17A Keong Saik Road by Charmaine Leung
It is love which makes people resilient and have hope to move forward in the face of great difficulties' - Charmaine Leung
Charmaine Leung, the author of 17A Keong Saik Road, gave us a talk during our docent training at the National Museum of Singapore. As if that wasn't enough to pique my interest, we had a walkthrough of Keong Saik Road, a one way road located in Chinatown, Singapore soon after.
Keong Saik Road is now a mecca for local eats, regional French and Italian cuisine and the coolest bars in town. It is hard to imagine that Keong Saik Road was once a prominent red light district peppered with brothels back in the 1960s.
What prompted to read this book was the fact that Charmaine is the daughter of a brothel owner. Imagine growing up in an area teeming with prostitutes and hot blooded men? Imagine the kind of sights she would have seen? Imagine her unique experiences day after day?
Well I wasn't disappointed. Charmaine certainly gave us a very personal memoir of growing up in 17A Keong Saik Road. Her novel delves deep into the colourful history of the once notorious red light district and it brings to light the stories of the marginalised forgotten women of the past.
Charmaine tells the intimate story of her mother's tough journey from a young girl put up for sale in Malaysia, being sent to serve the needs of the business entertainment house in Singapore and finally becoming the madame of a brothel. Charmaine also gives us an insight into her personal struggles with shame and identity growing up the red light district and how she came to terms with it in the end.
This is Charmaine's first novel and she took 3 years to write this book. She says ' It brings forth the message of the universality of love. Regardless of whether it is betwen mother and child, friends with similar fates or just among strangers who have come together because of similar circumstances, when and where there is love, people have the capacity to expand themselves and give their very best despite any hardship. It is love which makes people resilient and have hope to move forward in the face of great difficulties.' Well said Charmaine.
I enjoyed reading this book though I took some time. There were some touching parts regarding her father, her relationship with her mom and lots of self reflection. Her written words were like pearls of wisdom which resonated with me.
'The essence was not how much fuller life could be, but in how I embraced the life that I already had.'
Charmaine, just like I , was hit hard by the passing of our beloved founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 2015. He firmly believed in a good education which would elevate the nation which is also a core principle I believe in. Charmaine was a direct beneficiary of his vision.
Being an Indian, I was also exposed to many Chinese traditions followed by Charmaine's family in the memoir. It is a beautiful dedication to the past, memory and to the people who have gone before us. Comprising 266 pages covered in 18 chapters, I would give this book a thumbs up. It is actally a great book for Book Club discussion.
Overall rating : B+
'Wow, What a book' I whispered when I finished this novel late on Saturday night. I don't remember uttering these words for a long time. Though I like reading fiction, I'm quite picky about the type of books I read under this genre. It cannot be meaningless rambling of words. It must have a good storyline and most importantly though its fiction, the story has to be believable. That it could happen in real life.
I chanced upon this precious gem in Marine Parade Library in the east of Singapore when I had made the trip to borrow books for my bimonthly storytelling for young children. I tremendously enjoy sharing the art of storytelling to the children and would love to conduct a session weekly. But I have been given a slot only once in 2 months because of the overwhelming number of volunteer storytellers registered with the library.
I apologise for the digress. Where were we? So, I chanced upon this novel in the library and the synopsis caught my attention. Being a history buff, reading that a part of the story took place in British occupied India immediately reeled me in.
'How can I believe I have a tomorrow when today I feel so lost?' Amisha cried tears pouring down her face (page 342).
This is a touching story of a woman searching for answers, wanting to know the secrets that have been hidden by her family for generations. The description of British occupied India interwined with modern day India was also beautifully written. We learn the story of the protaganist Jaya's pioneering grandmother Amisha who lived during the British occupation in India in the 1930s and 40s. Its a heartbreaking story but it shows us that she is a resilient women. Amisha's story seemed a bit too close to home..
Ignored by her husband Deepak who is never around and when he is home, he pays attention only to the family mill and their three boys, Amisha unexpectedly falls in love with a British soldier. She is torn between her duty to her family and what her heart desires. What happens in the end to this strong fiercely-protective-of-her-family-kind-of mother and wife is really tragic and kind of broke my heart.
Jaya finds her answers through the stories of Amisha told by Amisha's faithful servant Ravi who has been hiding a secret all his life. What is his secret? Would it have made a difference to Amisha's end? Find out in the book.
This is an epic story of the unrelenting force of love, the power of healing and the invincible desire to dream. It covers 390 pages in 53 chapters. I didn't even realise that it had that many chapters. Now, I'm aching to get hold of Sejal Badani's first book Trail of Broken Wings another bestseller.
Overall rating : A+
Don't get me wrong. At my age, I'm hardly lascivious. I'm going through peri menopause, the stage just before the actual menopause takes place which is characterized by crazy hormonal changes - waking up with drenched nighties in the middle of the night, hot flushes, irregular period and of course a lower libido. So, if you thought I ventured to read this novel out of so called 'interest', you are so wrong.
I bought this book on purpose as I wanted to find out whats the big fuss was about it. It was written in 2017 by a Singaporean author Balli Kaur Jaswal. I have read about this novel and I have seen it in stores and so I thought, why not? I must confess that its not one of those books which would make you go 'wow! It can be a funny light-hearted read for a all women's book club discussion, maybe a deviation from what you would usually read. I just found out that tt was one of Reese Witherspoon's book club recommendation!
The story revolves around 20 something Nikki who lives in cosmopolitan West London. When her father's sudden death leaves the family financially strapped, she takes up a job impulsively to teach 'creative writing' to punjabi widows at the community centre. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realises that beneath their white dupattas which these Punjabi women traditionally wear, there is a wealth of imagination, fantasies and memories. Nikki teaches them to express their untold stories and these erotic stories are born. But when these stories leave the classroom, it starts a scandal which threatens them all.
The stories are titillating but not too explicit. Not for those who get easily randy. But for a Polish friend who also read this book she found it quite boring. Apparently, she has read more explicit books! Interesting....
Anyway, I would give this book a B for the comedy and storyline but maybe a C for book club worthiness.
Overall rating B-
This novel open with this proverb -
'An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place and circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle. But it will never break'
-An ancient Chinese proverb
Once in a blue moon, we come across an exceptional novel. A novel so worthy of its name. An Invisible Thread is one such novel. Its a true story of compassion. It reminds us about the humanity of the strangers we come across every day in our lives.
It was 1986.
A successful sales ad rep, Laura Schroff, walks by an eleven year old beggar on the streets of Manhattan. He asked her for spare change but she kept on walking. But something stopped her on her tracks. She was in the middle of the road! She went back to him.
'Stopping was never part of the plan...' she said but the boy had such sad eyes and told her he was really hungry. An instead of just giving the boy, Maurice, a quarter, Laura took him out for lunch.
They made a plan to meet every Monday and from then on, what started off as an innocent lunch turned into a life-changing unexpected friendship that spanned three decades!
As Laura tells us Maurice's story, she also relates her own father's alcoholism and abuse. It makes me as a reader realise how both Maurice and Laura needed each and eventually saved each other.
This is a book of restoring faith in each other and the very fact that maybe everything is going to be ok after all.
This novel has 19 chapters and 231 pages. There is also suggestions for book club discussions at the end. I finished the novel in 4-5 days. I simply couldn't put it down. Its written very concisely and simply and moving at some parts. No wonder it was NY Times Bestseller!
Overall rating : A+ (yes believe it not, this novel got the highest rating. Read the novel, you'll agree with me)
I picked up this book out of necessity. I was travelling to Bali in 2 days and I had just finished devouring Michelle Obama's Becoming. Though a wonderful read, I did feel she was self promoting herself and all that she and Obama had done while in office a tad too much. My personal opinion, of course.
I had no other book on standby. And I don't go on a holiday without a book. A novel to read while on holiday is to me as important as the passport itself. It is essential. Lazing around after breakfast/lunch near the pool or at the beach with a book is my favourite kind of leisure activity during any holiday.
I was in Popular Bookstore in Tampines Mall, 2 days before my trip hunting for a novel and this book caught my eye. I was more intrigued by the fact that its by the author Balli Kaur Jaswal more than the novel itself. Ms Jaswal had earlier written Erotic Stories for Punjabi Women and I thought that was rather daring to write such a controversial book for the Indian women in our traditional Indian community which frowns upon any admission of one's sexuality, no matter how advanced we are and regardless of the fact that we are living in the 21st century. India has just launched its own mission to the moon, mind you! So, why not read one of her less controversial novel for a start?
How do you determine if you would like a book? After reading the synopsis, if you are still interested, flip to the first 2-3 pages and read. Yes, just start reading. Can you continue to read without losing interest? Is the grammar, vocabulary to your knowledge and your standard of English? Do you start imagining the scene and the characters? If yes to all, you will most definitely finish the book.
I answered yes to all immediately after picking up this book. Though a paperback, I liked that its big hardback sized, so the words were not tiny and hadn't had to resort to my reading glasses. It was decent sized. I took a week to read all of its 320 pages sectioned into 24 chapters.
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters is basically a story of 3 British born Punjabi sisters Rajni, Jezmeen and Shirina who must honor their deceased mother's last wishes by embarking on a pilgrimage to India. Most of the story is set in India with some flashbacks of their lives in Britain when they were younger.
The prologue is from the point of view of Sita, who is dying of cancer. Sita, a widow in London, is a Punjabi immigrant from India and the mother of three adult daughters. Rajni, the oldest, is ten years older than Jazmeen and Shirina. Rajni helped raise her siblings after their father died, and she’s strict and controlling. Jazmeen is struggling as an actress and is the most rebellious sibling. Shirina married into an extremely traditional Indian family and lives in Australia. Sita’s dying wish is for her daughters to make a trip to India in hopes that the siblings will become closer.
The book talks a lot about the roles of mothers and mother-in-laws from the points of view of moms, mothers and mothers-in-law to be, and daughters and daughters-in-law. The story addresses the process of honoring the positive aspects of one’s culture, but also addresses how that culture can enable abuse. There were depictions of or discussion about abuse, sexual harassment, and femicide. While none of the characters has been raped, they address the issue as a source of fear. The book also touches on assisted suicide and religion.
It examines family ties very closely, particularly sisterhood. I have an older sister so I could relate to the characters quite well. In the end, the many issues between the sisters are resolved and they strengthen their ties with each other. They remain connected regardless of their differences.
Overall, I did enjoy this book. The scenery described in the pages alone made the experience beautiful to read. There were many descriptions of the tantalizing Indian food, the gorgeous Indian fashion sold in sleazy bazaars all over India all which would require some serious hardcore bargaining. For any non Indian reader, it would want you to visit India!
Overall rating : B+
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
'Americans like pregnant women...it baffles me that these self-righteous, self-enthralled waddlers get special treatment. As if its so hard to spread your legs and let a man ejaculate between them.'
I chuckled when I read that. Witty. Hilarious. Thrilling. Reading Gone Girl - the 2012 New York Times #1 Bestseller from acclaimed author Gillian Flynn is the best thing I have done so far this year. I have watched the movie twice and I still wanted to read the novel knowing the ending fully well. What does this say about the movie?? The fact that I watched it twice and still got hooked enough to want to read the novel?? (I'll come to that later).
Gone Girl is a runaway hit thriller novel. Reviews of this bestseller has been done thousands of times online and in print. It has become so successful, that some believe that it has already achieved a cult novel in the thriller genre. I guess I am quite late to review this book but I just had to. It was a very very brilliantly written novel.
Gillian Flynn has written Dark Places and Sharp Objects earlier but none of them skyrocketed to global fame like Gone Girl. It packs a winning formula of intriguing, frightening and enchanting readers all at once.
The novel is about Nick Dunne whose wife Amy Elliot Dunne disappears on their 5th wedding anniversary in Missouri. The journey Nick and the detectives take to find the 'Gone Girl' is crazily twisted. Told through alternating voices, the day by day chilling discoveries tumble out the skeletons in the closet. Shocking, disbelieving.
Some interesting quotes from the book,
From Amy :
'I could build my days around charity committees and home decorations and gardening and volunteering, and I don't think there's anything wrong in building a life around those things. The most beautiful good things are done by women people scorn.' (Interesting)
He came home from work and kissed me full on the lips... I almost cried. I'd been so lonely. To be kissed on the lips by your husband is the most decadent thing.' (Arguable)
'Tampon commercial, detergent commercial, maxipad commercial, Windex commercial. You'd think all women do is clean and bleed' (Funny)
From Nick :
'She was gone, yet she was more present than anyone else' (profound)
I honestly didn't expect the ending. It was beyond my imagination. How could Ms Flynn come up with such twists, such turns in the story? With so many different baffling ideas? Where does she get her inspiration from? An amazing storyline. An equally amazing totally unexpected ending. Ms Flynn is a very gifted author. Gillian Flynn is now my current favourite author.
I was comparing Ms Flynn to Ms Rowling - author of the Harry Potter series. We have a potterhead at home -my 12 year old Riya- and we watch the movies often. We always discuss how Ms Rowling could have come up with such intelligent ideas for her series. Another truy gifted author.
Comprising 415 pages in very small print, I took 2 weeks to read the book which explains why this review is so late. Gillian Flynn's novels have been published in 40 languages worldwide.
The movie was released in 2015 and I believe it was the best movie adaptation I have seen so far. Directer by David Fincher ( the same director who directed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and starring cool handsome Ben Affleck and beautiful blond Rosamund Pike. The ending of the movie was slighly different from that of the novel. But no change in story line. The soundtrack was equally amazing. Composed by Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross. I especially liked Sugar Storm.
I was blown away first by the movie, then by the music and then by the novel. Read it to love it.
Available at most bookstores for US$ 10.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
'I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark....'
Dark Places tells the story of a 7-year old Libby Day who escapes from a horrible night in 1985, in Kinnakee, Kansas where her family is brutally murdered. I mean really brutally - axes and head blowing shotguns involved. She testifies that her 15 year old brother Ben did it. Then 25 years later, in desperate need of money, she reconnects with the players of that night to turn her tragic history into something money worthy. Through this process, Libby discovers the unimaginable truth and she finds herself back where she started - on the run from the killer!
I must say - this novel is indeed dark. As it was my first horror novel, I was quite apprehensive to continue after Page 47. I didn't read this novel in the evening too. It was just too scary. I did not want it to go to my head and give me nightmares... I mean when I read this Schoolyard Rhyme at the beginning,
The Days were a clan that mighta lived long
But Ben Day's head got screwed on wrong
That boy craved dark Satan's power
So he killed his family in one nasty hour
Little Michelle he strangled in the night
Then chopped up Debby: a bloody sight
Mother Patty he saved for last
Blew off her head with a shotgun blast
Baby Libby somehow survived
But to live through that ain't much a life
I knew I was about to embark on a really dark sinister novel. My 14 year old daughter Ranya read the rhyme and got a bit shaken. What a gruesome gory intro and it didn't help when so many bone chilling details were given in the actual murder accounts. And then there was another equally detailed account of a cow being sacrified to appease the Devil. I actually skipped that page! ( Shudder ). I can imagine what is going on in your mind. What a choice of a book to read!! I know, right??!! No, I didn't regret reading it.. Surprisingly. Thanks Aparna :)
The storyline was quite interesting and was well written. It was a real page turner. Libby's horrible encounter and what happens growing up with that kind of nightmare was well documented. She has become social outcast and can't leave a house or any place, for the matter, without stealing something. Anything small like salt shakers or body lotions....
As it was due for our book club meeting last Thursday, I had to read like 50 pages per day. It was really intense reading for a few days. I finished the 340 pages as quickly as I could - no choice, I had to. Not much blogging, not much watching TV or using my IPad. Just a whole lot of reading in between housework. I welcomed it. In fact, I actually get excited looking forward to read :) (Am I crazy or what?) It is so relaxing - a novel in my hand and a cup tea/coffee next to me. My kind of bliss. My family knows how much I love to read. Forget make-up, forget clothes or bags...Give me a great novel anytime and you will be in my 'good list' forever :))
Am I digressing? Anyway, if you don't mind a whole lot of mention of Satan, Devil etc and a lot of gruesome grisly details, do go ahead and read this book. Its not a yawn definitely. Voted one of the best books to read of 2009 by The New Yorker, a #1 New York Times Bestseller. Dark Plaes has also been made into a movie in 2015 starring Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz and Nicholas Hoult. Don't bother watching this movie. It totally failed to capture the darkness of the novel. Taken very lightly. Worse book adaptation ever.
Dark Places, the novel, is available at Amazon at US$11 paperback version.
Have you come across a story told so well that you soon start believing it to be real? When the lines between fiction and non fiction start to blur? When every dream, every hope and every tragedy seems like your own?
Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen is an emotionally powerful story about a family whom you will not forget. It revolves around Mimi Miller who recounts her life, beginning in the 1960s in Miller's Valley, a small rural town in Pennsylvania, America. We are introduced to Mimi when she is 11 and she lives with her parents and her two older brothers Edward and Tommy. Her Aunt Ruth (who harbors a terrible secret) lives in a small house behind Mimi's and never leaves the confines of her home.
Her family has been rooted in Miller's Valley for generations, 200 years in fact. The farmlands have been threatened by government officials who want to transform the flood prone area into a reservoir. Imagine flooding 6400 acres of old family farms, small ramshackle homes and drowning the entire valley under water?? As the river is released in little by little dampening the ground, it also seems to drown people little by little, forcing secrets to surface and people losing their way of life. As Mimi grows up and faces life's challenges, she realises that the people whom she counted on are not there for her anymore. The only stolidity in her rapid changing world is Donald, her childhood friend who lives in California. The story ends when Mimi is 65.
Told entirely through Mimi, Ms Quindlen makes her characters so alive and so believable. A very interesting moving novel. A bit of a twist at the end, which I didn't see it coming. Kept me glued to its pages. So much so that my husband actually asked me - 'what is this -some marathon reading race?' I finished it in 3 days. I could have read the entire 257 pages in hardback sooner, if not for the mountainous amount of laundry after returning home from our year end holiday.
Some interesting quotes :
' I have clear memories from that time, but they are not the ones you'd think. They are never the ones you think....No, its strange little moments that live inside you and keep peeking out the windows that open suddenly in your mind.'
' Sometimes there are things that you have rehearsed so many times, thought about so often, that when they happen, its like they already happened a long long time ago.'
' No one ever leaves the town they grew up, even if they go'
Miller's Valley reminds us that the place you grew up can disappear but the people who lived in it will go on to live in your heart forever.
Available in Amazon for US$18 paperback.
'You don't choose who you fall in love with, and it doesn't matter who they are, it comes with a very certain and specific struggle.'
Actor Joshua Sasse, 28 about his fiancee Kylie Minogue, 48
You don't go looking for love, it finds you and that this powerful feeling for another person often defies logic are the underlying themes in this debut novel The Rosie Project by Australian author Graeme Simsion.
An international sensation, this hilarious feel good 2013 novel is narrated by Professor Don Tillman, an oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor, on an unusual quest - to find out if he is capable of true love. He is so wedded to his schedule (aka Sheldon Cooper of the Big Bang Theory), that an idea of being wedded to an actual woman precludes him. He designs a 16 page questionnaire to sieve out the potential candidates but which narrows his options. Enter Rosie Jarman, who scores a perfect zero, but in his interest to help her find her biological father (the Father Project), he discovers that opposites do attract and that he had unknowingly fallen in love with her and tries to win her over (the Rosie Project).
This novel was a gift from my 14 year old daughter Ranya for my birthday this year. A very thoughtful gift because she knows my love for reading. She had seen a video of a book haul featuring books to get for your mom and she chose this book for me. (Thank you darling - an absolutely unique book which I enjoyed reading all the 304 pages very much).
The Rosie Project is a moving and hilarious novel for anyone who has tenaciously gone after love in the face of overwhelming challenges. Available online at Amazon for US$10.
A sequel, The Rosie Effect, has also been published in 2014. Look out for its book review soon!
'I love reading your book reviews. After seeing it on your blog, I went ahead and bought Me Before You..It was a lovely story. Just yesterday, I bought the sequel After You....'
- Shereen M.
Thank you dear friend for reading my book reviews. After what you said, I realised my last book review was more than a month ago! It made me sit up. As I was reading Glory Over Everything, sequel to The Kitchen House, I had completely forgotten about my last book I had finished reading - Olive Kitteridge. This ought to explain a whole lot about this novel, doesn't it? The fact that it had slipped my mind.
My interest in this book was piqued when I read a book review of Olive Kitteridge in Singapore's The Sunday Times a few months back. Someone (I can't remember her name but I believe she was someone newsworthy) had been reading this book and had particularly liked the story. Presuming I would to, I ordered this book online.
Olive Kitteridge the novel by Elizabeth Strout is a 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning collection of 13 stories about a group of ordinary people who lived in Crosby, Maine. It depicts their joys, sorrows, tragedies and grief all centered around a retired school teacher Olive Kitteridge. She deplores the changes around her - a lounge musician haunted by a past romance, a former student who has lost the will to live, Olive's own child who feels his mother is insensitive to his needs and her husband Henry who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.
I am sorry to say so bluntly - I didn't quite enjoy this book. I took a long time to finish it (yes I finished it!) and yet it had only 270 pages. No doubt, it was my close companion during my tea in cafes or while waiting for buses or for my girls.. but I found it rather dry, long winded and quite depressing. There were 3 suicides, 3 other deaths, a lot of broken relationships, sad aging folks and a whole lot of loneliness.
I guess no one is immune to loneliness of their soul - no matter how busy they may seem. Probably, that is why this book is so sad - it reminds all of us too much about it. We all are starving on the inside.
Olive finished the doughnut, wiped the sugar from her fingers,
sat back, and said,"You're starving."
The girl didn't move, only said,"Uh-duh."
"I'm starving, too,"Olive said. The girl looked over at her.
"I am," Olive said. "Why do you think I eat every doughnut in sight?"
"You're not starving ," Nina said with disgust.
"Sure I am. We all are."
A Reader's Guide and questions for Book Club discussions are also available at the end of the book. Olive Kitteridge has also been made into a 4 hour TV mini series starring Oscar winner Frances McDormand in 2015.
Available online at amazon for Us$10 paperback version.