Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sugarbread by Balli Kaur Jaswal


Sugarbread is a tour de force by Balli Kaur Jaswal and I believe it's one of the better #SingLit novels out in the market today.

I first noticed it as it was among the bumper crop of books published by Epigram as part of their first Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2016 but I didn't pay it much attention as I have a huge pile of books to be read.

When my friend Tania De Rozario praised it effusively on Twitter earlier this year, I decided I had to take a look at it.

And my, oh my, what a story it contains!

*Spoiler alert*

This novel is about a girl, Pin, and her relationship with her mother who pours her emotions into her cooking such that her daughter can taste how she felt at any one moment. It is set in 1990, and describes Singapore well. The writing is not nostalgic, but is an accurate snapshot of Singapore with a pungent wet market experience, coupled with life in the HDB heartlands.

The story takes an interesting turn as Pin's grandmother, ill and about to die, decides to spend her remaining days at her house. We see how that changes her mother who no longer cooks delicious meals but makes roti that the grandmother likes.

When she dies, the story unravels and we find out why Pin's mother suffered so.

~

I loved this book and the above summary does not do it justice.

Coming from the perspective of a minority of a minority in Singapore (Pin is a Sikh and they speak Punjabi as opposed to Tamil and are often mistaken to be of the same group when they are in fact, different), it is a refreshing yet familiar take on life in school.

I could relate to it very much as I have friends who are although intelligent and otherwise kind people, make racist jokes casually, like it was the most normal thing in the world. Pin experiences racism of the worst sort, bitter, vindictive, and sometimes she swallows the injustice, but eventually she one day explodes on her classmate Abigail who well deserved it.

I think this book provides an interesting insight into several things all at once, without it being clunky or pretentious. There is the concept of owning one's identity as Sikh and being part of a minority group and how one negotiates with that; of being a girl playing football amongst a group of boys and suffering for it; of being a daughter of a longsuffering mother; of a student in a Catholic school questioning her faith; and so much more.

I would encourage all to grab a copy of this book, whether from the library or the bookstore, and savour this marvellous Singaporean dish slowly. You'll enjoy it, trust me.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Gone Case by Dave Chua and Koh Hong Teng


I first heard about Gone Case either through a friend, or perhaps reading about it online in an article, I can't remember. What I do remember is that when I saw it at Kinokuniya, I thought it might be a good read, so I bought it.

As far as graphic novels go, this isn't the prettiest of them. But underneath the ordinary characters lie a poignant story about a boy about to sit for his PSLE, how his life played out between his playful friend, his grandmother, and his parents.

Set in the HDB heartlands, this is a read that will probably resonate with many Singaporeans.

The black and white illustrations and accompanying plot were so plain I stopped reading after a couple of pages when I first started.

However, when one ploughs on, we discover a story that tugs at your heartstrings, probably because it could have been a story that is easily one's own.

I liked the part when the main character was made prefect, his actions would have been my own had I been made a prefect when I was younger.

I must say although I didn't take to the book in the beginning, I began to appreciate Koh's drawings as I continued through the book. He has managed to capture Singapore pretty accurately, in both the good and (sometimes) ugly sides of it.

I think this would be a graphic novel that would be an interesting read for most Singaporeans, and would also offer a glimpse of local life for foreigners.

Pick up your copy today!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

When Changing Nothing Changes Everything by Laurie Polich Short



Here's an excerpt:

"I remember the morning well. It was a few months after I had moved to Santa Barbara, California, and the pastor I was working for invited me to give the sermon at my church. People were still getting to know me, so I decided to start by sharing a typical scene from my life. Here's how I began:

I got up this morning in my apartment, and I was all alone. I have no husband, so there are no kids. The owner recently put a "For Sale" sign in the front yard, so I probably won't be able to stay in my place much longer. The rent will go up, and I'll have to find something else. Dating at my age is not easy, because everyone you meet has baggage. It's just a matter of choosing what luggage you can live with. Whether it's a divorce, shared kids, or the reasons that accompany prolonged singleness, it's been impossible to find anyone I am interested in. I love it here, but working at a church is one of the hardest jobs a single person can have. You feel your singleness everywhere you go.

I paused, and an awkward silence fell across the crowd. Noticing the pastor staring at me with a look of wonderment (not the good kind), I took a deep breath and started again:

I got up this morning and I had the whole place to myself. It was quiet, and I could do whatever I wanted. The "For Sale" sign is still in front of my place, so I'll be able to live there another month. If it sells, there's a chance I might find something even better. Dating is much easier at my age because you know yourself more. You are better equipped to make a good choice. You also have a lot more grace for the people you date because you realize that circumstances make life complicated. And my job? Working at a church is such a gift! What a blessing to have an extended family in the place where you work when there isn't one at home.

I should have stopped my sermon right there. Because this was the only part of the talk people remembered. It's been ten years since I gave that illustration, and there are still some people who remember it."

As you might have noticed from the above excerpt, this is an excellent book that teaches the reader how to reframe various situations in one's life.

The book is arranged in 4 different sections as follows:

Lens 1: The Big View

Lens 2: The Present View

Lens 3: The Rear View

Lens 4: The Higher View

In the first part of the book, the reader learns how to see things with a bigger picture in mind. Small, inconsequential actions made by us today may have a tremendous impact in the future. We read about the stories of different individuals where this has proven to be true.

Next, we learn about how to be in the present and enjoy the moment we are in. This may seem trite to some people, but the author manages to mould this section in such as way that is earnest and heartwarming.

Then, we look to the past to learn how it affects us presently.

Finally, we realise that God often views things differently from us. There is purpose for any pain we might currently be experiencing now and knowing this helps us cope with it.

These different parts of a book provided a clear picture of the various lenses we should put on when attempting to reframe parts of our lives.

Apart from the fact that it was slightly confusing to learn that she was single (in the beginning of the book), to being engaged (in the middle), and then having it fail, and then eventually getting married (in the middle and at the end), it was a good book with clear examples and vivid anecdotes.

All in all, I would say this is an easy and informative read that would be useful to anyone needing a paradigm shift. Get your book from IVP today!





Disclaimer: The publisher provided a free copy of this book for an honest review.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sex & Money by Paul David Tripp


I've always been interested in reading more about the topic of sex in a Christian setting which faithful readers of this blog might have noticed in previous reviews of "Same Sex Attraction and the Church", "Sex and the Supremacy of Christ", "Meet Mr. Smith", "Sex Difference in Christian Theology", "Counterfeit Gods" just to name a few.

But this one takes the cake.

By popular speaker Paul David Tripp, this book discusses the topic of sex and money from a Christian perspective.

Unlike other books that take a prescriptive approach on how to handle sex, doling out advice such as being accountable and having boundaries and all, this book takes a bigger picture view on the topic.

We learn how, strange as it may seem, sex is ultimately about worship, and that pleasure is God-glorifying. I can already see some of you shaking your heads in disbelief, but hey come on, just give it a chance. Here's a tiny extract:

"God's creative intention was to bring glory to himself by the pleasure that he created. Each pleasurable thing was perfectly created and designed to reflect and point to the greater glory of the one who created it. These things were designed not only to be pleasure inducing but also for a deeply spiritual purpose. They were meant to remind you of him. They were meant to amaze you not just with their existence but with the wisdom, power, and glory of the one who made them. They were put on earth to be one of God's means of getting your attention and capturing your heart.


You see, you will never understand pleasure if you think that it is an end in itself. Pleasure is pleasurable, and you should never feel guilty that you have enjoyed its pleasure or that you want more. This is all according to God's design. But you and I must understand that pleasure has a purpose beyond the momentary enjoyment it will give us. Pleasure exists as a sign of the existence of one in whose arms I will enjoy the only pleasure that can satisfy and give rest to my heart. Pleasure exists to put God in my face and remind me that I was made by him and for him. Pleasure, like every other created thing was designed to put God at the center, not just of my physical joy but also of the deepest thoughts and motives of my heart. Pleasure exists to stimulate worship, not of the thing but of the one who created the thing. The glory of every form of pleasure is meant to point me to the glory of God.

The pleasure of sex is meant to remind me of the glory of my intimate union with Christ that only grace could produce. The pleasure of food is meant to motivate me to seek the heart-satisfying sustenance of the bread and wine that is Christ. The pleasure of all things beautiful is designed to cause me to gaze upon the Lord, who is perfect in beauty in every way. The pleasure of sound is meant to cause me to listen to the sounds of the one whose every utterance is a thing of beauty. The pleasure of touch was created to remind me of the glory of the one whose touch alone has the power to comfort, heal, and transform. The pleasure of human affection is meant to induce me to celebrate the glory of God's eternal, underserved, self-sacrificing love. The pleasure of rest is meant to draw my heart toward the one who in his life, death, and resurrection purchased for me an eternal sabbath of rest. 

Pleasure doesn't detract from God's glory. It doesn't necessarily deaden your heart. Rather, it is one of God's means of reminding you of the satisfying glories that can only be found in him. Pleasure in Eden and now, like every other created thing, was created to lead you and me to worship."

In the later part of the book the author dwells on the topic of money and how it has become an all-consuming passion for many people today, including Christians.

He then offers advice on how, as Christians, we might approach money with eternity in mind. After all, we won't take any of it when we go.

This book reads like how the writer preaches, in a sensible, easy-to-read style. However, the content can be slightly dense at times, which prompted me to reread several pages as I journeyed my way through the book.

All in all, I would say this book is the best of its kind, on par with Timothy Keller's "Counterfeit Gods".

I'd recommend all Christians to read it to develop a broader perspective on the topics of sex and money.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Altered Straits by Kevin Martens Wong



Altered Straits is one of the best sci-fi books I've ever read. And I've read a couple. Although not everything out there, fiction is just not my cuppa tea these days. In any case, I just had to buy this book with my latest paycheck after reading a teaser that the publisher put out that got me hooked.

Set in Singapore, the story has 2 main characters, Titus, who is a soldier in the year 2047, and Naufal, a merlionsman, also a type of soldier, set in 1947.

In the future, Singapore and most of the world have been destroyed at the feet of the mighty Concordance. Titus is part of the resistance, fighting to keep the country alive. He has a secret that he keeps hidden from his family and colleagues though - a lover named Akash. Somewhat unsurprisingly, being gay, or having a gay relationship seems to be illegal in the country even in the somewhat dystopian future. I really liked the character development of Titus throughout the book.

Naufal is the younger brother whose elder brother, Nabhan, enlisted to be a merlionsman before him. In battle, his merlion died, and because of pair-bonding (in which the human and creature have their minds are blended together) Nabhan was never the same again. He can barely feed himself and when he speaks, it's incomprehensible. Naufal fears that the same would happen to him and nearly ran away the night before the day of his enlistment.

The novel tracks the journey of both characters, each called to defend Singapore from a foreign enemy using the best of their abilities.

At the end of the novel, using a time-travelling device, their paths eventually meet and the ending was bittersweet.

The story kept me at the edge of my seat and because it alternated smoothly between Titus and Naufal, it didn't get boring at all. The people and scenes felt very realistic too even though it was set in both an imagined past and future.

I must say the merlions were an interesting touch. What the author proposed certainly sounds feasible to me in the next 50-100 years. Would actually be kinda interesting to see a real merlion he described in the future.

This is the first book I've read about sci-fi set in Singapore. It's brilliantly done and I must say credit probably goes to both the author and his editors. Keep up the good work Epigram!

If you want to get your copy of this book, you can order it here today!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Haikuku by Gwee Li Sui


This book of poems is one of the best haiku books I've read. Not that I've read many, maybe about 3? Hahaha. Anyways let's get started with the review. 

Gwee has been posting haikus on his Facebook page for some time now and this collection features many of them. 


It's arranged chronologically and the astute Singaporean that's been keeping up with current affairs for the past couple of years would probably recognise what he refers to in the pithy poems. 

Covering almost every major incident in the sunny island from the haze, to Amos Yee, to the Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, to the Little India riots, to elections to Joseph Schooling and more, this is a short history of the past half decade of Singapore. 

I would recommend reading it twice. The first time I read, I simply looked at the haikus and smiled with delight on how he managed to compress each event into 17 syllables. 


The second time I read, I referred to the titles of the haikus that only appear at the end of the book to figure out exactly what he was referring to. There were some that were rather foreign to me you see. 

I think this would make an excellent gift to anyone and is a small and light book that's easy to put in your bag or briefcase to read on the train. 

It's a book that can be read again and again. I am reading it for the third time now and it's still as entertaining. 

I guess one of the drawback is that the poems might feel a bit dated after a while. I already felt it in one or two of the earlier pieces. I guess only time will tell if these poems will age as well as fine wine does. 


Although the price tag is somewhat steep ($19.90 at Kinokuniya), the book contains 120 poems. So for the Singaporean who wants things to be value for money, it's $0.166 per poem. And if you read it twice, it's $0.083 per poem. Very worth it right? Hahahaha, so go get your copy today! Trust me, you won't regret it. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood



Before there was Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games, there was Margaret Atwood, the original writer of our dystopian future.

This was a book donated to me by a friend who was a missionary abroad. And it had been sitting on my shelf for the past 2 years before I decided to read it on a whim a couple days back when my other non-fiction titles got a little boring.

What an amazing book it is!

I forgot how good Margaret Atwood can be. It's been a long time since I picked up one of her titles (I vaguely remember The Handmaid's Tale as a somewhat disturbing novel.)

Anyways, this book is about a time when The Waterless Flood (aka a pandemic not unlike SARS) took over the world. The Gardeners, a kinda Christian-environmentalist cult, had predicted it for years and were living their lives in preparation for that.

The novel centers around 2 main characters who take turns narrating, an older woman, Toby, and a younger girl, Ren. It traces their paths of how they came out of their vanilla lives and entered the realm of The Gardeners.

It was really interesting to read the hymns Atwood penned. Reminds me of the ones I sing in church. You can even listen to various renditions on YouTube!

All in all, it was an excellent book, it was so uncanny how even though the book is almost a decade old, it still seems rather relevant. I can imagine a future quite like the one she describes.

*Shivers*

Get your copy today, from the bookstore or the library!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Singapore Siu Dai 3 by Felix Cheong


This third installment of the Singapore Siu Dai series is possibly be the best one of the three.

I had a friend hankering to read it after showing her a couple of pages. And this is from someone who doesn't do much reading, that was how good it is.

In this new book, Felix pokes fun at current affairs in Singapore, and as usual, nothing and no one is spared. We read about the flaws in the education system, family planning, the civil service and elections among others. I read with a bit of discomfort (as a former member) on the two pieces lambasting City Harvest Church, but I guess everything's fair game.

On a different note, the illustrations by PMan are absolutely spot on. They were really hilarious! I think The Straits Times or Today should consider giving him a daily spot to entertain their Singaporean audience.

My all-time favourite piece was Seeing Stars and when I showed it to my sister and her good friend, they both chuckled in amusement.

Here is the excerpt and you can decide if you'd like to get a copy (you really should).

Seeing Stars

It had finally happened.

After weeks of near misses, months of nagging by her Ma, sometimes tripping over her own toes and once almost sideswiped by a car or cat (she couldn't tell, since she wasn't paying attention), Siok Ah Choo finally fell through a manhole while walk-walk-watching K-drama on her mobile phone.

Like taxes and death, it had to happen, sooner or later. Luckily, she was dressed in her best and most comfortable pyjamas.

Down there, it smelled of shit, though the hole wasn't too deep. Siok Ah Choo didn't seem to mind. The slush came up to her ankles - she could wash it off later, if she had the time. But right now, all she cared about was that she would not be disturbed.

Ears plugged, eyes glued, she continued watching episode forty-five of Kill Me, Heal Me on her phone. No need to go to school tomorrow, no need to study for the test next week, no need to listen to Ma's nagging. 

All the time in the world, inside this black hole, to be with her constellation of Korean stars. Quietly, she disappeared into K-heaven.

When they found Siok Ah Choo's body months later, maggots had long had their meal of it. There was little left for the family to pick up and cremate, except her skeleton and a turf of hair.

But what the police found strange was that her phone was still clasped in her hands and her earphones plugged into the sockets where her ears used to be. The phone battery was still at 90 percent strong.

Stranger still was the fact that the entire run of Kill Me, Heal Me was still playing in an endless loop.

THE END

If you liked this, do get your copy from Ethos Books by clicking here today!

You can also read my reviews of Singapore Siu Dai 1 and Singapore Siu Dai 2 if you wish to find out more about the series.