Christmas is almost right around the corner.  With the rush beginning to build, I felt it was good to touch base with Christmas’ origins — the story behind our gilt laden trees, the frenetic shopping, carols, and festively wrapped presents.  Should the Season start to get overwhelming, the story will be with me to sustain my perspective of joy and thanksgiving.

Author :  Angela Hunt

Publication Date :  October 25, 2006

Publisher :   Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

ISBN-10: 1414314620

ISBN-13: 978-1414314624

No. of pages:  224

The Story :

A young virgin, Mary, betrothed according to Jewish customs to a carpenter, Joseph, is blessed by the appearance of Angel Gabriel who tells her some extraordinary news.  She is chosen to bear the Messiah, the Son of God who shall be conceived by the Holy Ghost.  Mary accepts God’s will without question.  But, now she is faced with a dilemma: how to convince  Joseph and her family of this divine conception?

With understandable doubts and disappointment threatening to break his betrothal, Joseph is visited by an angel who tells him of God’s will for Mary.  Joseph embraces this revelation and takes her to wife unconditionally.  Despite the sardonic regard and the barely concealed distaste of the Jewish community for what it considers a blatant disregard of morals,  Joseph and Mary carve a life for themselves with a great and also anxious anticipation of the Miracle soon to be born to them.

As it was the time of Caesar Augustus, a Roman edict for a census was passed which forced everyone to travel to their place of birth.  Joseph had  no choice but to take Mary, who was close to her time, on a long, perilous journey to Bethlehem.

The couple arrived in Bethlehem at nightfall to find no accomodations available.   Because of the edict, every home and inn in Bethlehem were full to the rafters of travelers.   By this time, Mary was going into labor and Joseph had to find a place.  They were directed to the only space available, a holding pen for animals.  So, the couple settled there for the the Birth of the Messiah.  And the rest is Biblical history…

The Review :

Angela Hunt treats us to a more vibrant retelling of the otherwise bland Biblical rendition of the Birth of Christ.  This is a novelization of the movie of the same title by Mike Rich.

Hunt tries to recreate the Jewish lifestyle under Roman rule in the first century.  We read about the helplessness of Jews under Roman law and under their own  corrupt government, the stringent social rules governing male and female roles and behavior, the perils of travel in ancient times, and the wonderment of spiritual appearances that had to do perhaps with people’s total God-centric lives then (a life alien to most modern lifestyles).

The focus of this book is Mary and Joseph (whose contribution is often overlooked), as a couple who had to face social distancing from their community which considered an unmarried woman’s pregnancy as taboo, the gravity of which was perhaps akin to adultery.  The fact that Joseph was willing to wed Mary despite her condition only made them marginally socially tolerable to their Jewish community.

It is refreshing to know that a usually Biblically downplayed or  often ignored person such as Joseph is wonderfully characterized and given importance here.  He is depicted as a staunch, reliable, faithful, strong and patient man whose love for Mary is quite touching.  Hunt’s portrayal of Joseph will endear him to readers who will come to be more aware of the sacrifices this saint had to undergo as Jesus’ stepfather.

Hunt’s Mary is not the doormat she may be perceived to be.  Although always pure and good, she is courageous and has a stubborn streak in this book that serves her well when she needs to be firm about going away to visit her cousin Elizabeth or going through the rough journey to Bethlehem.  She is quiet and docile but  definitely not spineless, no siree!

Hunt’s writing style is simple, actually on the average, mundane level which however, makes for very fast, easy reading.  There isn’t any flair to her style but the book is still well-written and enjoyable.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Read the book, why not?  For Christians, it  will give you a better appreciation of the Christmas celebration. Although the personalities of the characters are enhanced, they all still remain true to their core characterizations in the Bible.

If you’re a non-Christian, this story will be another interesting one to add to your knowledge should you have a curiosity on the beginnings of  interesting Christmas symbols and traditions  like gift-giving, the star on the tree, the Christmas tree itself (which I think represents the triangular rays of the Star of Bethlehem shining down on Christ’s birthplace–hence the ubiquitous decorative star topper), etc.   You may or may not believe in the story; nonetheless, it is still a good story about great things starting from humble beginnings.

In A Nutshell :

The Nativity Story by Angela Hunt adds a new and delightful dimension to the famous Biblical First Christmas.  It does pique an interest in the movie as well.  But most importantly, this book will bring the essence of Christmas closer to our hearts.

As the author has succeeded in accomplishing this purpose, despite an ordinary, simplistic style, I give :

My Mark  :  Outstanding!

Author :  Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Date of First Publication :  March 2006  (Hardcover)

Publisher of First Edition:  William Morrow

Date of Publication for this Edition :  December 2006  (Mass Paperback)

Publisher for this Edition :  Harper Torch

ISBN 10: 0-06-085398-0

ISBN 13: 978-0-06-085398-3

No. of pages : 432

The Story:

Heaven and Hell had left their agents on Earth since the dawn of time on Earth — an angel to make sure things go right and a demon with the express mission to wreak havoc on mankind.  Things seem to be going so well for both through the centuries; but now the powers-that-be both above and below decide it is time for the showdown between good and evil.

Crowley, the demon had been charged by Hell to oversee the coming of the Anti-Christ.  But hey, he’s enjoying the twenty-first century and Earth is much more exciting than Hell.  Aziraphale, the angel, also in his comfort zone on Earth, finds himself much more comfortable being with humans than with the “hosts on high”.  Both are loath to see THE END.  So angel and demon strike an unlikely alliance to divert the Prophecies and avert Armageddon.

Only no one knows there was a mix-up in the hospital.  Both Crowley and Aziraphale try to influence the little boy, Warlock, to thwart his nature as an Anti-Christ.  Only too late did both realize that Warlock is just a normal boy;  it is Adam who is the Anti-Christ but he had grown up outside their influences.  So, Crowley and Aziraphale both race against time and the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse (Hell’s Angels) to see if they still stand a chance of saving the world.

The Review :

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett make a rollicking great writing tandem with Good Omens.  I had loads of laughs with this one. The authors must have had a ball collaborating on creating their funny version of  the Biblical Apocalypse.  And got paid for it too!  Lucky guys!

I wish I had read a Neil Gaiman and a Terry Pratchett book to discern which parts were influenced by which author; unfortunately, this is my first time with both and I had to pick up a co-authored book.

Crowley, a dapper demon  and the bookish angel Aziraphale are both lovable characters you wish you could get to know for real.  Despite the overall hilarity in this book, Gaiman and Pratchett throw in some philosophic bones to chew on from time to time, in their characters’ dialogues :  

“Well”, said Crowley….”haven’t you ever wondered about it all?  You know–your people and my people, Heaven and Hell, good and evil, all that sort of thing?  I mean why?”

“As I recall, ” said the Angel stiffly, “there was the rebellion and—“

“Ah yes.  and why did it happen, eh?  I mean, it didn’t have to, did it?”  said Crowley, a manic look in his eye.  “Anyone who could build a universe in six days isn’t going to let a little thing like that happen.  Unless they want it to, of course.  “

“Oh come on.  Be sensible,” said Aziraphale. doubtfully.

“That’s not good advice,” said Crowley.  “….If you sit down and think about it sensibly, come up with some very funny ideas.  Like : why make people inquisitive, and then put some forbidden fruit where they can see it with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying “THIS IS IT!”?

“I don’t remember any neon.”

Metaphorically, I mean. I mean, why do that if you really don’t want them to eat it, eh?  I mean, maybe you just want to see how it all turns out.  Maybe it’s all part of a great big ineffable plan.  All of it.  You, me, him, everything.  Some great big test to see if what you’ve built all works properly, eh? You start thinking :  it can’t be a great cosmic game of chess, it has to be just very complicated Solitaire……”

Well, why indeed?

To Read Or Not To Read :

Feeling bored?  Good Omens makes a good cure for a lazy weekend.  Its irreverent, wry wit,  goofy characters, wacky plotline, and footnotes about funny minutae just make this jocular bundle worth picking up.  Take this little aside for instance :

The end justifies the means, thought Aziraphale.  And the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. *

Footnote: * This is not actually true.  The road to Hell is paved with frozen door-to-door salesmen.  On weekends many of the younger demons go ice skating down it.

Unless you absolutely do not possess a shred of humor where Biblical prophecies are concerned or are a salesman of any kind—door-to-door and telemarketers included,  this book will tickle your funny bone.

Indeed, “the Apocalypse has never been funnier.” —- Clive Barker

My Mark :  Very Good!

Author :  John Connolly

Release Date : April 25, 2005

“In the crowded killing fields of crime fiction, John Connolly is a unique voice.” — Michael Connelly

Indeed he is.  As my first foray into John Connolly’s work, I am amazed by his ability to elevate crime fiction writing with beautifully crafted prose.  He has a rare knack of weaving elegant, loftily worded paragraphs with contemporary, casually-toned ones.  The result is a smooth read with seamless alterations in moods, without jarring stops and starts, mid-stride.

Black Angel is the fifth novel in a crime series.  The central hero, Charlie Parker,  embroils himself in an investigation over the disappearance of a close friend’s cousin, Alice.  His search leads him to face a horrible truth—the existence of a demonic being known as the Dark Angel, whose lost whereabouts over the centuries have led The Believers, an army of evil men and fallen demons in human guise, to carve a bloody, gruesome trail of death in their search for him.  The Believers is championed by the Dark Angel’s twin, accompanied by a  malevolent soul-eater.

The novel is heavy on the paranormal and the gothic, its inspiration drawn largely from at least three major sources:

a) an Old Testament apocryphal book, The Book of Enoch;

b) the Sedlec ossuary in Czechoslovakia, which as a major setting, appropriately lends the macabre flavor to the story;

(If you’ve never heard of this place, take a peek : )

Official Website

Sterf

Panoramic views of the Bone Church

The Ossuary in Sedlec

c) a controversial Mexican religion venerating the Santa Muerte.

John Connolly’s delightfully detailed historical accounts in this book have probably fired up some readers to learn more about them.  I know they have compelled me to scurry through the internet for my own research.  So midway through the book, I’ve been entertained with a mound of fascinating albeit morbid material on this novel’s inspirations.

The characters are also what make the book interesting.  This particular novel, being the sequel to four others, does not elaborate on the backgrounds of its protagonists; but, you may glean some bits and pieces about them as the story progresses.  Not knowing much about them, though, will not impede anyone’s enjoyment of this book.  However, to know the characters intimately, a new reader to John Connolly would be better served if he were to start from the first in the series, Every Dead Thing.

A lot of credit should also go to the author’s ability to present violence so artistically.   He has an intensely meticulous graphical style that makes his descriptions so vividly crystalline.  Unfortunately, it is precisely this quality that may render the novel too verbose for some readers.   People who prefer a straight-to-the-point manner may be annoyed at being drenched with all that verbiage.

True, the novel could have been a shorter read.   But for readers like me who revel in Connolly’s beautiful phraseologies, there is no such wordiness.  It is a rare treat to find a crime-thriller written with such eloquent and oftentimes almost poetic language; and, an even rarer pleasure to discover one that dared to successfully defy the accustomed patterns of its genre.

My Mark : Excellent