Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Neither Civil nor Servant: The Philip Yeo Story by Peh Shing Huei

Neither Civil nor Servant might be 220 pages long, but it was an easy and a most fascinating read. It was so good that I finished it on a lazy Sunday afternoon, devouring it in one shot.

Have you ever wondered why Singapore's got an edge in the biomedical field, earning us international recognition for the groundbreaking research conducted in Biopolis?

Or how Jurong Island became a petrochemical hub?

Or how our manufacturing sector took off in the 60s and 70s?

Or perhaps how weaponry for our armed forces came to be?

If you're like me, probably not. We take for granted the many jobs created in these sectors without batting an eyelid.

This book chronicles the journey of the man, Philip Yeo, who was a pioneer in every single abovementioned industries.

In chronological order, the book begins with him in school, already brimming with entrepreneurial fervour as he set up a chemistry laboratory at home to practice for his 'A' Levels when the school labs were out of bounds. He funded this endeavour by screening movies in his school and collecting money from the tickets sold.

We are taken through a brief history of modern Singapore and witness the backbreaking, behind-the-scenes work that made Singapore the economic success it is today.

Each chapter ended with a Q&A between the author and Mr Yeo and it's delightfully peppered with smatterings of Singlish throughout the entire book.

The only gripe I had was perhaps it painted too perfect a picture of the man. I'd have liked to have a more complete picture of what issues his detractors had with him. But this is a biography after all, so I guess I'll just have to settle.

I'd encourage everyone interested in how Singapore went hurtling from third world to first in half a century to read this book.

Get your copy today!


Disclaimer: Rachel’s Now Reading is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Same-Sex Attraction and the Church - The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life by Ed Shaw

To be a Christian is to be called into a life of suffering. That was the main message I was left with after reading the conclusion of this book.

I requested this book (one among five others) when IVP snail-mailed me their beautiful catalogue earlier this year.

It was an easy read and I finished it within a week.

The book is organised into 9 missteps or phrases that people today quote to justify a same-sex relationship. They are namely:

Misstep #1: "Your identity if your sexuality."
Misstep #2: "A family is Mom, Dad and 2.4 children."
Misstep #3: "If you're born gay, it can't be wrong to be gay."
Misstep #4: "If it makes you happy, it must be right!."
Misstep #5: "Sex is where true intimacy is found."
Misstep #6: "Men and women are equal and interchangeable."
Misstep #7: "Godliness is hetereosexuality."
Misstep #8 "Celibacy is bad for you."
Misstep #9: "Suffering is to be avoided."

Just reading the content page made me cringe slightly. Although I agree that some of the above phrases are obviously wrong to begin with, others were a little bit more neutral.

Anyway, here are some of my thoughts.

As a pastor in England, I would say that it's easier for the author to form strong relationships with married couples and their children. In Chapter 2, he relates how he is a godfather to 12 children and enjoys spending time with them. He argues that a church family should be that, a family, but acknowledges that it can be difficult for some to find their place in this family. I must say that although a church ought to function like a family, it currently needs major improvement. I can count on one finger how many married couples invite me to meals after spending 10 years in church. I must give it to him that he does challenge the average churchgoer to take the initiative to invite single people, same-sex attracted or not, to integrate these people into their lives so that the meaning of family can be actualised.

Even so, he does confess that there are times he has "kitchen floor moments" where he just sits there crying. The honesty is appreciated and it is indeed a lonely journey for the gay Christian. It's interesting that he doesn't use the word "gay" to identify himself, but rather "same-sex attracted". He says that labelling one as gay often brings with it the baggage the stereotype brings and would rather invite conversations people initiate when he introduces himself as "same-sex attracted". Fair enough, I thought.

But the final chapter is perhaps the main thrust of the book. Basically, this is a thorn in the flesh that the gay Christian has to bear till the day Jesus comes back. To be a Christian is to be called to suffer. Depressing but true. No one ever promised an easy walk with a Saviour that was mercilessly whipped and nailed to the cross. We are called to take up the cross and follow Him. Sigh.

I would have appreciated it if the author took the time to explore the possibility of celibate same-sex relationships, recently made public with a bishop from the Church of England declaring that he is gay but in a celibate relationship. This is a viable alternative from the one the author proposes and is one that is sadly missing from the book. 

In addition, I have some problems with how Ed Shaw easily sweeps aside revisionist arguments in a short appendix at the end of his book. It was actually the first thing I read after he mentioned it in the introduction and apart from saying that they were polarizing, emotional and plagued with doubt, he did little to interact and wrestle with key biblical texts those books explored. 

I personally thought James Brownson did a good job analysing Genesis and was looking eagerly forward to a counter-argument but was disappointed. In addition, Matthew Vines did an excellent job and simply dismissing the detailed arguments the book made did not do justice to it.

All in all, I thought this was a good effort by Ed Shaw to argue for the celibate life. Unfortunately, until the Church celebrates singlehood the way it does marriage, the celibate life just isn't really that plausible. It is in theory, not in practice. 

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

Rachel’s Now Reading is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Monday, September 5, 2016

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

I've been eyeing this book for some time now and finally purchased it last week at Kinokuniya in Bugis with my membership card that's on its last legs. 

I must say I'm quite impressed with this memoir. Unlike unwieldy ones like Richard Branson's, Nike's cofounder Phillip Knight actually took several writing classes in a bid to make this a smoother read. 

And what a read it was!

We speed through the '60s and '70s as Knight started his company, originally named "Blue Ribbon". And strangely enough, he was selling Onitsuka Tigers for quite some time. 

Half the book was dedicated to his time selling Tigers. I was very impatient for him to move on to explain how Nike became the powerhouse it is today. And when my patience was close to running out, the turning point of the book came. 

His ex-running coach, Bowerman, inspired by his wife's waffle iron, completely redesigned the sole of sport shoes. Knight took it up and started manufacturing it in a country down south, coming up with the brand name "Nike" after several arduous attempts. 

It turned out that the years he spent selling Tigers were not wasted as they had built a solid customer base in that time. 

At a shoe selling convention, sales reps picked the very first Nike shoes, flaws and all, and it became the newest sensation. 

I was rather disappointed that the penultimate chapter of the book ended at 1978 where Nike went public and the last chapter was a short summary of the next 30 plus years. 

I guess the memoir would have been four times and longe and might deter the average reader hoping to gain some business tips. 

This is a must read for every entrepreneur and it is not just insightful but very inspiring as well. 

Disclaimer: Rachel’s Now Reading is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Island of Legends by Don Bosco

Don Bosco, the prolific author of children's books has got a new book hot off the press!

In the third instalment of "Lion City Adventures", we see the protagonist Claire, a member of the Lion City Adventure Club, discovering a lost treasure and learning about various historical and mythical characters in Singapore history through it. 

We learn about the adventures of the Sang Nila Utama, the great warrior Badang, the brave princess Radin Mas and many more.

I liked the story of the origins of Bukit Merah best but it unfortunately wasn't part of the main story but more of a sidebar as part of the notes at the end of the story. Perhaps it was too bloody for kids? 

In any case, I'm sure the activities located at the end of each chapter would be great fun for any kid who's reading the book. Apart from pictures to colour, there are more cerebral activities such as a word search to do and and a story to complete based on their vivid imaginations.

I think this is a perfect gift for any kid 7-12 years old this September holidays to reward them after a long term of work. They'd not only learn about some of Singapore's legends but have lots of fun at the same time!

Grab your copy today! 

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

Rachel’s Now Reading is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Island in the Caldera by Lin Xueling

What would you do with 20% off Math Paper Press titles? Buy the book the owner's been talking about all the time! And that's just what I did.

I finished this easy-to-read book in 2 days. It is one interesting read. Although it started somewhat abruptly (didn't know what was going on, how they got in that locked room etc), the subsequent story flowed along rather nicely like a sweet bubbling stream.

I must say that that I loved the talking cat and kind Horbo (I'll let you find out what creature the latter is yourself). I wished I had a cat that could speak to me. In any case, I loved the food presented in the book. It goes without saying that I've not read a children's fantasy book that mentioned Nasi Lemak or Milo. It was a pleasant surprise. Authors should include more food in their novels. Helps me remember them.

The book is about Min Rui and her younger sister, Chloe, who both journey across fantastical lands and battle fearsome monsters together with two helpful companions. 

The handful of typos were a little disappointing. Not many, perhaps about 5 in the entire book, but still jarring nonetheless. 

Would have also loved to see more illustrations. The wonderful Stephanie Raphaela Ho drew the lovely pictures contained within the book and they were whimsical yet full of life. I'm sure kids will love the temporary tattoos and coloured stickers that come bundled together with the book.

In any case, it would make a great gift for young kids and even for older ones like me. I already know who I'm gonna buy an extra copy to gift to.

Can't wait for Volume 2!

Get your copy today from Books Actually!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

If you are like me, you've probably not been exposed to graphic novels much. The first one I read was The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye and I was blown away. Persepolis is my third graphic novel and I'm similarly impressed. 

This book is the memoir of a girl growing up in Iran as the Islamic revolution took place. Funny, honest, and tragic, I finished it in the span of a week. I must admit that the form helped. If this had been a novel instead being presented in the form of a comic, it certainly would have taken much longer. The simplicity of the drawings also made the serious themes so much easier to swallow.

If you don't know much about the Iranian revolution, this might be a good place to start. I highly recommend this book to the global citizen tired of reading long form articles.

You can get your copy from Amazon or Book Depository today! I got mine from Kinokuniya at Takashimaya.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Probably a must-read for every tech startup. Boring but useful. Kinda like a textbook I guess. 

The most interesting thing I learnt from it was to develop a MVP, a minimum viable product, before launching anything big. You have to ascertain the fact that people are willing to pay for something small before developing a more complex product. This is very important. People tend to want only to release a perfect version but you may end up having a white elephant on your hands. Counterintuitive as it may seem, it makes more sense to put out an imperfect product to gauge consumer demand instead. 

I also learnt the importance of doing A/B testing. This refers to experiments where you change only one variable to determine what customers prefer. Very simple and very effective, yet seldom practiced. The author repeatedly emphasises the importance of doing A/B testing and I am a convert. I guess this is most applicable to tech startups where they have access to competent programmers. Probably harder for mom and pop stores or retail outlets that depend more on human traffic rather than online traffic. Though I must say that the concepts can be tweaked and applied to a certain extent. 

There were several other things the author mentioned which were either not memorable or were concepts too difficult for me to grasp. 

This is a very dry book to go through so you'll probably do best to pace yourself. A valuable tool for the tech entrepreneur out there although certain concepts can also be applied to those in other fields. 

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

This was a random book I picked up at Kinokuniya because I'm recently into Japanese authors. I bought it because when I flipped open the book there were some maths equations and being the math geek that I am, I was hooked!

In any case, it did not disappoint. The novel is about a housekeeper who got sent by her agency to clean a new client's place. The widow who interviewed told her to clean the house of her brother-in-law and make meals for him twice a day. The housekeeper was warned that he had been in a car accident and only had an 80-minute memory.

We journey with the housekeeper and her quirky interactions with the professor, who used to be one before the accident. He has a fascination with numbers and upon their first meeting, asked her about her shoe size and remarked that it was a factorial of 4. That begins the foray with the strange and wonderful world that is the professor's.

Soon, the housekeeper's son is brought into the picture when the professor insisted that he come over as he could not bear the thought of a latchkey kid (the housekeeper single-handedly brought up her son).

The 10-year-old boy and the professor struck up a strong friendship and eventually went to a baseball game together with the housekeeper, being the baseball fans that both the boy and professor were.

This is a beautiful and touching story and I would encourage all to get a copy. It's a simple and easy read and the Mathematical concepts are expertly weaved into the story and is easily understood when explained in layman terms through the eyes of the housekeeper.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Transparently: Behind the scenes of a good life by Lisa Salazar

I just finished reading this book and I don't believe I've ever cried so much. 

I was looking for an easy read after conquering a very dry business book and so picked this off my shelf after buying it at the GCN Conference in Houston earlier in January this year. 

It was a gripping read and I finished it within a few hours. 

What a heartbreaking story it was. If you believe that transgender people deliberately choose their gender, I appeal to you to please read this book. 

Despite endless bouts of prayer, God never took away Salazar's dysphoria. A faithful believer, she was finally able to reconcile her faith and gender identity through two separate Bible passages that I'll leave you to discover for yourself. 

A most touching memoir, it made me fully aware of the pain my trans brothers and sisters have to go through and gave me an insight as to why 41% of them eventually choose to take their lives to rid themselves of the pain of living. 

I have no words to describe how truly moved I was by this authentic delivery by the author and would highly encourage every single person I know to get a copy of the book and read it.

It will certainly transform you life as it has did mine. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

I bought this book on impulse because:

1) Cats
2) Japanese author

That about sums up the book.

After reading a couple of books translated from Japanese, I have a new found appreciation for all things Japanese. I appreciate the simplicity they make of daily life and the connection to nature. Perhaps this is a stereotype and I've not read enough books, but that's the impression I get from Endo's Silence and Murakami's 1Q84.

Anyway, this book is about a man and his wife whose neighbour bought a cat. One day, it wandered into their home and made frequent visits thereafter. We learn about the playful yet untouchable cat and the relationship it develops with the couple.

When it dies in a car accident, both are devastated. The story doesn't end there though. We see how they cope with the death of the cat and as they subsequently move out and encounter other cats.

I liked the simplicity of the text and story and would recommend all, cat lovers or not, to pick up this slim volume for an hour of literary cat appreciation.

I picked up my copy from Northside Books while holidaying in Perth and you can also get your copy from Amazon or Book Depository.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Love, or something like love by O Thiam Chin

This is a BRILLIANT book, the fifth collection by Singaporean author O Thiam Chin. I picked up this book on a whim while shopping at Books Actually and I am blown away at how awesome this book of 10 short stories is.

Inspired by various events in Singapore - the tragedy of a boy drowning in a storm canal and the court case involving several men engaging the sexual services of an underaged girl, the stories are an interesting take on the aforementioned events.

Apart from that, I really liked the story of Zheng He, the admiral sent from China to trade with Singapore who found love, or something like it.

The supernatural story of a boy who can see his dead mother was also deftly and adroitly handled. I was impressed.

Spoiler alert, this book has several sex scenes in it, none frivolous, all contributing to the stories, but I'm putting it here just in case it's an issue with some of my readers.

Anyway, if you're interested in short stories with a Singaporean flavour, get this book from Books Actually and get your hands on this book today!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #6: When does the search end? by Melanie Lee

The last book in the Squirky series was an excellent and fitting end to the adventures of the blue alien.

I've been following the exploits of Squirky for some time now and I must say that this book provides a not a saccharine sweet, happily-ever-after kinda ending, but a more realistic yet satisfying one.

In the penultimate book, Squirky decided not to enter the Garden Galaxy and travelled back to Earth to be with his adoptive parents. It was bittersweet. On one hand he wanted to see his birth parents, but on the other he really liked his family on Earth.

I thought how his adoptive parents dealt with his life on Earth subsequently was sensitive and filled with love.

It would be interesting to see another series on what happens when Squirky grows up into a young man and have significant conversations with his birth parents while negotiating his relationship with his birth parents, and perhaps in the context of starting his own family.

Alas, that's not for me to decide but for MPH Publishing and Melanie.

Nevertheless, I'd like to recommend this series to all families. The compelling story together with the lovely illustrations make for a great book for parents and children to bond over. The awards the previous books have won, namely, snagging the second prize for the Samsung KidsTime Author's Award for The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #4: Where is my Mama? together with the Crystal Kite Award for the Asia, Middle East and India region for The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #3: Who is the Red Commander? are testament to the quality of the stories.

Buy them (at Kinokuniya) today!

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

Silence by Shusaku Endo

I don't read novels often, much less those translated from Japanese but CAN I GUSH ABOUT HOW AWESOME THIS BOOK IS? I mean Hunger Games was brilliant, so combining the gripping narrative of that and 1Q84's quintessential Japanese feel, together with a dash of innovative Christian persecution in the form of suspending one upside down over a scorching pit, tying them to a stake to die at sea, a sudden and random execution by a samurai paired with the utter and complete silence of God in the midst of all this and you have a earth-shatteringly good book in your hands. 

Why had I never read this before?

My, oh my. 

I made this impulse buy at Kinokuniya after receiving Makoto Fujimura's 'Silence and Beauty' in the post. This was because when I posted a picture of the latter up on Twitter, someone suggested I ought to finish Endo's work first and so I did. And wow, what a book!

Silence is set in the 1600s where Japan, after years of missionary work, began to deciminate Christians one at a time. They drove out all foreign missionaries and also murdered all professing believers who refused to recant. 

After realising that simply killing them was making matyrs, they then began thinking up creative torture methods to force them to deny Christ. This seemed to be more effective and is probably why Japan is a country where only 1% of the population today identify as Christian (Source: 

*Spoiler alert*
'Silence' revolves around a Portuguese priest, Father Rodrigues, who sets off from his homeland to Japan after hearing rumours that his beloved mentor, Father Ferreira, has apotastized. He left with two other fellow priests who had once set under the theological instruction of their former teacher, eager to know the truth of the matter. No one knew whether he was dead or alive and if the abandonment of his faith was a fact or a lie. We find ourselves following the protagonist as he first lands in the village of Tomogi, is hidden by Japanese Christians in a hut at the top of a hill, and then is later captured. 

The theme became clearer and clearer as the novel progressed and one feels for the main character and how the utter silence of God in the midst of suffering can be cruel and unrelenting. 

I'll leave you to find out how the book ends but rest assured it is one satisfying end without any easy answers nor platitudes. 

Pick up this book at Kinokuniya, Book Depository or Amazon today!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Part I: Spell of Happiness by Twisted Medley

This is an excellent piece self-published by first-timer author Beatrix Lowe. The stunning cover drew me in and although I have a huge stack of books yet to be read, I dove straight in. 

It's a fantasy centered on Lucien, a fallen angel who's lost his memory and doesn't know who he is, and his butler Constant, who serves the former faithfully with great adoration. However, things aren't that simple and as the story progressed, I was completely transfixed. I loved the romantic angle as it wasn't too forced nor trite.

Like most self-published authors, a handful of typos distracted me, but what a plot! I've never read anything like it. And apart from the sometimes strange turns of phrases that any typical Singaporean is prone to, I was quite impressed with this piece of work. 

I also loved the illustrations embedded within the novel by Sobachan. The manga-style drawings fit in nicely with the story. 

You can check out her blog where the author posted a couple of chapters from the beginning of the book so as to get a brief feel of what it's like before purchasing. Details on how to get the book are also on the blog:

This is one author publishers should line up to sign on. With an editor and some professional help, I'm sure more will be able to enjoy her work. 

I can't wait for Part 2!

P.S. This book falls under the category of BL/yaoi/slash, which basically means gay fiction. But don't let that deter you. I thought it was all tastefully done without any hint of pornography.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Myth of the Non-Christian: Engaging Atheists, Nominal Christiansand the Spiritual But Not Religious

Even as a Christian, I've been at the receiving end of some unwanted evangelism. Once at the exit of a train station, I was accosted by some random stranger asking to do a survey which led to an invitation to a church that I naturally rejected in a roundabout manner. Then, it was a tract presented together with a farewell gift from a classmate I barely knew at a course I took. You might be a well-meaning Christian who's driven to spread the gospel in all Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth but can come across as an offensive weirdo by doing so. This book helps one do so in a natural, non-threatening and winsome way. 

This book has completely changed the way I reach out to people and I would encourage all Christians, especially church leaders, to take a look at this gem. The book aims to make sharing about Jesus relevant in a modern day setting with a targeted approach. 

As mentioned in the title, this book seeks to dispel the myth of the non-Christian which is a term those in the fold have come up with to label those not of the faith. However, that's not how people label themselves. They could identify as an atheist, a nominal Christian or a person who is spiritual but not religious. And it is specifically for these three different groups of people that form the majority of people not following Jesus today. 

The book is arranged in three different sections (one for each group). The first section helps one understand the specific context we are engaging with through the use of real-life stories and situations that have previously taken place. Next, the author teaches how to respond to the major questions in that particular context. And finally, we learn how to develop practices specifically helpful to this context. 

I liked how the book addressed pertinent questions that people might have on violence found in the Bible. Luke Cawley draws on his experience of engaging a student who was spiritual but was very turned off by the fact that the Old Testament was rife with bloodshed and misogyny. It was very interesting to read about his exchange with her. 

One's approach would also be different when one meets an atheist who might have concerns about how science and God seem to be mutually exclusive. I thought that the author's suggestion of  framing this as a conversation very helpful. Instead of sharing about your personal testimony of your conversation story that they might not appreciate, you could have an intellectual discussion about God and the world. I certainly know people who'd enjoy that. In addition, you get to deepen relationships by asking the tough questions in life. He provides a substantial chapter on how to tackle the most popular questions and another chapter on how to share your faith effectively. 

Finally, there might be people you know as Christians but who do not go to church. There might be a whole plethora of reasons for that and Cawley brings us through some of them and how they could be addressed with sensitivity. 

I liked the fact that the author provides a recommended reading list on a whole host of topics such as apologetics, atheist texts, science and God and many many more. I'm gonna buy a couple of the suggested book titles myself. So look out for more reviews on those in the coming days!

If I have one complaint about the book, I'd say that it's not enough writing about atheists, nominal Christians and the spiritual but not religious. Not everyone fits into these categories. However that would probably make for a much thicker book that might turn potential readers off. 

Well that's all for now and you can get this book from Amazon or Book Depsository today!

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rollercoasters & Bedsheets: An Anthology of Sex in Minutes edited by Charlene Shepherdson and Muslim Sahib

This is my first time reading poetry of such a genre so this was quite an interesting experience.

In the preface, the editors behind this anthology explained that they wanted to use poetry "as a means to explore sex and erotica" as they felt that "sex in the media is often portrayed as a deed done quick and dirty, and the real-life issues around communication, power play and consent are often unaddressed".

The collection of poems was of somewhat uneven quality, but reading it made for a generally pleasant and sometimes surprising encounter. 

Jerrold Yam, as usual, does not disappoint and "Doorbell" was really good.

I really, really, really liked "daddy issues" by Marylyn Tan which was using BDSM to express one's feelings about the authoritarian state that is Singapore. I thought that that was very clever.

The experimental pieces were quite interesting and many poems played with space and enjambment. I thought some were pretty good but some were a little strange.

This is neither an anthology of erotic nor sensual poetry, and neither did the editors didn't claim that it was. But the title certainly suggested so and I was a little disappointed.

However, this is indeed "an anthology of sex in minutes" as professed in the title and I would say that the editors have certainly achieved, through this book, their aim of promoting conversation about the often taboo topic of sex. At least it did for me among my friends when I showed them what I was reading (They usually smiled to themselves upon seeing the title and then flipped curiously through. No other book I've showed them have achieve this effect.)

I'm sure this will definitely be an interesting book to add to your collection and you should probably get it for yourself if only to "possess the vocabulary" to articulate your feelings on "the realm of sex which is rollercoaster of passion, emotions, and lust" as mentioned at the beginning of this book.

Check out this book at the bookshop, Books Actually, at the district that is Tiong Bahru, or order it online from Pillow Books Media or at Amazon for my American and international readers.


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

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Theological Anthropology - A Guide for the Perplexed by Marc Cortez

"Theological anthropology can be defined briefly as theological reflection on the human person." This was part of the compelling introduction that opened a most fascinating book. 

I chanced upon this title while browsing through Wheaton College's website and was intrigued as I read its description. It looked kinda like a "Idiot's Guide" (no offense to the author) and I thought I should take a look.

What a book it proved to be!

The author attempted to give the reader an overview of the classical and contemporary theological arguments for the following questions:

  • What is the relationship between human persons and the rest of creation? How "unique" are humans in creation? How does this affect our appreciation for the "dignity" of the human person?
  • Why were humans created male and female? What is the significance of human sexuality for understanding humanity? How should this play out in our understanding of marriage, family, and sexual ethics?
  • Of what are human persons comprised? Are we basically physical beings, spiritual beings, some combination of the two, or something else entirely? In what ways does our answer to this question affect how humans should live in the world?
  • Do human persons have "free will"? What exactly does this mean and what is its significance for understanding, among other things, salvation, moral responsibility, and relationality?

I liked how the author guided the reader in the complex discussion and tried to make things as jargon-free as possible, although some technical terms would invariably pop up. 

At the end of introducing the current debates on the imago dei, sexuality, mind and body and free will (as the chapters are so titled) we are given a framework in which to view these arguments in a coherent fashion. This I appreciated very much.

I most enjoyed the chapter on sexuality, perhaps partly because of my interest in it. I felt the author dealt very well with the intricacies of the topic and kudos to him for featuring the intersex. I'd just read a book on them and am thankful the author included them in the chapter because their very presence raises various theological questions.

The author rightly points out that "the number of discrete disciplines involved in the discussion can complicate matters and to do justice to our questions, it would seem that we need to be well versed in (at least) the fields of exegesis, theology, philosophy, psychology, biology, physics, and the neuroscience."

However, I felt that this book did an excellent job in addressing the various disciplines involved and I was pleasantly surprised that I understood perhaps 80% of the material save the parts that were overly technical.

I would recommend this book to all who are interested in the questions posed above as it gives a clear and comprehensive explanation. I would also like to thank the author for recommending me another book on the same topic by a different author, and perhaps you'll see another review up real soon. For my first foray into theological anthropology, I must say that this book has made it an enjoyable one.

You can order this book here on Book Depository or Amazon.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

This is a beautifully written book about losing one's faith in the Christian God and finding it back again. In Rachel Held Evans' third book, she has truly blossomed as a writer and out of her three books, this is the one I enjoyed the most.

The book revolves around various sacraments of the church in the following order:

1. Baptism
2. Confession
3. Holy Orders
4. Communion 
5. Confirmation
6. Anointing of the Sick
7. Marriage 

I loved how she used these themes and related her personal encounters with them while weaving in how these sacraments feature in the church and in the lives of others.

Although I've not left my faith, I could empathise with her and I sometimes lament the various shortcomings of the Church.

However, this book helped me realise that although humans are inherently flawed, God isn't, and redemption can be found even in the midst of imperfection.

Now that I've finished it, I know exactly who to loan this book to: a friend who is jaded with the church and tired of the messages coming from the pulpit every Sunday. I pray this book will ignite a tiny flame of hope within her weary heart and encourage her to continue in her Christian walk.

Find out more about Searching for Sunday here or order your very own copy from Book Depository or Amazon today. I promise you, you won't be disappointed.

This is Awkward by Sammy Rhodes

This book easily makes to the TOP 3 books I've read this year (and I've read many) because of the sensitive topics mentioned and because it is so easy to read I finished it in two days flat. 

I first encountered Sammy Rhodes on Twitter after someone mentioned how he was one of those who made serious Christianity a lot funnier with his hilarious tweets. I've not been laughing very hard at any of his recent tweets but his active promotion of his book made me really curious and I preordered it after reading a compelling introduction he put up online. 

Even after a week, this book sticks out on how it bravely deals with topics like how even Christians consume porn, how weight can be a consuming topic and on depression which can consume one so totally there seems to be no way out. 

Out of the three, the first really hits home not because I watch porn, but because in a recent Sunday service in my rather progressive church, as my senior pastor was addressing the topic of porn, he asked the congregation that "if 1 in 3 men consume porn, how many people here did", and then told them not to raise their hands because "nobody wants to know". While this might be a polite Asian gesture - to keep dirty linen to oneself - I think it promotes an unhealthy culture of being unable to freely confess our sins to acquire support that one desperately needs

Check out the following extract which I posted on Instagram:

It is so sad. 

On a happier note, the chapter on weight resonated with me and being the digital millennial that I am, I happily snapped another memorable passage to share my revelation:

Finally, the chapter on depression really got me. Sometimes because of a lack of knowledge on how to deal with depression, Christians just sweep it under the carpet instead of addressing it with grace and sensitivity - at least that's what I've experienced. The author talks candidly about seeing a therapist and I related to that, as I'm seeing one myself, and it really helped to know that I'm not alone in this. 

I would recommend this book to all Christians, especially leaders, in an effort to deal with the difficult topics because if the church is not your refuge and a place where you find support, then where is?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #5: How do you get to the GardenGalaxy?

In this penultimate book of the Squirky series, we find the blue protagonist very close to finding his parents. 

He'd landed on Planet P and the inhabitants have explained how to get to them - enter the portal to the Garden Galaxy. But once through, there was no turning back. Would Squirky take that fateful step?

*Spoiler alert*

I was stunned to find out that he didn't. I guess we'll find out more in the last book. 

I must say I've quite enjoyed reading this series, much to my surprise. The books really hold valuable lessons for all children, adopted or otherwise. And they really provide good fodder for conversation for adoptees. 

Well done, Melanie and I look forward to the very last book in this amazing series!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Strong and Weak: Embracing a life of love, risk and true flourishing by Andy Crouch

I've read too many Christian books on living and on leadership that I don't like, so this was a refreshing change.

The author's objective was to empower the reader with the right thinking in order to live "a life of love, risk & true flourishing".

He makes use of this 2 by 2 chart to illustrate his understanding of true flourishing. It's a pretty simple chart comprising 4 quadrants:

I: Authority with Vulnerability = Flourishing
II: Vulnerability with no Authority = Suffering
III: No authority and no Vulnerability = Withdrawing
IV: Authority with no Vulnerability = Exploiting

Simple as it is, I loved how the author made use of examples from the world around us to elaborate on the finer points of his argument.

This is an easy-to-read book that captured my attention from its very first paragraph: "Two questions haunt every human life and every human community. The first: What are we meant to be? The second: Why are we so far from what we're meant to be?" The rest of the book attempts to answer these two questions.

I have learnt how to be a better person, and a better leader by reading this book. I liked how he based his core ideas on the life of Jesus Christ, yet is accessible enough for even the average non-Christian to read and also gain from it.

I would recommend this book to all Christians, especially those tired of "self-help" type of books that are flooding the market. Check it out on Amazon and Book Depository today!

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

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #4: Where is my Mama?

Book 4 of the Squirky series centers around Squirky helping a big purple alien Crystal, to find her mother.

For the uninitiated, Squirky the blue alien, his sister Emma, and Mr Quentin had travelled to Planet S on a spaceship in a quest to search for Squirky's birth parents. You can read more about Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3 too.

Planet S is freezing and as they were looking around, they found a huge monster bounding towards them and ran for their lives. Unfortunately Emma tripped, and while Squirky stayed back to help her up, the purple monster got close to them. They were scared stiff, but it turned out that she was only searching for her mom. They eventually found her and as a lovely surprise, she showed Squirky a hologram of his parents, giving him another clue on where to find them.

This is possibly my favourite book yet in the series. It's a charming and heartwarming tale that would teach children that sometimes, we need to put the needs of others before ourselves.

I guess the only thing I have to whine about is that sometimes I didn't quite understand how the pictures embedded within the text (an elf on one page and a guinea pig on another) had to do with the story itself. One day I shall meet the author and illustrator to ask them. But the full page graphics on every page were pretty good as usual, so no complaints there.

Can't wait to read Book 5!

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

Monday, February 15, 2016

The other Merlion and friends by Gwee Li Sui

I was surprised to find myself enjoying this book of funny poetry immensely despite the unfortunate looking cover. This is the second time reviewing books published in Singapore where I must declare that the old adage holds true and that one really mustn't judge a book by its cover. 

Gwee takes inspiration from everywhere. He writes about poetry, Singapore, the government, food, education and more. 

I loved this one:

I got most of it except "M for God / N for country". Didn't quite get that even after I thought long and hard about it. Ah well. 

Anyway, Gwee references many things. I liked "Three-Word Sutra" that takes a leaf out of 三字经, a Chinese classic. Then there was a nod to William Blake in "Songs of innocence and experience" although the content for both veered into territory quite different from the originals. 

I really liked the rhyming bits. Some of it were a throwback to nursery rhymes. But most of it was just simply delightful. There are too many Singaporean poets doing free verse, so bring on the poets who rhyme I say! 

Loved the themes on food. 

And topics quintessentially Singaporean:

Like he said in one of his poems: it's impossible to translate. Especially with all the Singlish bits thrown in. Haha. 

It's an excellent piece of work that I would not hesitate to buy for someone who might be resistant to poetry. It is also a gift I would buy to teachers of Literature to get them to loosen up a little. 

I showed this book to a friend who used to teach GP in a respectable junior college and she laughed with great abandon at "Good Laws and Good People" and whipped out her phone to put it on Instagram. When your work is Instagram worthy, you know you've made it as a poet. 

So I say, well done Gwee! Love most of your drawings too. Just work on the cover man. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God by Megan K. DeFranza

Like any good book on theology should, this book brings the reader one step closer to God even as they learn more about I in LGBTQIA. (For the uninitiated, here's what I learnt from the author: "Intersex" is a term used to describe persons who do not fit into standard medical descriptions of male or female. It is not a diagnosis but an umbrella concept used to cover a wide range of variations in sex development. Many intersex conditions result in ambiguous genitalia, either at birth or throughout the life course of the individual; however, not all intersex conditions are indicated by genital inspection.)

Megan DeFranza has written a well-researched (The bibliography is 19 pages long and every chapter is chockful of footnotes) and very educational book on the intersex. She attempts to also weave in theology to help us understand where intersex people fit in if God created "male and female" in His image and likeness.

Chapter 1 is an interesting introduction to the topic with lots of medical definitions because those who are intersex are on a spectrum. 

Chapter 2 is on eunuchs in the Bible, a type of intersex that is recorded in Scripture and the historical context they are found in.

Chapter 3 is a woefully long chapter on the history of intersex in the Classical Period, Modern Period and Postmodern Period that I was glad to be done reading (it was so dry, cos you know, history), but which Megan put it in to please her history professor (This was kinda like her thesis for her PhD).

Chapter 4, 5, and 6 explored theological anthropology in the postmodern period and is when things get exciting. I really enjoyed reading the second part and kept posting photos of various parts of the text on Instagram, spamming my befuddled readers with choice passages. 

Here is sample of something I posted:

"Secure sex, gender, and sexual identities can be just as much a stumbling block to transformation in the image of Christ as ambiguous identities. Whatever the identity, it must be placed under the scrutiny of the Scriptures by the help of the Spirit so that we may discern what must be put to death and what must be cultivated."

Very interesting, is it not?

What I found most striking was the fact that the presence of a third gender was common knowledge in the past but is sadly absent in the present day. Doctors reinforce the gender binary by operating on babies who grow up to sometimes experience severe dysphoria. This could have been prevented if surgery wasn't an option and doctors weren't so presumptuous. After all, before surgery was invented these kids just developed naturally and chose their preferred gender at puberty or beyond.

I spoke to a paediatrician and she told me that it is essential for parents to know the gender of the kid at birth or they'll experience unease. I told her I understood where she was coming from. But when I explained that they grow up to experience gender dysphoria, she had no reply.

I especially loved the second half of the book that explored theology together with the intersex and it's something I'll have to read again soon. There is so much to unpack and I'm afraid I'll overwhelm you if I begin to expound on it here in this review if you've not read the first part of the book.

If you're interested in this, you can get it at Book Depository with free shipping or Amazon if that's what you prefer.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability by Nancy L. Eiesland

I was quite disappointed with this book because I had high hopes for it. Recommended by a friend on his blog, I ordered this book from Book Depository and read it mostly on the plane when I had a trip across the Pacific in January.

The book mainly deals with how disabled people deal with living life. I didn't find much "liberatory theology" save for a small section at the end where the author mentioned how Jesus is a disabled Messiah. His hands were pierced and when he came back resurrected, he wasn't whole, the holes in his hands were still there. That made me think a little about what being disabled means. People say that in heaven the lame can walk, and the blind can see, but if Jesus' hands were not made whole, what does this say about the new body that we are to possess in the afterlife?

Raises some interesting questions don't you think?

I wished the book dealt less with the lives of the disabled, important as it is, and more with liberatory theology. I guess I have to look for another book to satisfy my curiosity. It is a topic close to my heart because I have bipolar and I sometimes wonder where and how that fits in in the Kingdom of God.

Ah well. If you've got any good titles on disability and theology, do recommend it to me and tell me in the comments below!


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Balik Kampung 2A: People and Places edited by Verena Tay

After reading too much incomprehensible poetry, this delightful book of short stories set in different places in Singapore was a much needed breath of fresh air.

The brainchild of Verena Tay, this book is the second collection of stories under the same name, hence "Balik Kampung 2A" because everyone loves sequels. Comprising 11 short stories, it features award-winning writers together with literary unknowns. They are all equally brilliant though. It was an easy read and I finished it in two days while travelling on MRT trains to work.

The book got off to a good start with Joshua Ip's Peace is a Foot Reflexology Parlour which was set mostly in Beauty World along Upper Bukit Timah. I am quite familiar with that area and it was refreshing to finally see a piece of short story set somewhere in Singapore.

I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book and all the stories were really good. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the quality was not uneven, unlike other collections. If I'd had to pick favourites, it would be a toss-up between Joshua Ip's piece, Shelley Bryant's Enough, and Cyril Wong's The Mistake. The latter was narrated from the perspective of a little boy which very different from the stories found in the rest of the book but worked quite well.

I think those of the older generation might enjoy Carena Chor's The Tontine Leader as it might bring back memories of when that money-lending ingenuity was still in place.

All in all, people who've stayed in Singapore for some time ought to read this book. I'd recommend teachers of Literature in English to use this book as material for their students. It might be a bit too long for Unseen Prose, but I think it would be an interesting change from reading short stories set in America, England or Africa.

You can get this book from Books Actually.


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

Thursday, January 7, 2016

For the end comes reaching by David Wong Hsien Ming

There are times when I don't like poetry. This usually occurs when I read poems that are so abstract I don't understand what's going on. I had a lot of these moments when reading this book. 

Now don't get me wrong. The poems are of a high quality, that much I can make out (that and the couple of must-read lists this title has been on). I just don't feel them that's all. They say reading poetry is a subjective experience and I just didn't like the poems here. 

The ones I did enjoy though, were those that were on the theme of death. 

I liked this one best:

The poems on death were simply stellar. 

Well, to each his own I suppose. And if you are the kind that likes abstract poetry, you can get this book over at Books Actually


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

Saturday, January 2, 2016

the little world of liz climo by Liz Climo

I borrowed this book from my student after enjoying her other book "Lobster is the Best Medicine: A Collection of Comics About Friendship" at a friend's house.

My student said she'd read it a couple times through and literally laughed out loud at several points in the book.

I LOVED the whimsical drawings and the wit of Liz Climo. You cannot go wrong getting this book as a gift for a loved one. The puns were the best. I absolutely ADORED them.

You might be familiar with her work, after all, they've gone viral several times on Facebook. 

As they say, a picture speaks a thousand words, here are three of my fav (which makes 3000 words and with so many words I shall soon end my blogpost):

I recommend this to absolutely everyone. Click on the following links if you'd like to get the book on...

and Kinokuniya for my Singaporean readers.

If you'd like to follow her, check her out at her tumblr page or Instagram if that's more your cuppa tea.