Book Review | Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh

leopard at the door.jpgTaking place in 1950’s Kenya, Leopard at the Door focuses on a young lady’s return to the farm where she grew up. After the death of her mother, Rachel was sent to boarding school in England, far away from her father and home. In the six years she has been away, there have been some changes in Kenya. In addition to having to deal with her father’s new live-in paramour, the formation and actions of a political activist group, Mau Mau, threaten the family’s safety. Rachel finds herself in difficult situations as she attempts to rebuild her Kenyan life.

Excellent for fans of historical African fiction or women’s fiction, this novel moves at a relaxed pace, while still keeping the reader’s attention. Characters are developed enough for the reader to have strong feelings about them. The writing is clear and easy to follow, with chapters of varying lengths. McVeigh’s solidly researched text provides insight into Kenya as a British Colony at the time. Check it out from a library near you!

I received this uncorrected proof as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading Leopard at the Door, you may be interested in October by Zoë Wicomb (2014).

Book Review | Fräulein M. by Caroline Woods

Fräulein M coverStep into 1920’s Berlin to see protagonist sisters Grete and Berni growing up in an orphanage. Fräulein M. shares their story as one sister moves into a Jewish owned flat to work at bars and the other becomes involved in work for the reich. Interwoven chapters allow the novel to include a storyline in 1970’s South Carolina where a young lady is hoping to learn about her mother’s sealed war-time experience. Do not be fooled by the cover image, this book is not about sex.

In this well-written historical fiction piece, Woods presents the lives of multiple characters successfully by focusing on how their actions affect each other. The novel flowed well despite the changing character focus. Berni’s transgender best friend was tastefully incorporated, adding value to the text. Chapters were of appropriate lengths, which allowed for pauses during the reading. This book would appeal to fans of historical fiction or women’s fiction. Check it out from a library near you!

I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading Fräulein M., you may be interested in The Fortunate Ones by Ellen Umansky (2017). 

Book Review | The Fortunate Ones by Ellen Umansky

umansky.jpegUmansky has crafted an intriguing novel in The Fortunate OnesChapters alternate between present day and World War II times to tell the interconnected story of a Jewish girl escaped from Austria and the New York lawyer who befriends her while going through a sort of mid-life crisis. The bond between the two women is forged over a Soutine painting that has been stolen from each of them, and holds a significant sentimental attachment for both.

“This was a really good book,” I found myself saying after finishing. Though the disagreeable protagonists are not particularly likable, their stories are fascinating. Umansky’s rich details paint their own picture. It’s clear that a good deal of thought and research went into the writing. The book kept my interest throughout, though I often would have preferred shorter chapters. This novel could be considered historical, women’s, literary, and art fiction and would appeal to readers of any of those genres. Check it out from a library near you, keeping in mind that it is a new release. I received an advance uncorrected proof of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Film Review | Ida by Pawel Pawlikowski

ida dvd coverIda has grown up an orphan in a convent in Poland. She is known there as Anna and her only living relative, an aunt, has let on she has no interest in meeting the girl. Just before taking her vows to become a nun, Ida is forced to visit her aunt. Together the two women find a common bond in the family members they have lost. They confront the ugly Holocaust history as they search for the remains of their Jewish family.

After seeing the preview, I was expecting this movie to be really good. The entire film is in black and white and I have to admit, rather slow moving. Though the story told in the film is a touching one, the characters are not developed enough for the viewer to actually be touched by the story. I was surprised by other viewers’ positive responses to this film. On the whole there is not too much acting and the film is a bit flat. That said, I did enjoy Agata Trzebuchowska‘s performance as Ida and hope to see her in other upcoming films. This film may be better suited for those with some kind of personal connection to the subject matter. Check out Ida from a library near you.

A Summary of the 27 books I read during 2014 – Best & Worst

The titles are listed below and are mostly novels, but also include art and historical fiction, art history, photography and short stories. In an attempt to make this post useful to readers, I’ve created sections to group the books. Not all of the books I read during 2014 were released in 2014. A full list of titles appears at the end of the post.

My four favorite books:

A Marker to Measure Drift – A Liberian refugee in her mid-20’s is starving as she tries to make a new life in the Greek Isles.

Sad Peninsula – A Canadian ESL teacher in South Korea learns about the Japanese occupation during World War II and Korean comfort women.

The Anatomy Lesson – In 1600’s Amsterdam, Rembrandt paints his masterpiece of a human dissection.

Decompression – A German writer and soap star take a vacation to the Canary Islands to learn scuba diving.

After those four, my next five favorite books:

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister – A man has made his room a prison that he will not leave so his wife hires a Japanese rental sister to coax him out.

The Silence of the Wave – An Italian detective has suffered a breakdown after many years undercover, but things look up when he meets a lady.

A Hologram for the King – A failing business man is sent to Saudi Arabia to broker an IT deal with the king.

The Book of You – An English woman is relentlessly stalked by a fellow university employee.

The Year of the Hare – A man quits his job and leaves his wife and life to spend a year wandering Finland with a hare as his companion.

Four books that should have been better:

Shotgun Lovesongs – High school friends are reunited in smalltown Wisconsin for a wedding.

The Last Magazine – An intern watches a journalist’s career being shredded to protect the magazine.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – A Japanese man living a quiet life learns the stories that ripped his high school friends away from him.

October – A South African woman returns home after years abroad to face the trials that have torn her family apart.

Five books that were a waste of my time:

Notes from the Internet Apocalypse – The internet goes out and a man searches for a way to restore it.

Rude Bitches Make Me Tired – A lady rants about habits of others that she considers rude and annoying.

The Transcriptionist – A newspaper transcriptionist becomes obsessed with a story about a blind woman being mauled to death by lions.

Monster’s Chef – An ex-convict is hired as the personal chef for a famous musician.

The Way Inn – A man discovers that his hotel is a gateway to accessing the whole world.

All titles appear in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Title links are to book reviews I’ve written. I’ve placed an asterisk by the names of authors whose work I had previously read. I’m happy to answer any questions about these books or provide suggestions for further reading if there’s a certain title you particularly enjoyed.

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister – Jeff Backhaus
Shotgun Lovesongs – Nickolas Butler
The Silence of the Wave – Gianrico Carofiglio
A Hologram for the King – Dave Eggers*
The Coast & the Sea: Marine and Maritime Art in America at the New-York Historical Society – Linda S. Ferber
Notes from the Internet Apocalypse – Wayne Gladstone
Terms & Conditions – Robert Glancy
The Last Magazine – Michael Hastings
Horrorstör – Grady Hendrix
Fifty Shades trilogy – E.L. James
The Book of You – Claire Kendal
Joyland – Stephen King*
A Marker to Measure Drift – Alexander Maksik
Perimeter : A Contemporary Portrait of Lake Michigan – Kevin J. Miyazaki
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami*
The Strange Library – Haruki Murakami*
An English Ghost Story – Kim Newman
The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilinna
Rude Bitches Make Me Tired – Celia Rivenbark
The Transcriptionist – Amy Rowder
Sad Peninsula – Mark Sampson
The Anatomy Lesson – Nina Siegal
Monster’s Chef – Jervey Trevalon
October – Zoë Wicomb*
The Way Inn – Will Wiles
Decompression – Juli ZehBooks I tried to read, but quit:
Ripper – Isabelle Allende
Cartwheel – Jennifer Dubois
On Such a Full Sea – Chang-Rae Lee

Book Review | Sad Peninsula by Mark Sampson

book cover - sad peninsula by mark sampsonSad Peninsula is an excellent read, one of my favorite in 2014. This novel actually shares two storylines and protagonists. Chapters alternate focus between Michael, a modern day Canadian man working abroad in South Korea as an ESL teacher at a cram school, and Eun-Young, a young Korean woman kidnapped by the Japanese during World War II and forced to serve as a “comfort woman” for the soldiers in their camps. Michael has come to Korea to escape a journalistic career catastrophe and failed relationship. During a night out on the town with his buddies he meets Jin, Eun-Young’s grand-niece, and they begin dating. Back in 1943 the story begins with the Japanese occupation in Korea and Eun-Young going to school. After she is taken, we experience her trauma as a sex slave in the war camps.

Sampson delves deeply into both of these characters’ stories. He paints clear pictures of the emotions and situations that both Michael and Eun-Young are experiencing. This was a book that I continually wanted to get back to reading. I was interested in the many details shared concerning an English speaker living in Korea and also in the historical aspects of the text. Though some of the passages from Eun-Young’s past were sexually graphic, they were not overdone or without purpose. This book would appeal to those interested in living abroad, historical fiction buffs, and those who enjoy an emotion packed read. Check out Sad Peninsula from a library near you.

Book Review | The Anatomy Lesson : a novel by Nina Siegal

book cover The Anatomy Lesson : a novel by Nina SiegalUsing the voices of alternating narrators, The Anatomy Lesson shares the events leading up to Rembrandt’s famous 1632 painting: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. Our main characters are the man who is to hang for thievery crimes, his pregnant partner who tries to have him released, the curio dealer who will deliver his body to the anatomy, the doctor who will perform the dissection, the artist who will paint the dissection and the man who searches for a tangible soul within the body. Siegal names these characters the body, the heart, the mouth, the hands, the eyes, and the mind and uses their points of view to shape her novel, a work of art and historical fiction.

The book flows pretty well. Despite the alternating narrators and a few jumps back in time, it is easy for the reader to understand the course of events. The only exception to this is a few interruptions (chapters) by a present day restorer who is working on the piece. This “addition” actually subtracted from the overall quality of the novel. Other than that, I have few complaints. The story was interesting from the beginning, appropriate dialogue seemed to be used for the 17th century, and the characters were fairly well developed and interconnected. Siegal clearly did her research and reading made me feel that I had been transported to Amsterdam in 1632. For those interested in art fiction or historical fiction about that time period, especially anyone with an interest in Rembrandt, this would be a fascinating read. Check your local library for a copy, but keep in mind this book was just released in March 2014 and there may be a queue of holds.