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Books in Singapore: Brilliant reads in February 2014


7 Days in Myanmar
Editions Didier Millet | 276 pages

This coffee-table book provides a fascinating look at modern Myanmar, as observed through the lenses of 30 renowned international photographers. It was published in Singapore, with local photographer Melisa Teo acting as project director and one of the contributing photographers. (Her snapshots are arguably the most unusual in the book, too.)

There are some big names among the other 29, including Americans Michael Yamashita and Steve McCurry, both of whom have contributed to National Geographic for years; the famous “Afghan girl” cover was shot by McCurry.

I expected the pages to be dominated by incredible images of Bagan, with its dusty plain of 2,000 or more temples that is an unforgettable sight for every traveller. In fact, it only gets two double-page spreads. Rightly so, for 7 Days in Myanmar rarely sticks to the typical tourist trail, instead getting behind the scenes at locations including a martial arts school, a television studio and a gemstone mine.

The photos are superbly laid out and captioned, and they also benefit from the size of the book itself. She’s a big ’un! Put it this way: you’re unlikely to slip it into your backpack to accompany your next trip to Myanmar. For your coffee table, however, it’s a must.

Shamus Sillar


Rice & Grains – Amazing Grains in the UK
Ghillie James
Page 1 Publishing | 256 pages

If it’s true that half the calories in the world come from grains, then why are so many of us in the dark about how to prepare them? This book – actually just six pages of this book – spells out exactly how to prepare everything from barley and buckwheat to couscous and spelt.

The rest is icing on the proverbial cake: easy recipes, beautifully rustic full-page photographs and, yes, cake – Cypriot lemon and semolina cake. You’ll find cuisines from around the world – Middle Eastern, Mexican, Italian, Japanese and Jamaican, to name a few – in dishes that you know, like granola, risotto and tabbouleh, and some that you may not, such as “the ultimate super-food salad with feta and mint”.

But perhaps what I love best about this cookbook is what it’s missing. Grains are simple, cheap and healthy, but the author doesn’t splash this across the cover. That’s because this book isn’t about gimmicks or diets – just real food cooked right.   

Monica Pitrelli


Singapore – World City
Kim Inglis
Tuttle | 143 pages

As Singapore is continually reinventing itself, it was certainly time for a new book like this one. After all, anything on contemporary Singapore that doesn’t include the Marina Bay Sands’ iconic three towers and the Gardens by the Bay is by now hopelessly out of date. Jam-packed with varied and colourful photographs, this is a lovely gift for visitors – and for your own coffee table.

Long-time resident and writer Kim Inglis has a solid understanding of Singaporean history, geography, architecture and more, and this shines through. Part One, “Introducing Singapore”, gives succinct overviews of the founding, development and governance of this city state, insightful commentary on its multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nature, and some authentic reflections on Singaporeans’ passions, pursuits and way of life.

Part Two, “Exploring Singapore”, would make a useful guidebook, as it includes practical information on getting around, travel tips and maps. Staples such as the colonial centre, the Singapore River, Chinatown, Orchard, Little India, Kampong Glam and Botanic Gardens are of course covered, as are the newly hip Art Deco neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru, magnificent nature reserves such as MacRitchie and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, and much more.

Tuttle is proud of its long tradition of publishing books to span the East and the West and to foster greater understanding of each, and Kim was just the right person to commission for this engaging project.  

Verne Maree


The Cuckoo’s Calling
Robert Galbraith
Sphere | 449 pages

My husband Roy has a vast appetite for best-selling thrillers and detective novels, and professes to prefer male authors to female ones. So when the beans were spilled that Robert Galbraith was actually J. K. Rowland of Harry Potter fame, and that The Cuckoo’s Calling was her first crime novel, it was fun to look for feminine giveaways in the text.

There were plenty, it turned out, despite much macho effing and blinding. Triumphantly, Roy pointed out a conversation between several women in a boutique changing-room: “No man would ever write stuff like that!” (No man could.)

Coincidentally, my favourite crime novelist ever, P. D. James, was also an Englishwoman.  Like P.D. James, Galbraith writes with a brilliant sense of place: her London is richly realised, from East End pubs to salubrious Chelsea; her cast of characters is varied and well-drawn; and I’m as hopelessly in love with her private detective war hero Cormoran Strike as I was with the distinguished Inspector Dalgleish.

Rowland’s 2012 novel Casual Vacancy was a corker, and this is too.

Verne Maree


Just for Kids

A Bear Called Paddington
By Michael Bond; illustrated by Peggy Fortnum
HarperCollins UK | 143 pages

Any parent who has had to endure the many weird and wonderful new characters of children’s literature will take solace in rereading A Bear Called Paddington. The author describes the bear’s name, Paddington, as “dignified and reliable… the kind of name that would withstand the passage of time”; and so the book itself has proved, having been first published in 1958!

The text is terribly British (but in a good way), as are Paddington Bear’s Wellington boots, duffle coat, shapeless hat and penchant for marmalade sandwiches. The stiff-upper-lip tone together with the evocation of typical London scenes, are enough to make any Brit pine for his or her wet and chilly land.

This gift edition hardcover book comprises eight stories which tell of the adventures of Paddington Bear while he stays with the Brown family, and comes complete with illustrations. It’s a wholesome read that will be appreciated by kids as young as four.

Beate Baldry