended up going just after college. I really enjoyed studying sociology, and I just had a lot of fun in college. I went to University of Michigan, so [there were] lots of football games and such. But what I really wanted to do, and I could really feel that I wanted to get into restaurant industry, so right after graduation, I left the cold of Michigan and I went down into Arizona where I went to Le Cordon Bleu where I went to culinary school. As soon as I got into school, I just felt like I had found something I was in love with. But I’m glad I went to college first and got all those experiences. 

CN: Since you started working after you won Top Chef, what are some of the craziest requests that you have received from guests, while working at the Girl & the Goat and the Little Goat? 

Chef: Crazy requests…I’ve had a couple of people ask me to propose for them, or alongside them, like bring a ring to them while they’re proposing and that makes me so nervous. It’s a wedding ring! I don’t want to drop it. I’m happy to come over and say, “Congratulations!” and be part in that way, and not carrying the ring, that just makes me too nervous. [Laughs.] 

CN: [Laughs.] That’s really special though, you get to take place in that important moment in their lives. What are some of your favorite parts of working as a chef?

Chef: The different opportunities that I get, that I get to travel for events. For food and wine, I get to go to Aspen, and in Miami I get to hang out with other chefs, meet with them and get inspiration and such. And doing fun and different projects, partnering up with different folks for creating different recipes and things like that. Lots of things that just keep me on my toes all the time. 

CN: Cool. Traveling with different projects is really exciting. 

Chef: Yeah, it’s great when I’m home, and restaurants, and running those, but getting to leave every once in a while and seeing what else is going on in the country is really important, and it’s a lot of fun.

CN: Absolutely. So those are the best parts about working as a chef. How about the most frustrating parts?

Chef: Working as a chef, the hours are a bit crazy, so finding that balance in life between working 12-15 hours a day and plus I’m eating all day, and time for my family and gym is always a challenge. When you find the career you really want to follow, you have to really love it to get into it. 

CN: It’s a commitment.

Chef: Exactly.

CN: That’s interesting that you mention that you’re eating all day because you have to taste all day.

Chef: Yeah. It isn’t a bad thing, tasting everything I make. But I definitely have to balance it with going for a walk in the morning, or things like that. 

CN: That’s true. Your cookbook, The Girl in the Kitchen, came out in 2011. What was your favorite part in the process of putting together that cookbook?

Chef: For that cookbook, it was the fun of actually getting into the kitchen and creating the recipes. I had my co-author sit there while I was making the recipes and write down notes so that we could make sure every little step would translate into the book, and give tips to home cooks to make it a little simpler in the home kitchen. 

CN: Nice. Where do you get the creative inspiration for your recipes?

Chef: I get creative inspiration from all over. Some of it’s through traveling, which I mentioned that I get out there to travel a little bit. When I don’t have time, I go through other cookbooks to flip through and going to the farmer’s market, which I’m sure you have some amazing ones in San Diego, and looking online like on Pinterest, where there are so many recipes and so many food inspiration photos, where people can get inspiration for cooking at home too. 

CN: Absolutely, oh, god, Pinterest. So many…I dunno. The place is full of food porn, full of recipes. Can you tell us about your exciting new project to create the first ever Pinterest cookbook?

Chef: I’m working with Lays Wavy to create the first ever Pinterest cookbook, so the best part of it is that fans get to participate and help me get inspiration for the recipes. So they just go to pinterest.com/layswavy. There are pictures from different dishes, from deviled eggs to doughnuts, to sushi–all partnered up with a different flavor of Lays Wavy, from Hickory BBQ to ranch to cheddar. Some of them might seem a little out there, a little obscure, and I think those are the best ones to pin. Fans get to pin their favorite combinations, and I’m going to take those as inspiration for recipes for the cookbook. So pick the crazy ones, give me a challenge, I think it will be so much fun.

CN: Wow, that is really new.

Chef: It’s fun that the fans get to participate, whether they’re going to pick the ones that look delicious, or the ones that look a little bit too crazy.

CN: What’s your favorite flavor of Lays chips?

Chef: I’m a cheddar person all the way. I thought that I loved ranch, and I love ranch in almost everything, but there’s something about the tanginess of the cheddar chips, and I chose them to make my first recipe in the book. I actually have in front of me a bowl of the crumbled topping that I made, and it’s got a little bit of oats, a little bit of sweetness, so Chedder Lays Wavy baked right inside, so super crunch and a little sweet, a little savory, and it’s good on just about anything, from pancakes to ice cream, to yogurt.

CN: Ice cream and chips. Now that’s creativity right there. I saw that recipe, I think I might actually try it because I love toppings in my ice cream. 

Chef: Yeah, it’s really tasty. I think the little extra crunch makes all the difference. 

CN: I personally like the BBQ flavor of the Lays. And also the cheddar. I think it’s hard to find a cheddar chip that I don’t like.

Chef: I agree. I think they have great BBQ ones because you can just slip them into your turkey sandwich and it tastes like you’re eating bacon. 

CN: Thank you! And when will the cookbook be available?

Chef: It’s going to be available–the first 20 recipes in May, and then another 20 in the fall. So you can taste things from both seasons, spring and fall.  

THE MANGO BRIDE by Marivi Soliven: A Cinderella Story Gone Horribly Wrong

Genres: Literature / Fiction / Asian American / Filipino
The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven is centered around the lives of two women who live in Manila, Philippines. Amparo comes from the wealthy and well-reputed Duarte-Guerrero family but was banished to the United States after a scandal. Beverly Obejas, on the other hand, lives in poverty and fantasizes of a more glamorous life that she sees in movies. 

Beverly: A Cinderella Story Gone Wrong

After her mother’s death, Beverly clings on to notions of romance and material prosperity, eventually coming to believe coming to the United States as a mail order bride would help her attain those dreams. As a pretty-faced nobody in the Philippines, Beverly constantly compares her life to those of people around her.
Her constant envy of others and self-delusional mindset irritated me throughout the novel, but that’s the sort of “antagonistic personality” that Marivi Soliven likes to write. I was torn between understanding Beverly’s situation and disliking her for her self-destructive (and naive) mindset. It made The Mango Bride all the more compelling because I wanted to find out what would happen to Beverly and Amparo. In short, Beverly life is a Cinderalla story gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Amparo: Exiled from Manila; Finds New Home in California

As for Amparo, she is living in the United States, and overall, I get the sense of loneliness that one feels when they are disconnected from the community of people like themselves. As a telephone translator, she speaks with Filipino women from across the United States, and there is this overall feeling of quiet despair at how spread apart these people are, especially for the women enduring domestic abuse. Fortunately, Amparo lives in California and has formed an alternate family with some fellow outcasts of society: her uncle Tito Aldo (exiled due to scandal, like her), Manong Del (one of the earlier Filipino migrant workers), and her boyfriend Seamus, who isn’t exactly an outcast but lives with a more liberal mindset than those that Amparo grew up with. 

Senora Concha: The Matriarch

Senora Concha is an example of the type of person I enjoy reading in a book but would hate to meet in real life. I imagine the fun Soliven had in writing up such a bitchy character, who is an example of preserving the status quo of postcolonial values, in which all things (languages, culture, people) European/American trumped the Filipino. I wanted to happily plunge a knife into her back. At times, I had trouble believing that some people can be so superficial, but I can see how someone who has grown up in the seat of privilege, who wants to see the family’s reputation prosper in the long run, can end up that way.

Marivi Soliven’s Style and Influence

The writing throughout The Mango Bride is stunningly beautiful. Marivi Soliven describes the surroundings of Amparo and Beverly’s lives with such vividness that I could almost taste the food or scrape off a layer of grime from the walls of the run-down parts of Manila with my finger. Spanish and Tagalog terms are interwoven fluidly with the text along with their translations for those who are unfamiliar with either language.
Amparo and Beverly are intriguing characters in The Mango Bride, and some elements of their lives are borrowed from soap operas – an influence that Soliven nods to in the interview at the back of the book.


The Mango Bride has the drama of a soap opera, but instead of perpetuating the status quo, it critiques the postcolonial and classist values that many people live by but don’t question every day. It also calls into question the idea of motherhood, and how close familial bonds can be forged between people who aren’t related by blood – a concept beautifully played out in this multi-layered story. 
My Rating: 5/5


If anyone ever needed a handbook to the freshman year of college, this would be it.

The College Chronicles: Freshman Milestones
by Kelly Owen

Genres: Fiction / Young Adult / New Adult / College / Contemporary

As someone who lived on campus at an infamous party school dubbed the “University of Casual Beer & Sex” for her freshman year, I can vouch for the social climate that we get in The College Chronicles: Freshman Milestones. All the fun social opportunities (parties! concerts! late night talks! group “study” sessions!) can morph into a huge distraction from one’s studies if one is not disciplined.

Set in Charleston, South Carolina, The College Chronicles: Freshman Milestones by Kelly Owen follows the life of a college freshman named Cadence.During her first year of college, Cadence Cooper experiences and witnesses a lot of new, wonderful, and also terrible things in the fictional Charlestowne College.

True to the theme of college, the chapters are named after college courses, such as “ENGL 101”, “GEOL 296”, and “THTR 101”.

The College Chronicles: Freshman Milestones blurb from Goodreads:

SLEEPING FEET FROM STRANGERS is not a description Cadence Cooper remembers from the brochure that brought her to Charlestowne College, but this jarring reality becomes one of many she encounters during her freshman year. Threatened with expulsion from a “Demon of Darkness” professor and tormented by a hellacious roommate, Cadence struggles to survive in this realm of hookups and higher education. Here sex, drugs, and drinking become subjects of study just as much as coursework. Just when she’s ready to give up the dream of a college degree, she finds romance with a rock star classmate and a position as a student photographer. With her lens fixed on the campus and Charleston, a stunning city that teaches its own powerful lessons, Cadence uncovers the details of a devastating rape, a mysterious suicide, and a secret group intent on exposing a scandal that will forever change the school. Knowledge never comes without cost–or surprises. Life with strangers transforms into profound experiences with friends, foes, lovers, and liars in and out of the Holy City’s classrooms. Cadence’s first-year journey begins with “English 101: The Composition of Life,” but where it ends shocks even her.

Capturing the Freshman Experience

The College Chronicles: Freshman Milestones aims to capture an enormously wide scope of the freshman experience in a single book. In many ways, Owen’s book succeeds in giving the reader a taste of many, many possible experiences of a freshman student:

  • campus rape, date rape drugs, sexual assault
  • domestic violence
  • racism, discrimination
  • feminism, sexism, double standards
  • partying, dancing
  • relationship problems
  • drug addiction
  • pregnancy
  • eating disorders
  • coping with grief, loss of a loved one
  • bad roommates
  • clingy boyfriends
  • students who work as strippers for college tuition
  • professor scandals

Welcome to the Fast-Paced College Life

Everything is new to Cadence, who is a young white woman who grew up on a farm in the South. Before coming to Charlestowne College, Cadence had never had sushi before, and she didn’t often meet people of different cultures or backgrounds. She is the perfect blank canvas for the craziness that is college.

Since we are following Cadence around campus, there is no central plot. Instead, we meet a lot of people moving swiftly in and out of Cadence’s life. Such is the way of the fast-paced life on campus, and Cadence meets a few people who especially broaden her horizons, such as Isabella, a student from Mexico, who helps Cadence with a presentation for her Spanish class. I saw this same kind of enlightenment in my suitemate, who came from a home of socially conservative values and went home with a more open mind.

Covering A Wide Scope of Experiences: Good or Bad?

The advantage in covering so many experiences who come in the shape of characters is that we get to explore a wide scope of experiences, more than any individual freshman ever will. A lot of these stories are heard through the grapevine, but very few freshmen will ever experience it all themselves. This is freshman year on steroids. All of these people and tidbits of life come together to make Charlestowne College feel like real.

The disadvantage of covering such a large collection of experiences is that some individuals that Cadence meets are reduced to college archetypes, like they were only placed there to represent “eating disorders” or “bad roommate”. While I recognized a lot of the stock experiences that they represented, some parts of the book with these archetypal college figures felt forced or disconnected from the rest of the narrative. Sometimes there would be a sudden switch in point-of-view from Cadence (third person limited) to another character for a few paragraphs, which was a bit jarring to me as the reader. 

A Heavy Tome: More Entertaining on Ereader than Physical Copy

At 572 pages, this book is very long, and its physical form is no waif nor supermodel. I read the first half of it using the physical paperback, and the last half on my ereader. I felt a lot more comfortable reading this book on the ereader, partly because I could do so with one hand, and also because I was better able to focus on the beautifully descriptive language.

Writing Style: Fun, Tongue-in-Cheek

Kelly Owen’s writing voice is remarkably fun, and deliciously tongue-in-cheek in some parts. One of my favorite spots in the book was the passage right after Corrine (Cadence’s repulsive roommate) decides to drop out of college and marry her high school sweetheart:

“A good ‘ole boy, raised on a strict diet of God, guns, and backwoods culture, Jed believed a woman’s place was in the home, so he worked hard to restore Corrine to the proper path dictated by the limitations of her gender. This country boy would rescue her from the city and the evils of elitist professors and fanatical feminists by convincing her she was miserable…Together they would pursue their American Dream, raise their children in the steadfast tradition of family values and grow old teaching their grandchildren the importance of faith without question…” (WOST 261)

I read this in a doctor’s waiting room and snorted with delight. The lady next to me wasn’t very appreciative.

A Multi-Media Narrative

Kelly Owen and her students have expanded this narrative to include more than text. On the College Chronicles website, there are photos, music, and videos that her students have worked on. Kelly Owen also shares the story behind her book.


The College Chronicles: Freshman Milestones by Kelly Owen offers a great overview of the freshman experience to high school students who haven’t attended college yet, seasoned college veterans who have braved and survived their freshman year, and also to anyone who is curious about what it’s like during a student’s first year of college. If anyone ever needed a handbook to the freshman year of college, this would be it.

In some parts, The College Chronicles: Freshman Milestones can be a bit unfocused at times due to the wide breadth of Cadence and her friends’ experiences, but the latter half of the book has more of a focus than the first half, as people’s paths start to converge. The beautiful writing keeps things entertaining throughout the whole book. The foreshadowing at the end sets up the scene for the next volume in the series. I look forward to reading about Cadence’s sophomore year!

My rating: 4/5 stars

Find out more about The College Chronicles: Freshman Milestones by Kelly Owen on:
Amazon | Goodreads

Lebanese TV Host Cuts Short Interview After Islamist Scholar Tells Her to Shut Up

“Just one second. Either there is mutual respect, or the conversation is over.”

A video of an interview between Lebanese television show host Rima Karaki and London-based Islamist scholar Sheikh Hani Al-Siba’i has gone viral. In the video, Rima Karaki cuts the interview short after a tense exchange in which she attempted to bring the conversation back on topic from the Sheikh’s long historical tangent.

Sheikh Hani Al-Siba’i’s statements include, “Are you done? Shut up so I can talk” and “It is beneath me to be interviewed by you. You are a woman who…”

Rima Karaki and Sheikh Hani Al-Siba’i were discussing reports of Christians joining ISIS when the Sheikh said the phenomenon was nothing new, and then went on a historical tangent comparing the Christians joining ISIS to “the leftist revolutionary movements” in Europe during 1970s.

Rima Karaki tried to bring the focus back to the topic of Christians joining ISIS by interrupting and asking Sheikh Hani Al-Siba’i to focus on the present. “At present,” Karaki asked, “what slogans are used to attract [Christians] to these groups?”

Siba’i responded, “Listen, don’t cut me off. I will answer as I please. I will not answer the way you like, because I’m here to to serve the idea in which I believe.” He added, “What is this behavior?”

Rima Karaki assured him, “Please don’t get worked up. We respect you and know you want to give a complete answer. Unfortunately, we have limited time–”

Hani Al-Siba’i cut her off, saying, “I agreed with Mr. Ibrahim Harbi…They’ve given us more time.”

Rima Karaki put up a hand. “Fine, go on,” she said.

However, Hani Al-Siba’i continued angrily and asked, “You think you are so high and mighty?”

“In this studio, I run the show,” Rima Karaki stated, and reminded him that they were running out of time. She said that if he elaborated so much then they would not have enough time for the other questions, and that she would be the one to decide.

“You can decide as much as you like,” Siba’i responded, “but I will do whatever I want.”

She said, “Let’s get back to the topic rather than waste time arguing.”

“Are you done? Shut up so I can talk,” said Siba’i.

“How can a respected sheikh like yourself tell a TV host to shut up?” Karaki asked.

As Rima Karaki wrapped up the interview, Siba’i continued, “It is beneath me to be interviewed by you. You are a woman who–”

At that point, his microphone was cut off, although he continued talking and motioning with his hands.

“Just one second,” Rima Karaki said, holding up a hand. “Either there is mutual respect, or the conversation is over.”

Rima Karaki’s Twitter feed flowed with responses praising her for maintaining her “composure in the midst of utmost disrespect” and taking “full control of the interview after she was insulted”: