Bingeing on thrillers

So I’ve been binge-reading thrillers – the last three have been JP Delaney’s The Girl Before (girl moves into creepy minimalist, automated, high tech house in which she finds out other girls have died), Sabine Durrant’s Lie With Me (serial liar in his 40s gets caught up in a weird, creepy family holiday in Greece), and Felicity Everett’s The People At Number 9 (bourgeois neighbour with inferiority complex tries to keep up with the Joneses, only the Joneses are negligent parents with high manipulation quotients).

It’s making me want to write a thriller set in Brunei. I shall call it THE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW. Here’s the brief.

Hajar has never gotten along with her mother-in-law, Anisah. She’s mostly gotten used to it, or so she thinks, until Liyana comes along. Submissive, polite, eager and educated, Liyana is the perfect daughter-in-law, and Hajar can’t help feeling a little bit jealous.

Only, is Liyana really as perfect as she seems?

Suddenly Anisah starts having little accidents. A fall here, a cough that won’t go away, a car whose brake lines are frayed. And then there’s the diabetes medication that gets swapped out for arsenic/blood thinners/insect repellent (Editor’s Note: I haven’t decided yet). A mistake, the pharmacists say, except Hajar knows that Liyana is the one who picked up the medicine from RIPAS…

Alternatively, there’s THE MOTHER-IN-LAW

Hajar has heard all the horror stories from her friends about their in-laws, and counts herself incredibly lucky when she meets Azizul’s mother. From the first, Anisah tells Hajar to call her “Mama”, includes her in all family discussions, never makes a single overstepping move when it comes to Hajar’s pregnancy.

Only, is Anisah as perfect as she seems?

When they move out of the family home, the incidents begin. The snakeskin underneath the sofa, the crockery washed with bleach instead of liquid Fairy, the iron left on to burn the laundry room down/increase electricity bills astronomically (Editor’s Note: Haven’t decided yet). Anisah tells Hajar it must be the amah, but Hajar isn’t sure…

And then there are the voices at night, when everyone else is sleeping…

I think I’m on to something here. Call me, Hollywood directors!

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April Round-Up

April reads capped out at 12, which is frankly pretty poor! So, not much to round up here.

  • 2 male authored reads (so, 20%)
  • 1 non-English read
  • 4 Muslim bits of fiction

No worries, we go onwards and upwards into May! On the flight home, I finished off the early 20th century Diary of a Provincial Lady (and it’s sequel, The Provincial Lady Goes Further), by EM Delafield which are frankly quite hilarious, started in on The Provincial Lady in America, and got well stuck into Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, which is already pretty shocking and gripping.

There’s a comparison to be made here between the flappy, fluffy, indomitable eponymous British Lady and Angie Thomas’ African American teenager Starr, who sees her black friend killed in the first few pages for doing nothing more than being black in America. But I’m not quite up to it yet.

Quite lost my head in the WH Smith in Heathrow and recklessly bought a bunch of bestsellers, which I then had to gloomily lug around Heathrow and Dubai International, due to new policy on RBA that you have to take allllll your hand luggage with you during the 20 minute transit. The indignities of air travel.

On a better note, despite having stuck 12 books in my checked luggage, it came in under 20kgs. I had a sneaking suspicion that couldn’t have been right, but I hurriedly rushed off before the check in counter began to share my suspicions.

Sometime soon I’ll clock in my book expenditure for the month, which I’ve been trying to track for a few months.

4 months into the year, and I’m at 58 reads, which means I’m still on track to hit 150. Excelsior!

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Book haul! 

So over the last few years, my book haul philosophy for bookstores has been to look at what the bookstore itself has curated and foregrounded, and just pick up anything that seems interesting on the spot (within a set budget). This is because it’s NICE and refreshing, to have books catch my eye which weren’t predicted by an Amazon algorithm. (I love and hate you, Amazon algorithm. You know too much. You definitely shape my reading too much.)

I try not to get bogged down by wishlists I already have on the go, or books I need for work, because  – that’s what is for. If I really need it, I’ll get it at some point. In the meantime, the fun part about physical bookstores is their own philosophy, ethos and passion for books. Which comes through in the books chosen for display, and how they’re displayed!

Daunt Books is on a really pretty street in Marylebone! It’s famous for curating books according to country, and having loads of travel reads. Here’s a picture.
img_0335And these are the books I got!26220576_unknown

So, from top to bottom:

1. Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts

This just had a really fun cover. I thought it might be a graphic novel, but it’s not. I love advice columns, and a book written in the early twentieth century in Great Depression NY about an advice columnist sounded awesome! The book jacket tells me West was friends with Fitzgerald.

2. Tom Hodgkinson’s Business for Bohemians 

I got this because my sister is always telling me that I’m too fluffy and creative to be business-minded. “You creative artistes,” she sniffs at me. I mean, I think I’m pretty pragmatic as artistes go, but this memoir about a writer going into business looked funny, and when I flicked through, a couple of lines made me laugh, so yay!

3. ed. Cate Malek and Mateo Hoke, Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation

There was another collection of Palestinian narratives arranged according to historical incident, but it looked more academic than this one. A few things to note: the Palestinian stuff in the bookstore was shelved under “Levant”, whereas Israel got its own section. The maps being sold by the store also had Israel but not Palestine.

4. Noah Hawley, Before the Fall

A new thriller! Looks like Gone Girl Girl on a Train but in male hero form, on a plane. The tall bookseller at the cashier, who reminded me tremendously of a colleague who can also come off as super snooty but is really very sweet, lit up at this one and said in the most upper class accent you can imagine, “This one is very good.”

I had a moment of dissonance from the words and the accent. Anyway, this looks like the perfect plane read.

5. Eva Kurniawan’s Man Tiger

So I have Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound, but haven’t gotten past the first page. I’ve heard this Man Booker nominee is gooood and it came up during a forum a couple of weeks ago, so here goes!

6. Fredrik Backman, Britt-Marie Was Here

A Man Called Ove was THE quintessential plane read – heart-warming, authentic, easy. Another book about a crotchety but golden-hearted geriatric finding a new lease on life? Yes please!

7. Leo Tolstoy, A Confession

“Where there is life, there is faith.” Well, I had to pick that one up right? I’d just been having a days-long text conversation with a friend on faith, talks with God, personal growth, etc, and this short book, it occurred to me, might be more palatable than Tolstoy’s other stuff (ANNA KARENINA I’M LOOKING AT YOU). Plus, it’s super short, might be a nice cheat way to hit my monthly reading target.

8. Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

I’m really drawn to South African narratives, I like Trevor Noah on the Daily Show, and I like memoirs by comedians, generally. I did ask if this was out in paperback yet because LUGGAGE SPACE COME ON but it’s not, till Sept. Well all right then.

9. HELLO pack of small cards because come on, you have to buy ONE frivolous, nonsense stationery thing when you go in a bookstore.

Tall Snooty Colleague-Doppelganger gave me a free cloth tote (he even let me pick a colour! I chose dark green, the colour of scholarship and the forest. I was tempted by navy blue, the colour of seriousness, but green won out.) that the website tells me is worth 10GBP to carry my loot around in. It was comfy and light and sturdy and I appreciated it very much because I ended up walking 10km and going to a wildlife photography exhibition with my haul. I didn’t even feel it.

To cap things off, here is a non-book, but very pretty cafe just around the corner from Daunt. Spring in London! (Is very cold and deceptively sunny and my fingers are already frozen from typing this.)


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Some Muslim fiction

Some Muslim fiction I’ve read recently

Ayisha Malik, The Other Half of Happiness

I had a tough time with this one, partially because of my expectations. I think this was a real-world reminder of something I teach in my Popular Fiction class – that genre expectations are important and have a particular impact on how we read fiction! Because Sofia Khan is Not Obliged had ended so happily (although several friends scoffed at the “realism” of the ending, I had had no trouble accepting it) – I approached The Other Half of Happiness with the expectation that an HEA (Happily Ever After) was imminent. In other words, I approached The Other Half as a romance, instead of as contemporary fiction. Mistaaaaaaaaake.

I got a tremendously sinking feeling in my tummy for the first 50 pages, and I couldn’t deal with it for a bit, so I put it aside. When I came back to it again, I skipped to the ending to confirm my suspicions, swallowed hard, then went on Sofia’s journey with her. So I’m not far enough away from the story and my own dashed expectations to form an objective opinion of this second book yet.

Leila Aboulela, The Translator

I liked The Minaret, another novel of Aboulela’s, about a newly practising, “downwardly mobile” Sudanese emigrant to the UK, but wasn’t sure about the writing. So again, The Translator was a book I started, left off, and came back to after about a year. It follows the love affair between the widowed Sudanese translator Sammar, and the Scottish academic Rae Isles, who is an expert on Middle Eastern politics and the Muslim world.

I liked this a lot more than The Minaret, and I thought it maintained a nice balance between an “Islamic” message, and the integrity of the story.

Na’ima Robert, She Wore Red Trainers

This YA/NA novel is touted as a “halal” love story, and I like Na’ima Robert’s work elsewhere – I’ve written for SISTERS magazine, and From My Sisters’ Lips was one of the first compilations of Muslim women’s voices I ever read. I remember reading it standing up in the Borders in York. Funny story – a couple of years ago, I wrote an abstract about it, and when it came time to write the paper, I realized that I’d written it from memory, and that I didn’t actually have the book. I had to borrow it from a friend of a friend.

Funnier ending: a few months after that, I was cleaning up my bookshelves and I realized that I did in fact have it.

I was sort of reluctant to read Robert’s fiction, because I’d read From Somalia with love, another of her YA novels, and I remembered it being very heavy handed.

Anyway She Wore Red Trainers was much lighter in touch, and was a really quick read. The halal love story of Ali Jordan, a posh mixed race Hertfordshire boy, who has just come back to Islam after his mother’s death, and Londoner Amirah, who had a wild one week as a teenager and is now fully practicing. They’re both school leavers waiting for their A-level results.

Robert has said in interviews that she doesn’t want to glamorize sin, which I suppose accounts for why Ali and Amirah’s sinful pasts are glossed over in favour of their halal presents. Their struggles to be good are in fact a nice insight into contemporary Muslim lives, and not as overwrought, angsty or preachy as they might have been.

At one point, Ali’s younger brother says to Ali – you got the good school, the girls, you got to have fun – I just get the religious father without the fun. This sort of hit home with me – sin is fun, even if it is a hollow kind of fun, and religious, halal alternatives to haram fun are…hard to make appealing when your environment, the media, your friends, all model haram-ish behaviours as aspirational. The novel doesn’t shy away from that fact.

I’m on holiday! (Ish) Looking forward to catching up with some reading. I’m at 9 books for the month, so need to power through 3 more this week to hit my monthly target.

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dystopian futures, difficult reads: Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”

Some books you just shouldn’t re-read, because they were heartbreaking enough the first time.

Sometimes people ask me for tips on reading more. Sometimes I tell them to remember that reading isn’t always fun. I think if you go into reading regularly with this in mind, it’s easier to keep going when the pages are hard, when there is very little time, when the words themselves hurt.

Sometimes reading is fun. And sometimes it’s difficult. And like many difficult things, it is worth it, but it is also work.

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a prime reminder of that to me, this Sunday. I assigned it to my students and so I had to re-read it myself. I remember it as being beautiful and terrible, and it is – I had forgotten just how terrible it was until I began re-reading it. From the first page, my heart was not my own, and the words made of it a twisted and painful lump, working it as relentlessly as time, as hope, as love.

That is all.

2017-04-02 15.57.17-2

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March round-up

Hello April! I am definitely looking forward to you.


I struggled with reading this month, capping out at 12 books, which is about a book every 2.5 days. I’m not exactly sure why – there was plenty of stuff I was excited about reading, but also it did feel consciously like a chore this month. Last year in March I read 18 books, so I’m reluctant to say it’s a work cycle thing, although I have felt busier than usual at work this month.

Thanks to my January binge, though, I’m still ahead of where I was last year. By this time last year, I’d read 44 books – this year, I’m at 46. I’m not so concerned with numbers as with enjoyment, however.

Other Numbers

3 books by male authors

1 comic anthology

1 work of translation

3 books feat. Muslim sightings (this may be a new tag of mine heh “muslim sightings” as opposed to “muslim fiction”. my dorkiness is keen to see how i get on with this.)

Books of Note

I’ve already recapped most of the books of note I read this month here  and here – but here are a few others I haven’t mentioned:

Fresh Romance Vol I – a comic? Graphic novel? Set of short stories? I’m not sure how to categorize this, although Amazon tells me its an anthology of romance comics. It was interesting. I’m not sure if I’m just confused because I’m not used to this format, but I feel like these were snippets of stories and I should probably read the rest of the comics.

Herman Koch The Dinner a translation from the Dutch, this was written by an actor, and kept getting weirder and creepier as the pages crept by. Over the course of a dinner at a pretentious restaurant, two brothers and their wives talk/don’t talk about their criminal sons.

Hollie Overton Baby Doll This read like a retelling of Emma Donoghue’s Room, but with multiple perspectives in place of just the child’s one. Plus twins, which automatically ups creepy factor by roughly x3.

Other Things

  1. Please come back reading mojo – I’m halfway through a dystopian romance at the moment, and am really enjoying it, so hopefully April is already off to a good start!
  2. I am super excited for all the reading challenges happening around me – a lot of my friends have committed to a book a week, 50 books this year, 4 books by the end of May, etc and look well on their way to accomplishing their goals. Bonus: loads of book recommendations for meeeeeee.
  3. Love following publishers and pretty-photos-of-books people on IG. So pretty, but question: why do they all seem to have cosy white fluffy duvets (and equally cosy looking thick socks!) and tiny perfect flower buds lying around to style their flatlays with? I’m living my booklyfe wrong.
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Feminist Book Club: Sofia Khan is Not Obliged

Yesterday the feminist book club met up for the fourth month in a row, yay! This time at Rack and Brew in Gadong, to eat fries and soft shell crab kolomee, drink green tea and ginger bread lattes, and to discuss Ayisha Malik’s Sofia Khan is Not Obliged. I’ve talked about this book previously here, and it was great to hear what other people thought about it and remember parts I’d forgotten or hadn’t thought about!

Interesting fact: one book club member picked up the sequel, The Other Half of Happiness, in Singapore last week, while those of us who were relying on Amazon noted that both the .com and the had the sequel coming out on April 6th for Kindle.

There were a lot of conversations going on yesterday, here are some of the ones I remember:

  1. Polygamy – its practice, issues of consent and cultural acceptability, how it’s been misunderstood/misappopriated/abused as a practice and ideology, the burgeoning Western interest in and acceptance of polyamory. How do we understand ideas of love, HEAs?
  2. Feminism in Bruneian classrooms! With a few teachers in our midst, it’s always fascinating to hear about how they approach the topic, the kind of kick-back they get, the resources they use (Trevor Noah included). Of particular interest, what kind of feminist role models work in the Bruneian context? The Nicki Minaj model is so linked to a particular kind of sexual revolution and freedom that it’s hard to get students to connect; Emma Watson was flagged up, Noor Tagouri —
  3. Conversely, local issues like domestic abuse, the local, cultural and religious valorization of motherhood and housewives (clause: at the expense of other choices) the insistence by local men and women that feminism isn’t needed in Brunei – signalling a societal/cultural reluctance and resistance to feminism as ideology, in part because of the perceived dissonance between —
  4. Feminism and (acceptable, normative) femininities – bra-burning, man-hating, books like The Power (which might be our July read!), strident femininities versus soft-spoken, tudong-wearing Muslimah femininity.
  5. A question came up – one member was slightly incredulous – do women generally really feel fearful when walking down streets, getting catcalled, etc? I can’t speak for others, but I certainly feel uneasy, and am made aware of the threat that exists. I don’t know if I’d say I’m fearful exactly, but I’m always always aware that there is potential for fear.
  6. Comedy as a vehicle for boundary pushing, esp in regards to the previous night’s Bruhaha event.
  7. Book wise – The Hole in the Wall. How did everybody picture it? Some did a semi-detached house, another did a food hatch in the wall, yet another said doorway with beaded strings hanging over it.
  8. The various male heroes in the novel – Naim, Imran, Abid, Conall – how they matched up with Bridget Jones heroes, and who was able to predict from the start that Conall was the Real Romantic Hero? (I didn’t! How how!)

These are only the conversations I remember and which I was able to listen in on – I’m sure others went on around me that I missed out on! (At one point one member and I were discussing Buzzfeed and local digital platform Muslyfe so I’m sure similar tangents were happening around us.)

Our chosen book for April is Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up. Looking forward to it. I’ll close out this post with my favourite thing, a pie chart estimating how we spend our time during book club. Disclaimer: probably only about 50% accurate.

book club pie chart

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