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.

Monday, September 24, 2012


The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming! Whoops, wrong story. I meant, the aliens are coming, the aliens are coming! Whoops, no they've already left. They were only here for a roadside picnic. They left various landing areas, later called zones, strewn with their garbage akin to our cellophane wrappers and pull tabs. Are they litterbugs, or did they leave us godsent knowledge?

In this novel by the Russian brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, humans gather the dangerous alien debris left behind to sell on the black market. This occupation becomes extremely portentous when the government decides to police the zoned areas affected by the aliens. Did the aliens even notice that we were here? Are they so far advanced that we looked like insects to them? Or, did they leave objects behind to gauge our intelligence? That is the big question asked in this sci-fi novel that's been out of print in the U.S.A. for nearly thirty years and only recently translated anew. This is not your typical sci-fi novel as the aliens have left when the story starts. We don't know what they looked like or their visit's purpose, if any. We can't even figure out what most of the objects they left behind are. This is pure science fiction devoid of any space monsters or irritating technical jargon. The setting of this story is unknown, but is presumed to be somewhere in northern Canada.

The story is about the stalkers, men who risk death, horrible disfigurement, maimed or defective offspring to make fast money. The book follows the lives of Redrick Schuhart and his fellow stalkers for a period of about eight years. During that time, Redrick gets married, begets a daughter that looks like a monkey, and goes in and out of the forbidden zone many times with a stalker know as the "Vulture" Burbridge. Redrick gets in constant trouble with the zone police throughout the story as he risks his life in the zone against alien maladies, such as the slime, the bug traps, the disgusting fuzz, and death by the grinder. The novel alludes to xenology and asks who's out there and are they psychologically human? This story doesn't answer that question, but it sure makes the reader think. While the characters are interesting, I didn't feel any empathy towards them. Well, maybe for Redrick when he goes on his final trip into the zone for a five hundred thousand dollar payday...if he can find the Golden Sphere reputed to be able to grant wishes! Wow, what a story! If you want to know how Redrick's last trip to the zone concludes, just pick up a copy of this classic that many reviewers say is the best sci-fi novel ever written.

While this book was top-notch even though actual aliens never appeared, I do miss a cognitive and aggressive extraterrestrial being. But I don't miss all the useless technical information some authors force upon us. Are you listening Vernor Vinge! The author I will forgive in this area is Arthur C. Clarke who wrote my favorite sci-fi book, Rendezvous with Rama and its sequels. In the afterword of The Roadside Picnic, Boris Strugatsky paints a sad picture on how difficult it was for him and his now deceased brother Arkady to get a book published in communist Russia in the early 1970's.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Several books written by the brothers take part in the same universe known as The World of Noon. Movies such as Stalker and Dead Mountaineer's Hotel are based on their books. Arkady was drafted into the Soviet Army and worked as a teacher and interpreter until 1958. He passed away in 1991. Boris graduated from the Leningrad State University in 1955 as an astronomer and engineer. The brothers collaborated as writers from 1958 to 1991 resulting in many classic sci-fi novels and movies.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Thirteenth Tale

The launching of Diane Setterfield's writing career couldn't have gone better. This novel published in 2006 is reminiscent of the old English gothic novels such as Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre . I would also think that Agatha Christie's Miss Marple would have been proud of the novel's heroine Margaret Lea. Not that our heroine was tracking a cold blooded murderer, but she does use her deductive reasoning to solve a mystery festering for sixty years. This is such a delightful and well received novel that I am shocked that the author hasn't written her second book yet. Diane Setterfield couldn't be out there teaching French again...could she?

The novel begins when an antiquarian bookseller Margaret Lea receives a letter from Britain's foremost novelist, Vida Winter. After years of giving false information about her life, Miss Winter wants to tell her life's true story before she passes away. She has picked a somewhat dilettante biographer in our heroine Margaret Lea. Still unsure of accepting the commission, Margaret agrees to go to Yorkshire to meet Vida. Margaret finally decides to write the biography only when she learns that Vida had a twin. This revelation perks her interest since Margaret was also a twin. So Vida starts the story of the strange and reclusive Angelfield family. This tale is so weird that Margaret is unsure if Vida is just conning another writer or is finally telling the truth. Between interviews, while Vida is too ill to continue, Margaret investigates the veracity of Vida's claims. The intertwining of Margaret's detective work and Vida's tale are brilliantly done by the author. We meet some of the most interesting characters, such as: Adeline and Emmeline March, the Missus and John-the-dig, Dr. Maudsley, Hester Barrow, and who could forget Charlie and Isabelle! I don't recall a book I've read recently that had so many major characters, and the unbelievable part is that I had empathy for all of them. Well done Diane Setterfield on that difficult and rare achievement. I also enjoyed your perpetual description of the topiary gardens and the gothic mansion of the Angelfield family.

The culmination of this novel is both surprising and heartwarming. Setterfield states near the end of the book that she will have closure on all the characters in the novel and she does, or does she? I'm still unsure of the final outcome of the mansion's fire as pertaining to Adeline, Emmeline, and the ghost. If you have read the book, you know what I'm saying! If you haven't read this book, you have 406 pages of ambrosial entertainment ahead of you. As Diane Setterfield might say - "Don't get ajangle reading this story"!

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Setterfield says that for many years she felt unable to write fiction at all, "I thought authors had to be orphans, or have a drug problem, or be out having lots of sex – and none of those things were me! Once I realized that the only difference between everyone else and writers is that they write, I felt I had cracked it." The above statement is from Book Browse - Diane Setterfield: Biography. I look forward to Setterfield's next novel with a trepidation that I'll miss the announcement.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


The author sent me a copy of this novel to review:

The debut novel of William Rosencrans may have spawned a new genre of writing. It's a combination of fantasy and China Mieville's weird fiction sans the neologistical vocabulary. Mr. Rosencrans does use diction that makes you run to the lexicon now and then, but these are real words such as: bulbuls, satyriasis, colporteur, and suzerainty. We might have a new category of literary composition! There are some ambiguities in the novel, but they make the story more intriguing. As the story developed, I had to speculate on some of the context, which makes the reader interpret the author's intention on a personal level. I like that style a lot, again a trait of China Mieville's writings. Does the protagonist Vladimir have actual visions or are they hallucinations - you the reader must decide. How does a biomime system make a building or a car grow? Where is Haven Island? What year is it? These are all unanswered questions that makes this book arcane and transcendental to the reader. This is a exceptional effort for this promising new author.

The story centers around Vladimir of Assuncao's Manor in the outcast area known as Abaddon on Haven Island. This is a time in the future where everybody is genetically engineered, where the good live in a biomimetically walled city known as the Holy City and the misfits, outcasts, and flawed are sent outside the walls to live their lifes in a prison atmosphere. A teenage boy named Vladimir is told by his teacher Mr. Singh that he is up for redemption, which means if he passes his examen in Chowtown he can regain entrance to the fabulous Holy City. Only eleven people have ever accomplished that feat. It's a time where everybody is watched by tiny nanite machines that report every detail of your life to the Holy City, ruled by 32 Patriarchs. Before he can take his test, war breaks out between the East and West. Suddenly Vladimir is on the run accompanied by a group of heralds led by a fly, a satyr, and a female known as Viryx. The heralds are uniquely made up of billions of nanites and can disintegrate in seconds. As he tries to make his way to Chowtown during the chaos of the war, he is being advised by the heralds. Can he trust them? Will he pass his examen? What will happen to him if he gains entrance to the Holy City? From the time the war begins till the exciting conclusion, this novel rocks!

To offer any criticism of the author would be unjust. Whereas you can say there wasn't enough character development for some of the minor mavericks in the novel, this reviewer did feel empathy for the kensei teacher Sister Agnes and the Duke of the Holy City. I also thought Immanuel the Savior and Ichabod from the temple were interesting side characters. What's next for this talented author? He did leave the ending cloudy for Vladimir - can that mean a sequel? It's too bad that this novel wasn't picked up by a major publisher because I think Mr. Rosencrans would have been nominated for Best New Writer at the Hugo Awards on 9/2/2012.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Mr. Rosencrans read my review of The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi and sent me an email stating that he liked the way I summarized the book. He wanted to know that if he sent me a copy of his book, would I review it? I, of course, said yes - not knowing what a wonderful book it was. I have no idea why Mr. Rosencrans had to self publish this book. Are the people who read manuscripts at these publishing houses idiots or what? Go figure!