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Jill Meyer (United States)

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My Wish List
My Wish List
by Gregoire Delacourt
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.46
31 used & new from CDN$ 5.40

4.0 out of 5 stars A sweet look at dreams..., April 1 2014
This review is from: My Wish List (Paperback)
"My Wish List" is a very short novel by French author Gregorie Delacourt, and translated into English by Anthea Bell. (Bell must be a linguistic marvel as she also is widely appreciated as a translator of German into English.) The book seems to have been translated into a variety of European languages and was previously published in English as "The List of My Desires". And here's where it gets a bit confusing; "List of My Desires" has 240 pages, where as this book, "My Wish List" has only 176 pages. I don't know if one has larger print than the other or if the first book was longer. I suppose it doesn't much matter...

Anyway, getting back to "My Wish List". Have you ever wondered what you'd do if you won the lottery and became wealthy overnight? Or if your spouse left you and you wanted to get on with your life after suitable period of mourning? I bet in both cases you'd make a list. List the things you'd buy or change about yourself or your family and friends. List what you'd do differently for the rest of your life. Just the very act of making a list is very liberating and thought provoking. And making a list is what Frenchwoman Jocelyne does when she wins a respectable amount of 18,000,000 Euros. Jocelyne, who is married to a man called Jocelyn, has two grown children, a respectable store selling sewing needs and fabrics, and a website that is becoming a fast-developing success. She has the husband and a somewhat stale marriage. She also has a secret; she tells no one that she has won the lottery. In fact, she hides the check in her shoe...

So the book is an almost-fable about what you might do if you 1. Won the Lottery, and 2. Didn't tell anyone about it. Is it right in a marriage for one partner to keep such a secret to him/herself? And what happens when/if the other partner finds the hidden check? Of these facts does Gregorie Delacourt wrap his story around.

Delacourt writes his nuanced characters as ordinary people who are confronting the extraordinary. With these ordinary people come their desires - both of a material and emotional nature - and how much can they be made happy by the money? Delacourt's book is a good introduction to these thoughts. As if WE'D ever win the lottery...

The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle
The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle
Offered by Hachette Book Group Digital, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 11.99

3.0 out of 5 stars It's a pleasant story..., March 31 2014
"The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle" is British author Kirsty Wark's first novel. Set on the Scottish Isle of Arran, in the Firth of Clyde, the story goes back and forth in both time and character voices. One of the two main characters, Elizabeth Pringle, has just died in 2006 and has willed her island house to the mother of Martha Morrison. Martha's mother, Anna, has just been diagnosed with a form of dementia and is in a fitful condition. Wark's story is how the past encroaches on the present. Elizabeth's long, long life is at an end, while Martha's adult life is just beginning.

Wark's story is peopled with characters who seem just a touch different enough not to be stereotypes; "rugged island man", "mother with dementia", "bad-mood sister", "career woman who makes bad choices in lovers", and, of course, "island dweller who has 'secrets'". The expected love happens between characters...except when it doesn't. Love is thwarted by war and by departures to far off lands. Kirsty Wark has written a pleasant story of love that you'll enjoy reading but won't remember in six months that you've read it. And that's okay; not every book has to be "War and Peace". Just read it and enjoy it.

The Berkeley Square Affair (Malcolm & Suzanne Rannoch Historical Mystery)
The Berkeley Square Affair (Malcolm & Suzanne Rannoch Historical Mystery)
Price: CDN$ 9.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Is EVERYBODY a French spy?", March 29 2014
Teresa Grant's new novel in her Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch series, "The Berkeley Square Affair", is almost as good as the preceding four. But this book, set in London, after the Napoleonic Wars and the Battle of Waterloo, is a tad too long and a bit too predictable. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, but Grant's characters all seem to be either French spies and/or in and out of each others' beds. And all have "secrets"; some dealing with paternity issues, "loyalty" issues, and just plain out and out, identity issues. Very few characters are who they say they are or think of themselves as.

The book centers around Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, a married couple with all the "issued" listed above. They had met and married during the Peninsula War and had evolved into a happy couple with first one, then two children. But both were spies; Malcolm for the British and Suzanne for the French. Suzanne's allegiances were hidden from Malcolm but you, the reader, having read the previous three books - and a couple of Kindle singles - knew the truth would come out at some point in time.

But, it seems almost everybody in the Rannoch's circle was a French spy. I'm not exaggerating; the number of secrets exposed in this book is lengthy and often...interesting. Teresa Grant is a good writer, though, and she keeps her plot and her characters in a constant juggle, that lands right at the end. I don't know whether this is the last of the series's books but if it is, it's a good last book. Oh, and don't be put off by the cover pictures on Grant's books. They look a bit trashy and "romantic-y" but they're not. They are solid reading for the historical novel reader.

The Commandant of Lubizec: A Novel of The Holocaust and Operation Reinhard
The Commandant of Lubizec: A Novel of The Holocaust and Operation Reinhard
Price: CDN$ 9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best Holocaust books I've read..., March 29 2014
American author Patrick Hicks has written one of the most astounding books about the Holocaust I've ever read, "The Commandant of Lubzec". If the names on a wall giving the dead give the truth more bluntly, then so does the stark writing in Hick's book. "Commandant" is a novel written as a "documentary" of a non-existent death camp in Poland, and its staff, inmates, and victims. And according to Patrick Hicks, some 710,000 Jews were murdered in the camp's gas chambers and their bodies burnt in large pits on the camp's grounds.

When I write about names on the wall telling the horrible truth more succinctly than flowery rhetoric of many novels and memoirs, I am talking about the four rooms of the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague, with the names of every Jewish family in Prague and Bohemia, written on the walls. The simple black lettering gives each family member, his or her date of birth and, usually, his or her date of death. The starkness of names, stretching endlessly, tells the toll the murders of the Holocaust in a simple way. In the same way the names in the Pinkas Synogogue tell of evil deeds, Hicks' book, told as a documentary, gives the same information, letting the reader take from it the emotion these killings deserve.

Hicks writes about everything from the commandant, "Hans-Peter Guth" and his happy family, living in not-so-blissful ignorance a few miles from the main camp, to the other camp functionaries, and to the Jews who passed through the camp, from the trains to the gas chambers to the burning pits after. He gives the reader no rest in his documentary style of writing. There are few "heroes" in the story, just a few lucky Jewish survivors, who were able to continue living among the bullets and the gas. A few lucky men, kept alive to work the mechanics of death and who often watched their families, friends, and neighbors marched from the arriving trains to the gas chambers, shedding their clothes and their hair in between. And these same men who survived a camp uprising.

He contrasts the fairly contented home life of Commandant Guth - with some interruption as Guth's wife leaves him with his children when she finds out what's happening in the camp he runs. (She doesn't appear to be upset with what he's doing there, but rather that he has lied to her.) To compare the "villa" the Guth family lives in with the raw barracks at the camp the workers "survive" in is cruel to the maximum, which is why it is effective when Hicks writes about the everyday living.

Patrick Hicks's novel is difficult reading. The documentary style and both the planned and random death is as stark and telling as the names listed on the walls in Prague. But for the right reader, it's worth the tough going.

Hunting Season: A Novel
Hunting Season: A Novel
Offered by Penguin Group USA
Price: CDN$ 10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Magic realism in old Sicily..., March 25 2014
"Hunting Season" is a small book by Italian author Andrea Camilleri, who is well-known for his Inspector Montalbano crime series set in current-day Sicily. "Hunting" seems to be a story that he wanted to write that is not part of the series. It's set in Sicily, but the Sicily of 1880. It is part mystery and part magical-realism. If you don't like magical-realism, don't pick up this book.

The mystery in this book are the continuing deaths of members of the landed Peluso family. Grandfather, grandson, wife, husband, etc. are dying some-what suspicious deaths in the village of Vigata. But are the deaths murders? And if so, who's the murderer? A "stranger" has come to town and has opened up a pharmacy. But who is he and what is his previous connection with the town and the townspeople? Camilleri serves up the townsfolk as both illiterate and canny and those who can read and write have some advantages over those who can't. But everyone in the village is caught up with who is who and what have some people gained in material wealth over others.

"Magic-realism" is a writing style which often helps an author explain things in a plot that are otherwise unexplainable to the reader. It's not my favorite style, but Andrea Camilleri - who explains in the afterword why he wrote the book - makes good sport of his plot and characters. It's a brief book but fun reading.

Living Opera
Living Opera
Price: CDN$ 9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A great look at behind the scenes..., March 24 2014
This review is from: Living Opera (Kindle Edition)
Okay, I'm an opera "newbie". Living in Santa Fe, it's a bit hard to avoid opera-fever and for five years I did. But last year I "succumbed" to both "The Met in HD" and live opera at that beautiful outdoor setting up on the hill, just north of Santa Fe. Since discovering opera, I've also been reading about it. One of the best books I've read is "Living Opera", by Joshua Jampol.

Published in 2010, the book is a series of 20 interviews with different opera "people". From singers Placido Domingo and Renee Fleming, to directors and conductors Patrice Chereau and Seiji Ozawa - to name a few - Jampol takes the reader behind the scenes of the opera and into the hearts and minds of those who have made modern opera what it is. Jampol asks intelligent questions that might seem easy at first for the subjects to answer, but he asks them in such a way to elicit responses that resonate with the reader.

Jampol covers everything from how operas are staged to orchestra arrangements to how the singers both prepare for their performances and recover from them. Some of the singers have children and they explain how they fit parenting into a life essentially lived on the run. These are relatively short interviews but by asking the right questions, Jampol has written a lively book based on the answers.

You don't have to be an opera-novice to enjoy this book. I can recommend it to anyone looking for some behind-the-scenes look at the wonder and majesty of opera.

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals
The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals
Price: CDN$ 9.61

4.0 out of 5 stars Choices and decisions..., March 22 2014
Life is a series of choices and decisions. Some of them are made by us and others are made for us. But no matter how they're made and by whom, our lives are the sum of those choices and decisions. British author Wendy Jones could have placed her book, "The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price: Purveyor of Superior Funerals", in any time and given us any character and have made her point about choices and decisions and their effect on a man's life.

Set in the Welsh countryside in 1924, the main character, Wilfred Price, has made something of his life. The son of a poor widower who has lost his wife in childbirth, Wilfred has apprenticed himself to a funeral director and learned the trade. He has returned to his home town and opened up his own funeral home and waits for the bodies to arrive. And they do arrive; Wilfred finds himself a man-on-the-rise. In the sixth year after the end of The Great War, England is a land of quiet sorrow. Men who didn't return from the war and those who returned but are damaged either physically or emotionally are mourned by those who loved and cherished them. Along with war, the influenza epidemic continues to take lives of those on the back home. Wilfred Price decides, now that his business is established, that it's time to take a wife. He impetuously proposed to a local miss - Grace - the daughter of the town's doctor. He soon regrets his decision to propose to this bride of choice and he breaks off his engagement. While on the job, Wilfred meets the daughter of a recently buried man who he falls in love with. Then, a decision is made by Grace's father - a decision totally at odds with what Wilfred wants - and he marries Grace.

"Thoughts and Happenings" is filled with what these choices and decisions. Some are made by people with full knowledge of whatever facts there are and some are made blindly. Some are good and some are...bad. Wendy Jones writes well of the those sad times in the mid-1920's and does an excellent job of giving her three main characters and the many supporting ones nuanced portrayals. It's a very good novel and may cause you to think of all the choices and decisions you've made that you wish you could - possibly - reverse.

Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS
Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS
Price: CDN$ 15.99

5.0 out of 5 stars They were "living in wartime"..., March 20 2014
American author Martin Duberman has written an excellent book,"Hold Tight Gently", looking at those first years of the AIDS crisis here in the United States. He uses two young men - Michael Callen and Essex Hemphill - examining how the disease affected the larger gay community. The book's title is taken from a book, "Brother to Brother", published in 1991. It is a collection of writing by Black gay writers, including poet Essex Hemphill. (The book is back in print and is available on Amazon).

Duberman's book goes back and forth between the lives of Callen and Hemphill. Both were diagnosed fairly early on with AIDS and both died in the early to mid 1990's; Hemphill survived until shortly before the introduction of the protease inhibitors. Both men were the sons of religious parents and both knew from an early age they were gay. But as a black man, confronting the innate hostility of the larger black community towards gay men, Essex Hemphill had a tougher time than Michael Callen.

Callen was from a small town in Ohio and moved to Boston for college, and then ended up in New York City, where he made his mark as a singer. He was also an AIDS activist and was one of the first gay men who realised the devastation the newly discovered AIDS was making in the gay population. He pushed for "safe sex" in the gay community, and was often at odds with others, in the newly liberated time. Callen also acted as a fund raiser for both community and national AIDS organisations. He also worked with music groups and recorded his last album, "Legacy", shortly before his death in Los Angeles.

Essex Hemphill was born and raised in Washington, DC. He was active as a poet in the black community as a young man until his death. As I wrote above, Hemphill was often at odds in connecting the two major facets of his identity - as a black, gay man. Duberman is particularly good in describing this part of Hemphill's life.

Martin Duberman is unstinting in describing Callen and Hemphill's illnesses, treatments, and deaths. AIDS is not an "easy" illness and both men suffered from its ravages. Duberman has written an important book - combining the times of the gay community with the advent of AIDS, using the lives of Michael Callen and Essex Hemphill, both interesting men who did great things in their relatively short lives.

The Meaning of Names
The Meaning of Names
by Karen Shoemaker
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.58
19 used & new from CDN$ 8.73

4.0 out of 5 stars German-Americans in question of loyalties..., March 18 2014
This review is from: The Meaning of Names (Paperback)
Karen Shoemaker's novel, "The Meaning of Names", is set in the Nebraska flat lands in 1917 and 1918. The area - farmlands and small towns - were settled in large part by German immigrants, who found their loyalties in question by "real" Americans, sending their own young men off to fight the "Hun", in Europe. Shoemaker writes about how her family members - and this book is about her family - fought off suspicion of their allegiance to their new homeland, as well as fighting off the influenza that took its toll on ALL Americans, no matter their place of origin.

Shoemaker does an excellent job in establishing time and place and characters. Her book has very little actual plot; the story is really just a telling of how the war and America's participation in it affected a small part of the homeland. Were German-Americans, who had worked the land and found prosperity here in the United States, any less "loyal" to their land than those who were born here? This is a question that was asked again twenty years later in WW2 of both German-Americans and Japanese-Americans.

Gerda Vogel is both the wife and daughter of German immigrants. In her life on the Nebraska plains, she has seen a beloved older sister die in childbirth and she has given birth to four children.However, she is estranged from her parents and siblings because they disapproved of her marriage. She lives a busy life as a farmer's wife and mother and is devoted to her husband, Fritz Vogel. But as the United States' entrance into WW1, some town's people begin to question her family's place in the community. As the sons of townspeople are killed in battle, the antagonism turns intense. On the Vogel's side is the local doctor, Ed Gannoway, who is protective of the family.

And along with the war came the influenza epidemic, which swept across our country in 1918. The young and strong were killed first, often in a matter of hours. The most harrowing scenes in the book deal with how and who this epidemic "took". Karen Shoemaker has written a very good novel about a time that is little written about. My only question is why she did not write a non-fictional account of her family and the times. I always like looking at real people, but maybe writing a fictionalised account is easier.

Bunnies & Kitties: A Cuddly Collection of Fur and Friendship
Bunnies & Kitties: A Cuddly Collection of Fur and Friendship
by Cate Holly
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 10.83
31 used & new from CDN$ 6.32

5.0 out of 5 stars Love for one another?, March 12 2014
Cate Holly's "Bunnies and Kitties" is not "War and Peace". And I can't imagine anyone reading it would want it to be. It is a book filled with darling pictures of kitties and bunnies and can be read and appreciated by almost any age group. (Because the paper it's printed on is regular paper, it would not be suitable for a baby, though the pictures certainly are.)

Now, I am a cat lover. Kittens don't do much for me - I like a large, older cat that I can hug. I have two cats, a tabby and a tuxedo. While the tabby does look a bit like a "cat-bit" (what an animal might look like if a cat and a rabbit could mate), the tuxedo is all cat. Holly's book shows many cats and grown bunnies together, including a tuxedo combination and a tabby combination. Those are my favorite pictures in the book. But all the pictures - whether of kitten or cat, baby bunny or grown bunny - are wonderfully expressive of the way two different animals can share a love. I don't think too many of the pictures were "posed"; all the shots seem to show a real rapport between the animals.

Pick up this book for a friend or for yourself. I bought a copy as a gift for my daughter-in-law who is as mad for bunnies as I am for cats. The second copy I bought for myself. Between the two of us, we both can see the book expressing the love two animals can feel for another.

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