Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book review: Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun!: a mother's lessons on love, hope, loss and the gifts of life

This one came in the mail for me to review. The book, targeted at young female readers, was easy to read. The tone and style was very personable.

Book review: Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun!: a mother's lessons on love, hope, loss and the gifts of life
Cover from: All Rights Reserved.

My take-away from the book:
Crap will happen to anyone and everyone, at some point. No one is immune. The difference is how we choose to carry on.

Taking risks doesn't always mean we will come up tops. But it also doesn't mean we will always fail.

Exercise compassion. Life is not just about 'me'.

Not entirely the way the author described, but I think not too far from it.

The author shared selective episodes from her life, explaining how she realised that one should love and take risks in life.

Right off the start, I sensed this was a woman who did not conform to conventional thinking, even as a teenager. Her mother had forbidden her to go on dates, and that the young Catherine should only focus on her studies. But she dated the boy anyway, even initiating the courtship rather than wait for him to act. The consequence was that her studies were affected, and so did the boy's.

Before you wonder what sort of message the author is imposing on young impressionable minds, the truth is that many of our friends (perhaps you and I) went through the same, in different degrees. There may be more 'teen rebels' among us than we care to acknowledge.

The key difference, I thought, was that a person like Catherine Khoo consistently applied her optimistic outlook towards life.

She wrote in another of her blog:
... I’ve lived this maxim since I was a teenager … and strange enough, it applies so much more as I grow older. Sure, sometimes I jump in without thinking of the consequences, and I fail, but how many times have I brushed off the blood and dust and moved on? Think of it this way, at least I figured out another way not to do it! Truth be told, though...I love this journey

Can we truly have a happy life just by living our dreams?

Cynics may say that there are those who have tried to do just that, and they end up being decrepit and miserable.

Perhaps in anticipation of that, the author peppers her anecdotes about seeing life optimistically.

Part of her credibility arose from her managing and growing her own business. I think it takes a feisty no-nonsense approach to do that, in addition to being a mother, a wife, and a daughter-in-law. If that's not enough, try starting a writing scheme for teens.

I did not think the author suggests that one should one up-end our lives and gallivant halfway around the world. You get a sense that risk-taking has to be tempered with an underlying sense of responsibility first.

Still, I would not have done some of the things she did, no matter what you tell me. For example, her episode with the illegal taxi ride in a foreign country, where she almost became a victim of a robbery. If I learnt my wife/ mother/ sister did just that (accept rides from strangers), I would be very, very angry. It seemed reckless.

For the most part, I empathised with her stories. Like how she walked out on her husband one time, feeling that she was being unfairly put down by her spouse. As a husband myself, it made me reflect on my words and deeds towards my wife.

One thing I felt the book fell short was that flow of the chapters can appear to be disjointed at times -- though this could be said to be the online-diary writing style. Also, I was left with the impression that there could have been a lot more interesting stuff to be told, but weren't.

I would have wanted to read more was her trials and tribulations in starting and sustaining the Young Authors Club, for one. What went through her mind when she was asked to set up the club? Did she see a business opportunity first, or the social cause?

So, here are a few things that I would be interested in reading, perhaps in her next book:
  • Stories, as told by other woman, whom she met along the way.
  • Interesting stories of the children and teens whom she have met, through the club she set up.
  • The challenges in running a business, never mind being a businesswoman.
  • What was it really like when she "shattered the traditional Japanese male enclave when she became the only woman editor-in-chief of two Japan-based magazines published in Singapore, a position she held for seven years" (see this).

Overall, this would make a good book discussion for teens. Or among teens and parents (I guess the teens would have to be forced to attend such a session, lol).

In a practical and pragmatic society like Singapore, some parents will not agree with the premise behind her book's title. The call to "love and live dangerously" was something that goes against conventional thinking when I was growing up, and in a way it's still very much the covert values most of us go by.

This was Catherine Khoo's fourth book. It is currently available at major bookstores here, like MPH, Kinokuniya, and Times Bookshop.

Her books are also available at the NLB libraries.

Catherine also blogs at

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Interview with the artist/ writer: "Jack Doe: Anonymous"

[Earlier post: Graphic novel review - Jack Doe: Anonymous]

This post is two years late.

In 2011, after I blogged about the graphic novel, the author/ artist, Shawn Yap, found my post and left this comment:
Hi Ivan! Shawn Yap here! Thanks for the review and feedback! My team and I appreciate it alot! I do have a second book out though – “Closets” (unrelated to Jack Doe though), if you happen to read that, let me know what you think.

That led to an email correspondence, where Shawn agreed to an email interview. The interview took a while because Shawn was busy at that time. And then I got busy and procrastination took over. I never published the interview.

I kept his emails in my inbox as a reminder. This week I finally got off my procrastinating behind, went to Shawn's website to find out what he's been up to (he's got a Facebook page now), then got in touch with him again to ask if he had any updates.

He did. And here's the interview with 2013 updates:

Shawn Yap -

[In 2011]
Q: How did 'Jack Doe' get started? I'm aware that it was part of the MDA First Time Publisher initiative. And that you had other collaborators like Gabriel Chua, Nathan Peng, Daniel Barrett Lee, Xander Lee, Regina Lee, Amanda Yap, Beryl Kwok.

It's quite a funny story actually. I had absolutely no idea of the First Time Publisher Initiative until my mother told me about it, after reading about it on the newspapers.

I was still serving my NS in the Navy at the time, and the deadline were about less than a week away, if I remember.

It was quite a rush to come up with a story for the pitch, so there was many stories I penned down and came up with while in camp. I ran the ideas through Daniel, who was my close friend from my BMT, and there was a lot of back and forth and eventually it led to "Jack Doe". I sent the draft out and we got the pitch.

From there I got a team to work on the project together with me: Daniel, of course; Gabe - who wrote most of the great script in the book; Nathan - who was a major blessing, script-wise, in the later chapters; Xander - who came up with the amazing cover concept; Regina, Beryl and my younger sister, Amanda, who provided help in the coloring/toning department for the covers and the main story.

2) Could you share some insights into the process of making "Jack Doe"? As a reader looking at the final product, I'm curious as to some of the thought processes and physical work involved.
Oh, it was a really long process!

But thankfully I wrote out most of the story before approaching Gabe, Nathan and Daniel with it, from there we had quite a lot of ideas and stuff thrown around to really spice up the story. The story evolved a little here and there while we were releasing it in issues, and that, while scary, was actually quite exciting because it still had room to grow and breathe.

The team hardly had time to meet altogether though, so it was always only 1 or 2 of us at a time.

The work itself, art-wise, was really one of the more taxing aspects of the book, due to deadlines and schedules. I was really thankful for the help I got from the colorists! I was really thankful for the prompt work on the script from the writers. Really helped to speed stuff up! :) I was also really grateful for the additional time given to improve on the trade paperback, there were quite a few improvements made from the story published in M.U.G.E.N.

3) I read from the blurb that Jack Doe contains six chapters published in M.U.G.E.N. I've to profess my ignorance about M.U.G.E.N. Isn't M.U.G.E.N a game?

Ah...It is! Well...I mean it is both the name of a game and a comic anthology (and a car modification company as well if i'm not wrong). I think the publishers didnt realise that when they came up with the name, but I guess the association helped us a little (well it worked both ways, haha).

4) What was the easiest part in producing Jack Doe?

Revisiting and revising the story for its paperback launch. That was much easier because the bulk of the story was done, it was also the most fun part, for me at least.

5) What's the hardest?

Definitely the deadlines. Towards chapter 5 and 6 the deadlines were getting tighter and tighter and it was really, really crazy.

6) What are your collaborators doing now? i.e. Gabriel Chua, Nathan Peng, Daniel Barrett Lee, Xander Lee, Regina Lee, Amanda Yap, Beryl Kwok.
[Interviewer's note: this was in 2011] Most of them are working at the moment. We've hardly had time to meet up, sadly. They're all working different jobs at the moment - teaching, advertising etc, with the exception of Beryl and I, who are in the process of finishing up our University education.

You can view some of their works online as well! - Xander has a site full of great works at

7) What are you up to lately, work wise? (or your creative pursuits)
[Interviewer's note: this was in 2011] I published a 2nd book - Closets, about a year or 2 back. Apart from that I have been working on a few games. I had a card game "Crisis!" tested at Sporecon early in 2011, and perhaps 2012 too. I am currently working on a 3rd book, titled "Letters", which would probably see a release this year or the next, if all goes well, haha.

Apart from that I have been freelancing and updating my site - - constantly with new works and old. So watch out for that! :)

I've also been working on some redesigns for comic book characters for leisure, which has been really fun as well.

8) Any other comments to add?

For those who have read the books - Thank you so much for your support! Feel free to let me know your thoughts and stuff, I'm always open to comments! Huge thank you to you, Ivan, as well for this interview! :)

[2013 July update]

9) Shawn, it's about two years later. How did those things you mentioned in the 2011 interview turn out?

"Closets" my 2nd book, had a limited print run and the reaction to it was really positive! It was my first time self-publishing so it was really scary. I had no idea how people were going to react to it, but I was so thankful that people liked it!

With my card game - "Crisis!" - the response to it at conventions thus far has been amazing and we are still looking to get it published. You know you've got something good when people are having fun playing it, so I'm really happy about that.

As for "Letters.", I am humbled and honored whenever I hear that the story has touched someone's life or that it was something they could relate to. It is really a story very close to my heart, and so to see people, no matter how many, get something out of it makes me really happy I shared it!

10) What keeps you busy these days?

Mainly my full-time job - i'm currently working as a game artist. Apart from that though, I've been doing commissions, fan art and attending the occasional event/convention - meeting fellow artists and art appreciators has been particularly mindblowing.

I published a new graphic novel - "Letters" (my 3rd and hopefully not the last book) digitally under, which unfortunately [the site] closed down recently. I am very close to finding a new home for the book, so watch out for it! This 3rd book really one of my proudest achievements to date and I really hope everyone will like it!

Apart from "Letters.", I am also looking to port my other 2 books - "Jack Doe" and "Closets" over digitally as well - to make it available worldwide.

Apart from that, I've been taking commissions and doing fan art whenever i can (it's great therapy!)

You can check out what i've been doing on my website - or my facebook page -

11) Do you have something to tell students/ young adults who are keen to pursue your line of work?

If you believe in what you want to do, then soldier on, no matter how difficult it may get, and never ever let someone else dictate your dreams, it is YOUR dream, you decide how far it goes.

Ramble: From his first comment in 2011 and our recent exchange, I have the impression that Shawn is a bright, passionate and steadfast kind of guy. He came across as being humble and open to critique of his work, and that impression has been consistent. I've never met Shawn. He's perhaps 20 years younger than me. I'm impressed with his attitude and work. I'm learning a few things from him.

Go visit Shawn's website or Facebook page.

Graphic novel review - Jack Doe: Anonymous

[Next: Author interview]

I discovered this work in 2011, when browsing the graphic novel section at Central Public Library.

Jack Doe ‹ Shawn Yap
"Jack Doe: Anonymous"
ISBN: 9789812769343
Shawn Yap (creator & artist), Gabriel Chua, Nathan Peng, Daniel Barrett Lee, Xander Lee, Regina Lee, Amanda Yap, Beryl Kwok.

The work was published under the Media Development Authority's First Time Writers and Illustrators Publishing Initiative (scheme has ended, it seems). Its creators were a group of young people, with half of them as co-writers and the other half as colourists. Most of them seem to be between 25 to 30 years old at the time of publication.

According to the blurb, the work collects all six chapters published in M.U.G.E.N. and includes extra pages and revamped artwork.

The story takes place in a fictional city called Central City. The protagonist is a detective who comes from a mysterious anti-crime family/ clan. The clan leadership is a hereditary title passed from fathers to sons. Upon taking over as leader, he loses all personal identity and assumes the anonymous title of Jack Doe. He exists to "protect the city from the shadows" by solving cases that "no one else can". Jack Doe has no powers, other than possessing a pack of tarot cards as part of his crime-solving arsenal.

The graphic novel starts with a murder of Jack's friend, the police commissioner. The mystery deepens when Jack is pursued by people intent on killing him. There's a sub-plot that attempts to delve into Jack's psyche, his past, and his recurring dream where he sees himself murdered.

Interesting premise. Their work attempted to weave a mixed genre of plup-mystery and hardboiled detective story, presented in an almost film noir style.

Jack Doe ‹ Shawn Yap
[Images courtesy of Shawn Yap (All Rights Reserved)]

The art work is good. What could be improved was the storyline, which had a few elements that were slightly distracting to the flow.

For instance, being a detective with an office isn't quite anonymous. And with no apparent powers or abilities, the protagonist was pitched against super-powered beings. A bit of a tilt there for me. The hero never quite fights with any of the villains either, save one. Made me wonder what happened to the villains.

A pleasant surprise for me was the twist at the end. They adapted a the "world within worlds" concept to set up for a clash between unexpected parties. I suppose they were working with tight deadlines, developing the story along the way. Which might have made the 'Reveal' a bit abrupt.

Overall, the art and graphic flow was good enough for me to read to the last page.

Jack Doe ‹ Shawn Yap
[Images courtesy of Shawn Yap (All Rights Reserved)]

The artistic style used throughout the work was one of the more polished ones I've come across (kudos to the main artist is Shawn Yap, and not forgetting the team that did the inking/ colouring). The panel designs came together very nicely. You know something is professionally done when you don't notice the 'technical' aspects of the graphic novel and can focus on the story. For what my opinion is worth, I thought the work was good enough to be placed against the work from international titles.

As a first time work, I'll give them a second thumbs up.

More important, I am keen to read more of what they have to produce.


[2001 draft of this post, here]