The River’s Song [A Review]

The River’s Song, by Suchen Christine Lim

   [Image courtesy of suchenchristinelim.com]

 

I fell in love with Lim’s writing when I was just a teenager and discovered “Rice Bowl” and “Gift from the Gods” in the local library. At that time, she was one of the few local writers who got published, and those two books opened my eyes to the fact that local stories could touch my heart as powerfully as, if not more than, one from a foreign writer.

I cannot remember what happened after those two books, because I’ve not read one of her latter novels since (there have been four, including “The River’s Song”). But I’m glad I found this, again thanks to the recent read-local campaign. 

I love the way Lim has skilfully weaved historical and cultural elements into her story of love, life, family and identity. The twist at the end about Ping’s parentage and her relationship with her mother added a dash of surprise and smartly goaded the reader (or at least me) to think about our own assumptions and biases in life. I also love the way local places are vividly described in the story, and how the writer has used Chinese classical and folk music as an emotional thread throughout the book. I could almost hear or feel the music in Lim’s descriptions, and I’m now itching to find some of those pieces to listen to.

I’m going to find those other three books of hers that I had missed out for the last twenty years.

VERDICT: Some might say the plot is not entirely something new, but the writer’s beautiful prose and storytelling prowess more than make up for it. I say try it!

Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me [A Review]

Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me, by Cyril Wong

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   [Image courtesy of Epigram Books]

 

Another book of short stories! And a local one too.

Cyril Wong’s books have always caught my attention with their curious titles, but I have never gotten round to any of them. Until now, that is. The bookstore in town had a members’ sale and feeling particularly lavish (and very starved for good books), I grabbed any book that caught my eye while I was there. This happened to be one of them. I rationalized to myself that this was one of those books that had been in my mental TBR list anyway, and the recent read-local campaign was still fresh in my mind.

Ironically, the title story wasn’t one of my favourite ones in the book. It could even be one of my least favourite, despite it reading like the author’s autobiography, maybe even a creative one. Perhaps it’s got to do with the somewhat melancholic tone I detected. I was kind of disturbed at the end of the story. Well, some people might think that’s good, but I sure didn’t like it.

The story that managed to draw me in was the one about a boy who could see spirits. It actually managed to send a chill down my spine. It not only took me a while to shake off the eerie feeling, but also brought to mind how lonely and desperate for companionship we city dwellers sometimes are.

What I got from the stories are probably derived from my own experiences, emotional baggage and perspectives, and may not be what Wong had tried to paint. But I suppose that is the magic of literature. 

VERDICT: You will either hate this collection, or love it. But other than a few references to local places, attitudes and slang, you might not even realize the stories came from a Singaporean writer. 

The Great Library series [A Review]

Ink and Bone (Book 1), Paper and Fire (Book 2) 

The Great Library series by Rachel Caine

 Image result for the great library series Image result for the great library series

  [Image courtesy of rachelcaine.com]

Imagine a dystopian world in which real physical books were no longer in legal circulation and the only copies left were kept by one Great Library that was as powerful as the Church. Printing presses were never started, and people read “library-approved” books on “Blanks” that were replicas (think tablets and ebooks, although I don’t think Caine explicitly said they were in digital formats) of the originals kept by the library. Thousands more were left in the Great Library’s Black Archives to rot, because the knowledge in those books were too “dangerous” to be released to the public.

Yes, I can see the horror on your face.

If you’d like to read about how a group of young rebels was going to bring down the Great Library and save the world from such a horrible, book-less society, this is the series for you.

Ironically, I discovered Caine when I was browsing through the local library’s catalogue. I was hesitant at the first to start on this series, because the third book is due for publication only in July this year, but I was too intrigued by the premise and too eager to get my hands on a good fantasy series again that I decided to give it a shot, convincing myself that four months won’t be too long a wait for the next book. 

The story is fast-paced. The plot is simple. The characters are distinct and recognizable enough, although some readers might find them somewhat two-dimensional at times.

Without giving too much away, I think what drew me to the story was really the horrible prospect of having no access to any book that I want anymore, and this is one series that I really want the young protagonists to succeed. 

Now that I have finished the second book, the four months to the next book seem like forever.

VERDICT: This series read like young adult fiction at times because of the young characters, but the story holds enough intrigue and pace to interest adult readers too. If you’re sick of telling digital-fanatic people physical books are precious, these books might make you feel better.

The Rithmatist [A Review]

The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson

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  [Image courtesy of Amazon.com]

 

FINALLY!!!

After the last two disappointments, this book was like a life-saver.

Reading this book, I felt transported back to the same zone I was in when I started on the first few Harry Potter books many years ago. A school that trained young people to become rithmatists so that they could serve in the “army” that fought off the wild chalklings (think Hogwarts). A boy protagonist who lost his father to an “accident”, who yearned to become a rithmatist, and who had the knowledge but lacked the “power” (not exactly Harry Potter but similar enough). A budding love interest who flunked the basic rithmatics but had a unique talent (think Hermione, minus the A-plus student quality). A professor who was arrogant, aloof and shady (think Snape). You get the idea.

What wowed me was not just the fast-paced and page-turning style typical of a Brandon Sanderson book, but the numerous twists at the end. Plus, the logic and strategies behind the chalk-drawing battles just raised my awe-level for Sanderson and his ability to create novel magical systems.

I can’t wait to read the sequel, and Sanderson just wrote on his website last December that it will be here “soooooon”. I hope it’s really soon.

VERDICT: This is one book that fans of Harry Potter, and more importantly, fans of Sanderson, shouldn’t miss.

Perfect State [A Review]

Perfect State, by Brandon Sanderson

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  [Image courtesy of kobo.com]

 

Another novella, and it’s far from perfect.

After two hellish weeks swarmed by work and a sick kid, I was in desperate need of a good read and was confident a Brandon Sanderson would do the trick. I’ve read most of his epic series, and decided to give this short story a shot. 

I was disappointed.

The story had an interesting premise, but cramming the ideas into a thin novella hardly did it justice. I would have loved to read something with the ideas (and characters) more developed. For one, the reason that the protagonist’s nemesis became a nemesis simply because the former walked away from a fight seemed rather weak. And I couldn’t feel enough from the conversation between the protagonist Kai and his date to believe that the meeting would change Kai’s perspectives and mindset so drastically.

But then I’m not a fan of novellas, so I come with my own biases.

Arghhh….. I need a really good book! NOW!

VERDICT: This novella is definitely not for folks who like their fantasy stories in the good old epic format.

The Bookshop on the Corner [A Review]

The Bookshop on the Corner, by Jenny Colgan

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   [Image courtesy of HarperCollins]

 

I’m so disappointed!

Well, this book actually started as a pretty good read for me, with a bookish female protagonist – Nina – who got axed by the library because of funding issues and decided to start her own book van in the countryside. Granted, it’s not exactly a new theme, but it resonated with me because I’ve always dreamed of leaving my nine-to-five job and setting up my very own bookshop. Plus, Jenny Colgan tried to describe how the move brought reading back to a quiet town and changed some people’s lives. 

And then, somewhere in the middle of the book, the story spiraled into not one but two love stories, and Nina degenerated from a kind (albeit sometimes silly) bookseller into a woman desperate for a man, and yes, sex. I shall not say more about the love stories, except that I feel the book had a rather abrupt and unsatisfying ending, even though Colgan gave it a happy ever after conclusion.

As a book lover who has a personal fantasy of owning a book place, I was hoping for a deeper story about the book van bringing more than books to the sleepy town and its people. I would have liked to get to know more about Ainslee, the girl who had to take care of her bedridden mum and eight-year-old brother and couldn’t afford to buy any books, or the two elderly folks at the town bar who, surprisingly, couldn’t put down the books that Nina purposely left behind for them.  

So yes, I’m so disappointed.

VERDICT: This book will serve as a very light read during a summer vacation at best. Please don’t expect more, unless you’re looking for a happy ever after love story with an abrupt ending.

Neither Civil Nor Servant [A Review]

Neither Civil Nor Servant, by Peh Shing Huei

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   [Image courtesy of Kinokuniya]

 

I’ve long heard of the legendary Philip Yeo from friends in the civil service who have had the fortune (or misfortune, depending on how you look at it) to work in organizations led by him. I’ve also read numerous infamous quotes from him in other people’s memoirs or books on Singapore’s history. But I’ve only seen him speak in person once, and frankly, I wasn’t impressed by his mastery of the English language. What impressed me was the clarity and conviction with which he spoke, something sorely lacking in many of the public servants I see today.

Peh did a pretty good job in putting Yeo’s life achievements in a clear and succinct way that makes the biography a simple yet meaningful read. The Q&A at the back of each chapter gives the reader his direct responses to some of the issues described in the chapter, and provides a really good insight into how the man thinks.

I was actually sorry the book ended so quickly, because I was still thirsty for more of Philip Yeo’s war stories!

VERDICT: If you’re looking for new inspiration on leadership and talent management, this might just be the book for you.