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Jill Meyer (United States)
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Black Roses
Black Roses
by Jane Thynne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More "place" than "person"..., 16 Aug 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Black Roses (Hardcover)
One of the problems with the Amazon rating system is the ambiguity of the 3 star rating. Amazon puts it in with the "negative" 2 and 1 star reviews, when it should really be in a grouping of it's own. When I rate a book with 3 stars - as I am doing with British author Jane Thynne's new novel, "Black Roses" - I mean that there are many positive things about the book but it just doesn't make it to a 4 star rating. "Black Roses" isn't a bad book, but it just isn't a book you might remember much about in a few weeks.

Set in Berlin in 1933 as the Nazis are consolidating power, the book features many historic characters among the fictional ones. The Goebbels - that "fun couple" Magda and Joseph - and Hermann Goering and his soon-to-be second wife, Emmy, as well as other high officials make their appearance as major characters. The main fictional character - a half German/half British actress, Clara Vine - has come to Berlin to break into movies. She also manages to break into Nazi high society and the British secret service and by book's end, she isn't sure who's who and what's what. That's the same problem the reader may have, too. There are murders and chases on the Ubahn and Sbahn and city trams and the Nazis are mostly the cardboard figures they usually are in this type of fiction. But what saves this book is the author's seemingly endless knowledge of Berlin society in the early 1930's. The "place" and "times" are much more vividly written than the characters. I actually learned things I didn't know, which is rare in a book of fiction.

"Black Roses" is a good read for someone's down time when there's nothing else tempting to read. Thynne is the wife of Philip Kerr, the author of the "Bernie Gunther" series.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 15, 2013 2:38 AM BST


The Crooked Maid
The Crooked Maid
by Dan Vyleta
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellen novel of post-war Vienna, 14 Aug 2013
This review is from: The Crooked Maid (Hardcover)
"The Crooked Maid", by Dan Vylenta, is not a particularly easy read. It is set in post-war Vienna and is the sequel to Vylenta's previous book, "The Quiet Twin". Normally I'd advise reading the first novel in a series before reading the second, but in this case, each could be stand-alone novels. While many characters continue from one book to the other, a good knowledge of the first book isn't needed to read and appreciate the second.

Vienna in 1948 was a cold, frightening place. Like Germany, Austria had been cut up into "Allied zones" after the war, but unlike Germany, Austria was finally reunited in 1955 when the four allied powers recognised an Austrian-led government. In 1948, Austrian soldiers who had been captured and held in Soviet prisoner-of-war camps were returning home. They had not been released at war's end in 1945, and, actually some Austrians were held and not released until the early 1950's. But upon returning home, these soldiers were integrated into the social system in haphazard ways. In Vylenta's novel, not only do some Austrian soldiers return to Vienna, but so do a 30ish woman - Anna Beer - and a young man she meets on the Paris/Vienna train. Both had ties to Vienna and both had lived for a few years in France. Anna was returning to see her estranged husband, Dr Anton Beer, and young Robert Seidel was returning to the home of his mother and step-father.

But both Anna Beer and Robert Seidel have left ghosts back in Vienna and each is confronted by problems when they return to the city. Dr Beer, who had been looking forward to reuniting with his wife - or at least trying to face their problems - is not at the apartment to meet his returning wife. He's missing after having returned to Vienna from the Soviet prisoner-of-war camp. Robert's family is in an uproar because his older step-brother stands accused of killing his father (Robert's step-father). And Robert's mother is a drug dependent zombie. There's also a "crooked maid" of the title, who has ties to both Anna Beer and Robert Seidel.

Some more murders happen and a shady Czech is at the center of a lot of the action. The characters are not particularly likable but all are interesting and nuanced. The plot moves slowly, sometimes in fits and starts, but I don't think most readers could foretell the ending, which is what it should be. A good ending to both the book and the series.


Fatal Rivalry, Flodden 1513: Henry VIII, James IV and the battle for Renaissance Britain
Fatal Rivalry, Flodden 1513: Henry VIII, James IV and the battle for Renaissance Britain
by George Goodwin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For history buffs only., 6 Aug 2013
The title of George Goodwin's book, "Fatal Rivalry: Flodden, 1513: Henry VIII and James IV and the Decisive Battle for Renaissance Britain", really sums up the book's contents in that one sentence. But there's a lot of great details about the two kingdoms, uneasily sharing a single island, and their diplomatic and military history. By the way, Henry VIII was not at the battle but his foe, Scotland's James IV was killed by English troops.

The most interesting person, hands down, was James IV, of the House of Stewart. He ruled Scotland after his father's - James III - death under somewhat murky circumstances. He came to the throne in 1488 and was killed in battle 25 years later. His reign straddled the reigns of the English kings, Henry VII and Henry VIII. In 1503, he wed Margaret, the daughter of Henry VII and sister of Henry VIII. The marriage was an attempt to solidify the often rocky relationship between the House of Tudor and the House of Stewart. Things were quiet for a few years but each country's relationships and pacts between the continental powers of Austria, France, Spain, and the Vatican added to the unrest between the two countries.

James was a true Renaissance spirit in the artistic sense, but was also accomplished in battle. Goodwin gives both James and the two Henrys nuanced portrayals in his book. One interesting fact that I've never read anywhere else concerns Henry VII obsession to insure the continuance of the House of Tudor. Evidently Henry had a great fear of eternal damnation and wanted to make sure chancery masses for his soul continued after his death. He felt the if his descendents retained power, Henry would be sure of having these masses said.

Goodwin's book is quite detailed about the events leading up to the Battle of Flodden, as well as the aftermath, but he writes in a very readable way. I'm not sure this book will appeal to the casual reader of history, but to readers interested in the background of the English/Scottish relationship, and, in particular, how Elizabeth I's successor in 1603 was the Scottish king James VI, this book is great reading. There are plenty of maps and plenty of pictures of the leading characters of the time. Another book I can highly recommend is Thomas Penn's book, "The Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England".


Fatal Rivalry: Flodden, 1513: Henry VIII and James IV and the Battle for Renaissance Britain
Fatal Rivalry: Flodden, 1513: Henry VIII and James IV and the Battle for Renaissance Britain
by George Goodwin
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For history buffs only., 6 Aug 2013
The title of George Goodwin's book, "Fatal Rivalry: Flodden, 1513: Henry VIII and James IV and the Decisive Battle for Renaissance Britain", really sums up the book's contents in that one sentence. But there's a lot of great details about the two kingdoms, uneasily sharing a single island, and their diplomatic and military history. By the way, Henry VIII was not at the battle but his foe, Scotland's James IV was killed by English troops.

The most interesting person, hands down, was James IV, of the House of Stewart. He ruled Scotland after his father's - James III - death under somewhat murky circumstances. He came to the throne in 1488 and was killed in battle 25 years later. His reign straddled the reigns of the English kings, Henry VII and Henry VIII. In 1503, he wed Margaret, the daughter of Henry VII and sister of Henry VIII. The marriage was an attempt to solidify the often rocky relationship between the House of Tudor and the House of Stewart. Things were quiet for a few years but each country's relationships and pacts between the continental powers of Austria, France, Spain, and the Vatican added to the unrest between the two countries.

James was a true Renaissance spirit in the artistic sense, but was also accomplished in battle. Goodwin gives both James and the two Henrys nuanced portrayals in his book. One interesting fact that I've never read anywhere else concerns Henry VII obsession to insure the continuance of the House of Tudor. Evidently Henry had a great fear of eternal damnation and wanted to make sure chancery masses for his soul continued after his death. He felt the if his descendents retained power, Henry would be sure of having these masses said.

Goodwin's book is quite detailed about the events leading up to the Battle of Flodden, as well as the aftermath, but he writes in a very readable way. I'm not sure this book will appeal to the casual reader of history, but to readers interested in the background of the English/Scottish relationship, and, in particular, how Elizabeth I's successor in 1603 was the Scottish king James VI, this book is great reading. There are plenty of maps and plenty of pictures of the leading characters of the time. Another book I can highly recommend is Thomas Penn's book, "The Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England".


Unfaithfully Yours
Unfaithfully Yours
by Nigel Williams
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.19

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Suburban monsters"..., 2 Aug 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Unfaithfully Yours (Hardcover)
Putney is a suburb of London, located southwest of the city, in Surrey. Like many suburbs of large cities, it's pretty prosperous and has a defined community of lawyers, bankers, doctors, and the like. It's a city of families and four Putney families - along with one private detective - are the main characters in Nigel Williams' hilarious novel, "Unfaithfully Yours". I ordered the book from Amazon/UK; here in the US only the Audible version is available. And that's where I'm posting this review.

Williams' book is told entirely in epistolary form. This way of telling the story has one large problem; in today's world the hand-written letter is almost a thing of the past. To believe that eight people today would write letters - not email - beggars the imagination, but somehow, it seems to work in Williams' book. And, if it works, its because the reader wants it to work. This is a very humorous book, with very off-the-wall characters who are still a bit like people you probably know, and in some cases, love.

Four couples, who used to be friends, have grown apart. They were friends because their children went to school together and when the children grew up and left home, the reason for the parents' friendship ended. In 2000, one of the wives was found dead in her living room, the supposed victim of suicide. Ten or so years later the group of former friends was brought together by a private detective, supposedly hired to look into the philandering by one of the husbands, Gerry Price, QC, and husband of Classics teacher, Elizabeth Price. Who hired the detective is one of the mysteries that doesn't get solved til the book's end.

Marriages change as they grow in years. The four couples in Williams' novel have changed possibly more than most partners. Of the three still-intact marriages, one husband has had a change in sexuality and all six have fallen out- of-love and into-hate with their partners. The hate and contempt they all feel for each other is hilariously expressed in some of the most dead-pan prose I've ever read. Some of the writing is laugh-out-loud funny and most of it is very un-PC. (British writers tend to be less PC than we Americans.)

"Unfaithfully Yours" really has very little plot. It is almost entirely a character study, told by a somewhat "unreliable" voice, the private detective. Exactly how "unreliable" is never cleared up; the reader is left to believe somethings and not others. And it really doesn't matter what's reliable and what isn't. This is a very funny book that now that I've read it, I'm going to by the Audible copy. It's a book almost tailor-made for listening.

The other charming part of "Unfaithfully Yours" is the wonderful cover art by a British artist, Tom Gault.


Letters from Skye
Letters from Skye
by Jessica Brockmole
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.96

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book club choice., 29 July 2013
This review is from: Letters from Skye (Hardcover)
First time author Jessica Brockmole has written a pleasant novel - using an epistolary form - set in two wars and the links that stretch between them. "Letters From Skye" is a nice afternoon read, but frankly, I was not too invested in the characters or the plot. I do think it will be a great book club choice because a few people sitting around talking about the book may make the book come more alive.

For the fiction reader who likes epistolary form novels, look for Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey's "A Woman of Independent Means", first published in 1976 and still available in Kindle and trade paper.


Love Me Anyway
Love Me Anyway
by Tiffany Hawk
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.67

4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent first novel..., 27 July 2013
This review is from: Love Me Anyway (Hardcover)
You know, this book is sort of a "sleeper". Tiffany Hawk's first novel, "Love Me Anyway", is a well-written book about two young women, from lower middle-class backgrounds, who meet as flight attendants-in-training for United Airlines. KC and Emily are fleeing bad marriages and dull pasts and duller futures and they instinctively know that their horizons will be broadened if they are able to join the airlines. The times are the late 1990's and the economy's still pretty good and the airlines are hiring.

Hawk is herself a former flight attendant for United Airlines. She uses United and its cities and flights to really give the book a sense of realism, missing from more generic books about life-in-the-sky. This was special for me as a reader because I fly a fair amount - though on American Airlines - and those flights, those passengers, those crew members are very familiar to me. I can picture the nasty passenger in First Class, claiming to deserve extra service because, after all, she's a "Premier Exec" and "entitled". Hawk gets that part of flying down to a "T". But it's on-the-ground where most of the emotional action takes place. The lay-overs in strange cities, the magical relationships that pop up between crew members, and everything else that passengers envision the crews engaging in. The love affairs that happen...

Tiffany Hawk's characters are very well drawn. How easy is it for a first-time novelists to draw cardboard figures, without the nuances that come with writing experience? Very easy and usually expected by the reader. Hawk gives her characters "life" and "personality". They don't react in the expected ways. Her two main characters, Emily and KC come across as real FA's you might meet on United Airlines, at least in the late 1990's. Young, good-looking and looking for good jobs and possible mates. But then 9/11 happened. The entire business model of the airlines changed and both our young women were affected in the layoffs that followed.

"Love Me Anyway" is not conventional "chick-lit". It is a well-thought out and well-written novel about people we all know, and in many cases, love. Tiffany Hawk makes us care about her characters. I'm looking forward to her next book.


The Anarchist Detective: (Max Cámara 3)
The Anarchist Detective: (Max Cámara 3)
by Jason Webster
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

5.0 out of 5 stars The third time's the charm..., 17 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
"The Anarchist Detective" is British author Jason Webster's third book in his Max Camara police series. The first two novels - set in Valencia, Spain - were almost straight-up police procedurals. They were good reads; Webster caught the flavor and rhythms of the third largest city in Spain. But this novel, "The Anarchist Detective", rises to a higher level. Webster's writing is more assured and his plot and characters more interesting than his first two books.

"Anarchist" is set in the smaller city of Albacete, inland and southwest of Valencia. It is the birth place of Chief Superintendent Max Camara and he has returned to the city to help his ailing grandfather. He is on an extended leave from his position in Valencia and has been living with a new woman friend in Madrid while he decides on his future. While caring for his cantankerous old grandfather - who had been a Republican during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930's - he discovers some family secrets of that contentious and violent time. But the Civil War had not been the only difficult time for the Camara family. Young Max's sister had been raped and murdered and his parents died soon after, unable to cope with their daughter's death. Max was sent to live with his now aged and ailing grandfather. During his current stay in Albacete, while caring for his grandfather, another young girl is found raped and murdered and a bunch of bodies of people killed by the Franco government were found buried. One of those murdered was Max's great-grandfather. Oh, and there's also a saffron smuggling operation going on that Max is asked to informally look into.

If all of these plot points seem complicated, Jason Webster is able to weave them into an excellent story. His characters are all nuanced portrayals who catch the interest of the reader. Webster's first two books were solid 4 stars but with this one, he's moved up to 5 star.


What Went Wrong?: The Inside Story of the GOP Debacle of 2012... and How It Can Be Avoided Next Time
What Went Wrong?: The Inside Story of the GOP Debacle of 2012... and How It Can Be Avoided Next Time
by Jerome R. Corsi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.44

4.0 out of 5 stars Glad I read it., 15 July 2013
Okay. How did a life-long "lefty" Democrat like me decide to download, read, and review Jerome Corsi's book about the 2012 election, "What Went Wrong? The Inside Story of the GOP Debacle..." And, to give it 4 stars? Well, because I was trying to find an answer to the question that has puzzled me since Election Day; "how and why was the Romney campaign so certain they were going to win?" Corsi's book did give a bit of an answer.

Jerome Corsi is the Republican behind the deplorable 2004 "Swiftboat" ads. He has also questioned Obama's credentials in becoming president in 2008 in several over-the-top books. He also KNOWS the president and the Democratic Party cheated in registering "illegal aliens" to vote (doesn't the state actually register people to vote?) and that ACORN was responsible for the other acts of Democratic-led mayhem. Oh, and that Obama practiced "identity politics" and promised voters all sorts of "free stuff" if they voted for him. Hey, I'm an old white lady and I voted for Obama; where's MY free Ipad?

But, at least, he refers to the Democratic Party by its rightful name, rather than the "Democrat Party". And his book, when he stays away from the craziness, is actually a very good read. He and I both opposed the candidacy of Willard "Mitt" Romney - though for completely different reasons and he has ideas for the future of the Republican Party on the national level that I completely support. Again for different reasons. In his book, Corsi gave grudging approval of the Obama campaign's successful tactics. He lauded the much-vaunted "ground game" and the massive computer system (Narwal) that OFA built up and tested, retested...and tested again, making sure it would work. The Republicans had ORCA, also named after a whale, but only set to use it on Election Day. It "crashed" the first time it was put to work, and millions of votes were lost. (Curious that the campaign didn't know or care about early voting and that ORCA should have been put to work weeks earlier, identifying Romney-voters and getting them to the polls.) Some of the reasons Corsi gives for Romney's defeat are "what if's". Sort of like "if" my aunt was a man, she'd be my uncle.

Jerome Corsi does touch on the "internal polls" that Mitt Romney and his campaign depended on - solely, it would seem - in predicting their victory. They expected a victory - and a blowout if Dick Morris was to be believed - until "victory" became a...defeat. Romney did give a very gracious concession speech and Barack Obama retained the presidency. Corsi goes on to talk about what the Republican party can do "next time" to win. He quotes Phyllis Schlafly and some other Republican stalwarts about the future. Fine, Jerome, follow their advise...

But, one way that Jerome Corsi is correct about is the future of the Republican Party on the state and local levels. Any Democrat who isn't scared stiff about the power that the Republican governors and state officials have amassed since 2010 has his head in the sand. And this is the reason that Democratic voters and politicians should read his book. We have to know our opponents and what they're thinking. And accomplishing.

I assume I'm one of the few "lefties" to buy, read, and review Jerome Corsi's book. But I'm glad I did. It was a good read - and while I didn't agree with most of it - it did answer some questions I had about 2012 and 2016.


In Times of Fading Light
In Times of Fading Light
by Eugen Ruge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.25

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Families..., 14 July 2013
It's funny, if you really stop and think about it, that families and the internal relations between members, are pretty much the same 'round the world. And in all different times, too. Family dynamics never really change. In Eugen Ruge's new novel, "In Times of Fading Light", he tells the story of four generations of an East German family, beginning in 1950 and ending in 2001. Told in different chapters, by different family members, Ruge skips around from one year to another - back and forth in time - often telling the same vignette as seen from many sides. And, of course, the understanding of the vignette is different, based on that family member's experience and point of view.

Most of the story is set in East Berlin and surrounding areas, but the first and last parts are set in Mexico. The great-grandparents, Charlotte and Wilhelm, have been exiled from Germany during the WW2 years. Both are members of the German Communist party and are now thinking about returning from their lives in Mexico to live in the newly formed GDR. Charlotte's two sons by a first marriage had moved the opposite direction - into the Soviet Union - during the war. One son is dead and the other - a fervent Communist - has run afoul of the Stalin government and spent time in prison camps and "internal exile". He's finally released and returns to East Berlin in the mid-1950's with his son and his Russian wife (and eventually his mother-in-law).

Making a living and a life in the GDR was fairly easy at a certain level if you towed the Communist line. Wilhelm has fit into the GDR party and is rewarded - unnecessarily his own wife thinks - with a house and a living, and medals. Charlotte is the head of a government group of some sort and Kurt and his Russian wife, Irina, also prosper in the communist country. They all seem to have nice houses, lots of food - much of the story is devoted to the holiday meals they prepare - and lots of personal belongings. But as the years pass, and the Berlin Wall is erected in 1961 and then torn down in 1989, ideology changes and the lives of those who believe in that ideology also change. Children - Kurt and Irina's son, Alexander (Sasha) - and Alexander's son, Markus - are forced to find their way both economically and politically as the Wall falls and the GDR is combined with the West German state.

Eugen Ruge has written an excellent novel of a family and its times. All the characters are nuanced portrayals of people you might know. Their story - and their family - is one that all of us can relate to.

Ruge's novel was beautifully translated from the German to English by Anthea Bell. I've read other books Bell has translated and they all seem to sing in English.


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