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review 2015-01-28 17:05
The Spring of Kasper Meier
The Spring of Kasper Meier - Ben Fergusson

Author: Ben Fergusson

Published: January 2015 by Abacus

Category: Historical, Fiction

 

The war is over, but Berlin is a desolate sea of rubble. There is a shortage of everything: food, clothing, tobacco. The local population is scrabbling to get by. Kasper Meier is one of these Germans, and his solution is to trade on the black market to feed himself and his elderly father. He can find anything that people need, for the right price. Even other people.

 

Many thanks to Emily Burns at LittleBrown and Co for sending me a copy for review.

 

Set in Berlin in post war 1946, with everything in extremely short supply, Kasper Meier trades information and deals in goods for the black market in order to keep himself and his elderly, sick father alive. He lives in one room in a half bombed out building where he secretes anything and everything that might be even remotely saleable. Kasper is despised for being homosexual, still illegal at the time, and tries to be as inconspicuous as possible. But when he is visited by one of the rubble women, Eva, a young girl who wants help finding information about a British pilot, he is drawn into a deadly web of intrigue.

 

'I need someone’s help and no one will help me. I’ve got ways of paying for it, but still no one wants to take it on and you’re my last hope. What I’m saying is that I’ll make you a deal. You help me and I’ll pay you – simple as that. It’s no big issue for you. And if the payment isn’t enough of an incentive I promise not to….Well, you know – report you and Herr Neustadt.’

Kasper clucked his tongue  and scratched the side of his nose. ‘Blackmail is a very ugly business, Fräulein Hirsch.’

 

Berlin is a devastated, rubble strewn and dangerous city where the inhabitants struggle to survive, living by their wits. Some work clearing the rubble, others trade their bodies. Corruption is rife, lawlessness prevalent and soldiers thought guilt of rape are being found murdered.

 

Frau Beckmann, a shadowy and elusive figure, who seems to control many of the girls, including Eva Hirsch, knows Kasper’s secret and is blackmailing him into finding the information she seeks. Despite fearing for his own life, Kasper feels afraid and sorry for Eva, and determines to find out what he can about Frau Beckmann and what her hold over the girls is. The more Kasper digs, the more sinister things appear. Nothing is as it seems and Kasper is drawn ever deeper into Beckmann’s machinations and the ensuing menace.

 

Initially, Kasper Meier seems to be a cold, unlikable and austere character, the description of a tall, lanky and bony man with an ‘unsettling thickness of his straight, white hair, that despite brushing and trimming, stuck up in heavy tufts, yellowing slightly at the fringe, where the smoke from his cigarette curled up after staining the parts of his fingers that weren’t already blackened.’  Not to mention ‘his right eye, which was milky white and immobile. What had once been a shining black pupil, surrounded by a bright green iris, was now a faded blue stain beneath a smooth misty blue layer, like cooked egg white.’

 

 

As the story progresses however, the complexity and compassion of Kasper’s character begins to emerge, along with insights into the suffering and horror of his past life. There are ever deeper glimpses of the sad, hurting and kind-hearted man underneath the veneer. This is an intensely graphic and atmospheric account of life in a very bleak and war-torn Berlin, the desolation, the desperation and hopelessness of half-starved people who will do whatever it takes to survive, extremely apparent in Ben Fergusson’s very descriptive writing. 

 

Being slightly critical, I did feel the story was perhaps a little too drawn out and quite hard to follow in the first part of the book, and overall could maybe have done with slightly fewer than it’s almost 400 pages. After that, though, the pace and storyline pick up and with it the tension and emotion. There’s no compromise in the harrowing depiction of life and atrocities of a city destroyed and its people broken by war. It’s a very moving story, quite compelling, encompassing what must have been a huge amount of extensive historical research.

 

About the author

 

Ben Fergusson is a writer, editor and translator. Born in Southampton in 1980, he studied English Literature at Warwick University and Modern Languages at Bristol University, and has worked for ten years as an editor and publisher in the art world.

His short fiction has appeared in publications in both the UK and the US and has won and been shortlisted for a range of prizes, including the 2010 Bridport Prize. From 2009-2010 he edited the literary journal Chroma and since 2013 has been the editor of the short story magazine Oval Short Fiction. Currently based in London, his first novel, The Spring of Kasper Meier, was written during a four-year period living and working in Berlin.

 

Ben can also be found on Twitter

 

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review 2014-10-23 17:06
Review of The Shadow of His Wings by Bruce Fergusson
The Shadow of His Wings: A Novel of the Six Kingdoms - Bruce Fergusson

Holy crap, what a little gem of a find. I’m surprised this hasn’t had a bit more traffic on Goodreads and Amazon, especially when Robin Hobb has given it five stars on Goodreads! This was originally published alllll the way back in 1988 and has recently been republished by the author himself. I certainly hope he gets more readers to take notice because it was a very well written and entertaining book.

 

I’m not even sure where to begin. The book sure felt longer than 290 pages. I was given so much of the world without info dumping that it seems the book should’ve been way longer.

 

The bad? My biggest sadness? Lack of magic, but it’s offset with some nifty creatures and some good action scenes. Other than that, all I have for you is too much description. Keep in mind, I’m a bit of an anti-description reader so the paragraphs—especially towards the end when things were going crazy—got skimmed by me. I know from what I sifted through that it added quite a bit of imagery to the scenes, but I was too damn frantic to find out what was going on that I didn’t care much about anything else. The middle might have dragged just a hair for me, too. When Lukan was off on his own, it took me a tiny bit of determination to plunge onward. I was richly rewarded with an amazingly fast-paced ending.

 

There’s a beautiful part at the end of chapter one that had me ensnared pretty quickly:

 

“And I doubted myself as I never had before, questioning whether my offer of the royall was made with an innocence of spirit or whether the message to my brother was: see how selfless I am, how generous, as you are not."

 

This is a first person narrative in Lukan’s PoV. He was an interesting character. I wasn’t obsessed by him, but I was certainly captivated by his story. It started out with such a lovely melancholy note that I had no problems immersing myself in the story. He hasn’t had what one would call the trope fantasy backstory (honestly, it was a rather mundane life he led), but a few events really impacted him and his relationship with his brother. It added great depth to his character which otherwise would have happily walked the path of a completely good guy. Though Lukan never loses himself or wavers in his honor, it’s kinda thrown in his face by others. It makes that good guy seem like a person and not some hero who never doubts himself or faces ridicule.

 

Lukan’s brother was equally interesting, though we didn’t spend a lot of time with him. Still, what we’re given of him paints a nice complex character. Rui was the main female in the book and I didn’t love or hate her. I felt she was a bit too wishy-washy for me towards the end. It would have been nice to play up on her evolving relationship with Lukan just a bit more towards the end, but it didn’t distract from my enjoyment in the least.

 

The world was nicely done and I think strikes a good balance between world and characters. I was given a lot of names at first. I’m usually not one to get hung up on this stuff. A good writer will roll it out nicely and give you little reminders here and there to keep you on track. I felt comfortable with what Fergusson poured onto the page and I can remember maybe two or three times where I was lost for a tiny bit before he set me straight. There's a codex available on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Six-Kingdoms-Codex-Companion-Novels-ebook/dp/B00OM72MDA) and one available on his website (http://www.brucefergusson.com/books/the-six-kingdoms-codex/).

 

The writing itself was smooth and I easily entered my reading trance. I never got hung up and Fergusson impressed me enough that I’ll definitely be continuing on with the series. For those of you who hate cliff hangers or series in general, feel free to pick this up. Though it is a part of a series, it ended with satisfactory closure; you wouldn’t know there’s a second book unless someone told you. There would be no need to continue unless you loved Fergusson’s writing and the world he created.

 

So overall, a great read and I just found myself a new author to follow. I definitely recommend this book!

 

Source: booksbylkevans.com/2014/10/23/review-of-the-shadow-of-his-wings-by-bruce-fergusson
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text 2013-12-02 22:42
November Recap
Eight Cousins (Puffin Classics) - Louisa May Alcott
The Ghost Bride: A Novel - Yangsze Choo
Rainbow Valley - L.M. Montgomery
Rilla of Ingleside - L.M. Montgomery
Soulless - Gail Carriger,Gail Carriger
Mistborn: The Final Empire - Brandon Sanderson
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling
Burial Rites - Hannah Kent
In the Bleak Midwinter - Julia Spencer-Fleming
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling

Rereads: Eight Cousins, Rainbow Valley, Rilla of Ingleside, Bleak Midwinter, and both Harry Potters.

 

New reads: Ghost Bride, Soulless, Mistborn, Burial Rites.

 

 

My Pick for Best of the Month

 

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review 2013-11-10 00:00
Through the Evil Days: A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery (Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries)
Through the Evil Days: A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery (Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries) - Julia Spencer-Fleming This felt like a halfway book in a series where things are shifting and changing. Doesn't make it a bad book-I did finish it in just 24 hours. It focuses more on Clare and Russ than on the mystery.

Just a few quick thoughts:

Harley Knox's past life is explained and bites her in the butt.
We get more of Kevin Flynn's personal life and then we say goodbye.
The sheriff's department is capable of being run without Russ.
Clare and Russ need a good blow out argument in this book.

Good book-if you've enjoyed the rest of the series, you'll love this one.
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review 2013-11-05 17:55
In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming
In the Bleak Midwinter - Julia Spencer-Fleming

Have you ever noticed how it's actually harder to review a series that you love? Especially if, like me, you wait until you've read 7 books in the series to review the first.

 

It's almost impossible to be objective about any individual book, barring one of them just being a massive disappointment. Plus, it is really hard to go back and reread with any objectivity, knowing how much I love the whole.

 

This is the first in Julia Spencer-Fleming's brilliant mystery series centered around Reverend Clare Fergussen,a (female) Episcopal priest and the Millers Kill police chief Russ Van Alstyn. Russ and Clare meet when a newborn baby has been left on the doorstep of Clare's church, with a note asking that the baby be given to one of the parishioners to raise. The baby is otherwise healthy and well-cared for, and the investigation into who is the mother of the child begins. Shortly thereafter, the first body turns up, a young woman who has been murdered and left in the kill where she died of hypothermia.

 

Read on after the cut.

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