Category Archives: Bloomsbury USA

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me by Bill Hayes

insomniac-city-by-bill-hayes Title: Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me
Author: Bill Hayes
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1620404935
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember a friend sending me excerpts of this book. I read it while I was at Doolally – a taproom in Bombay. I was waiting for friends to show up for the Wednesday night quiz and then something happened which I hadn’t expected to – I wept by the time I had finished reading the long excerpt. I cried. I think I even bawled. I strongly also believe that when an art form does that to you – when it creeps up on you like that and almost shatters your world – you’re in for a rollercoaster ride. That happened to me as I was reading “Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me” by Bill Hayes, from which the excerpt was.

Relationships are fragile, they are also very strong. At the same time, what do you do when it ends all of a sudden? When it ends not because you want it to, but because death comes suddenly knocking on your partner’s door and there is nothing you can do about it. Then what? Hayes’s partner died after sixteen years of togetherness. He then moved to New York from San Francisco in search of a new start (as most of us do). He found himself in a city that was surprising, random, and at the same time made him see the humanity that exists. Slowly and steadily, he fell in love with New York and found love in the form of the late, great neurologist and writer, Dr. Oliver Sacks.

This book “Insomniac City” as the title suggests is about New York, Oliver Sacks and Bill Hayes. It is also about life – majorly so, and how it changes constantly whether we would like it or not. It is about New York – of how brutal and gentle she can be at the same time, of how to surrender to the city is to love her completely and without any prejudice. The book ultimately is about great love that transcends all barriers, challenges, doubts and the throes of darkness. There are also the author’s stunning photographs – capturing his love for the city and Oliver.

Let me not forget the portrait of Oliver Sacks that Bill Hayes paints so vividly and beautifully – a genius who did not own a computer – who always preferred to communicate via letters and longhand, who didn’t know how a champagne bottle was opened and used goggles when he first opened them for the fear of the cork hitting his eye, who called pot “cannabis” and who believed in living life as it came – day by day. Hayes met Oliver after Oliver wrote him a letter praising his book “The Anatomist” and this is how they met and love blossomed. The book is about that love, about how Oliver met Hayes after three decades of being alone and celibate. “Insomniac City” will surprise you in ways more than one.

“Insomniac City” is about the love between Oliver and Hayes and what they shared in Oliver’s final years. The writing is so personal and out there that you cannot help but be overwhelmed. Their love for things common, their roads to discovering something they did not know, and what it is to live daily – for the bond to strengthen and one fine day to see that love slip away. The book teaches you about grief, about people coming together quite randomly on a bus or a train and makes you more aware and conscious of what it is to be human. I cannot recommend this book enough. Do yourself a favour: Order it, read it and weep. You need a good cry, now and then.

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The Inflatable Woman by Rachael Ball

The Inflatable Woman by Rachael Ball Title: The Inflatable Woman
Author: Rachael Ball
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781408858073
Genre: Graphic novel
Pages: 544
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Hands down “The Inflatable Woman” is one of the best graphic novels I have read this year and it is not too early to say that given that more than eleven months are still to go. But this one by Rachael Ball stirs the heart and also makes you smile at the end of it.
Iris is a zookeeper waiting for love to hit her and charm the life out of her. She is at the same time chatting with a lighthouse keeper online who goes by the name, sailor_buoy_39 and she is balletgirl_42 though she doesn’t know anything about ballet.

And overnight, just like that, she comes to know that she has got breast cancer and there is nothing she can do about it but visit doctors, meet nurses, get to know other patients and still finds no respite. She is thrown into this world that she knows nothing about and is expected to face it with the support of her Grandmother, her friend Maud and a bunch of singing penguins.

What I loved about this graphic novel was the way in which the art is done. It is all black and white with Iris’s thoughts all over the place and then you have splashes of colour all over, just like life, isn’t it? I absolutely loved Iris’s determination when it came down to tough situations or her fears as well – when she thinks she can no longer handle anyone or anything.

Ball’s writing and illustrations are vivid, clear and also quite surreal given the context of the plot. “The Inflatable Woman” to me was a one-of-a-kind graphic novel. I enjoyed it immensely and could not get enough of it at all.

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Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology by Caroline Paul & Illustrated by Wendy McNaughton

Lost Cat by Caroline Paul Title: Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology
Author: Caroline Paul and Illustrated by Wendy McNaughton
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 978-1608199778
Genre: Pets, Lifestyle, Non-Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

All one needs on dreary days is a book which warms the cockles of the heart and leaves you spellbound, more so if it is a true story, and a true story of a cat at that. It is about cats and animals in general and the love one has for their pets. It is beautifully penned – simple and straight from the heart. “Lost Cat” is a true story of love, loss, and the meaning of life, written by Caroline Paul and illustrated gorgeously by her partner, Wendy McNaughton.

Lost Cat - Image 1

One fine day, Caroline was in a plane crash and life changed completely for her and her partner. She was at home for the longest time with her two cats Tibby and Fibby. Fibby was the feisty one and Tibby the silent, scared cat. Tibby disappears one day and returns home after a while. Caroline was relief beyond words and yet in some way Tibby had changed. It is then that Caroline started wondering: Where did Tibby go? What had happened to him?

Lost Cat - Image 2

This is where the book begins. Caroline decides to use modern technology to find the tracks of Tibby. She wonders what happened. She and Wendy are distraught. “Lost Cat” is the story of what happens after. The book seems to be a book for children, but it is for adults. It is about the places we go to when pets disappear, when they are back and what happens when we try to find out more about their behavior and life.

Lost Cat - Image 3

The illustrations are adorable. Wendy McNaughton has done a wonderful job of bringing their story to life through these drawings. “Lost Cat” is a story that will make you smile, make you cry, make you feel a lot more and will immediately want you to go and hug your pet – dog or cat or hamster.

Lost Cat - Image 4

Here is the adorable book trailer of Lost Cat:

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Book Review: The Golden Scales: A Makana Mystery by Parker Bilal

Title: The Golden Scales : A Makana Mystery
Author: Parker Bilal
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 978-1608197941
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I love reading thrillers. They have this promise about them which most thriller and action writers live up to. Parker Bilal was a new name to me when it came to the thriller genre. Parker Bilal is the pseudonym of Jamal Mahjoub who has written six literary novels prior to the “Makana” mysteries. “The Golden Scales” is the first Makana mystery, which takes place in Cairo.

The ancient city of Cairo is the perfect backdrop for this story. Cairo is stepping into the new, with the old left behind. The rich and the poor co-exist. The corrupt and the honest are seen in its alleys and by-lanes. Cairo is a place, where secrets fester and are hidden and people disappear in the blink of an eye.

A lot is happening in this book. Makana, a former Sudanese policeman, forced to flee to Cairo is at the heart of this novel. He is now struggling to make his ends meet as a private detective. He is desperate enough to take on a case from Saad Hanafi, the mogul and filthy rich mobster and the owner of the Cairo Soccer Team. The case is that of finding one of the players of his Soccer Team that has been kidnapped. As Makana delves further into the case, things start spiraling out of control for him. He enters the treacherous underbelly of the city – encountering actresses, Muslim extremists, Russian gangsters, vengeful women, and a woman searching for a daughter after years – and the last incident is somehow linked to him and his past. This aspect was just to show that we can never leave the past behind. No matter how hard we try.

Bilal’s writing is sharp and funny in most places. It is structured the way a thriller should be – revealing the layers one at a time and not giving away the entire plot. The juxtaposition of a thriller with the Islamic world and the political volatility of a country and a city are done with great finesse and intelligence.

Makana’s character has various shades to it – he is not like the regular detective that we have been used to. That is what drew me to the book and made me kept turning the pages. The characterization is done with a lot of thought and effort by Bilal.

Cairo as a city is one of the central characters of the city. A reader can almost taste and smell the food and the aromas. The dark alleys can be conjured in a minute as you read the parts. This is the first Makana mystery that Bilal has written and I am sure after the second one (which will be out soon), there will be more to come. I am hoping that they are, because it will be a great series.

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Book Review: Little Known Facts by Christine Sneed

Title: Little Known Facts
Author: Christine Sneed
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 978-1608199587
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

When I received the uncorrected proof of, “Little Known Facts” I did not look at it for a long time before deciding to pick it up and give it a read. “Little Known Facts” is all about the glamour and the glitz of Hollywood and what lies underneath all of that, through one Hollywood family.

I have always wondered about the lives of stars and sometimes starlets as well. Thoughts that cross the mind are: What kind of lives do their families live? Are they always in the shadow of the star and what he or she does? Do they have an existence of their own? Are they also surrounded by the media at all times? This to me holds true across the world, when it comes to the entertainment industry. “Little Known Facts” is all about that. It may not provide answers to all questions but it most certainly is a great romp of a read.

Renn Ivins is one of Hollywood’s most handsome, charismatic, and critically-acclaimed movie stars. He is what they say, “the golden child” (this is purely my perception) and delivers and lives up to that title. He has it all – the ex-wives, the girlfriends and the children. He is doing what a celebrity should and yet there is a side of the man that only his family knows and endures and sometimes also revel in it.

Renn’s grown children, Anna and Will are struggling in their lives, trying to do something on their own, than just being a version of their father. Anna, a medical student is prospering with her academics and has a bright future ahead of her. On the other hand, her personal life and relationships are marred by the exploits of her famous father. Will on the other hand is facing a so-called quarter-life crisis and does not know what to do with his life. They are both willing to use their father’s money but not his influence. Amidst all this Sneed tells a tale of fame and fortune, its rise and downfall and the people involved in its web and how they deal with it on a daily basis.

The book for me had almost everything in most places – wit, empathy, curiosity, and how people behave in front of celebrities and what do they say about them. The story also is about the lies we tell ourselves and how the shadow of a celebrity is so huge that it sometimes takes over an entire family and its existence. The writing is to the dot with an eye for detail, which is the firm premise of the book. Every emotion and the nuance attached with it are beautifully depicted and at the same time the writing is not overbearing.

What I liked the most about the book is the fact that there are a lot of layers to it. “Little Known Facts” is one of those reads that will take you in from the first page and make you keep turning the pages with great speed. I may not re-read it but would definitely recommend it as a onetime read.

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