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Jill Meyer (United States)
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East West Street: On the Origins of "Genocide" and "Crimes Against Humanity"
East West Street: On the Origins of "Genocide" and "Crimes Against Humanity"
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Price: CDN$ 16.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A bit disjointed..., May 26 2016
British International rights lawyer Phillipe Sands's new book, "East West Street: On the Origins of 'Genocide' and 'Crimes Against Humanity'", is a disjointed look at what I can only say are several interesting subjects, put together in one book. Sands - the maker of an excellent documentary - "What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy" - combines a look at his own family's flight from Vienna to Paris, the lives of the two men who coined the terms, "Genocide" and "Crimes Against Humanity", the life of Hans Frank (the "Butcher of Poland"), as well as the Nuremberg Trials. This is a lot to cover in one book, and the basis of it all is the town of Lemberg/Lviv/Lwow in today's Poland.

Phillipe Sands' mother's family was originally from Zolkiew, a small town near the larger city of Lviv. His grandfather eventually left the area and moved to Vienna after WW1. It was there that he met his wife-to-be, and prospered as the owner of liquor stores. The family's story is the same as many others who were bullied and beaten after the Anschluss in 1938, but Sands' grandparents and mother were able to find safety of a sort in Paris and survived the war. Most of the other family members were killed in the camps or on the killing fields.

But also from the Lviv area and growing up at the same time as Sands' grandfather were two men - Rafael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht - both lawyers who were able to flee the Nazis. Lemkin eventually coined the word "genocide" and Lauterpacht, "Crimes Against Humanity". The use of both words - but in particular "genocide" - were used at the Nuremberg Trials.

Another section of the book deals with Nazi lawyer, Hans Frank, who ruled over most of WW2 Poland. Millions of people were murdered in the camps and Frank was condemned to death at Nuremberg. Sands' examines the trial records to show "genocide" was used...by some judges and lawyers. Frank's young son, Niklas, and Horst, the son of Otto von Wachter, grew up with widely differing views of their fathers' and what they did in the war. They're the subjects of Sands' film, "What Our Fathers Did". (I'm linking to the review of the documentary at the bottom of this review)

This review has to be the most difficult review I've ever written. If the review is disjointed - and it is - the book the review is based on is all over the place, too. BUT, it is an excellent book. Somehow Phillipe Sands pulls it all together and if the reader is left with, "huh" at the end, he'll have learned a lot. Sands is a good writer - and film maker - and I have to believe the book is as good as it can be.

http://www.amazon.com/review/RJNMB5WU3ROAQ/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B017A53BTY&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=2625373011&store=movies-tv

The Long Afternoon
The Long Afternoon
Offered by Hachette Book Group Digital, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Not much happens, until..., May 17 2016
British author and art historian Giles Waterfield's first novel, published in 2001, is a short work called "The Long Afternoon". It is, basically, the story of his grandparents, who had settled in Menton, France before WW1 with their two son. Henry Williamson, as he is referred to in the book, has asthma and his wife, Helen, have left India, where Henry had worked for the Indian Civil Service, to make a life in an easier climate than either England or India. And that better climate is on the French Riviera.

The Williamsons make a life in the 1910's, 20's, and 30's, as relaxed expats in the English community in Menton. Their house is beautiful and they make themselves useful to others during the years. However, living an easy life wears on Henry, who definitely wants more out of his life than he has now. But he is devoted to Helen, a somewhat cranky hypochondriac and their two sons, Charles and Francis. The boys go off to school in England and their parents welcome them home at odd periods. The novel proceeds as slowly as the lives of the Williamsons and their friends, servants, and others in Menton. Not a lot happens in "The Long Afternoon"...until it does.

Giles Waterfield's book is definitely a study of both characters and the times and places in which they lived. It's a beautifully written book for the patient reader. Two of Waterfield's later books, "The Hound in the Left-Hand Corner" and "The Iron Necklace" are more active, vigorous works. But for a quiet, reflective look at two people who love each other til the end, pick up "The Long Afternoon".

A History of the Grandparents I Never Had (Stanford Studies in Jewish History and C)
A History of the Grandparents I Never Had (Stanford Studies in Jewish History and C)
Price: CDN$ 20.99

5.0 out of 5 stars gives the story of love and sacrifice on many people's parts, May 16 2016
Memoirs of the Holocaust are now being written by the second generation from the survivors or victims as that generation has been dying off. In his astounding book, "A History of the Grandparents I Never Had" French historian, Ivan Jablonka examines the lives...and deaths, of his paternal grandparents. He is the son of their baby son, who along with his toddler sister, were hidden and saved when the parents were arrested in February. 1943, in Paris, and sent to their deaths at Auschwitz.

Ivan Jablonka writes movingly about his Polish-born grandparents, Mates Jablonka and Idesa Korembaum. Born into large families in the Polish shtetel of Parczew, both were early believers in the Communist movement in the Soviet Union. While others in their families and the shtetel were more interested in Zionism, Mates and Idesa fought to bring Communism to 1920's and 30's Poland. They were part of a movement of young people who could not see a future in Poland. Mates was arrested several times; Idesa once. In the mid-1930's, many members of the family were able to emigrate to Israel and Argentina, while Mates fled to Paris in 1937. Idesa soon followed and the two eked out a precarious existence in Paris as undocumented immigrants, while continuing their political activities The two bounced around Paris as they hid from the French authorities who seemed overwhelmed by the number of the undocumented in their city. In 1940, however, the Germans invaded France and Mates joined the French Foreign Legion and fought in western France at the Battle of Soissons. Before reading this book, I had no idea that a number of Jewish refugees in France fought the Germans.

Ivan Jablonka finishes his grandparents' story by telling of their arrests and incarceration at Drancy camp and their removal to Auschwitz with 1000 other French Jews. He doesn't know exactly when his father died, but assumes his mother was gassed upon arrival. But what of Mates and Idesa's two babies, Suzanne and Marcel? How were they saved? We know they were saved and Marcel's son, Ivan, gives the story of love and sacrifice on many people's parts. Ivan Jablonka's book is not the easiest book to read. The lives...and deaths are complicated to follow but Jablonka gives his grandparents the accounting they were denied in life. This is a beautifully written book.

The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murders That Shocked a Nation
The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murders That Shocked a Nation
Price: CDN$ 11.27

5.0 out of 5 stars horrible crime on Chicago's southwest side - the murders of ..., May 10 2016
On June 15, 1966, I was living in a northern suburb of Chicago. The evening paper and the news channels were alive that night - and for days after - about a gruesome, horrible crime on Chicago's southwest side - the murders of 8 student nurses in their townhouse/dorm, the night before. Even in the age before 24/7 news and the internet, the murders by demented loner Richard Speck were news all summer, and later on for his trial. How had one man - armed with a knife - subdued and sexually tortured eight young women before murdering them, one by one? Dennis Breo, in his new book, "The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murders that Shocked a Nation", gives a measured and non-sensational view of the crime, its victims, and the aftermath.

There certainly have been more than one "Crime of the Century" in the US in the 1900's. Two - Speck and the Leopold and Loeb Murders - happened in Chicago. What is it about my hometown that has given rise to such a high murder rate, both before and after Speck? Speck, as the author points out, was a volcano ready to go off in the hot, humid summer of 1966, where race riots were already happening in other areas of Chicago. But this crime was not of a racial nature; Richard Speck and his victims were white and Filipino. Speck was just a drifter - with a special, soft-spoken charm that was reassuring to his victims - who took advantage of the nearness of the victims to ease his frustration with the world around him that just didn't seem to give him a break. And what of the nine student nurses - one hid herself under a bed during the killing spree - who were picked out almost on a whim? Breo gives good biographies of these women and their families. The one nurse who saved herself is highlighted in the book. He also does a good job covering the trial and the legal tangle afterward.

I think Dennis Breo's book is very written in solid terms. Non-sensationalist, even. But maybe that's because as a 15 year old, I lived through that horrid summer and had heard the worst. A very good book.

The Nutmeg Tree: A Novel
The Nutmeg Tree: A Novel
Price: CDN$ 9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Is love found at an older age different from one found ..., May 9 2016
Is love found at an older age different from one found at a younger age? I think so, because by the time a person is older and the bloom is off the rose, we view our prospective lovers with a level of experience we lacked when we were younger. Those we fall in love with at age 40 and older is often not who we'd have fallen for 20 years earlier. And that's okay; "settled love" might last longer than love contracted in the heat of the moment. And so it is with the two sets of lovers in British author Margery Sharp's novel, "The Nutmeg Tree". Originally published in 1937, the book has been reissued in ebook form with some of Sharp's other novels.

"The Nutmeg Tree" is set, for the most part, in a rented country home, outside Aix les Bains, France. The house had been rented by Mrs Packett, an older woman who has lost her son in the Great War, but has raised her granddaughter, Susan. Susan had been mothered by Julia, an approaching-middle age lady, who had realised early on she wasn't able to raise a child and had given custody to her grandparents. As Susan was raised, Julia had kept in touch with her daughter's family, but had basically cobbled together a life of her own, and on her own terms. Then, she is contacted by her child - who is now 20 years old - to get together with the family and to meet her daughter's fiance. The excuse is a bit flimsy, but Julia's down-on-her-luck in London and finds the money to meet the family at their house outside Aix. And it is here where Julia meets an older man, a friend of the family. Will the four lovers find the connection that can hold up for all time? You must read the book to find out.

Julia Packett brings her life experience and her dreams to the possible match. She can see the differences in background between her and Sir William, but wonders if Sir William can love her, even with her somewhat sketchy past...and not so past. "The Nutmeg Tree", which was later made into a movie, is a fun, yet thoughtful read, both about the young lovers and the older ones. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading more of Margery Sharp's reissued novels.

The Madwoman Upstairs: A Novel
The Madwoman Upstairs: A Novel
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 17.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting first novel!, May 7 2016
I'm probably one of the few readers of Catherine Lowell's novel, "The Madwoman Upstairs", who has never read anything by the Brontes. I've read all Jane Austen's works, but unless I blacked them out, I never read the Brontes. This didn't stop my appreciation for Lowell's novel because I was able to piece together enough about the books to understand this novel that takes place 150 years after the Brontes lived and published.

Oxford student Samantha Whipple is the last living descendant of the Bronte family. Her late father, Tristan Whipple, was an eccentric who tended his family's heritage in England and the US and had raised Samantha after he and his wife divorced. By home-schooling his daughter in Boston, he invested her with the whole Bronte lore and mysteries. After his death in a mysterious fire, Samantha decides to confront her legacy by moving to England and attending "Old College" at Oxford. Several Bronte fans - both serious and sometimes dangerous - attach themselves to her. Several pieces of Bronte memorabilia are missing and are presumed to have gone up in flame with the late Tristan.

Part of the book is a love story between Samantha and her tutor, James Timothy Orville III. Of course, Orville might not be who he says he is; very few people in the story are. But the hunt for both Samantha's "inheritance" and her understanding of her place in the world are both fun and interesting. The setting in Oxford was a bonus for me. I might not have read the Brontes, but I have been to Oxford many times!

Making Monte Carlo: A History of Speculation and Spectacle
Making Monte Carlo: A History of Speculation and Spectacle
by Mark Braude
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 29.65
24 used & new from CDN$ 18.59

4.0 out of 5 stars A fun read..., April 20 2016
I was a bit disappointed when I finished Mark Braude's book, "Making Monte Carlo: A History of Speculation and Spectacle". The book I had enjoyed reading ended in the 1930's. Then I looked at the title again, and realised why the book ended when it did. Monte Carlo, part of Monaco, really had been the product of speculation, wild ideas, and sometimes shady operators. Was the time period Braude wrote about the end of the speculative era? Did things calm down after the 1930's?

Mark Braude has written a snappy, fun book about the creation of Monte Carlo. He begins by examining the German spas which were set up in the early 1800's to provide a place to both "take the waters"...and have a little fun on dry land. That fun often included gambling and the spa towns attracted plenty of high rollers - both royal and just wealthy. The spa and casino of Bad Homburg, located in Hesse, had been started up by twin brothers, Louis and Francois Blanc. Francois was lured away to Monaco in the early 1860's to revive a not-so-thriving casino. Francois Blanc worked his magic, turning around the poky casino and livening the place up with a flashy hotel and other entertainment. But the money-making casino was still the major draw to those seeking fun in the south of France.

Monte Carlo and its allure was made even more reachable by increased train service to the rocky area just east of Nice. The train service and other attractions were made known by a directed publicity campaign. Some smart minds were behind the advertising, and Monte Carlo became "the" place to see and be seen. Braude ends his book with the "Circuit de Monaco" road race, run through the streets of Monaco.

Mark Braude does an excellent job of looking at the people who created the myth and the reality of Monte Carlo. The book is a fun read. So, why am I giving it four stars instead of five? Because, if ever a work of non-fiction needed illustrations, this is the book. There are three maps of the area I found, but I looked through the entire Kindle version and could find no pictures of either the people behind the development of Monte Carlo, or of the place itself. Maybe photographs will be added to future editions. They are sorely needed.

The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World
The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World
Price: CDN$ 17.00

5.0 out of 5 stars An "elegant" look at migration..., April 18 2016
When Americans think about migration from eastern Europe, I think we concentrate on the immigration of people from there to here. Millions of people left eastern European lands and moved to the United States in waves basically beginning in the 1840's. We know what they were looking for when they came here, but what were they leaving behind in the places they emigrated from? And what were those places like after great swathes of people left? In her new book, "The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World", University of Chicago professor Tara Zahra has produced an elegant piece of historical writing explaining what the effects were on the places and the people "left behind".

Please remember that Tara Zahra is only writing about the emigrants from eastern European countries. Those from the UK, Scandinavia, France, etc, are not referred to here in her book. Their experiences - both in the places they were leaving and the places they were going - were largely different from those from the eastern European countries and Russia .In the 1800's and up to the early 1900's, Christian emigrants were looking for economic prosperity in the United States; the same reason for Jewish emigrants, who were also fleeing anti-Semitic pogroms. What they found here was not always the "Golden Medina"; rather it was a land where the immigrant had to work hard to get ahead. In the countries they had left, often villages and city areas were left empty by those who had left seeking a better life. After the First World War, the reasons to leave became more political as the world-wide Depression and the repressive regimes gave rise to wide anti-Semitism. And after WW2, the migrations were all over Europe as Displaced People found a way to return "home" after being forcibly moved by war and post-war politics. she ends her book alluding to the most recent migrations in eastern Europe.

Tara Zahra's book is a fascinating look at both the politics and economics of migration. Her writing is fluid and the book is a pleasure to read.

Spellman Six: The Next Generation (The Spellmans series)
Spellman Six: The Next Generation (The Spellmans series)
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The last one..., April 17 2016
One of the wonderful things about a series book is the chance it gives a reader to revisit old friends and catch up with their on-going lives. Nowhere is this more true than in Lisa Lutz's "Spellman" series. The Spellmans are a family living in San Francisco who run a PI firm. Their three children have all been brought up as operatives in the firm and only the oldest - David - leaves the family firm to become a lawyer. The two younger children, Isabel and Rae, work for their parents and by the end of the series, Isabel owns the firm and her parents are lookers-on in their partial retirement.

Okay, you either like Lisa Lutz's "Spellman" series...or you don't. "The Last Word: A Spellman Novel" is the sixth - and presumably last - book in the series. It's a bit of a harsh book, with very few of the gentle laughs Lutz provided in the first four books. (I didn't read the fifth book). The book is harsh because Lutz has to end her visits with the PI Spellman firm and for an author to end a series, she must put in actual "endings", both emotional and physical. The book ties up loose ends with a bit of wishful longing for the characters. Maybe Lisa Lutz will return with more Spellmans, but I doubt it. This book, her last, is a satisfying summing up of our old friends. We'll miss them.

The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th Century Bookseller's Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece
The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th Century Bookseller's Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 17.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A search for a lost painting..., April 15 2016
About 35 years ago, I noticed a painting in a window of a local art gallery/semi-curiosity shop in the Chicago suburb where I lived. It was a largish painting of a young girl in Spanish court garb, and looked for all the world like a painting by Diego Velazquez. The painting was priced at $2000 - well-beyond my budget at the time - but I would visit the shop window almost daily for a few months, until it was sold. Could this painting be a Velazquez? For a mere $2000? I never would know but I later found out that several other people had eyed the painting, thinking, "maybe..." Now, I know that I should have found the $2000 from somewhere and bought the painting. Because, even if it wasn't a true Velazquez, it would have taken a place in my heart. He and Albrecht Durer have long been my favorite painters, both because of their art, but also for the history they portrayed.

British art historian Laura Cumming has written a book, "The Vanishing Velazques: A 19th Century Bookseller's Obsession With a Lost Masterpiece", about John Snare, who purchases what he thinks is a portrait of Prince Charles, painted by Diego Velazquez on the English prince's trip to Spain to - maybe - marry a Spanish princess. The trip, which occurred in 1623, was the only time Charles was known to be in Spain, and Diego Velazquez - aside from two trips to Italy - was never in England. But John Snare thought the painting was a Velazquez, bought it, and led the rest of his life in homage to the painting. He displayed his treasure in England and Scotland for years - suffering through law suits - before leaving his family in Reading, and moving, with the painting, to New York City. He continued to show the painting, earning money that kept him in a precarious financial state til his death. He never returned to England and only once was reunited with a son, who was born after he and the painting absconded to the United States. John Snare truly lived his life in thrall of a painting.

Laura Cumming writes about the hunt for both the provenance of Snare's painting, as well as the hunt for the painting itself. It seems to have disappeared into the mists of time and may have been destroyed physically or lost in the back rooms of a museum or in the attic of a country house. She takes the reader on a journey to both the courts of Kings James I and Charles I, as well as that of Spain's Philip IV. It was in this court where the genius of Diego Velazquez was seen in all it's glory; his paintings of court members and commoners alike give the Hapsburg Philip IV its place in history. Cumming describes both Velazquez's subjects and painting style and how that style influenced painters from then on.

Laura Cumming's book is part mystery, part character-study, and part a history of the art and of the times the art was painted. My only complaint - and I'm not sure if its important - is that the display of the art plates in the Kindle version of the book is not great. I guess that most ebooks are lacking in adequate pictorial display. But Cumming's book is marvelous reading for anyone interested in history, art, and how art keeps its place in history.

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