Profile for Jill Meyer > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Jill Meyer
Top Reviewer Ranking: 170
Helpful Votes: 3114

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Jill Meyer (United States)
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20
pixel
The Setting Sun: A Memoir of Empire and Family Secrets
The Setting Sun: A Memoir of Empire and Family Secrets
by Bart Moore-Gilbert
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A search in modern day India..., 27 May 2014
British historian Bart Moore-Gilbert's memoir, "The Setting Sun", certainly isn't for every reader. A certain reader interested in British colonial history - Indian and Tanganyikan especially - will find the book fascinating as Moore-Gilbert looks back on his late father's life and work in Raj India. But the book is as much a personal history as it is a political one. That "personal" one is the relationship between the Moore-Gilbert father and son.

The book goes back and forth between Raj India in the 1930's and 40's when Bill Moore-Gilbert was a member of the Indian Police force, and 1940's and 40's Tanganyika - now Tanzania - where Moore-Gilbert married and raised a family of three sons. Bart Moore-Gilbert was the middle son and was a school child in England when he received word of his father's death in an airplane crash. A third time component is current day India, where Bart Moore-Gilbert goes to investigate charges made against his father during his time of police service. The time changes are not too difficult to deal with, and the son's remembrances of his father in Africa are written in a different font.

In December 2008, just weeks after the November bomb blasts that killed almost 200 people - Bart Moore-Gilbert traveled to Mumbai to begin the search for the truth about his father. Not knowing exactly who to talk to, Moore-Gilbert basically was lucky enough to meet people who knew his father in the western India areas in which Bill Moore-Gilbert served. Traveling by train and car through the area, Bart met up with old people who had either served with his father or had been victims of his father's actions. Bart is able to satisfy himself about his father's service in the last days of the Raj.

Bart Moore-Gilbert has written a personal search for the father he lost at an early age. But he lost his early years in the Tanganyikan bush, too. His book is personal, with a large bit of history thrown in, to keep the history buffs among us satisfied. On another note, I wish the book had a map of the towns he traveled to in India on his search. Maybe the final copy will have a map page but the readers' copy I have didn't.


Murder on the Home Front: A True Story of Morgues, Murderers and Mysteries in the Blitz
Murder on the Home Front: A True Story of Morgues, Murderers and Mysteries in the Blitz
by Molly Lefebure
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Death during war-time, 27 May 2014
Death in Britain during the WW2 years was not accountable solely to the German Blitz and Doodle-bomb campaigns. No, there were deaths of the kind found not in wartime - plenty of murders, suicides, septic deaths, and accidental deaths - to keep the police and coroners busy for all seven years of the war. One especially busy coroner was Dr Keith Simpson of Scotland Yard, who was assisted for five years by Molly Lefebure, his secretary. Ms Lefebure wrote a memoir in the 1950's of her years of work with Dr Simpson. The book was called "Evidence for the Crown: Experiences of a Pathologist's Secretary". It was republished lately as "Murder on the Home Front: A True Story of Morgues, Murderers, and Mysteries During the London Blitz".

Molly Lefebure - who later went on to write several noted biographies and novels - has written a somewhat chatty, stream-of-consciousness book about her work during the war years. She was hired by Dr Keith Simpson as his "secretary", but her job included helping a post-mortems, cataloging evidence, and writing up his reports. She grew used to gruesome crime scenes and once told her grandson - years after the war - "you can eat anywhere once you've eaten a ham sandwich in a mortuary"!! While there was much death and destruction during the war years, Simpson and his team were kept busy with the other deaths. She was "on the scene" at several terrible murders and seemed to understand the often shady side of life. Prostitutes, discarded wives, "smash-and-grab" robbers were only a few of the assortment of villains and victims she encountered in her work. I don't know that Molly Lefebure had any "deep thoughts" about her work; she wrote about it in a matter-of-fact way.

After the war, Lefebure married her home-coming soldier beau and retired from her duties as Keith Simpson's secretary. She had a couple of sons and began writing other stories, other truths. But I would guess that she never forgot her wartime-service. It was an exciting war she had, and I assume she dined out on her wartime stories for years.


I Heard My Country Calling
I Heard My Country Calling
by James Webb
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating memoir of a patriot..., 21 May 2014
Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb has written a fascinating memoir/autobiography, "I Heard My Country Calling: A Memoir". Webb, a man of many interests and talents, has lived his life with a sense of honor about his country and has served that country in a myriad of positions, both politically and militarily.

James Webb, Jr was born in 1946, one of the earliest members of the "Baby Boomer" generation. His parents, both of Scotch-Irish ancestry, were from hard-scrabble backgrounds. His father, James Sr, was a self-made man, becoming an airman in WW2 and continuing on, rejoining the military after his WW2 service ended. He was rose swiftly through the officer ranks, and held many top positions in the post-war/Cold War US Air Force. Jim's mother raised four children and moved with her husband around the United States - and to England for two years - as his career proceeded. The four children were true "military brats", continually changing communities and schools, but somehow his parents provided a stable home environment for the family. Jim knew he wanted to serve his country - as his father did - and entered the Naval Academy in 1964, after spending one year at the University of Southern California. He devoted a couple of chapters in the book to both life at the Academy and to "his" war in Vietnam. He has an historian's appreciation of both the war and his own part in it.

After earning two Purple Hearts and other medals in combat, he was sent back to the US. Trying to figure out what to do with his life, he graduated from Georgetown Law School. And he began to write. He became an author of novels - including "Fields of Fire", a generational book about the Vietnam War - as well as histories and other works of non-fiction. He has been critical of US intervention in both the Vietnam and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he has written about his own Scotch-Irish ancestors and their contribution to American society.

In politics he was tapped to serve in the Reagan Administration as Secretary of the Navy. In 2006, he was elected to the US Senate from Virginia, serving one term as a Democrat, and retiring in 2013.

Webb is a very good writer and his memoir is a powerful reminder to us all that patriots come in all guises. This book is well-worth reading.


The Disinherited: A Story of Family, Love and Betrayal
The Disinherited: A Story of Family, Love and Betrayal
by Robert Sackville-West
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fight for legitimacy..., 17 May 2014
Knole is an English country home in Kent and is owned by the Sackville-West family. The house has been considered a "calendar house"; it has 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances, and 7 courtyards. (To anyone reading this review, your new term-for-the-day is "calendar house". See what you can learn!) In his new book, "The Disinherited: A Story of Family, Love, and Betrayal", Robert Sackville-West - the current Baron Sackville - looks at his family history and the bitter court fight early in the 1900's between family members about ownership of the house and the title - Baron Sackville - that went with it.

British rules of inheritance for aristocratic families tend to follow the law of primogeniture, or the right of the first born son to inherit the family estate. If the family has no son - and daughters don't count in the scheme of things - the estate will go to the closest collateral male relative. I assume these things usually work out for the best, but in 1869, a crisis hit the Sackville-West family. George Sackville-West died and the title and house went to the family's fourth son, Lionel Sackville-West. Lionel, as a son way down the line of inheritance, had gone into the diplomatic corp, and while living and working in Germany, he met a young Spanish woman, named "Pepita". Pepita - who had hair down to her knees - was a dancer, castanets and all. The two fell in love - or lust - and proceeded to produce a family of seven children, five who reached adulthood.

The problem was that Lionel and Pepita never married. She was his social inferior, and, anyway, she was already married. Lionel supported Pepita and the children as best he could, though they never lived together as a family. He would drop in to their house on the French coast for a while. Pepita died at the age of 40 in childbirth, and Lionel was forced to deal with the situation, which he did by educating the children and, in the case of his three daughters, taking them with him on his diplomatic postings. Everybody knew the children were illegitimate but they were accepted as his children. If Lionel - the family's fourth son - hadn't inherited the title, the question of the children's legitimacy would have probably remained a bit thorny but workable.

However, once Lionel WAS 2nd Baron Sackville, the fight to lay claim to the title by his sons, began. Lionel was a bit haphazard about things; he would say sometimes he and Pepita were married and the children were legitimate; at other times he seemed to be in on the joke and said, "no, we never married". When questioned in court during the many trials of son vs father, Lionel would admit to signing a paper but then would say he rarely looked at what he was signing. (Not a very good trait for a diplomat and he did lose his posting in Washington as British Ambassador when he wrote a very indiscreet letter to an American politician.)

One of the children, the eldest daughter, was named Victoria. She was devoted to her father and ended up marrying her first cousin, also named Lionel. They had one child, a daughter, the writer Vita Sackville-West. Of the five children of Lionel and Pepita, she married the most advantageously. Her long life was spent in and out of courts, either litigating or being sued herself, and she was on famously bad relations with her siblings. They resented her marrying her cousin and having a house - Knole - and a life-style beyond their means.

Robert Sackville-West's book is a lively look at a famous family and the times they lived in. Curiously, there are other books dealing with British men who fathered children by social inferiors and how they were accepted/treated by their families and society at large.


A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire
A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire
by Geoffrey Wawro
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book on WW1..., 16 May 2014
This year - 2014 - is the 100th year anniversary of the start of the Great War. (WW1) There have been many books written about the war - from political, geographic, societal, and even religious aspects - but Geoffrey Wawro's new book, "A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War 1 and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire", is one of the best I've read. Like many authors, he takes a relatively small part of the overall conflict - in this case the Austro-Hungarian Empire - and writes an excellent book.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire by 1900 had seen better days. Joining with Hungary under very uneven terms in 1867 - the Hungarians came out ahead of the Austrians and the other nationalities crowded under the flag - had led to an almost totally dysfunctional government, ruled jointly from Vienna and Budapest. The empire - competing with the Ottoman Empire for the title "Sick Man of Europe" - was a conflagration of differing ethnic peoples, ranging from Catholic Poles in Galicia, to Muslims in the south, and Jews spread throughout. Many languages were spoken within the empire and there was no cohesive government. There was also no cohesive military system, either. The armies did not have up-to-date equipment and organisation within the army was dismal. The officer corps was basically badly paid and moving up the ranks was difficult. The army was really a relic from the 1860's and was not prepared to fight 20th century wars. Of course, they were very little different from Russia and other European countries - other than Germany and France - who had made little preparation to fight. However, Austro-Hungary had a very small base on whom to call to fight, unlike Russia, who had millions potential soldiers.

Geoffrey Wawro examines the Austro-Hungarian Empire in both military and political terms. He does a good job of framing both the times and the problems of those times. He takes a careful look at the people who made up the government and military in the early 1900's and traces the problems then back in time to the mid-to-late 1800's. What business the Empire had in committing itself and armies to the German side is explained in detail. Also explained are the battles of 1914 with Serbia and Russia, all of which were dismal disasters for the Empire.

I found both Wawro's writing and use of maps very good. I was reading the hardback but the book is available in Kindle. In general I avoid Kindle copies of histories because I find that maps and pictures don't usually translate well to the screen. No matter how you read it - print or Kindle - this excellent book shouldn't be missed by the armchair historians it was aimed for.


The Great and Holy War
The Great and Holy War
by Philip Jenkins
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars The Great War and religion, 10 May 2014
This review is from: The Great and Holy War (Hardcover)
This year - 2014 - marks the centennial anniversary of the beginning of the Great War. There have been many books issued to mark this anniversary - books about politics, warfare, societal changes - but American author Philip Jenkins's book, "The Great and Holy War: How World War 1 Became a Religious Crusade, is the first book I've seen focusing on the influence religion had on the war and the countering influence that the war had on religion.

Philip Jenkins divides his book - roughly - into two halves. The first, concentrating on the actual war years - 1914 to 1918 - and the second, which looks at the post-war period into the 1930's and 1940's. In August,1914, the soldiers of France, Germany, Great Britain, and the other combatants marched off to battle. "God, King, and Country" was a rallying cry and most soldiers - and their leaders - thought they'd be home for Christmas, 1914. They were "home for Christmas" - those who survived the carnage - but not until Christmas, 1918. Most leaders, on both sides, thought this war would be like the two that came before it, 1866 and 1870, short and sweet. And, in fact, the Germans made it almost to the outskirts of Paris in 1914, before being turned back. The war settled into bunkers and trenches for four years, opposing armies facing each other through barbed wire and bullets.

One of the Ten Commandments is "Thou Shalt Not Kill". But what were the church leaders on both sides saying as war broke out? Something like "Thou Shalt Not Kill...unless it's your enemy". The war was greatly supported by the clergy - both Christian and Jewish - and soldiers marched off, blessed for battle by their religious leaders. Jenkins looks at how mainline religious institutions supported the war effort. And at how "sects" began to pop up, as well as the occult as mourning parents and wives sought comfort in trying to communicate with their dead loved ones.

Religion also played a part in the political processes of the war. In Germany, at the war's end and aftermath, the Jews were blamed along with other minority groups, as having "stabbed the soldiers in the back", thus bringing about German defeat. These sentiments, and the actions that followed them, were to play a part in the rise of the anti-Semitic Nazi Party in Germany. In the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church was sidelined as the Communist Party became almost the state religion. Jenkins also looks at the Armenian Massacres in Turkey in 1915 and after.

The second part of the book looks at other parts of the world influenced by the Great War. How Turkey and the other Muslim areas became political entities after the Ottoman Empire collapsed after the war. And how the Holy Land remained the political hot potato when the British and French began making arbitrary decisions of what areas became what countries, post war.

Philip Jenkins has written a lively book about a relatively unexamined part of the Great War and the later years. This book shouldn't be missed by all the arm-chair historians out there.


Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir
Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir
by Roz Chast
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.19

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Our parents lives...and ours?, 9 May 2014
Cartoonist Roz Chast has written/drawn a book about her parents' final years, "Can't We Talk About Something Pleasant". In it she describes both her own upbringing - only child, born late-in-life to older and neurotic parents - and how her feelings as a child hindered her dealing with the parents as they aged. She is certainly not alone in her mixed-up emotions towards her parents; most of us have the same feelings. Roz Chast can just express them better!

This is a difficult book to read. It must have been excruciating to live through and then put down on paper. But it is a book that all us "boomers" (hate the word but what else is there? "Lunch meat in the sandwich generation"?) should read. Because I'm not sure too much is going to change when we reach our 80's and 90's. We tend to have fewer children - Roz was an only child, as I noted above - and so fewer people to share the burdens of us as we age. Will we be put in Assisted Living "places" with the alacrity we seem to be putting our own parents into? For the record, both my parents died in nursing homes where they received excellent care.

Roz Chast's parents - George and Elizabeth - lived well into their 90's. And they aged "together". They tried to take care of themselves and each other in their dingy Brooklyn apartment, but it came the time to get them the extra care they could no longer give themselves. Roz describes how going through her parents' vacated apartment was like going through a junk store haven. And she shows photographs - as well as using her drawings - to show how crowded the apartment truly was.

The reader may come away thinking Roz had conflicted feelings about her parents. She sure did and she was certainly entitled to those feelings. I laughed a bit in parts, but I was able to appreciate her words and deeds because I had frequently felt the same way with my own parents, particularly as they aged. As death took the Chasts - two years apart - Roz seemed to have come to terms with these strange people who had given birth and raised her.

Chast's book is a very "personal" book which will resonate with a lot of people.


Lucian Freud: Eyes Wide Open (Icons)
Lucian Freud: Eyes Wide Open (Icons)
by Phoebe Hoban
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.63

5.0 out of 5 stars The problem...and the solution, 9 May 2014
Okay, there's a problem with British art historian's short bio of Lucien Freud. It is lacking in pictures to go along with the excellent text. This has been pointed out in some other reviews, and one particularly enterprising reviewer checked with the publisher and found out that the regular copy of the book will come with FOUR pages of photographs of Freud and his work. A BIG four pages!

However, the way for the reader to see the pictures Hoban refers to in her text is to go to Google Images and put in "Lucien Freud", and, voila! Pages of pictures of the man and his paintings. And it is so very important to view Freud and his images because he was such an intense painter. His portraits are so, so...singular. As people are different, so are the paintings. He's not a painter of landscapes and inanimate objects - Lucien Freud painted his subjects with both their real features AND Freud's interpretation of them.

I'm a long-time fan of Lucien Freud and his work. I've been to London to see the grand exhibition of his work at the National Portrait Gallery mounted soon after his death. Phoebe Hoban's book is an excellent look at the man and his work, the man and his women, the man and his world... Other good books about Freud you should also look into buying are Martin Gayford's book, "Man With a Blue Scarf: On Sitting For a Portrait by Lucien Freud" and Geordie Grieg's "The Astounding Life and Outrageous Times of Britain's Great Modern Painter". So, start with Hoban's bio and then bridge out to the other two. But, of course, set yourself up with "Google Images" first!


Gotz & Meyer
Gotz & Meyer
by David Albahari
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.91

5.0 out of 5 stars "One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic ...", 9 May 2014
This review is from: Gotz & Meyer (Hardcover)
By the numbers, the murder of the Serbian Jews in Belgrade during 1941-1942 was much closer to a tragedy than a statistic. And it is of this "tragedy", that Serbian author David Albahari writes his short novel, "Gotz and Meyer". Written in the first person by an unnamed Serbian Jew who had escaped the mass murder by going into hiding with his mother as an infant, the story proceeds at a fast pace as the man tries to understand what happened in Belgrade in that two year period.

After the Germans invaded Serbia in 1941, a large majority of the male Serbian Jewish population was hauled off and shot by the SS, aided by local Serbian anti-Semites. The remaining Jews - mostly women, children, and the elderly - were put into the Semlin Judenlager, where they waited to be sent off "somewhere else". What really happened was that they were loaded into sealed trucks - 100 or so at a time - and driven around til gassed to death. Their bodies were then off-loaded and buried. So efficient was the gassing operation that Serbia - along with Poland and the Soviet Union - were the only Nazi-occupied country NOT to have to send off their Jewish population for extermination. They were killed "in situ", so to speak...

David Albahari takes the facts about the camp and the gas vans and writes a story around two of the German drivers of the gas vans. He doesn't know their real names, but invents "Gotz" and "Meyer", and imagines how they viewed their job and the people they were murdering 100 at a time. The nameless teacher in today's Belgrade - the only family member left after the death of his parents long after the war - descends into a kind of madness as he tries to figure out what happened and how the two imagined - "Gotz" and "Meyer" - went about their murderous business. Albahari also introduces other characters, but the two (imagined) fair-haired monsters who he thinks gave out candy to the camps children before loading them into the gas van, along with the unnamed narrator are the main focus of the story.

Because we are only talking about very small remnant of millions murdered, the horror of these murders is even more telling. Reading about today's man being driven mad while trying to deal with the murders of his relatives gives David Albahari's novel even more impact.


The Temporary Gentleman
The Temporary Gentleman
Price: £5.39

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How does love equate with ruin?, 8 May 2014
Irish author Sebastian Barry has returned to the Sligo area of Ireland, in his new novel, "The Temporary Gentleman". Two of his previous novels - which I haven't read yet - are about the McNulty family. "The Temporary Gentleman" is about Jack McNulty and how his great love for both his wife Mai and for drink has helped to ruin her life and left him a wrecked soul living in Ghana.

Jack McNulty is one of the most interesting fictional characters I've come across in a while. Born at the beginning of the 20th century, his life has revolved around Mary (Mai) Kirwan, a physically beautiful but emotionally fragile young woman, who he woos, weds, and then helps destroy. I wondered that if you idolise someone, as Jack did Mai, does that make communicating with that person difficult? Does it make seeing her emotional weaknesses impossible? Do you not want to admit the person you love so dearly has so many flaws: Certainly Jack had very little idea of how fragile Mai was when they courted. Her odd actions on their wedding day would seem to be a precursor of troubled times ahead. Jack was certainly warned by his mother and Mai's closest friend that Mai was "delicate". But warning does not always translate into awareness by the person being warned...

Jack McNulty was able to come and go after they were married. After an early stay in west Africa with Jack, Mai returned to Ireland to give birth to their older daughter. Jack stayed in Africa and then served in the British army in several engineering jobs. He was in Sligo for long periods of time, however, and managed to lose Mai's family home through indebtedness. But was that all Jack's fault? Certainly he had been dipping into the family kitty to pay his own bills and he had mortgaged the house, but many of the bills he was paying were Mai's for clothes and jewelry. Had Jack not loved Mai so much, would he have been able to talk to her about cutting down her spending? Would he have, in turn, cut down his own spending? From those early days, Mai's life was a series of disappointments that she dealt with by retreating into herself and into the bottle.

Part of the story takes place in the 1950's in Accra, Ghana, where Jack has retreated after Mai's death. His life there is certainly troubled, but Jack makes an attempt to understand what went wrong and what part he played, both in the death of a marriage and the death of a career. Jack is a man in great pain, and Sebastian Barry is not shy in pointing out why. "The Temporary Gentleman" is a quiet, yet powerful.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20