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, January 24, 2013


This is the story of a very stoic group of people living in the Washington Territory of the Pacific Northwest during the mid 1800s. Megan Chance spins a tale of mystery and intrigue that grips the reader and will not let go until you have read all 386 pages. Only a person who lives in the Northwest could describe the weather like Megan does. I have not felt this cold and wet reading a book since I read Dan Simmon’s The Terror. Megan’s descriptions of the foul weather actually made the book feel cold in my hands! The constant rain, flooding, and harvesting of the oyster beds accords the proper atmosphere for this arcane novel. Before I tell you about the story, I have to give Megan Chance kudos for the critique in descriptive writing. It’s ironic that this story is set in the 1850s, because that’s the time period for some of the greatest descriptive writers, such as Hawthorne, Melville, and Dickens. I’m not saying this book is a classic, but I think her writing style draws the reader into the story’s time period and location better than most modern authors.

In the prologue, a famed ethnologist is dying and makes his seventeen year old daughter Leonie promise to marry his protege, Junius, even though he is at least 25 years her senior. In the first chapter, we flash forward 20 years. Leonie, a housewife and drawer of relics, lives in her deceased father’s cabin with her now husband Junius, a oysterman and ethnologist. Also living there is her father’s long time associate, Lord Tom, a Chinook Indian. The day after a storm (and there are many!) Leonie finds a mummy in a basket partly uncovered on the bank of the river. Lord Tom and Junius help her dig it out. Who is this female mummy? Is she a precursor to the Indians, as her father had imagined? How did she get there, and how did she die? On page 20, Leonie thought, “I looked back down at the mummy. Junius, like my father, believed there had been an advanced culture here before the primitive indians had supplanted it...” Leonie then takes charge of the find and immediately starts having nightmares about an Indian woman running in the grass trying to tell Leonie something. What was the mummy trying to tell Leonie in her dreams? At this point, Daniel Russell, Junius’s son from a previous undissolved marriage shows up presumably as a reporter for a San Francisco newspaper doing a story about the mummy. Hostilities ensue between Daniel and Junius with Leonie caught in between.

At this juncture, an Indian medicine woman named Bibi (Lord Tom says she's a fake) shows up, tells Leonie of impending danger, and gives her a charmed bracelet to wear. Junius pressures Leonie to dissect the mummy so he can send the information to Spencer Baird of the Smithsonian Museum. Leonie delays the cutting, because she is still having undeciphered dreams. Leonie consults her dad’s journals and finds out that he was working on a unknown experiment. How did this relate to her and the mummy? The dreams get worse. She starts having feelings for Daniel. Where will all this lead to? On page 148, Leonie is still unsure that the mummy is ancient, even as she remembered her father saying, “Promise me you’ll fight such sensibilities. Logic, my dear. Logic is your only friend." She still can’t decide to cut open the mummy. Something's wrong! What is it? Why does she have this lust for her husband’s son? Then she finds her father’s cave bear tooth necklace in the mummy’s dress! What’s going on! Papa has been dead for twenty years! If you want to find out what happens next, I suggest that you grab a copy of this wonderful story and start turning pages.

Some of the sidebars that I enjoyed were the Indian legends and tales told by Lord Tom, the protector of Leonie. The sprinkling in of Chinook words and sayings were particularly entertaining, such as wake kloshe (bad luck), kani (it lives), mesachie tomawanos (bad spirit), and okustee (daughter). The 16th century’s plastica theory was another incidental link to this tale that was highly instructive. On page 308, her father wrote in his journal, “I wonder if perhaps God, like an artist sketching the same thing over and over again until he reaches perfection, must have created the various human groups in experiment, trying out his vision of man in lesser forms before he settled on the last and best”. Is this the unknown experiment her father was working on before he died? If so, how is the mummy involved?

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: The Chinook Indians, who play a supportive role in this novel, lived by a strict caste system during the time period of this novel. Upper class were the warriors and shaman, who were known to have slaves. The highest class was the Flathead Indians. Some children would have their heads squeezed under the pressure of two boards thus creating the flatness. They were considered to be superior over round heads. I don’t know if this system is still in vogue. Lord Tom touched on how the Chinooks came into being with Leonie, but here is a version of that legend: “Talapas (Creator) made the earth a nice place with animals and trees. Talapas asked Tsoona (Thunderbird) to carry special eggs to a mountain called Kaheese. He did as he was told, but Old Giantess didn't want the eggs to hatch so she began to break the eggs. The Spirit Bird came down from the sky and consumed her with fire. The remaining eggs hatched and became Chinook Indian”. The Chinook Indians are known to be, as most tribal indians, great storytellers. A quick informative book about the Chinook would be Chinook Indians by Suzanne Morgan Williams.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


This novel by Peter Heller has more of a survival/adventure flavor than other apocalyptic novels. There have been many plague driven post-apocalyptic novels written going all the way back to 1826 when famed Frankenstein author Mary Shelley wrote The Last Man, a story of a plague destroying mankind in the year 2100! How about another famed author, Jack London, publishing The Scarlet Plague in 1912. In 1954, Algis Budrys wrote Some Will Not Die, a plague story centered in Manhattan. Peter Heller’s novel is somehow different. I know that it is minor, but in this book, the population is dying from a super flu. Since the story takes place about 25 years from now, the world is also experiencing the effects of global warming. The waters are warmer (trout have died off), the rivers are receding, and droughts are more prevalent. All of these calamities are handled very subtlety. The author only hints at how all the events happened and instead concentrates on the survival of the four main characters and a dog named Jasper. The cause of the flu isn’t even mentioned until page 253, when Cima, a doctor, theorizes the “Mutation of a superbug, one of the ones they’d been watching for two decades. In the water supply etc. Combined with bird flu. We called it the Africanized bird flu, after the killer bees.” Global warming is hardly mentioned except when the reader finds out that elk, tigers, and elephants are apparently gone due to the change in the weather.

The hero of the story is Hig, a recent widower, a builder, and writer before all this happened. He lives in a hanger on an Erie, Colorado airport with his dog, Jasper, and a “shoot first, ask questions later” tough guy named Bangley. Hig flys his 1956 Cessna ("The Beast") around their perimeter patrolling for attacks from other humans. And, there are a lot of invasions and plenty of bloodshed. Hig likes to hunt and fish, but he is always in the peril of an ambush from intruders seeking food. The whole story takes place nine years after the flu wiped out most of America (Did the Arabs do it?). Hig had heard a call from an airport tower in Grand Junction three years previous, and now it haunts him into wanting to go on a flying adventure to see if there is civilization elsewhere. Bangley stays at the airport while Hig flies solo to Grand Junction. On the way, the reader meets the two other characters: Cima, a doctor and flu survivor, and her crusty father, Pops, a farmer and ex-U.S.Seal. This is where the story finally takes off and becomes entertaining. It took a long time to get to this point, but the rest of the book is clear sailing and finishes with an interesting climax.

The writing style of Peter Heller at first was a little annoying, but I got used to it half way through the novel. It seems to this reviewer that Heller has adapted the style of Cormac McCarthy, who according to “He said he always thought there was no reason for all of these marks to muck up the page. He also said that if you write well enough and clearly enough there is no reason for quotation marks.” Well said, but I still like the original style, and by the way, McCarthy’s isn’t always clear, is he? I do think that Heller’s choice of only four characters is reminiscent of McCarthy’s The Road. (I don’t know why I always bring up that book when I’m reviewing a post-apocalyptic novel, because I didn’t even like it!) But when a writer chooses to have only two to four characters, there is plenty of time to develop the characters with an abundance of empathy. The empathy part is one of my main gauges to determine whether I enjoyed the book, or not. I also thought Heller’s use of sidebar elements and characters was expertly done. For example, the docile group of Mennonites gave the author the chance to introduce a derivative malady (a new blood disease) into the plot. The element of guilt is very strong in this story. Hig is always wondering if killing is the right choice for survival in this new world. On page 245 he wonders, “Could I say that we murdered a young boy in the middle of the night? That we didn’t make him into dog food. That we murdered a young girl in broad daylight who was running after me with a kitchen knife probably wanting my help.” There are a lot of strong messages in this novel. This was Peter Heller’s first foray (a convenient word!) into fiction, and it was a good one.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: In one of the books of the New Testament, John has a revelation that the world will end with a victory of good over evil. Hence, the apocalypse theory. The Mayan’s 12/21/12 event didn’t happen, but many religions hang on to the possibility that it will happen. Is this the reason there are so many novels and movies about it? According to “The Apostle John is the author of the Book of Revelation. He wrote it when he was about 92 years old, while a prisoner of Rome on the remote desert penal colony of Patmos, an island in the Aegean Sea”. Can one focus on writing a “novel” at 92 years old as a prisoner? I don’t know, but it does cause some skepticism to learned men.

There have been many movies made about the apocalypse, including the following favorites: Mad Max, I Am Legend, Dr. Strangelove, and Planet of the Apes. Books? There are too many excellent ones to choose from or enumerate. When did these novels start? Well according to “Noah’s Ark and the flood that wiped earth clean of evil mankind is a very early example of post-apocalyptic stories and writings. For the modern genre of 'End of the World' literature can be tracked back almost two hundred years to Mary Shelley’s The Last Man published in 1826. Even though some writers were able to imagine doomsday scenarios in Victorian times, the genre didn’t really take hold until after World War II. The atomic bombings of the cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan showed how civilization and civilized societies now had the ability to destroy each other and the world. The 1950s was a decade where the end of world was a common theme on the bestseller’s lists.”

The only difference in the latest novels compared to the older ones is the degree of seriousness we are giving to our planet’s survival. Most notable are the use of nuclear weapons and global warming. Hopefully. mankind will heed the warnings, and we will avoid an apocalyptic event and Godzilla! Just kidding!

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Ellen Marie Wiseman’s riveting debut novel allows the reader to peer into the life of a German teenager and her family in World War II torn Nazi Germany. The author states that the book was inspired by her own mother’s actual experiences in Germany and by the author’s numerous trips to the Fatherland visiting relatives. This is a dynamite novel about a German girl falling in love with a Jew. The novel reveals three engrossing forms of terror during the years 1938 through 1945. The first was the ravaging of the Jews and ordinary German citizens by the SS Troopers. One of the books Wiseman read pertaining to this was Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich by Alison Owings. The second torment experienced by the German families was the U.S. bombing campaign of German cities, backed up by The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945 by Jorg Friedrich. The third affliction in the story discloses how the non-Nazi German civilians were treated after the war’s end. This was verified by James Bacque’s Crimes and Mercies: The Fate of German Civilians Under Allied Occupation, 1944-1950 . This was an eye-opening trifecta of maladies combined in one novel. This reviewer wonders what Wiseman will do for an encore?

The milieu for this novel is Hessental, Germany, an ordinary peaceful German village of mostly hard working poor families. The focus is on the Bolz family and their struggle to put food on the table. Our heroine, Christine, and her mutti (mother) work on the estate of the Bauermans, a rich Jewish family. Christine and Isaac Bauerman are in love and plan to announce that fact at a December party at the Bauermans. But before that can happen, Hitler prohibits Jews from employing Germans, radios are confiscated and replaced with propaganda channeled radios, Jews are banned from public buildings, and the mandatory greeting is decreed as “Heil Hitler”. On page 54, Christine and Isaac wonder, “Will we ever be allowed to be together, to live like everyone else, happily married, with a house and children, to enjoy the most basic human rights?” This is a very sad novel. Slowly but surely, the Jews of Hessental are shipped by train to Dachau. On page 150, Christine thinks she saw Isaac and his family on the Dachau train and thinks to herself, “He can’t be inside one of those boxcars, she thought. He’s too smart and too beautiful to be carted away like an animal. His father is a lawyer, his mother an aristocrat.” This where the story takes ”the brakes off” and rumbles through 387 pages of breathtaking drama!

For a fledgling author without any creative writing background, I thought her characterization was superlative. I had plenty of empathy for vater (father), oma (grandma), opa (grandpa), and even the reluctant Nazi, Lagerkommandant Grunstein of the Dachau Camp. The sprinkling of German words, titles, and names was expertly done, such as: scheissekopf  (shithead), gruppenfuhrer (group leader), sonderkommandos (work units of Nazi death camp prisoners), and blockfuhrer (a block leader in the death camps). At one point in this marvelous novel, Christine wonders why prisoners would be shot at a death camp: “Why would they shoot those men when they have an efficient method of extermination right here?” The flavor of the novel is exactly how Wiseman states it is on her website: “I love reading and writing about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Fiction offers us a rare chance to slip into the lives of others, and to ask ourselves how we would react under challenging conditions, be it during WWII, the witch craze in Europe, or the Great Depression.” This is a love story, historical fiction, and a sad drama all rolled into one tumultous story. I highly recommend this first time novel by Ellen Marie Wiseman. I guarantee her second novel will not be rejected 72 times! 

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Whether you read this novel, William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich or Diary of Anne Frank, the reader finds it hard to believe that Hitler could have been so cruel to a group of people who considered themselves loyal Germans and who were the leading contributors to the country’s economy. Hitler was truly mad. states: “Adolf Hitler rose to power in the aftermath of World War I as Germany struggled under the economic burden of reparations imposed on them by the Versailles Treaty. A dynamic speaker, Hitler scapegoated various groups including German political leaders, liberals, capitalists and Jews for Germany's troubles. By 1933, his popularity resulted in his appointment as Chancellor, a position he used to undermine the existing government and become dictator.”

Hitler published Mein Kampf (My Struggle) in 1925, giving the world the first taste of his building hatred towards the Jews. Wikipedia states; “Mein Kampf has also been studied as a work on political theory. For example, Hitler announces his hatred of what he believed to be the world's twin evils: Communism and Judaism. The new territory that Germany needed to obtain would properly nurture the "historic destiny" of the German people; this goal, which Hitler referred to as Lebensraum (living space), explains why Hitler aggressively expanded Germany eastward, specifically the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland, before he launched his attack against Russia. In Mein Kampf Hitler openly states that the future of Germany "has to lie in the acquisition of land in the East at the expense of Russia.” Unfortunately, the German working-class had to pay for Hitler’s hostilities by being bombed into oblivion by the U.S. and the British R.A.F.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


One of my favorite writers, John Varley, writes a “been there, done that” book. What I mean is that there are only so many ways you can pen a apocalypse/survival novel. Is this novel similar to William R. Forstchen’s One Second After and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road ? You betcha! After the disaster, do refugees flee the big cities? Yes! Do people run amok seeking food and shelter? Yes! Do we have a societal breakdown with gangs pillaging the land? Yes! Finally, does the reader follow a group of people who become the champions of the story? You bet your sweet bippy! So you might ask, “What’s different?" Well how about adding a 9.3 to 9.8 magnitude earthquake in the Los Angeles area, and top that off with a massive fire a few days later. Look, I’m not saying that I didn’t like the book, but writers are running out of ways to tell this story. This is the tenth novel that I’ve read by this author, so I think I’ve earned my say. John, stay away from these kind of stories! If you want to write another, then ape Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain . At least in that novel, the focus was on the cure of the problem (the strain mutates to a benign form with a final surprise). I’ll give the author a pass, because the writing was terrific, and the characterization was top-notch.

The novel begins with screenwriter Dave Marshall interviewing Ex-Colonel Lionel Warner (USMC, ret.) about the possibility of a new movie. The Colonel tells him that a disgruntled bacterial scientist has deployed a bacteria in Saudi Arabia that freezes oil thus rendering it useless. The scientist is seeking revenge for 9/11. Marshall doesn’t know if the Colonel is telling him the truth or not. After Marshall leaves the hotel interview, mysterious police arrive at the hotel, and Marshall observes the Colonel being shot and ejected from the eleventh floor window! Now what is Dave Marshall going to do? He has to believe he's been told the truth, so he cashes in his credit cards and buys survival supplies. He calls in his fellow writing staff (the posse) and tells them what happened. Do they believe him? Some do, and others are skeptical, while his wife Karen leaves him, and his daughter Addison is unsure. Later, the news reports that oil wells throughout the world are on fire! My God, the bacteria has gone airborne and is affecting every oil field. As Staffer’s Book Reviews states: “Like anything created in a government lab things don’t go as planned, and oil across the world begins to harden, in many cases with explosive results”. Next, the L.A. oil fields blow up, and the L.A. tar pits explode causing massive damage in urban Los Angeles. Now his writer friends and his wife Karen are starting to trust his story. The posse, led by Dave Marshall and Bob Winston, decides to head to Oregon for safety; but then, a monumental earthquake delays them. Finally, just as the Marshalls are ready to depart for the second time to the Winstons to form a caravan out of the L.A./Hollywood area, a conflagration starts in Hollywood. Now the Marshalls are on the run in their packed Escalade, dodging bullets from gangs and the advancing flames. Readers: this all happens in the beginning of the book; I’m not giving away the story.

From here onward, the great trek to safety begins. This is where this novel becomes analogous to Lucifer's Hammer, The Stand, and On the Beach. How many of these kinds of novels can one read? Somewhere out there is an author writing the ultimate apocalypse novel with a completely fresh take on the revelation that John hears involving the battle of good over evil with God appearing at the books end. Now that's a story! There are certain truisms we learn in these types of books. The first is on page 77 when Dave Marshall realizes that “Millions of Americans were discovering that what they did for a living was no longer something anyone would pay them to do”. The second truism is on page 185 when Dave says, “The big question was, say you’ve made a shelter just big enough for your family. The alarm goes off, the bombs are on the way. You seal up your shelter...and the neighbors come knocking. Do you let them in?” The third thing Dave thought about was “What did you talk about after civilization had crumbled? Dave tried to recall what they had talked about before the oil went bad, it was already getting hard to do”. Though this book was similar to lots of novels I’ve read, it was still illuminating and humanizing. I don’t want to abash the reader who hasn’t read these types of books, but read this novel with a grain of salt.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: On John Varley’s official website, he states: “Slow Apocalypse is NOT like anything I've written before. I am so pleased to see my old friend George RR Martin raking in the dough; this is my attempt to reach a larger audience, like he has, beyond all you lovely people. It is my hope that my long-time readers will enjoy it, too.” John, I have to tell you I loved your trilogy of Titan, Wizard, and Demon much better. I also thought that Mammoth was the best novel John Varley ever wrote. According to Wikipedia, John isn’t happy with his Millennium experience in Hollywood. He states: ”We had the first meeting on Millennium in 1979. I ended up writing it six times. There were four different directors, and each time a new director came in I went over the whole thing with him and rewrote it. Each new director had his own ideas, and sometimes you'd gain something from that, but each time something's always lost in the process, so that by the time it went in front of the cameras, a lot of the vision was lost." Sciencefiction-Lit.Com states the following about Varley’s characters: “Single handedly Varley has trashed the long history of the SF heroic figure - and good riddance in my opinion. His bad guys are usually likable and sympathetic, his good guys are often pathetic and desperate, basically like so many people we actually know in real life. And the women... I defy anyone to find me an author, in any genre, who writes women as well as Varley. Hell, with sex changes in his books, a good percentage of his characters start in one sex and end in another and through each change you can tell. It's subtle, but it's there. That is true understanding of the sexual differences and similarities.” I’m a big fan of John Varley!