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 30, 2014

the GOLEM and the JINNI

This is a remarkable debut novel by Helene Wecker that brings the fantasy genre to a new level. I haven’t read any better, even my previous favorite, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell , is not a legitimate rival. Well done, Helene. I can’t wait to see what the second novel will be about. Weaving the story of the Golem and the Jinni from the year 1899 to the beginnings and back was brilliant. You took a Jewish myth made of clay and a Arab myth made of fire working and living in N.Y.C. totally believable. Keeping a 484 page novel to six main characters and two or three minor ones is to my liking. The description of 1899 N.Y.C. was very convincing, as were the foreign immigrants living in Little Syria and in the Hebrew sector of lower Manhattan. For me to fall hook, line and sinker for a novel of this ilk is extremely rare, especially by a nascent author. This is storytelling at it’s whimsical best.

Now for the story...Otto Rotfeld of Konin, Prussia is failing in business. He decides to migrate to the U.S.A., but he needs a wife, so he goes to the scurrilous Yehudah Schaalman, a 93 year old kabbalist, or mystic. He makes a golem wife for him. What’s a golem? Well, normally it is formed from clay, has the strength of twelve people and is usually made to protect someone, but in this case to be the wife of Rotfeld. A golem is brought to life by special words spoken by the kabbalist and can be destroyed immediately with another set of words. Rotfeld, with the Golem in a crate, boards a ship and heads for N.Y.C. During the voyage Rotfeld says the words to wake his wife, but he later takes sick and dies. Now the Golem has no master, when they dock in N.Y.C., she has no papers, so she jumps overboard and walks under the water to land. Not to worry, she doesn’t breathe, eat, or sleep. She surfaces in the city totally uncertain of what her future will be.

Meanwhile in Little Syria of lower Manhattan, Boutros Arbeely, a tinsmith, receives a old copper flask  from Maryam Faddoul, a coffeehouse owner with the instructions, “Would it be possible, she asked Arbeely, to repair a few of the dents? And perhaps restore the polish?” The flask has always been in Maryam’s family, as long as she could remember. Boutros Starts working on the bottle and out pops a jinni (you know it better as a genie). The Jinni is disoriented and wants to know where the wizard is that trapped him in the bottle one thousand years ago (in the Syrian desert). After realizing where he is, the Jinni becomes Arbeely’s apprentice. He also doesn’t need sleep and wanders the city at night. He becomes the best tinsmith in Little Syria, forming and shaping objects from the heat in his hands.

The focus switches to the golem, who is wandering the streets. Rabbi Avram Meyer spots her and knows what she is. He takes her in and tries to teach her how to survive in the world. He gets her a job in Radzin’s Bakery, where she becomes the star baker. The Rabbi introduces the Golem (now named, Chava) to his nephew, Michael Levy, who runs a hostel for new immigrants. Levy is infatuated with the golem (he doesn’t know what she is). The Golem is doing well under the tutelage of Rabbi Meyer. In the meantime, the Jinni (now known as Ahmad) is wandering the streets when he meets socialite, Sophia Winston (18 years old). He has an affair with her. Is that a good mating, a human and a jinni? I smell a future problem.  

In the ensuing chapters, we learn about the past of the Jinni and his love affair in the Bedouin Desert with a human, Fadwa, one thousand years ago. This can’t be good. During the interval, we meet the mysterious ice cream maker, Saleh. Why can’t he look people in the eyes? Why is a doctor from Syria selling ice cream in N.Y.C. and contemplating suicide? By happenstance, the Jinni and the Golem meet in Central Park. He can tell she is not human, and she can see him glowing, since he is made of fire. This meeting will become sweet and sour in the following chapters. As a matter of fact, explosive at times. Then Something hits the fan (you know what) as Yehudah Schaalman boards a ship to N.Y.C. to find out what happened to the golem and to seek eternal life. The last time I met someone this evil was in Uncle Tom's Cabin with Simon Legree.

The last two hundred pages were turbulent! This is were I think Helene Wecker does her best storytelling. What the reader thinks he knows goes down the drain. The reader will be amazed how the author ties the Golem, the Jinni, and Yehudah Schaalman into a bundle of excitement in the explosive final chapters. The sidebar stories of Rabbi Meyer, Michael Levy, Sophia Winston, Maryam Faddoul, and Saleh, the ice cream maker, were ingenious accents to the novel as a whole.  Move over Lev Grossman (The Magicians ), Guy Gavriel Kay (Tigana ), and Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind ), there is a new fantasy writer in town and her name is Helene Wecker. Do I recommend this novel? Do one legged ducks swim in circles?

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: According to, "A golem is a creature made out of clay into which life has been injected by magical means. The Hebrew word golem means something incomplete or unfinished, as in the verse (Psalms 139:16) referring to the human embryo: "Thine eyes did see mine unfinished substance (golmi)."

"While the notion that it is possible to bring to life an artificial semi-human figure is found in the Talmud, the term golem for such a creature was not used until centuries later. In Ethics of the Fathers (5.7) the golem is contrasted with the wise man and thus denotes a stupid person, like 'dummy' in English slang."

"In a talmudic passage (Sanhedrin 65b) it is stated that the Babylonian teacher Rava (fourth century CE) created a man and sent him to Rabbi Zera who tried to converse with him but when he saw that the man could not speak he said: 'You belong to that crew (of the magicians), go back to dust."

We know that Chava in the novel was a beautiful woman, but is this what a real golem looks like:

Photo courtesy of

According to, "jinni, plural Jinn, also called Genie, Arabic Jinnī,  in Arabic mythology, a supernatural spirit below the level of angels and devils. Ghūl (treacherous spirits of changing shape), ʿifrīt (diabolic, evil spirits), and siʿlā (treacherous spirits of invariable form) constitute classes of jinn. Jinn are beings of flame or air who are capable of assuming human or animal form and are said to dwell in all conceivable inanimate objects—stones, trees, ruins—underneath the earth, in the air, and in fire. They possess the bodily needs of human beings and can even be killed, but they are free from all physical restraints. Jinn delight in punishing humans for any harm done them, intentionally or unintentionally, and are said to be responsible for many diseases and all kinds of accidents; however, those human beings knowing the proper magical procedure can exploit the jinn to their advantage."

When the Jinni came out of the flask at Boutros Arbeely's, did he look like this:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Tragedy of Fidel Castro

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

The real tragedy is that this novel changes direction way too many times. At one point I think I’m reading a book version of the movie, Red Dawn (1984), then I think, wait a minute, I’m reading Monty Python's Flying Circus . And it ends with an incident from Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court , and I thought China Mieville was confusing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the novel was bad, just disorganized. The back cover says alternative history. Really? How about satire, fantasy, tall tale, and political satire as a new combined genre. I think Mr. Cerqueira gave the literary world a new look, but this novel is not ready for prime time. Does Joao Cerqueira have talent? Absolutely! But it must be harnessed in one direction, it can’t alternate literary genres from chapter to chapter. Look, I don’t know how prestigious the USA Best Book Awards are in the literary world. I am aware that this novel won for Fiction: Multicultural, but it’s not like this story won a Hugo Award. I don’t think I’m being too critical, because I generally liked the novel. I just simply think that the novel could have been written more reader friendly. In other words, give me a better understanding of what is going on. For instance, isn’t Fatima really the Blessed Virgin Mary ? In the novel, Christ seems to view her as an old acquaintance (isn’t she his mother?) Oh well, this is why this novel is so bewildering.

In the novel’s preface, Mr. Cerqueira denies that any of his characters are real, or even similar to anybody, with the possible exception of Fidel Castro. Throughout the entire novel, the reader doesn’t know what countries are involved or what year it is, because the author states,”This book takes place in an imaginary time and space.” The reader assumes it really is the USA and Cuba because of Fidel and JFK. It’s almost like he wants to wash his hands of everything written in this novel. If God isn’t God, and Christ isn’t Christ, and Fatima isn’t Fatima, who are they? The story itself is unique, although I don’t think it falls into the ergodic literature category. The Fidel character is most interesting. He declares Cuba open to international tourism. The people seem to turn on him, because isn’t that why Fidel deposed the previous leader? Fidel is now convinced that he is going to be overthrown. Meanwhile, he decides to invade the USA (the book doesn’t tell us where he will step ashore). In the USA, JFK prepares for the invasion by having deep pits dug filled with sharp stakes. JFK releases a captured spy, Varadero, against the advice of the counselor (we never find out who he is), but J.E. Hoover is trying to dig up some dirt on him. At least the Hoover part in the novel seems true to form. In Cuba, Fidel gets his spy back. On page 91, Fidel says to Varadero, “You are under arrest because I need to take every measure necessary to stop from being overthrown.” When Varadero challenges Fidel’s idea that he is irreplaceable, Fidel says,”When I am dead, the country will be reconquered by my enemies and by drug traffickers.” Some of this stuff is very funny.

The real fun starts when Fidel lands ashore. The beach has been secured by his trusted Commandant Marcos. After an argument with the spy, Fidel goes for a long walk in the woods alone. He eats a flower, falls asleep, and wakes up not knowing where he is, or what he is doing there. He stumbles upon a Monastery staffed by an aggressive abbot and war-like monks. This is where I stop my synopsis, because the rest of the book is very amusing and should be discovered by you, the next reader. I know that I found a lot of things in the novel that I didn’t like, but I also see a very talented writer as well. Even though I am going to give a neutral rating to this book, I do give it my recommendation because of it’s eccentricity.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: One of the best books written about the USA / Cuba conflict is, The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs . says, “The U.S.-backed military invasion of Cuba in 1961 remains one of the most ill-fated blunders in American history, with echoes of the event reverberating even today. Despite the Kennedy administration’s initial public insistence that the United States had nothing to do with the invasion, it soon became clear that the complex operation had been planned and approved by the best and brightest minds at the highest reaches of Washington, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President John F. Kennedy himself.”  

According to a 3/18/2012 article on, “A new book by an ex-CIA spook claims that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro knew about Lee Harvey's plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy and did nothing to stop it.

Author Brian Latell was the agency's former national intelligence officer for Latin America and is now a senior research associate in Cuban American studies at the University of Miami.

In the upcoming volume, "Castro's Secrets: Cuban Intelligence, the CIA, and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy ," Latell writes that on Nov. 22 1963, Castro ordered his intelligence officers in Havana to drop their normal responsibilities and pay close attention to communications coming out of Texas — "any little detail small detail from Texas," The Miami Herald reported.

Javier Galeano/AP

Monday, January 13, 2014

The first phone call from heaven

This is the story of a town’s somewhat cavalier attitude towards the possible presence of heaven. When confronting the possibility of heaven existing versus not existing, the idiom... it’s better to be safe than sorry... comes into play. The town of Coldwater, Michigan (not the real one, says Mitch Albom on page 324) not only falls hook, line, and sinker in this belief, but also drags the rest of the world into the fray. Mitch Albom has written a delightful tale that could be made into a movie as the drama that it is, or even as a comedy. I prefer it as a drama. Also woven into this novel  is anecdotal evidence how Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. It seems to me that this ex-sports columnist is now an inspirational writer. This is another book involving heaven after previously publishing, The Five People You Meet in Heaven , and the enriching, Have a Little Faith  . The style and flow of Mitch’s writing coupled with his exciting chapter endings causes the reader to blow through a hundred pages without realizing it.

The novel starts with Tess Rafferty getting a phone call from her deceased mother, and Chief of police, Jack Sellers getting a call from his son, Robbie, a Marine recently killed in combat. Then it’s Katherine Yellin telling Pastor Warren that her dead sister has just called her. Then the story segues to our protagonist, Sully Harding, leaving prison. It takes way too long to find out why he was in prison, but the reader eventually, in dribs and drabs, finds out. How many idioms have I used so far? Three. Anyway, several other people also get calls from the dead. The calls become public after Katherine Yellin announces in church that she is getting calls from her deceased sister, Diane, from heaven on Fridays. This admission causes Nine Action News to send reporter Amy Penn to investigate. Other people say they are getting calls from heaven on Fridays. The local news becomes national news, as believers and nonbelievers crowd the small town. Katherine has nutcases praying on her lawn, phone sales in town accelerate, while Sully’s young son sleeps with a toy phone expecting a call from his passed away mom.

Sully, disturbed by the insanity in town, decides to investigate the calls from heaven with the aid of the local librarian. Seven terminally ill people, hearing about the proof of heaven, give up the fight to survive in order to enter heaven sooner. Protesters enter the town to clash with the believers. Kelly Podesto admits that she lied about her heaven calls. This causes an uproar with the T.V. stations and the general population. Are all of these people lying? The Mayor arranges for a national telecast of Katherine Yellin getting a phone call from her sister in heaven. The stage is set. Untold amount of tourist descend on Coldwater. What will happen? Will the call come? Why do all of these calls come on Friday? Is this a ruse, or a real event? This is not a long novel (326 pages) and can be easily enjoyed in two days. The twists and turns (4th idiom?) took me by surprise, especially from pages 305 to 323. I’m going to highly recommend this simple to read novel.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: According to Over the years I have received many reports of "phone calls from the dead" from my clients as well as relatives. These are actual phone calls that seem to come in from someone who has passed on. 

Most recently, my newfound friend, in which I will refer to only as “Dave” has had these experiences as well. These calls seem to come from a brother that has passed. The caller ID shows unknown name and unknown number, and the voice appears distant but can be recognized with personalized messages.

Dave has a high interest in the paranormal and his brother knew this at the time he passed. So is it possible this is the reason? Although I have had numerous reports from clients that have never had a paranormal experience, and have contacted me because they were left dumbfounded.

One of the questions that I am asked most often, is why do the calls come into only one family member? Is it because they are more open to it? As a psychic, I believe the answer to that is “Yes”. I also believe that there is no spirit out there that was related to you, that will intentionally scare you.

As a paranormal investigator, common reports are small appliances that will come on and off. Most common reports are televisions, stereos, microwaves and VCR’s. Some of those reports do include a phone that will ring and no one is there. Other reports are phones that will only ring once or twice. I, as well as other members of CVAPI, have personally witnessed some of these events.

On two separate occasions I have seen a dead cell phone begin to charge on its own, witnessed by others. Are phones an easy source to manipulate by the spirit world? Can our loved ones speak to us through the phone where they can be heard? On more than one investigation, we have had voices come through our hand held radios so I believe at this point that it is possible.

The direct phone calls are not only personalized messages, but the person receiving the call immediately recognizes the voice. It is common that the caller id reads unknown name or private number, but I have had reports of a phone number that used to belong to a family member long ago.

Two of Mitch Albom's bestsellers have become movies. Tuesdays with Morrie was a 1999 award winning television film. Picture courtesy of

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


It seems to me that the latest novel by Dan Simmons is receiving unjustified criticism. If you have read The Terror , Drood , or Black Hills , you will realize that this is how he writes. Yes, his older novels contained more horror and fantasy, but I think he has moved on to another genre. His latest novels are a mixture of historical fiction and alternate history with a dash of “thriller”. This has to be one of his most clever novels. The twenty two page introduction of Jacob Perry’s meeting with Dan Simmons was awesome. Since the novel had a medley of real climbers, like George Mallory, A.C. Irvine, and Felix Norton, it wasn’t hard to believe that Perry was also genuine. Also impressive was how Simmons was able to keep the 663 page novel down to five main characters, thus giving the reader plenty of time to develop a rapport with the group. On page 247, we meet two fictional Sherpas (Ethnic name for the mountainous people of Nepal) Tenzing Bothia and Tejbir Norgay. They are minor characters at best, and I only bring it up to illustrate Simmons’s probable extensive research for this novel. Mount Everest’s summit was finally reached on 5/29/1953 by Edmund Hilary and his Sherpa (you guessed it) Tenzing Norgay. I noticed that the novel was thoroughly peppered with creative tidbits of information by the author. Well done.

The novel starts out with Jacob Perry, Richard Deacon (the Deacon), and Jean-Claude Clairoux (J.C.) climbing the Matterhorn in the summer of 1924. As they are eating their newspaper wrapped lunch, they see the headline that says British climbers, George Mallory and A.C Irvine, were killed in an attempt to reach Mt. Everest’s summit. According to German witness Bruno Sigl... Lord Percival Bromley and Kurt Meyer were following Mallory and Irvine when they were swept away by an avalanche and also killed. The Deacon, a WWI war hero and respected British climber, is a friend of the Bromley family. The Deacon, J.C., and Jacob meet with Percival’s mother, Lady Bromley, who still thinks Percy might be alive and asks the group to find her son on Mount Everest. She will fund the trip but the trio must take Percy’s cousin Reggie with them. The trio spend a lot of chapters practicing and gearing up for the 1925 trip. Once they get to the Bromley tea plantation in India to join cousin Reggie, they are surprised to find out that the cousin is a lady. Deacon protests taking a Lady to Mt. Everest, but has no choice since she controls the funds and also is an accomplished climber. Reggie’s Indian right hand man and M.D. for the climb is Doctor Pasang. Now that the reader has met all five core characters, the group heads to Tibet to find out what really happened on that 1924 expedition.

Once they have permission to enter Tibet (Nepal is off limits to visitors), the core five starts the journey to the mountain. They are warned at a Monastery to look out for bandits and Yeti, or the Abominable snowmen. Simmons’s writing makes the journey so cold that I actually felt chilled reading the novel. The reader learns how the mountain is prosecuted with many Sherpas and animals carrying all the gear and food up and down the mountain. Base camp is pitched along with other camps going to higher elevations. This is where the story bursts with anticipation. Will they find Mallory and Irvine, or Bromley and Meyer? How did they really die? Who is following them? Is it Yeti, or the supposed German witness, Bruno Sigl? Will the core five make a run to the summit? The last 200 pages, or so are filled with intrigue and twists and turns that the reader truly doesn’t see coming. In the afterword, Dan Simmons keeps the ruse alive that Jacob Perry (our narrator) is a real person. Simmons visits Perry’s grave in the autumn of 2012 in a little Colorado town. He says on page 663, “I’m not a religious man, but I’d brought a bottle of the Macallan twenty-five-year-old single-malt Scotch and two small glasses that day. I filled both glasses, left one on the small headstone that said only JACOB WILLIAM PERRY April 2, 1902-May 28, 1992, and lifted the other.” This is a wonderful novel, I highly recommend it.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Mount Everest is 29,029 feet to the summit and is the tallest mountain in the World. The Tibetans and Sherpas call the mountain Chomolungma, which means "Mother Goddess of the Earth." To date there have been 4,000 attempts to reach the summit with only 660 being successful. 

According to my friend and literary aficionado, Lisa Yoskowitz, the best book written about Mt. Everest is: Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster . says, "A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that "suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down." He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more—including Krakauer's—in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster.

By writing Into Thin Air, Krakauer may have hoped to exorcise some of his own demons and lay to rest some of the painful questions that still surround the event. He takes great pains to provide a balanced picture of the people and events he witnessed and gives due credit to the tireless and dedicated Sherpas. He also avoids blasting easy targets such as Sandy Pittman, the wealthy socialite who brought an espresso maker along on the expedition. Krakauer's highly personal inquiry into the catastrophe provides a great deal of insight into what went wrong. But for Krakauer himself, further interviews and investigations only lead him to the conclusion that his perceived failures were directly responsible for a fellow climber's death. Clearly, Krakauer remains haunted by the disaster, and although he relates a number of incidents in which he acted selflessly and even heroically, he seems unable to view those instances objectively. In the end, despite his evenhanded and even generous assessment of others' actions, he reserves a full measure of vitriol for himself."