Jolene’s Story

This book caught my attention simply because I’d not seen it on the library shelves before. My interest was piqued when I read the blurb and realised it was written by a 22-year-old. It took me less than a day to read it from cover to cover (158 pages) but I’m sure it took Jolene a few hundred times longer to write.

In Jolene’s Story, Jolene Goh shares intimate details about her traumatic experience: she was born illegitimate, was sexually and physically abused by her stepfather from age 6, ran away from home, smoked, sniffed glue, took drugs, got into fights, got tattoos (at least one of which she has since regretted), joined gangs, committed petty crimes and stole, and ended up in SGH (Singapore Girl’s Home). Readers get a peek into life at SGH, from how “colourful” it is, to the secret codes of behaviour and misbehaviour that goes on.

This is a dark personal account of a desperate life (Jolene was often depressed and even contemplated suicide) and it must have been difficult to write the book because it meant recounting a lot of unhappy memories. I believe that writing this memoir has helped Jolene in the healing process and it makes her feel better and less alone, thus gaining the confidence and attention which she sorely lacked.

Changing Habits

This book caught my attention because the title Changing Habits made me think of homographs and double entendres, and it was the only book among a whole row of Debbie Macomber novels that was not categorised as Romance.

The moment I read the blurb, I decided it had to be read, because I had always been curious about the Catholic faith and nuns just as much as any other organised religion.

This is a well-researched novel about three very different women who joined an order of nuns, and then leave as they each embarked on extraordinary and emotional journeys to discover their true place in the world.

I got an insight about what women sacrificed to become nuns; I learnt about the strict and complex rules of the convent and what a nun’s life is like, including the struggles and seclusion, and the maze of regulations that make a so-called simple life. Other issues include controversies within the church, alcoholism, rape, teen pregnancy, abortion and birth control.

It opened my eyes to the way nuns were treated from the ’60s to the ’90s (for example, Custody of the Eyes, Chapter of Faults, Grand Silence and The Year of Silence), what happened and is still happening with priests, and how the extreme sacrifices and subservience required has led to a dramatic drop in the number of women entering the convent.

A rather satisfying read.

life is a mixtape

A long-time subscriber of The Straits Times, I have read all of Ignatius Low’s Sunday columns over the years and never thought of reading the book life is a mixtape until recently when I thought I might enjoy it as much as I did Sumiko Tan’s Sunday with Sumiko.

A compilation of some of his writings, the pieces are grouped into nine tracks: life, music, obsessions, fashion, memories, school, opinions, work and travel. These have been well chosen and they are nostalgic, inspiring, witty and humorous.

I enjoyed reading again about how his dog gets to enjoy air conditioning twenty four hours a day, how buying expensive underwear is a bit like joining organised religion, how durian haters (himself and yours truly included) think this ‘king of fruits’ “tastes of rotting garbage, with the texture of mango that had decayed so badly it has turned to marsh“. Pieces such as “Long Live Exams”, “Sweet Tastes of Childhood”, “Modern Day Pilgrimage” and “Romance of Railways” left me grinning from ear to ear.

I wish the book is thicker, though.

The Friends We Keep

I don’t recall not liking any novel by Jane Green that I’ve read, and The Friends We Keep does not disappoint.

The story revolves around three friends over thirty years, from the time they first meet as college freshmen.

The plot is engaging and the themes of friendship, love and forgiveness is explored.

To be flawed is human, and we must learn to accept and forgive. With love and support, friends can last forever; even if there are years, geographical distances, secrets and the bumpiness of life that keep them apart.

ABC Kiam Chye Char Loti

ABC Kiam Chye Char Loti: An Alphabet Book Made Possible in Passion is an interesting and quirky little book published in Dec 2017 by Math Paper Press. I had to suppress my laughter in the library looking at the funny illustrations by Stephanie Raphela Ho. Some examples are:

* E for Eye Power

* P for Panadol

* V for Vomit Blood


* X for X-pensive

Even the statements on the copyright page are humorous. The disclaimer and expansion on the usual “all rights reserved” is something all lucky readers who come across this gem must not miss.

Hope On The Inside

Hope On The Inside is another captivating and heart-warming novel by Marie Bostwick, whom I discovered recently when I picked up The Promise Girls at random.

Hope Carpenter is the main character and hope is the main theme. The storyline (mainly about Hope teaching a crafts class to female inmates; how this gives them a sense of purpose, gain confidence in themselves and hope for a better life) and the myriad characters (from Hope’s family to the prison supervisor, guards, prison chaplain and inmates) make this book special. It is sincere and emotional, uplifting and inspirational.

The writing has its own unique spin and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I’m going to pick up more novels by Marie Bostwick on my next visit to the library.

The Promise Girls

A random pick, The Promise Girls by Marie Bostwick, turns out to be so captivating that I am sure to read all the other books by the same author.

The Promise girls refer to the three sisters raised by a single mum who has adopted the name ‘Promise’ when reinventing her identity. The girls each has a childhood that under no circumstances can be termed normal, and have been groomed to be prodigies in different fields – a pianist, an artist and a writer.

When everything blows up in their faces as the girls grow up, secrets and lies of a bitter past slowly unveil as they are forced to confront issues and figure out why they are the way they are.

This is a beautifully written story about ties that bind – love, laughter, memories and secrets. The way the messages of passion, promise and belief is presented is unique and heart-warming.

As #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie McComber says: Reading Marie Bostwick is like wrapping yourself up in a warm, hand-crafted quilt. Her books, rich in character and plot, are stitched together by a skilled wordsmith.

Singapore Siu Dai

Singapore Siu Dai: The Singapore Conversation in a Cup (Books 1, 2 & 3) by Felix Cheong and illustrated by PMan were written between 2014 and 2016, around Singapore’s 50th birthday (9 August 2015). I decided to read them all at once, in sequence, the first time I saw them all together on the library shelf.

The pieces (50+51+63 in their respective volumes) are full of humour and wit; I giggled a lot, stifling my laughter in case people around me thought I was crazy. The puns and satire are funny and insightful at the same time. The issues discussed (under sub-headings like The Life of Slices, Family Planning Woes, Trials of a Campaign Trail, A Day in the Office, Beng Out of Shape, What If.., Three Terrorists in a Tub, and Slices of Salt, with a Haey Pinch of Life) are relevant and relatable.

Non-Singaporeans will find the glossary pages useful. Many Singaporeans will agree with much of the stuff in the books. All should read the books, if only to get their funny bones tickled.

The Climbers

The Climbers is largely about how a reassembled Chinese mountaineering team reached the North summit of Mount Everest (aka Qomolangma) in 1975 as their first attempt in 1960 was not recognised because there was no photographic evidence.

From the first scene to the last, the spectacular cinematography is a visual treat, especially since much of it is shot on location in Tibet.

Even the dangers of natural hazards like dizzying high-speed winds, relentless snow storms, treacherous crevices and avalanches shot at close range look breathtaking. The views captured are panoramic and beautiful; at the same time the action sequences are gripping and suspenseful.

The nerve-wrecking and heart-stopping moments are effective because of the stirring music score and impressive sound design. The thunderous trumpets, the keening violins, the mournful cellos, the soothing piano, the pulsating percussion, the sharp and piercing woodwind instruments and the full orchestral tutti all make great impact and add to the drama. The tension is palpable, and the music also helps convey whatever perceived romance, hardships, disappointment, heart-break, devastation or shattering emotions in this stirring tribute. (Not to give the plot away, but I think Mount Everest is also symbolic of the mountains between characters.)

The 125 minutes of pure adrenaline would keep viewers at the edge of their seats!

Three things I did not expect are: the theme of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (First Movement) interspersed with an original composition in two scenes, a guest appearance by Jackie Chan in the epilogue, and actual footages of the expedition during the end credits.

Cousin June

I have no idea why I’ve never seen this book on the library shelves before now, though it was published 15 years ago. My attention was captured by the quotation at the beginning of the book:

A family memoir by Zheng Shuying, who was a teacher in Singapore for more than a quarter of a century, Cousin June is a book of quite a different sort.

In the book, Zheng writes about her aged cousin’s experiences of her growing up years in China until she was 13, then coming to Malaya and ended up as a cabaret girl. The accounts are intriguing and fascinating, and some readers (of a certain age) can relate to the diverse and unique bygone rituals, rules, code and practices.

However, I’m sure there are also readers like myself who are not enamoured of her style of writing. This would be an interesting topic for discussion at any book club!