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Jill Meyer (United States)
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A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer
A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer
by Mary Elizabeth Williams
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.41
31 used & new from CDN$ 13.83

5.0 out of 5 stars A True Story of Love, Science, July 10 2016
I'm a bit late to reading and reviewing Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams' memoir, "A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer", but I wanted to add to the well-deserved 5 star reviews her book has already received. Because Williams is a writer, her account of her metastatic melanoma - Stage 4 - and the newly discovered immunotherapy that basically cured it, she can explain the science behind medicine. But her story is more than the physical; it's the emotional impact a cancer diagnosis can have on an individual and her loved ones. It's this aspect Williams portrays so well in her book.

Mary Elizabeth, the mother of two daughters and the wife in a reunited marriage, was diagnosed with melanoma after a sore on her scalp was found to be cancerous in 2010. She had surgery and was sent on; no chemo or radiation was done. A year later, the melanoma was found to have spread and her cancer was now restaged as Stage 4. But she was not the only one in her family and her circle of friends who was suffering from cancer. Her beloved father-in-law was in the final stages of Colon cancer and a life-long friend was beginning her treatment for ovarian cancer. As Mary Elizabeth was being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, doctors and scientists were working with a new form of treatment - immunology. She was accepted into a trial program and after her initial treatment, the cancer was gone. And it has evidently stayed "gone". But the cancer and its treatment had done much to the lives of Mary Elizabeth and her family. She's very forthright in her writing of the effects on them.

This is a very tightly written account of a life with cancer. She pulls no punches.


The House by the Lake: One House, Five Families, and a Hundred Years of German History
The House by the Lake: One House, Five Families, and a Hundred Years of German History
by Thomas Harding
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.91
24 used & new from CDN$ 17.49

4.0 out of 5 stars A long view of a house..., July 9 2016
British author Thomas Harding has traced the history of a section of Berlin by tracing the history of the house his family had lived in before WW2. The book, "The House by the Lake: One House, Five Families", is a nuanced look as much at the politics of the times as of the families who had lived in the house. Harding's own family had built the house on a lake side area in the southwest section of Berlin, near Potsdam, in the 1920's. They lived in Berlin but used this lakeside house as their weekend and summer retreat. But as the 20's ran into the 1930's, the Jewish Alexander family was hit by the anti-Semitic laws of the time and regretfully abandoned the lakeside house - and Germany - to safety in England. The house was taken over by other families during WW2 and the post-war years. Since the house was literally on the border between West Berlin and East Germany, the occupants lived behind the Berlin Wall. After the Wall came down in 1989, the family living there was reunited with friends and family in the west. The house is now a property of the state but Harding's family is trying to fix it up.

Okay, we've all read books that trace a family by looking at the houses in which they've lived. This is just the opposite; examining the house by looking at who's lived there. (Another good book to read if you find this book interesting is "Home: The Story of Everyone Who Ever Lived in Our House", by British author Julie Myerson.) Thomas Harding's book turns the history of the house into a history of the times. Harding does provide pictures of the house as it went through physical changes as new owners and tenants came and went. It's a good book, for the right reader.


Another One Goes Tonight (Peter Diamond)
Another One Goes Tonight (Peter Diamond)
Price: CDN$ 14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Another Peter Diamond novel..., July 8 2016
One of the delightful things for a reader of serial books is to return to old friends and catch up on their lives and loves since the previous book. Brtish author Peter Lovesey makes that particularly interesting in his new book, "Another One Goes Tonight", which is the 16 book in his Peter Diamond series. Diamond is a Detective Superintendent with the Bath CID and returns in this book - along with his team - to investigate a police car accident that has claimed the life of one of the two men in the car. The other one was badly injured. A third man - clinging to life - was found a bit away and Diamond, who finds him, preforms CPR and gets a whiff of life back in the man. A man who had been riding an electric tricycle. A man, who it turns out, was out in the night looking for hops. Not beer "hops" but, supposedly, rabbit "hops". Need I tell you that things and people and situations are a bit "quirky" in a Peter Diamond novel? In fact, everything and everybody is a bit off, except for Peter Diamond, who's the only non-quirky person in the bunch. (Though he does invent a cat...)

Lovesey's book can be called a police procedural because there are police and they are procedurally solving a crime. However, what exactly the crime is - possibly a serial killer - is not firmly established. Diamond wavers on and on about the case which he is charged with solving, though only he and his team members quite know what the possible crime is. We return to Bath and since a good novel teaches a bit as well as entertains, we learn a lot about railroads in that part of England. Most of the possible victims of the possible serial murderer were railroad aficionados and Lovesey takes us into their little world, as well as the world of 1920's dress designer Mariano Fortuny.

If you're the type of reader who enjoys quirky people and story lines and made up cats - and I am - you'll enjoy "Another One Goes Tonight". If not not, you might want to seek out a more conventional police procedural.


Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age
Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age
Price: CDN$ 15.66

5.0 out of 5 stars Great look at today's architecture..., July 5 2016
Blair Kamin is the architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune. While he writes mainly about Chicago architecture, he also looks at building projects in other parts of the country and the world. After all, architects today - particularly those "starchitects" so famous for their spectacular designs - are doing projects world-wide. Frank Gehry, for example, while based in Los Angeles, is famous for buildings from Bilbao, Spain to Miami to Los Angeles to Prague.These architects are citizens-of-world, and they, along with other, lesser-known architects are building unique and "green" and, sometimes horrific, buildings in most of the world's cities. But the world-city with the strongest architectural reputation is Chicago. And that's mostly what Blair Kamin concentrates on in his book, "Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age". The book is a collection of his articles in the years 2001 to 2008, with "afterwords" bringing the readers up-to-date on projects he talks about.

The "terror" that Kamin refers to are the 9/11 attacks, which brought down two of the world's most famous buildings. "Famous", yes, but not particularly architecturally significant. Terror also refers to the natural kind; Hurricane Katrina which wrecked much (but not all) of New Orleans and areas along the Gulf Coast. But, terror could also refer to an economic downturn that occurred in the years from 2007 to 2012. Kamin gives plenty of examples of projects started and then let go when financing has fallen through on a project. One of the main examples of this was the Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava's, "Chicago Spire", he was commissioned to build for an Irish developer. The Spire was going to be the tallest building in North America, before funding fell through in the late 2000's and the project was "dropped". All that is left of the Spire is the base - a dug-out hole - in prime Chicago real-estate. Another ultra-tall project that has made it completion is the Trump Tower/Chicago, which occupies the space of the old Chicago Sun-Times building along the Chicago River. Kamin goes into detail on the deals that have made such buildings possible; combinations of architects/structural engineers and developers. Some happen, some don't and largely a lagging economy is to blame for the ones that don't make it.

Kamin also looks at the wide-ranging museum and library expansions that were so prevalent in the early to mid 2000's. Most were predicated on the success of Gehry's Bibao Guggenheim building. (I asked in another review of a book on architecture if people went to see the building or what was inside. I still can't decide...) Kamin describes the additions and how they were influenced by both the existing buildings AND by architectural trends. I haven't been to see the new addition to the Chicago Art Museum, but, frankly, it looks rather complicated to me in Kamin's description. And after writing about these often grand expansions, Kamin follows up by pointing out the eventual financial liabilities to the museums in the ensuing recession.

These are just a few of the topics Blair Kamin covers in his rather idiosyncratic book on today's architecture. It's a delightful, interesting read, particularly to this Chicago Girl!


The Von Bülow Affair: The Objective Behind-the-Scenes Account of the Shocking Attempted Murder Case
The Von Bülow Affair: The Objective Behind-the-Scenes Account of the Shocking Attempted Murder Case
Price: CDN$ 9.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Good book on first von Bulow trial..., June 25 2016
"The Von Bulow Affair: The Objective Behind the Scenes Account of the Shocking Attempted Murder Case", by William Wright, was originally published right after the first Von Bulow trial in 1983. In that trial, Claus von Bulow was found guilty, but a subsequent appeal trial reversed the decision, and von Bulow went free. Wright's book ends with the first verdict and the book gives no follow-up to the case and the participants. Most readers are familiar with Alan Dershowitz's book, "Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bulow Case", which is the story of the second trial.

William Wright's well-written account of both the case and the trial is interesting because it was written at the time. Wright covered the trial and interviewed most of the participants, including a private interview with Claus von Bulow. Wright's courtroom attendance made him privy with the goings-on with the lawyers and the police, as well as the individuals - von Bulow and his family - who were all part of the story.

Did Claus von Bulow attempt - twice - to murder his wife, Martha "Sunny" von Bulow by injecting her with insulin? The jury in the first trial found him guilty, as explained by William Wright. In one of the most important points Wright discusses, he writes about the almost-vilification of the victim, both in this case and in another of the time, Bonnie Garland. Sunny von Bulow was a depressive alcoholic recluse who had pushed her husband out of her bed years before, as told by Claus von Bulow, to anyone who'd listen. According to others - her children, friends, and the help - she drank very little and certainly didn't take drugs. Von Bulow was trying to claim that Sunny had injected herself with the insulin in order to lose weight. What was the truth? I'm not sure we'll ever really know, though I've always assumed that Claus was guilty as hell. Wright's writing is so even handed that I'm not sure after reading the book what he thought about von Bulow's guilt..

In any case, this book is a good view of the trial as written contemporaneously.


Betty: The Story of Betty MacDonald, Author of The Egg and I
Betty: The Story of Betty MacDonald, Author of The Egg and I
by Anne Wellman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.30
7 used & new from CDN$ 7.91

4.0 out of 5 stars Good biography, June 24 2016
Betty MacDonald was the author of four adult books - including "The Egg and I" - and five children's books. Her "Mrs Piggle-Wiggle" series books has been read and enjoyed by generations of children (and adults) since they were published in the 1950's. But who was Betty MacDonald and how autobiographical were her four adult books? In her biography, "Betty: the Story of Betty MacDonald", author Anne Wellman takes a look at the real woman, both through her work and archival sources.

We "Betty" fans have wondered for years how closely the "literary" Betty matched the "reality" Betty. Pretty well, according to Wellman. Born into a rather intriguing family - a combination of western father and eastern society mother - the Betty Bard grew up in a home secure with love, if not always by money. Her father died relatively young and her mother raised the five children to get along in society and enjoy what it offered. Betty married a would-be chicken farmer at a young age and settled down on an Olympic Peninsula chicken farm. Two children later, she left Bob Heskett and returned to Seattle and life in the bosom of her loving family. Wellman doesn't seem to sugar-coat the facts of Betty's life. Heskett, a WW1 veteran, probably had PTSD and life with him was often difficult.

Anne Wellman also supplements the "literary facts" when they're not always correct. The biography is a shortish, but well-written biography - with some pictures - which is almost required reading for fans of Betty MacDonald. The plus is that Wellman also writes about MacDonald's family.


A House Full of Daughters: A Memoir of Seven Generations
A House Full of Daughters: A Memoir of Seven Generations
Offered by Macmillan CA
Price: CDN$ 13.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A look at a family..., June 23 2016
As an avid reader of memoirs, I've come to think they're written by people in an attempt to understand either themselves or others in their lives. Or, in the case of social historian Juliet Nicolson, she's trying to understand how five previous generations of Nicolson women (and men) have influenced her and the next two generations past her own. Nicolson's book, "A House Full of Daughters: A Memoir of Seven Generations" is part memoir and part historical biography.

Juliet Nicolson - now in her early 60's - comes from a very interesting family tree. On her father's side, she's descended from Vita Sackville-West, whose mother, Victoria Sackville-West, was the child of a liaison between a proper British diplomat and a Spanish dancer, Pepita, renowned for her long, long hair and her 'interpretive" dancing. Pepita was famed in the courts of Europe and Lionel Sackville-West and she collaborated on five children, all born out of wedlock. We're talking about Victorian England, where, somehow, the details of Sackville-West and his mistress were kept undercover. Pepita died in childbirth and the children were taken in by the Sackville-West family and educated. Their illegitimacy was swept away by their acceptance in British society and Victoria Sackville-West helped her father's diplomatic career in Washington. She was a known beauty - probably with as much charm as her mother - and married her cousin - also named Lionel Sackville-West. With that marriage, she inherited the magnificent house, Knole, in Kent. Unfortunately, it went to another branch of the family when Victoria only had one child, a girl, called "Vita".

Juliet Nicolson is the granddaughter of author Vita Sackville-West on her father's side. In the seven generations covered, Vita is the only woman who did not have daughters. Her sons, Ben and Nigel, were prominent in WW2 and post-war society. Nigel married Phillipa Tennyson-d'Eyncourt, and produced Juliet and two other children. Their marriage was not successful and ended in divorce. Juliet married twice and has two daughters and a granddaughter. And it is with this granddaughter, Imogen, that Juliet Nicolson ends her book.

But what of the seven generations of Nicolson family women, beginning in Malaga, Spain and ending in London? There was alcoholism in several generations, open-marriages and sexual dalliances with other women, and trouble fitting in to society's expectations at the times each lived. Juliet Nicolson is a splendid writer and she looks at each generation with an historian's eye and a psychiatrist's interpretation. "A House Full of Daughters" is a marvelous read. (As are her previous three books!)


In the Darkroom
In the Darkroom
Offered by Macmillan CA
Price: CDN$ 17.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a beautifully written book, June 15 2016
This review is from: In the Darkroom (Kindle Edition)
Author and feminist Susan Faludi has written a memoir, "In the Darkroom", about her father. This is not a simple, loving memoir about a beloved father, but rather about a father who seemingly was at war with the world, including the world of his family. Faludi's father, born in Budapest in 1927 as Istvan Friedman, and died in Budapest in 2015, reinvented as Stephanie Faludi. It was the life between the birth and death that Susan Faludi writes about.

Istvan Friedman seemed to be a man who lived a life with few "constants". Born of Jewish parents in inter-war Hungary, he was not close to his parents, though he rescued them in 1944 in Budapest when they had been taken by the Arrow Cross. After living through WW2, he touched down in Copenhagen and Brazil before settling in New York City, where he changed his name to Steven Faludi, married and raised a family in 50's, 60's, before being divorced in the mid-1970's. Susan's home life while growing up with him in the house was volatile, to say the least. Father and daughter split for many years after Susan became an adult and Steven moved back to Budapest. In 2004, she received an email saying that "Steven Faludi" was now "Stephanie Faludi" - her father had had a sex-change operation in Phuket, Thailand. In the years between 2004 and Stephanie's death, Susan and her father try to understand each other. She spends time with him in Budapest, where the two wander the city as Susan attempts to recreate her father's life in understandable fashion.

From my reading of the memoir, Stephanie Faludi seemed to be a person in a lifelong search of his identity. Was he Jewish? He married a Jewish woman in a temple, but raised his two children without much Jewish knowledge; instead celebrating with a passion the major Christian holidays. Was he a man or a woman? Was he a Hungarian, despite the persecution Jews in Hungary had long endured? Even the title of the book, "In the Darkroom", which alludes to Steven Faludi's career in photography and to the Photoshop-like changes he was able to make to pictures, also seems to refer to the permutations he makes to his life.

Susan Faludi's book is about many things. Assimilation, the trans-gender movement, father-daughter relationships, even the history of Hungary. But most of all it is a story of a daughter trying to understand a father, who is trying to understand himself. It's a beautifully written book.


Constellation
Constellation
by Adrien Bosc
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.72
25 used & new from CDN$ 9.14

3.0 out of 5 stars 48 "souls"..., June 10 2016
This review is from: Constellation (Paperback)
Travelers on planes and ships are called "passengers". However, if a plane crashes or a ship sinks, those passengers are referred to as "souls". I don't know if there's a religious reason behind the term, but "souls" are those poor passengers who didn't land at the next airport or dock at the next port. French author Adrien Bosc has written a book, "Constellation", about the 48 "souls" lost when an Air France Constellation plane crashed into a mountain while landing at Santa Maria Airport, in the Azores, in 1949.

Why write about a plane crash? Of the 48 aboard, 11 were crew and 37 were passengers. And among the passengers were several famous people - boxer Marcel Cerdan, violinist Ginette Neveu, Kay Kamen - as well as 5 Basque shepherds going to a new life in the United States. A mother/daughter, a newly divorced woman, several businessmen...this was a random group of people who were on the Paris/Orly to New York/Idlewild flight that night.

Is author Bosc trying to make sense of the crash, which was determined to be caused by navigation problems? What can anyone say about these poor people? Bosc gives it a "go", but somehow the "souls" don't seem to come alive in his prose. Maybe that's a problem with the translation. Both the dead, and those they left behind to mourn them, are memorialised in Bosc's book by name and deed but I just wish there was more "life" in the descriptions.


The Kaminsky Cure
The Kaminsky Cure
by Christopher New
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 21.76
24 used & new from CDN$ 6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A marvelous novel..., June 7 2016
This review is from: The Kaminsky Cure (Paperback)
British author Christopher New's novel, "The Kaminsky Cure" is one of the best novels I've read so far this year. Originally published in 2005, but reissued in ebook form in 2015, it is the amazingly beautiful story of a family who survive WW2 in a small town in Austria. The family consists of a father who is a Lutheran minister, a mother is a Jewish-born woman who converted to Lutheranism before she met and married her husband, and four half-Jewish children/half-Aryan children. Life for the family is difficult; war-times are hard, added to the subtle and not-so-subtle Nazi rules against Gabi, the mother and her half-Jewish children. She's "protected" because she's married to an Aryan, but that "protection" comes with its own challenges.

Gabrielle Sara Brinkmann - referred to as "Gabi" by one and all - is the character around whom the others circle. A tireless advocate for her children and their education - she gets along much less well with her husband, Willibald, who is pretty sorry he married her. Other than their four children, they have less and less in common as the years of their marriage and the war pass. The story is told in the first person by their youngest son, beginning at about the age of 7, and continuing to his early teens. Christopher New's ability to tell the story from a child's viewpoint is one of the most impressive parts of the book.

New's characters - both in the Brinkmann family and outside of it - are some of the best-drawn characters I've read. There's not a caricature among them; they almost come off the page and talk to you.His writing about life in the war years is both fierce and poignant. The reader ends the book wondering "what happens next". "The Kaminsky Cure" is one of those books that I wish I could write a review saying, "Just read the damn thing. It's that good". It's definitely worth a look.


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