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Jill Meyer (United States)
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Mormon Rivals: The Romneys, the Huntsmans and the Pursuit of Power
Mormon Rivals: The Romneys, the Huntsmans and the Pursuit of Power
Price: £3.86

5.0 out of 5 stars Not a political hit job..., 2 Jun. 2015
I'd like to start off my review of "Mormon Rivals: The Romneys, the Huntsmans, and the Pursuit of Power", by Matthew Canham and Thomas Burr, by saying this book is not a political hit job. It is completely unbiased - which is an important thing for the reader to know. Usually in a work of non-fiction about politics and politicians, the reader gets some idea about the political ideology of the author(s), but in "Mormon Rivals", there's nary a hint. Both Canham and Burr work for the "Salt Lake Tribune" and their clean writing style is indicative of a newspaper reporter's work.

I have been fascinated by Mitt Romney since he first ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2007. I couldn't quite "figure him out"; what were his political ideas and how did his Mormon faith affect his political run. I had long admired his father, George, and if I had been able to vote in 1968 - and he had been running - I might have voted for him. Mitt, however, seemed a long way from his father... And then Jon Huntsman, Jr, came on the scene and I wondered who he was and how his upbringing and family differed from the Romneys.

When I saw "Mormon Rivals", I realised it was a chance to learn about Romney and Huntsman. Both governors and descendents of Mormon "royalty", they were Republican rivals for the presidential nomination in 2012. Obviously Mitt Romney won in 2012, and evidently thought about running again for 2016. Jon Huntsman has not thrown his name in the ring, but I somehow doubt he's squelched all political ambitions.

Canham and Burr cover the history - religious, socially, and financially - of both families. Jon Huntsman, Sr, made a lot of money in the 1960's and the family has been economically generous to charities in Utah and elsewhere. Maybe because they seem more tied to the University of Utah, rather than Brigham Young University, the come across as more "ecumenical" in their giving, rather than parochial. The authors examine the early and school years of both men, as well as their choices of wives. One particularly interesting section of the book concerns the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. There the authors stress how corrupt the bidding for the games process was on the international level, as well as how troubled the games were when Salt Lake City's bid was accepted.

The rest of the book is balanced and well written. It's an objective look at two political powerhouses and how they accrued their power and what they've done with it. This book is for political junkies like me.


Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries
Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries
by Antony Sher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.39

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous look at an actor and a production., 31 May 2015
Mounting a production of a William Shakespeare play must be similar - in a way - to curating an art exhibit at a major museum. Both are put together using many experts in design and education and the best ones - at least to me - focus on a central character or artist, with lots of supporting actors or paintings. In his book, "Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries", Sir Antony Sher combines writing and art to tell about the 2014 productions of "Henry IV, Part 1" and "Henry IV, 2", put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company, in which he played "Falstaff".

Tony Sher, the South African-born actor and author, had played many classic characters, but he had never considered - or been considered for - the role of Falstaff. The character was usually played by large actors - usually made even larger by wearing a body suit - and Tony Sher didn't feel he had the body to play this larger-than-life character. However, his civil partner, Gregory Doran, as head of the RSC, was directing the "Henry" plays and wanted Sher to play the character of Falstaff. Sher was starring in the Royal National Theater's production of "The Captain of Kopenick" in Spring, 2013, and he began to consider the role, talking to other actors and directors about his ability to carry off the role. After much consideration, he decided to take on the challenge. His diary of the next year recounted both the soul-searching about taking the role, and then the details of how he, as an actor, and others, as cast and crew, produced this play.

I had never read about the mounting of a theatrical production and I was fascinated by the details involved in getting everything from the scenery, to the costumes, to the historical facts just right. Tony Sher also writes about how HE got into the part of Falstaff. After looking at the character and how others had played him in past productions, Sher decided to portray him as an alcoholic.

Sher is a very good writer, but he is also quite talented as an artist. The text is accompanied by drawings of other actors who have played the part of Falstaff in the past, as well as the actors and crew he was currently working with. The book, which is currently only available in e-book form, is absolutely delightful.


Closet Queens: Some 20th Century British Politicians
Closet Queens: Some 20th Century British Politicians
by Michael Bloch
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Sir Norman Fry" exists!, 30 May 2015
British author Michael Bloch has written "Closet Queens" an interesting look at gay British politicians in the last 150 or so years. However, Bloch seems to include some well-known politicians - Winston Churchill, for example - in his book, who was not sexually gay, but rather enjoyed the company of men, over the company of women. And others who were asexual and didn't have sex with ANYONE, let alone another man! But there were plenty of other men who were either bisexual or homosexual and dealt with it in various ways in their public lives.

The practice of homosexuality/sodomy was a crime in Britain until it was decriminalised in 1967. Gay men mostly hid their orientation, often marrying women as a cover. While some marriages were successful, sometime producing children, many of the marriages were unhappy as husbands could not come to terms with themselves. Even after decriminalisation, being gay was definitely not an advantage in public life. But to many men, being active in public life was what they wanted and were successful in hiding their sexuality.

Conservative prime minister Edward (Ted) Heath was probably gay but he sublimated his sexuality to achieve his political ambitions. And he was only one of many men Bloch looks at who had to do the same thing. At what point does ambition triumph over sexual desire? Probably more often than we think. Many other British PM's also had homosexual connections in their lives, either through their own actions or through relationships with others. However, I found it ridiculous for Bloch to include Winston Churchill in this book. He was a man - like many men - who felt more comfortable around other men. If that's being "gay", then there are a lot of previously considered straight men (and women) who could be considered "gay"!

"Sir Norman Fry" - that hilarious-but-ulimately-sad character on "Little Britain" - could really exist today as gay men try to hide their natures behind a wife-and-children exterior. I think its probably being done less today as gay men - like Labour's Peter Mandelson - find it easier and more socially accepted to be out in public life.

Michael Bloch's book, "Closet Queens" is good reading for a narrow base of political junkies. The reader should have access to Wikipedia as Bloch "names names" and it is good to be able to look them up.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 6, 2015 2:02 PM BST


Tin Sky (Martin Bora Book 4)
Tin Sky (Martin Bora Book 4)
Price: £5.75

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Threading the Nazi needle..., 25 May 2015
"Tin Sky" is the fourth mystery in author Ben Pastor's "Martin Bora" series. Set in WW2, Bora, is a major with the German Abwehr service. The first three books, set in Crakow and and Rome, are followed by "Tin Sky", which takes place in Kharkov, Ukraine, in late Spring, 1944, after the German defeat at Stalingrad. Bora is involved in duties of protecting a Russian general who is defecting to the German side, cleaning out a mysterious forest area - said to be full of ghosts and murderers - and setting up a new fighting unit.

Martin Bora - the son of a famous musician and the step-son of a famous German general - is written as a man at odds with the world around him. Ben Pastor, the author, has to thread a very small Nazi needle here with her character. Is Martin Bora a murderer of Jews and other civilians, or is he a "good guy"? Does he only kill other soldiers, Russian soldiers? So much random and organised killing is done on the Russian front; how much is Bora responsible for? He does mount an offensive to kill Russian partisans in the forest and is successful at that.

In "Tin Sky", Ben Pastor mixes the personal with the professional. She writes Martin Bora as a soldier - dedicated to his tasks - but also as a son, brother, friend, and yearning husband. The merging of the two views of Bora give Pastor's readers a well-rounded look at a very complicated man.

I can't imagine much more of a difficult writing task than to write about German soldiers in WW2. Ben Pastor does a pretty good job in her series, but it can't be easy to do. Her books really cannot be compared to other authors writing about WW2, like Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, and David Downing, to name a few. Their books are usually of a larger picture of the war, whereas Ben Pastor gets down and dirty with her character and plots. Death is ever-present, in military action and in murders.

"Tin Sky" has a very complicated plot and readers should know something already about the German occupation in Ukraine after the Battle of Stalingrad. For those readers, "Tin Sky" is a very good book.


Mislaid
Mislaid
by Nell Zink
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for every reader..., 20 May 2015
This review is from: Mislaid (Hardcover)
"Mislaid", a new novel by Nell Zink, is certainly not a book for every reader. It is an edgy tale of characters who are laid bare in their essential quirkiness by the author. They are not characters you might love, but they are characters who will remain with you after you finish the book.

Nell Zink has written a book about four main family members - the Flemings - from rural and landed Virginia. Lee, the father, is a gay man who found fame as a poet and has coasted on his laurels at a small Virginia women's college, known for attracting lesbians. One of the students, who causes him to "play for the other team" - at least temporarily - is Peggy, with whom he embarks on an ill-advised affair. They conceive a child - Bryd, marry, and have a second child, a daughter, Mirielle. However,the marriage between a cynical gay man and a somewhat flighty, sorta lesbian, ends in failure as Peggy drives Lee's car into the local lake, and flees, taking Mirielle with her. She leaves Byrd with his father, and makes a life for her and her daughter, on the run.

Now, did I mention that the Flemings are white? Because when Peggy takes Mirielle, she goes "underground" in a way, adopting the persona of an African-American. A very "white" African-American, but one, never-the-less. She stays in rural Virginia and raises Mirielle (now Karen) in a lower class setting, but giving her a family by befriending/being befriended by the African-American Moody family. Their son Temple is near Karen's age and becomes her best friend. Temple is a brilliant student and he and Karen end up at the University of Virginia. Also at the University is Karen's older brother, Byrd.

The rest of Zink's story is how everyone comes together. It is a charming story, and Nell Zink doesn't shy away from presenting all the characters as individuals who also happen to be part of a group - a family, a fraternity, a school, etc. Reading "Mislaid" is like looking into a kaleidoscope; the characters and plot keep changing and making different combinations. At the heart of "Mislaid", however, are the feelings of love and forgiveness and acceptance that make the story what it is.

As I said in the beginning, "Mislaid" is definitely not for every reader. Though I hate to compare authors, Zink's writing is a bit like Lisa Ather's and James Wilcox. Southern, quirky, and, in the end, loving.


Stone Cold Dead: An Ellie Stone Mystery (Ellie Stone Mysteries Series)
Stone Cold Dead: An Ellie Stone Mystery (Ellie Stone Mysteries Series)
Price: £9.22

5.0 out of 5 stars James Ziskin does an excellent job at "building" Ellie Stone and her surroundings, 18 May 2015
I am giving the rating of five stars to James Ziskin's mystery, "Stone Cold Dead: An Ellie Stone Mystery" by comparing it with other historical mysteries, NOT regular novels. This mystery is the third of the series - I read this one and then went back and read the first in the series - and it is set in 1960, in a small community in upstate New York. The protagonist is Eleanora Stone - called "Ellie" - and she is a "girl reporter" for a local daily newspaper. Originally from New York City, she's somewhat loose with her favors and likes to drink; sometimes to excess. Ellie Stone is no one's idea of a 1960's young woman. And that is what makes James Ziskin's character a very interesting creation.

On a cold New Year's Eve in 1960, Ellie is visited in her apartment by a distraught mother, Irene Metzger, whose 15 year old daughter, Darleen, has disappeared a few days before. The local police have written the case off as a "runaway" but Irene implores Ellie to look into her daughter's disappearance. Ellie agrees to spend some time and effort, but she's also involved in her reporting job. Somehow the two merge as both the police realise there's more to the girl's disappearance and the newspaper realise that Ellie might be on to a big story. The reader can actually feel the cold and bitter winter weather as Ellie builds her story.

James Ziskin does an excellent job at "building" Ellie Stone and her surroundings. He also seems to have carefully paid attention to the time and place. That's not always easy for a writer to do and this is the first novel I've read placed in 1960. Ellie Stone is portrayed as a young woman seeking her place in a man's world. The newspaper would like her to report on "women's issues" but Ellie prefers crime and sports reporting. She's not taken seriously; she's just a "girl reporter".

The plot and characters are captured by Ziskin's good writing. I'm glad I went back and read the first in the series, "Styx and Stones", set in New York City, because it gave me a background picture of Eleanora Stone. This is a series to get involved in.


Vanishing
Vanishing
by Gerard Woodward
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An "enigma"..., 13 May 2015
This review is from: Vanishing (Paperback)
Kenneth Brill, the main character in British author Gerard Woodward's new novel, "The Vanishing", is not a figure readers might accept as worthy of being the subject of a novel. Brill, who begins the book as the defendant in a WW2 British army court-martial, has lived a life that looks pretty bad on paper - arrested for various offenses, both military and civilian. But those offenses seem to change in the telling of the circumstances behind them. And Kenneth Brill seems more like a Zelig-like character - one who pops up in different places in 1930's and 40's England. He was always sort of "there", but not quite as expected.

Brill's family are long-time settlers in an area due west of London, called "Heath". The land of his parents and other residents is being taken over by the British government during the war, to form an airstrip. That airstrip was eventually known as "Heathrow" and is today London's main airport. Brill, an artist, is arrested for possible treasonous acts after being found drawing pictures of the soon-to-be developed area. The court martial tells the story of Brill's life up to this point.

Okay, Kenneth Brill is a misunderstood figure. He's been in trouble for minor acts of vandalism, personal injury, recklessness, and going over-the-wall at Buckingham Palace to "plant German grass". He doesn't really understand his own sexuality (and neither do the readers)and the poor man goes from situation to situation. He doesn't go from "adventure to adventure"; he goes from situation to situation. This wandering through life is made possible by the people - family and friends - who in some cases cause his downfalls and in other cases help him recover. Kenneth Brill is an enigma, and I ended "Vanishing" with as little understanding of Brill and his life as when I began the book.

But even if I didn't understand Kenneth Brill, I enjoyed reading about him. He was an artist - though kicked out of London's prestigious Slade School of Fine Art - and his artist's sensibility accompanied him throughout his life. We see his life - as much as we can - through that sensibility. The book's title "Vanishing" can refer to a WW2 camouflage exercise in the African desert that Brill took part in, or, I think, his Zelig-like path through life. Please read all the reviews about the book before buying it. It's not a book for everyone, but it may be your cup of tea.


Cafe Europa: An Edna Ferber Mystery (Edna Ferber Mysteries)
Cafe Europa: An Edna Ferber Mystery (Edna Ferber Mysteries)
by Ed Ifkovic
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Budapest...in summer 1914, 7 May 2015
"Cafe Europa", by author Ed Ifkovic, is the latest novel in his "Edna Ferber Mystery" series. I think there are five earlier ones, but this is the first one I've read. Now, I've jumped into mystery series before not having read the previous books and felt like I am missing "something", like the characters' back stories, but I actually found "Cafe Europa" pretty easy to get into. Of course, it helps to know who Edna Ferber was...

I picked up this book because it is set in Budapest in that fateful summer of 1914. Hungary was the "junior partner" - as they thought of themselves - in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Budapest was a hotbed of spies - both homegrown and foreign. International business people were in the city, looking for investment opportunities, including the brokering of a marriage between a wealthy American woman and a titled-but-broke Austrian nobleman. And there was one reporter, a "yellow journalist" from the Hearst syndicate, looking to write about the death-throes of the Empire. There was trouble on the southern lands of the empire and the Balkans were just waiting to explode.

Edna Ferber was visiting the city with a British suffragette friend and became involved in the murder of another guest at their hotel. Ferber, in attempting to solve the crime - as well as a second that occurs soon after - is immersed in life the city. Ifkovic combines real characters with fictional ones, but it helps to have access to Wikipedia to figure out who is who. He puts a "List of Characters" in the front of the book.

Good historical fiction both teaches and entertains, and it is certainly the case with Ed Ifkovic's "Cafe Europa". The book begins a bit slowly, but that time is spent establishing the characters and place. I think the reader should have an interest in WW1 Europe, but the mystery should keep almost everyone interested.


Murder in Piccadilly: A British Library Crime Classic (British Library Crime Classics)
Murder in Piccadilly: A British Library Crime Classic (British Library Crime Classics)
by Charles Kingston
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A 1930's reprint..., 6 May 2015
"Murder in Piccadilly: A British Library Crime Classic", by Charles Kingston, is a reprint of a mystery, originally published in 1936, by Poisoned Pen Press. The book is set in London, 1936, and the reader has to realise that styles of mystery writing have changed in the intervening 70 years. Not necessarily improved...but changed. This is not "your" mystery, but more likely your grandmother's. Poisoned Pen Press is republishing a series of these mysteries; "Piccadilly" is the second, so far.

"Murder in Piccadilly" is a fun read that is as much a study of mid-1930's society as it is a "who done it". Only one murder occurs, and, though done by a stiletto, is surprisingly bloodless. Much bloodier, in a way, are the conversations among the characters. "Bobbie" Cheldon is a 24 year old man who is waiting for his wealthy uncle to die and leave him his fortune and his estate. Unfortunately, Uncle Massy isn't THAT old, and besides being snobbish, crotchety, and cheap, is likely to live for a while yet. Bobbie is getting tired of waiting for his fortune to be made for him and is unwilling to work for a living. Like many young men without a life's path, he is weak and easily led. And led he is by Nancy Curzon, a 19 year old dancer from Whitechapel. Nancy has appeared in Bobbie's life and is only willing to remain with him if he's rich. Bobbie, who must be the stupidest person in Christendom, is unable or unwilling to see Nancy's true nature. Everyone around him, though, can see it just fine.

Okay, so Uncle Massy must die - and he does - for the book to continue. The Scotland Yard detective, Chief Inspector Wake, begins his investigation by asking that old Latin question - "cui bono" - and his investigation brings him directly to Bobbie, the heir. Wake's sized up Bobbie pretty well and knows that he is to weak minded to actually do the deed, so Wake concentrates on Nancy and other characters in her world. Because, even if Bobbie is the direct heir - 10,000BP a year! - others also stand to benefit. Wake and his men investigate and even find the killer, but then a twist at the ending leaves everything - and everyone - at a bit of a loss. It's a clever book, well told.

The best thing about this book - and I presume the others in the series - is that it is written contemporaneously. Everything we're reading about actually existed at the time. This is what a a slice of London society looked like. As I like reading historical novels - mysteries, included - it was great fun to read "Murder in Piccadilly" and I'm giving it a 5 star review, within its own genre. IF you're not interested in historical fiction, then you might not like "Murder in Piccadilly" as much as I did. (I was given this book by Poisoned Pen Press, in exchange for an HONEST review, which I have given. I am honest about liking the genre, but telling others who may not, not to buy the book. How much more "honest" can I get?)


The Hound in the Left-Hand Corner
The Hound in the Left-Hand Corner
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fun, gentle satire..., 3 May 2015
I recently read a new novel, "The Iron Necklace", by British author Giles Waterfield that I liked so much I went into his back list and found "The Hound in the Left-Hand Corner", originally published in 2004. Set in a high-end museum in London, the "BRIT" is scrambling for a higher rung on the museum-ladder of prestige. The novel, a farce, focuses on one day in the museum, as the staff and trustees are getting ready to open an important new exhibit and host a dinner for 400. The exhibit - "Elegance" - is being staged around a Gainsborough painting, recently purchased by the museum's board chairman. But the painting has a very dodgy provenance, which comes to light the afternoon of the gala.

Giles Waterfield does an excellent job of laying out his plot and introducing his characters. And there are a lot of characters; the book includes a listing of who's who at the beginning of the book and the reader can flip back to refer to the list if confused. Most of the characters are the museum's staff - from Director to gallery minders. Also included are the caterers of the gala-for-400 that, predictably, does not go well at all, and other professionals who are coming together to produce both the party and the gala. But aside from "Elegance" as the new exhibit at the "BRIT", the museum's board is planning for the future. In their quest for more relevance in the London art world, the board is being challenged with a radical idea of "The Nowness of Now", which will turn a seemingly stodgy museum...Avant garde and au courent.

"Hound" is a fun read. It is not really a savage look at the London art world - for that you'll have to read Ruth Dudley Edwards' "Killing the Emperors". Waterfield's book pokes gentle fun at the institutions and the individuals who run them.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 6, 2015 8:29 PM BST


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