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Jill Meyer (United States)

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White Ghost, The : A Billy Boyle WWII Mystery (Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries)
White Ghost, The : A Billy Boyle WWII Mystery (Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries)
by James R. Benn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.61

4.0 out of 5 stars Billy...and JFK?, 2 Sept. 2015
Author James Benn has written ten novels about Boston policeman Billy Boyle and his WW2 service. Nine of the novels were set in the ETO; this one, "The White Ghost", is takes place in the Solomon Islands. Pretty far from London or North Africa - where Billy and his friend "Kaz" began the novel. How Benn was able to get Billy across the world is a bit sketchy, but once there, they find that the Pacific Theater is just as bloody as the Atlantic. Or maybe even more so...

Anybody familiar with the series knows that Billy Boyle was assigned to a cushy job when he enlisted in the American army. He had been assigned as an aide to a distant relative of his mother - a certain general nicknamed "Ike" - and he became Eisenhower's personal "fixer", sent to look into "problems" and crimes Eisenhower wanted informally investigated. He wondered who his father and uncle had talked to to get Billy this job with Eisenhower; in this book, he finds out. And he ain't happy with what he finds out.

James Benn is pretty good at placing Billy's wartime service - Italy, England, and Norway, among other places - within the overall war effort. Since Billy is usually investigating crime, he doesn't normally fight in battles. In "The White Ghost", much of the action is set in skirmishes against the Japanese. There seems to be more battle scenes - both in the air and at sea - in this book, than in all the previous books. There's also more examples of Japanese cruelty against both civilians and military. A whole lot more graphic.

In "The White Ghost", Billy and Kaz are sent by General Marshall - Ike's BOSS! - to investigate a possible murder committed by young John Kennedy. Kennedy had just been in a PT boat accident - somehow his boat was sliced by a Japanese destroyer in Blackett Straight in the Solomons, in August, 1943. The boat sank, several crew members were killed, and Kennedy led the survivors to an island, where they were rescued a few days later. A young native man is found killed and for some reason I still can't figure out, authorities thought Kennedy might be involved.

The plot of "The White Ghost" is basically used to place Billy and Kaz in the thick of the Pacific battles. There's a fair amount of killing and other personal violence. I'm not sure the book "belongs" in the series, but it seems to be a book that James Benn really wanted to write. I can't argue with that and I did enjoy the book. But, let's take them back to Europe in the next book!

X (Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series)
X (Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series)
by Sue Grafton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent addition to the series..., 1 Sept. 2015
My review and rating of Sue Grafton's newest Kinsey Millhone book, "X", isn't going to count for much, but I do enjoy writing reviews. I have also read every single one - 24 so far - of Grafton's series and I can see how both Grafton's writing and the character of Kinsey have changed over the years.

"X", which seems to be "for" a lot of things, including 10 and kisses, is the best of her books so far. Grafton has always been a very literal writer - almost flat - but her style is great for what she's writing about. She's writing about crimes and victims and perpetrators and she doesn't need the flourishes of a more showy writer. She's in many ways just stating facts and how Kinsey views those facts. In "X", Kinsey is investigating three sort of small cases - stolen art, a very strange guy and his family, and her new next door neighbors. The three cases really don't "meet" as some writers would tie them up together. They are all settled separately, and competently by both Kinsey and Sue Grafton. There's also a sweetness and a bit of humor in one that I found quite endearing.

I hope to be around for her last two books, "Y" and "Z". Just a quick thought - I wonder if Sue Grafton will "update" her last book, "Z", from the late 1980's to the present day. I'd love to see Kinsey as the late 60's she'd be now.

The Queen's Speech: An Intimate Portrait of the Queen in her Own Words
The Queen's Speech: An Intimate Portrait of the Queen in her Own Words
Price: £11.99

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Queen speaks..., 30 Aug. 2015
Queen Elizabeth II is almost 90 years old and has been on the throne for 63 years. In that time, she has made a yearly speech to her subjects and those of the Commonwealth at Christmas. She writes that speech with the help of Prince Philip and her aides. She also carries on conversations with her family, friends, and the people she meets during her walk-about. She has also been heard making clever asides. And it is from all these sources that Ingrid Seward, editor of "Majesty" magazine and author of many other books on the royals, has cobbled together a book on Elizabeth, "The Queen's Speech: An Intimate Portrait of the Queen in her Own Words".

I'd guess that anyone reading this review and thinking about buying this book, is a fan of the British Royal Family. Seward's book is really a straight biography of the queen, concentrated at points in her life where Seward can tie events and people to Elizabeth's utterances. I guess if Elizabeth hasn't alluded to it, it's not covered in Seward's book. But Elizabeth has never given a press conference and her private diary has never been seen (and won't be til after her death). Her only on-the-record remarks are her Christmas speech and her various government speeches that are written by others. That's not much to base a book on, but Ingrid Seward gives it her best.

This is not a bad book, and makes enjoyable reading, but, frankly, I already knew most of what Seward wrote. (And I'm an American!) If you're new to the royals, you'd probably enjoy the book. If you're an old hand at the British and know all the gossip, then Seward's book probably won't tell you anything you don't already know.

Purgatory Gardens: A Novel
Purgatory Gardens: A Novel
Price: £14.39

5.0 out of 5 stars What's happening in Palm Springs????, 28 Aug. 2015
Peter Lefcourt writes very funny books. The humor is usually dark and his books are much more character-driven than plot-driven. In fact, only Lefcourt's "The Woody" - published in the late 1990's and is about Washington politics - has as much plot development as character development. It is one of the funniest, most satirical books I've read.

Lefcourt writes both stand-alone books and books reusing old characters. It's always fun to learn what old friends in literature are up to these days, and in "Purgatory Gardens", we do see Charlie Berns again. But instead of being the lead character as he was in previous novels, Charlie is more of a secondary character, though one whose actions do add a boost to the story. The three main characters - Marcy Gray, a fading Hollywood actress, Sammy Dee, a low-level Mafia guy now in the Witness Protection Program, and Didier something-too-long-and-complicated-to spell - are all residents at "Paradise Gardens", a mid-level apartment complex in Palm Springs. All are in their late 60's and all are on the run from various troubled pasts. They wind up in Palm Springs - Charlie Berns is their common neighbor - and a love triangle evolves. Both Sammy and Didier are in love (and lust) with Marcy and are at odds at how to capture her love - and body.

Lefcourt's characters are always interesting in a sort of deranged way. Even when they're doing something stupid - as in this case - or illegal, there's an almost lovable feeling to them. You want to know them and maybe have them as friends. Maybe you're smart enough not to want to be too entangled with them, but you'd like to have them in your life. And the safest way is as characters in a very funny novel, one you can reread every now and again.

Peter Lefcourt is a Hollywood insider whose knowledge of what's going on and how business really works is always on the pages of his "Charlie Berns'" books. "Purgatory Gardens" is another fun and charming novel by Lefcourt. I would also, again, recommend "The Woody" (not available in ebook, for some reason) and another novel I thought was outstanding, was "An American Family", published in 2012 and a serious look at a Long Island family which begins on November 22, 1963 and ends on September 11, 2001.

The Last Love Song
The Last Love Song
by Tracy Daugherty
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.65

5.0 out of 5 stars Fragile..., 26 Aug. 2015
This review is from: The Last Love Song (Hardcover)
The author Joan Didion has always seemed to be fragile. Physically fragile, emotionally fragile, and, probably, literary fragile. Her writing seemed to careen between "precious" and "tough" - often in the same book or magazine article. Married to the author John Gregory Dunne, they were the parents of an adopted daughter they rather fancifully named "Quintana Roo", after their favorite place in Mexico. Didion lost both husband and daughter in the mid-2000's and wrote about the searing experiences. But, who really is Joan Didion? In her excellent biography, "The Last Love Song", Tracy Dougherty looks at the life of Didion and examines what made her the inexplicable literary figure she is.

Joan Didion was born in Sacramento of parents who were both descended from long-time California families. The infamous Donner Party figures into Didion's ancestry and the searching for a place to settle also seems to have been a part of her life. She seemed never to completely feel she fit in to where she was, whether in Sacramento, Berkeley, New York, or, eventually, Los Angeles. Now, this may be my interpretation of Dougherty's analysis of Didion, but perhaps what seemed like eternal searching for her place might explain Didion's own perceptive writing. As a college student, Didion won two prestigious competitions and landed in New York City as a writer for Vogue. Her years in New York - most of the 1950's - included time spent in a hopeless romance with enfant-terrible Noel Parmentel and honing her writing.

She finally married writer Greg Dunne and they eventually found great success by moving to Los Angeles in the early 1960's and writing for both magazines and films. Their marriage stayed intact but like most couples, they had their ups-and-downs. Their daughter also lived a life of emotional problems that might have come from her parents' raising her in a rather unconventional manner. Quintana was expected to fit into her parents' life. Eventually they moved back to New York City, where both father and daughter died and thin, fragile Joan Didion lives on into her 80's.

Tracy Dougherty's book is a beautifully written look at both Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. It is also an examination of the changing and often difficult times in American history the two lived through and how Didion tried to interpret those changes to her own readers. I don't particularly care for Joan Didion after reading the biography, but I feel I understand her better. I still think she's fragile...but made of steel.

Artefacts of the Dead (DI Bob Valentine)
Artefacts of the Dead (DI Bob Valentine)
by Tony Black
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars A bleak area with bleak crimes..., 24 Aug. 2015
Detective-Inspector Bob Valentine, of the Ayr, Scotland police force, is at a crossroads in his life. He's brought back - literally - to life after being stabbed in the heart by a criminal. He wants to return to his post but isn't quite sure he's up to it. He's not on good terms with his wife; they've grown apart since the medical crisis and are of no comfort to each other. He has a lousy excuse for a Chief-Superintendent at work and now bodies start turning up in his patch. The first two are of middle-aged men murdered and then mutilated after death. And, Bob Valentine is being plagued with weird thoughts and feelings he never felt before his brush with death.

Tony Black's novel "Artefacts of the Dead" is either a stand-alone mystery or the first of a series. Set on the west coast of Scotland, in Ayr near Prestwick Airport, the town and countryside as Black describes it is bleak economically and socially. High unemployment and rampant drug use are two of the realities of the area. A dead body is found in a garbage dump; it's of a man who has had a spike inserted into his body (hopefully after death.) He's identified as a retired wealthy banker, with a wife and son. The body of a pedophile is found a few days later, in the same condition, and suddenly Valentine and company are faced with a possible multiple killer. Add in a couple of prostitutes and the crimes expand.

Black concentrates as much on the personal stories of the police as he does on the criminal case. Bob Valentine is a rather tortured soul at this point and he has to face down his own problems with those of solving the case. All the characters are rather interesting, and while the end of the book might be a touch hasty, it's a good read. I'll look for more by Tony Black and I hope he returns to Bob Valentine and his little patch in western Scotland.

The Secret History of the Blitz
The Secret History of the Blitz
by Joshua Levine
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An engaging history..., 22 Aug. 2015
British author Joshua Levine's latest book, "The Secret History of the Blitz", is as much about England from 1939 to 1943 as it is about the bombing. The Blitz (the word came from the German word "lightening war") affected many towns and cities in England, outside London. Though London seems to have gotten the worst of the bombings, other places - like Coventry - were also targeted.

"Blitz Spirit" was the term that evolved to cover life as an on-going target. The Germans began their bombing campaign as a prelude to "Operation Sea Lion", their proposed invasion of the UK. In 1940, Hitler began to turn his attention to the east - the Soviet Union - where he figured he could get a quick victory and then return to the UK. Unfortunately for him, the invasion of the Soviet Union, beginning in the summer of 1941 was not successful and he was mired in the mud and snow until the tide turned and the Russians moved west. The Blitz bombing of the UK began in September 1940 and ended in May 1941, though bombing raids continued til 1944.

What was it like to live under the constant threat of aerial bombardment? Not easy as thousands were killed or injured. Businesses were wrecked by bombs, and often looting by the citizenry occurred after the "All Clear". Socially, during this time, barriers were coming down between classes as many people pitched in to help. Levine looks at the first "sexual revolution" as people realised that life could be over in an instant and it was best to "enjoy the moment". I think that's common in war-time, in all societies.

"Blitz Spirit" could also extend to clever and not-so-legal ways of making a living. Levine cites the case of one young man with a bad heart, who was turned down for the army. He then rented out his body, posing as another man - who had paid him - to take and fail the physical. Evidently he made quite a tidy sum before being found by the authorities. (This "ploy" is written about in the delightful war-time novel, "Crooked Heart", by Lissa Evans). Of course, the black market was a fertile field for boosting one's income and many people bought, bartered, and traded rationed items. These are only a few of the topics Levine covers in his book.

"The Secret History of the Blitz" is a thorough look at the war years, written in an engaging way.
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 25, 2015 6:14 PM BST

The First Casualty
The First Casualty
by Ben Elton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars A war-time police procedural..., 18 Aug. 2015
This review is from: The First Casualty (Paperback)
English author and entertainer Ben Elton has written many novels, seemingly all on different subjects. In "The First Casualty", Elton takes on the Great War and a man, who doesn't want to fight for intellectual reasons. Douglas Kingsley, a brilliant detective for the London Metropolitan Police, was drafted and filed for conscientious objector status. He claimed that the war was unjust and the killing of hundreds of thousands of lives - on both sides - was immoral. His claim was turned down and he was thrown into Wormwood Scrubs prison. This wouldn't be a place a policeman would want to be - reviled for his status as an objector and for his former job - and Kingsley knew he was a marked man. He is taken out of prison, marked as a dead man, and given a new identity as a military policeman and sent to France and Belgium to investigate the death of a soldier.

Now, by 1917, hundreds of thousands of men have been killed or grievously wounded since the war's beginning in 1914. But this murder of a single officer, in the confines of a rest home for injured soldiers, is different. Captain Viscount Alan Abercrombie was a noted poet-soldier. He was also gay. In the book's beginning he is becoming disillusioned with the war and the death and destruction he lives with daily. His murder, in his bed at the rest home, was attributed to a Bolshevic-leaning soldier, but the truth of the murder and the reasons behind the murder are definitely murkier. And possibly harming to a government entering the third year of a war they were supposed to win by Christmas 1914. Douglas Kingsley, now officially dead, is a new man with a new identity, and he is charged with finding the real murderer.

Ben Elton's view of the war is down and dirty. He shows the heroism of these soldiers, caught in a barely livable hell on the front, and the camaraderie between them. He also writes about split-second fate, between being blown up by a bomb or simply having avoided it by moving out of the immediate area a second or two before the bomb's explosion. Elton's book is an excellent look at the hell of the Great War and those men (and a few women) caught up in it. It is a police procedrual set at war.

Dead Zone (Kindle Single) (Ploughshares Solos)
Dead Zone (Kindle Single) (Ploughshares Solos)
Price: £1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A bit of "magic realism"..., 18 Aug. 2015
Tova Reich, the author of "Dead Zone", is not an easy-to-categorise writer. Her previous work is full of "magic realism" and she is definitely not "politically correct". It takes a brave soul to write what she writes and an equally brave soul to read it. Her first book, "Mara", published in the 1970's, is an crazy story of a young girl, daughter of a crooked rabbi and his disturbed wife, who travels from her home in New York City to Israel and returns with a fiance who is definitely NOT acceptable to her family. Mara returns as a character in Reich's "My Holocaust", an incredibly non-politically-correct novel about "the Holocaust business" in the US, Poland, and Israel. In this savage and riotous work, each character is more vile and venal than the last. Her latest book, "One Hundred Philistine Foreskins", is a gentler look a female rabbi who might...just might, be the Messiah.

Much of Reich's work involves characters who flit between the US and Israel. In "Dead Zone", a wealthy man, grievously injured in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, has died at the age of 87 in the United States. His wife, now long-dead, was buried in Israel on Mount of Olives and Izzy Gam wants to be buried next to her. His body, accompanied by Gam's grandson, is flown to Israel for the burial. The grave is dug and the body is lowered into the ground. Then the grandson's cell phone rings. It's Izzy Gam calling, saying the grave is already full of other bodies and he wants a fresh grave. Plus one for his late wife, Judi. The search begins in Jerusalem and is then expanded throughout Israel as a suitable grave is sought. Izzy calls with complaints about each one, til a decent one is finally found and Izzy Gam is finally laid to rest.

Since this epic search for a proper grave site for Izzy Gam has been covered by the media, the result is that the United Nations designates Israel as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entire country is turned into a cemetery - the world's largest Jewish cemetery - and the living population disperses around the world.

"Dead Zone" is classic Tova Reich - it will offend a lot of people. Readers should know about Reich's work and read "Dead Zone" as an example of it. The story, like the books before it, stir up a lot of conversation about Jews and the role history and Israel play in their lives.

Covenant with Death
Covenant with Death
by John Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A real story of war..., 15 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Covenant with Death (Paperback)
I found British author John Harris's novel of WW1, "Covenant With Death" in a note by Louis de Bernieres in his latest book, "The Dust That Falls From Dreams". "Covenant With Death" was originally published in the mid-1950's and is a chronicle of war - climaxing on July 1, 1916 at the Battle of the Somme. That day, the first day of a months-long battle, saw the greatest loss of life in a battle in British history. Bungled battle plans by the brass caused the senseless death and wounding of hundreds of thousands of men during the months of the battle. And the deaths were especially wounding to Great Britain, as many of the soldiers were part of "Pals Divisions". These were army divisions made up at the beginning of the war of affinity groups of men. Some were groups formed from the same town or city, some from the same occupations, and some from the same schools and colleges. Obviously, the casualties from action for the Pals Divisions often destroyed whole villages, schools, and other groups.

John Harris - who also wrote under other names - wrote a fictional account of a Pals Division, modeled on the "Sheffield City Battalion". This group was made up of Sheffield men (and boys) who had enlisted in the first days of the war. Harris's novel of these men - which could have been degenerated into stereotypes - presented twenty or so soldiers, all slightly different, who are drawn with incredible nuance. The book is written in the voice of Mark Fenner, twenty or so years after the war. Obviously he survives July 1, 1916, but so many others, men who he had known before the war and with whom he had trained and served with, first in Egypt, and then in France, did not.

These men, whose fears and strengths and, in most cases, love of life, are beautifully sketched in by John Harris. There are few women in the novel; this is the story of a man's world that comes to an end on July 1, 1916 amid the rats and the dirt and the bullets and the bombs, and, most of all, the carelessness of the British commanders who thought the "Big Push" would work to drive the Germans back to the east.

This Pals Division was assigned to fight and take Serre from the Germans. I've driven the Serre road and have wandered around a few of the small British cemeteries scattered throughout the Somme region. The graves in the cemeteries mostly have individual names and dates and ranks written on them, but many are noted simply as "An Unknown British Soldier". Some of these men - with other names - have their stories told in John Harris's book. It's not an easy book to read; it's long and filled with death. But it is a story that should be read by anybody interested in WW1 and its battles. Easily the best book I've read on the subject.

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