bookspluslife

January 26, 2018

Book: The Sky Is Falling by Sydney Sheldon

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:51 pm

imageYou can get lost in Sydney Sheldon’s books. I admit that he is an old author and is not as sophisticated in his storytelling as, say, Dan Brown (Whose Angels and Demons, just to cite one example outshines most of Sydney Sheldon’s book) but there is a raw power in Sydney’s storytelling and if you pick up The Master of the Game, for example, or The Rage of the Angels, it is really hard to put down as he takes you on an emotional roller coaster that seems to whisk you away at top speed until the book end. Unfortunately, this book is not one such. Mind you, this is also interesting and racy but does not reach to the heights of the two books named above, for example. What is the story?

 

Dana Evans is a .TV reporter who covered Sarajevo war and was traumatized by it too. She is in love with Jeff Connors, an ex-sports star who works for the same company as Dana. Matt Baker ran the department but Elliot Cromwell owns the whole organization, having bought it recently from the previous owner. Jeff’s ex-girlfriend is a gorgeous, intelligent and brilliant conversationalist, Rachel Stevens. Gary Winthrop, a billionaire who donates a magnificent amount to a university is brutally murdered and we learn that his entire family a political First Family, was wiped out in different incidents.

 

Her adopted and disabled son Kemal, lives in perennial doubt that he will be sent back and is taunted by classmates and therefore rebellious.

 

When she tries to probe the killing, she is firmly told to desist. She finds one chink in the impenetrable armour and talks to an ex-employee who had filed a suit against the father. She is stunned to see that this secretary lives in a palatial mansion like a millionaire, but refuses to talk about the lawsuit at all, looking very frightened when Dana mentions the subject suddenly in a meeting.

 

After a couple of days, in an apparent attack of conscience, Joan Sinisi, the employee calls her from a public phone in an apparent attack of conscience, and never turns up for the rendezvous. Dana is stunned to learn that she ‘accidentally’ fell from her own balcony to her death. Marcus Abrams is the detective in charge of that investigation.

 

She is tracked at every step by persons unknown. We realize that her house is bugged and her rental car is too. When she realizes that the ski accident of Julia Winthrop and the car accident of another son is also suspicious, she realizes she is in dangerous territory.

 

Meanwhile, Kemal’s new housekeeper seems to be a dream come true.

 

Overall, this is strangely tedious for a Sydney Sheldon story. Yes, the narrative style is there; the superficial descriptions of everything and the suspense building is done. But unlike his other – and better – books, this is all about a reporter following a story and someone desperately trying to thwart her efforts. Where are the stunning twists we saw in The Master of The Game or The Rage of the Angels, just to name two?

 

Well, she finds three people who describe Winthrop as a monster and have motive enough to seek revenge on the whole family. She hears of a Russian situation and heads to Moscow. Finds (purely by accident) and destroys the tracking device embedded in her pen in Moscow airport.

 

After being stonewalled in Moscow by commissar Sasha Shdanoff despite his brother Boris trying to drop hints, she is about to give up when an envelope arrives with a promise to reveal all, and asking her to come back to Moscow with little trace of this to anyone. She goes. Meets the surprising person. And has an enormous plot revealed by that person for a promise of help in smuggling the person out of Russia before that person is killed.

 

She is too late to save him  (OK it is a man) and is now openly the target of assassins.  The twist of who the evil kingpin is as well told as in other books by Sheldon.

 

The last few pages are vintage Sheldon, with everyone trying their best to kill Dana and she successively outwitting them each time.

 

But the entire action is placed in just the last few pages and a hurried ending needs to be arrived at, so this whole thing is not as exciting as his other books are.

 

5/10

 

–  – Krishna

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Book: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:39 pm

imageThis is the fifth book in the Dark Tower Series, after the abominable first one,  The Gunslinger, and the much better The Drawing of the Three, The Wastelands and Wizard And Glass. And it seems to get better and better as the story goes. This one is an exception in that the story is really nice but a couple of weird things mar the otherwise excellent story. More of it later. First, let us see the story.

Tian Jefford is trying to plough his fallow and hard land called Son of a Bitch. His sister Tia is mentally deficient and Andy is a robot messenger who brings news that the Wolves will come in a month – on horseback. They typically carry off the twins of which Tian has two sets; his “singleton” son is safe. He decides to call a town meeting to explorer resistance to save the babies in town. There is a tense hold-off in the town meeting with two opposing factions until the Old Man steps in and tells them about the gunslingers coming into town who can help the villagers against the Wolves. The Wolves are “more than men” under the command of an even more evil and strong masters.

 

Then there is a tangent where the group, after eating mushroom balls, they go into a dream where Eddie, Jack and Oy go to the past New York and watch old Jack enter the bookstore on his way to the black rose. And Balazzar of Eddie’s life turns up at the bookstore. I know that this is meant to create a web of interconnectedness with the Roland’s group (ka-tet as he calls it) but seems a bit excessive, combined with the fact that the same person was trying to kill both Susanne and Jake.

 

Then there is an ever weirder dream where Mia or Detta Walker or any of the other dozen souls inside Susanna eat an invisible buffet with Roland watching her. It is explained in the book. However, going back and forth in time recalls Book Two of the series The Drawing of the Three.

 

The Old Man finally comes for a talk with the ka-tet quartet. When they meet the rest of the people, he senses that Overholsler, a rich farmer, is against the idea of going against the Wolves. There is a long series of nineteens that crop up until Eddie learns about the Directive Nineteen. Andy seems to have been shut up about the Wolves and asks for a password.

 

That night they all see the rose again in a fugue state and also see vagabond spirits or “vags”.

 

They then are received by the townspeople. Meanwhile, we learn that what grows in Susannah’s body is not Eddie’s child but probably some demon seed.

 

The priest Callahan (“the Old Man”) turns out to have a tie in with the earlier book of King, Salem’s Lot. He is a drunk, reforms, kills vampires and takes to drink again. The Low Men (Men in Yellow Jackets with the pet posters and all) figure in this story as well. So a neat tie to not only Salem’s Lot but also to Hearts in Atlantis too! (Though, to be fair, the latter story deliberately borrows from the Tower series material and thus is a kind of a branch story)

 

Roland gets a quick glimpse of the evil black ball.He rallies the town and gets to see the Titanium plate that can be thrown as a weapon. Eisenhower, a sceptic on the wisdom of resisting the Wolves has a wife Margaret who was the thrower and came from the enemy Manni tribe, forsaking everyone for her love of her husband.

Old Pere (Tian’s grandpa?) remembers how a throwing plate killed a Wolf a long time ago.

 

Eddie goes back in time to save Tower from getting a savage beating. When he is back, Jake decides to uncover the treachery of Slightman the Elder, despite his close friendship with the latter’s son. Andy the robot is the Trojan Horse.

 

Jake follows them and exposes their treachery to Roland. Then Roland learns the truth about who the wolves really are and what their vulnerability is. There is an exhilerating sequence where Andy is neutralized, Ben Slightman is exposed privately and warned, and then the entire village’s fight with the wolves with Roland first deceiving them about the location of the kids and then getting rid of them with the help of the ka tet quartet as well as several villages. Two of the townsfolks die in the battle. Beautiful.

 

The story has a second climax when Susannah’s alter ego takes her todash and the rest of the ka tet tries to follow her to save her from herself, which is really the start of the next one, as this one ends abruptly there

 

A pity that Stephen King, rather like Wilbur Smith in the Seventh Scroll, could not resist putting himself (and a book of his) inside the story. Though this is mercifully brief, it is still annoying.

 

7/10

 

–  – Krishna

 

Movie: War For The Planet of The Apes (2017)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:22 pm

imageWhat a brilliant movie! I thought that the reboot of the Planet of the Apes, the first movie which was released in 2004, Dawn of The Planet of the Apes was absolutely brilliant. When I heard that this sequel was coming out, initially I did not even want to see this because, in my mind, the first story is fully complete, with lovely characterizations and an ending that looks complete. (Can you remember Caesar and the almost equally impressive Koba?)  What else can be said of the story that has not been said in that movie.

 

But because the first movie was so impressive, I decided to give this a view and am glad I did. Because, it looks as if the story writers have plenty to say about that world. This story happens 15 years later than the first movie and is exhilarating right from the very first scene where the human army tries to ambush the ape troop and the fight that ensues. It does not let up until the very end.

 

The characters are as interesting. You see the turncoat ape Red (who is constantly humiliated by the humans – being called ‘donkey’ is the mildest of them) helping humans. When they lose and are captured, Caesar pardons them and sends them back, so that the humans can “learn” that the apes are peaceful creatures and want only to coexist with the humans, albeit segregated. That, as some of you would have suspected, dangerously backfires. The sudden attack by fortified human army is chilling and your sympathy is completely with the apes and against the humans – funny, considering that you are human. That is the magic of the film.

 

I can tell you more of the story – the story goes through mind boggling action sequences, hopelessness when troves of the monkeys and, later, Caesar himself is captured and how it ends – but that would spoil your enjoyment. Instead, I will talk about some of the movie features.

 

It is brilliantly written and directed. The sentences are short, sharp and delivered with effect. The characters are lovely. There are some apes (presumably not as evolved) that communicate by sign language and some that can speak.

 

The super villain in this movie is Colonel McCollough, played beautifully by Woody Harrelson. He seems to be four steps ahead of Caesar and his apes. He causes Caesar to lose family members in a surprise raid when the apes were sleeping and also later, as I said, is the cause of the troop’s capture.

 

The ‘thief’ of their kit, called Bad Ape is an interesting creature and is of invaluable help to the three lone apes searching to rescue their comrades, later. They realize that the Colonel himself has other human enemies and at the critical moment, a three way battle ensues. The storytelling, the scenes, the dialogs, the emotions all make it stand out as an outstanding movie. I will have no hesitation in declaring this as at least as good as the first movie. Well done, guys.

 

8/10

–  –  Krishna

January 6, 2018

Book: Right From the Start by Dan Ciampa & Michael Watkins

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:33 pm

Note: This book is reviewed from the point of usefulness of the subject matter. It is a non fictional managerial aid book, and is reviewed as such.

Taking over as second in command under a departing CEO

image

 from an external company is hard. You battle with three issues : promises you made to the board to get the job, unfamiliarity of the new turf and antagonism from senior executives who hope you fail so they in turn can become CEO

The case studies to illustrate the points are excellent. For instance, Andy, who is brought in as Number Two to uplift a floundering company, goes gung ho and rough shod over everyone and gets fired for his pains on what looks like the third week. Others describe being hijacked by vested interests and people who try to push their own, sometimes tired, agenda onto the new boss.

They outline multiple principles – the need to focus on specific goals, show early wins and build momentum while not losing focus on where we go, the need to learn and adjust the plan based on the company’s capabilities and unique circumstances, to effect change at the top to build a team both by inspiring and replacing executives. None of these is surprising but it is well told.

Example of Matt who did not keep his subordinates behind him while he curried favours with the superiors, example of how people successfully listened and modified their initial vision to account for the company’s limitations are all very useful and nicely narrated.

The examples in all the steps (Personal Vision, Early successes, and how to influence the department, how to build a support network) are very useful and give this book a less pedantic and more practical feel.

The principles to follow – making change only to the extent that the organization can take, listening in, making people changes positively but quickly, being accessible but not too accessible – are interesting to read.

The authors talk about creating a personal vision, and how to formulate the vision – all to the point and very interesting. The formation of the vision, whether to share it widely and whether to share it with the CEO (whose work you are essentially dismantling in a way) are well told. Again, examples bring home the point more forcefully than a dozen pages of dry discourse and also keeps this interesting to read.

There are chapters devoted to self management, and an especially interesting one about seeking counsel. They talk about the various types of counsels you need and how to get them. They also talk about how someone else’s ideal counsellors will not be the right one for you.

Nice book and gives you insight about an unusual subject well. Not gripping, not told in a racy style (which it is possible to do even in this topic) but good arguments made in a serious tone. If you are not interested in this topic, though, you may find the material boring and may want to skip it.

7/ 10

– – Krishna

Movie: Despicable Me 3 (2017)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:22 pm

imageI went to this movie with lowered expectations. After all, Despicable Me, the original, was phenomenally entertaining and when I heard that they were making a sequel, I thought they could not possibly top that. The original story had a tight beginning, middle and a nice ending, where Gru, the evil mastermind, finally decides to give up evil when he falls under the influence of the kids whom he adopts. It also had a crazy villain who was a nutcase and the fine twist in it was revealed when we discover whose son the villain was. All of it nicely tied into a neat package, where no loose ends were there to continue the story right?

The movie makers proved me wrong. Despicable Me 2 was even better. They upped the ante, the minions were literally riotously hilarious. Gru met Lucy, an amazing agent and fell in love. The only fly in the ointment was that the villain seemed to be a little soppy compared to the first. This was overcome with the help of the drug that caused superhuman (but evil) powers in whoever took it. Nice and lovely and I was impressed.

Then came the spinoff movie Minions. This is where everything hit the rock bottom. There was no coherent story, the characters aimlessly wandered, the villains (yes, multiple) were boring and tiring. The whole story seemed pointless.

So my conclusion was that these people have now run out of ideas and I went to see the third instalment with low expectations. Which was as well because, while this was a bit of a pleasant surprise, it is no match for the first two. A new character has to be introduced in Gru’s life (in addition to the mandatory supervillain) and here Gru is reunited with his more successful twin Dru, who is in awe of Gru’s awesome evil genius (from his past life of course) and wants Gru to join him on one last superheist.

 

We also have an equally funky supervillain, a child star has been who is so upset to have lost attention that he decides to take revenge on everyone by, yes, dominating the world.

There are some cute capers where the twins (one with full blond hair and the other… well, you know. But overall, it goes round in the comic path well-trodden by the previous installments of the franchaise.

Cute, but not great.

 

6/10

 

– – Krishna

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