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.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Swan Thieves

Elizabeth Kostova avoids the sophomore jinx with her second epistolary novel. While this volume isn't the fearsome novel that The Historian is, it does have plenty of enigmas and intrigue. (What would you expect without Vlad the Impaler) I enjoy reading novels that are based on old letters retrieved throughout the drama at just the right time. This is a modern day story of a troubled painter falling in love with a French painter from the late 1800s, who has long ago passed away. There isn't anything ordinary in this well conceived and original storytelling.

Robert Oliver, a renowned artist, suddenly attacks a painting in the National Gallery of Art. Psychiatrist Andrew Marlow tries to cure his presumed mental illness. Dr. Marlow has to become a detective when Robert Oliver refuses to communicate with him at the hospital. After tracking down Oliver's ex-wife and ex-girlfriend, he begins to put the puzzle together. This leads him to a 1870s painter, Beatrice de Clerval, and her husband's uncle, Oliver Vignot. What does an attack on a painting known as Leda by Gilbert Thomas have to do with French Impressionist painters who have died a hundred years ago?

The side characters and the hint of history from the Battle of Sedan in 1870 was refreshing and ingenious. Kostova has the ability to come up with seemingly useless pieces of information and tie them together later in the story. This seems to be nearly Charles Dickens-like. (Classic readers - don't get angry; I said "nearly"!) This story was so engrossing that it tweaked my interest in the French impressionist artists of the 1870s and 1880s. I found myself looking up the likes of Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Edouard Manet. They used common subjects, small brush strokes and a new depiction of light. Thank you Elizabeth Kostova for writing a novel that revived my interest in art. The last time that happened was after reading Carol Wallace's Leaving Van Gogh: A Novel . Great job on a riveting and engaging novel. I highly recommend this second novel by Elizabeth Kostova.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Elizabeth Kostova writes in the Historical/Gothic genre. Living in Slovenia as a child, she became interested in Bulgarian folk music. As a Yale graduate, she participated in the Slavic chorus. Her next novel is due in 2013. It's going to be a mix of myth and folklore, going back and forth between past and present. It's to be set in the U.S.A. and Eastern Europe. Familiar?

Friday, July 13, 2012


The deadliest natural disaster in America is told by one of the rising stars in literature, Erik Larson. The time is 1900; the place is Galveston, Texas; the event is a massive hurricane aimed directly at the Texas island. This storm will kill 6,000 to 12,000 people depending on which report you read over the next hundred years. How did it come without warning? Why didn't the newly formed U.S Weather Bureau take this storm seriously? This is the main theme of this non-fiction thriller.

It seems that there are several reasons for the lack of a forewarning. The main reason seems to be the imperialistic attitude of the U.S.Weather Bureau in Cuba. They did everything they could do to muffle the so called alarmism of the Cuban weather forecasters. Even though the Cubans were more experienced with hurricanes, the U.S. thought that their dire warnings caused unnecessary panic. Therefore, the hurricane that just passed Cuba in a much milder form was not judged to be extremely dangerous to the U.S. coast. According to the Cuban forecasters, that was a huge mistake.

The second problem was that the U.S. Weather Bureau's agent in Galveston, Isaac Cline. Mr. Cline, had previously published a book which stated that no hurricane could do severe damage to the Galveston/ Gulf area. That alone stopped the proposed building of a seawall. On the day of the hurricane, Isaac finally gave in and said that he urged people to get off the beach and seek higher ground. He said he saved at least 6,000 lives, yet no witness was ever found to substantiate his claimed warning. The book is filled with short, sad stories about local families that survived and those that didn't.

The loss of human life was much greater than The Johnstown Flood of 1889, which killed 2,000 people, or The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906, which killed 3,000 people. The only good to come out of the Galveston hurricane was that the island finally got their seawall, and the U.S. Weather Bureau paid far more attention to hurricanes and to local prognosticators. As with any Erik Larson book, it was an extremely exciting, well written book and I would highly recommend it to readers of all genres.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: This was the third book Erik Larson wrote and I believe it ignited his new pattern of writing fresh and exciting non-fiction. Since Larson studied Russian History at the University of Pennsylvania, I'm waiting for a non fiction book involving Russia. Let's do it! He has taught non-fiction writing to several schools including the University of Oregon - lucky students!

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Wee, wee, wee, I had the right murderer, but then I changed my mind; I shouldn't have. Mais voyons, I made a faux pas that Hercule never would have made. Now I'm talking gobbledegook! Once again, Agatha Christie entertains the reader with the great Belgian detective who lives in England and loves to speak French. This time Hercule Poirot  relies on a little epistolary to solve this sixteen year old crime. I say faugh to the murderer in this 1943 novel. I cheated, the word faugh was used in this novel by Agatha and is a interjection meaning "expressed contempt".

Our favorite detective is asked by a convicted murderess's daughter to investigate whether her mother killed her father. Apparently before Carla Lemarchant's (nee Crale) mother died in prison, she wrote Carla (then five years old) a letter stating that she was innocent of the murder of her husband and Carla's father, the artist Amyas Crale. Carla, brought up by a Canadian family for the ensuing sixteen years, gets the letter when she turns 21 years old. Her fiancee is upset that he is possibly marrying the daughter of a murderess. Carla wants to find out the truth in order to allay their fears. Poirot decides to take the case under the pretense that he is writing and/or editing a book about famous past murders. Did Caroline Crale really poison her artist husband sixteen years earlier? The jury believed she did and sentenced her to life in prison. She died shortly after the conviction.

There are five suspects (little pigs) that our 5' 4" sleuth zeroes in on. They include Amyas Crale's best friend Philip Blake and his brother Meredith Blake, Crale's lover Elsa Greer, the governess Cecillia Williams, and Caroline's disfigured sister Angela Warren. He interviews each suspect and then asks them to put their recollections in the form of a letter to him so he can clear up any ambiguities before the book is published. Needless to say, Hercule summons the five suspects together at Meredith Blake's house and to their surprise, he solves the murder case.

I think what makes Agatha's novels intriguing is the way Hercule Poirot solves murders. He really doesn't rely on clues, but instead he arrives at a decision by pure reasoning and only then does he draw a logical conclusion. In his own words he states "My success, let me tell you, has been founded on the psychology- the eternal why? of human behaviour." He is the forerunner of later detectives, such as The Thin Man and Columbo . Once again, as with all that Agatha Christie's writes, I highly recommend this enjoyable novel.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: This novel was originally published as Murder in Retrospect . Agatha's second husband was famous archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan. She accompanied him on many of his digs that served as future settings for Hercule Poirot novels. In 1971 she received one of Britain's highest honors by being named Dame of the British Empire.