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.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


This is historical fiction at its tear-jerking best! This novel by Alan Brennert takes you on a roller coaster ride of varied emotions. It involves the infamous Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement on the island of Moloka'i in Hawaii. It also touches on America's illegal overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani's throne in 1893. More can be read about that in the Queen's book Hawaii's Story or in James A. Michener's classic novel Hawaii. As with Honolulu, Brennert uses a lot of local vocabulary; such as, 'ohana (family) and haole (a caucasian), which I find adds realism and charm to his novels.

It's 1891, and five year old Rachel Kalama is enjoying life as a child in Honolulu. Everything is great until her mother finds a pink patch on Rachel's leg. She later develops another spot on her foot. When mom pricks the spots with a pin, there isn't any pain, which is a sign of leprosy. Later that week, her sister Sarah gets mad at Rachel and calls her a leper in front of schoolmates. That brings the leprosy bounty hunter to the house and it's off to Kahili Hospital for Rachel. She is there eleven months for evaluation and treatment to no avail. At this point she is torn away from her family and sent to the leper camp on Moloka'i. Since there isn't any known cure, it's a death sentence for the now seven year old.

In Kalaupapa, Rachel is befriended by Sister Catherine of the missionaries and reunited with her Uncle Pono, who was previously declared a leper. She struggles with the disease's traits, but manages to make friends with the dying people around her. Fortunately, her symptoms are slower to develop, and she is able to surf and meet other young patients under the quarantined life. Here Brennert turns this somber and depressing story into a dramaturgy of ups and downs, good and bad fortune, and high and low spirits. The many characters in this book are so contagious to the reader (pardon the pun) that you feel vicariously through them. Great job of character development!

Alan Brennert does a yeoman's job of cramming 79 years of Rachel's life into 389 pages. The novel was such a page-turner that I hardly noticed the years go by. The reason I like historical fiction of this kind is due to the educational benefits you gain from reading this book. It's hard to believe that a wondrous place like Hawaii could have also been a cold-hearted prison for the forsaken kama'aina.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Early western explorers and missionaries killed off thousands of Hawaiians by bringing smallpox, measles, leprosy, whooping cough, and sexual diseases to a once healthy race. If you know how America disposed of Hawaii's monarchy in 1893, you will understand why there is a current movement in Hawaii to get the throne reinstalled. Fat chance of that happening since 119 years have passed and given Hawaii's statehood in 1959. Another wonderful book about Hawaii is Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands by Gavan Daws.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Candice Millard brings Theodore Roosevelt's image to a new high level with this non-fiction thriller! After a near miss from an assassin's bullet and a failed run as the Bull Moose Party's candidate for his third Presidential term, Teddy decides to go on a speaking tour in South America. In Brazil, he teams up with hero and Brazilian explorer Colonel Candido Rondon to make a trip down an uncharted river in the Amazon forest. Sponsored by The American Museum of Natural History, Roosevelt, his son Kermit, naturalist George Cherrie, Col. Rondon and about twenty others enter the punishing realm of the Amazon with its many unknown tributaries, insects, animals and Indians.

Candice Millard describes the journey into the Amazonian jungle as "not just dark and dangerous but inescapably oppressive". The expedition of 12/12/1913 through 4/26/1914 meets with one calamity after another: loss of canoes and supplies, loss of life, sickness from malaria and typhoid fever, and attacks from a unknown Indian tribe. Roosevelt's imperialistic white attitude changed when he saw how the native camaradas endured and worked during the trip. Colonel Roosevelt at 5' 8" and Colonel Rondon at 5' 3" proved to be giants when it came time for heroics and bravery. Their exploratory effort rivals Dr. Livingstone's tribulations in discovering the sources of the Nile River as written in The Last Journals of David Livingstone.

The book is filled with wonderful tidbits about our 26th President, such as his relationship with his son Kermit, his innate need for physical challenges, and the Presidential Campaign speech he gave with two bullets from an assassination attempt still in his chest! Millard's descriptions of the indigenous insects and animals are summed up with "The creatures of the Amazon had become such masters of disguise that all that the men could see on either side of the river was verdant leaves and heavy vines". This book is not only well researched (48 pages of notes) and immensely enjoyable, but educational; yet, it reads like a historical-fiction mystery with fresh dangers emoting chapter after chapter.

If you like history with a flare, I highly recommend this non-fiction masterpiece. I continue to enjoy this type of writing. There was a lot of non-fiction published in 2011 following this genre also featuring ex-presidents, especially from America's imperialistic phase of the late 1890's and early 1900's.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: The would be assassin, John Schrank, said that President Mckinley's ghost told him to kill Roosevelt as a warning to anybody running for a third term. Schrank was found to be insane and died 29 years later in a mental hospital. Theodore Roosevelt wrote many books including a four volume The Winning of the West and Rough Riders. It is believed that his trip to the Amazon contributed to his early death at 60 years old. His son, Archie, telegraphed all the siblings "The old lion is dead".

Monday, February 13, 2012


No flapdoodle here in this spectacular look at President McKinley's assassination with extras! The extras are the story of America's anarchist movement, and the country's growing imperialistic attitude. Scott Miller writes in the attention grabbing style of authors like Erik Larson and Candice Millard. This new genre that adds excitement to history makes me want to seek out other works of the same ilk; and, it has. No more dry books like American Lion by Jon Meacham or Years of Upheaval by Henry Kissinger for me. Not that there isn't a place for those books, but how many pages can you read before your eyelids grow heavy. I love history, but I need a little piquancy with it, and with a book like Scott Miller's, I get a history lesson that reads like fiction. Much, much more enjoyable.

As for the assassination of McKinley, modern medical technology could have easily saved him, as it could have Garfield twenty years earlier. The assassin Leon Czolgosz, a Polish immigrant, didn't even think about the assassination until a few days before the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY. He was a anarchist that seemed to be unguided until he started to follow the thoughts of radical Russian immigrant, Emma Goldman. This part of the book is very interesting, since I didn't know anarchy was such a big problem from the late 1890s to early 1900s.

Since I read The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley, I was aware of America's imperialistic attitude, although it is still hard to comprehend. The only difference is that Miller depicts Theodore Roosevelt as more manly than did Bradley. Roosevelt's charge of San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War of 1898 seemed to me like a Keystone Cops venture. The war was won because of Spain's ineptness, lack of desire, and funding. The part of the book about America deceiving the Philippine rebels into thinking they were going to govern their islands is remarkable.

President Mckinley's original attitude toward imperialism was docile, but progressed after winning the Spanish American War against a much stronger Spain. He seemed oblivious to America's industrialists making the already poor workers destitute and the rich wealthier. This error in observation would lead to many riots and strikes and ultimately to his death. This book is a must read for history buffs and presidential fact finding enthusiasts. Bravo to Scott Miller for a brilliant look at our 25th President's life and times.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Believe it or not, Theodore Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2001 for his actions in Cuba. The anarchist Leon Czolgosz never spoke in court or to his defense lawyers during his trial. He died in the electric chair 53 days after the President died. Can you imagine getting justice that fast in today's legal system?

Sunday, February 5, 2012


If you thought the story of the Plantagenets of England was over with Devil's Brood, forget it! Here is a brilliant historical novel about Richard I, known as Richard the Lionheart. Sharon Kay Penman writes a convincing account of the Third Crusade (1189-1192) and states in the author's notes that the story will end in her next novel, A King's Ransom. This is a highly enjoyable novel backed up by historical resources as she states, "Lionheart was a unique writing experience. I've never had such a wealth of eyewitness accounts of events." In my opinion, Sharon Kay Penman equals or supersedes anything Bernard Cornwell has written about medieval times, only lacking Cornwell's ability to describe death by combat.

Richard the Lionheart was a glorious leader in both combat and military strategy, but lacked empathy for anyone that wasn't a loyal Lord, Knight, soldier, or honored opponent. The author says he slaughtered 2,600 Saracen prisoners at Acre in the Holy Lands for supposed military reasons that are suspect to some historians. His constant strife with the King of France, Philippe Capet, is legendary and well chronicled in this novel. I also find it interesting that Richard's love of valor and honor in battle actually led him to knight some enemy Muslim Emirs. His struggles with French support coupled with the tenacity of his Muslim counterpart Saladin led to a truce instead of total victory in Jerusalem. According to the author, this gnawed at Richard since he vowed to free Jerusalem when he "took the cross". To the chagrin of his Queen Berengaria, Richard never visited Jerusalem because of this failure.

This splendid story also details Richard's harrowing trips at sea to Cyprus, Sicily, and finally to the Holy Land. The research I did shows that almost every character in this novel existed. King Philippe of France did conspire with Richard's brother John to take Richard's crown while he was fighting the Holy War. This was against papal mandate, but the Pope at the time was old and weak. The next book will deal with what happened to Richard the Lionheart and all the other characters after a depressed King Richard left the Holy Lands.

To sum it up, this was a great read that was expertly written. Thanks to Penman for her Cast of Characters (there are many with difficult names to remember). Also important and interesting are her many pages of author notes and acknowledgments. I didn't read the trilogy about King Henry and Queen Eleanor written prior to this book, but certainly will read the concluding book about "One of history's most dysfunctional and fascinating families."

RATING: 5 out 5 stars

Comment: It's somewhat of a curiosity that during these years, the King of England lived in France and only considered his English holdings as a source of revenue. Richard is purported to have said that he would have sold London if he could have found a buyer. Richard is also known to speak mainly French along with other European languages, but not English!