Friday, December 22, 2017

Track Fault and Other Glitches by Nicholas Yong

"10 interesting short stories let down by an insipid cover" is my verdict for this book.

The very first story caught my attention from the get go. The zombie civil service had to hold a meeting about a virus spreading across Singapore. It would turn zombies back into humans and the Higher Zombie Committee was terrified.

I also liked the story "A Dream Within a Dream" and "Three Nights in Camp". The former chronicles the last moments of a patient's life in the real world and in his unconscious, and the latter is an army ghost story.

The stories of the Shiba Inu were heart-warming and it might perhaps be due to my fondness of this dog breed. Magical realism came into play when Haru the dog summoned the Dog God in the middle of the first story.

Readers are then left hanging at the story's conclusion but were later rewarded in the subsequent pages where the author ties things up.

I felt that all 10 stories were true page-turners and I promptly finished it all in one night.

Apart from the 2 typos found in the book, it was a pretty good read.

My major gripe is this: Even though the cover designer had tried to incorporate elements of various stories into it, it is rather uninspired. But it's no fault of the author's.

This book would make a great gift for any book lover. Grab your copy today from the Marshall Cavendish online store, Kinokuniya, or Popular today!

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

Murphy, See How You Shine! by Chen Wei Teng

This picture book tells a simple little story about a blind dog named Murphy. Although he was sometimes bullied by the seeing dogs, he had a rescuer in the form of his owner, Candy.

She was the one that took him from the shelter where he'd lived for a long time before she came.

It turns out that Murphy is a Diabetes Assist Dog that's been trained to alert his owner when she has low blood sugar. Candy, his owner, has Type 1 diabetes and was once saved by Murphy before she went into a coma.

The story ends with Murphy saving a young boy, also with diabetes. Candy and Murphy were going for a walk when the dog bounded over to the boy and Candy had a sweet snack on hand.

The full-page watercolour illustrations really brought the characters to life. I liked how the illustrator incorporated tiny details that made the reader recognise that it's set in Singapore. Things like green railings alongside canals and the Bird of Paradise flowers in the park made it really heartwarming.

I guess my only gripe with the otherwise lovely book was that near the end of the book, when Candy offered a marshmallow snack to the aforementioned boy, the illustration was instead of a Rice Krispie. Minor no doubt, but it was a little jarring nonetheless.

I would recommend this book to everyone, young or old, as not many people have heard of Diabetes Assist Dogs, nor blind ones at that. This book teaches the reader that everyone is special in his or her own way and not to despise their gifts.

If you'd like this book, you can get it from this online store. Also, if you'd like to bring your kid to story-telling sessions, check out this Facebook page for more information!

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Red Dot Irreal by Jason Erik Lundberg

Magical realism set in sunny Singapore. Who'd have thought of that? And it's so wonderfully executed too!

I bought this book while on a shopping spree last year and have only just gotten to read it. And what a marvellous book it is! Why has no one informed me of this existence of this book at all? It's a hidden gem amongst the numerous titles stocked at Books Actually.

Prose has never been Math Paper Press' strong suit, but this book of short stories pleasantly defies expectations.

I was hooked from the first story, which was set in ancient Singapore, featuring an Englishman shipwrecked on an island south of Singapore and strange happenings.

My favourite was "Ikan Berbudi (Wise Fish)" which was a delightful tale about a hawker selling fish head curry and her talking fish. It was brilliant!

The short 2-page stories were pretty good too. I enjoyed "Lion City Daikaiju" where Singapore's most famous landmarks like the Merlion, Raffles Hotel, the Esplanade and more took flight and went on a rampage in what was kinda an apocalyptic story except that Singapore ultimately wasn't destroyed but reborn.

I would recommend this to both Singaporeans and expatriates, although perhaps the former would better appreciate the nuances and flavours of our little island.

This would make a perfect gift and you can get it either at Kinokuniya or Books Actually.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Vintage Saints and Sinners:25 Christians who Transformed my Faith by Karen Wright Marsh

At first glance I thought this book was one that would be filled with white men, even if they were people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Aelred of Rievaulx. So I was pleasantly surprised to find people of colour, and not only African American saints, but also an Asian one to boot.

This is a compilation of 25 short stories of Christians who have lived, both in the recent past and in ancient times, who have made an impact on faith of the author.

I liked the fact that each chapter was short and self-contained, so you can technically pick up the book and read from any chapter just fine. The author blends anecdotes from her personal life and seamlessly relates it to the lives of the saints in a manner that I found refreshing and authentic.

Apart from famous figures like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther, lesser known saints like the African American Amanda Berry Smith who preached the gospel to all races across the world, and Mary Paik Lee, a Korean immigrant who grew up with a difficult life were included to make it a book filled with diversity.

A Christian life can be a hard one to lead, but after reading about the lives of these 25 sinner-saints, one feels refreshed and invigorated, able to walk the long and arduous journey of faith once again. This is what I would call a good book, able to inspire, simply through recounting the lives of ordinary people just like us, empowered with a faith from above.

I would greatly recommend this as a gift to your Christian friend, or even yourself. With the clear writing and compelling stories, this book was a breeze to get through and I'm sure you'll be similarly inspired too.

You can get a copy from Amazon, Book Depository or IVP


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

Friday, December 1, 2017

Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clark

This is hands down one of the most inspirational business books I've ever read, on par with Shoe Dog by Phil Knight and Onward by Howard Schultz. The author Duncan Clark has known Jack for a long time and has put together a memoir of how Alibaba came to be the behemoth it is today.

As a budding entrepreneur myself, I feel a kindred spirit in Jack Ma. His fearless attitude and convincing charm christened "Jack Magic" is something that I must learn from in the cut-throat business world. 

Having failed the Chinese national examinations (高考) twice, Jack succeeded on his third try only to end up in a third tier university. He did well and became an English teacher. But it was not long before the business bug bit and he set up his first company - Hope. He still held his full-time job and worked after school on his baby. It was a translation service that didn't do so well.

Alibaba was his third company and it was through a mixture of luck, guts, and hard work that it has become the success it is today.

This book is a real page-turner and I finished reading it within a day. It was that gripping.

I now have a better understanding of how Alibaba may soon dominate the world, perhaps even surpassing eBay and Amazon in due time. This book has given me a clearer insight into the three largest Chinese Internet companies that are dominating the market today - Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu.

I must say that the author has done some solid research and I'm full of praise for the impressive book he's published.

This is a book every aspiring business person ought to read and I'm sure you'll be just as inspired as I have been at the end of the book.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Spiaking Singlish by Gwee Li Sui

I got lagi many things to tok about, so you best buy some kopi, sit somewhere nice-nice, then continue reading.

If you dun know Singlish, this book will teach you until your Singlish steady pom pi pi. Whole book oso written in Singlish sia. Now wait some people complain how come liddat, so horrigible, the author say he macam follow Oxford England Dictionary.

I thought my Singlish sibeh solid, read this book then stunned like vegetable, actually my Singlish quite kayu, a bit cannot make it. I dunno words like bakero, hampalang, and tombola. All oso dunno. Like that how can?

Budden I think to myself, onli got 3 words dunno, still quite steady lah.

This unker not only teach Singlish, but oso is lagi funni and although I dun want simi sai oso politisai, realli got a bit. The author talk cock sing song about Ah Kong, Lao Goh, Ah Loong, our world-crass MRT and how we try to be more England than England speakers. So confirm-plus-chop is the bestest explanation of how life in our kampung is like. Hope he dun kena buak goo-yoo though.

The Singlish terms quite easily understooded cos the same sentence got explain. If dun have, the next sentence sure got. If lagi best, still dunno, then you hampalang guess lor. Or you ask your fren help you. I also got ask.

Budden hor, if you cannot spiak both powderful Singlish and England, then cham, might be a bit hard to read. Cos unker last time is assistant prof at university, some words quite cheem, you not enuff England, maybe won’t understand cos cheemology. 

Words like “onomatopoeia”, “end-rhymes”, macam Lit student then know.

Then those who only spiak England, also sama-sama. Reading the book, they might find it cannot be understooded, cos lagi cheem. I myself read more than 5 chapters become blur like sotong.

This book good is cos it got say where the Singlish word come from. Example is like this. Si geena might say corright Singlish is say “steady pom pi pi”, but unker explain it is from Hokkien, where “poon pee pee” mean macam blow whistle cos last time people do that when they suka their favourite singer or football team.

Like a typical Singaporean geena, I found the quiz at the back of the book lagi fun. I only got 44/50, then unker say like this:

“Your Singlish is so-so nia. If I close one ear, it should pass, but, if I dun, can’t say how long I can tahan leh. You have a sense of the language and some love - and that’s good! But you sibeh suka tikam-tikam: the bits you bo chap, you act blur and present only Ah Bengs and Ah Lians use. Dun so atas, can? Oso, not I say you, but, when you dunno what to spiak, can dun keng and anyhowly whack? You lidded is as bad as mee siam mai hum: dun bedek-bedek and say you never ha! Embrace your Singaporeanness properly. Learn more Singlish and chiong with it. No need to scared: Singapore won’t become a fishing village one. The more you spiak, the betterer you’ll be, and, one fine day, you’ll sure song-song gao Jurong!”


This unker also very zai in drawing ang kong. He ownself draw comics at the front of each chapter. Ho say bo? And is not kiam chye cha loti one, is got link to the Singlish word he trying to explain. Not super stylo-milo like Marvel comic, but the ang kong realli quite funny and is lagi good. They short-short one, like each chapter, chop-chop kalipok can finish a few in one train ride.

Budden hor, I dun like one thing is the word “kuniang”, but not unker’s fault, is the fault of Singlish lah, what to do. But dun have a lot so okay lah.

I think you should suppork this book, and those who can spiak powderful England and Singlish will be able to read it easily. Those who aren’t might catch no ball, but can relak if they read with their fren who can spiak. It is also good for ang moh and cheena people in Singapore. Cos spiaking Singlish which all born and bled Singaporeans can, is the bestest.

English Translation

I have a lot of things to say in this review, so it’s advisable that you grab yourself a cuppa coffee, seat yourself some place comfortable, before embarking on this review.

This is quite the definitive guide to the language that is Singlish. And guess, what, it’s written entirely in Singlish. Now before you raise your heckles and complain how anyone would understand a book about Singlish delivered in Singlish, the author points us to the Oxford English Dictionary.

I thought my standard of Singlish was pretty decent until I read this book. Terms like bakero (a term “to express extreme disdain or hostility”), hampalang (“refers to everyone, everything, or everywhere), and tombola (“to leave a decision to luck”) are quite foreign to me.

However, 3 unknown words out of a list of 45 ain’t too bad I reckon.

Not only does this book explain Singlish to us, it is a humorous and subversive book. With references to the late MM Lee, the former PM Goh, our current PM Lee, our “world-crass MRT”, how we try to be more “England than England speakers”, it provides a wonderfully perceptive view of how life in Singapore is like.

Also, most Singlish terms are defined within the same sentence, or at most, in the very next one. You might also be able to use contextual clues to help you figure out terms that are not defined. Or you could also ask a more fluent Singlish speaker to help you. Which I did.

However, I must say that this isn’t a book for those whose can only speak Singlish, or English. It is meant for the Singaporean well-versed in both languages. As a former assistant professor, Gwee takes great care to explain the usage of certain terms, and without a good grasp of the English language, one might find it hard to follow the train of thought the author is taking. 

A Lit student might be able to comprehend terms like “onomatopoeia”, “end-rhymes”, but your typical Ah Beng may not. (I’m not looking down on Ah Bengs, some may very well understand these terms, but I’m making a generalisation here.) 

Conversely, someone who only speaks English might find reading this book an insurmountable hurdle. As someone who’s a frequent reader, I found this book quite taxing on the brain and could only consume it in small amounts (3-5 chapters) at any one time. (Perhaps it is an admission that my Singlish isn’t quite up to par?)

But this book does a good job with clarifying etymology of Singlish terms. I thought that this was the strength of the book. Here’s an example. Whereas a teenager may claim that “steady pom pi pi” is the correct pronunciation of the term, Gwee explains that “steady poon pee pee” references a person blowing a whistle in Hokkien which was what audiences used to declare their love for a performer or a team.

I especially loved the 50 question test located at the end of the book. Because like the typical Singaporean, we have been well-trained in taking MCQ tests from our years in school. I scored 44/50, to which the author declares:

“Your Singlish is so-so nia. If I close one ear, it should pass, but, if I dun, can’t say how long I can tahan leh. You have a sense of the language and some love - and that’s good! But you sibeh suka tikam-tikam: the bits you bo chap, you act blur and present only Ah Bengs and Ah Lians use. Dun so atas, can? Oso, not I say you, but, when you dunno what to spiak, can dun keng and anyhowly whack? You lidded is as bad as mee siam mai hum: dun bedek-bedek and say you never ha! Embrace your Singaporeanness properly. Learn more Singlish and chiong with it. No need to scared: Singapore won’t become a fishing village one. The more you spiak, the betterer you’ll be, and, one fine day, you’ll sure song-song gao Jurong!”

Which describes me perfectly.

An added plus point would be the comics that grace the start of each chapter. They are wholly in Singlish and complement the said Singlish term, giving readers a good illustration of how the words can be used in real life. I liked the fact that the comics were to-the-point. They were just like how the chapters themselves were self-contained within 3-5 pages.

One gripe of mine would be that there were hints of misogyny which is not the author’s fault, but is inherent in Singlish. Those called “kuniang” will no doubt feel the same. Thankfully, those were few and far between.

I’d recommend this book to fluent speakers of both English and Singlish. Those who aren’t might have trouble with it, but try buying it with a group of friends and the more fluent ones might explain certain terms to the beginners. It might also be useful for the newly integrated immigrants or even foreigners working in Singapore. For there’s nothing quite like speaking the language of the vox populi, is there?

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Life in the Presence of God by Kenneth Boa

Now I've read a couple of books on the topic of "hearing from God" such as Dallas Willard's Hearing God, John Eldredge's Walking with God, and many more. This book however, is a more holistic one where it talks about how we can, like the famous Brother Lawrence, be more aware of the presence of God in our day to day living.

The author mentions that one of the reasons why he wrote this book was that even though there are many similar books out there, there are precious few that give practical steps to take on how to live in God's presence. They are usually more abstract and theoretical.

I have used some of the tips in the book and found them immensely helpful.

One of which was from the chapter, "Rewiring Your Mind" which involved writing a verse down on a small piece of paper (I chose Philippians 4:6-8) and then reading it at various moments throughout the day to be aware of God's voice in one's life. 

In addition, another similar activity I did was taken out of Chapter 8, "Reorganising Your Time", which reminds us that the time we have on earth is fleeting. I copied down the following on a piece of paper and reflected upon it throughout the day, when I felt the urge to scan my phone for social media updates, even after deleting Instagram and Facebook from my phone. This made me more aware of the limited time I have in this life and I'd recommend this practice for everyone too!

The verse is from James 4:13-15 and reads,

"Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."

Out of all the practices suggested in the book, I've only just implemented 2 and I've felt such a significant change in my life these past two weeks. I felt calmer, more aware and mindful of my surroundings and purpose in life.

If I had but one criticism, it would be that I felt that the last couple of chapters were slightly unnecessary. It made the book a little longer than it ought to be, but I guess the author still had much to say.

Overall, it's a pretty decent and easy-to-read book and there are plenty more tips in the book apart from the ones I've mentioned. I'd recommend anyone curious to know how to live life in the presence of God to read it.

Get your copy today from Amazon, Book Depository or InterVarsity Press!

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Book of Hims by Ng Yi-Sheng

This is a fascinating book which is a compilation of the different men who'd been significant in the author's life - current and past lovers, mentors, authority and religious figures and more. 

I really enjoyed the poem referencing various quotes from the late Lee Kuan Yew. It reads very different from the person he was but yet the words were all completely from him. (Hint: The poem reads a little bit sado-masochistic. Very cool.) Check out my YouTube video below for a brief preview.

The riffs on Jesus was interesting too considering that the author doesn't identify as a Christian. But they really resonated.

I thought the transliterated Tang poems were an interesting addition. I recognised 3 out of the 7 and thought that was a great accomplishment. Though I must say that one must have both the background of Chinese literature and the ability to "hear" the transliteration to properly appreciate them.

61 was pretty cool too, a reference to bus 61 which was a #SingPoWriMo prompt. For the uninitiated, SingPoWriMo is a yearly event properly known as the Singapore Poetry Writing Month where a bunch of people come together on Facebook to write a bunch of poems following the prompt of the day. It's great fun and a couple of poems from this collection were part of that effort.

It's a pretty good collection of poems, just a tiny bit uneven at times, but not bad nonetheless. I like the experiments with the sonnets and ghazals. Pretty nice to see meter (which I adore). 

If you enjoyed my review, you can get the book from Books Actually by clicking here.

Here's my YouTube review:

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

'Others' is not a race by Melissa De Silva

Can I first comment on how gorgeous this cover is? It's essentially a cake broken up into 4 parts - 310g butter, 200g sugar, 150 sugee, 12.5ml vanilla essence representing the four major races in Singapore. It's simple, elegant, and captures the population breakdown so very well.

I sat in at the book launch of 'Others' is not a race as part of the Singapore Writers Festival last weekend and was intrigued by the premise of the book and promptly went to purchase it.

It is essentially a collection of short stories by Melissa De Silva about the Eurasian experience in Singapore. She describes in beautiful prose how it is like to make a sugee cake to defend her heritage after encountering a lousy cake in a cafe with her friends.

Also, she elaborates about how it was like being mistaken for being Indian in primary school and how she was forced to take Malay as a Mother Tongue as well.

I thought the speculative science fiction story at the end of the book was really good and very interesting to read (I've always loved sci-fi).

Then there is the rant in the piece that inspired the book title, Letter to Anonymous Policy Maker (RE: 'Others' is Not a Race) where she lets it rip, and allowed me to understand how Eurasians have always been forgotten in the national narrative even though we've had a Eurasian President (Benjamin Sheares) and an Olympic gold (Joseph Schooling) from the community.

This book was an eye-opener and allowed me to plumb the depths of how it is like being Eurasian and it certainly helped that the writing was clear, clever, and very engaging.

It's part history, part memoir, and wholly captivating.

Friday, November 3, 2017

A letter to my Congregation by Ken Wilson

I've read many books that describes the tension of being gay and Christian, such as Ed Shaw's Same Sex Attraction and the Church, Nate Collins' All but Invisible, Christopher and Angela Yuan's by Out of a Far Country, and Deborah Barr's All Things New, but this was the first book from the perspective of a pastor.

Ken Wilson is a straight pastor who started wrestling with the question of whether to include LGBTQ+ folk into his church after maintaining a traditional view (that they should be excluded from membership) for the longest time.

He dislikes the way that the culture war has framed the issue, namely that people are either liberal or conservative, affirming or non-affirming. He maintains that there is a third way - that one can be accepting of gay Christians even if they disagreed with their decisions. He says that that's the way of Christ - love and acceptance.

So it seems somewhat schizophrenic when he analyses the clobber verses and found them wanting. It seems then that he is saying that the Bible does not condemn homosexual relationships. Further on in the book, he says that he would be fine conducting a gay marriage as a pastor. The more conservative among us would maintain that he is bowing to cultural pressure, but this book carefully details his struggle with the entire issue, and his was definitely not a snap-decision but involved a long, drawn-out process that involved lots of Bible reading, prayer and discernment.

What I found interesting about this book was that the author emphasizes how hard it is to live life as a pastor dealing with such issues. Like whether to baptise an "openly gay" person. He says that the people who casually throw barbs online or in real life don't usually face these people and deny them communion for example. So it seems to me that a large part of his change in position came about because of his interaction with LGBTQ folk. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it isn't Bible exegesis either.

A final point I'd like to make is that this book leans heavily evangelical in that the author liberally mentions how he is "led by the Spirit" in several situations and I guess that was a factor in his "conversion" as well. Interesting, but it might be alien to those from more cerebral traditions, such as the Presbyterians.

Well, it's not a bad read but not the most informative. I'd recommend Nate Collins' All but Invisible for a more detailed exposition on the topic. But it does show us how tough a pastor's job can be.

Get your copy from Amazon or Book Depository today.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Death Wish by Gwee Li Sui

I got to know about Gwee Li Sui through his funny poems, such as The Other Merlion and Friends and the more recent Haikuku. But Death Wish is a whole different ballgame, in a league of its own.

At the book launch last week, Gwee revealed that this book has been 20 years in the making and the genesis of it was at the start of his academic career, when he realised his voice was fracturing. The first section, titled The Professor, gives us an insight into how he realised academia was not what it was made out to be. It feels not so much angst-filled, as someone frustrated with the state of how things are, yet powerless to enact change. The following is a glimpse of the fascinating first section:

The second section, The Lovers, was a result of seeing couples who were at one time in love, getting divorced. It is a tough situation to be friends with both parties yet unable to see them together as an item like they once were. Gwee told us at the book launch that the section, like the rest of the book, is simultaneously about him, and yet not about him. Although he draws on the lives of his friends, he also dug deep into himself and the relationship he'd once experienced and poured it onto the pages. To quote Alex Vause from Orange is the New Black, "Love is Pain" basically summarises this section.

Next comes The Philosopher, which is one of my favourite sections because I had to read, and then reread the poems to try to discern the meaning behind them. My favourite was "What I mean when I say 'I'":

I think this section really lives up to its name as it made me slow down and contemplate not only the poems themselves but beyond them.

Then came fourth section, The Solider. The inspiration for it was the period after September 11, 2001, with the opening poem bringing the said incident into raw focus. Gwee mentioned that it was strange that the people in Singapore seemed to be unaffected by the war on terrorism and that was brought to bear in the poem, "Dream Sequence" which can also describe the nonchalance of Singaporeans even today.

The Preacher is the next section that follows which dealt with how the Singaporean landscape of the Christian faith that he holds dear to had changed dramatically after a few years abroad. Rich Jesus and Meeting God are two pieces that really impacted me and is an interesting intersection between faith and poetry (having only read stuff from John Donne and Anne Lee Tsu Pheng from this genre before).

Finally, the book ends with The Golden Child, which was the most interesting to me as it was more transparent, with poems about the AWARE Saga in 2009 and the NLB Saga in 2014. For Singaporeans, those were significant events and I really liked those two pieces.

All in all, I'd say this is a rather good book of poetry which requires a little bit of effort to unpack. I hope this review will aid you in the reading of the book, having given the reader some context into how the book came to be.

If I had but one criticism, it would (once again), be the rather "creepy cover" featured (as commented by most of my friends). I did ask the author about it who said that it highlighted the psychological aspect of the book and the publisher also remarked that he found it a very arresting image. I'd have preferred something less disturbing. But to each his own. And this is another excellent lesson on how we should not judge a book by its cover.

Well, if you're interested, you can get your copy from Kinokuniya or Popular Bookstore today.

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

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

With a beautiful cover encasing an equally beautiful story, Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan is a stellar read.

I thought I would take a long time to read it but finished it within a day because the story just drew me in. It's an interesting book, and I because I love all things Japanese, having it set in some small town with Japanese characters drew me in.

The novel centers around Ren Ishida, a young man whose sister died in mysterious circumstances. He travels to the small town she lived in to tie up some loose ends. He then ends up taking the job his sister worked at (in a cram school) and tries to trace the paths she'd taken, in an effort to uncover the mystery surrounding her death.

There is a bit of magical realism hidden in the dreams Ren has, which helped move the story along a little. I'd have preferred to have it blended in real life, but each author has their own style, so I won't complain too much.

I thought the writing was just a tiny bit uneven at the beginning, but sorted itself out after a while.
If you like a good read, here's the book to get!

Disclaimer: I received an Advance Uncopyedited Edition from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Below is a short video review I made for the book.

Dream Storeys by Clara Chow

Dream Storeys by Clara Chow is a book with a refreshing new concept.

Inspired by her friend, the author interviewed a couple of architects and asked them what their dream building were if they had no budget nor space constraints. With their answers, she constructed several different stories based on their descriptions.

She is a talented writer, covering a wide variety of genres and I particularly liked the Sci-Fi short stories she composed.

The Car Park is one of my favourites which chronicled the relationship between a son and his architect father and which had a poignant ending.

The Wheel was another amazing story. It features the world's largest Ferris wheel, the Singapore Flyer, and reimagines it as a political prison housing a large number of inmates in the not so distant future. It was a rather long read, but I was on the edge of my seat all throughout. If The Hunger Games and Survivor married and had a child together, this would be it. I liked how realistic it was and how in a dystopian future, this is a Singapore that I can imagine would turn out.

According to the author, after interviewing the architects, some tales came pretty quickly and organically after the chats. Others gestated a while longer. And some interviews never yielded any stories, yet all the architects had inspiring views which she learnt a lot from.

I thought the book was a really clever idea and the execution was excellent. I'd recommend everyone to read this book, especially aspiring architects.

Get Dream Storeys from Ethos Books today! Click here to go to their online shop.

I also did a YouTube video review on the book, check it out here:

Buffering by Hannah Hart

This book has been one of the most incredible things I've read lately. It's resonated so much with me - let me tell you why.

For the uninformed, Hannah Hart is a YouTube celebrity, but her journey started rather accidentally when she made a video to cheer up a friend many years ago, which ended up becoming a viral hit.
This book is her memoir and traces her story from when she was a kid, all the way to college and beyond.

As a child, she grew up with her mentally unstable mother, but was a happy kid growing up, unaware of that fact, together with her elder sister. Their parents were divorced and she briefly had a stepfather who was a great influence, but sadly he left after a while, unable to take the pressures of the unpredictable wife.

She visited her father regularly and he was a staunch Christian, part of a conservative cult. That's how she came to struggle between her sexual orientation and her faith. It came to a head in college where she found a girlfriend and eventually accepted that she is gay.

I found the chapter Shadowboxer, a defining read for me. Like her, I wrestle with my faith and sexuality (details over here) and found her stories strangely comforting. It helps to know that I am not alone in this.

She also talks honestly about the subject of her own depression and anxiety which also spoke to me. I think people don't realise the impact a celebrity has when he or she reveals that they too, like normal people, have mental health issues. For me, dealing with bipolar disorder has been a rollercoaster ride (details found here) and books of the subject have been rare. So having someone, anyone, talk about any mental health issue candidly and without shame has been very reassuring. Thank you Hannah.

Further in, she deals with self-harm. It is a delicate subject to talk about and she discusses it openly and honestly. I applaud her for that.

Near the end of the book, she tackles the problem facing individuals in America of sending their loved ones to mental health care institutions. People there face difficulty admitting them into those institutions for a variety of reasons and the sick person is unable to get the quality care and attention that he or she requires. This is the system she fought against and she provides a helpful list of readings and references.

I think that regardless of whether you are a fan of Hannah or not, this is a book everyone should read. You'll come away transformed.

I spoke briefly about my book in the YouTube video below:

Singapore Love Stories by Various Authors

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, why not surprise the one you love with a book that can keep them intrigued for a long time instead of perishable flowers or chocolates?

This new collection of short stories by Monsoon Books lasted me a good part of a month as I read one story a day for 17 days.

Filled with love stories of every kind, from the secretive courtship of immigrants such as Bangladeshi construction workers with Filipino maids to an ATM Aunt Agony dispensing love advice, this book has quite a variety of stories of every sort.

I particularly liked the futuristic one titled Space, Time and Chicken Rice by Kane Wheatley-Holder which was about an astronaut who got sent into the future.

Also topping my list is Cake by Lee Jing-Jing which is about a pastry chef, deciding not to marry his girlfriend after his father's death after reconnecting with an army buddy and embracing his true orientation.

Most of the stories are refreshing and a breath of fresh air. Perhaps it's the large number of foreign names in this collection that lend a new perspective to love in Singapore.

I don't read fiction much, but this I can say, this is certainly a good book to give to a lover of short stories this Valentine's Day.

Get your copy today at Monsoon Books today!

I also talked a bit more about other stories over at my YouTube book review channel, check out my video here:

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

Binge by Tyler Oakley

I've been a Tyler Oakley fan since approximately 2 years ago and when I learnt that he wrote a book, I absolutely had to get it.

So after a long year that was 2016, I rewarded myself with my favourite Christmas present - Binge.
This was a fantastic read. It's a sorta memoir, interspersed with nostalgic photos and never-ending sass. It's funny, witty, and altogether Tyler Oakley.

My favourite chapters were:

The Gay Chapter - in which he shares how his friend outed him, how he honed a technique he used to come out to his friends, and how he dealt with his homophobic Christian father.

Thotry of My Life - in which he expounds on how it feels like discovering he has a lisp.

What Michelle Obama Smells Like - in which he talks about how it was like preparing for the interview with the former First Lady and the hilarious mad comedy it was.

I finished the book within a week as it was an easy read and I tried to pace myself so that I could savour the amazing and revealing stories for as long as I could.

I'd encourage every Tyler Oakley fan to get this book. It's BRILLIANT and 110% unabashed Tyler Oakley.

You've slayed it Tyler!

Check out the YouTube book review where I give away a free copy of Binge to a lucky viewer! (Contest ends 14 February 2017. Good luck!)

Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church by Various Authors

First off, this is going to be a long post, so grab a cup of tea or coffee (or juice if that's what you prefer) before you settle down to read this.

This book comprises the affirming view, in which the authors argue that same-sex relationships and marriages among Christians are permissible, and traditional view where they argue that it's not. Each view is written from the point of view of both a theologian and a biblical scholar, so be prepared, this is a somewhat technical read. Although I must say that it's surprisingly readable even for the layman.
The authors are well-qualified to be contributors in this excellent volume and here's a bit about them lifted from the introduction of the book:

Affirming view

Dr. William Loader (Dr theol, Mainz, Germany)
Widely regarded as the foremost scholar on sexuality in ancient Jerusalem and Christianity, he has written five scholarly volumes on the topic, which he recently summed up in a popular-level volume, Making Sense of Sex.

Bill argues for an affirming view of same-sex relations; however, he fervently believes that we must take the Bible seriously and that the Bible prohibits all forms of same-sex relations. What the Bible says and what the Bible means are very clear - same-sex relations are wrong.

But every faithful application of the Bible to contemporary ethics must consider advancements in biology, anthropology, sociology, and other fields related to sexuality and gender. For hermeneutical and ethical reasons, Loader affirms the sanctity of faithful, monogamous, same-sex relations.

Megan DeFranza (PhD, Marquette University)
An emerging leader in the theological study of sex, gender, and sexuality, her pioneering book Sex Difference in Christian Theology explores how intersex persons challenge the assumption that all people are born clearly or exclusively male or female.

Studying the complexity of biological sex development and the challenges of interpreting the Bible for contemporary theology and ethics opened the door for her to reconsider the non-affirming view of homosexuality that she grew up with.

Megan argues that the prohibition passages are better understood when read in the light of ancient sexual landscapes, dominated as they were by human trafficking, economic exploitation, and differences of power related to assumptions about gender and social class. Biblical passages are not focused on consensual, monogamous, same-sex unions.

Traditional view:

Wesley Hill (PhD, Durham University)
An accomplished biblical scholar and theologian who has written several books and essays related to the topic. Moreover, Wesley is a self-identified gay Christian who has a lot of skin in the game, as it were - as you will see from his opening paragraphs of his essay.

Wesley argues for a non-affirming view of same-sex relations by revisiting the prohibition passages (Lev 18:22; 20:13, Rom 1:26-27, 1 Cor 6:9, 1 Tim 1:9-10) and setting them in conversation with an overarching theology of marriage, sex, and procreation, and enlists Augustine as his primary dialogue partner.

Stephen R. Holmes
A prolific theologian with a long list of highly acclaimed published works, Stephen's essay focuses on theology of sex and marriage and argues that the so-called prohibition passages are important, yet secondary to the debate.

A Christian theology of sex and marriage alone rules out the sanctity of same-sex relations on the grounds that sex and marriage are oriented toward procreation, and same-sex couples cannot procreate. Stephen looks to Augustine's influential treatment of marriage as the foundation for subsequent Christian theological reflection on homosexuality.

Even though Stephen argues for a non-affirming position, he explores the possibility of some sort of pastoral accommodation for gay and lesbian couples in the church, similar to the way Christian leaders have accommodated heterosexual couples who have been remarried after divorce.

My review

And that's basically a summary of the entire book.

However, I'd like to point out the interesting bit about the book. After every chapter where each author expounds on their position (as mentioned above), we have the other 3 contributors giving a robust response to the author's position.

They do so with great civility, which is a great contrast to the debates on homosexuality we have in our society today. Yet, they do not compromise on their own stance which might be firmly opposed to the author's.

Then, the original author provides a rejoinder where he/she responses to the response. Reading the dialogue created in this format is not only insightful, but also very interesting. More so than just reading only the original author's piece. Props to Zondervan for pioneering this format of discussion!

I will focus this review on the more interesting takeaways I got out of the book.

The prohibition passages

William Loader begins the book by exploring in great detail the various prohibition passages found in the Bible. So much so that I thought he held the traditional view.

If you've got no idea what they are, by the end of it, you'd be very well-versed in them.
What I was surprised to find was that he held an affirming view. Get the book to find out why.

The intersex

Megan DeFranza is an expert on the topic of the intersex and how it intersects with Christian theology. Having read her first book, Sex Difference in Christian Theology, I was very excited when I found out she was a contributor in this volume and I was certainly not disappointed.

In her chapter, she points out how the intersex is not alone in nature. Just as amphibians who live both on land and in water, dawn/dusk which blends both day and night, the intersex are neither male nor female.

Who are they then to marry?

So DeFranza argues that although "Adam and Eve may be the majority story, but they are not the exclusive model for what it means to be human. By extension, heterosexual marriage can be seen as the majority story, not the exclusive model."

Also, she expounds on the uses and origins of the word malakoi and arsenokoitais, explaining that they could mean effeminate and refer to men as being "soft ones" as they were like women and that they lack self-control. This was a big thing in ancient cultures as women were seen to be less than humans and to be associated as one was the greatest insult.

Something interesting I learnt was the fact that we might not want to read arsenokoitai as a reference to Leviticus 18 and 20 because compound words to not always mean what the sum of their parts suggests. As English speakers, we know that "understanding" has nothing to do with "standing" or location "beneath." Here she quotes from Dale Martin, the author of Sex and the Single Savior.
I thought she made a strong case for the affirming view.

Spiritual Friendship

Similarly, I've been a fan of Wesley Hill since he published his first book, Washed and Waiting, which was a mini-memoir of his life as a gay Christian and also includes some theological reflections.
I've also read his subsequent one, Spiritual Friendship, where he explores the history of friendships of ancient Christians. It also draws from areas of his own life where as a celibate gay Christian man, he is committed to living his life out with a close heterosexual couple, sharing a house together.

In Two Views on Homosexuality, he elaborates a little bit about what Spiritual Friendship is at the end of his chapter and I thought it was a great introduction to something that might be foreign to a great majority of Christians in this day and age where friendship seems ephemeral as people move across a country for work.

Augustinian view on marriage

Stephen Holmes does a good job expounding on the Augustinian view on marriage. Before reading this, I had no idea what this was.

Also, he explores the topic of marriage in Christian history in great depth.

Finally, I thought it was very gracious of him to admit that even after an extensive study of this topic, he might be wrong about it all.

In conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book even though it was rather technical at certain parts.

I would highly encourage everyone to get a copy of this book if they are interested in finding out both the affirming and traditional views of homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church.

Also, it provides the common arguments for and against each view and that alone was worth the price of this book.

Check out my YouTube book review here:

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

After You by Cyril Wong

I've always found Cyril Wong's poetry to be rather cryptic (what little I've read of them) so it was rather unusual for me to purchase one of his books from Books Actually when I was there recently.

But this one is different from the rest. A cursory reading made me rather interested in this thin volume and I felt compelled to buy it.

This is a collection of poems devoted to his partner and the thread of dedicated love runs seamlessly through the entire book. Regardless of whether the poem dealt with the themes of death, life in Singapore, gayness, the intense love for his partner is apparent.

I was gushing about it to my friend who teaches English Literature and she commented that the poems were rather "romantic". I feel that they are so much more than that. They are exuding affection with a dash of sobering reality. I must admit that I don't do the book justice.

As such, I would recommend that everyone read this book. My favourite is "Temple", what about yours?

Still Life by Gillian Marchenko

Still Life is a memoir of a woman living with depression. It resonates with me because I have also been through the debilitating effects of the same condition.

This is the life story of a mother and wife to a pastor and it is honest and unflinching. She spends days lying in bed, unable to parent her children, leaving everything to the care of her husband. Once, her daughter even had to ask her to come downstairs for dinner, only to be rejected by the author.

Fortunately, she eventually sees a therapist and a psychiatrist and begins the arduous climb back to a more normal life. Her therapist challenges her and talks her through her depressive episodes.

I think this book also teaches one how to be a friend to one who is chronically depressed. The author had a friend who accepted her just as she was, never passing any judgement, just letting the author know she had someone she could talk to whenever she needed to unload. That is precious.

It is a sobering read and I would encourage those suffering from depression, their friends, and their family to get a copy of this book to better understand the illness and how it might be managed.

Get your copy from the InterVarsity website and use the Coupon Code: WEB-301 for a 40% discount today! (Offer valid till 19 June 2017)

Check out my YouTube review her:

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

Get Lucky by Various Authors

I guess this book is my first extensive exposure to Filipino culture. I've always had colleagues who were from The Philippines but have never asked them to talk about their life and culture juxtaposed to living in Singapore in great detail.

This book does just that.

I enjoyed reading the poems, although they were of uneven quality - some were really good, others mediocre. Yet all of them revealed a slice of the author's life. Some were of missing their family back home, some were of delicious food they were used to.

The short stories were fascinating too. I wonder how real they were. Seemed pretty much based on reality to me.

The essays were most interesting. I particularly liked the one that detailed the life of an Filipino academic teaching at a local Singaporean university for a stint and which compared the two countries.

Also included in the book are some entries by famous Singaporean writers. I loved Edwin Thumboo's but found Desmond Kon's rather bewildering. To each his own I suppose.

You can find out more about the production process of this book at the Get Lucky Anthology website.

If you'd like to buy a copy, head over to the Ethos website to get one today!

Also check out my YouTube review here:

Saving the Bible from Ourselves by Glenn R. Paauw

The basic premise of this book is simple: The Bible's form has been corrupted by human hands and we are today unable to read the Bible as it was originally read by the 1st century believers. Our Christianity has been shaped by cut up verses and is suffering as a result. The solution? Reintroduce the Elegant Bible sans verse and chapter numbers once more.

I found this an immediately captivating read from the get go.

As someone who'd been involved in Bible publishing for the past twenty years, Paauw noticed a disturbing trend on the rise: Christians and even churches tend to dole out Bible McNuggets instead of serving a proper, full-fledged feast from our favourite book.

The biggest takeaway I had from this book was the importance of reading the Bible as a whole. When dissected and taken apart, one can read anything he or she wishes from it. One would tend to cherry pick one's favourite verses and ignore the rest. The form of the Bible affects the Christianity we practice. When sliced and spliced, we have a dried and cut up, distilled faith that is far from nourishing and distant from the purposes of the original authors.

Learn about how chapter and verse numbers came to be and why they are detrimental to the reading of the Bible. Learn about how the Bible should be read and how you can appreciate its nuances.
I did find the middle part of the book to be a tad heavy and slightly draggy, but that only lasted for two chapters.

It was to my extreme delight that there was a viable alternative suggested by the author and I will soon order it.

I would recommend all Christians to read this book in order to gain a better understanding of the Bible you are reading and how you can get more out of it.

Get your copy from the InterVarsity website and use the Coupon Code: 506-577 for a 40% discount today!

Check out my YouTube review here:

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

Kappa Quartet by Daryl Qilin Yam

Kappa Quartet is unlike any novel I’ve ever read. It’s got the magical realism elements of Murakami weaved together with the page-turning anticipation of J. K. Rowling.
Each of the 8 chapters is narrated by a different character, which gives different facets of the story. The book is about Alvin, a Singaporean, who was born without a soul. He lived normally all his life until a visit to Japan made him realise what he lacked. He began to desire to have a soul and then went around to get one. I’ll leave out the ending so that you can read the book and discover it for yourself.
As a fan of all things Japanese, I loved the setting and the many details scattered throughout the book. It was also my first time learning about kappas which are spirits, or demons if you like, hanging around water bodies. You might find out more from the link to Wikipedia I attached in the previous sentence, but if you’d like to gain the full impact of the story, just go into Kappa Quartet blind and learn about kappas from the book itself.  I think that would make for a more interesting experience.
This is a book I’m gonna read again and again just like the Harry Potter series.
Absolutely LOVED it.
You can get your copy from the Epigram website.
Also, check out my YouTube review here:

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach

I was alerted to this book while reading an interview starring Alan Jacobs who has just published a new book, "How to Think", so I decided to borrow it from the library.

It does not disappoint.

I learnt about how we think we know more than we do. Try explaining how a zipper work in detail. Or a toilet. (The book actually explains to us how a toilet works and you'd be surprised how even people who seem very certain will miss out a detail or two - I did an experiment and asked a friend, so you're welcome).

The authors then explain why this is dangerous - we read stories of plane crashes and ships running ashore due to an over-familiarity coupled with a lack of understanding of the technology that powers these modern machines.

And when you find out that people who are against genetically modified food not only want those types of food to be labelled when surveyed, but also insisted on having food containing DNA to be labelled, you know that perhaps they don't know as much as they think.

Politics is also like that, and the authors suggested that instead of a pure democracy, where people might vote for things they do not have a complete understanding of, having a representative democracy where people choose those most well-informed to make decisions for them might be a better alternative.

Yet, we also find out how humans managed to progress because of the fact that they shared their knowledge.

Filled with witty remarks throughout, this makes for an entertaining read.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who'd like to find out what gaps in knowledge they might have and what they can do to remedy it.