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Book reviews: The Straits Quartet, Eating on the Wild Side and Triple Nine Sleuths

On The Page brings you the latest news and reviews for new books in Singapore. So whether you’re after a quick read for the kids, some new recipes or a holiday novel, check out the below.

The Straits Quartet

Dawn Farnham

“Immaculately researched,” say the plaudits for Dawn Farnham’s first four novels, which together make up The Straits Quartet: The Red Thread, The Shallow Seas, The Hills of Singapore, concluding with the recently published The English Concubine.  They’re spot on, but one has to wonder – why do the cover blurbs not mention the incredibly steamy sex scenes?

Dawn’s rollicking saga follows the adventures of lovely Charlotte McLeod, who comes to Singapore in the 1830s at the age of 18 to join her police chief brother. The Red Thread is a brilliant evocation of the settlement in its early days, both in its physical details and socio-cultural nuances. What’s more, it’s the story of the forbidden love between feisty Charlotte and irresistible Zhen, quite possibly the sexiest Chinaman to ever wear a pigtail. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever read anything more erotically compelling than Charlotte’s prolonged deflowering in the upstairs room of a Chinatown shophouse.

Volume Two, The Shallow Seas,takes Charlotte and us to the Dutch settlement of Batavia. Again, the author conveys an amazing sense of place, bringing this oddly cosmopolitan community to life in fascinating detail.

Clearly, it was Dawn’s years as a docent (volunteer guide) at the Peranakan Museum and the Asian Civilisations Museum, under the auspices of the Friends of the Museum, that inspired this quartet. But I need to know where she researched the erotica. And when I interview her next month about her latest book, which is set in 1950s Malaya, I’m jolly well going to find out. Watch this space!

Verne Maree


Eating on the Wild Side
Jo Robinson
Little, Brown | 407 pages

Did you know that red cherry tomatoes contain 12 times as much lycopene as standard tomatoes? That tearing Romaine lettuce the day before you eat it doubles its antioxidant properties? Or that artichoke hearts – yes, the canned or bottled variety – are more nutritious than just about anything else in the supermarket? That a blueberry-enriched diet actually reversed age-related mental degradation in rats? That orange juice made from concentrate has 45 percent more antioxidants than brands labelled “not from concentrate”?

Jo Robinson’s groundbreaking new book (published June 2013) contains a wealth of information, including the heretofore unpublished results of recent scientific research. Each chapter deals with a different fruit or vegetable. It starts by putting it into social and historical context – the wild ancestor of our orange carrot, for example, is a purple taproot from Afghanistan; then goes on to explain how to get the most from it: how best to choose, store and prepare it for optimal nutrition.

Though wonderfully researched and scholarly in approach, this treasure of a book is also a fascinating read and an eminently practical “how to” guide. For me, it’s right up there with Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Verne Maree


Step-by-step Cooking – Indonesian
Heinz von Holzen
Marshall Cavendish | 120 pages

Good thing the young Heinz von Holzen didn’t manage to get an apprenticeship in engineering, as planned, in the rural area of Switzerland where he grew up. Instead, he became an apprentice chef and started travelling and cooking around Europe, Asia and Australia – including more than five years in Singapore – before settling in Bali, where his Bumbu Bali restaurant has become famous.

From creamy duck curry and grilled fish in banana leaf to beef braised in coconut milk, this attractive coffee-table cookbook makes Indonesian cooking accessible to anyone who is reasonably proficient in the kitchen. And the clear instructions, useful culinary tips and good photographs will ensure authenticity and proper presentation. Selamat makan!

Verne Maree


Just for Kids
Triple Nine Sleuths: Dangerous Limelight, Dangerous
Despair, Dangerous Island 

Triple Nine Sleuths: Dangerous Limelight, Dangerous Despair, Dangerous Island
Maranna Chan

The books in this series by Singaporean author, Maranna Chan, are extremely interesting and exciting detective stories. They have a local flavour, so I could relate to all the places that are mentioned in them. Anyone else here in Singapore who reads the books will love that too.

The books are about three 13-year-olds who solve crimes. The characters are very brave and inspiring. The stories are very realistic, and you feel like you are there, in person, with the characters.

Though the stories are frightening and sad, at the same time they have a touch of humour. In the first book of the series, for example, the characters come up with their own theory to find the killer. In the second and third books, through a series of very interesting events, the Triple Nine Sleuths once again try to unravel the mystery of who the real killer is.

My personal favourite was the third book, although I loved them all very much. The mysteries were gripping and I did not want to put them down before finishing them. I recommend this fascinating series to all middle school students who like mysteries and enjoy thrills and suspense.

Siona Mitra (12)