Looking for a good read this month? We checked out this selection of books, new to Singapore in January. Enjoy!
The Hunt (2nd edition)
Bernie Baskin and Jalean Wong
Gatehouse Publishing | 128 pages
Within days of bringing the second edition of The Hunt back to my apartment, it mysteriously began to get dog-eared. Not messy dog-eared from overuse, but neatly dog-eared, with precisely folded-down triangles on the corners of certain pages.
Either we had a poltergeist or someone else on the premises had taken a shine to the book. The fact that the articles on the dog-eared pages were almost all about clothing, shoe and bag boutiques led me swiftly to the suspect.
At which point the book just, well, disappeared.
“You haven’t seen my copy of The Hunt anywhere, have you?” I asked my wife.
“Sorry?” came the reply, and I could tell she was using “sorry” not because she didn’t hear the question but because she was buying time while working out her answer.
“The Hunt. You know – useful little handbook about Singapore’s cool neighbourhood restaurants and shops. Divided into sections on Tanjong Pagar, Bukit Timah, East Coast, and so on. 128 pages and small enough to fit into any handbag. That one.”
“Ah. Yes. I know it. I took it to work.”
“I wanted to ask my colleagues if they knew a couple of places it recommends.”
Then I asked her if I could get it back. After all, the book has info on dozens of very awesome cafés and eateries whose food I’m keen to try.
“Sure, I guess.”
Sounded fairly non-committal to me.
Here’s a tip: if you get yourself a copy of The Hunt – and I suggest you do – keep close tabs on it.
My Singapore Lover
Monsoon | 254 pages
Sara arrives in Singapore on a magazine assignment to research and write about the attraction between Western men and Asian women. This she does so well that the head of the publishing house gives her a chance to immerse herself in the corporate world and make a lot of money. Now for the big question: will she lose her “intuition, femininity and grace” in this dog-eats-dog world?
Aussie Judy Chapman is a former editor-in-chief of Spa Asia, and this is her first novel. I didn’t like the self-obsessed Sara, but then again, phrases such as “I radiated loveliness” are not calculated to endear a protagonist to the reader. What’s more, Sara’s relationship with a rich, tall, dark, handsome (and married) Indonesian Chinese man didn’t quite gel for me; neither did the coyly vague and rather repetitive sex scenes.
(And – spoiler alert! – can you imagine a man at the end of a relationship saying: “You have taught me to be vulnerable again. What more could a man ask for?” Puh-leeze.)
The plot switches confusingly back and forth in time, in a way that might work better in a movie. And the interesting back story that emerges to partially explain Sara’s rackety behaviour comes rather late; generally, I would have given up before then. So, why did I read through to the end?
Well, I’m a sucker for anything set in Singapore, and this book is peppered with descriptions of places such the Four Seasons Hotel, Café le Caire in Arab Street, the Hyatt’s Martini Bar, the Marriott’s Crossroads Café, Little India, Club Street and more. If you love the Singapore life and enjoy the Eat, Pray, Love genre, this book might just be worth a go.
I Ate Tiong Bahru
Book Merah | 125 pages
Get it from Books Actually in Tiong Bahru or in e-book form from Amazon, Kobo or Xinxii
When I say this is a delightful little book, I don’t just mean it’s a slim volume: it’s literally the size of your hand, so small (and white) that it’s apt to get lost in the bedclothes.
The author is an American artist and writer who has lived in the Art Deco Tiong Bahru estate for around three of his 11 years in Singapore, and he describes IATB as a “fact-based, lyrical documentary”. Part stream of consciousness, part poetry, part historical research, it’s a deeply personal yet wholly accessible journey that apparently follows the route of the old Hock Lee Bus #6, which entered the estate at Tiong Poh Road, eventually skirting the Great World Amusement Park (now a mall, of course) before returning to Chinatown. That cost just five cents.
Along the way, Stephen uncovers Tiong Bahru’s 1930s origins as Singapore’s first public housing estate; immerses himself in its famous food as he breakfasts on half-boiled eggs with kaya toast or dines on porridge, mee pok or yong tau foo; and reflects with some pain on astronomic price rises, a creeping loss of authenticity, and the fall of the area to yuppies, expats and the super-rich.
Cute as the presentation of this diminutive book may be, I’d like to see it in a larger format – and perhaps illustrated with the kind of gritty yet dreamy photography that we saw in the same author’s Bus Stopping a couple of years ago.
Mainly for Children
Picking Up a Penguin’s Egg REALLY Got Me Into Trouble
Written by Neil Humphreys; illustrated by Cheng Puay Koon
Marshall Cavendish Children | 28 pages
This is the third in the popular Abbie Rose & the Magic Suitcase series by Singapore-based British expat Neil Humphreys. Four-year-old Abbie’s suitcase has magical powers, which means she can travel to far-flung destinations with her sidekick bear Billie.
The first thing that caught my five-year-old and three-year-old’s attention was the puzzle that came in the three-book boxed set. This gave them plenty to fight over, before I finally managed to grab their attention away from said puzzle and draw them into the book.
Abbie Rose journeys to the South Pole, where she mistakenly picks up a penguin egg and soon finds out this was not the right thing to do. The storyline and style of writing were just right to keep my elder child entertained, while the younger one was most drawn by the lively and colourful pictures of animals. There were giggles at mentions of Daddy’s sweaty, cheesy feet, soon repeated ad nauseam when their own daddy came home.
I have also been instructed that a magic suitcase is now on my eldest’s birthday gift list, meaning a big thumbs-up for the book itself, but a minor struggle for me in the gift shop.