Re-read: Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

cover_of_fire_and_hemlockInspired by this Guardian blog post, I chose Fire and Hemlock as my third Diana Wynne Jones re-read.

This story is a Tam Lin re-telling, and although I am interested in the ballad and interpretations of it, and this book is one of my favourite DWJs, I’ve always felt uncomfortable about the relationship between Polly (Jones’s Janet) and Thomas Lynn.

OK, if you haven’t read Fire and Hemlock, there will be spoilers in this post, so click the Read More button at your own risk.Read More »

Re-read: The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones


My re-read of Diana Wynne Jones IS continuing, I swear, although it keeps getting interrupted by me being in the mood for other books (currently, Qiu Xialong’s Chief Inspector Chen mysteries). After a hugely satisfying Hexwood re-read, I started on the Unexpected Magic anthology, abandoned that and moved on to The Time of the Ghost.

The Time of the Ghost was my very first DWJ, bought in 1986, in Singapore when I was doing my ‘A ‘levels at National Junior College. I seem to remember a table with books laid out on it, at some kind of market or near a hawker centre. I think it was in Jurong West, where I stayed in a rented room. I still have the book I bought (above), a hardback Macmillan edition, with cover art by Maggie Heslop.Read More »

Book Review: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

the white darknessFirst published 4th December, 2005 in StarMag


By Geraldine McCaughrean

Publisher: Oxford University Press, 272 pages

I HAVE been in love with Titus Oates for quite a while now – which is ridiculous, since he’s been dead for 90 years.”

The reader gets a pretty clear idea what Symone, heroine of The White Darkness, is like from the first line of Geraldine McCaughrean’s latest (and, in my opinion, best thus far) novel.

Captain Lawrence “Titus” Oates, one of the men on Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated 1911 expedition to the South Pole, is not usually the sort of bloke 14-year-olds obsess about. but Symone, shy, sensitive and romantic, has neither the vocabulary nor the stomach for the preoccupations of the average 21st century adolescent. While her classmates discuss snogging and boys, she dreams about glaciers and snow storms and Oates.

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Book Review: How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Here is my review in all its original smutty glory.

Actually, I have a confession to make: I don’t consider the reviews I write reviews at all, not according to the Wikipedia definition anyway: ‘A book review is a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit.’

Once upon a time I wrote those kinds of reviews, now I guess I just talk about what the books mean to me.

How to Build a Girl reminded me of growing up ‘fat’ and doubtful in 1980s Batu Pahat, Johor. Left to my own devices I would not have doubted anything, least of all myself, but encouraged by some friends and some family members, I suffered from periodical bouts of self-hate and self-doubt. Sure, I should not have let what they say get to me, but hey, that was before I knew anything about life, or myself, way before I became the fabulous Me that’s typing this post.

Anyway, I should perhaps write a post about being a ‘fat’, sexually-frustrated teenager for my personal blog. It would be a book-length post though, so perhaps I should think of writing a memoir. That would be one way to get thrown out of the country.

Until then, my review of How to Build a GirlRead More »

Book Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

boy snow birdFirst published on 25th May, 2014 in The Star.

Review by DAPHNE LEE


Author: Helen Oyeyemi

Publisher: Picador

IN Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi’s fifth novel, nothing is what it seems, hardly anyone is what they appear to be. The whole is misdirection, right from the title, with its three names that reveal and conceal. Boy, Snow, Bird – names that make a show of telling the truth yet hint at mysteries and secrets.

Take Boy – not a boy, but a beautiful girl – an icy beauty, white-blond, black-eyed. With a name like Boy she could only be a character in soap opera or a fairy tale. She is neither. Boy’s life is a nightmare thanks to an abusive and sadistic father who traps rats for a living. The time comes when Boy decides to leave, to avoid death or maiming, and seek her fortune. She ends up in Flax Hill, a small New England town where she meets Arturo Whitmore, a widower with a daughter named Snow.

Lies are at the centre of this story, they are its foundation and its decoration. They drive the plot, and shape the lives of the characters. The story is a broken mirror (mirrors are an important in this book): each piece of glass tells a lie of some sort, and the whole is a distorted image that changes according to your perspective, and depending on the kinds of patterns you see in the cracks. Maybe there are no patterns. Maybe you see rifts, dividing lines that you can fall through, disappear into.

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Book Review: More Than This by Patrick Ness

more than this patrick nessFirst published on 27th October, 2013 in The Star

NESA, my friend and fellow-book junkie, said recently that the right books always come along just when they’re needed: “I wonder how they know?”

More Than This by Patrick Ness was the right book for me last week. I received a review copy a month ago but only started reading it when I remembered the review (which you’re reading now) was due. Incidentally, Ness’ A Monster Calls is always the right book. It makes me cry. And cry. And cry. And it always feels so good, so cathartic.

More Than This … it turned out to be an unexpected antidote to a psychic punch in the solar plexus. It’s about a boy, Seth, who drowns and then wakes up in the house he lived in as a child. At one point he wonders if he’s in hell: Something happened to Seth when he was eight years old and living in that house, in England. It was something terrible – so terrible that the place might well qualify as the setting for Seth’s own, personal hell.

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Book Review: A Song of the Wind by Isa Kamari

a song of the windFirst published on 8th September, 2013 in The Star

FINALLY, a local (regional) coming-of-age story teenagers can really sink their teeth into!

A Song Of The Wind by Isa Kamari probably wasn’t written for teenagers, but this book, translated by Sukmawati Sirat and R Krishnan, and recently published by Silverfish Books, is just the sort of “young adult” book I’ve been waiting to see on Malaysian bookshelves.

It’s set in Singapore, spanning the 1960s to 1980s, and tells the story of Ilham, the eldest of four children who live in Kampung Tawakala, a village near the Brown Hill cemetery, which still exists although it closed in the 70s – there’s even a Bukit Brown MRT stop.Read More »

Book Review: The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

lucyvariations sara zarrFirst published on 28th July, 2013 in The Star 

YOU may know that one of my favourite books of all-time is Virginia Euwer Wolff’s The Mozart Season, and that I love reading all books about the performing arts (or any of the arts, really). Call it the wishful thinking of an adult who did not have the typical opportunities afforded most middle-class, urban Malaysian children, including music and/or ballet lessons.

The lives of young dancers and musicians fascinate me: The talent, the passion, the dedication, the discipline. The Mozart Season is about a young violinist, Allegra; and I have also reviewed here, Four Seasons, the story of Ally, a conflicted teenage pianist. Two years on, and we have Lucy Beck-Moreau, the 16-year-old protagonist of The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr.

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Book Review: Four Seasons by Jane Breskin Zalben

FOUR SEASONSFirst published on 17th April, 2011 in StarMag

Author: Janet Breskin Zalben
Publisher: Knopf, 336 pages

ALLEGRA (Ally to her friends and family) Katz has been playing the piano since she was four. She’s now 13 and belongs to a pre-college music programme at the Juilliard Music School. Her dad is a violinist with a famous quartet, and her mother trained in opera and now sings the blues in jazz bars in Manhattan’s Alphabet City.

Ally’s life revolves around music. She has to practice six hours a day and spends practically the whole of every Saturday at Juilliard, attending various music workshops and classes – theory, chamber, composition, solfege, master class, and her piano lesson proper with the relentlessly demanding and unsympathetic Miss Pringle.

“It felt like the world was passing me by,” says Ally when she can’t make it to her best friend, Opal’s art exhibition. Slumber parties, just hanging out eating hotdogs or watching movies, dating, all the things that most teenagers take for granted have to take a back seat to her music career, or rather making sure that she has music career to look forward to – “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice.”

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Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

graveyardFirst published on 12th Oct, 2008 in StarMag

By Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 289 pages

THIS BOOK opens with a murder – three murders, actually – and yet, I would call it a comforting book. A man, Jack, is sent to kill a family of four, including two children. The opening paragraph contains the description of a knife, its handle and blade wet with blood. But, yes, on the whole, a warm and fuzzy book.

The title doesn’t suggest a cozy story. Neither does the cover (a thin and ghostly woman astride a pale horse haunts the back).Read More »