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Jill Meyer (United States)
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The Hound in the Left-Hand Corner
The Hound in the Left-Hand Corner
Price: £4.99

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.


The Iron Necklace
The Iron Necklace
by Giles Waterfield
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

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: £12.99

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.


Death in Pont-Aven (Commissaire Dupin) (Commissioner Dupin)
Death in Pont-Aven (Commissaire Dupin) (Commissioner Dupin)
by Jean-Luc Bannalec
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Murder in a beautiful setting..., 19 April 2015
I can't decide whether it's more fun to read about murders and death in a beautiful spot like Brittany, than, say in the bleak and desolate areas of northern Scandinavia, where those gritty novels all seem to take place. I know that as a reader, I'd rather savor fresh moules in a Breton sea-side cafe. Sometimes the smell of those mussels overwhelms the cold of the north. And, so, we have "Death in Brittany: A Mystery", by Jean-Luc Bannalec. The book is set in Brittany, on the southern coast of that peninsula, in the real town of Pont-Aven. The town, and actually all along that coast, was a gathering spot for artists, and in particular, Paul Gauguin. But the book, "Death in Brittany" - although it features some of the artist's work - is set in today's Brittany. (In the UK, this book is called "Death in Pont-Aven")

The "new" police Commissaire of Concarneau, Georges Dupin, has lived in the area only a few years. He is called one morning to the neighboring village of Pont-Aven, to investigate the brutal murder of a 91-year old hotelier named, Pierre-Louis Pennec. Found in the restaurant of his hotel, Pennec's body was badly beaten. Who would kill the beloved hotelier? Dupin and his deputies spend the next four days investigating Pennec's murder, while another body turns up. The plot is somewhat complicated; characters lie and no one's particularly sympathetic. They lie, particularly after a previously unknown Gauguin turns up missing. The painting was "unknown" to the public at large, but plenty of family members knew about the 40,000,000 Euro and that it is now "missing" is connected to the two murders.

Novels like "Death in Brittany" (which I assume is the first of a series) should have as beautiful and charming a setting and as tasty a description of the area's food, to be a success. Certainly, author Martin Walker's mystery series, "Bruno, Chief of Police", has thrived on food and beauty presented to the reader as much as it does on a plot. I think Jean-Luc Bannalec's series may reach the same success.


A Gushing Fountain: A Novel
A Gushing Fountain: A Novel
by Martin Walser
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.79

4.0 out of 5 stars A German coming of age story..., 18 April 2015
Martin Walser's newly translated-from-the-German novel/memoir, "The Gushing Fountain", is the story of a young boy's early life to late teens. The years basically correspond to the 12 year Third Reich.

Most books set in this era are about warriors and victims, Nazis and those who fought against them, and soldiers and civilians. "Gushing", set in a small town on the southern German border along Lake Constance, is told in a long-running ("gushing"?) voice of the young boy - "Johann", the son of parents who make a living running a restaurant and a coal-serving business. The father, who dies early in the story, is an intellectual, who wants his three sons to succeed in school, and in life. He's a bit of a dreamer; Johann's mother is the practical one in the family. Johann, a typical 11 year old in most of the story, has the same thoughts, dreams, desires, and complications most 11 year olds have, the world over. "A Gushing Fountain", though, is as much about the town of Wasserburg and its citizens, as it is about Johann.

Martin Walser is from the village of Wasserburg. He was born in 1927, and his life seems to parallel that of the Johann in the novel. Like his fellow German author, the late Gunter Grass, Walser fought in the last days of the war. His Wehrmacht rank and his duties are a bit under dispute, but as a late-teenager, he supposedly joined the Nazi Party. He returned to school after the war ended and became an important author.

Now, I suppose my question after reading "A Gushing Fountain" is why Martin Walser made this a novel, rather than a memoir? Certainly he uses the real name of his town, as well as the towns in the area. I'm always curious about why an author chooses to write a "memoir" vs "memoir-as-a-novel". I'm not sure it matters in this case. Walser gives a beautifully rendered look at a town and a family navigating the treacherous years of Nazi Germany.


Bryant & May - The Burning Man (Bryant & May 12)
Bryant & May - The Burning Man (Bryant & May 12)
by Christopher Fowler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

5.0 out of 5 stars "Burn the rich...", 11 April 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Something I enjoy as a reader is to read the latest book in a series. What fun it is to catch up with "old friends" as they go on new adventures, form relationships, solve crimes...and sometimes do all three in one book. And so I looked forward to revisiting the Peculiar Crimes Unit in London, home of Arthur Bryant and John May, in the new Christopher Fowler novel, "Bryant and May: The Burning Man". I was excited when I began the book but a bit saddened when I ended it.

The plot of "The Burning Man" is most important for setting the context in which the characters operate. The time is slightly futuristic London, where, essentially the City of London is under siege by protestors infuriated by bad banking and investment practices by banks and other lending institutions. One fellow - an investment banker named Dexter Cornell - is in the spotlight as an egregious example of "greed is good". The crowds are raging in the City streets, the police are having a hard time controlling the demonstrators, and someone is killing people by rather ghastly means. Being tarred-and-feathered, burned alive, and other similar methods of death are being used by someone who slips through the crowds to do his evil deeds. And Guy Fawkes Day is approaching...

The PCU is called in to identify the first body but soon they're investigating the murders and trying to stop the murderer. Are the murders being committed as a result of the rioting or are the murders driving the unrest? Arthur Bryant, John May, Janice Longbright, Fraternity DuCaine, and the others begin their investigations with the bare minimum of conventional police help. They call on others outside the police department, such as barely-sane psychics and mad scholar. All are associates with perhaps the quirkiest of all - Arthur Bryant. Bryant is in his 80's and is an eccentric's eccentric. But his methods of detection - usually trusted by his slightly younger and more debonair partner, John May, as well as the others in the Unit - are more haphazard than usual, this time around. What's going on?

Author Christopher Fowler is a story-teller of London and its history, as told in the voice of Arthur Bryant as he instructs 9 year old Augustine Cornell in the ways of the city. As with most well-written fiction, the reader learns as well as enjoys a book. But best of what Fowler does in his book is to give his characters - including "Crippen" the office cat formerly determined to have been male until "he" gave birth to kittens a couple of books back - relationships of a personal and professional nature. The plot truly is incidental compared to the emotional interplay between these characters. This is usual in Fowler's books, but particularly so in "The Burning Man".

"Burning Man" is a must-read by followers of the "Bryant and May" series. You won't forget this book too soon.


Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids
Price: £9.49

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It could be a two-way street..., 2 April 2015
Meghan Daum has collected the essays of 16 fellow writers for her book, "Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed:Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids". Of the 16 authors, 13 are women and three are men. Most of the writers are straight and several are gay. Some are married, some are single. Many are in late middle-age; the rest younger. But they are all together on their decisions - and these are conscious decisions - not to have children.

Just as there are 16 authors, each has a different reason to be child-free. Most seem to point out that they had bad or indifferent parenting and were afraid they themselves would be bad parents. Others had no maternal feelings; their "biological clocks" had either stopped ticking or had just never started. And some were just plain "selfish"; they enjoyed the benefits of living without the obligation to provide for others and to put the lives of their children first. Oh, yes, they're are selfish.

Okay, but what's the problem with being "selfish"? Or "shallow", or "self-absorbed"? Isn't it "selfish" to think the world can't get along with our genetic lines continuing for at least another generation? And to have children because we'll have "someone to take care of us when we're old" seems more than a mite bit "shallow". The same words that have been tossed at many of these authors can also be turned back onto we who have chosen to have children.

The 16 essays are really short-stories. Each "story" captures a life different enough from the one preceding it and the one following. All, though, seem to begin with their own childhoods and with the relief that for whatever reason, they chose not to have a child.

At first I felt that it was a shame that this book even had to be written. And then I realised that the authors were helping others who had made the same decision or were in the process of deciding that it was "okay" to be "child-free" in today's world. The sixteen all seem very at peace with their lives, which is all you can hope for at the end of your day.


The Ghost Fields: A Ruth Galloway Investigation
The Ghost Fields: A Ruth Galloway Investigation
Price: £8.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Series book..., 28 Mar. 2015
British author Elly Griffiths' new novel in her Ruth Galloway Mystery series is called "The Ghost Fields". The book is set in the Norfolk region of northeast England and features Ruth Galloway, who is a forensic medical examiner. The "Ghost Fields" referred to in the title are old WW2 airbases which dotted the Norfolk countryside. In the book, a body is found in a crashed American airplane, uncovered during a land development dig. Galloway, a single mother, is asked by the local police to identify the age of the body, which was supposed to be in the crashed WW2 plane. It wasn't; the body was "added" to the plane and then "discovered". A local family, rather down-at-the-heels aristocrats, are related to the dead man. Some other bodies are discovered as the family's secrets are uncovered during the investigation.

Here's the thing about jumping into a book series without having read any of the preceding books. I had very little idea about "who was who", both career-wise and relationship-wise. And I found it hard to maintain a level of interest in either the plot or the characters. But that's MY fault for foolishly choosing a book to read that I had no "history" with. I'm giving the book four stars because I honestly feel that even though I didn't particularly enjoy it, the writing was strong. And, if you have read the previous books in the series, you'll enjoy "The Ghost Fields". Does that make sense?


Inspector of the Dead (Thomas De Quincey mysteries Book 2)
Inspector of the Dead (Thomas De Quincey mysteries Book 2)
Price: £5.03

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb second novel in the "Opium Eater" series..., 26 Mar. 2015
A good historical novel can both entertain and teach a reader. Author David Morrell's novel, "Inspector of the Dead" is the second in his "Thomas de Quincey/The Opium Eater" series. The first novel, "Murder as a Fine Art", was published in 2013. Readers of both books will learn a lot about the England in the 1850's. It's advisable to have Wikipedia near-by when reading Morrell's books; they can be learning experiences.

"Inspector of the Dead" follows "Murder as a Fine Art" by about two months. The same main characters from the first book are in the second, supplemented by both fictional and real characters. Thomas de Quincey - that real-life laudanum-saturated writer - along with his daughter, Emily, are still in London, after having solved previous crimes. They're grudgingly "put up" by Lord Palmerston at his house, along with the two Scotland Yard detectives, Ryan and Becker, who had been injured previously. One Sunday in 1855, the four attended services at St James's - the local Mayfair church - and were placed in Lord Palmerston's private pew. They witnessed a terribly bloody murder in the adjacent pew where a woman is found dead, with her throat cut. But Lady Cosgrove's murder is not the only one that day; several people at her home - including her husband - were found grievously murdered.

More murders occur and messages left on the bodies allude to "Young England", a group thought behind some assassination attempts of Queen Victoria in the early 1840's. Is someone trying to assassinate the Queen fifteen years later and what do the cries and pleadings of a young Irish boy trying to find help for his imprisoned mother and his sick father and sister in 1840 have to do with the current murder spree? And this is all against the backdrop of the badly-handled Crimean War and the falling apart of the Liberal government of Lord Aberdeen. In the crisis, Victoria is forced to ask Palmerston - whom she detests - to form a new government, and be on guard for her life.

David Morrell does not write "cozy" mysteries. Death is frequent and is never gentle. Those readers looking for a "pleasant diversion" will be sorely disappointed by "Inspector of the Dead". But readers looking for historical relevancy - in the criminal, political, and personal - and not afraid of a rising body count - will enjoy this book. I don't think its essential to have read "Murder as a Fine Art" first, but I'd suggest you do so. The characters of Thomas de Quincey and Emily are so interesting that having read the first book might be an advantage in reading the second one.


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