Book Review: The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

15811543Thanks to Lindsay and Elaine at Penguin Group USA for kindly sending us Kristopher Jansma’s debut novel The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards. I think that Mr. Jansma is definitely going to be an author to watch! His book read with a lovely prose and the story was definitely interesting enough that I read it all the way through without stopping (finished in only 3 days). The thing is, the uniqueness of this tale makes it very difficult to review! It is made up of seemingly unconnected stories that are actually connected and come around in a very cool way right back to where they started (reminiscent of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad in a way).

An unnamed narrator tells the story of his career in writing. He is only 28 years old so there really isn’t much of a career, per se, and since he is a liar and a plagiarizer you can’t really trust him to tell the truth (you never do find out his real name!). He has written 4 books so far and he has lost every single one of them. These are the tales of how the books got to be written, how they got lost and the people who influenced the stories.

These stories are all true, but only somewhere else.

He starts off in Terminal B and he is 8 years old. He goes there every single day after school to wait for his flight attendant mother to return from whatever city she is flying back from. The vendors who run the various shops in the terminal act as his babysitters and to pass the time he writes his first book. Proud of his accomplishment he asks one of them, the ancient watch repairman Mr. Bjorn, to have a read. Unfortunately, as he is reading he suddenly drops dead. The policeman who finds the body laughs at the content of the book and cavalierly discards it in the trash, breaking our narrator’s heart. He swears off writing for good– that is until he is 16 years old and a beautiful debutante convinces him that he really IS a writer. He decides then and there that he MUST pursue writing as a career.

imagesHe meets Julian (or is it JEFFERY????) in his Fiction and Poetry class at Berkshire College and he is the most gifted writer that he has ever met. He stops at nothing to become more like Julian/Jeffery (minus being an alcoholic, gay agoraphobe) and they spend the next decade in competition– writing, travelling the world and getting into SPECTACULAR fights. Throw into the mix Ev– an actress and Julian’s best friend who our narrator is madly in love with– maybe. They sleep together at every chance they get and have fun making others feel uncomfortable in their presence. But Ev is cut from the same cloth as Daisy Buchanan (of Great Gatsby fame) and only wants him when there is no Olympic swimmer, Indian Prince or King of Luxembourg available as a better option. What better fodder for a writer– Ev becomes his muse.

There are weird trips to Dubai, Sri Lanka and Iceland, encounters with leopards, rebel groups and doppelgängers and then there comes a new girlfriend who may or may not help him to forget Ev, grow up and eventually write (and not lose) the novel that has been waiting to be published. 3 stars and seriously anxious to see what comes next from Kristopher Jansma!

Book Review: Glow

GLOWThank you so very much to Penguin/Viking for allowing us the opportunity to read and also to giveaway a copy of this wonderful novel. Glow is Jessica Maria Tuccelli’s first novel (!) and she is now easily an author that I will look to in the future. Hopefully her next novel is not too far off! (Seriously!)

I’m also very happy to have read it in paperback version and not on the e-reader. Glow has a wonderfully detailed family tree at the beginning of the book, and with all its characters and family history, being able to flip quickly back and forth between the page you were at and over to the family tree(s) was wonderfully helpful. Without being able to flip back to see where the characters connected would surely mean you lost out on so much of the bonds across many generations, and their three, intertwined races. Glow is, in the very least, a fantastic tale of connection and how each of these characters – white, black, native Indian – are intertwined with one another.

The promotional material for Glow states it is “Lushly conceived, cinematically detailed, and epic in historical scope.” Absolutely! Glow was a very beautiful and stunning book to read. From the very first pages I was drawn right in. It’s fantastic reading! Ghosts, spirits, evil, slavery and also the hope, promise, joy and love among these characters.

The description of Glow is taken from Tuccelli’s website: October 1941. Eleven-year-old Ella McGee sits on a bus bound for her Southern hometown. Behind her in Washington, D.C., lie the broken pieces of her parents’ love story—a black father drafted, an activist mother of Scotch-Irish and Cherokee descent confronting racist thugs. But Ella’s journey is just beginning when she reaches Hopewell County, and her disappearance into the Georgia mountains will unfurl a rich tapestry of family secrets spanning a century.

Told in five unforgettable voices, Glow reaches back through the generations, from the eve of World War II to the Blue Ridge frontier of 1836, where slave plantations adjoin the haunted glades of a razed Cherokee Nation. Out of these characters’ lives evolves a drama that is at once intimately human and majestic in its power to call upon the great themes of our time—race, identity, and the bonds of family and community.

So you can see how everything about this description sings of a novel that I knew belonged on my shelf. A multi-generation saga, a tapestry of family secrets, multiple voice/perspective and a good old southern read. Yup. Sign me on. And it was everything I anticipated it would be and more. Tuccelli is a very gifted writer! Gorgeous prose, beautifully described, heartfelt and touching emotions pouring out on every page, the words flowed like a beautiful, rippling stream of water.

I strongly encourage you to read Glow, you will surely not be disappointed. It was a read I savoured, it seemed to take me longer to finish than my normal reading progress. This was not due to any dislike of it at all, I was merely lost in it and savouring the words of Glow. Basking in the glow perhaps? I did find myself stopping many times and just enjoying the words and the emotions she’s written. Many times. It was something that touched me, is so emotionally written and will stay with me for quite some time for certain. Right up to the very, very end you are completely invested in this story. It simply won’t let you go. It’s also an incredibly emotional story that decidely confirms history’s unfortunate way of repeating itself.  4.5 stars.

A person got to wonder at the misery one human being inflict upon another. Got to wonder what the Lord intended (Willie Mae Cotton).

Review: Tell The Wolves I’m Home

This was one of my picks for our NetGalley Knockdown Challange and I have to say I sure lucked out in picking it! Thanks so much to NetGalley and Random House for allowing us access to read this beautifully written debut novel by Carol Rifka Brunt!

It is 1987 at the height of the AIDS crisis and 14-year-old June’s favourite uncle, Finn, has been diagnosed. This means he will die– no doubt about it. Finn is June’s mother’s brother. They used to be close but now they have a strained relationship– he has done many things that she doesn’t really agree with– but they are cordial to each other. June absolutely ADORES Finn and would like to spend as much time with him as she possibly can before he passes away. Finn comes up with a project so that they can do just that. He is an artist and will paint a portrait of June and her sister Greta– it will be his last gift to his family as well as his last professional gig.

June is just a MAGNIFICENT character– she is so real. You want to hug her to pieces and tell her “life won’t always be this hard– being a teenager only sucks for a little while!!”. She lives in her own little world somewhere between child and young adult. She spends most her time alone hanging out in the woods– she’s the quirky girl wearing the medieval boots and Gunne Sax dress dreaming of becoming a full-time Falconer at a Renaissance Festival some day. She used to share this world with Greta but now that she is 16 she finds June babyish and constantly makes her feel stupid– especially about her feelings towards her uncle. June tries not to let it bother her but it does. Uncle Finn is the only one who has ever understood her completely, and he is dying.

(It is hard to remember that at one time that AIDS was considered to be the new leprosy– this book just TRANSPORTS you back to that time. June and Greta are actually afraid to admit that their uncle died of AIDS at school because they are worried they will get the “Ryan White” treatment!  It is amazing how far we have come in treatments and understanding of this disease! So great that being HIV positive no longer means an automatic death sentence.)

That’s what I want for you,” he said. “I want you to know only the very best people.”

That’s when I broke down and cried, because I already knew the very best people. Finn was the very best person I knew.

Uncle Finn dies soon after the portrait is complete and June is just DEVASTATED. She feels that she will never love again and that no one will ever understand her grief. But she soon finds out there IS someone else. Two weeks after Finn’s death she receives a package. It contains the Russian teapot with the bears on it that Finn always used when they came to visit– it is something that she has always admired. The note that comes with it is from Finn’s special friend, Toby. It also contains an invitation. June has never heard of this special friend so she covertly asks her mother for some information. The reaction is very strong and very negative. She seems to blame Toby for every wrong thing that has ever happened in Finn’s life– the choices he made, the company he kept, the disease he got. All June could think was “if he was so special, why have I never met him?” and her decision is made. She would say yes to the invitation and let this Toby guy know who Uncle Finn REALLY was! Only, he seems to know a lot more about Finn that she does. An awkward love/hate relationship begins between June and Toby as they come to terms with the death of their all time favourite person. And June begins to grow up (but just a little bit!).

This is another one of those stories where you just don’t want to say too much because June’s journey needs to be experienced first hand! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry! Awesome, AWESOME story telling, fantastic characters! Can this REALLY be a first novel?? Great Job!! 4 stars for me!! Can’t wait to hear more from this author!

(This song was in my head the whole time I read for no other reason than it had wolf in the title– great song tho– thought I would share.)