Fantastic short reads – the diverse edition



 Read In One Sitting Theme: ten of the shortest books I’ve read, top ten books I read in one sitting, ten books to read when you are short on time, top ten books that will make you read the whole day away, etc.

I am tempted to just put comics. Because comics are quick reads and for the most part, entertaining! I’ve instead put together a list of short books/novellas that are easily read in one sitting. I’ve deliberately not included short story collections as I tend to read short story collections over a number of days.

Also, I am defining ‘short books’ as those that are under or just slightly above 200 pages.

Quesadillas – Juan Pablo Villas (158 pages)

It feels wrong to say that this story about a poor family living in a town where there are more cows than people is funny. But it is. It’s weird and clever and absurd.

When the Emperor was Divine – Julie Otsuka (144 pages)

A moving story about a family sent to the Japanese-American internment camps. Heartbreaking.

Binti – Nnedi Okorafor (96 pages)

Binti: Home – Nnedi Okorafor (176 pages)

I already enjoyed reading speculative fiction before reading these books, but I do think it would be a good starting point for anyone looking to dip their toe into this genre, as Okorafor is a brilliant writer and creates wonderful worlds with strong characters that may be a bit more accessible. Highly recommended!

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian  – Sherman Alexie (230 pages)

230 pages may be pushing it a bit, you think. But this book does include some illustrations so that takes up some space. Also it is written in the voice of a teenaged boy (i.e. easy to read). However, a lot of it is very sad.

We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (49 pages)

It packs a mighty punch in just a few pages. A must-read for everyone.

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow –  Faïza Guène, Sarah Adams (Translator) (179 pages)

Published in 1999, this story features a teenager of Moroccan descent living in France. Her father has returned to Morocco, her mother is illiterate and working at a rat-trap of a motel. And Doria is struggling with her studies and all the usual teenager problems.

The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yōko Ogawa, Stephen Snyder (Translator) (180 pages)

It’s been a while since I’ve read this but I remember it as being a very brilliant and moving story about a young woman who looks after a math professor with a very short-term memory.

The Diving Pool: Three Novellas – Yōko Ogawa, Stephen Snyder (Translation)

What can I say, Ogawa writes so beautifully I have to include another of her books!

Clear Light of Day – Anita Desai (183 pages)

Desai writes such gorgeous (and sad) stories about families, this time about a family that has grown apart.

The Lake – Banana Yoshimoto (188 pages)

“But sometimes we encounter people like Nakajima who compel us to remember it all. He doesn’t have to say or do anything in particular; just looking at him, you find yourself face-to-face with the enormousness of the world as a whole. Because he doesn’t try to live in just a part of it. Because he doesn’t avert his gaze.

He makes me feel like I’ve suddenly awakened, and I want to go on watching him forever. That, I think, is what it is. I’m awed by his terrible depths.”

Sad and beautiful. Also, Yoshimoto has written a few other books that are under or around 200 pages like N.P. and Lizard.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid (184 pages)

I recently reread this book and it once again blew me away. To write a story that is pretty much like reading one side of a conversation was unusual and may not work for everyone but I really liked it. The narrator is a Pakistani man speaking to an unidentified American stranger.

The Vegetarian – Han Kang, Deborah Smith (translator) (192 pages)

I know lots of people really liked this book but perhaps because of all the hype I felt a bit disappointed by it. Instead, I preferred her other book, released in English this year, Human Acts, which comes in at 218 pages.

Some diverse books I have yet to read that seem like short reads

(Synopses from Goodreads)

Confession of the Lioness – Mia Couto, David Brookshaw (Translation) (192 pages)

Told through two haunting, interwoven diaries, Mia Couto’s Confession of the Lioness reveals the mysterious world of Kulumani, an isolated village in Mozambique whose traditions and beliefs are threatened when ghostlike lionesses begin hunting the women who live there.

Some Prefer Nettles – Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Edward G. Seidensticker (Translator) (202 pages)

Esi decides to divorce after enduring yet another morning’s marital rape. Though her friends and family remain baffled by her decision (after all, he doesn’t beat her!), Esi holds fast. When she falls in love with a married man—wealthy, and able to arrange a polygamous marriage—the modern woman finds herself trapped in a new set of problems. Witty and compelling, Aidoo’s novel, “inaugurates a new realist style in African literature.”

Changes: A Love Story – Ama Ata Aidoo (208 pages)

Esi decides to divorce after enduring yet another morning’s marital rape. Though her friends and family remain baffled by her decision (after all, he doesn’t beat her!), Esi holds fast. When she falls in love with a married man—wealthy, and able to arrange a polygamous marriage—the modern woman finds herself trapped in a new set of problems. Witty and compelling, Aidoo’s novel, “inaugurates a new realist style in African literature.

Season of Migration to the North – Tayeb Salih, Denys Johnson-Davies (Translator) (176 pages)

After years of study in Europe, the young narrator of Season of Migration to the North returns to his village along the Nile in the Sudan. It is the 1960s, and he is eager to make a contribution to the new postcolonial life of his country. Back home, he discovers a stranger among the familiar faces of childhood—the enigmatic Mustafa Sa’eed. Mustafa takes the young man into his confidence, telling him the story of his own years in London, of his brilliant career as an economist, and of the series of fraught and deadly relationships with European women that led to a terrible public reckoning and his return to his native land.

Please leave a comment if you have any recommendations for short reads by POC authors!

It’s Monday


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date


I had a major craving for Indian food on Saturday so the husband went and picked up three vegetable curries, tandoori fish and naan from our favourite Indian-Pakistani place. So good. 


I posted about book covers that featured the backs of women!

This is the first time I grew flowers from bulbs. Here I have ranunculus. And I’ve got some tulips coming up too! 

Red bean pancake and golden milk buns (served with condensed milk) are the highlight of our Saturday lunch!











The Grand Tour

Mad Men

The Night Manager 


This is the story of a happy marriage – Ann Patchett




A Super Duper burger and I love their lemonade!

 Well I was supposed to drink this milkshake but someone is finishing it


This cute Rube Goldberg-esque rock band machine! (Boing Boing)

365 books by women authors (NYPL)

Valeria Luiselli on the choices people make in coming to America (Lit Hub)

The green card application is nothing like the intake questionnaire for undocumented minors. When you apply for a green card you have to answer things like “Do you intend to practice polygamy?” and “Are you a member of the Communist Party?” and “Have you ever knowingly committed a crime of moral turpi­tude?” And although nothing can or should be taken lightly when you are in the fragile situation of asking for permission to live in a country that is not your own, there is something almost innocent in the green card application’s preoccupations with and visions of the future and its possible threats: polyamorous debauchery, communism, weak morals!

BookDragon reviews Temporary People 

Also the Man Booker International Prize longlist came out. I have not read any of these and haven’t heard of many of them before this! Intrigued.

  • Mathias Enard (France), Charlotte Mandell, Compass (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • Wioletta Greg (Poland), Eliza Marciniak, Swallowing Mercury (Portobello Books)
  • David Grossman (Israel), Jessica Cohen, A Horse Walks Into a Bar (Jonathan Cape)
  • Stefan Hertmans (Belgium), David McKay, War and Turpentine (Harvill Secker)
  • Roy Jacobsen (Norway), Don Bartlett, Don Shaw, The Unseen (Maclehose)
  • Ismail Kadare (Albania), John Hodgson, The Traitor’s Niche (Harvill Secker)
  • Jon Kalman Stefansson (Iceland), Phil Roughton, Fish Have No Feet (Maclehose)
  • Yan Lianke (China), Carlos Rojas, The Explosion Chronicles (Chatto & Windus)
  • Alain Mabanckou (France), Helen Stevenson, Black Moses (Serpent’s Tail)
  • Clemens Meyer (Germany), Katy Derbyshire, Bricks and Mortar (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • Dorthe Nors (Denmark), Misha Hoekstra, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal (Pushkin Press)
  • Amos Oz (Israel), Nicholas de Lange, Judas (Chatto & Windus)
  • Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), Megan McDowell, Fever Dream (Oneworld)

S’mores Stout Milkshakes! S’mores Stour Milkshakes! (How Sweet It Is)

Last week:

I read:


I posted:


Back to the Classics: The Dollmaker

Back to the Classics: The Dollmaker


I hadn’t heard of this book until last year when I was trying to find classics that would fit the Back to the Classics challenge. And I’m curious now – is this a book that is familiar to you? Was it taught in school?

After reading it, I thought, this is a great American classic with a terrible title.

It doesn’t help that when I googled “The Dollmaker” this comes up.



Some kind of Marvel villain. Apparently the name ‘Dollmaker’ has been claimed by a variety of villains. Because it really has unpleasant connotations, doesn’t it.

Of course Harriette Arnow wrote this book in far more innocent times – it was first published in 1954.

The dollmaker in question is Gertie Nevels, a woman of the Kentucky hills. Gertie is strong, both physically and mentally. She is a woman of the mountain, comfortable with her life there, harsh though it may be. One of her particular skills is whittling – she works wonders with wood and is skilled at carving dolls. She is proud of the life she has made there with her family. But it is soon to be all for naught as her husband Clovis goes to Detroit to work in the factories and the family is expected to follow suit.

“Six-thirty to seven-thirty was pure dark still, like the middle of the night. It was a lonesome in-between time when her hands remembered the warm feel of a cow’s teats or the hardness of a churn handle, or better beyond all things – the taste of spring water, the smell of good air, clean air, earth under her feet.”

Gertie is a fish out of water in the big city. And really, life there is hardly any better than in Kentucky. The house is tiny and it is freezing cold. The schools are run down. The family gets called ‘hillbillies’ a lot and everyone has some kind of an opinion about them and how they need to adapt to life in the city. And all the horrors of modern city life such as surviving on credit, strikes, and being able to hear your neighbours through the thin walls.


Mrs. Whittle bit her freshly lipsticked lips. “The trouble is,” she went on, “you don’t want to adjust – and Rueben doesn’t either.”
“That’s part way right,” Gertie said, moving past her to the stairs. “But he can’t hep the way he’s made. It’s a lot more trouble to roll out steel – an make it like you want it – than it is biscuit dough.”

The dialect was a little tricky at first, and it took me a couple of tries to get into the book. It is rather full of despair – the poverty, the struggle to get used to their new lives, the longing Gertie has to return to her hills and to work the fields.

It amazes me that a book like this, one of misery and wretchedness, can be so compelling to read.


I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 – A 20th Century Classic

It’s Monday and I’m reading


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date


I got my first ever Indiespensable box from Powell’s. When I saw that sign ups were open and that it was for George Saunders’ novel I knew I had to have it. And it came with the very strange and delightful The Persistent Gappers of Fripp in a new cover!

My kindergartener’s substitute teacher has been with the class for four months and it was her last day on Thursday. I was at first disappointed to learn that his teacher would go on maternity leave not long after kindergarten started. A sub! Would she be any good? And for so long? But all our fears were unfounded. She was an excellent teacher. Bubbly and fun, with a great sense of what 5 and 6yos would enjoy learning. And it’s not easy as this is a Mandarin immersion programme and while some of the kids speak Mandarin at home, many, like us, don’t. Somehow she did such a great job.

The kindergartener wanted to buy these tulips for his teacher as purple is her favourite colour!


And we tried the cafe version of a Hong Kong-style dim sum restaurant (perhaps the most well-known in the South Bay). We had always assumed it to be the poorer cousin, i.e. a place to go if you can’t find seats in the main restaurant upstairs (always very crowded), but we were pleased to find some fantastic noodle dishes like fishball noodles and wonton mee, and a dish very similar to one found in Singapore, beef horfun (beef with rice noodles and a rich thick gravy).


And we also had our neighbours over our first barbeque of the year. It was a lovely 19C/70F weekend. Ribeye steaks, hotdogs, lots of grilled vegetables (mini bell peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, broccolini). They brought over an ice-cream cake as it was their daughter’s 5th birthday.




I just found The Night Manager on Amazon Video. It’s a 2016 BBC series that was later aired here on AMC (but I don’t have TV). I watched the first episode and was hooked. Also it helps tremendously that it’s based on a John Le Carre book and stars both Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie!

I just had some toasted raisin bread which I had made earlier last week. Also, I posted about it here. 


Yorkshire Gold with milk



Speculative fiction in translation (France) – Bookriot

8 SFF books sexier than Fifty Shades –

Not bookish at all but here is a great article from Atlas Obscura about how to clear a path through 60 feet of snow, Japanese style. 

5 great novels you might have missed in February – Lit Hub







Last week

I read:


I posted:

#comicsfebruary: Strong Female Protagonist, Captain Marvel

#comicsfebruary: Strong Female Protagonist, Captain Marvel

Strong Female Protagonist – Brennan Lee Mulligan, Molly Ostertag (Illustrations)

I wish I could remember where I first heard of Strong Female Protagonist. It turns out it was originally a webcomic that became a book because of a Kickstarter project. The webcomic is still updated twice a week! But I would suggest checking the book out first as it collects the first four chapters of the webcomic.

Anyway it is, as its title suggests, about a strong female. She is Mega Girl. Or rather she used to be. She used to be one of the most powerful superheroes. She’s still got her superpowers but she’s just trying to be a regular college student now. So essentially it’s a story about superhero trying to be a regular person again. It’s harder than it looks.

Strong Female Protagonist – despite the ugh title – is a pretty good read. It’s fun, funny at times, has a great central character as well as some side characters that make you rethink the ‘villain’ in things. It definitely presented a different view of superhero life than is typical in comics, but which also does have similarities with Ms Marvel and how Kamala tries to figure out her life.

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: Rise of Alpha Flight (Captain Marvel (2016-) #1-5) – Tara Butters, Michele Fazekas, Kris Anka (Illustrator), Tara Guggenheim, Felipe Smith (Illustrator)


Captain Marvel, Volume 1: In Pursuit of Flight (Captain Marvel, Volume VII #1)- Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dexter Soy (Illustrations), Emma Ríos (Illustrations), Richard Elson (Illustrator), Karl Kesel (Illustrator), Al Barrionuevo (Illustrator)



Captain Marvel Vol 2: Earth’s Mightiest Hero

So this is the order in which I read these Captain Marvel volumes, written by different authors. If you’re a fan of Marvel’s Agent Carter, you may already be familiar with the names Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas as they’re the producers of that TV show. They’re new to comics but have written for a variety of TV shows including Dollhouse, Reaper and Agent Carter (so says Variety). Their version was fun, but it didn’t have the depth of the ones written by DeConnick.


Anyway let’s rewind! Carol Danvers (Ms Marvel/Captain Marvel) has been around since 1968. She first appeared as a member of the US Air Force, then became Ms Marvel in 1977 – she was in an accident and fused with the powers of the alien Kree who was trying to save her. Somewhere down the line she became Captain Marvel and thankfully her swimsuit costume is now one with pants. And she’s got a more regular body shape than previous Carol Danvers, who well, just see below.

Earlier last year, I read the Ms Marvel series written by Brian Reed which wasn’t great. I just couldn’t get over the huge bulging thighs. And now I can’t really remember the storyline….

So the best version of Captain Marvel is definitely by Kelly Sue DeConnick, the rockstar of comics! She’s also written Bitch Planet, Pretty Deadly and more.



The two volumes of her Captain Marvel that I just had has such great writing and characters. It was funny and also full of heart. Also, this was the first time I’ve read any comics with Spider-Woman (Captain Marvel’s best friend apparently) and I kinda love her now!

It’s Monday


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date


I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for a while now – it was the first library book sale of the year! I grabbed a lot of books for the kids and a few for myself for about $14 (and donated the change of $6). This year there seemed to be more books in the adult fiction section but fewer that I was interested in. But hey, not a bad haul for a 20 minute browse!








Persuasion – Jane Austen (a reread)


Borderline – Mishell Baker 


Mad Men season 5 and The Grand Tour


This is the Story of a Happy Marriage – Ann Patchett



A scone I found in the freezer. Which probably means it’s been in the freezer for a few months. But it was still tasty! And homemade!






I’ve been following Kerry’s blog Pickle Me This for quite a while now and the exciting news is that her book Mitzi Bytes is out! Congratulations Kerry!

The Illustrated Page is highlighting female SFF authors in March!

Beth Fish Reads reviews 3 books about beer!

Added to my TBR

The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermoût (Yasmine Rose Reads)

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths by Harry Bingham (Harriet Devine’s Blog)

Last week:

I read:

Kindred: a graphic novel adaptation – Henry Farrell
A Taste of Honey – Kai Ashante Wilson
Ginga – Jose Daniel Older
The Last Dragonslayer – Jasper Fforde

Prez Vol 1

I posted:

Weekend Cooking: Making bread with the tangzhong method


Weekend Cooking: Making bread with the tangzhong method



What is tangzhong?

Well it is essentially a sort of roux, made by cooking flour and a liquid (either water or milk) until it reaches 65C or 150F. Most cooking blogs and websites that discuss tangzhong point to this 2007 cookbook 65C Bread (65°C湯種麵包) which I think is written by a Taiwanese and popularized this method in Asia. But the thing is, if you have ever eaten bread from Chinese bakeries, you may have noticed that it’s a lot softer than your typical ‘western’ style bread. In Singapore, the few old-school bakeries that are around make a very soft white bread – I’m guessing that the crusts are cut off or something as it is a seriously WHITE bread. So who knows, maybe all this time they’ve been using a tangzhong method or other.

Why bother?

Bread made with the tangzhong is softer, lighter. According to this blog by pastry chef Jennifer Field, the gel (the tangzhong) helps to hold on to water and also prevent some gluten formation, resulting in a softer bread.

My experience

I first tried the tangzhong method early last year, but I think I had added too much of the tanghzhong, resulting in too soft a dough and it was a lot harder to manipulate. Also I was far too ambitious in starting with a hot dog bun recipe, where the dough had to be rolled around the sausages. You can read more about my attempt at Chinese bakery-style hot dog buns here.

I’m not sure what attracted me back to the tangzhong method this year, there must have been a blog post that popped up somewhere, but I ended up on the blog Christine’s Recipes, which quite a few other food bloggers adapt from. This bacon and cheese tangzhong bread in particular caught my eye. But of course I didn’t have the right cheese (I wasn’t going to waste my good Brie on it!) but noticed at the end of the post she mentioned turning it into raisin bread. And in my house, there are always raisins. So that’s what I went for.

When baking I prefer to use my digital weighing machine as it’s far more accurate than scooping cups of flour

Tangzhong ingredients (enough for two loaves)
50g / 1/3 cup bread flour
1 cup milk (can use water or 50/50 water and milk)

350g / 2½ cups bread flour
55g /3tbsp+2tsp caster sugar – I increased it slightly to 4 tsp for my raisin bread
5g /1tsp salt
56g egg (1 large egg)
7g /1tbsp+1tsp milk powder (to increase fragrance, optional) – I did not have milk powder and it tastes fine without
125ml/ ½ cup milk
120g tangzhong (half of the tangzhong you make from above)
5 to 6g /2 tsp instant yeast
30g /3tbsp butter (cut into small pieces, softened at room temperature) – my bread machine has a ‘rest’ period so I cut my butter into small pieces, straight from the fridge and put it in

I also added:
1 tsp vanilla essence
About 1 cup of raisins (soaked in hot water for about 5-10 minutes)

Making the tangzhong is easy enough. I used flour and milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula.

You can use a thermometer to reach 65C/150F or do as Christine suggests and check for ‘lines’ that remain as you stir the thickened roux. In the end I did both, once I saw the lines, I checked the temperature. Just right.

Transfer to a small bowl, place clingfilm directly on the tangzhong to stop it from drying up. Cool to room temperature. This tangzhong amount is good for two loaves of bread, and can be kept wrapped in the fridge for a few days. But if it starts to change colour, toss it.

To make the bread dough:
I used a bread machine on its regular dough setting – it’s a lot more convenient, and also the recipe warns that it can be quite messy (which I guess means sticky?). If you don’t have a bread machine or mixer, please refer back to Christine’s Recipes for more details.

Because I was using a bread machine with a separate yeast container on its lid, I added in all the dry and then wet ingredients, and the yeast in the container, then let it run. The machine goes through a couple of rise cycles as well as the kneading.

When finished, remove the dough from the machine, place onto a clean floured surface or nonstick mat, cut into four pieces, shape each piece roughly into a ball, cover loosely with cling wrap and let rest for 15 minutes (see below for step-by-step photos)

Using a rolling pin, roll each ball out into a rough oval shape. Scatter the raisins evenly on the oval. Starting from one end, roll the dough into a kind of Swiss roll. Then use the rolling pin to roll it out into a rough oval shape again. And then starting from one end, roll the dough up into a kind of Swiss roll.

Place each roll side by side into the loaf tin. Mine is a silicon loaf tin but you should grease yours if it isn’t.

Let the dough proof again for about 40 minutes.

If you would like it to have that shiny surface, brush some egg wash or milk over the the surface. I only did this for my first loaf and forgot about it for the others. No problem there.

Bake in a pre-heated 180C/350F oven for 35 to 40 minutes. If you’ve never baked bread before, sometimes it’s easier to check the doneness of bread with a thermometer. Breads are done at about 190F/87C. Try to angle your thermometer towards the centre of the loaf – you can do it near one of the folds or from the bottom.

Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

(adapted from Christine’s Recipes)


I also attempted to make a chocolate bread – adding about 1.5 tablespoons of cocoa powder to the flour mixture. Instead of using raisins, I used chocolate rice, sprinkling it before rolling. My 5yo adored the chocolate bread and ate it for breakfast every day. The 3yo didn’t like it as it probably didn’t have enough chocolate for him. I would try this again with more sugar and more chocolate rice or substitute it with chocolate chips.

Step-by-step photos

Dividing into four portions, rolling it into a ball, letting it rest
Rolling it out into a rough oval shape
Scatter the chocolate rice all over
Rolling the dough
Rolling it out again into an oval
Then rolling it up again
Doesn’t matter if its smaller than the loaf tin – it will rise during the proof



Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs