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Jill Meyer (United States)
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Tin Sky (Martin Bora Book 4)
Tin Sky (Martin Bora Book 4)
Price: £5.75

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: £9.15

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
Price: £8.55

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


The Iron Necklace
The Iron Necklace
by Giles Waterfield
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

4.0 out of 5 stars Germany or England?, 3 May 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Iron Necklace (Paperback)
How difficult it must be to have to choose an allegiance between your country of birth and that of your spouse. In "The Iron Necklace", by author Giles Waterfield, Irene Benson, a young British woman, marries Thomas Curtius, a German, and goes to live in Berlin. The year is 1910 and war clouds have been gathering for years. Irene, an artist, comes from a largish family; her father is a judge and her mother is a social climber. Thomas comes from the same milieu and the families get along at the wedding in London. When Irene goes to Berlin, she is warmly received by her in-laws, particularly her mother-in-law, who presents Irene with an iron necklace as a token of her esteem. However, as the years pass, Irene realises that she is caught between two warring worlds, and the lives of members on both sides of the family are fiercely effected by forces of history.

The story is told in several voices. Irene's daughter, Dorothea, and her daughter, Pandora, begin the book by looking over Irene's letters and paintings. Pandora wants to write a biography of her by-then famous artist grandmother, but Dorothea is cautious. She is the product of the rocky marriage of Irene and Thomas and has spent her life going between her mother's England and her father's Germany. But she knows most of the "players" in both families and gives her own daughter the inside story on how the two families survived those years.

"The Iron Necklace" is not "War and Peace", and author Giles Waterfield is not Leo Tolstoy. But then, who is? Waterfield juggles quite nicely the many characters - though I'm not exactly sure who Henry was - and mostly gives them their own "stories". His descriptions of war-time WW1 - both at home and on the battlefield - and the 1920's and the rise of Hitler is excellent. "Iron Necklace" is an interesting look at families with dual allegiances.


Winter: A Berlin Family, 1899-1945 (Samson)
Winter: A Berlin Family, 1899-1945 (Samson)
by Len Deighton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars An oldie but a goodie..., 25 April 2015
I don't normally review back list books, but British author Len Deighton's novel "Winter" didn't catch my eye or interest til recently. The book was originally published in 1987, though it is set to be re-released in June, 2015. "Winter" is the epic novel of a Berlin family, beginning in 1899 and ending in 1945. The two main characters - around which the plot circles - are Peter and Paul Winter, brothers who seemingly take very different paths in life. But the brothers end the book together and their journeys are actually very similar.

Len Deighton's book can be compared to Herman Wouk's two epic novels - "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance" - in that all three books try to cover a certain period of history and use many characters to do so. Wouk's novels are set in WW2, while Deighton's cover both world wars. Deighton views the period primarily from the German angle, though he does have a few British and American characters.

Peter and Paul Winter are the sons of a German industrialist father and an American mother. Harry Winter, the father, is a rather self-righteous rascal, who plays the stern father in Berlin while maintaining a mistress in Vienna. The girlfriend is sort of common-knowledge in the family though Harry's wife chooses to look the other way. Harry Winter raises his sons to love their country and to fight for it in the Great War. The boys' lives separate after their war years with Paul joining the burgeoning Nazi Party and Peter staying out of national politics. But politics are what the next 20 years is all about and as the Nazis gain power, Paul, trained as a lawyer, becomes one of those silent, faceless men whose knowledge of the law help make the illegal actions of the party and Third Reich...legal.

The Winter brothers are the main characters, but there are many others whose lives and actions touch the Winters'. Most of the characters are well-drawn and there are few caricatures in the bunch. If you're looking for a long, well-written novel about the first half of the 20th century, pick up "Winter". It's very good.


The Invention of Fire (John Gower 2)
The Invention of Fire (John Gower 2)
by Bruce Holsinger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb second book in a series..., 23 April 2015
A good historical novel can teach the reader, as well as entertain. Bruce Holsinger, in "The Invention of Fire" (a sequel to his first novel, "A Burnable Book")takes his readers back to 14th century London during the rule of Richard II. London was a rough and tumble place and the city plays almost as much a part in the book, as do the characters. And what characters Holsinger gives us. Real people - like Geoffrey Chaucer and London Mayor Nicholas Brembre - mix with fictional ones, to fill five or so different plot points. These plots all come together by the end of the book, with some help from poet Chaucer.

John Gower - introduced in "Burnable Book" - is a sort of fix-it man at the edge of the court. He "knows" things and trades information for information. The politics of the court is in a bit of an upheaval; factions going against each other during Richard's weak reign. England's hold of several areas of France causes on-going skirmishes between England and France. And a new weapon - the "handgonne" - is known about, but how exactly to use it? What's it for, in the age of the bow? Eighteen or so bodies are found in the London sewage system and Gower is asked to look into the identity of the victims and how they got there. The bodies have strange wounds on them. What instrument of death has caused these wounds? Who is making these weapons and what do a couple on-the-lam from the authorities have to do with anything?

The book switches from the third person voice to the first person voice of John Gower fairly often. There are many characters but, somehow, the story and the characters make sense in this complicated book. "The Invention of Fire" is not an easy book to read. I do think it's best read by someone with a fairly good knowledge of the period, but for the right reader, it is a true gem of a book.


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