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Books in December 2014: Gripping novels and Singapore’s long lost heroes

In need of a moving new page-turner for your bookshelf this month? Check out our choice reads out in Singapore this December.



The Expat
Patricia Snel
Monsoon | 288 pages

Set in the expat community in Singapore, this novel by Dutchwoman Patricia Snel – who has lived here on and off for some time – explores the issues of human trafficking and prostitution. Since it was first published (in Dutch) in Holland early last year, it has sold more than 80,000 copies worldwide, and has been the bestselling title at Schipol Airport for many months. This new English edition is hot off the press.

 Expat life in Singapore comes under the microscope, and while the background will be familiar to most of our readers, the novel does however lift the lid on a darker side of life here, one that isn’t often talked about.

When Dutch expat Julia de Rijck quits her high-flying job to up-sticks and move to Asia with her husband Paul, she’s not sure what to expect. At first, she loves her new laid-back lifestyle, lounging by the condo pool, enjoying the constant round of barbecues and parties. But after a while, unable to find a new job and with cracks appearing in her marriage, Julia begins to feel restless and lonely. 

Messing around with Paul’s precious telescope one day, Julia suddenly finds herself spying on her enigmatic new neighbour, Dave, and it’s not long before they are involved in a steamy affair. But despite their undeniable chemistry, something about Dave makes her uneasy. When Dave’s Filipina maid, Angelica, is found dead in suspicious circumstances, and Julia discovers a stash of incriminating photos, she is sucked into a dark world of secrets, one that hides a complex web of exploitation and prostitution. Suddenly, she finds her own life in danger.

This is a pacey thriller that kept my attention right through to the end. It’s fun to find a book with so many instantly recognisable local references. Yet The Expat still managed to surprise me, by opening my eyes to an issue I knew little about. A fascinating read for all of us who think we know Singapore!

Vanessa Harvey



The Husband’s Secret
Liane Moriarty
Penguin Books | 394 pages

Huge thanks to my friend Sue for recommending this engagingly brilliant book; set in the northern suburbs of Sydney, it was perfect for my Aussie-heavy book club, and now I can’t wait to read Liane Moriarty’s other novels: The Hypnotist’s Love Story, What Alice Forgot, The Last Anniversary and Three Wishes.

Multi-tasking mum-of-three Cecilia has everything under control: her family, her Tupperware business, her part-time job at the school, her life, until she discovers her husband Jean-Paul’s unthinkable secret. Like the opening of Pandora’s box, nothing can ever be the same again; not for her and not for the network of others whose lives have been touched by it.

Some big questions are raised. How far would you go to protect your husband from the consequences of his own ghastly mistake? More importantly, what lies would you tell, what sins would you commit to protect your children from that error?

Unerringly and in gripping fashion, Liane Moriarty weaves together the human strands of a tale that carries the reader inexorably on to the heart-lurching denouement. And just when you think you’ve understood the issues and made your own judgements, a twist-in-the-tale epilogue blows all that out of the water.

Witty, intelligent and absorbing, this is a great read.

Verne Maree



Forgotten Names Recalled
Rosemary Lim
Two Trees | 320 pages

One hundred years after the start of the Great War of 1914-1918 is a fitting time for the publication of this treasure of a book. Forgotten Names Recalled casts light on the lives of the men whose names appear on the Singapore Cenotaph, the national monument on the Esplanade that was built in tribute to the Straits Settlement servicemen who gave their lives during that First World War.

Of those 124 names, 112 have been recalled in this collection of insights and stories, painstakingly researched and put together by redoubtable local historian Rosemary Lim. As she explains, the reason that much of the information concerns the men’s families is that “our men’s families were not just names on a plaque; … they were a son, a brother and an uncle and, in a very few cases, a husband and a father”.

This is not a book about the First World War, she says. It is about “the people who lived through the war, fought in it, intended to fight in it, died because of it, and those who carried on living, bereaved and changed in its aftermath”.

She also thanks guest-writers Pierre Lee (French-Singaporean), Roseanne Woodmansee (Australian) and Elaine Young (Scottish) for contributing their valuable research. The resulting work makes an ideal addition to any history-lover’s collection.

Verne Maree