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review 2018-02-15 19:50
Amsterdam Exposed: An American's Journey... Amsterdam Exposed: An American's Journey Into The Red Light District - David Wienir

This is a tough book to review. It left me feeling sad. While I was somewhat amused by the author's take of the Netherlands and the Dutch people, the main subject matter of the book is disturbing.
Several (many?) years ago, the author spent a semester of law school in Amsterdam studying International Law. At least, that was what he was supposed to be doing. His real motive in going to Amsterdam was to indulge his voyeuristic tendencies and explore the "red light" district. He wanted to discover why women chose a life of prostitution. And to write a book about it.
To do this, his methodology was to hang around the district, trying to befriend prostitutes, to get them to open up to him about their career choice. He found himself shut down, time after time. Eventually, he finds one woman who indulges him, meeting him for a few lunches.
On his last night in Amsterdam, he finally convinces her to meet with him and be interviewed. He then proceeds to drag the woman through hell, pulling out her darkest, most disturbing secrets about her upbringing and life. While this might be helpful if done by a trained psychologist, in a controlled setting, it most definitely should not be done by a untrained person, for the purposes of satisfying his own voyeurism! And, after he drains the woman of all her memories and shames, he just leaves her! Up and leaves the very next morning.
That would be a sad enough ending for the book, but the author is not done. He returns a few years later, and finds the woman again. For what purpose, I have no idea. She has turned her life around. She's out of the prostitution business, is engaged, and has a young child. But upon seeing the author again, she tells him that she will give up all she has, all she has worked for, if the author will take her. And what does he do? He leaves her again! How cruel!
So, here it is, several years later again. He finally writes his book. And ends it with the hope that the woman, who he has lost touch with, sees it. As if to torture her one more time. What a prick!

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review 2017-10-14 22:19
Assisted dying.......
The Easy Way Out - Steven Amsterdam
I have strong views on the way we treat the terminally sick and would definitely be in favour of some type of controlled euthanasia for those who are suffering. In many cases we are more humane to animals than people.
When I had the opportunity to review this book I was hoping for something that advocated my views, and while this novel does appear to support euthanasia, I found the book itself a bit slow and more of a list of people who chose to end their own lives than a thesis supporting the right to do so, albeit in novel form.

The author is a palliative care nurse in Melbourne, so he writes from a position of some experience. Whilst assisted dying isn't legal in Australia, he proposes a measure, which he calls Measure 961, allowing sick patients to be monitored while they sip a fatal dose of Nembutal. In the novel, Measure 961 is surrounded by the inevitable red tape and all procedures are carefully monitored and recorded on video. Evan finds that overseeing this process gives him satisfaction and he supports his patients' right to choose.

I wasn't quite sure why the author chose to make Evan homosexual, and the descriptions of his sex life with a gay couple were rather unnecessary in my view.
His mother is a wonderful feisty lady who pretty much left him to raise himself, but who is now living in a care home with all the frustrating realities that entails. She suffers from Parkinson's disease and is deteriorating. The question hovers as to whether Evan might eventually help her to end her life and the outcome to that question is interesting.

A brave subject for a novel. I hope others will follow suit and trigger more discussion on the topic.


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review 2017-06-08 12:15
A well-paced mystery that takes us back to a fascinating and tragic historical era
The Lover's Portrait: An Art Mystery - Jennifer S. Alderson

Thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily chose to review. (If you are a writer and are interested in getting first-class reviews do check here).

I love art but cannot claim to be a connoisseur and I’ve never been to Amsterdam (well, I stopped at the airport to change planes once but that was that) but I can reassure you neither of those things prevented me from enjoying this solid mystery set within the world of big art museums and exhibitions, with a background story that would comfortably fit into the genre of historical fiction.

The story is written in the third person but from several characters’ point of view, although it is easy to follow and there is no head-hopping as each chapter, some longer and some shorter, is told from only one character’s point of view. There are two time frames. Some chapters are set in 1942 and tell the story of an art dealer from Amsterdam who is being blackmailed by one of the Nazi occupiers due to his homosexuality. In 2015, Zelda, the intrepid protagonist, is trying very hard to get into a Master’s Programme that will qualify her to work in museums and agrees to help with some very basic editing tasks for an exhibition of art objects confiscated by the Nazis that has been organised in an attempt at locating the rightful owners of the paintings. Readers get also a good insight into the thoughts and motivations of other characters (the evil nephew of the original Nazi blackmailer, Rita, the owner of one of the portraits in the exhibition, Huub, the curator of the exhibition…), although we mostly follow Zelda and her adventures. Although this is book 2 in the series, I have not read the first one and had no problem getting into the story. Zelda at times reflects upon how she got here and we learn that she moved from working with computers to a stay in Nepal teaching English and finally Amsterdam. In effect, I felt the novel was better at offering factual information about her than developing her character psychologically. I was not sure of her age but at times she seemed very naïve for somebody who has travelled extensively and has held important jobs, not only with the mystery side of things but also with her personal life, but she has the heart in the right place, and I appreciated the lack of romance in the story.

The different points of view and time changes help keep the suspense going, as we have access to more information than Zelda, but this can sometimes make matters more confusing (as we are not privy to everybody’s thoughts and there are a few red herrings thrown in for good measure). The author is also good at keeping us guessing and suspecting all kinds of double-crossings (perhaps I have been reading too many mystery books and thrillers but I didn’t trust anyone and was on the lookout for more twists than there were).

The setting of Amsterdam, both in the present and in the 1940s is very well depicted and, at least for me, the wish to go there increased as I read. I really enjoyed the description of the process of documentation and how to search for the provenance of artworks (the author explains her own background and its relevance to the subject [very] in an endnote that also offers ample bibliography)  that is sufficiently detailed without getting boring, and the background theme of the fate of art and the persecution of Jews, homosexuals and other minorities in occupied Europe is brought to life in the memories described by several of the characters and also the fictionalised entries of the art merchant. It is not difficult to see how a book about the research of actual works of art could be gripping too, and the fictionalisation and the mystery elements make it attractive to even more readers.

This is a gentle mystery, with no excessive or graphic violence, with an amateur sleuth who sometimes is far too daring and impulsive (although otherwise there would not be much of a story), with a great background and sufficient red herrings and clues to keep the suspense going. I suspect most readers will guess some aspects of the solution, but perhaps not the full details, and even if they do, the rest of the elements of the story make the reading worthwhile.

A good and solid book, an interesting intrigue that combines present and past, set in a wonderful Amsterdam and the art world, with likeable and intriguing characters,  but not heavy on the psychological aspects or too demanding.


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review 2016-11-14 14:23
An Address in Amsterdam by Mary Dingee Fillmore
An Address in Amsterdam: A Novel - Mary Dingee Fillmore
I have read quite a few stories about World War II, but most were about events that took place in Germany or England. This was a very different one for me, taking place in Amsterdam. A place where the Jewish population was almost wiped out by the end of WWII. The people of Amsterdam never thought the war would come to them. They had lived peacefully for years and hadn't gotten involved in WWII. They thought it was pass them by.
But as we know, it did not just pass them by. Rachel Klein, a young Jewish woman, finds herself caught up in all of it. As she watches the Nazi's take over her city and country, she knows she can't stand by and watch it happen. When her friends and neighbors are hauled away to placed unknown to never be heard from again, she turns from an innocent girl without many cares, into one of the best messengers with the resistance. 
Putting her life on the line countless times to help fellow Jews and those that support them, the time comes where it's too dangerous for her to continue and she goes into hiding with her family.
This was an incredibly uplifting story of how one person can make a difference in other's lives. But it was also an incredibly sad tale of one of the worst times in human history. Well written, and from what I can tell, well researched, An Address in Amsterdam was a chilling look into human nature and history that we should never forget.
Source: www.hotofftheshelves.com/2016/11/an-address-in-amsterdam-by-mary-dingee.html
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review 2016-11-07 21:16
The Easy Way Out
The Easy Way Out - Steven Amsterdam

[I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley.]

OK, I admit I don't really know what to write in this review, which seldom happens. It wasn't a bad story—and its theme is fairly interesting (legalised euthanasia, and potential risks and abuse that may be related to it vs. what it accomplishes for people who suffer). But I never really feel connected to the characters, and thus never really cared about them.

I can feel somewhat close to the debate about euthanasia. I'm not sure if it's something I'd choose for myself, however with my phobia of cancer, I really "get" the wish to go while you can still decide for yourself, because I see absolutely no point in "living longer" if this "life" is spent pissing myself in a hospital bed and begging for morphine or not being aware anymore of what's around me. At this point, that's not even surviving anymore, so... I don't know. Somehow I really hope I'll never have to find out for myself. That's the kind of knowledge I can blissfully remain ignorant of.

Evan's dilemmas, his trouble adjusting to what his job demanded of him and what, deep inside, he wanted/needed to give, were interesting as well. There are a lot of grey areas here, and I'd often wonder at all the legal parts in this legalised assisted death in the novel: on the one hand, the law has to prevent abuse, otherwise it's easy to veer into murder; on the other, what do you do when a patient with degenerative disease has expressed until the end their wish to die, but their disease prevent them from drinking their glass of Nembutal? Not helping means denying their wishes; but actually helping them drink may be construed as "pushy" and "choosing for them". So, so very grey.

Also, props for including a relationship that is not the cookie-cutter traditional heterosexual one, AND including it in a natural way, as something that simply "is", and not some matter for moral discussion or judgment or whatever. You don't see that too often to my liking in books and movies. Granted, I wished Evan had been more involved in it, because Lon and Simon were lovely and supportive people, and I felt they were always left on the sideline; but that has nothing to do with gender.

On the other hand, some things were not fleshed out enough. Evan's relationship with his boss Nettie, for starters—I was sure there was matter for discussion here, a basis for more conflict and/or, on the contrary, more relating, yet it was never really accomplished. Same with Evan's decision to keep mum about his job when it came to some of (close) characters, or Jasper's Path, which came a bit out of nowhere?

I didn't really get either the very, very quick decline in Viv. Sure, it was dramatic, however the scientist in me would've liked to see more explanations about her going from Parkinson's to almost-miraculous recovery to going downhill in a matter of 4-5 days. I totally get the whole tragedy in her condition—a fiercely independent woman who finds herself becoming dependent and is inwardly scared of it—but this decline felt like a plot device and not like an exactly natural evolution of said plot, if that makes sense.

Conclusion: interesting, but I never felt involved.

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