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Jill Meyer (United States)
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The Language of Houses: How Buildings Speak to Us
The Language of Houses: How Buildings Speak to Us
Price: CDN$ 9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Facts, without opinions., Sept. 29 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
The Stone Wife
by Peter Lovesey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.94
15 used & new from CDN$ 18.64

4.0 out of 5 stars Chaucer's "Wife of Bath"..., Sept. 28 2014
This review is from: The Stone Wife (Hardcover)
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.

The Making of Gone With The Wind
The Making of Gone With The Wind
by Steve Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 39.19
6 used & new from CDN$ 39.19

5.0 out of 5 stars What a book..., Sept. 27 2014
Margaret Mitchell's classic "Gone With The Wind" is one of my favorite books. I try to reread it every couple of years or so. It is as compelling to me as it was when I first read it in 8th grade. I took my copy to school and would "sneak read" when I was supposed to be listening to some boring ol' lesson. Not much came between me and my Scarlett.

But the movie "Gone With The Wind" frustrated me when I first saw it in 1967 and continues to bother me to this day. I sat in that huge theater in downtown Chicago and kept muttering to myself, "Where is that character?", "where is the scene between "so and so" and "so and so", and, of course, "uh, Scarlett had THREE children. Where are Wade Hampton and Lorena?" I was proud that as a true "GWTW Book fan", I was not seduced by the film version of "my" book. As the years passed, I thought that had GWTW been made in the 1970's or 1980's, it would have - very properly - been made as a TV mini-series. Ten hours of GWTW would have gotten things right!

But "Gone With The Wind" was NOT made in the '70's, it was made as a movie in 1938 and 1939. All the time constraints, as well as production problems that come with making a movie almost four hours long, of a nation's favorite book are documented in Steve Wilson's huge and enthralling book, "The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'". This is a huge book and for the GWTW film fan it is a must read. I was not a film fan, and I enjoyed it. I don't think there was a memo or a drawing of an article of clothing or a screen test that wasn't included in the book.

The movie "Gone With The Wind" got its start right before the book's publication. Producer David O Selznick ("DOS" in the memos) was advised by his staffer to buy the rights to the book, authorising her to spend up to $50,000. Upon winning the rights, he put into action the preparation to film this colossal best seller. Immediately he ran into problems. While Clark Gable was everyone's first choice as Rhett Butler, DOS was unable to find "his" Scarlett. Hollywood actress after actress tested for the part and Selznick International Pictures sent representatives to southern cities to "find" Scarlett among the local belles. Filming had already begun when English actress Vivian Leigh was signed to play the pivotal role in December, 1938.

One of the most interesting things in Steve Wilson's book are the complaints made by various groups and individuals during the filming. From the KKK to the NAACP to the "United Daughters of the Confederacy" to groups representing the Union side, everyone had a beef. It would take the soul of tact to deal with all these complaints but DOS and his staff did an admirable job. But in addition to these groups, Selznick had the "Hays Code" to deal with. Steve Wilson includes in the book pages of dialog ruled on by the group, slashing words and phrases that deal with childbirth, battle injuries, and other matters that were deemed to be too delicate for movie goers of the times. Everyone knows the battle about Rhett muttering that unforgettable line, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn", but there were many other clashes between producer and Hays Code enforcers before then.

As I wrote above, Steve Wilson's book is a great book for movie fans and GWTW fans, in particular. Even though it wasn't my favorite movie, I've enjoyed watching it and am always amazed at the gasps in the theater when the camera shows Rhett Butler/Clark Gable at the bottom of the stairs at Twelve Oaks. Gable didn't want to attempt a southern accent and the book alludes to that. That was one of the many details DOS and his crew fretted about.

Finsterau
Finsterau
by Andrea Maria Schenkel
Edition: Paperback
7 used & new from CDN$ 6.31

4.0 out of 5 stars Spare writing..., Sept. 11 2014
This review is from: Finsterau (Paperback)
"The Dark Meadow", also known as "Finsterau", 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.

The Empire of Night: A Christopher Marlowe Cobb Thriller
The Empire of Night: A Christopher Marlowe Cobb Thriller
by Robert Olen Butler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.03

4.0 out of 5 stars Third book in the series..., Sept. 11 2014
Robert Olen Butler's new novel, "The Empire of the Night", is the third in his WW1-era Christopher Marlowe Cobb series. I haven't read the first two, but if I have the time, I might read the backlist.

Books about WW1 - "The Great War" - have been popular for a while now. We're at the 100th anniversary of the beginning, and many authors are finding the war a popular topic. Butler's character, Chris Cobb, is the son of a Shakespearean actress, Isabel Cobb. Isabel might be the family actor, but her son seems to have inherited an acting talent he displays in the story. He plays a newspaper reporter/American spy/German army officer, along with a few other roles. His mother plays Hamlet on the stage and in the bedroom she plays the lover of a British/German aristocrat who may, or may not, be up to no good.

The book's plot is somewhat complicated and very few people are who they say they are. This obviously includes Christopher Cobb and his mother. The most interesting part of the book is the interplay between mother-and-son, actress-and-interviewer, and Allied agents (both Chris and Isabel). Their relationship, no matter what guise it is carried on, is a bit unsettling. There's no sexual tension, but rather the tension that comes from having an unreliable character as the other half of a relationship. The reader can tell that Chris doesn't particularly trust his mother and that may be the result of years of desultory parenting (or non-parenting).

The other interesting part is the background of the German government and military in WW1. Both Albert Einstein and Fritz Haber make an appearance in the story - the poison gas the Germans toss across the lines at Ypers - and the home war effort is highlighted. Oh, and there are zeppelins in the story, too. Zeppelins always make me laugh because their inclusion in plots usually indicates a very silly and far-fetched scenario. In "Empire", the zeppelin is a major plot point and people are NOT escaping on one.

"The Empire of Night" is a good read, particularly for the WW1 buff. I don't think you have to have read the two previous books in the series to read this one.

Champagne Supernovas: Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, and the '90s Renegades Who Remade Fashion
Champagne Supernovas: Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, and the '90s Renegades Who Remade Fashion
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 15.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Creativity...madness, Sept. 6 2014
I've often wondered if creativity was a byproduct of madness...or the opposite. Does it take a certain madness to be creative or does creativity cause madness; driven mad by the creative demons? I'm being a bit metaphysical here and I can't prove a damn thing, but I know that most of the creative geniuses in "Champagne Supernovas" by Maureen Callahan barely survived the 1990's.

Callahan highlights clothing designers Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs, as well as the fashion model Kate Moss. McQueen died a suicide in 2010, after creating some of the most avant garde fashion, both for his own label and that of the venerable house of Givenchy. (I think of Audrey Hepburn's fabulous clothes when I think of Givenchy; not spray paint and designs modeled by a double amputee model.) Alexander McQueen, who dumped his real first name, Lee, in favor of his more chi-chi middle name, Alexander, was a depressive, drug taking mess, who was known for his savagely mean nature. His treatment of his - supposedly - closest friend and first muse, Isabella ("Issie") Blow as she wallowed in her own depressive state until her suicide in 2007, is indicative of a malignant nature. (I do think that Isabella Blow - she of the ultra-odd hats and boas - is perhaps the saddest person in the book. There are several biographies out on her and she seemed like a sad, well-meaning, dependent person who was ill-treated by the creative geniuses who used her as a muse.)

Kate Moss, the "model" of the 1990's and later is the "bad-girl" whose slight body and plainish face set off the clothing of McQueen, Jacobs, and the other designers. Her insouciance, whether on the cat-walk or in the clubs, set her off as a role-model of that was "now". Women of all ages wanted to wear what Kate was wearing.

American designer Marc Jacobs is the third of the creatively mad trio. He is still alive - unlike Alexander McQueen - and still designing. He designed his own line, and, until 2013, was the head of Louis Vuitton.

All three - McQueen, Moss, and Jacobs - shared both creative genius and an insatiable appetite for drugs and liquor and sex. Kate Moss has rarely been sober, even when pregnant with her daughter, Lila. The amount of cocaine they went through - both alone and with friends - is astounding. All tried stints in recovery facilities, with varying degrees of success. But was their creative output driven by drugs and genius? Would they have been half so creative if they'd been sober and sane? I don't know and I'm not sure Maureen Callahan is sure, either. She writes of McQueen, Jacobs, and Moss as cautionary tales. And what's left from these tales is a bit of sadness that the demons of the three were so present in their genius.

The Rest Is Silence (Billy Boyle World War II Mystery)
The Rest Is Silence (Billy Boyle World War II Mystery)
Price: CDN$ 13.94

5.0 out of 5 stars Another good "Billy Boyle" book..., Sept. 5 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
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Price: CDN$ 19.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Adolf Eichmann's "in-between"..., Sept. 3 2014
I think 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 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. But 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 - which 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 part 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 that we really only knew the beginning and end; she provides the middle.

We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel
We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 15.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my ten best for 2014, Aug. 26 2014
I am the 58th reviewer on Amazon/USA of Matthew Thomas's debut novel, "We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel". This is one of those books I hate to review because what I want to write is, "Just read the damn thing! It's excellent. Trust me on this one". But I can't write that; if I give a book five stars, I have to give good reasons. "Trust me" just doesn't cut it in the review business.

"We Are Not Ourselves" is a big book, weighing in at over 600 pages. It's the story of one family - the Learys - of Jackson Heights, New York; mother, father, and only child, a son. Beginning after WW2, Eileen Tumulty and Ed Leary find each other, fall in love, and begin a life that ends only with death. Whose death isn't important in the story because I had the feeling that if what happened had been reversed, the love and dynamics between the two would have created the same outcome.

Matthew Thomas is a leisurely writer - some critics have said "slow" and "boring" - and the story unrolls at an ease. The three main characters are sharply defined and even the supporting characters blend into the context they're presented. I read the book with a bit of an editor's eye but really couldn't find much that could have been edited out. The book is long, yes, but hangs together beautifully. I thought it was a wonderful book. But, please read all the reviews - from five stars down to one - before you buy the book. It's that kind of book.

Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician
Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician
Offered by Macmillan CA
Price: CDN$ 13.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dr Welby or Dr Welbeck?, Aug. 20 2014
In the 1971 movie, "The Hospital", one of the supporting characters was an enterprising and mercenary doctor called, "Dr Welbeck". He was played by the wonderful actor, Richard Dysart, who turned his portrayal of the venal and uncaring "Dr Welbeck" into almost a caricature of the greedy doctors we're used to seeing lately. "Welbeck" was supposed to be the anti-Dr Marcus Welby, the saintly TV doctor of the 1960's. "Welbeck" got his comeuppance when his medical/business partner ran off to a Caribbean island with the proceeds of their joint medical practice. He died of a heart attack - richly deserved.

I'm staring off my review of Dr Sandeep Jauhar's memoir "Doctored" with the story of "Dr Welbeck" because the practice of medicine today is closer to "Dr Welbeck" than "Dr Welby". Gone are the days of house calls. Today's medicine seems to be practiced closer to a business model than a medical one. Patients who come into the hospital system or into private practices seem to be inundated with "tests". Expensive, often-not-needed-by-the-patient tests but tests needed to enhance the bottom line of the doctors' practices and hospitals. And, in some cases, tests to ward off accusations of malpractice if the patient goes south; did Dr So-and-so really do all he can to help/cure/save, etc?

Dr Jauhar's second book - his first was "Intern" - is part memoir and part business and societal "scream". Jauhar is a cardiologist and is proud of his work. He grew up in a family of doctors (except his father, who was a scientist) and he knew he wanted to "help others". But in the years since his internship, he realised that the economics of the practice of medicine was against him and most other doctors. The cost of malpractice insurance and the costs of maintaining a private practice are becoming exorbitant in today's world and Jauhar - with a young family to support - was finding it harder and harder to maintain his love medicine. "Referrals" from internists to specialists were becoming the currency of medicine in today' world.

Sandeep Jauhar is pretty open about these economic slight of hands - "you wash my back and I'll wash yours" - and without naming real names gives the reader the idea that economics is a major player in today's medical system. His book is an excellent look at that world by a middle-age, dedicated doctor who, I think, just wants to practice medicine.

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