Book Review: The Unchangeable Spots Of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

 

There are very few books that I want to read again immediately after turning the last page. That’s exactly how I felt after I finished reading  The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma. I was hooked from the opening paragraph. My friends even warned me the novel would be a wild ride.

I usually write my own synopsis for each book I review but I doubt I can do it justice, so here’s what the book blurb tells us:

From as early as he can remember, the hopelessly unreliable—yet hopelessly earnest—narrator of this ambitious debut novel has wanted to become a writer.

From the jazz clubs of Manhattan to the villages of Sri Lanka, Kristopher Jansma’s irresistible narrator will be inspired and haunted by the success of his greatest friend and rival in writing, the eccentric and brilliantly talented Julian McGann, and endlessly enamored with Julian’s enchanting friend, Evelyn, the green-eyed girl who got away. After the trio has a disastrous falling out, desperate to tell the truth in his writing and to figure out who he really is, Jansma’s narrator finds himself caught in a never-ending web of lies.

Right away, we learn that our narrator will be unreliable; we cannot trust everything he tells us. Still I cannot resist the way he tells the truth, but “with slant,” as he is taught in his college writing class.  Personally, I’m not a fan of unreliable narrators in my books, but I felt challenged after reading  the Author’s Note. It’s as if he dares us to call him a liar. Dares the reader to find the discrepancies throughout his pages over which he’s toiled.

So I read each chapter, knowing full well it is full of half truths, yet I’m sure I can decipher the truths. Each chapter throws me in a new setting of new slants and disarms me with this new and semi-improved version of the narrator. As soon as I settle into the chapter, I realize, Hey, this character has a new name, new history but the same heartache as the previous chapter. . . I want to read it again, slowlier this time so I can connect the dots. I’m not sure if it’s even possible, but I’m sure going to enjoy trying.

I’m sorry for such a vague review, but I don’t want to give anything away. You have to discover it yourself.

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma will take you on a wild ride and leave you begging to jump back on for more.

Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a copy of Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli. It ends May 15.

I received a review copy of the novel. This post contains affiliate links.

May Book Club: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

 A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Before I read our May book club selection A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, I never gave Chechnya a second thought. Bad American, I know. Recently war torn country has been mentioned in the news quite often because of the recent tragedy in Boston. I read this book months before recent events.

As someone who only knew of Chechnya as a name on a map, author Marra brought the country’s people to life. Lives of people I never even considered or thought about until I cracked open his novel. Here’s the blurb for the novel:

In his brilliant, haunting novel, Stegner Fellow and Whiting Award winner Anthony Marra transports us to a snow-covered village in Chechnya, where eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night, accusing him of aiding Chechen rebels. Across the road their lifelong neighbor and family friend Akhmed has also been watching, fearing the worst when the soldiers set fire to Havaa’s house. But when he finds her hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded.

For the talented, tough-minded Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. And she has a deeply personal reason for caution: harboring these refugees could easily jeopardize the return of her missing sister. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weave together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.

 

The novel is not about life in Chechnya, but how strangers bond over challenging times. Join me and From Left to Write members in reading A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Then come back on May 20th as we discuss the novel.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is currently available for pre-order and will be released on May 7. Don’t forget to follow Anthony Marra on Twitter.

What I’m Reading Now

Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli

Sweet Tea Revenge by Laura Childs

I broke my no books from the library rule last week and borrowed a book for me. The kids had their piles of picture books (which can get heavy!). On my way to the checkout station, I spotted Laura Childs’ latest Tea Shop Mystery: Sweet Tea Revenge. Her Tea Shop Mysteries are one of my favorite cozy series. “m sure our amateur detective Theodosia Browning will be up to her shenanigans in order to solve the murder. I’m looking forward to diving in!

Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli

Last night I read the first 5 pages of Glow a novel by Jessica Maria Tuccelli. If the first 5 pages is any indication of how good a book it, I knew I was in for a sleepless night of frantic reading. So I forced myself to put it down. Also, the book cover is gorgeous? Yes, I do sometimes judge books by their cover.

Here’s the publisher’s description of Glow:

In the autumn of 1941, Amelia J. McGee, a young woman of Cherokee and Scotch-Irish descent, and an outspoken pamphleteer for the NAACP, hastily sends her daughter, Ella, alone on a bus home to Georgia in the middle of the night—a desperate measure that proves calamitous when the child encounters two drifters and is left for dead on the side of the road.

Ella awakens in the homestead of Willie Mae Cotton, a wise root doctor and former slave, and her partner, Mary-Mary Freeborn, tucked deep in the Takatoka Forest. As Ella heals, the secrets of her lineage are revealed.

Shot through with Cherokee lore and hoodoo conjuring, Glow transports us from Washington, D.C., on the brink of World War II to the Blue Ridge frontier of 1836, from the parlors of antebellum manses to the plantation kitchens where girls are raised by women who stand in as mothers. As the land with all its promise and turmoil passes from one generation to the next, Ella’s ancestral home turns from safe haven to mayhem and back again.

As a mother of biracial children, this portrayal of race relations in this period of American history intrigues me. Perhaps we have not come s far along in that department?

Stay tuned for a review and giveaway of Glow!

What’s on your list this week?

 

Book Review: The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

Every good book has a point of no return. It’s when the story becomes so engrossing, when the characters start living and breathing in your imagination, and when you can see their pain as well as your best friend’s longing. Last night I reached the point of no return for The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison. It was 1AM, but I kept reading. I could not stop until I was sure that my new friends, the novel’s characters, ached no more. Or ached less.

In The Banks of Certain Rivers, our narrator and protagonist Neil Kazenzakis is trying  to return to his normal life after a tragic accident left his wife “profoundly disabled” (according to the book description-I don’t want to give any spoilers about the accident). He’s popular high school physics teacher as well as coach for the girls cross country track team. He’s also secretly seeing his elderly mother-in-law’s home care nurse. On the surface it looks like everything is under control, but slowly Neil’s life starts to unravel. A video of him assaulting a student appears on YouTube and threatens his job, his reputation, and worse yet, his ability to provide care for his wife.

As Harrison introduces each pivotal character in his novel, he offers readers little tidbits of Neil’s past so we can learn how he becomes the person the we currently see.  The transitions to Neil’s past are triggered by a stray cat, seeing student in the hallway, and even a bottle of whisky. Some novels quickly jerk you into the past and then back to the present, but not here. It feels natural and gentle, just as if I were in Neil’s shoes.

While the story of the YouTube video and Neil’s secret relationship with Lauren intensifies our protagonist’s story, it’s the relationships between the characters that draw you in. The father-son dynamic is honest and, at times, raw. Neil’s best friend Alan keeps him on the straight path. The two would do anything for each other. Relationships with old friends are prodded and poked, hoping to revive them. Neil’s emails to his wife reveal secrets yet he keeps secrets from her as well.

The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison is beautifully written and will capture your heart. It’s currently available on as an ebook on Kindle . It’s free to borrow for Prime members.

For more about Jon Harrison, visit his website.

I received a copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own.

Book Club Day: The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam

Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam

America started because people left their country to seek a better life. While Vietnam might not be a Westerner’s vision of prosperity and success, it was the land of dreams for Percival, the headmaster in Vincent Lam’s  The Headmaster’s Wager (Hogarth).  Percival’s father left China for Vietnam to earn money for his family and Percival followed suit.

From Left to Write book club members have read the book together and today we discuss expats, money, sacrifice and more:

I hope you’ll visit our members’ posts and join in on the discussion.

Don’t forget to grab your copy of The Headmaster’s Wager. We’d love to hear your thoughts! You can follow author Vincent Lam by visiting his websiteFacebook orTwitter.

November Book Club Announcement: The Headmaster’s Wager

Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam

Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam

A new month means a new book club feature for From Left to Write. In November we are reading Vincent Lam’s lastest novel, The Headmaster’s Wager (Hogarth). We’re doing a bit of arm chair traveling as Lam whisks readers to Vietnam, specifically to Saigon in the 1960s. Inspired by his grandfather’s actual English academy during the same setting, Lam deftly creates Percival, a Chinese man living in Vietnam.

Here’s more about the novel:

Percival Chen is the headmaster of the most respected English academy in 1960s Saigon, and he is well accustomed to bribing a forever-changing list of government officials in order to maintain the elite status of his school. Fiercely proud of his Chinese heritage, he is quick to spot the business opportunities rife in a divided country, though he also harbors a weakness for gambling haunts and the women who frequent them. He devotedly ignores all news of the fighting that swirls around him, but when his only son gets in trouble with the Vietnamese authorities, Percival faces the limits of his connections and wealth and is forced to send him away.

In the loneliness that follows, Percival finds solace in Jacqueline, a beautiful woman of mixed French and Vietnamese heritage whom he is able to confide in. But Percival’s new-found happiness is precarious, and as the complexities of war encroach further into his world, he must confront the tragedy of all he has refused to see.

Grab your copy of The Headmaster’s Wager  now and join us on November 16 as we discuss the novel!

In the meantime, you can follow author Vincent Lam by visiting his website, Facebook or Twitter.