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Jill Meyer (United States)

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Berlin: Imagine a City
Berlin: Imagine a City
by Rory MacLean
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Glimpses of the city and its people, 24 Oct 2014
This review is from: Berlin: Imagine a City (Hardcover)
British author Rory Maclean has written a "history" of Berlin, that is really not straight history. It is, instead, a series of short "glimpses" at the city and its people, beginning in the Middle Ages when Berlin was just a settlement. He continues in time to today, mostly focusing on the last four hundred years.

Maclean writes his story in both fiction and non-fiction; from straight prose to play-form he tells the stories of the unknown Berlin resident to the well-known Berliners who have contributed both the good and the bad to society. For every Fritz Haber - a converted German Jew who was the chemist who formulated poison gasses in WW1, leading to the gasses used in WW2 concentration camps - Maclean highlights the life of artist/pacifist Kathe Kollwitz, whose work was condemned to the fires as "subversive" in 1930's Berlin. (Ironically, Fritz Haber's development of Zyklon B was used to murder his own nieces and nephews a few years after his own death.)

Rory Maclean sometimes uses secondary characters to describe life in Berlin through the ages. For instance, when writing about the GDR, he doesn't use the life of Erich Honecker - the post WW2 Communist leader - but rather uses individuals, "the people", when describing life under Communist rule. A devout Communist "Wall-maker", Dieter Werner - son of a Nazi soldier - is profiled in that section. During the Nazi era, Maclean focuses on architect Albert Speer and propagandist Joseph Goebbels - rather than Adolf Hitler, to look at the both the grotesque use of architecture and mind-warping to involve Berliners in Nazi will. He contrasts Nazi film-maker Leni Riefenstahl, who glorified on film the excesses of Nazi rule to actress Marlene Dietrich, who fled Berlin in the early 1930's rather than work under the Nazi regime and who entertained the Allied troops and did other war-work to help defeat Germany in WW2. The choice of those persons highlight Maclean's work; the individual always seems less than the over-all city of Berlin.

Rory Maclean's book is one of the best history books I've read all year. But, it's not history-in-the-conventional sense, so beware of buying the book if you're looking for a straight history of the city. There are plenty of books for that by other writers; Rory Maclean's "Berlin" is about the city and its people.

The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining
The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining
by Charles Spence
Edition: Paperback
Price: £22.45

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a cook book..., 13 Oct 2014
I am not sure who Charles Spence and Betina Piqueras-Fiszman's book "The Perfect Meal" will appeal to. It's not a cook book, but is more a book about the history and ideas in culinary styles. It is divided into 11 chapters; each scholarly written and heavily notated. The print is particularly small and the writing is a bit pedantic.

But...and this is a big "but", for the right reader - one who is adventuresome in both his reading and eating - the book will be of great interest. Just note that you are NOT going to be able to sit down and read this book. Each chapter should be read and savored, much like what the authors are describing.

This really is a book that must be looked at before buying.

The Grand Duchess of Nowhere
The Grand Duchess of Nowhere
by Laurie Graham
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.58

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Ducky"...the ultimate survivor, 13 Oct 2014
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British author Laurie Graham is well-known for her historical novels. From the Joseph Kennedy family in her witty novel, "The Importance of Being Kennedy" to "Gone With the Windsors", she uses historical figures to teach history to her readers. Graham tends to use history's "supporting" characters to tell the story of the major historical figures and it's always a good idea to have access to Wikipedia to get the back story.

Her latest novel, "The Grand Duchess of Nowhere" is the story of the German-born, Russian-married Princess Victoria Melita. The granddaughter of Queen Victoria on her paternal side and of Tsar Alexander II on her maternal, "Ducky" as she was called throughout her adventurous and event-filled life, is a great subject around which history of the time circles. This book, written in the first-person is an account of her life. It is finished in an epilog by her son. Twice married - having divorced her first husband, a gay man - she is the mother of four children. One daughter - born during her first marriage to "Ernie Hesse" - died at a young age, and Ducky went on to have three more children by her second husband, a Russian Grand Duke, who is also her cousin.

Most of the novel is set in pre-Revolutionary Russia and then that terrible time in the Great War, when "Cousin Nicky" dithers and dithers and loses his crown and life in the Revolution. Ducky and her husband, Cyril, and their children barely escape to Finland, where they join the other Romanov survivors in exile. Laurie Graham does an excellent job in connecting the various Russian, British, and German family members but keeping them distinctive in the readers' minds. "The Duchess of Nowhere" is a superb historical novel and a fun read. Just keep Wiki close to you!

The Meating Room
The Meating Room
Price: £4.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars St Andrews, Scotland police procedural, 6 Oct 2014
This review is from: The Meating Room (Kindle Edition)
"The Meating Room" is the first of T F Muir's St Andrews, Scotland police procedural published in the US, though it is the fourth or fifth in the "Andy Gilcrist" series. Another, earlier book is available now.

The UK is shock-full of police procedurals, from London to Edinburgh, from Glasgow to Bath and Devon. Now we have DCI Andy Gilcrist of the St Andrews Police Department, with several underlings, all of whom have their own "back stories". The problem with reading "The Meating Room" first is that the reader has to puzzle out the characters and their "stories", but TF Muir is a clever enough author to allow the reader to at least get the gist of the stories and the characters.

One of Muir's skills as a writer is fleshing out the murderers, their victims, and the police. This is a difficult thing for a reviewer to describe, but the plot is probably less important than the characters. I didn't like most of the characters - particularly the bad 'uns - but I found them all interesting.

"The Meating Room" which is the story of a mounting number of murders in the uSt Andrews area, all of whom appear to be tied to a couple of men who have less conscience than skill at murder. Most of the murders are horrific; consider the title of the book. If you don't like violent crimes, then "The Meating Room" is not for you. However, if you like give and take of a police procedural and the ambiance of a UK setting, you should look into Muir's book. I just bought Muir's only other book available here, "Hand For A Hand".

The Language of Houses: How Buildings Speak to Us
The Language of Houses: How Buildings Speak to Us
by Alison Lurie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.20

4.0 out of 5 stars Facts, without opinions., 29 Sep 2014
Alison Lurie has written a book, "The Language of Houses",on a subject that nearly everyone has an opinion about - the way we see both "personal" architecture (our homes) and "public" architecture (the other buildings we encounter in our lives). It is an interesting, if not a bit of bland, look at architecture.

I really think we all have reactions to the spaces we're in - either temporarily (a public building or another person's home) or more lengthy (our own homes). Mostly these feelings are transient - we either like and feel comfortable in the space we're in...or we don't. And if we don't, we often try to leave as soon as possible. This was an important "jumping off point" for me when I began this book, and I read the entire book without receiving much in the way of that, despite the book's subtitle: "How Buildings Speak to Us".

Ms Lurie does an excellent job at looking at the history of buildings and how they're constructed. She covers home styles as they've evolved from one room domains to modern homes with a room for everybody in the family. But she doesn't say much about how these homes affect the families that live within. I'm a compulsive viewer of house plans and love to consider how I could use the house as a home, while also thinking about how others could use it. Lurie writes a bit on how the modern home has moved from being filled with smallish rooms into designs with a lot of open spaces - the country kitchen, the second floor that opens up over the first floor, etc. She also examines how public buildings have evolved.

Okay, one thing a decent reviewer of a book should NOT do is to bemoan what the author does NOT include in her book. And that's what I'm doing here. I would have loved for more opinions from Ms Lurie; I wanted some "spice". I'd have liked to see her flay those architects (and the committees who approved their designs) for buildings like Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin which is a completely unusable home for a museum. Now, again, that's MY - violent - opinion. Many people love that building.

So Alison Lurie has written a very good book about this history of our buildings. It's interesting reading and can heartily recommend it to the reader who wants the facts without the opinions.

The Stone Wife (Peter Diamond Mystery)
The Stone Wife (Peter Diamond Mystery)
by Peter Lovesey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Chaucer's "Wife of Bath"..., 29 Sep 2014
British author Peter Lovesey's 14th novel in his Peter Diamond series is "The Stone Wife". Set in Bath, Detective Superintendent Diamond and his squad are brought in to investigate a murder which occurred at a local auction house. The victim, a Professor from Reading University, was shot while bidding on a large stone. The stone, which was an etching of Chaucer's "Wife of Bath", was left behind as the three would-be thieves flee the auction house after the shooting.

The Peter Diamond series is one with returning characters whose lives Peter Lovesey updates in every book. Many authors do this, but the blend of character evolution with the solving of crimes is sometimes difficult to carry off. In this book, there are actually two cases which go off from the initial murder at the auction house. One, the solving of the murder is well handled but the other, a look at a possible gun racketeer is less well done. It involves Diamond's female detective, Ingeborg, going "undercover". I don't know whether Lovesey didn't think he had "enough" in the "Chaucer antique murder case" to make a book, but this second story felt a bit lacking...

But to return to the main case, Peter Lovesey is best at examining the Geoffrey Chaucer influence in the Bath area. The reader will learn a bit about Chaucer and his writings, and particularly, "The Wife of Bath". At least one contemporary character, the murder victim's wealthy wife, bears a passing resemblance to that fictional lady from 700 years ago.

This was the first "Peter Diamond" series book I've read. I'll return for more.

Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles
Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles
by Bernard Cornwell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Waterloo..., 20 Sep 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Bernard Cornwall's book, "Waterloo" is his first non-fiction book. He writes marvelous historical fiction, including the "Sharpe" and "Saxon" series, as well as stand-alone fiction. In "Waterloo", Cornwell looks at the great battle, and the armies and soldiers who fought it. He also examines briefly the Congress of Vienna and how Napoleon was able to flee captivity on Elba.

Who were the main players at Waterloo? And what was at stake? How was the battle - which was really several battles fought over a two day period in June, 1815 - order arranged? Cornwall gives the reader Wellington, that enigmatic leader whose troops respected and followed him, and Napoleon, lately escaped from Elba, returning to France to raise troops and regain power from the hapless Louis XVIII. Napoleon was ailing; piles and other maladies made him listless in his battle preparation and leadership. He depended a great deal on Marshal Ney, a red-headed general who made some mistakes in his on-the-field decisions. Cornwall divides his book into chapters and each chapter has its own map of the army positions and battle order. Wellington, waiting for his own coalition allies, was troubled at points of the battle.

"Waterloo" is not a long book but it is beautifully done. The paper stock is a bit thicker than you'd normally find in a book. Cornwall's use of maps is superb. Everything seems to be documented on the map. There is also an excellent selection of pictures of leaders and of battle scenes. Bernard Cornwall hasn't done much original research, but has used other books to write an excellent view of warfare and politics of the time.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 20, 2014 4:52 AM BST

The Dark Meadow
The Dark Meadow
by Andrea Maria Schenkel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spare writing..., 12 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Dark Meadow (Hardcover)
"The Dark Meadow", by German author Andrea Maria Schenkel is a short, dark, sparely written novel about a crime in Germany, soon after the end of WW2. It has been translated from German by Anthea Bell, who has worked with Schenkel to provide a twisty, turning story of desire, death, and the correct attribution of a crime.

This is the second of Schenkel's novels I've read; "The Murder Farm" was the first. In "Meadow", set in 1947 and 1965, a horrendous murder of a young mother and her small son set tongues a wagging in a small, isolated West German village. The young woman had returned to her village in 1944, pregnant with a child conceived out of wedlock. Her aging parents - devout Catholics - had taken her in and gave her and the baby a home. The home, however, was filled with anger the father directed at the daughter, who he felt had brought shame onto he and his wife. One day the daughter is found dead, lying on a couch in a pool of blood. The baby died a few hours later. Who had killed them? The natural suspect - the father - eventually "confessed" to the crime and was locked away in prison and then a mental hospital. Eighteen years later, new evidence is obtained and the case is reopened. With different results.

To say that Andrea Maria Schenkel's writing is spare is an understatement. But, somehow, she is able to give the reader a full rendering of the crime, the victims, and the secondary characters in few words. She draws a picture with those words that seems to convey the desoluteness of both the village and the people who live in it. Their lives are simple and the murder, stripped down as Schenkel does in her writing, is also simple.

I don't know if most readers will like "The Dark Meadow", but I did.

Rest is Silence, The : A Billy Boyle WWII Mystery (Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries)
Rest is Silence, The : A Billy Boyle WWII Mystery (Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries)
by James R. Benn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.30

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another good "Billy Boyle" book..., 6 Sep 2014
I am comparing James Benn's latest book, "The Rest is Silence" to the preceding books in the "Billy Boyle" series, not necessarily to other historical mysteries. I think most readers of the review will already be familiar with the "Billy Boyle" series. "Silence" is the ninth book in the series.

Why do people read historical fiction? In many cases, these books give both an enjoyable plot and the chance for the reader to learn a bit more about history. That is, if the author writes the history with accuracy - or points out in an afterword what he has changed a bit for fictional stylings. American James Benn has been writing his "Billy Boyle" novels for about 10 years now. Billy Boyle is a young Boston cop whose family has finagled his way onto the staff of a certain American general he's related to. Billy becomes Ike's personal "fixer" and "looks" into various crimes that could affect the war effort. And in "Silence", that "war effort" is the pending DDay invasion of Nazi Europe.

Billy and his partner "Kaz" have been called down to the southern coast of England, near Dartmouth, to investigate a body that has washed up ashore from the English Channel. The body is of a man and is not identified and Eisenhower is worried the body could be that of a spy. The area the body is found is in the practice locale for DDay forces. While in the area, Billy and Kaz are invited by Kaz's friend, David, to stay at his in-laws' house, Ashcroft. And it is at Ashcroft that the Dame Agatha-type plot enters the story. Some untimely deaths along with the untimely turning up of a long-lost relative from the United States, and murders start. Also occurring in the area is the sinking of LST boats and the heavy loss of lives during a training incident of "Operation Tiger".

"The Rest of Silence" is part English country-home murder mystery and half WW2 war murder mystery. And, in fact, Billy is helped a bit in his investigation of the murder at Ashcroft and in the murders in the "Operation Tiger" area by a Mrs Max Mallowan, whose own country manor has been turned over to use by Allied forces. Mrs Mallowan's presence in the story is a sly joke I'm sure James Benn will hope is appreciated by his readers.

Billy and Kaz, with help from other secondary characters, do tie up the murder mysteries - both of them - in relatively neat fashion. I learned a little about DDay preparations along the south coast and, in particularly, "Operation Tiger". (It helps to read historical fiction with access to Wikipedia). I think this is James Benn's best book, so far. He writes in the first person - as Billy - which I think is rather a difficult thing to do. But he manages to pull it off. He has given his readers an excellent mystery and a chance to learn a thing or two. I'm looking forward to next fall's next book in the series.

Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer
Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer
by Bettina Stangneth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.43

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Adolf Eichmann's "in-between" years..., 4 Sep 2014
I think almost every historian knows about the life and deeds of Adolf Eichmann before 1945 and then again, after his capture in Argentina and trial on war crimes and subsequent execution in Israel in 1962. It is the years in between his escape from justice at the war's end and his kidnapping that have remained largely unlooked at. But German author Bettina Stangneth has done a superb job of uncovering those "missing years" in her new book, "Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer". (The book was translated from German by Ruth Martin.)

Otto Adolf Eichmann was born in 1906 in Germany, but spent much of his early life in Austria. He was one of the "Second Wave" of Nazis. Those born later than Adolf Hitler and his cohort and raised during the WW1 years. These men weren't old enough to have served in the war, but were just as affected by the German loss and "betrayal" of those "traitors" back home. Many became fanatical Nazis and committed some of worst "crimes against humanity" both before and during WW2. Adolf Eichmann was at the top of the list of war criminals. He organised the killing of millions of Jews and he was very proud of his work.

After the war, Adolf Eichmann went on the run in Germany to avoid being turned over to Allied authorities for trial. He hid on a farm in northern Germany - in Luneberg Heath - but in the early 1950's, he went on the well-traveled road to perceived safety in Juan Peron's Argentina. The author makes it clear that "Odessa" and other groups touted as pipelines to take ex-Nazis from Europe to South America were somewhat less than well-organised, but Eichmann and others were helped along their journeys. Eichmann had already laid the groundwork for his escape years before he left Germany by putting out false info that he had gone to live in the Middle East, and was under the protection of various Arab rulers. This was easily believed as Eichmann had billed himself as the expert on Jews and the "Jewish Problem". He had claimed that he had been born in the German colony in Palestine and spoke fluent Hebrew and Arabic. Enough people believed him to make possible the hints that he had found safety in Syria or Egypt.

In the 1950 he arrived in Buenos Aries as "Ricardo Klement". His family - who had not joined him in hiding in Luneberg Heath - was still in Austria. Eichmann, as Klement, went to work in a job specially set up for him by sympathetic German and Argentinian Nazis. A few years later he was able to bring his wife and three sons to Argentina, where they lived in relatively modest circumstances. Eichmann and his wife later had a fourth son.

But while living in Argentina, Eichmann was very aware of the explosion in books and other media about what really did happen during the war years. The name "Adolf Eichmann" suddenly became more important as his huge role in the "Final Solution" became well documented. German authorities were asking "where is Eichmann". And if the German government was curious about Eichmann's whereabouts, Israeli officials were even more interested. (Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal had been given a hint about Eichmann's location in Argentina but had failed to interest any government agency in following up.)

Bettina Stangneth does a powerful job in documenting Adolf Eichmann's stay in Argentina and in the ex-Nazi society in which he lived. His identity in these circles was an open-secret and towards the end of the 1950's, Eichmann was beginning to talk about his war years. In 1960 his exile in Argentina ended with his kidnapping and trial. At the trial, Eichmann was very open to talking about the charges against him; he said he was just "carrying out orders".

Stangneth's book is one of the best written and best translated book about WW2 I've read. She completes a story of which we really only knew the beginning and end; she provides the middle.

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