Sunday, February 22, 2015

It's Monday! (2/23/2015)

 This lovely meme is hosted by the ever-mighty Sheila of BookJourney.

Hello to you all again! I can't believe Monday is here again already. This is going to be one busy week on all fronts. This Thursday, I'm going to be heading north to Beverly Hills for a press screening of Kidnapping Mr. Heineken on behalf of College News. I'm really excited and also a bit nervous because this will be the first press screening I'm attending. 

I still haven't finished reading The College Chronicles: Freshman Milestones, so I'll just show what I actually finished reading and reviewing this week. 

It rained today, which is quite unusual in San Diego. I was inside the whole time so when I stepped out of work, I only knew about the rain because the ground was damp. 

This week, I finished:

Macaron Murder, by Harper Lin
Genre: Cozy Mystery 

Captivated Reader introduced this book to me last year, but I didn't start reading it until recently. This mystery novella set in Paris is really cute, and also a fast read. And even better: it's free on Amazon. Read my review here

Mess by Liars (album)

This album was quite unsettling and aggressive in both its lyrics and its form. In my review, I mention their music video (single version) of a song featuring a dude singing with a face that threw me into several hours of cartoon therapy afterward. Do check it out if you are braver than me.


Thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Album Review: MESS by Liars

Album: Mess
Artist: Liars
Genres: Punk Rock, Electronica, Dance Punk
Original Release Date: March 24, 2014

Hailing from Los Angeles, California, Liars is a punk rock and electronica band that consists of three members: Angus Andrew (vocals/guitar), Aaron Hemphill (percussion/guitar/synth), and Julian Gross (drums). The band experienced its genesis at the dawn of our millennium in 2000, and has since then relocated to different places, including New York (where the band became famous) and Berlin. Liars has also developed quite a following in the United Kingdom. 

With each album, Liars has evolved its style between elements of punk rock, electronica, and dance. Mess is the Liar's seventh album. A Mute press release describes Mess as the band's followup to their previous album, WIXIW. Where WIXIW featured the band in an uncertain and ambiguous state, Mess shows the Liars storming out from the glassy sea of introspection with fire in their eyes. 

A sense of unease and sinister vibes pervade this album's throbbing alternative dance beats. Liars' relationship with uncertainty continues in this album, except their response is angrier and more unsettling than in the previous album--an aggressiveness packaged with dance punk, particularly in "Pro Anti Anti" and "Can't Hear Well."  

A common theme within the lyrics in this album is the struggle against fear and vulnerability. The occasional crooked lines of lyrics in the lyrics booklet give off the sense of an overwhelmed mind that questions its own sanity at times.

Snippets of lyrics that reveal their anxious struggle against inner demons in Mess:

"Mask Maker" (Track 1): "I'm long past saving / I'm swallowing degenerates whole / It took both ambition and fear to finally figure it out / Well it looks so appealing in real life it's actually not"

"Vox Tuned D.E.D." (Track 2): "I always wondered how / To rid myself of doubt / Haven't really been forced in a while" 

"I'm No Gold" (Track 3): "I, I'm a waste / And you're gold / I'm not clear why you're here, but you're here / I, I'm a waste, I'm no gold, I'm no gold, I'm no gold, I'm just lead / You were right"

Here's a link to the music video of Liars' single version of "I'm No Gold." Just a warning: the look on the guy's face is the stuff of angry, head-throbbing nightmares. 

Overall, Mess is a compilation of unsettling alternative dance tracks that explore the emotions associated with anxiety and uncertainty. Liars has been experimenting with their style for a very long time, and this is the latest update to their direction, which emanates aggressive beats and vibes while maintaining its reflective elements in the lyrics. 

Find out more about Mess by Liars on:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Macaron Murder by Harper Lin (Patisserie Mystery, Book 1)

Macaron Murder
by Harper Lin
(Patisserie Mystery, Book 1)

Genre: Cozy Mystery

Macaron Murder 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 and easy 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!

My rating: 

Find out more about Macaron Murder by Harper Lin:

Sunday, February 15, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading (2/16/2015)

This fabulous weekly meme is hosted by Sheila of BookJourney. 
One of the things I appreciate most about the book blogger community is that we all come together from different walks of life. From parents to young teens, from the wild and free bohemians to the conservative, family-oriented folk, we all share a common interest: reading awesome stuff and writing about it. :) Happy Valentine's Day! Hope your Valentines weekend went well.

Last Week:

Author Q&A with Jen Minkman: Part 1 and Part 2. It was really fun talking with Jen about her life as an author (part 1) and her work on the Tales of Skylge series (part 2). She's from the Netherlands and has is working on a dystopian fantasy series, which is an interesting combo of genres!

Okay, not really sure if any of you here are synthpop fans. But if you are, I made a review of the Attack of the Titans album by Hyperbubble. EVERYTHING in this album was synthesized, from noise machines to the usual synthesizers. Quite experimental. After I listened to this, I felt like my street cred had gone up by two points.

I swear, it's like I have two crazy sides. One side likes fantasy and rugged-looking elf folk, while the other side loves to read super-girly stuff like The Secret Diamond Sisters by Michelle Madow. I'd been looking for a new series to indulge my inner Gossip Girl, and here it is! See my review.

This week, I am reading:

The Inferno by Dante Alighieri. 
I finally decided my 2015 goal, which is to continue my literary education by reading and thinking about more classics. (P.S. This might take me a while to finish.)

The College Chronicles: Freshman Milestones by Kelly Owen
This is about a student's first year in Charlestowne College, which is in the South. The descriptions of the place (and the reason that Cadence chose to attend that school in particular) scream of a small liberal arts college. It's great so far!

Hope for Garbage
by Alex Tully
This one's about an older teen living with his alcoholic uncle. Coming of age problems, overcoming adversity, finding hope, etc. The feel of the story so far is a grittier Jerry Spinelli.


Thanks for checking out my Monday! Hope yours is going well too! Feel free to leave a comment. :)

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Secret Diamond Sisters by Michelle Madow

The Secret Diamond Sisters
by Michelle Madow

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 people--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. It seems like they're only getting started, but the drama is delicious. I can't wait to read the second one.

My rating:

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

Goodreads | Amazon

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Author Q&A: Jen Minkman - Part 2

Jen Minkman 

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!


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!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Author Q&A: Jen Minkman - Part 1

Jen Minkman, author

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.

Minkman's Tales of Skylge Series
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.


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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Album Review: Attack of the Titans by Hyperbubble

Album Title:  Attack of the Titans (Original Soundtrack)
Artist: Hyperbubble
Genres: 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:

Sunday, February 1, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (2/2/2015)

Happy Groundhog Day!

This week, I was super-excited when I received a fat package of books and CDs in the mail from my editor over at College News:

For more details on this swag pack, see here.

You can be sure to see the book and album reviews coming up later!

This week, I finished reading:

Light of Lorelei 
by Jen Minkman
(Tales of Skylge #2)

This is really good. Jen Minkman has become a great writer. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Tales of Skylge series, it's a dystopian fantasy series set on an island in which Sirens (merfolk) regularly pull island people towards the sea with their eerie music, where they tear them apart and consume their life force. Aska is an orphan who is doomed to serve in a convent for the rest of her life because she is the offspring of a taboo relationship between Skylger and Anglian individuals. A series of strange occurrences leads her to find the truth behind the Sirens and the ruling class of the island... Read my review here.

I'll be posting an interview with the author, Jen Minkman, soon. Please stay tuned for it! I'll also link the interview in next week's It's Monday! post. :)