Jennifer McVeigh

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Leopard At The Door – Jennifer McVeigh

Published July 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

After six years in England, Rachel has returned to Kenya and the farm where she spent her childhood, but the beloved home she’d longed for is much changed. Her father’s new companion—a strange, intolerant woman—has taken over the household. The political climate in the country grows more unsettled by the day and is approaching the boiling point. And looming over them all is the threat of the Mau Mau, a secret society intent on uniting the native Kenyans and overthrowing the whites.

As Rachel struggles to find her place in her home and her country, she initiates a covert relationship, one that will demand from her a gross act of betrayal. One man knows her secret, and he has made it clear how she can buy his silence. But she knows something of her own, something she has never told anyone. And her knowledge brings her power.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Penguin UK who contacted me and asked me if I’d like to read a copy of Jennifer McVeigh’s second novel, Leopard At The Door in exchange for an honest review. I actually read Jennifer’s first novel, The Fever Tree, which it was picked for the Richard and Judy Book Club here in the UK a little while ago and enjoyed it so was delighted to discover that she had chosen to re-visit Africa as the setting for her second novel. One of my biggest enjoyments about reading is that I love to learn a little something along the way, whether that’s about a different country, religion, culture, moment of history etc and Leopard At The Door seemed to offer this opportunity so I gladly took it and began reading.

Our main character, Rachel spent her childhood in Africa but was shipped off back to England and boarding school when her mother sadly died. She spends six years over in England and never quite feels she belongs so when she turns eighteen she begs her father to return and eventually makes the long and arduous journey (as it was in the 1950’s). However, the beautiful country she left is not quite the safe and secure country that she remembers and holds dear. The British colonial rule in this time period has drummed up a great deal of tension between native Kenyans and white dwellers on the land. One particular group, the Mau Mau tribe are insisting that natives should swear an oath to their tribe and punish any loyal to the British or even the British themselves with violence, looting, burning of their dwellings and death. As well as this, Rachel has also to deal with a new family situation that she had not anticipated and a potential threat to her own safety when she falls for the “wrong” man.

There were a lot of things to like about this book. First of all as I’ve already mentioned, the setting which was written beautifully and did make me feel like I could have been there, picturing each scene as it happened. I would however have really love to have seen more background about the Mau Mau tribe and about the native Kenyan villagers as it was during these moments in the narrative when the story seemed to really come alive for me. Rachel was a good character and I did enjoy reading about her but I found her relationship with her father quite frustrating and also wished for some more scenes where it was just the two of them (without the lurking “evil stepmother” in the background!). The love interest was, I’m afraid to say, slightly predictable and I wasn’t quite sure if I believed it as it seemed to build up very suddenly after being relatively nothing at the beginning but perhaps that’s my cynical side talking. The villains of the piece were I must say, written very well and incredibly sinister and easy to hate. I think anyone with an interest in African history (especially where the British went over and ruined everything!) will enjoy this novel, for me I would have just loved to have seen it explored on a deeper level.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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The Fever Tree – Jennifer McVeigh

Published March 23, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

1878. South Africa. A country torn apart by greed. Frances Irvine, left destitute by her father’s sudden death, is forced to travel from the security and familiarity of her privileged English life to marry Edwin Matthews, an ambitious but penniless young doctor in South Africa. They are posted to a smallpox station on the vast, inhospitable plains of the Karoo but she is so caught up in her own sense of entitlement and loss of status that she cannot recognise its hidden beauty nor the honour and integrity of the man she has married. All her hopes for happiness seem destroyed when her husband exposes the epidemic that is devastating the native community in the diamond-mining town of Kimberley. Here, the gleaming houses of the rich disguise the poverty of a labour force under coercion, and Frances is drawn into a ruthless world of wealth and opportunity, where influential men will go to any lengths to keep the mines in operation. Passionately caught up with the man her husband is fighting to bring down, she must make a fateful choice.

What did I think?:

This book was the final choice in the Richard and Judy Spring Book Club 2013, and definitely a good read. A lovely piece of historical fiction, it felt almost epic in the descriptions of the African landscape and people. You wouldn’t think while reading it that it was the author’s debut novel, and I became completely engrossed in the tale of Frances, orphaned by the death of her father and forced into marriage to a man she barely knows or likes. Coupled with that, she has to move to a foreign land, learn new customs and try to be a good wife. So, perhaps predictably, she meets an enigmatic gentleman on the ship crossing to Africa, falls head over heels for him, and wonders whether her soon-to- be marriage is a good idea.

Frances did annoy me ever so slightly – I understand that she was a young, naive girl but at times she seemed a bit wet and incredibly spoilt which got my “reading hackles” up. However, she did redeem herself a bit further along the story. What I did find interesting in this story is the real plight of mining for diamonds in Africa and at that time, how the native people were treated. It also reminded me of the recent film “Blood Diamond” starring Leonardo DiCaprio which gave me a massive dose of education about the shifty, sometimes heart-breaking world of the procurement of diamonds. The author has obviously done her research on this subject and approaches it with maturity and sensitivity.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars