The Blog's Mission

Wikipedia defines a book review as: “a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review”. My mission is to provide the reader with my thoughts on the author’s work whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. I read all genres of books, so some of the reviews may be on hard to find books, or currently out of print. All of my reviews will also be available on I will write a comment section at the end of each review to provide the reader with some little known facts about the author, or the subject of the book. Every now and then, I’ve had an author email me concerning the reading and reviewing of their work. If an author wants to contact me, you can email me at I would be glad to read, review and comment on any nascent, or experienced writer’s books. If warranted, I like to add a little comedy to accent my reviews, so enjoy!
Thanks, Rick O.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Pillars of the Earth

Ken Follett's spectacular historical novel reminds me of one of my favorite movie titles: The Good (Prior Phillip), The Bad (Bishop Waleran Bigod), and The Ugly (William Hamleigh)! This book is filled with do-gooders, such as Aliena, Tom Builder, Jonathan, Ellen and Jack Sherbough. The infamous include most of the aristocrats, the vulgar Alfred, Remigius, and the hideous Lady Regan Hamleigh. The descriptions of all the characters are so remarkable that you can visualize everyone clearly in your mind. Ken Follett has written an epic book of medieval times between the years of 1123 to 1174. It's a sensational drama of good versus evil, religion versus sovereignty, and the tenacity of the common man.

The book starts with a mysterious hanging in 1123 and quickly moves to Tom Builder's family in 1135. Tom is a master mason with dreams of building the world's best Cathedral. He has many trials and tribulations before arriving in Kingsbridge and meeting the new prior, Phillip. Meanwhile the Hamleigh family of Shiring is insulted by Aliena, daughter of Earl Bartholomew, for refusing to marry their son, William. This starts 39 years of strife between these two families.

Prior Phillip taking over the Monastery at Kingsbridge seeks help via King Stephen to acquire the funds needed to build his Cathedral. He succeeds by tricking Bishop Waleran out of the funds the Bishop wanted for the building of his castle. Prior Phillip has now unfortunately made a enemy out of the Bishop for the next 39 years. The ensuing years result in many confrontations between these two.

Meanwhile on the political front, the battle for the Throne of England and Normandy goes on for 39 years between King Stephen, King Henry II, and Queen Maud. Religion is heavily involved in the struggles, led by the eminent Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.

All three of these scenarios (Hamleighs vs Aliena, Prior Phillip vs Bishop Waleran, and Sovereignty vs Religion) are artfully intertwined into a classic tale of right and wrong. There is so much going on in this novel that I only touched on the main plots, skipping the numerous sub-plots. I wouldn't want to spoil your enjoyment culminating in a exciting ending. Of the 30 books I read in 2010, this is the best, edging out Black Hills.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: The Kingsbridge Cathedral is fictional, but one of the towns in the book, Salisbury, is real and has a cathedral built similarly to the one described in the book. Ken Follett spent many years studying the age-old architecture involved in building a cathedral in medieval England. In a preface written in 1999, Ken Follett states this book became his biggest seller by "word of mouth"! I believe him since that's how I became aware of The Pillars of the Earth - thanks Luisa!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Black Hills

Having read four previous Dan Simmons novels, I anxiously awaited this 2010 novel. I certainly was not disappointed! This is a imaginative historical novel sprawling over sixty years. In this book, you will meet many well known figures such as: Wild Bill Cody, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and the famous sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. The Lakota indian Paha Sapa and Gen. George Armstrong Custer share the spotlight (and the same body) in this astonishing tale. After reading The Terror and Drood, I didn't think Simmons could write anything more peculiar. Boy, was I wrong.

Each chapter in this book jumps back and forth to different years in Paha Sapa's life. The first starts in 1876 during the battle of Little Big Horn. Paha, a ten year old boy, counts "coup" (touching a enemy unarmed) on Gen. Custer just as the General is killed. Now the unbelievable happens - the General's ghost jumps into Paha's body. The ghost will talk to Paha throughout the book about many things, incuding his sexual escapades with his wife, Libbie. Later, Paha goes on a Hanbleceya, a vision quest , and sees the Wasichus (white men) as giants eating up the land of "The Six Grandfathers", the Black Hills. The struggles of the "natural free human beings" known as the Lakota or Sioux  versus the Wasichus is a theme throughout the book.

The book skips to 1893 during the World's Fair in Chicago, back to 1876, and forward to 1936. In 1893 in Chicago, Paha is working in the Wild West show for Bill Cody, and meets his future wife, Rain de Plachette. During this chapter skipping, there is a interesting confrontation with Paha and the construction crew building the Brooklyn Bridge. This happens in 1933 when the ghost persuades Paha to visit Mrs. Custer on her 91st birthday so the General can see his wife for the last time. This is a very funny and also very sad meeting in N.Y.C.

The guts of the book has to do with the project in South Dakota known as Mount Rushmore. Paha gets hired as a powderman for the sculptor Borglum. As the years pass and Paha becomes a explosive expert - his real reason for being there becomes obvious. He wants to blow up the monument! He wants to do it during the unveiling of the Jefferson face, while Franklin D. Roosevelt is in attendance. In Paha's mind, this will stop the Wasichus from destroying the Black Hills and satisfy his vision quest.

Does he succeed? Does Paha Sapa (I love that name) survive? What happens to the President or Gutzon Borglum? Sorry, you will have to read 487 pages of this great novel to find out! I highly recommend this book.

RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars

Comment: The act of counting coup, especially unarmed, was considered a high honor for a Sioux warrior and earned an eagle feather that had to be painted red if he was wounded. The Mount Rushmore project took from 1927 to 1941 to finish with the final cost coming in at $989,992.32. Although the project was highly dangerous, not one worker was killed. Since the Lakota wanted to show that they also had great leaders, the Crazy Horse Memorial is being carved in the Black Hills 17 miles away. The sculpting of Crazy Horse started in 1948 and is not finished yet! Also as a historical note at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, Mr. Ferris introduced his famous Big Wheel.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


It took great imagination to write a historical novel about people who left no written history. Not only did Bernard Cornwell succeed, but he spins a compelling, plausible story. I don't remember the last time I rooted so vigorously for the heroes and felt such anger for the villains. Only the actual stones and various temples are a reality. Whether the local tribes worshipped the sun and moon or made those horrible human sacrifices is pure conjecture. It is written so well that I bought the whole package!

The story starts when a stranger from the Sarmennyn tribe (the outfolk) arrives at the Old Temple of the Ratharryn tribe with stolen gold pieces. He is slain by Lengar, son of Chief Hengall of Ratharryn. When Lengar gets back to his tribe, he is confronted by his father, who wants all the gold. Lengar gives up the gold and angerly leaves for Sarmennyn with many of his spearman. Meanwhile Hengall's second son, Saban, is to wed Derrewyn of the Cathallo tribe to unite the tribes in peace. The club footed third son of Hengall, Camaban, after escaping his own death by sacrifice leaves for Cathallo to study with Sannas the Sorceress of Cathallo. On the day of the wedding between Saban and Derrewyn, Lengar returns with many spearman and kills his father Hengall the Chief. Lengar now becomes chief, sells Saban into slavery, and takes a rebellious Derrewyn as his wife.

Wow! There is a lot going on in this book. Still to come are the conflicts between the three brothers, many sacrifices, the years of hauling boulders from Sarmennyn and Cathallo, and the building of the temple for Slaol, the Sun God, and Lahanna, the Moon Goddess. There are many side characters to root for and many villains to hate. The last hundred pages are filled with excitement, twists and turns. When I finished this book, I was hoping it was the first of a trilogy. I highly recommend this novel. It was written in 2000, but is readily available in paperback.

RATING : 4.5 Stars out of 5

Comment: Without written documents from the Bronze Age in England, the use of these boulders is uncertain. Based on all the digs that have been done at the site, the theories of its use are numerous, including for: burial rites, worship, healing, and the observation of the heavens. Bernard Cornwell comes up with a plausible theory on how these boulders were moved to the site and how the capstones were lifted over the arches. Finally, Cornwell continues to demonstrate that he is the king of describing death by combat.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Design of Everyday Things

This is a guest review from my eldest son, Deron:

Have you ever been unable to figure out how to work an appliance, a remote control, a computer program, or even a door. You might blame yourself or your ineptness with all things mechanical and computer. Author Donald Norman says to not blame yourself, blame the designers.

Bad design is serious stuff. It's not just dropping that call you were trying to transfer on the high-tech office phone system. Human error is often the cause of a plane crash, a ship collision, or a nuclear power plant accident. The human in "human error" isn't always the operator, but sometimes the equipment designer.

This book defines the principles of a user-centered approach to design. This approach puts usability over aesthetics. Not that a product shouldn't be beautiful, but usability should always trump beauty where they conflict.

One principle that he describes is affordance. An object should give you a clue as to how to use it. A metal plate on a door tells you to push, not pull. Some doors have push bars that are symmetrical across the door. This door cries out push, but which side: the right or the left? Norman goes over each principle in detail and gives examples that exemplify and violate the principle.

Norman also discusses the role of culture and customs in design. If you turn the steering wheel clockwise, the car will turn right. You can expect that to be true if you were on a boat. In this case, the boat's wheel in no way indicates which way the boat will turn if you turn the wheel clockwise as affordance would dictate. It is purely customary, and a completely valid way to design. In fact, to go against customs could be disastrous. (Incidentally, a recent article claims that the clash of two different steering systems played a crucial part in the sinking of the Titanic. Talk about the consequences of bad design.)

There is far more in this book than I can write about. I found it incredibly interesting. It is a must for anyone studying design; and not just for industrial designers, this book is instructional for both web site and computer application interface designers. For others, it could be an interesting read if you'd like to understand the process of good design and why you push the pull open door.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Don't be put off that this book was first published in 1986. The wisdom he imparts is for the ages. This book is a good foundation for his more recent works, such as Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things and Living with Complexity.

Donald Norman is a cognitive science professor, a former VP of Apple's Advanced Technology Group, and writes for a column for core77, and has his own site.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Android's Dream

This book by John Scalzi literally starts off with a lot of gas. During trade negotiations between the planets Earth and Nidu, Dirk Moeller of Earth, fitted with a special device from a man known as the Fixer, farts Lars-Win-Getag of Nidu to death! Dirk Moeller, laughing uncontrollably, collapses with a massive heart attack. It seems that the sentient lizard-like creatures of Nidu are smell sensitive and can interpret the meaning of each fart.

The Nidu Ambassador to Earth, Narf-Win-Getag, arrives at the office of the Secretary of State Jim Heffer. The ambassador threatens war with The United Nations of Earth, believing his trade negotiator was smell insulted on purpose. Of the 617 Nations in the Common Confederation, Nidu was only ranked 488th in military power, but unfortunately Earth was ranked 530th, and the Nidu had the Glar Destroyers and the Planet Cracker bombs! Narf-Win-Getag explains that their leader (The Fehen) has died, and his son will be coronated in two weeks. The Nidu need a special breed of sheep for the Coronation, and the breed has been mysteriously wiped out. The demand is simple: Find the electric blue sheep, known as the Android's Dream, for the Coronation, and there will be no war.

This is where our hero, Harry Creek, and heroine, Robin Baker enter the story. Harry, a war hero from the Battle of Pajmhi 12 years ago, is assigned the task of finding the blue sheep. He later enlists the aid of pet shop owner Robin Baker. He also has the help of a dead war veteran, his friend Brian Javna, now a semi-alive computer program in a IBM machine.

The ensuing pages are wrought with many twists and turns along with many questions: Does the Nidu Ambassador really want the sheep found? Is the Secretary of Defense, Bob Pope, on Harry's side? Does Robin Baker have the Android's Dream DNA in her body? Can Harry solve this mystery with so much opposition? You will have to read all 394 delightful pages to find out.

What's unusual about this book is all the interesting side characters. They include the human-eating Takk, the computer geek Archie McClellan and the thug Rod Acuna. If you are a sci-fi fan, this is a must read. Congratulations to John Scalzi for another exciting novel.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Scalzi continues to make future technology easy to understand. Many times I've almost put a novel down, because I didn't know what the author was saying. The title is no doubt an reference to Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was made into the classic movie Blade Runner. That book asks what it is to be human, a similar theme that runs through The Android's Dream.

The Android's Dream is a Tor book. You can head over to for great articles about John Scalzi and sci-fi in general.