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Jill Meyer (United States)

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Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
by Betty MacDonald
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 7.25
100 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A simpler time...perhaps, Feb. 7 2016
Ce commentaire est de: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (Paperback)
As a child, one of my favorite books to be read from and then to read myself were Betty MacDonald's "Mrs Piggle-Wiggle" series. Of course, I was living in the early 1950's and lived in a neighborhood where we all played outside, unsupervised, after school. The dads went off to work, and the moms stayed home with the kids. It really was a simpler time - but not a time I'd like to go back to. I have an almost three year old granddaughter and wanted to see if she might like the books - in a few years.The other day I downloaded the audio version of the first of the series, "Mrs Piggle Wiggle" and listened to it. I was just as delighted to hear it 60 years later.

It's always interesting to read or listen to a book that was written contemporaneously. This series, in particular, would be fobbed off as "politically incorrect" if published today, about today's world. It was a picture of a purer, more innocent time and that was how much of the country lived in the post-WW2 years. But, here's the thing: the times might have been more innocent but human nature doesn't change. Children still worry about the same things as we, their grandparents did, and still don't pick up their toys or bathe enough. They still go through stages where they talk back to the parents and teachers, and I don't think the "selfish gene" has been scrubbed from human reproduction. Betty MacDonald's parents and children - and Mrs Piggle Wiggle - are the parents and children of today. Addiction, violence and poverty have added to our problems but there was always a bit of that in the past. Hiding under our desks at school from the threat of nuclear war - like our wooden desks were really going to save us - and diseases that were rampant back then have been eradicated by cures. Betty MacDonald's wonderful stories full of interesting characters are as timely now as they were 60 years ago.

By the way, did you know that Betty MacDonald wrote the adult book, "The Egg and I"? That was one of four "adult" books she wrote, in addition to the children's books she wrote.

1916: A Global History
1916: A Global History
Price: CDN$ 11.07

5.0 out of 5 stars A great look at 1916..., Feb. 5 2016
Irish professor Keith Jeffery's new book "1916: A Global History" is the second historical look at a single year I've read in the last week or so. (The other is "1924: The Year that Made Hitler" by Peter Ross Range.) By examining a single year, the author is able to cover his material in greater depth than possible with a larger-in-time book. I might be wrong, but it seems as if a lot of single year or single event books are being published and I'm very pleased to read them. (Two other books, "The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911' and "The Great Silence: 1918-1920 Living in the Shadow of the Great War", by British author Juliet Nicholson are also highly recommended.)

But returning to "1916", Keith Jeffery begun the book with the troops evacuating the area of Gallipoli at the beginning of the year, and ending with the murder of Rasputin. In between, he covers the Battle of Verdun, Battle of the Somme, the Irish Easter Sunday Uprising, as well as many other events that year. Since the Great War was the first world-wide war, Jeffery's book looks at battles and political movements from Western Europe, southern Africa, as well as Asian sites. He's first rate in looking at many of the personalities involved in the fighting, the nursing, the politics, and the diplomacy of the year.

Professor Jeffery's writing is easy for the armchair historian the book is aimed for. He has written book about the British clandestine service, MI6, as well as other histories. This one is first rate.

Spoils of Victory: A Mason Collins Novel
Spoils of Victory: A Mason Collins Novel
Offered by Penguin Group USA
Price: CDN$ 13.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Second in the series..., Feb. 4 2016
"Spoils of Victory" is American author John Connell's second book in his "Mason Collins" series. Set - so far - in post-war Germany, Collins is a policeman who is hired by the US Army to investigate criminal activity in occupied Germany. The first book in the series - "Ruins of War" - was set in Munich. This one is set in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a resort community in the mountains south of Munich. (It was also the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics.)

Something very rotten is happening in Garmisch. Mason Collins has been sent there after getting into trouble while solving crimes in Munich. People in Garmisch - innocent or not-so-innocent - are turning up dead. Some are turning up quite unattractively dead, with missing body parts. As the body count rises, Collins and his aide, Abrams, set out to investigate the active black market in the town. Everything's basically for sale - food and other necessities of life now in short supply in post-war Germany - and the black market trading seems to involve almost everybody around. Germans, American GIs, former concentration camp inmates - everyone's on the take. Connell's world of Garmisch-Partenkirchen seems to be gray and murky. All his characters, except for Collins and Abrams, exist in a mist of murder and cheating. And because everyone's murky, there are very few characters who are not drawn as caricatures. Now, that's not a criticism; if the reader cared for all those getting butchered, "Spoils of Victory" would be as depressing as a Scandinavian crime novel.

"Spoils of War" is an entertaining novel about that "murkiness" of post-war morals. It may be about 50 pages too long, but it makes good reading. I'll look forward to Connell's next "Mason Collins" novel.

by Nigel Williams
Edition: Audio CD

5.0 out of 5 stars Very funny black comedy..., Jan. 30 2016
Ce commentaire est de: R.I.P. (Audio CD)
Newly retired bank manager, George Pearmain, woke up on the morning of the celebration of his mother Jessica's 95th birthday, dead. He was dead in his bed, and coincidentally, downstairs, his mother was also found dead on the kitchen floor. And so begins British author Nigel Williams' newest black comedy, "R.I.P". Most of Williams' novels take place in Putney, a prosperous London suburb located southwest of the city. Filled with executive types and their families, (Putney was also the scene of one of Williams' funniest novels, "Unfaithfully Yours".) George and Esmeralda Pearmain have raised two sons in Putney and have had a reasonably happy marriage, at least until George's sudden death.

But not only is George's death untimely, it also doesn't cause George to go where ever you go when you go. George is still around; invisible to the living, he hovers above the police and family as both his death and his mother's are being investigated. He sees the family as they tiptoe around the two deaths, which increase by one as George's batty sister is found dead. Her death by hanging is considered a suicide. But as much as the three deaths are mourned, much more interest is being paid to Jessica Pearmain's will and missing codicil. That codicil is worth both finding...and then destroying as the guilty party is basically named in it. The characters - both dead and alive - are, for the most part, vain, petty, dotty, as well as evil and dastardly. Oh, and there's a dead dog who makes the scene.

Part of Williams' novel is a mystery - who's knocking the family off, but the other part is a family love story. George Pearmain only begins to truly recognise how much he loved and valued his wife after he's unable to express those sentiments to her. Nigel Williams' witty novel is not for every reader.Both his characters and plots are dark...but darkly funny. I love his work.

1924: The Year That Made Hitler
1924: The Year That Made Hitler
by Peter Ross Range
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 30.60
22 used & new from CDN$ 26.20

5.0 out of 5 stars A very important year..., Jan. 27 2016
There are two types of historical biographies. The first is the sweeping look at a long life. The second type is a small, shortish look at a particular part or event in a life. Adolf Hitler's life and the 12 Year Third Reich is closely examined, for instance, in William Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich". A smaller segment of Hitler's life, though, is examined quite thoroughly in "1924: The Year That Made Hitler", by Peter Ross Range.

The year 1924 was quite important in Adolf Hitler's rise to power. He and a small band of Nazis - along with General Erich Ludendorff and others in the disbanded post-war German army - tried to take power in Munich on November 8-9, 1923. Proclaiming their "putsch" in the large beer hall - the Bürgerbräukeller, and then out in the street - Hitler and his crew planned badly and the putsch was put down. Hitler was put in Landsberg prison, while awaiting his trial for treason. As the year began, Adolf Hitler was ensconced in fairly fancy quarters in the prison. Peter Ross Range gives a lot of detail to the putsch and subsequent trial, where Hitler, acting often as his own lawyer, gave hours-long political speeches, under the guise of defending himself. Despite his defense - or maybe because of it - Hitler was sentenced to five years imprisonment, which was immediately reduced to six or so months.

Hitler returned to Landsberg to complete his shortened prison term and spent most of the time writing his memoir, "Mein Kampf". Legend has it that he dictated the book to also-imprisoned aide Rudolf Hess, but the truth is that Hitler wrote the first volume, using a Remington typewriter.
Hitler's life in prison was made even easier by the constant gifts of food made by his supporters. All in all, a fairly pleasant and productive way to spend a year behind bars. Hitler was released in December of 1924, and Peter Ross Range ends his book by looking at how he remade his personal political identity, as well as the Nazi party.

Range is a very easy writer, with a wonderfully fluid style. According to his Amazon listing, he has written a couple of crime books. This is his first historical biography and I hope he writes more.

Hatchett And Lycett
Hatchett And Lycett
by Nigel Williams
Edition: Paperback
16 used & new from CDN$ 0.74

5.0 out of 5 stars WW2 and before..., Jan. 25 2016
Ce commentaire est de: Hatchett And Lycett (Paperback)
Nigel Williams is a British writer whose work I wish was better known here in the United States. He writes wonderful novels about English life, using characters we can mostly identify with. I'd say that most of his work has a satirical bent but he's rarely mean in his portrayals of the mean, the stupid, the crazy... One of his best books, "Unfaithfully Yours", is an absolutely hysterical work about four married couples who grow to hate their partners. I mean, REALLY hate their partners...

Williams' novel "Hatchett & Lycett" is less funny and more poignant than the others I've read. Set in 1939 - with flashbacks to 1921 - it is the story of two young men - Alec Lycett and Dennis Hatchett - and their life-long friendship. The third of their group is Norma Lewis, who is a bit in love with both guys. August 1939 brings the beginning of the war to their town of Croydon, located directly south east of London and the site of London's first airport. Hatchett and Norma teach school together, while Lycett has just joined the army. But they continue their friendship and Lycett proposes to Norma; she accepts. Meanwhile, some teachers at their joint school begin to die. Norma and Lycett look into these murders while continuing to dance around their own feelings for each other. The war begins to literally "hit home" as soldiers are rescued from Dunkirk and bombs are dropped by German bombers on their way to and from London raids.

The book also looks at the lives of the two boys in 1921. There is a mysterious death and Lycett's identical twin brother is sent off to school as a punishment for "misdeeds". The past - 1921 - plays as much a part as the present - 1939, and Williams does an excellent job in joining the two parts together. While there are some humorous parts to the book, most of it is sadly charming. Sort of like real life.

The Gentlemen's Tailor
The Gentlemen's Tailor
by Mariana Leky
Edition: Paperback
3 used & new from CDN$ 146.44

4.0 out of 5 stars Magic realism..., Jan. 9 2016
Ce commentaire est de: The Gentlemen's Tailor (Paperback)
It's almost more difficult to review a book of magic realism than it is to read it. There are no "odd" characters doing "inexplicable" things because the magic realism genre (is it a genre?) is supposed to be "odd" and "inexplicable". Theoretically, anything the author writes is correct. And so, German writer Mariana Leky's novel, "The Gentlemen's Tailor" can be rated from one to five stars, depending on the reviewers ability to remain connected to the plot and characters, what with all the weird stuff going on.

Leky's writes about a marriage gone...away. Katja, a translator, is married to Jacob, a dentist. They're married, but may...or may living together. After a few years of marriage, Jacob leaves Katja for another woman. Katja falls apart emotionally, and is even more devastated when Jacob is killed in an auto accident. After his death, Katja meets "Blank" a dead man only she can see who does his best to comfort her. Some other things happen and the book ends.

My problem as both a reader and a reviewer is that I don't "get" most books in magical realism. That's probably because I read mostly non-fiction, where the facts are the facts. In "The Gentlemen's Tailor", the "facts" are often slippery and may...or may facts. But "The Gentlemen's Tailor" is a good read because it can be taken as either factual or fanciful, depending on how you choose to interpret the "facts". I enjoyed it and gave it four stars. If you really like magic realism, you may give it five!

White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess In Between
White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess In Between
by Judy Batalion
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.69
27 used & new from CDN$ 11.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting memoir..., Jan. 9 2016
Why do people write memoirs? In many cases it is because they're trying to figure out how the people and the events affected their lives. Maybe sitting down at a computer, shuffling through those memories and putting them to paper is easier than sitting with a psychotherapist. Judy Batalion has written an interesting memoir about growing up with a mentally ill, hoarder mother and a passive father, who seemed to do little to address his wife's problems. Their daughter basically had to raise herself, with some input from her father and her maternal grandmother.

"White Walls" is an interesting title for a book that explores what it's like to live with a hoarder, whose massive amount of possessions had threatened to make the Batalion's house unlivable. Judy's mother, daughter of Holocaust survivors, came to Canada as a young child. She married a much older doctor and had two children, Judy and a younger brother. Although she worked for many years outside the home, she also took care of her parents as they aged. And she bought things. Mostly at bargain prices and in bulk. She pushed her husband out of their bedroom by the sheer accumulation of "stuff". I don't know much about "hoarders" but I'd think living with one must be extremely difficult. Judy grew up in a house-of-chaos and felt responsibility for her mother that she was much too young to do. How do you "mother" your own mother, when you need mothering yourself? Judy's father seemed to me to exist as "background". He rarely stood up to his wife and her problems but did have a positive hand in raising the children. The bottom line - however - is how can children cope living in an unstable environment? And why are the children responsible for their mother and her mental state?

It's clear that Judy Batalion, who has accomplished quite a bit in her life, loves her parents, and tries to understand them. But maybe her mother is "unknowable". Judy married a British lawyer - who, curiously, also has a mother who's a hoarder - and has two daughters. They seem to have a happy life together and maybe it's because Judy Batalion has tried to understand her own past.

Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms: The Spyhunter, the Fashion Designer & the Man From Moscow by Paul Willetts (2015-10-01)
Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms: The Spyhunter, the Fashion Designer & the Man From Moscow by Paul Willetts (2015-10-01)
by Paul Willetts;
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Spies...and catchers, Jan. 5 2016
About midway through British author Paul Willetts' "Rendevous at the Russian Tea Rooms", I felt like throwing the book against a wall and asking "Why didn't the American Foreign Service vet their employees? Why were ideologically suspicious employees allowed to basically leave the various embassies with 'secret documents' hidden on their bodies? Why weren't the outside activities of the employees at least somewhat checked on for suspicious relationships?" Willetts' excellent book is the second one I've read lately where both American and British embassy security was so lax.

Paul Willetts' book is set a bit in Moscow, but mostly in London in the last few pre-war years and the first year or so of the war. The three main characters are Max Knight from MI5 who "ran" agents in London; Anna Wolkoff a Russian-born dress designer who emigrated to London in the 1920's to escape the communists; and Tyler Kent, a young American embassy worker in Moscow and London, who was trying to make a buck to support a life-style he wanted to become accustomed to. Wolkoff and Kent were both Nazi sympathisers and both gave secrets to Berlin-based spy agencies. Max Knight was trying to track Wolkoff, Kent, and other British citizens and immigrants active in spying for Germany and promoting anti-Semitic actions in London.

Willetts' book is full of unpleasant people - both in thought and deed. Almost everyone was "on the make", for one reason or another. Money or ideological purity gave people near power reasons to betray Britain and/or the US to Germany. London's Russian Tea Rooms - not to be confused with the restaurant in New York City - in South Kensington was owned by Anna Wolkoff's exiled parents. The Russian ex-pat community gathered in the area, which was a hot-spot for anti-Communist activities. Willetts' follows the three main characters as they eventually merge into a spy case in the first years of the war. He's a careful writer - some readers might find the book slow going - but he brings the reader along to a case that fully boils by the end. For armchair historians, this book is a great read.

The Third Man: Enhanced Edition with Film Clips, Script and Archive Material from the Motion Picture
The Third Man: Enhanced Edition with Film Clips, Script and Archive Material from the Motion Picture
Price: CDN$ 4.28

5.0 out of 5 stars A great combination...if it works!, Dec 23 2015
The Kindle-only "The Third Man: Enhanced Edition" is a sort of hybrid. It's the novel - as Graham Greene wrote it - along with scenes from the movie, released in 1949. As Graham points out, the film's screenplay didn't exactly follow the novel (different ending) and the book is actually described as "This undisputed spy classic is now available for the first time with video and photography from the film that inspired the novel." So what came first? The movie or the novel? And if the novel came second, why did Greene give it a different ending? I'm not sure of the answers to those questions, but reading a book that comes with video and audio is a pretty cool experience. (One of the other reviewers of this "book" said the audio/video didn't work on his Kindle or the App. I had no problems with the App on my Ipad, though the video said it wouldn't play on my Ipad. But it DID! Go figure.)

The story of the "Third Man" is well known. After WW2, Vienna, as well as Berlin, was occupied by the four allied powers and divided up into four sectors. The city was put "back together" in 1955 when the Soviets left eastern Austria and their Vienna Sector. But the film, showing life in the occupied post-WW2 city, used the bombed out city as background. Life was tough in postwar Vienna and citizens who had survived the war made precarious lives in the wrecked city. A lot of smuggling and black-market activity was a way to earn a living. Harry Lime - American in the movie/British in the book - was a crook extraordinaire. He was wanted by the police and Allied powers for participating in a particularly heinous crime of selling watered-down penicillin that killed and crippled children. Harry Lime, presumed dead in a car accident, has asked his friend, Holly Martins, to join him in Vienna. When Martins shows up, he finds Lime dead and attends his funeral. But was he really dead and how do the Viennese cops try to find him. The book is at its heart, a story of two old friends, one who disillusions himself in the other's eyes.

When I saw this bad boy on the Amazon site for the amazing price of $2.99, I grabbed it. Because the audio and video worked for me, I received the full import of the "book". I'm sorry that others didn't and I'd advise checking with Amazon to see why it doesn't work on all Kindles. If it works for you, the audio/video and written combination of the book and movie is intriguing.

(Another old movie that was also filmed post war, is "I Was a Male War Bride", with Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan.)

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