The Munich Girl

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This is another book about World War 2 and the legacies that outlast any war. This is the story of a Munich Girl who in fact, was Eva Braun Hitler’s mistress and the friendship between two women that began as young girls and survived through all the barbarity and ugliness of war.
We are introduced to the story by Anna a young married woman who lives in New Hampshire with a self-indulgent husband for whom she puts everything aside. After her mother’s death, she finds a hidden treasure of mementoes of the war and begins to find out more about her mother and her secret, elusive friend. After surviving a horrific accident in a burning plane, during which her (unfaithful) husband dies, Anna decides to find out more about her mother’s life during those years in wartime Germany. It’s a book to make you think and although it’s fiction, it led me to find out more about the elusive Eva Braun and her place in Hitler’s life. I thoroughly recommend this book.
Note – I was given a copy of this book by the author to read and in exchange, I choose to post this review.

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The Deepest Grave

I have just seen it is a month since I wrote a review.  During that month I have read many books but have been dilatory in reviewing them.  Apologies.

So today I will start with an author and his protagonist both new to me.

The Deepest Grave

The Deepest Grave is the 6th book in the series but not having read the earlier books didn’t faze me or stop me from enjoying the book.

We are introduced to DC Fiona Griffiths, a young detective based in Wales who had suffered from and still might suffer from Cotard’s Syndrome.  I didn’t know what that was either but Wikipedia tells us “Cotard delusion is a rare mental illness in which the affected person holds the delusional belief that they are already dead, do not exist, are putrefying, or have lost their blood or internal organs.”

So we know that this young detective doesn’t have an easy life.

However, it has been months since there was a murder in Cardiff and now comes the news of a corpse that has been decapitated with an ancient sword and the murder scene has been staged like a clue in a crossword puzzle.  The victim, Gaynor Charteris,  is an archaeologist working on a dig in Dinas Powys.  That and the other names are unpronounceable to this Anglo Saxon but they all sound magical.

Charteris is apparently well respected and well liked so it was hard to understand why anyone would kill her and in this particularly gruesome way.

Fiona’s boss, Dennis Jackson is on leave and is temporarily replaced by Bleddyn Jones, a by the book inspector who really doesn’t know how to take Fiona and her activities, and in fact, doesn’t really like her.  That feeling is mutual.  We meet Fiona’s father Tom, who has a shady past but will do anything to protect his daughters.

Into the mix comes Katie the Anglo-Saxon, who has been working at the dig but who is suffering a terminal illness and in helping at the dig was hoping to get her PhD completed before the end.

These two women, Fiona, the Celtic-Britain and Katie the Anglo-Saxon form a deep friendship and work together to solve the mystery.

With them we are led on a journey as they uncover the plot to defraud,  there are some forged archaeological artefacts, and the case appears to go back all the way to King Arthur and Excaliber.

It is quite a long book and the ending is totally unexpected.  I recommend it.

I learned some new words, some things about archaeology and am off to the library to get another book in the series. Perhaps I shall start with book 1, Talking to the Dead and so will learn more about Fiona Griffiths.

The Girl From Munich

 

Munich

Having been brought up in London during the Second World War I found this book absolutely fascinating.  Here I was reading about the war from the other side.  Civilians who were living through many of the problems we faced.

We are introduced to Charlotte/Lotte a young girl from a high-class family, used to the privileges such a family bestows.  She is excitedly making plans for a sumptuous wedding to her best friend and fiancé, Heinrich. But life changes for the pair as in 1943 when the war is being lost by Germany she takes a secretarial job in an administrative supply section.  Lotte is immediately attracted to her superior who has lost his wife and children during the war.

We follow Lotte and her superior Erich, as they flee from the chaos and make their difficult way to where her mother is staying in the country with Lotte’s aunt.

Along the way, they realise that they are in love and we follow this pair as they try to make a new life for themselves in a Germany unlike anything either could have imagined.

This is the first novel from a woman in Australia who has a  German mother and an Italian father; she has a rich heritage on which to draw.

It is a good read and certainly one I shall recommend to my friends and followers.

Note – I was given this book to read on NetGalley and choose to write a review.

I Dreamed of Africa

I discovered Kuki Gallman when browsing in the airport bookstore for something to read on the long flight to London.  This was way back in 1996.

Kuki Gallman is an Italian writer and poet. Born in Treviso, Veneto, she moved to Kenya in 1972 with her second husband and son (from her first marriage) and is now a Kenyan citizen.

I dreamed of africa

The book I discovered was “I Dreamed of Africa and this book was made into a film in 2000 starring Kim Basinger. In this her first book, Kuki Gallman tells of her ongoing fascination with Africa.  She tells of being given an essay to write when she was 12 years old.  The theme was what she wanted to do and be in 20 years’ time.   The teacher dismissed her essay with the words “Why did you have to write about Africa?”  Her response (copied verbatim from the book) “But I do want to live in Africa.  I do not want to stay here all my life.  One day I shall go to Africa.  I shall send you a postcard from there, signora in twenty years’ time.

Twenty years later, I did”.

Her book tells her story of travelling to Africa with her second husband, her son, Emanuele and the two daughters he had with his late wife.  The two girls were sent home but Kuki, Paulo and Emanuele loved Africa and stayed.

The book follows their travels to find the perfect place to live and the dangers and thrills of setting up life in a totally different country, where they neither spoke the language or knew the local customs.

“Between 1972 and 1980 they acquired Ol Ari Nyiro, a 100,000 acre (400 km²) cattle ranch, on the edge of the Great Rift Valley, in Northern Kenya where they created the first ever anti-poaching squad to protect the largest population of Black Rhino in Africa and large populations of elephants, buffalo and leopards. Kuki became deeply involved with conservation.” ( Wikipedia).

Kiki had a daughter in 1980.  Paolo, her husband had been killed in an automobile accident shortly before the child was born.  He had decided to have a crib made for the new child and while bringing it home for their unborn baby was killed when a lorry crossed into his lane.  This was the first death.

Her son Emanuele was fascinated by and loved snakes.  Three years later (at only 17) he died of a snake bite while trying to extract viper venom for antiserum.

Kuki founded the Gallmann Memorial Foundation in honour of Paolo and Emanuele and has dedicated her life to saving the environment and wildlife of Kenya.  She still lives in Kenya with her daughter, Sveva Makena Gallman, who is also involved in conservation and helping African children preserve their heritage.

The second book, “A Night of Lions” I discovered a few months later.  This an illustrated collection of stories about the African land and people.  In reading this book you get the feel of her total love of the land and its people.

I strongly recommend both these books to you.  In particular, I loved “I Dreamed of Africa”.  It captured me from the outset and I hope it will capture you too.

 

Secrets Girls Keep

Secrets girls keep

I first read this book while lounging around in rehab last year.  And now another winter afternoon with time on my hands, so I reread it.  And I am glad I did.

I have read and loved all the Thaddeus Murphy books by this writer and I wondered could this new protagonist, Michael Gresham stack up.

Michael Gresham is a criminal lawyer working with his wife, Danny, his friend and confidant Marcel, who also acts as his researcher, and his secretary, Mrs Lingscheit making a tight little legal team.

We meet Michael at the Grand Jury Room in Chicago, or rather outside it as lawyers cannot enter the Room.  Gresham is here on behalf of his client, a thrice-elected sheriff who is being accused of and charged with embezzling public funds. Then suddenly, the client loses it and takes a woman hostage, dragging her into the Jury Room where he proceeds to threaten all those already there.

The hostage situation is overcome, negotiations completed, and the sheriff is taken off to jail.

But this is only a very small part of the story.  Gresham receives a call for help from his priest.  The priest confesses that years ago he had a sexual relationship with one of the congregation, and a boy was born.  He has had no dealings with the boy but has now heard that the boy is arrested for murder and he calls upon Michael Gresham to help.

In true John Ellsworth style, we are taken through a twisted and complicated plot to reach the surprise at the end.

Oh, and by the way, there is a foolish would-be drug dealer who is represented by Gresham, who manages to get the case dismissed when the arrested cocaine is shown to be missing from the police evidence room.

The trial scenes are evidence of an experienced criminal lawyer, all the characters are believable and on second reading, I enjoyed this fast paced book and will look for anther in the series.

 

 

Big Little Lies

big little lies

Another book given to me to read by my daughter.

I had heard much about this book and at the beginning, I thought that the praise was higher than it needed to be.

We are introduced to a small seaside community close to Sydney, Australia, and in particular to the small public school which the children attend.  We meet various mothers, and one or two fathers, whose lives seem to revolve around the school and its activities.

There is a group of Blonde Bobs look-alike stay -at- home Mums who are very involved with the school; Renata a highly achieving lawyer whose children are left in the care of a not very observant nanny; Madeline employed part time by the local theatre, has a teen-aged daughter from an earlier marriage and two small children with her current husband, who attend the primary school; Bonnie the second wife who has a daughter now attending the school; the sycophantic Harper who wants everybody to know how friendly she is with Renata ; Jackie, a hot-shot in the corporate world and the very beautiful Celeste, married to a rich, high flying, fabulous man.

And then into this close group of people comes Jane.  A single mother with a son, Ziggy and somehow neither of them really fit into the place at the beginning.

Accusations are parried about that Ziggy is bullying a little girl and passions erupt in the school yard.

But all comes to a head on Trivia Night, a fund raising party to raise money for boards for the school.

To say I couldn’t put this book down is an understatement.  On a cold autumn afternoon, I sat for four hours reading this book.  And after a doubtful start, I recommend this book highly.  If you haven’t discovered Liane Moriarty, a Sydney-based writer, I suggest you get a copy of this book.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

Taken on Trust

Today, with nothing else on the calendar and with the sun shining brightly onto the couch, I settled down to re-read this book by Terry Waite.  Having finished the book I remembered that I had written a review way back in March 2012 at the beginning of my blogging journey.  I should like to repost it here.

 

Book cover

I have this old, dog-eared copy of Terry Waite’s book, that I have read several times in the 20 years or so since his release.

I bought a copy when it was released and enjoyed it so much that I gave copies to various friends as Christmas presents.  I was reminded again of this man when reading about a recent failed attempt to free hostages in Nigeria.

In 1987 Terry Waite, as the special envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury (though not a clergyman himself), went to Beirut to negotiate the release of several hostages, including John McCarthy, Terry Anderson, and Brian Keenan. He had already successfully negotiated the release of hostages in Iran and Libya, but when he arrived in Lebanon to meet with Islamic Jihadists, he too was taken captive.

As he said on his release, he foolishly believed the words of an intermediary that he would not be taken.  As he says  “I went without guards, arms or a locator device”.   So far from being a hostage negotiator, he found himself a hostage.  He was taken to various houses to shake off any followers and then eventually to a prison cell in Beirut.

Besides being chained to a radiator, he was regularly blindfolded, beaten on the soles of his feet, subjected to mock executions, and moved from place to place in a large refrigerator.  But he maintains that the mental torture of being in solitary confinement for so long, far outweighed any physical torture.

We have heard tales of prisoners retaining their sanity by practising their golf shots, running marathons or as in Waite’s case, writing their autobiography in their heads.  Waite spent 1,760 days in solitary confinement, his only contact with the outside world was through wall tapping to his fellow hostages.  Apparently, these hostages had a radio and could listen to the BBC World News.

In his book, he reveals the inner strength that helped him endure the savage treatment he received, his constant struggle to maintain his faith, and his resolve to have no regrets, no false sentimentality, no self-pity. of photos.

Waite was released in November 1991 some 20 plus years ago.

After his release and giving one interview to the media, he realised he needed time to readjust to life and so with his wife Frances and their four children he stayed away from the spotlight for a year to recover and convalesce.  During this year he put the harrowing account of his ordeal down on paper and then published it in his book, Taken on Trust.

Then,  rather than dwell on his own suffering, he turned his energies to helping others in desperate situations. He campaigned for the welfare of prisoners, and gave support to families of hostages through Hostage UK; he even offered to negotiate on behalf of military personnel held captive in Iran in 2007.

Terry WaiteThis is a difficult book to read, but one that is also difficult to put down.  We are told that  “Waite no longer works for the Church of England, but retains the faith that kept him going through nearly five years of captivity. His experience as a prisoner, he says, also helped him to see the shallowness of modern materialism. In 2009, angered by the MPs’ expenses scandal, he considered running for office as in independent candidate, but now believes he can do more good as an active humanitarian rather than as a politician. And despite his religious affiliation, he is sympathetic to the Occupy London protesters who have set up camp at St Paul’s Cathedral. “Our society is going to fragment unless we are very, very careful,” he said in an interview with the Guardian last week. “ We have a responsibility for the elderly, for the sick, for children and for those who are casualties of society.” Source The Irish Times, November 26, 2011.

Post Script.  I recently heard Terry Waite being interviewed on the radio.

The Other La Boheme

The Other Boheme

I have loved opera since being introduced to it by an early boyfriend when I was 17, and have been intrigued by the world of those who choose to make opera singing their career.  So when this book was offered on NetGalley I immediately downloaded it.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

Four long-time friends, all opera singers, commit to supporting each other through thick and thin and particularly on their journey to the top.  Stephanie, Henry, Jennifer, and John name themselves The Dolci Quattro.   We meet the four friends as they are performing in Leoncavallo’s La Boheme. a lesser known version of La Boheme, for a second-tier opera company.  They hope this will give them the necessary exposure and allow them to rise to a first-tier company.

Often singers have to work multiple jobs in order to pay for a voice teacher, to help develop the voice and a voice coach, to focus on specific performance music.  And Pere Momus, owner of Café Momus in Manhattan, a gathering place for connoisseurs of opera knew this and so he hired aspiring artists pursuing their dreams, as waiters and waitresses.

An opera singer’s voice is his/her only thing on offer but it is a fragile instrument that needs to be cared for.  It is easily affected and disturbed by emotion.  Concentration is lost and ways of coping, particularly on a performance day, have to be found.  The Dolci Quattro understood this and shared everything and when one was disturbed they pulled together to help.

The offer of steady employment to Henry in a job as an assistant professor to teach voice and to produce school operas causes much talk and deliberation before a decision is made.  Will he accept or will he follow his dreams?

We are offered an insight into the life of an opera singer and recognise how hard one must work to stay on track.  Thank you, Yorker Keith, for a very knowledgeable and entertaining glimpse into the life and world of aspiring opera singers.

 

 

 

 

House Without Windows

“The message, the rain, the divine light comes through my window,
Falling into my house from my origins
Hell is that house without a window.”
Part of the Epigraph in the book, accredited to Rumi.

House without windows

This is another of the books my daughter gave me for Christmas.  It is a big book, in excess of 400 pages, so it was one to read when I could just sit with nothing else to do. Fiji in the sunshine was the perfect place.

And what a great book it is.  It is told by Zeba, and she tells us of her life before marrying Kamal and how her life turns out during her marriage.  Kamal is a spiteful man, he is self-indulgent and sorry for himself.  He thinks he should have more and be more and somehow, it is all Zeba’s fault.

For more than 20 years Zeba has been a loving wife, good mother and peaceful member of the village, but that is all changed one afternoon when Kamal is found brutally murdered in their courtyard.  Zeba refuses to speak and as she is the one to find him, and there is nobody else to blame, she is declared by the villagers to be the killer.   Her children claim she cannot be responsible for the crime while her husband’s family insist she is and one of his brothers tries to take the law into his own hands, attempting to strangle her.  She is taken into custody and sent to the women’s prison.  Here she finds herself surrounded by women who in many cases, have been wrongfully imprisoned but through lack of access to qualified defence lawyers here they must remain.  She forms an unlikely sisterhood with these women who are removed from the harsh and unforgiving world outside the walls but who feel a safety within the walls.

We are introduced to her Mother who is a shaman/healer/setter of curses and not always in a good way.  But she loves her estranged daughter and resolves to use her magic powers to help her if at all possible.

Early in the book, we are introduced to Yusuf, the lawyer, and his family who have escaped Afghanistan and settled in the US.  This shows another side of Afghan life as it is lived today.

Yusuf, Zeba’s lawyer, is fighting on her behalf and is trying to make sense of the law as now being portrayed and acted upon, but he is at a loss how to help his client who refuses to communicate or help him in any way.

A large part of the book takes place in the prison and Zeba’s coming to terms with the other inmates.  And while I wanted a positive outcome for the woman with whom I had developed a strong connection, I didn’t see how it could be without ruining the integrity of the book and its characters.

Nadia Hashimi is an American born Afghani woman and she has delved deeply into the lives of ordinary women who strive to live within the law, which is particularly hard as the law is constantly changing.  She introduces both traditional and newer Afghan culture and history giving the reader a sense of understanding of both ways, although of course to really understand one would have to delve more deeply than can be shown in a book of fiction.

I highly recommend this book to all and while it is gripping and somewhat horrifying in part it is most certainly a good read.  And though it is fiction I am sure that there is a good deal of fact interspersed with Hashimi’s story.

The Woman Who Ran

When I was in rehab last year I had loads of time to read and my daughter kept me plied with books.  This is one that I read and that has stayed with me ever since.  I’m sorry that I am only now covering it on this site.  My review has been on Goodreads since May 17, 2016.

woman who ran

 

This is one of those books you can’t put down. Well planned and so well researched. The characters are totally believable and I was left feeling for this woman and her problems.

We are thrown into the 21st century while still harking back to the Brontes and Wildfell, its ghost stories and all. Helen Huntingdon escaping from a husband who totally oppresses her decides to move far away to the Dales.

Much is made of her time as a war photographer sometimes with her husband Art and often alone, of his total dominance and of her acceptance of this.

She is unable to rely on anybody else but eventually, she confides in a retired journalist who helps her sort out her life.

I recommend this to all my friends.