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Jill Meyer (United States)

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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$ 12.48
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

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.

by Adrien Bosc
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.73
24 used & new from CDN$ 8.62

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
19 used & new from CDN$ 9.53

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.

My Kitchen Wars: A Memoir
My Kitchen Wars: A Memoir
Price: CDN$ 9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting memoir..., June 5 2016
Food writer Betty Fussell's memoir, "My Kitchen Wars", was originally in 1999. I was just offered it as a Kindle ebook for $2.99 and decided to take chance on it. I found it interesting and more reflective than many memoirs are. Memoirs are a strange breed of book; the author can basically write anything they want about themselves. Unlike a biography, in general, memoirs are not "fact-checked". The "facts" being presented by the memoir-writer are as "correct", as "remembered".

Betty Fussell was the first wife of historian and essayist, Paul Fussell. They met after WW2 when both were students at Pomona College in California. Paul was a returning GI, from a prominent Pasadena family, while Betty was from a middle-class background. Her mother had died under suspicious circumstances when Betty was a toddler. Betty and Paul married young and together climbed thel academic ladder as Paul both taught and wrote at Rutgers and Princeton. Paul was the famous one; Betty was the help-meet, who raised the kids and made life outside the classroom "easier" for him. She also cooked. She cooked using Julia Child's methods and entertained the Fussell's friends in their Princeton home. Betty became famous in her own right as an author of cookbooks and travel books. Their marriage ended, Betty began her life anew, and she eventually wrote this memoir.

Betty Fussell's memoir is that of a woman who is trapped in the mores of the times in which she lives. Brought up strictly by a religious father, step-mother, and grandparents, she attends college during the WW2 years, with the attendant, "can't go too far" sexual rules. The 1950's and 60's, with the post-war casting off of many of those rules, find middle-class life much more fun with married adults now experiencing a whole lot of hanky-panky. "Key" parties and sneaking off to the bushes are in style and Betty Fussell finds herself tempted by other men. She does Paul.

How "honest" is Betty Fussell in her memoir? She's fairly open with the facts - not always flattering about either her or her husband - but the writing is not mean-spirited. She writes about her first 72 or so years of life and I'm willing to bet that her life was not much different than other women who lead lives in a secondary position to their husbands. "Secondary"...until they burst out their bubble.

The Last Days of Stalin
The Last Days of Stalin
by Joshua Rubenstein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 37.13
26 used & new from CDN$ 29.76

5.0 out of 5 stars Well-written history..., June 1 2016
On May 1, 1953, an aide entered Joseph Stalin's bedroom in his dacha outside Moscow, and found Stalin, lying unconscious on the floor by his bed. He had suffered some sort of stroke or aneurysm. He died four days later, at the age of 74. He had ruled the Soviet Union since the death of Lenin, in 1924. Stalin's death set of months - and years - of uncertainty, both in the Soviet Union and other world nations. In his book, "The Last Days of Stalin", Joshua Rubinstein looks at the last few years of Stalin's life and the years afterward, as the Soviet Union came to grips with the remnants of his rule.

There has been a trend lately - welcome as far as I'm concerned - of authors taking short periods within a larger historical period and writing a book specifically about one event. That is what Joshua Rubinstein has done with his account of Stalin's last years, and it makes for fascinating reading. Joseph Stalin had been a tyrant - probably almost as bad as Adolf Hitler was - but most of his vitriol had been aimed at home. Millions of people were murdered in purges and resettlement programs and Stalin was rightly feared by his people. He threw hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers' lives away in badly planned battles against Hitler in 1941, but was also cruel to those who served him in office. His "Officers Purge" in the late 1930's left him almost bereft of good military leadership in the coming war. But in the last year or so of his life, he was embroiled in the "Doctors' Plot", where he arrested his team of doctors - most of whom were Jewish - accusing them of trying to poison him and other officials. Rubinstein covers the "Doctors' Plot" and it's repercussions in great detail. He also hones in on the various men who were in leadership positions under Stalin. Who would win out and assume Stalin's position?

Joshua Rubinstein also looks at the effect Stalin's death and succession had on the rest of the world, particularly in the Soviet-dominated countries in eastern Europe. China, as an ally, was a special case, too, as were Stalin's former WW2 allies, the UK and the US. In fact, there were very few countries that the death of Joseph Stalin was not an important issue. Rubinstein's book is a well-written, interesting book about a very important part of 20th century history.

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

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit disjointed..., May 26 2016
British International rights lawyer Phillipe Sands's new book, "East West Street: On the Origins of 'Genocide' and 'Crimes Against Humanity'", is a disjointed look at what I can only say are several interesting subjects, put together in one book. Sands - the maker of an excellent documentary - "What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy" - combines a look at his own family's flight from Vienna to Paris, the lives of the two men who coined the terms, "Genocide" and "Crimes Against Humanity", the life of Hans Frank (the "Butcher of Poland"), as well as the Nuremberg Trials. This is a lot to cover in one book, and the basis of it all is the town of Lemberg/Lviv/Lwow in today's Poland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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