Book Review: The Book of Names

Let’s get to it, shall we? It’s been a while since I’ve written a book review, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post.

UK Hardcover  US Hardcover

I’ve just finished reading The Book of Names, a suspense thriller that infuses historical and religious influences as its main core, in just one day on Wednesday. At 320 pages only, the feat is doable, plus, with a tight, fast paced plot that’s fairly gripping, I was unable to resist putting the book down to go to sleep until I’ve finished the book.

The book is a collaboration between Jill Gregory and Karen Tintori, who are long-time friends and have also collaborated in other books under the pseudonym “Jillian Karr.” Gregory is fairly well-known for her well-researched historical novels set in the Old West such as Cold Night, Warm Stranger and Never Love a Cowboy while Tintori has written two non-fiction books, the latest of which is a biography on one her ancestors called Unto the Daughters. Now, I must say that I’ve not read any of Gregory’s or Tintori’s works before this, so I’ve no idea what they are like as solo authors but I must say that I quite enjoyed The Book of Names.

The book deals with the ancient Jewish mysticism of Kabbalah and Jewish tradition of the Lamed-Vovniks. According to Jewish legend, the world is in existence because of the Lamed-Vovniks, 36 righteous souls that must exist in every generation or the world will end. The names of these righteous souls are encoded in the Book of Names written by the First Man, Adam, that has now fallen in the hands of evil.

Throughout the ages, a mysterious sect of religious killers called the Gnoseous have systematically began to hunt down these righteous souls and kill them to bring about the end of the world and renewal of humankind, in their terms. Having killed 33 so far, they are closer than ever to achieving their aims, but are not aware of that they’ll face unlikely opposition.

Standing in their way is Georgetown University resident political scientist, Professor David Shepherd, who has suffered visions of mysterious names ever since he had a near death experience in his childhood. Seeking the help of his Catholic priest friend who referred him to a Jewish rabbi in Brooklyn, NY, he discovers that he holds the key to the survival of the world. Struggling between believing and disbelieving, the fight becomes personal for him when his ex-stepdaughter, whom he’ve gotten along so well, is discovered to be one of the three last surviving Lamed-Vovniks. Aided by a sultry Israeli artefacts expert, they must now race against time to stop the Gnoseous from bringing about the end of the world and rescuing his daughter from clutches of the evil sect and their Dark Angels (Gnostic assassins).

As I mentioned, this was a fast paced read, and the authors did well to blend in religion, history and fantasy into the story for a tense and suspenseful thriller. However, to call it one of the best is to give this book too much credit as it is not without its flaws, among which is their inability to decide on the correct spelling of “Kabbalah,” which was either spelled with a double ‘b’ or a double ‘l’ whenever it surfaced.

The story is also riddled with clichés (escaping via fire escape, typically incompetent or non-existent authorities despite all the carnage described in the book, the reluctant hero, evil religious organisation), poor characterisation (rather than characters drive the plot, the characters seemed to be there as dictated by the plot) and features lots of unlikely circumstances that defies logic (an enormous underground labyrinth under London escaping the notice of geologists??). One could not help but wonder if with a little bit more tinkering to some of the characters and adding more depth to the story would this turn out to be a better read than the plodding book that is the Da Vinci Code.

Yes, it’s fairly easier to read than Dan Brown’s debut novel, and one also could not help but draw parallels between the two. Both dealing against religious sects, both have a professor and a beautiful foreign female sidekick, both also have a character that intends to help the protagonist but ended up dead in the end and both also deals with religious myths. Which one is better, I would not say, but I did rather enjoy The Book of Names more.

Now, let me just cast the Shield Charm around me to avoid flaming arrows and countless bricks from Dan Brown fanatics. Protego!

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My final journey with Harry Potter begins!

I’ve finally obtained my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final installment of the phenomenally successful Harry Potter series.

The UK adult edition cover.

As such, I’ll be in “literary hibernation” for the next 24 to 48 hours as I devour the 607 pages of the book. Do not disturb me with your phone calls. Please do not be anxious if I did not return calls or reply SMS’es. I am alive and well. However, if you do not hear from me for several days, please do know that I’ll either be drowning in my sorrows that no more Harry Potter books will be written and will probably re-read the final book again. ^_^

I love the story of the books, but I do agree with a lot of the critics on the Net that JK Rowling isn’t really that great of a writer, but I respect the fact that she had come up with such a wildly imaginative, creative and original idea and turned it into a worldwide phenomenon and rekindled the interest in reading in the young once again. For that, I salute you, Dame Rowling! (Even if you’re not knighted yet, you totally deserve the dame title!)

So, anyways, here’s to hoping that I am not let down by the book and that it provides sufficient closure to the life of Harry Potter whom many of us had followed for a decade or so. Look out for my review after I finish reading it!

On This Dreary Night

On this dreary night
Shadows cloud the mind
In fear, I paw for the light
Wanting to beat back the tide of time

On this dreary night
Slumber has left my side
My soul yearns to rest right
Yet in this life I still abide

And on this dreary night
I cry out in surrender, in fright
Try as I might
I think I am losing all fight

To be free from the shackles of life
Oh, how I long to take flight
To flee my tumultuous hive
On this dreary night…

– by Philipp C.K. Gan, 19 July 2007, 3.24am.

Why Do I Write?

This post by my lil sis spurred me to ask this question again…what I wrote below is my response to her post.

I’ve always ask myself several questions whenever I write – “Who am I writing for?” “Who does bother to read anything I write?”

And whenever I try to write something that I want someone to read, what the masses want to read… it does affect my writing and I always wonder whether I am writing for the right reasons. Whether I’m a good enough writer.

This insecurity plagued me for quite sometime. It wasn’t until I met several people like Ian, Sharon, Ted, Lydia, Yvonne Foong and Xeus that made me understand what the world of writing is all about. I can safely say that these four are my pillars of inspiration for writing, remembering the things they have said and wrote about in their own respective blogs has continued to drive me on.

I love writing, it’s my passion as much as books, movies and anime are. But I learnt to realise that if I compel myself to write something I want people to read, my writing comes out false…like I’m pretending to be someone I’m not.

In the last couple of years since I started writing professionally and began seriously writing as a career, I have learnt to fuck it all and just write because I LOVE writing. Who cares if no one reads them? As long as I’m writing with passion, with honesty and conviction, that’s all that matters to me now. I’ve been told before that writing with these feelings won’t make me a successful fiction writer. There may be some truth in that, but I refuse to believe I can’t succeed one day as a fiction novelist.

It’s all a matter of the heart. When your heart is in the right place and when you’re writing for right reasons…the words would just flow…and the passion and fire you have for writing will be the driving force.

Do I make any sense? Hahaha…I ramble on a lot sometimes, couldn’t organise my thoughts when writing spontaneously, something that I still need a lot of work on besides my tenses!

Nevertheless, I’m not going to mope around about the circumstances around me as well as my shortcomings to deprive me of my passion for writing! No way!

And I, for one, don’t give a fuck about the ISA, I have absolutely zero respect for that archaic law, no matter how well it had served us during the Emergency times. Times change, people change, mentality changes…sooooo damn angry that the present govt is too blind and too stubborn to understand. A bunch of neanderthals running this country (Except Pak Lah, of course)!

Fame, glamour, wealth, recognition… it’s all secondary. Passion, determination and dedication… that’s what it takes to be a great writer! Now I understand… and now, I’m going to give my all to write as much and as well as possible.

Wish me the best!

Commonwealth Short Story Contest 2007!!!

Well, I’m home alone for the next couple of days with my mom and my sister’s family gone down to Penang for a holiday. Four days of peace, quiet and…ah, well, not like I’m home most of the time anyways.

So, yeah, since on the job front is a bit quiet, I decided to take up some office time to work on my essay for entry to the 2007 Commonwealth Short Story Competition. Details of said competition is as follows:

2007 Commonwealth Short Story Competition

1st Prize: £2,000

Entries are now invited for the 2007 Commonwealth Short Story Competition. There is no entry fee or form. Only the winners will be notified and entries will not be acknowledged or returned.

The deadline for receipt of entries is 1 May 2007. Aims

The Commonwealth Short Story Competition aims to increase understanding and appreciation of and between Commonwealth cultures, to showcase the rich diversity of the Commonwealth and to support rising literary talents.

Objectives

The objectives of the competition are as follows:

• To recognise new writers and give them increased confidence to pursue writing as a career.
• To make more widely known the work of rising literary talents.
• To encourage people to write about their lives, their societies and the things that matter to them.
• To highlight a diversity of cultures, voices and viewpoints through radio broadcast.

Rules and Regulations

All Commonwealth citizens are eligible to participate in the Competition. There is no age limit and entries can come from either amateur or professional writers.

• All entries must clearly state the country of citizenship and residence.
• The stories may have any theme or subject, but should not exceed 600 words (which should be 4’30” when read aloud).
• The stories must be original and should not have been previously published anywhere in full or part. Entrants should confirm this in writing.
• All entries must be in English.
• Maximum of three entries per person.
• Entries should be type-written or word processed on A4 paper, double spaced, and include the word count.
• Handwritten entries will not be accepted.
• Each entry must include the name, address, telephone number, and email address of the writer.
• Entries will not be returned or acknowledged.
• Winners will retain the copyright but assign the broadcasting rights (including audio on demand) for ten years to the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association to pass on to its members. Winners will also assign publication rights for ten years to the CBA and the Commonwealth Foundation, and the rights for the story to be sold on any audio medium by the CBA. Both these rights are non-exclusive.
• The administrators of the competition reserve the right to disqualify any competition entry. No correspondence will be entered into in this regard.
• Only winners will be notified. The names of the winners will be published in “Commonwealth Broadcaster”, the CBA website www.cba.org.uk and in the press and broadcast media of Commonwealth countries.
• Entries must be sent by post or courier to Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, 17 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1AA, UK or emailed to story@cba.org.uk
• ‘Short Story Competition’ should be clearly written on the envelope.

The competition is administered by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association and funded by the Commonwealth Foundation as part of its Culture and Diversity Programme.

How to enter

All entries for the 2007 competition should be sent to:

Commonwealth Short Story Competition
Commonwealth Broadcasting Association
17 Fleet Street
London EC4Y 1AA
UK

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7583 5550
Website: www.cba.org.uk

Please mention “Short Story Competition” on the envelope. You can also email story@cba.org.uk

PLEASE NOTE THERE IS NO ENTRY FORM FOR THIS COMPETITION

I’m about a quarter through the 600 word limit, a sudden burst of inspiration got me writing about 150 in one sitting. It sounded a wee bit juvenile to me though. May have to work it through some more. Hope to finish it by next week. Wish me luck!

“Honk” in a Nutshell

Honk If You're Malaysian book cover.I’ve finally done reading my second book of the year (honest, it’s really just my second!), which means I have 28 more to go. See the updated list for a couple of title changes.

The book which I had just finished reading was Honk If You’re Malaysian, a collection of witty, biting stories about what it’s like to be Malaysian. It’s the perfect handbook for foreigners looking for an insight into what Malaysians are all about before they boldly set foot on our not-so-clean-but-very-sandy shores. No books on Malaysian culture and its people are as honest as they can be than Lydia Teh‘s Honk.

But first and foremost, this book is for all Malaysians… and who knows, maybe some of us might see ourselves reflected in the stories Lydia had wrote from her sharp observations of Malaysian society. Light-hearted with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, Lydia does not shy away from showing us Malaysians for what we are – the good, the bad and of course, the ugly. But she never pointedly criticise us for any of a behavioural quirks that make us Malaysians unique and that is why I love this book as well as that of her more personal book Life’s Like That. Lydia has shown us that despite everything, it is most important that we’re able to laugh at ourselves and along with others about what it is like in Malaysia. This book should not be seen as a criticism of Malaysian culture, instead, it should be read to enlighten us on the various aspects of Malaysian life so that we can do something about it.

Kudos to Lydia for writing these stories. You’ve written something that not many Malaysians are willing to write about and you’ve done it in a light-hearted way that it does not reprimand us but make us laugh and blush in embarrassment (for those that read the book and said “hey, that sounds like me!”). May we see more of your stories to come and looking forward to your next collection with bated breath!

What’s good about the book:

  • Easy to read
  • Concise – each stories about 800 to 1000 words or so long.
  • Witty, plenty of of laugh-out-loud moments
  • Her observations are spot on – especially in the stories she wrote about spitting, begging and the Malaysian appetite.
  • Great book to relief stress and tension – laugh it all out and away.
  • I could relate to many of her stories – hunting lizards were my favourite childhood past time too and I so so so love pineapple tarts!

What’s not so good about the book:

  • Some stories make me wish I had written them because I had experienced/encountered such situations as well.
  • The book is not something you’ll read to increase your brain power.

Dear Kenny, hope you don’t mind me using your pic of the “Honk” book cover…

First Book Review of 2007 – This Present Darkness

Paperback Cover 1

My first book review of 2007 happened to be the first book I’ve completed readiMass Paperback Coverng in my “30 Books to Read by the end of 2007”.

The title of the book is This Present Darkness and is written by acclaimed Christian fiction author Frank E. Peretti. As such, this book is a dark, supernatural thriller about the battle for humanity between the angelic forces of Heaven and the demonic forces of Hell set in the small, fictional American town of Ashton.   

What’s good about the book:

  1. Excellent story-telling, builds up tension (the tension is really palpable) and keeps one on the edge of one’s seat.
  2. Offers a glimpse into the realm of angels and demons like how Christians believe and the power of prayer.
  3. Characters were well-crafted, even minor characters played a part in the build up to the story.
  4. The author managed to weave a complex plot with a lot of inter-connecting subplots without causing too much confusion to readers.
  5. Teaches Christians to be wary always of any strange/false teachings and be alert constantly.
  6. Brilliant descriptions of the action and warfare between the angels and demons.

What’s bad about the book:

  1. The editor did not do his/her job very well – a lot of glaring spelling or typo mistakes.
  2.  At times, the book feels like its preaching to the reader, but then again, one of the protagonist is a church pastor whose job was to preach.
  3. Some parts were a chore to read, especially the descriptions and explanations of New Age philosophy such as the oneness of the mind, the concept of the universe living in humans and humans are the universe, thereby making us divine, universal creatures. See what I mean? It’s enough to give one a migraine…
  4. Some characters did not really engage or fascinate or interest me, not because characterisation sucks but mostly because I’ve never met any characters like them before so I wouldn’t know really how one should react when faced with a similar situation as decsribed in the book.

Summary:

As I mentioned, This Present Darkness is not a book for the masses but more specifically targeted at Christian readers. Of course, one who is interested in the Christian perspective of spiritual warfare or just looking for a heart-pounding thriller, This Present Darkness certainly would not disappoint. This novel is most likely the most popular of all of Peretti’s books and proves why he’s regarded as the Stephen King of Christian fiction. His other works are also along the same lines as this book – broken/flawed Christian finds it within himself and in God to overcome a menacing, mostly unseen, great evil that threatens to consume the world in darkness but from different perspective – twice Peretti dealt with the issue of abortion, the issue of false prophets proclaiming to be the next Messiah and the dangers of cloning and the absurd theory of evolution.

It’s the second time I’ve read this book, the first I had skimmed over pretty quick and had not really been interested in it. Now that I’ve read it in more detail, I find myself enjoying the book despite its subject matter. What made it interesting for me were the portrayals and descriptions of the angels and demons, especially the angels – powerful spiritual beings but are weak beings without the power of prayer from the saints of God. They never pick a fight, but rather, they are very intelligent and masterful strategists and are always one step ahead.

Final Words:

It’s not a book that will appeal to everyone but if it does to to you, this book will not disappoint. It delivers the thrills and when reading the parts about demons, don’t be surprised if you suddenly feel a shiver run down your spine and goosebumps popping up on your skin. I guess I do have to say this – this book is a keeper and a must read for every Christian who believes in spiritual wars.

Book Stats:

Total page: 508 pages

Price: RM33.90      Availability: I got my copy at Borders Bookstore at Berjaya Times Square KL.

Estimated time it took for me to finish reading the book – About 6 to 7 days (January 1 to January 7).