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, March 17, 2012


Warning: The woebegoneness level of this non-fiction book is very high. It's also a fact filled historical recreation of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's funeral train journey of April 13-15, 1945. Robert Klara writes an interesting and perceptive volume of what happened on the trip that history has forgotten. The facts of the book are backed-up by 45 pages of notes. This is another one of those books that I call a "non-fiction thriller". It compares well with other recent books written about past presidents such as The President Is a Sick Man . Lately, I can't get enough of this genre of writing, especially about previous Presidents or historical events.

In the book, FDR has just come back from The Yalta Conference attended by Churchill and Stalin and departs via his special train to Warm Springs, Georgia for a long needed rest. This is not a ordinary train - his car is an armored Pullman Car known as the Ferdinand Magellan. He has recently been diagnosed by Dr.Howard G. Bruenn as having hypertensive heart disease, for which, as the doctor noted, "No medications existed to reduce extreme blood pressure on the body's arterial walls" at the time. His blood pressure was 260/150! Yet his other doctor said he was just suffering the effects of flu, bronchitis, and overwork. I guess it didn't matter either way since today's cures were not available in 1945.

In Warm Springs, while working at a portable card table and having his portrait painted by Elizabeth Shoumatoff, FDR suddenly waves his hands around his head and says to his favorite cousin, Daisy Suckley, "I have a terrific pain in the back of my head", and he slumps forward. There is no reason to have a "spoiler-warning", since this incident happens on page seven. His wife Eleanor, a fifth cousin once removed to FDR and niece to Teddy Roosevelt, is in Washington, D.C., while FDR's ex-romantic liaison, Lucy Mercer Rutherford, is in Warm Springs. Fireworks follow after Eleanor learns of this.

After the first 22 pages, the story gets to the heart of the matter. I found that the train trip from Georgia to D.C, and from D.C.(post-funeral) to Hyde Park, N.Y. was most interesting. In today's world, would you have all of the important people in the U.S.A on the same train? What about an accident or terrorist attack? On the train was the President's Cabinet, all of the Supreme Court Justices, all of the important senators and representatives, and the new President Truman with his staff! And,WWII was far from over. What happened on this train ride is quite remarkable. You'll  have to read this book to find out what happens. I'm not telling, but it is very engrossing and eye-opening.

Robert Klara must be a train buff because his descriptions of trains (especially the Pullmans), the overall railroad system, and the various companies are outstanding. The other amazing fact is how little Harry Truman knew about the war. FDR told him nothing! He didn't know what was said at the Yalta Conference and didn't know about The Manhattan Project. His discovery of these critical omissions are another absorbing phase of the book. If you love history, you will love this book!

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Eleanor Roosevelt was not loved by FDR's mother, Sara, who thought Eleanor homely. Even though Eleanor became an author, lecturer, columnist and our delegate to the newly formed United Nations, she couldn't afford to keep the Hyde Park estate and instead moved to N.Y.C. The special train used by FDR and later by Truman was called the POTUS (President Of The United States). History shows that Truman surrounded himself with country bumpkins from Missouri, but did retain some brilliant people, such as James F. Byrnes, FDR's "assistant president".

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rambling Comment's #1

Literature seems to be developing new genres that I like and dislike. Conventional fiction or non-fiction books aren't so routine anymore. I mean writers like James Patterson, Nelson DeMille, and John Grisham are still out there publishing one book after another, but isn't it just commercial fodder? Let's face it, this type of writing just doesn't get it done anymore. I'm not including John Irving in that group, because I think he's kind of an artistic writer that's not so common. (By the way, his new novel In One Person comes out in May 2012.) I think there are writers that are using new techniques that I find refreshing and enjoyable. There are some authors that are also using old methods, such as the epistolary novel, that I still like a lot. Some examples of this methodology are Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian  and Max Brooks's World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. These are still enjoyable because of their creativity.

Now for the new style that I like. I call it the Non-fiction Thriller! Here we have the best of two worlds: history and excitement. I'm talking about authors like Erik Larson, Candice Millard, Robert Klara, and Scott Miller. Read Millard's The River of Doubt and tell me it wasn't thrilling! You learn some history of Theodore Roosevelt that you will never forget because the story was exhilarating. History teachers, pay attention! Read Larson's The Devil in the White City and you will learn about the World's Columbian Expo of 1893 in Chicago and a real serial killer, who haunted the fair at the same time. Read the sad tale of FDR's Funeral Train by Robert Klara and tell me that you aren't moved. All of these books are non-fiction, but read like a Flash Gordon serial. I have read a lot of these types of books recently, and I have to say that they are highly satisfying and educational.

Now for the style that I don't like. I call it Historical Fantasy Horror! The leading candidate for this genre is Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. This is plain comic book ridiculous! What's next - George Washington and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy? Why not? We already have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Max Brooks's The Zombie Survival Guide. While these books are fun and entertaining, I don't consider this literature. I would rather read some vintage Batman or Superman  comic books.

Now for the style that I'm not sure about. China Mieville calls it Weird Fiction. It's his coined phrase, and I agree that's exactly how his novels seem to me. I've had my criticism's of this loquacious author in my three reviews of his novels, mostly because of his diction and his use of neologisms. Even though I admit that Mieville is a semi-genius, I have to wonder why I usually get a migraine headache after reading one of his books. Another author in this category is Jeff Vandermeer of City of Saints and Madmen, but since I haven't read his works, I can't opine. I think the biggest problem that I have with this type of writing is the lack of disambiguation of the general story. In another words, I normally don't understand what's going on!

Okay, that's the end of rambling for now. Thanks, Rick O.

Monday, March 12, 2012


I haven't read a mystery of this ilk in a long time. What a breath of fresh air! Agatha Christie wrote this book in 1934, and it's a beaut. It stars her famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. It seems to me many books and movies like After The Thin Man have stolen Agatha's idea of gathering all the suspects for one final interrogation to solve the case. Can anybody do it better than Agatha, who has out-sold every published work except the Bible and Shakespeare? Maybe the only character that can challenge Hercule Poirot is Agatha's other famous sleuth, Miss Jane Marple. Since this book was written so long ago, it gives the reader the flavor of the times, such as the European attitude towards America, the style of clothing, and the reminiscence of long train trips.

The story starts with our hero boarding the Orient Express in Aleppo, Syria, after a successful investigation for the French Army. He meets one of the directors of the company that runs the Orient train, M.Bouc. Hercule Poirot joins the other thirteen passengers, M. Bouc, a Dr. Constantine, and one conductor in the Athens-Paris Coach. And folks we are off to the races! One of the passengers, a Mr. Ratchett, who is of vile and dubious character turns up dead on the first night of the trip. He's been stabbed twelve times in his bunk. To make matters worse, the train is now at a standstill, snowed-in by a blizzard. That means the killer is stranded on the train and poses a threat to the remaining twelve passengers on the Athens-Paris car. As you've probably guessed, the director of the train, M. Bouc, engages our lovable and pyknic detective, Hercule Poirot. Let the Lumosity exercises begin! The rest of the novel is a cat-and-mouse game between the twelve passengers and Hercule. I tried to figure out who the killer was, and I didn't even come close!

It's amazing to me how Agatha Christie can make the reader visualize all seventeen people on the train in only 265 pages. I liked the way Agatha has Hercule use the director, M. Bouc, and Dr. Constantine as a sounding board to test his theories. He actually makes them think that they are helping him solve the mystery. This is a very sound novel and completely enjoyable. I am totally drawn into this series and hope to read Death on The Nile in the very near future. Do yourself a favor and read a Hercule Poirot novel right now, especially this one.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Agatha Christie wrote eighty crime novels, nineteen plays, two memoirs, and six novels under the name of Mary Westmacott. Her play The Mousetrap opened in 1952 and is the longest running play in history. Agatha's 120th anniversary was celebrated in 2010.

Friday, March 9, 2012


The first novel in Cornwell's The Saxon Tales is an overwhelming success! This is a series that you don't have to read in order. I read the fifth novel first and the first novel second, if that makes any sense, and I didn't miss any background information. That's how well written these books are. How Cornwell can juggle all these serial novels at the same time is remarkable. I keep flip-flopping between Bernard Cornwell and Sharon Kay Penman as to who is the best medieval historical fiction writer. I guess it depends on whose book I read last.

The period of the novel is between the years 866 and 877 in what is now known as England, but at the time was divided into four parts. The Danes had conquered three parts and were getting ready to take Wessex, the last bastion of the United Kingdom. The protagonist is a ten year old boy named Uhtred, son of Uhtred, Earl of Bebbanburg in Northumbria. Uhtred is captured by Danish Earl Ragnar in a battle that kills Uhtred's father. Ragnar takes Uhtred under his wing and rears him as a pagan and a warrior. Uhtred loves his "new" father, but has mixed loyalty between his adopted Viking friends and the King of Wessex, Alfred The Great. When the unimaginable happens, the young christian/pagan warrior is out on his own to discover who he really is. I think this is the main theme of this series, and it leads the reader to a disambiguation of Uhtred's thoughts and motives throughout the six novel series.

The characterization in this novel is terrific, even making some of the Vikings lovable. The author notes that most of people in this novel are real, as are most of the major battles. The main character, Uhtred, and his adopted father, Ragnar, are fictitious, but very believable. I also enjoyed the Priest Beocca and the rascality of Uhtred's friend, Brida. Cornwell lets us hang for the next book to find out what happens with Ragnar's son, who is searching for his sister and planing revenge on the despicable Kjartan and his one-eyed son. You will have to read the second book in this series, The Pale Horseman to find out! That's what makes this series so much fun.

If you haven't read a Cornwell novel, you don't know what you are missing. There are many chronicles, series, and standalone novels to choose from. I give this novel my highest rating.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: For the 30th anniversary of Sharpe's Rifles , Harper Collins UK is reissuing all the Sharpe books with new covers. If you want to read how Cornwell began the series and how it evolved over the last 30 years, you can read his Sharpe's Story .

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Once again I've taxed my mind with China Mieville's words that are untranslatable or seem germane, but are actually neologistical. If you read this weird sci-fi novel, have a lexicon handy!This book is filled with new sci-fi ideas that make it an enjoyable read, such as buildings, machinery, and houses that are semi-sentient and when under stress try to grow ears. It's a common thing in Embassytown or in the Arieka city that surrounds it. I have to give Mieville credit for having excellent adoxography for things or events that other writers wouldn't even amplify.

The first third of the novel flip-flops between past and present on the planet Arieka and the immer. The immer is some kind of subspace that a immerser travels through in space and time, if that makes any sense. The narrator of the book is Avice Benner Cho, who has just return from the immer to visit her birth place of Embassytown with her new husband Scile, a expert in languages. He wants to study the linguistics of the Ariekei, who surround the human compound. They are known as the Hosts and speak out of two mouths (the cut and turn) and only communicate with human Ambassadors. The Ambassadors are actually doppels that speak from one mind and two voices, otherwise the Hosts would only hear noise. This sounds like a normal story, right? Now keep in mind that a Host (who looks like a large dual winged insect) also requires similes to make comparisons to things that are unlike in order to communicate properly. Our narrator is one of the similes known as "The girl who was hurt in darkness and ate what was given to her"! I forgot to mention that these truly unusual Ariekei Hosts are also incapable of lying! Does the story have your interest yet?

The trouble begins when a new Ambassador, EzRa, arrives from the human's home planet of Bremen to become the new chief Ambassador of Embassaytown. At the Embassy reception, EzRa tells the Hosts "That it was a honor to meet them". Suddenly everything changes! Years of peace and calm are gone. What happened and what did the Hosts hear? What was said that brings the Hosts to a high state of mulligrubs! This is where the essence of the story takes off, later to culminate in an interesting and unexpected end. The books I've read by Mieville are entertaining , but with all the lacunae and peculiar vocabulary used, I'm always glad that the book is over. Is this good or bad?

The Hosts are probably the weirdest aliens I've read about since Larry Niven's elephant-like creators in the famous sci-fi novel Footfall. This is the first novel Mieville has done in science fiction, and I think it was a good effort. Maybe he should be hired to write the script for the next Star Trek movie. I have to tell the reader that while I recommend reading this novel, I warn you it's going to be a arduous task.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: The stylistically exuberant author is reported to have the best tattooed "guns in literature". He states that "ever since I was two, I've loved octopuses, monsters, abandoned buildings..." Now I know why he is the weird fiction king. Having read three Mieville books, I don't know if I have the energy to read a fourth.