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.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Erik Larson juxtaposes a murderer and an inventor and makes it work! This author will never run out of ideas as witnessed by this historical non-fiction book, an exemplar of this likable genre. I'm a big fan of this kind of book because I get a good dose of history while thinking I'm reading a novel. Erik Larson is the foremost author of this genre as far as I'm concerned.

The book begins slowly as Larson builds up the backgrounds of Gulielmo Marconi, the father of wireless telegraphy, and London's famous murderer, Dr. Hawley Crippen, who becomes as notorious as Jack the Ripper. ( By the way, if you are having trouble with Marconi's first name, it's phonetically pronounced (Goo-yee-ail-mo.) The reader finds out about Marconi's struggles to obtain dominance in wireless communication while fighting numerous competitors, such as Oliver Lodge and William Preece of England and the powerful Telefunken Company of Germany. The trials and tribulations of Marconi starts out as somewhat of a cognitive challenge but becomes absorbing later in the book, especially when women enter his life.

On the other hand, the life of 5' 4" meek Dr. Crippen was a delight from the start. Here we have a homeopathic doctor who switches medical fields as often he needs to better his station. His second wife Belle, who desires to be a opera diva, spends his money faster than he can make it. She dominates his life, consumes his assets, ridicules him and constantly threatens to leave him. One day she does leave him, or does she? Enter Ethel Le Neve, erstwhile his employee, now his future wife. Dr. Crippen can't explain Belle's disappearance well enough for her stage friends. They don't believe that Belle went to America to help a sick relative. Enter Chief Inspector Walter Dew of Scotland Yard to investigate. This is the cusp of the book where the reader gets a sense of how the stories of Marconi and Crippen will intersect. And believe it or not, they do!

I enjoyed how Erik Larson told both stories in different years (basically 1894 to 1910), alternating chapters between the doctor and the inventor, then climaxing in the year 1910. This is a well written original idea that only Larson could come up with. Every time I read a Larson book I come away with historical knowledge along with literary gratification. It is noteworthy to mention that Larson states in a note to readers that: "This is a work of nonfiction. Anything appearing between quotation marks comes from a letter, memoir, or other written document." That is a bold and confident statement that makes this reader a big fan.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Dr. Crippen's murder case has been the subject of many plays, books and movies. Two movies that included elements of the case are Rope and Rear Window. Also very interesting is that the White Star Line invited the Marconies to be their guests on the Titanic! Luckily, Marconi canceled a few days before the voyage because he wanted to sail on the Lusitania to take advantage of that ship's public stenographer. Beatrice Marconi canceled on the eve of departure because her son Giulio became ill with fever. One wonders what would have happened to wireless telegraphy so early in it's development had Marconi died at sea.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Gingrich and Forstchen have written one of the most meaningful Civil War novels to date. It reveals the Union generals' blunders and also reports hereto unknown information about the brave United States Colored Troops (USCT). After reading this historical novel, I wondered how the Union won the war? The missteps and bobbles by General Meade and General Burnside are mind boggling! Sending thousands of troops to their meaningless death is unconscionable if not criminal. Why would leadership send wave after wave of Union soldiers against entrenched Confederate troops only to be slaughtered like sheep?

The novel is narrated by a Harper's Weekly artist and illustrator James Reilly. He is also a friend of and spy for Abraham Lincoln. Reilly's job at the front lines is to sketch what he sees and listen for officer and troop reactions towards the war. Shortly after the Union debacle at Cold Harbor, Virginia, Reilly meets up with the 28th USCT of the 4th Division, 9th Corps. They are led by Sergeant Major Garland White under white Colonel Russell and Colonel Pleasants. After laboring as a burying detail at Arlington, Virginia, the black unit is finally going to see action near Petersburg, Virginia. Once there, battle hardened sergeants train them daily. The plan by Col. Pleasants is to tunnel beneath the Confederate lines to their fort and blow it up while the colored troops charge the shocked Johnny Rebs and continue their attack all the way to Richmond, thus ending the war. The plan is approved by an enthused but shaky Gen.Burnside and begrudgingly by his disobliging superior Gen. Meade. Just before the operation, Gen. Meade changes everything! You will have to read all 364 pages to learn the unpleasurable results of his decision.

This is the third novel I have read from authors' Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen, and it is by far their best. The empathy I felt for all the characters is a direct result of the authors excellent prose and character development. The black Sergeant Major Garland White was a real person and had actively recruited blacks for the famous 54th Regiment of Massachusetts as seen in the movie Glory . Do I recommend this novel? Does a one legged duck swim in a circle? You betcha!

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Robert E. Lee died five years after the war at age 63. He was not arrested or tried and remained a respected West Point graduate. Ulysses S. Grant also died at age 63 in 1885 after serving two terms as President of the United States. He lost all his wealth in a 1884 swindle, but had his memoirs published by Mark Twain after he died and was able to give his family some financial security. If you are interested in these men read: Lee: The Last Years and Grant's Final Victory.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Eh bien,I figured it out! I actually came up with the correct killer, or killers, shortly after the millionaire heiress, Linnet Doyle, was found shot in the head on page 148. I didn't need all the clues used by our beloved Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. I got lucky and guessed based upon Agatha Christie's past tendencies. Mais oui it will never happen again. If you notice, I'm using all of Hercule's favorite French exclamations. This 1937 detective/mystery novel is first class, as usual. Our pyknic, mustached, French speaking gumshoe once again sifts through many suspects and clues to nail his man, or woman (I'm not giving you the killer!). This time he has a Colonel Race to use as his sounding board and a German Doctor Bessner as his medical advisor. What a' merveille entertaining novel this is.

Hercule is on vacation in Egypt awaiting a cruise down the Nile when he meets twenty year old Linnet Ridgeway and her husband, Simon Doyle. It seems Simon recently detached himself from Linnet's best friend, Jacqueline de Bellefort, to marry the very rich Linnet. Now the jeune fille Jacqueline is stalking the newlyweds and the Doyles want Hercule's help. Hercule refuses the commission but says he will talk to Jacqueline. Hercule is unable to calm the rejected Jacqueline, and in fact she threatens to kill Linnet. Later, on the steamer Karnak, Linnet turns up dead, shot in the head. Zut! Now our portly Hercule is on the case. The race is on to find the killer before someone else turns up dead. Most of the characters in this story are very exotic, and the clues are portentous and numerous. The ensuing chapters are all cliffhangers with fresh clues resulting in new suspects.

Agatha's ability to develop characters is amazing, and consistent in all her books. Can't you picture Peter Lorre or Sydney Greenstreet in one of her novels? One of her few rivals during the 1930's was Dashiell Hammett, author of one of my favorites, The Maltese FalconAnother astonishing trait Agatha commands is that all her suspects come to full closure at the novel's end. I hate when I finish a book and most of characters have disappeared without a proper arrestment. Anyway mon ami and mon amie, I give this mystery a high five! Do yourself a favor and read a Agatha Christie novel soon - you will love it.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: The first actor to portray Hercule Poirot was Charles Laughton in a 1928 play called Alibi. The character, Hercule Poirot, was killed off in the 1975 novel Curtain. It was such a big deal that the N.Y. Times ran an obit in their newspaper stating "Hercule Poirot is dead; famed Belgian detective". Is that incredible or what?

Monday, April 2, 2012


Japan's Haruki Murakami writes a surreal novel for the intellectual reader with a touch of fantasy. The story is neither completely lucid nor byzantine, so I would say it's semiabstract. Haruki may be the leader of a new genre. It's almost like he didn't write the novel for the hoi polloi, but for the artsy reader. (Not that I'm an artsy reader.) The story is basically strong; but after 900 pages, the ending leaves many unanswered questions. That was disappointing, since I became very interested in many of the characters and wanted closure. Maybe, there will be a second book to answer my linguistic inquiries. But overall, I found the novel uniquely absorbing with strong character development.

The story is set in Japan, mostly in the Tokyo area during the year 1984. Our heroine, Aomame (Ah-oh-mah-meh), who has the strange vocation of a sports trainer and a part time assassin, is dropped off by a taxi on a traffic jammed expressway. She climbs down the elevated expressway via a strange stairway to a lower level. Once on the ground, her world is about to change. On her way to an assassination, she notices slight differences in policemen's uniforms and pistols. Later Aomame notices that she missed news events and the big one: Our moon suddenly has a companion! It's a smaller green moon. She realizes that she has entered a somewhat altered world. Our heroine calls it 1Q84 (the Q for question).

Our hero in the novel is Tengo Kawana, a teacher and a nascent author, who as a ten year old went to school with Aomame. He rewrites a novel for a mysterious seventeen year old named Fuka-Eri. The book, Air Chrysalis, becomes a bestseller, and causes major problems with the religious group Sakigake. The group hires a Mr. Ushikawa (a vile, but enjoyable character) to dissuade Tengo from further involvement in the book. He refuses, and this sets off a strife between Sakigake, Tengo and Fuka-Eri. Aomame gets embroiled in this trouble with Sakigake via an assignment from an arcane dowager and her bodyguard Mr. Tamaru. How all this comes together is a monumental accomplishment by the author. Other characters worth mentioning are Leader, Buzzcut, Ponytail and Professor Ebisuno. Character creation seems to be a strong suit of Haruki Murakami. I can't remember when I liked so many characters in a novel; I would probably have to go back to Charles Dickens's David Copperfield.

So as you can tell, I liked the novel a lot, but was disappointed with the closure of some of the characters. Do I think this novel deserves a exsibilation or a standing ovation? I think somewhere in between. I'm taking into consideration that this book was translated from Japanese to English by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, whom I'm sure did a yeoman's job. Also a big factor is that in Japan this book was a trilogy. I think if you are a literary geek, you must read at least one Haruki Murakami novel, and this one is a good option.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Murakami's most famous novel is Norwegian Wood. He is a former winner of the Franz Kafka, Jerusalem and Kiriyama Prizes. He has written twelve novels and numerous short stories and essays. The British daily newspaper The Guardian calls him "among the world's greatest living novelists".