The Hunger by Alma Katsu

The Hunger

Random House UK|5 April 2018|373 pages|e-book |Review copy|5*

Her Hidden Life by V S Alexander

 

Avon Books UK|3 May 2018|400 pages|e-book |Review copy|3*

Snap by Belinda Bauer

Random House UK|Review Copy|3.5*

First Chapter First Paragraph: Her Hidden Life by V S Alexander

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

This week I’m featuring one of my NetGalley books,  Her Hidden Life by V S Alexander, a newly published book (3 May 2018), that I’m currently reading.

It begins with a Prologue:

Berlin, 2013

Who killed Adolf Hitler? The answer lies within these pages. The circumstances surrounding his death have been disputed since 1945, but I know the truth. I was there.

Synopsis:

A forbidden love. A deadly secret.

‘An absorbing, well-researched story that brings to life an extraordinary period in history’ GILL PAUL, bestselling author of The Secret Wife

It’s 1943 and Hitler’s Germany is a terrifying place to be.
But Magda Ritter’s duty is the most dangerous of all…

Assigned to The Berghof, Hitler’s mountain retreat, she must serve the Reich by becoming the Führer’s ‘Taster’ – a woman who checks his food for poison. Magda can see no way out of this hellish existence until she meets Karl, an SS officer who has formed an underground resistance group within Hitler’s inner circle.

As their forbidden love grows, Magda and Karl see an opportunity to stop the atrocities of the madman leading their country. But in doing so, they risk their lives, their families and, above all, a love unlike either of them have ever known…

∼ ∼ 

I like it when an author clearly distinguishes what is real and what is fictional in a historical novel and she has done so in this case in her Author’s Note. Her Hidden Life is loosely based on the life of Margot Woelk, one of Hitler’s tasters, a woman who kept her former job a secret until she was ninety-five. It is not intended to be a strictly historical account of the Third Reich and the author states that she has relied on many sources, some of  which differed.

What do you think – would you read on?

Time is a Killer by Michel Bussi

 

Weidenfeld & Nicolson|5 April 2018|464 pages|e-book |Review copy|4.5*

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Penguin Books|4 January 2018|368 p|e-book |Review copy|4*

I have read several books and watched TV programmes on sleeping, but Why We Sleep: the New Science of Sleep and Dreams is one of the most in depth and thorough books on the subject that I’ve come across. It is fascinating and disturbing in equal measures.

It emphasises how important sleep is to our health. Eight hours sleep each night will improve your immune system, help prevent infection, regulate your appetite, lower blood pressure, maintain your heart in fine condition, improve your ability to learn, memorise and make logical decisions.

But be warned if you don’t get eight hours sleep you run the risk of doubling your risk of cancer, of increasing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, strokes, and heart attacks, and insufficient sleep contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. It is a terrifying scenario as every major disease in the developed world has very strong causal links to deficient sleep.

Matthew Walker is professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is director of the Center for Human Sleep Science. He goes into great detail examining every aspect of the subject looking at what sleep is, how we sleep, as well as why we should sleep and the external factors that cause poor sleep. There are sections on sleep deprivation, sleeping pills, insomnia and other sleep disorders and on dreams – creativity and dream control. He also considers the sleep requirements of babies, children, teenagers and the elderly.

There are a number of things I highlighted as I read the book, including:

  • sleep is the foundation of good health
  • every major system, tissue and organ of your body suffers if your sleep is short
  • the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life
  • the less you sleep you’re more likely to put on weight
  • sleeping six hours or less increases your risk of developing cancer by 40%
  • routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer

He cites the World Health Organization’s and the National Sleep Foundation’s stipulation of an average of eight hours of sleep for adults. So, what can you do to improve your sleep if you don’t get eight hours? I really want to know. Walker refers to behavioural methods for improving sleep, such as cognitive behavioural therapy intended to break bad sleep habits, obvious methods such as reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, removing LED devices from the bedroom and having a cool bedroom. Other things to establish – having a regular bedtime, only going to bed when sleepy, avoid sleeping in the early/mid evenings and daytime napping etc, etc – nothing I haven’t come across before.

Why We Sleep is full of fascinating facts, but at times it is repetitive with lots of detail about sleep experiments that made me worried about the effects on those people who undertook them. Matthew Walker is most certainly on a mission to educate people about the importance of sleep, even if there is nothing new he has to offer about how to improve sleep times.

Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith: A Christmas Crime Story (British Library Crime Classics)

Poisoned Pen Press|3 April 2018|240 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*

Portrait of a Murderer was first published in 1933. Anne Meredith is one of the pen names used by Lucy Beatrice Malleson (her other pen names are Anthony Gilbert and J Kilmeny Keith). This Poisoned Pen Press edition has an introduction by Martin Edwards. It is crime fiction where you know who the murderer is and the motive and how the victim was killed quite early on in the book.

On Christmas Eve 1931 Adrian Gray was violently murdered by one of his six adult children. The murderer had acted on impulse in a fit of rage. Adrian had not got on with any of his children and they all wanted him to lend them or rather give them money for one reason or another. From then on it is a character study of the family and of the murderer in particular, who works out a plan to put the blame on one of the other family members. The setting at Christmas seems to be purely because this family don’t get on and it was only at Christmas that they gathered together at the Gray family home.

It begins slowly and I was beginning to wonder if I wanted to finish the book, but I found I was thinking about it when I wasn’t reading and wondering whether the plan would work. As the suspense increased I realised that I was hooked and couldn’t wait to get back to the book to find out. Will the wrong person be convicted or will justice be done?It’s an excellent character study, told in the first person by the murderer and in the third person by the other characters.

I was also fascinated by the picture Meredith paints of the society and culture of the 1930s. It’s set in the Depression and the Grays had come down in the world, no longer the owners of a large landed property. This was accompanied by a steady deterioration in character as their point of view changed and they aspired to possessions and a place in society with authority, consumed by jealousy and criticism of others.They are an unlikeable set of characters and probably one of the reasons this book works so well is that each one is described with precision and insight, so that they come across as recognisable people and not as caricatures.

I also enjoyed reading about life in London in the 1930s, with descriptions of the River Thames, the traffic and the talk of electricity and speed, ‘the age’s God‘, and the desire for cars resulting in air pollution from the petrol fumes. The newly rich are financiers, such as Gray’s financial adviser and son-in-law, Eustace Moore. Although his appearance isn’t that of the traditional conception of a Jew, Meredith reveals the casual and nasty anti-semitism typical of the period in referring to his race. In addition she shows society’s attitude to women from the unmarried daughter expected to act as housekeeper and look after her father, to the scandal attached to divorce.

From a slow and unpromising start Portrait of a Murderer developed into a fascinating novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Many thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for a review copy via NetGalley.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link