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, January 26, 2012


I'm starting to love historical non-fiction that reads like a novel! Once again, Erik Larson succeeds where others fail. Educators should take note that students would willingly dive into history if their books were page turners. The non-fiction genre has become exciting with authors such as Larson and Candice Millard. I'm not knocking writers like Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen, but with this style they would see their ratings go from three stars to five stars immediately. This is not to say that there isn't a market for historical fiction since Bernard Cornwell has proven it to be huge. I'm just saying that this reviewer prefers his non-fiction to possess a little flamboyance and pizzazz.

This is a story of two main themes and several side attractions. One main topic includes the trials and tribulations of the construction of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The protagonist is Daniel H. Burnham, Director of Works, who encounters many problems with the short amount of time he had to build the "White City". The other main feature is the story of Doctor Herman W. Mudgett, America's answer to England's Jack the Ripper. Here is a man with many aliases, who was alleged to have murdered between nine and two hundred people during the world's fair. Somehow Erik Larson alternates chapters with these historic figures and makes two untenable subjects intertwine.

The side stories are fantastic, including George W.G. Ferris and his famous wheel, the landscape architect Frederick L. Olmstead's radical ideas, Buffalo Bill Cody's side show with Annie Oakley, and the frightening Patrick Prendergast stalking Chicago's five time Mayor Carter Henry Harrison. The fair debuted Cracker Jack's, Shredded Wheat, and the first spray paint nozzle and hose. These were exciting times for entrepreneurs, and Erik Larson illustrates all their World Fair contributions and difficulties in rich story telling. In reading this book, I really felt like I was there, or at least wished I was there, especially on the day Chicago crushed Paris's World's Fair "one day" admissions total by 354,000 people.

This book has to be read to understand what I'm saying about non-fiction reading like Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, regardless of the fact that this work is backed up by 41 pages of notes. This volume is highly recommended for readers of any genre, and if you are a student of literature, grab a Erik Larson book and enjoy his style.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: As a side story, it's interesting to know that a junior architect at the 1893 World's Fair was fired for "using his free time to design houses for clients of his own". His name was Frank Lloyd Wright. Also interesting is the fact that the Director of Color and Functions, Frank Millet died on the maiden voyage of the Titanic in 1912. He had all the buildings in the fair painted white, thus the "White City".

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


This is Candice Millard's stunning look at the assassination of our twentieth President, James Garfield. It's hard to believe that in the 1880s the President of the United States didn't have Secret Service protection, or doctors that believed that germs existed! If Garfield had either of these, he probably would have gone on to become a great President. As it turns out, Secret Service worked strictly on counterfeiting and protection didn't become a reality until after President William McKinley was shot in Buffalo, NY in 1901. Europe had adopted antiseptic surgery sixteen years before Garfield was shot, but the U.S. Medical Congress deemed the idea of "invisible germs to be ridiculous".

Millard spends an equal amount of time on the life and thoughts of the assassin madman, Charles Guiteau ("God wanted him to kill the president"), Garfield's rise from poverty to president, and Alexander Graham Bell's race to perfect an induction balance machine that would enable him to locate the bullet in Garfield's back. Unfortunately for Garfield, his surgical team led by Dr. D.Willard Bliss probed the bullet hole for 79 days using their dirty fingers and non-sterile probes. It's no wonder that at Charles Guiteau's trial, he admitted firing the bullet, but stated, "General Garfield died from malpractice".

Also expertly intertwined in this book is a overview of the corrupt spoils system used by political parties from 1828 until the election of Garfield in 1880. Garfield attempted to break this system, issuing offices by merit versus a rewards system for help in winning the election. His main adversary in this struggle was Senator Roscoe Conkling from NY and his lackey Chester Arthur, who was hand picked by Conkling to be Garfield's Vice-President. (As a sidebar to this issue, Arthur became a good man after he became president, shocking Roscoe Conkling into retirement.)  After Garfield passed away, his wife, Lucretia, added a wing to their farmhouse in Ohio to store the president's papers, thus creating the first Presidential Library.

Millard has written a delightfully engaging non-fiction history book, but it reads like a chilling murder novel. Well done! I'm going to have to read her first book, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey. My recommendation is simple: get this book and read it; it's great!

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Candice Millard got her Master's degree in literature from Baylor University. Both of her books made the New York Times Best Seller List. She is a former editor of National Geographic and lives in Kansas City.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Prague Cemetery

Not for nothing, this historical novel by Umberto Eco is 444 pages of unadulterated hatred! It spans approximately 40 years in the late 1800s in Europe. It mostly involves Italy, France, Germany, and Russia, and their infighting and subversive attacks against each other. Most of these assaults are based on forged documents meant to cause perplexities amongst the Catholics, Jews, Freemasons, Jesuits, and the common populist. However, the main focus is to eliminate the Jews from the face of the Earth. The counterfeit papers of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion became ammunition for Adolph Hitler to attempt the unimaginable elimination of an entire race of people. The idea was also aided by the Ottoman Empire's try at genocide on Turkey's Armenian residents during and after World War I.

The narrator of this story, Captain Simonini, is the only character that Eco says is fictitious. All of the rest are historic figures with a few minor exceptions. It seems our Captain Simonini is also Abbe Dalla Piccola! So what we have here is a main character with a multiple personality disorder that is an acquaintance of Dr. Sigmund Froide (Freud). Captain Simonini is also chief forger and spy for many governments receiving and issuing false accusations against each other and the "devilish" masonic Jews. He also, on page six, says "I have known Germans, and even worked for them: the lowest conceivable level of humanity. A German produces on average twice the feces of a Frenchman".

This is a very difficult book to read; it offers no respite or reprieves to catch your breath. The many years of false attacks against the Jews resulted in latter year writings such as Hitler's Mein Kampf, which highlighted the supposed Jewish conspiracy to control the world, and Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto, which displays the disharmony between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Although this is the second "eye-opening" book I've read recently, I find it difficult to believe wholly, only because this slant was not taught during my school years.

This is the first Eco work that I've read, and I did like his writing style with most of the story summarized from a diary. Eco is known as a medievalist and semiotician writing some books about the Knights Templar. I did like the book, but wouldn't recommend it to everyone. If this is truly historical fiction, then it shouldn't be so ambiguous without any author notes to back up his findings. The charges against the real characters are too harsh not to be backed up by documentation from other studies, even though this is a novel.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Umberto Eco states that his writing has been influenced by James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges. Eco's best seller, The Name of the Rose, had a symbologist friar/investigator, William of Baskerville, who might be the forerunner for Dan Brown's character, Robert Langdon.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts

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

Erik Larson tells the story of Hitler's rise to power from chancellor to dictator primarily through the eyes of William E. Dodd, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, and his daughter Martha. I write "story", rather than "history", because this book reads like fiction; however, this is nonfiction. All quotes are sourced from a letter, diary, or other document. This pivotal time in history and the Dodds' involvement with many of the primary actors makes for a wonderful read.

President Roosevelt's first choice for ambassador was not William E. Dodd, an accomplished history professor at the University of Chicago. With congressional adjournment for summer quickly approaching (Congress must confirm any ambassador) and after several candidates declined his offer, Roosevelt was pressured to make offers outside the normal political circles. He asked Dodd. Dodd was ambivalent. He had wanted to complete his major history, Old South, and the post would severely limit his ability to complete the multivolume work. However, after encouragement from the university and his wife, he accepted.

Roosevelt had two primary tasks for Dodd. Germany owed a great deal of money to American creditors. Dodd was to do whatever he could to ensure that the debt would be repaid. The more delicate issue involved the German government's treatment of the Jews. The debate raged as to whether the U.S. government should directly speak out against the persecution or work through quieter diplomatic and unofficial channels to improve the situation for the Jews. Roosevelt opted for the quieter policy. As we all know, both tasks would prove impossible.

While Dodd was the ambassador from 1933-1937, the story mostly occurs in the years 1933 and 1934. Through Dodd, we meet in mostly official capacities the Nazi leaders - Hitler; Göring; Goebbels; Diels, commander of the Gestapo; and Röhm, commander the Stormtroopers. Through Martha, we see everyday life. Her friends and romances included diplomats, writers, a communist, and several well placed Nazis, which provides great insight into the social and political intrigue going on at that time.

Both Dodds had hoped that the Nazis would be amenable to reason, that they would moderate over time, that one could do business with them. The Dodds, especially Martha, even sympathized to some extent with the Nazis. But over time, the Nazis revealed themselves for what they were, culminating in the Night of the Long Knives, where Hilter purged the Nazi leadership and eliminated political adversaries to solidify his hold on power. Shortly thereafter, von Hindenburg, the German President, died upon which Hitler solidified power and made himself dictator.

I earlier mentioned that this book reads more like fiction than the nonfiction it is. There are many short chapters and cliffhangers that read more like Dan Brown or James Patterson than as history. To me, this somehow diminished the importance of the events. They were almost like cheap devices to keep my interest where none was needed.

Overall, this is an excellent book that I would recommend.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: I've read historical fiction before, but I think this may be the first book that I've read in the genre of what I understand to be novelistic history. Every character and quote is real. Every situation happened. While I enjoyed Larson's book, I'm not sure I'm sold on the genre yet. I think that history should be dispassionate in its telling to avoid biases. A novel such as Larson's cannot and doesn't try to avoid those biases. I can say, though, that Larson is the master of the genre.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


After reading Kraken, I wasn't sure I would read another China Mieville novel, but I'm glad I read this weird fiction detective/murder mystery. It's not that Mieville isn't a brilliant writer, but his use of neologisms and his articulation of the English language is sometimes overwhelming. This novel was much tamer in the lexical ambiguity category than usual, but he still has his exemplar prints all over the text. If you don't understand what I'm writing, then you haven't read a Mieville fantasy novel.

The narrator and hero of this novel is Tyador Borlu, an inspector in the Extreme Crime Squad of the city of Beszel. This city's borders are crosshatched with a twin city named Ul Qoma. These cities are rivals, and the populations are taught to "unsee" each other, even if they are inches apart. Each city has different architecture, vehicles, garb and gait. The only way to travel to the other city is with special papers through Copula Hall, the only building in both cities. Any violation of the rules will bring the Breach upon you, which means you will not be seen again. The Breach is invoked by a 42 person board from both cities called the Oversight Committee that ensures the strict rules are obeyed. The Breach is an alien group living unseen between the borders of the cities with unbridled policing powers. What a setting for a murder.

A foreign student, Mahalia Geary, is found murdered in Beszel. Inspector Borlu finds out that she was working on a archaeology dig in Ul Qoma. Is this murder a breach? This sets off a chain of events, including the investigation of Orciny, a legendary invisible third city. Borlu teams with detective Qussim Dhatt (there are no easy names in this book) of Ul Qoma to try to solve this mystery. They are thwarted by unificationists from both cities, an arcane Doctor Bowden, and the prohibitive rules of "unseeing" people and events in the crosshatched areas.

The strange thing about this novel is that Mieville spends very little time on character development, but the reader still maintains empathy for the characters. Instead he spends a lot of time explaining the Breach and the rules of "unseeing" seemingly on every page. Another writer faux pas is that he does't let you know how the Breach came into existence or why they were called upon by the cities in the first place. Weird fiction/ fantasy is a unusual genre, and China Mieville is its master writer. I enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: China Mieville's latest novel Embassytown is a stretch from his usual weird fiction, since it follows a slightly different path. It involves alien contact and war unlike his usual fantasy themes. Mieville considers himself a complete geek, who admires writers Neal Stephenson and Susanna Clarke.