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.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Ashlynn's Dreams

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

Gadzooks! An epistolary novel with a whisper of science fiction. A remarkable novel written by Julie C.Gilbert based entirely on letters, journals and once with post-it notes sent to our heroine’s shrink lady, Dr. Sokolowski. Does this story measure up to my favorite epistolary novel, Elizabeth Kostova’s, The Historian? No, but this is a YA novel, not a dark adult story involving Vlad the impaler. Gilbert is a different kind of writer and I like that. I prefer writers who gamble with artistic techniques that might not be discernible to the provisional reader. Hey listen, I’ve read four novels by China Mieville. Did I earn my stripes? All I’m saying is that I like a novelist who pushes the envelope a tad. This is a well written novel with a little bit of bounce. Good job, Julie!

The story itself is about a gifted twelve year old girl named Jillian and her high school babysitter (is there a better word for one who watches a twelve year old?), Danielle. Jillian just moved to New Jersey with her mom and stepdad, Jeffrey, who manages a candy store. Everything is great until one day Jillian and Danielle are kidnapped at home. They find themselves in an unknown lab filled with scientists and researchers headed by a Dr. Devya. Welcome to Devya’s Children! Jillian doesn’t know what they want from her, but quickly realizes that it’s not ransom (certainly not from a candy store manager). She does find out that she was a test tube baby with genetic material from four women and two men and then put into to an artificial womb. She finds out that her real name is Ashlynn and she has seven siblings living in the compound. Is Dr. Devya experimenting with genomes in order to produce gifted children? If the answer is yes, then why? What is Jillian’s gift?

Dr. Devya discloses to Ashlynn that her gift is the ability to shape dreams, in other words, get into someone’s dreams and make them do what you want. And he makes her practice while he holds Danielle hostage. He is not nice to them. Finally, Dr. Devya explains that her twin brother, four year old Benny, has been kidnapped from the Governor of New Jersey, an ardent supporter of Dr. Devya. How can Ashlynn’s twin brother be eight years younger? Well, he was frozen for eight years. Don’t ask why, you will have to read the book for that answer. Anyway, Dr, Devya wants Ashlynn to find out where Benny is being kept so his men can bring him back. Did the rival group of scientists called the Guardian take him?There are a lot of mysteries among these two groups and the gifted children that will culminate into a terrific final hundred pages.

I have to tell you that I do enjoy avant-garde writers and their novels, not that Julie’s book was that far out of the box. But I don’t think that it is easy to tell a story using only letters and journals. All these letters written to Dr. Sokolowski (Dr. S), beginning on page four, were written after the kidnapping was over. I would like to see Julie do an ergodic literature novel involving the same eight gifted children. That would be a trip. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves . Anyway, I highly recommend this novel by another female writer ‘on the rise’ (yes, I still love my idioms).

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Lets talk about the two books I mentioned in the review. Elizabeth Kostova’s novel, The Historian  was a true epistolary novel and the scariest book that I’ve ever read. Her second book, The Swan Thieves , didn’t quite do it for me, but hopefully she is working on a third novel that will rock me again. Elizabeth says this about her first novel: “To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history…
Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.” And believe me, you future readers, this novel is groundbreaking.

The second novel that I mentioned in the review is not only epistolary, but also ergodic. If you haven’t read this book, do yourself a favor and read it. says this about the novel, “Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth -- musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies -- the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.

Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story -- of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.”

What does think is the number one epistolary novel? Well, it’s Mary Ann Shaffer’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.”

By the way, the book that came in second is Alice Walker’s classic, The Color Purple . My biggest problem with literature is the fact that I will not live long enough to read all these great books. Oh, well. Is there a book heaven?

Are these the people waiting to analyze Ashlynn’s dreams?

Saturday, May 24, 2014


The author sent me a copy of her novel for review:

Monique Roy writes an rousing story about a Jewish family leaving Germany during the start of WWII with the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) hot on their tails. The author must have paid attention at SMU because her prose is excellent. On the other side of the coin, the story is a little calculable at times, especially in regards to the family’s close call escapes. By this I mean the author seems to be overprotective of her characters. She says that this novel was inspired by her grandparents flight out of Germany, so I’m assuming that the family in the novel is fictitious. By the way, God bless her grandparents for their harrowing experience circumventing the Nazis. In my opinion, when writing a story of this ilk, the author has to have a little of George R.R. Martin in her. In another words, have a little unpredictability about the safety of her main characters. It makes a normal novel into a suspenseful page-turner. Okay, enough said about that, because I don’t want to start adding spoiler alerts. I’ve done several reviews recently involving Nazi Germany, including Ellen Marie Wiseman’s The Plum Tree and Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beastsand I would say that Monique Roy’s novel is on a slightly lesser plateau, although very entertaining and well written.  

At a performance of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1932, twins Eva and Inge spot a beautiful woman wearing a dazzling diamond and emerald necklace. They also see a small man with a attractive lady on his arm that terrifies the twins. He is Adolf Hitler. Thus begins the story of Oskar (father), Helene (mother), the twins, and their brother Max, a law abiding Jewish family living and working in the upscale diamond district. I think that the diamond and emerald necklace plays an interesting part in this novel. Well done, Monique Roy. Anyway, in 1933 the mood in Germany changes drastically. Hitler has new laws passed that make Jews second class citizens. The twins school friend, Trudy, is suddenly distant and joins the Nazi Youth Party. Jews are no longer allowed to own a business, they can’t have sex with a non-Jew, and finally they are no longer citizens. Then on 11/9/1938 Kristallnacht happens (the "Night of Broken Glass"). Over a thousand Synagogues are burned down, and 30,000 Jewish men and boys are sent to concentration camps. The Nazis relieve Oskar of the diamond and emerald necklace that he just repurchased from the lady at the concert in Berlin.

Oskar’s family decides to leave Germany with their diamonds sewn into their clothes. With the help of Max’s friends and a lot of luck, they make it to Antwerp, Belgium. They settle in the Jewish part of town in the heart of the diamond district. Oskar and his family start a business with all the diamonds they smuggled out of Germany. Life is okay for awhile, Inge marries Isaac and Eva and Carmen get married. “MAZEL TOV” to the couples. Then the unthinkable happens - Germany attacks Belgium. Here we go again. Now the family tries to find peace in Rio de Janeiro. You will have to read the book to find out what happens there. I’m guessing probably not good. After two years, more trouble arrives! Okay off to Cape Town, South Africa. Will they finally find tranquility, or more distress and/or harassment? Now, I left out a lot of previous trouble they got into to get to this point of the story. By the way, what happened to Eva and Inge’s Nazi classmate,Trudy? There is a lot going on in this story that moves from Germany to Belgium to Brazil to South Africa. Here is what I wanted to know: How is this honorable Jewish family going to react when in 1948 the Reunited National Party of South Africa declares Apartheid as a policy of rigid segregation? How did Oskar’s family feel about their neighboring Aryan German citizens when they didn’t do anything to stop the Nazis from attacking them? Will they stand aside like their German counterparts and watch the blacks get trampled, or will they stand up for the blacks. The answer is very engaging. I highly recommend this novel by Monique Roy.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: My question of how Oskar and his family will react to ‘Apartheid’ is a good one. In other words...How do you feel with the shoe on the other foot (I love idioms)? Oskar didn’t like it when his neighbors did nothing to help him, but will he risk his safety and go against South Africa’s stern policy of segregation to help the blacks?  Believe it or not, there is a good book about this subject called, My Race: A Jewish Girl Growing Up Under Apartheid in South Africa by Lorraine Lotzof Abramson. says: “My Race is the memoir of a gifted Jewish athlete growing up under the apartheid system of South Africa.

As both an outsider excluded from the conservative Christian mainstream and an insider who reaped many of the benefits of a society founded on white supremacy, South African track star Lorraine Lotzof Abramson had a unique vantage point on the apartheid experience.

Her grandparents left Eastern Europe to escape oppression, only to find themselves in another oppressive society. This time, by virtue of their white skin, they were on the same side of the fence as the oppressors. Lorraine's first-hand account shares her ambitions, her achievements, her losses, her family ties -- and her growing unease with the system of social inequality that simultaneously excluded her and celebrated her.

She eventually closes the door on the South African chapter of her life by immigrating to the United States, while her family remained in South Africa. Along the way, Lorraine learns that the real race -- the marathon that is a long and eventful human life -- is a journey towards compassion.”

A provocative book written by Ruth Kluger, Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered is one of the best written about the subject. says: “Instead of God I believe in ghosts," writes the literary scholar Ruth Kluger in this harrowing memoir of life under the yellow star, a controversial bestseller in Germany.

Born in Vienna, Kluger somehow survived a girlhood spent in Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Gross-Rosen. Some of the lessons she imparts are surprising, as when she argues, against other historians, that the female camp guards were far more humane than their male counterparts, and when she admits that she has difficulty today queuing in line, a constant of camp life, "out of revulsion for the bovine activity of simply standing." Her memories of her youth are punctuated by sharp reflections on the meaning of the Shoah, and how it should best be memorialized in a time when ever fewer survivors are left to act as witnesses. Those reflections are often angry -- "Absolutely nothing good came out of the concentration camps," she writes, recalling an argument with a naive German graduate student, "and he expects catharsis, purgation, the sort of thing you go to the theatre for?" 
But they are constantly provocative, too. Though readers will doubtless take issue with some of her conclusions, Kluger's insistent memoir merits a wide audience.”

This is what Kristallnacht looked like in the Jewish section of Berlin on 11/9/1938:

Saturday, May 17, 2014


The author sent me an autographed copy of his novel to review:

When I first got a hold of this novel, I thought it was going to be one of those Holy Roller publications. Then when I got into the book, I thought that this novel was heading for the road to perdition. But it’s really a mixture of these two predominant religious/anti-religious pathways. In my opinion, Anthony Rhine wrote a credible story balancing the inner happenings of a large Christian Church (not sure what denomination but most likely Protestant), and the mystery of afterlife. This book didn’t seem like it would work, but it did in a far-reaching way. The novel held my interest for all of the 346 pages. I’m not sure I can compare this novel with another since the subject matter is so diverse. As a sidebar to the story, the reader is also educated on the differences between Scientology (all eight dynamics), Buddhism, Mormonism, and Hinduism from page 222 through page 241. So what is this story about? Okay, it’s time for a synopsis.    

Our protagonist and narrator is Daniel Bolton. Dan has an unusual trait passed onto him by his mother. He can talk to the dead (mentally) right after they die, normally between four to ten days after passing. The dead are always in a dark transition room waiting to see the light. He has learned bits and pieces of information from them over the years. It seems that the light is called concatenus, which is a place where all spirits go to be linked together and share the intelligence with the whole (God?). Some of the dead get reincarnated instead of going back into the light. Dan is not sure about the people who are going to hell since he has never talked to one. On page 84, Dan states, “You see, enough chats with spirits in transition have given me small glimpses into what awaits us beyond this earthly world, and I have been able to piece those glimpses together to get a sense of where we are going.”

After High School, Dan gets a job with the Elizabeth Community Church as an actor in a play being performed at the church. The Pastor, Greg Woolfe, is a vile, bigoted man married to Violet Black, a cold, offensive assistant to the pastor (these are the road to perdition people). Somehow Dan prospers at the church and keeps moving up the ladder until he is on equal footing with Violet. Greg sends both of them to the seminary for gratis with the stipulation that they have to stay with the church until he retires. Greg and Violet have many poisonous foul mouthed arguments throughout the novel. Then Dan has a one-night stand with Violet (very bad move). Subsequently, Dan falls in love with a teenage actress, Melissa, acting in one of their plays at the church. He now has the obnoxious Violet Black as a enemy for life. The affair with Melissa is also going to cause grief for Dan in the future.

What I liked about the novel was the way the author switched back and forth from the church activities to Dan’s talks with the dead. Most notable was Dan’s discussion with a dead man named Chen. Apparently, they were speaking Mandarin. They had a long talk while Chen was in the dark transition room. On page 246, Chen says, “I can tell you this: I was right  to live a good life. I was right to believe that I would one day be where I am now and I was right that I  would eventually go back to where I am to go back to.” “Concatenus?” I (Dan) wanted to say it again, seeking further confirmation. “Daniel, that is only a word” (answers Chen). This is some good stuff. So what I am wondering is this: Does the author believe in the afterlife that he describes in this titillating story? Well, maybe he will post a comment on this review and reveal his thoughts. Listen, I only gave you tidbits of what this novel is about, there is much more woe ahead for our hero Dan in the ensuing pages. I highly recommend this enlightening novel, so go out and buy your own copy.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Having previously read Mitch Albom’s The First Phone Call from Heaven: A Novel and Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven (both reviewed on my blog), this is the third novel that I have read recently dealing with the afterlife. I’m not sure if it is because I’m getting old or just coincidence. There are two more novels dealing with the afterlife that I want to read:

Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones . says: "My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."

So begins the story of Susie Salmon, who is adjusting to her new home in heaven, a place that is not at all what she expected, even as she is watching life on earth continue without her -- her friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her killer trying to cover his tracks, her grief-stricken family unraveling. Out of unspeakable tragedy and loss, THE LOVELY BONES succeeds, miraculously, in building a tale filled with hope, humor, suspense, even joy.

The second book is Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven . says: “Eddie is a wounded war veteran, an old man who has lived, in his mind, an uninspired life. His job is fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. On his 83rd birthday, a tragic accident kills him as he tries to save a little girl from a falling cart. He awakes in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a destination, but an answer.”

“In heaven, five people explain your life to you. Some you knew, others may have been strangers. One by one, from childhood to soldier to old age, Eddie's five people revisit their connections to him on earth, illuminating the mysteries of his "meaningless" life, and revealing the haunting secret behind the eternal question: "Why was I here?"

Is this what the transition room from Anthony Rhine’s novel looks like?

Sunday, May 4, 2014


This was a marvelous read that dealt with the occupation of Paris (1940-1944), but more so with the occupants of the Hotel Ritz. The blood and guts were there, but somewhat muffled since the main focus was on the exotic residents of the famous hotel (opened in 1898). Tilar J. Mazzeo is part of that new group of authors that write non-fiction, but make it read like a novel. It was executed with skill and efficiency with almost every chapter ending in a cliffhanger. The book actually has a cast of characters, which I found accommodating considering all those French and German names. I’m dumbfounded that Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre were not regulars at the hotel (joking). But guess who comes to the Ritz for an extended stay at the end of the occupation? Casablanca’s Ingrid Bergman, who surprisingly falls in love with another sometime resident, Robert Capa, the famous American war photographer. I realize some reviewers object to what I found intriguing, but that’s why there are “different strokes for different folks” (I love my idioms). Mazzeo’s narration made for a intoxicating (by the way, champagne was the drink of choice) and credible romp through those turbulent years, backed by twenty three pages of notes and ten pages of selected bibliography. One tries to guess who is the spy, double agent, collaborator, or member of the French resistance amongst the hotel staff and inhabitants throughout this stimulating book. Wow, enough said for the opening paragraph.

On June 14 1940, 300,000 germans occupy Paris, while the great (ha) Charles de Gaulle heads out of town. Also leaving ahead of the German invasion are the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, yes the same Edward VIII who abdicated the throne of England for twice divorced Wallis Simpson. Luckily, Winston Churchill sent them in exile to Bermuda till the war’s end (the ex-King was thought to be sympathetic to Hitler). Ernest Hemingway and his artsy group were also long time frequent residents who vacated. Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring moved into a sprawling suite taking up an entire floor. On page nineteen, we find out that…”one half of the Hotel Ritz was an exclusive retreat for German private indulgence, on the rue Cambon side of the ancient palace and in the bars and restaurant the hotel remained open to the public.” After the Germans take over the Ritz, Mazzeo gives the reader some background on the hotel from 1898 till the German arrival. I found these chapters very interesting, especially the part where the artist and intellectuals out maneuvered the noble traditionalist (the privileged) for dominance of the bars and rooms. Also provided was the reason for the two sides clashing... the famous Alfred Dreyfus (a framed Jewish artillery officer) treason trial. I also enjoyed the story of Marcel Proust, a social climber, who wrote one of France’s great books, In Search of Lost Time , which was written in seven parts between 1913-1927.

Once the Germans take over the Hotel Ritz, we find out that Herr Goring is a morphine addict.  A German doctor from Cologne supposedly had a “wonder cure” and “There in the Hotel Ritz, the doctor would come to submerge Goring in a tub of water, give him injections, then submerge him again, for hours and hours,” the staff remembered. “We had to bring the professor piles of towels and lots of food, because the procedure made Goring ravenous.” On page fifty one, we find out…”That the previous occupant of Goring's suite was a certain Laura Mae Corrigan, the widow of a midwestern steel industrialist...Her monthly income in the summer of 1940 was $800,000.” Corrigan sold many treasures to the Reichsmarschall and Adolf Hitler. “She cashed out-some said she sold out-to the Nazis.” This is one of many chapters containing the escapades of the residents of the hotel. Another sidebar to this book is the battle of wits between journalists Ernest Hemingway, Robert Capa, Martha Gellhorn, and Mary Welsh to be the first to land on Normandy Beach during the allied invasion in August 1944. Their sexual affairs are another story in this rousing book. Previously, I hinted to you that this book was filled with juicy information, am I right so far? Meanwhile, Frank Meier, the longtime bartender at the Ritz is passing information along to the French Resistance. The Germans didn’t know he was Jewish. And surprisingly, the plot to kill Hitler (Operation Valkyrie) was hatched at the grand Hotel Ritz.

The poop hits the fan when Hitler orders General Dietrich Von Choltitz into Paris in August 1944 to plunder all the treasures and artwork and then upon leaving... burn Paris to the ground! Do you remember that famous film Is Paris Burning? Believe it or not, I only touched on a few chapters of this exciting book. To get the rest of the scoop, get your own copy, but read slowly because you are not going to want this book to end. I highly recommend this book, but not to those World War II aficionados who only want the facts involving the strategy and results of the war. You will not find that in this book.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: It seems to me that Tilar J. Mazzeo’s book is sort of “a one of the kind.” I mean all the books that I have researched are about the history, cuisine, or cocktails of the hotel. The following are some that are noteworthy by :

The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris by Colin Peter & Ueta Field: “A nostalgic collection of more than fifty popular drink recipes celebrates the celebrity histories of such classic cocktails as the Sidecar, Dry Martini, and Bloody Mary, pairing each recipe with related cultural commentary and additional advice on mixing and glass selection.A nostalgic collection of more than fifty popular drink recipes celebrates the celebrity histories of such classic cocktails as the Sidecar, Dry Martini, and Bloody Mary, pairing each recipe with related cultural commentary and additional advice on mixing and glass selection. 15,000 first printing.” “A bartender from Paris's Ritz bar presents his recipes for 50 cocktails--some of them highly unusual Ritz specialties--that the bar has served to such luminaries as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Noel Coward, and many more. He also includes the history of that world, and of the drinks that kept it going.”

Ritz Paris: Haute Cuisine by Michel/Mesplede Roth: “This celebration of the grand culinary tradition at the Ritz Paris features inspirational stories of three great men and is completed with sixty recipes.   At the age of thirteen, the young sommelier Cesar Ritz was summarily dismissed by his employer who told him he lacked the flair and talent to succeed in the hospitality business. Of course, Ritz went on to become one of history’s greatest hoteliers, creating the Ritz in Paris and its world-renowned restaurant L’Espadon with the help of renowned chef Auguste Escoffier. Both Escoffier and Ritz loved simplicity, but perfection reigned in their finest of dining rooms.”

The Artistry Of Mixing Drinks by Frank Meier: “A complete reproduction of the Vintage Cocktail Book bestseller "The Artistry Of Mixing Drinks" written by Frank Meier (RITZ Bar, Paris), originally published 1934. "Frank Meier's book enables one to enjoy at home or elsewhere the various drinks which he has made and served to a world-wide clientele. His many friends and admirers will welcome his work, which gives the secret formulas. Once more, even though absent, they will have those delicious drinks which Frank alone can serve." Dedicated to all cocktail lovers and bartenders.”

Picture of the Hotel Ritz: