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Jill Meyer (United States)

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Gwynne's Grammar: The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the Writing of Good English. Incorporating also Strunk's Guide to Style.
Gwynne's Grammar: The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the Writing of Good English. Incorporating also Strunk's Guide to Style.
by N.M. Gwynne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 5.51

3.0 out of 5 stars A sermon with your grammar..., 12 July 2014
When I read a guide on how to do something - repair a toaster, use my Iphone, bake a cake - I am reading it to learn something. I don't want a sermon about cake baking or insults about why I am consulting a book to know how to bake it; I just want to learn how to bake the damn thing.

The problem with "Gwynne's Grammar: The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the Writing of Good English" is that along with giving us examples of good and bad grammar, he basically lectures the reader about the stupidity of Americans. I already know I'm not too smart; why do you think I'm reading your book, Mr Gwynne?

The actual grammar part is well-written. It's just the dross you have to wade through to get there that is objectionable.

Bryant & May - The Bleeding Heart: (Bryant & May Book 11)
Bryant & May - The Bleeding Heart: (Bryant & May Book 11)
by Christopher Fowler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.89

5.0 out of 5 stars An homage to London and its people., 10 July 2014
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Christopher Fowler returns with another excellent book in his Bryant & May series, "The Bleeding Heart". The books are part police-procedural and part homage to the city of London and its people. Readers of the series can't help but learn from Christopher Fowler's writing, while enjoying his peculiar "take" on society.

The "PCU" (Peculiar Crimes Unit) is a red-headed step-child of the London Metropolitan Police Department. Its charge is to solve crimes that basically the more conventional police don't want to get involved in. There are ten or so cops, along with one gender-changed cat, "Crippen", who make up the PCU and they work together, using unconventional methods to solve unconventional crimes. The plot of "The Bleeding Heart", which includes suicides, hit-and-run deaths, murders by cross-bow, as well as the supposed thievery of the ravens from the Tower of London, is, in the end, less interesting than the personalities of both the criminals and the crime solvers. Of particular note are the two senior-detectives - men in their 70's and 80's - Arthur Bryant and John May. They have worked together for 40 years and their pairing has honed their instincts for solving crimes that would have baffled more conventional cops.

Christopher Fowler does such a good job at writing his "Bryant & May" series that each new book is a treat. The reader returns to old friends - Bryant and May - as well as their fellow PCU officers, in the magical city of London.

A House of Knives (Breen and Tozer)
A House of Knives (Breen and Tozer)
Price: 4.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Those "Swinging '60's in London...", 7 July 2014
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British author William Shaw's new novel, "A House of Knives", is the second police procedural of a planned trilogy. I have not read the first in the series, "She's Leaving Home" (as published in the UK) or "A Song From Dead Lips" (as published in the US). The series is set in London in the late 1960's - that time of political and social upheaval. Music and fashion have radically changed from even a few years past and drugs are becoming a scourge in society. Nothing is the same - everything is different, which makes policing a difficult business.

Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen works in the Marleybone CID. The son of parents who emigrated from Ireland to London before his birth, "Paddy" Breen is a loner, who had made his job as a policeman the center of his life. As the book opens, his widowed father, with whom Paddy has lived for several years, has died. Paddy is at sixes-and-sevens in both his career and his personal life. He has a vague desire to take a trip to Ireland to see where his parents are from, but his supervisor won't give him the time off. It's almost Christmas and some bodies are beginning to turn up. Breen is put in charge of solving these deaths...which may or may not be murders. His informal partner is Helen Tozer, a member of the "Women's Police", who Breen has drunkenly bedded in the previous novel. Their relationship is confused, as each tries to figure out what they want.

William Shaw includes real figures like art dealer Robert Fraser - who introduced the art of Jim Dine, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring in his London art gallery. A friend of musicians Mick Jagger and John Lennon, Fraser figures in "A House of Knives" as a sort of nexus between the deaths and the social and musical scene of 1968 London. Also prominently featured is the (fictional) Labour MP of Harold Wilson's government. One of the dead is the son of the MP. Coverups abound in the worlds of politics and the arts, and on the police force, as well.

"A House of Knives" is an excellent look at relationships as seen through a kaleidoscope - ever changing and morphing from one shape to another. There are no true alliances and friendships within the police department; your partner today could be your enemy tomorrow. Shaw has written a complicated look at a very complicated series of worlds. It's well worth reading.

Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town
Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town
Price: 12.70

3.0 out of 5 stars I wish I liked this book better..., 6 July 2014
Sarah Payne Stuart's new memoir, "Perfectly Miserable: Guild, God, and Real Estate in a Small Town", has certainly received a wide range of star ratings. That's actually a good thing for a prospective purchaser/reader because it means the reviewers have read and thought about this book. I read the reviews and found myself agreeing with those who didn't like it more than with those who did like it. I wish it was the opposite...

Concord, Massachusetts was the home town of fabled writers Thoreau, Emerson, and the Alcott family. Each used the town and its history in their writing. Sarah Payne Stuart has done the same thing in her previous writing but in her latest memoir, she writes of the city and its people have had on her life. Born the youngest child - and only daughter - after three sons, Sarah seems to have had a love/hate with the town in which she spent most of her childhood and then moved back to when she had children of her own. Stuart writes about her late parents who, seemingly trapped by the town and its mores - had a somewhat testy relationship with her and her husband, and whose own lives seemed mired in the quest for town "approval".

Reading the book, I asked myself, "why in hell would Stuart want to move back to a town which had inspired such sadness and questioning of her own values as she grew up?" After finishing the book, I still can't figure it out. She writes about the houses she and her filmmaker husband, Charlie, bought and restored in Concord, almost all of which she seemed to view from the lens of perceived Concord-town judgements. At the end of the book, her three children grown and gone from the familial nest, she and Charlie head for New York City. I sure hope she's happier there than she was in Concord. She's a lot more anonymous in the big city and maybe that'll be the subject of her next memoir.

The Actress
The Actress
by Amy Sohn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good novel..., 4 July 2014
This review is from: The Actress (Hardcover)
Amy Sohn's new novel, "The Actress" is a competently written and enjoyable read about actors in New York and Los Angeles and how the deals/friendships/blackmail get movies made. It is also the story of how those same things happen in the private lives of actors and studio workers and management. But most of all, it's the story of a "Tom Cruise"-like superstar and a "Katie Holmes"-like actress - minus the Scienctology - relationship and marriage.

I think we all know that what goes on in the motion picture industry is sometimes dirty and secretive. How do movies get made and how do actors, writers, directors, get attached to them? Amy Sohn gives us young, idealistic, and well-educated "indie" actress, Maddy Freed, who somehow catches the eye, and then the heart, of older, established, swoon-provoking actor Steven Weller. Is it a marriage made in heaven - or in the backrooms of management groups? Does Steven really love Maddy or is she a "purchase" made to enhance his somewhat questionable reputation? Amy Sohn answers these and other questions in her novel.

It would be easy to make Sohn's characters caricatures of already existing movie types. And to some extent, they are. By knowing the Cruise-Holmes story, the reader can already guess the plot. But Sohn is a good-enough writer to bring some humanity, some soul, some color to her characters. It's a good read for a day at the beach or a long airplane ride. You might not remember the book three weeks after you read it, but you might look at Hollywood and its players a bit differently.

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing
The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing
by Mira Jacob
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.74

5.0 out of 5 stars A very special novel..., 3 July 2014
There's not much to say that the other five star reviewers of Mira Jacob's debut novel, "The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing", haven't already said, and much better than I can. I will say that I loved this book. Now, whether because I have always been interested in India, Indians, and Indian-Americans, or because it is beautifully written, it was a joyous read for me and will definitely be in my top 10 novels of 2014.

A couple of observations about the writing style and the plot/characters. Most of Jacob's narrative is written in dialog. That has always seemed to me a difficult style of writing and not many authors can manage it well. Elinor Lipman is another excellent dialog author. Jacob has done this well and the book seems to "flow" as a result.

None of Jacob's characters are "stock". All have a special "twist" from the caricatures of Indian-born doctors and their sari-wearing wives, settling in the United States. The three children born of these parents, Akhim and his sister, Amina, and their cousin, Dimple, have assimilated into United States culture and consider themselves American teenagers. As the book moves back and forth between Seattle and Albuquerque in the late 1990's and Albuquerque in the 1970's and early 1980's, Jacobs characters - all of them - come to life in her words. The sadness that Amina and Akhim's mother, Kamala, seems to feel as she realises that her future is to stay in the US, rather than to move back to Salem, India, is seen by readers as the price she must pay for her husband and children's assimilation. All Jacob's characters are interesting, but I must admit I followed Kamala and her husband, Thomas, as they struggled in their marriage and his career.

This is a very, very special book. It's long but never lost it's appeal. It's the kind of book that sort of begs a follow-up, a sequel, in which Jacob returns to her characters in the years after the end of the book.

Alex's Wake: A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance
Alex's Wake: A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance
by Martin Goldsmith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 15.26

5.0 out of 5 stars I'd have liked to know more about the mother and daughter, 2 July 2014
Martin Goldsmith has written "Alex's Wake", the search for his grandfather and uncle, who had been two of the passengers on the "SS St Louis". The boat, which set out from Hamburg to Havana in 1939 and carrying a total of 937 Jewish passengers, who had been promised asylum in Cuba. After being turned away from landing in Cuba, the ship was also denied entry in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. After being shunted around for two weeks, the passengers were accepted by the UK, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Those passengers who ended up in the UK were the only ones who reached safety; the other three countries were occupied the following year by the Germans and the Jews there were sent to their deaths in concentration camps.

Born 10 years after his grandfather and uncle died, Martin Goldsmith was the son of the one son who reached safety in the US, along with his wife, Martin's mother. Martin was determined to honor his dead relatives by tracing their path from their home in Oldenburg, Germany, to the St Louis, and then through the French camps they were sent to before being shipped by train from Drancy to their deaths at Auschwitz. He and his wife, set off on a multi-week driving trip, beginning in Hamburg and ending up in Auschwitz and this book is an excellently written recounting of Goldsmith's thoughts and emotions in 2011 as he walked in the steps of his dead relatives.

However, while reading the book, I felt there was something missing. And that is the story of Martin's grandmother and aunt, also killed in the Holocaust. Martin begins the book in Oldenburg, Germany, where Alex Goldschmidt had built a fortune in horse trading and then in women's retail. Alex and Toni had four children, two sons and two daughters. One daughter died early in life, but the other three reached at least their teen years. One son, Martin's father, did reach safety in the United States, but the parents and the other son and daughter were murdered. Martin's book is about how the father and son were going ahead of the mother and daughter, but nothing about the mother and daughter is mentioned, other than the fact they were sent to Riga and were killed there. I'd have liked to know more about the mother and daughter. It seems as if there's a piece or two of the puzzle missing. What was happening while Alex and his son were on the SS St Louis and then when they were captives in France?

I also wish Martin Goldsmith's book contained a map of Alex and his son's long journey, particularly their various camps in France. I have a pretty good sense of geography, but I would have welcomed some visual assistance.

In any case, Goldsmith's book is a wonderful look at learning about the past by walking in the steps of those lost years before.

Paisley Mischief
Paisley Mischief
by Lincoln Macveagh
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.33

4.0 out of 5 stars Not "War and Peace", but..., 2 July 2014
This review is from: Paisley Mischief (Paperback)
First time author Lincoln Macveagh has not written a masterful novel that you'll remember in a year, but his book, "Paisley Mischief" is a fun read. While the story - that of a Jewish man who wants to be admitted to a WASPy club in New York City - is meringue-light - the characters are interesting. Perhaps a better story could be written around the characters, and maybe Macveagh is planning to write a sequel.

First novels are sometimes works-of-art and sometimes they're just plain fun-to-read. Macveagh's is the second. I rated it four stars with three stars for the plot and five for the characters.

The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish
The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish
by Linda Przybyszewski
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.82

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book..., 26 Jun 2014
My, oh my, Linda Przybyszewski's new book, "The Lost Art of Dress", has certainly elicited a whole range of reviews on Amazon/US. And after reading the book, I found that all the reviews - whether complimentary or scathing - had some excellent points. Me? I'm going to rate it 4 stars, and try to explain below.

Linda Przybyszewski is a professor of history at Notre Dame, and in her book, she follows the history of American women's dress. She combines that with an on-going history of the Home Economics departments at American universities and secondary schools. She calls their professors the "Dress Doctors" and writes about their influence - so strong in the early years of the 20th century, but petering out as the century progressed and women assumed different roles in society as that society changed. I found her writing lively and was interested in most of the book, but felt she fell down in her choice of illustrations for her book.

She includes two dedicated pictorial sections in the book as well as drawings scattered among the text. The problem is that the sections show more than enough pictures of women's dress in the early years of the century, and not enough pictures of some of the other items and people referred to in her text. For instance, she features a woman from the 1930's on named Doree Smedley, who is described as the product of a before/after "make-over" feature. Smedley went on to become important in the fashion world - evidently despite her initial dowdiness - and wrote a few books. No where in the text or the pictorial section was a glimpse of this woman, in either of her two incarnations. Now, maybe pictures of Mrs Smedley are simply not available or Przybyszewski chose not to include them. There were several others referred to in the text who were not pictured. I found it a bit galling, actually; I wanted to SEE these people, damn it!

Basically, though, I felt the book - well researched and well written - accomplished what Linda Przybyszewski set out to do. Yes, it is a bit front loaded for fashion in the first half of the century, but I got the feeling Przybyszewski thinks "fashion" just sort of up and petered out with the advent of Mary Quant and Twiggy. Maybe it did; I certainly don't see much of it these days. But, but, what do I know. I still wear a lot of black!

The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World
The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World
Price: 10.19

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What makes an "exile"?, 21 Jun 2014
When does leaving one country for another become an "exile" as opposed to just plain "emigration"? It can't just be a matter of a forced leaving, because how many Jews who left Germany and other European countries in the 1930's felt they were going into exile? I'd assume most realised they were going to new lives in countries of safety. But for some - like famed author Stefan Zweig - leaving the land of their birth and of their family history, life outside Austria became an exile. Ultimately, in 1942, after living in England and the United States, he and his much-younger second wife committed suicide in their Brazilian village home.

Author George Prochnik's new book, "The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World", is not strictly a biography. It covers in depth the years from the 1930's to Zweig's death as he left all he loved and held dear - his life in Vienna - to live in England (London and Bath), then to the United States, and finally, to Brazil. (If you're not familiar with Stefan Zweig - and I wasn't - I'd advise reading the Wiki entry on him to acquaint yourself with the basics his life and works.)

Prochnik does an excellent job in detailing the emotional anguish Zweig felt as he left Austria for the last time. Although Vienna had been his home for most of his life, he had lived with his first wife and her daughters in a large house outside of Salzburg. But to leave Austria - even knowing the Nazis would make official the already rampant anti-Semitism embedded in Austrian society - to leave his German language, to leave what he knew and accepted, was, in the end, too much for Zweig.

Prochnik follows the Zweigs - Stefan and his first wife - to England, and then to New York. Even though his work was widely published and appreciated, Zweig found it difficult to adjust to life in the United States. As a literary lion, he was feted everywhere, but never seemed to feel settled. He went to Ossining, a small town north of New York City but finally fled to Petropolis, a mountain village north of Rio. It was there he ended his life, seemingly numbed by the terrible war news of late 1941 and early 1942. Would he have committed suicide - at the age of 60 - if he had any inkling that the war would be won by the Allies and that - possibly, he could have returned to his beloved Austria?

George Prochnik adds a bit of his own personal history to the book. His family, also Austrian Jewish immigrants during the 1930's, were similar to the Zweigs. I received the impression that Prochnik's family made lives for themselves in the United States. Clearly Stefan Zweig did not. And maybe that's the difference between "emigration" and "exile".

I didn't mind his putting his family in the book, but some readers don't like an author's intrusion into a book. Also, and I am not taking any stars away from my rating, but the publisher of the book did not label any of the pictures included in the text. Sometimes it's easy to know the identity of the figure is, but other times it's not. For instance, there's a picture of a young woman who was clearly Zweig's second wife, but a few pages on there's a picture of three women. I have no idea who the women were. Please - Mr Publisher - label the pictures in the next edition!!
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