The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

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Title: The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra (Book One of the Baby Ganesh Agency Series)

Author: Vaseem Khan

Genre: Crime Fiction

Publisher: Mullholland Books/Hodder

Published: 11th August, 2015 (first edition), 23rd February 2016 (B-Format)

Format: paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Mumbai, murder and a baby elephant combine in a charming, joyful mystery for fans of Alexander McCall Smith and Harold Fry.

 

On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries.

 

The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved.

 

And the second is a baby elephant.

 

As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought.

 

And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs…

 

~*~

Inspector Ashwin Chopra has spent his whole life as a police officer on the streets of Mumbai. He is forced into early retirement, on the same day a case that nobody wants to solve tumbles onto his desk. When he arrives home, he is greeted with a baby elephant, willed to him by his Uncle Bansi. Chopra at first is at a loss, as he studies elephants and starts to care for the elephant, whilst solving the murder nobody wanted to touch. As Chopra and his baby elephant, christened Ganesha, investigate the murder, they are pulled into a dark underworld of Mumbai that heralds danger and secrets that many have worked to keep hidden from Chopra, one of the most respectable Inspectors on the local police force. Ganesha soon proves what he can do, and lives up to the letter from Uncle Bansi about him, and the fact that he is no ordinary elephant.

 

It was the baby elephant image and the intriguing title that drew me to this book, and reading the blurb on the back, I knew I had to read it. Vaseem Khan has created an India that is beautiful and dangerous, that acknowledges the good and the bad, and where each character has layers. Chopra is a straight-laced officer, abiding by the law, and quite shocked when he receives Ganesha. His growth across the novel sets up nicely for the second novel. While Chopra is preoccupied with his private investigations with the aid of Inspector Rangwalla, and of course, Ganesha, his wife, Poppy, is trying to help family, and formulating a plan to help them, fighting Mrs Subramanium about Ganesha and other issues that impact their complex. Through these characters, their lives and the events that occur and intersect throughout the novel, Vaseem Khan explores views on class and the individual, and certain expectations, and the divide between modern India and a more traditional India – he is creating a world where the two intersect magnificently and where each tries to find a compromise with the other to make it work. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra has a lovely balance of light heartedness, humour and shadows that threaten the characters, and Vaseem Khan carries off the balance in a similar way to Alexander McCall-Smith and Precious Ramotswe in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Like Precious and Mma Makutsi, Chopra is tasked to investigate missing husbands or children, or financial affairs, or to look at a case from an angle the police may not have thought of. Reading this book was a joy, Ganesha’s love of Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate was adorable – as Bansi’s letter said: he is no ordinary elephant. A great read for fans of Alexander McCall-Smith, cosy crime or just a good book.

 

 

Ruins by Rajith Savanadasa

*I received a copy of this from the publisher for review*

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Title: Ruins

Author: Rajith Savanadasa

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 28th June 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $27.99

Synopsis: A country picking up the pieces, a family among the ruins.

 

In the restless streets, crowded waiting rooms and glittering nightclubs of Colombo, five family members find their bonds stretched to breaking point in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war.

Latha wants a home. Anoushka wants an iPod.

Mano hopes to win his wife back.

Lakshmi dreams of rescuing a lost boy.

And Niranjan needs big money so he can leave them all behind.

~*~

Ruins is a book unlike others I have read. Set in Sri Lanka, in Colombo, in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war, shadows of war and threats to daily life still exist. Amidst these shadows, a family is slowly crumbling like the ruins around them. Latha, the servant, desires nothing more than a home, a place she can feel safe. Daughter Anoushka wants an iPod, and to be a modern girl, who doesn’t want to be too traditional. Her brother, Niranjan just wants to escape this world and make his life somewhere else, whilst their parents, Mano and Lakshmi, are preoccupied with the distance forming between them: Mano wants his wife back, and Lakshmi is worried about a lost boy, whose fate is unknown. Each point of view is told in first person, with each character being given a chapter where the reader can explore the world from their point of view throughout the novel. In doing so, the reader is able to understand how each member of the family is affected by the world and the decisions they make: nobody is perfect, they are all flawed – they are human.

The ancient and modern worlds collide: the traditions of class and race, and expectations of men and women of the old world that Mano, Lakshmi and Latha have been a part of collide with the rapidly changing world Anoushka and Niranjan are growing up in. The characters and their worlds are set on a course of collision as secrets are revealed, and a journey to an ancient city reveals prejudices and the family, rooted in the old and the new, begins to unravel.

 

Savanadasa has drawn on an historical event that may not be as well known as some in recent years. It opens up this world to the reader, and allows them to explore it without prejudice, in a way that they can start to explore this Sri Lankan world of Tamils and Sinhalas, of class, race and gender stereotypes and assumptions in a setting that is both confrontational, unapologetic but also, that shows that all humans are flawed, that all humans can have prejudice and that all humans can work together to combat this. Savandasa’s words have an authentic voice behind them – born in Sri Lanka, he knows this world, and can relate to it, and can relate to the modern world he now knows in Australia. Ruins arose from the QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program in 2014, and are Savandasa’s debut novel. He is a refreshingly diverse voice in Australian literature, and I look forward to his further works.

 

100 Years of Snozzcumbers, Trunchbull and Chocolate Factories

 

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Today marks the one-hundredth birthday of beloved children’s author, Roald Dahl. Dahl died in 1990, aged seventy-four. Had he lived to see one hundred, he would be, I hope, delighted to see children still enjoying his books, and cheering Bruce Bogtrotter and Matilda along as their school is terrorised by Agatha Trunchbull. Or enjoying a nice bottle of Frobscottle with the Big Friendly Giant, followed by a round of delightful whizzpopping before delivering some Phizz-whizzing dreams. Or maybe he would drift down a chocolate river with Willy Wonka and the Oompa Loompas.

 

Roald Dahl was born in Llandlaff, Wales, on the 13th of September 1916, in the midst of a World War. He was born to Norwegian parents, and spent his summers in Norway. He lived a varied life, from boarding schools to being a fighter pilot in the Second World War to writing short stories for adults, before starting to write for children in 1961, with James and the Giant Peach. His most popular children’s books include Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG and The Witches.

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From the sixties onwards, children were read Roald Dahl’s stories, nurturing at least three generations and counting with his words. Growing up meant a new Roald Dahl book for birthdays and Christmases; nights spent reading past bed time to find out what happened, and reading the books again as a comfort or just for fun. Everyone has their favourite book and character, someone they can identify with. I always loved Matilda – the reader who refused to stop reading.

 

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Dahl’s crude sense of humour wove its way throughout the books and stories for adults and children. His Revolting Rhymes retell traditional fairy tales in a very crude and perhaps not quite so politically correct way – in Little Red Riding Hood, she whips a pistol from her knickers and makes a wolf skin coat. In Cinderella, the prince chops off heads. His stories are far from perfect, happy and rainbows and unicorns. The horrible characters always get their come-uppance, and the good characters are rewarded. His adult fiction has echoes of reality in his stories inspired by his war time experiences and are also quite macabre. The macabre nature of his writing is terrifying and appealing – and this combination makes him popular with all ages today. Despite his popularity, Roald Dahl’s books have not been without controversy, and attempts to ban them. Children will always find a way to read them, and I think Roald Dahl would have a bit of a laugh at the attempts to ban his books with their outlandish punishments of adults. It is a good thing I was allowed to read Roald Dahl growing up, as it fuelled my love of reading and my imagination, and I have never looked back.

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The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs

 

Title: The Joyce Girl

Author: Annabel Abbsjoyce-girl

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 30th August, 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: James Joyce was her father. Samuel Beckett was her lover. The stunning fictionalisation of the life of Lucia Joyce.

Paris, 1928. Avant-garde Paris is buzzing with the latest ideas in art, music and literature from artists such as Ford Maddox Ford and Zelda Fitzgerald. Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of controversial genius James Joyce, is making her name as a dancer. But when Lucia falls passionately in love with budding writer (and fellow Irish expat) Samuel Beckett he is banned from the Joyce family home.

1934. Her life in tatters, Lucia is sent to pioneering psychoanalyst Carl Jung. For years she has kept quiet. Now she decides to speak.

Profoundly moving and stunningly written, The Joyce Girl brings to light the untold tale of Lucia Joyce. It will entrance and educate you. You will fall in love with this compelling woman, but she will break your heart too.

 

~*~

The reader first meets Lucia Joyce in 1934, speaking with Dr Carl Jung, psychoanalyst, in Zurich. For years, she has been silent, kept secrets to herself. The story unfolds and flashes back to 1928 and beyond as Lucia recounts her story to Jung, though a bit reluctantly at first. As the story is told in first person from Lucia’s point of view, the reader understands the world she lives in from her perspective, sees the way her friends, family and acquaintances treat her from her perspective. Lucia is a dancer, determined to turn it into a career. Though she is constantly thwarted by her mother, and said to be her father’s muse, Lucia is determined. Determined to dance, determined to be loved. When her father’s new writing friend, Samuel Beckett, arrives to help her father – James Joyce, or Babbo, as she calls him – Lucia begins to fall in love.

As the story unfolds, Lucia’s dreams of love, and dancing continue to be thwarted and her parents demands that she cease dancing and take up another profession and other classes to help her father start to wear her down. From Paris to Ireland and back, the constant comings and goings of her father’s Flatterer’s, and her family’s determination to keep her down, Lucia’s story is heart breaking. Jung’s determination to get to the bottom of what is causing her pain at times sends Lucia further into herself, denying her feelings.

The clairvoyance that she exhibits, called her Cassandra moments by her father, only contribute to the events that bring her into contact by 1934 with Carl Jung.

Though much of the novel covers the years between 1928 and 1932, every so often it flashes to 1934 and Lucia’s time with Jung in Zurich, who is determined to find a way to help her, even if it means sending the person who has never given up on her away. Jung’s determination to get to the crux of Lucia’s hidden problems eventually comes to fruition, and the revelation and the fall out is as shocking as how she came to be put into the hands of Jung for treatment.

Avant-garde Paris, where art, literature and music in the late 1920s and early to mid 1930s reigned, at least in Abbs’ novel, set the backdrop for a well-written novel from a point of view that might not always be heard. The voice of family of well-known writers, or artists, such as Lucia’s, is not one that I have ever heard, nor is it a common one. Having read Ulysses by James Joyce, it gave insight into the sort of man he might have been – a man so obsessed with writing the perfect novel that he almost neglects his family to the point of his children finding ways to rebel against him, and leaving his wife to deal with this fallout. Lucia’s story is also about doing what you can to follow your dreams against the odds, and trying to break free even when everything works against you and thwarts your every attempt at freedom. The world where art was valued that preceded the devastation of the late 1930s and the 1940s highlights the differences in whose art was valued, and what art was valued in certain people. The Zurich conclusion brings it back home that even the most creative people have their own hidden secrets and problems. Lucia’s story is well rounded, and well thought out with characters that have been created thoughtfully from source material. Well worth the read for anyone, whether they are familiar with Joyce’s work or not.

Richell Prize Shortlist and Emerging Writer’s Festival

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The Richell Prize shortlist, and The Emerging Writer’s Festival

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Literary prizes and festivals help new and emerging, as well as established writers earn money and get publicity and exposure. They allow writers to interact with each other, with readers, with publishers. Festivals across Australia and the world, such as the Emerging Writer’s Festival, The Sydney Writer’s Festival and The Edinburgh International Book Festival all promote a wonderful world of literature that cannot be replaced by anything, and show that people value the written word.

 

In 2014, Matt Richell, CEO of Hachette, died suddenly, and a literary prize for has been named in his honour. Matt Richell believed in investment and support for new writers, and believed investment in new writers was vital for the future. The prize is in place to encourage and nurture emerging writers in Australia. It is open to unpublished adult fiction and non-fiction. In 2016, Michaela Maguire, the director of The Emerging Writer’s Festival, Hannah Richell, author and reviewer, Karen Ferris, a bookseller at Harry Hartog, Lucy Clark, Senior Editor at The Guardian, Australia and Vanessa Radnidge, a Hachette Australia Publisher, are the judges for the Richell Prize. The five books on the short list for this year’s prize are:

 

The Illusion of Islands by Andrea Baldwin

Dark Tides by Emma Doolan

The Clinking by Susie Greenhill

The Rabbits by Sophie Overett

Gardens of Stone by Susie Thatcher

 

The applicants submitted the first three chapters of their work, and a synopsis, and the winner receives $10,000, and a mentorship with a Hachette publisher. Hachette will work with the winning writer to develop their novel and be the first to consider the work for publication. I am eager to see who wins this prize, as it would be a great achievement for them and their career, and also, for Australian literature.

 

The winner will be announced in an awards ceremony on the 28th of September 2016. I hope to be able to post something on this blog about the recipient and review their book when it comes out.

 

The Richell Prize is organised by The Emerging Writer’s Festival, Hachette Australia, The Guardian Australia and Simpson Solicitors. Most literary prizes are aimed at already published books, but prizes like this that give encouragement and mentorship to emerging writers are wonderful to have in the literary world.

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The Emerging Writer’s Festival is an organisation based on supporting emerging writers in Australia. They nurture new voices and talent and encourage diversity in the stories. In the current climate and uncertainty of the fate of the Australian publishing industry in light of the Productivity Commission, organisations like this, which is non-profit, are beneficial to new and emerging writers.

The Lost Sapphire by Belinda Murrell

 

 

Title: The Lost Sapphire

Author: Belinda Murrell

the lost sapphireGenre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Random House Australia

Published: 16th May 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 310

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: Marli is staying with her dad in Melbourne, and missing her friends. Then she discovers a mystery – a crumbling, abandoned mansion is to be returned to her family after ninety years. Marli sneaks into the locked garden to explore, and meets Luca, a boy who has his own connection to Riversleigh.

A peacock hatbox, a box camera and a key on a velvet ribbon provide clues to what happened long ago . . .

In 1922, Violet is fifteen. Her life is one of privilege, with boating parties, picnics and extravagant balls. An army of servants looks after the family – including new chauffeur Nikolai Petrovich, a young Russian émigré.

Over one summer, Violet must decide what is important to her. Who will her sister choose to marry? What will Violet learn about Melbourne’s slums as she defies her father’s orders to help a friend? And what breathtaking secret is Nikolai hiding?

Violet is determined to control her future. But what will be the price of her rebellion?

 

~*~

 

The Lost Sapphire is this year’s historical novel offering from Belinda Murrell. Like the rest of her historical novels and time slip novels, it is set in Australia and begins in the present day, before flashing back to 1922 and a story that mirrors what is going on in Marli’s life. In the decades between the wars, Marli’s great-grandmother encounters a Russian chauffeur, Nikolai, when he comes to work for her father. In 2016, Marli discovers that an abandoned mansion is going to be returned to her family, and she starts exploring it with a new friend, Luca, who also has a connection to the Riversleigh property Marli’s family is getting back. As Marli and Luca build a friendship, and explore Riversleigh, they discover its secrets.

Back in 1922, Violet begins to assert her beliefs and discover who she is. Her passions lead her to helping Nikolai and other friends who are less fortunate. In this world of changes in industry and worker’s rights, the echoes of World War One and events of 1917 foreshadow the world that Violet and those she holds dear will be plunged into soon. It brought another layer to the novel that those who know the history can appreciate. The rundown mansion of Riversleigh has echoes of The Secret Garden: a place locked up, that two children in need of companionship restore the house and garden, guided by a fairy wren in place of the robin.

All these layers in the story, and the characters that seemed to mirror each other, though in separate worlds, made for a wonderful story. Ever since I started reading Belinda’s books about a few years ago, I have waited eagerly for new ones to come out. Reading The Lost Sapphire, I was taken away to a different world. I travelled with Marli as she worked to restore Riversleigh, and explored Riversleigh of the past with Violet, explored her world of privilege but also the world of the underprivileged that she sought to expose through her writing and pictures with the help of Nikolai and her maid, Sally. The contrasts of the poor and rich were more apparent in 1922, yet the echoes of them could be seen a little in Marli’s time, in what was expected of her father. Like the other books Belinda has written, The Lost Sapphire has been rooted in a key cause or event in the lives of the characters that drive them on their journey to form their lives and the story. Each novel by Belinda Murrell is unique. I’d say this is one of my favourites, with the other top two being The River Charm and The Forgotten Pearl. These stories introduce younger readers to history in an accessible and interesting way that allows them to see the real events through the eyes of fictional characters, or fictional characters linked to family history, as in Locket of Dreams and The River Charm. I recommend this book to fans of Belinda Murrell, fans of history and mystery and readers everywhere who love a good book.

The Safest Place in London by Maggie Joel

I received a copy from the publisher for review

 

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Title: The Safest Place in London

Author: Maggie Joel

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Published: 24th August 2016/September 2016 release

Format: Paperback, also available in eBook

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Two frightened children, two very different mothers, and one night of terrifying Blitz bombing during World War Two. And when the bombs stop falling, which families’ lives will be changed forever?

On a frozen January evening in 1944, Nancy Levin, and her three-year-old daughter, Emily, flee their impoverished East London home as an air raid siren sounds. Not far away, 39- year-old Diana Meadows and her own child, three-year-old Abigail, are lost in the black-out as the air raid begins. Finding their way in the jostling crowd to the mouth of the shelter they hurry to the safety of the underground tube station. Mrs Meadows, who has so far sat out the war in the safety of London’s outer suburbs, is terrified – as much by the prospect of sheltering in an East End tube station as of experiencing a bombing raid first hand.

Far away Diana’s husband, Gerald Meadows finds himself in a tank regiment in North Africa while Nancy’s husband, Joe Levin has narrowly survived a torpedo in the Atlantic and is about to re-join his ship. Both men have their own wars to fight but take comfort in the knowledge that their wives and children, at least, remain safe.

But in wartime, ordinary people can find themselves taking extreme action – risking everything to secure their own and their family’s survival, even at the expense of others.

~*~

The Safest Place in London is beautifully written, evocative and yet another wonderful look at the home front of World War Two, and what ordinary people did just to survive. Part one of the book is title “Underground”, and explores the night two mothers and their children from vastly separate parts of London, seek refuge in an air raid shelter in the East End. As the night wears on, the chapters flick seamlessly back and forth between each mother and how they are experiencing the night. For Nancy, this has happened before and has been a part of her life for much of her daughter’s life. For Diana, lost with her child and away from the safety of Buckinghamshire, this is the first time they have been in this situation. As the night unfolds, each woman flashes back to the days, weeks and months that have led them to this situation, and they reflect on what they have had to do to ensure the survival of their respective children whilst their husbands are away fighting the war. As the night wears on, fear grows and unexpected guests appear, resulting in an unforeseen disaster the changes the course of the novel.

In the second part, titled “Overground”, the journeys of the Levin and Meadows husbands – Joe and Gerald – are related, and take the reader up to the tragic ending to part one, and the ensuing consequences of the choices made by one mother in light of what had happened that night in London.

Maggie Joel’s novel shows that sometimes home is not the safe haven it usually is in times of war, and that the home front of a nation at war can sometimes be just as dangerous, deadly and fraught with trouble as the battlefields in far off countries that have been pulled into the ravages of war. The title made me both hopeful and wary – it made me hope for the safety of the innocent people hiding from the bombs, but filled me with trepidation and the possibility that something awful could happen at any moment. A remarkable novel that deals with the human condition in time of war, it allows the reader to experience this and had me reading late into the night to find out the motivations of each character, and if this would ever come out.

The Safest Place in London evokes a wide range of emotions, showing the flaws of the characters and what they feel they must do to survive the war. Exploring this side of the home front, where the bulk of the novel takes place on one night, Maggie Joel’s novel shows the reality of war from both sides – the home front and the battlefields, soldiers and mothers and children caught up in an air raid. It is a novel that evokes a wide range of emotions for the flawed characters who must make decisions to help their families and make a decision in the heat of the moment – a moment that can allow someone to act in a way they may never have acted before this night that was supposed to take place in the safest place in London.