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Jill Meyer (United States)

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The Allegations
The Allegations
by Mark Lawson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Allegations..., 18 July 2016
This review is from: The Allegations (Hardcover)
British author Mark Lawson's new novel, "The Allegations", was a tough book to read and an even tougher book to review. Because, how do I review a book that takes a stand against something I think is, in principle, the right thing being done in society? Lawson's book centers on two men - Ned Marriott and Tom Pimm - both professors at the "University of Middle England", who are being accused of crimes they probably did commit. However, the crimes Pimm is accused of are brought by the university in a witch hunt against teachers who are considered "un-PC". Pimm is accused and "tried" by committee before he is even accused of the crimes - most of which are laughing at his fellow teachers - both to their faces and behind their backs - AND, verbally bullying his "customers", the new word for "students" at the university. No sexual stuff - all verbal. Ned Marriott is being investigated by the cops for two old ("historic") sexual crimes. These last are from an investigation following the Jimmy Savile exposes.

Mark Lawson, an author and presenter on British Radio Arts and was himself recently accused of "bullying" his workmates and freelancers at the BBC. I presume he was cleared as he is still on the air, as written on Wiki, though taken off one of his previous programs, "Front Row". So Lawson's novel is not only about his own bout with accusations, but he extends it to allegations of sexual impropriety of a second man and places it in the university world of "PCness". He looks on both accused men and their lives before and during the periods of the investigations and includes bits of novels and plays which refer to men unjustly accused, as well as the Kafka-esque world of the university.

Mark Lawson doesn't suffer fools gladly and his take down of both the university officials and the police investigators is both chilling and humorous, sometimes both at the same time. He also gives a good picture on how the pressures of the "allegations" affected both men, their families, and their friends. And to return to what I wrote in my first paragraph; I do believe such allegations should be investigated. But how ineptly and meanly, with the accusers believed implicitly...and the accused not believed and not able to defend themselves before verdicts are rendered, as in this book. "The Allegations" is an excellent book and, though long, might actually be a good book-club book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 18, 2016 9:19 PM BST

A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer
A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer
by Mary Elizabeth Williams
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A True Story of Love, Science, 11 July 2016
I'm a bit late to reading and reviewing Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams' memoir, "A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer", but I wanted to add to the well-deserved 5 star reviews her book has already received. Because Williams is a writer, her account of her metastatic melanoma - Stage 4 - and the newly discovered immunotherapy that basically cured it, she can explain the science behind medicine. But her story is more than the physical; it's the emotional impact a cancer diagnosis can have on an individual and her loved ones. It's this aspect Williams portrays so well in her book.

Mary Elizabeth, the mother of two daughters and the wife in a reunited marriage, was diagnosed with melanoma after a sore on her scalp was found to be cancerous in 2010. She had surgery and was sent on; no chemo or radiation was done. A year later, the melanoma was found to have spread and her cancer was now restaged as Stage 4. But she was not the only one in her family and her circle of friends who was suffering from cancer. Her beloved father-in-law was in the final stages of Colon cancer and a life-long friend was beginning her treatment for ovarian cancer. As Mary Elizabeth was being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, doctors and scientists were working with a new form of treatment - immunology. She was accepted into a trial program and after her initial treatment, the cancer was gone. And it has evidently stayed "gone". But the cancer and its treatment had done much to the lives of Mary Elizabeth and her family. She's very forthright in her writing of the effects on them.

This is a very tightly written account of a life with cancer. She pulls no punches.

The House by the Lake
The House by the Lake
by Thomas Harding
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars A long view of a house..., 10 July 2016
This review is from: The House by the Lake (Paperback)
British author Thomas Harding has traced the history of a section of Berlin by tracing the history of the house his family had lived in before WW2. The book, "The House by the Lake: One House, Five Families", is a nuanced look as much at the politics of the times as of the families who had lived in the house. Harding's own family had built the house on a lake side area in the southwest section of Berlin, near Potsdam, in the 1920's. They lived in Berlin but used this lakeside house as their weekend and summer retreat. But as the 20's ran into the 1930's, the Jewish Alexander family was hit by the anti-Semitic laws of the time and regretfully abandoned the lakeside house - and Germany - to safety in England. The house was taken over by other families during WW2 and the post-war years. Since the house was literally on the border between West Berlin and East Germany, the occupants lived behind the Berlin Wall. After the Wall came down in 1989, the family living there was reunited with friends and family in the west. The house is now a property of the state but Harding's family is trying to fix it up.

Okay, we've all read books that trace a family by looking at the houses in which they've lived. This is just the opposite; examining the house by looking at who's lived there. (Another good book to read if you find this book interesting is "Home: The Story of Everyone Who Ever Lived in Our House", by British author Julie Myerson.) Thomas Harding's book turns the history of the house into a history of the times. Harding does provide pictures of the house as it went through physical changes as new owners and tenants came and went. It's a good book, for the right reader.

Another One Goes Tonight (Peter Diamond Mystery)
Another One Goes Tonight (Peter Diamond Mystery)
by Peter Lovesey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.58

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Peter Diamond novel..., 8 July 2016
One of the delightful things for a reader of serial books is to return to old friends and catch up on their lives and loves since the previous book. Brtish author Peter Lovesey makes that particularly interesting in his new book, "Another One Goes Tonight", which is the 16 book in his Peter Diamond series. Diamond is a Detective Superintendent with the Bath CID and returns in this book - along with his team - to investigate a police car accident that has claimed the life of one of the two men in the car. The other one was badly injured. A third man - clinging to life - was found a bit away and Diamond, who finds him, preforms CPR and gets a whiff of life back in the man. A man who had been riding an electric tricycle. A man, who it turns out, was out in the night looking for hops. Not beer "hops" but, supposedly, rabbit "hops". Need I tell you that things and people and situations are a bit "quirky" in a Peter Diamond novel? In fact, everything and everybody is a bit off, except for Peter Diamond, who's the only non-quirky person in the bunch. (Though he does invent a cat...)

Lovesey's book can be called a police procedural because there are police and they are procedurally solving a crime. However, what exactly the crime is - possibly a serial killer - is not firmly established. Diamond wavers on and on about the case which he is charged with solving, though only he and his team members quite know what the possible crime is. We return to Bath and since a good novel teaches a bit as well as entertains, we learn a lot about railroads in that part of England. Most of the possible victims of the possible serial murderer were railroad aficionados and Lovesey takes us into their little world, as well as the world of 1920's dress designer Mariano Fortuny.

If you're the type of reader who enjoys quirky people and story lines and made up cats - and I am - you'll enjoy "Another One Goes Tonight". If not not, you might want to seek out a more conventional police procedural.

Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age
Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age
Price: £15.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Great look at architecture today..., 5 July 2016
Blair Kamin is the architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune. While he writes mainly about Chicago architecture, he also looks at building projects in other parts of the country and the world. After all, architects today - particularly those "starchitects" so famous for their spectacular designs - are doing projects world-wide. Frank Gehry, for example, while based in Los Angeles, is famous for buildings from Bilbao, Spain to Miami to Los Angeles to Prague.These architects are citizens-of-world, and they, along with other, lesser-known architects are building unique and "green" and, sometimes horrific, buildings in most of the world's cities. But the world-city with the strongest architectural reputation is Chicago. And that's mostly what Blair Kamin concentrates on in his book, "Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age". The book is a collection of his articles in the years 2001 to 2008, with "afterwords" bringing the readers up-to-date on projects he talks about.

The "terror" that Kamin refers to are the 9/11 attacks, which brought down two of the world's most famous buildings. "Famous", yes, but not particularly architecturally significant. Terror also refers to the natural kind; Hurricane Katrina which wrecked much (but not all) of New Orleans and areas along the Gulf Coast. But, terror could also refer to an economic downturn that occurred in the years from 2007 to 2012. Kamin gives plenty of examples of projects started and then let go when financing has fallen through on a project. One of the main examples of this was the Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava's, "Chicago Spire", he was commissioned to build for an Irish developer. The Spire was going to be the tallest building in North America, before funding fell through in the late 2000's and the project was "dropped". All that is left of the Spire is the base - a dug-out hole - in prime Chicago real-estate. Another ultra-tall project that has made it completion is the Trump Tower/Chicago, which occupies the space of the old Chicago Sun-Times building along the Chicago River. Kamin goes into detail on the deals that have made such buildings possible; combinations of architects/structural engineers and developers. Some happen, some don't and largely a lagging economy is to blame for the ones that don't make it.

Kamin also looks at the wide-ranging museum and library expansions that were so prevalent in the early to mid 2000's. Most were predicated on the success of Gehry's Bibao Guggenheim building. (I asked in another review of a book on architecture if people went to see the building or what was inside. I still can't decide...) Kamin describes the additions and how they were influenced by both the existing buildings AND by architectural trends. I haven't been to see the new addition to the Chicago Art Museum, but, frankly, it looks rather complicated to me in Kamin's description. And after writing about these often grand expansions, Kamin follows up by pointing out the eventual financial liabilities to the museums in the ensuing recession.

These are just a few of the topics Blair Kamin covers in his rather idiosyncratic book on today's architecture. It's a delightful, interesting read, particularly to this Chicago Girl!

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
by J D Vance
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written memoir..., 30 Jun. 2016
J D Vance is a hillbilly. He comes from a long line of hillbillies and although he grew up in Middletown, Ohio, his roots are in Kentucky "hollers" that are as close to Middletown as Route 23 can make them. He grew up as the son of a mother who has suffered from addictiorn most of her life, and his life - and that of his sister - were largely dependent on the love and care they received from their maternal grandparents. He was the first of his extended family to graduate from college, and then went on to earn a law degree from Yale University. He was also a Marine for four years of active service. Where did this hillbilly go right? And what can his success mean for others born and raised in a difficult atmosphere of drugs, fighting, and unemployment? You'll have to read his memoir, "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis" to gain a perspective on what it's like to grow up white and disadvantaged.

J.D. Vance wears the self-described Scots-Irish hillbilly title with both pride and defensiveness. Descended from a long line of Kentucky miners who eked out livings in the hollers of the state, his family was filled with prideful people quick to anger and quick to take offense at what others said. A quality of hot-headedness certainly makes decisions difficult to make and carry out. Many of these people saw economic advantages in the northern states and many settled in southern Ohio after WW2. But along with themselves, they carried the culture they grew up with in Kentucky. J.D.'s own family had a redeeming feature: the love and steadiness of his maternal grandparents, "Mamaw" and "Papaw". Although they were hot-headed people themselves, they had a deep love of their children and grandchildren that made them offer a sense of protection to J.D. and his older sister in the years when their mother was bouncing from husband to husband, drug to drug. city to city, bad decision to bad decision... He doesn't gloss over his own mistakes, either.

Along with talking about his own successful lifting from his own background, he writes about how society can - possibly - help those who are trapped in the same society he was. Although Vance is only 32, he writes beautifully about himself...and the other "himselves" in society.

Betty: The Story of Betty MacDonald, Author of The Egg and I
Betty: The Story of Betty MacDonald, Author of The Egg and I
by Anne Wellman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.24

4.0 out of 5 stars Good bio..., 28 Jun. 2016
Betty MacDonald was the author of four adult books - including "The Egg and I" - and five children's books. Her "Mrs Piggle-Wiggle" series books has been read and enjoyed by generations of children (and adults) since they were published in the 1950's. But who was Betty MacDonald and how autobiographical were her four adult books? In her biography, "Betty: the Story of Betty MacDonald", author Anne Wellman takes a look at the real woman, both through her work and archival sources.

We "Betty" fans have wondered for years how closely the "literary" Betty matched the "reality" Betty. Pretty well, according to Wellman. Born into a rather intriguing family - a combination of western father and eastern society mother - the Betty Bard grew up in a home secure with love, if not always by money. Her father died relatively young and her mother raised the five children to get along in society and enjoy what it offered. Betty married a would-be chicken farmer at a young age and settled down on an Olympic Peninsula chicken farm. Two children later, she left Bob Heskett and returned to Seattle and life in the bosom of her loving family. Wellman doesn't seem to sugar-coat the facts of Betty's life. Heskett, a WW1 veteran, probably had PTSD and life with him was often difficult.

Anne Wellman also supplements the "literary facts" when they're not always correct. The biography is a shortish, but well-written biography - with some pictures - which is almost required reading for fans of Betty MacDonald. The plus is that Wellman also writes about MacDonald's family.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 7, 2016 10:17 PM BST

The Von Bülow Affair: The Objective Behind-the-Scenes Account of the Shocking Attempted Murder Case
The Von Bülow Affair: The Objective Behind-the-Scenes Account of the Shocking Attempted Murder Case
Price: £8.63

4.0 out of 5 stars A good look at the first von Bulow trial..., 26 Jun. 2016
"The Von Bulow Affair: The Objective Behind the Scenes Account of the Shocking Attempted Murder Case", by William Wright, was originally published right after the first Von Bulow trial in 1983. In that trial, Claus von Bulow was found guilty, but a subsequent appeal trial reversed the decision, and von Bulow went free. Wright's book ends with the first verdict and the book gives no follow-up to the case and the participants. Most readers are familiar with Alan Dershowitz's book, "Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bulow Case", which is the story of the second trial.

William Wright's well-written account of both the case and the trial is interesting because it was written at the time. Wright covered the trial and interviewed most of the participants, including a private interview with Claus von Bulow. Wright's courtroom attendance made him privy with the goings-on with the lawyers and the police, as well as the individuals - von Bulow and his family - who were all part of the story.

Did Claus von Bulow attempt - twice - to murder his wife, Martha "Sunny" von Bulow by injecting her with insulin? The jury in the first trial found him guilty, as explained by William Wright. In one of the most important points Wright discusses, he writes about the almost-vilification of the victim, both in this case and in another of the time, Bonnie Garland. Sunny von Bulow was a depressive alcoholic recluse who had pushed her husband out of her bed years before, as told by Claus von Bulow, to anyone who'd listen. According to others - her children, friends, and the help - she drank very little and certainly didn't take drugs. Von Bulow was trying to claim that Sunny had injected herself with the insulin in order to lose weight. What was the truth? I'm not sure we'll ever really know, though I've always assumed that Claus was guilty as hell. Wright's writing is so even handed that I'm not sure after reading the book what he thought about von Bulow's guilt..

In any case, this book is a good view of the trial as written contemporaneously.

A House Full of Daughters
A House Full of Daughters
by Juliet Nicolson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

5.0 out of 5 stars A look at a family..., 24 Jun. 2016
As an avid reader of memoirs, I've come to think they're written by people in an attempt to understand either themselves or others in their lives. Or, in the case of social historian Juliet Nicolson, she's trying to understand how five previous generations of Nicolson women (and men) have influenced her and the next two generations past her own. Nicolson's book, "A House Full of Daughters: A Memoir of Seven Generations" is part memoir and part historical biography.

Juliet Nicolson - now in her early 60's - comes from a very interesting family tree. On her father's side, she's descended from Vita Sackville-West, whose mother, Victoria Sackville-West, was the child of a liaison between a proper British diplomat and a Spanish dancer, Pepita, renowned for her long, long hair and her 'interpretive" dancing. Pepita was famed in the courts of Europe and Lionel Sackville-West and she collaborated on five children, all born out of wedlock. We're talking about Victorian England, where, somehow, the details of Sackville-West and his mistress were kept undercover. Pepita died in childbirth and the children were taken in by the Sackville-West family and educated. Their illegitimacy was swept away by their acceptance in British society and Victoria Sackville-West helped her father's diplomatic career in Washington. She was a known beauty - probably with as much charm as her mother - and married her cousin - also named Lionel Sackville-West. With that marriage, she inherited the magnificent house, Knole, in Kent. Unfortunately, it went to another branch of the family when Victoria only had one child, a girl, called "Vita".

Juliet Nicolson is the granddaughter of author Vita Sackville-West on her father's side. In the seven generations covered, Vita is the only woman who did not have daughters. Her sons, Ben and Nigel, were prominent in WW2 and post-war society. Nigel married Phillipa Tennyson-d'Eyncourt, and produced Juliet and two other children. Their marriage was not successful and ended in divorce. Juliet married twice and has two daughters and a granddaughter. And it is with this granddaughter, Imogen, that Juliet Nicolson ends her book.

But what of the seven generations of Nicolson family women, beginning in Malaga, Spain and ending in London? There was alcoholism in several generations, open-marriages and sexual dalliances with other women, and trouble fitting in to society's expectations at the times each lived. Juliet Nicolson is a splendid writer and she looks at each generation with an historian's eye and a psychiatrist's interpretation. "A House Full of Daughters" is a marvelous read. (As are her previous three books!)

I Was Hitler's Neighbour
I Was Hitler's Neighbour
by Edgar Feuchtwanger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.38

3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite truth in advertising..., 21 Jun. 2016
Please do not buy this book, "I Was Hitler's Neighbor", if you think that it is totally about the author, Edgar Feuchwanger, growing up next to Adolf Hitler's apartment in Munich. Because, while perhaps a fifth of the book is about Hitler, most of it is about Feuchwanger's life after leaving Germany in 1939 and emigrating to England.

Edgar Feuchwanger's family was distinguished on both side, but his paternal relatives were noted scholars, businessmen, and literary figures. His father's brother was Lion Feuchwanger, author and playwright, who influenced many others, including Bertold Brecht. He was lucky to be out of Germany when the Nazis took over in 1933 and he moved to California. Lion was the author of "Jew Suss", among other books and plays. Edgar's father was in business and the family was lucky to be able to move to England, after the father had been sent to Dachau after Kristalnacht. Most of the book, then, is about Edgar's life in England; attending Winchester and Cambridge and becoming a teacher and noted historian. While his story is interesting - though not much different than many others - I'm not sure I would have bought the book had I known the full content.

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