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Jill Meyer (United States)
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Call Me Debbie True Confessions of a Down-To-Earth Diva
Call Me Debbie True Confessions of a Down-To-Earth Diva
by Deborah Voigt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.15

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting memoir..., 30 Jan. 2015
As a relatively recent convert to the joys of opera - both live and on the screen - I "discovered" the "Live at the Met in HD" Saturday broadcasts a couple of years ago. I almost like them better than attending performances because the camera at the Met is directed where it's important that the viewers watch. For a "newb" like me, that's golden. Another great part of the broadcasts are the live backstage interviews by singers who take us "behind the scenes" of the performance. Of the several I've seen, I think my favorites are those done by soprano Deborah Voigt. She brings a freshness and sense of joyful playfulness to the interviews of the performers and conductors. She asks questions that are a bit "unexpected" and it's fun to hear the answers she elicits.

Deborah Voigt - born "Debbie Joy Voigt" to teenage parents - has written an interesting autobiography, "Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-to-Earth Diva". Voigt seems to hold nothing back about her private life, from being raised in a "Christian" home where her parents were alternating between encouraging Debbie's vocal gifts to washing her mouth out with soap for not behaving. She's candid about her addictions to food and liquor and her attempts at losing weight and staying sober. Voigt also writes about her love life, which seems to have been one unavailable lover after another.

Deborah Voigt's professional life, her education, her operatic advancement, and the music and performers she's worked with over the years are also covered with honesty. That "little black dress" debacle at London's Royal Opera House in 2004 when Deborah was fired from a role - "Ariadne" in Richard Strauss's "Ariadne auf Naxos - because she was too heavy to wear the black dress the director wanted her to wear. She had been struggling with her weight since childhood and had reached a weight of 330 pounds at her heaviest. She underwent lap-band surgery and lost a great deal of weight, finally fitting into the black dress. But her life continued with great success on the stage with difficulties off the stage. She finally went through 30 day alcoholic rehab a couple of years ago and dealt with her problems.

Voigt's book is a candid look at her life and career and how the two affected each other. I enjoyed the book and can recommend it. Oh, and I am going to the Saturday, Jan 31st "Live in HD" opera and, joy, Deborah Voigt is the back-stage interviewer!


The Ice Queen
The Ice Queen
by Nele Neuhaus
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.08

4.0 out of 5 stars Good German police procedural..., 14 Jan. 2015
This review is from: The Ice Queen (Hardcover)
"The Ice Queen", by German author Nele Neuhaus, is the seventh in the "Kirchoff/von Bodenstein mystery series. I have not read the preceding six. Set in the Taunus area, north of Frankfurt, the book is similar to the police procedurals from the UK which feature a chief detective and his group of underlings, charged with investigating a very gruesome crime. These series tend to follow the lives and careers of the police from book to book. For a reader, reading a successive book in a series is often like catching up with old friends.

An old man is found shot to death in his home, execution-style and Von Bodenstein and his crew are brought in to investigate the murder. The victim, a Jewish man who had survived the Holocaust and then moved to the US and made a fortune, has returned to the Frankfurt area to live out his last years. But during the autopsy, it's discovered that this Jewish man was not exactly Jewish. He has a tattoo, sure, but it's not that of a concentration camp prisoner; it's the blood-type tattoo of a member of the Waffen-SS. Soon, two other old people are found shot in the same style and careful examination at their pasts also turn up Nazi connections. A local family of wealthy industrialists are at the center of the investigation and as the bodies pile up, Bodenstein is tasked with putting the disparate parts together. The "Ice Queen" is the matriarch of the family. Many of the book's characters are not who they say they are and the sins of war time are brought forward seventy years. The murders occur in Frankfurt in the 2010's but are echos of those which took place in the 1940's in the eastern area of Prussia.

Nele Neuhaus is a good writer. She has written interesting characters and the plot, while a bit convoluted, holds together nicely. Curiously, she did not use or expand on the most interesting plot point - a Nazi SS officer who escapes after the war by assuming a Jewish identity. Years ago, the author Robert Fish, wrote a fascinating novel called "Pursuit", which was the story of an SS officer who plans to evade the Allied forces after WW2 by adopting a Jewish identity, including undergoing plastic surgery to make himself look more Semitic. It's no longer in print, but if you can find a used copy, it's well worth reading.

"The Ice Queen" is the first Neuhaus book I've read, but I'll be back for more.


Where the Bones Are Buried: A Dinah Pellerin Mystery
Where the Bones Are Buried: A Dinah Pellerin Mystery
by Jeanne Matthews
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Delightful mystery..., 11 Jan. 2015
Author Jeanne Matthews' new novel, "Where the Bones are Buried" is the fifth book in the Dinah Pelerin series. I have not read the first four but I was attracted to this book, mainly because it was set in Berlin.

It's sometimes difficult for a new reader to jump into the middle of a book series. Characters are established in earlier books and their identities are often confusing. I've looked at the descriptions of Matthews' first four books because I wanted to see if any of the many characters in this book were introduced in the previous books. There ARE a lot of characters in "Where the Bones are Buried" and all are relatives or near-relatives to Dinah Perelin, an archaeologist who has worked all over the world and whose adventures are recounted in the previous books. The characters are also all liars to some degree or another and all have secrets they want to keep. Dinah's mother, sort-of-step-sister, her step-father's first wife, her Norwegian cop boyfriend are all mixed up with Germans who love to play-act as American Indians. There are a few killers and cops in the mix and dead bodies do seem to pile up. There's also off-shore accounts of drug money in Panama and Cyprus, and no one seems to be who they present themselves as to Dinah.

The book's setting of Berlin seems to be another character in the plot. I've visited Berlin quite a few times and I think Matthews has done an excellent job at including the city and its neighborhoods in the flow of the novel. Mattews is also good at writing dialog and it moves the plot along quite nicely.

One of the interesting plot points is the German interest in America's Wild West. A series of adventure books by German author Karl May - Winnetou and Old Shatterhand - was wildly popular in the last part of the 19th century. (Adolf Hitler was a great fan of Karl May and his writing.) There are still Karl May groups in Germany who act-out Indian rituals and customs.

Dinah Pelerin, when faced with the not-so-honest "crew" who have invaded her new home in Berlin, spouting tale after tale, remembers the old teaser about "the truthful whitefoot or the lying blackfoot". The reader doesn't know, either, about who is telling the truth, but Jeanne Matthews takes that reader on a delightful path to find out who is who and what is what.


Mr Mac and Me
Mr Mac and Me
by Esther Freud
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.49

4.0 out of 5 stars A charming book about the "homefront"..., 9 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Mr Mac and Me (Hardcover)
British author Esther Freud has taken a time - the "Great War" - and a place - a small town in southern England - and has filled it with both real and fictional characters in her new novel, "Mr Mac and Me". Like many authors these days, Freud has taken real figures - in this case Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his artist wife - and written a story around their shortish stay in an English beach town. The main characters, young Tom Mapps and his family, interact with the towns people, as well as the visiting Mackintoshes as the area gears up for the beginning of WW1.

Tom Mapps is crippled with a bent foot but manages to participate fully in his small Suffolk village. The son of a drunken inn-owner and his wife, he is the sole surviving son. Six or seven previous sons have not survived infancy and Tom often visits their grave in the churchyard. He also attends school and works part-time for a rope-maker. A smart boy, he loves to sketch and read. He's drawn to the sea but knows he has no future as a seaman with his crippled foot. He's one of those children who is always "observing" the world around him and spends a great deal of time trying to figure it out.

One day young Tom meets the mysterious Charles Rennie Mackintosh and fascinated by the architect. Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret, have left their native Glasgow to settle on the Suffolk coast. The village people are preparing for war and "DORA" - "Defense of the Realm Act - is a constant in their lives. As a coastal community, there's an ever present fear of German spies and the threat of an invasion by German forces. And, in fact, Mackintosh was briefly detained as a spy.

Esther Freud - daughter of the late painter, Lucien Freud - has created a wonderful and inventive story with interesting characters. The reader roots for Tom Mapps to make something of himself. This is a shortish novel, but well-written. It's one of those books I'd love to read a sequel.


A Stranger in My Own Country: The 1944 Prison Diary
A Stranger in My Own Country: The 1944 Prison Diary
by Hans Fallada
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.00

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An "inward migration"..., 8 Jan. 2015
"Hans Fallada" was the pen name for German author Rudolf Ditzen, and it is under that name that Ditzen wrote several successful novels published in Germany during the 1920's and 1930's. He died in the late 1940's and at least one more book, "Every Man Dies Alone", was written and published after the war ended and before his early death. I've read most of his novels, as well as the biography of the writer, "More Lives Than One", by Jenny Williams. I was quite interested in this latest book, "A Stranger in My Own Country: The 1944 Prison Diary".

Hans Fallada did not leave Germany when the Nazis came to power in 1933, as had so many other writers, scientists, actors, painters, etc. He was not Jewish but he did have a visceral hatred of the Hitler regime. He went, instead, on an "inward migration"; staying in Germany but keeping a low profile. In some ways he went along with the German government policies, but he often went against the letters-of-the-law and was considered a subversive by some government agencies. He was imprisoned on several occasions and had spent time in mental institutions. This "prison" diary was actually written in fall 1944 while confined to another mental institution after a physical altercation with his ex-wife. He was given paper and he did indeed write a novel, "The Drinker", but he also wrote in tiny script, a sort of free-flowing "personal statement". He begins with the 1933 Nazi coming-to-power and how his life was affected. He and his family settled outside of Berlin and he was imprisoned for a few(?) months after an altercation with a landlord/renter blossomed into an investigation by the government into alleged subversive acts. He was sprung from jail but he was monitored off-and-on til 1944. He and his family eventually went to settle in a small town in the German countryside, where he continued to write and keep quiet, while getting into spats with town officials.

Fallada wrote about his relationship with his publisher and other writers. He says he's "philo-semitic", but he did write some very negative statements about Jews he had known. The "afterward" in the book says these were actually "toned down" when the diary was translated and published. He seemed to pick fights with a lot of people in his life, and was both a drinker and a taker of drugs. I assume he had a very "difficult" personality and was probably difficult to live with. But, geniuses often are.

This diary seems to have been written as a rebuttal to those artists who had emigrated, rather than stay behind and take an "inward migration". Their way was the "easy" way out while he, Fallada, stayed and "fought" the Nazi regime. After reading several book about those Germans who did flee, I don't think their lives in exile were particularly easy. (One very fine recently published book is "The Impossible Exile" about Stefan Zweig, written by George Prochnik.)

Hans Fallada died in 1947 at the age of 53. His writings faded a bit into obscurity after being rediscovered and reissued 40 or so years later. He was a brilliant writer who lived a difficult life. This book is a must-read for anyone truly interested in Hans Fallada; for the casual reader it's a pass.


Terrible Exile: The Last Days of Napoleon on St Helena
Terrible Exile: The Last Days of Napoleon on St Helena
by Brian Unwin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.64

5.0 out of 5 stars Napoleon's last exile, 28 Dec. 2014
As an "armchair historian", I'm always glad to find books that concentrate on one part of a subject or battle or biography. One new book recently published is British author Brian Unwin's "Terrible Exile: The Last Days of Napoleon on St Helena". It's an excellent look at Napoleon's last years of life while imprisoned on St Helena and at the British forces who kept him there. St Helena was Napoleon's second place of exile; Elba, of course, had been his first. He escaped from Elba in 1814 and had returned to the French mainland to rally French troops.

Brian Unwin begins his book after Napoleon's defeat by British and allied troops at Waterloo in 1815. Napoleon surrendered to British officials at Rochfort on the French coast. The British Navy brought him to England and the British government dithered a bit on where to send him that would be "escape-proof", this time. St Helena is an island in the south Atlantic. It is not a Devil's Island-like penal colony, but it is one of the most isolated places on earth. It was owned and colonised by the British East India Company as a stop for ships on the England to India and points east route. It's a volcanic island and there is one beach that can be used for nautical approaches. By 1815, the year Napoleon was "exiled" on the island with about 20 of his aides and their families, there were other settlers living there and some decent housing available.

Napoleon and his compatriots were settled in some fairly decent housing on-island and plans were drawn up for even nicer accommodations to be built. He was given adequate physical freedom on the island and allowed those few supporters who had accompanied him to live and serve him. He spent the first couple of years on the island writing his memoirs with the help of his French secretaries.

The main part of Unwin's book concerns the on-going, passive-agressive battle between Napoleon and the British officer, Sir Hudson Lowe,who had been assigned to oversee his exile. Lowe had the thankless job of dealing with both Napoleon and British authorities in London. Napoleon refused to meet with Lowe after three or so visits and business had to be done through intermediaries there after. Lowe, a high-strung fellow blamed by both Napoleon and some British officers for Napoleon's "mistreatment" while in exile. Was he "mistreated"? The British failed to address Napoleon as he wished to be addressed - as "Emperor". They insisted on using "General", his military title. Bad feelings flowed from there and lasted until Napoleon's death in 1821. Napoleon was first buried on the island but his body was moved back to Paris in 1840 to be reburied at Les Invalides.

Brian Unwin has done a wonderful job at clearly defining Napoleon and his exile. The book includes mini-bios of the major and minor figures who were involved in the exile and an excellent map of the island of St Helena. The book isn't long - just 205 pages - but Unwin is a lively writer. He also includes pictures from a visit he and his wife made to St Helena a few years ago. Many of the buildings he refers to still existed almost 200 years after Napoleon's exile.


The Imitation Game [DVD]
The Imitation Game [DVD]
Dvd ~ Benedict Cumberbatch
Price: £10.00

36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb movie..., 25 Dec. 2014
This review is from: The Imitation Game [DVD] (DVD)
In 2001, the movie, "Enigma" was released. It was directed by Michael Apted, and was adapted from the novel by Robert Harris. As both a book and a movie, "Enigma" was pretty good and told the fictional story of the breaking of the German Enigma code at Bletchley Park during WW2. The "hero", Tom Jericho, was an Alan Turing-like math genius who both saved the world and won the girl. Unfortunately, the movie had a weak ending and turned Tom Jericho from a neurotic-math genius into some kind of war hero of the physical kind. I've always liked the movie, knowing it wasn't great, but the makers at least gave it a "go". It had great music and the production details were spot-on. (I also like the actor Jeremy Northam, who plays a sleazy government agent.)

Now, almost 15 years later, we get a movie, "The Imitation Game", with a bit more of the real story. It is based on the book, published in the 1990's, "Alan Turning" by British mathematician, Andrew Hodges.(I also read and reviewed the book.) The "hero" this time is the real Alan Turing and he is depicted in "The Imitation Game" as a nerdy Cambridge math genius who is brought in to Bletchley to break the code. But Alan Turing, in addition to being a math genius, is also gay. No getting both the code AND the lady in this movie. At the time, being a homosexual was a crime in the UK.

I saw the movie this afternoon, on its first day of release, in a theater in "fly-over" country. Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles all opened the film a few weeks ago whereas we out in the boonies had to wait til today. The movie was well worth the wait. I had wondered how the director and the authors of the screen play were going to handle Turing's homosexuality. Well, it was handled brilliantly. The film, which is only about two hours long, captured both Turing's times and life in an understated manner. The movie opens with his post-war investigation and arrest and goes back and forth to his work in WW2 and his pre-war youth in a British boarding school, where he is treated cruelly by other students. His only friend - and defender - was a boy named Christopher, who died at a young age. Alan names his code-breaking machine "Christopher" in his friend's honor.

The movie ends, as does Alan Turing's life, with his suicide after being forced to take hormonal treatment to be rid of homosexual urges. But most of the movie is devoted to Alan Turing and his fellow code breakers at Bletchely. The movie recounts how important breaking the Enigma code was and how difficult it was to do. The machine that Alan Turing developed was the forerunner of the computer I'm using to write this review.

Benedict Cumberbatch - is there a movie he HASN'T been in lately - as Alan Turing is brilliant. Kiera Knightly as Joan Clarke, a fellow-code breaker, is also good. In both real life and the movie, the two are engaged to be married but the engagement is broken. The supporting cast also does their acting duties and the production values are excellent. This is a movie worth seeing.


Bonita Avenue
Bonita Avenue
by Peter Buwalda
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.02

2.0 out of 5 stars Um...okay, what was THAT all about?, 25 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Bonita Avenue (Paperback)
Reading Dutch author Peter Buwalda's novel, "Bonita Avenue", I thought I was being hit by a barrage of "incoming". Everything from porn in Holland, father-stepdaughter relationships, a fireworks building explosion, judo competitions, math geniuses, a balding son-in-law who is nuts, a natural son who is even nuttier, bad marriages, porn in the United States, these were all just a few of the "incoming" that the reader has to contend with.

This is a novel with several "unreliable narrators". A novel might have one, or, at a stretch, two, "unreliable narrators", but "Bonita Avenue" is peopled with them. In fact, every character who has a voice in the novel seems to be either a liar or downright demented, or both. I found "Bonita Avenue" bewildering to read. It's being compared to "The Corrections" by American author Jonathan Franzen. (In the spirit of complete reviewerly honesty, I will say I hated "The Corrections" because it badly needed editing, but I loved "Freedom").

Some reviewers have - rightly - pointed out the unlikable characters in the novel. But is that a reason not to like a book? Author Tova Reich's novel, "My Holocaust", is filled with the most loathsome and least likable characters in any novel I've read, yet, I felt very, very interested in them and I loved the book. Buwalda's characters - Siem Sigerius and his family - were actually less repulsive, but I was bored by them and didn't really care what happened to them.

However, I want to go back to "The Corrections". It has received reviews ranging from five stars to one star and most reviewers have good reasons for their ratings. I have a feeling that Peter Buwalda's novel, "Bonita Avenue" will also garner a wide range of reviews. And I don't feel I can tell people NOT to read it. My advise is to read ALL the reviews on both Amazon/US and Amazon/UK (where the book has been released since Spring, 2014) and then make a decision.


Bonita Avenue
Bonita Avenue
by Peter Buwalda
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Um...okay, what was THAT all about?, 25 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Bonita Avenue (Paperback)
Reading Dutch author Peter Buwalda's novel, "Bonita Avenue", I thought I was being hit by a barrage of "incoming". Everything from porn in Holland, father-stepdaughter relationships, a fireworks building explosion, judo competitions, math geniuses, a balding son-in-law who is nuts, a natural son who is even nuttier, bad marriages, porn in the United States, these were all just a few of the "incoming" that the reader has to contend with.

This is a novel with several "unreliable narrators". A novel might have one, or, at a stretch, two, "unreliable narrators", but "Bonita Avenue" is peopled with them. In fact, every character who has a voice in the novel seems to be either a liar or downright demented, or both. I found "Bonita Avenue" bewildering to read. It's being compared to "The Corrections" by American author Jonathan Franzen. (In the spirit of complete reviewerly honesty, I will say I hated "The Corrections" because it badly needed editing, but I loved "Freedom").

Some reviewers have - rightly - pointed out the unlikable characters in the novel. But is that a reason not to like a book? Author Tova Reich's novel, "My Holocaust", is filled with the most loathsome and least likable characters in any novel I've read, yet, I felt very, very interested in them and I loved the book. Buwalda's characters - Siem Sigerius and his family - were actually less repulsive, but I was bored by them and didn't really care what happened to them.

However, I want to go back to "The Corrections". It has received reviews ranging from five stars to one star and most reviewers have good reasons for their ratings. I have a feeling that Peter Buwalda's novel, "Bonita Avenue" will also garner a wide range of reviews. And I don't feel I can tell people NOT to read it. My advise is to read ALL the reviews on both Amazon/US and Amazon/UK (where the book has been released since Spring, 2014) and then make a decision.


Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers (44 Scotland Street)
Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers (44 Scotland Street)
by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful place in Edinburgh..., 21 Dec. 2014
I usually begin reviewing books from a series by comparing them to other books in the same series. I can't do that with Alexander McCall Smith's new novel, "Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers: a 44 Scotland Street Novel", because I haven't read anything by McCall Smith, let alone anything in this particular series. I guess I am one of the only people who has not at least sampled McCall Smith's writing. So, I can't compare it to others in this series, but I think I did find a series I can compare it to.

44 Scotland Street, Edinburgh, is the home/work place of of several interesting characters. Alexander McCall Smith began his series in 2008, when he introduced his main characters. Each succeeding book in the series - this book is #9 - brings the reader up to date with these characters. One of the best things about series books is that if done well, each new one reunites the reader with old friends. The main character in this book is the "Bertie" in the title. Bertie is a preternaturally precocious six old boy - just days away from his seventh birthday - with a mother-from-hell. Irene, married to the reticent Stuart, is the mother of Bertie and a younger child, Ulysses, who may - or may - not be the son of Stuart. She sends Bertie to a "Steiner school" (look it up on Wikipedia) and is trying to raise him as...well, some sort of neuter. She gives him a doll - excuse me, "action figure" - for his birthday and makes him play with girls, learn Italian, and take yoga. All Bertie wants to do is to play with boys and have a pocket knife. Irene is saved from being a caricature only by the McCall Smith's good writing. Irene suffers an hysterical fate on a trip to Dubai and Bertie and his father are able to relax and just be boys.

Around young Bertie circle the other characters. Most characters are human, but there is one large dog, Cyril, in the mix. Couples form and drop away, homes and jobs change, children are adopted, but around it all is the 44 Scotland Street address. And the series I think best compares to McCall Smith's - and I doubt if I'm the first one to suggest this - is American author Armistead Maupin's brilliant series, "Tales of the City". "Tales", which began as a newspaper serial expanded into book form, also is based around an address, "28 Barbary Lane" (in San Francisco) and one character, landlady, Anna Madrigal. "Tales of the City" series is perhaps a bit more cutting edge and explicit than the "44 Scotland" series, but both are written by gentle and loving hands.

I don't have time to go back an read the first eight books in this series, but I will continue the visits to 44 Scotland Street when next "visited" by Alexader McCall Smith.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 23, 2014 12:09 AM GMT


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