1 Dec 2016

(A GREGOR REINHERDT NOVEL #3): THE ASHES OF BERLIN.

THE ASHES OF BERLIN (Published in the US as The Divided City) by LUKE McCALLIN.

PRESS RELEASE BLURB: World War II is over, and former German intelligence officer Captain Gregor Reinherdt has returned to Berlin. He's about to find that bloodshed has not ended - and that for some, death is better than defeat.

A year after Germany's defeat, Reinhardt has been hired back onto Berlin s civilian police force. The city is divided among the victorious allied powers, but tensions are growing, and the police are riven by internal rivalries as factions within it jockey for power and influence with Berlin's new masters.

When a man is found slain in a broken-down tenement, Reinherdt embarks on a gruesome investigation. It seems a serial killer is on the loose, and matters only escalate when it's discovered that one of the victim's was the brother of a Nazi scientist.

Reinhardt's search for the truth takes him across the divided city and soon embroils him in a plot involving the Western Allies and the Soviets. And as he comes under the scrutiny of a group of Germans who want to continue the war – and faces an unwanted reminder from his own past – Reinhardt realises that this investigation could cost him everything as he pursues a killer who believes that all wrongs must be avenged... 

FIRST SENTENCE {Part One: How Happy the Dead; Chapter 1: Berlin, Early 1947: Monday}: Reinherdt had come to prefer the nights.

MEMORABLE MOMENT {Page 38/39}: Reinherdt was plunged into darkness. He felt a moment of apprehension as the rubble seemed to come alive with sounds, small sounds, the whisper of little feet, a low snatch of words. Children they were, and he always wished more could be done for them - even if most of them wanted wanted nothing to do with people like him and this new world, and, really who could blame him for that - but they could be menacing on their own ground, very dangerous if they felt themselves provoked or threatened. 

SOURCE: A paper back copy received from Real Readers powered by nudge. Published by No Exit Press, The Ashes Of Berlin is not published until the 5th of December 2016.

MY THOUGHTS: Following on from Man From Berlin and The Pale House neither of which I've read. Though slowly revealed, eventually there was enough background information on Reinherdt to make me feel that I knew enough of him as a character and then, of course, a different case to be solved, meant that this worked well enough as a standalone read.

Most certainly not without his issues, a bit of an outsider, a lone wolf if you will - but then aren't all the best detectives? An ex-World War II intelligence officer (I'm reliably informed the first two books deal with his time spent in Intelligence) come police inspector (again) as mistrusted by his colleagues as he is mistrusting of them. In short, a highly engaging and readable character. 

Set in a country ravaged, its citizens impoverished, its children orphans, its newly re-formed police force vying for control of the streets. With most novels of this genre set in war torn Germany it was refreshing to read one set post-war.

Though with a plot I initially found rather meandering, it turned out there were twists and turns aplenty (if your anything like me the whodunit revelation will come as a surprise), the author doing an admirable job creating tension. My only criticism, slight as it might be. The narrative at times was what I thought of as stilted, some of the descriptions - 'a narrow lady', a man described as being 'all curves' whilst perfectly acceptable, unusual. Still, all in all, an enjoyable read that may well be worth a look should you be after a Police Procedural that is that bit different.


29 Nov 2016

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.

Hurrah! The third of this years challenges completed. A book I had read previously though declined to re-read when it was recently chosen as a reading group read ... where incidentally it was one of the most talked about books we have ever read. I have however decided on it as my last book for the 2016 Reading Challenge: 'A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller' category. 


WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN by LIONEL SHRIVER.

AMAZON.CO.UK BLURB: Eva never really wanted to be a mother; certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher who tried to befriend him. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her absent husband, Franklyn. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.

SOURCE: A friend's copy. Unfortunately I returned the book before making a note of the First Sentence or my MEMORABLE MOMENT.

MY THOUGHTS: First read when it was first published or thereabouts. I couldn't remember much about the book though a sense of how harrowing I thought it prevailed. Would I find it any less harrowing twelve or so years on?

Yes and no.

OK so it could be argued that any writer who is able to provoke such strong reactions in their readers is a good writer and yet, surely equally valid, is the argument that not necessarily a good writer so much as a writer who knows the value of the shock factor and, if nothing else, We Need To Talk About Kevin is high on the shock factor.

Having done her homework as far as the psychological aspect goes and obviously having put her thesaurus to good use if the number of 'unnecessary' words is anything to go by, alas I found the narrative horribly pretentious. The decision to have the main character communicate via endless letters to her ex-husband not a tactic that I felt worked .. but then its no secret that I'm not a big fan of this format.

Not characters I could ever see myself liking but I had expected to have had at least an inkling of empathy towards Kevin and his (un-diagnosed condition) or, indeed, his mom and yet I found myself feeling little aside from the abiding thought that it was a pity that it came across that Ms Shriver herself cared little for her characters or their plight, seeming to rely on the shock factor.


28 Nov 2016

WHISPERS THROUGH A MEGAPHONE.


WHISPERS THROUGH A MEGAPHONE by RACHEL ELLIOT.

BACK COVER BLURB (Contains what might be considered spoilers. Simply hi-light the text to view the full synopsis. TT): 'Testing, testing. This is Miriam Delaney. Is anyone out there?'

Miriam hasn't left her house in three years, and cannot raise her voice above a whisper. She still lives in the shadow of her dead mother... But today she has had enough, and is finally ready to rejoin the outside world.

Meanwhile, Ralph has made the mistake of opening a closet door, only to discover that his wife Sadie doesn't love him... And so he decides to leave his home.

Miriam and Ralph's chance meeting in a wood during a summer storm leads to an unusual friendship, and quirky twists. Rachel Elliott's loveable characters confront the hardest things in life with delicious humour and steady courage. Because sometimes, our over-connected world can seem too much for just one person...

FIRST SENTENCE {1: The Superabundant Outside World}:  Miriam Delaney sits at her kitchen table and watches the radio.

MEMORABLE MOMENT {Page 178/79}: The effort of thinking makes him belch again, which seems to release the word from its hiding place. (Imagine what would happen if neuroscientists discovered a connection between semantic memory and burping.

SOURCE: A blog win courtesy of Charlie over at The Worm Hole. You can read her thoughts on the book here.

MY THOUGHTS: Hmm! Trying to make sense of the jumble of thoughts I have about this novel. 

The story of Miriam, Ralph and what happened when they chanced upon each other. 

The formative chapters clever, whimsical and somewhat bleak albeit a bleakness tinged with a subtle and yet dark humour. The latter chapters (and the ending in particular) .... perplexing and ultimately unsatisfying. 

A book I have thought lots about since reading it. It's just a shame that it hasn't clarified my thoughts on just how to rate it, hence what I, in this instance, consider my 'default' rating of 'It was Ok'.

Perhaps there was simply too much going on. Miriam's relationship with her mother, her neighbour and Ralph. Ralph's relationship with his wife, Sadie, their sons and Miriam. Sadie's relationship with Ralph, Twitter (alas I found her 'tweets' intensely distracting) and her friend(s)-come-possible-love interest(s). The list goes on.

Perhaps the author invested too much of her background as a psychotherapist. I certainly felt increasingly irritated by what felt like her conclusion that 'this' is what happens when a child is raised by a mentally unstable parent. 

What I do know is that not all of the characters behaviour was plausible (but then that's humans and poetical licence for you). That sometimes, and I know this is going to sound rather strange, for all her mental instability, it was Miriam's mother's behaviour that made more sense, was more believable than that of some of the other characters. That come the end of the book I was left with a strong feeling that I had missed something essential, something that would have made sense of the ending.

Each to their own. Effectively whilst there was much to recommend Whispers Through The Megaphone - not least of which was the sense of hope that prevailed throughout - ultimately it wasn't altogether a read for me.

23 Nov 2016

IN A LAND OF PAPER GODS.

IN A LAND OF PAPER GODS by  REBECCA MACKENZIE.

BACK COVER BLURB: Jiangxi Province, China, 1941. Atop the fabled mountain of Lushan perches a boarding school for the children of British missionaries. While her parents pursue their calling, ten-year-old Henrietta S. Robertson discovers that she, too, has been singled out by the Lord.

As Japanese invaders draw closer, Etta and her dorm mates retreat into a world where boundaries between make believe and reality become dangerously blurred. So begins a remarkable journey, through a mystical landscape and to the heart of a war.

FIRST SENTENCE: My name is Henrietta S. Robertson

MEMORABLE MOMENT {Page 133}: 'If God is so good, then why do I feel so lonely?'

We began one of our lists. 'You're not lonely, you've got us.' We all piled on her bed now. We spoke as one. 'You've got God, your mother and father who are Christians, a school with Aunty Muriel and us.'

'And a brassiere,' said Fiona, who would know because they shared a cupboard.

SOURCE: A reading group read.

MY THOUGHTS: An enjoyable enough read in so far as, whilst hopefully less shallow, I saw much of my younger self in the highly imaginative ten year old daydreamer, Etta. However, overall ....

I found the novel slow. So slow that at times I found myself wondering not only just where the plot was going but if it was going anywhere at all.

Oddly tame, what I can only describe as sanitised, Tenko it wasn't. Even the 'harrowing' bits of the book (which I won't go into in detail here for fear of spoilers but suffice to say part the latter chapters of the book are set in a prisoner of war camp) were, well, unbelievably civilised. 

What could have been a great exploration into the various relationships - that between the children themselves, the children and the 'native staff', the children and their parents. A missed opportunity in my opinion. The fact that here were a group of 'Christian' children who to all intents and purposes were sent away by their missionary parents intent on converting the natives whilst always present was largely lacking in poignancy, apart from the fact that Etta would not recognise her parents if it weren't for the photograph by her bed and one all to brief episode involving a visit by a parent the author somehow failing to convey how painful it must have been.

A debut novel. Whilst In A Land Of Paper Gods wan't altogether a hit with me, beautifully descriptive, I'd be interested to see what else Rebecca Mackenzie is capable of.