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Jill Meyer (United States)

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Charles: The Heart of a King
Charles: The Heart of a King
by Catherine Mayer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.33

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent biography of the Prince of Wales..., 20 Feb. 2015
"Charles Philip Arthur George" is the full name of Britain's Prince Charles, the current Prince of Wales. Charles is the longest waiting Prince of Wales since his great, great grandfather Edward waited for HIS mother, Queen Victoria, to shuffle off her mortal coil. Victoria was loathe to give her son many governmental responsibilities so Edward largely frittered his life away. However, when he did ascend to the throne on Victoria's death, he ruled wisely for the short period of his reign and proved a "bridge" between Victorian England and modern England. (A superb biography of Edward is Jane Ridley's recent "The Heir Apparent: The Life of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince")

But the Prince of Wales that journalist Catherine Mayer writes about in her excellent book, "Born to Be King: Prince Charles on Planet Windsor", is the current Prince. Best known, perhaps, as Diana's unloving ex-husband, the father to "the Heir and the Spare", George's grandfather, and Camilla Parker Bowles' tampon, Charles is a man whose identity is often at odds with reality.

Mayer, an American-born, UK-based writer, has gone behind the facade the world views Charles. Son of stiff and controlled parents, Charles has evolved into a caring father to his own two sons. But that emotional availability was not there with his first wife. Both Charles and Diana seemed to know their marriage would not succeed; both were needy emotionally and unable to relate to each other. Charles was as much an intellectual as the Windsor family had produced up til his generation, while Diana was both intuitive and emotional. Bad mixture, but they produced two sons who've grown into fine young men, who seem to have inherited the good qualities of both their parents.

Mayer's book is not a white-wash of the Prince of Wales. She is just as strong in pointing out his failings as she is his strengths. He has many interests - ranging from architecture to the raising of sheep to town development and job creation - but he is often a bit arbitrary in his projects and sometimes tactless in his public utterances. He oversees a wide-ranging group of charities, called the "Prince's Trust" and gives his time freely to those charities. As a man who is often at the center of gossip, he has a very small circle of trusted friends and advisers. And most of them address him as "Sir"; he keeps himself at a bit of a distance even from those he trusts. I assume his great love, Camilla, doesn't have to call him "sir", but who knows...

And Camilla Parker Bowles IS the great love of Charles' life. Their marriage comes out of the infidelity that both engaged in. But perhaps the root of the infidelity comes from the fact that Charles and Camilla should have married 40 years ago. Charles adored Camilla but wasn't allowed to marry her because Camilla had a "past". So he wed the proscribed virginal Diana and both Diana and Charles endured an unhappy marriage. His marriage to Camilla is a more mature one; both get on like the old and good friends they are.

So what does the future bring? As Catherine Mayer points out, if Charles does live to succeed his mother, his reign will probably be short. Despite the inane mutterings in the tabloids here in the United States, Charles MUST succeed his mother; she cannot bypass Charles and "give" the crown to William. The law is a successive one; the next in line is the ruler. So there will be a King Charles III and (probably) a Queen Camilla. Charles is a smart man and I'm sure his reign will be a good bridge between the long reigns of Elizabeth and William.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 21, 2015 11:22 AM GMT

The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel
by Matt Zoller Seitz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wes Anderson "channels" Stefan Zweig..., 11 Feb. 2015
Wes Anderson "channels" Stefan Zweig...and Matt Zoller Seitz chronicles the resulting movie.

Matt Zoller Seitz is the author of "The Wes Anderson Collection", a coffee-table book about the previous Wes Anderson films. He returns with a second book, "The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel", which is devoted to the filming, the writing, the scoring; hell...every part of the making of the movie. It's very detailed and a fine book for any Wes Anderson fan.

I am not a rabid "Wes Anderson fan". I've liked several of his movies and not others. I adored "The Royal Tenenbaums" and still wonder if the reason it struck such a chord with me and many others is that it happened to be released in December, 2001. It's melancholy sadness seemed "right" for the time as we coped with the after effects of 9/11. I cry every time I see the movie; maybe it still makes it okay to cry for the other event? I don't know, and that's a subject for another review.

Anyway, it was 2014 when "Budapest" was released. Sort of based on the stories of the exiled Stefan Zweig, Wes Anderson brought us an imaginary look at 1930's Mittel Europa and the great hotels where guests "took the waters" for weeks at a time. A large ensemble cast surrounds the superb acting by Ralph Feinnes as "M Gustave", the lead concierge at the "Budapest". The story is silly and poignant and thought-provoking, all at the same time. And along with the acting, the music, the sets, and the costumes were also memorable. Anderson's story takes place every where from the grand hotel, to a wealthy old woman's castle house, to a forbidding prison, to a monastery high in the mountains, then, finally, back to the not-so-grand hotel. The cinematography makes everything look right.

How much of the movie is "fact" and how much is "atmosphere"? There are no Nazis in the film; other troops belonging to the "Zig Zag" movement are there, instead. Newspaper headlines speak of the threat of war, but we're not sure exactly where the imaginary country of "Zubrowska" is located, though "the border" seems to be well-manned, making travel and border crossings difficult. This was largely true in the Central European mix of nations in the 1930's.

Matt Zoller Seitz's book is a complete look at the movie and the filmmakers, along with the man whose life and work inspired the movie. There is a lengthy section with selections of Stefan Zweig's writings. (For those who want to read an excellent book about Zweig, look for "The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World" by George Prochnik, published in 2014.) Zoller Seitz interviewed the director, the actors, the technical crews...but most of all, he interviewed Wes Anderson. Anderson, that quirky and meticulous director - is he a genius? - is quite candid about all the aspects of the making of the "The Grand Budapest Hotel". This is a large and wonderful book and a good companion to the movie. (By the way, is anyone else upset that Ralph Feinnes didn't get nominated for an Oscar?)

Lincoln's Body: A Cultural History
Lincoln's Body: A Cultural History
Price: £10.44

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent look at the "Cult of Lincoln", 8 Feb. 2015
This year, 2015, is the 150th year anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Many books have covered Lincoln's life and his death; Richard Wightman Fox's new book, "Lincoln's Body: A Cultural History", looks at how Lincoln has fared as an historical figure since his death.

Richard Fox, professor of History at the University of Southern California, begins his book with Lincoln's assassination, a well-documented story. But he concentrates both on how Lincoln perceived himself before his death and how others perceived him after. His death on April 15, 1865, unleashed mourning throughout the country. An elaborate program of his body's laying-in-state in Washington, DC, as well as in selected cities on the train trip back to Springfield, Illinois, made the nation a partner in his family's grief. He was finally laid to a somewhat unquiet rest in Springfield.

In the succeeding years, monuments and statues were erected in his honor, books were written, and his legacy was being assessed. Was Abraham Lincoln an emancipator of slaves or the man who faught to hold together the Union? Or both? How would he have governed in those difficult days after the Civil War ended? Would he have welcomed the South back into the Union or would he have imposed harsh penalties? Certainly "his" Reconstruction would have been different than Andrew Johnson's.

Fox's excellent book examines how the regard for Abraham Lincoln has risen and fallen and risen again in the last 150 years. Was he the saint who had lost his one chance at love with Ann Rutledge's early death or was that romantic tripe, made up to soften Lincoln's image after his death. Was he a dreamer or a realist about our country's future. Perhaps the low point of the "Cult of Lincoln" was Gore Vidal's "fictional biography", "Lincoln", published in the mid-1980's, where he tries to "humanize" the president.

Richard Wightman Fox presents a nuanced look at the "Cult of Lincoln". His book is a very readable account of a time in America's history when our national view of a beloved figure was turned into a cultural icon.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 9, 2015 10:34 PM GMT

Satan's Lullaby: A Medieval Mystery
Satan's Lullaby: A Medieval Mystery
by Priscilla Royal
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.70

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 11th in the series..., 3 Feb. 2015
Priscilla Royal's new mystery, "Satan's Lullaby: A Medieval Mystery" is her 11th book in her Medieval Mystery series. I've read all the series books over the years and this latest is an excellent return to Prioress Eleanor, Brother Thomas, and the others - both religious and secular - at Tyndal Priory in Norfolk. Eleanor is the leader of the Priory, which supports both male and female religious. It is one of the few houses where a woman is the leader of the order.

"Satan's Lullaby" does not really have much of a plot. The order is being "visited" by Father Etienne Davoir, who is the brother of Abbess Isabeau, of the Fondevraud Abbey in France, which is the "mother" house of Tyndal Priory. He's come with a some aides to check out the finances and structural strength of the Priory. One of his clerks - with whom Father Etienne has a close relationship - is found dead during the visit. Etienne suspects the young man has been poisoned and points out Sister Anne, the chapter's sub-infirmarian who is a whiz with natural medicines, as the probable killer. Anne is tossed into confinement, not allowed to practice her healing ways. There are also some odd characters skulking around the grounds and, as usual, some people are not who they seem to be.

Father Etienne is a blustering bully, Prioress Eleanor is diplomatic, Crowner Ralf is investigative, and Brother Thomas is a hunk. Other reoccurring characters are included and as with any good series, the reader is brought up-to-date with the lives of these characters. The story is brought to an end in somewhat desultory fashion - remember, you're probably not reading it for the plot. But Priscilla Royal is a whiz at creating both interesting characters and interesting settings. Her writing is often moody when describing the physical world of Norfolk, where the winters are bleak and the summers not much better.

A well-written historical novel can teach as well as entertain. Novels, while fiction, can stir up in a reader an interest in the subject or era and prompt further reading. Royal has an afterword where she writes about some of the interests she had before writing "Satan's Lullaby" and how she included them in the story. If you're a fan of the series, or just have an interest in 13th century England, you'll enjoy this 11th book.

No Known Grave (A Detective Inspector Tom Tyler Mystery 3) (Di Tom Tyler Mystery 3)
No Known Grave (A Detective Inspector Tom Tyler Mystery 3) (Di Tom Tyler Mystery 3)
by Maureen Jennings
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Third in the series..., 1 Feb. 2015
Readers of mysteries know that there are different styles within the genre. One of those are the "murders done in a confined space and almost anyone can be the murderer (and the victim, come to that!); sort of like "Murder on the Orient Express". "No Known Grave", by Maureen Jennings, is the third in her "Tom Tyler" series and offers exactly that plot and a similar cast of potential victims and murderers.

The "Tom Tyler" series is set in WW2 England. I have not read the first two - though I think I will do so - but the protagonist is a "Great War" veteran who is working as a country policeman during the war years. He has moved to a small town, Ludlow, and in his third day in town and on the job, he is called in to investigate a murder of a blind man and his son at a convalescent hospital. Among the patients at this closed hospital are men and women grievously wounded in the war - either in battle or in bombing raids at home. Most of the patients are blinded and amputees; they are being cared for at a "stately home" set up to provide recovery services. The convalescent home is run by an order of Anglican Sisters, who are also nurses.

Jennings does an excellent job at setting up her time and place. St Anne's, the secluded home, is distant enough from the battles and bombings, but close enough to the emotional anguish and physical frailties that the war has brought. Why are such disparate people as the blind father and his son and the old nursing nun cut down in violent fashion? What do a series of letters sent to Tom Tyler describing massacres in an unnamed place, where the murdered "have no graves", do with the these murders?

"No Known Grave" is a good look at war-time England where police work still needs to be done. Maureen Jennings has written a good, insightful mystery.

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: £18.14

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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: £16.82

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: £16.14

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: £20.00

9 of 9 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.

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