Wednesday, 17 October 2018

#bookreview: Singapore Love Stories

Singapore Love StoriesSingapore Love Stories by Verena Tay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I might have been a little too distracted to enjoy this book as much as I wanted to. Similar in concept to LOVE IN PENANG, Singapore Love Stories is an anthology of love stories set in Singapore. The themes and stories are a little darker, and a lot grittier, though.

The anthology opens with the brilliant A Poor Man by Audrey Chin, which immerses you in the life of a poor immigrant Indian construction worker in rich, cosmopolitan Singapore. Written in epistolary style, the richness of the tone and voice is the first thing that struck me. A reader unfamiliar with the tone and style of speaking of the region would struggle with the non-standard grammar and the strange, sometimes awkward style of the text, but for me, reading it felt like having the person stand beside me and tell his story.

A Bad Decision by Damyanti Biswas was another one I quite liked, though the ending felt a little too open-ended to me. I could also be a little biased on this one because I've read quite a few of Biswas' work before.

At first, I didn't really think much of Clarissa Goenawan's The Things We Hide . The story jumps between present and past, and there's a ghost. Right. But as a whole, it's beautifully and simply told, with very soft, gentle undertones to the harsh truths that are revealed.

The Gardener by Raelee Chapman is another one that caught my attention with its voice and tone--whilst not as impactful as A Poor Man, it was still delightful to the ear.

I cannot fail to mention Wan Phing Lim. The Ruby Case is amusing and vividly told in Lim's distinctive style. I'm not sure if the police work that way in Singapore, but who knows?

Space, Time and Chicken Rice by Kane Wheatley-Holder is another piece that I didn't quite appreciate--until it suddenly became sci-fi. I did not expect the ending at all. But it was very aww-inducing.

One of my favourites of this anthology has to be Melanie Lee's ATM Agony Aunt, which is basically a girl asking relationship advice from the quotes provided by the ATM machine. It's also very Singaporean in sound, which I like.

S. Mickey Lin closed off the anthology with Merlion's Magic, which I initially really liked because woohoo! magic! Alternate magical Singapore history! And then the twist in the end came (no spoilers) and I was all what. =.=

But at any rate, Singapore Love Stories is as vibrant and eclectic as its inhabitants. The stories cover both new love and old, uncertain relationships, filial love and loss, long-distant relationships and longing. The recurring themes of divorce and affairs do make me wonder about the state of love and marriage in Singapore, though.

View all my reviews

Monday, 15 October 2018

#musicmonday: Your Love Awakens Me | Phil Wickham & Chris Quilala



And what a love we found
Death can't hold us down
We shout it out
We're alive
Cause you're alive
And what a love we found
Death can't hold us down
We shout it out
We're alive
Cause you're alive
And what a love we found
Death can't hold us down
We shout it out
We're alive
Cause you're alive

Your love is greater
Your love is stronger
Your love awakens
Awakens
Awakens me
Your love is greater
Your love is stronger
Your love awakens
Awakens
Awakens me

Friday, 12 October 2018

#fridayflash: Bitter Dregs


Sip.

“I wish you’d talk to me, Denise.” Casey looks at his ex expectantly.
She frowns at her cup, a finger lying lightly on the rim.
“Look. I know it’s my fault. I got angry and said things I didn’t mean. Can you forgive me?” He keeps his voice low so no one can overhear. Not that there’s anyone close enough.

She holds the warm liquid in her mouth, letting it sit on her tongue. She imagines she’s Sherlock Holmes; wishes she were as smart, as observant, wishes she could deduce a way out of this.

There’s an almost-smile on Denise’s lips and Casey is jealous. He’s here to talk, explain himself, beg forgiveness but she won’t look at him. No, she sits there looking as if she’d like to orgasm from drinking her damned tea. He should never have asked her to this pretentious Singaporean place, all tinkly and shiny and stiff-upper lip, mocking his faded polo and worn jeans.
“Den, look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have accused you of cheating on me. And I shouldn’t have laid a hand on you,” he tries again.
The remnant of a yellowing bruise is still visible on her cheekbone. Her long-sleeved turtleneck hides whatever other evidence there still is. He’s grateful for that, grateful he can’t see what he’s done.
Her eyes are still fixed on her half-full cup, as if trying to divine secrets from the light brown liquid.

A second mouthful. There’s something floral about it; floral and slightly smooth. Vanilla? She can feel the caffeine kicking in, so it’s not a tisane. Probably a black tea blend; there’s no green tea smell. Black, red, or white–red has its own distinctive taste and a white would be lighter. She should have asked, should have studied her order, but she’d just waved at the waiter and asked to be surprised. 

“You’ll never understand, Case.”
A couple passes close by their table, arms linked. He tries to look pleasant, understanding. “Help me. Please.”
“I’ve tried. You don’t listen.”
“I remembered you liked this place.”
Her shoulders spasm. She fiddles with her sleeves, rubbing at them.
He scowls and grabs at her wrist, making her cry out. He pushes her sleeves up to her elbows and stares at the criss-crossed marks. Faded, brown, scarred. Fresh, red, lightly scabbed. He didn’t put them there. Is this what she’s been hiding all this while? “Who did this to you?”

She closes her eyes and breathes in. The scent is settling. Calming. Peaceful. Blue cornflowers. That’s it. She’s had this before. Sweet. Light and refreshing. Coincidence? Or had he tampered with her order? She knows what it is now: French Earl Grey, the very TWG blend she’d bought as ‘his’ last birthday gift for herself. She doubts he remembers that.

“Was it Mark?” he pressed. “Did Mark do this to you?”
“No.” She shakes her head in emphasis but he’s seen similar scars on Mark’s hands, beneath the rolled-up cuffs and the tattoos. Beside the stupid semicolon they both bear. Underneath the ridiculously large Love on his forearm. What’s he compensating for?
“Did he… make you do it with him?”
She finally looks up at him, seeming to study his face though her gaze never fully settles on him. “He’s only ever asked me to stop.”
He stares at her. “You do this to yourself? Why?”
“You wouldn’t understand.” 
“Try me.” His voice is a growl and she flinches, but he’s angry enough not to care. Not angry enough to make a scene at Gurney Paragon Mall, sparse though the crowd is, so he stays in his seat while his hand curls around her left wrist hard enough to bruise. Hard enough to reopen the scabs.
“Stop. It hurts.”
“Isn’t that what you want?”
“I just…” She falls silent. “It’s different.”

Underlying it is bitterness. Too-hot water, too-long steeping, she doesn’t know which, but something is off. It’s too dark. It isn’t her fault. The waiters brewed this. They were careless. Undertrained. She should have noticed. Should have stopped it. Voiced her displeasure. She can’t. She has no control over anything.

“I can’t help you if you won’t let me.”
“You can’t help me.” Her right hand quivers as she lifts the teapot.
“You’re my girlfriend. I’m supposed to.”
“You dumped me. Remember?”
“I was angry! I didn’t mean it!”
“We’re done.”
“We’re not.” He jabs the table. Her overly full cup spills at the violent shaking.
Her eyes fix on the stain. “You hate me. You hate everything I am. You hate everything I do. Why should we be together?”
He hates that she’s speaking so flatly, so emotionlessly, while he’s the one seething, boiling over with rage. He grinds his teeth, fist clenching.
“Do you want to beat me into submission again? Do you want me to cower at your feet?”
“This is not over, Denise.” The chair scrapes a sharp shriek. He pays and leaves the café before he can give in to the temptation to drag her with him, to drag her home.

The little tea candle flickering under the pot has gone out. The pot is cold. The tea is cold. A cold, acrid brew. Dark. Over-steeped. She’s still drinking anyway. Robotically. Down to the dregs. It still smells of flowers, but the bitterness on her tongue overwhelms everything else. 

“Are you all right?” Mark asks as he slips into Casey’s long-vacated seat.
She snorts, grateful he’d come when she called.
He cocks a half-smile. Sad, yet understanding. They will never be all right.
“It gets better,” he says.
Another waiter hovers. Mark mumbles. Another long silence.
The smell of chamomile and vanilla wafts over and Denise looks up to see Mark pouring from a fresh pot. He puts the dainty teacup down in front of her. Her fingers wrap around the warmth, both of his fingers and of the brew.
He quirks an eyebrow then slowly pulls his hands away.
The world shifts, tilts. It doesn’t quite correct itself, but at least she can breathe. She lifts the cup and presses it to her lips.

Sip.

---

I initially wrote this for NutMag in 2017, but it didn't fit in with the rest of the chapbook. The them was tea or coffee, if you were wondering.

At any rate, I've slashed it down from 1.5K to about 1K words here, and the clarity might have suffered a little. Still, it was mostly an experiment, so I'm fine with that.

The theme for this past week was relationships.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

#bookreview: Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut | D.G. Lamb

Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest CutDriven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut by D.G. Lamb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Personally, I'd give this one a 3.5, though I think that teen male readers would enjoy it more. It is, after all, about a brave young boy who survives in the wild whilst I am a middle-aged woman who doesn't like camping haha.

This point is important because Lamb dwells a lot upon how Joshua survives on his own in the Swamp, even whilst impressing you with his intricate world-building, creating an alien place with terrifying and beautiful flora and fauna. Filled with SpiderVipers and SwampBunnies, Nuteggs and Bluebells, The Swamp outside New Cincinnati is dangerous unexplored territory--though it's more likely the seedy underground and gangs in The Avenue that will get Joshua killed.

Writing-wise, there are some annoying POV changes here and there--nothing that really pulls you out of the story, but just little things that niggle every once in a while. As mentioned before, Lamb is great at descriptions, and the world really comes to life through Joshua's careful explorations.

An eleven-year-old boy isn't normally expected to be mature or smart, and whilst the protagonist seems advanced for his age, his unusual upbringing and family background provide reasons for that, whilst his stupid--well, not really stupid, but naive--decisions, especially in trusting people, fleshes him out into a well-rounded character with both strengths and weaknesses.

The story settles into a nice, sweet end, still leaving you wondering what's next for Joshua.

Note: I received a digital copy of this book from the author as part of a book tour. I was given the book with no expectation of a positive review and the review is my own.

View all my reviews


About DG Lamb:
D G Lamb is a board certified clinical neuropsychologist. His day job involves helping people to become more independent after some type of neurological injury. In addition to a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, he has a Master’s in Art Therapy. He has also worked with law enforcement officers to deal with PTSD after critical incidents. While recovering from prostate cancer surgery, his son suggested he try his hand at creative writing. Although his professional experiences certainly informed aspects of this story, he also drew upon his love of cooking and backpacking the mountain trails of Arizona (where unlike Cypress Grove, it rarely rains).



Check out DG Lamb's website for more information on the blog tour plus giveaway!

Monday, 8 October 2018

#musicmonday: Known | Tauren Wells



I’m fully known and loved by You 
You won’t let go no matter what I do 
And it’s not one or the other 
It’s hard truth and ridiculous grace 
To be known fully known and loved by You 
I’m fully known and loved by You

Sunday, 7 October 2018

#AnnasMA: Tea, Nando's and a lot of literary stuff

It's coming up to a month since I've been in the UK. Nothing has changed, everything has changed.

... and that was just being dramatic for the moment. haha...

I suddenly feel like I'm posting so often, but it's just that I'm in the middle of a few blog tours (extra posts) and I *actually* have stuff to post for #fridayflash (because, oo look! I'm writing) and I figured if I'm going to do this blogging thing, I should actually blog, instead of saying I'm going to but never doing it. LOL. Does that sentence even make sense?


We've had two weeks of classes which, I think, went pretty well. Excepting for the fact that when we start discussing novels and people are like analysing the structure, and the bits that worked and didn't work and this technical something something, and I'm just going... well, I liked (or didn't like) the book? Probably gotta read more critically from now on.


This weekend, I attended the Uxbridge Library Open Mic and the Hillingdon Lit Fest, so I'm pretty sated with literary stuff for the next few days.

Hung out with some Chevenors + a lit student at Nando's (heh heh heh heh) before the open mic so that was pretty cool. One of them, Inga, is from South Africa, the HOME OF NANDO'S.  Note colour differences in the Wild Herb. It tastes slightly different too.



A post shared by Anna Tan (@annatsp) on

Other than that, I've sorta joined the CU (or what we usually call the CF) and we'll see where that leads. (Also, today's church experience was much better than last week's.)

And that's it for tonight. :)

Friday, 5 October 2018

#fridayflash: Malaysian Time


It’s almost noon at Lebuh Pantai. Jen has circled the surrounding streets and the back lanes multiple times, looking for an elusive parking lot. There’s a dip in the row the cars ahead seem to be ignoring. She inches her MyVi closer, only to find a tiny white Kancil.

One more loop? No. Lay Cheng will be annoyed, grumbling as always about Malaysian time and lack of respect.

Jen glances at the clock on her dashboard as she turns left into the multi-storey carpark where she parks on the fifth floor. The heat blasts at her the moment she opens the car door. She takes a moment to wipe the fog off her glasses. By the time she walks over, she’ll probably be late anyway.

Back out on the street, the humid air smells of spices from Enrico; she walks briskly past racks of onions and little brown pottery that jut out into the five-foot way. She lifts a hand to block the glare of the sun as she navigates the narrow space between storefronts—alternating between dilapidated and carefully restored—on her right and rows of parked cars on her left. Momentarily, she regrets not bringing an umbrella.

Ahead, a car pulls out of a lot and she curses her timing; that would have been twenty sen per hour saved, plus a shorter walk. Dust billows from the street with a spurt of warm, petrol-tainted air as the traffic light somewhere behind changes and the cars and buses continue rumbling by.

Past the gigantic plastic bowl of cendol in front of the Wonderfood Museum is the banking district. CIMB is on her right with Allianz across the street, RHB and OCBC ahead on the left, the last three looking slightly more modern than the rest of the colonial-era buildings on Lebuh Pantai. Right in front of her, as she squints down the road before crossing, a building proclaims 1923 in curly black numerals.

The five-foot-way disappears for a short stretch, blocked off by zinc sheets. The new hotel being constructed will probably look like every other building in this heritage area—stark white or grey stone, fancy cornices. A brief block of beige past the construction softens the glare.

Would Lay Cheng glare at her? Silly question.

Jen avoids the scattered clumps of tourists who block the way studying paper maps. The street art is down that way, she wants to say, but doesn’t. It’s the main thing foreigners look for now: Ernest Zacharevic’s famous ‘Little Children on A Bicycle’.

Back on the five-foot-way, she walks almost hugging the wall, partly to get whatever shade she can find, but also to catch brief bursts of air-conditioning that escape from open doorways. Someone blares a horn. Jen looks to see who it is. Some idiot, as usual, has stopped his car in front of the money changer’s. The Indian Muslim owner shakes a calculator in front of the open car window as impatient drivers pull out around the obstruction. US dollars, she overhears, four point something.

Groups of office workers are emerging from their cold caves into scorching sunlight and blue skies in search of lunch, filling the air with chatter—Hokkien, mostly, interspersed with English and Malay. She picks up the pace as her phone buzzes again—Lay Cheng must be there.

Jen can feel sweat dripping down her shirt when she finally arrives at the Sri Weld Food Court. It’s bustling; the smell of oil and frying food hits her. Her clothes are going to stink when she gets back to the office. There’s still a long line of cars waiting to park and she’s glad she’d decided not to park here. Two ringgit per hour saved.

She snags a packet of nasi lemak from Ali’s, shelling out one ringgit eighty sen in coins before she heads into the main part of the eatery. She scans the tables and the food stalls, wondering both what to eat for lunch and where her friend is.

Lay Cheng isn’t anywhere and Jen frowns, standing uncertainly by the beef noodle stall. She pulls out her handphone to find that she is late, and there’s a series of WhatsApp messages from Lay Cheng.

11:45 – Rushing report. Sorry. U there d?
11:55 – Leaving soon!
12:01 – Boss caught me at lift. Have to fix some stuff. 10 mins. U ok for time?
12:04 – Jennnnnn replyyyyyyy.
12:05 – Ur late rite I know u r


Jen spies an empty table and hurries to it, sitting just before a large group of four arrive. They stare at her as she plonks her banana-leaf wrapped rice on the table. She sucks the chilli oil off her thumb before replying Lay Cheng.

12:08 – HAH for once earlier than u! M ok for time.
12:09 – Hurry up. Ppl are staring like I’m hogging the table cos I’m not letting them share
12:13 – Cheeennngggggg replyyyyyy
12:14 – OMG this is the first time I get to do this to u hahahaha


12:15 – Idiot. Almost there.

Jen wants to order a plate of wan tan mee, but has nothing to chup the table with. The umbrella would have come in handy. She’ll just have to wait for Lay Cheng. She’s almost finished her nasi lemak when Lay Cheng finally arrives, huffing and sweating.

“You know, I’m the one who had to brave traffic and find parking to get here. All you had to do was leave your building and walk over,” Jen says in greeting.

“Yah, gloat when you can. You’re the one who is always late,” Lay Cheng snipes back. “Have you ordered? Or is that it?”

“Not yet. What you getting?”

Lay Cheng shrugs.

Jen tells Lay Cheng to order wan tan mee for her then continues to savour the last bits of spicy sour sambal and salty anchovies on fragrant rice as she waits for her best friend return. They only have thirty minutes to gossip before they have to head back to their frigid offices.

---

Because I finally wrote something new that's not for like publication or submission or something.

Week 1 homework
Setting & place: Bring a street, city or town to life through all your senses. Have your character walk through the city, describing it through the eyes of the character. Interweave description as part of the character’s journey & tension.