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review 2017-01-13 01:02
Marvelous book about a violent, shameful piece of history!
Leopard At The Door - Jennifer McVeigh

Leopard at the Door, Jennifer McVeigh, author, Katharine McEwan, narrator

When Rachel Fullsmith was 12 years old, she stayed at home at Kisima, the family farm in Kenya, while her parents went for a visit to England. When a telegram was delivered for her uncle, she ran to find him at his slaughterhouse, although she had been warned not to go there because the African workers were on strike, and it was not safe for her. Once there, she witnessed the brutal murder of a striker, by a British officer, while she was hidden out of sight. When she thought she was able to escape unseen, she ran headlong into Michael, an educated African who had been her teacher. She wondered, what was he doing there at her uncle’s place of business? He asked her if she was going to reveal that he had been present, and she told him that she would not. She didn’t have time to consider his presence or her decision because she soon learned that her mother had died in an accident, and she traveled to England to live under the care of her distant grandparents while she attended boarding school. Essentially, Rachel lost both of her parents at the same time, though her father still lived. The year was 1946.

Rachel did not see her father at all, for the next six years, until she returned home to Kenya in 1952, at age 18, against his advice. He did not think she could be happy there any longer. At home, she soon discovered that Kenya had changed and so had her father, although at first sight, on the surface, everything seemed the same. Almost immediately she learned just how different things really were. Her father was living with another woman, Sara, who seemed to rule him with her feminine wiles. She had a son Harold who now lived in Rachel’s former room. She was now assigned to a guest room on the isolated side of the house. She did not like the dark or the sound of the leopards at night, and being alone was not to her liking, but she decided to make the best of it. She really had little choice.

Sara was very different from Rachel’s mother. She had taken an interest in, and truly cared about helping the Kikuyu, the Africans who worked on the farm in exchange for being able to live there. She had made sure they had shelter, proper clothing and food and even took care of their medical needs. She also helped to educate them. Rachel grew up under the guidance of this considerate woman who loved the farm and was very down to earth. Sara, on the other hand, was an elitist who believed that the Africans were beneath her, not educable and certainly not to be treated as equals. She believed that giving them too much power would be dangerous for the barbarians. This was the typical attitude of the English who lived there and were waited on, hand and foot, by the Africans who were their servants. Sara, like the British officer, Stephen Lockhart, was pompous and haughty, believing in the right to abuse those weaker than they. They used their power to intimidate the Africans which is how they thought it was best to control them and keep them obedient and subservient. Rachel realized that many of the loyal Kikuyu Africans who had worked for her parents were no longer there, and those that were had new rules to follow. They were generally not allowed freedom of movement in the house, their reading materials were removed since Sara believed it would spoil them and give them ideas which would lead to instability and danger, and their needs were neglected by her father. She was confused and uncertain about whether living on the farm was truly the right choice for her future. Yet, she had no place else to go.

Elated to find that her dog Juno was still there, she continued to find solace in familiarity. Jim, her mother’s cook was there and her teacher, Michael was as well, although now, he was her father’s mechanic. They made her feel a bit more welcome, but they were far less comfortable than she was. They were aware of their position as servants. Jim was not allowed to cook in the house. Juno was living in the stable and Sara had confiscated the reading materials of the Africans. It wasn’t long before she and Michael developed a very close and forbidden relationship. Was Rachel’s behavior reckless in such an environment?

Unrest was growing in Africa. The Africans resented the injustice, the lack of wage parity and their substandard conditions. Africa was their land, but the British had laid claim to it. Blacks and whites, Kenyans and British, were treated to far different lifestyles. The Mau Mau uprising began with ceremonies demanding fealty, and they were followed by brutal and cold blooded murders of white farmers, often by their own African workers who had been turned into their enemies by the Mau Maus. Those Africans who refused to follow the Mau Mau were also violently murdered.
The story that develops relies heavily upon the brutal history that led to the independence of Kenya, but it also skillfully introduces social issues that were prevalent during that time: bigotry and injustice, forbidden interracial relationships, elitism, brutality, and the collusion that existed among complicit parties to promote and sustain their privileged lives. They colluded with each other to protect themselves and their own interests. Often, those Europeans who didn’t conform were considered mentally ill and could be consigned to institutions where they were forced to submit to unwanted treatment by “the best” doctors.

The story follows Rachel for about a decade, but it focuses mainly on the period of 1952 and the terrifying period of the Mau Mau Revolution. Adroitly, the author shows the helplessness of the Kikuyu as she contrasts their lot with Rachel’s. Both are affected differently by the demands of the times, but both lack the power to fight back against the ruling authority without some outside support. When the final page is turned, will Rachel find some sense of justice after all of the injustice she has witnessed and withstood? How this plays out is often tragic, but it is also somewhat hopeful and uplifting in the end.

The author has managed to humanize a bleak period of history. After doing some research, l learned that the British were eventually penalized for their discrimination and cruelty to the Africans. In 2013, it was decided that there would be compensation paid to those who suffered unjustly at the hands of the British during the uprising. The book focuses on issues of loyalty, secrets, control, prejudice, and injustice. Using a romantic interlude, which at first put me off, the author illuminated the idea that we are one people regardless of color or status; that love does not deal with or depend on artificial boundaries, that love and respect for each other can overcome many obstacles.

The narrator does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life. Rachel feels authentic, although in the story, she seems implausibly naïve, at times. The author’s writing style places the reader, not as an observer, but as a participant in the story. The African landscape, the fear of violence, the discrimination and the cruelty meted out by those in power and those rebelling against that unjust power, all occupy the same space. Horror and beauty lie beside each other in Africa, even today, as exhibited by the behavior of the Boko Haram extremists, Islamic terrorists who continue to conduct an insurgency against the Nigerian government and to conduct heinous acts against the population.

 

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review 2017-01-06 14:53
Leopard At The Door
Leopard At The Door - Jennifer McVeigh

 


Can you really ​come back home?  Is it always the same or always changed?

Rachel was returning to her childhood home after being in England for six years and living with her maternal grandparents for schooling after her mother had passed away.

Rachel always loved her home in Africa, but coming back didn't seem like the right choice after she met her father's live-in companion, Sara, and with all the upheaval ​and Mau Mau Rebellion.  Sara was not like her sweet, caring mother, and Rachel didn't agree with her father's plan to move all the people who lived and worked on their land to reserves.

We follow Rachel as she fights with her own thoughts about what is right and what is wrong since she returned.

Ms. McVeigh's ​exquisite, vivid​ descriptions of the land and its people of Africa draw you into the book ​as you are mesmerized ​by the lifestyle and landscape.  Her research is marvelous.​

The historical aspect was frightening and quite tense as the book neared its ending.  The personal life of Rachel took a turn at the end making me think about how life really does change and wondering if life is ever the same after circumstances fill one's life.

​LEOPARD AT THE DOOR is a story of love, secrets, and believing in your decisions and standing by them.  Rachel has a secret that she has kept since her childhood and worries what will happen to her and the person the secret is about if the secret is found out.

LEOPARD AT THE DOOR is a powerful, beautifully crafted book ​that will stay with you and have you looking up facts about the Mau Mau Rebellion.  

LEOPARD AT THE DOOR is recommended for anyone who enjoys a book that pulls at your heart strings, teaches you history, has extraordinary detail, and loves a writing style that is thoroughly absorbing and impeccable.  5/5

This book was given to me free of charge and without compensation by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Source: silversolara.blogspot.com
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review 2016-12-13 21:02
Excellent tale of love and betrayal
Leopard At The Door - Jennifer McVeigh

When Rachel Fullsmith loses her mother at the age of 12, she also basically loses her father and her home in Kenya due to her father sending her to boarding school in England. When she returns to Kenya 6 years later, she finds that very little remains the same.  Not only is another woman living with her father, but there is political upheaval taking place.  The Mau Mau Rebellion was a real-life uprising that took place in Kenya in the 1950’s.  The Kikuyu community has been split apart, some remaining loyal to the British in Kenya and others violently rebelling.  The violence is even directed at those Kikuyu who refuse to take the Mau Mau oath and who just want to live peacefully.  Rachel longs to help the Kikuyu but Michael, a Kikuyu who was her teacher when she was little, doesn’t always agree with her methods.  Rachel also has a memory of an incident that occurred when she was a child that she has always kept secret.  Will that memory be as much of a danger to her as the Mau Mau?  Or will her forbidden love be the most dangerous of all?

 

This is a wonderful book packed with emotions. The main character, Rachel, sometimes seem to be unbelievably naïve but she is very young and has lived a protected life.  I’m not sure of the age difference between her and her love interest but his previous role in her life when she was a child caused me to cringe a bit when they become involved.  But regardless of those small faults, I was pulled completely into this engrossing story.  Parts of it read like “Out of Africa” with the beauty and originality of Africa shining through the struggle between the Africans and Europeans to live together in peace.  Ms. McVeigh writes in a similar lyrical manner.  She does a great job in conveying the reasons for the rebellion and the division among the Kikuyu.  The story is a very suspenseful, dramatic one.  Highly recommended.

 

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

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review 2016-12-02 23:43
Leopard at the Door
Leopard At The Door - Jennifer McVeigh

I requested Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh because of the beautiful cover and the setting. However, this is not a book about Kenya's history brought to life through the story of one young woman. It is a book about a young woman who survives traumatic experiences that are set in Kenya. Unfortunately, Rachel's story just does not connect with me so I wish the book had explored the broader history or the grand vistas and beauty of Kenya more.


Read my complete review at Memories From Books - Leopard at the Door.

 

Reviewed for the Penguin First to Read program.

 

Source: www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2016/12/leopard-at-door.html
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review 2014-02-08 16:58
The Fever Tree
The Fever Tree - Jennifer McVeigh

Beautiful, powerful, mesmerizing....

 

From England to South Africa.  From wealth to poverty.  From being happy and content to being unhappy and resentful.

Frances had no choice but to move to South Africa after her father died.  She was left with nothing and definitely didn't want to live with her aunt to be a nursemaid or to be treated like help instead of family.  She had to accept Edwin's proposal. Things happened in between her marriage to Edwin, though, that made her second guess her decision to marry him and to move to South Africa.

THE FEVER TREE is written in a beautiful, descriptive style.  The storyline held my interest because of the lifestyle, the setting, the period in history, and definitely because of the characters. You will feel sorry for Frances and really dislike Edwin and William.

Ms. McVeigh has an elegant writing style that immediately pulled me in.  THE FEVER TREE is a book about family, class distinction, making decisions, and a love that endures...find out what this enduring love is as you turn the pages in this haunting, unforgettable read.

You will be able to put yourself in Frances' shoes and feel her despair with her life, her decisions, and her surroundings simply because of the amazing way Ms. McVeigh details every sentence and situation.
               
You will be able to vividly see every detail because of Ms. McVeigh's amazing imagery and feel what Frances and the other characters are feeling because of her writing skill. The description of the African landscape is stunning. You will feel the dust in your clothes and the bleakness of the dry land.

THE FEVER TREE is truly a sultry book you won't want to put down and one you will remember long after you turn the last page.

THE FEVER TREE is a beautiful combination of historical fiction and a passion for life, for causes, and dreams.  Don't miss this mesmerizing debut novel. 5/5

This book was given to me free of charge by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Source: silversolara.blogspot.com
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