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,

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

One Bear's Opinion -- Book Review

Roll: none
Monopoly Property: none
Book: The Scottie Barked at Midnight
Author: Kaitlyn Dunnett

I had finished my previous book not long before I had to leave for dinner and while I rolled for my next Monopoly property, I didn’t have time to research and find a book that fit the task requirements, so I just grabbed this book off the shelf to have a book to take with us to dinner, so it's not part of my Monopoly Reading Challenge.

The Scottie Barked at Midnight is the ninth book in the Liss MacCrimmon Scottish mystery series. It was a fun book, though most of that was due to Dandy and Dondi, the Scottish terriers central to the plot and the title. If you were to take out the terriers, the mystery might not have been as good. I enjoyed the interaction with the dogs, but the rest of the plot was a bit thin, and it was easy to pick out the murderer and even the reason.

In many ways, I think small town mysteries are harder to write, if only because there are a limited number of characters in the main character’s circle and either new ones are brought in to be the victim or perpetrator, or a fan favorite has to be. It’s easy to pick the victim and killer in the story because they are the new to town characters. The formula is the same in any small town mystery. So the mystery is not the reason to read these series.

But in this instance, the characters are not the reason either. The interplay between the familiar characters was not there in this episode. Without the dogs and the murder, there was nothing left to keep my interest. Though the theories presented about reality competition shows are interesting and more than likely at least partially true, there still was not enough to make this episode a “must read” one of the series. If you are planning to skip one in the series, this is a perfect one to choose. And if you are just beginning the series, I suggest you try and find some of the earlier books; this is not the best of the bunch.

One Bear’s Opinion: Three cups of tea and a packet of granola bars, for energy

Happy Reading Everyone,

One Bear's Opinion -- Book Review

Roll: 6
Monopoly Property: Kentucky Avenue
Book: Murder at the Breakers
Author: Alyssa Maxwell

The task for the Kentucky Avenue property was to read a book set in the Victorian Era or with a red cover. Murder at the Breakers book is set in 1895, so towards the end of the Victorian era, but still it fits the requirements.

I had read books set in Newport during the “Gilded Age” before, and have in fact even been to several of the places mentioned in the book. On my very first cruise, I visited the Breakers and Cliff Walk, so I have an idea of the setting. I was looking forward to reading this book since I found about it during the Cozy Read-a-Thon I participated in last year.

I had higher hopes for it. The characters were interesting, but not particularly likable. I never grew to care for any of the characters as friends, and found myself not enjoying the book or the setting very much. I read the entire book hoping it would get better, and it really never did. The mystery was intriguing, and I had fun figuring out the murderer, though I didn’t guess before the main character put it all together.

I haven’t decided as to whether I am going to seek out other books in the series, or just re-read the Gilded Age series by Mary Kruger.

One Bear’s Opinion: Three glasses of lemonade and some average petit fours

Happy Reading Everyone,

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

One Bear's Opinion -- Book Review

Roll: 7
Monopoly Property: Pennsylvania Railroad
Book: Fer-de-Lance
Author: Rex Stout

Fer-de-Lance is the first in the Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series. Nero Wolfe has long been a favorite of my housemate’s mother, and we have wanted to read the series since we read Murder by the Book a couple of years ago. But that was not why we chose to read this book right now. Naturally, we prefer to read a series in order, and starting with the first one is the best way to do that, but we chose this book because it’s primarily set in New York, both New York City and further out in the country in places like White Plains. The task for Pennsylvania Railroad was to read a book set in a place you’d like to visit. And I’d like to visit New York, especially if I could have a meal at Rusterman’s, one of the few places Nero Wolfe goes on the rare occasions when he leaves his house.

Fer-de-Lance is not one of the Nero Wolfe mysteries I had heard in the car as a book-on-tape on long family drives, or one of the books that was turned into an episode of A Nero Wolfe Mystery in the most recent incarnation of the series in tv. So I knew nothing about the book other than it was the first-in-series and set up the series. I am glad I didn’t know anything about book before I read it. It was fun to discover the characters on my own.

Many other reviewers have noted that the Nero Wolfe books are more about the interaction between the characters, mostly Archie and Nero, than the about the mystery or the plot. And that is true. The books are at their heart a story of two men. Over the course of the 47-book series, the characters do not age and the settings only change with the times as a reaction to the author moving along in time. The Archie of the last book is exactly the same as the Archie of the first book. It is explained that Nero Wolfe has a set schedule in the first book, and in the last, he is still as rigid in that schedule as he ever was. The series is timeless, and the consistency of the characters makes it so.

The mystery of Fer-de-Lance is interesting because it is a rather unusual method of murder. And yes, the title snake does make an appearance in the book. It’s an ingenious use of the reptile.

Over all the book was a fun introduction to the characters and knowing that there are 46 more adventures (well, 44, since we have already read two books of the series) to be had with Archie and Nero makes it more fun to meet them now. I highly recommend everyone make an acquaintance with Archie and Nero. They are good friends, made even more so by the number of adventures to be had with them, and the consistency of their characters across those adventures.

One Bear’s Opinion: Five glasses of milk with a plate of yummy cookies

Happy Reading Everyone,