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Leopard at the Door

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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.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published January 3, 2017

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About the author

Jennifer McVeigh

4 books267 followers
I graduated from Oxford University in 2002, and went on to work in film and publishing before leaving my day job to do an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. The Fever Tree was a Richard & Judy Bookclub Pick. My second novel, Leopard at the Door, will be published by Penguin in 2017. I live in London with my husband and our three young children.

Praise for The Fever Tree
“There is nothing more exciting than a new writer with a genuine voice. I loved it.” - Julian Fellowes, Creator of Downton Abbey

“A gripping story, vividly written. I found myself thinking of its scenes long after I had turned the last page.” Kim Edwards, bestselling author of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

“A beautifully written novel of great feeling – I loved it.” - Rachel Hore, bestselling author of A Place of Secrets

“A compelling read with a Gone with the Wind feel to it. I was hooked.” - Katharine McMahon, bestselling author of The Alchemist’s Daughter

“A magical, bewitching tale of loss, betrayal and love.” - Vogue

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 814 reviews
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,543 reviews24.6k followers
June 12, 2017
This is a brilliant well researched historical novel that does not spare the reader the insanity of British colonial history in Kenya in the 1950s. It plays out amidst the recent independence of India and a Britain determined to stave off further losses by ruthlessly squashing all signs of rebellion in other parts of its empire. Kenya is a particularly horrific and ugly part of the British in Africa and McVeigh captures the struggles that took place in a realistic manner. In Kenya, upon the tragic death of her mother, twelve year old Rachel Fullsmith is sent to England to live with her grandparents and attend boarding school. However, all Rachel wants is to return to her beloved Kenya, and at 18 years old she returns. Rachel has an innocence and naivety that you might expect of a young woman of that age. What follows pushes Rachel to question all that she thought she knew about the country and its people. Amidst the political intrigue and turbulent times, she finds herself in search of a home, and a identity.

On returning home to her isolated family home, Rachel finds her father living with another woman, Sara and her son, Harold. Sara is a woman that is hard to like, with unpalatable views that echo grim imperialistic thinking and attitudes. Her father bends to Sara's views, and Sara cannot bear Rachel's perspective which leaves Rachel deeply unsettled in her family home, although she does become closer to Harold. The Mau Mau are leading a rebellion which results in the murder of white settlers and other atrocities in their attempt to rid themselves of the shackles of British rule. There is good reason behind the uprising with the treatment that Kenyans have received but the Kikuyu communities are splintered. Some have embraced the rebellion whilst others remain loyal to the British which triggers violence within the communities. The British response is hard hitting and ruthless. What is hard to bear is that the brutality extends to animals as well as people. This is a story of secrets, lies, betrayal, divisions, and a dangerous love.

This is a beautifully written atmospheric novel that describes the beauty of Kenya's landscape and wildlife juxtaposed with the brutal horror that unfolds within the country. The narrative is tense and compelling infused with fear and menace throughout. The characterisation is complex and vibrant, reflecting the times and the place, many of the characters are hard to like. This is not an easy read, not surprising given what happened in Kenya at that time. A great book that gives a glimpse into a period of history that deserves to be better known, but not for the faint hearted. Thanks to Penguin for an ARC.
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
442 reviews657 followers
May 2, 2017
This is the story of Rachel. A young British girl (around 18 now) who is returning to Kenya after being away for 6 years. Her mother was killed when she was young and she was sent to England to live with her grandparents and go to school. But now, she is going home. Oh she has missed her beloved Kenya and can't wait to return. But Kenya has gone through so many changes over the years and it is no longer a safe place to return to. Her father still lives on the family farm but urges her, a bit to late, to not return home. There is political turmoil via a the group Mau Mau, a secret society intent on uniting the native Kenyans against the whites. She does return to Kenya, but she will never be the same.

Oh how I wanted to love this one more than I did. It started off so beautiful. It so reminded me out of 'Out of Africa' initially (only read 1/2 the book, I'm slow...but *love* the movie). The vivid descriptions of Kenya and the love the author has for the place and time of long ago. I listened to this one and it was wonderful to hear of this beauty, the animals roaming, and the way of life back then. But then it had a dramatic turn to the dark. I should have known what I was in for when there were vivid descriptions of how pigs are slaughtered on her uncles farm. It continued from there. There were too many details of animal tortures and slaughter, graphic descriptions of murders of whites by members of the Mau Mau. And the characters were equally disgusting. Her father, has no love for her. He has moved in a new 'woman', Sara, who is so horrible. Sara, feels that the Kenyans must be kept down, they should not have an education, and treated horribly. The British did not 'take their land' since there was no one on the land when they arrived. Her father can't think for himself, he is controlled by Sara.

The story is more the story of Rachel and her memories of Kenya and how she is adapting to the current conditions. I wanted to hear more backstory of the Mau Mau, the struggles of the locals, perhaps more character development of the others. Rachel seemed so naive too and towards the end I no longer felt for her. The audio narration was good. So my rating is the book 3, but bumping it to 3.5 for the narration.

Keep in mind, this was just how I felt about this one. Perhaps being vegan, all the animal cruelty in the book got to me. The descriptions of the murders of the whites just seemed to keep adding up and almost not needed. Many things seemed added just for shock value. The end just seemed so out of place and rushed. Perhaps I just expected so much more based on the title and description.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,146 reviews502 followers
September 14, 2017
This was an intense read, well-researched, well-developed story line. A brutal history of the Mau Mau struggle against the British colonial powers in Kenya in the 1950s. The subject, namely the brutal war, was the actual protagonist with the main character, eighteen-year-old Rachell Fullsmith, coming in at a close second. Upsetting, appalling, shocking, terrible. The focus stayed relentlessly on the detail of the massacres of people all over the country. The author claimed that only 32 farmers were killed. The slaughtering of farmers repeated all over Africa ever since, while thousands of black people got killed in the process as well.

This freedom struggles were characterised by the conflicts between friends, brothers against brothers, fathers against sons, blacks against whites, blacks against blacks, and whites against whites. It was omnipresent and everywhere. I admire the authors guts to tell the complete story.

Leopard At The Door presented all sides of the story and did it well. Captivating. Engrossing. Gripping. Well told.

There's little criticism on my part of this book. I just became apathetic, almost detached (probably from revulsion) with all the brutality and violence at some point as the main focus. Too much of it lessened the emotional impact for me. Over-kill, no pun intended.

The characters were like dancers around a fire, which shot sparks in all directions and everyone got charred to the bone but kept coming back for more. And when the fire was extinguished, there was little left to say about where it started in the first place. Lives were destroyed no less. Nobody walked away unscathed. It was still a beautiful, sad, family saga and worth a read. This tale is a simplified version of history, but detailed enough to set the playing field and players up for an unforgettable, horrific drama.

Rachel had to deal with the death of her mother; the memories she dared not share with anyone of what she witnessed as a twelve-year old girl at her uncles meat factory in Kenya; a lonely life at a boarding school in England; her father's choice of second wife, Sara; the circumstances in the country to which she finally returned against her father's wishes; and people who forced her to grow up at the speed of lightning - sleaze-balls such as Steven Lockhart. But beautiful souls like Harold, Sara's son, Nat Logan the American news photographer, and Michael, the Kikuyu worker, her childhood friend, who became her only supporter, allowed her to stand tall and face the challenges waiting on the farm.
Eric Bowker slaughtered, my father under the spell of another woman and Steven Lockhart thickening this nightmare. I breathe deeply and press my hands to my eyes. I have fallen down a rabbit hole—home has been turned inside out, inhabited by ghouls and strangers who sit where my mother once sat, and the African protectors of my childhood have become killers. And somewhere at the bottom of it is a sense of forewarning, and displacement. Kenya is a black man’s country.
I LOVED the author's first book The Fever Tree. A Magnificent read. Leopard At The Door, not so much. It was well-written, but left me strangely wanting at the end. Perhaps I would have liked a different ending, I don't know. Will have to think about it more. There's a fairytale-gone-horribly-wrong vibe to this tale. Stepmother and little princess battle for the heart of the king. The prince turned out to be ..... nah, I'm not telling.

A very good read though that should be considered. I will read this author again.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,088 reviews30.1k followers
May 3, 2017
4 stars to Leopard at the Door. The 1950s colonial period in Kenya made for an atmospheric setting, and the author's writing was beautifully descriptive. The main character, Rachel, has returned from England to her childhood home of Kenya after six years away, in the midst of the Mau Mau rebellion, and she's found that everything in her former life has changed. Secrets are covered up, and true character is revealed along the way. McVeigh has a talent for writing incredibly sympathetic, loathsome, and otherwise complex characters. The book was exciting, engaging, emotional, and at times deeply unsettling. I highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction.

Trigger Warning: there are several sensitive scenes where animals are harmed or have been harmed. I skipped over these scenes as best I could while reading, and I'm not sure they added to the story in any way.

Thanks to Traveling with T's (Tamara's) blog, the publisher, and the author, I won a copy of this book, and this was my unsolicited review.
Profile Image for Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews.
1,044 reviews1,367 followers
January 17, 2017

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.
Profile Image for Heather *sad DNF queen*.
Author 17 books445 followers
September 4, 2016
"Authority is not a substitute for truth."

McVeigh has a talent for writing characters you hate. Just really fucking hate. And not in a fun way. More like you want to reach into the book and stab them, but since you can't you're actively wishing they'll somehow die in the pages of the story. I noticed this when reading her first book, The Fever Tree. They do the stupidest things, or the most loathsome things, and it's SO FRUSTRATING. It's physically painful at times to read about the choices her characters makes.

I really enjoyed the setting (colonial Kenya) and the political issues confronted. But that was about it. I didn't like ANY of the characters. Rachel was stupid, the father was weak, Sara was an icy bigot, and Lockhart doesn't even need words. The romantic interest, Michael, spent a lot of his time ignoring things Rachel said to him. I wasn't sure how much older than Rachel he was supposed to be, but the fact that he was her teacher when she was a child creeped me out. She was twelve the last time he saw her before their romance begins.

Another thing that really frustrated me about this book was the first person present tense. It was a very stilted way to tell the story. The writing didn't flow and there was rampant em dash abuse, which added to the awkward reading experience. I didn't feel all avenues of the story were explored as they could have been. Some things were random, some things were added seemingly for shock value, and by the end I was wondering what the point of the whole book had been.

I will read more work by this author, but I hope her next effort is a tighter, more natural story altogether.

Sidenote: Is it a normal thing to refer to multiple animals as their singular noun? For example: a herd of elephant, a herd of zebra, the leopard are prowling, the hyena are calling. The leopard one was especially weird for me to read. Maybe this is a thing? I don't know.

I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley.
Profile Image for Marjorie.
543 reviews55 followers
December 13, 2016
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.

Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,697 reviews1,478 followers
August 4, 2017
This is an exciting story and it teaches about Kenya's Mau Mau Rebellion of the 1950s. It is a good book to start with to get a general idea of this civil war.

The book depicts the well-warranted fear of the isolated English farmers on the edge of the Rift Valley, English imperialistic attitudes, as well as the beauty of Kenyan landscape and flora and fauna.

The story is plot-oriented and is meant to be exciting. The central character is eighteen-year-old Rachel Fullsmith. The year is 1952. She is returning to Kenya after a six-year absence. Since the death of her mother she has been living in England with her maternal grandparents. Her father remained in Kenya and is now living with his to-be English bride in the house Rachel grew up in. On returning to Kenya, she must tackle unresolved issues concerning her mother's death, her relationship with her father and prospective stepmother and the land which she calls home. In this respect, it is a coming-of-age story. The setting is the Mau Mau Rebellion, Kenyan socio-political attitudes and English imperialism.

The plot line is invented by the author to be exciting and to pull in as many topics as possible. Would all of this happen to one girl? Yes it is possible, but believability is stretched. In my view, depiction of the farmers' fear as the uprising evolves would have been adequate without the additional threat of her . To this is added and then ! All together this is just a bit too much. It does make for a riveting story though. Furthermore, that also pushes believability! The book is more plot-oriented than in-depth character portrayal.

I thought the audiobook narration by Katharine McEwan was excellent, truly excellent! Rachel is young, naive and immature. She is unsure of herself. You hear this in the narration. Rachel is telling us her story. She is soft-spoken. She is a delight to listen to. She has an English accent but with what I imagine to be an accurate African flavor. I have no intimate knowledge of English-African accents; this is just my guess. Her voice gives a wonderful balance to all the bash bang events happening around her. The narration could easily have been over dramatized, but it isn't. Different intonations are used for the men, and they are not overdone either. Five stars for the narration.
354 reviews121 followers
May 1, 2018
This book was great. This book was based on a young lady's life growing up in Great Britan when she was born in Affrica. She has to deal with the changes in Affrica as Great Britan in cyvalising the contenant.
Enjoy and Be Blessed.
Profile Image for Andrea.
557 reviews
January 29, 2021
This book is not what I normally read,but like to read something different I've visited Kenya and the details of this book is spot on.really enjoyed this book a family story and the hardships of living in Kenya shocker of an ending.won this book on first reads.goodreads is great as you get to read books you would never pick up and there's alot of good new authors.
Profile Image for Katie B.
1,259 reviews2,942 followers
February 6, 2017
A beautiful but tragic story set in the 1950s about a young woman who returns to her home in Kenya and realizes everything has changed in her absence. After the death of her mother, Rachel is sent to live in England with her grandparents while her father remains in Kenya on their family's farm. Upon returning, not only have things changed on the farm but also throughout the country as the Mau Mau attempt to overthrow the white settlers. This is a story of a young woman discovering how to stay true to her belief system even when it might be in conflict with those she loves.

Prior to reading this book, I knew very little about the conflict in Kenya in the 1950s but this book made me more interested in the topic. The sign of a good historical novel for me is when after completing the book I am eager in finding out more about the events it was based on. And because the author gave such beautiful descriptions of the country, it makes me want to visit Kenya as well.

Initially, I was unsure whether this book could sustain my interest. Thankfully, I found this to be a real gem of a book and I would definitely recommend to anyone that is looking to maybe branch out of their reading comfort zone and try something a bit different. The author conveys thoughts and emotions in such a realistic way and I am looking forward to checking out her previous novel.

I received an ARC of this book and this review contains my fair and honest opinions.
Profile Image for Bill Kupersmith.
Author 1 book196 followers
July 2, 2017
This is an excellent work of historical fiction. It succeeds in being fair to both sides of a conflict impossible to view in any terms but black & white, not only from the skin colour of the participants, but from a moral perspective. That Jennifer McVeigh could portray the views of both sides with such sympathy & understanding awes me. When I was a child, Mau Mau represented the worst form of atavistic diabolical blood-thirsty savagery. In the 'post-colonial' period Mau Mau transmogrified into the Kenyan Land Army, a national independence movement commanded by a Field Marshal. And the whites were changed from innovative farmers who had brought civilisation & economic development to a beautiful but backward land, who loved the country & the animals & cared for & employed the native people, to brutal bloodthirsty colonialist oppressors who robbed the true inhabitants of their land & imprisoned thousands of innocents in concentration camps. Somehow, both of these totally contradictory accounts seem to me to be absolutely true. There are many villains in the historical setting, but few heroes. Except for the central character, Rachel, all of the other persons in the story struck me as types rather than distinct individuals, but they show the spectra of race, culture & class, both European & African, very nicely. Rachel may be a bit too good to be true, but she represents what most readers admire sypathetically, someone who loves the land & the animals & the people, is honest & fair, yet ultimately prevented by her race & culture from being part of what she loves. I expect the readers who will enjoy this book most are those who come with fewest preconceptions concerning the antagonistic sides, & simply let Jennifer McVeigh unfold Rachel's story, learning their Kenyan history as they go. If you are already a partisan, you may find Rachel either a 'bleeding heart' or still tainted by the seeds of 'colonialism' & 'white privilege'. Which is perhaps another way of saying Rachel is an attractive & well-drawn character indeed.

Profile Image for Stephanie Anze.
657 reviews112 followers
February 7, 2017
At the age of twelve, upon the death of her mother, Rachel is sent back to England. Having lived in Kenya for most of her life, Rachel does not quite adapt to her new surroundings. When she is eighteen, Rachel moves back home (Kenya) but the situation is far from the idyllic childhood she remembers. There is another woman in her house, the political atmosphere is heavily charged and the secret Rachel has been harboring threatens her very safety.

The background for this novel is Kenya and the Mau Mau Rebellion. Having been under British colonial rule, part of the Kikuyu people rise up and take arms. What follows is a bloody and gruesome ordeal. Soon referred to as the Mau Mau, they spread fear among the British. As Rachel discovers, though, matters are not so simple. The historical aspect was enlightening and while difficult to read, very informative. Her home life is quite different too. Rachel learns upon arrival that her dad is living with another woman, one that openly dislikes her. The rapport she used to have with the Kikuyu that work for her father is not as it was before. In short, its a tense situation. Rachel makes the best she can of the situation but soon her loyalties will be put to the test. The narrative was gripping and intense. What stuck with the most was the following: "Authority is not a subtitute for truth." A statement that rang true in 1952-1960 Kenya and one that most definitely rings true today (particularly with the most recent election).
Profile Image for Laura.
381 reviews13 followers
December 21, 2016
Leopard at the Door narrates two different struggles through the perspective of Rachel, the daughter of a settler in Kenya, some years after WW2. The first one is the Mau Mau revolution that aims to get rid of the English in Kenya; and the second one is Rachel's own attempt to return to the life she lived as a child, before she was taken away to England.
Though interesting, Rachel's family issues are very frustrating and sometimes even boring. To begin with, Rachel's father doesn't seem to care, in any point, about her. He's cold, distant and unsympathetic, and he never takes Rachel's side in any situation that arises. Instead, he allows himself to be manipulated by Sara, the woman he has been living with after his wife's death. Though Sara might not be very smart (she somehow manages to get her own son killed and her step-daughter interned in a mental hospital), she's just an 'evil step-mother' trope, and adds nothing new to the story. She is friends with Steven Lockhart, a man who has previously represented a threat to Rachel and who continues to stalk her. He is also a very stereotipical villain, whose motivations to stalk Rachel are vague and generic at best, and who is responsible of much of her suffering. However, the real villains in this story are Rachel's father and her own stupidity. His indifference and her own inability to read and understand her situation drive her story to a very disheartening conclusion. To make matters even worse, Rachel gets involved in a 'romantic' relationship with one of the servants, Michael, who is supposed to be in love with her as well, but who (in my opinion) ends up taking advantage of her and never really cares for the way things will turn out for a girl he greatly advantages in age and experience. This romance is the lowpoint of the story for me, because instead of being driven by love, it reads as if it's just driven by Rachel's dispair and Michael's abuse of the situation, and it can only be plausible by accepting that Rachel is a hopeless moron.
On the other hand, the storical setting is amazing. Though I cannot vouch for its accuracy, reading about the Mau Mau revolution and its consequence on Kenya's society, through the European point of view, but with a modern appreciation of the historical movement, is incredibly interesting and compelling, and it motivated me to learn more about this country and its history.

In conclusion, Leopard at the Door has its moments. Some are good, some are dull; most of the plot points aren't innovative nor unpredictable, but the setting is interesting enough to might be worth the read.

As a side note, I believe that Harold's character was terribly mistreated. Instead of following the only truly original member of the family, the author gets rid of him in the first opportunity for shock value, and moves on from his death so quickly that it makes one wonder why was he written so well in the first place.
Profile Image for Cora Tea Party Princess.
1,323 reviews802 followers
June 20, 2017
5 Words: Family, home, prejudice, change, cruelty.

It took me a while to get into the story with this book. I found myself distracted by the descriptions, daydreaming instead of reading. And how wonderful is that?

This is my second book by this author, and like the first book there are conservation messages subtly strewn throughout the text. It really makes you think.

This book was a lot more violent than I was expecting, and I did have to put it down a few times as there are some graphic descriptions which made me feel a little ill - but that is personal preference and if anything speaks to the strength of the writing. I didn't want to put this book down because I absolutely love the writing itself, but the story made me FEEL so much that I had to.

I found that I never quite clicked with Rachel, but she was far better than Sara. I find that this is something I really like about this author - her characters are not inherently likeable but the glorious descriptions mean that it doesn't matter.

Leopard at the Door is perfect for those times when you want to escape. Jennifer McVeigh's writing is harrowing and evocative and her descriptions are simply breathtaking.
Profile Image for Myndi.
399 reviews52 followers
February 4, 2017
At the age of 12, after her mother’s death, Rachel’s father sent her away from their home in Kenya, to live with her grandparents and attend school in England. Six years later, she returns to Kenya and discovers that you can never really go back home.

My feelings about this book are all over the place. The writing itself is beautiful. McVeigh does a masterful job of setting us up in the gorgeous and wild country of Kenya. Africa is a place I’ve always been equal parts intrigued by and terrified of, and that feeling was with me throughout the entire novel. Although I can’t speak to her accuracy in depicting the Kikuyu, I can speak to the connection I felt, the empathy and respect, for their lives as they once were, and the situation they found themselves in through no fault of their own.

As is always the case with good historical fiction, I find myself wanting to know more about that time period and what really happened. It has always been my feeling that Africa, on the whole, has been misunderstood (and unfairly disparaged) by those who have never lived there, and despite that, I’ve done little to learn more about it. Perhaps now that will change.

The story itself was intriguing, though I admit, I struggled with the characters sometimes. Rachel seemed so naïve at times, so blind to what she did not wish to see, or perhaps denied what she knew to be true so that she could pursue what she wanted. Her father’s live-in girlfriend is simply awful, and while to some the evil stepmother trope might seem a bit overplayed, I understand why it had to be that way. She was despicable, but she served so many purposes – shining light on the imperialistic mindset of the British in Africa and on the weakness of Rachel’s father. The characters were not all likeable, but it isn’t exactly a happy go lucky story. So there you go.

Up to the end, I was prepared to give the story the highest rating, I was just loving it so, so much. But the ending…I don’t know if it is how it as written or what was written that bothers me. It wasn’t what I expected and it felt rushed. The pace of the rest of the novel was slow and introspective, building up to the climax gradually, and then after what appeared to be the great cataclysmic event…it wasn’t over yet. I don’t know if it should have been cut off earlier, if the ending should have simply been different entirely, or if the ending that was written should have been a little less abrupt, but it did leave me wanting. So, despite the brilliant writing, etc., the ending rubbed a little of the shine off.

However, I still recommend it. Despite its tiny imperfections, it’s a gorgeous book, and the subject matter is well worth your time.

Note: I received this book from the publisher. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.
225 reviews3 followers
December 22, 2016
Wow...just wow! I'm stunned by how good this book is. I just finished it and am still breathless over the ending. How is it that I've never heard of this author before? I will definitely seek out her works in the future.
The protagonist, Rachel, is born and raised in a huge farming/ranching estate far out in the wilds of Kenya with her mother and father and a number of African servants. At the age of 12, her beloved mother dies, and she is sent to boarding school in England, their country of origin, where she feels rejected and miserable, longing to be back in Kenya. Six years later, she returns to Kenya to find a very different world from the one she remembered.
Her father now has a common law wife, who is deeply unhappy with her life, and who makes everyone else miserable as well. She wants nothing to do with Rachel, and makes that clear to her. Her father repeatedly takes the side of this petty and mean woman over Rachel's interests, leaving Rachel feeling betrayed and unloved.
Politically, the idyllic world she remembers has changed as well. There is an uprising of Africans demanding more rights, and independence from England. Many Kenyans, having fought in WWII, and having seen more of the outside world, have a new perspective on the situation in their country and no longer believe that the British are superior, or deserve to treat them in a condescending, controlling way. There is a militant, and often violent faction, called the Mau Mau, that gains increasing power. They terrorize the countryside, attacking both British settlers, and any Africans who refuse to join them.
Rachel is caught up in this turmoil, and feels conflicted because she has a close relationship with many Africans she has known all her life. She becomes increasingly aware that much of what she has been taught about the British rule in Kenya is untrue, a fabrication to justify their continued occupation.
So much happens, but I will not spoil it for you. There is a love story, a menacing villain, and a thrilling escape scene. I found it absolutely riveting; an exhilarating ride through a fascinating time and place with intriguing, complex characters. I highly recommend it.
Note: I received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Renita D'Silva.
Author 11 books322 followers
July 26, 2017
Loved this beautiful book. A beautifully written, poignant tale of love and war and prejudice and courage. Adored it.
154 reviews4 followers
January 4, 2017
This is a very complex historical novel that follows Rachel, a British girl who grew up in Kenya and is returning to after six years. Rachel's mother passed away shortly before she traveled to England to live with her grandparents and attend boarding school and her father has moved in with a very controlling and bigoted woman, Sara. As Rachel tries to get along with Sara and Sara's son, threats arise over a resistance movement, the Mau Mau. The British see the Mau Mau as indiscriminate killers but the Mau Mau demand that the country of Kenya be returned to them. Rachel begins to have conversations with her old tutor, Michael, who is a native Kenyan and begins to understand that the political situation in Kenya is not a simple matter.

I found that I could not put this book down. The author describes everything so eloquently and with so much detail that I felt like I was a part of the story. I was hooked from the very first chapter. The complexity of the characters and the story made the story a very enjoyable read even with the emotional nature of the story. This is also a very important read with a lot of information about a historical moment in world history.
Profile Image for Tripfiction.
1,579 reviews194 followers
May 24, 2017
Novel set in 1952 KENYA

This review originally appeared on our blog, where the author also talks about her research of setting: http://www.tripfiction.com/novel-set-...

Jennifer McVeigh came to prominence with her first book, The Fever Tree, set in 1880s South Africa, which was picked for the Richard and Judy bookclub, garnering a lot of high starred reviews.

Leopard at the Door is set in 1952 Kenya, when the white settlers and their way of life are facing growing resistance from the local population. But even amongst the indiginous Kenyans there are diverse factions, the most extreme being the Mau Mau insurgents who, it seems, will go to any length to disrupt and intimidate the white rulers. India gained independence a few years previously, Kenya now, in the 1950s – at the very time Queen Elisabeth II is ascending the throne – is heading that way and the writing is on the wall for those who choose to see it. It is a tough place, it has always been demanding of the settlers: “men who haven’t lived in Kenya cannot know what it asks of you..”

Rachel has been away for some six years, at boarding school in the UK following the death of her mother. She returns to her beloved homeland, where she is searching for the connection to family life that was so cruelly cut short. Her dog is still there, the servants are still in post, but her father has omitted to share with her that he has a new woman by his side, who has brought her son Harold with her into the relationship. The set-up feels so familiar to her in many ways yet profoundly unsettling in others.

From her memory she dredges an incident from her childhood that comes to haunt her throughout the story. The author does not stint on descriptions of the utter cruelty and madness that was rife during this period, both to humans and animals, and through her excellent prose draws a crackling and credible story of the last days of empire.

The author is masterful at creating characters within a very well described setting – both politically and environmentally. Kenya of the time feels very real. It is the pathos of the story unfolding that kept me absolutely hooked in, and without doubt this is one of my top reads 2017. Highly recommended. The recommendation does come with a warning, the levels of violence described are quite disturbing, although I am sure reflect things as they were.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,393 reviews2,387 followers
July 26, 2017
3.5 stars

Firstly, McVeigh writes lovely, fluent prose and her descriptions, especially, flow off the page. This book is also well-researched enough to be attentive to the disproportionate numbers killed on both sides in the Mau Mau rebellion.

That said, the book overall has a YA feel to it with its naive first person narrator (writing in the present tense), the predictability of the plot arc, and the thinness of characterisation - the wicked step-mother with her crude, racist views; the sadistic British officer who is not just a murderer of Africans but also a wannabe-rapist.

Rachel herself, the 18-year old narrator, is cloyingly naive and generally passive - and extraordinarily ill-informed about African politics for someone born in Kenya: "But the Europeans didn't steal their land. There was no-one at Kisima when my father came."

Much of the politicised content is delivered via the voice of Michael who gives some fascinating (but clumsily-inserted) 'lectures' on African politics and economics, as well as the experience of a black Kenyan who fought for the British Army in Burma during WW2. It's typical of Rachel's naivety that when he attempts to show her that British press reports might not be the whole truth, she refuses to accept it:

'I disagree with this paper's refusal to present the political narrative that explains what took place; I disagree with your assumption that what you read here is the whole truth.' He points to the newspaper. 'What it doesn't say is that the government retaliated that night, killing twice as many in the reserves; women and children, with equal brutality.'
'How do you know?'
'Men have legitimate voices, even if they are not sanctioned by your press.'
'I do not believe you,' I say.

The crossing-the-tracks love affair feels both clichéd and also extremely unlikely (how old is Michael if he taught her as a child?), and the Gothic development at the end feels like it's been parachuted in from a Victorian novel...

For all my misgivings, McVeigh has a good story to tell and lovely prose to tell it with: a more sophisticated and complex approach to characterisation would have made this a better book that felt less YA and more adult: 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

Thanks to Penguin for an ARC via NetGalley.

Profile Image for Eileen.
427 reviews78 followers
November 27, 2017
A departure from my usual fare, this historical fiction set in Kenya during the 1950’s was fascinating! The writing was superb, both with regard to plot and description. Rachel, who had lost her mother when she was twelve, returns to Kenya after completing schooling in London. The author has such a feel for the inherent contrasts, the fierce beauty and also the savagery of the land, coupled with evidence of heart stopping brutality by some of the natives, which is frequently offset by the genuine kindness of others. Here is a passage illustrating the author’s keen awareness..

‘The forest is behind me, breathing its tapestry of sound. And then – like a radio being switched off – it falls silent. A chill flickers down my spine. Juno stiffens beside me and I put a hand on her neck to keep her quiet. In all the years I have been away, I have not forgotten the language of the bush – the chatter of birds when an eagle is near, the slow cracking of branches which heralds the approach of elephant, the low snort of a buffalo. But this sudden silence means one thing – a predator’.

Various themes combine to produce a satisfying, enlightening tale. The British class system and the threat of the Mau Mau, a secret society which encourages mounting resentment among the natives, together with the challenges of living in such a harsh environment, provide a vivid backdrop. Although a young woman when she returns to Kenya, Rachel is still grieving for her mother, as she strives to recapture her remembered happiness there - an effort repeatedly thwarted by her father’s new companion. In addition, a forbidden love sends strong currents through the plot, and the compelling nature of the attraction is convincingly rendered!

‘My heart thuds in my chest. I cannot smile back. Desire is like pain. I feel as though the surface of my skin has been peeled off. Every part of me is raw to his touch. It hurts, and the anticipation of the hurt is almost greater than the touch.’

It was difficult to put this down! Highly readable. Five stars.
Profile Image for Linda Robinson.
Author 4 books133 followers
April 18, 2017
The setting is the star in this novel; the lighting, sounds, weather and beauty of Kenya. All the prose devoted to the scene is stellar. The characters are another story. Our shero is returning to Africa at the age of 18, having been banished to her grandparents in England when her mother died six years before. Rachel Fullsmith returns to Africa against the wishes of her father. Or was it Sara, the usurper, who does not want her on the farm? Rachel returns in 1952 to turbulent times. British rule is strangling the people. Mau Mau are violently recruiting; and white colonial authority is responding as it usually does: brutal and fast. Jomo Kenyatta has a brief role as a defendant in a British court case. Rachel's father is a weak man, the local constabulary ditto. Rachel is naive, bordering on stupid and that is a challenge to an engaging read of this otherwise good book. Sara is brittle, conniving and entitled which doesn't make for a functioning adult female to balance the immaturity of Rachel. Michael is a good balance to the weakness of the other men in the novel: strong and conflicted. McVeigh loves Africa. That love is the grace of this book.
Profile Image for Tanja Berg.
1,833 reviews411 followers
March 12, 2017
Rachel is returning to Kenya after having spent six years in England with her grand parents, having been left there at 12 years old after her mother died. It's the 1950's and the times are troubled. Rachel's father has found a new woman, Sara. They are not married. Rachel struggles to get along with Sara. She also struggles with the attitudes of the time.

Trouble is brewing and there is an uprising by the Mau Mau. British settlers are being murdered. Whom does the land really belong to? The usurpers or the natives? It's not straight forward. Rachel has strong native-African sympathies, which rankles Sara.

The book covers events and times of which I know absolutely nothing from before. What I do know is that when the main character has a strong bond with a dog - in this case Juno - that is usually bad news for the latter. Nonetheless, I found this a refreshing, exciting and, at points, deeply unsettling. Definitely worth reading.
Profile Image for Quirkyreader.
1,505 reviews43 followers
November 19, 2016
First off, I received this as an ARC from Penguin. Oh my is this a very moving story. It's like "The Flame Trees of Thika" on steroids. It is set just after World War Two. When Rachel, the main character first arrives back home in Kenya, the person who drives her home eludes to the Happy Valley set. And if anyone has read "White Mischeif" you know what the set is.

Rachel tries to restart her life back home, but her father is involved with a woman from the Happy Valley set. What happens next is an emotional roller coaster and I'm glad that I was reading along and enjoying the ride.

When this book comes out do your best to find it and read it.
Profile Image for Alena.
848 reviews219 followers
November 25, 2017
This was a really interesting read. I haven't read much based in 1950s Kenya so I found the backdrop engaging and the action moved swiftly, keeping me turning the pages. Unfortunately, it's also a case of an author trying to do to much. The main drama of a young woman on the wrong side of history would have been enough for me. I didn't need all the (many) side dramas.
Profile Image for Story.
856 reviews4 followers
January 6, 2019
Engaging story with an excellent sense of place--the reader can feel, see and smell the beauty of Kenya from the author's descriptions--and a heroine to root for. My only quibble was that I found the plot fairly predictable.
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