Rogue One (2016)

Prequels have the problem that you already know where they’re going to end. Rogue One had a couple of other problems, too: political correctness, rushed world-building, and lazy characterization. What it had going for it was nostalgia, humor, and a big CGI budget. Overall, I’d say it was okay but not great.

More details, with SPOILERS, below.

Continue reading Rogue One (2016)

Shang Antique: Established Since 1984

Although Shang Antique only moved into this unit at the front of Tanglin Shopping Centre sometime within the last year or so, I am willing to believe that the business has existed from 1984 until now. However, they should use “Established” or “Since” and not both!

More below on why the sign is wrong.

Continue reading Shang Antique: Established Since 1984

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

Dreamland paints a gripping, believable picture of someone whose choices trap her (and the reader) in a world of hurt. This protagonist doesn’t save herself; she can’t.

When and Why I Read Dreamland

At some point I read or someone told me that Sarah Dessen was an especially articulate writer of contemporary teen fiction, so I started reading her books. Also, I liked the collage covers of the earlier editions. Dreamland is darker than the others.

Genre: fiction (YA)
Date started / date finished:  15-Dec-16 to 16-Dec-16
Length: 250 pages
ISBN: 9780142401750 (paperback)
Originally published in: 2000
Amazon link: Dreamland

Junior Page book sale at Novena

I bought these four books at Velocity in the hallway, where Junior Page had set up a bunch of tables offering discounted books for both children and adults.

When the price is “3 for $20 (or 1 for $10)”, buying four books is not optimal. Nevertheless, I wanted these four books, and only these four books.

Chinese Whispers by Ben Chu
I know a lot more about China than I used to, but in a lot of ways it’s still a black box. This book (which when I first saw it I thought was a novel) is devoted to busting some common myths that circulate in the way that the message does in the game of ‘telephone’—or, as the game is sometimes known, ‘Chinese whispers’.

No One Understands You and What to Do about It by Heidi Grant Halvorson
Reading First, Break All the Rules might make you think that people are so unique that we’re all somehow fundamentally unknowable. But according to this book, there are ways to mitigate this feeling of isolation.

Six Frames by Edward de Bono
I read and loved Six Thinking Hats. This is another of the many, many “creative thinking” books by a true master of the short-but-expensive book, Edward de Bono.

Born Liars by Ian Leslie
I was worried I’d already bought and read this book because it looked familiar. That was just because it has been on my wishlist, however. Glad to have bumped into it at a good price!

First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

Just another one of the thousands of management advice books, all clamoring to tell you the seven steps to success or some such? Maybe, but First, Break All the Rules speaks to me.

It’s a paean to individuals and their differences—or rather, their talents, a talent being defined as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.” The book happens to be talking about individuals as employees, but the psychological insight applies equally outside of work.

The key insight—people are different—sounds obvious, but these authors have data (not cherry-picked anecdotes) to back up their conclusions. Furthermore, their advice is actionable. Moreover, Gallup’s strengths-based management agenda, born in the 90s, is still alive and kicking in 2016.

Read it or regret it!

See below for photos from the book, which, interestingly, before it belonged to me, belonged to an Arabic speaker… and, which judging by the flight ticket stub, was taken to Jeddah, Saudia Arabia! Take that, BookCrossing. Betcha this book has been on the Hajj.

Continue reading First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

Ruth Chew books from Japan

Below are photos of the three Ruth Chew books translated into Japanese and published in Japan in 2016, which I just ordered by mail from

The Amazon Japan website is easy to use (there’s a button to switch the site to English), and you can check out with USD, but now I keep getting emails (marketing emails, presumably) from Amazon in Japanese!

See below for more photos of these exotic books.

Continue reading Ruth Chew books from Japan

Doctor Strange (2016)

I dare you to find a review of Doctor Strange that does not contain a variant of the word “kaleidoscope”. The special effects are indeed special.

As for the rest, you’ve got a gifted, wealthy, arrogant neurosurgeon, recently come down in the world; he gets his comeuppance from an ancient mystic who he hoped could give him back the use of his hands but who instead involves him in the struggle to protect Earth from some kind of evil purple chaos. Will he learn to suppress his ego, to conquer by submitting, or will he be seduced by raw power and the promise of immortality?

I loved the laugh-out-loud magic-meets-mundane humor as well as the special effects, but if you’re not a fan of fantasy, this Marvel Studios production will probably stretch your patience too far. There’s a bit of that same “the real world isn’t real” stuff that’s in the Matrix, which is fine as long as you don’t apply such fictional logic to the real real world. It’s not very tempting to do so, though, since the movie itself barely even takes the magic seriously.

What it does take seriously is the message. The movie wants us to remember that mental, physical, and mystical talents are all ultimately meaningless—or catastrophically destructive—if not wielded humbly.

Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Doctor Strange (2016)

The Taken by Alice Clark-Platts

Because it’s 448 pages, maybe you think The Taken is a long book. Didn’t feel that way! It was unputdownable. This, from someone who doesn’t usually read murder mysteries.

This is Alice’s second book about DI Erica Martin. The first was Bitter Fruits.

Set in Durham, the books both feel very British in terms of punctuation, spelling, phrasing, and brand and place names… plus there’s lots of tea and biscuits. Makes me want to go drink a cuppa.

When and Why I Read It

I’m a member of the writing group the author founded, the Singapore Writers’ Group.

Genre: fiction (mystery / thriller)
Date started / date finished:  07-Dec-16 to 09-Dec-16
Length: 448 pages
ISBN: 9780718181109 (paperback)
Originally published in: 2016
Amazon link: The Taken


Once upon a time, I knew that ‘opaque’ had something to do with whether you can see through something, but I thought it was a synonym of ‘transparent’, not an antonym.

Since most things are not transparent, we don’t use ‘opaque’ nearly as much as ‘transparent’ to describe things; the opaqueness of material objects is assumed by default.

However, ‘opaque’ beautifully describes ideas that are somehow inscrutable—inaccessible because perfectly obstructed by some stark, looming, indifferent, featureless impediment.

If transparency is commonplace and opaqueness is abstract, translucence, the middle child, is enigmatic, shimmering and mystical. It evokes iridescent dragonfly wings and Tiffany windows.