Sunday, July 29, 2007

This Week's Bestsellers.

A Review By My Den
This is My Den's compilation of this week's top 5 bestsellers, according to Times bookstores, MPH and, for fiction and children. Numbers in brackets are the previous week's positions :
No.1 (1) For One More Day by Mitch Albom.
This is the story of Charley, a child of divorce who is always forced to choose between his mother and his father. He grows into a man and starts a family of his own. But one fateful weekend, he leaves his mother to secretly be with his father - and she dies while he is gone. This haunts him for years. It unravels his own young family. It leads him to depression and drunkenness. One night, he decides to take his life. But somewhere between this world and the next, he encounters his mother again, in their hometown, and gets to spend one last day with her - the day he missed and always wished he'd had. He asks the questions many of us yearn to ask, the questions we never ask while our parents are alive...
Available here : For One More Day

No.2 (5) The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien.
The first complete book by J.R.R. Tolkien in three decades since the publication of The Silmarillion in 1977, The Children of Hurin reunites fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with Elves and Men, dragons and Dwarves, Eagles and Orcs. Presented for the first time as a complete, standalone story, this stirring narrative will appeal to all, returning to the rich landscape and characters unique to Tolkien. The Children of Hurin, begun in 1918, was one of three 'Great Tales' J.R.R. Tolkien worked on throughout his life. Though familiar to many fans from extracts and references within other Tolkien books, it has long been assumed that the story would forever remain an unfinished tale. Now reconstructed by his son Christopher from his father's many drafts, this book is the culmination of a tireless thirty-year endeavor by him. Available here : The Children of Hurin.

No.3 (8) The Blue Zone by Andrew Gross.
From the number one New York Times bestselling coauthor of Judge &
Jury and Lifeguard comes this electrifying solo debut, The Blue Zone.
Kate Raab's life seems almost perfect: her boyfriend, her job, her family . . until her father runs into trouble with the law. His only recourse is to testify against his former accomplices in exchange for his family's placement in the Witness Protection Program. But one of them gets cold feet. In a flash, everything Kate can count on is gone. Now, a year later, her worst fears have happened: Her father has disappeared—into what the WITSEC agency calls "the blue zone"—and someone close to him is found brutally murdered. With her family under surveillance, the FBI untrustworthy, and her father's menacing "friends" circling with increasing intensity, Kate sets off to find her father—and uncover the secrets someone will kill to keep buried... Available here : The Blue Zone.

No.4 ( 2 ) A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.
After 103 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and with 4 million copies of The Kite Runner shipped, Khaled Hosseini returns with a beautiful, riveting, and haunting novel that confirms his place as one of the most important literary writers today. Propelled by the same superb instinct for storytelling that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love. Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them, they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. A stunning accomplishment, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship and an indestructible love...
Available here : A Thousand Splendid Suns.

No.5 (10) The Quickie by James Patterson.
Lauren Stillwell is not your average damsel in distress. When the NYPD cop discovers her husband leaving a hotel with another woman, she decides to beat him at his own game. But her revenge goes dangerously awry, and she finds her world spiraling into a hell that becomes more terrifying by the hour. In a further twist of fate, Lauren must take on a job that threatens everything she stands for. Now, she's paralyzed by a deadly secret that could tear her life apart. With her job and marriage on the line, Lauren's desire for retribution becomes a lethal inferno as she fights to save her livelihood and her life. Patterson takes us on a twisting roller-coaster ride of thrills in his most gripping novel yet. This story of love, lust and dangerous secrets will have readers' hearts pounding to the very last page.
Available here : The Quickie by James Patterson.

No.1 (-) Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows by J.K.Rowling.
The brilliant, breathtaking conclusion to J.K. Rowling's spellbinding series is not for the faint of heart. Revelations, battles and betrayals await in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that no fan will make it to the end unscathed. Deathly Hallows is an odyssey the likes of which Rowling's fans have not yet seen, and are not likely to forget. The heart of Book 7 is a hero's mission, not just in Harry's quest for the Horcruxes, but in his journey from boy to man. Harry faces more danger than that found in all six books combined, from the direct threat of the Death Eaters and you-know-who, to the subtle perils of losing faith in himself. A spectacular finish to a phenomenal series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a bittersweet read for fans. Available here : Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.

No.2 ( 2 ) Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince.
A darker book than any in the series so far, this book moves the series into murkier waters. While Rowling has long been praised for her cleverness and wit, the strength of Book 6 lies in her subtle development of key characters, as well as her carefully nuanced depiction of a community at war. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, no one and nothing is safe, including preconceived notions of good and evil and of right and wrong. A series that began as a colorful lark full of magic and discovery has become a dark and deadly war zone. Book 6 casts a mean shadow over Quidditch games, silly flirtations, and mountains of homework.
Available here : Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince.

No.3 ( 4 ) Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix by J.K. Rowling.
Compared to the rest of this wonderful series, The Order of The Phoenix was a bit of a let down. Although it began to piece together some of the many questions the previous books introduced, the many chapters it took to get to those answers was a little painful. Harry's new teenage attitude is hard to deal with and the romance is fairly shallow. Read it to fill in the blank pieces of information regarding Harry but chances are you won't find it as enjoyable as the other books.
Available here : Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix.

No.4 ( 6 ) Surf's Up : The Life and Times of Cody Maverick by Susan Korman.
Cody Maverick has been dreaming of being a surf champion for as long as he can remember. He desperately wants to enter the big competition but he'll need some help first. Join Cody as he teams up with Geek and learns all he'll need to know to win. But it isn't until the final moments of the competition that Cody finally understands what Geek was trying to teach him all along—having fun is the most important part of surfing—not winning!
Available here : Surf"s Up : The Life and Times of Cody Maverick.

No.5 ( 7 ) Transformers : The Junior Novel by S.G. Wilkens.
Dueling factions of an alien race, the Autobots and the Decepticons, descend upon Earth in search of the one thing that can keep their race alive—the Allspark. With the United States government involved, it takes a battle with both humans and machines to decide the fate of human kind and robots...once and for all.
Available here : Transformers : The Junior Novel.

* For the non-fiction bestsellers : This Week's Top 5 Non-Fiction Books available here

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Tips on Writing Fiction.

By My Den.
Other then the 6 disciplines that were mentioned in my earlier post ( The Art of Writing Fiction ), the following are some further tips that i had gleamed on my own journey on writing fiction :

-The beginning of a story is of extreme importance. It must be interesting, riveting and readers should be hook on page one.

-Be specific in your writing. The more specific the details, the more real the story will seem to be to the reader. Descriptions and technical details must also be authentic.

-Be imaginative. The best fiction comes from the preposterous imaginations of writers who are good storytellers.

-Don't just tell what happened but recreate it instead.

-The shorter the story, the more important each word becomes. Avoid overused words and clich├ęs.

-Focusing on surprise and irony will make the story a better read.

-Write what you like to read.

-Enjoy what you are writing.

-Revision is extremely important. A writer should always do one more revision before getting it published.

-Success breeds success. The more published you are, the easier it is to get published again.

-Never scorn the work of another writer as it will not make us a better writer.

-Try to obtain and accept constructive criticisms and feedback for your story.


"So You Want To Write" not only addresses all elements of storytelling but also includes hundreds of writing tips such as "How to begin a piece that a reader can't put down" and "How to create compelling characters." Written by Marge Piercy who is a New York Times best-selling novelist, this is a highly recommended book for aspiring writers. Available here :
"So You Want To Write."

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Art of Writing Fiction...My Own Journey.

By My Den
Although writing fiction and short stories is an art, my own journey so far made me realized that there are skills, tools and techniques that one can learn in order to develop as a writer. Before touching on the structure and components of writing a story, the following are the 6 main disciplines that i think one must have, in order to be a good writer :

- Read a lot.
- Write a lot.
- Listen and observe everything around you.
- Have a good grasp of the language.
- Be a researcher.
- Be a storyteller.

Writing takes a lot of discipline because writing can actually be hard work but can also be very satisfying. I remembered the feeling of exhilaration and self-satisfaction that i had when i completed my first short story ( The Boy Who Saw Angels ). That was only possible because i had set up a routine for writing. Setting a routine is very important as it is very easy to find something else to do besides writing. A compulsion to write is essential.

Fiction writers should have a good grasp of the language and developing a reading habit will help greatly in this area. Reading widely from different sources like newspapers, fiction and non-fiction books etc, will also expose aspiring writers to the different techniques in writing a story.

Most importantly, fiction writers must be storytellers. A really good story can compensate for less-than-brilliant writing but brilliant writing will not save a bad story. Readers of fiction want very much to find the writer's work to be believable. It is the task of the writer to produce a story that does not makes the reader into recognizing that the narrative is just the writer talking. The writer should write about what he or she already knows through experience or can learn about through research. The narrative should read as if the writer really knows what he or she is writing about.

One book that greatly influenced me to start writing was Dorothea Brande's "Becoming a Writer". A classic since 1934, her book is very different from the many "how-to-write" guides. Instead of techniques, styles or methods, her book touches on the philosophy, thinking, lifestyle and attitude of a writer. In essence, it was designed to simply help you get over yourself and start writing, just like what i did after reading her book. Her book available here : Dorothea Brande's "Becoming a Writer"

Related Post : Structure & Components Of A Story

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Magical Ride With Hong Kong Comics...Down Memory Lane.

A Review By My Den
My love for comics started when i was a boy, back in the 70s', where i would visit the many 2nd hand book shops that doted Bras Basah road. Having not much pocket money to actually buy the 2nd hand comics, i would round up a few of my friends and pooled whatever money we had to borrow the comics instead. I remembered it cost about 15 cents to borrow each comic. In this way, i got acquainted with the many super-heroes of the DC and Marvel universes.

But it was comics from Hong Kong, especially the martial arts genre, that got me really hooked especially the "Dragon & Tiger Gate" series by maestro Tony Wong. In the early 80s' however, a new series "Heaven & Earth" by a new writer, Ma Wing Sing, came into the market and immediately turn into an extremely popular and an overnight hit series.

I was hooked by the engrossing story line and enchanted by the superior art renditions. Since then, i have been an ardent follower of this particular comic series from Hong Kong. In fact, i still have all the issues from day one, all kept in pristine condition and it is the only Hong Kong comic series that i had followed into my adult years.

The "Heaven & Earth" series focuses on 2 protagonists, "Wind" & "Cloud" (literal translation) and their trials and tribulations in the martial arts world. Woven with rich tales of bravery, loyalty, fight for justice and revenge with the overall theme of human's greed for power, the series captivated me with it's well fleshed-out characters and description of the many ancient and powerful martial arts. Not only was the artwork superior to many before it, it got even better over the years when computer graphics was used in the art renditions.

To ardent fans, the hero "Cloud" seems to have a larger following but for some reason or other, i favoured "Wind" more. So, going down memory lane, here are my attempts at translating extracts from the story into English for the enjoyment of non-chinese speaking audience. Because of the vast differences between the 2 languages, some flavour will inadvertently be lost in the translation but i hope you will be as enchanted as i was. I will begin with the story of "Wind"...

In the cold northern mountains, a small boy, "Wind" looks for his father, "The Wild Saber of the North", who has become wild and unpredictable because of abandonment by his wife who had leave him for another man...

Running into the snow valley, "Wind" came upon a cave and senses a aura of blood and madness in the air. A huge tiger came out of the cave, it's menacing eyes upon "Wind". Without any fear, the small boy returns the glare and make direct contact with the tiger eyes...

Suddenly from above the mountains, a shadow leaps off a cliff as the tiger pounces onto "Wind". With one smooth stroke of the saber, the shadow severs the tiger head. Blood splashes across onto "Wind" face and spills onto the white snow.

It is "Wind's" father, "The Wild Saber of the North" holding their family heirloom, "The Snow Drinking Saber", which had just killed the tiger. Looking like a wild man, he holds up the tiger head and drinks it's blood.....

* If you like comics, pay a visit to "My Comics Store".