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The Collected Short Stories – by Jeffrey Archer

September 16th, 2009

Jeffrey Archer is my favorite when it comes to fiction. He is a master story teller and can keep the audience engaged throughout the entire novel. This book is a collection of short stories and what is unique about them is the ‘twist’ factor at the end of the stories.

It is amazing feeling to know that there would be twist and yet be not able to decipher it. The genius that Archer is, he keeps it hidden behind our wildest imaginations. This collection is taken from his previous books A Quiver full of Arrows, Twelve Red Herrings and A Twist in the Tale.

Summary of the Collection of Stories by Jeffrey Archer

The entire collection is amazing, but there are a few standout hits that I am able to instantaneously recollect. I will not spoil the fun by giving out any twists.

  • “You’ll Never Live to Regret.” In this, an insurance agent tries to persuade his client in getting an insurance policy and keeps repeating the title many times. So what happens? Does the client live to regret his decision
  • “Clean Sweep Ignatius.” Here Archer takes us to Nigeria where the finance minister tries to end the corruption in his area. Does he succeed in his attempts
  • “An Eye For an Eye.” This is a different take altogether. Here a lawyer tries to defend a woman. The woman is accused of having murdered her husband. She claims that it is impossible that she could do it because she is blind. So what is the twist?
  • “Cheat at Half the Price.” This one adds a sense of humor to the twist. A woman, Consuela Rosenheim has expensive tastes. She tries to make use of her wealthy husband and also her wealthy lover to satisfy her desires. She likes a necklace a lot and formulates a plan to get it. Does she succeed?
  • “Trial and Error.” Another masterpiece where a person named Cooper is in prison for having done a crime. He is longing for revenge but how will he afford it. There goes another of those twists.
  • “A Chapter of Accidents.” Edward tries to set up a trap for his enemy. Wny and how the other becomes an enemy is a nice read in itself. So was Edwards able to do it or did Archer have his way in this too
  • “Old Love.” A very nice story indeed. It starts with an enmity between 2 high-schoolers which slowly transforms into love and then well guess.
  • “Never Stop on the Motorway.” I liked this story so much that I ended up telling it in various forms to my friends. It is about Diana who is chased by a maniac. She has heard that he rapes and kills woman on the motorway. It is extremely well paced short story that can told and retold a dozen times without losing its charm
  • “Loophole.” Two friends or are they. They become enemies and try to get even with each other. Another intriguing story from the master story teller

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

May 7th, 2009

Atlantic Books, London, 2008.

Winner of the Man Booker Prize

It should have been a good day for little Balram Halwai, son of a rickshaw puller (“Mr. Vikram Halwai, if you please”) of Laxmangarh. He is promised a scholarship, a school uniform, and a glowing future. In a world filled with thugs and idiots, the school inspector tells him, a white tiger, the rarest of rare creatures, is born once in every generation. You are the white tiger.

But the very same day his family sells Balram to a tea-house owner to pay for his brother’s marriage. Instead of passively accepting his fate, Balram decides he is going to be a tiger and eat, not be eaten.

In this black comedy set in today’s India, Balram does indeed become a rich and famous “social entrepreneur” – once he murders his employer and makes off with the millions of rupees that were supposed to buy an election.

Aravind Adiga and the Epistolary Form

Like Mary Shelley in her own first novel, Aravind Adiga uses the epistolary form to tell the story of a 21st century Creature who makes it his destiny to track down and destroy his Creator, all the while keenly observing and commenting on the moral bankruptcy of his Mother Ganga.

In a series of letters to the Premier of China, Balram recounts his transformation from an honest boy growing up in the caste-ridden, impoverished, submissive “Darkness” — to a killer basking in the comforts of the Light.

A Biography of Balram

Born and raised in a tiny village controlled by the latest scions of four feudal landlord families — The Stork, The Buffalo, The Wild Boar, and The Raven — Balram eventually wheedles his way into a job as a chauffeur and is eventually taken to Delhi as a driver for Ashok, the Americanized son of one of the controlling families.

Strangely enough, Ashok is the most likable of the elite, at least until he shows that in a pinch he hasn’t the guts to stand by his so-called ideals. When push comes to shove, he is just like the rest of them. As the circumstances surrounding Ashrok’s murder are revealed, the reader feels it is less a tragedy than the result of implacable logic.

This is a remarkable debut novel on many levels. There are no sacred cows here. Adiga’s humor is biting; his tone is irreverent and iconoclastic, and his metaphors echo with a prophetic warning that extends far beyond the borders of India.

Cold Calling Techniques that Really Work

February 26th, 2009

In today’s growing climate of economic insecurity, it is absolutely vital that people in sales be at the top of their game. Many companies reward their employees based on pure success and performance as opposed to guaranteed salaries. One of the most difficult parts of being in sales is landing initial appointments and getting a foot into a potential customer’s door.

Stephan Schiffman’s Reputation

Stephan Schiffman is a very well known corporate trainer who has written several books in this area of sales. In Cold Calling Techniques (That Really Work!), Schiffman outlines important first interaction scenarios that come along with building client bases and helps alleviate any possible barriers that may arise. Although technology is very important, it also inhibits some sales people from making contact with decision makers. For example, it is very easy for individuals to screen who they talk with through voicemail, email, cell phones, and other technologies. He addresses each one of these barriers and finds ways to overcome them.

In addition to these aspects, he also gives insightful instruction on how to generate leads so that the sales person can build a base of contacts. Through this he gives comfort that the dreaded word “no” that comes along with sales is actually a stepping stone for ultimately achieving success. His instruction is based on statistical facts and each no means the sales person is one more sales presentation away from receiving a “yes.”

Writing Style of Schiffman

Schiffman writes in a tone that is easy to understand and gives anyone willing to use his advice an advantage in sales. He provides superior, performance backed knowledge and is very useful to someone willing step out of their comfort zone and try. For any salesman or company that utilizes cold calling as their main way of generating leads and sales, this book comes highly recommended.

Lanark: A Life in Four Books by Alasdair Gray

February 15th, 2009

Lanark is a big book, not only in size (at 600 pages) but also in scope and ambition. Gray has stated he wished to write an epic of modern Scottish life, and took nearly 30 years to do so.

Lanark is structured in 4 books, although we start with Book 3. Gray has stated that “I want Lanark to be read in one order but eventually thought of in another.”

Lanark: Book 3

A man without a memory arrives in a dark labyrinthine city called Unthank where it is always night, he picks his name Lanark from a faded postcard on a wall, makes friends with a group of students and artists, but is overcome with alientation and angst and eventually developes ‘Dragonhide’ a disease which slowly covers his body with scales, starting with his arm. He is admitted to ‘The Institute’ for a cure, discovers horrifying facts about the diseases and the government and determines to escape.

Lanark: A Life, Books 1 & 2

Switch to a realistic wartime Glasgow, and are the story from the age of 5 of Duncan Thaw in a thinly disguised autobiography of Gray himself. Thaw grows up, loves art, goes to school at the Glasgow School of Art, is wracked by pain and the inability to love, creates a masterpiece painting the ceiling of a small scottish church, but eventually descends into madness and drowns himself.

Lanark Book 4

Book 4 is… different… Lanark finds his way back to Unthank, which is riven with violence and falling apart, a modern city in disintegration. But it also contains many surprises… in the Epilogue, which isn’t at the end of the book Larnark is confronted by the author himself, and has a conversation about the novel, it’s influences, aims, and how it should end. There are also extensive footnotes throughout and a Dictionary of Plagairisms where Gray notes the genesis, influence and effect of everything significant he has read on his own work.

In Summary Lanark is an amazing novel which carries you along with it’s own idiosyncratic brilliance and enriches your life for the better with it’s humour, thought and intelligence. Go beg buy or steal a copy and be changed by it.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

February 4th, 2009

In this 1930 classic book, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, the story is told as a stream of consciousness by the characters, who are family and friends of Addie Brunden. Addie’s family is attempting to return her body to Jefferson where she was born, but the bridge is out and they have no food or money for the trip. This leads to a series of unfortunate mishaps, arson, rape and eventually a new beginning for the family.

Addie’s husband, Anse, is portrayed as a lazy man that has relied on others to take care of him and who first asked Addie to marry him because he could not take care of himself. And she who accepted because she thought no one else would have her.

Five Children and Growing Pains

The woman’s five children, Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, the only daughter, and Vardaman, each with their own brand of pain, caused by growing up in a household with a cold father and cheating mother, now have to do more than any child should ever be asked to do. Cash, being a skilled carpenter, works on his mother’s coffin for days, right outside her window so she can hear it being made and therefore won’t worry.

Faulkner’s tale pulls the reader into the story so that they may feel the mud on the side of the rivers edge and smell the rot of the decaying body, as this poor family attempts to return their mother to her hometown for burial. It reaches down into the darkest part of the human mind and attempts to give the reader an understanding of why people do the things they do and how they close their mind to it afterwards. How people can do cruel things to the ones that they love the deepest when they can no longer hold back their selfish desires and the same people can risk their own lives to show their love and pain.

This book was eventually made into a movie, known as “Camera Three.”

Stalin’s Children: Three Generations of Love, War, Survival

January 24th, 2009

My favorite book I’ve read this past year is Stalin’s Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival. Written by Moscow Newsweek Bureau Chief Owen Matthews, it’s a deeply personal story of his families roots and struggles within Russia that spans three generations. The book opens with the successful lives of his grandparents. Unfortunately, the tide turns swiftly and his great grandfather is arrested and charged with anti-state behavior. He is sent to prison, never to be seen again. His grandmother was arrested shortly thereafter and serves ten years hard labor for being married to an enemy of the state. Their two children are sent to various state orphanages and raised there under the heavy influence of Joseph Stalin.

Admiration for Stalin

Although Stalin was the reason for their family being torn apart, neither girl views this as the case and in fact they deeply admire Stalin. One of the girls, Mila, grows up to become an academic and falls in love with a British National taking part in a foreign exchange program in Russia, the first of it’s kind. The British National, Mervyn Matthews (Owen’s father) is recruited by the KGB, but upon rebuffing them is deported from the country. His love affair with Mila survives despite the distance and through letters, phone calls, and two clandestine face to face meetings they manage to keep their love alive.

Mervyn petitions the British and Russian government for five long years to receive a visa to go marry his love Mila. Their love stands the test of time and Mervyn is eventually granted a ten-day visa to visit Russia once again and marry Mila. Mervyn’s son Owen does a fantastic job of telling the story of his family through three generations. He also details his experiences in Russia during the crazy nineties when Russia saw an explosion of capitalism. Today he resides there part-time with his Russian wife and children, still telling the stories of his Russian bloodline.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

January 20th, 2009
The Giver, by Lois Lowry

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

The Giver, by Lois Lowry is one of my favorite books of all time. I love it so much, in fact, that I wrote my college application essay about it.

The main point of that essay was that Lois Lowry changed my life by writing that book. It made me realize that I wanted to be an author someday, because I wanted to evoke the same kind of emotion in people that Lowry evoked in me.

About The Giver

The book follows the life of Jonas, a boy that lives in a world devoid of extremes. There is no great sadness, no great joy, just a lukewarm, stagnant spectrum of emotions and experiences meant to protect the citizens of the community.

But when Jonas goes through the ceremony of 12, where he learns what his profession in the community will be, he discovers that he has been chosen as the new Receiver of Memory, an extremely respected position in the community. Because, as Jonas soon discovers, the Receiver of Memory takes on all the memories of the past, all of the emotions and experiences, both joyful and horrifying, that are so alien to their way of living.

The old Receiver, who asks Jonas to call him The Giver, transfers his knowledge to the youth, and as he does so Jonas’ life is irrevocably changed. Things will never be the same for him. The question is, can things ever be the same for everyone else in his community?

A Young Adult Book with Hefty Social Themes

For a book marketed to young adults, The Giver tackles some pretty hefty philosophical themes. I think that’s good though. It’s almost a perfect transition book for kids reading nonsensical books with simplistic messages to more mature and challenging works. And adults will enjoy it because it’s an engaging yet easy read that they can probably get through in a day or two.

If you see The Giver somewhere, don’t miss your opportunity to grab it. You’ll be sorry if you miss the opportunity.

P.S. I Love You – Cecelia Ahern

January 5th, 2009
P.S. I Love You

P.S. I Love You

When you read this book it leaves you with the thought of what’s really important. P.S. I Love You is about a woman named Holly who lives in Dublin. When unfortunate events happen, Holly has to survive one of the hardest things in life: losing someone. In her case it was her much loved husband, her high school sweetheart, her steady rock in life, Gerry. Gerry had always been the one to support her, and make her feel couragous in a cruel world. Now that he’s gone, Holly has to dig deep and find the strength to move on.

In an unsuspected turn of events, Gerry is able to help her on her way, and is there for her when she needs him most. Each step takes you on a different adventure and introduces you to her hilarious friends and quirky family. It takes unsuspected turns and events that will keep you reading waiting to find out what happens next in her extraordinary life. Through her trials she finds her strength, and a new way through life.

Holly even has the strength to help others on her way. All the way through you will cry, laugh, and smile at all the idiosyncrasies of Hollies, and you will never cease to be amazed what kind of situations her and her friends can get into. Holly finds herself surrounded by the people that love her, and who her real friends in life are. Through the entire story, Holly finds new perspectives on things she had never seen before, and finds new ways to move on.

P.S. I Love You is for anyone who knows love, and what life can through at you. Holly relates from the young in love to the elderly who know what life can throw at you. It takes you on a powerful journey of life, love, and recovery. I would rate this as an ultime favorite for the best drama books.

Stephanie Meyer – “Twilight”

December 29th, 2008
Stephanie Meyer's "Twighlight"

Stephanie Meyer

The first book in the 4-book series by Stephenie Meyer, Twilight, is outstanding. Bella Swan, a 16-year-old girl who is a known klutz from Arizona moves to a small town in Washington called Forks, where her father, Charlie Swan is the chief of police. She feels out of place, and immediately wishes she had been able to stay with her mother in Arizona, who had recently married a minor-league baseball player.

Shortly after arriving in Forks and starting school, Bella’s interest is piqued by a family of the most beautiful people she had ever seen — the Cullen family. In particular, Edward Cullen caught her attention. She was immediately drawn to Edward, even though he showed an emphatic repulsion toward her.

Twighlight’s Progression and Vampires

As the story progresses, we learn why Edward was at first avoiding Bella, and then later falling in love with her. Edward, along with his family, are vampires. They survive by consuming the blood of large wild animals instead of human blood, although they still have the desire to consume human blood.

Bella is embraced by the Cullen family, even though she is human, and the love between Bella and Edward begins to grow by the minute. Until a group of Nomad Vampires stumbles across Bella and the Cullens. The leader of the group of nomads decides he has to have Bella–and Edward and the rest of the Cullens aren’t going to let that happen.

Bella flees back to Arizona to avoid endangering the Cullens or her father. The tracker follows Bella, and claims to have taken her mother. She and Edward face the toughest test of their love during their time in Arizona, but true love always prevails. Bella learns the true value of her friendship with the Cullen family and her love for Edward, as well as for her mother and father.

Clifford D. Simak’s “Time is the Simplest Thing”

December 18th, 2008
The Clifford D. Simak book, "Time is the Simplest Thing"

Time is the Simplest Thing

There’s a huge market out there for “golden age” science fiction from the ’50s and ’60s. One book that falls into this category is Clifford D. Simak’s Time is the Simplest Thing.

Simak’s tale probably falls into the category of soft science fiction or science-fantasy by today’s standards. That’s because it deals with telepathy.

The Story of “Time is the Simplest Thing”

Shep Blaine works for an organization called Fishhook which uses machines to catapult a person’s consciousness into the outer reaches of space to discover new knowledge and technologies that can better humanity while also extending the money and power hungry monopoly’s reign.

But Blaine’s life changes forever when he encounters an alien presence that melds its mind with his so that he’s not quite human nor quite alien, but rather a hybrid of the two. Heeding a warning from a former colleague that had a similar experience, Blaine fleas Fishook and goes on the lamb.

The action in this book is non-stop. The pace speeds away, never leaving one bored, and one can easily imagine a lot of the action on the silver screen (although, of course, certain aspects would have to be updated for the modern age since the book was written in the 1960s).

Blaine is an interesting character, since he flees for primarily selfish motives but ends up by the end of the book working toward bettering the place of non-Fishhook telepaths in the world, as they are the victims of irrational fear and prejudice.

Simak’s Novel as Allegory for Civil Rights Era

I can’t help but wonder if the entire book is on some level an allegory for the civil rights movement of African-Americans in the 1960s. It’s not a perfect allegory, but there’s enough parallels to make me think that perhaps Simak was trying to spread a message of tolerance to a world that desperately needed that message at the time.

I suppose it’s a message that we still need to this day. There’s intolerance all around, and while in the United States I think that prejudice certainly hasn’t reached the heights it had during the times of the civil rights movement, other parts of the world are just as bad. So this book can serve not only as an entertaining read, but as a beacon of hope to a world that still is not quite perfect when it comes to treating everyone humanely.