Monday, February 5, 2018

One Bear's Opinion -- Book Review

Imperial Requiem: Four Royal Women and the Fall of the Age of Empires by Justin C. Vovk

I have read a number of books on Czarina Alexandra, and there has been some discussion of Queen Mary and Empress Auguste Viktoria in those books, but only in connection with Alexandra, never in their own right. But none had as much detail as this one. And this book covered Empress Zita (de Bourbon-Parma), of whom, in all honesty, I had never heard.

This was a long, ambitious book, covering the lives of four women and spanning European history from 1852 to 1989. I have read reports that there was too much focus on the lives of the women and too little on world events, but the purpose of the book was to have an in-depth look at the lives of the women. World events shaped their lives, but other volumes covered the world events better. I did find toward the end of the book, the time period covered was much greater, with barely two pages spent on Queen Mary’s role during World War II. And from 1953 to 1989 was spanned in one relatively short chapter. But then again, the book was not designed to cover world events as such, just the lives of four women.

Overall, I think the book did a good job covering the lives of the women, and their worlds. There were new facts and new information about Czarina Alexandra and her role in her husband’s reign. I did wonder about some of the sources and the anecdotes, but overall it was an entertaining and informative book. And it has made me more curious about Empress Zita, who was the last Empress of Austria-Hungary and lived until 1989! I had no idea any of the major players in World War I lived that long. I knew there were some people who were alive during World War I in 1989, but I had no idea any of the deposed royalty had survived. Where were those facts when we were learning history?

This book was full of the kind of facts and tidbits that make you want to dig deeper into the history — for example, Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s sons were captured by Hitler and sent to a concentration camp, and it was only the intervention of other royals that saved them. Empress Zita was saved from a similar fate by President Woodrow Wilson’s invitation to immigrate to the US. At least three of Empress Auguste Viktoria’s sons sided with Hitler during World War II, disappointing their father, Kaiser Wilhelm II. These are the kind of things that would inspire more students to learn more. I have long thought that the way we teach history to children is the worst way possible. Forcing memorization of dates, places, and events is dry and boring. There is nothing interesting about that. Adding personal tidbits would engage students and encourage them to remember events. Also, tying the people, places, and events together in time is a good thing. History does not happen in isolation, people, even in ancient times talked to each other. News may have traveled much slower, but it did travel and things in one country had an impact on events in other countries. This book did a great job of keeping events in the women’s lives tied together in time; the chapters were periods of time, and had three or four sections in them describing the women’s lives during that period. That kind of structure helped connect events across nations, and it’s one of the things that many history books neglect.

On the whole, the book was very well done. It was enjoyable and informative and easy to read. You cannot make Czarina Alexandra’s life story good, the reality is, it was not, and certainly didn’t end in the peaceful way we all hope for our own lives. But the author did a good job of telling the real tale in a manner that did was not too depressing. It was not a novel-style, but the story was readable and enjoyable.

One Bear’s Opinion: Five Cups of Viennese Coffee, with a plate of delicious pastries

Happy Reading Everyone,

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Eurovision 2017, Semi-Final #2 -- A Review

I’m back again for Eurovision 2017, Semi-Final #2. I’m hoping this is the happy peppy, fun night as compared to last night’s festival of the same act. I have high hopes of at least one fun entry. I hope it lives up to my expectation.

We had dinner before the Semi-Final began, so I am ready to comment without interruptions or distractions. We had pizza for dinner, but I know there are some crème wafer cookies in the kitchen as well as a chocolate bar and some gummy frogs. I’m really getting excited and it’s getting harder and harder to keep my bounces in check.

I still miss Julia and Sam. It’s just not the same without them. SBS, bring back the good host team next year, please?

The Ukraine on-stage hosts are cheesy and silly, but I kind of like them. The opening act is interesting and fun, well-done and enjoyable. I hope the rest of the show lives up to it.

Tirana Bogićević
In Too Deep
Not terrible, but not a favorite. It feels like a generic song on a Top 40 radio channel. The costume was interesting, again with the see-through skirts.

Nathan Trent
Running on Air
I kind of like this. It’s got a fun element to it, and he’s not showing off. This is my first Top 10 pick of the night.

F.Y.R. Macedonia:
Jana Burčeska
Dance Alone
The commentators just mentioned that she’s pregnant, which might mean she’s not actually dancing alone, but I don’t think I’m supposed to be that literal. It wasn’t terrible, and it’s could be very popular with preteen girls. It’s not terrible, but I’m not ready to put it in my Top 10 just yet.

Just an observation, I think it's time Greece stopped pouting and let the country be called just Macedonia. How long does it have to be saddled with the F.Y.R. Greece, grow up and acknowledge other places can, and do have the same names.

Claudia Faniello
The commentators are right, this does have a Celine Dion feel. It’s not terrible, but not my favorite.

Iliac featuring Alex Florea
Yodel It!
I love this! It’s so much fun! Just what I watch Eurovision for, the fun, silliness. Top 10 right here. I suspect it will move on to the Final, but I will be truly surprised, and genuinely thrilled if it wins overall. The canons are an interesting interpretative element.

The Netherlands:
Lights and Shadows
I don’t dislike this one, but I can’t get excited about it either. It seems boring coming right after the yodeling. And I thought the name was a variation on orange, being from The Netherlands. I totally didn’t get the o-gene aspect of it.

Joci Pápai
Full points for singing in his native language. This gets a Top 10 vote just for that. Electric violins are fascinating to me. I wonder about how they work without a box to vibrate. But that’s just me.

I think music is a universal language and you can like the song and understand the emotions it is meant to evoke one if you do not understand the language of the lyrics; just think about operas. I will always vote for the entries that sing in their native languages over English. It’s hard to “Celebrate Diversity” when there is none.

Where I Am
This is a song was designed to win a reality competition and I can feel it. It’s not terrible, but not a favorite.

Yes, we get she’s from Australia and we get that we should vote for her just for that. Sorry commentators, I am picking my favorites based on my opinion of them.

Brendan Murray
Dying to Try
I like the balloon. He looks like a former boy-band member. It’s not a terrible song or a terrible performance, but I’m unsure of it. I’ll have to wait until the end to see where Ireland falls in my Top 10. Where’s the other singer? There was another voice on the track, but not on stage. Hmm.

San Marino:
Valentina Moletta and Jimmie Wilson
Spirit of the Night
This feels leftover from the height of disco. It’s not bad, though the lyrics distracted me. I had to look up St. Elmo’s Fire, and that led me to other things and thoughts and I missed most of this performance.

Jacques Houdek
My Friend
He’s not going to win. And that’s a shame, because he’s giving a great performance and I’m enjoying it, a Top 10 for sure.

Grant the Moment
Are the backup performers in the witness protection program? Or do they just not want to ever be identified with performing at Eurovision? The performance is a bit distracting, but I am enjoying the song.

She has feathers. It’s not bad and the similarity of “I follow” and “Apollo” in the lyrics is interesting.

Story of My Life
Native language! And a fun bouncy song, what’s not to like? The airboat is fun too. Yes, this is definitely a favorite of the night. I hope they go to the final.

Kristian Kostov
Beautiful Mess
There is nothing special about this performance to me. It’s background music, not objectionable, but nothing I’d seek out specifically.

Rain of Revolution
This is interesting, the the way that I do not understand it and cannot decide whether I like it or not.

Koit Toome & Laura
This feels like a movie theme. It’s not terrible, but I can definitely see credits rolling under this song.

I Feel Alive
It was not bad, but I’m not rushing out to by the cd.

Ohh, it’s going to be hard to round out my Top 10. There were a good number of just okay entries tonight.

My Top 10:
1. Austria
2. Romania
3. Hungary
4. Croatia
5. Belarus
6. Norway
7. F.Y.R. Macedonia
8. Lithuania
9. Ireland
10. Israel

The cooking segments were interesting tonight. I do like finding out about different cuisines. And the throws to the segments were better tonight.

The wedding proposal was sweet. Best wishes to the happy couple.

Actual Finalists
1. Bulgaria
2. Belarus
3. Croatia
4. Hungary
5. Denmark
6. Israel
7. Romania
8. Norway
9. The Netherlands
10. Austria

I won’t be doing a review of the Final because it’s on Mother’s Day here in Australia and we’re hosting my housemate’s parents for dinner. I’ll record the final and watch it later, but won’t do a blog about it. I’m sorry to not be reviewing it, particularly since I haven’t heard the automatic qualifiers’ songs yet, but I will watch it and I am sure to enjoy it.

Thanks for watching along with me,

Friday, May 12, 2017

Eurovision 2017, Semi-Final #1 -- A Review

My friend Tigger is back with his review of Eurovision 2017.
I hope you enjoy Eurovision as much as he does.

I was helping get dinner ready so I came in just as the performances started.  And now, without any preliminary chatter, let's just get to the performances.

Robin Bengtsson
I Can’t Go On
Robin is a former boy-band member trying to make it solo. Or at least that’s what it feels like. It’s not one of my favorites for the night. His suit was quite nice though.

Tamara Gachechiladze
Keep the Faith
That’s a big voice from one small lady. The Australian commentators said this was inspired by a James Bond theme song — yes I can see that. But I don’t really like it.

SBS, I miss Julia and Sam. I like Myf, but I miss Julia and Sam. On the plus note, I haven’t seen the Australian entry teased for months, so I’m not sick of it already.

Don’t Come Easy
The song was not bad, though the lyrics were a bit repetitive. Could be a top 10 choice, but just one the cusp right now.

It’s not bad, but a bit same-samey. There is nothing at all unique or unusual about this entry.

So far, the acts are very similar, solo artist with or without backup, with stadium filling big voices. It’s not a bad thing, but I was hoping for some more variety. And I was really hoping a few acts would sing in their native language rather than English.

City Lights
I like this one. This is a top 10 vote for me. Yes, I really like this one.

Slavko Kalezić
This is a nightclub song, something to dance to rather than something to sing. Using his hair as a prop is original.

Norma John
The song felt like a sad song, but the music is not as sad as it seems. There is a hope in the music that was echoed in the delivery. I do like it. Definitely a favorite for the night.

This feels more like performance art. And I know that’s what Eurovision is, but I mean performance art in a “making a statement” kind of way, not a performance. I might have liked the song better had the performance been a bit different.

Salvador Sobral
Ama Pelos Dois
Full points for native language! He gets my vote! I was prepared to not like him for the hipster persona, but best performance yet!

This Is Love
They are splashing puddles. I like the puddles. Other than that it’s a standard Eurovision entry. She looks very happy with her performance and that’s a good thing.

Kasia Moś
There is nothing special about this song. It’s not bad, but it’s not good either.

See-through skirts are popular this year.

Sunstroke Project
Hey Mamma
It started out sounding very Calypso to me. It’s fun song, and just what I watch Eurovision for; a Top 10 vote.

This reminds me of P!nk. Not terrible, just nothing special or different enough to win.

Czech Republic:
Martina Bárta
My Turn
Points for just signing the song, simply without too much flash and show. The extra syllables felt like she was practicing a national anthem for a football game. But it was not too terrible.

I think this would be better if he were descending from above during the song, but the precision choreography is cool. Not bad, a Top 10 for me.

Fly With Me
It’s not bad. I wouldn’t vote for this song to win, but it’s not bad and should go to the finals.

Some of the outfits look like they have been recycled from the old Star Trek costumes. They could be flashier or more culturally authentic. For a celebration of European music and performers, it is getting to be quite generically American. This isn’t Europe’s Got Talent, be quirky, unusual…original! Take a chance! You have nothing to lose, and if you fall, your country won’t have to host next year.

Omar Naber
On My Way
I don’t mind it, it was okay, but it feels like a Broadway show tune, as the hero sets out on the quest.

Triana Park
This is the first really weird Eurovision performance I’ve seen tonight, not counting the performance art from Azerbaijan. The colors, the weird costumes, the weird hair, yes it has everything a quirky Eurovision entry needs.

My Top 10:
1. Portugal
2. Moldova
3. Belgium
4. Cyprus
5. Finland
6. Latvia
7. Slovenia
8. Armenia
9. Greece
10. Australia

The throws to the snack recipe segments are bad, it seems too forced. The commentators seem uncomfortable with the script.

Actual Finalists:
1. Moldova
2. Azerbaijan
3. Greece
4. Sweden
5. Portugal
6. Poland
7. Armenia
8. Australia
9. Cyprus
10. Belgium

See you tomorrow night for a review of Semi-Final #2,

Friday, March 3, 2017

One Bear's Opinion -- Book Review

Roll: 7
Monopoly Property: Mediterranean Avenue
Book: The Janissary Tree
Author: Jason Goodwin

This book was purchased during my Adventure in the City for National Bookstore Day 2013. I know my housemate had been considering the book for sometime then, but still it took us several years to actually read the book. Some people can read any book any time, but my housemate needs to be in the right frame of mind to read some books, and The Janissary Tree was one she needed to be ready to read.

I agree. This is not the kind of book you can read whenever or wherever. It was definitely a book that needed my full attention as a reader.

I enjoyed the story, but not so much he author’s style. It seemed that the author was trying to tell the story from the point of view of many, but not all, of the people involved in real time. The narrative would follow one character’s point of view for a while through some events, then begin again with a different character’s point of view and catch up with that character’s part of the tale. Throughout the book, there was much jumping back and forth in time, with no real indication that a jump had been made. That kind of jumping made it difficult to follow the story well, and made me as a reader wonder if I had gotten the whole story, with all the clues, or was I missing certain parts necessary to my ability to figure out the mystery alongside the investigator.

Another problem I had with the book was the use of foreign titles and words with no explanation. I realize the author knows what seraskier, ferrenghi, and effendi mean, but with no explanation to readers unfamiliar with the customs and language of the Ottoman court, it was difficult to know who the characters were. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the look inside the Ottoman court, a period and place in history I know very little about, but it would have been better if there had been a cast of characters and/or a glossary of foreign words provided for readers.

I enjoyed the book, but with certainly stylistic changes, I could have enjoyed it so very much more. I have read other books written from the point of view of several characters, but in those, the author either told the tale of each character to a particular point and then began again with another character until all the parts met at the denouement, or the author clearly indicated which character and when in time the tales were. If the story jumps from one character’s part to another, it is important to let the reader know in a clear fashion.

Overall, it was an interesting read, and I am interested enough to read more in the series, but these are books that definitely need your full attention as a reader to understand and enjoy.

One Bear’s Opinion: Three cups of Turkish Coffee with some Turkish Delight

Happy Reading Everyone,

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

One Bear's Opinion -- Book Review

Roll: 1
Monopoly Property: Pennsylvania Avenue
Book: Thunder on the Right
Author: Mary Stewart

My copy of Thunder on the Right actually fit both tasks for Pennsylvania Avenue: Read a thriller/suspense book or a book with a purple cover. This was a 2004 mass market paperback reprint of the book, with a scene of a horse in a valley in shades of purple on the cover. I wasn’t thinking about it fitting both tasks, but was happy it did.

My housemate has kept records of her reading since 2000, and according to her records, we read this book in 2009. She said she did not remember anything about the book, but I did. So it was a re-read to me, and like most re-reads, it was well worth the second read.

I don’t want to say too much about the book, because I am afraid of spoiling it, and the parts of the book that stick out most are the parts that would give away the plot.

Like Mary Stewart’s other thrillers, this one is a bit slow to start. There is a great deal of set up before the real action of the book begins, but there are enough little clues to draw the reader through to the book without dragging.

I believe Mary Stewart’s books are categorized as romantic thrillers or romantic suspense, and I suppose that is as good a categorization as any other, though I don’t read enough thriller or suspense to know for sure. A member of a group I belong to suggested that Mary Stewart’s books are cozy mysteries. That I know is not true. There may be elements of a mystery, but they are in no way cozy mysteries. So I am not really sure where to put the book on the genre spectrum, I just know it’s a very good read, and a very good re-read.

One Bear’s Opinion: Four cups of a calming tisane and a plate of macaroons

Happy Reading Everyone,

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

One Bear's Opinion -- Book Review

Roll: 8
Monopoly Property: Community Chest #3
Book: The Poyson Garden
Author: Karen Harper

This was almost a free read, as the task for the property was to “read a book from any historical mystery series.” The group where I originally found this reading challenge picks a featured author each month and this month’s featured author was one of my suggestions, Karen Harper, so The Poyson Garden was was perfect choice, as it fit both challenges.

According to Goodreads and my personal records, I read this book for the first time in 2002. I could not remember exactly when I read it, but I remembered I enjoyed it enough at the time to read the rest of the series. The re-read was equally enjoyable, though I did find myself comparing this book to Murder at Hatfield House that I read last year.

Both were mysteries set before Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth I, and both featured attempts on the Princess’ life. There were some similar characters, if only because some of the characters were real people and since both stories were based on those real people, it would have been strange had the important real people not been characters in both.

Even in the re-read I found the Karen Harper series to be lighter and more fitting the definition of cozy than the Amanda Carmack series, though both series’ first books were very good introductions. And both encouraged readers to seek out the next-in-series. I do have to give a slight edge to the Karen Harper series, if only because they are lighter, and if I’m honest, because of Edward Thompson, alias Ned Topside. The actor is one of my favorite characters, and I missed him in the Amanda Carmack series.

The mystery was interesting, and while there weren't too many red herrings, it was interesting to watch as the characters discovered the murderer. There were a couple of scary parts, and I was glad I had people around me while I was reading those parts, but they were quick, not too graphic, and fit well in the story. There is an animal in the book that I wondered about the first time I read the book, but have since actually seen, and heard, in person. It was amazing in person, and having had that experience made the scenes in the book even more spine-tingling real. And while I don't know if it is historically accurate, I share Princess Elizabeth's almost paralyzing fear of bees.

It was fun to re-discover The Poyson Garden and I am looking forward to re-discovering the rest of the series, either as part of my Monopoly Reading Challenge or just books to be read for fun.

One Bear’s Opinion: Four Glasses of Mead with a plate of oatcakes

Happy Reading Everyone,

Monday, February 6, 2017

One Bear's Opinion -- Book Review

Roll: 4
Monopoly Property: B&O Railroad
Book: The Silver Locomotive Mystery
Author: Edward Marston

The task for the B&O Railroad property was to read a book where the protagonist sets out on journey at some point during the book. I thought a mystery in the Railway detective series would definitely fit the bill. And it did. I lost count of the number of times the characters went from London to Cardiff and back again in the book, and there were a couple of train trips to other areas as well.

The Silver Locomotive Mystery revolved around a murder and theft of a silver coffeepot made in the shape of a locomotive. Reading the book, I kept wondering what people would want a silver coffeepot for. Surely the using it would tarnish the silver quickly, and having it just sit on the shelf seems pointless, but that’s just me and I’d rather have my shelf space devoted to books than knick-knacks or trinkets.

This was the sixth book in the Inspector Robert Colbeck/Railway Detective series. It was the first one I had read, so the references to previous adventures — and there were quite a few — were lost on me. I felt a bit lost when the proviso adventures were mentioned, and would have preferred either fewer mentions or more explanation, but that’s a problem with coming in in the middle of an established series. I have seen it in other series I read, though for the most part I have begun at the beginning.

The book was an easy read, and the mystery had the detective guessing as well as readers. There were plenty of red herrings, but all seemed plausible at the time. There were a couple of plot threads that were left dangling and that bothered me. But overall, the book was worth reading and I may search out the rest of the series at some point, if I can find them for the right price. I got this one at a remainders sale for $4 and would pay that much for it, but anything more might be too much. And I feel somewhat bad about that. Edward Marston writes under other pseudonyms, and his series set on classic ocean liners written as Conrad Allen is one of my favorites. I am a bit disappointed that I did not enjoy this episode as much as that one.

Overall Rating: Three Cups of Tea with cakes enjoyed in the observation car

Happy Reading Everyone,