Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Secret Sanctuary by Stephen Alter

The Secret Sanctuary by Stephen Alter Title: The Secret Sanctuary
Author: Stephen Alter
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 9780143333982
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 136
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It is not easy to write children’s books. It is definitely not easy to write a children’s book on nature and the environment. Stephen Alter does it though and it seems while reading it, that he has written it also with as much ease. There is a lot of research done to write this book, given it is a mix of both fantasy and nature (took you by surprise, didn’t it? It sure had me all wondering about the plot) and interspersed is almost a quick lesson in nature for young readers.

“The Secret Sanctuary” is about three children who are lost in the jungle and before they know it, the jungle is magical and full of surprises and shocks at every turn for them. The book is extremely readable for young readers, between the ages of six to ten and quite riveting too.

The book is more than about just three children who are lost. It is about the preservation of nature and how as humans we tend to overlook and ignore it – that it has no choice but to appear only when seen through new eyes.

“The Secret Sanctuary” is a delight to read. I was majorly disappointed when it ended so soon. I wish it had gone on longer. At the same time, I also felt that may be the book could have had more dialogues.

The descriptions though are fascinating – whether it is about sleeping in a bear’s cave or listening to a concert at dawn which is not orchestrated by humans or whether it is about going in search of a rare mountain quail, Mr. Alter does a splendid job of making you want to lose yourself in his idyllic world and make you want to be a part of it.

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The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith Title: The Cuckoo’s Calling
Author: Robert Galbraith
Series: Cormoran Strike – Book 1
Publisher: Mullholland Books
ISBN: 978-0316206853
Genre: Suspense, Detective, Crime
Pages: 464
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

With great trepidation, I picked up “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Gailbraith. There was already so much written and said about it almost two years ago, that I did not even know if I wanted to read it or not. I am glad that I picked it up. Please do not even compare it to the Harry Potter series. You just cannot. May be that is why J.K. Rowling had to change her identity and write this series and once the identity was out, well then the critics had their field day- both good and bad.

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” is the first in the Cormoran Strike (the name of the detective) series and while the third one is just out, there are more lined up. I don’t know how many though. All I can tell you is that the book is something else for sure and I cannot wait to read the second and the third installments.

What is the first book about?

Of course, at the heart of the book is the Private Detective Cormoran Strike – the ex-army guy with his own complicated personal life and skeletons in the closet, his business which is drying up, and of course he had to have a messy break-up with his fiancée.
So everything is downhill till Robin a temp arrives from the Temp Agency and ends up becoming a permanent secretary/assistant of sorts and then a case lands up on his doorstep which he just cannot refuse. It is a high-profile case – that of a supermodel – falling to death from her third-floor Mayfair apartment and her brother suspects foul play and hires Cormoran to investigate further. This in short is the gist. It is like any other hard-boiled detective novel you might say. So what makes it any different?

I guess it is the writing for sure but it is also the noir element that runs through the book, given it is set in London and also given how the characters are all people with shades of grey as it should be in a book like this. I instantly took a shine to Cormoran and the wry humour that prevailed throughout. The working class of London is also very well depicted, without leaning to any social or political context. The lives of people – both the detectives and the suspects are so detailed that it is a joy to read the book and know more about them.

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” is the kind of book that cannot be read in one sitting. It needs to be cherished and savoured and not read in one go. At least I wasn’t able to. Cormoran Strike is a detective that will grow on you as he did on me and I cannot wait to read The Silkworm.

Affiliate Link:

The Cuckoo’s Calling (English)

Fables: Volume 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham ; Illustrated by James Jean and Alex Maleev

Fables - Volume 1 - Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham Title: Fables: Volume 1: Legends in Exile
Author: Bill Willingham
Illustrated by: James Jean and Alex Maleev
Publisher: DC Comics
ISBN: 9781401237554
Genre: Comics, Graphic Novels, Fantasy
Pages: 144
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Anything to do with fairy tales and I am sold hook, line and sinker. There is not much needed for me then to read the book or series or graphic novel, no matter how good or bad it is. I am a sucker for fairy tales and more so their spin-offs.

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Bill Willingham’s “Fables” was always on my to-be-read list, in fact so much so that I had read four volumes and left it at that. I wonder why though. May be I was not ready for the series then. It happens to the best of readers – you aren’t just ready for the book at a point and then when you are, you just cannot stop reading it.

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The storyline of “Fables” in the broad sense is this: Fairy-tale characters have been ousted from their lands by an entity known as the Adversary, and they are therefore forced into exile. Some of them live in New York City, hiding their true selves from the world. They own a secret society called Fabletown.

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In the first volume, we learn about the murder of Rose Red, Snow White’s sister and how the big bad wolf known as Bigby solves the case.

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I loved the way how the old tales were revisited and how you can see these characters with a lot of shades of grey. For instance, Snow White has been divorced from Prince Charming and how Bluebeard is trying very hard to mend his ways but no one trusts him.

More so, the illustrations are fantastically done, keeping in mind the intricacy of each scene and the fairy tale reference or context. I highly recommend this series and already about to finish the second volume. One thing is for sure that you cannot look at fairy tales and their characters the same way after reading this series.

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Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile (New Edition)

Matilda’s Cat by Emily Gravett

Matilda's Cat by Emily Gravett Title: Matilda’s Cat
Author: Emily Gravett
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
ISBN: 9781447218623
Genre: Picture Books, Children’s Books
Pages: 32
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I was introduced to Emily Gravett’s books by a dear friend and since then I have not stopped reading them. I know I am not a child, but who said children’s books are meant just for children? Picture books are in fact I think meant more for adults who want to escape the drudgery of daily living and hide in a book or a couple of books that make them smile and grin at the end of it all.

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Children’s books are therapeutic at best and that is why I love them so much. “Matilda’s Cat” by Emily Gravett is but of course about Matilda and her cat and the relationship they share. It is about Matilda’s Cat who doesn’t like to do things that Matilda does, but there is a funny and lovely twist to the tale at the end that will make your heart burst with joy.

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The book has lovely illustrations and just goes to show how picture books can be brought to life. “Matilda’s Cat” is the sort of book that can be dipped into anytime and of course it won’t take you too much time to read it, but you will keep going back to it again and again like I have done since the past two days. It is a treat you do not want to miss out on.

Koolaids by Rabih Alameddine

Koolaids by Rabih Alameddine Title: Koolaids
Author: Rabih Alameddine
Publisher: Grove Press
ISBN: 978-0802124142
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Personal
Rating: 5/5

When you write a book about AIDS and what it brings in its wake, is not an easy task for sure. Rabih Alameddine jumped to the scene and was well-known right after “An Unnecessary Woman”. The book just jumped at readers and they I think too notice of him then. Of course before that, there was “Koolaids” and some more books that he had written but this discussion is about “Koolaids”.

I wonder if being sane means disregarding the chaos that is life, pretending only an infinitesimal segment of it is reality.

To me reading “Koolaids” was a harrowing experience. Why? Because I am gay and I didn’t know how to react to a book on AIDS, and what it takes in its wake. I cannot for the life of me imagine something like this happening to me or my loved ones, so whenever I read something like this, I am completely overwhelmed by it.

Death comes in many shapes and sizes, but it always comes. No one escapes the little tag on the big toe. The four horsemen approach. The rider on the red horse says, “This good and faithful servant is ready. He knoweth war.” The rider on the black horse says, “This good and faithful servant is ready. He knoweth plague.” The rider on the pale horse says, “This good and faithful servant is ready. He knoweth death.” The rider on the white horse says, “Fuck this good and faithful servant. He is a non-Christian homosexual, for God’s sake. You brought me all the way out here for a fucking fag, a heathen. I didn’t die for this dingbat’s sins.” The irascible rider on the white horse leads the other three lemmings away. The hospital bed hurts my back.

“Koolaids” is about men who love men, men who suffer by loving men and men who cope as their worlds fall apart and changes around them. It is a fresh new voice (then when the book released) and is very different from his other books. It details the AIDS epidemic through the 80s and the 90s and with that the angle of the Lebanese Civil War that accounts for the book.

The characters are plenty – they love and dream in fragments. As a reader, I just gave in to the book without trying to make much of it in the first fifty pages and when I started, I was too entranced by the language and over all plot to care about the writing.

“Koolaids” is what it is – a gritty and real book on what it takes to go on living in the face of death and how to sometimes just give in, knowing that nothing can be done now. It is stories such as these that deeply affect us and our lives.