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, August 23, 2012

The Master and Margarita

This is a brilliant and complex work of art by Mikhail Bulgakov written in 1930s Russia and unpublished until 1966, 26 years after the author's death. This version was translated by Mirra Ginsburg. The novel combines fantasy, a satirical look at the Stalin run government, and a story within a story. This is a complicated story with many possible meanings and latent content critical of the Soviet system that gave him total denunciation as his reward. I would love to sit in with a group of litterateurs dissecting this novel with all its hidden meanings and innuendoes. It's a story of the Devil and his cohorts visiting Stalin's Russia critiquing the Soviet system with a satirical view of Russia's currency, atheism, and Moscow's Association of Writers (MASSOLIT).

The story begins with Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz (editor of MASSOLIT) and a young poet named Homeless (pen name of Ivan Nikolayevich  Ponyrev) discussing their belief that Jesus Christ never existed. They are sitting on a park bench in Patriarch's Ponds Park sipping apricot sodas. They are suddenly interrupted by a strange, tall foreigner with teeth of platinum and gold and one eye black, the other green. He tells them Jesus did exist, and there are five proofs. Furthermore, he states that he was there 2,000 years ago when Pontius Pilate was interrogating Jesus Christ! The foreigner then talks about how man is mortal and sometimes suddenly dies. Mikhail disputes that statement and says that he knows what is happening in his life everyday. The foreigner (I will now tell you that he is the Devil, also known as Woland) tells Mikhail that's not true, in fact, "Your head will be cut off!" by a Russian woman! Mikhail ask the foreigner what his profession is; he replies that he is a specialist in black magic.

Now comes "the story within the story" as the foreigner relates what happened between the Procurator of Judea (Pontius Pilate) and Yeshua Ha-Nozri (Jesus Christ) to the dumbfounded writers. This tale of Pontius and Jesus will crop up from time to time during this 402 page epic. The story of the trial and crucifixion is an amazing sidebar to the main theme and is strong enough to have become another book. After the first part of the story is told, Mikhail tells the poet Homeless that he is going to make a phone call at the train station to have this lunatic arrested. We meet a strange companion of the foreigner, Koroviev (or Fagot), the one with the cracked pince-nez. Wouldn't you know that as Mikhail is about to make that call, he slips on some oil, falls to the tracks and is beheaded by a train with a woman conductor! The strangers take-off, and Homeless the poet winds up in the insane asylum as many characters from this book will.

All of this happens in the first 49 pages, so don't think I'm giving the story away! You, the reader will have 353 pages to meet: the fanged Azazello; Behemoth, the vodka drinking tomcat; the servants, Hella and Natasha; Margarita and the Master, who has just written a book about Pontius Pilate - strange as it seems. You will learn about the bizarre occurrences at Sadovaya, no. 302-b, apartment 50 in Moscow. You will be amazed at the magic show Woland produces with falling Chervonets (ten rouble bills) and the disappearing clothes of the audience. Wait till you read about the Midnight Ball that Woland and his crew host. This was an amazing read for me, and it's hard to compare with anything else I've read. I can slightly compare the black magic to Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel , but even that is a stretch of the imagination. It's a shame that Mikhail Bulgakov didn't live to see his works published. The Soviet government censored publication of all his books and plays in 1929. Facing daily ridicule from the Soviet system, it's a wonder that it didn't stunt his growth as an author. GREAT BOOK!

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Bulgakov (5/15/1891-3/10/1940) gave up a career as a Doctor because of illness. He then wrote a short story that was published. He is also known as a great playwright featuring Zoya's Apartment. Two other novels of note that he wrote are The White Guard and The Heart of a Dog . It is said that Stalin had a soft spot in his heart for Bulakov since he protected him from arrests and execution.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


The title of the book is the moniker used to describe the dime novels written about Kit Carson's adventures during the turbulent Indian Wars of the 1850's through the 1860's. Hampton Sides writes an epic account of what really happened in the Southwest. This non-fiction work is more than a story about Carson's life; it's also about America's first imperialistic strike westward led by our 11th President, James K. Polk. During his four year term, The U.S. Government annexed California from Mexico. The guts of the book deals with what happened next - What to do about the colliding worlds of the Indians, especially the nomadic and fearsome Navajo tribe, and the white settlers moving west to occupy the newly won territories.

Based on Hampton Sides research, I found Kit Carson's life quite incredible. Here is a man who couldn't read or write, yet spoke Spanish and seven different Indian languages. He lived as a frontiersman, trapper, Indian fighter, guide, and as a Colonel in the Union Army. He had the innate ability to see right from wrong, act with bravery, honor, and commitment. During his lifetime, he was married three times and had eight children. His first wife was Arapaho, the second was Cheyenne, and the third wife was Spanish. He had meetings with President Polk, he was a friend of General William Tecumseh Sherman, Navajo leader Narbona, Senator Thomas Benton, John C. Fremont, and General Stephen Watts Kearny, the father of the American cavalry. Kit's escapades gave me the feeling that he was truly an American hero. This book was worth reading just to discover what a miraculous life he led during this dangerous period in the history of America's Southwest. Yet, the author cites incidents where Kit Carson gunned down people in cold blood because he was ordered to do it by a superior officer or someone he respected. Go figure!

The inane killing of Navajo leader Narbona by a drunken Union soldier over a stolen horse caused the leader's son-in-law, Manuelito, to declare war against America. While the Union Army fought the Confederates from Texas during the Civil War, the Navajo had carte blanche to murder emigrates and steel their cattle and sheep. After the Civil War ended, the U.S.A. realized that the Navajo had to be stopped, or else the move westward couldn't continue. Enter General James H. Carleton. He prodded Col. Kit Carson to prosecute the Navajo, burn their food supply, and force them to accept a reservation life far from their natural boundaries. Many Navajo were killed, while the survivors were in a state of starvation. The rest of the book deals with the "Long Walk" of the Navajos from New Mexico to the Bosque Redondo (Round Forest) Reservation, where infectious corn crops, dysentery, syphilis, and Comanche attacks almost destroyed the Navajo people. If you want to know how they survived, you will have to read this wonderful book.

As a child I watched The Adventures of Kit Carson, staring Bill Williams on television, thinking he wasn't a real person. Wow, now I know better! His T.V. sidekick, El Toro doesn't show up in this book. I also watched The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok.  These cowboys were real heroes from the 1800's and need to be studied. I find myself searching for books about old western characters that helped shape America in it's early years. Hampton Sides did a yeoman's job in his research and storytelling. While it's not non-fiction that reads like fiction, it is very close. I guess that's why I felt that I wasn't reading a history book, but a good old western! I give this palatable book my highest rating.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: The term "blood and thunder" originated as a oath, though not necessarily a religious one. It was used by Lord Byron in the poem, Don Juan, 1818-24. It became a term for cheap literature in 1859 London. The term was used by Irwin P. Beadle & Company in America for paperback fiction at 10c a copy. Kit Carson was given the rank of Breveted General near the end of his life. This was a temporary rank with no pay increase. Kit Carson died of an aneurysm at 58 years old in Fort Lyon, Colorado shortly after his beloved wife died from complications while giving birth.