Epigram Books Sale: Final Day!

Epigram Books Sale

Spotted a post on Epigram Books‘ Facebook Page that it’s the last day of their book sale today, so I decided, on a whim, that I’d go check it out. And I found many ‘new’ titles that were not available during my first visit. And this round, I bought 40 books. It’s a really good deal because it’s just $20 for every 10 books, so each item cost me only $2! 😀 But lugging all these home is no joke. Thankfully, I took the MRT trains during off-peak hours. Phew.

Epigram Singapore Book Sale

I think my favorite buy would be the ‘LKY: Political Cartoons’ by Morgan Chua, in hardcover no less! I’ve got two copies and I’ll ‘gift’ them to my pals Samy and Steven. (If you’re reading this, MEET UP WITH ME SOON 😀 ‘cos the postage would probably cost more than the price I paid for the book. Haha!) Also, I have 4 copies of ‘Mdm Kwa: The Life of Mrs Lee Kuan Yew’, also in comic form, by Morgan Chua. My pal Melinda’s definitely gonna get a copy. Who the other 3 will go to, I have not decided yet. 😀

Gosh. I really do LOVE book sales. Some women get a high when they purchase a branded bag. I get ecstatic when I see books at such great discounts. Sometimes I don’t even know who I’m getting some of those titles for, but I’ll just grab them first anyway. 😀 As one of the Epigram NotBooks says, “I am not kiasu. I am Singaporean.”

The usual price of those notbooks is $12.90 (large) but I bought them at $2. *sheds tears of joy*

*And it’s not a spelling error: they really are called NotBooks though they are notebooks, ‘cos they are not books, geddit? 😀

**There’s 20% discount for their online store, till 11.59pm on 1 July. Use code WER7 when you check out. You’re welcome.


Book Review: ‘Butterfly’ by Yusra Mardini

Butterfly by Yusra Mardini

There have been a number of books written about how Syrian girls have fled their homeland because of the war and described their treacherous journeys across the sea towards freedom, peace and hopefully, a better future. In this book, ‘Butterfly’, you’ll read the story of how sisters Yusra and Sara escape Syria and make their way to Germany. The climax is when the inflatable dinghy (built for 8 passengers, but forced to carry 20) starts to sink out at sea after the engine dies. The girls, together with some of the male passengers, get into the water so as to lighten the load and keep the boat and everyone else afloat. *Though a lot of the credit has to go to Sara, Yusra is the one who eventually gets all the fame. I really would love to read Sara’s account of events. 😉

By the age of 12, Yusra has already made it into the national team, swimming for Syria. While the sisters are equally talented at swimming, Sara’s shoulder injuries mean she cannot fulfill her dreams of becoming an Olympian. But Yusra can, and she has.

This book, ‘Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph’ is impossibly well-written. I think a lot of the credit has to go to co-writer Josie Le Blond, whom Google tells me is a British freelance journalist in Berlin.

It seems almost incredible how a swimmer in Syria who survived a bomb blast and fled to Germany would eventually landed a Visa commercial, a sponsorship deal with Under Armour, become the youngest ever UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, get named in People magazine’s 25 Women Changing the World (2016) and TIME’s The 30 Most Influential Teens of 2016 too!

Indeed, Yusra’s story grips the imagination such that it even has journalists spinning tales, such as one about how Yusra, with a rope around her waist, pulled a boat with 150 people to safety.

Here are a few thought-provoking parts of the book:

#1: Without Sara, would Yusra even have made it to Germany?

My hunch is that without her more decisive older sis, Yusra would not have made it all the way to Germany. But, of course, this is just my guess.

#2: If war breaks out here in Singapore, would we not be leaving our homeland just like Yusra and Sara did?

Unlike a soldier, I can’t fight. And unlike Yusra and Sara, I’m not even a good swimmer. I hope there are enough planes, buses, boats and motorized sampans to get us all out of Singapore.

#3: Why people would dehumanize or think any lesser of these folks whom we term ‘refugees’. The people at a restaurant in the island of Lesbos refused to sell them water. In Belgrade, hoteliers refused to serve customers with Syrian passports. Smugglers are also out to make a quick buck from helpless Syrian refugees, even keeping large numbers of them prisoner in Hotel Berlin. In Hungary, they are treated like vermin by the police and given food probably unfit for human consumption. They are also treated like animals when they are transported in cages.

#4: Yusra and her family and friends are a different kind of ‘refugee’. While on the run, they are “posting selfies on Instagram and chatting online with friends back home”, checking locations and getting directions.

#5: While some Europeans treated the refugees poorly, the Germans were quite the opposite, giving them a warm welcome. There are donations, housing and even monthly allowances.

#6: At the Rio Olympics, Yusra was part of the Refugee Olympic Team, or ROT for short, which seems quite an unfortunate acronym.


“…Steven asks me what I learned on the journey. That’s easy. I learned perspective. Back in Syria I wasted time worrying about petty things. Now I know what real problems are. My eyes have been opened.”


“It’s just easier to laugh than to cry. If I cry, I’ll cry alone. But if we laugh, we can do it together.”


This book is definitely a very good read. You’ll enjoy it though at the end, you might find yourself wondering, like I did, how much of it is fact and how much of it is embellishment. Unless the author has a phenomenal / photographic memory, it’s unlikely that a person can remember so many details from being on the run (from the war, from the police, from the bad guys, etc). And after the numerous rounds of retelling of the story to so many journalists, it’s not impossible that some things may not be entirely true / accurate anymore.

Book Review: ‘Killing It’ by Camas Davis

killing it book by camas davis

Gosh. I do love the cover of this book.

This book is like the more gung-ho alternative to ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. Instead of blissing out under a mango tree somewhere in Asia, the author goes to France to learn how to slaughter animals for food. Here’s a quick summary: Camas Davis lost her job as a food journalist for a magazine, and also broke up with her boyfriend of 10 years. She quickly finds herself in the bed of another man, and just as quickly, leaves him behind in Portland, Oregon and goes to France (for 7 weeks) to learn how to become a butcher. (You know, after a decade of working as a food writer, people tend to suddenly want to find out where their food originated from.) Oh, she also uses a credit card she’d found at the back of a filing cabinet to fund her trip. 😉 She later returns to America to start a business that becomes wildly successful. For a good period of time, she also finds herself straddling two relationships: one with a man, and one with a lesbian. That’s messed up in so many ways but she spares us what she calls the “lurid details” of her relationship with Jo.

“…I wanted to live in a world where I was allowed to love both Andrew and Jo in whatever way I wanted to, without consequences.”


“For such a long time, I was unwilling to lose one to keep the other.”


“I didn’t want to be seen by anyone. I didn’t want my true, disingenuous self to be exposed – the self capable of stringing Jo along for more than a year, the self capable of keeping such an enormous secret from Andrew, the self capable of pretending she was incapable of causing others pain.”

This is something I find very hard to accept. Sure, you can be bisexual, and born this way, and whatever else you want to claim. But being in two relationships at the same time and knowing you are hurting these two people yet you can’t think of anyone else but yourself is just plain selfish. No other way to put it. And the sweet guy still wanted to marry her (eventually). And the lesbian went off to start a family with another woman. (@_@)

It’s interesting how things worked out for Camas.

From getting ousted from her job and requiring unemployment checks for a long time (why doesn’t she have any savings?) to starting the Portland Meat Collective, appearing in ads for a knife company, and also receiving an American Made award from Martha Stewart, she has indeed, as the title suggests, succeeded in “Killing it”.


While her private life might be frowned upon by some readers (myself included), I applaud her courage in sharing what she did. More importantly, she’s shared her journey of coming to understand, and appreciate, how food is farmed. The people she has met in France have shown her that it’s possible for farmers to have total control of every stage… such as from seed to sausage. They grow their own crops, which are fed to the pigs they raise, and they kill the animals and make full use of every part, letting nothing go to waste.

After reading the book, I think that eating meat isn’t all that bad (despite what some very vocal vegans will tell you). According to the book, if the animals have had a good life, a good death, a good butcher and a good cook, there’s really nothing else left to be said. In fact, I’ve avoided eating foie gras for a while now, but if I have access to foie gras as it is ‘produced’ like in the book, then yes, I’ll go back to eating and enjoying it.

This book has vivid descriptions of how pigs, chickens and even rabbits are slaughtered. The author, as part of her business, also conducts workshops to teach people how to kill animals for food. If you get squeamish easily, then perhaps you might want to skip certain parts of the book. But I’d highly recommend you get a copy and confront what you’ve been avoiding for a while now if you’re a meat eater and you get your ‘supplies’ from the supermarket. An animal (perhaps bigger and heavier than you are) was (maybe) bred in unthinkable conditions, and slaughtered in what might have been cruel or inhumane ways, but what’s packaged and presented nicely to you in various cuts and forms allows you to not think about what the animal had to go through.

Get this book as it’s certainly food for thought, and it just might influence what you’ll eat or not eat from now on. 🙂


“I live my life in abundance. That means I always believe things will work out and they always do. You should try it sometime.” – a woman the author had met.

Why Millennials Are Always Late, And Why It’s Actually YOUR Fault!

Why Millennials Always Late

I’d wanted to title this post “I Threw A Millennial Out Of My Class” but figured it sounded too harsh. The millennial in question is also one who teaches CEOs and bosses about how to handle millennials in the workplace. *cough cough* He even wrote a book about it. Recently, he showed up unannounced at a talk I was conducting. During the self-introduction round, I asked him to share with the class about how we’d previously met to talk about a book review I was (initially) happy to do about his new book on millennials. He proceeded to tell the class how I’d read only half of his book and did not review it.

Gosh that sounded bad. If you follow this blog, you know I LOVE reviewing books.

The reason I could not bring myself to complete reading the book is because of the way I was treated by this millennial who showed up really late for our appointment. How he behaved (first impressions last, remember?) and how he is portrayed within the book were total opposites.

We’d arranged to meet at Suntec City on 23rd March 2017, then he changed the location 2 hours before the meetup:

Author Of Book On Millennials

He did not ask for permission: “Hi Grace, would you mind meeting at Dhoby Ghaut instead of Suntec City?”. And he certainly did not provide a reason for the sudden change, e.g. “I’m so sorry, I forgot that I’m meeting someone else at Dhoby Ghaut right after so I can spend more time chatting with you if we meet at Dhoby Ghaut instead. Would that be alright with you? I really want to hear more about what you do for a living.”

Yes, millennials take things and people for granted.

I arrived at 10.40am, a good twenty minutes before our scheduled appointment time, and at 10.55am, he says he is “reaching”. <- NEVER trust a millennial who tells you he/she is reaching. If they say they’re on the way, you can bet your last dollar that they’re still at home.

At 11.15am, the person who was supposedly “reaching” at around 10.55am reveals he’s at Suntec. He says it was a bad idea to change the location for our meetup, but does not say whose bad idea it was. Certainly not mine. I accommodated the change and I was even EARLY, not just punctual.

Then he tells me to wait a little while longer because he’s “only [a] few stops” away.

Finally, he asks for directions to get to where I am. From the time I arrived till the time he sat down across from me, a good hour has passed.

To add insult to injury, this millennial takes a stack of books out of his backpack and proceeds to hand them to me, and I’m like “woah woah hang on a minute”. I need just ONE copy for a book review, but you want me to take this stack and hand it out to the bosses I meet or do a giveaway? I’m not even carrying a handbag. You expect me to lug this stack of books around the ENTIRE DAY, for the rest of my appointments?! (@_@) It’s not even ‘arms day’ for me at the gym!

I take one copy and the rest is history. When he showed up unannounced at a talk I did last month, I made sure I told the class that I abhor lateness. If you’re late, you’re disrespectful. First impressions last, indeed! I think I’ll still remember how he made me feel ten years from today.

As for him, I think he’ll remember how I “threw” him out of class. Actually, I didn’t ask him to leave. I simply told the class how I waited for an hour, and that resulted in me not really wanting to review the book. And he decided to leave on his own accord, telling everyone he has another appointment to go to. Right.


So back to the topic of why millennials are always late, and why it’s YOUR fault, really.

#1: You’ve “trained” your millennial friends to be late

If you have never made a fuss about their punctuality issue, then you’re condoning and encouraging it. If your friend shows up late, says “Eh sorry I’m late. You didn’t have to wait for me. Should have started eating first!”, tell the person that he/she is disrespecting you (and everyone present) by being late, but all of you decided to be respectful and wait for everyone to arrive before tucking in or even ordering the food.

If the person still doesn’t get the point, and start respecting everyone’s time by being early the next time, then you really should consider getting the person out of your life.

Don’t ever say to someone who is late that “it’s fine”. NO, it is NOT fine.

If your spouse has a punctuality issue, YOU take responsibility for ensuring he/she makes the change. Explain, cajole, put in place penalties (buy everyone a round of drinks), encourage the person to do better.

#2: You don’t point out how obnoxious and entitled they are

I’m guilty of this one. A JC schoolmate was late for our girly meetup at Orchard. She’s usually late but what made this particular occasion different was her comment that “I’m worth the wait, right?” gave me such a shock I couldn’t react in time. I remember her words till this day, some 14 years after she had uttered them.

No! Tell these people that they are NOT worth the wait. They are simply disrespectful folks who think they are the life of the party. They think they are being “smart” in showing up late and not having to wait for anyone to arrive (because everyone’s already here) but they are just being horridly disrespectful.

No disrespectful person is ever worth the wait, my friend.

*And no, that girl and I, we aren’t friends anymore. Thank goodness.

#3: You make fun of people who show up early

That friend who shows up early for the wedding dinner reception? You told him/her that it never starts on time and people who show up early seem to be kiasu or gluttons afraid of losing out on the sumptuous food?

When someone says he’s setting off early so that there’s ample buffer time should there be any accidents or unexpected circumstances, you ask why the person would want to reach so early and how he would “kill time” when he’s there way ahead of schedule.

You question your friend’s decision to head to the airport early to check-in, because there’s “nothing to do at the airport, so boring!” I’m sure you’d much rather show up late because of traffic, plead with staff to let you board and race to the boarding gate, right? I’d prefer reaching way ahead of time, leisurely checking in, visiting the duty free stores, getting something to eat, charging my phone, filling my water bottle for the flight, and doing everything that a chill traveler would do.


At the end of the day, yes, I do feel bad about “throwing” someone out of my class. I got triggered when the person said I didn’t review his book after taking it. What an accusation. BTW, book reviews are not guaranteed, ok? Just putting it out there first. And I did not ask him to leave the class. He just felt embarrassed probably when I was sharing about how important punctuality is (just as other people were streaming into the class, late).

I’m not sure he even understands how he made me feel with the way he treated me during our first meet-up. I’m sure he’s only just pissed that I told the class he made me wait for an hour. Oh well.

Just in case you think all millennials have a problem with punctuality, think again.

I’m a millennial. And I’m hardly ever late. I also wrote this blogpost myself (no ghost writers!) So if you’re meeting me, and I’m late, please go ahead and ask me for S$50 (or a meal or a free book or whatever) as a penalty. 😀 <- My Number 1 strategy to ensure I’m always on time. 😀

Book Review: ‘Now That It’s Over’ by O Thiam Chin

now that it's over o thiam chin

I totally judge books by their covers and this one features a blurry image of a man(?) covering his face with his hands in what is probably agony (or shame), and the overall impression it gives is hardly attractive. If not for that little circle in the corner with the words “WINNER Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2015”, I’m not sure if I’ll pick up this book for a read in the first place. Anyway, I can totally understand how a book needs to be launched really quickly once it wins any sort of prize. So there’s hardly any time to obsess about cover design.

At first, I didn’t really appreciate the title, but after reading the book, I find that it’s a really good title – ‘Now That It’s Over’. Now that the relationship is over, how do you move on? Now that the tsunami is over, how do we pick up the pieces? It gets you thinking about how you’d respond to a situation that is unpleasant or has made you feel like the rug’s been pulled out from under your feet. Do you respond in a positive “let’s move on” manner, or do you think that when ‘this’ is over, there’s nothing else to live for?

The way the author, O Thiam Chin, writes about sex in this book will raise some eyebrows. While the sex between the heterosexual couple seems rather bland, if not entirely boring, the descriptions of homosexual sex acts are shockingly vivid. Please don’t blame me for being kaypoh. I found myself curious about whether the author is gay. Actually, I think I already have the answer. Also, I’m not sure if his depiction of the gay characters in this book as being quite promiscuous (cheating is common) will be appreciated by the community.

There are four main characters: Ai Ling, her husband Wei Xiang, her BFF Cody and his boyfriend Chee Seng. They are in Phuket during the devastating tsunami in 2004. One person doesn’t make it out alive. And one relationship doesn’t survive. Read the book to find out more. 😉 I like how the book toggles from character to character instead of being a rigid, linear narrative. This keeps me guessing who and what is next.

The part I love most is the one about the seagull ripping out the eyeball of the dead woman (Ai Ling)…

“It pokes at the eye, assessing its jelly-like texture. The half-shut eyelid reveals a brown-tinted iris. The seagull regards it for a second, and then in a sudden move, it strikes in sharp, precise thrusts until the eye pops out, restrained only by the optic nerve. Thick dark blood dribbles out of the socket and down the woman’s cheek. The seagull bends and holds the eyeball with the tip of its beak, giving it one last tug, freeing it. The eye catches the sunlight and seems to be taking in the seamless, thriving sea. In the next moment, the seagull jerks back its head and consumes the lifeless object.”

*jaw drop*

I really wonder if seagulls will actually consume human eyeballs but I found an article on the Internet about how seagulls eat the eyeballs of baby fur seals so as to make the blind seals “more vulnerable to further attacks”. (@_@)

The book has been given mixed reviews – check out Goodreads – but I’d rate it pretty well. The author scored C6 for both English and Literature at the ‘O’ Levels! But look at him now. This prize-winning book has made me feel shocked and also squeamish. Love it! Now that it’s over, I’ll go read another award-winning book. 😀

*Also, I really like the mentions about VCDs, Motorola and Nokia phones. Younger millennials probably won’t know what VCDs are. And how awesome Nokia phones once were – the battery life was incredible! Excuse me while I go charge my Samsung phone once again. *sigh*

Book Review: ‘Kampong Boy’ by M Ravi

m ravi kampong boy

[Image from ethosbooks.com.sg]

I truly enjoyed reading this book ‘Kampong Boy’ as it gives so many insights into what makes M Ravi the man he is today. And those personality traits which characterize him as a lawyer today were formed when he was a young boy, so reading about his childhood, family life, and the journey he took to become a lawyer has been rewarding. Why is he against the death penalty? Why is he so stubborn, so persistent when fighting for those clients (pro bono, mind you) ordered to be hanged? If they are involved in the drug trade (whether as a mule or not), why shouldn’t we just hang them as per our laws?

Brought up in a Jalan Kayu kampong, Ravi was one of seven kids in the family. His father was overly fond of alcohol, a spendthrift and had even been to prison three times. To make matters worse, one day the father even robbed his young son of the money meant for school expenses. M Ravi even went to the police station to try and lodge a report but the officers wouldn’t accept it as the accused was his own father.

His family seems to be the stereotypical Indian family full of drama. There was once when Ravi’s parents were fighting and his Dad was choking his Mom. Ravi’s older brother intervened and broke their Dad’s arm! Read the book for the full details.

Ravi’s mother also suffered from depression and she eventually committed suicide. That proved devastating for Ravi, who’d moved out with his mother due to her disagreements with other members of the family. I feel for this lady I’ve never met before – she had her first child taken away from her by absolutely cruel in-laws, and right from the start, she had been forced to leave her sweetheart and marry a man she didn’t love because his parents were rich from winning the lottery. Too bad that this man would squander away those winnings.

As you can probably guess, Ravi discovered he had outstanding oratorical skills and did well in competitions in school. He was also a very determined boy. He camped outside a Tamil teacher’s flat until the latter wrote him a speech for his competition.

He had a slipped disc as a result of the hard work during his time in the Combat Engineering unit while serving NS. He eventually took up the issue with MINDEF and was given $3,000. While in the army, he also went on a hunger strike because the food for vegetarians was deemed unpalatable and not nourishing enough. He eventually got his way and the meals he wanted.

He studied History, Political Science and Sociology in NUS but also went for evening classes to study Law (University of London’s external program). While he was preparing for his Law exams, the Government announced that this degree would no longer be recognized in Singapore. That’s when Ravi decided he’ll go to the University of Cardiff in Wales for 2 years of study. On 31st May 1997, Ravi was called to the Bar. In 2000, he started his own firm.

Ravi’s a really interesting character. He got around the rules and did a firewalk when he was just 13! He’s also a dancer, with a passion for Indian classical dance. He even had a short stint as a TCS newscaster – imagine how differently his life might have turned out if he’d stayed there!


Lots of lawyers take up pro bono cases because of the media value – there’s lots of media and public interest in the case, or they are doing it as a show of being concerned about the people so as to pave their way into politics. I know of at least one young lawyer who took up a case and then instructed his clients to meet at a location near the Courts so they could all walk together to the hearing, and the lawyer would be photographed together with his clients for the newspapers. <- He even decided who should stand where. (@_@) *And in this case, it wasn’t even pro bono. They paid him a princely sum for him to get featured in the media. Said lawyer was even extra friendly to journalists during the breaks, chatting with everyone like old friends. Perhaps he should have gone to TCS to be an actor.

Lawyers like Ravi are probably few and far between. He had offered to pay for the funeral expenses of Vignes Mourti and even slept next to the casket together with Mourti’s family because they were so afraid that the body would be taken away to be cremated as per the official instructions and the deceased’s friends and family won’t be able to pay their last respects. [Read the book and find out what happened]

“Some people here feel that a lawyer should never get too closely involved with his clients and their kin, especially in death penalty cases where the stakes are so high. But that’s not how I’m made up. It’s especially in those cases where the stakes are so high and where human pain is at its apex that I get drawn into the life and emotional distress of these clients.” – M Ravi.

And in the death penalty case involving the Nigerian Amara Tochi, Ravi flew around the world to rally support for his client. I’m guessing he might be the only lawyer in Singapore who does such things. I’ve met one other lawyer who admitted that he does all that pro bono work hoping to get into politics. He put it in no uncertain terms that he felt he was deserving of the MP’s paycheque. Thankfully, he won’t be elected into office any time soon.


Ravi mentions in the book that his licence to practise law had been suspended for 1 year in October 2006, but fails to explain why. I did a quick Google search and it appears that he had been disrespectful to a judge. Not sure what had happened though I’d certainly love to hear Ravi’s explanation. In all fairness, I think that in the heat of the moment when putting forth an argument in court, certain actions might be deemed rude or disrespectful so I really won’t hold it against the guy. Perhaps in the (near) future, lawyers will be replaced by robots which will obviously not let emotions come into play, seeing as how they have none. 😀 I’m looking forward to such a day! 😀

Though when it happens, we won’t hear of gutsy lawyers such as M Ravi who, during the Falun Gong case, filed a criminal motion against Judge Shumangam. Really, read the book and find out what happened! It’s nothing short of amazing.

While this book has convinced me that activists who are against the death penalty really have a legit cause (e.g. you can easily be caught with drugs placed in your luggage by someone else, and be sentenced to hang even if you are innocent), I’m not so fond of his clients who want a repeal of section 377A of the Penal Code. One of Ravi’s clients had sex in a CityLink mall toilet with another man. They got arrested and were each fined $3,000. And yet they still wanted to “take a stand against 377A”. There’s also been another case of two gay men arrested for having sex in a coffeeshop toilet. Seriously, guys. Sex in a public toilet of all places. And coffeeshop toilets?! Aren’t there more sanitary places to demonstrate your love for each other? (@_@) I’m quite sure they wouldn’t have gotten arrested in the first place (377A or no 377A) if they hadn’t done their hanky panky business in public toilets.

*Ravi also mentioned former NMP Thio Li-Ann’s statement (from a long time ago) about how anal sex is akin to “shoving a straw up your nose to drink”. *cough cough* I actually didn’t know about this statement of hers till I read this book. Ravi, like many others, found that statement offensive. And he has my respect because he isn’t gay (or, at least, that’s what I concluded from reading this book) but would fight for gay rights or human rights in general. Some lawyers out there are fighting for ‘human rights’ but are really, ultimately, just wanting to fight for their own gay rights. In all fairness, I think Singapore offers the middle ground – we’re not as liberal as the West (no gay marriage, etc) but we don’t dish out punitive punishment like some of our neighboring countries where gay men can be publicly caned.

As I’ve written in the previous book review post, about Misdirection by Ning Cai, let’s stop making a fuss about wearing pink or white. Let’s just stick with red and move on already.


“While it is an established tradition in many other countries, lawyers here in Singapore are not at all comfortable with activism. But I have made it my mission and my calling card. I feel that all the advantages that have been given to me, and all the sacrifices my family made so that I could become a lawyer, can best be paid back when I involve myself in human rights activism and the cases that come out of this commitment.” – M Ravi

Book Review: ‘Misdirection’ (Book 1 of The Savant Trilogy) by Ning Cai

Misdirection by Ning Cai

I was looking forward to reading this book, ‘Misdirection’, as I’ve enjoyed the previous books by Ning Cai (and also her co-authors). Someone from the publishing house actually got in touch with me earlier on and said they’ll send a copy for me to review but in the end, they pulled a disappearing act on me, it seems. So I went to the library and borrowed a copy – NLB purchased so many copies that reservations aren’t even required! There are at least 3 copies in each library! And I’m done reading the book in just 2 days. And 1 thing I have to say is that I have a lot of respect for folks who write novels – it’s just so difficult to craft something so lengthy and keep the (modern) reader’s attention throughout.

Quick summary: Maxine Schooling wakes up from a 3-year coma to find that her parents and younger brother with Down Syndrome have been killed. She discovers that she now has a photographic memory which helps her (and the police) tremendously in tracking down a serial killer, a.k.a. ‘The Singapore Spectre’. By the end of Book 1, she still hasn’t gotten any idea of who had murdered her family members.

And this book succeeds in ‘misdirection’. It seems to sail along just fine without too many surprises and you might even guess correctly who’s the villain even though it might not be entirely obvious at the start. However, there’s still a right hook at the end to make you wonder how did I forget about this person?!

This book, ‘Misdirection’, is targeted at young adults, and I have to add ‘Singaporeans’ as well. The book is simply choke-full of references that probably only SG folks will pick out. And let’s not forget the Singlish terms: “bak chew tak stamp”, “sibei expensive”, “his magic very tok kong one”, “lembek”, etc. The author also tries to incorporate lingo that younger millennials (not me) will enjoy – “savage AF”, “Netflix and chill”, etc. But would the young ones also know who ‘Teresa Teng’ is? And The Backstreet Boys? LIME Magazine? And Ning also borrows family names quite liberally, e.g. ‘Anandan’, ‘Dr Wijeysingha’, and of course ‘Schooling’.

Also, there are references to what Singaporeans will be familiar with: 100Plus isotonic drink, 938NOW, Mandai columbarium, Funan DigitaLife Mall, Razer mouse, Books Kinokuniya, Katong Shopping Centre, among others. But the main one has to be the “controversial megachurch” called “Crossfront Family Church” with an accountant in jail for siphoning off millions of dollars from church funds. *cough cough*.

I feel ‘The Savant Trilogy’ seems to be fiction rooted in reality. There are so many names, places and events that Singaporean readers will be able to relate to, so the line between fact and fiction is blurred. If that’s the case, then I’ll want it to be even more ‘realistic’.

For one, the protagonist, Maxine (or Max) Schooling, has been in a 3-year coma at the Parkway East Hospital. I did find myself wondering why no one pulled the plug during those 3 years – don’t they know we have a severe shortage of hospital beds in Singapore?! (Ok, ok, fiction book) By the way, a stay at the actual Parkway East Hospital in Singapore would cost $618 per day in their ‘Single Classic Room’ so a 3-year stay would easily cost more than a quarter-million dollars including all the other incidentals. And shouldn’t the vicious killer have returned to finish the job since he/she managed to murder everyone in Max’s family except for her?

Also, Maxine was attacked and fell into a coma sometime between 2015 and 2018 but when she wakes up and later uses her mother’s phone, it happens to be an iPhone 4 (which Apple launched in 2010) so I’m wondering why it’s not a newer model, e.g. iPhone 6 which her scientist parents would have easily been able to afford? Also, why would the horde of journalists appear at Mandai Columbarium because of her – someone who got out of a 3-year coma? We don’t really have a paparazzi culture here, and I can’t think of any journalist who would chase down a story all the way to the columbarium. Also, Snapchat was launched in 2011 but Max doesn’t know what it is because she slipped into a coma 4 years after the launch?*

*I have to admit that I’ve read this book only once, so maybe everything will get ironed out with a second reading. Pardon me if I’ve made any mistakes with this first impression from reading ‘Misdirection’.

Finally, I have to add that I feel a bit meh at the sheer number of references to actual people whether living or dead – this character looks like so-and-so, that character looks like this famous Korean singer, another character looks like a certain Korean actor, etc. Even the people who provided endorsements for the book (e.g. Neil Gaiman and Lang Leav) will find that they are mentioned within the novel. (@_@) When there are so many references to people, places and events we know, for me, it’s actually preventing me from getting lost in the book (something I enjoy, e.g. when reading the Harry Potter series which ‘transports’ me to a whole new wizarding world). That said, Ning demonstrates remarkable prowess in her use of descriptive phrases, especially regarding the weather. There are so many beautiful descriptions that just utilizing a handful in school compositions would make any English teacher very happy.

~ What I hope is not in the 2nd + 3rd book ~

I’m particularly concerned, though, about references to the LGBT community and supposed homophobic Christian churches. The Grindr app was also mentioned within the book. (If you don’t know what it is, it’s like Tinder for gays) I think that by and large, the LGBT community gets by unmolested by the rest of the population but for some reason, they can wear pink for Pink Dot but if churchgoers wear white, they’re up in arms. Can’t we just all wear red and be proud of our identity as Singaporeans?

I hope, too, that there won’t be anyone trying to flee from Singapore in a motorized sampan in the next installment. I’ve had quite enough of the CHC references, pastors dabbling in magic, and characters who apparently look like people we know.

All in all, the former ‘Magic Babe’ (now Mind Magic Mistress) managed to successfully execute a ‘misdirection’ in this 196-page book. Perhaps one day this book will be the basis for a movie and all the characters who look like famous people will be played by those same famous people. Now that would be pretty cool! 🙂

Book Review: ‘Once Upon a Time in the East’ by Xiaolu Guo

Once upon a time in the East by Xiaolu Guo

In a mere 314 pages, this book ‘Once upon a time in the East’ by Xiaolu Guo revealed to me a China that I know nothing about while giving a no holds barred account of her life. In its own (perhaps unintended) way, the book helps me understand why Chinese citizens behave the way they do. But first, here’s a quick introduction…

The author, Xiaolu Guo, was given away as a newborn but her foster parents later returned her to her grandparents due to poverty. And it might not have been a bad thing if the elderly couple’s relationship was not dysfunctional too. Her grandmother was frequently abused. After a bout of illness, the grandfather took his own life. A chance encounter with a group of students at the beach made her decide she’ll be an artist. And when she was reunited with her parents, who live in a Communist compound, Xiaolu found she has an older brother who, put simply, detested her presence. Not that it made any difference though since sons are valued and daughters are not.

Despite her father’s job as a propaganda painter, there was often a lack of food for her, and the good stuff always went to her brother anyway. The author even resorted to trapping birds for food!

Though the family brought the grandmother to live together with them, sour mother- and daughter-in-law relations saw the elderly lady heading back to her own home and dying in her own bed.

When she was 12, the author was sexually abused by Hu Wenren, the “son of a communal farming officer”. A year or two later, the author seduced her Science teacher, Mr Lin, and the affair lasted almost two years. At age 15, she became pregnant and then went for an abortion, and the affair ended.

*Almost a decade later, the sexual predator (Hu Wenren) appeared again in her life. Read the book and find out what happened when he showed up again after so long.

Despite the intense competition, Xiaolu got accepted into the Beijing Film Academy on her second attempt at application. There were 7,100 students competing for the mere11 spots and she managed to get one of them! No such luck with relationships though. Her boyfriend, Jiang, often hit her. And her roommate, Mengmeng, tried to kill herself after she got rejected by the lecturer she had fallen in love with.

Meanwhile, Xiaolu’s father is diagnosed with terminal stage throat cancer. The author believes that cancer is so rampant in China because of the pollution in the country. Later, her mother also gets stomach cancer and passes away.

“Now my father and my mother were gone, I had been orphaned for a second time.”

Before they died, her parents had visited her, seeking to arrange a marriage for her. While matrimony might not be on the cards for her, Xiaolu secured a Chevening Scholarship and got to start a new life in Britain, learning English and becoming a published author, not bad for someone who was “illiterate until the age of eight”!

As luck would have it, she almost became blind from macular degeneration. There’s simply no such thing as sunshine without rain in this lady’s life.

Eventually, she meets the Australian, Steve, and together, they have a daughter called Moon. How the next part of her life will unfold is likely to be great content for yet another book. And I’m looking forward to it. 🙂


When reading this book, I often wondered how one person’s life can be so full of trials and tribulations. I do think the author has always wanted to be close to her mother. I sense a silent longing – she wants to know if her mother had given her away as a baby with cruel abandon, or whether it was with tears of anguish. Alas! Her parents wouldn’t tell her, and now they can’t either.

Definitely include this book in your “Must read” list for this year! 😉 I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Book Review: Vincent Yong’s ‘Flow: The Art of Creating AbunDance’

Vincent Yong Flow The Art of Creating AbunDance

This might be the first time I’m reading a book from the publisher Black Card Books. 😀 Since the founder of the company is Gerry Robert, the guy who wrote ‘Publish a Book & Grow Rich’, among many other titles, I’m curious about how the publisher will be helping to promote this new author, Vincent Yong, and help him “get rich” from writing this book. 😀 I’m keeping my eyes peeled. Anyway, if you’d like to get a copy of this book, ‘Flow: The Art of Creating AbunDance’, details and a special price may be found at the end of this blogpost.

According to what I’ve read, Vincent is the first person in Singapore to become a Certified Movement Analyst (CMA) and Registered Somatic Movement Educator and Therapist (RSME&T). He uses “dance and movement for learning, growing and healing purposes”. Before reading this book, I didn’t even know what “somatic” meant! And when reading the book, it became clear to me that some of the content is what you might get from undergoing life coaching. There are even visualization exercises, which do also mean that the book is likely not a substitute for attending classes.

In short, this is a book for people who are willing to dig deep.

At first, I was struck by the author’s love for alliteration, and the number of photos (of the author at about the same age, it seems). I counted 23 pictures of him in this book with just 137 pages. 😀 Interesting contrast with another book that I’ve just read and reviewed, ‘educated‘, which had no photos of the author. If you’re one of Vincent’s students, or a huge fan, you’ll certainly cherish this book!

Vincent was born with a congenital heart condition so it’s pretty amazing that he has become such an accomplished dancer. And in the book, he also shares some background about his family, such as the time when he was 11 years old and his parents got a divorce. He also lost his mother to cancer before he turned 30.

Here are a couple of gems from the book, which resonate with me:

“When you are able to give freely, you will begin to experience abundance and be able to re-source freely.”

“Focus on what you want, not what others want of you.”

And when you’re feeling “stuck”, MOVE. 😀

The book also mentions the types of flow, and that when you direct the flow in your life, you command the abundance you get.

I guess there’s only one thing in this book that I disagree with: “People who have a purpose never seem to sleep a lot.” To me, sleep is paramount. If you’re one of those people who sleep 4 hours a night, then guzzle caffeine throughout the day to keep you awake, I’m not impressed. For me, the minimum is 8 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Or else I get cranky and I can’t function well during the day. (If you’ve read Arianna Huffington‘s ‘The Sleep Revolution’, you’ll know what I mean) Also… I don’t drink coffee. 😛

And here’s one nugget from the book, which I absolutely love:

“Practise until you cannot get it wrong. It is not enough to just get it right.”

~ Questions for Vincent ~

1) Who is this book for?

– People who feel blocked or stuck in life.
– People who need hope and inspiration.
– People looking for change and need guidance and direction.

2) What does this book aim to do?

Give guidance but allow readers to get in touch with themselves. Wisdom is within us and just needs a key to be unlocked. Flow unlocks that.

I share, through personal stories, why things work or not and what are we really looking at.

Most importantly, the deep and profound re-connection to our bodies and hearts, without which things will never be aligned or work right ‘cos we ain’t gonna be happy.

3) How to purchase this book?

Send an email to flowcreatesabundance@gmail.com. 34 USD is the retail price but SG citizens pay 34 SGD. Giving a bit of love here. Visit danspire.com for more infomation about Vincent Yong, the author.

Book Review: ‘educated’ by Tara Westover

educated by tara westover

Amy Chua, author of ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’, calls Tara Westover “one of the most gifted writers that I’ve read in a very long time”. But, make no mistake, this book ‘educated’ is Tara’s memoir (not a novel) which will leave you wondering how the events listed in it can be true when they seem so impossible. How can a girl born in a Mormon family, with no access to education (and without even a birth certificate!), raised to help out in her father’s junkyard and supposed to marry and bear children without so much as ever stepping foot into a school, eventually end up going to Cambridge and Harvard, and getting a PhD?

I didn’t find a single picture of Tara in this book, not on the covers, nor within the pages. So I went ahead and Googled her. And oh, I also found out we’re both born in the same year. (>_<) 

Tara’s life seems more exciting than anything ever seen in Hollywood movies. Her father seems most pious and preoccupied with the End of Days (even burying a thousand gallons of fuel as preparation). Thanks to him, the family also gets into a series of horrific accidents. The first left Tara’s mother with ‘Raccoon Eyes’, which signaled serious brain injury. Yet they did not send her to the hospital because the family did not trust doctors and hospitals, believing that God would heal them instead. Working for her father, Tara herself got injured when a spike of iron pierced through her leg, followed by a fall of about seventeen feet.

Besides a chain of accidents, Tara also had to deal with a possibly mentally ill brother, “Shawn”, who would stick her head into the toilet bowl, twist her arm (till he broke her wrist one day), strangle her, then eventually apologize for whatever he’d done. For some strange reason, Shawn had multiple head injuries from various accidents, but none managed to kill him. It was only much later that Tara realized her sister, “Audrey”, had also suffered in Shawn’s hands. This crazy guy even killed his dog Diego, a German Shepherd, with a small blade instead of a bullet to the head or heart. The poor dog likely died a slow and very painful death.

Another brother, Luke, had his arm “gashed” because of the machine their father brought back and insisted his children work with. Later on, Luke became blind in his left eye after he had been shot in the face with a paintball gun.

And to be fair, apart from causing his family members to suffer injuries, the father also got involved in a horrific accident: an explosion that devastated the lower half of his face and left a hand looking something like a deformed claw.

To me, the family does sometimes seem like hillbillies, the deranged sort we see in horror movies. Yet Tara has her brother, Tyler, whom she dedicates this book to, who helped set her on the path to getting her education.

And it was by no means easy, getting to become Dr Westover. She developed stomach ulcers. And because she was financially strapped, she got a job as a janitor, and even tried to sell her blood for money. Because of what had happened at home, she went on to have a mental breakdown, sleepwalked and often awoke at night standing in the middle of streets, and she also had panic attacks.

What a life! And she’s only in her 30s. Read this book if you want to know how she got to where she is today, and find out what happened to those family members too! 😉


“In retrospect, I see that this was my education, the one that would matter: the hours I spent sitting at a borrowed desk, struggling to parse narrow strands of Mormon doctrine in mimicry of a brother who’d deserted me. The skill I was learning was a crucial one, the patience to read things I could not yet understand.” – Tara Westover