ARC REVIEW: The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter – by Julia Drosten

Title: The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter
Author: Julia Drosten
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: August 8th 2016
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Finished reading: March 26th 2018
Pages: 295
(Originally written in German: ‘Die Elefantenhüterin’)

“Sometimes it’s very hard not to follow the path of revenge.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and AmazonCrossing in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I have a weak spot for historical fiction, especially if they are set in an era or country I’m not all that familiar with. I was instantly intrigued when I first read about The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter, with its promises of a country/culture I don’t know much about as well as the era the story takes place. The 19th century history of Ceylon (now called Scri Lanka) is a fascinating background for this story and the descriptions of both the country itself and the customs and culture are lavishly and thoroughly described. It is really easy to imagine how Ceylon would have looked like from the descriptions alone! And it also shows the background for this story was very well researched and put together. Sadly, somehow I didn’t manage to get a proper feel for The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter though. While I love thorough descriptions, especially of places that are foreign to me, I started to wonder about the balance of those descriptions and the actual plot. It is true that the descriptions help set the right atmosphere and foreign setting/era, but they also slowed down the pace considerably. And not just the pace, because I also felt the transition from background descriptions to the more active parts was quite haltered and as a consequence the story didn’t really flow. I can’t put my finger on the why exactly, but I think my mixed feelings had a lot to do with the general tone and writing style as well. Both seemed distant and not natural, and the second especially stood out in the dialogues. And in general, even though they story describes some pretty barbaric events, it doesn’t seem to be able to provoke true emotions due to this feeling of distance. The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter has a lot of potential and the main characters have an interesting story, but sadly I wasn’t able to enjoy this story better. I’m still wondering if part of my problem with the tone and writing style could have been due to the fact this novel is a translation though, and some of its original charm might have been lost.

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In the royal city of Kandy, the king’s elephant keeper’s wife gives birth to a daughter the same day the king’s favorite elephant gives birth to her young. The couple was desperate for a boy to ensure the line of succession, and the mother hides her daughter’s gender by raising her as a boy. Phera and her elephant Siddhi become close friends and spends most of her time with the animal. Phera realizes she is not like other boys, but her parents force her to keep her true gender a secret… Until the British colonists invade Ceylon and they have to flee the capital.

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I really wanted to like this one and I still think the plot itself has a lot of potential. The worldbuilding and descriptions of the era and setting are thorough and it shows the background of The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter was very well researched. Sadly, I’m still on the fence about this one, as I didn’t manage to enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Part of the problem was the tone and writing style as well as the fact the story didn’t really flow… Which made it hard to properly connect to the story. The setting is fascinating though as well as the time period the story is set in with its consequences of the British invasion.


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BOOK REVIEW: Little Women – by Louisa May Alcott

Title: Little Women
(Little Women #1)
Author: Louisa May Alcott

Genre: Classics, YA, Contemporary
First published: September 30th 1868
Finished reading: June 30th 2017
Pages: 284

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

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Looks like it’s ‘unpopular opinion’ time again! I really wanted to love this classic, but I found myself not enjoying it nearly as much as I thought I would instead. After a little investigation (and help from fellow book bloggers), I now understand that Little Women actually has two different parts, the second part written one year after the original story and also published separately under the name Good Wives. The kindle version I have does include both parts, but after long deliberation I have decided not to continue with it. Why? Even though I really wanted to enjoy this classic, I had a hard time reading it and it took me ages just to finish the first part. I’m not saying Little Women is a bad read, just that it either wasn’t the right time or simply just not for me. And since I have read quite a few negative reviews about Good Wives in the first place, I’m just not up for another struggle. I can’t deny it’s a very well written story and I can see why so many people actually love it. I might actually have enjoyed Little Women a lot better if I would have read it 15-20 years ago… But right now the story unfortunately didn’t appeal to me. I was surprised I found myself unable to truly connect to the characters and it took me weeks and finally reading one chapter at the time just to make it to the end of Part One. This is most definitely me and not this classic, but still… Not a very pleasant reading experience. So I’m sorry to all of those who call this classic their favorite! Trust me, I’ve REALLY tried to love Little Women.

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Little Women is the story of four sisters trying to continue with their lives after their father has gone to war. Jo, Meg, Bath and Amy March are young ladies growing up and their different personalities clash at times, but they all want to do their best helping their mother to keep things running smoothly at home. It’s a coming of age story filled with daily situations, friendship, struggles and life lessons.

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Like I said before, I feel actually quite bad I wasn’t able to enjoy Little Women better. I had really high hopes for this classic, but I found myself struggling to continue instead. This is definitely me and not the story, because I could see Little Women was well written as well as its appeal to many readers. I guess I just wasn’t one of them in the end. I don’t think I will ever read the second part, but I’m glad I at least now know what everybody is talking about when they mention this classic.


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BOOK REVIEW: Portrait Of A Killer – by Patricia Cornwell

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Title: Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper – Case Closed
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Genre: History, Non Fiction, True Crime
First published: 2002
Finished Reading: June 12th 2014
Pages: 383
Rating 2,5

“And suddenly the world was filled with wooden faces and flat voices – and, you were alone.”

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I have to admit that before I started reading Portrait Of A KillerI didn’t know much more about the Jack The Ripper case other than that he was quite a violent serial killer and mostly attacked prostitutes. It is also the first time I’ve read something by Patricia Cornwell, and I have the feeling this nonfiction investigation of the 19th century killer didn’t show me a complete image of Cornwell as a writer. Although the story started interesting, I soon started wondering whether the subtitle Jack The Ripper – Case Closed would have been a bit of an exaggeration. I couldn’t help but feel the evidence she presented was mostly circumstantial and the explanations sometimes quite shaky while she was trying to convince the reader the true identity of Jack The Ripper: a famous painter called Walter Sickert. Cornwell used modern technology when trying to find more physical evidence to build her case, but most results came back inconclusive. And after finishing Portrait Of A Killer, I don’t think Walter Sickert would have ever been convicted of the murders if she presented the case as described in her book to court. Yet another big Ha Ha from our fiend Jack The Ripper…

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The story about the life in Victorian England and France itself was quite interesting. Cornwell was able to give us an insight into the life as it would have been like during the 19th century. In describing the lives of Sickert, the various victims and the cops trying to find the killer, we were able to see how different social classes lived before, during and after the killings taking place in 1888-1889. The killings are brutal and close to butchery, and it is scary to even think that a human being would be able to afflict that kind of damage without feeling remorse. But then again, Jack The Ripper was nothing less than a monster, although a brilliant one.

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I just wished Cornwell would have kept her opinion slightly to herself instead of trying to force the identity of Jack The Ripper on us. Sure, after all she told about Walter Sickert he definitely looks suspicious. But without accompanying evidence, her claim of whodunnit for me wasn’t rightfully made. Or at least not when selling the book as a nonfiction investigation. Sickert might have done it, but the facts are more than a hunderd years old, and for now there is no way to be certain. I would go for reasonable doubt, not case closed.

If you want to learn a bit more of the lives of the victims and Walter Sickert, this still might be an interesting read. Just beware of the circumstancial evidence and be sure to regularly take a step back and look critically at the conclusions Cornwell draws. I don’t think this was the best example of her work though. I will be reading one of the Kay Scarpetta novels by the same author lined up in my TBR list in the near future so I can see what her fiction writing is like. As for Portrait Of A Killer, for me it’s book closed and locked away…