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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Arsenal Of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm An America at War

This is the first email review done unknowingly by past contributor, Deron O for the The Arsenal of Democracy by A.J. Baime:

I finished the Ford Motor Company book. I would give it 4 stars. I almost think it should be a 5, but...

It was a fast read, and the writing flowed. I kept wanting to read the next chapter. Believe it or not, it ended with two men with guns drawn staring each other down. The only thing it lacked was style, which is why the 4 stars. The writing was very plain. I’m not sure there was one word beyond a 5th grade level. That really didn't bother me and is probably why it read so fast. It just seemed like the author should have some kind of style for it to be 5 stars... maybe I'll give it 4.9 stars.

Of course, the book was incredibly interesting. I've never read a book about the wartime economy. This was an excellent book to start with. It mainly told the story of the beginning of the Ford company until WWII. It focused on the production of the B-24, but touched on all the major players in Detroit and all the things they built for the war. I guess the phrase "The Arsenal of Democracy" applies to the city of Detroit (the phrase also applies to America, and a few other things, but definitely also Detroit).

I forgot to mention, it is definitely non-fiction history that reads like a novel. More than not, each chapter ends on a cliffhanger.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

The Finished Product:

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Is there a name for a short chapter book? I don’t think so, but it makes for elongated reading. By that I mean, it’s easy to say to yourself…”I’ll read one more chapter before retiring for the night”... again and again until you have read 50 to 100 pages. Get the picture? Then to make you read even more, the author alternates every short chapter (one to eight pages) between characters, time frame, or cliffhangers. Brilliant. If I’m reading a book with long chapters, I tend to look ahead to see how long the next chapter will be. If it’s too long, I say “sayonara” and retire for the evening. It doesn’t get any better than this, unless you are reading one of the greatest short chapter novels ever...Animal Farm (1945) by the dystopian writer George Orwell. We will talk about this “writer innovation” later in the comment section.

Anthony Doerr’s novel seems to tell several stories that collide in the waning chapters. We follow blind child Marie-Laure Leblanc and her father out of soon to be German occupied Paris during WWII to a walled French sea town named Saint-Malo in a house occupied by Marie-Laure’s strange great uncle Etienne. (Wow, that was a long sentence!) Anyway, Marie-Laure’s father, Daniel Leblanc, is the principal locksmith for the National Museum of Natural History and is carrying a famous diamond (maybe), the Sea of Flames, which is sought after by the Nazi Party. As the Nazis approach Paris, the museum director sends Daniel and three other people in four different directions, three of them with fake diamonds. Who has the real diamond? What happens to the diamond? Does the novel even answer that question?  

Alternatingly, we follow a German youth, Werner Pfennig, who has a propensity for fixing radios and is ultimately absorbed into the Hitler Youth Academy. The reader gets a good taste of how the Nazis trained and brainwashed the youths into a false bravado and hatred for non-Aryans. A good sidebar story is Werner’s relationship with his bunkmate, Frederick from Berlin. Neither boy believed in the Nazi Party but had to join the Youth Academy (ages 9 to 17) when they got the letter saying, ”You have been called, report to the National Political Institute of Education...” Werner eventually gets called into the war as a radio and transceiver repairman, working with a transceiver he partially invented. He is joined by the “giant” Frank Volkheimer from the Academy. Somehow, the meek Werner and the “giant” become sort of friends. In the ensuing chapters, Werner gets closer and closer to meeting Marie-Laure in the walled city. Will it be beneficial for both?

I thought the story of the terminally ill Nazi Sergeant Major Von Rumpel was pertinent to the story. As a gemologist prior to the military, he verified what this reader already knew from reading Robert M. Edsel’s non fiction book, The Monuments Men (2007) - that Hitler was gathering all of Europe’s treasures. And, Von Rumpel was in hot pursuit of the Sea of Flames. Will he also meet Werner and Marie-Laure in the walled city climax? Anthony Doerr has many more interesting characters in this pleasing novel, such as; Madame Manec, who runs great uncle Etienne’s six story house and the ladies resistance in Saint Malo, and Frau Elena, who runs the orphanage that Werner grew up in. This was a delightful novel with multiple stories that all come together at the book’s end. Great job of writing by Mr. Doerr.

Lastly, I thought that Doerr’s interchanging of the chapters between Werner, Marie-Laure, time periods, and other characters flowed brilliantly. Someone must have had a excellent continuity editor. And Mr. Doerr inadvertently whets the reader’s appetite for Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869) by constantly having Marie-Laure read chapter parts in braille and on great uncle Etienne’s attic radio. If I hadn’t already read it, I would probably be reading it as soon as I finished this review. Great job on this highly recommended novel.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I really enjoyed reading this short chapter book, since it just flowed better. No tedious or uneventful moments, and if it did, they would only last up to eight pages. Try reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851). Yes, it’s a classic, but you better be well rested while reading it. Anyway, I’ll list five short chapter books that are classics:

Utopia (1516) by Thomas More. says, “First published in 1516, Thomas More's Utopia is one of the most important works of European humanism. Through the voice of the mysterious traveler Raphael Hythloday, More describes a pagan, communist city-state governed by reason. Addressing such issues as religious pluralism, women's rights, state-sponsored education, colonialism, and justified warfare, Utopia seems remarkably contemporary nearly five centuries after it was written, and it remains a foundational text in philosophy and political theory.”

The Little Prince (1940) by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. says, “Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.”

Cat's Cradle (1963) by Kurt Vonnegut. says, “Told with deadpan humour & bitter irony, Kurt Vonnegut's cult tale of global destruction preys on our deepest fears of witnessing Armageddon &, worse still, surviving it ...
Dr Felix Hoenikker, one of the founding 'fathers' of the atomic bomb, has left a deadly legacy to the world. For he's the inventor of 'ice-nine', a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet. The search for its whereabouts leads to Hoenikker's three ecentric children, to a crazed dictator in the Caribbean, to madness. Felix Hoenikker's Death Wish comes true when his last, fatal gift to humankind brings about the end, that for all of us, is nigh…”

Holy Bible: King James Version (1611) by anonymous. says, “Great for all ages! All the majesty of the Authorized King James Version in a beautiful Black Leatherflex (Imitation Leather) Binding. The words of Christ are printed in red and names are written in a self-pronouncing way. This edition features an easy-to-use illustrated Bible dictionary and concordance, which adds to your understanding of the Scriptures. Full-color endpaper maps illuminate the Bible text. This edition is ideal for gift-giving since the front Presentation Page lets you record the occasion. The durable and practical black leatherflex binding will withstand regular use for years.”

A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess. says, “A vicious fifteen-year-old "droog" is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick's magnificent film of the same title.

In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to "redeem" him—the novel asks, "At what cost?"

Wow, those are heavy reading books, but made easier to read because of the short chapters.

Pigs from Animal Farm courtesy of

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


The author sent me copy of his novel to review:

M. John Lubetkin writes a gripping novel in the style of Harry Turtledove, the guru of alternate history, writer of The Man with the Iron Heart. Lubetkin’s novel is also similar to Dan Simmons’s The Abominable: A Novel, a story (see my review of 1/8/2014), in which a old man (Jacob Perry) narrates the account of his adventures as a young mountain climber. In Custer’s Gold, the story is narrated by a old man (Ned Jordan) chronicling his adventures as a young surveyor. It seems many authors take a shot at writing alternate history, even Stephen King tried with his JFK novel, 11/22/63 (see my review of 5/16/2012). Now I’m not saying that Lubetkin is in the category of the above mentioned authors, but who knows...he just started writing after 32 years as a cable television executive. The story has some dead spots here and there but generally keeps the reader’s attention. Also interposed in Custer’s Gold are some chapters narrated by the bank robber Tom Donovan, aka Thomas Dugan, aka Mack McGillicuddy, to name a few. I enjoyed these "intermission" type breaks...more of these would have added needed profundity, not that the novel was simplistic. Okay, enough...what’s the novel about?

It’s August 1st 1864 in Virginia City, Montana. The Donovan gang bursts into the Allen and Millard Bank and get away with $15,000 and 200 pounds of gold dust. Meanwhile another part of the gang strike it rich by finding 650 pounds of gold dust on a Wells Fargo buckboard. Wow, what a haul! Later in the day they had 30 vigilantes after them. As the gang tries to escape on the Yellowstone River, they are attacked by Sitting Bull warriors. The gold is buried near the river, but many of the gang are killed. Donovan takes an arrow to his left eye and pulls it out. He is taken prisoner over the winter and released in the spring (he doesn’t know why they didn’t torture and kill him). The Indians warn him never to come back. He walks 600 miles to Wyoming with five pounds of gold dust in his gold belt. Now he must find a way to get the buried gold back while under the threat of death from the Sioux Indians. How many of the gang survived the Indian attack? Is Donovan the only survivor? I must say that this novel was toned down regarding the Sioux’s vicious torture customs. If you want to know what the Sioux really did, read Bob Drury’s The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend (see my review of 2/22/2014).

So, it’s 1935 and Ned Jordan is 89 years old and begins his story of the building of the second transcontinental railroad between Duluth, Minnesota and Tacoma, Washington (2,000 miles of track through hostile Sioux territory). The leader of the survey team is ex-Confederate General Tom Rosser. Somehow, Tom Donovan, now known as Mack, gets on the survey team with fellow gang member Red McCloud, aka Callahan. The president of the Northern Pacific, Gregory Smith, wants the young surveyor, Ned Jordan, to keep an eye out for the stolen gold. Smith thinks the stolen gold is on Northern Pacific land. Ned goes home to Portland, Maine to visit his parents before the dangerous survey trip starts. He falls in love with childhood friend Kate Warren, now a beautiful woman. Later, on the journey to survey the route to Tacoma, Ned and the General meet Bobby Pettit, a former Donovan gang member. Bobby tells them about the stolen gold and where it is. Subsequently, Bobby is found mutilated. Did the Sioux do this, or did someone who didn’t appreciate Bobby revealing where the gold is... kill him? Later Captain George Armstrong Custer (He was a Brevet Major General during the Civil War) provides military protection for survey team. After Ned, Rosser, Mack, Eck, Charlie and Phil (the group of six) find the gold, they keep it in two wagons. Custer puts two and two together and wants a cut of the gold. Ned’s group has no choice; they accept him as a partner. Now the fun starts: Can they get out of Indian territory alive? With the gold? Will one of the group steal all of the gold? The rest of the novel gets stimulating.

There were some good sidebar stories, such as, Ned’s infatuation with General Rosser’s wife, Lizzy. Kate Jordan’s secret relationship with her father, Judge Warren, was a big surprise. The sidebar story that I think Mr. Lubetkin messed up on was the one about President Grant’s son, Fred. A relative of President Grant’s family was killed on one of the survey trips. On page 236, Fred Grant goes on the next survey trip as an official observer. That’s the last we read about him. What? Did we forget about him? Did Mr. Lubetkin need a continuity editor? Other than some edit errors, it was an enjoyable novel, and I would highly recommend it.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: There have been quite a few books written about George Armstrong Custer, even though he finished last in his class at West Point and had all his men killed at The Battle of the Little Big Horn. What are some the better books? How about:

My Life On The Plains (1874) by General George A. Custer. says, “In 1874, just two years before General George A. Custer's death at Little Big Horn, a collection of his magazine articles was published as "My Life on the Plains." Custer, General in the U.S. Army’s Seventh Cavalry, wrote personal accounts of his encounters with Native Americans during the western Indian warfare of 1867-1869.   The collection was a document of its time and an important primary source for anyone interested in U.S. military affairs and U.S./Native American relations. Custer’s references to Indians as “bloodthirsty savages” were tempered by his empathetic understanding of their reason for fighting: “If I were an Indian, I often think I would greatly prefer to cast my lot among those of my people who adhered to the free open plains, rather than submit to the confined limits of a reservation…”

Little Bighorn: A Novel by John Hough, Jr. Walmart says, "Hired as an aide for Colonel Custer's 1876 campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne, Allen Winslow falls in love with a military surgeon's sister who watches with foreboding as her loved ones ride out with Custer's Seventh Cavalry.As a favor to the beautiful actress Mary Deschenes, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer hires her eighteen-year-old son Allen Winslow as an aide for his 1876 campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne. Traveling west against his will, Allen finds himself in the company of Addie Grace Lord, sixteen, sister of one of Custer's regimental surgeons. The two fall in love, and it is with foreboding that Addie Grace watches Allen and her brother George ride out with Custer's Seventh Cavalry. Weeks later in Montana, hundreds of miles to the west, the Seventh brings its quarry to bay beside the river called the Little Bighorn.Beautifully written and filled with unforgettable characters, "Little Bighorn" brings to life the American West and its heartbreaking history, brilliantly portraying the flawed and tormented Custer.”

Custer, Black Kettle, and the Fight on the Washita (1938) by Charles J. Brill. Barnes and Noble says, “Using Cheyenne and Arapaho accounts, Charles J. Brill tells the story of General George Armstrong Custer’s winter campaign on the southern plains in 1868-69, including his attack in Black Kettle’s village on the snowy backs of the Washita River. Brill’s searing account details the ruthlessness of the U.S. Army’s efforts to punish southern plains tribes for what they considered incessant raiding and depredation. Brill provides the Indian point of view as he follows Custer into a battle that remains controversial to the present day.

In a new foreword to this edition, Mark L. Gardner discusses the significance of Brill’s history-placing it in context with other Custer and Indian Wars studies-and its Value to scholars and general readers today. Gardner also provides an overview of the career of Oklahoma journalist Charles J. Brill, much of whose life has remained a mystery until now.”

Glorious War (2013) by Thom Hatch. Barnes and Noble says, "Glorious War, the thrilling and definitive biography of George Armstrong Custer's Civil War years, is nothing short of a heart-pounding cavalry charge through the battlefield heroics that thrust the gallant young officer into the national spotlight in the midst of the country's darkest hours. From West Point to the daring actions that propelled him to the rank of general at age twenty-three to his unlikely romance with Libbie Bacon, Custer's exploits are the stuff of legend.

Always leading his men from the front with a personal courage seldom seen before or since, he was a key part of nearly every major engagement in the east. Not only did Custer capture the first battle flag taken by the Union and receive the white flag of surrender at Appomattox, but his field generalship at Gettysburg against Confederate cavalry General Jeb Stuart had historic implications in changing the course of that pivotal battle.

For decades, historians have looked at Custer strictly through the lens of his death on the frontier, casting him as a failure. While some may say that the events that took place at the Little Bighorn are illustrative of America's bloody westward expansion, they have in the process unjustly eclipsed Custer's otherwise extraordinarily life and outstanding career and fall far short of encompassing his incredible service to his country. This biography of thundering cannons, pounding hooves, and stunning successes tells the true story of the origins of one of history's most dynamic and misunderstood figures. Award-winning historian Thom Hatch reexamines Custer's early career to rebalance the scales and show why Custer's epic fall could never have happened without the spectacular rise that made him an American legend.”

The Northern Pacific Railroad being built:

Monday, November 17, 2014


Dostoevsky’s 1866 novel poses interesting questions. Can an extraordinary person murder an inferior person and avoid punishment? Is this exceptional individual above the law? Didn’t he do humanity a good deed by eliminating a useless being? As Arte Johnson on Laugh-In would say…”Very interesting”. Throughout this psychoanalytically (wow,18 letters) driven novel, I wondered why the main character, Rodion Romanovich, a.k.a Rodia, (characters have many different names in this novel) committed murder in the first place. Was it Czar Alexander ll’s fault? Maybe he created a lot of confusion when he set the serfs free and abolished capital punishment, while on the flip side his infamous Secret Police sent thousands to Siberia. There had to be much perplexity and chaos with all the political changes. Since the Czar was encouraging University studies, I’m confused why Rodia and his friend, Dmitri Prokofich, a.k.a. Razumikhin, dropped out of school. Change in government was still decades away since Lenin was only four years old at the time of this book’s publication. I’m also confused why Rodia, as poor as he was, felt superior to begin with. Sigmund Freud stated in the notes on page 525, “Dostoevsky cannot be understood without psychoanalysis...he illustrates it himself in every character and every sentence.” This novel is about the foolhardy journey of a psychopath in czarist Russia stalked by the cynical Porfiry Petrovich (Russia’s answer to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot?). What a book!

I say what a book, but sometimes I think that I’m reading a play. I love the sidebar expressions from some of the characters; such as, “he-he-he!” (Porfiry Petrovich and Peter Petrovich), “cough-cough-cough” (Katerina Ivanovna), or “poof-poof-poof!” (Amalia Ivanovna). Is this a acting devise, or what? Did I say that I loved this book? What I love the most is that I can misspell names and no one would be the wiser. But the main question is still what made Rodia axe Aliona Ivanovna (a lot of people in this story with similar names), a sleazy pawnbroker, to death? And subsequently her domineered sister, Lizaveta, who happened to walk into the murder scene. And why did Rodia instantly become sick and feverish throughout the remaining pages. This is truly a case for Freud. This is not the only psychoanalytical question. What’s going through the head of Peter Petrovich Luzhin, who is engaged to Rodia’s dirt poor sister, Dunia, a.k.a. Avdotia Romanovna, when he gets into a argument with Rodia and later tries to frame a poor street walker and semi-friend of Rodia, Sonia, with stealing a hundred ruble note from him? And what about the somewhat lovable drunken father of Sonia’s, Marmeladov, who says to Rodia in a pub on page seventeen (referring to his wife), “Such is my trait! Do you know, sir, do you know, I have sold her very stockings for drink? ...her mohair shawl I sold for drink.” As a government clerk (only God knows what that is), Marmeladov had a responsible job. Yet, what made him leave a pub in a drunken state and seemingly commit suicide by stepping in front a horse drawn coach?

While Rodia is in his feverish state, his doctor, Zossimov and his friend, Razumikhin, notice that Rodia gets interested and excited only when the talk is about the murder and who did it. As he grieves over his guilt, he seems ready to fess up to the murders. Once when he is called to the police station (it’s only about his overdue rent), and once when he runs into a clerk from the police station at a restaurant. He obviously wants to confess, but doesn’t know how to. Then he gets his second wind and says on page 182, “Life is real! Haven’t I lived just now? My life has not died with that old woman! The Kingdom of Heaven to her-and now leave me in peace!” Rodia now wants his pledges (pawned items) back, and since his friend (Razumikhin) is a relative of the lawyer in charge of the murder case, Porfiry Petrovich, he goes to the police station for an interview with the skeptical and cynical Porfiry. It seems that Porfiry suspects Rodia is the murderer. Let the cat and mouse game begin. On page 241, Porfiry says to Rodia, ...“I heard that too (about not being well). I heard, in fact, that you were in great distress about something. You look pale still.” In which Rodia replies, “I am not pale at all...No I am well again.” Really? Then it gets real interesting when Porfiry tells Rodia about an article Rodia wrote while in school, “There is, if you remember, a suggestion that there are certain persons who can...that is, not precisely are able to, but have a perfect right to commit breaches of morality and crimes, and the law is not for them.” Is this good stuff, or what?

There are two other characters that I would like to mention. The first one is Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov, who appears early in the book as the employer of Rodia’s sister, Dunia, who is working for him and his wife as a governess for the children. Since Dunia rejected his sexual advances, he has her fired and spreads the rumor that she was after him sexually. It’s later found to be untrue, but severe damage has been done to her reputation. After Arkady’ wife dies, the degenerate reappears in the book looking to cause more problems for Dunia and Rodia. And I loved the conversations from the landlord, Andrei Semionovich Lebeziatnikov, who espouses an early communistic commune life (remember this book was published in 1866) way before Lenin. Dostoevsky’s blockbuster was a prototype of what this reviewer considers a classic novel. Don’t ask me how it ended, because you need to read this book!   

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: The last book Dostoevsky wrote was his famous, The Brothers Karamazov. says, “The Brothers Karamazov, completed in November 1880 just two months before Dostoyevsky's death, displays both his mastery as a storyteller and his significance as a thinker. In this volume, Dr. Leatherbarrow shows that far from being merely a philosophical religious tract, The Brothers Karamazov is an enjoyable and accessible novel. He discusses its major themes, including atheism and belief, the nature of man, socialism and individualism, and the state of European civilization, focusing particulary on those themes of justice, order and disorder, in whose revolutionary treatment he sees the real significance of this literary landmark.”

Here are some quotes about Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment from noted scholars:

"...the only psychologist from whom I have anything to learn." - Nietzsche (1887)

"Dostoevsky gives me more than any scientist, more than Gauss." - Albert Einstein

"So great is the worth of Dostoevsky that to have produced him is by itself sufficient justification for the existence of the Russian people in the world: and he will bear witness for his country-men at the last judgement of the nations." - Nikolay Berdyaev (1923)

"...a prophet of God," and "mystical seer." - Vladimir Solvyov (1883)

  "He lived in literature." - Konstantin Mochulsky

  "Dostoevsky is finished. He will no longer write anything important." - Nekrasov (1859)

  "Russia's evil genius" - Maxim Gorky (1905)

  "...the Shakespeare of the lunatic asylum" - Count Melchoir de Vogue (1848-1910)

  "A sick, cruel talent" - Nikolay Mikhailovsky (1882)

  "Dostoevsky preaches the morality of the pariah, the morality of the slave." - Georg Brandes (1889)

  " author whose Christian sympathy is ordinarily devoted to human misery, sin, vice, the depths of lust and crime, rather than to nobility of body and soul" and described Notes from Underground as " awe- and terror-inspiring example of this sympathy." - Thomas Mann

  "Dostoevsky was human in that 'all too human' sense of Nietzsche. He wrings our withers when he unrolls his scroll of life." and "Dostoevsky had virtually to create God -- and what a Herculean task that was! Dostoevsky rose from the depths and, reaching the summit, retained something of the depths about him still." and "Dostoevsky is chaos and fecundity. Humanity, with him, is but a vortex in the bubbling maelstrom." -Henry Miller

  Joseph Conrad described The Brothers Karamazov as "... an impossible lump of valuable matter. It's terrifically bad and impressive and exasperating. Moreover, I don't know what Dostoevsky stands for or reveals, but I do know that he is too Russian for me. It sounds like some fierce mouthings of prehistoric ages."

  "He who gets nearer the sun is leader, the aristocrat of aristocrats, or he who, like Dostoevsky, gets nearest the moon of our non-being." - D.H. Lawrence

  Kenneth Rexroth once described Dostoevsky as a "man of many messages, a man in whom the flesh was always troubled and sick and whose head was full of dying ideologies--at last the sun in the sky, the hot smell of a woman, the grass on the earth, the human meat on the bone, the farce of death"

Turgenev on Dostoevsky:”...the nastiest Christian I’ve ever met.”

“Dostoevsky wrote of the unconscious as if it were conscious; that is in reality the reason why his characters seem ‘pathological’, while they are only visualized more clearly than any other figures in imaginative literature...He was in the rank in which we set Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe.” - Edwin Muir

Was this writer ahead of his time, or what?

Picture of Fyodor Dostoevsky:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The City of Ember

This is a guest review from my eleven year old grandson, Kai Ohlarik:

An underground city built for unknown reasons is dying.The storerooms are empty. The generator is breaking down.The only hope is to escape, but according to the city's knowledge, Ember is the only light in a dark world.

Lina and Doon have hope. Lina found instructions from the builder of the city. The only problem is Lina’s sister, Poppy, chewed up the instructions… the instructions now look like this: Unfortunately, the instructions were found years later than they were supposed to be found. Lets go back to Lina’s heritage. The seventh Mayor of Ember was sick and dying. So he took the box home, thinking that something in the box would heal him. Despite his efforts, he could not open the box.

Sadly, the Mayor died before he could pass on the instructions to the next Mayor. The instructions were now hidden in a closet in his home. They would remain there for a very long time, until they were discovered by his family many years later. The person was Lina Mayfleet. The box was set to open in 220 years and that’s why the dying Mayor couldn’t open it. Now it’s up to Lina and Doon (a friend) to lead the people of Ember out of their dying city.

The plot for The City of Ember really makes you care about all the characters. The author, Jeanne DuPrau, has written three other books in this series. In my opinion, they were all great books.

I would recommend this book to third grade students and up. It has a great story and always has you thinking what will happen next. All in all, I would rate this book five stars.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: From the movie:

On, someone submitted this question...Does anyone have the full instructions for egress from The City of Ember? The answer was edited by Taylor Mad Dale:

Instructions for Egress

This official document is to be kept in strict security for a period of 220 years. After that time preparations have been made for all inhabitants to leave the city. Instructions are as follows:

1. Explore path along river within pipeworks.
2. Find stone marked with E by river's edge.
3. Climb ladder down riverbank to ledge approximately eight feet below.
4. With your backs to the water, you will find door of boathouse bunker. Key is behind small steel panel to the right of door. Remove key, open door.
5. Locate boat, carry into light. Boat is stocked with necessary equipment. Back _______________ onto s___________ ___eet.
6. Using ropes, lower boats down into water. Head downstream. Use _______ to avoid rocks and assist over rapids.
7. You will travel approx. 3 hours. Disembark where river ends. Follow the path.   

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The CLEVER Mill Horse

The author sent me an autographed copy of her novel for review:

What seemed like a boring concept, turned out to be a suspense filled tale with many twists, turns, secrets and discoveries. I know that I’m treading on fragile ground when I say that Jodi Lew Smith has blended the gothic and historical romance novel into one, but it’s true. Okay, consider this...the gothic novel; such as, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1847) emphasizes the devastating effect of jealousy and vengefulness: Heathcliff is rebuffed by Catherine in favor of Edgar and seeks revenge. In The Clever Mill Horse, Henry Emerston’s proposal of marriage is rejected by Aunt Lucille and Henry spends his life looking for retribution. I’m calling Jodi Lew-Smith’s novel a historical romantic gothic (is there such a thing?) because of our heroine Ella’s relationship with Zeke/Lucas and the fact that the Flax Gin was a real invention, albeit in the later 1860s. This is not to be confused with Maximilian de Winter, Rebecca and the second Mrs. de Winter in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (a 1938 gothic romance novel). However Daphne du Maurier had the best sinister character in a Mrs. Danvers. Are you confused yet? What I’m trying to say is that Jodi’s novel had a lot of the above characteristics which reminded me of those famous novels.

Now since gothic novels employed descriptive writing, how did Jodi do? I think she did very well. On page 43, Jodi describes Ella’s father, Amherst…”He was of middle height, but seemed shorter because of his unusually thick shoulders-derived from years of hefting flour sacks. Unlike his powerful shoulders, his face, which must have once been handsome in a rugged way, had sagged here and puffed there, until he had come to wear an old man’s face on a vigorous body.” Not bad for a farmer with 250 apple trees! Also intriguing is why Jodi named the novel the way she did. What was clever about Edgar (a 33 years old horse)? Because he carried the hidden gold watch? Because he walk in circles at Grandpa’s blacksmith shop? I read a review that said Edgar never reappeared, did you actually read this book to the end? Anyway, what is this book about?

Okay, it’s set in central New York from 1804 to 1811 in the fictional (?) town of Deborahville. Grandfather Tunnicliff and Ella, his granddaughter, are trying to perfect his design for a flax machine, similar to the cotton gin. They are attacked by the Loomis gang on a horse stealing venture. Grandpa is killed (really?), Pete, the indian, is wounded, but Ella, throwing a knife, kills one of the gang. Ella had previously agreed to get the patent for the machine if Grandpa Tunnicliff died before the machine’s patent was acquired. In the ensuing chapters, we meet Zeke, Ella’s long time friend, Aunt Lucille Tunnicliff (is she passing counterfeit notes?), the underhanded lawyer, Henry Emerston, who says he will help Ella get the patent for the Flax Gin. Aunt Lucille believes him, wise Indian Pete doesn’t (is he Lucille’s secret lover?) Henry lets Ella use a room in his mill to work on her Flax machine. Henry’s son, Lucas, an artist, shows up to sketch Ella while she works on the flax machine. Really? Meanwhile, Ella’s father, a drunk, comes home and beats up his wife, Catherine (same name as tragic figure in Wuthering Heights) and the children. He only stops when Ella comes home with her throwing knife. Ella finds out that Henry Emerston is planning to steal her patent. The race is on. How can Ella complete the machine and get to the patent office in Washington, D.C. before Henry and the Loomis gang? Get your own copy of this novel to find out. The real suspense is just starting.

I really enjoyed this novel, but I must say that I’ve read quite a few maiden novels this year and many have been five star and female written. Good job ladies! The only thing I did not like in this novel was on page 409, when I read…”end of book one.” I don’t mind sequels, but I don’t like reading a novel only to find out that the story is not over. I like to decide by myself whether I want to read a series. Many times this has stopped me from reading the second book. A good example of this is when I got to page 766 of Justin Cronin’s novel, The Passage, and realized that the story wasn’t over. I haven’t read the second one. I guess it’s just me. I prefer connecting works like All the Pretty Horses (see my review of 4/02/2013), The Crossing (see my review of 10/03/2013), and Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy. All three stories ended, but were related to each other. It was my choice to read, or not read the second and the third novels. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Jodi’s novel, I’m just relating to you my individual quirk. Enough said, read this gothic romance (?), it’s worth the effort.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: So what is your favorite gothic novel? I have written about this before, so I will not bring up those novels again today. I did consult with (one of my favorite sources) and eliminated the novels I previously talked about. So what’s left? Plenty, how about:

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, “First published pseudonymously in 1764, The Castle of Otranto purported to be a translation of an Italian story of the time of the crusades. In it Walpole attempted, as he declared in the Preface to the Second Edition, "to blend the two kinds of romance: the ancient and the modern." Crammed with invention, entertainment, terror, and pathos, the novel was an immediate success and Walpole's own favorite among his numerous works. The novel is reprinted here from a text of 1798, the last that Walpole himself prepared for the press.”

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte,”Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman's passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.

With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte's innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.”

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, “Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it first appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting influence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment. Of Dorian Gray’s relationship to autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.”

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, “First published in French as a serial in 1909, "The Phantom of the Opera" is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine's childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous 'ghost' of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. Leroux's work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik's past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows.”

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, “A very young woman's first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate...An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.

Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls...

But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.

For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.”

Reading the classics is such a trip!

A drawing of the Flax Machine (gin):