Category Archives: Book Reviews

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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“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).