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, November 26, 2012


Walter Van Tilburg Clark wrote this classic western in 1940 that challenges previous westerns by tearing down the usual cliches. This novel is the forerunner of my favorite westerns: Shane ( 1949 ) and High Noon ( 1952 ). While Shane studies greed and High Noon cowardice, The Ox- Bow Incident analyzes many emotions, including regret, sorrow and remorse. It rivals To Kill a Mockingbird for themes covered in one book. According to CliffsNotes, the reviewers loved this bellwether novel: “The Initial response of the critics to The Ox-Bow Incident was that here, at last, was the classic western cowboy novel: His motive for writing The Ox-bow Incident was largely personal. He wanted to recreate, for his own psychological satisfaction, a nineteenth-century American West in its true dimensions, and to see what kind of story would grow out of that”. This is the story of an incident that happened in 1885 Nevada.

The novel begins with our narrator, Art Croft, and his cowpoke friend, Gil Carter, riding into the town of Bridger’s Wells. They go into Canby’s saloon to drink and play cards. Would they have gone anywhere else? During the card game, Gil gets into a fight with a cowboy named Farnley, who accuses Gil of cheating. At the same time, a young cowboy rides into town and tells everybody that a cowhand named Kinkaid has been shot in the head and cattle rustled at Drew’s Ranch. This incites the crowd since rustling has become an epidemic for the town’s ranches. Farnley, a rancher named Bartlett, and Major Tetley (an ex-Confederate officer) incite the crowd into forming a lynch mob. A preacher named Osgood and a store owner named Davies try to talk the crowd out of pursuing the perpetrators. Judge Tyler warns the mob of legal action against them, but his words go unheeded. Off they go looking for rustlers with no real idea of what actually happened at Drew’s Ranch. This is a disaster in the making. I’m not going to tell you what happens, but I will tell you that it is sad drama! If you are into reading classics, then put this excellent novel on your list.

Without using descriptive writing, Mr. Clark has somehow bewitched the reader with plenty of empathy for the characters. How did he do that? There were at least 30 characters in this novel, and I felt like I knew all of them. Even minor characters are clear in the mind of the reader: Sparks ,the ex-slave; Butch Mapes, the bully deputy; Ma, the boarding house owner and Monty Smith, the town drunk. The University Writing Center states:”Characters are the most important component of any narrative. Without them, there would be no story. Character development is an important skill to master because characters are important parts of any creative writing from books and short stories, from biographies and autobiographies, to poetry”. Well done, Mr. Clark! This is a novel that leaves the reader with a taste of incongruity for the mob and feeling of agitation for the sitting ducks.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Clark was born in East Orland, Maine, but was raised in Nevada where his father was president of the University of Nevada. The Ox-Bow Incident is considered the first modern western. When writing, Clark went into a self imposed isolation and was known to have thrown completed manuscripts into the fireplace and start all over again. Nevada Magazine states that later in his career: “Clark continued to write, but published very little post-1950. There are 600 handwritten pages of a manuscript entitled Dam, which may be a rewrite of Water. He attempted a final project, a Western trilogy: Admission Day, Way Stations, and Man in The Hole. Three simultaneous projects was a new way of working for Clark. Each had a wire-bound notebook hopefully titled and some chapter outlines and character studies inside”. Clark’s thoughts on his epic western was as follows: “True law, the code of justice, the essence of our sensations of right and wrong, is the conscience of society. It has taken thousands of years to develop, and it is the greatest, the most distinguishing quality which has developed with mankind...If we can touch God at all, where do we touch him save in the conscience? And what is the conscience of any man save his little fragment of the conscience of all men in all time?” Clark was known to be a very eccentric man; as a professor at the University of Montana in the 1950's, he would wear the same clothes for every day of the term! Why he didn't publish much after his four books is still a mystery. His last published book (1950) was The Watchful Gods And Other Stories, and yet he didn't die till 21 years later. Very strange!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The House of the Seven Gables

Nathaniel Hawthorne gives the reader a lesson in descriptive writing in this 1851 American Gothic novel. The purpose of descriptive writing is to completely describe every person, place, and thing so that the reader clearly sees it in his mind. This is why the writers of the 1850s were accused of being paid by the word. How about his initial description of Judge Pyncheon: "It was the portly, and, had it possessed the advantage of a little more height, would have been the stately figure of a man considerably in the decline of life, dressed in a black suit of some thin stuff, resembling broadcloth as closely as possible. A gold-headed cane, of rare oriental wood added materially..." Okay, no use continuing with the description; you get what I'm saying. This kind of writing along with the use of archaic words is the reason it is so tough to get through these classic novels. Try reading Herman Mellville's Moby Dick (1851). I'm not saying that I didn't like Hawthorne's book; I loved it as I loved The Scarlet Letter (1850), and I'm sure I will love The Marble Faun (1860) when I get around to reading it. In a preface by the author, he calls this book a Romance! But it really is what scholars now call a Dark Romance. Yes, I would agree that this book is very dark and gloomy!

Hawthorne takes the reader on a emotional ride. In the 1600s, the greedy puritan Colonel Pyncheon has Matthew Maule hanged for witchcraft so that he can obtain Matthew's land on which to build The House of the Seven Gables. Before Maule is hanged, he casts a curse upon the Pyncheon Family uttering, "God hath given him blood to drink!" Maule gets his revenge when the Colonel is found dead with blood on his beard. Two hundred years later, we meet the remaining Pyncheon family, most still living in the decaying mansion, destitute and alone. The reader will meet characters inclined to sin, self destruction, rapacity, a craving for wealth and one unpretentious lady. Lets meet the participants, shall we?

We have the spinster with a scowl, Hepzibah Pyncheon, who opens a penny store in front of the house in order to make ends meet. Her brother, Clifford, returns home after serving thirty years in prison for murder, a broken and imbecilic shell of a man. The only friendly neighbor is Uncle Venner, a old man on the decline. The mansion is falling apart, musty smelling and decrepit after nearly 200 years of neglect. Did I mention that it is currently haunted by the ghost of Alice Pyncheon? Sounds like a dark and dreary story, right? Well, yes it is! Enter Phoebe Pyncheon, a cousin that has come to live in The House of the Seven Gables. She brings joy and hope to Hepzibah and Clifford, who were decaying like the fungus of soft timber. Also enter the dishonest and deceitful cousin, Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon! The Judge says that he would like to help the family by bringing all the cousins to his estate. But is that the real reason? Hepzibah vehemently declines the Judge's offer. Enter the house's lone renter, Holgrave (no first name given), who is an daguerreotypist and writer. What's his real mission in the house? Is he looking for retribution? When Phoebe has to go home for awhile to clear up her affairs, it sends Clifford into a bed ridden state and depresses Hepzibah into a maddening state of mind. Then the avaricious Judge Pyncheon returns to the cursed house for, as we would say today, round two! Reader, if you can get through this gothic novel of the 1850's, you will have read a true American Classic.

I found this novel to be similar to a great painting with Hawthorne as the artist. The way he paints the mood shifts and the use of light and shadows gives the reader a feeling of good and evil depending on what character is about. Truly his descriptive writing is brilliant, whether it pertains to a person, the house (dark and damp), or his descriptions of the backyard garden where Phoebe has many talks at different times with Clifford and Holgrave separately. I also thought it was brilliant of Hawthorne to leave doubt in the readers mind at to whether the Maule family was actually in possession of mystical powers or not. I found myself re-reading the "Governor Pyncheon" chapter again and again. It was the most superb episode in this marvelous novel.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: This book is a Signet Classic that I bought for fifty cents in 1961. Fifty-one years later, I finally got around to reading it. Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the setting for this book. He is a ancestor of John Hathorne, a Judge in the Salem witch trials. He was so embarrassed by this fact that he added a "W" to his name. Herman Melville dedicated Moby Dick to Hawthorne saying in part, "in token of my admiration for his genius..."A early Dark Romance author Mary Shelley of Frankenstein (1818) fame died the year The House of the Seven Gables was published. A Dark Romance is a tale suggesting that guilt, sin, and evil are the most inherent qualities of humanity. When Hawthorne passed away, authors Alcott, Emerson, Holmes and Longfellow were among the famous pallbearers. Emerson wrote of the funeral, "I thought there was a tragic element in the event, that might be more fully rendered,—in the painful solitude of the man, which, I suppose, could no longer be endured, & he died of it."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Rambling Comments #2

It's conceivable that comments from one of my favorite historical fiction writers, Newt Gingrich, could have derailed Mitt Romney's bid to become the 45th President of the United States of America. If you read To Try Men's Souls , Valley Forge, or The Battle of the Crater, Newt does exude a certain amount of credibility. What I mean is his knowledge of American history does lend to make the reader feel the author is somehow patriotic and believable. When Newt said on 12/13/2011, "I would just say that if Governor Romney would like to give back all the money he's earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain, then I would be glad to listen to him, and I'll bet you $10, not $10,000 that he won't take the offer." I also heard an analyst recently say that Newt (to paraphrase) said,  "Mitt looks like the man that fired your father." These are things that stay in a voter's head.

I also don't think the American public respects those born with a silver spoon in their mouth, Donald Trump. Our author had this to say about Trump on 4/21/2011, "Well look I think that he is a little bit wild. A little bit...some have compared him to P.T. Barnum and the rise of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. He is one of the great showman of our lifetime. He is very clever at getting news media attention. And he’s in his “Apprentice” candidate phase. That’s fine. He brings a level of excitement and life — a lot more folks will talk about the Republican ticket in the next few weeks because of Donald Trump. I’m all for him being an active Republican, but at some point he’s got to settle down…But for the moment, it’s a bit like watching American Idol. We have the newest guest star." To me, that's right on! Look, I'm not saying that I would have voted Republican, but I think Newt would have been a saner choice.

Did it hurt Romney when on 10/4/2012 Newt said, "Somebody who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president."He is asked, "Are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?" Gingrich's answer was simple: Yes. I don't know if you have read any of Newt Gingrich's books, but I have, and somehow his thoughts seem more believable to me. One wonders why the Republican party can't come up with a plausible and credible candidate like Ronald Reagan in 1980. Is it time for Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party to make a comeback? I have read many books about Teddy, and I have to say that I'm as John Wayne would say "a pilgrim". One has to be able to read and decipher with a cognitive mind, otherwise it would have been easy to be deceived (as Americans) with Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf  ( My Struggle). I guess what I'm trying to say is that a well read person most likely will make a better decision when voting for the President of the United States!

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

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

If you think Bing Crosby's 1949 movie was anything like Mark Twain's fantasy classic published in 1889...Forget It! Like the precursor novels Gulliver's Travels, written in 1726 by Jonathan Swift, and Alice in Wonderland, written in 1865 by Lewis Carroll, this book was made into a movie barely representative of its source. The film starring Bing Crosby was a musical comedy that only touched on basics of Twain's novel. Mark Twain had a very harsh view of medieval England pertaining to the church and throne to say the least. On page 246, he says, "...if one could but force it (manhood) out of its timid and suspicious privacy, to overthrow and trample in the mud any throne that ever was set up and any nobility that ever supported it". The book has none of the film's niceties; instead, it graphically describes the unjust hangings, stake burnings, murder, slavery, and unfair caste system. This is a brilliant novel written 113 years after the Revolutionary War and 24 years after the Civil War. The contents truly reveal Mark Twain's political and social views, which I think are worthy of the study they have received. For further information on his thoughts see Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1, Reader's Edition (Mark Twain Papers).

In the year 1879, Hank Morgan (his name is only mentioned once), an arms factory foreman, is knocked out in a fight with a man named Hercules (no, not that one) and regains consciousness under a tree in King Arthur's Camelot in the year 528. He is captured by the less then adequate knight, Sir Kay. At first, Hank believes he's awoken in an insane asylum, but when he is brought before The Knights of the Round Table to receive justice, he realizes it really is the sixth century. He is stripped naked, sent to the dungeon, and sentenced to be burned at the stake the next day. Clarence, a page, visits Hank, and Hank then convinces him that he, Hank, is a super magician. Clarence becomes Hank's right hand man. Hank recalls that a total solar eclipse will occur the next day. He warns King Arthur and Merlin the Magician that he will blot out the sun if they attempt to burn him at the stake. They dismiss him, and as they kindle the fire under Hank, the sun starts to go dark! The King begs Hank to stop it and offers Hank the second most powerful position in Camelot. Hank waits for the eclipse to pass and now becomes known as The Boss to the chagrin of Merlin, the now avowed enemy of The Boss.

The Boss with the help of Clarence secretly starts many modern businesses, such as a telephone system, a newspaper business, a railroad, army and naval academies, an arms factory, an electric company, and an advertising company with the knights displaying the ads on their armour, just to mention a few. King Arthur requires The Boss to go on a quest with the damsel, Sandy, to save enslaved princesses from three ogres! It turns out to be a pig sty with three farmers. He returns to Camelot a hero with his now beloved Sandy. He then has many adventures in Camelot, such as jousting tournaments with the knights armed with lances and The Boss with a pistol (who do you think won?), the blowing up of Merlin's Tower, the magical repair of the fount at the Valley of Holiness, and many more. At this point The Boss decides to go incognito with King Arthur into the realm of the peasants. They find many injustices and wrongs amongst the people, but before they can return to the castle, they are captured by an earl and sold into slavery. They are accused of murder and sentenced to hang. The Boss escapes and calls Clarence for help. The next day just before they are to be hanged, Lancelot and 500 knights arrive on bicycles to save the day!

The ensuing years are good for The Boss, his wife Sandy and their daughter, Hello-Central (that's right). Unbeknownst to The Boss, Merlin has made his family sick. The Boss takes his family away from England and goes on a long vacation cruise to heal. That's when the expression "the shit hits the fan" is related to, and may well derive from, an old joke. A man in a crowded bar needed to defecate but couldn't find a bathroom, so he went upstairs and used a hole in the floor. Returning, he found everyone had gone except the bartender, who was cowering behind the bar. When the man asked what had happened, the bartender replied, "Where were you when the shit hit the fan?"[Hugh Rawson, "Wicked Words," 1989] This is the best part of the book, the last 100 pages or so. I never could have predicted the ending. The interesting thing about this book is that Mark Twain is the narrator. The book starts out with Twain on a tour of the Warwick Castle. He is approached by a old man seemingly knowledgeable about the castle and the knights. The old man starts to tell Twain his story from thirteen centuries ago, but grows weary at the Warwick Arms, and before retiring to his room, he hands Twain the manuscript to read. This was a great book and if you only read one classic this year...make it this one!

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I think it is ironic that even though Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, which was the setting for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that he died in Connecticut in 1910 at the age of 74. William Faulkner called Mark Twain "the father of American literature". Twain had a profitable publishing house with the success of The Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, but went broke when he only sold 200 copies of the biography of Pope Leo XIII. He was financially rescued by a principal of Standard Oil, Henry H. Rogers. Twain later went on tour and probably became America's first stand-up comic!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Famed actor and comedian Albert Brooks writes his first novel, a story of future politics and life in America that I found way too predictable. If you look at America's current deficit spending, it's obvious that America will be spending all of its future monies on interest alone, and that we will lose our status as the number one country in the world. As more illnesses are cured, America's senior citizens will live longer, thus drawing more benefits than they have in the past. This will make the country's debt even worse, and the future for young Americans more onerous. Mr. Brooks offers no surprises here. Will politicians back the growing senior population, or will they risk losing their elective jobs? Will AARP become the most powerful lobby in the country? I think you know the answer. Again, nothing new here. So now we get down to the essence of the novel which is what will happen when the clash of the young and old occurs. And while we are at it, let's throw in a monster earthquake that destroys 98% of Los Angeles. The Big One finally arrives!

Basically, we have President Bernstein struggling to get re-elected, balancing the favors of the young and old while attempting to borrow three more trillion dollars from the new number one country, China. Kathy Bernard and her father are faced with outrageous medical loans, while her new boyfriend, Max Leonard, pursues new ways to fight the old with his group "Enough is a Enough". The president appoints a new Secretary of the Treasury, Susanna Colbert, and promptly falls in love with her. Shen Li, the richest man in China, arrives in Los Angeles to pick up the gauntlet of America's health care and make himself even richer. Dr. Sam Mueller has cured cancer and is working on other cures with his mega rich Immunicate company. Walter Masters practices euthanasia, while Brad Miller wants to know why the government doesn't buy his ruined condo after the big quake. New retirement communities are now on cruise ships, and sixty year old seniors are being assassinated on buses throughout America! China says it will not loan any more money to America, but will rebuild Los Angeles for a 50/50 partnership of that city's revenues. Senator Stanley Markum wants his Chinese son-in-law, Shen Li, to be President of the United States. It sounds busy, right? It is, and I have only touched on some of this mumble jumble. All of these plot threads collide later in the novel.

One of my bellwethers for a good book is whether I felt any empathy towards the characters. I have to tell you that I couldn't have cared less for anyone in this novel, who died, or who didn't. To paraphrase Marlon Brando, "This book coulda been a contender." There were too many subplots with no bearing on the story. Was it intelligently written? Yes. There were moments in the novel that could have changed the direction of the novel. When Max says to Kathy, "The olds have to be shaken out of their stupor and realize that they share this planet with everyone else.", I thought to myself, okay now we're going somewhere! But puff went the magic dragon! Albert Brooks failed to take the bull by the horns and develop a meaningful direction for the novel; instead, he wrote about an insignificant conflict. This is one of the few books that I read this year that didn't excite me.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: As far as I know, this is Albert Brooks only book. Hopefully, he will stick to acting, which he is good at. He appeared in the movie Taxi Driver and received an Academy Awards nomination in 1987 for his role in Broadcast News . He was also the voice of Marlin the clownfish in the animated movie Finding Nemo . His half brother had a very funny T.V. series called Super Dave Osborne.