Book Review: Mahsuri by Ooi Kok Chuen

MahsuriFirst published in The Star on 31st July, 2016

IN Mahsuri: A Legend Reborn, Ooi Kok Chuen expands on the legend of Langkawi’s famous icon who was supposed to have cursed the island during her execution for adultery. My ex-husband, whom I met in Langkawi 20 years ago, says that the curse actually involves anyone who visits Langkawi being doomed to listen to Mahsuri’s story being repeated, ad nauseum, by all and sundry. I have to agree that it really gets milked to death and would benefit from some skilful re-telling.

Preeta Samarasan, the author of Evening is the Whole Day, actually wrote a compelling version of the tale for my collection Malaysian Tales: Retold and Remixed, but I feel the story, like this region’s other fairytales, myths and legends, offers Malaysian writers endless scope for fresh interpretations, and its potential has not been maximised.

Such stories have usually survived generations stripped down to the barest, most basic of plots, their key players little more than cardboard figures just crying out to be fleshed out and reimagined.  Read More »

Re-read: Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones

This is the first in a series of posts about my re-reading of selected Diana Wynne Jones stories. I will not be reading them in order of publication, but purely according to what I feel like next. I will also not be reading every DWJ book I own (thirty seven in all).

My first DWJ re-read is Hexwood. I read my third copy of the novel. I left my first (paperback) copy on a chair in Amsterdam airport’s departure area while waiting for my connecting flight to Koln. My second copy (also a paperback) was lost somewhere in KL or PJ — I think it may have been in a post office or similar. The copy I have now is a hardback, ex-library edition, published by Methuen in 1993. I was living in England when Hexwood was first published, but I wasn’t aware of it. At that point I had only read The Time of the Ghost, which I had picked up at a flea market in Singapore. I do remember looking for DWJ’s books while living in England, but not finding any. Odd.

Anyway …Read More »

Book Review: What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

what is not yours 2First published on 30th May, 2016 in The Star


AUTHOR: Helen Oyeyemi

PUBLISHER: Picador, 22 pages


HELEN Oyeyemi’s stories never fail to surprise me. Just as some might expect certain kinds of characters, plots and themes from Asian authors, I have to admit that I tend to anticipate the shape and form of tales by African writers. A relatively new reader of Asian and African fiction, I still struggle with various preconceptions: Asian stories are inevitably and miserably tragic; African writing must reflect or be rooted in African life and culture. Complete nonsense, of course.Read More »

Book Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

paper menagerieFirst published in The Star on 27th March, 2016

Review by DAPHNE LEE


Author: Ken Liu

Publisher: Saga Press, 464 pages

THE Grace of Kings was my introduction to Ken Liu. It’s the author’s first novel, published in 2015, and the first in a planned “silkpunk” (a variation of steampunk) fantasy series called The Dandelion Dynasty. Kings is a spectacular piece of entertainment – ambitious, original and memorable, the world-building impressive, the characters convincing and sympathetic, and the fantasy elements fresh and surprising.

The problem with discovering an author at the first-novel stage of their career is you usually are in an agony of anticipation, waiting for the next book to come out. Fortunately, in Liu’s case, there is a prodigious body of prior work in the shape of short stories, novellas and novelettes. On top of that Liu is the translator of Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem trilogy (the final book is out this September), the first volume of which was the first translated novel to win the Hugo Award (2015).

And then there’s this collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Comprising 15 stories of varying lengths, styles and genres (within the speculative fiction spectrum), it aims to showcase Liu’s development and achievements as a writer of short fiction, but must have been a b**** to compile considering the fact that he has published over 100 stories since 2002.

The inclusion of the titular tale would have, of course, been a no-brainer. In 2012 it won all three of the most prestigious of sci-fi/fantasy prizes: the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards), and it is easily one of my favourites in this compilation.

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Interview: Zen Cho

This interview was first published on the now deleted local blog on 2nd January, 2015


Zen Cho is the author of Spirits Abroad, published by Fixi NOVO, and editor of the imprint’s upcoming Cyberpunk anthology. She is also the self-published author ofThe Perilous Life of Jade Yeo.

This Q&A with Cho was carried out via email and was in danger of going on indefinitely as her answers raised even more questions and also gave me plenty of food for thought …Read More »

Book Review: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

ghost brideFirst published in The Star on 3rd August, 2014


Author: Yangsze Choo

Publisher: William Morrow, 368 pages

WHEN I first heard about this book, I was intrigued. I didn’t know the details of the plot, just the book’s title and that it was set in Malacca.

The title misled me because it suggests a marriage, without which there would not be a bride. My imagination misled me further. As I thought there would be an actual marriage, between a living girl and the spirit of a man, I thought that the story would focus on the married life of the couple, describing, in particular, the bride’s experiences in the world of the dead and how she copes not just with being a new bride but also the fact that her husband is dead! I imagined that there would be plenty of scope for conflicts – perhaps a dead “other woman” or a thwarted suitor in the world of the living, or strange and violent encounters with other-worldly beings.Read More »

Book Review: On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee

on such a full seaFirst published on 4th May, 2014 in The Star

Review by DAPHNE LEE


Author: Chang-Rae Lee

Publisher: Riverhead Books

IT seems to me that every month or so, someone will recommend I read yet another book set in some grim, future Earth, its workings – political, religious etc  – reflecting, like a carnival mirror, a distorted version of life as we know it, invariably prophesising doom-and-gloom for mankind. These are books that raise worthy questions about life, modern man’s preoccupations and priorities, his choices and mistakes, but altogether too doom-filled for my tastes. I tend to give dystopian fiction wide-berth, preferring to get depressed over more mundane scenarios, like infidelity, bullying and death.

Not that there is none of that in these visions of an apocalyptic future. Life goes on, after all. Humans continue to love and hate, create and destroy, protect and betray. People, it seems, never change, no matter how good or bad things get. I am both disheartened and comforted by this.Read More »

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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