Sunday, 22 November 2020

A MEAL IN WINTER by Hubert Mingarelli

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  I read a review of it on BookerTalk book blog.

In a Nutshell: Novella about one day in the life of three German soldiers.  Written in the first person from one point of view. 

On a freezing day during a Polish winter, three German soldiers out 'hunting' find a young Jewish man hidden in a hole.  After his capture, hungry and tired, they make camp in a deserted hovel, where they break up furniture and doors in order to make a fire and cook the little food they have into a soup. Soon, a guest arrives: a Pole, who displays great animosity towards the Jew, and offers his bottle of alcohol for a share of their meal.

The novella, which I would say took me about two or three hours to read altogether, centres around that cold afternoon and evening in the hovel, while the five wait for the meal to cook and, finally, get to eat. The German soldiers are portrayed not as monsters, but simply as men trying to find a way to sleep at night, in view of what they must do.  Of the three, Bauer is the most ruthless and jaded; I had the impression that he has only become so because of the horrors of the holocaust.  Emmerich, on the other hand, is plagued by guilt and fear about the effects of their actions on the rest of his life.

The brutality of their existence, and those of the Pole and the Jew, underlined for me once again how we in the Western world in the present day know so little about true hardship.  It's beautifully written, highly atmospheric, a story that will stay with me for some time.

Thursday, 19 November 2020


4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK


On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member. 

In a Nutshell: A man with nothing to lose.  

This was a terrific story, a most original idea that would make a marvellous film or miniseries.  Three friends, Michael, Drew and Aaron, get together on the eve of Drew's wedding.  Aaron, who works on top secret projects at NASA, tells the other two about a gamma ray burst that will hit the southern hemisphere the next day. He warns that it will quickly destroy the food chain, cause massive radiation and thus end human life on earth, sooner rather than later.  Basically, the world is about to end. 

During Drew's wedding the sky does indeed light up at exactly the time Aaron predicted, but the news media dismisses it as a harmless event, as he warned would happen. 

The story is written in the third person POV of Michael, and details his reactions to this news, and the effect it has on him.  Having always been an introverted sort of guy who lived a 'safe' life, he wonders if, now that there is so little time left, he can let loose a part of himself that he is not even sure exists. 

The characters are all clearly defined, and the dialogue is great—you know it's good when you don't feel as though you're 'reading dialogue', as I didn't, in this.  The plot itself is extremely well thought out, with plenty of surprises, though a few warning bells did ring for me early on.  On the whole I enjoyed reading it, though I found it somewhat lacking in suspense; there was too much 'Michael did this, then Michael did that'.  I thought some of the detail could have been edited out; a loss of around twenty-per cent could have made it sharper, fast-paced, more of a page-turner.  It just needed a bit more pizazz, to do justice to the excellent plot. I also expected a final twist that never came; okay, I'd actually decided what it would be, but this is Patrick Morgan's book, not mine!

This is a commendable first novel, and I'm sure that the author will develop his style as he continues to write.  Nice one.

Thursday, 12 November 2020


4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK


On Goodreads and BookBub

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member. 

In A Nutshell: Literary coming-of-age novel set in 1960s New Jersey, with a low-key mystery.

From the blurb, I thought this book would be dark and plot-driven; it mentions protagonist Ben's suspicions about a body found floating in the lake, thus: As Ben’s suspicions mount, he’s forced to confront the terrifying possibility that his close-knit community is not what it seems to be—that, beneath a façade of prosperity and contentment, darker forces may be at work. I expected all sorts of sinister revelations, but the Ben's questions surrounding the death of Helen Lowenthal form the background rather than the main story—though when his answer arrives, it is shocking indeed.  I love a good twist within a twist that I didn't even half-guess, and this certainly ticked that box.

Essentially, this is a coming-of-age novel.  Although I think it could have done with a little more plot, the writing itself is spectacularly good, of much literary merit, making it a joy to read.  The subtleties of the characters, traditions and social protocols of the Jewish community in the 1960s were acutely observed, as were the marital problems of Ben's parents, his mother's neuroses, and his own burgeoning drink problem.  Later, the lake by which the community lives is contaminated, which I took to be allegorical of not only the underlying problems within the society that was Red Meadow, but the 1960s themselves—the corruption and unrest beneath the image of hope, prosperity, revolution and the Summer of Love.  Or perhaps I'm reading too much into it.

It's one of those books that I didn't absolutely love because of personal preference about genre, but I can appreciate is first class of its type.  Should complex family intrigue, stunningly good writing, coming-of-age dramas and the strange new world of the 1960s be totally your thing, I would recommend that you buy and start reading this immediately.  And the ending is perfect.

Saturday, 7 November 2020

CHILDREN by Bjørn Larssen @bjørnlarssen

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK


On Goodreads and BookBub

How I discovered this book: I read the author's Storytellers and loved it, so looked forward to this.

In A Nutshell: A re-telling of Norse myths

I'm not the ideal reader for this book, as all I know about Norse mythology is (very) basic information about Odin, Thor, Freya and Loki, what Valhalla and Ragnarok are, and that's about it.  Also, I am not a fan of fantasy, on the whole; magic and hallucinatory goings on - nah, you can keep it.  However, I was hugely impressed by Storytellers and had read some excerpts of this before it was published, which I liked a lot, so wanted to take a look at this.

The main characters, their stories told alternately and in the first person, are Magni, son of Thor, and sorceress Maya, who has had a somewhat difficult upbringing, not least of all under the watchful eye of the goddess Freya, one heck of a piece of work, to say the least.  I liked Maya; she was amusing and spunky.  I loved Magni; yes, even when he was taking part in raids on farms, and killing people.  

Children is atmospheric, clever, brutal, emotional, extremely well-written, intelligent, imaginative, and funny—and the dialogue is spectacularly good, some of the best I've read.  Now and again, the dialogue and Magni's inner thoughts made me laugh out loud, which rarely happens when I read.  The sexual activity in the book does not hold back, but get this: it didn't make me cringe.  And that comes from someone who almost always cringes at sex scenes.  Magni's feelings for Herjólf were so real, so well-portrayed; anyone who has ever been in love (or infatuated with) someone who remains elusive will feel Magni's pain throughout.

My favourite part was when Magni was first involved with the outlaws (I loved Ludo, too!), and I also liked Maya's encounter with Harbard, the idea of Idunn's fruit, Magni's conversations with his father, and the information about what each of the 'worlds' is all about, which interested me enough to look up more about Norse mythology.

Subject-wise, it wasn't absolutely my cup of tea, and I did get a bit confused with all the Norse names sometimes ('hang on, was that a person or a place?'), but it's definitely a novel of which Bjørn Larssen should be very proud indeed, and if the magical and mythological floats your boat, I would recommend that you buy it without delay.