Deal Me In 2020: #5

March 2, 2020 § Leave a comment

Picked ♦5 from the deck today.
Savages, by Nadia Khan, from KL Noir: White


I don’t read enough local authors. It’s a very personal problem for me, because I think it’s important that we support our local authors, and the best way is always to purchase their books and read them. I’ve got about two handfuls of locally published books, but it’s hardly enough. At least, that’s the way I see it.

That’s why it was important for me to have a whole suit in this short story challenge dedicated to locally published stories. I need to make a conscious effort.

So anyway, back to the short story that I read this morning. It’s by a personal friend, actually, and while she typically writes in Malay, this particular story (as are the others in the anthology) was written in English.

KL Noir is a collection of stories that reveal, or dwell, in the darker side of this metropolitan city that is the capital of Malaysia. What lurks in the shadows? What happens behind closed doors? What monsters hide within all of us?

In a nutshell, Savages is about a woman who makes it her life’s mission to purge the world of its savages: monsters who parade around as men, predators who don’t think twice about the harm their actions cause to their victims. She thinks of herself as a vigilante, a woman who has found strength from a broken past.

It’s a quick read, but perhaps not as dark or twisted as I had expected. I’m curious to see how the other short stories within the anthology fare, but from what I’ve read in her other works, Nadia can go much deeper than she did in this short form story.

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

February 24, 2020 § 1 Comment

First published in Japanese in 2002
Translated into English by Philip Gabriel in 2005


First, there is a Boy Named Crow. Then, there is another boy named Kafka Tamura. Then, there is a man named Nakata. Later on, there is a woman called Miss Saeki. For me, these are the four characters that build the foundations of the story—one that is mysterious and loopy, almost ridiculous but at the same time seems to make all the sense in the world.

I keep forgetting that this is what Murakami does best—create and design worlds within worlds within worlds that are held together by the most unbelievable threads of connection that would feel odd even in our most wildest of dreams. And yet, the universe in which his characters reside always seem to know just how to navigate themselves, and as a reader, I am not only inclined to follow them, I also feel like a floating balloon, with only a thin string leading me along the “right” path.

It’s difficult to describe what Kafka on the Shore is about, because it’s not about only one thing. And it’s not just the diverging and converging timelines, but also the overlapping worlds, that create a certain type of magic that sometimes, I feel like I’ve been put under a trance.

Finishing a Murakami book hardly ever feels like it. He always leaves me feeling like there’s more to the story that he’s not letting on, like there’s an extra layer or two of truth that I’ve not yet uncovered. And it’s this feeling of incompleteness that made me hesitate, forcing me to think about how I could possibly write a review about a book that I feel I have not yet fully understood.

Then I read THIS review, and those hesitations dissipated. Because maybe the questions we ask are more important than the answers we do or do not get.


So, I took longer than I expected to finish reading Kafka on the Shore, but it has gotten me in the mood for more Murakami. I may have decided to go on a Murakami binge, so I’ve got A Wild Sheep Chase lined up next. More for Bellezza‘s Japanese Literature Challenge 13.

Deal Me In 2020: #3 and #4

February 20, 2020 § 1 Comment

These two cards from the deck today are almost a month late, but instead of berating myself for not being able to strictly keep to the intended timeline, I’ve decided that I can afford to cut myself some slack, and allow myself some leeway to play catch-up now that I’ve finally gotten back some semblance of sanity in daily life.

With that said, let’s have a look at the two short stories that I picked from the deck.


Picked ♠Q from the deck
Gaslighted, by R.L. Stine & Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, from FaceOff

Of the two (or three, depending on how you look at it), I’m only familiar with R.L. Stine. I still remember visiting the school library and picking out Goosebumps books from the shelves. I went through them like a child goes through candy—extremely quickly and with an increased appetite for more. That has been ages ago.

Reading his work again today (albeit in collaboration with two other authors), I didn’t really know what to expect. Would it be scary? Creepy? Weird?

I found it easier to read this short story, compared to the first short story I read this year, also from FaceOff. While in that one, I felt a little hesitant, and rather unable to really dip myself into the story, Gaslighted caught my attention right from the word ‘go’. The pace was quick, the manner very brisk.

This is a very well-written short story. Very masterful in its storytelling, with just the right amount of suspense, mixed with doubt and mystery.

Maybe, I’m getting the hang of reading short stories.


Picked ♣5 from the deck
Birthday Girl, by Haruki Murakami, tr. Jay Rubin, from Birthday Stories

The second short story I read today was another Murakami (I’ve just finished Kafka on the Shore, which I will post about in a day or two). And I am reminded yet again why I love this author so much. The writing is always so simple, but so full of life, as if at the very core of his story lies the essence of a certain spirit, something that speaks to us, and through us. (Never forgetting, of course, the magic that his translators, in this case, Jay Rubin, are able to do. Absolutely fantastic work.)

A middle-aged woman is talking to our narrator, telling the story about her 20th birthday, when she was given a chance to make a wish. Any wish at all, she was told, and it would be granted, no questions asked. But she doesn’t tell us what her wish was—after all, “You’re not supposed to tell anybody what you wished for, you know.”

It’s an open ending, as it usually is with all of Murakami’s works. It can be frustrating for some readers, but for me, this is part of the reason why I enjoy reading his work so much. It leaves so much to our own imagination and interpretation, sometimes rereading his books can conjure completely different emotions and interpretations from the first read.

Then again, it could be my bias at work.

(This being a short story written by a Japanese author, I’m including it into my Japanese Literature Challenge 13, hosted by Dolce Bellezza.)

Deal Me In 2020: #2

January 14, 2020 § 2 Comments

Picked ♥9 from the deck today:
Hell-Diving Women, by Meghan Mayhew Bergman, from Almost Famous Women


The premise of this collection of short stories by Meghan Mayhew Bergman is an intriguing one. In her own words:

The stories in this collection are born of fascination with real women whose remarkable lives were reduced to footnotes.

How does one turn away a book like this?

In Hell-Diving Women, we are introduced to the world of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a jazz band that is not only all-female, but also “racially-integrated”, something that just wasn’t done back in the 1940s. In the centre of this tornado, is Tiny Davis, though from what we can tell, Tiny is anything but. She is big, loud, strong-willed, and so full of life, she affects everyone around her.

But this story is not only about Tiny. It is also about Ruby, the woman next to the woman. It is Ruby who has Tiny’s back. It is Ruby who watches out for her, who worries when she goes overboard, who stands up for her when she picks a fight. Tiny is boisterous and outgoing. Tiny loves the stage, and the audience love her, too. Ruby is a replacement, a back-up for anyone who’s out sick or down with the flu. She can be anyone, and yet she is no one.

But when Tiny walks up to Ruby and whispers in her ear, “You and me, baby,” Ruby feels her heart flutter, and her stomach do a little butterfly dance. And you get goosebumps, because Ruby gets goosebumps. She doesn’t say it, but you know she does.

Hell-Diving Women reads like a peek into the real lives of these women; what happens when they’re on the road between gigs, or behind the scenes just before the curtains pull open and send them into the limelight. It’s intriguing, but also mundane; it feels exhilarating, yet so everyday.

And maybe that’s what it’s like, to be almost famous women.

The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng

January 7, 2020 § 2 Comments

First published in English in 2012


“What kind of gardener will you be, if you do not feel the soil with your bare hands?”

~Nakamura Aritomo

I completely forgot how dreamy Tan Twan Eng’s prose can be. It’s been such a long time since I’ve felt the urge to pull myself out of a book, just so I could pen down a line from the page, so that I could keep it, so that it could speak to me over and over even after I closed the book and returned it to my shelves.

“But how does one capture stillness on paper?”

~ Nakamura Aritomo

Sometimes, flowery prose can really annoy me. Especially when it feels like the prose is flowery just for the sake of it—to look pretty. But with Tan’s book, the prose sets the scene, it creates an aura, it opens up a world that rises from the pages and encapsulates me into it. His words, and how he arranges them to form sentences and paragraphs, have a magic that remind me of why I love beautiful writing.

The Garden of Evening Mists tells the story of Judge Teoh Yun Ling, who returns to Yugiri, a Japanese garden in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Her return to this place brings her back to earlier years: her memories of the time she had spent in the garden with Nakamura Aritomo, the Japanese gardener who had once worked for the Emperor of Japan; and the painful ordeal she had to face during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya during the Second World War.

This book is a love story, but not only about the love between a man and a woman. It is also a love story about our relationship with nature, with our memories, with our losses and our sacrifices. Because the best love stories are about push and pull, about tension, about bitterness mixed with sweetness. The most beautiful of love stories are filled with some sort of sorrow that we somehow convince ourselves that we deserve, that we need in order to get that heart-bursting, tingling feeling that all of us yearn for.

Memory is like patches of sunlight in an overcast valley, shifting with the movement of the clouds. Now and then the light will fall on a particular point in time, illuminating it for a moment before the wind seals up the gap, and the world is in shadows again.


Deal Me In 2020: #1

January 4, 2020 § 2 Comments

Picked ♠9 from the deck today:
Red Eye, by Dennis Lehane & Michael Connelly, from FaceOff


This is the first short story I’m reading from this anthology, FaceOff, so I think it might be a good idea to talk about the book briefly before moving on to the story itself.

So this book is a collection of stories, each written by two thriller authors featuring well-known characters from their own books. In each story, the characters meet each other, they face-off, and a story spins from there. The premise is interesting, but perhaps even more interesting for someone who’s an ardent fan of thrillers, and who are familiar with the authors and their beloved characters.

As I read this story, I realised—with quite a surprise, really—that I don’t read a lot of books from the thriller genre. So, while the authors are familiar to me, their characters are definitely not. I didn’t know their ticks, their habits, their individual characteristics. I didn’t know them.

So, I found it a little tough to really get pulled into the story that was unfolding, not because I don’t like thrillers (because I actually do!), but because I couldn’t relate to the two men who were after the same guy. That didn’t sit well with me.

But that’s also not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading this story. Because I did. While slightly predictable, the story was presented in a way that kept the pages turning. And that’s one of the things that mark good thrillers—the pages turn themselves.

This is a good start.

Deal Me In 2020

January 4, 2020 § 4 Comments

Earlier today, I came across a blog post on Dolce Bellezza about a short story challenge hosted by Jay. And then I thought to myself, this is a great way to get myself reading short stories again. And the way this challenge is designed makes it really interesting. So despite this being the first time I’m hearing about the Deal Me In short story challenge in its tenth year, I’m really keen to join.

So, here’s my short story deck for the year:



Like Jay, I’m going with darker stories for this suit. Mysteries and thrillers. The stories in this list will be coming from one of these two books:

  • FaceOff, edited by David Baldacci
  • In the Shadow of the Master, edited by Michael Connelly



Focusing an entire suit on women writers, and I’ve got four books of selected stories by four authors to choose from:

  • Carried Away, by Alice Munro
  • Moral Disorder, by Margaret Atwood
  • Almost Famous Women, by Megan Mayhew Bergman
  • Barbara the Slut, and Other People, by Lauren Holmes
  • ♥ 2: Royal Beatings – Alice Munro
  • ♥ 3: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage – Alice Munro
  • ♥ 4: The Moons of Jupiter – Alice Munro
  • ♥ 5: Monopoly – Margaret Atwood
  • ♥ 6: The Boys at the Lab – Margaret Atwood
  • ♥ 7: White Horse – Margaret Atwood
  • ♥ 8: Who Killed Dolly Wilde? – Megan Mayhew Bergman
  • ♥ 9: Hell-Diving Women – Megan Mayhew Bergman
  • ♥ 10: Saving Butterfly McQueen – Megan Mayhew Bergman
  • ♥ J: Barbara the Slut – Lauren Holmes
  • ♥ Q: New Girls – Lauren Holmes
  • ♥ K: How Am I Supposed to Talk to You? – Lauren Holmes
  • ♥ A: Carried Away – Alice Munro



For this suit, I’m going with anthologies, selected by three authors that I really admire:

  • Birthday Stories, selected by Haruki Murakami
  • Angela Carter’s Book of Wayward Girls and Wicked Women
  • The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith
  • ♣ 2: Timothy’s Birthday – William Trevor
  • ♣ 3: The Birthday Present – Andrea Lee
  • ♣ 4: Close to the Water’s Edge – Claire Keegan
  • ♣ 5: Birthday Girl – Haruki Murakami
  • ♣ 6: The Young Girl – Katherine Mansfield
  • 7: The Rainy Moon – Colette
  • ♣ 8: Aunt Liu – Luo Shu
  • ♣ 9: The Loves of Lady Purple – Angela Carter
  • ♣ 10: Hanwell Snr – Zadie Smith
  • ♣ J: Magda Mandela – Hari Kunzru
  • ♣ Q: Puppy – George Sanders
  • ♣ K: Cindy Stubenstock – A.M. Homes
  • ♣ A: Judith Castle – David Mitchell



This last suit of the deck is dedicated to short stories written by Malaysian authors, from the following anthologies published by our local publishers: Fixi Novo, and Word Works.

  • KL Noir: Red, edited by Amir Muhammad
  • KL Noir: White, edited by Amir Hafizi
  • Bitter Root Sweet Fruit, edited by Dipika Mukherjee & Sharon Bakar
  • Love in Penang, edited by Anna Tan
  • ♦ 2: Mamak Murder Mystery – Marc de Faoite
  • ♦ 3: The Unbeliever – Amir Hafizi
  • ♦ 4: The Gift of Flowers – Shih-Li Kow
  • ♦ 5: Savages – Nadia Khan
  • ♦ 6: Breadwinner – Hadi M. Nor
  • ♦ 7: Playtime – Arif Zulkifli
  • 8: Mad About Mary – Terence Toh
  • ♦ 9: Trail – Bathmaloshanee M.
  • ♦ 10: Bird – Ling Low
  • ♦ J: Appa’s Mutton Curry – Sumitra Selvaraj
  • ♦ Q: Oh, Snap! – Mamü Vies
  • ♦ K: Double-Blind – Zen Cho
  • ♦ A: Oil on Canvas – Eeleen Lee


So, this is a great way to start off the year. Let’s see how this goes!

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