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Jill Meyer (United States)
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Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician
Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician
Offered by Macmillan CA
Price: CDN$ 13.99

1 of 1 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.

Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered
Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 17.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The life behind the face..., Aug. 17 2014
Author Dianne Hales's "Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered" is an excellent story of painter and subject; of a canvas and the world in which it was painted. It is Florence in the late 1400's/early 1500's, the ultimate "Renaissance Man" Leonardo Da Vinci, and, Mona Lisa Gherardini del Gioconda.

Dianne Hales has tracked down and written about the real Mona Lisa. The records of her existence are available in files and books in Florence and Hales has put them together in a book. Part of the book is factual - dates and marriage and children - but some is conjecture about Lisa Gheraradini's thoughts and actions. Hales couches her wording, using terms like "could have" and "might have", which softens the conjecture for the reader. She has learned enough about Lisa - her family, both birth and marital - and combining that with information about Florentine history - both social and governmental - gives the reader an encompassing view of the woman and her world.

But Dianne Hales also looks at both the painter, Leonardo, and his life, as well as the long life of the canvas. From Leonardo's possession to that of French royalty, to finally life in the Louvre, the "Mona Lisa" has been in French hands since the early 1500s. Except, of course, for life on-the-run as a kidnap victim in 1911: the painting was returned to the museum in 1913.

Dianne Hales' book reveals the woman behind the face in the painting. It's a marvelously readable book. And if you like reading about paintings and their subjects, pick up Carola Hick's "Girl in a Green Gown: The History and Mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait".

The Reckoning
The Reckoning
by Rennie Airth
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.57
2 used & new from CDN$ 16.57

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent fourth book in the series..., Aug. 15 2014
This review is from: The Reckoning (Paperback)
British author Rennie Airth has a new book, "The Reckoning" in his John Madden series. "The Reckoning" is the fourth book, and while the three previous books were set in three different decades, this one begins after WW2 but goes back to the Great War.

Airth's books are considered "psychological mysteries" which I guess means that the deeds of the mind are as important as the deeds by the hands. Certainly murders are common in his books, but Airth is one of the best authors at looking as much at the motivation as at the act itself. "The Reckoning" begins with a look at a man trout fishing by himself. The reader knows something will happen. But, will it happen TO him or BY him?

England in 1947 was a country coming to grips with the "Peace". Rationing was still in effect and the cities were a patchwork of bombed out sites. The Labour Party had been in power since 1945 and the post-war economy was making a recovery. John Madden had long been retired from the Metropolitan Police and retired to gentleman farming, along with his doctor-wife and two children. But he retained ties with Scotland Yard and found himself involved in the murder of that fisherman...and a few others.

It doesn't take the reader long to figure out the trajectory of both the murders and the plot. The plot is actually rather mundane, but how Rennie Airth gets to the end of the story is what makes this book so good. He blends history - both the characters' and the country's - to end up solving the murders.

I couldn't decide between four stars and five stars. I considered four stars because the plot really is quite elementary, BUT ended up with five because of the quality of writing. This is a great read for Airth's many fans.

An Unwilling Accomplice (Bess Crawford Mysteries)
An Unwilling Accomplice (Bess Crawford Mysteries)
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers CA
Price: CDN$ 13.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Same old Bess...and Simon, Aug. 12 2014
I am comparing Charles Todd's new novel, "An Unwilling Accomplice" to previous books in the Bess Crawford series, not to other mysteries.

"Charles Todd" is a mother/son writing team. They have two on-going mystery series. One is the "Ian Rutledge" and the other is the "Bess Crawford". Both are set in the WW1 era; "Rutledge" slightly after the war and "Crawford" during the war. There is a certain secondary character in both series and I wonder if they'll ever come together in one book. Maybe, maybe...

Almost anyone reading this review is probably familiar with Charles Todd's writing. This is the sixth book in the series and it really isn't that much different than the five previous novels. Bess, an Army nurse normally serving in France, is asked to accompany a soldier to Buckingham Palace to be honored by King George for his - the soldier's - brave war service. Bess is needed as a nurse because the soldier - Sergeant Jason Wilkins - has been badly wounded. She is also to keep her eye on him after the ceremony until he is picked up in London to be taken back to his convalescent home. Unfortunately, Sergeant Wilkins disappears from his hotel after the ceremony and Bess is blamed for his loss. She decides to track the runaway sergeant - basically to clear her name - and is aided by her friend, Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon, who has both a car and the military creds to help her. (He had served with her father in India and is always seemingly a step or two away from Bess.) Soon after disappearing - deserting - Wilkins is blamed for a murder of another soldier. The murder takes place at the Ironbridge Gorge, in Shropshire and Bess and Simon begin there to find the missing sergeant.

One of the nice things about a book series is that the reader can return to "old friends" and see how the author has updated the characters' lives. The problem here - in the Bess Crawford series - is that Charles Todd has done nothing to move the characters along. This latest book is set in 1918 and the end of the war is in sight, but Bess is still hunting murderers and relying on Simon Brandon to help her. But the reason I'm giving the book five stars is that it is a very good book in the series. I'd probably give it a four if I was comparing it with other WW1 fiction but as I wrote above, most readers of this review are going to be veteran readers of the series and probably like the series just the way it is.

A Short Gentleman
A Short Gentleman
Price: CDN$ 9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Not for every reader..., Aug. 9 2014
This review is from: A Short Gentleman (Kindle Edition)
British comedic writer Jon Canter has written, "A Short Gentleman", which is the story of a short gentleman who is recounting a crime he committed. This crime - never specified til late in the book - is certainly not one the reader would expect this Oxford-trained "Queen's Counsel", measured in every phase of his life, to make. His confession, written in the first person, is the entire book.

Okay, Robert Purcell, QC, is a short-in-stature but long-in-accomplishment. Born in the mid-1950's to a judge and his wife, Robert has his whole life plotted out by the time he's 10 years old. Go to Winchester College and then on to Oxford, Robert wants to attain success in his law career. His love life, indeed his personal life, is equally plotted out. "Correct" wife, two children (one of each gender), a house in London, and, eventually, ownership of his parents' house in Suffolk. Robert has loved this house all his life and owning it outright is his ultimate dream.

But Robert Purcell, while brilliant in public life, is almost autistic in how he handles friendships and love in his private life. While at Oxford, he befriends/is befriended by another law student, Mike Bell, who is from a lower social level. They remain friends - Mike Bell is one of the few friends Robert Purcell keeps. While Robert climbs the legal ladder and acquires a wife and family, Mike roams the world looking for opportunities in film making. Robert wants to be a QC and Mike wants to produce avant-garde films.

How Robert manages to lose his virginity at a rather late age, acquire a girl friend - to pop up later in the story - and then find the perfect woman to marry, are all parts of the story. Pompous and without much, if any, ability to self-analyze, Robert Purcell moves through his life as if in a well-planned dream. Until his parents die...and then hell breaks loose for Robert.

One of the most interesting characters in the book is Robert's wife, Elizabeth. Herself trained as a solicitor, Elizabeth represents for Robert the perfect choice for a wife. And she goes along with the cold marriage, until one day she realises that much of her life isn't what she wants. How she comes to terms with her situation and the way she handles it is handled very well by Jon Canter. And, actually, Cantor has written a funny book, filled with interesting characters, who remain with the reader. None are caricatures though most are unlikable. The least likable is Robert Purcell but the book ends with his finally coming to some sort of understanding of himself and the others around him.

"A Short Gentleman" will not appeal to many readers, but for the right one, it's a gem.

Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion
Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion
Offered by Penguin Group USA
Price: CDN$ 10.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting idea..., Aug. 5 2014
"Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion", is compilation of ten short stories by ten noted authors. The theme is New York City's Grand Central Station on a day in September, 1945. WW2 is over, soldiers are returning home, and the four-sided clock, the "Kissing Room", and the Oyster Bar are scenes of reunion of lovers and family, and also for the disunion of some characters. Each story in some way relates to another story in the book.

I felt the problem with "Grand Central" - and the reason I'm giving it 3 stars - is that while a few of the stories really are quite good, many of the others are mediocre. I read "Grand Central" yesterday and I already can't remember most of the stories. Some of the stories - Jenna Blum's "The Lucky One", "Alyson Richman's "Going Home", and Karen White's "The Harvest Season" - could be expanded into book-length fiction; the others are merely okay.

Short stories are notoriously difficult to write because the author has to "miniaturize" plots and characters. I've read book-length fiction by most of the authors of "Grand Central" and quite enjoyed them. Perhaps the problem here is not bad writing - per se - but rather bad writing for the medium.

In any case, I enjoyed reading "Grand Central" and was intrigued how well some of the authors related one story to another. I think it will do nicely for a lazy afternoon read...and the keeping track of the authors for future work. Preferably, book-length.

The Emperor Waltz
The Emperor Waltz
by Philip Hensher
Edition: Hardcover
11 used & new from CDN$ 21.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a book..., Aug. 3 2014
This review is from: The Emperor Waltz (Hardcover)
British author Philip Hensher's new novel, "The Emperor Waltz", is simply a tour de force of writing. The book, at 610 pages, is long but every page is worth reading. However, that is MY opinion; I have a feeling that when the book is published and reviewed in the United States, there will be a wide-range of star ratings and valid reasons for those ratings.

Hensher has written three main stories and two shorter pieces. The three main stories, which are written at intervals within the book, seem to come together at the end. Hensher writes about St Perpetua, a Christian martyr in the Third Century, a red-head who swept her hair off her neck, so as to give her executioner a clean blow with his sword. That red-hair pops up in other parts of the book. Look for it as you're reading. His second story - that of Bauhaus students in the early 1920's - introduces the reader to real Bauhaus teachers and craftsmen in their first school in Weimar. Paul Klee and Wassily Kadinsky mix as teachers to the imaginary characters of brothers Christian and Dolphus Vogt and sisters Adele and Elsa Winteregger. The brothers were sons of a Berlin banker and the daughters of a master puppet maker. The "ills" of Germany in the 1920's and 30's - both physical and emotional - is hinted at in the story. The "hinting" that Hensher does is far more effective than outright bludgeoning with murders that a less subtle writer might do.

But the main story of the three principle ones is that of Duncan Flannery, a young gay man who opens up London's first gay bookstore in the 1970's. His story - of his lovers and his friends - is told in a manner that places Duncan in the middle as the catalyst for the action around him. I can't stress how marvelously Duncan Flannery's story is written by Philip Hensher.

"The Emperor Waltz" is one of those novels that I occasionally find that when I'm finished I want to write the author and beg him or her to write another novel, using the same characters and continuing their lives.

The book I can best compare it to is American author Jonathan Franzen's novel "Freedom". Both are long novels that I felt did marvelous things with their characters. I was left after reading Franzen's book with an emptiness that the story had ended and I wanted...more. I have the same feeling with Philip Hensher's "The Emperor Waltz". (Both books also feature a bird on their covers.)

Please pick this book up if you're in a book store and take a look at it. If you're on-line, please read all the reviews and consider buying it and devoting the time to read it. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

A House of Knives
A House of Knives
by William Shaw
Edition: Hardcover
12 used & new from CDN$ 16.18

5.0 out of 5 stars Those "Swinging '60's in London...", July 6 2014
This review is from: A House of Knives (Hardcover)
British author William Shaw's new novel, "A House of Knives", is the second police procedural of a planned trilogy. I have not read the first in the series, "She's Leaving Home" (as published in the UK) or "A Song From Dead Lips" (as published in the US). The series is set in London in the late 1960's - that time of political and social upheaval. Music and fashion have radically changed from even a few years past and drugs are becoming a scourge in society. Nothing is the same - everything is different, which makes policing a difficult business.

Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen works in the Marleybone CID. The son of parents who emigrated from Ireland to London before his birth, "Paddy" Breen is a loner, who had made his job as a policeman the center of his life. As the book opens, his widowed father, with whom Paddy has lived for several years, has died. Paddy is at sixes-and-sevens in both his career and his personal life. He has a vague desire to take a trip to Ireland to see where his parents are from, but his supervisor won't give him the time off. It's almost Christmas and some bodies are beginning to turn up. Breen is put in charge of solving these deaths...which may or may not be murders. His informal partner is Helen Tozer, a member of the "Women's Police", who Breen has drunkenly bedded in the previous novel. Their relationship is confused, as each tries to figure out what they want.

William Shaw includes real figures like art dealer Robert Fraser - who introduced the art of Jim Dine, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring in his London art gallery. A friend of musicians Mick Jagger and John Lennon, Fraser figures in "A House of Knives" as a sort of nexus between the deaths and the social and musical scene of 1968 London. Also prominently featured is the (fictional) Labour MP of Harold Wilson's government. One of the dead is the son of the MP. Coverups abound in the worlds of politics and the arts, and on the police force, as well.

"A House of Knives" is an excellent look at relationships as seen through a kaleidoscope - ever changing and morphing from one shape to another. There are no true alliances and friendships within the police department; your partner today could be your enemy tomorrow. Shaw has written a complicated look at a very complicated series of worlds. It's well worth reading.

Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town
Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town
Offered by Penguin Group USA
Price: CDN$ 15.99

3.0 out of 5 stars I wish I liked this book better..., July 5 2014
Sarah Payne Stuart's new memoir, "Perfectly Miserable: Guild, God, and Real Estate in a Small Town", has certainly received a wide range of star ratings. That's actually a good thing for a prospective purchaser/reader because it means the reviewers have read and thought about this book. I read the reviews and found myself agreeing with those who didn't like it more than with those who did like it. I wish it was the opposite...

Concord, Massachusetts was the home town of fabled writers Thoreau, Emerson, and the Alcott family. Each used the town and its history in their writing. Sarah Payne Stuart has done the same thing in her previous writing but in her latest memoir, she writes of the city and its people have had on her life. Born the youngest child - and only daughter - after three sons, Sarah seems to have had a love/hate with the town in which she spent most of her childhood and then moved back to when she had children of her own. Stuart writes about her late parents who, seemingly trapped by the town and its mores - had a somewhat testy relationship with her and her husband, and whose own lives seemed mired in the quest for town "approval".

Reading the book, I asked myself, "why in hell would Stuart want to move back to a town which had inspired such sadness and questioning of her own values as she grew up?" After finishing the book, I still can't figure it out. She writes about the houses she and her filmmaker husband, Charlie, bought and restored in Concord, almost all of which she seemed to view from the lens of perceived Concord-town judgements. At the end of the book, her three children grown and gone from the familial nest, she and Charlie head for New York City. I sure hope she's happier there than she was in Concord. She's a lot more anonymous in the big city and maybe that'll be the subject of her next memoir.

The Actress: A Novel
The Actress: A Novel
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 15.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good novel..., July 3 2014
Amy Sohn's new novel, "The Actress" is a competently written and enjoyable read about actors in New York and Los Angeles and how the deals/friendships/blackmail get movies made. It is also the story of how those same things happen in the private lives of actors and studio workers and management. But most of all, it's the story of a "Tom Cruise"-like superstar and a "Katie Holmes"-like actress - minus the Scienctology - relationship and marriage.

I think we all know that what goes on in the motion picture industry is sometimes dirty and secretive. How do movies get made and how do actors, writers, directors, get attached to them? Amy Sohn gives us young, idealistic, and well-educated "indie" actress, Maddy Freed, who somehow catches the eye, and then the heart, of older, established, swoon-provoking actor Steven Weller. Is it a marriage made in heaven - or in the backrooms of management groups? Does Steven really love Maddy or is she a "purchase" made to enhance his somewhat questionable reputation? Amy Sohn answers these and other questions in her novel.

It would be easy to make Sohn's characters caricatures of already existing movie types. And to some extent, they are. By knowing the Cruise-Holmes story, the reader can already guess the plot. But Sohn is a good-enough writer to bring some humanity, some soul, some color to her characters. It's a good read for a day at the beach or a long airplane ride. You might not remember the book three weeks after you read it, but you might look at Hollywood and its players a bit differently.

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