Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Fiction piece for Valentine's Day

Way back in February, the Curious Reader had a call out for posts on Valentine's Day. This was my piece that made it online on their website.


Sunday, 7 April 2019

Zizzle Literary magazine - Review

If the first issue has set the bar, the second one meets it head on.

Wow, Zizzle is here," is how my daughter reacted when she saw this issue. Upon being asked what appealed to her, a quick answer shot through. "It has children in it".

A girl of strong opinions, this 8-year-old reader loves to ponder over stories she has read and articulate her thoughts about it.

The Magazine:

Zizzle is a literary magazine that targets confident readers and grown up minds, still young at heart. The stories are clever  - the messages are subtle, without being preachy or obvious.The stories are clearly marked so that the reader is aware of its readability. We found it very convenient especially when my daughter was making her choices.

What works:
  • My daughter and I enjoyed reading the stories. However, we found that going through the inspiration before reading the actual story made it an enjoyable experience. It was fascinating to see how the writer's idea blooms out to form a complete piece. A great tool to illustrate the mechanics of creative writing or just to understand good stories better.
  • The quotes that shine in between the pages are a great device. My favourite line is: 
Between the pages of a book is a wonderful place to be. 

The anonymous quote truly encapsulated my passion for reading.
  • The first story Child of the first spark portrays the pressures of being a today's child and what a child wants. The Gift of Everness and Nuclear Missiles are Coming Our Way are also well written stories with a strong underlining message. It was an absolute pleasure picking these miniature delights to read at bedtime.
  • My daughter however has her own favourites. It was hands down No-school day. Her reason? She could see herself as the girl in the story and "the girl uses her imagination even if there was no school."
  • Janita Peperkamp's illustrations are beautifully done and they enhance the stories. It breathes life into the book. Her piece on how she approaches a painting offers great insight into her working style. 

Who will like them more:

My daughter loved most of the stories. But I could see that older readers who can understand metaphor and inference will enjoy it even more. These stories have depth and layers - a nod to the high writing quality and the standard of the writers.

In a Nutshell:

I can easily visualise zizzle in a book club discussion. Stories short enough to be read out and then students or a group of friends sharing their views about the story.

A masterclass on what makes good stories. A great collection that shows how they are done.


Behind Her Eyes - Sarah Pinborough

An edge of the seat thriller.

The succes of Gone Girl and Girl on the train seems to have unleashed torrent of domestic noir into the reading world. Pinborough came highly recommended to my by my librarian and I can see why.

I have read some domestic novels and though they all sound good they really fall short somewhere along the way. It is usually an atmospheric experience that ends up being a dampner. However, glad to say, not with this one.


David a handsome doctor ends up unknowingly having a date with a woman. He realises the next day at his new workplace - that is his secretary.

Louise, the secretary who realises the next day what a big mistake it was. She meets the doctors' wife and later and finds a friend in her.

Adele, the fragile beauty who has no friends. She seems lonely and yet so perfect. Her soft persona and self deprecating wit endears her to Louise.

The handsome doctor, the perfect wife - why was the doctor at the bar then? wonders Louise. Are they really who they seem they are?

What works:
  • Pinborough has an arresting way of telling a story. Her first chapter starts right in the middle. It took me a couple of readings to find my feet. From then on it was a roll.
  • A quick read, with a racy plot and a complex narrative. Fits well with a twisty thriller.
  • I loved the quirky style. The way the chapters are divided into character's version is a favourite with me.
  • There are only characters and therefore 3 versions of a story. it is amazing how these versions pull the story forward,
What doesn't:
  • It requires a certain investment from the reader. For the casual reader who cannot be bothered to adhere to the story's demands, it can be a put off.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Crazy Rich Asians - Kevin Kwan

A story about the rich and the famous - an entertaining read, a page turner .

Talk about rich and the famous and the Bold and the Beautiful and Beverley Hills TV series come to mind. In case of books about the uber rich, I remember reading Jackie Collins' Hollywood Wives and Barbara Taylor Bradford's characters as they dealt with tough situations, driving in their limousines and chartered flights...

Moreso, I read this book when the recent Ambani weddings were all over the paper. It seemed timely, it shows how the uber rich do it, a celebration with no limits.

The book was also made into a movie although it drew a lot of flak for various reasons. I am glad I missed it, the movie would have dented the reading experience.


Rachel Chu decides to accompany her boyfriend Nick Young to the wedding of his best friend. An associate professor, she has no idea how rich Nick's family is, until she sees it for herself.

Will Rachel be able to put up with it or will it put her off.

What works:
  • Although the book so much like an Asianised version of a Jackie Collins Novel, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The world, the beliefs the way Chinese Singaporeans look at Mainlanders is is interesting. The tendency of Singaporeans to obsess over food, the use of phrases and Malay food adds such a delicious touch to the story.
  • I also enjoyed reading the footnotes and the humour with which it is explained to the foreign reader.
  • My favourite was the first chapter that is slap bang and packs a mean punch. A group of drenched chinese guest walk into a hotel and claim reservation. The uptight manager refuses to admit them in. Within minutes, he is shown his place in what seems like a practical, conventional way. Hooked me right in.
  • It shows up close how the rich live and their lifestyle. Very OTT but also Kwan has the skill to make it look entertaining and interesting.
What doesn't:

This is a feel good, light beach read. It is compelling and reads well. If you are looking for a literary, high brow booker prize type stuff then perhaps you should let this go.

A fun, frothy read. Read it for its novelty value - the rich Asians. 

An Unwanted Guest - Shari Lapena

Lapena's atmospheric story rises well but falls flat.

Her previous novel, The Couple Next Door was  a page turner. It had garnered a lot of praise and I was looking forward to it.
The premise and the style was amazing and I remember finishing it in a few sittings, although it became predictable after a point.
Her bios state that this Canadian writer was a lawyer and an English teacher  before turning her hand to full time writing.


Seven guests are making their way on a windy night to an Inn in the outskirts of New York on an icy Friday evening. They all have their reasons to be there. But then weekend does not go per plan especially after a guest is found dead at the bottom of the stairs.

Since it could not have been anyone from outside - the snow had cut them off from the outside world - the needle of suspicion starts moving towards other guests. What makes it interesting is they all have a secret to hide.

Who could it be? Is the killer on a murder spree? Who will be next and why?

What works: 
  • The atmosphere. Lapena creates a great setting. I could feel myself battling through the snow as  the characters drove in. I could feel the cold, the frustration at the powercuts and the edginess of the guests. 
  • It reminded me of an Agatha Christie novel. Lots of people in a country house. A murder and suspects - the guests. The setting is brilliant and irresistible for any crime aficinado. Lapena puts it to good use.
  • The characters. Lapena's characters are interesting and very layered, well etched, the backstory to each one is shows good planning, it adds to the story.
What does not work:
  • The denouement. The way she built it was amazing, the sense of foreboding, the icehouse, is absolutely great but then it falls flat.
  • The problem lies when it is time to reveal the whodunnit. The revelation is dull and from then on, gets predictable.
  • Lapena has done well with this one than the other one, where there is more than one twist. However, I still felt a bit let down with the big reveal.

Once Upon A Time In The East - Xiaolu Guo

A memoir that is honest and compelling .

The author and I go back quite a way. She was one of the first writers I read after coming to the UK. Therefore a bit special. I remember the book so well - A concise English-Chinese dictionary for lovers, what a funny title but seriously the book was good. It was interesting to see how the writer created this work and I could see the connections.

So, when I was hunting for books on China, this one came up in my library. I realised it was a memoir but not that keen. I wanted fiction that would give me an insight into the chinese culture. This book gave me that and more.


Guo was 2 when she was given away to her grandparents. She met her parents when she was 7. That in itself pushes the intrigue quotient. Further more she talks about her move from the fishing village to the compound where she lived with her parents as communists. She then traces her journey from Beijing to the cosmopolitan streets of London and her experiences as she makes the move.

What works:
  • For a writer who was late to read and write, battling severe myopia that was undiagnosed for a long time. Plus to add to the mix, introduced to the English language only as an adult, it is an amazing feat indeed. Her writing style made me sit up well past my bedtime just so I could get few more pages in.
  • I read this book for an insight into China and it did provide me with one. The censorship and the way of life is something that Guo is not apologetic about and is reflective of the Chinese society.
  • Her perspective on life is reflective of her experiences. It is clearly and succintly conveyed in the book. 
  • Guo does not seem short on courage. Her candid memoir does not try to dress up her relationships with her mother. 
  • She writes with clinical detachment about some deeply personal experiences. It is amazing how she tackles tough subjects in the book, after all it is her own life. But it she makes it highly accessible to the reader.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Strangers on 16:02 - Priya Basil

A novella that offers a delicious slice, leaves one wanting for more.

I read Basil's Ishq and Mushq and loved her style. Sometime back I read Basil's personal essay in the guardian which provides the backstory for one of the characters. Linking the two made it for an enriching experience.

Basil's Ishq and Mushq was a feat - shortlisted for Commonwealth writers best first book - 2008. Commonwealth lists seem more accurate when it comes to representing some truly talented writers and I have read a few that confirms it. So this one came highly recommended on that score and for the most part I really enjoyed it.

Therefore this novella had high expectations for me and I was really looking forward to reading it.


As the caption already mentions, a london tube journey that brings two unconnected characters together that ends on a catastrophic note.

What works:
  • Her style it is amazing how she introduces the main characters and their reasons for being on the train. 
  • London Tube is a great place to set a story and it was great to see a story based on it.
What doesn't:

It is a novella form after all. With its tight structure there isn't much room to play around. This could have easily been a novel.