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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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review 2016-10-24 19:13
An Address in Amsterdam by Mary Dingee Fillmore
An Address in Amsterdam: A Novel - Mary Dingee Fillmore

Rachel is 18 when the Nazis invade Holland. Soon after she joins the Dutch resistance by delivering letters and false documents. She tries to change her father’s mind about going into hiding but he doesn’t believe Nazi’s would actually harm people, especially German born like himself.
When the war breaks out, Rachel falls in love with Michel who turns out to be a resistance member. She wants to marry him but doesn’t believe that her parents would approve her relationship with a Gentile.

I liked to see how Rachel changed from a rather naïve schoolgirl into a resistance member living a dangerous life. At the start we see the Nazis behaving quite well but the situation started to worsen suddenly. I haven’t read books where it’s been told that things were moderately ok at first. Then there was this huge change in the attitude of all people.

I didn’t get Rachel’s father who just refused to see what was going on. I mean the situation had been horrible for some time before he even started to think about going into hiding.

The first half of the book is told from Rachel’s point of view but then it changed in the second half. In there we have Rachel’s, her parents and, if I remember correctly, Rolf’s. Rolf was Michel’s friend who also worked in the resistance and came into hiding with them. I didn’t see the point of that but oh well.

I would have liked to know what happened to them. I didn’t see the point of getting invested in these people and then not to know if they made it through the war.

Overall I enjoyed the book and I liked to read about the resistance work.

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review 2016-08-20 22:14
Good...But
The Light of Amsterdam - David Park

“She wondered if it was ever possible in the world to be anything other than on your own and whether that wasn’t the best way to be.”

 

This is a not altogether nice look at the inner lives of the three featured characters. There’s Alan, who cheated on his wife and now finds himself having to entertain his sixteen year old son during a weekend in Amsterdam. Karen is a single mother who’s sacrificed a lot to give her daughter everything she wanted only to be faced with what she considers the ultimate betrayal by that daughter. Marion is a middle aged woman with doubts about her husband’s loyalty who decides to take rather drastic (and I might add overly dramatic) action to deal with the situation. Because we see events through their eyes only, are living in their heads, and hearing only their thoughts, we are confronted with the inherent selfishness we’re probably all guilty off but prefer not to acknowledge. On more than one occasion I found myself thinking ‘you’re just not that nice’ only to realise that I might well have reacted in the same way and thought the same thoughts when faced with the situation that character found themselves in.

 

Reading this at times brutally honest book about the shortcomings all of us have in common made me realise that I do prefer it when stories portray people in a somewhat idolised fashion—the way we ought to behave and think rather than the way we all too often do. Something else that felt very realistic and yet threw me at times were the repetitions in what people thought, sometimes showing up as complete and literal reproductions of sentences that had been used before. While I completely agree that our thoughts often run in circles and are repetitive, it’s not something I can read without thinking ‘you could have phrased that differently this time’.

 

I’m feeling somewhat ambiguous about this book. On the one hand the issues the three main characters are struggling with aren’t earth-shattering—quite the opposite in fact. I mean the fast majority of teenagers are withdrawn and sulky, regardless of whether or not their parents are still together. Most children will want to meet and get to know the parent who abandoned them before they were born, given half a chance just as most relationships will become less sexually active over time. So part of me was constantly thinking ‘get over it already, neither you nor your situation is anything special’. On the other hand, it was the fact that David Parks managed to convincingly portray how those run of the mill concerns can mess with our heads and our lives that really impressed me. And I think he is spot on when he portrays the loneliness we can feel even while surrounded by thousands of others and spending time with those we’re supposed to be close to and comfortable with.

 

The fabulous and entirely accurate descriptions of Amsterdam in this book delighted me. The author has either been there or did a fabulous job researching the city because I always knew exactly where in Amsterdam his characters were. Even if I had hated the story (which I didn’t) that sense of being in the city where I was born and grew up was fantastic.

 

Overall this was a very well written book that managed to captivate me despite the fact that I kept on losing my patience with the characters.

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