Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review: Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes by Betsy Woodman

Author: Betsy Woodman
Publisher-Format: Henry Holt & Company (2012), ARC 302 pages
Subject: Life in India
Setting: Hamara Nagar India
Series: Jana Bidi
Genre: cozy fiction
Source: Early Reviewers program of LibraryThing.com

Billed as the "first of a charming series" and reminiscent of the 1st Ladies Detective Agency series, Gail Fraser's Lumby series, or Ann Ross's Miss Julia series, Woodman re-visits the land of her childhood and gives us a charming, eccentric, thoroughly modern widow - Janet Laird (aka Jana Bibi), her parrot Mr. Ganguly, and her maid Mary.  The book also brings to mind the characters and adventures of "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" - the characters are as quirky and the setting is enchanting.

Jana Bibi has inherited an old ramshackle house (the Jolly Grant House) that she lived in as a child.  It has been years and a lifetime of (mis)adventures since she's seen the place, but she is determined that this is where she will live out her golden years.  She immediately sets out to refurbish the house and get to know her neighbors - an assortment of people representing a large swath of Indian life - Hindus, Muslims, English and American ex-pats from every socio-economic level. When the townsfolk become aware that the government is planning to build a dam in the area and intends to flood their town forcing them all to relocate, they decide to take matters into their own hands to save the town and cancel the dam.

Almost every review of this delightful book uses the word "charming" to describe it and the characters in it.  I'd add captivating and enchanting to the list.  There is nothing heavy, it starts out a bit slowly, but the reader is immediately lost in a dazzling culture that is portrayed with love and respect.  It almost needs a "Once Upon a Time" and a "happily ever after"  to make it perfect, but even without them, it's a magical and pleasant reading adventure.

Woodman also explains the setting with a short author's note at the beginning, gives us a very well-written and easy to use glossary of terms, and then adds some "etcetera" - extra features about the characters  and some of the setting designed to enhance our understanding, and definitely whetting our appetite for more of the series.  A well-done debut.

1 comment:

  1. Delightful is the word I would use for this one as well!


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