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Jill Meyer (United States)
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Exposure
Exposure
by Helen Dunmore
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not really about espionage..., 11 Feb. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Exposure (Hardcover)
I've often wondered about the mechanics of espionage. How does one decide to betray one's country? And how does the actual work take place? When looking at the so-called "Cambridge Spies" of the 1950's and 60's, the picture of the spies seem to be of rather cold-blooded men who are perhaps loyal to the ideals they may use to rationalise their betrayal of their own countries. Or, they may be doing it for coin. But, whatever their motives, I've never thought about them as men with families or other emotional connections.

British author Helen Dunmore's new novel, "Exposure" is the story of three people who are aligned in a spy scandal in London in 1960. The Cold War was at its height as the USSR and the US waged a battle of words and threats. The UK - by now a second-class power after WW2 - was a hot spot of espionage and betrayals of atomic secrets had been going on since WW2. Giles Holloway works at the British Admiralty and has as a co-worker, Simon Callington. Simon is a family man with a wife and three young children. Simon and Giles had also been lovers in their youth, and Simon has never told his wife Lily about this part of his life. Simon and Giles are caught up in a larger-than-they-are scandal and Simon goes to jail and awaits trial. Giles is in the hospital. Lily and the children are cast adrift, trying to keep their family intact.

Helen Dunmore keeps a somewhat at-length view of Lily and Simon. They've been married 15 or so years but seem not to communicate too well. They love each other - that's very apparent - but when Simon is taken away, he and Lily cannot really talk about what's happening. A missing briefcase is important to the case but it is never referred to between the two. There's a lot these two don't talk about. Lily, a German Jewish woman who had fled to England as a child with her mother, has had experiences in her life she cannot talk about. Same with Simon. They "fence" with their relationship and many things that should be talked about just aren't.

As I started this review, I wrote about the espionage aspect, but as I write more, I think that the three main characters have run into trouble that could have been over a business or financial issue. I felt that the espionage aspect was used to look at the emotional distance between the characters. If a reader is looking for a "spy story", I think he might be a bit disappointed. Instead, it is a book of the heart.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 11, 2016 6:23 AM GMT


Land of Shadows: A Medieval Mystery (Medieval Mysteries Book 12)
Land of Shadows: A Medieval Mystery (Medieval Mysteries Book 12)
Price: £6.76

5.0 out of 5 stars Another good book in the series..., 8 Feb. 2016
A good novel of historical fiction can teach as well as entertain. And that's certainly evident in Priscilla Royal's "Medieval Mystery" series. Featuring Prioress Eleanor of Tyndale, Brother Thomas, and other relatives and religious, the books are somewhat less "mysteries" and more about life in Edward I's England. Her latest, "Land of Shadows", has the requisite murders but is much more about relationships and duties (to Crown and Church and Family). Anybody buying "Land of Shadows" for the "action" may be sorely disappointed.

Priscilla Royal has written about 12 books in the series, and I think I've read most of them. They are all good reading and often bring up things other mystery writers don't bother with. In this book, Royal writes about the Jewish population in medieval England. This book is set in 1279, and English Jews faced an uncertain future. They were eventually ordered out of England in 1290, but trouble had been afoot long before that. The book begins at Woodstock Manor, where Prioress Eleanor has come, along with several other members of her order, to visit her dying father. Also there is Queen Eleanor, who is giving birth to her 11-teenth child. A raid is conducted on the small Jewish community of Oxford by the King's men, trying to root out the "coin clipping" said to be occurring in the community. (Look up "coin clipping" on Wiki if you want to know the definition.) During the raid, a Jewish doctor was falsely accused of the act and is hanged, leaving a mother and two young daughters. The grandmother and granddaughters travel to Woodstock Manor to attempt to talk to Queen Eleanor and possibly get help from her in order to emigrate to France.

Prioress Eleanor is again at the center of the action and agrees to look for the murderer, as the bodies pile up. Her brother Hugh is there with his illegitimate son, who he's raising to go into the army with him. Richard FitzHugh ("Fitz" in a name connotes a "by-blow" birth.) is accused of one of the murders and his aunt sets forth to exonerate him before the bedridden Queen Eleanor finds out about the murders under her roof. IF the plot sounds a bit convoluted and the characters numerous, it is and they are. However, most of the readers of the book will have read Royal's books in the series before.

I am not recommending "Land of Shadows" to a first-time reader. He or she should read a couple of earlier books first and find out about Eleanor, Brother Thomas, as well as the Abbey at Tyndal. (Brother Thomas has a particularly interesting back-story.) For those who are old readers, I think you'll like the latest in the series.


Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
by Betty MacDonald
Edition: Perfect Paperback
Price: £11.31

5.0 out of 5 stars A simpler time...perhaps, 7 Feb. 2016
As a child, one of my favorite books to be read from and then to read myself were Betty MacDonald's "Mrs Piggle-Wiggle" series. Of course, I was living in the early 1950's and lived in a neighborhood where we all played outside, unsupervised, after school. The dads went off to work, and the moms stayed home with the kids. It really was a simpler time - but not a time I'd like to go back to. I have an almost three year old granddaughter and wanted to see if she might like the books - in a few years.The other day I downloaded the audio version of the first of the series, "Mrs Piggle Wiggle" and listened to it. I was just as delighted to hear it 60 years later.

It's always interesting to read or listen to a book that was written contemporaneously. This series, in particular, would be fobbed off as "politically incorrect" if published today, about today's world. It was a picture of a purer, more innocent time and that was how much of the country lived in the post-WW2 years. But, here's the thing: the times might have been more innocent but human nature doesn't change. Children still worry about the same things as we, their grandparents did, and still don't pick up their toys or bathe enough. They still go through stages where they talk back to the parents and teachers, and I don't think the "selfish gene" has been scrubbed from human reproduction. Betty MacDonald's parents and children - and Mrs Piggle Wiggle - are the parents and children of today. Addiction, violence and poverty have added to our problems but there was always a bit of that in the past. Hiding under our desks at school from the threat of nuclear war - like our wooden desks were really going to save us - and diseases that were rampant back then have been eradicated by cures. Betty MacDonald's wonderful stories full of interesting characters are as timely now as they were 60 years ago.

By the way, did you know that Betty MacDonald wrote the adult book, "The Egg and I"? That was one of four "adult" books she wrote, in addition to the children's books she wrote.


1916: A Global History
1916: A Global History
by Keith Jeffery
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.92

5.0 out of 5 stars A great look at 1916..., 6 Feb. 2016
This review is from: 1916: A Global History (Hardcover)
Irish professor Keith Jeffery's new book "1916: A Global History" is the second historical look at a single year I've read in the last week or so. (The other is "1924: The Year that Made Hitler" by Peter Ross Range.) By examining a single year, the author is able to cover his material in greater depth than possible with a larger-in-time book. I might be wrong, but it seems as if a lot of single year or single event books are being published and I'm very pleased to read them. (Two other books, "The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911' and "The Great Silence: 1918-1920 Living in the Shadow of the Great War", by British author Juliet Nicholson are also highly recommended.)

But returning to "1916", Keith Jeffery begun the book with the troops evacuating the area of Gallipoli at the beginning of the year, and ending with the murder of Rasputin. In between, he covers the Battle of Verdun, Battle of the Somme, the Irish Easter Sunday Uprising, as well as many other events that year. Since the Great War was the first world-wide war, Jeffery's book looks at battles and political movements from Western Europe, southern Africa, as well as Asian sites. He's first rate in looking at many of the personalities involved in the fighting, the nursing, the politics, and the diplomacy of the year.

Professor Jeffery's writing is easy for the armchair historian the book is aimed for. He has written book about the British clandestine service, MI6, as well as other histories. This one is first rate.


Spoils of Victory (Mason Collins Novel)
Spoils of Victory (Mason Collins Novel)
by John A. Connell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.65

4.0 out of 5 stars Second in the series..., 5 Feb. 2016
"Spoils of Victory" is American author John Connell's second book in his "Mason Collins" series. Set - so far - in post-war Germany, Collins is a policeman who is hired by the US Army to investigate criminal activity in occupied Germany. The first book in the series - "Ruins of War" - was set in Munich. This one is set in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a resort community in the mountains south of Munich. (It was also the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics.)

Something very rotten is happening in Garmisch. Mason Collins has been sent there after getting into trouble while solving crimes in Munich. People in Garmisch - innocent or not-so-innocent - are turning up dead. Some are turning up quite unattractively dead, with missing body parts. As the body count rises, Collins and his aide, Abrams, set out to investigate the active black market in the town. Everything's basically for sale - food and other necessities of life now in short supply in post-war Germany - and the black market trading seems to involve almost everybody around. Germans, American GIs, former concentration camp inmates - everyone's on the take. Connell's world of Garmisch-Partenkirchen seems to be gray and murky. All his characters, except for Collins and Abrams, exist in a mist of murder and cheating. And because everyone's murky, there are very few characters who are not drawn as caricatures. Now, that's not a criticism; if the reader cared for all those getting butchered, "Spoils of Victory" would be as depressing as a Scandinavian crime novel.

"Spoils of War" is an entertaining novel about that "murkiness" of post-war morals. It may be about 50 pages too long, but it makes good reading. I'll look forward to Connell's next "Mason Collins" novel.


R.I.P.
R.I.P.
by Nigel Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

5.0 out of 5 stars A very black comedy..., 31 Jan. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: R.I.P. (Paperback)
Newly retired bank manager, George Pearmain, woke up on the morning of the celebration of his mother Jessica's 95th birthday, dead. He was dead in his bed, and coincidentally, downstairs, his mother was also found dead on the kitchen floor. And so begins British author Nigel Williams' newest black comedy, "R.I.P". Most of Williams' novels take place in Putney, a prosperous London suburb located southwest of the city. Filled with executive types and their families, (Putney was also the scene of one of Williams' funniest novels, "Unfaithfully Yours".) George and Esmeralda Pearmain have raised two sons in Putney and have had a reasonably happy marriage, at least until George's sudden death.

But not only is George's death untimely, it also doesn't cause George to go where ever you go when you go. George is still around; invisible to the living, he hovers above the police and family as both his death and his mother's are being investigated. He sees the family as they tiptoe around the two deaths, which increase by one as George's batty sister is found dead. Her death by hanging is considered a suicide. But as much as the three deaths are mourned, much more interest is being paid to Jessica Pearmain's will and missing codicil. That codicil is worth both finding...and then destroying as the guilty party is basically named in it. The characters - both dead and alive - are, for the most part, vain, petty, dotty, as well as evil and dastardly. Oh, and there's a dead dog who makes the scene.

Part of Williams' novel is a mystery - who's knocking the family off, but the other part is a family love story. George Pearmain only begins to truly recognise how much he loved and valued his wife after he's unable to express those sentiments to her. Nigel Williams' witty novel is not for every reader.Both his characters and plots are dark...but darkly funny. I love his work.


1924: The Year That Made Hitler
1924: The Year That Made Hitler
Offered by Audible Ltd

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important year..., 28 Jan. 2016
There are two types of historical biographies. The first is the sweeping look at a long life. The second type is a small, shortish look at a particular part or event in a life. Adolf Hitler's life and the 12 Year Third Reich is closely examined, for instance, in William Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich". A smaller segment of Hitler's life, though, is examined quite thoroughly in "1924: The Year That Made Hitler", by Peter Ross Range.

The year 1924 was quite important in Adolf Hitler's rise to power. He and a small band of Nazis - along with General Erich Ludendorff and others in the disbanded post-war German army - tried to take power in Munich on November 8-9, 1923. Proclaiming their "putsch" in the large beer hall - the Bürgerbräukeller, and then out in the street - Hitler and his crew planned badly and the putsch was put down. Hitler was put in Landsberg prison, while awaiting his trial for treason. As the year began, Adolf Hitler was ensconced in fairly fancy quarters in the prison. Peter Ross Range gives a lot of detail to the putsch and subsequent trial, where Hitler, acting often as his own lawyer, gave hours-long political speeches, under the guise of defending himself. Despite his defense - or maybe because of it - Hitler was sentenced to five years imprisonment, which was immediately reduced to six or so months.

Hitler returned to Landsberg to complete his shortened prison term and spent most of the time writing his memoir, "Mein Kampf". Legend has it that he dictated the book to also-imprisoned aide Rudolf Hess, but the truth is that Hitler wrote the first volume, using a Remington typewriter.
Hitler's life in prison was made even easier by the constant gifts of food made by his supporters. All in all, a fairly pleasant and productive way to spend a year behind bars. Hitler was released in December of 1924, and Peter Ross Range ends his book by looking at how he remade his personal political identity, as well as the Nazi party.

Range is a very easy writer, with a wonderfully fluid style. According to his Amazon listing, he has written a couple of crime books. This is his first historical biography and I hope he writes more.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 31, 2016 6:38 PM GMT


Hatchett and Lycett
Hatchett and Lycett
by Nigel Williams
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars WW2 and before..., 26 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Hatchett and Lycett (Paperback)
Nigel Williams is a British writer whose work I wish was better known here in the United States. He writes wonderful novels about English life, using characters we can mostly identify with. I'd say that most of his work has a satirical bent but he's rarely mean in his portrayals of the mean, the stupid, the crazy... One of his best books, "Unfaithfully Yours", is an absolutely hysterical work about four married couples who grow to hate their partners. I mean, REALLY hate their partners...

Williams' novel "Hatchett & Lycett" is less funny and more poignant than the others I've read. Set in 1939 - with flashbacks to 1921 - it is the story of two young men - Alec Lycett and Dennis Hatchett - and their life-long friendship. The third of their group is Norma Lewis, who is a bit in love with both guys. August 1939 brings the beginning of the war to their town of Croydon, located directly south east of London and the site of London's first airport. Hatchett and Norma teach school together, while Lycett has just joined the army. But they continue their friendship and Lycett proposes to Norma; she accepts. Meanwhile, some teachers at their joint school begin to die. Norma and Lycett look into these murders while continuing to dance around their own feelings for each other. The war begins to literally "hit home" as soldiers are rescued from Dunkirk and bombs are dropped by German bombers on their way to and from London raids.

The book also looks at the lives of the two boys in 1921. There is a mysterious death and Lycett's identical twin brother is sent off to school as a punishment for "misdeeds". The past - 1921 - plays as much a part as the present - 1939, and Williams does an excellent job in joining the two parts together. While there are some humorous parts to the book, most of it is sadly charming. Sort of like real life.


The Revolving Door of Life (The 44 Scotland Street Series Book 10)
The Revolving Door of Life (The 44 Scotland Street Series Book 10)
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another charming book in the series..., 23 Jan. 2016
Lucky Bertie Pollock. He's just turned seven years old in "The Revolving Door of Life", Alexander McCall Smith's latest novel in his "44 Scotland Street" series. Bertie's mother, Irene - possibly one of the worst mothers in modern literature - has been taken by mistake into a Bedouin harem while visiting the Gulf states. For the first time in his short life, Bertie doesn't have Irene bossing him around and not letting him have any fun at all. He's had to wear pink pants to show his solidarity for gender issues, and he's not allowed to play with boys. All Bertie wants is to play with boys, wear a kilt, and have a Swiss Army knife. Now, maybe he's too young for the knife, but he knows what he wants. Bertie's father - the hapless Stuart married to the awful Irene - can't stand up to her. But while she's "away" in the Middle East, Bertie, his baby brother, and Stuart are under the care of Stuart's mother, Nicola, who has come to Edinburgh to take care of the three guys. Suddenly Bertie gets a kilt, pizza, and boy friends to play with. But can it last?

Bertie and his family are just two of the many characters in Smith's Edinburgh stories. A bit like American author Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City" series, which center around the eccentric occupants of an apartment building in San Francisco, Smith's books also feature a cast of characters. A bit less eccentric than Maupin's crew, Smith's characters are a charming lot of artists and dealers, coffee shop owners, dogs, a Duke-who-possibly-isn't-REALLY-a-duke, and, of course, Bertie Pollock and the dreadful Irene. This latest book - the 10th in the Scotland series - is less plot-centric and more character-centered. Oh, things happen but they are relatively minor things, and the reader concentrates more on the characters.

One of the best things about series books is the chance to return to old friends and catch up on their lives. This is only the second Smith book I've read but I'm surely returning for #11! I want to know what happens to Bertie, and all the others I've become enamoured with in only two books.


Noonday
Noonday
by Pat Barker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.24

4.0 out of 5 stars Third in the trilogy..., 19 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Noonday (Hardcover)
"Noonday" is British author Pat Barker's third volume in her Slade School trilogy. The books began prior to WW1 and featured an upper class family - the Brookes - and others in their lives. Many of the characters were artists - students at the Slade School of Fine Art - and WW1 was the focal point of the books. This third book is set in the early blitz days of WW2 and follows the lives of Kit Neville, Elinor Brooke, and Paul Tarrant as they face the war in London as the bombs kill and injure thousands of people and destroy thousands of buildings.

I had read the two previous novels - "Life Class" and "Toby's Room" - but I can't quite decide if you should read the first two to enjoy - and appreciate - Barker's third. Because of the number of years between "Toby's Room" and "Noonday", Barker has to bring the lives of her three main characters up-to-date. Obviously, characters married and moved on with their lives but meet again in the blitz. That's the part that is a bit lacking but her "London in 1940" is marvelously drawn. The reader is given an almost micro-level view of the devastation. She introduces characters that Elinor and Kit - who are both blitz workers - get involved with. Kenny, a young red-headed school boy who had been sent to live with Elinor's family outside of London to escape the bombings is a rather unforgettable character.

Pat Barker is a small writer, who makes personal issues important within the larger picture. "Noonday" is a good third novel.


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