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.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Windup Girl

Paolo Bacigalupi has written a unusual but compelling novel involving the biotechnology of food sources, mutant animals and insects, and limited fuel options. Because of the lack of background provided by the author, I found the first fifty pages a bit confusing; however, it is so well written that I was able to quickly figure out what was happening.

The novel is set in Thailand 200 years into the future. Anderson Lake is a calorie man working for AgriGen, an American genetic food company, under the guise of a factory manager making a new type of energy storage unit known as kink-springs. These springs are wound in a factory that is manned by Thai peasants and aided by genetically altered elephants, known as megodonts. Anderson's real goal is to get his hands on the Thai seed bank for his genehacking company. His factory foreman is a displaced Chinese "yellow card " from Malaysia, Hock Seng, who wants to steal the blueprints for the kink-springs, so he can sell them to a gangster known as the Dung Lord. I told you this gets a little confusing.

Anderson falls in love with genetically modified Emiko, a Japanese windup girl. The windups are considered trash by the Thais and could be mulched at any time. She is working at a sex club, where she is sexually abased daily. Emiko's goal is to find a place in Thailand where supposedly her kind, the New People, live in peace. Their liaison will prove to be tragic for everyone later in the book.

Intertwined with these people are three political powers vying for control of Thailand and independence from the world powers. First, there is the Environment Ministry led by General Pracha, Captain Jaidee, and his Lieutenant Kanya, a mole for the Trade Ministry. The Environment Ministry's duties include: stopping illegal imports, identifying new diseases caused by genetic alterations, and destroying anything deemed a threat to Thailand...unless bribed. The second power is led by Akkarat of the Trade Ministry, who wants to increase imports beyond what the Environmental Ministry will allow. The third power is the protector of the Child Queen, the most powerful man in Thailand, the Somdet Chaopraya. Also involved as a outside power is the mysterious Gibbons, a geneticist, who is the Thai's last resort against new diseases.

When all of these entities collide, all hell breaks loose. This is not only a meaningful story, but a genetic engineering warning! When man tinkers with genes, he could cause a catastrophic and irreversible calamity.

 RATING: 5 stars out of 5

Comment: This novel is a fairly new genre of writing known as biopunk.The Windup Girl tied with The City & The City for the 2010 Hugo award for best novel. Although Paolo Bacigalupi has written many short stories and essays, this is his first novel.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


If Guy Gavriel Kay wanted to write a trilogy or adapt a novel for a TV miniseries, this was his chance. This great book is similar to George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, except it occurs during the eighth century in a country presumed to be China, and its only one book instead of four or five. Why Kay decided to wrap-up this historical/fantasy novel in only 573 pages and then end it quickly in the last 60 or so pages is a mystery to me. Even with these flaws, this book is a sensational page-turner with incredible character development and never-ending drama.

Under Heaven is set in the imaginary country of Kitai that's bordered by the empires of Tagur and Bogu, which seem to be Mongolia and Tibet. All the rules of oriental honor, social class, and justice are in vogue throughout this epic novel, spiced with many sexual situations and astonishing intrigue. The Kitai empire is ruled by Taizu, the Son of Heaven, Emperor of the Imperial family, who is aided by his beautiful consort, Wen Jian and his first minister, Wen Zhou.

The novel begins with our protagonist Shen Tai of Kitai mourning the death of his father for two and a half years at Kuala Nor, the site of his father's last battle. He spends the time alone, burying the bones of the thousands of soldiers that died during the last war between Kitai and Tagur twenty years earlier. In the evenings in a makeshift cabin, he listens to the ghosts of the dead screaming. At the end of his second year, he is visited by Bytsan sri Nespo, a Taguran army officer and is informed that the White Jade Princess of Tagur has rewarded him with 250 Sardian Horses in honor of his efforts burying the dead of both countries. Now this might not sound like much, but each Sardian horse is worth a fortune alone and is far superior to any other horse in battle. Now, Shen Tai must make his trek to the the Ta-Ming Palace of the Emperor Taizu to decide what to do with the gift. Along the way, he picks up a Kanlin Warrior, Wei Song, to help him thwart many assassination attempts.

I'm not going to use any spoilers, because I'm don't want to reveal the ending, which is exciting to say the least. As the plot progresses, Shen Tai wonders if the Sardians are a gift or a death warrant. The political opponents in the Ta-Ming court vie for the horses and empirical favor, resulting in upheaval of the government and eventual war. To find out who wins the war, or how Shen Tai and his friends fare, you will have to read this moving novel.

This is the first book I've read by Guy Gavriel Kay, and it will not be the last. If you like historical/fantasy fiction, I highly recommend this book. It seems to me that this genre of writing is gaining momentum and bringing us new and exciting authors. It is also noteworthy that the author provided a map and a list of principal characters in the front of the book. Since a lot of the given names were very similar, it was very helpful as you read the book.

RATING: 5 stars out of 5

Comment: The Tang period in China ran from 618 to 907 A.D., which is the time period of this book. The Tang Dynasty was famous for its poets and painters along with a thriving trade business via the Silk Road. Lastly, it was also known for the hundreds of thousands of ferocious troops that protect its borders.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Abraham Lincoln: VAMPIRE HUNTER

Seth Grahame-Smith writes another novel out of the new genre of books that marries historical fiction with fantasy/horror. What's next: George Washington and the Philadelphia Werewolves? All kidding aside, this is an enjoyable example of that new genre. It is well written and features many historical figures that are either vampires or sympathetic to them. If you thought the life of Abe Lincoln was tragic, this book will bring tragedy to a new level.

The author, Seth Grahame-Smith, is a young man working in a five & dime store, when he meets a mysterious stranger, Henry. One day Henry leaves a package for the author at the counter. The package is accompanied by a letter stating that the contents are to be kept secret, and a manuscript is to be written about the subject matter. He opens the package and finds ten leather-bound journals and a bundle of letters. The first book he picks up is entitled "This is the journal of Abraham Lincoln"! As he commits to the writing of the manuscript, he learns that Henry is a vampire. Although Henry appears to be a young man, we later find out that he is well over 300 years old.

The journals start off with Abe as a young man. He finds out via his father that his grandfather was killed by a vampire. He later finds out that his aunt, uncle, and mom were also killed by a vampire, which leads him to lose faith in God and become a vampire hunter. Abe fashions a long black coat with many pockets to hide his famous axe and wooden stakes, and off he goes solo against the world of the undead.

Later in life, Abe is almost killed by a old lady vampire, but is saved by the inexplicably good vampire, Henry. Henry teaches Abe all the tricks and trades of slaying and detecting the undead. Abe also picks up two accomplices, Jack Armstrong, and "Speed", as the story continues to unfold. Most of the leads Abe gets are in the form of a letter signed " H ", giving him the name of the next bad vampire to eliminate.

The journals continue to tell the trials and tribulations of our 16th President during his extraordinary life, marred by the death of three sons, the death of his first fiancee, and the pressure of the coming Civil War. The questions are: Were the vampires involved in these deaths? Did they participate for the South during the Civil War? Did they assassinate Lincoln? Did Lincoln even die? You will have to read all ten journals that were given to the author of this book to find out.

Even though I enjoyed the book, I'm not sure I'm sold on this type of writing. I've read three books by Matthew Pearl, but he writes novels about real people, like Charles Dickens, in a historical time frame. If Seth Grahame-Smith wrote about Dickens, it would probably be "Charles Dickens meets Frankenstein". I guess I'm a historical fiction fan without the fantasy/horror.

RATING: 3.5 stars out of 5

Comment: If you want to read about Lincoln's real life, I suggest Lincoln by Gore Vidal, written in 1984. Of historical note, Lincoln was the first Republican to win the Presidency in 1860. Although Lincoln ran against three opponents, he still had 180 Electoral votes vs their combined 123 votes. Finally, he was so hated in the South that he was not even on the ballot in ten Southern States.

Friday, January 7, 2011


Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen leave the Civil War and World War II to write their first book about the Revolutionary War. The book traces the disastrous defeats and retreats from Long Island, Manhattan, New Brunswick, all the way to the Delaware River near Trenton.

The biggest debacle was the Continental Army's retreat at Fort Lee in the N.J.Palisades where they fled without firing a shot and left valuable supplies behind. The missing supplies would become very important, since they included blankets and boots so desperately needed in winter warfare. Maybe the Continental Army thought the war would be over during the summer, since enlistments were for only six months! Can you imagine the troops of today just walking away and going home after such a short enlistment? That was happening, along with countless desertions, when facing the professional British troops and the Hessian mercenaries.

Gen. George Washington, Col. Henry Knox (Chief of Artillery) and Thomas Paine proved to be the real heroes in this conflict. Without their military knowledge and Thomas Paine's pamphlet "The American Crisis" to spur on the troops morale, all would have been lost. The actual recrossing of the Delaware River from McKonkey's Ferry in Pennsylvania to Trenton is a matter of history. Some little known facts are that it happened during a nor'easter, the troops were mostly barefooted and had to march nine miles through rain, mud, sleet and snow. After the Continental Army defeated the Hessians, they had to march those same nine miles back to Pennsylvania, before British reinforcements arrived. This battle on Christmas of 1776 was the first victory of consequence for the Americans and set the tone for the rest of the war.

Although I enjoyed the book, it was written more like a history lesson. The main problem was that most of the characters are real historical figures with the exception of the Jonathan Van Dorn family and his friend, Peter. I liked these side characters, but not enough time was spent on them to feel any real empathy towards them. Perhaps if the book was a hundred pages longer, there would have been more time for character development and some subplots. I also didn't think the jumping back and forth in time and events worked very well.

I'm going to read the second book in this series, Valley Forge, to see if it is more of a historical novel or another history lesson. I'm not criticizing the history, I just want to see more subplots to make it more substantial. If you are a history buff, I highly recommend this book.

RATING: 3.5 stars out of 5

Comment: After the war, George Washinton became the only President ever to garner 100% of the electoral votes. He also set the precedent for Presidential terms by refusing a third term. It should also be noted that Thomas Paine's pro-revolutionary writings didn't stop after the war of Independence. He later went to France and helped in the early part of the French Revolution with the power of his pen.