Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Rachel's Top Picks for 2015!

Here's a line each from my reviews for the entire year!

1. Moth by Leonora Liow
For a book with such a horrendous cover, I was stunned to find a couple of gems in it.

2. 寻找 by Ah Guo Tanhengkok I though this was a brilliant and poignant work of art.

3. Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape our Man-made World by Mark Miodownik
If only it'd been written when I was in school, it would have motivated me to study hard in class and attempt to appreciate the esoteric nature of the modules I was taking.

4. Short Circuits: through the catchments of faith and writing by Anne Lee Tzu Pheng
This book is basically a collection of short vignettes of the author's experience with writing, poetry, and with God.

5. Tender Delirium by Tania De Rozario
The poetry and prose here is raw emotion mixed with heart-rending truths of reality.

6. Scattered Vertebrae by Jerrold Yam
I’d urge those exploring Singapore poetry to pick this title up.

7. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew
Beyond the controversy this book generated, Sonny Liew has created a gem, multi-faceted and quite a sight to behold.

8. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters by Timothy Keller
Things like love, success, money and power can all become idols if we are not careful.

9. The Invisible Manuscript by Alfian Sa'at
"I never knew poetry on gay male sex could be so beautiful," was how I introduced this book to a couple of my friends.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Equatorial Sunshine by Wong Su Ann

When I first tried Equatorial Sunshine, I drank it neat and it was so-so. The second time round, I paired it with Evanescence's first album, Fallen, and the progressive metal really brought out the vanilla notes in the poetry, making the entire experience a more enjoyable one. 

Wong Su Ann's first collection certainly feels like one. It is rather uneven, with some stellar pieces and others that are "meh". 

I heard from someone at Ethos that it sells really well in secondary schools in Singapore with the majority of buyers being teenage girls. 

I can see why. Just as Lang Leav has her fans, Wong Su Ann is likely to appeal to young Singaporean girls with the bulk of the content comprising love, or rather, breakup poems. 

I found the prose poems much better than the free verse. She also included a number of pieces by some of her friends which struck me as rather odd because I didn't quite see how they fit in. But to each his (or her) own I guess. 

Well, this would make a good gift if you'd like to introduce a young girl to some simple poetry. However, as it is rather lightweight, do make sure your recipient is not a big fan of Literature or else your present might backfire. 

You can order your copy online at Ethos Books. 

Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Moth by Leonora Liow

I take back what I said in my previous post. You really can't judge a book by its cover. For a book with such a horrendous cover, I was stunned to find a couple of gems in it. Some of these short stories are positively jewels in this maiden collection by Leonora Liow.

This is one of the best pieces of Singapore Literature I've had the pleasure of reviewing this entire year. And trust me, I've read a lot of books. It's perhaps not surprising to find out that the author won the Golden Point award in 2003.

In this book, the pieces I found the most interesting build on the tension inherent in parent-child relationships very well. At least 3 stories feature that particular dynamic and having grown up locally, I could readily identify with the struggles the protagonists faced. Stories on forbidden love (aka extra-martial affairs) are an especially good read where the thought processes and emotional landscape of each character are assiduously drawn out.

Captivating the reader from the very first story, the author manages to weave in a very Singaporean setting in 10 short stories with excellent character development that makes one sympathise with the protagonist of each story. Reading this book reminds me of the brilliant pieces of short stories (The Scarlet Ibis, etc.) I was exposed to in high school. Teachers of English and of Literature, this is one book you should get. I assure you, you will not be disappointed.

I personally favour this book over Amanda Lee-Koe's Ministry of Moral Panic that won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2014. This is a seriously good read. I guess the only bad thing about it is that one cannot consume too many short stories in the span of a single day. The truth hurts and it can get a bit depressing because the stories might hit very close to home. At least it did for me. Consider this fair warning.

You can order this book online from Ethos Books or get it at Kinokuniya Singapore. Grab your copy today!

Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Today, Fish Only by Miho Kinnas

It is difficult not to judge a book by its cover. Perhaps it's not surprising then that one of my favourite things about this book is its lovely cover. I might not have understood the series of poems on Japanese temples at the beginning nor the tributes to different pieces of writing at the end; but the ones with items featured on the cover, poems like On Food (featuring pork cutlets), Sakura and Pistachios were ones I could better appreciate. I wonder why.

The poetry featured is very Japanese, if that could be used as an adjective. From the get go where Japanese words are part of the first poem, Swimming Pool, to aforementioned Japanese temples, food and places, the book has a distinct flavour to it. Quiet and contemplative, it makes for an interesting read on the commute and the slim volume can be probably finished in a day or two. But one would probably have to take more time to full appreciate this body of work.

Well, this book would make a good present for lovers of all things Japanese. You can purchase it at a mere $16 at Books Actually. Get your copy today!

Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Before we are ghosts by Tan Lixin

I was just sharing with my friend Alvin yesterday on how difficult it is to review poetry. Often, the poetry reading experience is quite indescribable (enjoyable as it is) and I end up not reviewing most of the books on poetry I've read. And then a new book comes along, and I find the strength to carry on. 

Tan Lixin's latest offering, Before We Are Ghosts explores loss, change and death. She does so in a quiet and understated manner with poetry that is more accessible than most. What sets her apart are the surprising turns of phrases that are a breath of fresh air in the often heavy and sombre poems that surround the topic of death and loss. 

I rather enjoyed this book and finished it relatively quickly. In my second reading, I discovered my favourite piece, titled Good Friday

I thought I'd share it with you. 

Well, I'd recommend this book to everyone because death is ultimately inevitable. I find that processing one's emotion through the medium of poetry is quite healing and would encourage more to do so. 

You can get this book at Books Actually. 

Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SingPoWriMo 2015 - The Anthology edited by Daryl Qilin Yam, JenniferAnne Champion and Joshua Ip

When I asked Joshua Ip where I could find good empat perkataan poetry (because I adore the form), he recommended using Facebook Search on "SingPoWriMoDay16" or simply purchasing the SingPoWriPo 2015 anthology. So it was with great enthusiasm that I trooped down to Books Actually this past Saturday afternoon to grab this title at a mere $21. It is very good value for money you know, with 157 poems, it works out to $0.13 per poem. But of course, we shouldn't be placing a monetary value on art like that.

Back to the review. If you are unaware, SingPoWriMo is a poetry challenge set up by a bunch of people in the month of April to write a poem a day for the thirty days of that month. The organisers came up with a bunch of creative, difficult and very interesting prompts and posted them up on Facebook. This book is a distillation of the best works.

After buying the book, I headed over to Forty Hands opposite and grabbed a flat white before settling down comfortably to start reading. I flipped to Day 16 as instructed by Joshua and read his "there are four kinds of people in this world" without understanding 90% of it but loving the rhythm. Then I realised that it was on Day 12 that the prompt was to write empat perkataans.


I LOVED "my city, a history" by Jerome Lim the most.

After that, I just flipped back and forth between pages at random and was delighted to find that excellent poetry on almost every single page. I didn't pay much attention to the prompts listed at the beginning of each chapter at first, but found that when I did, I was able to better appreciate the constraints the poets had to put themselves through.

My favourite prompt has to be Day 19: Write a poem about a Singaporean neighbourhood as if it were a person. Benzie Dio's "Stamford Road" was BRILLIANT and set the tone for the rest of the poems for that chapter. His name looked familiar and I vaguely recall that he taught GP at the Junior College I attended a decade ago.

A while later, a friend of mine came over for coffee and I showed her the book. She was very amused and entertained by one. I was surprised (because she doesn't read much poetry) asked her why she was laughing so much and she showed me "there are four kinds of people in this world" and began explaining what it meant, breaking it down for me line by line. I must say, I have never learnt so much about mahjong in one afternoon. This shows that poetry is truly for everyone. You just need to find one that resonates.

And I am sure that in this volume, you can definitely find a poem or two that you'd like very much. You could even find one to write it in a birthday card for a friend. It would also make an excellent Christmas present for absolutely anyone at all.

Pick up this book at Books Actually today!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Harbouring by S. C. Gordon

The problem with poetry is how sometimes I can never make head or tail of it even though I may get a vague sense of the genre. Harbouring is a case in point. 

While I get that the poet has lost a dearly beloved to Death, reading and rereading some of the poetry just leaves me befuddled. I do honestly think that there is clever use of space and imagery in all her poems but I guess I'm just too mainstream. I need the poetry I read to be a bit more accessible. 

For those whose interest have been piqued, although the poet is born in England, the poetry have mostly Oriental themes. Which is fascinating really. 

Please understand that this is still an excellent piece of work. It's just not my cup of tea. 

Having said that, here's my favourite piece, Qing Ming. 

You can get your copy at Books Actually

Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Legend of Lady Yue by Don Bosco

This is the fourth book in the Sherlock Hong Adventure series written by Don Bosco which is hitting all major bookstores as we speak. 

I loved this book best out of the four perhaps because there was sword fighting involved. Or elements of it at least. 

In this action-packed book, Sherlock Hong, a curious and adventurous boy, sets out to solve the mystery of the missing sword fighting manual of Lady Yue when he finds out that it is missing. 

I really enjoyed reading this book and Morse code is featured! Just like what a good detective novel should include. At the end of the book, you can even decode a message that is left just for you. Loved that bit.

The holidays have just started and if your kid is already bored out of his/her wits, grab this book and chase away all such feelings. Trust me, you'll love it.

You can check out my reviews of Book 1, Book 2 and Book 3 and buy the books at Popular, Kinokuniya, Book Depository and Amazon.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Giver by Lois Lowry

This is one haunting tale that I had to review. One of my student lent it to me last Saturday and I neglected to read it until the very day before I met her again. But it was such a breeze to read that I finished it in less than a day, reading most of it on the commute.


The beginning was rather boring and I had to force myself to press on because I am the type that usually finishes (almost) every book she starts on. And I'm glad I did. Because it just keeps getting better.

This is the dystopian novel before The Hunger Games or the Divergent trilogies got popular. Slightly less disturbing than Brave New World, it is just as good. Set somewhere in the future (we are not told when), it is a story about a bunch of people living in a well regulated and safe community which at first glance seems rather like the life we are living, except that everyone's a lot more polite.

Fast forward to the interesting section of the book where twelve-year-olds attend a Choosing Ceremony where they are assigned their future vocations. Protagonist Jonas isn't chosen which causes him quite a bit of disquiet until they announced that he hasn't been assigned but chosen to be the new Receiver for the community.

He goes through a bout of intense training from the previous Receiver (who is now called The Giver) and that's when he realised that his whole life is a lie. Which is putting it rather mildly. Turns out that these people can't see colours, don't have many feelings, and have no memories of the past. The Receiver is in charge of bearing all these burdens for the community and suffers under the weight of it.

Both Jonas and the Giver hatch a plan to restore memory to their community and you can read to find out what happened eventually.

As I was reading this book, and especially after I finished it, I felt like it was an allegory for the country that I'm living in. For the formative years of our lives, we are put through the education system that creates a lot of Sameness in most of us. We value the things that are of little importance. We start to take pride in rituals created by mere humans. And most frightening of all, we end up not being able to see the more important things in life or find ourselves numb to many things that should evoke strong emotion in us. 

Instead of the colours and wonders of this awesome planet, we are reduced to a rat race that is dominated by grades and good results. Instead of learning empathy for the weak and expressing love for our friends and family we fixate our eyes on those who are "less-than" and mercilessly criticise those who have transgressed the rules of our society. Instead of remembering the glorious history that is our past, we worry about the competitiveness and productivity of our country and peg ourselves against the best of the world.

There can be so much more to education that what it currently is. And I hope I can be part of the solution instead of a mere armchair critic.

All this from reading a book.

Books are powerful y'all.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Scroll of Greatness by Don Bosco

Parents of reluctant readers might do well to get the Sherlock Hong Adventure series. 

This third book has the protagonist Sherlock Hong searching for the Scroll of Greatness which has gone missing. After some difficulty, he eventually recovers it with the help of a mysterious old lady. 

While reading, a section of the book really inspired me. It made me stop and think and I even snapped a photo and uploaded it onto Instagram. It's good advice for anyone in general and I'd like to share it here with you:

"Be patient and wait for your moment. No matter what your circumstances might be, never give up on your dreams. Pursue the truth with all you can and work diligently at your duties." 

On a different note, I think I preferred the first and second book to the third because there were more things going on. Also, I felt the character development of the various characters in the third book could be explored in a bit more detail. 

Nevertheless, I think kids (the target audience) would probably not let these things get in the way. I'm sure most would still find the book an enjoyable read. 

As always, you can buy the book at Popular Bookstore, Kinokuniya for local readers and Books Depository or Amazon for international readers. 


Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Peranakan Princess by Don Bosco

The second in the Sherlock Hong Adventures series, this book is chockfull of action and is guaranteed to keep you or your child at the edge of your seat.

It's 1891 and Sherlock Hong is an intrepid youngster in Singapore dying to solve the strange mysteries that he encounters. In this book, he has to save a little girl, the Peranakan princess, from the evil Tan Yah Yah who wants her make a killing in the black market.

It turns out that the princess is in possession of the contents of The Book of Secrets that has been translated into song. As the last living descendent who is able to sing it, she is a very precious asset indeed.

The book is fast-paced and is written in such a way that makes it easy to read aloud. When I met the author, he mentioned that when he wrote the book, he kept that at the forefront of his mind as he wanted it to be a book that parents could easily read to their children. It is amazing that although the sentences are short and simple, it did not make the story any less interesting.

I read the book twice and felt that it would be really interesting to the target audience of primary school students. As an educator, I have half a mind of using this book as a text to engage some of my students who are reluctant readers. With supernatural elements of magic and more, it is a text that would definitely capture the attention of young readers.

The only negative feedback I have is how suddenly the character Idris White is introduced and the accompanying plot twist he brings. When I first read it, I thought it was rather abrupt and felt a little forced. However, on my second reading, I just zoomed past it without noticing it. I guess it depends on how immersed one is in the plot.

I would recommend this book to parents of primary school kids. They could read it independently or for slower readers, read to by their parents.

You can get your copy at Kinokuniya or order it online from the Marshall Cavendish website. In addition, for my international followers, you can order it from Book Depository or Amazon.

Reviews on Books #3 and #4 and coming soon!

Check out the review on the first book in the series, The Immortal Nightingale here.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 2, 2015

寻找 by 阿果

While browsing at the bookstore at the Singapore Writers Festival this past weekend, I chanced upon this book located under the "Picture Book and Graphic Novel" section, a tiny table in the middle of the bookstore. 

I was quite taken by the cover and began flipping through it just to get a look. Now, it's been years since I touched a book in Mandarin, but I reckon that if it's a picture book, my mediocre Mandarin would suffice. I was pleasantly suprised by the content. The theme seemed to be about loneliness. And that's not even a good translation. It's about looking for "不孤独" which would be "seeking escape from aloneness", I'm not the best translator, so bear with me. 

I'd only flipped through half a dozen pages before it was almost time for the next panel discussion: "Not just child's play: Why picture books matter" and I hurried to the room. 

Imagine my shock when the talk began in Mandarin! For a full minute I was wondering if I'd gone into the wrong room but was too embarrassed to stand up and walk out because it wouldn't be polite to do so. I'm glad I didn't. It was the correct talk. I must have missed the small print which indicated that the talk would be conducted in Mandarin. 

And to my surprise, I found out that the author of this book was one of the three panelists! How cool was that? He talked a bit about how he came to write his book and that was a big factor when it came to me buying it (on impulse) after the talk was over. 

Ah Guo told us that he did a series of water colours while on a residency in Korea. Every day, he'd just be inspired by the scenery and just drew and drew and drew. 

When he came back to Singapore, he felt that it would be a pity if the paintings were not used for something. Fortunately enough, he was able to craft a story out  of it. And what a story it was! 

The book is essentially a charming tale about a boy who is seeking to escape from aloneness. He meets a penguin and together, they went on a quest for just that. As they journeyed on, they discovered many other things such as "eternity" (in a tree), "freedom" (in the sky), and "trust" (through a friend). 

This really doesn't do justice to the book.

In any case, I thought this was a brilliant and poignant work of art. Reading it made me really calm and I wonder if this was the effect the author was going for. If you're feeling particularly anxious about life, or if your friend/family member is, this might just be the book for you. 

I went home and showed the book to my sister and she loved it too. She felt that it was really meaningful and noted the interesting use of the hourglass to mark time. 

It must be noted that the target audience the author was aiming for were adults. In the panel session, the author noted that many parents bought it to read to their kids because it was a picture book. But he get that "孤独" or "being alone" was a concept too abstract for kids. 

The story provides much food for thought and one can read it over and again without getting bored of it. And even though the language was relatively simple, the writing has a grace and nuance that is unrivalled. I've not read a book quite like this and must thank the Singapore Writers Festival for introducing it to me. 

You can order the book online at Lingzi Media's website or buy it from Kinokuniya at $18 a copy. It sold like hot cakes yesterday and I'm happy to report I snagged the very last copy! Hahaha. 

Check out more of the author's works at and I'll leave you with one of the pages that I absolutely adore:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Immortal Nightingale by Don Bosco

This book is the first in the Sherlock Hong Adventures series and it certainly lives up to its name. 

The plot revolves around Sherlock Hong, a intrepid 15-year-old boy living in Singapore in the year 1891. He belongs to the International Order of Young Seekers and is longing to be promoted to the Higher Rank of the Order. To do so, he must solve a mystery of some sort, but information regarding the Order mostly kept under wraps and I expect more detail to be provided in the rest of the series. 

In this first book, Sherlock delves into a case involving a supposed "immortal nightingale" that has suddenly died. He engages the help of his neighbour Aisha and tries to conduct his investigations away from the scrutiny of his mother. He soon gets knee-deep in danger and might have got seriously hurt but is unexpectedly saved by a mystery ninja who disappears as soon as he/she arrived. 

Three things I really enjoyed about The Immortal Nightingale:

1) I liked the fact that it was set in this country and the locations featured can still be found in present day Singapore. 

2) In addition, characters from the minority races have a prominent role to play in the story. Aisha is Sherlock's good friend and trusty assistant and Priya is his intelligent tutor. 

3) It's fast paced and exciting with short chapters guaranteed to hold the attention of anyone, young or old. 

I guess the only thing I didn't quite get were what "banana pancakes" were. They were offered by Aisha to Sherlock somewhere in the middle of the book but I don't remember ever eating them growing up in Singapore. Anyone can enlighten me on that?

I would recommend this book to parents of 7 - 11 year olds. They can read it independently or it can be read to them as bedtime stories. I'm sure they'll soon be dreaming about chasing down bad guys and seeking after the truth. 

You can get a copy at Kinokuniya, or order it online from the Marshall Cavendish website. For my international readers, you can order it from Book Depository or Amazon

Reviews on Books #2, #3, and #4 will be up in the coming weeks so look out for those!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Can Singapore Survive? by Kishore Mahbubani

I picked up this book at Kinokuniya when my paycheque came in because that’s what I usually do. I was actually looking for Chee Soon Juan’s Democratically Speaking which was sold out, and this title caught my eye.

It is an interesting and refreshing read but is somewhat repetitive after a while.

This is a collection of essays and speeches Mahbubani’s written over the course of a decade which have been previously been published, mainly in The Straits Times and in a handful of other newspapers throughout the world.

I liked the fresh ideas Mahbubani proposed for Singapore. These include an innovative ban on cars - to maximise usage of public transportation and a national, bottom up effort to learn Bahasa Melayu.

In addition, I appreciated the fact that he took time to sketch a brief picture of our late leaders that he had worked with, namely Goh Keng Swee and Rajaratnam. I would love to hear more about them from him first-hand, if I ever get the chance to.

It was good to learn that multi-ethnic and multi-religious Singapore stands out as an anomaly to the norm of ex-colonies of Britain who have not seen much harmony over the past decades. But when our stellar reputation compared to Sri Lanka, Fiji, Cyprus or Guyana is pointed out more than five times in as many essays, it can get a bit trying to read, as well-intentioned as it may be.

It took me some time to read at a moderate 270 pages because I got tired of all the repetition and had to put it aside after each reading.

This is a fascinating book written by one of the top minds in Singapore and would have been more compelling with tighter editing. Nonetheless, it would be good for all to take a look and learn from him. You can get this book at Kinokuniya like I did. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Myth of the Stone by Gwee Li Sui

I'd heard about Gwee Li Sui for some time now but first met him at a book launch a couple of weeks back. He was a nice guy and not only autographed my books but even drew a little sketch of me. Haha, so I naturally picked up this graphic novel at the library when I chanced upon it while browsing through the "Singapore" section as I always do. 

I must say it's not a bad attempt for a debut graphic novel. It was first published more than 20 years ago and is now resurrected in this lovely edition. I'm glad Epigram Books took up this project. It's part of #SingLit after all and we should all partake of that delicious treat. 

The book's basically about a boy, Li Hsu, who ventures into a fantastical world where he must find out how to turn himself back into a human after being transformed into an imp when he unwittingly sets a curse on himself.

We follow him on his quest as he encounters weird and wonderful creatures of every sort. I liked the friendly Merlions the best. Yep you read it right, Merlions. Singapore's national icon made a passing appearance in the book. 

I thought it was kinda like reading C. S. Lewis' Narnia in graphic novel form, especially at the climax of the story where a sacrifice takes place and resurrection occurs. Pretty cool stuff. 

It is unfortunately an extremely wordy graphic novel compared to others I've read. Now I must qualify that I've not read that many books of that genre and this is my third one after Sonny Liew's The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye and one that was adapted from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, so I can't make a fair judgement. Words filled a large fraction of every page and that kinda distracted me from the comics quite a bit. But the lovely rhymes scattered throughout the book redeemed it a little. I quite enjoyed those. 

It was an interesting break from the usual diet of non-fiction books in long form that I usually read although it was slightly long-winded. I think the editing could have been a wee bit tighter. But I think there probably wasn't an editor. No matter, what's done is done. 

I look forward to any graphic novel Gwee might produce in the future and I would encourage him to use computer software or a ruler because reading slanting words are very tiring on the eyes. This is coming from someone who writes sentences in a downward sloping manner if the paper is unlined. 

Well, if you're a kiasu Singaporean, this would make a novel gift for your friend or family member this Christmas! Get it from Kinokuniya or Books Actually today. :)

Rider by Joyce Chng

Rider belongs to the genre of YA Sci Fi or Young Adult Science Fiction, something that is largely unheard of in Singapore. Or at least to me. If you’ve read other good Singaporean Sci Fi, do drop a note down in the comments below cos I’d love to check it out.

On that note, the author had huge shoes to fill because the only Sci Fi I’d read was Isaac Asimov and he was brilliant. 

Well, I was surprised that the first book in the trilogy felt more like an Asian/Singaporean take on The Hunger Games or Divergent as it is set in a somewhat dystopian world. It’s basically about a girl, Lixi, and her adventures as a Rider. A Rider is, you guessed it, someone who rides a creature not unlike a pterosaur, or a dinosaur bird. I don’t know if that’s what Chng had in mind, but it was the image that came to mind as I read the book.

Now where was I? Ah yes, Lixi has got green fingers and helps her mom in the garden and is envious of her sister who became a Rider. One day, she got a chance to come up close and personal with one of these birds, albeit a wild one, and developed a close bond with it. A series of events unfold where she later becomes a Rider in her own right.

I thought that the story was rather interesting and moved along at a rather brisk pace which was great. Featuring local cuisine in the future world was a good move as it helped localise the setting a little.

What was missing was a good editor. There were loose ends that were not tied up and I was somewhat confused as I proceeded further and further into the story. For example, we are not told clearly if Lixi had indeed developed feelings for Sarah or not. At first she seemed to reject her advances, but later when confronted with a persistent Daniel who kissed her, she appeared to consider Sarah’s feelings. That was a little puzzling to say the least.

In any case, it’s not a bad attempt for a first time author and I look forward to the second and third books in this trilogy and hope that a conscientious editor combs the manuscripts with a fine-tooth comb.

Well, if you like The Hunger Games or Divergent, or if your kids liked it, you might want to consider getting this book at Books Actually. It’s a bit slower paced and rather interesting too.

Disclaimer: The author sent me a copy of his book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Stuff Matters - Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape our Man-made World by Mark Miodownik

If Bill Gates recommends a book, I'd definitely read it. So when he tweeted about it recently, I knew I just had to get ahold of it.

Now do note that I have a degree in Materials Science and Engineering which makes me a bigger nerd than most on all things made of materials - which is, everything, actually.

This book is BRILLIANT! If only it'd been written when I was in school, it would have motivated me to study hard in class and attempt to appreciate the esoteric nature of the modules I was taking. Mark Miodownik is a great writer and he makes every chapter supremely interesting.

We learn about how concrete works in buildings to how chocolate works. You'd probably not consider chocolate a "material" but he does, and he devotes a chapter to it. (If only my professors did that... Well, I can only whine.)

He moves on to glass and how it is formed from sand and describes how different it is and then goes on to wax lyrical on ceramic and how it is made.

Traditional materials like metal and paper aren't left out and we are regaled with tales of how they are used in the modern and ancient world.

It isn't every day that you get an interesting and captivating science book written by a professor and when you do, treasure it, because you never know when the next one is gonna come by.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Bringing it to the table - On farming and food by Wendell Berry

I've heard about Wendell Berry from my American friends on Twitter for some time now. But it was only a couple of months ago that I decided to order this book, and I certainly did not regret it. 

What prompted me to buy it was a secret desire of mine to create a farm in urban Singapore (impossible as it may sound) and I wanted to read about how to do it in a sustainable manner that also contained a Christian element to it. 

In this book, Berry elaborates on how modern agribusiness has destroyed the productivity of the land and of the small scale farmer with its excessive use of machines, fertilisers and monocultures to achieve economies of scale. He advocates farming by the individual instead and explains how it has proven to be very successful (the Amish are one example he quotes), who cultivate the land as opposed to exploiting it. Only in this way can the land be used for decades and lift the individual out of poverty as instead of keeping him in it, which is what the modern agribusiness seem to be doing.

My sister commented that if I'd a farm, that I had to go to university again to get a degree in agriculture. Berry advises that the farmer himself possesses knowledge that professors do not have by virtue of the fact that the former has intimate knowledge of the land that he works on day after day. I should go be an apprentice of his instead. 

A prophet who had already predicted in the '80s how America would find itself with a food crisis on its hands, he continues to exhort the masses on how they can play a part in the farming. City dwellers can choose to eat responsibility, choosing fresh produce from sustainable sources and purchasing from farmer's markets instead of supporting the monopolies that produce processed food. (I have been inspired and shall attempt to incorporate this in my life as an urbanite.)

I particularly enjoyed the last section where he included some passages from works of fiction that he had previously written, together with some essays on the pleasures of eating. To read about how people truly enjoy eating is joy indeed. 

I would recommend this book to those interested in being a more responsible consumer to read this book to understand how modern agribusiness is harmful to not only the environment, but also to the farmer and the consumers too. It is a delightful read of essays that are intelligent and well-written. 

Can't wait to purchase my next Wendell Berry book!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Short Circuits - through the catchments of faith and writing by Anne Lee Tzu Pheng

First off, I just want to say a hearty "Thank you" to Anne Lee Tzu Pheng. This has been a wonderful book that has buoyed my faith in writing.

This book is basically a collection of short vignettes of the author's experience with writing, poetry, and with God. It's really interesting and easy to read (it helps that all the passages are only 3 pages each).

I was so touched and inspired by so much of the book I just had to record it somewhere for safekeeping (my memory isn't that great), and the medium of choice? 


Here is a sample:

Well, all I can say is that this makes an excellent gift for a writer who happens to be Christian. (On a separate note, I'm not too sure where one can get a copy of this book. The publisher doesn't seem to have a website with a catalogue, so, well, all the best!)

Tender Delirium by Tania De Rozario

This is the first book of poetry that has gripped me from the get-go. I first heard about Tania De Rozario when I attended a poetry workshop conducted by Cyril Wong. He waxed lyrical about her and I was intrigued.

And so, when I chanced upon this copy at the local library, I did not think twice about borrowing it.

I have no regrets.

The poetry and prose here is raw emotion mixed with heart-rending truths of reality. This book stands as a stalk of rose complete with thorns - stunning and dangerous.

My favourite is a toss-up between "What type do you like?" and After Sappho.

What I found really interesting was Onnen, and here is one third of the entire poem:

It's great isn't it?

Well, this is mainly a book of confessional poetry with a dash of prose thrown in for good measure. It is a bit of a reflection of the author's life, but the themes are universal. But if you know me personally, you'd probably know why this book spoke to me so much.

A warning for the homophobic reader: This is not for you. Do not borrow/buy it.

I believe this book is available at the Books Actually store in Tiong Bahru and can be also purchased online.


Monday, August 10, 2015

We rose up slowly by Jon Gresham

This is actually quite an interesting collection of short stories by Jon Gresham. The author contacted me via GoodReads and told me about his new book after I gave a 5 star review for "From the Belly of the cat" where one of his stories was featured. He sent me an autographed copy which I finished within a week. (It was pretty good.)

I must admit that I was a bit underwhelmed by the first story, "We rose up slowly" but gradually warmed up to the rest of the book, which got better and better, ending with a rather satisfying "A fleeting tenderness at the end of the night" which took its cue from a recent event that happened in Singapore.

I found that the magical realism in the titular story a little hard to follow and relate to. The rest of the stories had quite a bit of local flavour (very impressed since the author grew up overseas) and more relatable characters. My favourite short story has got to be "A girl and a guy in a Kijang in Kemang" for many reasons and partly because it had a story within the story. Kinda like Inception if you think about it.

This is pretty good writing and I could feel myself drawn into almost every story. Gresham has a knack of making the characters and plots believable yet throwing in a touch of the supernatural (in some stories), or a hint of vengeance (in others). It's almost as if he were writing about himself. I find myself wanting to ask him how much of it was taken from real life and how much from his imagination. Haha.

This is an excellent book for the busy Singaporean who might not have time for a full-length novel. Each story can probably be finished within the length of the time it takes to travel to work. I would also recommend it as a gift for birthdays because it a refreshing breath of fresh air in the local scene. It certainly was for me. After too many gay poetry collections (I am actually quite partial to them) and gritty local novels, this bunch of short stories is an excellent read.

I believe you can buy the book at Books Actually and I look forward to future works by this author. 


Disclaimer: The author sent me a copy of his book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Scattered Vertebrae by Jerrold Yam

Scattered Vertebrae is Singaporean poet’s Jerrold Yam’s second collection but my first encounter with him. It is haunting and beautiful, a surprising work for someone so young.

I picked up his book from Clementi Public Library after discovering him on Instagram.

My favourite was Psalm.

I guess it resonated with me because it was part gay, and part Christian; part tortured youth, and part (un)willing member of a family. It’s quite complex really, and his poems are like flowers in a garden, differently coloured, some vulgar, some intricately shaped, and altogether refreshing.

All his other poems are just like this one, full of meaning and brimming with interesting expressions. 

I’d urge those exploring Singapore poetry to pick this title up. It will definitely be a breath of fresh air.


Friday, July 31, 2015

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew

As a self-respecting book reviewer, the moment I laid eyes on this copy of The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, I knew I had to get it. I didn't quite know what it was about, but from the controversy it generated, it was definitely something worth looking at.

I must admit that this is the first Singaporean graphic novel I've read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was drawn into the story and was convinced that Charlie Chan was a real person until I found out otherwise. Sonny Liew did an impressive job crafting this masterpiece.

The story basically revolves around the life of Charlie Chan who grew up in Singapore before World War 2. He's a gifted artist and we see how he grows as a comics artist as he interacts with publishers, many of them dismissing his art. The story follows the history of Singapore, the rise and fall of David Marshall, Lim Yew Hock, and the eventual domination of the People's Action Party (PAP).

We see a darker side of Singapore's history that comes about with the ascent of PAP and how the protagonist responds. 

The end of the story where Charlie created a new comic, inspired by what he saw at the San Diego Comic Con was the part that blew me away. I'll not give anything away here.

Beyond the controversy this book generated, Sonny Liew has created a gem, multi-faceted and quite a sight to behold. I'd urge all to grab a copy and I look forward with excitement of his world-wide debut now that Pantheon picked it up (hardcopy to be released in 2016). 

Excellent job Sonny Liew!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Malay Sketches by Alfian Sa'at

This is one lovely book by the masterful writer that is Alfian Sa'at. I enjoyed reading this book very much.

As a Malay writer, he gives an insight into what the lives of the Malay people through his (really) short stories that are 1 to 3 pages long. I took it with me on my commute as it was perfect for the short trips that I make daily. I didn't have to worry about forgetting the plot of the story as I could finish each story before I alighted. Brilliant stuff.

I must say that if the stories are a reflection of what's happening in Singapore right now, it's pretty sad. Well, if this is so, more people should read this book then. Only with education can attitudes change.

My favourite story is the story titled "Losing Touch", have a quick read and you'll find out why I love it.

Love the accompanying illustrations by Shahril Nizam that come with each story too!

Well, all in all, it's a must-read for all Singaporeans. Go buy get your copy today man. (Mine was a borrowed copy from the NLB. Which is a great alternative when one is short of cash. Haha.)

Emergence - Labeled Autistic by Temple Grandin and Magaret M. Scariano

This book is an autobiography of Temple Grandin, a person who was labelled autistic when she was a little kid but grew up and overcame the obstacles that came with the diagnosis.

We get a glimpse into her life as an autistic child and the challenges that came with it, including bullying, difficulty in finding a suitable school, a desire to be touched yet flinching when hugged. 

It is an educational experience reading this. I find myself wondering how she got through life the way she did. And I am very grateful for her explanations and illustrations that helped me understand the mind of an autistic person.

She did point out that everyone's experience is different and hers is not a cookie cutter story that one can apply to all as everyone is made differently. But there are definitely things to be learnt.

I would recommend this book to everyone in general, but especially those that may have a friend or family member who is autistic or on the spectrum and wishes to know more, to understand, and to help that someone.

Happy reading!