Happy Birthday to My Book Blog! (and mid-month round-up)

…okay, sort of belated birthday, to be perfectly honest. I had noted down “Wow, one year since my first post” in my trusty black planner for 11 November last week, but I misplaced my planner (nightmare) and was in Singapore, so I missed it!

It has been one year of blogging (slash writing sporadically) about books I’ve read! Recently I also celebrated one year of Feminist Book Club, and one year of Netball Wednesdays – apparently in November 2016 I went on an Achieving Things binge which I’m reaping the rewards of now, a year later. I say it flippantly, but really this month of anniversaries has reminded me that good things take time, effort, investment, patience. Not everything is instant gratification, and it shouldn’t be. There is a sweet kind of joy in patient perseverance.

I started the book blog to share things I’ve read, to keep track of things I’ve read. To track patterns of my own reading behaviour and economics. In the year ahead I’d like to start seriously tracking how much I spend on books on a month to month basis (I know I’ve spent about BND400 this month alone), how much I spend on ebooks versus hard copies. I consider this expense both a personal and professional one, but it is still definitely an Expense.

(Also, despite the blog, I still have trouble remembering what the last title I read was off the top of my head when people ask.)

In the last month, my personal and professional commitments have amped up considerably (piano exam on Friday, out of the country two weekends in a row, last week of PT, EXAM SEASON AT UBD, two weeks from leaving for Kyoto, Miscellanous Other), I’ve struggled to find the time to read lengthily and quietly, but sometimes (most of the time) people are more important than paper so, no regrets. A book I pre-ordered was released today, I have an anthology of ghost stories next to me, and Alfian Sa’at’s Malay Sketches in my bag – and after piano class this evening, I have a free night. Face mask, glasses, bed, book.

Just about time, too – I’m shockingly behind on November goals. I’ve read exactly 3 books – all of which were great, but still. 3 books in 2 weeks? What am I doing with my life. They were:

  • Sylvia Townsend Warner Lolly Willowes (yes witches rural england deal with farmer devil)
  • Tash Aw Strangers on a Pier (looking one way, being looked at another, distorted mirrors and family legacies)
  • Shonda Rhimes Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person (affirmative, confident, what saying yes to life means. this is pure abundance theory.)

Also, I just published a short story with Heartwrite Co. Here’s a picture! The illustrations are gorgeous and worth the price of admission, and the short story can be ordered from them on IG (@heartwrite.co).

Happy birthday katdakoo reads! I can’t wait to do up my end-of-year graphs next month.



Posted in mid-month | Leave a comment

October Round Up and Deals with the Devil

I fell 2 books short of reaching my October goal!

At 9 books, it was a bit of a slow month, reading-wise. More interestingly, it is also the first month this year in which I have read more male than female authored novels (5-4). Perhaps this contributed to the slowness? I found myself thinking while reading Crazy Rich Asians that it was super male – I thought a little bit about the differences between male and female writing last year, and I might almost be ready to refine a little further on those thoughts.

Maybe after I’ve finished the book I’m on now; Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes (as recommended in 11 Books to Hex the Patriarchy hrhr). It’s pretty good so far, sort of a cross between E.M Delafield’s The Provincial Lady, something Evelyn Waugh-y, and if the blurb holds true, FAUSTUS haha. (I read Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus last week, and I’m intrigued to consider the differences between male and female pacts with the devil. Marlowe’s Faustus disappointed me a little – he got buyer’s remorse on the whole soul thing REAL fast, and he didn’t seem to have much imagination vis a vis HAVING A DEMON AND THE POWERS OF HELL AT YOUR DISPOSAL. I mean…there’s an extended scene where he just pranks a farmer by selling him a horse made of hay, and then pretends to lose his leg? What? You have 24 years and Mephistopheles at your command, and that’s what you choose to do?)

Last year I read 7 books in November, so I am DEFINITELY gunning to exceed that this year, jeez louise. I’m currently at 131 books for the year; to meet last year’s number I’d have to read 31 more, which would be about 15-16 books in November and December. I’d actually be happy with 150; with the Singapore Writers Festival and a move abroad coming up, I think that’s probably more feasible as well. Actually, I’ll set myself a goal of getting back to my 3 books a week habit – that would put me at a solid 155 for the year. But one month at a time!

Next week is the one-year anniversary of Feminist Book Club (as well as Bruhaha’s Movember shows and JIS’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Hello November!

Posted in monthly round-up | Leave a comment

Imagined Brunei: Kevin Kwan’s “Crazy Rich Asians”

It makes sense that Brunei would make an appearance in a Southeast Asian novel – a few days ago it was Miguel Syjuco’s Ilustrado, today it’s Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians.


Ref 1: pg 122 Key words: Sultan of Brunei, Gurkha soldiers

Ref 2: pg 272 Key words: Sultan of Brunei

Ref 3: pg 277 Key words: privacy, Bruneian princesses, Bruneian royalty, shopping

It makes sense that in a book about the “crazy rich” that the predominant focus on Bruneian-ness be royalty, disposable income, retail.

In other news, a friend commented to me that this book felt like it was written by a female, but I have to disagree. It felt very male to me – whatever that means. Haha, Sunday afternoon thoughts – never reaching a conclusion. What I liked about it was that there was a human story underneath the glitz and glamour – in that way it did feel quite Jackie Collins-esque. And now I’m looking forward to the movie, hope they don’t chintz out on the fabulous setting and detail!

Also, I definitely filed away some thoughts on my own personal home decor while reading this book. Heh.

Posted in Asian fiction | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mid (ish) October Round-Up (Epic Reading Slump)

19 days in to October and I’m definitely feeling a reading slump. I’ve gotten 5 books under my belt this month, and they’ve all been good, but last night I was rifling through my TBR book pile and thinking, why are all the books in this pile so depressing? I finally picked up Fay Weldon’s Worst Fears for some acerbic, biting, machine-gun paced prose, finished it, then started in on Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, but I think I need to add some lighter, faster things to my TBR pile. To that end, this is what I’ve put in my bookdepository cart:


The books I’ve gotten through so far this month have been the ones that have been lighter, easier.

Anne Helen Petersen Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman (So good! The chapters on Serena Williams and Nicki Minaj, in particular, I thought, were excellent. The Hillary Clinton chapter was also objectively good, but felt familiar – I’ve read too many thinkpieces on Clinton since the election for it to be otherwise.)

Robin Sloane Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore (Excellent, fast-paced quest through Google, bookstores, archival dives, told by a very likeable protagonist. If imagining bookstores as magical places full of promise and adventure is your thing, you will like this.)

Fay Weldon Worst Fears (Man dies, and his accomplished, beautiful wife finds out he’s been cheating on her. Worth reading for how well it captures the sheer, complex bitchery between women, and the utter trashness of men.)

I also reviewed Rozan Yunos’ Monsters, Dragons & Fairies: Myths and Legends from Borneo and Brunei, over at The Scoop. Thanks to everybody who’s reached out and given feedback and thoughts on the column, I’ve appreciated every comment.

12 days to the end of October. I’d need to be getting through a book every two days now to meet my October target of 11 books – doable? My schedule makes me doubt it, but we’ll see! I feel like I’ve been reading a lot of not-so-great stuff lately, and I do want to nourish my brain and soul with some quality nutrients, so am diving determinedly back in to TBR.

Posted in mid-month | 1 Comment

Imagining Brunei: Miguel Syjuco’s “Ilustrado”

Just a quick post to flag up another mention of Brunei in fiction – this time in Miguel Syjuco’s Man Asian-winning Ilustrado. Throwaway references, as in David Mitchell’s Slade House.  

In the first reference, on pg 97, Brunei is referenced in the same sentence as Saudi, as a destination for domestic helpers from the Philippines. Interesting comparison here – small, oil-rich Muslim kingdoms.

In the 2nd reference, on pg 118, “the larger home of the Sultan of Brunei’s brother’s Filipina mistress” is part of the Makati setting, placed in the same area as the expatriate, affluent elite – the polo club, the American ambassador’s residence.

Imagined Brunei – the lookout continues!

Posted in Brunei | Tagged , | Leave a comment

September Round Up: The Muslim Woman’s Double Bind

  • 13 books in September!
  • 12 female-authored
  • 2 Bruneian novels (The Last Bastion of Ingei and Jewel: An attempt at a halal romance – review for The Scoop here)
  • 3 books on Islam
  • 1 book on Erotic Stories for Punjabi widows (I just love that title so much. And the novel itself is pretty awesome as well!)

Of note this month:

Susan Carland’s Fighting Hislam, which I read on the heels of S.K. Ali’s Saints and Misfits and at the same time as Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows – and around the same time that the Nouman Ali Khan case came under public scrutiny.

Carland talks about the “double bind” faced by Muslim women who want to speak up about injustices, prejudices, crimes, abuse, wrongs in their own communities – how they face the gauntlet of knowing that Islamophobes and opponents to the religion are just waiting to pounce on any signs of dysfunction in the religion and Muslim communities; as well as the resistance within their own communities to the airing of “dirty laundry”. Muslim women on the ground, Carland points out, want to speak out about what’s wrong with Muslim communities, but they want to protect their religion from Islamophobic hijacking of their narratives, and they don’t want to alienate the communities they are trying to help.

This double bind comes up in Erotic Stories – what if silence is the cost of protecting your community? What are you protecting it from, if the demon comes from within? Erotic Stories started out fluffy and chick-lit toned – it quickly deepened and darkened in scope and voice. Through the “modern” British Sikh Nikki, somber questions about the Sikh community in London emerge. I really liked this novel, and can’t wait to discuss it at the next Feminist Book Club meet. (Our book after that is Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen)

It also came out in Saints and Misfits – this endemic concern about the positions of power openly “religious” men have to police female behaviour through their unquestionable social status, and how open this lack of accountability is to abuse. Does power corrupt, or do certain kinds of people seek out certain positions because they see opportunity? I have more to say about this, but the subject deserves more time, sensitivity, nuanced attention than I have to give it right now.

Last October was 11 books – as always, I have pasang niat to match or surpass that. And I’m so excited about the Singapore Writers Festival next month inshaAllah! I have bought all my tickets and plotted out my itinerary. Iski-ness abounds.

Posted in Feminist Book Club, general thoughts, monthly round-up, Muslim fiction, non-fiction | Leave a comment

Mid-month round-up! September 2017

8 books so far in September, which is basically what I read in August, so I’m optimistic I can match my Sept 2016 number of 13 books. Of note so far this month:

S.K. Ali Saints and Misfits, a YA novel set in America with a hijabi Muslim protagonist. I was really looking forward to this because it got a lot of buzz on Twitter. It was fun and interesting and wasn’t afraid to make the heroine very very flawed, and the Muslim community very very flawed –  the hijabi heroine, Janna, has a crush on an unsuitable white boy, and is being harassed by a hafidz in the Muslim community; she has a complex relationship with her hijab, she is passive when she should speak up, she harbours a lot of anger due to her parents’ divorce.

I enjoyed Saints and Misfits, and thought it was important, but it didn’t blow my mind. It was very American-Muslim + culture clash + diaspora and I find lately, that maybe I’m a bit saturated as a reader on American/culture clash/disapora stuff.

Arundhati Roy The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, of course, the much-acclaimed second novel from this critical darling, and our feminist book club read for August. It was – long? Very very long. The prose was sharp and shrewd and blackly humorous – the characters fully drawn, the events – individual and collective – tragic. But I couldn’t feel for any of them, not after the first 100 pages. I grew desensitized to the suffering – partly in response to the prose, I think, which treated the suffering with bullet-train speed, flippant and relentless. Partially – there was so much of it. We discussed this in book club – how the outsider’s horror of poverty and suffering in India is exacerbated by a horror of how commonplace and normalized it is, how residents who see it everyday simply cease to see it. A defense mechanism, a coping inevitability. As a reader, it was actually shocking how quickly I stopped feeling.

Sophie Hannah Closed Casket. The second Poirot offering from Hannah – I remember exactly 0 from her first attempt, The Monogram Murders, but for some reason decided that I would give this another go. I also remember almost 0 of this novel a mere 16 days after reading it. So – I would remind myself to categorize this as Poirot fanfiction, don’t pick up another one, move on.

Angela Carter The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. An oldie but a goodie, a perfect accompaniment to last month’s Deerskin. Sensuous, gothic prose, full-blown and heady, gorgeously reimagined fairytales. The Bloody Chamber, the Erl-King, the two Beauty and the Beast re-tellings – gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. And the Puss in Boots retelling was just a completely out-of-place bit of humour that was not unwelcome.

Sherry Thomas A Conspiracy in Belgravia. The second in the Lady Sherlock series – the conspiracy itself felt a little fluffy at first, but everything tied together at the end into a nice level of malicious sinister villainy. I love all the characters – the good-hearted and worried Watson, the fiercely pained Livia with her writing, the delicious, loyal Lord Ingram – Charlotte Holmes is a delight and her love of pastries may eventually become a character crutch, but for now ONWARD TO BOOK THREE PLEASE SHERRY THOMAS.

And finally, finally finally,

Aisha Malik Jewel: An attempt at a halal romance. A Bruneian romance novel! Set in Malaysia, feat. Malaysians instead of Bruneians, but of course, I am always giddy when a Bruneian writer puts something out. It’s cheesy, clearly derivative of Twilight, which the author biography specifically references, and a little cringey in spots – MILD SPOILER: see end of post.  (Sorry, I don’t know how to do spoiler tags!) But as my friends say, it’s a DEFINITE conversation starter, it moves along at a clippy narrative pace, and I think teenage girls would definitely enjoy! (Perhaps for problematic reasons, but everything is problematic in some way, shape or form. As I reminded myself this week in class – there is no innocent text, there is no innocent reader.)

I’ve got another Bruneian novel on tap at the moment – Aammton Alias’ The Last Bastion of Ingei. Like The Ministry, it is very long. I’m also reading Susan Carland’s so far very excellent Fighting Hislam, and giving Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians another crack.

 Onwards through September!!! 3/4 of the way through the year, I’m at 116 books. 46 more to match last year’s amount!

(Scroll very quickly past below for Mild Spoiler).


MILD SPOILER: the valorization of whiteness, the extra-ness of the heroine’s eventual religiosity.

Posted in Brunei, Feminist Book Club, mid-month | Leave a comment