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Am Meer, damals: Eine Geschichte von der Insel
Am Meer, damals: Eine Geschichte von der Insel
von Norbert Schulz
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 14,90

4.0 von 5 Sternen Relaxed, 1. Oktober 2014
Where do you go when it's time for a relaxing, sun-soaked vacation? For many, those who don't want to travel too far, use their dollars rather than exchanging for foreign cash, and not leave America somewhere like Mexico or even Belize probably comes as a possible choice. Long, clean beaches, few tourists, but with a tourist infrastructure. Somewhere out-of-the-way, but not too far. Today both Mexico and Belize are popular vacation resorts, with their mixture of cultures, the sights we don't normally get to see back home, and a wealth of history. And if we do go, then one of the better resorts like Cancun or, further south just belong the Yucatan Peninsula, the Cayes. Life is relaxed, without stress, living is simple but with everything that a holidaymaker needs.

It wasn't always so, there was a time when tourism wasn't the big business that it is now, at least, when you get down to Belize, to Guatemala, Honduras. Life consisted of simple tasks to bring the daily bread to each family table, without the need to hurry from one appointment to another, without the pressure of that pay check at the end of the week or month. The boats riding gentle waves were used for fishing, for occasional trips back to the mainland, to bring explorers out to the Cayes.

Norbert Schulz has managed to capture these times perfectly. His writing is easy and relaxed, laid back and flowing. He takes us into a time when Hollywood was still a place people wanted to go, to a time when fish were plentiful, when the great globalization move hadn't brought fast food restaurants and soda to every foreign high street, every makeshift bar along the beach. He takes us into a time when Marilyn Monroe was at the height of her fame, and to a young man with a dream. It is the early Fifties. The United States is confronting the Soviet Union, casting awkward glances towards Cuba, still recovering from the losses incurred during the Second World War. Belize - at the time still British Honduras - is a country hardly recognizable on the map, a British colony where few travel for their vacation. Those few, though, fall in love with the land, with the water, with the Cayes as much as Pablo, a young fisher still learning his trade, falls for the image of Marilyn Monroe, his first love. We are shown the close bonds between man and boy - the adopted Grandpa - as one learns and the other recounts his exploits. We see the rivalry between fishermen, sometimes joking, sometimes serious, and almost always brushed out-of-the-way over a few drinks. We see a world which is fast disappearing, and can immerse ourselves in it, in the hopes and dreams of Pablo, as if it is just across the road, just a few days in the past.

Easily written with a very calm and enjoyable pace, Am Meer Damals is a pleasure to read, an experience of bygone days and the true ease of living.

Das Kindermädchen: Roman
Das Kindermädchen: Roman
Preis: EUR 8,99

4.0 von 5 Sternen Geschichte Heute, 30. September 2014
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Das Kindermädchen: Roman (Kindle Edition)
Everyone has secrets, little personal matters which we don't want to share, which bring us pleasure or pain, actions we regret or which would be unacceptable to others, things from the past better hidden from view. What happens, though, when these secrets are more than just a personal matter, when they have to be kept out of the public eye, when even the closest friends and relations shouldn't discover that something dark is lurking in the past? There are secrets which can destroy and entire family, which remove all feelings of trust and denigrate all the good that has been done, which drag an entire family down into the dirt with little or no hope of finding a way back.

In Germany, with its well documented history over the twentieth century, such hidden secrets can be found in many families: an uncle who served for the wrong people during the war; a father or brother who spied on the neighbors for the East German government; a daughter who earned her living through personal, intimate services in order to bring bread to the table for her family. We are brought into something similar to this milieu by Elisabeth Herrmann, but with a secret which goes back several decades, to the darkest period of German history, to a time when different rules, different ideals controlled the lives of all. A time when society comprised people of many levels, and those classified as non-human or considered unworthy of living a free and ordered life of their own in their own country, through ethnic origin or religious belief.

A family highly placed in society with the best contacts, a name held with considerable pride, a public standing based on many good deeds, connections. A young woman with the best prospects, beautiful, intelligent and influential. A young attorney - Joachim Vernau - preparing to enter this higher society through marriage, also well-placed and respected. Nothing, as far as both of them are concerned, can stand in the way of their marriage, their future lives together until, during the public party for their official engagement, a young Ukrainian woman appears and brings the memories, the events of a half lifetime earlier back into the limelight, back into the here and now.

Joachim Vernau is thrown into a new world, one which traces its roots back to a Germany long since gone, but one which influences the thoughts and actions of many to this day, and finds himself battling against old hatreds, against those who wish what happened before to remain in the past, and who are prepared to go to the ultimate lengths of ensure that the truth does not come to light.

Elisabeth Herrmann has written a work of excellent depth, one which highlights to past as much as the problems of coming to terms with what has happened before. Her flowing thriller takes the reader on a journey into the depths of a period when the rules of society were completely different, when slavery existed in the home as much as in the work and concentration camps, where a human life was considered worthless in many cases, where the loss of a nanny could be passed over as if nothing had happened, and a new one ordered to replace her without question. She takes us into a world where personal interests had and have the upper hand, where fortunes were made at the expense of others, where whole lives - entire families - could be wiped out for the sake of a painting, an object of art, a comment at the wrong moment to the wrong person, and she does it with exceptional skill and professionalism.

Das Kindermädchen - which has been successfully filmed - is not yet available in English, although it should be. It is a book which will intrigue many, which has all the marks of an excellent crime thriller as well as a storyline which speaks to the mind, to the imagination, bringing two worlds together - the past and the present - into one flowing, exciting revelation of how that which is hidden influences our daily lives.

Das Dorf der Mörder: Roman
Das Dorf der Mörder: Roman
von Elisabeth Herrmann
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 19,99

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4.0 von 5 Sternen Feeding the Animals, 25. September 2014
You could be forgiven for believing that the zoo is a place of peace and calm in the center of the hectic city. Family outings, the lure of the (caged) wild, an exploration of that which is otherwise only to be seen on National Geographic. There are lions and tigers, antelope, elephants, reptile houses swarming with snakes all put on exhibition to enthrall and educate. What goes on behind the scenes, though, is seldom seen: the animals need to be fed and, as we all know, they tend to eat one another, and each one has to be catered for according to individual needs. The killing for food is one thing, but there is another killing on this spring morning in the Tierpark in Berlin. This time it is not to feed the animals, this time it is a brutal murder.

Within a few days Charlie Rubin, responsible for preparing the food each animal eats during the course of their lives in captivity, has admitted the crime and is being held by the Berlin police. Not everyone, however, is happy with this speedy result. Sanela Beara, a young policewoman who was one of the first on the scene, has her doubts, having spoken to Rubin at length. Jeremy Saaler, a young psychologist still learning his chosen trade, assisting Professor Brock in assessing the mental capabilities of the suspect, is also not convinced of her guilt.

Elizabeth Herrmann takes us from the hustle and bustle of Berlin life out into the peaceful world of surrounding villages, where life continues in a completely different vein, where the changes in German society since the reunification have had other effects than those the politicians wished for. She shows us life in a land still reeling from the long rule of a socialist government, where the chances of a job let alone making an adequate living are a constant struggle. In Wendisch Bruch she shows us the other side of the new prosperity but, even here, things are not as they may seem on the surface. A village slowly dying, the men disappearing under mysterious circumstances, and a disinclination to accept strangers all add to the well-formed, well executed plot.

Two separate investigations, neither one of them approved, follow the threads of a story which stretches back over twenty years and bring these threads masterfully together in a thrilling ending which will capture the imaginations of all those who love real amateur detective work. Well, known in Germany, some of her books have already been filmed, it's about time the English-speaking world got to know Elizabeth Herrmann better too, and placed her in the position her books deserve, at the top of the bestselling lists for intense, well-written crime novels.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry
von Rachel Joyce
Preis: EUR 6,85

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3.0 von 5 Sternen Unconvinced, 16. Januar 2014
I had high hopes for this book: a tale of unrequited love; a mystery to be solved; a journey through life. In the end, aside from one aspect, I was disappointed. I had hoped for a good deal more than just 'charming' (as the Sunday Express apparently called it). And I found many things simply unbelievable: an old man who only goes to post a letter, but has enough money in his pocket to pay for hotel rooms? A wife who doesn't go out to see where he is, despite his age, despite her subdued love for him? And a first day's travel - to the hotel - of three miles or so?

On the other hand, the very underdeveloped social aspects intrigued me, and I wished they had been built upon a good deal more than they were. The group which follows his progress, and joins up with him for (part) of the journey. The man who takes over and turns everything good about the ideal to his own advantage. There could have been a good deal more.

Apparently The Times called it 'impossible to put down'. I read through it quickly, without a break, but only because I had hoped it would gain some depth, that the story would unfold and take me into a different world, into the real mind of the traveler. Sadly, it did not.

David and Goliath
David and Goliath
von Malcolm Gladwell
Preis: EUR 12,95

4.0 von 5 Sternen The Little Guy, 8. Januar 2014
Rezension bezieht sich auf: David and Goliath (Taschenbuch)
My first impression of Malcolm Gladwell's book David & Goliath was that it is a Feel Good book, one designed for those who consider themselves the underdogs in society, at school, in the workplace, to help boost their morale, their fighting spirit, and give them hope for the future. Even the small guy, the one right down at the bottom, can make it against the Machine. And to a certain extent it is, it does give a boost to those who are just starting out, who are at the beginning of their lives out in the Real World: but it is also more than just this. The stories Gladwell brings to the fore are a very mixed bag: the shepherd boy who makes good; the student who makes the wrong decision; the doctor who fights against the establishment. He details the background to each tale - all based on real people and events - and the alternatives each person had to choose from, following up with details of whether they were right or wrong, what they might have done differently, how other people have reacted in a similar situation.

Most of the stories included are of one or two individuals battling against a set of values which have been in place for many generations, or a conception of values based on misleading information. They highlight how some have succeeded, but without making the mistake of claiming the solutions, the battles illustrated, could work for every individual. One particularly interesting fight against the establishment is the story of Emil Freireich and his search for a cure for leukemia.

Cicero wrote: Accordingly, in encountering danger we should do as doctors do in their practices; in light cases of illness they give mild treatment; in cases of dangerous sickness they are compelled to apply hazardous and even desperate remedies.

Freireich followed this ancient piece of advice, turned his back on the establishment and fought tooth and nail for his beliefs against those who would hamper his efforts to find a cure. He turned his back of countless years of medical practice, and found a solution others claimed could never be found by such means.

Whether anyone would be able to turn the cases cited here to their own good is a moot point, but this well written, easy to read work highlights the possibilities and, perhaps, will inspire those who are on the point of giving up their dreams to keep on trying, to forget the general consensus of well-intentioned opinion, and do their best to succeed.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
von Stephen Greenblatt
Preis: EUR 10,50

5.0 von 5 Sternen History at its best, 7. Januar 2014
In his foreword, Stephen Greenblatt writes that the discovery of a lost book seldom changes anything in history, let alone the way people think, and yet his work is a tale of change, of discovery, of death and destruction caused - perhaps not directly - by the discovery of a single, believed-lost book written in the centuries before Christianity began forcing its way into every corner of the world. It is the tale of the search for a work unknown and the people, carefully brought to life in Greenblatt's descriptions, after many centuries, who risked their lives to bring an ancient idea back to life, back into the public arena.

The Swerve is a masterful creation of both fact and - necessary - speculative invention as he rebuilds times and places we have all heard of but which, but for remains and ruins left over today, are long since mere history. He brings life to dust, to fragments of knowledge, to books many people today will never read, let alone have ever heard of. At the time, though, when the books were written and in the years after they were rediscovered, copied, circulated, they formed the basis for beliefs and understanding which many take for granted today.

Unlike other writers, Greenblatt's vivid invention of events which might have happened do not seem either extreme or far-fetched. He mixes historical facts with conjecture in such a way that the reader is able to picture the scene, able to conjure up images of reactions, of a light sparking in the mind's of those long since dead. He shows us an almost unintentional movement formed by a loose band of people with similar interests - the reading and learning from ancient Latin and Greek texts - which became a world-wide inspiration and lead, slowly but surely, to the Enlightenment.

Not that one single book was capable of bringing such major changes to the world as the Enlightenment did, but this one text was an integral part of the whole, and its effects may be seen, experienced, learned from to this day. For the beginner in philosophy, for the reader who is interested in learning about the search for knowledge, the passage of history and the influences of major - political and religious - powers in the world, an excellent start and highly recommended.

Geheimbünde: Freimaurer und Illuminaten, Opus Dei und Schwarze Hand
Geheimbünde: Freimaurer und Illuminaten, Opus Dei und Schwarze Hand
von Gisela Graichen
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 19,95

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2.0 von 5 Sternen Nothing New, 29. Dezember 2013
The cover is enticing, a mixture of international and German images and words which give any prospective reader the impression they are going to discover something new about certain secret societies, such as the Freemasons, Opus Dei and the Illuminati. Linked to a forthcoming television series, this work has been compiled by several authors as a collection of short essays revealing the history and inner workings of secret societies around the world: how they began, how they operate, what their secrets are. It is a compilation of facts and figures which are readily available elsewhere and which have been covered by other works more than adequately over several hundred years. There is absolutely nothing new in this work, nothing that a newcomer to the subject couldn't have found elsewhere, nothing that adds to what we already know. Worse still, the bulk of this book is taken up not with secret societies, but with speculation over conspiracy theory surrounding the moon landings, the World Trade Center attack, Area 51 and Roswell.

A relatively well-informed reader will also discover that much of what has been presented here appears to have been taken piecemeal from other works. There are quotations - for example from Cicero and Tertullian - which are not listed in the chapter notes, they have been taken from other works, second and third hand quotations. There is a mass of speculation, but very little by way of revelation, many questions and few adequate answers. It is, in effect, simply a television series printed as a book, but without the music to add substance.

For a newcomer to secret societies, or an avid television viewer, perhaps of interest, but no more than that. That the bulk of the work has nothing to do with secret societies is more than disappointing, that the information reproduced here is commonly available in much better works a lesson for readers as much as for writers: if you promise something new, if you promise answers, deliver. This book does none of that.

Six Years
Six Years
von Harlan Coben
Preis: EUR 11,87

3.0 von 5 Sternen Brain Candy, 28. Dezember 2013
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Six Years (Taschenbuch)
There are times when you need a break from serious reading, when you just want to lose yourself in a book which has no great intellectual depth, no reason to struggle through characterization, no claim to literary greatness. Over the last few years Harlan Coben has fulfilled this need for countless people, given them something they can wander through without the need to think. Six Years is no exception, it is brain candy of the finest brand. Where once a reader might have been surprised by a well-plotted story with a true surprise twist at the end, today all the reader gets is time off from reality, time off from anything which makes their brain work overtime.

I am convinced Harlan Coben has a place in crime fiction, he has worked hard to gain his following, but the plots are wearing thin, the stories seem to run from the first page to the last without anything remaining at the end. Six Years is no exception to this trend. It follows, as usual, a single person placed in an awkward position, trying to get to the truth of something that has happened and wandering, seemingly without purpose, from one event to the next. For anyone who enjoys something which fills a bit of time, this is the book to pick up and read.

Der Geiger: Roman
Der Geiger: Roman
von Mechtild Borrmann
Preis: EUR 9,99

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3.0 von 5 Sternen The Violin, 25. Dezember 2013
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Der Geiger: Roman (Taschenbuch)
I will say right at the start of this short review that Der Geiger (The Violinist) disappointed. It is a wide-ranging theme, modern-day with a touch of history thrown in, covering the search for family roots and a violin which, to the last member of the family, means a great deal.

The story, however, leaves much to be desired: a lack of depth in many parts; jumping back and forth from one story to another without adequate chapter headings; characterization which tells us next to nothing about the characters.

And yet, the theme is a good one. A family split through the machinations of power in the Soviet Union, thrown out of society and cast out into the wilderness of a life in the Gulag, a life outside of society. A single instrument, the violin, which holds the family together over many years and the desire to discover what happened decades before, who was responsible for the destruction of several lives. There are moments when the story comes together very well indeed, but they are not often enough to hold the attention for more than a single chapter, and the jumping from one period to another without an indication of when the story takes place - only the first two chapters are graced with a date as chapter heading - confuses and irritates.

Mechtild Borrmann is undoubtedly a good writer, and has been recognized as such with the Deutschen-Krimi_Preis for her first work, but this new work fails to live up to the genre. It misses the crime as much as the historical through a lack of depth, a lack of feeling, a lack of recognition for the personalities of those depicted.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (Export Edition)
The Hundred-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (Export Edition)
von Jonas Jonasson
Preis: EUR 6,47

5.0 von 5 Sternen Beyond Age, 21. Dezember 2013
It would be easy to compare Jonas Jonasson's book The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared to Forrest Gump, and do both this book and Winston Groom a great disservice in the process. Whilst it is easy enough to find many similarities between the two, there are also many singular differences which make this work not only a good read but also, perhaps, an inspiration for those who wish to delve deeper into what makes our lives worth living.

Allan Karlsson is about to be faced with the celebration of his one hundredth birthday, a very formal and shallow event in the old people's home he has a room in. He will be surrounded by carers and old people, as well as the director of the institution who, as we find out, is not quite his ideal. It should be the capping of a long and experience-full life, but he doesn't quite see it that way.

Perhaps his decision to abscond is a spur-of-the-moment thing, perhaps he has been planning it for a long time. Regardless, as with almost everything that has been a part of his life, where there is a plan there is also the opportunity for fate to take a hand and turn things round. His escape is not what he had imagined, and adds another intriguing, comedy-ridden episode to his long life.

And this work is a comedy. It is filled with dark humor, with the twists and turns of both opportunity and fate, with the unexpected and the stroke of luck which alters everything. Were that not the case, Allan Karlsson would never have made it into the third decade of his life, let alone the tenth.

No matter what a person's age, they should never give up, never forget that tomorrow is another day and that there is more to life than what is happening right now. At the same time we get to see, through carefully crafted and interesting flashbacks, exactly what has made Allan Karlsson's life so interesting; how he has managed to cheat the early grip of death many times; how he has literally seen the world, from the good and the bad side of things. We take a part in his optimism, in his zest for the new, in his risk-taking adventures and get to meet some of the great, if more infamous than famous, names of the last century. Across China, Russia, Europe and the United States, we follow his lead and his bluffs as much as his rise and fall. We meet with people who are only names in the history books, can put faces to them, can experience a little bit of the human side of each person through the almost naive but determined character of our hero.

History is shaped by those who are there, and Allan Karlsson, we learn, was there more often than not, hidden in the background but making his presence felt. Whether, at the end of his journey, we can say his active help in forming the course of history was a good thing or not depends on the reader. At least, thanks to a few thrown-together friends, we can be sure of one thing: life doesn't stop simply because you are older than everyone else. There is always a tomorrow, always a new adventure to be lived right outside the door, if we just take the chance and go through it.

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