Friday, February 23, 2018

Review: The Bookworm

Title: The Bookworm
Author: Mitch Silver
Publisher: 6th February 2018 by Pegasus Books
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, fiction, thriller, World War II
My Rating: 3 cups

Why did Hitler chose not to invade England when he had the chance?
Europe, 1940: It’s late summer and Belgium has been overrun by the German army. Posing as a friar, a British operative talks his way into the monastery at Villers-devant-Orval just before Nazi art thieves plan to sweep through the area and whisk everything of value back to Berlin. But the ersatz man of the cloth is no thief. Instead, that night he adds an old leather Bible to the monastery’s library and then escapes.
London, 2017: A construction worker operating a backhoe makes a grisly discovery—a skeletal arm-bone with a rusty handcuff attached to the wrist. Was this the site, as a BBC newsreader speculates, of “a long-forgotten prison, uncharted on any map?” One viewer knows better: it’s all that remains of a courier who died in a V-2 rocket attack. The woman who will put these two disparate events together—and understand the looming tragedy she must hurry to prevent—is Russian historian and former Soviet chess champion Larissa Mendelovg Klimt, “Lara the Bookworm,” to her friends. She’s also experiencing some woeful marital troubles.
In the course of this riveting thriller, Lara will learn the significance of six musty Dictaphone cylinders recorded after D-Day by Noel Coward—actor, playwright and, secretly, a British agent reporting directly to Winston Churchill. She will understand precisely why that leather Bible, scooped up by the Nazis and deposited on the desk of Adolf Hitler days before he planned to attack Britain, played such a pivotal role in turning his guns to the East. And she will discover the new secret pact negotiated by the nefarious Russian president and his newly elected American counterpart—maverick and dealmaker—and the evil it portends.
My Thoughts

This book promised a lot with a forged document from World War II and its implications in a present day oil price fixing scheme between powerful countries. Therein lies the issue - whilst clever, it did perhaps try to undertake too much for the one book. Without a doubt, it is a fascinating concept but overall due to the intricate complications, there just lacked a greater depth to both characters and subplots. Towards the end there was a lot of action but it all seemed to come together a little too neatly. I also found the short, sharp chapters did nothing to help in the required elaborations.

Present day figures of American and Russian leaders were easy to recognise, as with the historical figures ranging from Churchill to Kennedy. The conspiracy theory is quite involved with a young JFK suggesting a war on both fronts, to present day oil dealings - be prepared to go with the outrageous ideas and pay attention as, at times, it gets a bit confusing. Personally, I would have preferred the focus to remain on the British attempt to trick Hitler as that in itself was engaging and to have left out the contemporary political dealings.

So whilst an interesting read it did not strongly deliver. The idea of the forged book was extremely clever - even to have it tied in with a present day unveiling. However, the problem was undertaking too vast an arena of characters and ideas and getting lost in modern day espionage. The Alaskan component, Lara’s brother and even her estranged husband were difficult to understandably incorporate - especially Lara’s final decision which was just utterly ridiculous given her thoughts throughout.

If you are at all interested in past or present espionage and conspiracy theories, then you will find this an engaging read. For me, it just tried to do too much and ended up lacking substance in the necessary areas. Much like Lara, the book was ‘pulled in too many directions’.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review: The Taster

Title: The Taster
Author: V.S. Alexander
Publisher: 30 January 2018 by Kensington Books
Pages: 337 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, world war II
My Rating: 4 cups


Amid the turbulence of World War II, a young German woman finds a precarious haven closer to the source of danger than she ever imagined—one that will propel her through the extremes of privilege and terror under Hitler’s dictatorship . . .

In early 1943, Magda Ritter’s parents send her to relatives in Bavaria, hoping to keep her safe from the Allied bombs strafing Berlin. Young German women are expected to do their duty—working for the Reich or marrying to produce strong, healthy children. After an interview with the civil service, Magda is assigned to the Berghof, Hitler’s mountain retreat. Only after weeks of training does she learn her assignment: she will be one of several young women tasting the Führer’s food, offering herself in sacrifice to keep him from being poisoned.

Perched high in the Bavarian Alps, the Berghof seems worlds away from the realities of battle. Though terrified at first, Magda gradually becomes used to her dangerous occupation—though she knows better than to voice her misgivings about the war. But her love for a conspirator within the SS, and her growing awareness of the Reich’s atrocities, draw Magda into a plot that will test her wits and loyalty in a quest for safety, freedom, and ultimately, vengeance.

Vividly written and ambitious in scope, The Taster examines the harrowing moral dilemmas of war in an emotional story filled with acts of extraordinary courage.

My Thoughts

“You are one of fifteen.”
I shifted in my seat. “Fifteen what?”
“Tasters who work for the Führer at his headquarters.”

Having read a great deal of historical fiction, I had never come across or really thought about this aspect of Hitler and his regime. I was intrigued. Of course I had read of attempts made on Hitler’s life, but never through this means. The author does note that it can be loosely tied into the account of a real life taster that Hitler employed, although it must be stressed, this is a work of fiction. Accounts of the time were kept confidential until the taster was almost 100 years old. Once again, intriguing and most worthy of a book.

Therefore, if you enjoy historical fiction as I do, you will enjoy this tale - a young girl at the height of Hitler’s power, gaining access into Hitler’s inner circle and all the time truly despising the man! It made for an interesting perspective, as those of us on the outside question how so many Germans could seemingly follow such a monster as Hitler was. This sheds light on the fact that perhaps there were those who were not complicit and in fact, tried within the means available to them, to prevent the horror that was unfolding before their eyes.

“We were trapped in a make-believe world propagated by the Reich while all around us battles were being fought, troops slaughtered and innocents butchered.”

The author does an excellent job in detailing the various locations where Hitler stayed - everything from the scenic ‘Berghof ‘to the claustrophobic ‘Wolf’s Lair’. At times it was as if you too were sick of being locked away and the atmospheric setting was successfully conveyed. I found the bombing of Berlin and the Russian invasion of that city in the final throes of war, to be terrifying. A more real tale of destruction could not be found.

“Your mother, who thinks washing dishes is still important while the world burns, believes the Reich will win the war. She has no idea about the rumors that circulate. I fear the worst for us all, Magda. It’s like we live in some manufactured world that’s shrinking day by day. I can feel the walls tumbling on Germany, on Berlin, on us.”

My only fault lay in some of the characters themselves. Magda is an interesting character but I just found that her relationships at times were a little wooden - especially with  her husband Karl. There was just that something lacking - real emotion and depth of feeling - both with concerns to the tragic and romantic. At times I found some relationships, especially with Karl to be artificial and mechanical, no passion and lacking that next level of engagement. One must also allow some fictional leverage in interactions with Hitler and Eva Braun, that at times, I found difficult to allow. More detail with secondary characters such as Karl, Eva and especially Magda’s father, would really have added that compelling ingredient. Still, it made for an interesting story with detail and location compellingly portrayed.

Overall, I would recommend this book - allow a little latitude to some plot developments and wishful of more character development, but on the whole it provided a fresh perspective and a really interesting angle on a well versed topic.

‘Soon I had eaten enough for a meal. “Now what?” I asked Cook. “Now you wait.” She said these words simply and without emotion, as clinically as a heartless physician telling a patient she only had a short time to live.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release