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Jill Meyer (United States)

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Winter Journey
Winter Journey
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers CA
Price: CDN$ 1.76

4.0 out of 5 stars Who killed the Jews of Nowy Kalwaria?, Nov. 10 2015
This review is from: Winter Journey (Kindle Edition)
Diane Armstrong is an Australian author, who was born in Poland to Jewish parents in 1939. The family went into a sort of internal hiding in Poland by receiving papers that identified them as Polish Catholic. After the war, the family emigrated to Australia and reclaimed their Jewish identity. Diane became an author who has published a few non-fiction, including "Mosaic", which followed her family through five generation. With "Winter Journey", Diane Armstrong moves into writing fiction.

"Winter Journey" is set both in Australia and Poland and seems to be set sometime in the late 1990's/early 2000s. Halina Shore is a forensic dentist in Sydney who had emigrated to Australia from Poland after WW2 with her single mother. While her professional life proceeds fairly smoothly, her personal life has never been settled. Married briefly, she lives alone in a trendy Sydney suburb with her cat, when she's asked to join a team of medical archeologists and religious figures who are coming together in the small Polish town of Nowy Kalwaria to investigate a WW2-time crime. The crime? Someone - the Nazi occupiers or the town's Christian population - brutally rounded up some 1000 Jewish villagers and put them in a barn and then lit the barn on fire. No one - supposedly - had left the barn alive. As the years passed, the townspeople blamed the atrocity on the Germans. Jewish authorities blamed the town's Christian population, who had turned against their Jewish neighbors in a fit of madness. "Nowy Kalwaria" - a fictional place - is modeled after similar horrific real horrific crimes perpetrated in Poland during (and after) the war.

Diane Armstrong's novel is both a telling of a deed - the fiery deaths of hundreds of men, women, and children - and the emotional toll it took on both the perpetrators and their descendants and on survivors from the village, who were lucky to escape the murders. Halina Shore and the crew helps investigate the bodies uncovered from the mass burial and tries to pinpoint who was murdered. Some Poles insist the victims were Jewish "Bolshevics" - men who had cooperated with the Soviets during their occupation of the county, before the Germans arrive. Almost everyone else insists the victims were the villagers.

Diane Armstrong does a good job in relating her story and the characters, both current and past, both alive and dead. Halina Shore uncovers secrets among the town's people, as well as some in her own life. Armstrong's story - so much in the news the past 20 years as more and more Jewish communities are identified as having been leveled by their own Christian neighbors. It's a good novel and may interest the reader in many non-fiction accounts of war-time activities.

The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family's Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis
The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family's Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis
by Simon Goodman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.88
30 used & new from CDN$ 22.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Searching for a lost legacy..., Nov. 6 2015
I realise I'm a bit late reading and reviewing Simon Goodman's book, "The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family's Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis". There's not much I can add to the other favorable reviews.

Seventy or so years ago, Simon's grandparents - both converted Jews to Lutheranism - had their privately-art treasures stolen "legally" from their house in the Netherlands by the Nazis. Fritz and Louise Gutmann - their son changed the name to Goodman - had been collecting art for years and building on the collection inherited from Fritz's father, Eugen. Eugen Gutmann had founded a bank in Dresden that later merged with others to form the Dresdner Bank. The huge bank was "Aryanised" during the Nazi era, but by then Eugen had died. His son Fritz was the family keeper and continued his father's art collecting. Their collection was fairly varied - everything from Rembrandt to a Franz Stuck portrait of a women and a snake in a VERY compromising position! Fritz and Louise had fled from Germany to Holland with their paintings, sculptures, and silver collection. That silver collection - the Eugen Gutmann Silversammlung - and their refusal to give it up after having lost so much else to the Nazis - was the cause of Fritz and Louise's deaths in Nazi concentration camps.

Their son - Bernard - had been able to emigrate to England before the war began. He had been born in England during his parents' stay during the First World war. His sister - Lili - had found relative safety in Italy through her marriages to Italian men. After the war, Bernard began the agonising search for his parents' stolen art pieces. But he was thwarted in his search through governmental stonewalling and for the next 50 years - until his death in the mid-1990's - he found very few pieces. After his death, he "bequeathed" the search to his two sons, Simon and Nick.
They took up where he left off and the book is the story of their search for the pieces of art that had been scattered through the world, both during and after the war. Pieces were bought and sold and in most cases, the buyers didn't look too hard at the provenance of the pieces.

Eventually, through great use of the internet data bases, Simon and Nick were able to track down many pieces of the Gutmann collection. The book also details their use of the law in getting these pieces returned to their rightful owners. (Simon and Nick Goodman were not the only people searching for their family's treasures. He mentions the Maria Altmann/Randol Schoenberg fight for the Gustav Klimpt paintings of Maria's aunt, as detailed in the movie, "Woman in Gold")

Simon Goodman is a very good writer and his account of both his family's history and the fight to regain their lost legacy is wonderful reading. Included in the book are some family pictures, but also pictures of some of the pieces he and his brother fought to save. He credits others in helping them in their search and battles. Very good book.

Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War
Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War
by Michael D. Gordin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 31.95
32 used & new from CDN$ 18.86

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb look at the development and use of the atomic bomb..., Nov. 3 2015
I doubt there are many topics more debated in American - and world - history than the decision to drop the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end WW2. In his book, "Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War", author Michael Gordin gives a masterful account of this chapter in our history. I live in Santa Fe and Los Alamos is right up the hill. There's a lot of interest out here on the Bomb and the mechanics of building it and the politics of dropping it. Goldin's book is low key, very well written, which focuses on Tinian Island, as well as the idea that the bomb was initially just one component in an arsinal, to end the war before the proposed Nov 1 invasion of the Home Islands.

Gordin fully explores the notion of the development and dropping of the bombs as yet another weapon in our arsenal to force the Japanese into an "unconditional surrender." The US had done intensive firebombing of the cities of Japan, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. And even after the bombs were dropped, the firebombings continued. (Truman had decreed no more atomic bombs dropped on August 10, 1945, but the fire bombs continued.) The Japanese government finally surrendered on August 15. The Americans knew no more bombs would be dropped but the Japanese did not. And the truth is that there was a "Third Shot" - another "Fat Man" - being put together in case more bombs were needed.

In discussing the "Third Shot", Michael Gordin takes the reader to Tinian Island, a huge air base for B29s in the Mariana Islands. The island had been seized by the Americans from the Japanese, and the location was perfect in launching B-29 Superfortress bombers to sites in Japan. The island was designated by the American military to house the 509th Composite Group; pilots being trained in bombing runs to Japan to drop the developing Atomic bombs. Both crews - the "Enola Gay" and the "Bockscar" - left and returned to Tinian. Gordin gives an interesting account of how the "Bockscar" mission to drop the second bomb was very badly handled. Nagasaki was the second choice that day; Kokura was the first and after flying over the city a few times in bad weather, the target city was moved to Nagasaki. But beside being the takeoff site for the bombings, Tinian Island was also where the bombs were put together in their final form.

Another interesting point in Michael Gordin's book is the idea of the atomic bombs not being considered the "ultimate weapon" until after they were used. In the US military, the bombs were seen as another destructive tool. The scientists who developed the bombs were actually quite surprised at the amount of radiation and its harmfulness.

Michael Gordin's book is a true treat for the WW2 history buff. He touches on sensational issues in a non-sensational manner. Strongly recommended.

Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President
Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President
by Betty Boyd Caroli
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 35.02
27 used & new from CDN$ 18.85

5.0 out of 5 stars "Go get 'Bird'"..., Nov. 1 2015
Betty Boyd Caroli's biography of Lady Bird Johnson, "Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President", is a well-written look at one of the most famous and yet, curious, political marriages in US history. Claudia Alta Taylor - known throughout her life as "Lady Bird" - was a calm, smart southern lady who hitched herself to a rising political star when she married Lyndon Baines Johnson. She literally devoted her life to the care and feeding of Johnson - who called her "Bird"; often times to the detriment of raising two daughters. Like many couples devoted to each other, the daughters knew who came first in their parents' lives and affections.

Reading Caroli's book and noting the emotional ups-and-downs that seemed to afflict Lyndon Johnson his whole life, it's not difficult to speculate on his deep need for a wife to keep him in balance, particularly in the eyes of the world. And "Bird" did just that for her husband. She followed behind him, cleaning up his messes, and in some cases taking the blame for problems. Was Lady Bird Johnson an enabler for her husband? Sure seemed like it, but then so are many women married to "difficult" men. "Bird" acknowledged her husband's attractions to other women, seemingly unconcerned about the affairs he conducted, some quite openly. But she was always sure he needed her and would stay with her. (But there were a couple of "other" women...)

Betty Caroli's book touches on all the parts of Lady Bird's life, from her childhood loss of her mother and her idealisation of her father, a larger-than-life figure. He was replaced by Lyndon - maybe that was a bit of LBJ's initial attraction to Lady Bird - and continues through her education at UT, marriage to Johnson, the raising of their two daughters, and her financial management. But it is in noting Lady Bird's political life - both "behind" Lyndon as he built his political career, and then as First Lady - that Caroli's biography shines. Her book is an excellent look at a political life and a political marriage and all the tact and smarts it takes to succeed at both.

Trouble on the Thames: A British Library Spy Classic (British Library Spy Classics Book 1)
Trouble on the Thames: A British Library Spy Classic (British Library Spy Classics Book 1)
Price: CDN$ 9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A fun read..., Oct. 22 2015
"Trouble on the Thames", by Victor Bridges, is a reissued novel in the British Library Spy Classics series. But the question is, is "Trouble" a "classic"? It is a mystery story set in pre-WW2 times about a career naval officer, Owen Bradwell, who is about to lose his career because he is suddenly stuck down with color blindness. His worth, however, is recognised and he's offered a job with a somewhat sketchy British intelligence department. He's to become a security agent and try to track what a suspected Nazi spy ring is up to in London and out in a suburban area along the Thames.

Victor Bridges has written a spy mystery, with a heavy touch of almost immature romance as Owen Bradwell finds love along with the spy ring. I've read quite a few of British Library Spy Classics in the past few months, and they all seem to have as much "personal" as well as "professional" storylines. I find the combination of romance and action a bit incongruous.

Of course, what is most pleasing about these books is that they were written contemporaneously. We see the people and the times as they were then. In reading these books - and in particular, this one - we know what will happen next, because what happens next is history. Anyway, "Trouble on the Thames" is an enjoyable read despite - or maybe because of - the silly romance.

Painting Death: A Novel
Painting Death: A Novel
by Tim Parks
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.56
25 used & new from CDN$ 11.86

5.0 out of 5 stars Dying for art?, Oct. 17 2015
British ex-pat Morris Duckworth is a man with a troubling past. He has moved from London to Verona. Italy as a young man and has murdered and married his way to a certain success. He's a wealthy industrialist with a rich wife, two kids, a mistress, and a deep love for art. He also has a group of ghosts - seven, I think - who are the murder victims he has dispatched on his way to prosperity. And even though he has murdered them, they are quite fond of him. In the years following their deaths, they have advised him and, in some ways, comforted him. Morris can rationalise each one's murder and they are a merry group - Morris and his departed.

British author Tim Parks introduced Morris Duckworth back in the early 1990's in "Cara Massimina", as a young man-on-the-make in 1980's Verona. Morris, a young man with an undistinguished past in Britain and a seemingly equally undistinguished future in Italy. But circumstances - and luck and the incompetence of the Italian police and judicial systems - turned Morris's life into a success. And as he settles into the last part of his life, he decides he wants to both give back to his adopted city and honor his own peculiarities by putting together an art exhibit about death.Sounds like sort of a bad topic for an exhibition, but Tim Parks, in his new novel, "Painting Death", brings Morris's life full circle.

There are many venal characters in "Painting Death", in particular the Catholic clergy, the local politicians, and the principals in the Veronese art world. The greediness and hypocrisy shown by these characters rival anything in Morris's own murderous past. Morris just wants to give the world a picture of murder - as depicted in great art, from all eras - and then...what, retire? Go live with his mistress? Give up his wealth? Who knows...and readers can supply their own interpretations to Morris Duckworth's motives and actions.

Morris Duckworth - as drawn by Tim Parks - is smart, greedy, not used to suffering fools gladly, and, for the most part, lovable. Even his victims love him. They might get exasperated with him, but love him they do. Maybe they think their murders were necessary - who knows. After three books in the Duckworth series, Tim Parks "knows" his characters. He joins them together - the dead and the undead - to give the reader an enjoyable look at a man, a family, a city, and a bunch of paintings, in a modern-day morality play. (You don't have to read the previous books in the series to "get" "Painting Death". I read the first one - "Cara Massimina" - but haven't read the second one yet. But if you start with "Painting Death", please note there are two characters called "Massamina" {or "Mimi"}. One is a ghost of Morris's first love and the other is Morris's daughter. It's a bit confusing...)

The Last of the President's Men
The Last of the President's Men
by Bob Woodward
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 30.00
30 used & new from CDN$ 22.33

5.0 out of 5 stars Preserved for posterity..., Oct. 13 2015
Richard Nixon was thinking towards posterity when he ordered taping machines to be added to the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room and telephones in both rooms. Later, machines were added to other places Nixon used for meetings. The machines were voice-activated and Nixon did not have to decide who or what to record. Everything was recorded - not always so clearly - and most on Nixon's staff were unaware that the machines were there. One of the few who did was Alexander Butterfield, hired on as an assistant to Nixon's close assistant, Bob Haldeman. Butterfield had been in charge of having the system installed.The system remained secret and were only disclosed during the Watergate hearings.

Alexander Butterfield, at age 89, is one of the few Nixon confidants still alive and he worked with author Bob Woodward on Woodward's newest book, "The Last of the President's Men". Using interviews between the two men and an unpublished manuscript of Butterfield's, Woodward gives a fairly straight-forward account of Butterfield's time in the Nixon White House and the devastating consequences when the existence of the tapes were disclosed in the Watergate hearings in July, 1973. For the next year - the tapes and what was on them - was one of the main sources of conversation and speculation from Washington out to the rest of America.

Richard Nixon wasn't the first president to have a taping system in his White House, but the others devices seemed to be the type where the president had to decide to record. Nixon's tapes recorded everything - theoretically, anyway. Nixon wanted to preserve his administration in the history books he was planning to write, and having correct tapes of conversations was necessary. The president seemed to forget about the existence of the recordings, which were full of both "official" discussions, but quite a few "off the record" ones, as well. It was the latter that got Nixon - and his staff - into trouble. Butterfield gives details on the Watergate Hearings, where he was "ground zero" on the tapes. Later, he wondered why he had disclosed the existence of the tapes. But I suppose even if he hadn't, these ultra-secret tapes would somehow have come to light.

Alexander Butterfield's book is both a history of the taping system which ended in the Watergate Hearings, but also gives a pretty good look at Richard Nixon the man. Nixon was capable of petty tyranny...and words of compassion. He was both physically and emotionally awkward. There have been many good biographies of Richard Nixon which sketch his character in much fuller detail than the Butterfield/Woodward book. This book looks at a pretty important - though small in time - portion of Nixon's life. Butterfield is also candid about the others he worked with in the White House, and looks at Nixon's views of those who both surrounded him at work, but also in the wider world. His "Enemies List" was not even a secret at the time. Butterfield's time in the White House covered a very important time in US history and the authors are not shy in giving the ins and out of both foreign and domestic policies. The chapters on the Vietnam war are particularly insightful; "everyone lies" seemed to be an SOP in Nixon's White House.

Curiously, the Butterfield/Woodward book is not particularly long. The text in the e-book is about 160 pages long and the rest is devoted to Documents, Index, and Acknowledgements. "The Last of the President's Men" is a good read for those interested in Watergate and the times. Richard Nixon IS preserved for posterity...

Cara Massimina
Cara Massimina
Price: CDN$ 9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oh, the vagaries..., Oct. 10 2015
This review is from: Cara Massimina (Kindle Edition)
British author Tim Park's early novel, "Juggling the Stars", has been reissued as "Cara Massimina: Duckworth and the Italian Girls". It is one of three or four novel the ex-pat has written about Morris Duckworth, a Brit who moves to Verona, Italy and finds a novel way to advance his fortunes.

Morris Duckworth is the kind of character you'd find in many novels which are constructed around "poor-boy-on-the-make". Morris has come to Verona - this novel takes place in the 1980's - and finds a place at a language school, teaching English to the children of wealthy Veronese. He, being brighter and more hard working than those he's teaching, is envious of the easy way these young people live their lives. As the son of a widowed father who is abusive to his only child, Morris is a handsome young man with an outwardly confident nature that is at odds with the real Morris. He falls in like with one of his dimmer students - Massimina Trevisan - the youngest daughter of a widow-of-means. But if Morris falls in like with Massimina, she falls into love with him. There's a difference between the two emotions, of course, and Morris keeps his head while he's leading Mimi through a faux kidnapping.

Pavel & I: A Novel
Pavel & I: A Novel
Price: CDN$ 9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A dark and moody book..., Oct. 6 2015
Berlin in December, 1946 was struggling through its second post-war winter. Conditions were barely livable in the city; 7 years of war had left the inhabitants living in rubble. Feral children lived in colonies; their parents lost to war and disease. The city was occupied by the four Allied forces and the city was divided into four parts.

British author Dan Vyleta brings this strange and horrifying world to life in his novel, "Pavel and I". To the reader, the identity of "I" comes relatively late in the novel; Pavel, however, is, maybe, a former American GI, living in a frigid apartment with lots and lots of books. Pavel begins the novel suffering from a kidney infection and in grave need of medicine. His occasional apartment mate is a young orphan boy, Anders, who also lives with a group of feral boys. His allegiance - such as it is - is with Pavel, whose ways he just doesn't always understand. Also in the story is their upstairs neighbor, Sonia, who is the mistress of a repulsive British officer. The British officer and a Soviet officer are on the hunt for a midget who was a Nazi and who was found dead. The body was hauled away by a friend of Pavel and hidden at Pavel's apartment. The friend also turns up dead. Who killed who...and what is everyone looking for? And why are the bodies piling up.

Now, dead Nazi midgets, prostitutes, decadent Allied officers, random acts of cruelty, all set in the frozen weather of winter 1946-7, may not sound like your cup of tea. But, Vyleta, the author of "The Quiet Twin" and "The Crooked Maid" (both set in post-war Vienna), delivers a moody and fascinating tale about what comes "next", after the war where millions have died already and another body here or there just doesn't matter in the greater scheme of things. "Pavel and I" is a superb, moody book, not for every reader. So read all the reviews carefully before you buy this book. And, if you like it, check into his other two books.

Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry
Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry
by Paul Goldberger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.21
46 used & new from CDN$ 28.21

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful biography of a creative genius..., Sept. 27 2015
I want to start my review by saying that I'm not particularly a fan of Frank Gehry's work, but I certainly find him amazing for his influence on modern architecture and his years of contributions to society. I was anxious to read critic Paul Goldberger's biography of Gehry, "Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry". The book, which was written with the cooperation of Gehry and his friends and family and clients, is very even handed. It's clear that Goldberger admires Frank Gehry, but his fondness for his subject doesn't blind him to Gehry's lesser points.

Frank Gehry, by now in his mid-80's, is still hard at work. A man who is uncompromising in his architectural principles, he is known for his buildings all over the world. As an architect, the Canadian-born Gehry - he changed his last name from "Goldberg" to "Gehry" - began his practice in Los Angeles in the early 1950's. He was sought out to design commercial buildings and public buildings, but he gained worldwide fame with his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain in the 1990's. Suddenly everyone wanted a Frank Gehry-building, but his type of architecture must go through many levels of approval by both financial and artist groups, and many a design never left the drawing boards in Gehry's Los Angeles office. But he has built grand buildings from Berlin to Paris to Los Angeles to parts of Asia.

Paul Goldberger gives as complete a picture of Frank Gehry on a personal level as he does on a professional one. Twice married and the father of four children, Goldberger makes no secret of Gehry's failings as a parent, particularly of the two daughters from his first marriage. Of course, Gehry was building his career, which is often the case.

All in all, Paul Goldberger's biography of Frank Gehry is outstanding. Whether you like Gehry's work or not. The only complaint I have about the book, which I read in e-book form, was that it had a lot of typos. I also wish there were more photographs, but by reading it on my iPad, I was able to switch over to Wikipedia when I wanted to see a building whose picture was not included in the book.

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