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Looking for a good book? We review five new releases, including one on Singapore Shophouses


Open: An Autobiography

Andre Agassi


Admission: I was never the biggest fan of Andre Agassi in his playing days. It wasn’t his baseline tactics I disliked (though admittedly I’d prefer a million times over to watch a serve-and-volleyer like Pat Rafter). Rather, it was his demeanour off the court, especially in post-match interviews. He just never seemed genuine.

Turns out he wasn’t. Agassi, you’ll discover from this autobiography, was hiding plenty of secrets: he loathed many of his opponents (Boris Becker and Pete Sampras receive savage treatment), “tanked” in important matches, wore a wig and dabbled in banned substances. Compelling reading.

Unfortunately, Agassi repeats his theme of “I hate tennis” so frequently that it becomes infectious: long passages about on-court battles become tedious. Much more fascinating is the portrait of his father, an Armenian migrant cashing in on the American dream by manufacturing a superstar son, and the account of the dismal relationship with Brooke Shields. (Dismal mostly through Agassi’s own behaviour, it must be said.)

This is a highly readable book (ghostwritten by Pulitzer Prize-winner J.R. Moehringer), though I was occasionally left wanting more. It’s fine to hear that Agassi rebelled against the “imprisonment” of the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy as a teenager. But why did this rebellion take the form of growing a two-inch-long pinky fingernail and painting it red? Honestly, why?

Shamus Sillar


Best in Beauty: An Ultimate Guide to Makeup and Skin Care Techniques, Tools and Products

Riku Campo

Atria Paperback

After a slow start on waxing and French manicures (written by guest experts), celebrity makeup artist Riku Campo’s debut beauty book lifts off when he takes the reins with straight-forward advice on achieving looks we’ve all seen in the fashion mags, but never knew how to replicate.

His approach is simple. Show a high fashion photograph of a specific look – dewy, daytime, shimmer, 1940s Veronica Lake – explain how he created it and who should try it (and conversely who shouldn’t). Never understood how to get an arched brow or apply false eyelashes? Can’t name the seven types of lip makeup? There’s a chapter on each.

You may question the effectiveness of learning makeup application from a book. But if you’ve been using the same techniques for the past 15 years, this informative, easy-to-read manual will bring you up to date quickly and painlessly.

Monica Pitrelli


Monkey Magic – The Curse of Mukada

Grant S. Clark


This book is about an 11-year-old girl, Romy Alexander, and her adventures during a trip to Borneo with her father. He is a scientist, on assignment to find out what is causing the orangutans of Mukada Nature Reserve to fall ill and head to the coast. Romy finds various weird and odd things during her journey with him, and learns about the life of orangutans in the real world.

The author describes the characters well, so readers really get to know their personalities. The book is a nice and fun-filled mystery for kids who are good readers aged eight to 12 years.  It is a captivating and moving adventure. Personally, I most enjoyed the part where Romy became friends with the orangutans.

Siona Mitra (10)

The Great Wall Mystery, Part Two in the Monkey Magic series, is out now.


Entice with Spice
Text: Shubhra Ramineni; Photography: Masano Kawana
Tuttle Publishing

My first thought: why would you bother to learn to cook authentic Indian food when it’s so easily available here? But this charming book by first-generation Indian-American Shubhra Ramineni won me over.

She lives in Houston, Texas, and – unlike you and me – is not able to pick up yummy Indian nosh on her way home from work. So she collected recipes from her North Indian mother and her South Indian mother-in-law and learnt to cook them herself; these recipes were the basis for this book.

There’s plenty of background explanation and easy-to-follow instructions for each of the 100 recipes. What am I going to try cooking first? Perhaps the gulab jamun – milk balls in sweet syrup. Or maybe I’ll just drop by Serangoon Road on the way home.

Verne Maree


Singapore Shophouse

Text: Julian Davison; Photography: Luca Invernizzi Tettoni

Co-published by Talisman Publishing and the National Archives of Singapore

Just what we’ve been waiting for – Singapore Shophouse, an authoritative book on what is perhaps this city’s most fascinating architectural heritage. Brilliantly authored by Julian Davison, with extensive photography by Luca Invernizzi Tettoni and creatively edited by Kim Inglis, this is a winner. Julian Davison answers our questions.

We are hugely impressed by the detail and depth of information contained in your book. How long did it take you?

Around two and a half years – probably a little bit more – stretched over a four-year period. I began work on the project in November 2006.

Where did your interest in this subject begin?

My father was an architect – he was one of the founding partners of the Singapore branch of Raglan Squire & Partners, today’s RSP, and subsequently opened an office in Kuala Lumpur, where I spent most of my childhood. (The first six years were in Singapore).

On Saturdays, I would often accompany him on site inspections of various projects he was working on. In one respect, this book and my previous one on black-and-white houses are attempts to capture what old Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Malacca and all these other places were like when I was growing up here, before they were caught up on the tide of progress; magical, picturesque towns and cities, whose colourful buildings and teeming streets turned me into life-long Orientalist at a very early age.

What were some of your sources for this book?

My principal source of information was the incredible collection of architectural drawings submitted to the Singapore Municipality for planning permission, which are lodged with the National Archives of Singapore in Stamford Road.

I also consulted the published literature in Singapore’s architectural past – books like Lee Kip Lin’s indispensable Singapore House 1819–1942 (1988) and Gretchen Liu’s Pastel Portraits (1984) – and the National Library’s extensive online database.

Did you experience any difficulties along the way?

Probably my biggest frustration has been the lack of biographical information relating to the architects who designed these amazing buildings. I know them intimately through their work; their handwritten notes and distinctive architectural traits and signature stylistic flourishes are immediately recognisable to me. At another level, however, their lives remain a complete mystery to me. I’m hoping that someone reading the book will come forward and say “Oh, So-and-so was my great-grandfather”, and suddenly open up a whole new chapter on that particular architect.

Was there anyone whose input was particularly valuable?

My editor, Kim Inglis, together with the publisher, Ian Pringle of Talisman Publishing, played a major role in shaping the book and organising the way in which the information was presented, and the layout has been brilliantly crafted by the Talisman design consultant Norreha Sayuti.

Are you pleased with the result?

I think the book does well in terms of presenting the Singapore shophouse to the world – this is the first proper study devoted solely to the shophouse as an architectural tradition and there is plenty to be learnt from it, especially when looked at in conjunction with Luca’s excellent photography and archival material.

What are you working on now?

In May, I completed a six-month Lee Kong Chian Research Fellowship at the National Library, looking at Singapore between the wars, and currently I am writing up an academic paper based on this research — “Back to the Future: When Singapore Was Modern 1920–1940” — which could well be the basis of a new book.