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, April 24, 2015


The title of the book seems apropos because Celeste Ng almost put me to sleep by not telling me anything. Sometimes I was in a semi hypnotic state. I kept saying to myself, “Lets get on with the murder already.” The author seemed to want to tell me...everything I never told you, considering that on page 194, I was still waiting to see if it was murder or suicide. Ng writes that the missing daughter received less than quality service from the police because she was a interracial child. Is the author making a tacit complaint? Marilyn Lee (the white mother), James Lee (the Chinese father), and daughter Lydia ( the victim) seemed unable to acquire friends; second daughter Hannah was only comfortable when dealing with distress by hiding under a end table (or something comparable); and Harvard bound son, Nathan, seemed almost to have a semi-benign The Oedipus Complex . Where is Sigmund Freud when you need him? If you are going to write a murder/mystery novel, practice by reading Agatha Christie. I’m not saying the book was godawful. What I’m saying is that the writer spent too much time on superfluous fluff. I know that a novel needs character history to make the reader feel empathy, but too much non-action leads to sleepy-eyes. But good news! The novel finally does ‘stir the feelings’ (nearly too late) and becomes a tasty tidbit. My question to Celeste Ng is: “Why did you take so long to get me in your corner?”

The story is simple. Lydia Lee (16 years old) is missing. It’s the 1970s in Middlewood,Ohio. Lydia doesn’t come down for breakfast (do you like my short sentences?). The Lees are alarmed and after awhile...they call the police. Officer Fiske shows up and doesn’t think that it’s a big deal: “Most missing-girl cases resolve themselves within twenty-four hours. The girls come home by themselves.” When the family protests, Officer Fiske says to James Lee, “Now, your wife also went missing once, I remember the case. In sixty-six, wasn’t it?” Mr. Lee says, “That was a misunderstanding, a miscommunication between my wife and myself. A family matter.” I didn’t like this rehashing of the missing mom. Why? Because it necessitated too many flashbacks of Marilyn Lee going back to school to become a medical doctor after her mother passed away (Marilyn’s mom hated the interracial marriage). Subsequently, Marilyn is gone from her family for nine weeks until she realizes that she is pregnant (with Hannah) and reluctantly she returns to her family. Flashbacks are always annoying to me especially when they don’t seem important to the story. Maybe I’m wrong (because this is a strong story), but my gut reaction is usually correct. Anyway, Lydia is found drowned in the local lake several days later. What was she supposedly doing inside a row boat in the middle of a lake during the wee hours of the morning? She couldn’t swim. Was she murdered? Was it a suicide, or a cognitive mistake? You will have to read the novel to find out.

Lets talk about the Freudian characters. I think this is the strong part of Celeste Ng’s novel...understanding human frailties, desires and flaws. That being said, let's meet some of the players: Mr. James Lee is a college professor teaching American History (specializing in cowboys!). When people are surprised that a Chinese gentleman is teaching ‘The Wild West’, his defensive answer is, “Well, I am American.” He doesn’t know how to make friends, but he seems to have an adequate role with women. He thinks his daughter, Lydia, is special and ignores his talented son, Nathan. Marilyn Lee sees her life trite as a housewife. She wanted to become a doctor but missed her chance. Now she puts pressure on Lydia to become that person. Lydia’s success is foremost in her life. She buys medical books for Lydia and forces her to take courses in H.S. that Lydia can’t handle or pass. Nathan Lee is the eldest. He loves aeronautics and would love to be an astronaut. He wants his mother’s attention, but mom only focuses on Lydia. Even when he is accepted to Harvard, mom and dad don’t seem rejoiced. Lydia hid his acceptance letter from him. Why? When Lydia’s dead body is found, Nathan suspects their high school neighbor, Jack Wolff, as the murderer. 

Okay, I left out the numerous mental problems that Lydia, Jack and Hannah have. If I told you about them, this review would be too long and revealing. While reading this novel, I wondered if the author suffered similar problems, or was this story purely a figment of her imagination. Her psychoanalytical concepts concerning the characters are delightful. Maybe I’m delving into this too much. Maybe Ng just wrote a book. But I think this is the kind of novel that can be debated by English Literature classes, especially in high school. So what do I think? Well, it’s the kind of novel that puts you in a semi coma, then wakes you up with a vengeance. It’s hard to believe that this is the author’s first novel. You might not like the outcome, but I thought it was apropos (same word I used in opening sentence). It’s not easy being a reviewer.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Sometimes I wonder if I’m too easy on so-so novels and too tough on novels like the one I just reviewed. My answer is that I’m generally critical in my first paragraph with all my reviews. I might have a soft spot on my heart (if that’s possible) for the numerous indie writers out there, but I think authors like Ng need to hear reality before they can become great writers. I see too many one liner reviews like, “great read”, “highly recommend”, or “this book stinks.” What does that tell the prospective buyer or author? Nothing. I try to provide the future reader with a good understanding of what to expect and what the author’s book assimilates.

In the first paragraph I mentioned Agatha Christie (my favorite mystery writer). What are my favorite Agatha novels that I actually read? Well, here they are:

Murder on the Orient Express (1934), see my review of 3/12/2012. says: "The glamorous Orient Express stops during the night, blocked by snowdrifts. Next morning the mysterious Mr. Ratchett is found stabbed in his compartment and untrodden snow shows that the killer is still on board. This glamorous era of train travel provides Poirot with an international cast of suspects and one of his biggest challenges. Predicated on an inspired gimmick, this is one of the great surprise endings in the genre.”

Death on the Nile (1937), see my review of 4/7/2012. says: “Death on the Nile is a pre-Second World War novel, first published in 1937. It shows Agatha Christie’s interest in Egypt and archaeology and also reflects much of the flavour and social nuances of the pre-war period. In it she sets a puzzle to solve – who shot Linnet Doyle, the wealthy American heiress? Although the novel is set in Egypt, an exotic location, it is essentially a ‘locked room mystery’, as the characters are passengers on the river-steamer SS Karnak, cruising on the Nile. Amongst them is the famous Hercule Poirot, a short man dressed in a white silk suit, a panama hat and carrying a highly ornamental fly whisk with a sham amber handle – a funny little man (pages 37 –38). Linnet is the girl who has everything, good looks and wealth.”

Five Little Pigs (1942), see my review of 7/5/2012. says: “Beautiful Caroline Crale was convicted of poisoning her husband, but just like the nursery rhyme, there were five other “little pigs” who could have done it: Philip Blake (the stockbroker), who went to market; Meredith Blake (the amateur herbalist), who stayed at home; Elsa Greer (the three-time divorcĂ©e), who had her roast beef; Cecilia Williams (the devoted governess), who had none; and Angela Warren (the disfigured sister), who cried all the way home.Sixteen years later, Caroline’s daughter is determined to prove her mother’s innocence, and Poirot just can’t get that nursery rhyme out of his mind.”

Actor David Suchet as Agatha’s famous Belgium sleuth, Hercule Poirot

Sunday, April 12, 2015


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

It’s self-evident that Reese Newton is a big fan of Cormac McCarthy (as am I). He writes a three segment novel somewhat similar to Cormac’s, The Border Trilogy: (All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain). The big difference? No darkness. There were many opportunities in this novel for Mr. Reese to get very dark, but I believe he kept the novel harmonious out of respect for McCarthy, and for that, I applaud Reese Newton. I’ve read too many novels that attempt to ape an influential author...and guess what? It doesn’t work. However I thought that Reese struggled with the direction of the novel and didn’t seem to know how to close out each segment. They just ended... like this sentence. By the way, I’m a big fan of the ellipsis (maybe you noticed). I do see potential for Reese as a budding writer, but he must inject more excitement in his novels. Inventing ‘poop’ to keep coyotes from one’s property doesn’t excite me, nor does a horse breaking his leg by stepping in a ‘dillo’s hole. I don’t want the author to emulate Cormac, but I need some of the chapters to end in ‘a white knuckle’ or ‘close shave’ ending. I know it’s easy for me to point out these problems, because I’m not writing the novel...but that’s why it’s easy to see spot flaws. This was an entertaining novel, just not a memorable one. And by the way, how many times can a young cowboy say, “Sir” before the reader gets nauseated? What’s wrong with “go f*** yourself.” Don’t get mad at the reviewer, I’m trying to give the author some positive direction.

The first slice of this novel is set in East Texas (circa 1915-1921) where we meet 18 year old Sedge Rountree (what happened to the ‘d’?). Sedge, wanting a more meaningful life other than working on his parent’s ranch, just decides to walk away one night. He encounters some moonshiners who rough him up. He later falls asleep on a woman’s property only to be woken up with a shotgun in his face. Once she finds that he is a harmless boy looking for a cowboy life, she feeds him and washes him and his clothes (this routine will be repeated ad nauseam). He hits the road again until he is almost run over by young girl driving her father’s car. After she drops him off in town, he is arrested as a possible chicken thief. Of course he gets off after the girl vouches for him. Later on his trip to West Texas, he is challenged to a shoot-off with a old woman...he loses, but once again he is fed and cleaned up. Later he gets a job on the Farley Ranch and meets a girl at the hardware store. Are you excited yet? Anyway, a ranch hand named Ray, who wants to be foreman, gets into a fight with Sedge and gets fired. Sedge decides to follow Ray to finalize the dispute. Ray beats him up, but Sedge is rescued by a Mexican couple and of course he is fed and cleaned up. Sound familiar? Later Sedge catches up to Ray and beats him up. End of part one. Reece, tell me you didn’t want to introduce some grief in this first section. It’s okay...Cormac is smiling.

Part two (1957) features Sedge’s nephew, Travis. John Rountree suddenly dies and Travis (17 years old) needs to support his mom. He goes to the Boudreaux Ranch to apply for the job his dad previously had. Surprisingly, he is hired. He does well at the ranch and meets a girl named Sherry. It’s love at first sight. Meanwhile, the ranch’s foreman, who goes by the name of Sample, gets fired for sleeping on the job. Will he come back to try to steal some cattle? Travis finds a sack of poop in the barn. It’s big cat and bear poop mixed with sawdust and glue. Travis refines it with human hair and piss. Whoa, it works. Put in milk cartons as a liquid and spread around the ranch’s perimeter, it stops uninvited creatures from attacking the cows and chickens. Mr. Boudreaux ask Travis if he will be foreman and live on the ranch. Travis agrees as long as he can still promote his ‘poop’ business. Once again the segment ends without any certitude. I think that each phase of this novel should have had a viable ending. Instead each part ended like a 1950s rock and roll song that invariably faded away into silence.

Now for the third part (2004 in West Texas). Okay, here is where I stop my synopsis of this novel. It involves Travis’s son, Ezell. Is this the part of the novel where we finally meet with some of Cormac McCarthy’s darkness? YES! Reece Newton literally saves his novel with this last segment. Finally one of the Rountree boys gets into Mexico and receives some serious harshness and evil. I have been waiting for this for 287 pages. What evil? Well, you will have to find out what happens yourself by buying a copy of this novel. I liked this story since I have an affinity for books about the wild west. I know I was critical, but how else is a writer going to improve? I thought Reece’s prose was acceptable and his local flavor of the era’s language seemed genuine (he is from Texas). Writing a novel is probably one of the hardest things to do. With that said, Mr. did a yeoman’s job, and I give you big-time kudos for pulling the novel out of what I thought was in a death spiral.

  RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Western novels have always interested me for reasons unknown to me. I have a copy of Zane Grey’s, Riders of the Purple Sage on my desk for over a year. I will read that novel this year for sure. I have read and reviewed books about Kit Carson (Blood and Thunder ), Davy Crockett (Born on a Mountaintop), Cochise (The Wrath of Cochise), Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s classic novel, The Ox-Bow Incident, and two of the three Cormac McCarthy novels mentioned in the first paragraph of my review. 

As far as movies are concerned, I have two favorites that when they are on T.V., I’m hooked for the 9th time. But the general public seems to think the best two westerns are John Ford directed pictures starring John Wayne (how can you not like him?), Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956). I did enjoy these movies, but they are not my favorites. So what are my favorites?

Well, my number one film is High Noon (1952). Believe it or not, I saw this movie when it first came out at the Court Theater in Somerville, NJ. I was eight years old. I had to go with my mother, so we could collect two free dinner plates. Wow, that brings back memories. It starred Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly as newlyweds leaving a New Mexico town when the Marshall (Cooper) finds out that the Frank Miller gang has been released from prison and are coming to town for revenge. To the chagrin of the Marshall, his wife (Grace Kelly) wants him to leave. As a man, he can’t do that. Let the suspense begin! By the way, the movie included Somerville, NJ's own, Lee Van Cleef as a member of the Frank Miller gang.

My second favorite movie is a spaghetti western. It stars Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Actually, I liked all of Eastwood’s Italian movies. A close third is another Eastwood movie, Unforgiven (1992), which features a disfigured whore and her cohorts posting a reward for the death of her attacker.

High Noon, the movie: