The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery by Deborah Abela

xthe-most-marvellous-spelling-bee-mystery.jpg.pagespeed.ic.zY67unNXclTitle: The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

Author: Deborah Abela

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Penguin-Random House Australia

Published: 30th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Just when India Wimple’s life is returning to normal after competing in the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee, she’s invited to London for an international spelling showdown. But how can she go without her family? The Yungabilla community might have a solution!

In London, India is reunited with her friends Rajish and Summer. They meet new spellers, and are invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen.

But there is skulduggery afoot, with a series of mysterious mishaps. There is even talk of cancelling the competition altogether.

India and her friends are determined to find out who the culprit is and get the spelling bee back on track.

There are words to be spelled, nerves to be overcome, and a champion to be found!

~*~

India Wimple is trying to relax after returning from a trip to Sydney to the National Spelling Bee, an adventure covered in The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee– which after reading this one, I want to read myself, when she receives a letter from London inviting her to the International Spelling Bee – with two other people from Australia. The top three winners of national spelling bees from each participating country will attend. But first, India and her family have to get to London – all of them! Once in London, India and her friends, Rajish and Summer, new spellers to meet – Holly Trifle and Peter Eriksson – and a mystery to solve! Who wants to ruin the spelling bee, and why? After meeting the Queen, and seeing Buckingham Palace, the first round is postponed – and then the finale is threatened. Between studying new words, adventures around London, and Holly’s rather embarrassing parents – will India and her friends solve the mystery so the spelling bee can go on and the winner can be announced?

AWW-2018-badge-roseThis was a delightful surprise from Penguin Random House this month, a very fun read, because it used words and a mystery in the story – two of my favourite things. Each chapter header has a word at the top, with the type of word it is – verb, noun, and so forth, a definition, and its usage – a great way to get kids to enjoy and learn spelling whilst reading a fun and engaging story with great diversity and lots of fun. Deborah Abela has fun with alliteration and strange but interesting names – Harrington Hathaway III, for example. The text is peppered with spelling, definitions and new words for readers to learn – Roald Dahl even gets a mention with some of his splendiferous words from his books such as The BFG.

Each character had their own quirks – which made it fun as well. I loved India and Rajish the most, and their families who were wonderfully supportive of Rajish and India, and each other throughout. Holly was another favourite – a character reminiscent of Matilda Wormwood, whose family doesn’t always appreciate her – but making friends might just change this. Peter was amazing – the type of character that many can relate to, and Summer was amusing and frustrating, though more amusing. It was delightful to see the growth of the characters throughout the book, and the solidifying of their friendship founded on a common interest.

The mystery in this book was a fun mystery, and the kind that kids might find they wish they could encounter for themselves – it had lashes of the Famous Five as well, with five children uncovering a dastardly plot to ruin their beloved spelling bee, meeting the Queen and making life-long friends – a very well written book and one that I devoured in a couple of sittings. In the end, it was friendship that I think is the more powerful message this book sends to it readers.

This is just the sort of book I would have loved as a child – and still love now, because it is about words, and books and spelling. I hope many other readers of all ages enjoy this book and find that they can relate to one or all of the characters.

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When The Mountains Roared by Jess Butterworth

when the mountains roared.jpgTitle: When The Mountains Roared

Author: Jess Butterworth

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Orion

Published: 10th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 282

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: A vivid, warm and atmospheric adventure set in the mountains of India, about a girl who is determined to protect the wild leopards of the mountain from poachers, perfect for fans of Katherine Rundell.

I thought we’d live here forever … but then, I thought Mum would be here forever too.

When Ruby’s dad uproots her from Australia to set up a hotel in the mountains of India, Ruby is devastated. Not only are they living in a run-down building in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by scorpions, bears and leopards, but Ruby is sure that India will never truly feel like home – not without her mum there.

Ever since her mum died, Ruby has been afraid. Of cars. Of the dark. Of going to sleep and never waking up.

But then the last remaining leopards of the mountain are threatened and everything changes. Ruby vows to do all she can to protect them – if she can only overcome her fears…

~*~

When Ruby arrives home one day, she finds the house in turmoil, with boxes and suitcases half packed. Her father announces they are moving to India, and she needs to pack her own bags. At twelve, Ruby wants nothing to do with this move – she wants to stay in Australia, the only home she knows. To leave now feels like she’d be leaving the memories of her mum, and it also means leaving all her friends and not being able to see them again. When intruders force the family to flee and leave earlier than planned. Soon, they are on a ship, with their dog, Polly, and a baby kangaroo in tow, sailing across the sea to a new life, and a new venture in India.

But the hotel Ruby’s father has been asked to run is not all that it seems. High up in the Himalayas, stories of previous owners being plagued by a vengeful mountain goddess abound, and the stories lend themselves to more sinister goings on, and hint at tragedy when Ruby and her new friend, Praveen, discover what Dad’s bosses are truly up to, and find out about the poaching of the majestic snow leopards. Ruby vows to do all she can to save them – if she can overcome her fears.

Jess Butterworth has again created a story, set in the Himalayas and India, where the characters are full of life and complex, and deals with issues of poaching, and what happens when someone gets involved with the wrong people in a clever and accessible way for younger audiences. Grief is explored through Ruby’s reaction to her move and the changes in her life – how she responds to the dark, and going to sleep, and of cars. But this hurried move, and the smuggled joey, and quest to uncover her dad’s secret drives Ruby to overcome her fears. Together with Praveen and her grandmother, Ruby will follow her heart, and instincts, and use her photography talents to bring some rather evil men to justice.

When The Mountains Roared has diverse characters, and a setting that is vastly different to what many readers will have experienced, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed it – it allows the reader to travel without leaving the comfort of home, and go on an adventure with Ruby and Praveen to save the snow leopards of the mountains that they call home, and save Ruby’s dad from getting into trouble with men like the ones who drove them from their home in Australia.

A great read for middle grade and younger teen readers, or anyone who enjoys a good story.

Booktopia

The Strange Disppearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan (Baby Ganesha Agency #3)

baby ganesh 3.jpgTitle: The Strange Disppearance of a Bollywood Star

Author: Vaseem Khan

Genre: Crime and Mystery

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Hachette Australia

Published: 16th May 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: In the third delightful Baby Ganesh Agency novel, Inspector Chopra investigates the darkly glittering underbelly of Bollywood when a film star vanishes into thin air…

The enchanting new Baby Ganesh Agency novel sees Inspector Chopra and his elephant sidekick investigating the dark side of Bollywood.

Mumbai thrives on extravagant spectacles and larger-than-life characters.

But even in the city of dreams, there is no guarantee of a happy ending.

Rising star and incorrigible playboy Vikram Verma has disappeared, leaving his latest film in jeopardy. Hired by Verma’s formidable mother to find him, Inspector Chopra and his sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha, embark on a journey deep into the world’s most flamboyant movie industry.

As they uncover feuding stars, failed investments and death threats, it seems that many people have a motive for wanting Verma out of the picture.

And yet, as Chopra has long suspected, in Bollywood the truth is often stranger than fiction…

~*~

Ashwin Chopra, his wife, Poppy, and their little elephant, Ganesha return in this third instalment of the wonderful Baby Ganesh Agency series. This time, the star of an upcoming Bollywood movie, Vicky Verma, has gone missing at a promotional performance for the movie and his role, with Chopra and Ganesha in the audience. Together, they watch him vanish and supposedly reappear on stage, and from there, the investigation begins. Chopra speaks to the movie company, and the director, PK Das, Bijli Verma, Vicky’s mother and anyone else who has ever worked with or known Vicky during his attempts to find him. At the same time, Chopra’s partner, Rangwalla is caught up in an investigation amongst a eunuch community, where he goes undercover to investigate the activities they are being lured into, and so, he agrees to help the Queen find out what is going on. As Rangwalla and Chopra investigate their cases, ACP Rao, the officer whom Chopra bested in the last book during the Koh-I-Noor investigation, simmers in the background as a threat to Chopra and his case, leading to a series of events that Chopra, Ganesha, Poppy and their friends must find a way to get out of so that Chopra can find Verma and the person, or people who took him. But, as with any case, things are not what they seem, nor are they as simple as one might think, and Chopra’s confusion and disillusionment with the Bollywood industry and the way they operate, illuminating the way these people treat others, and this is contrasted with the case Rangwalla looks into, and the slums where the eunuchs live, their isolation from society and the way they are seen by others, as something to be discarded almost – but still retain their humanity and appreciate what Rangwalla does for them.

The contrast between the cases shows the spectrum of society in Chopra’s Mumbai, and shows that money cannot buy affections or humanity, a theme that weaves through both cases eventually, and as Chopra comes to the conclusion of his third case, the flaws of humanity and the way people react in the face of the truth illustrates that you cannot judge someone without knowing them or only knowing a public persona that they might hide behind – but the way Vaseem Khan has presented this moral was effective and done in a way that wasn’t overtly obvious, but could still be understood by the reader.

Poppy was at her finest in this book – she is a strong, capable character who has flaws and vulnerability and can be every bit as sneaky and deceptive as her husband – skills that she has picked up from Chopra. She is fast becoming a favourite of mine, because she takes no prisoners and doesn’t give up on those she cares about. And how could I not mention the star of the series, Baby Ganesha, the little elephant that started it all when he came to Chopra as an inheritance from a dead relative. Ganesha is more than just a pet – he is a special elephant whose diet consists mainly of Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate, a habit that not even Chef Lucknowwallah or Poppy can break him of. Ganesha knows when to help, and when his Chopra is in trouble – and he has saved the day before, and is loyal to Chopra, Poppy and Irfan in the fiercest way possible.

This third story with its dual plot meanders at a gentle pace, and without a hint of unnecessary gore and violence. When things get complicated and dangerous, Poppy finds a way to sort things out and ensure nobody gets hurt. As in the first two books, Ganesha comes to Chopra’s rescue at least once, and is perhaps the true hero of the series, even though it is usually Rangwalla and Chopra who uncover the truth, sometimes in unconventional and unexpected ways. The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star is a wonderful addition to a series with a difference, and one that will hopefully continue for many years to come. I look forward to next year’s book, and hopefully, many more after that.

Booktopia

The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy by John Zubrzycki

The Mysterious Mr Jacob.jpg

Title: The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy

Author: John Zubrzycki

Genre: Non-fiction, biography

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st April, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304 plus 8 page illustration insert

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: It was a scandal that rocked the highest echelons of the British Raj. In 1891, a notorious jeweller and curio dealer from Simla offered to sell the world’s largest brilliant-cut diamond to the fabulously wealthy Nizam of Hyderabad. If the audacious deal succeeded it would set the merchant up for life. But the transaction went horribly wrong. The Nizam accused him of fraud, triggering a sensational trial in the Calcutta High Court that made headlines around the world.

The dealer was Alexander Malcolm Jacob, a man of mysterious origins. After arriving penniless in Bombay in 1865, he became the most famous purveyor of precious stones in princely India, and a confidante of Viceroys and Maharajas. Jacob also excelled in the magical arts. He inspired all those who met him, including Rudyard Kipling who immortalised him as Lurgan Sahib, the ‘healer of sick pearls’, in his novel Kim.

Now for the first time, John Zubrzycki, author of The Last Nizam, conveys the page-turning colour, romance and adventure of Jacob’s astonishing life. Starting on the banks of the Tigris in modern-day Turkey where Jacob was born, Zubrzycki strips away the myths and legends. He follows Jacob’s journey from the slums of Bombay, to the fabulous court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, from the hedonistic heights of Simla, the summer capital of the Raj, to the Calcutta High Court. This is a story of India, of strange twists and unexpected outcomes. Most importantly Zubrzycki enters into and truly captures the spirit of the mysterious Mr Jacob, one of the most enigmatic and charismatic figures of his time.

~*~

The story of Alexander Malcolm Jacob is one that I did not know until I read John Zubrzycki’s book about him. Following his life in India and the surrounding area, The Mysterious Mr Jacob reveals how Alexander Malcolm Jacob arrived in India, and gradually, grew his diamond trade, using his activities to spy on everyone and report back to various contacts who were often enemies, gaining the best price he could for the diamonds, and following a path that incorporated aspects of magic into his faith. However, these nefarious activities come to a crashing halt in 1891, when Mr Jacob faces fraud charges, and a trial in the Calcutta High Court that would make worldwide headlines.

Alexander Malcolm Jacob’s story is one of mystery and intrigue, in a land that has been written about as an exotic mystery by authors such as Rudyard Kipling, at a time when the mysteries of India were looked at through a lens obscured by fascination of another world, different to the one most British subjects of Victorian England knew. It is also set against the back drop of the British Empire of the nineteenth century that had a far reach across the world, including towards India, and during the time Mr Jacob was operating, Queen Victoria proclaimed herself Empress of India, and took possession of the Koh-I-Noor Diamond.

Jacob’s world at one point is destined to become larger, as a friend invites him to London, where he will have the chance to meet Queen Victoria, and gain citizenship, but his choice to remain behind furthers his career, and ultimately, leads to the 1891 trial with an outcome that most at the time would not have seen coming, and that leads into Jacob’s isolated future until his death in 1921, aged seventy one.

More than just non-fiction, John Zubrzycki’s work is a narrative history, where Jacob’s world is revealed in rich and vivid descriptions, and contrasted against the modern India that the author visited whilst writing the book. We get a vision of two worlds: one trapped by an imperialistic empire forging its own identity in a modern world – through the eyes of Alexander Malcolm Jacob as he traverses India and the surrounding countries in search of diamonds.

It is an intriguing read, and was a surprise addition to my review stack from Transit Lounge and Quikmark Media. The victors and winners, or the figures that become well known write most history. There are some events and figures in history that are famous in spite of the failures, such as Bonnie Prince Charlie and Culloden. It is rare to find stories such as Alexander Malcolm Jacob’s in history books. Books such as John Zubrzycki’s bring to light the stories of lesser known but just as fascinating events and people, and show the diversity of these figures in their backgrounds, their personalities and the lives that they led.

Booktopia

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown by Vaseem Khan

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Title: The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

Author: Vaseem Khan

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Mulholland Books, an Imprint of Hachette

Published: 10th May 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The delightful second novel in the Mumbai-set Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series. When the Koh-I-Noor diamond is stolen from an exhibition of the crown jewels only one man (and his elephant) can crack the case…

For centuries the Koh-I-Noor diamond has set man against man and king against king. Now part of the British Crown Jewels, the priceless gem is a prize that many have killed to possess.

 

 

So when the Crown Jewels go on display in Mumbai, security is everyone’s principal concern. And yet, on the very day Inspector Chopra goes to see the diamond, it is stolen from under his nose in a daring and seemingly impossible heist.

 

 

The hunt is on for the culprits. And when an old friend stands accused, Inspector Chopra takes on the case. With sidekick baby elephant Ganesha in tow, Chopra soon realises that there is more at play than a simple case of greed.

 

~*~

 

Inspector Ashwin Chopra (Retd) and his baby elephant, Ganesha, return in the fabulous follow-up to The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra. When the Koh-I-Noor Diamond from the Crown Jewels is stolen from under Chopra’s nose, he must find out who stole it and return it to the right people. Together with Ganesha, Chopra starts his investigation, whilst running a restaurant for cops, where young Irfan works, and his wife, Poppy, recruits his associate detective, Rangwalla, to investigate the theft of a bust and exam papers at a school she works at. These storylines complement each other and run alongside each other neatly. Detectives from England, Bomberton and the young Scot, McTavish, assist Chopra – working together, these characters bring the worlds of Great Britain and Mumbai together. United by the desires and need to find the missing jewel that connects their two countries, Bomberton and Chopra forge a relationship to achieve these goals.

Ganesha becomes involved in tracking down the diamond and gaining access to the homes of certain high-up criminals who have an interest in having the diamond – and his unique position and abilities as an elephant are soon catching the attentions of various people who wish him harm. As in the first book, Ganesha will have none of this, and when separated from those he loves, will do all he can to find them – even if it means going without his Cadbury’s chocolate for a while!

Vaseem Khan has created a multi-layered world of Mumbai and India, with honest people like Chopra, Poppy and Irfan, dishonest people like Bulbul Kanodia, the characters disillusioned with everything who pop up and try to stamp down the kindness, or those who are simply caught in the cross-fire like Chopra’s friend, Garewal. Amidst the deception, and helping those who have been wronged like Garewal, blamed for things they never did, Chopra and Ganesha’s relationship – man and elephant – never falters. They are loyal to each other. In a world where good and evil are not always defined, where money talks and honesty may not be valued by many of the characters Chopra encounters, Chopra and Ganesha, and Poppy show that honesty and bravery, with perhaps a little trickery when necessary, can win the day and solve the most pressing cases for the Baby Ganesh Investigation Agency.

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

isbn9781473612280

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.