Welcome to the first novel of the Jana Bibi series.
Janet Laird’s life changes when she inherits her grandfather’s house in an Indian hill station. Ignoring her son’s pleas to come grow old in Scotland, she moves with her chatty parrot, Mr. Ganguly, and her loyal housekeeper, Mary, to Hamara Nagar, where the local merchants are philosophers, the police chief is a tyrant, and a bagpipe-playing Gurkha keeps the wild monkeys at bay.
Settling in, Jana (as she prefers to be called) meets her colorful local neighbors– Feroze Ali Khan of Royal Tailors, who struggles with his business and family, V.K. Ramachandran, whose Treasure Emporium is bursting at the seams with objects of unknown provenance, and Rambir, editor of the local newspaper, who burns the midnight oil at his printing press.
When word gets out that the town is in danger of being drowned by a government dam, Jana is enlisted to help put it on the map. Hoping to attract tourists with promises of good things to come, she stacks her deck of cards, readies her fine-feathered assistant—and Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes is born!
“Sweet and charming. . . . With its appealing and somewhat exotic setting, and a colorful cast of engaging characters. . . this is a stellar debut bound to charm fans of Alexander McCall Smith.” – Booklist (starred)
“First-time author Betsy Woodman has crafted a charming tale that brings the culture, sights and sounds of 1960s India to life. Drawing on her own experiences from 10 childhood years spent in India, Woodman creates engaging characters and fertile prose make this a treasure not to be missed.” – Lincoln Journal Star
“What a charming, engaging, and utterly delightful novel! It takes a writer of enormous talent and heart, to say nothing of spiritual depth, to give us a life-affirming story such as this. I am already impatient to get the next Jana Bibi book, because reading this novel put me in such a good mood…I might have a t-shirt made up that says, Fire your therapist. Read Betsy Woodman.” – Elizabeth Berg, author of Once Upon a Time There Was You and The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted
“As if discovered in the library of an old country inn on a dark and rainy day, Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes unfolds like an unexpected gift from another time.” – Diane Meier, author of The Season of Second Chances
“Oh, you must read this wonderful book! First of all, how refreshing to read about a woman over fifty embarking on an adventure. Secondly, the adventure is so colorful and intriguing, and Jana Bibi is so wise, generous, and comfortable with who she is that it’s a pleasure to go with her. Thirdly, her engaging characters are fully human yet ultimately optimistic. Half way through the book I looked up at my husband and said, ‘That’s it. You and I are moving to India.’” – Rebecca Barry, author of Later, at the Bar
“If you like Alexander McCall Smith’s quirky, atmospheric novels or you enjoyed the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes will appeal to you with its international charms, multigenerational characters, philosophical bent and gentle intrigue.” – Concord Monitor
“Looking for something FUN to read? In its love of place (a hill station in India) and its wonderful cast of multicultural characters, this charming novel reminded me of The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series … The joy is in the characters (including a wonderful parrot named Mr. Ganguly). With just enough darkness in the character’s pasts to lend depth to the story, this novel is a delightful, entertaining read that will also teach readers a little something about the peoples of India.” – Andy of Literary Duck Blog
Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes is published in India by Random House India.
“A very Indian setting with a town aptly called Hamara Nagar (Our Town)…the town truly belongs to each one of us. Feroze, the philosopher tailor, Ramachandran, the owner of the antique store, Rambir, the reporter, Bandhu, the bullying police officer, Zohra, the elegant neighbor, Mary, the caring ayah, Tilku, the cute errand boy, Moustapha, the small town boy with big city ambitions, Sandra, the typical American girl in a boarding school–all of them come alive … These characters are charmingly eccentric, yet so real that they remind you of the same people in your life.” – BooksAndAlotMore.com
“…a tale that shines for its simplicity and narrative beauty. Woodman displays remarkable understanding of Indian life and its cross-currents. What amazes you is the ease and economy with which she puts it down…. Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes is the perfect book to beat the tedium of a long journey or the bitterness of a bad day.” – Pooja Sharma for The Asian Age
“It is a book full of good humour, both in terms of being funny and in the attitude of the characters. Janet Laird – the Jana Bibi of the title – is met with so much neighbourliness and courtesy in her newly adopted hometown of Hamara Nagar that it made me want to move, or at least spend a summer, there. Too bad it’s fictional.” – Unmana Data of Women’s Web
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At first, I wanted to write a boarding school series, having been addicted to books by British children’s author Enid Blyton my childhood in India. Maybe it was the tidy moral universe of the schools she depicted—cheaters got caught, stuck-up girls got taken down a peg, and good sports became games captain. Or maybe it was the accounts of midnight feasts!
I also was (and am) very passionately attached to the actual boarding school I attended, Woodstock School, in the first range of the Himalayan mountains, and wished to set the series in India.
Over the better part of two decades, I made repeated attempts on this project, and rejection slips piled up. I gave up many times. And then I made one last try at a boarding school novel–but it morphed into something else.
This time, the town adjacent to the school took on more importance, and adult characters started creeping into the plot. The amazing Suzanne Gluck of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment took me on as a client. When the draft was ready, one character in particular caught the imagination of Marjorie Braman, then editor-in-chief at Henry Holt & Company.
“You want to write a series,” she said, “why don’t you make the fortune teller the main character? And I love the parrot.” So, back to the drawing boards. But Jana Bibi had been conceived—she just had to gestate.
Then followed a lot of fun, when I went searching out parrots and parrot-owners, had my palm and cards read, watched a lot of Hindi movies, and combed through family memorabilia for pictures and letters that might provide inspiration. I’ve put some of those pictures in the slideshow on the bottom of the main “books” page. My sources of inspiration and movie and book suggestions are also discussed in the downloadable “Etcetera” article, below.