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.

Friday, June 27, 2014


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

If I didn’t recently read and review (12/09/2012) Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom's Cabin, I would be attracted to Carl Waters’ (Volume 1) version of this American classic. Uncle Tom's Cabin is the most important novel ever written for the American people with the possible exception of Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, Common Sense. Mr. Waters' novel is the first of four planned novels dissecting the original novel. One would ask, why? Well, according to the author, “The Burning Uncle Tom’s Cabin series comprises four books whose narratives are told from the slaves points of view. I have removed many of the racial stereotypes, plot holes, and excessive preaching from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s world changing story.” Waters also states in the book’s introduction, “I do not understand or agree with Uncle Tom’s overall mindset.” This is where I disagree. In my mind, Uncle Tom is the most courageous and righteous character in American Literature. When Tom died in Stowe’s 1852 novel, it ignited a groundswell of opinion against the South and slavery. When Stowe met President Lincoln in 1862 at the White House, he called her “The little woman who started this great war.” And, I believe the character of Uncle Tom had a lot to do with purging America of slavery.

Burning Uncle Tom’s Cabin deals with Stowe’s sidebar story of George Harris, his wife Eliza and their son, Harry. George lives on the plantation of the wicked Frank Harris. George is on loan to a hemp factory where he invented a hemp-cleaning machine to the delight of his foreman, Charles Wilson. Understandably, George, through his hard work, has earned the right to occasionally visit his wife and son at the Shelby Plantation five miles away. George is planning his escape to Canada. Meanwhile at the Shelby’s estate, Eliza and her son are treated as family (if that’s possible). But trouble is brewing. One day a slave trader appears at the plantation. Eliza overhears the trader, Dan Haley, calling in a debt from Mr. Shelby. He wants Uncle Tom and Eliza’s Harry to settle the debt. Eliza warns Uncle Tom and then runs for Canada with three year old Harry.

Back at the hemp factory, Mr. Harris suddenly appears and wants George back on the farm, so to speak. Why? On page thirteen, Mr. Wilson protests losing George and the contemptible Frank Harris says, “I won’t have him stayin’ another minute, pickin’ up airs and thinkin’ too high of himself! This boy’s a lazy, no good Negro, ain’t never done anything worthwhile at my plantation!” Once back on the plantation, Frank Harris treats George badly, giving him the worst chores possible. George is told that he will never see his Eliza and Harry again; in fact, he is forced to take a wife that Frank Harris picks out. When George objects, he is severely whipped and branded on the palm of his hand. Later that night, one of Uncle Tom’s sons sneaks over to George’s shack and informs him that Eliza and Harry are on the run to Canada. Now George is also on the run! All of this happens during the first 77 pages. The rest of this unique rewrite revolves around the pursuit of the Harris family by the slave traders. Will they make it to Canada, or will tragedy strike? You will have to buy your own copy of this revised version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic to find out.

I believe it would be more advantageous for Mr. Waters to write his own Southern Gothic novel rather than pursue this project. The task he is taking-on is very difficult. I see talent in his writing, but certain attributes he is trying to change are very difficult and awkward to modify. For example: the language used in his variant of the novel. In the 1850s, writers like Stowe and Mark Twain used the African American Vernacular English dialect spoken by the negroes of the time period. The author could have used a cleansed version of this dialect. I’m talking about using the local colloquial expressions of the whites (which the author did occasionally) and the negroes (which the author didn’t do) to make the novel more believable. This is very hard to do and still accomplish what Mr. Waters set out to achieve, namely a novel where the slaves are not inferior to the whites; have equal intelligence, and have the courage to shed their shackles. In a certain way, the author did that, but lost credence by not using a purified version of the local vocabulary of 1851. Anyway, I commend the author for taking on this very difficult endeavor, but it wasn’t original enough for me.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: In 1853, Stowe published, A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin to dispute the claims from the South that the original book exaggerated the cruelty of the slaves. In the new book, Stowe gave documented examples of cruelty along with corroborative statements. The book was well received worldwide except for the South. The book sold 90,000 copies in the first month alone. states, “When first published, Uncle Tom's Cabin brought with its huge success enormous attention to the depravity of slavery. Many people, however, questioned the basis of truth of the novel. In response, Ms. Stowe gathered her research materials and published them in this now rare book.” states, “The reaction of Stowe’s contemporaries to A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin was very similar to the reaction to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with both very positive and very negative reviews. The responses of abolitionists and Northerners in general were among the positive, lauding the proof of the evils of slavery and the confirmation of the truth of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The great interest in Uncle Tom’s Cabin in England also transferred to the Key. One English review of the 1853 publication called it a “marvelous book, more so if possible than Uncle Tom’s Cabin itself.” This same review also commends Stowe’s self-control and character. This impression of Stowe and the reception of the book is much different than the reaction to the Key in the South.

The pro-slavery response to the Key paralleled the response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Despite Stowe using documented examples to make the Key a verification of the truth of Stowe’s depiction of slavery in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, most Southern reviews still claimed that Stowe was misrepresenting slavery and exaggerating the cruelty of the institution. A review in the Southern Literary Messenger called the Key a “distortion of the facts and mutilation of the records, for the sake of giving substance to the scandalous fancy, and reduplicating the falsehood of the representation.” Although these reviews claimed that Stowe was misrepresenting slavery, they did not accuse Stowe of using false documentation. Rather they claimed that the examples that Stowe provides are the most extreme instances, which she gathered to give the worst possible impression of the institution of slavery, and of the south. One critic, William Simms, accused her of using faulty argumentation by gathering facts to prove her assumption, instead of forming assumptions based on facts. Another pro-slavery reaction to both Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin was, rather than critiquing the work itself, a critique of Stowe’s character. Many reviews made insinuations about what sort of woman Stowe must be to write about such events as were found in the Key. One review by George Holmes questioned whether “scenes of license and impurity, and ideas of loathsome depravity and habitual prostitution [are] to be made the cherished topics of the female pen” and appealed to women, especially southern women, not to read Stowe’s productions. discovered some disdain for Stowe’s Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin dated 7/1/1853, “In 1853 Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the companion to her famous novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, and she titled it A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin. Her purpose in writing the book was to explain why she thought that whites were still unwilling to take pity on slaves. While Stowe claimed that she understood that slaves were more than property, she postulated that other whites still saw slaves as sub-human. Stowe did admit that she did not fully understand blacks, but she thought that by applying Christian kindness to them, their situation might be helped. One shocking thing that Stowe revealed was that she believed that slaves repulsed themselves; she wrote that they thought they were evil because their skin was black. She did not think that blacks were capable of reaching the same intellectual and moral heights as whites, and she blames that inability on their disgust in themselves. Southerners were not at all pleased with Stowe's book. Critics characterized it as having a narrow field of view. She was accused of making generalizations about Southerners as being unaffected by the plights of slaves. This bothered critics who felt that Southerners were not deficient in their morality. One critic tried to explain that the North had the same prejudices as the South. He wrote wherever man is found, we find equally the same vices, crimes, and weaknesses. Southerners were also alarmed at the lack of biblical references in A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin. They felt that she was writing too righteously not to be using the Bible. The outrage caused by Stowe's book in South was significant because it exemplified the schism between what southerners thought about northerners, what northerners thought about southerners, and the truth.”

Drawing of Eliza and Harry jumping the ice floes (a 1938 book edition)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Donna Tartt’s novel certainly merits the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but does have some discernible flaws (we will discuss later). I saw the CBS interview with Donna Tartt and now understand why her prose is so impeccable. She takes ten years to write a book! She wrote one novel each at the ages of 29, 39 and 49. She is influenced by the writing style of Charles Dickens, which accounts for her incredible, descriptive writing. The aftermath of the museum explosion extends for a suspense filled eighteen pages (pp. 31-48). We see the outcome of the detonation through the eyes of our narrator and protagonist, Theo Decker. This was one of several sections the author wrote that I thought was exceptionally proficient. I also thought introducing Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1868 novel, The Idiot, was a clever writer’s ploy since the Russian novel is a classic study of the conflict between good and evil, which abounds in Tartt’s novel. Lastly, this might seem trite, but I loved the author’s generous use of commas, semicolons and dashes. I know that there are grammatical rules for their usage, but I like ‘a little extra cheese on my pizza’ (is that a idiom?). What is the story about?

Okay, Theo Decker is a thirteen year old student living in N.Y.C. who gets into dubious trouble in school and gets suspended. Now his estranged mom and Theo head for the school for a meeting. They are early, it’s raining, so they duck into an art museum to pass some time and see the Dutch artist exposition, mainly Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson and C. Fabritius’s The Goldfinch. Theo is mesmerized with a red headed girl (Pippa) his age accompanied by a old man presumed to be her grandfather (Welty). As Theo and his mom walk to the gift shop, mom decides to go back to see the painting one more time, leaving Theo in the shop alone when he spots the girl and her companion again. Just as he approaches the girl, a massive explosion occurs in the museum. He is covered in debris and disoriented. He hears the old man groaning and goes to him. The girl is nowhere to be seen. The old man is dying. Where is mom? The old man spots “a dusty rectangle of board” covered in rubbish and wants Theo to get it. My God, it’s The Goldfinch painting. The old man (Welty Blackwell) wants to know where Pippa is. Theo doesn’t see her (why am I using so many short sentences?). He gives Theo his “heavy gold ring with a carved stone” and tells him to take it to Hobart and Blackwell. “Ring the green bell.” Theo finally finds his way out of the museum, dazed and hurt, unable to get anyone to help him. He still has the painting. He walks home in the rain to wait for his mom to return from the museum. Guess what, she’s dead, and suddenly Theo is alone.

Is Theo going to experience the same problems that Pip in the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations endured? Maybe. Mom doesn’t come home, a social worker from the Department of Child and Family Services calls, and the story is off and running (idiom alert). The reader is going to encounter the peculiar Barbour family, agonize over Theo’s life with his dad in Las Vegas, meet his crazy Russian friend, Boris, and delight in Theo’s relationship with Hobart (Hobie). What happened to Pippa? And what about The Goldfinch? Who has it and what will become of it? It is the focus of the story, yet the author occasionally seems to forget about it for a hundred pages or so. I guess that can happen in a 771 page novel. The cigarette smoking, vodka drinking and drug using Boris is a character that the reader loves and periodically hates. The author has the unique ability to make the reader like the characters she wants you to like (Theo, Hobie, Pippa, Mrs. Barbour, Andy and sometimes Boris) and hate the characters she wants you to hate (Theo’s dad, Boris’s dad, Lucius Reeves, Tom Cable and sometimes Boris). Can this lady write or what?

Alright, now for the flaws. When the reader gets to page 643...suddenly it’s a race to the finish line; the author can’t wait to get to page 771. Why? The novel was plodding along nicely for 642 pages and probably nine years of Donna Tartt’s life. If you are writing a book that long, what difference does it make if the novel is a couple hundred pages longer? The extra pages would have given the author the time needed to develop all the new characters that turned up near the end. Lastly, what was that life and death tirade (in the last five pages) all about? Don’t get me wrong, I loved the’s just that it could have been better.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: As I said before, Donna Tartt has only written two previous novels, The Secret History (1992) and The Little Friend (2002), winner of the WH Smith Literary Award (2003).So lets take a look at these books:

The Secret History: says: “Donna Tartt, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for her most recent novel, The Goldfinch, established herself as a major talent with The Secret History, which has become a contemporary classic.

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.” says: “Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another...a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life...and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning....”

The Little Friend: says: “The setting is Alexandria, Mississippi, where one Mother’s Day a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. Twelve years later Robin’s murder is still unsolved and his family remains devastated. So it is that Robin’s sister Harriet—unnervingly bright, insufferably determined, and unduly influenced by the fiction of Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson--sets out to unmask his killer. Aided only by her worshipful friend Hely, Harriet crosses her town’s rigid lines of race and caste and burrows deep into her family’s history of loss. Filled with hairpin turns of plot and “a bustling, ridiculous humanity worthy of Dickens” (The New York Times Book Review), The Little Friend is a work of myriad enchantments by a writer of prodigious talent.” says: “Bestselling author Donna Tartt returns with a grandly ambitious and utterly riveting novel of childhood, innocence and evil.

The setting is Alexandria, Mississippi, where one Mother’s Day a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. Twelve years later Robin’s murder is still unsolved and his family remains devastated. So it is that Robin’s sister Harriet - unnervingly bright, insufferably determined, and unduly influenced by the fiction of Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson--sets out to unmask his killer. Aided only by her worshipful friend Hely, Harriet crosses her town’s rigid lines of race and caste and burrows deep into her family’s history of loss.”

Picture of The Goldfinch by C. Fabritius (1654), the main focus of the novel: