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.

Monday, January 26, 2015


Can anybody write better prose than Thomas Hardy? The descriptive writers of the 1800s were truly amazing. When I compare their works with modern day writers (with some exceptions, of course), I am sickened to think that maybe current writers have regressed. Haven’t they read the classics? Or are they all just commercial writers, penning novels for dollars only. Does anybody just write for the art alone? There are some, I’m sure. I will talk about that later. Yes, I know that most of the late 1800s authors first put their novels in magazine serials (in Hardy’s case, The Cornhill magazine, in 1874), but that’s because everybody, including Charles Dickens, had a hard time getting anybody to publish their novels until it was tested in serial form. Even Mark Twain had to self publish (he eventually started his own company, publishing his own works and some of Dickens works in the USA). And no...these writers didn’t get paid by the amount of words they wrote, as some people think. Writers like Hardy and the above mentioned Dickens and Twain were amongst the avant-garde of the writing period. So why isn’t creative writing... creative anymore? 

To substantiate Hardy’s descriptive ability, just read the opening lines in this classic novel, “When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.” Wow! Or how about when Farmer Oak meets the beautiful Bathsheba (I love that name) sitting atop a loaded wagon on her way to her aunt’s farm, Hardy writes, “The girl on the summit of the load sat motionless, surrounded by tables and chairs with their legs upwards, backed by an oak settle, and ornamented in front by pots of geraniums, myrtles, and cactuses, together with a caged canary-all probably from the windows of the house just vacated. There was also a cat in a willow basket, from the partly-open lid of which she gazed with half-closed eyes, and affectionately surveyed the small birds around.” Did Hardy just describe a scene that is now perfectly clear in your mind, or what? Okay, so what is this Victorian literature classic novel all about? Is it like Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights? Yes, it’s a love story but not exactly, although kinda comparable. I am going to leave the plot somewhat arcane. Anyway, lets meet the characters.

There are four main characters, but I’ll mention five. The first is the lovely twenty two year old Bathsheba Everdene, who inherits her uncle’s prospering farm in Weatherbury, England. Then we have the three men who love her (that sounds like trouble). The first is Gabriel Oak, who was a projected gentleman farmer himself until one of his untrained sheep dogs drives his sheep over a cliff (I thought that was funny). He winds up working for Bathsheba as her main sheepherder. Next we have the gentleman farmer, Mr.Boldwood, who is indifferent to women until he gets a Valentine from Bathsheba saying, “marry me”, which was a joke unbeknownst to Mr. Boldwood. Then we have Sgt. Frank Troy, who is engaged to Fanny Robin but is smitten by Bathsheba when he runs into her while she is walking on her farm. She is insulted at first then enamored when he tells her that...she is beautiful. The fifth character is also beautiful but becomes tragic when on her way to marry Sgt.Troy shows up in the wrong church for their wedding. She is Fanny Robin, a ‘woe is me’ character. Does this sound like a recipe for disaster? Your heart will flutter for this poor girl.

Who will win Bathsheba’s heart (does she even have one?), and will there be any belligerence among the three suitors? Bathsheba is an intriguing character that seems to have a little bit of the anti-heroine Becky Sharp in her at times (From William Makepeace Thackeray’s, Vanity Fair : a novel without a hero). I’ve probably disseminated less about this story then any of my previous reviews, most likely because this novel is really a study of human ethics and emotions. And by the way, I was totally bowled over with Hardy’s composition and story. Do I recommend this novel? Is the Pope catholic?

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I said in the first paragraph that there are a few writers that write for art alone. Wow, who? Okay, there is one contemporary author, and her name is Donna Tartt, who takes ten years to complete a novel. Enough said? On the foregone side, I submit the name Ernest Hemingway. says about Hemingway, “Hemingway's legacy to American literature is his style: writers who came after him emulated it or avoided it. After his reputation was established with the publication of The Sun Also Rises, he became the spokesperson for the post–World War I generation, having established a style to follow. His books were burned in Berlin in 1933, "as being a monument of modern decadence", and disavowed by his parents as "filth". Reynolds (Hemingway’s biographer) asserts the legacy is that "he left stories and novels so starkly moving that some have become part of our cultural heritage." In a 2004 speech at the John F. Kennedy Library, Russell Banks (a novelist)  declared that he, like many male writers of his generation, was influenced by Hemingway's writing philosophy, style, and public image.”

And as for Donna Tartt, can this lady write, or what? Just read The Goldfinch, and you will fall in love with her artistic prose. says about that award winning novel, “The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind....Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction."--Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review

Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art. As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love--and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch is a mesmerizing, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.”

There are other writers who display the love for writing, but the two authors mentioned above came into my mind instantly. This is a subject that I will talk about in my next “Rambling Comments.”

Picture of Thomas Hardy (born 6/2/1840, died 1/11/1928)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


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

Is it an interesting gumshoe novel? Yes, but a little repetitive because the reader is told countless times that the PI drives a 911 (Porsche) and doesn’t walk the sidewalks. Does he wear rocker band tee shirts? Oh absolutely, every other page or so. Does he watch four TV screens at the same time? Yes... movies, novels, re-run sports, and the news? Does he take meds? Oh yea, lithium, celexa, and seroquel. Is Chalk a carbon copy of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer?  A big no to that question. My favorite flatfoot (Hammer) kicks ass first, or punches the suspect in the stomach then ask questions later if the suspect is still alive. Look, I’m not saying this PI isn’t worth a second novel, but lets stop the humdrum repetitiveness. I don’t expect Chalk to act like he is a detective in the late 1940s or early 1950s, but get real...don’t be the first IT geek dick. But, the good news is that I think Carac Allison came up with an interesting story and plot. The prose is a little weak here and there, but not bad for a former IT and hacker guy (just guessing, sorry). His knowledge of computers and their accessories is incredible and adds credence to the story. We need a new author to challenge the ghosts of Arthur Conan Doyle (The Hound of the Baskervilles ), Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep), or Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon). So lets get real Mr. Allison, and toughen this guy up! Chalk (our protagonist) needs to be whipped into street shape. Lets get out of that 911 and hit the bricks (I still love my idioms)!

This novel is actually two books in one. Wow, what a deal. The first part of the novel reveals to the reader that a Hollywood mogul (Mr. Robertson, a.k.a. the Hollywood Hyena) hires our protagonist Chalk (yes, like a chalkboard) to find out if he fathered any children when he was a sperm bank donor. By hacking the records of California Cryo Future, Chalk finds out that the Hyena had three sons. They are: Harlan, a wrestler known as the minister of pain; Jason, a biker and dog fight promoter trying to join the mongols; and Alexander, a primo internet hacker who is also a fervent gambler. Chalk sets up a meet with the three boys and the Hyena at a luxury hotel. The Hyena tells the boys that he is their father and showers them with money and a mansion. The boys connect with each other, knowing that they will try to suck every penny out of their rich father (by the way, is he terminally ill?). Meanwhile we hear on the news that forty million dollars of pills were stolen from Abbott Labs and sent directly to U.S. vets from someone known as GR. Initially the vets return the drugs. Then after more massive military type robberies occur, they keep the drugs and become sympathetic to the rebel military group. Why is this group leaving messages in red soap at the pharmaceutical robberies stating, ”Graphics have made warriors terrorists” or “War is the original and only game”? Who is GR? Chalk finds out that he is General Ripper (named after the General, played by Sterling Hayden, who orders an attack on Russia in the movie, Dr. Strangelove. When the Hyena receives word that the three boys are not his, he does something that I didn't see coming. End of the first part.

So you actually think that I was going to give the story away. This novel has just started and all I did was wet your whistle (another idiom) for the second part. Ha, Ha. This is the juicy part of the novel as we find the boys attempting to join General Ripper’s 2nd army. As an initiation, the boys must steal a famous Samurai sword (the Honjo Masamune) from the Chinese Mafia boss, Jian Chin. Do they succeed? What is General Ripper planning to do? Meanwhile, Chalk tries to tell the FBI (Chalk is a disgraced former FBI agent) what he knows about General Ripper’s plans, and they don’t believe him. This is a storyline that is mechanical in many novels - you know the routine...the dishonored former agent finds out the truth, but nobody believes him except one officer; in this case, it’s officer Rose. I think that Carac Allison has a lot of talent (as a hacker? just kidding), but I would advise the author to give Chalk a less geekish profile. What is wrong with a Mike Hammer type punch in the stomach that makes the suspect vomit once in awhile? (see my review of I, the Jury on 9/18/2013). What can Chalk do to improve his manliness (in other words act less like a techie)? How about: stop wearing rocker tee shirts! So Mr. Allison... give Chalk (I love his name) a less nerdy identity! That said, I think the novel’s plot was strong (two plots for one novel), but I didn’t fully connect with Chalk. Also there was too much computer technology in the novel for my taste. Okay, do I recommend this novel? Yes I do. It’s a good effort that could use some fine tuning, which I believe Mr. Allison will provide in his ensuing novels. 

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Reading this novel got me to wonder about other novels that feature high-technology in a mind blowing way. This is not my favorite type of novel, but I’ll list some that seem to be techie favorites:

Daemon (2006) by Daniel Suarez. says, “Technology controls almost everything in our modern-day world, from remote entry on our cars to access to our homes, from the flight controls of our airplanes to the movements of the entire world economy. Thousands of autonomous computer programs, or daemons, make our networked world possible, running constantly in the background of our lives, trafficking e-mail, transferring money, and monitoring power grids. For the most part, daemons are benign, but the same can't always be said for the people who design them.

Matthew Sobol was a legendary computer game designer—the architect behind half-a-dozen popular online games. His premature death depressed both gamers and his company's stock price. But Sobol's fans aren't the only ones to note his passing. When his obituary is posted online, a previously dormant daemon activates, initiating a chain of events intended to unravel the fabric of our hyper-efficient, interconnected world. With Sobol's secrets buried along with him, and as new layers of his daemon are unleashed at every turn, it's up to an unlikely alliance to decipher his intricate plans and wrest the world from the grasp of a nameless, faceless enemy—or learn to live in a society in which we are no longer in control. . . .

Computer technology expert Daniel Suarez blends haunting high-tech realism with gripping suspense in an authentic, complex thriller in the tradition of Michael Crichton, Neal Stephenson, and William Gibson.”

Cryptonomicon (1999) by Neal Stephenson. says, “Cryptonomicon zooms all over the world, careening conspiratorially back and forth between two time periods--World War II and the present. Our 1940s heroes are the brilliant mathematician Lawrence Waterhouse, crypt analyst extraordinaire, and gung-ho, morphine-addicted marine Bobby Shaftoe. They're part of Detachment 2702, an Allied group trying to break Axis communication codes while simultaneously preventing the enemy from figuring out that their codes have been broken. Their job boils down to layer upon layer of deception. Dr. Alan Turing is also a member of 2702, and he explains the unit's strange workings to Waterhouse. "When we want to sink a convoy, we send out an observation plane first... Of course, to observe is not its real duty--we already know exactly where the convoy is. Its real duty is to be observed... Then, when we come round and sink them, the Germans will not find it suspicious."

All of this secrecy resonates in the present-day storyline, in which the grandchildren of the WWII heroes--inimitable programming geek Randy Waterhouse and the lovely and powerful Amy Shaftoe--team up to help create an offshore data haven in Southeast Asia and maybe uncover some gold once destined for Nazi coffers. To top off the paranoiac tone of the book, the mysterious Enoch Root, key member of Detachment 2702 and the Societas Eruditorum, pops up with an unbreakable encryption scheme left over from WWII to befuddle the 1990s protagonists with conspiratorial ties.” 

This next novel is one of my favorite ‘technology goes bad’ novels. The title of the novel tells it all: Utopia: A Thriller (2002) by Lincoln Child. says, “Fasten your seat belts-the white-knuckle thrills at Utopia, the world's most fantastic theme park, escalate to nightmare proportions in this intricately imagined techno-thriller by New York Times bestselling author Lincoln Child.

Rising out of the stony canyons of Nevada, Utopia is a world on the cutting edge of technology. A theme park attracting 65,000 visitors each day, its dazzling array of robots and futuristic holograms make it a worldwide sensation. But ominous mishaps are beginning to disrupt the once flawless technology. A friendly robot goes haywire, causing panic, and a popular roller coaster malfunctions, nearly killing a teenaged rider. Dr. Andrew Warne, the brilliant computer engineer who designed much of the park's robotics, is summoned from the East Coast to get things back on track.

On the day Warne arrives, however, Utopia is caught in the grip of something far more sinister. A group of ruthless criminals has infiltrated the park's computerized infrastructure, giving them complete access to all of Utopia's attractions and systems. Their communication begins with a simple and dire warning: If their demands are met, none of the 65,000 people in the park that day will ever know they were there; if not, chaos will descend, and every man, woman, and child will become a target. As one of the brains behind Utopia, Warne finds himself thrust into a role he never imagined-trying to save the lives of thousands of innocent people. And as the minutes tick away, Warne's struggle to outsmart his opponents grows ever more urgent, for his only daughter is among the unsuspecting crowds in the park. Lincoln Child evokes the technological wonders of Utopia with such skill and precision it is hard to believe the park exists only in the pages of this extraordinary book. Like Jurassic Park, Utopia sweeps readers into a make-believe world of riveting suspense, technology, and adventure. UTOPIA -- Where technology dazzles-and then turns deadly!”

Picture of my favorite PI:

Monday, January 5, 2015

At the Mountains Of Madness

Holy smoke, we have the good, the tedious, and the ugly in H.P Lovecraft’s classic novella, At the Mountains of Madness. H. P. Lovecraft published this story in 1936, one year before his death. The good is that this story is very contemporary and most likely would be a blockbuster movie in the hands of Steven Spielberg. Why not make it? Well, what about the tedious? I thought that the visual chroniclization (is it a real word, or did I just make it up?) of the city behind the mountain was a bit too much descriptive writing for me. For example when Professor Dyer describes the rooms in the city, he says, “The prime decorative feature was the almost universal system of mural sculpture, which tended to run in continuous horizontal bands three feet wide and arranged from floor to ceiling in alternation with bands of equal width given over to geometrical arabesques.” Or what about, “But the salient object of the place was the titanic stone ramp which, eluding the archways by a sharp turn outward into the open floor, wound spirally up the stupendous cylindrical wall like an inside counterpart of those once climbing outside the monstrous towers or ziggurats of antique Babylon.”

Besides page after page of descriptive writing about the city, Lovecraft can make your head spin with some of his other prose, such as, when commenting on what Dyer believed to be the extraterrestrial builders (The Elder Things/The Old Ones) of the city, the professor says, “They were the makers and enslavers of that life, and above all doubt the originals of the fiendish elder myths which things like the Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Necronomicon affrightedly hint about.” What? That went way over my head. What about, “The decadent cartouches and dadoes telling this story were, as I have said, the latest we could find in our limited search.” Make sure you have a lexicon nearby. Okay, what about the ugly? Well the ugly is actually good. Lovecraft’s vision of the leathery barrel shaped winged alien life form with five head tentacles and pseudo feet is awesomely ugly. Lovecraft not only has a brilliant imagination, but also sketched his monstrosities. This was a very talented writer and like Edgar Allan Poe wasn’t recognized as a literary giant until well after his death. Okay, lets talk about this scary tale that was originally serialized into three issues of Astounding Stories in 1936.
The narrator named Dyer (we know he is Professor William Dyer of Miskatonic University from a previous appearance in The Shadow out of Time) tells the frightening story of the school’s funded expedition to the Antarctic Continent. He says that he is telling this story in order to stop any future expeditions to the icy world. Thirty five men leave on two wooden ex-whaling ships from Boston Harbour on 9/2/1930. Here is a sound attribute that I credit to Lovecraft...only four main characters. They are Dyer (professor of geology), Danforth (grad student), Lake (professor of biology), and Pabodie (professor of engineering). It doesn’t get any better than that, just ask Cormac McCarthy (sorry, but I’m a big fan of fewest characters as possible and still have a award winning novel). Once they set up base on the glacier, they find fragments of slate with odd markings. Professor Lake decides to take a small party and head west for a side trip to check out the slate markings. He uses his original drilling apparatus to seek specimens of rocks and whatever only to break into a underground cave. They go down into the cave to investigate. Wow, “Later. Examining certain skeletal fragments of large land and marine saurians and primitive mammals, find singular local wounds or injuries to bony structure not attributable to any known predatory or carnivorous animal of any period.” 
Professor Lake finds fourteen barrel shaped monstrosities that are presumed dead (mentioned in the second paragraph of my review). They bring them back to their camp, and Lake attempts to dissect one of them. Why are the sled dogs angry and barking at the specimens? Lake radios his find to Dyer at the base camp. After a wind storm, Lake is never heard from again. Dyer decides to take one of their aeroplanes and fly to the site with grad student Danforth. They find eleven dead, eight monsters missing, six monsters buried, one man and dog missing. The human bodies (including Professor Lake) are mangled with “solid masses of tissues cut out.” Dyer and Danforth fly to a site towards the mountains where they find mountains well over 35,000 feet and a hidden city. As they begin to explore the city, Dyer writes, “...yet the prospect of actually entering primordial walls reared by conscious beings perhaps millions of years ago-before any known race of men could have existed-was none the less awesome and potentially terrible in its implications of cosmic abnormality.” This is where I stop and I haven’t even mentioned the Shoggoths, or the six foot blind albino penguins. If you haven’t read Lovecraft, what are you waiting for? I highly recommend this incredible tale.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I often wonder what made writers like Lovecraft and Poe so great , yet so unrecognized. Wikipedia says the following about Lovecraft, “No wonder he died poor. Howard Phillips Lovecraft died painfully of intestinal cancer in Providence, Rhode Island on March 15, 1937. He was forty-six years old and almost totally broke. He spent his life eeking out an existence as an author in a genre that rewarded him with neither critical favor nor wealth and fame." said, “The best known author of the Cosmic Horror Story and the origin of the Cthulhu Mythos, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 — March 15, 1937) is considered perhaps the greatest of all horror fiction writers, rivaled only by his idol Edgar Allan Poe. An antiquarian eremite, he was more fond of books than of people, very much like most of his protagonists. There is, however, no official record of Lovecraft ever encountering anything corporeally eldritch, as much as some fans wish it were all true. To this day you can find at least a half dozen different fabrications of Lovecraft's wholly fictional Necronomicon.

He credited his night terrors while similar to nightmares, they are actually the result of a sleep disorder with providing most of his inspiration; both night terrors and the filmy, oily membrane between waking and sleep factor heavily in his various works." says about Poe, “Born January 19, 1809, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. American short-story writer, poet, critic, and editor Edgar Allan Poe's tales of mystery and horror initiated the modern detective story, and the atmosphere in his tales of horror is unrivaled in American fiction. His The Raven (1845) numbers among the best-known poems in national literature.” says about Poe’s death, “Poe's death—shrouded in mystery—seems ripped directly from the pages of one of his own works. He had spent years crafting a careful image of a man inspired by adventure and fascinated with enigmas—a poet, a detective, an author, a world traveler who fought in the Greek War of Independence and was held prisoner in Russia. But though his death certificate listed the cause of death as phrenitis, or swelling of the brain, the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death have led many to speculate about the true cause of Poe's demise. "Maybe it’s fitting that since he invented the detective story," says Chris Semtner, curator of the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, "he left us with a real-life mystery."

There is little doubt that these two writers are Hall-of-Famers!

The famous photo of H.P. Lovecraft: