Category Archives: Authors I Love

A Wild Swan and other Tales by Michael Cunningham

A Wild Swan and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham Title: A Wild Swan and other Tales
Author: Michael Cunningham
Illustrator: Yuko Shimizu
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374290252
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories, Fairy Tales
Pages: 140
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I think it is extremely difficult to take age-old fairy tales and to turn them to something new. To give them new life, if you would like to call it that. I am also not a believer of taking these fairy tales and giving them a new voice or shape, however when it is done by Michael Cunningham (whose traces we have seen in The Snow Queen), then it is a different matter altogether. Then you know that reading the collection of tales will be nothing short of a surreal experience. The book that I am talking about is “A Wild Swan and other Tales”.

This is one of those books that just happen to readers and there is no noise made around it. It is almost subliminal in every single way – even marketing if you could say that. The book in all has 11 tales and each of them tells you what the original tales forgot to tell or missed out deliberately. I love the spin or the touch these tales have got. Cunningham’s genius but obviously is in the power of telling stories and for me that stood out page by page, story by story.

My favourite stories are “A Wild Swan”, “Jacked” (on Jack and the Beanstalk), “Crazy Old Lady” (based on Hansel and Gretel), “A Monkey’s Paw”, “Steadfast: Tin” and “Her Hair” (which I reviewed yesterday). The entire collection no doubt explores different facets of fairy tales, but for me these six stories stood out and perhaps did what the other five could not.

These stories are about people you might encounter in your daily life: The beast might be your neighbour, Jack could be the person living with his mother who has no ambition whatsoever, you might know Snow White and her prince charming trying to infuse some chemistry back into their marriage or for that matter the perspective of the witch and how two mean children just ate her house through.

I liked the perspectives. I enjoyed knowing about the other side in this book; it isn’t exactly that though – I think it is more to do with: Is there more to these fairy tales? Has all been said about them or are there other details? The art by Yuko Shimizu for every tale are breathtaking and you will go back to them and keep looking and searching for finer details.

The macabre, the perverse, stuff what nightmares are made of, the not so angelic, the terrifyingly real, the twisted, the deranged and damaged and the ones that do not fit well into our so-called society is what these tales focus on. It is something that won’t let you go that easy. I know for a fact that this book was right up my alley. I was talking about it to my friends and cannot stop recommending it.

2016 has begun well with 3 books that I have read and all 3 of them are great reads. As the year progresses, there are only good books to choose and read from.

Michael Cunningham reading from the book:

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A Wild Swan: And Other Tales

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A Wild Swan: And Other Tales

Killing and Dying: Six Stories by Adrian Tomine

Killing and Dying - Six Stories by Adrian Tomine Title: Killing and Dying: Six Stories
Author: Adrian Tomine
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571325146
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

A good graphic novel always seems to take away the blues. Well, most of the time that is if you aren’t reading one by Adrian Tomine. It will add to your blues. It will make you a bit melancholic and it will also make you never want to read it again. But it will also make you aware. It will make you realize your surroundings and the people in them and perhaps look at the world differently.

Adrian Tomine’s graphic works make you think so much more that it is sometimes unbelievable that graphic novels have that kind of power. “Killing and Dying” his latest offering is just that. It is a collection of six graphic stories. These slice of life stories depict life the way it is without any sugar coating. These stories are something which we have all experienced – ranging in themes from loneliness to body image issues to severe angst.

My favourite story in the entire collection is “Translated” which is about a Japanese mother and her child and their reconnection with the husband and the father. It is tender, funny and groundbreaking in the sense that none of the characters’ faces are shown.

“Killing and Dying” is perhaps one of the best comic books I’ve read this year. It is brief and full of small moments of sadness and joy. It is the kind of graphic book which everyone must read. Tomine does a stellar job of portraying his characters and makes the reader see the view that they would not have otherwise seen it. I would highly recommend this one.

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.

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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.

Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman

Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman Title: Beloved Dog
Author: Maira Kalman
Publisher: Penguin Press
ISBN: 9781594205941
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Dogs have always been very integral to my existence. From being scared of them to loving them unconditionally, life has come a long way. They are there, always, playing a role in some way or the other, dispensing wisdom in their own way and ensuring that they never let you know. Kalman picks on these qualities of dogs and talks about them through illustrations, her life, the dogs she has encountered and how they have featured in almost every book of hers.

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“Beloved Dog” is a dedication to our canine friends all over the world. The book is of course as usual beautiful illustrated and that is what makes it so special are her personal thoughts on dogs and how she got about getting one even though she had grown up getting scared of them.

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It all started when her husband passed away and a dog came into their lives (her children and hers) and changed everything for them. The book is a mirror of who we really are and who we become when we love our dogs unconditionally. There are so many lessons in here for all of us.

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The book is essentially New York and how we think and feel with them even more than people. If you have ever had a pet or have one, then you know this book, you know it inside out. There are poignant layers of philosophy in the book that are almost cautiously hidden by the beautiful illustrations.

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“Beloved Dog” is all about the love you have for your pet, and when the pet becomes a lot more than just a four-legged creature. Dogs do not go anywhere, even after they have gone in the physical sense, they linger, forever reminding you that it is so important to have them in your life.