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Graceann Macleod "Books Fuel My Life" (London, UK)
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Still Woman Enough: A Memoir
Still Woman Enough: A Memoir
by Loretta Lynn
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All The Things She Couldn't Say 30 Years Ago, 3 Jan. 2010
When Doolittle Lynn was still alive, there was plenty he didn't want Loretta Lynn to say in COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER. Here, she tells us just what the book left out and what the movie got wrong, in her own simple, down-home style. The highs and the lows are covered in equal measure and with an unforgettable flair.

Loretta married a hard-drinkin', abusive man, and stayed with him through more nonsense than anyone should ever experience. Ruined awards ceremonies, holidays and tours due to his drinking, his cheating and his outrageous jealousy (heaven forbid that Loretta, who was always faithful but always suspected of not being so, should give the skirt-chaser a taste of his own medicine). Her thoughts as to why she felt the need to remain in the marriage make for compelling reading. Even if I didn't agree with her, at least I was able to understand her motivations.

Also discussed are the sad losses in her life - Patsy Cline, her son Jack Benny, Tammy Wynette, and of course, Doo, whom she forgave in the end, and with whom she had a peaceful final year or two before his passing. At least she has this to remember, and luckily for us, she set it down on paper.

Hats off to the co-writer and editors of this book, who let Loretta's voice shine through. She is a plainspoken woman, who sometimes uses "creative" grammar. Leaving the words just as we know she spoke them only makes the story that much more impressive.


Schindler's Legacy: True Stories of the List Survivors
Schindler's Legacy: True Stories of the List Survivors
by Elinor J. Brecher
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The People from the List Tell You Their Stories, 10 Dec. 2009
When the film SCHINDLER'S LIST came out in 1993, Elinor Brecher did a remarkable thing. It occurred to her that, given her location in Florida, she might be living very near a few of the Schindlerjuden (those who were saved by Oskar Schindler during the Holocaust) and she undertook to interview as many of them as she could for a series of articles. This remarkable book grew from that notion.

The more than 40 people whose stories make up SCHINDLER'S LEGACY tell us how close Keneally, and then Spielberg, got to the truth of their experiences in the Nazi death machine. For instance, I remember that a friend was appalled by what she saw as the manipulativeness of a scene wherein the women are taken to the showers at Auschwitz, and they are sure they are going to be gassed. After almost unbearable tension, it turns out that it really is a shower. The women who are interviewed for the book tell Brecher, and therefore us, that it really did happen in just that way. What *didn't* happen, however, was the emotional "I could have done more" scene when Schindler departed Brinnlitz at the end of the war. His departure was moving, but very low-key. We're also informed that the violence in the film is toned down considerably. If Spielberg had shown the atrocities that really occurred at the hands of the SS, the Gestapo and the Poles, before, during and after the War, he would never have been able to get the movie released.

No film or novel can touch the reminiscences of these now elderly people, some still deeply devout, others completely bereft of faith, some laughing about how they met, others still crying for lost parents, siblings and children. Only one couple in the entire book was able to tell of their children having both sets of grandparents. More often the survivors were the only ones left in their families. The cruelties they experienced in post-war "peacetime" were sometimes as gruesome as anything in the camps. The end of the War didn't mean the end of anti-semitism, or the end of the murders.

Finally, the survivors' opinions on Schindler himself are fascinating. Some give him the status of saint while others think he got more credit than he should have, and that he was actually copying another good Gentile who went unacknowledged. Many talk about the uncredited kindness of his long-suffering wife, Emilie. Most agree that were it not for that magic List, they would not be alive to debate these issues. These are people who went on to contribute in countless ways to society, history and humanity. Their fortitude, gumption and plain luck are to be celebrated, and I believe that Elinor Brecher has done that beautifully here.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 11, 2011 11:32 PM BST


Schindler's List
Schindler's List
by Thomas Keneally
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Testament to a Flawed and Human Hero, 3 Dec. 2009
This review is from: Schindler's List (Paperback)
I understand that there was some controversy when this book won the Booker Prize because, though it is presented as a novel, it is non-fictional in approach and detail. There is very very few events mentioned here that weren't witnessed by someone (one of the hallmarks of historical fiction is that the author uses flights of fancy to imagine what happened behind closed doors). Similarly, there is very little that wasn't backed up by research and/or witness testimony.

Noting this doesn't detract from SCHINDLER'S LIST as a literary achievement. The writing is heartbreaking and taut, and the story is compelling. On a purely technical level, I was grateful that most of the chapters were very short, simply because these frequent breaks allowed me to rest briefly before delving into the relentless terror and pain that the Schindlerjuden were experiencing. I would love to know what has happened to each of his "his Jews" in the days since their liberation. The 1,200 people he saved have, as of 2006, grown to more than 7,000 living all over the world. The machinations that Keneally writes about; the bribes, the schmoozing and the glad-handing of officials in order to save these human beings is nothing short of super-human. Why did this "passive Nazi" risk his own life in order to save so many others? I don't know. I'm only grateful that he did.

Thomas Keneally reaffirms faith in the human spirit and the willingness to do good, even if the person doing it is no angel.


Notes on a Scandal
Notes on a Scandal
by ZoŽ Heller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkly Funny and Disturbing, 27 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Notes on a Scandal (Paperback)
Barbara Lovett, the first-person narrator of NOTES ON A SCANDAL, clearly has her own ideas about what constitutes friendship and good advice. In this novel where nobody comes off particularly well, she is someone who portrays herself as a good person, but reveals obsession and mean spirit that boggles the mind. For those who are fans of the film of the same name, this story differs in some respects. Both book and movie are entertaining and taut; they are just somewhat different.

Barbara befriends Sheba Hart, a new teacher at her school. Sheba makes some alarming choices in her personal life, and Barbara "helps" in ways that remind most of us of the adage "with friends like these...." The story gave me a great deal to think about. Even as I laughed at some of the text, I cringed at myself for doing so. The humor is as black as a moonless night and sometimes just as creepy.

Zoe Heller's writing is sharp, to the point and brilliantly acute. I would hate to see her turn that sharpened pen in me, but I love seeing her use it on society in general.


An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
by P. D. James
Edition: Paperback

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Ending is a Surprise, Only Because It's So Inane, 26 Nov. 2009
Cordelia Gray is on her own with her detective agency. She has bills to pay and no new cases in sight. Then an elegant woman turns up and asks if Miss Gray will assist in her employer's quest to determine what caused his son to kill himself.

It took me quite a long time to determine what era this book was meant to be placed in. Until Cordelia mentioned having grown up watching television, I assumed from the situations, attitudes and styles of the characters that it was somewhere between the Wars. How "unsuitable" (a word from the title which is repeatedly drummed into our heads via the text) is detecting for a woman in the 1970s, anyhow? But yet, that's where this story, strangely, is set.

I met a variety of characters, but didn't get to know any of them particularly well, and when the mystery was "solved," I was deeply annoyed. The person who did it would have absolutely NO reason to do what they did earlier in the story; it was only placed there to propel the plot and manipulate the reader into turning the pages. After the solving the mystery, there is yet another fifty pages or so of unnecessary and dull exposition. This was my first experience with the mysteries of P.D. James. If this is indicative of her style and characters, I think I can safely remove her from my list of authors to follow.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 27, 2014 9:47 PM GMT


Lucy: The Life of Lucille Ball
Lucy: The Life of Lucille Ball
by Charles Higham
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Decent Overview, but Lacking in Detail, 23 Nov. 2009
This is a good overview for those who are only generally interested in the life of Lucille Ball, but hardcore fans may prefer the longer biography written by Kathleen Brady, which was written after Lucy's passing.

Charles Higham had the advantage of interviewing Miss Ball and several of her contemporaries, and even for this, he is remarkably harsh in his discussions of her later life; her cutting remarks regarding Desi, Jr. and how difficult she was to work with are covered in great, uncomfortable detail. It's clear from this narrative that she never stopped loving Desi, though they could not remain married to one another and still maintain any semblance of sanity. Gary Morton was a much more suitable husband for a lady as mercurial and quick-tempered as Lucy.

For fans who are very familiar with Lucille Ball and her work, there will be no new information here. For those who are new to her, or just casual admirers, it's a good start. I found nothing that was glaringly erroneous and nothing salacious. In a market of "biography" which is really just a means to express the author's base fantasies, I found Higham's approach to the comedy icon that is Lucy refreshing.


Affinity
Affinity
by Sarah Waters
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What the Need for Love Will Cause Us to Do, 22 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Affinity (Paperback)
Margaret Prior is a very proper young Englishwoman. She is a Lady Visitor at Millbank prison; meant to show the wayward ladies how to behave themselves in an upright, appropriate fashion. One prisoner intrigues her more than the others, and this is where our story takes flight.

Sarah Waters has a masterful grasp of Victorian London - the deadly smog, the dismal prison system, and the severely limited opportunities for women. The world of spiritualists and their craft is also explored in some detail. Waters writes in a style that pulled me in and refused to let me go until the final page was turned, at which point the story still wouldn't release me. I've spent a great deal of time since finishing the book, thinking about its twists and turns and how I might have reacted to some of the situations in which Miss Prior found herself. I was thoroughly surprised by the ending (a rare feat nowadays) and I cared a great deal about the main characters.

If this is an indication of Sarah Waters' writing style, I'm very excited to read her other novels. An author with this sort of gift for storytelling comes along but rarely, and should be celebrated.


Testament of Friendship: The Story of Winifred Holtby (Virago classic non-fiction)
Testament of Friendship: The Story of Winifred Holtby (Virago classic non-fiction)
by Vera Brittain
Edition: Paperback

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memories of a Fantastic Friend, 18 Nov. 2009
Unfortunately, Winifred Holtby is not well remembered today, even in her home country. The woman who wrote this book, Vera Brittain, has scarcely fared better, despite outliving Holtby by more than thirty years. This is a shame, because they are both worth remembering for numerous reasons. I was deeply moved by Brittain's "Testament of Youth," but if possible, I loved "Testament of Friendship" even more.

Winifred Holtby was a novelist, journalist and human rights activist who was active in the years between the wars. Her life was taken by Bright's Disease in 1935, when she was only 37 years old. In the short time she was here, however, she made her mark, authoring several well-received books, including the classic "South Riding," having a distinctive effect on the publication "Time and Tide" and, most importantly to those who loved her, being an amazing friend to countless people from all walks of life. The disparity of lives in South Africa was a problem especially troublesome to her, and she spent most of her money and energy trying to make her complacent, prejudiced countrymen see reason at a time when it was more convenient to turn a blind eye.

If Holtby had been more comfortably saying "No" to all the requests she received in the course of her professional and private life, she might have lived longer and had a more comfortable life. As it happened, however, she found it very difficult to refuse a plea for assistance from the friends and strangers who constantly found their way to her door. Vera Brittain was her closest friend, and became her biographer. In these pages, Brittain tells us what a singular, fascinating woman Winifred Holtby grew to be, and how much poorer the world is for her loss.

Vera Brittain is a brilliant writer. Her ability to bring people to live through the use of language is admirable, and her pain, still so fresh (Holtby had only been gone four years at the time of the book's release) is palpable. She was also gifted in her choice of Holtby's poetry, letters and fiction in order to express just what we had lost in her passing.


Omnibus: "Tales of the City", "More Tales of the City" and "Further Tales of the City" No. 1
Omnibus: "Tales of the City", "More Tales of the City" and "Further Tales of the City" No. 1
by Armistead Maupin
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Stories - Together in One Great Package, 14 Nov. 2009
I was late to the magic of Armistead Maupin, but I'm a devoted follower now. The stories from Barbary Lane are utterly addictive - I've grown to truly care about Mary Ann, Mona, Mrs. Madrigal, Michael and all the others. Maupin writes evocatively about a time (and he wrote AT a time) in San Francisco when things were changing in a fascinating, exciting way. I'm not sure if a young person could still step off the bus from Cleveland and begin a new life there, as Mary Ann does in the first book, but I'd like to think that life could still be that fresh and interesting.

My favorite character throughout the three books in the series that I've read thusfar is Mrs. Madrigal. Her imperfections are amusing and she makes an excellent mother hen for her errant chicks at Barbary Lane. Nothing seems to surprise her and nothing makes her happier than seeing that everyone is safe in the haven she's created.

By the end of the 750 plus pages in the omnibus, the Tales were no longer just stories. Armistead Maupin has created a world that I enjoyed visiting, and I look forward to finding out what happens next.


D.W. Griffith: An American Life
D.W. Griffith: An American Life
by Richard Schickel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.83

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More about Schickel Than Griffith, Sometimes, 11 Nov. 2009
When I started reading this book, I was advised by a friend that while it is the best book on Griffith thusfar, it is still somewhat superficial. Another friend referred to it as "ponderous." While I gathered my own thoughts during the reading of this 600-page tome, I have to agree with both assessments.

Richard Schickel did meticulous research in the years that he worked on this biography (which was released in 1984). He was blessed to have access to people who actually knew and worked with Griffith, all of whom are now gone. Schickel is also a well-known film critic, so he had his "street cred" before the book was ever released. There is a lengthy sections of notes, a filmography and bibliography. The research, and the film criticism, are both blessings and curses from a reading standpoint.

An abundance of research without a light hand in the sharing of what's learned can lead to a dry, heavy-handed read. Schickel has moments when he tries to be entertaining as well as education, but we are still treated to long passages regarding stock options and contract clauses. For all his digging however, the information he provides can be frustrating. Clarine Seymour is barely mentioned, while Carol Dempster is discussing in exhausting, annoying detail.

Given that Schickel is never able to shed his critic's hat as he writes, the biography is not an objective look at Griffith's work or life. Previous biographers who were sympathetic to Griffith are universally referred to as "apologists," and the reader often feels that the author is viewing Griffith's films by looking down his nose at them. We are treated to opinion offered as fact, such as "so-and-so says, correctly, that ...." Asides regarding silent film in general reflect Schickel's biases about the genre, disappointingly.

All in all, I learned a bit about D.W. Griffith in the book. I only wish that it had been presented a bit more objectively.


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