Playing with Art and Book Design: An Interview with Miles Tan

by KB Meniado

We do judge some books by their covers, and like any self-respecting reader and book lover, I always swoon a little whenever I see pretty editions. Pretty is subjective, of course, but if we’re talking pretty as in lovely with a side of heart-skipping, then I think Miles Tan’s works qualify. I’ve long crushed on and actually have some of the books she’s worked on, and intended to publish this interview for Women’s Month, but of course, anytime is a good time to celebrate women and promote good art! And right timing, too, because Miles will have a talk about book cover design this May 25 (details below!). Here, she shares her creative process and tips on deciding your art’s worth. Enjoy!

Miles Tan is a full-time web and graphic designer. Most of her original art can be found on the book covers for independent authors of the #romanceclass community, which she’s also a part of, and #HeistClub. She is also a cover designer of Anvil Publishing’s Spark Books imprint such as Midnights in Bali and Don’t Tell My Mother. When her muse is taking a break, she’s either replaying Mass Effect 2 or getting through her TBR pile. (Lastly, you may have read one of her books.)

Visit her website / Email her / Follow on IG and Twitter @maedinn / Buy her books: via the Author (print)Amazon

Hi, Miles! Thanks for making time for this. My first question is: Have you always seen yourself designing book covers?

I have always seen myself doing art, regardless of the medium. I did take this in college, after all (haha!). Though I haven’t particularly seen myself doing book covers. I mean, I was interested, but I didn’t realize I could actually do this for work.

After writing Finding X (check out my thread of feels here!—KB), I had a couple of ideas to write, but I encountered an artist’s block and couldn’t produce anything creative for myself. I was given an opportunity to do book covers for Irene Recio, Laney Castro and Ana Tejano, which was then followed by Anvil Publishing’s SparkNA imprint, and the rest was history. It felt great that I was still producing creatively through other people’s books. It also felt great that I have been able to help their books look good. The upside to all of this is, it has lifted my artist’s block while still loving doing the work.

Can you take us through the process of conceptualizing and producing a book cover design? How do you choose a part from the story to highlight? How about typeface, colors, size of text?

The authors would usually already know what they want to see on their cover. Or they may not know what they want when we first talk, so I ask them a few basic questions:

  1. Do they have samples of covers or posters or artwork that they like? Why do they like it?
  2. Is there a specific scene they want to show? A feeling they want it to evoke?
  3. Is there a particular color scheme they want to use?

I also ask for when do they need the cover, so we’d know our timetable.
From there, I create rough studies for them, which can either be illustrated sketches or straight up photo mockups.

In an ideal situation, the author would pick one and only then do I start working on the full cover. If they couldn’t decide yet, I work on the feedback they give. There may be a lot of back and forth when this happens, but a good cover design owes much to honest feedback as it does hard work.

Typeface and text sizes are mostly chosen or done intuitively, or if the author has specific requests. But I make it a point, always, that both title and author name are legible. I make it a point to check my final artworks when it’s a small thumbnail in a sea of other book covers. I check it’s still readable in black or white, and if it’s accessible to the color blind. I make adjustments whenever I see fit. For me, it shouldn’t just be pretty but also readable.

Sounds very detail-oriented, and I can imagine the level of hard work and creativity that goes into it all. Can you share with us the most rewarding projects you’ve done so far? Any challenges you’re proud to have accomplished? 🙂

All of them are rewarding, for sure! Challenge-wise, I’ve received a few requests with really unique specifics, and some with portraiture, which I haven’t done in a while since doing it back in uni. There was one where my main task was to make the leading man look like exactly from the photo reference (Like Nobody’s Watching by Tara Frejas). I love how the colors turned out as well. I’m ready to take on another one of those, world! There’s also the challenge of making the colors come out right once printed, especially when it’s a mix of photo and illustrated graphics. 

How do you deal with different kinds of clients?

With an additional amount of patience! I also try to figure out the pain points of the relationship and why it happens (Is the design style not working? Are they looking for something else?) so I give them options I know I can knock out, or ask them outright if there’s something very specific they’re looking for. As I mentioned earlier, communication is key.

With all these back-and-forths, what is your average time of project completion?

In an ideal world, I allocate a lead time of three to four weeks to complete a book cover project. This already includes revisions. This is so I have room while working on my day job as well. But sometimes, we’re on a very strict timetable. There was one time, I had to finish four book covers in a span of three weeks! Managing time is really a challenge when client deadlines move. I’ve learned to take on just one project at a time so that they don’t overlap, but sometimes, the milestones still overlap because of moving deadlines!

Moving deadlines can be a pain in the butt but we all have to deal 🙂 Following that, especially for those who are interested to give book cover design a go, how do you decide what’s “enough and fair” for both the client and you?

From the very start of my freelancing career, I’ve been advised to have a standard rate per hour or per product for the core work that I do. This is so I have a starting point, and I can easily scale up or down, depending on what the project needs. It’s also easy to set a standard rate with book designs because I’ve already established the process of how things go on my end. It also helps that I have them posted up on my site so a prospective client knows the rate to expect. I decide on what’s enough and fair by figuring out what they need for the project. The client may have already commissioned someone else for the artwork they want to use for the cover and just want it laid out nicely, or they need help conceptualizing from the start. It also depends on how much time and work the project entails. I also offer a payment plan for bigger projects so that they don’t have to pay it all in one go.

Is there any author you’d love to make a book cover for? Any book cover you’d like to recreate?

I’d love to make a book cover for Mina V. Esguerra. Create one and be a part of the world she’s built, the one that paved the way for #romanceclass. I also hope I could have the opportunity to recreate Beginner’s Guide by Six de los Reyes, either in illustration or photo. Want the challenge to take on a new spin on one of NPR’s top books of 2016. 😉

No plans on doing yours? 😉

Durn, I haven’t actually thought of this yet! I’m actually pretty happy with what my friend Hiyas has done for Finding X. If I do decide to recreate its cover, it might be after I finish writing a couple more books! And it just might still be illustrated. And yes, still with the element of Matteo’s blue hair 😉

Ah, we can’t lose the blue, EVER. Speaking of not losing, do you have any tips or recommendations, such as workshops and lessons, for the aspiring?

There aren’t any local workshops specifically for book cover designs that I know about. Only online stuff, but I haven’t tried those so I can’t recommend. I do suggest following design blogs and artist accounts with the art and style that capture your imagination. I admire works by Jenna Stempel-Lobell, Emily Mahon, Leo Nickolls, and Jim Tierney. I also follow Spine Magazine for cover news as well. But [for the first time], I’m actually doing a #romanceclass lecture about book cover design with Mina on May 25!

[As for advice]: Be patient with your own self, and the challenges given to you by a project. Be kind to yourself, and don’t spread yourself too thin. It’s okay to not do everything! And definitely keep lines of communication open with your client. And, for the love of everything, RSI (repetitive strain injury) is no fun so don’t forget to do your stretches! ☁️

For more info about Miles Tan’s book cover design lecture, visit the #romanceclass website. Get copies of her books here.
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Book Journaling: ‘Stay A Little Longer’ by Dawn Lanuza

by KB Meniado

Two weeks before this goes out to the world, and if you’re a romance reader or a Dawn Lanuza fan second-guessing yourself about pre-ordering or getting this book, this might help you somehow. So stay a little longer to watch and read more below!

THE STORY

They were perfect strangers—all perks, no strings. Until they weren’t.

Elan wasn’t supposed to meet Caty. She lived halfway around the world, and he barely left Manila. Yet here he was, giving her a ride to the airport. Convinced that they would never have to see each other again after that day, Elan and Caty started to bond over truths, dares, stolen kisses, and games in hotel rooms and bars. 

With brief encounters that turned them from acquaintances to friends — tipping to the point of lovers, always — will Elan and Caty keep settling for a day, or will someone finally dare to stay long enough to discover: Is this love?  Get a copy: Amazon (out May 28), soon in bookstores worldwide / Read reviews: Goodreads

It’s BoJo-worthy but is it also Bookshelf-worthy?

Yes, if we’re going by the cover alone because so pretty, but hey that’s not all there is to it. So I want to say this is more for readers stepping into a long-distance relationship, or those already in one, because this romance about a couple in their mid-20s captures such an intimate and resonating account of being apart trying to make it work.

In both Caty and Elan, I saw my self—ambitious but hesitant, willing but afraid. They both know there’s something real and solid between them, yet are not blind to the fact that the distance and time difference (Manila-New York) will not work to their advantage. Add to that, they have pasts to move on from, lives to lead, family to attend to, career goals to achieve.

But what do they do? They keep the connection alive and active, every chance they get.

And that’s the beauty of it—that willingness to take risks even though clouds of doubt and fear hover. Sure, it was a little excruciating for me to witness Caty and Elan drag themselves to realization but I found their journey heavily accurate. LDR is not at all a joke—I’d go to the lengths of saying it’s harder, in the way it requires more effort, more constant communication, more patience, more trust and faith—and so I did understand Caty’s self-denial and sabotage (“am I even worth it, I can’t put this much pressure on him”) and Elan’s hesitation (“do I deserve her, how can make it work?”). There’s also the issue of career for her and family for him, both very valid concerns especially in a Filipino setup as these are crucial factors to consider when transitioning from LDR to actually being together, so difficult, very difficult.

But thankfully, like in real-life, there are people who got Caty and Elan’s backs to remind them that “when you know, you know” and that they owe it to themselves to see it through and make it happen, and make it happen right away. In the words of the great Lucian, Caty’s best friend in New York, “one has to be braver.” (Elan’s sister, Gia, also weighs in the same thought, and gosh, just how great this cast of characters is??)

So do they make it? Do they get a happy ending?

Guaranteed. I won’t spoil anything the how but Caty and Elan eventually figure it out and get there, the resolution and reunion sweet and satisfying. And you know, their story might teach you a thing or two about your relationship, long distance or not. That said, no matter what kind of books you read, take the risk with Stay A Little Longer. ☁️

Note: This story is also set in the universe of The Hometown Hazard by the same author, which I loved.

The reviewer read a galley. Excerpts and quotes may not reflect final version. Stay A Little Longer comes out May 28.

3 Readers Celebrate Their Moms Every Day, One Book At A Time

Today is extra special: we’re celebrating all kinds of mothers around the world—who they are, what they do for us, how much they mean to us. Here, three readers share some of their most touching and intimate stories about their moms. We hope you enjoy them, and please feel free to share your own lovely memories with us as well. Happy Mother’s Day!


My memories of my mother are set mostly in the kitchen. I grew up watching her cook, and mimicking her in the process. She cooked so much—enough for one barangay, my father said, which sort of ensured that we were always well-fed at home.

Of all the dishes I watched my mom make, two were etched deeply in my mind: tinola and bread pudding.

My mom’s tinola was as simple as it gets: chicken broth cubes, sayote, pechay, malunggay or chili leaves, and chicken sautéed in ginger and garlic. Because she had me cooking this in her place many times, I memorized her recipe and adapted it as my own.

Tinola is warm, invigorating and light. The gingery scent tickles your nose and nudges at your taste buds. The soft chicken and the oily broth trickles down your throat and eases the coldness inside your belly. As expected of comfort food.

Meanwhile, the one dish that baffled me the most was her bread pudding. She was obsessed with cooking large batches of them, especially during fiestas and holidays. Those things took long to prepare, and as a kid, I didn’t find it as appealing as, say, leche flan or ube halaya.

One thing about my mom’s bread pudding was that she loved giving it away to neighbors and relatives. Note that while I found them unappealing, they did taste great. Eventually, it was the dish that our family identified most with her.

Later in life, I thought of learning new genres to write so as to break the monotony of my career and sharpen my skills. It was ultimately my love for eating, which I developed after having so much of my mom’s cooking, which led me to write about food.

My first impulse was to draw from my memories while taking inspiration from Anthony Bourdain’s works. Most of his books told of his time in the kitchens he worked in. Taking Bourdain’s cue, I sought to remember the dishes I learned from my mom. (Related: “8 Readers Whose Travels Were Inspired by Books“)

Mom’s tinola recipe was the first true life lesson I learned from her, and was a big part of my adult life. Tinola was my go-to dish when I moved to Baguio City, and one I worked on when I decided to introduce to my family the first girl I dated. Come to think of it, I have seriously my heart and soul into my tinola in three instances, all involving someone I was in love with, but that’s a different story.

Cooking bread pudding, on the other hand, was a chore. I remember the gentle violence of tearing slices of bread apart, watching sugar caramelize, the struggle in mixing milk, eggs, and sugar, and the anticipation as they pop out of the steamer. I guess the best part was having some of the pudding and watching the smiles on the faces of those we give them to. I bet I had that smile at one point.  

Reading through Bourdain’s books made me realize there were so much to look back to regarding my mom, dining, and how I would shape my work. See, writing about food means trying to put into paper the scents, the flavors, and the feelings revolving around the food you cook and eat. Translating smell and taste into words is tough, but it enriches the imagination.

To date, I’ve successfully written about tinola only once, and it was an attempt to write a short love story. I hoped to put on paper how cooking helps convey one’s feelings to another. Somewhere along the way, things went south and it turned into a thriller.

This year would mark a decade after my mom passed away. The last I saw her alive was at lunch time, as she was in the kitchen, cooking as always. I missed hearing her voice, seeing her doing chores, having to listen to her tirades, and coming home to her home-cooked meals.

I mourn the fact that she left without having read my crime books. I won’t call my works top-notch, but I poured everything I have in my stories. She appreciated my work as a journalist; I hoped she would appreciate my other genres as well. (Related: “#HeistClub: Manila in the Eyes of an Outsider“)

To be honest, I don’t think I can cook tinola the same way she did, nor can I duplicate the taste of her bread pudding. The least I can do to continue honoring her memory is remember her and her meals, and someday, write in length about her cooking.—Mark Manalang

Mark’s mother and niece | Photo posted with permission

When I was young, I would always get excited whenever Mama goes to the supermarket and do grocery shopping. I would always be her shopping buddy because I was the Ate and I figured I should learn to buy things for my siblings.

One day while waiting for Mama to pay the groceries, I found a nook near the counter. It was a bookcase! I couldn’t help but start browsing the novels. They were new to me. I only read textbooks and school materials because I was still in elementary.

I was very focused with the books that I didn’t hear Mama calling my name.

“What are you reading?”

“Ma, can you buy this for me, please?”

She frowned. “This a love story, Pau, and it is not even new.”

“Not too old, Ma. Look!” I pointed to the back of the book.

“Do you really want to read this book?”

“Yes, Ma.” I answered. “I’ll read it on Saturday after I finish my homework.”

“Okay.” She gave me 100 pesos even though the book was only 60 pesos. “Add the change for your baon.”

“Thank you, Ma!” I smiled triumphantly and went to the counter.

I was then an incoming grade five student and even though, I was not familiar with romance and fantasy, I got hooked to the story. I started to save money from my baon to purchase a book whenever Mama and I went to the grocery store.

Since that day, whenever my birthday rolled around, Mama would always give me books as gift. She would always take time to go to the bookstore. Because of that, I grew up reading V.C. Andrews and Sabrina the Teenage Witch books. These novels made me crave for more stories and shaped my childhood’s imaginary world.

And Whispers in the Woods, the book I asked my mother to buy is still with me. I reread the book every year because it would always remind me that Mom bought my first book. —Paula Alagao

Paula with her mother | Photo posted with permission

My mother taught me many wonderful things: how to walk like a lady, what losing one’s virginity felt like, why a child should never talk to strangers.

Above all, she taught me to read, and to love every second of it.

Contrary to what most people assumed, my mother wasn’t a teacher. However, her passion for books ran deeply in her veins. Her collection could have rivaled mine, though her choices were a stark contrast to my favorites. She mostly had romances on her shelves—the bodice-ripping, princess-abducting kind. I liked the covers, took in the corsets, bosoms, muscles, and long-haired men, and let the images run free in my mind. Even as a child, I already knew who Johanna Lindsey was.

I saw more names in her collection: Dean Koontz, Anne Rice, John Grisham. Strangely, I hardly ever read them.

That wasn’t a problem, though. My mother, the smart woman that she was, put a colorful display of hardbound books. The titles ranged from
Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen to Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. This collection sparked my love for the classics, and I never looked back.

She also let me leaf through those free Nido booklets, weekly Newsweek subscriptions, Junior Inquirer, Reader’s Digest (however dated they were), and National Geographic. Never was there a dull moment during summer. I had one of the most fun and enjoyable childhood experiences, thanks to reading, thanks to my mother.

This goes without saying that she allowed my own literary tastes to develop, to find a body of their own. She cheered me on when I finished reading Alice in Wonderland, let me mush over Sweet Valley High characters, and called me to dinner when I buried myself in Mary Higgins Clark’s detective stories. In more ways than one, Mama instilled in me the same passion for books that burned in her chest. There was no judgment, no censorship, no conversations about high and low brow lit. As long as I read, she was happy.

She may have died more than a decade ago, but her influence is very much visible in my life. I still kept a few of her books, at the same time I have chosen to give away or sell her bestsellers. The rare ones, like Sophie’s Choice and The World According to Garp are on my iron-wrought shelf, waiting for my eager hands to turn the pages, and for my hungry eyes to devour their words.

The world taught me to celebrate Mother’s Day in May. My mother taught me, among other things, to celebrate life every day, one book at a time.—Maria Criselda Santos

☁️

Bookbed reviews: ‘Jumper Cable Chronicles: Si Santa Anita’ ni E.K. Gonzales, salin sa Filipino ni Xi Zuq

ni KB Meniado

ANG KWENTO

Habang bakasyon, dapat pagpasok sa senior high school ang pinaghahandaan ni Dino—hindi ang pagbuo ng koneksiyon sa Dimension 048; hindi ang pagdating ng isang batang dimension engineer na si Haya Project; hindi ang paghanap sa medical engineer na si Anita Project; at hndi ang pagiging Agent 001 ng Dimension 196.

Bakit pa kasi siya nagtangkang manood ng live streaming ng laban ni Pacquiao? Dapat nag-review na lang siya para sa entrance exam! Get a copy: Adarna House / Read reviews: Goodreads

MGA NAGUSTUHAN KO

Matagal na noong huli akong magbasa ng YA sci-fi, lalo na’t nakasalin sa Filipino, kaya laking tuwa ko na sa unang sabak pa lang, natuwa na agad ako sa mga pakikipagsapalaran ni Dino kasama si Haya. Madali kong nailagay ang sarili ko sa world-building ng kwento, at masaya kong sinubaybayan ang unti-unting pagbunyag ng mga misteryo ukol sa mga Dimensions, kay Haya at sa nawawalang medical engineer na naging santa na si Anita.

Maraming elemento at pangyayari ang pwedeng ihalintulad sa mga nangyayari sa kasalukuyang lipunan—gaya ng pros at cons ng teknolohiya, pang-aabuso sa mga inosente, paghahanap ng mga alternatibong pag-asa at pagkapit sa pananampalataya. Sa pagpili ni Dino na tulungan si Haya na hanapin si Anita, nakita ko ang pakikisama, pag-unawa sa naiiba sa iyo at ang paalala na kapag ginusto mo, may paraan. Sakripisyo at determinasyon naman ang pinairal ni Haya, sa kagustuhang maibalik si Anita sa Dimension 048. At si Anita? Para sa akin, siya ang nagsilbing simbolo ng isang pangarap, o katuparan ng pangarap. Dahil sa kanya, nabigyan ng purpose at misyon sina Dino at Haya, na siyang nagturo sa kanila—direkta man o hindi—ng mga leksyon sa buhay.

Hindi ko man nabasa ang orihinal na teksto sa Ingles, palagay ko ay naisalin pa rin ang humor at ang overall na tono ng kwento sa Filipino. (Bisitahin si Xi Zuq dito.) Sa akin, mas madaling akong naka-relate kasi may katatawanan na mas naka-capture sa sarili nating salita. Nagustuhan ko ring may kasamang maliliit ngunit importanteng portrayal ng mga araw-araw ng isang batang (nagbibinatang) Pinoy. Paborito ko ang mga magulang ni Dino—napaka-supportive at open-minded, kailangan natin ng mga ganitong representasyon ng pamilya!—pati na rin ang pagso-spoil nila kay Haya gamit ang tinola! 😂

Bukod sa mga iyon, mayroon mga references sa iba pang mga nobela gaya ng Janus Silang at Trese, na maaaring magbigay daan sa mga mambabasa na palawakin pa ang kanilang interes sa akdang Pinoy. Baka sa susunod may pa-crossover na! At dahil nandito na rin tayo, gusto kong mabasa na ang susunod sa series. Palagay ko may madidiskubre na namang bagong dimensyon, o ‘di kaya naman ay mas makikilala pa natin ang institusyon na nasa likod ng mga Projects. At nawa’y kasing-ganda rin ang pambalat ng pangalawang libro! (Gawa ni Paolo Lim; bisitahin ang kanyang website.)

SA MADALING SALITA

Ang Jumper Cable Chronicles: Si Santa Anita ay may kombinasyon ng aksyon at imahenasyon, katatawanan, kulturang Pinoy at aral ng buhay. Wari’y na-jump cable din ako papunta papunta sa ibang Dimension. ☁️

Magbasa pa ng mga kwentong Jumper Cable dito.

Storiesnap Time: ‘The Times Concise History of the World’ by Geoffrey Parker

Welcome back to Storiesnap Time, in which we feature books with illustrations in snaps and clips.

This time, we chose The Times Concise History of the World by Geoffrey Parker to hopefully encourage those who want to get into, or revisit the stories of our past in a quick, bite-sized way.

Watch the video below to check it out, and if you enjoyed this, let us know in the comments below. We also welcome requests so feel free to send titles our way! ☁️

This post is not sponsored.

Bookbed reviews: ‘How to Make a Salagubang Helicopter & Other Poems’ by Jim Pascual Agustin

by Lausanne Barlaan

THE STORY

Jim Pascual Agustin has created a distinct, challenging, and necessary collection of poetry that successfully weaves together inner lives and the larger entities surrounding us.

How to Make a Salagubang Helicopter is undeniably a product of its time, made necessary for the challenges it poses upon the reader-challenges the narrator quietly rallies the reader to take on, against the chaos we are already, unfortunately, growing comfortable with.

The poetry possesses an undercurrent of begrudging stillness and stoicism-this quiet voice, with every line that falls, wonders whether humanity is still worthy of championing. Get a copy: San Anselmo Press / Read reviews: Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

It’s always tricky to read poetry, more so to read it for the sake of reviewing it. There’s the concept of the author being dead—that once the last line is typed, the work now belongs to the reader, open to any kind of interpretation. And yet, an overthinker like me would worry, what if I misinterpret what the author intended to evoke?

Still, the themes in How to Make Salagubang Helicopter are so distinctly clear, covering poems drawn from personal experience and observation to timely sections (perfectly titled “Abominations,” my personal favorite chapter) dedicated to making sense of the senseless decisions and actions made by the current administration. Agustin even manages to make hard-hitting poetry out of the government’s documents (“victimize mostly the underprivileged / and impoverished sector / of society / eradicate” from Redacted Official Document No. 1) and from news coverage (“The police / armed with lists / altered / the body / brutalized / to public acceptance.” from Mangling Miguel Syjuco’s Words).

And while some writers prefer to keep an air of mystery around their sources of inspiration, it was refreshing to see photographs included in the book, credited by Agustin as prompts used for his poetry. “The Keys are in Someone Else’s Pocket” especially hit home with my tear ducts, showing a somber photograph of a war veteran waiting outside a bank combined with beautiful lines hypothesizing on its subject’s life:

“Your veteran’s cap / will give no shade. The morning crowds / rush soon enough, unmindful / of where you were born, or how long ago / you felt sweat gather between your finger / and the trigger as you waited / for the enemy / to come just a little / closer.”

Overall, this collection of poetry flows with such grace that while a number of poems make you pause in stunned silence, you can’t help but flip on to the next one to get another serving of this experience.

HOWEVER

Nothing, really. If anything, I hope I heard about this book sooner, and that this book becomes required reading or at the very least more present in local bookstores for others to discover.

tl;dr

How to Make a Salagubang Helicopter & Other Poems by Jim Pascual Agustin is a great collection of poetry that lays out hard-hitting truths and manages to strike universal emotional nerves. ☁️

Bookbed received a copy from the author in exchange for honest thoughts. Read our Review Policy here.

Bookbed reviews: ‘Bone Talk’ by Candy Gourlay

by KB Meniado

THE STORY

More than a hundred years ago, a boy named Samkad thinks he knows everything about the world. He knows the mountains he lives in. He knows his people. He knows his blood enemy, the Mangili. And he wants to become a man, to be given his own shield, spear and axe to fight with. His best friend, Luki, wants all the same things – but she is a girl, and no girl has ever become a warrior.

But everything changes when a new boy arrives in the village. He calls himself Samkad’s brother, yet he knows nothing of the ways of the mountain. And he brings news of a people called ‘Americans’, who are bringing war and destruction right to his home . . . Get a copy from national and online bookstores / Read reviews: Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

If you’re not a regular reader of historical fiction like me, this one’s going to be a slow start for you too. I admit it also didn’t help I didn’t connect and empathize with Samkad right away, and instead gravitated towards the secondary characters, like his strong willed girl (space) friend Luki, and his mysterious long-lost brother, Kinyo.

But that changed when the world-building became more vivid, sweeping me right into the action. And that’s what kept me turning pages—the chase for answers and adventures, packed with very Filipino nuances. I imagined being in the Cordillera, putting my self in the lives of highlanders mingling with lowlanders and foreign captors. I imagined how it was to be in the middle of an invasion, of a war, my knowledge of what already existed and what remained to be unexplored clashing and coming together. I imagined living a version of Filipino culture that’s untainted and faithful to the ‘original’ norms. And I appreciated the very fact that I could do so because the author didn’t hold back, from animal sacrifice rituals down to battle bloodshed.

In spite of my initial disconnect from most of the characters, this book reawakened my excitement to pry and probe our identity and history again. I couldn’t be any more delighted when I found the Enrichment Guide and short Q&A in the appendices.

tl;dr

This is my first Candy Gourlay book. I had just picked it up when it was announced it had made the Carnegie Medal shortlist (congratulations!). So naturally, my expectations climbed, so to speak. Happy to report that this book met me right at the peak. Bone Talk is one-of-a-kind, a book meant to remind and enlighten us of our story as a people. ☁️

Bookbed reviews: ‘Monsters in the Cereal Bowl’ + An Interview with Alina R. Co

by Allana Luta

THE STORY

In this collection of short stories, Alina R. Co conjures the monsters and other worldly creatures we’ve seen as children. These are characters that have piqued our bottomless pits of imagination, both real and imagined, and friendly and frightening.

Here are winged creatures in cereal bowls, a man who collects suicides, a mysterious elevators and its hidden doors, and a grandmother whose obsession for long, lustrous locks of hair drives her to madness. Here, she also tackles life’s everyday horrors, hardly macabre, but things that makes us confront the deepest recesses of our beings—a taboo love, mental illness, the loss of innocence, and extramarital romances. Everyone has their monsters and Co’s prove to be both terrifying and forthright, with a healthy serving of whimsical and fascinating in this mix of horror, tragedy, romance, comedy and thriller multi-genre.

To purchase the book or contact the author, you can check out the Facebook page for MICB here.

WHAT I LIKED

I’m not much of a fan of horror fiction but I can take them in small bursts. And in Monsters in the Cereal Bowl, Alina Co provides us with 13 of them!

I liked how Alina made the seemingly mundane seem creepy by pointing out certain aspects that, if exaggerated, suddenly become horrific, like people’s obsession with hair. Other times, she put in fantastical elements to everyday situations, like eye exams where, when asked what she wanted to see, the protagonist responds with “everything” and see everything she does, even those that aren’t mean to be seen. As a glasses-wearer myself, I don’t think I want my vision to be that clear.

I also appreciated the stories about real horrors that can scar someone for life—parents fighting, an extra-marital affair, accidentally dropping in on your friend having sex. Just like how some heroes don’t wear capes, not all monsters have claws or live in the dark. Like what Alina said in “Stitches,” “the most gruesome of horrors can happen when there is light.”

The shortness of each story made it easy to read and left a lot to the imagination. Some will leave you wondering what the hell the point was but then life is like that. I know there are people who like having closure and might find unsolved mysteries unsettling but that’s also the fascinating thing about unexplainable events in the human experience. Some things just happen for no reason.

HOWEVER

The inconsistent verb tenses throughout the book really pulled me out of the stories. My brain struggled to place whether the events happened in the past or in the present or if it was a flashback but told in the present tense. This was probably my biggest pet peeve while reading.

tl;dr

If you want a quick read with monsters you can still face in the night, this might be for you. But verb tenses are inconsistent throughout, so you might want to look out for that.

We also asked Alina a few questions about the background behind MICB and her personal monsters. Read on to get to know the author!

Hi Alina! Congratulations on publishing Monsters in the Cereal Bowl. We just wanted to ask a few questions to help our readers get to know you more as a person and an author.

Hi Allana, thanks so much! I’m so nervous for the Saturday launch! I’m an extrovert but not really into facing a crowd and public speaking! Haha.

I’m sure you’ll do great! I really liked the concepts behind each story in MICB and was wondering if any of these were influenced by stories you heard when you were a child. What was your favorite scary story growing up? It doesn’t have to be a book, maybe it was something your parents or guardian told you and it just stuck.

There used to be a vacant lot beside our home, na medyo magubat. And our yaya used to scare us, don’t go there, baka may nuno sa punso.

I don’t remember my dwarf friend anymore, what he looked like, what he said to me. Only what my mom and yaya said. I had a dwarf friend daw named Morphan, who I visited and talked to at the vacant lot. Yes, it was a he. Medyo nakakakilabot. Did we play? Did he do magic over me? I don’t know!

I was scared of kapre, too. My yaya said there was one in an old tree in that same vacant lot.

Also, I used to be scared of mangoes. Medyo weird because my mom ate a lot of yellow mangoes when she was pregnant with me. But I think there was an incident that made me scared of mangoes. We were having dinner, my parents were eating mangoes. Right after that, right after they finished dessert, they started fighting. So that made me associate mangoes with fighting. And for a year, I think I didn’t eat mangoes, believing it makes people behave badly.

In your introduction, you mentioned you had been writing on and off for 15 years as a creative outlet. How has your writing style evolved over the years? Were there any stories that did not make it into MICB?

The greatest challenge for me was compressing or rewriting most of the stories in this collection. I’m not a very patient person, I’m kind of like “tapos na, ok na! happy na’ko!” so I found the revising, rewriting part really hard. Kasi nga parang therapeutic lang siya sa’kin.

But then I asked some friends and even a well-known speculative fiction [writer] to take a look at some of the stories. He recommended tightening the stories. That’s the main thing that changed. I learned to rewrite, to revise. You know how at your first draft, you’re smug and content. But I learned to kind of forget the story, bury it at the back of my mind. Then when I’m ready, I’ll read it again with fresher eyes and see how I can improve it.

Yes, there were some stories that didn’t make it. One of them was “The Predicament of Mr. and Mrs. P,” which my husband felt wasn’t strong enough. Another one was “The Maiden,” an old story from 2005 or 2006, about an old maid. I really love that story, but it contained similar elements to “Ice Candy Love Affair,” so I had to drop that. “Playing in Hotels” also didn’t make it. It was about my experience as a child living in hotels. My mom used to run away from my dad a lot and I was her preferred companion.

Originally I was also planning to include essays, but I realized it would deviate from the overall theme of the book.

What has been the biggest “monster” you’ve faced, whether real or imaginary? Was this incorporated in any of the short stories in MICB?

Hmm… biggest monsters. I would have to say issues in our family. You’ll see this in “Middle Eart” and “Mistress & Machang.” I have a brother who has a mental illness. For a time, he had trouble distinguishing between what’s real or not. It’s really an uphill battle. Our family found it hard to accept it at first. That time there wasn’t a mental health bill yet, wala pang mental health awareness month and advocacies. So we had to deal with it ourselves. We had to keep it a secret. But now, iba na, a lot of people know that it’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s a real disease and it can be treated. And the first step is acceptance.

Also, as a child, I witnessed the crumbling of a marriage. That kind of shatters your ideals, especially when you’re a Disney and fairytale fan. You meet your prince and you will live happily every after. Pffft!

When you’re a clueless kid, those family problems become your world. Thankfully, I’ve grown up. Ganun talaga, life is not perfect. It becomes part of you, and you become the person that you are because of these flaws.

You also said that you had not intentionally sat down and wrote with the goal to publish a book. Had you decided to publish MICB before you attended Mina V. Esguerra’s seminar or was it a result of attending that seminar? What changed your mind?

When I attended Mina’s seminar, I had the intention of publishing the book already. Learned a lot from the seminar. Sabi ko, yes, kaya naman pala! I thought kasi before you need to have a big publisher backing you. 

As a first-time self-published author, what have been the challenges you’ve faced? What can you advise to authors who want to be independently published as well?

At least in my circle, a lot of people have great stories to tell and they tell you they intend to write a book soon, or a manuscript is in the works. But to actually push through is a different matter altogether. To actually go ahead and take the plunge was the biggest thing for me.

I have a very demanding job, so this passion project tends to get sidetracked, hehe. But I didn’t want to be one of those people na “may balak siya gumawa ng libro.”

Also, since it’s self-published, the challenges are how to fund it and how to market it. Funding, kinaya naman. I get a lot of Producer projects and I was paid well. Marketing na lang, how do I market this? Wala naman ako sa National (Bookstore). Thankfully, there are a lot of people who want you to succeed, such as Bookbed. This feature is such a big help, thank you! For me, I just want to tell my stories, and to be able to find a reader base, however small, is a win in itself!

Advice: stop planning and dreaming and just go ahead and DO IT! Huwag puro “balak” or “wala akong oras.” Be that kind of person that when you look back, whatever the result is, I effin’ did it, no regrets. ☁️

Bookbed reviews: ‘Mandirigma 173’ by Ellena Odde

by Lausanne Barlaan

THE STORY

Hinihintay lang naman ni Chi sa beach ang bestfriend niyang nilamon ng Kpop, nang lumitaw ang pusang nagsasalita at asal millennial.

Tapos, napili na siyang isa sa mga Mandirigma sa pa-contest ni Bathala, susuungin ang mga misyon sa mundo ng mga engkanto. Dagdag stress pa ang kabataan problems niya sa mundo ng mga tao.

The struggle is real! Paano ni Chi malalampasan ang lahat ng mga ito?

Limang Mandirigma.

Dalawang mundo.

Isang malupit na adventure. Get a copy: Facebook / Read reviews: Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

At its core, Mandirigma 173 is a coming of age story and has the makings of a good one—a bunch of misfits put together by circumstance (in this case, anitos in various animal forms), united to complete a series of missions and discover great qualities within themselves along the way. It just so happens that this story is set where K-pop and high school drama coexist with a world inhabited by powerful, although sometimes troublesome mythical creatures.

The mythical world reads like a wonderful world to visit. The novel shows us three realms within the mythical world and introduces us to creatures we usually hear from stories—from tikbalang to manananggal to duwende. As a longtime enthusiast of Filipino mythology and its creatures, I I was glad to find a novel written by someone so young and so ready to introduce these creatures to her peers.

It’s also great that the novel is written in Filipino and with language that’s current and relatable (at least, if you’re updated with today’s slang), making it accessible to its target market—teenagers experiencing the turmoil of growing up, channeling all their feelings through crushes and their current fandom obsessions.

And with a novel filled with a lot of characters led by Chi, the protagonist and reluctant Mandirigma, the four other Mandirigma chosen to participate in Bathala’s contest, Chi’s classmates and family, and the anitos in the mythical world, it’s hard not to find a character that you can relate with, or at the very least take a liking to.

HOWEVER

(Spoiler alert!)

In a story that’s full of characters both from the human and mythical world, the characterization on some key players is bound to feel thin. This is especially evident in the four other Mandirigma: a teenage celebrity, a bookworm, an arrogant son of an ambularyo, and a perpetually scared and often-bullied boy. Aside from these bare-bone descriptions, not much else is known and shown about them outside of the missions, and it’s a shame because knowing them more would have pushed greater emotional investment in their adventures.

On the other end of the Mandirigma spectrum, Chi as a lead character feels a little thin. Even though the novel was written in a third person perspective, the story was told through Chi’s life and because of that, I expected greater development in her journey. But aside from her meet-cute with her anito (it involved pastillas), her initial reluctance and eventual embracing of being a Mandirigma, I did not see much reason for her to be the main character at all. And since she’s the only character the novel got to follow outside of the mythical world, we’re shown the usual high school drama that’s supposed to add a layer to Chi, but the plot felt like a filler and only made me want to go back to the land of the mythical creatures.

There was also language used by one anito that felt uncomfortable to read, especially in the age of #MeToo. Dianne, the teenage celebrity character, is described to be pretty, kikay and a little vain. This still doesn’t call for her anito to address her Babes or Bebot and joke that she needs to take care during the missions so as not to damage her pretty face. Sure, this may seem harmless, in the spirit of teasing, and I may just be a grumpy tita, but with the highly impressionable target market for this novel and its purpose (I think) to may Filipino mythology accessible to today’s teens, it’s still not the best idea to instill.

tl;dr

A fun read for people who want to see a modern take on Filipino mythical creatures. ☁️

The reviewer received an ARC from the author in exchange for honest thoughts. Excerpts and quotes may not reflect final version. Read our Review Policy here.

5 Readers Share Their Favorite Women Authors and Literary Characters

Happy International Women’s Day! In celebration, five readers talk about the women they read, and why that’s important. Enjoy the reminder!


“I grew up reading two female authors: Francine Pascal and Anne Rice. One reflected my childhood, the other my visions of adulthood. Between Pascal’s famous Wakefield Twins, I identified with and wanted to become Elizabeth—smart, good-natured, down-to-earth, and sensible. We even shared the same dream of becoming journalists one day, and joined campus newspapers because of it. I soon outgrew that and moved on to Anne Rice after getting intrigued by Interview with the Vampire. But, it was her Lives of the Mayfair Witches series that I found most interesting, short as it was. I was fascinated by the neurosurgeon Rowan Mayfair, who discovers that she has psychic abilities.

I consider the two female authors as the driving force that got me hooked on reading early. Through their books, I first learned how women can be anything they wanted to be. How their writings made ideas and imagination come to life vividly in the minds of their readers. They became perfect examples of why women deserve to have a voice. It may be true that we women have sentimentality, intuition, and attention to detail ingrained in our psyche, but intelligence, excellence, and great ideas know no gender.”—Joy Celine Asto

My fave female lit character is Margaret Hale from North & South, while my fave female author is… Anne Rice? Haha!

I’m not sure how else I can talk about why women should be read because it’s 2019 and we should know why already, right??”—Allana Luta

“I grew up reading the Harry Potter series, and the seven books made me a bookworm. Hermione Granger is one of my favorite female characters because I see so much of myself in her. Bow to J.K. Rowling for not giving up with her story and her dream that someday it would turn out to be a book.

It is important to read books that promote feminism because we are more than that damsel-in-distress to be saved, they are a lot of female lead characters that are strong, smart and independent. Our opinion matters and we can bring change.”—Pau Alagao

“When it comes to favorite literary characters, here are my top five literary superheroes—all female. Also taking this opportunity to give a shoutout to female Filipino authors like Arli Pagaduan, Cindy Wong, Isa Garcia, Jay Pillerva, Mary Ann Ordinario-Floresta, Mayumi Cruz and the women of #romanceclass! Love the work they do, writing about the different faces and experiences of the Filipino, and supporting one another. Read women that represent and do the work, and help each other shine!”—KB Meniado

“Anne Shirley! My favorite female authors are Lois Lowry, Tracy Chevalier and Tamora Pierce.

Why should women be read, you ask? Why the hell not?? Pwede ring women’s stories are part of the human experience and we should be seeing them as universal too, ‘di yung kalokohan na puro men/male as default/neutral tapos women writers separate pero sa totoo lang yung actual answer ko is why the hell not.”—Agnes Manalo

☁️