This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

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Title: This Is How It Always Is

Author: Laurie Frankel

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 31 January 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 332

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: All happy families are alike. But happy can be complicated…

Laurie Frankel’s THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS – is a warm, touching and bittersweet novel about a family that’s just like any other – until it’s not. For readers of WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES and THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY.

Rosie and Penn always wanted a daughter. Four sons later, they decide to try one last time – and their beautiful little boy Claude is born. Life continues happily for this big, loving family until the day when Claude says that, when he grows up, he wants to be a girl.

As far as Rosie and Penn are concerned, bright, funny and wonderful Claude can be whoever he or she wants. But as problems begin at school and in the community, the family faces a seemingly impossible dilemma: should Claude change, or should they and Claude try to change the world?

Warm, touching and bittersweet, THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS is a novel about families, love and how we choose to define ourselves. It will make you laugh and cry – and see the world differently.

~*~

This Is How It Always Is tells the story of a family coming to terms with their youngest child having Gender Dysphoria – where the assigned sex and gender at birth do not match with the gender identity someone is – and is transgender. Claude was born a boy, but inside, he senses he is a girl. And so begins the journey of his family – mother Rose, father Penn, and brothers Roo, Ben, Rigel and Orion, and Claude’s own journey – to becoming Poppy. All is going well in Wisconsin, until an incident threatens their lives, and they move to Seattle to start over. With the help of Mr Togo, and understanding that develops over time, Penn and Rosie and their family will come to accept Poppy for who she is, and who she wants to be.

The first novel I’ve encountered that deals with a transgender character, Laurie Frankel told the story with a sensitivity and understanding that comes from her experiences with a transgender child. She has captured the reality of what this could mean for an entire family – not just one person within the novel, and I think this makes it powerful – everyone is working, albeit not together and maybe not always in the best ways – to find a way for this family to be who they are. As with any family, there are conflicts, and confusion – how do we deal with Claude becoming Poppy, what do we tell people, and what decisions will have to be made. I found he flaws in the characters and what they said and did to be realistic – being faced with any challenges in life can be awkward and confusing. Rosie, Penn and their children aren’t perfect characters or people – each has their own biases and preconceptions to work through when they discover Claude/Poppy is transgender, and each works through this in their own way, unsure of what will happen when the secret they’ve kept – at first at the advice of Mr Togo – and how they will eventually let people know what has been going on – is unleashed.

I enjoyed this novel – because it started to teach me about transgender individuals and the challenges they face and that the people around them face in an accessible way – it was confronting at first – only because it was unfamiliar territory – but after a few chapters, I kept wanting to know how each family member was adjusting, what it meant for their daily lives. As an introduction to what this can mean for transgender people, this is a great novel. It deals with the prejudice and acceptance they face from other people – and what it means when people just accept you for who you are, rather than who society expects you to be,

Laurie Frankel has written this extremely well. A great introduction to the issue of transgendered people and the challenges they, and those around them, might face.

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

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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.

 

 

The Hawkweed Prophecy

The Hawkweed Prophecy

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I received a copy for review from the publisher

Title: The Hawkweed Prophecy
Author: Irina Brignull
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Publisher: Hachette/Orchard
Published: 14/6/2016
RRP: $16,99
Format: Paperback
Synopsis: A gorgeous, bewitching story of two outcast girls whose lives are twisted by an ancient prophecy. Who will be queen of the witches?

The babies were born as the clock struck twelve. A bat fell from the air mid-flight. A silver salmon floated dead to the surface of the river. Snails withered in their shells, moths turned to dust on the night breeze and an owl ate its young. The spell had been cast.

Poppy Hooper has managed to deceive her father into believing that there is nothing mysterious or unnatural about her. He ignores the cats that find her wherever she goes, the spiders that weave beautiful lacy patterns for her, even her eyes – one blue, one green with an extra black dot orbiting the pupil.

Ember Hawkweed is a pitiful excuse for a witch. When the other girls in her coven brew vile potions, Ember makes soap and perfume. Fair and pretty, Ember is more like a chaff than a witch.

When the two girls meet, Poppy discovers her powers, and finds out the truth. Bound by their unlikely friendship and the boy they both love, the girls try and find their place in the world. But the time of the prophecy draws nearer – and the witches won’t give up the throne without a fight.

~*~

The Hawkweed Prophecy has everything enjoyable about a fantasy book: a prophecy, in this case, two girls unaware of who they really are, their journey to discover this truth and a touch of romance and mystery. Meeting Poppy and Ember was wonderful, and I found myself reading late into the night to find out if they would discover and work out who they really were. The presence of Leo throughout, and his link to the two girls created an excellent mystery feel. Who was he, besides the boy who somehow knew he needed to be with one or both of these girls?
The mystery about the characters and prophecy only deepened towards the end, leading into what I hope will become a promising and much-loved series, along the lines of Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia. When their worlds collided, Poppy and Ember’s friendship and their love for Leo, the love they both held for him, and for the mothers that were theirs but not really theirs, united them in the common goal of finding out who they really were, and where they belonged.
As they teach each other about the world they know and they discover who they really are and which world they really belong to, Ember and Poppy must each deal with their own worries in the worlds they have grown up in, and the approaching prophecy that Ember’s aunt, Raven, is hopeful that her daughter, Sorrell will fulfil and will stop at nothing to prevent Poppy from discovering her true self.
I enjoyed this book and look forward to book two, The Hawkweed Legacy next year, to see where Irina takes us with Ember, Poppy and Leo, and their families.