Sunday, August 16, 2015

Book Reviews / August 2015

Continuing on with my list of Amazon freebies, I thought A Saucy Murder with a wine country theme might convince me to read more murder mysteries.
Unfortunately this was not the case.
This book falls into my 'silly' category.
Very simplistic plot, with lots of suspects, wanting the reader to believe, initially, a sauce (that everyone ate but with only one consumer dead) could be the murder 'weapon'.
Plus the author seems to be a bit of a food snob and a brand name dropper.

You should never judge a book by its cover but the cartoon nature of this one was a dead giveaway as to the contents.
A lightweight time waster.
At the age of three Leslie White was taken from a workhouse and put into a children's home by his single mother. He spent twelve years there. He went "into service" at the age of 15 and worked his way up in various aristocratic households.
But he got sick of serving the rich and famous for little financial gain and moved to Switzerland to become a waiter at two important hotels earning substantially more money. It was here he met whom he thought would be the love of his life but WWII intervened and he was forced to leave. He never saw her again.
He joined the army and was evacuated from France during the dark days of the conflict at the time of Dunkirk before being sent to Italy. In between while stationed on the Isle of Mann he met his future wife.
From Workhouse to Vienna is a long book with a great deal of detail, much of it trivial and unfortunately repetitive, which can lead to skimming. But that aside it is an interesting insight into life in Britain between the wars. The plight of the British working class and the divide between the rich and poor in the 1920s and 30s is laid bare.

The final chapters concern Les's army service during World War II in a special services unit that operated behind enemy lines.These vividly describe the hardships and perils of war. Written by the author from discussions with and notes from Les, I found this book fascinating from a social history point of view.
The poignant letters from him to his wife and subsequently her and a daughter he had never seen are a worthwhile inclusion.
All the book needs is a good editor.
The Man Who Never Was should not be confused with the 1953 book (and 1956 film) of the same name. That was a (almost) factual account of Operation Mincemeat during WWII. This book is also about WWII but is fictional and covers far different subject matter. Why the author would use the same title is a mystery to me.

The book has two time lines, one at the end of WW11 and the other 40 years later.
In the 1980s during the demolition of an industrial complex a body is found in the foundations. From the objects found near the remains it appears this is a German Luftwaffe pilot who had been in a nearby POW camp.
The police of the day begin what seems to be an ordinary murder investigation.
But it isn't.
Something more sinister has taken place and the British secret service becomes involved.
Keeping the plot and the characters straight takes a bit of effort with this book but it is worth the effort.
HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton covers the period from her surprising defeat in the 2008 Democratic primary through her reconciliation with the Obama Democrats, her appointment to and tireless work as Secretary of State, the demise of Osama bin Laden, the reelection of Obama with Bill Clinton 'on board', the Benghazi Affair and her stepping down in early 2013 for what was to be her preparation for another run at the presidency.

Lots of details and names (too many for the outsider?) to absorb in this one. But it does give some insight into the behind the scenes political manoeuvring within the USA system as well as the trials and tribulations of a major power's world diplomacy agenda.
Some have described the book as a four hundred page Hillary 'love fest'. It is easy to see where that opinion comes from.
Probably a book for the political junkie or one for those who want to know a little more about the mindset of the person who could possibly be (given the dubious quality of the gaggle of the 17 GOP candidates) the next president of the USA.
Australia is one of the few countries which has attended every modern Olympic Games.
Dangerous Games is the story of the team of 33 (29 men and 4 women) who made their way to the Berlin games of 1936.
It is also a story of the rise of National Socialism in Germany and the use of the Olympics as propaganda tool to legitimize the NAZI regime.
Olympic sports in Australia in the 1930s were recreational past times with those excelling doing so only from natural raw talent.
There were few facilities eg. no cinders tracks; no freshwater swimming pools, not many coaches, no money and little government interest.
The team was supposedly selected on times/heights/distances based on world standards but really was influenced by state rivalry. The country was only 35 years old and colonial attitudes still prevailed to a point where many of 'the best' missed out.
So it was a boat full of innocents and a minimal support group who set sail for the long six week journey to Europe.

What they experienced when they got there opened their eyes to how sport was viewed by other world nations at the time. Turns out it was already a business and success was a matter of national pride rather than an athlete's individual achievement. Baron Pierre de Coubertin's Olympic ideals were already in decay.
Author Larry Writer says "I came to believe that there was room among (the) excellent literature on the XIth Olympiad for a book about the seldom recounted experiences of the Australian team who competed. Who was in the team? How did they fare? What did they think of Hitler and his Nazis, and of Jesse Owens? Of each other? What was it like to be in old Berlin before it was destroyed by war?"
This, and more, he has achieved in an entertaining,well researched, interview based book.
Recommended for the sports nut and the historian.
And Leni Riefenstahl's stunningly photographed Olympia, the propaganda film of the Berlin games, can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.
Update 10/11/2016"Probably a book for the political junkie or one for those who want to know a little more about the mindset of the person who could possibly be (given the dubious quality of the gaggle of the 17 GOP candidates) the next president of the USA."
How wrong (sadly ) was I!!!!!! 

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