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, April 25, 2013


What’s the last book you read that you couldn’t put down? Can’t remember? Well, I got one for you! It’s a 1959 novel that is more than just a story of the consequences and outcome of a nuclear war between America and Russia. This novel gives the reader the flavor of what America was really about in the 1950's. I remember the air-raid drills in grade school when a student was instructed to dive under their desk in the event of a atomic/nuclear strike. Like that was going to save your butt! I remember President Eisenhower saying the same thing. Here was a man who saw the destructive power of Little Boy in Hiroshima and Fat Man in Nagasaki saying that the desk would save me. Oh, well. Since this novel was published just before the civil rights movement, the ugly head of racism exists in this novel. This is not a knock on the author, Pat Frank, because he was writing in accordance with the prevailing thoughts of 1959. This novel was probably born out the U.S.A.’s fear of being attacked from space after Russia successfully launched the Sputnik satellite into space in 1957. This act most likely sparked the arms race and subsequently launched nuclear war/post-apocalyptic novels like this one into popularity during the 1950's and 1960's. However, this novel gives the reader hope that a nuclear war is survivable, unlike novels such as Nevil Shute’s On the Beach , where there is no hope for survival after World War III has polluted the atmosphere with world wide nuclear fallout. Alas, Babylon truly gives the reader a taste of that 1950’s fear and the general attitude of the citizens. Well done, Pat Frank.

The story centers around the town of Fort Repose in central Florida. Our protagonist, Randy Bragg, is contacted by his brother, Mark, a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force stationed at SAC headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. Mark tells Randy that war is imminent, and he is sending his wife, Helen, and two children to live with him in Florida. The day after Helen lands, the unthinkable happens. The U.S. and Russia exchange nuclear missiles! At first the town had electricity; then, the families witnessed a stunning explosion: “The white flashed back into a red ball in the southeast. They all knew what it was. It was Orlando, or McCoy Base, or both. It was the power supply for Timucuan County. Thus the lights went out, and in that moment civilization in Fort Repose retreated a hundred years. So ended The Day.” Several days later, the bombing stops. Randy houses most of the River Road people, including his brother’s family, Randy’s girlfriend Elizabeth and her family, and the local doctor, Dan Gunn. The Western Union lady, Florence, and the local librarian, Alice, live next door. The Preacher Henry family lives close by, as does the retired Admiral, Sam Hazzard. This constitutes the main core of characters (Those living in the vicinity of Randy’s River Road abode) in this cutting-edge story. Luckily for the town, the winds keep the fallout away from them even though Florida is listed as one of the many contaminated zones. The retired Admiral finds out via his short-wave radio that the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare is now Acting Chief Executive. Randy knew that: “...The struggle was not against a human enemy, or for victory. The struggle, for those who survived "The Day", was to survive the next.”

The ensuing chapters deal with the River Road people’s efforts to obtain food; avoid typhoid; establish law and order against the many ‘highwaymen’ attacking their town; and to establish ways and means for mankind’s survival. I thought that Pat Frank’s characterization was as good as it could be based on the many characters in the book. Near the end of the book, Lt. Colonel Paul Hart says to Randy Bragg:  “'Some of our scientists think it will take a thousand years to restore a saturated [Contaminated Zone], like Florida or New Jersey, to anything close to normal.'... and Randy turned away to face the thousand-year night.” By the way, the story does end with the reader finding out who won the war! I guess you will have to read this sci-fi classic to find out.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: During this nuclear Apocalyptic phase of writing, two novels were similarly written. The first one was Red Alert by Peter George. In 1964, it was adapted by Stanley Kubrick and released by Columbia Pictures as Dr. Strangelove . In the book, a crazed USAF General launches an attack on Russia from the SAC base in Texas. To make a long story short, the planes are finally successfully called back, except for the bomber Alabama Angel. The President convinces the Soviet Premier that it’s a mistake and offers Russia Atlantic City. Luckily, Alabama Angel fails in it’s mission, and no bombings occur. In case you forgot the book and movie: U.S. President Merkin Muffley is on the hot line to Moscow with some rather embarrassing news for the Soviet premier: “Hello, Dimitri….I’m fine….Now then, you know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb….The bomb, Dimitri. The hydrogen bomb….Well, now, what happened is that, uh, one of our base commanders…he went a little funny in the head….and he went and did a silly thing….He ordered his planes to attack your country.” Is that a riot, or what? The ironic thing about this book and the second book that I’ll talk about is that Peter George sued the authors for plagiarism, nonetheless Columbia Pictures released both movies in 1964!
                                          * SPOILER ALERT *
The second book was Fail Safe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. In this book, SAC is alerted that a threat (unknown plane) is headed into our air space, so our bombers hustle to their fail safe positions. The threat is proved to be bogus, and the bombers are recalled. However, six Vindicator  bombers get an attack code in error and fly into Russia to their targets. One bomber gets through and destroys Moscow. To refresh your memory, the following is the conversation the U.S. President has with the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, and General Buck, who is flying a bomber over N.Y.C. ( the President’s wife is there ): U.S. Ambassador to Moscow: Mr. President! The President: Yes, Jay? U.S. Ambassador to Moscow: I can hear the sound of explosions from the northeast! The sky is very bright, all lit up (cut off by high shrill sound of the Ambassador's phone melting from the nuclear blast) The President: (on the intercom) Put me through to General Black. General Black: Yes, Mr. President? The President: Blackie...General Black: (obviously upset) Yes, Mr. President? The President: (sighing in resignation) Moscow's been destroyed. Drop your bombs according to plan. General Black: (pause) Yes, sir. Is that scary, or what? The President had to sacrifice the population of N.Y.C., and his wife! Wow! Readers, these are just a few of the exciting novels written during the 50's and 60's. Sorry I gave the ending away, but I wasn't reviewing this book.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


This is a guest review from my wonderful daughter-in-law, Jennifer Ohlarik:

Kate Morton spins a tale of gothic measure in her 2010 novel, The Distant Hours. Spinster twin sisters, Percy and Saffy Blythe, are living within the ever-dilapidating walls of their once vibrant castle. Since the hauntingly gruesome death of their mother and their father’s ultimate mental and physical demise, the elderly sisters are charged with the care of their intrinsically beautiful, yet wild younger sister, Juniper, who possesses the same ethereal and charming characteristics as Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’. It is set in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s in England during a time of bombings, evacuees, gas masks, and blackouts. At the heart of the story is Raymond Blythe’s published work entitled “The True History of the Mud Man”. Raymond was the trio’s father. The tale unravels a world of mystery, secrets, and sins committed within the stone and mortar walls of Milderhurst Castle.

Edie, a young publisher from London is enraptured by “The True History of the Mud Man” only later to find out that her mother, Meredith, shares a secret connection to this English Castle and it’s inhabitants. As a young girl, Meredith was sequestered to Milderhurst Castle as an evacuee. She grew close to Juniper and learned to write at the hand of Raymond Blythe. The tie between the two elderly sisters; the dominance and submissive parts played by each respective twin, woven and connected to the younger carefree spirit of the wild Juniper is intensely fascinating, as is the strong possessiveness and oppressiveness of the castle walls. Morton tells a story of forbidden love, family loyalty, family ties – or rather chains, which ultimately revolves around this mysterious monster that arises from the mud.  

This book contains wonderful surprises and revelations that are delivered with gentleness and ease. The plot is multi-layered with a strong foundation.  Page after page, Morton carefully paints a picturesque English countryside and develops characters that are real, with whom we can come to know, understand, and ultimately empathize. It’s a story of past and present, with subtle glimmers of hopeful futures. It’s nostalgically rich in it’s gothic feeling lending the reader’s mind to reminisce the Bronte sisters’ works. The novel has many references to the great writers and poets. Emerson and Poe are two of the family dogs. It’s a warm friend for any reader with strong inclinations towards the world of British classics. Intertwined with mentions of the great writers, Morton also creates humorous charm with her allusions to Alice in Wonderland.

The Distant Hours is a meticulously crafted story that that entrances the reader until the last page.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Eowyn Ivey writes an intriguing novel full of symbolism born out of a old Russian fairy tale. Even Eowyn Ivey's first name (pronounced: A-o-win) conjures up a sort of mysterious glow on her somewhat mystic first novel. Actually, her first name is based on a character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I found this novel haunting and thought-provoking, especially after I finished the novel. I asked myself: Who was the snow child? Was she real? Does she symbolize the Alaskan wilderness or the struggle between life and death? This is the kind of symbolism that classrooms could analyze and debate forever. Dan Brown’s fictional character Robert Langdon would have quite a task explaining the hidden meanings of this novel to this reviewer. Wait a minute, maybe Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot can figure out this befuddling conclusion for me. Whatever, this novel is quite a trip!

The book’s setting is Alaska. The year is 1929. Jack and Mabel have moved to Alaska to start a new life after Mabel delivered a stillborn child. They are struggling to make a go of farming in the wilderness of Alaska. Mabel is depressed and even contemplates suicide. Then, they experience their first Alaskan snowfall and joyfully build a snow child that they dress in a blue coat, mittens, yellow grass hair, and a scarf. The next day, they discover the snow child knocked down with tracks leading to the woods, but no tracks from the woods to the destroyed snow child. Jack sees a girl wearing the snow child's attire peeking at him behind the trees in the forest. She has a red fox with her. What is going on? The neighbors, George and Esther, tell them there are no young blond girls in the valley. Esther tells Mabel “...The winters are long, and sometimes it starts to get to you. Around here, they call it cabin fever. You get down in the dumps, everything’s off kilter and sometimes your mind starts playing tricks on you.” But, Jack and Mabel know what they saw. After a period of time the girl cautiously comes to the cabin to visit them. The snow child says her name is Faina. Faina never sleeps over and always leaves for the forest after her visit, no matter how bad or cold the weather is outside. Where does she go, and how come no one else sees the girl? One day Jack tracks the girl and finds her in the mountains by a hidden abode. Apparently her father died of alcohol abuse, and Jack buries the man. Mystery solved? Not really. Why does the girl prefer to live alone in the wilderness? How come she disappears in the spring and summer and comes back in the winter?

Now that the author has wet your whistle, the book takes some unforeseen twists. The neighbor’s son, Garrett, sees the girl! He witnesses Faina killing a snared swan. Garrett is smitten and confused. That Christmas the neighbors surprise Jack and Mabel at their cabin, and finally see the snow child. What happens next? Well, you will find out after reading part two and three of this avant-garde first time novel by Eowyn Ivey. I thought Ivey’s characterization was well done, and her description of Alaskan scenery and wildlife was outstanding. Since Ivey lives in Alaska and works as a bookseller at an independent bookstore, her descriptive credentials of Alaska are a given. She states that she was almost finished with her first novel when she got the idea for this story. This leads me to believe that we will see more of her work soon. What happened to that other book? This was a enjoyable read.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: I wonder if Eowyn Ivey is part of a new genre of novels. says: “There’s a wonderful ongoing trend among adult novels and that is to evoke childhood and imagination by creating stories that recreate the sense of a fairytale. The Night Circus achieved this last year by creating a hypnotic and dreamlike world for readers to explore and live within. We aren’t even a week into 2012 and I have been utterly gobsmacked by what I can only call an adult fairytale of longing and love.” It’s hard to say where this trend is going, but lately I find myself reading books of unknown genres.

What does Eowyn Ivey think about this folktale genre? Well, in an interview with booksellernz, Eowyn says, ”I think subconsciously I had always been looking for a way to tell a magical story set in Alaska. This place is my inspiration as a writer, and as a reader my entire life I rarely came across books that took place in a northern landscape. The Snegurochka fairy tale was a kind of lightning bolt for me – suddenly I could see the path into the story I wanted to tell.” And, they asked Eowyn about some of the missing quotation marks, and she said...” Thank you — I’m so glad you noticed the quote marks. Some readers have wondered if they are the result of typographical errors, but it was intentional. When I first began writing Faina’s dialogue, it felt as if I had somehow dragged her to the ground and stripped away some of her magic. I am a fan of Cormac McCarthy, and I tried removing all the quote marks throughout the manuscript. But that didn’t feel right either. So as an experiment I decided to not use quote marks any time Faina is part of a conversation – I hoped it would allow her to remain slightly otherworldly, slightly removed from the everyday.” Once again Cormac’s "no rules" prose comes into play.

Finally, what is it like for real-life Alaskan settlers? “Because of its extremes Alaska is a challenging place to live, but it seems to take hold of some people. Jack London is a wonderful example – he was beaten down by his travels to the Klondike during the Gold Rush, and yet he spent the rest of his life writing about the north and its hardships. Throughout Alaska’s history, some people who have moved here can’t wait to flee. But for some, it is like Esther says to Mabel: 'I don’t know if you ever get used to it really. It just gets in your blood so that you can’t stand to be anywhere else.'”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


This is another classic from the gloom and doom meister, Cormac McCarthy. Although, there is not as much doom as normal since this novel is more of a study of evil. Published in 1992, it's the first volume of his famous The Border Trilogy. This was an incredible story and exciting and hard to figure out the ending and finally well written. I didn’t make a mistake with the previous sentence, it’s Polysyndeton syntax at work. Originally created by the great Ernest Hemingway, it elongates the sentence using several conjunctions in close succession without a break, thus creating a kind of urgency to continue without the reader having a chance to catch their breath and/or analyze what was just said. Not that there is going to be any quotation marks, commas, or apostrophes to help you make sense of it, somehow Cormac induces, or seduces, the reader into totally understanding what is being said, and who said it! This man can write beautiful prose, and his descriptive writing is right up there with an author, such as, Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote The Scarlet Letter , and The House of Seven Gables. How is this for an example of Cormac’s descriptive writing: “She looked up at him and her face was pale and austere in the uplight and her eyes lost in their darkly shadowed hollows save only for the glint of them and he could see her throat move in the light and he saw in her face and in her figure something he'd not seen before and the name of that thing was sorrow.” As I always say (at least since I’ve come to understood him) - This man can write!

It’s a love story of sorts. What, from Cormac? Well, I said sort of...with some violent twists. The year is 1949, and the place is San Angelo, Texas. The story begins with our hero, John Grady Cole, leaving his deceased grandfather’s ranch for Mexico. On the way, he picks up his buddy, Lacey Rawlins, and together they head south on horseback. Once in Mexico, they believe they are being followed. They semi-ambush a young man that appears to be about thirteen years old riding a beautiful bay horse. When Grady and Rawlins ask him why he is following them, he says, “I aint done nothin.” “What’s your name?”, said John Grady. “Jimmy Blevins.” “Bullshit”, said Rawlins.”Jimmy Blevins is on the radio.”That’s another Jimmy Blevins.” “Who’s followin you?” “Nobody.” How do you know?” “Cause there aint.” Reluctantly, they let the strange young man travel with them. Instinctively, Rawlins knows this kid is trouble. And is he ever right! Later in their travels, Blevins loses his horse and Colt pistol while hiding from a thunderstorm. He persuades Grady and Rawlins to help him find his bay horse and pistol. They find and “steal’ back Blevins horse from a Mexican stable. They are pursued by the town but get away after they split up. Blevins goes one way, and Grady and Rawlins another where they wind up working as vaqueros on a 11,000 hectares ranch owned by Don Hector Rocha y Villareal. He has a beautiful daughter named Alejandra. Grady falls in love. Can you sense a problem coming into play? Oh, yeah! Because of Grady’s horse breaking abilities, the father promotes him and then Grady has a secret affair with his beautiful seventeen year old daughter, Alejandra. Now the story turns dark! Knowing Cormac McCarthy, I’ve been waiting for this. You, the reader, have hundreds of exciting and twisting pages ahead of you. I have only given you a taste of what’s ahead. I highly recommend this classic western.

Not only did I enjoy this novel, but I learned a lot of Spanish. Cormac had the ability to tell the story with lots of Spanish conversations, and you, as the reader, somehow understand. How did he do that? I now know what a cuchillero, papazote, hacendado, caballero, and a gerente are. I like to look for symbolism in Cormac’s novels. I know who represented evil, guilt and remorse, but who were the three men that showed up on page 281 and confronted Grady with "Cuales de los caballos son suyos? (Which of the horses are yours?) Todo son mios. (All are mine.) Donde esta su serape?(Where is your blanket?) No tengo (I do not have one.) Quienes son ustedes? (Who are you?) Hombres del pais. (Men of the country.)" Men of country? What does that mean? I know that John Grady Cole shows up again in the third book of this series, Cities of the Plain , and then maybe I will get my answer.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Are you surprised that Cormac can write about romance? I was. Read this excerpt involving Grady and Alejandra: “The following night she came to his bed and she came every night for nine nights running, pushing the door shut and latching it and turning in the slatted light at God knew what hour and stepping out of her clothes and sliding cool and naked against him in the narrow bunk all softness and perfume and the lushness of her black hair falling over him and no caution to her at all. Saying I dont care I dont care. Drawing blood with her teeth where he held the heel of his hand against her mouth that she not cry out.” I’m convinced, but did you see all the ‘ands’ in the paragraph? Did you see any apostrophes? Of course not.

And lastly, Cormac proves that his characters possess feelings, when Grady is at a gravesite, Cormac writes: “He stood hat in hand over the unmarked earth. This woman who had worked for his family fifty years. She had cared for his mother as a baby and she had worked for his family long before his mother was born and she had known and cared for the wild Grady boys who were his mother's uncles and who had all died so long ago and he stood holding his hat and he called her his abuela and he said goodbye to her in Spanish and then turned and put on his hat and turned his wet face to the wind and for a moment he held out his hands as if to steady himself or as if to bless the ground there or perhaps as if to slow the world that was rushing away and seemed to care nothing for the old or the young or rich or poor or dark or pale or he or she. Nothing for their struggles, nothing for their names. Nothing for the living or the dead.” Not for nothing, Cormac McCarthy has proved to this reviewer that he can write a book of a different color.