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.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Leaving Van Gogh

Are spoilers needed when the first line in the novel says, "I held Vincent's skull in my hands yesterday"? I don't think so. This historical fiction novel by Carol Wallace depicts the last three months or so of the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh's life. The novel is narrated by Dr. Paul Gachet, who is a real life subject of one of Van Gogh's most famous paintings. The French physician was supposedly Van Gogh's doctor during the last stages of the painter's mental illness. He was also an amateur artist and friend of  famous painters, Cezanne and Pisarro. When Dr. Gachet died, he owned 26 Van Goghs, 24 Cezannes, 12 Pissaros, and many other paintings done by artists such as Monet and Renoir. What are those worth now?

The book is written in the style of the late 1890s. I really felt like I was back in those times. The writers of the late nineteenth century had a style of their own, and Carol Wallace mimics that style to a tee, including the use of Caslon typeface. I have a vexation with a book if it's written without the proper type.

In 1890, Dr. Gachet is approached by Theo Van Gogh and is asked if he can help his brother's mental condition. The doctor agrees, and Vincent moves to the country, near the doctors house in Auvers-Sur-Oise, France. Early on, the heavy smoking and drinking Vincent seems to get better and strikes up a friendship with Gachet's family. But then the doctor notices mood swings that can be dangerous for Vincent and Gachet's family. Vincent becomes somber and argumentative when he finds that his brother Theo is dying of syphilis. If his brother dies, it means Vincent's monthly stipend and art supplies stop. Vincent feels that if he can't paint, then his life is worthless. He is only 37 years old.

The time Vincent spent with Doctor Gachet is pure conjecture, but that period produced some of Van Gogh's most prodigious works. This was his bright vivid color period, having done away with his earlier earth tone and browns style, which produced his famous The Potato Eaters. Did Dr. Gachet really spend this time with Vincent and assist in his suicide? It is unknown, but possible. Carol Wallace presents a plausible story of the last three months of the great painter's life. A well written and brilliantly conceived novel.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Much of what we know about Vincent's thoughts come from the over 600 letters written to his brother Theo, the art dealer. Even though 1890 was his last year, many of his famous cypress trees, wheat fields, and portraits were painted that year, some of of which were produced in a single day. He was ahead of his time, and his work was not valued in his era, leaving him broke, disconsolate and suicidal.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


This historical fiction novel tells the story of a Danish shipping town between the years 1848 and 1945. Carsten Jensen's 678 page novel is a very enjoyable read, but not the classic that some reviewers are calling it. I know I've used the words "classic" or "classical" in my reviews before, but I never compared it to an actual classic book. A UK reviewer compared this work to Moby Dick and The Old Man and The Sea. Wow.

Let's analyze this. In this book there are many able seaman, but no Ishmael. There are many captains in We, the Drowned, but no Ahab. The language and style of Herman Melville is unsurpassed by any modern day author. Ernest Hemingway's book uses the Cuban fisherman Santiago's struggle with the giant marlin as a lesson in man's tenacity and belief in God's will. One book demonstrates man's stubborn desire for revenge, the other man's obstinate perseverance. Don't get me wrong - I liked the book; it's just not a classic. Okay, enough of that.

An unusual trait of this book is that each chapter seems to have a new narrator. Sometimes I knew who was telling the story; but most of the times, I didn't. It was distracting enough for me to pause and try to figure out who was the chapter's narrator. I thought it was interesting when the author, in his acknowledgment, said he used the whole town of Marstal to help him with information and motivation.

The book itself traces the life of Lars Madsen through the 1848 war with Germany, continues with his son, Albert Madsen and his friends to World War I, and finishes with Albert's "adopted" family of Klara Friis and Knud Erik to the end of World War II. There are many interesting stories concerning these characters, although I could only feel empathy for Albert Madsen and Knud Erik out of the hundreds of characters the reader meets through the book's 97 years.

I'm assuming the author wanted to give the world a taste of what it was like to be a seaman in Marstal, Denmark. Sailing the open seas in masted ships, facing constant storms, living like a prisoner, being beaten by murderous first mates, and then eventually for most: death by drowning! If so, I got the flavor of it. The harsh conditions and the many ports of call are extraordinarily descriptive and worthy of notice. Overall, nice job Mr. Jensen. I highly recommend reading this tale of the seas.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: This book was published in Denmark in 2006, but wasn't translated into English until 2010. It's quite amazing that so few books are written about seafaring. The few classics I mentioned above plus Melville's unfinished Billy Budd, Sailor are true sea tales. Probably the most famous is Homer's The Odyssey, which proved that Odysseus was an inept captain to say the least. He left Troy with twelve ships heading for his home in Ithaca and arrived twenty years later as the soul survivor.