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, July 31, 2015

Still Alice

This is the second guest review from artist and writer, Patricia Koelmel:

Still Alice is a 2007 New York Times bestselling novel by Lisa Genova. After seeing the critically acclaimed 2014 movie of the same name starring Julianne Moore as Alice, I couldn’t wait to read it.

The story follows Dr. Alice Howard-wife, mother, and professor of psychology at Harvard University and world-renowned linguistics expert-as she, her family, friends, and colleagues struggle to deal with her diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.  

Cleverly told from Alice’s point of view, she initially believes her recent sudden fogs and memory loss are attributed to a brain tumor or menopause. She is fifty after all. But after extensive neurological testing, she learns the frightening truth. Even worse, due to the fact that she has a hereditary form of the disease, her three adult children are also at risk when they reach her age.

So, who passed this ill-fated disease on to Alice? She traces it back to her father, now deceased. Suddenly, she recalls his forgetfulness, which up until now she’d blamed on a lifetime of alcoholism.

As Alice ponders her incurable disease, she wishes she had cancer instead. “With cancer she’d have something she could fight. There was surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. There was a chance she could win."

If given a choice, which door would you choose? Cancer or Alzheimer’s? Thought-provoking to say the least, eh? As for Alice, she chooses Door no. 3: She devises a plan to commit suicide before her mind is so far gone she is in need of expensive institutional care.

Folks, while this book does not have the thrill of unexpected plot twists or chills that will have you on the edge of your seat, it is a page-turner nonetheless. With chapters dedicated to a singular month in time, the author skillfully allows the reader to observe Alice’s shockingly rapid decline. For instance, in April, she loses track of time and goes to work in the middle of the night in her nightclothes. In July, she forgets where the bathroom is located in her own home and wets herself before she is able to find it. In August, she fails to recognize one of her own children.

Still Alice will leave you hoping, even praying (if you are the praying kind), that neither you nor your loved ones will ever develop Alzheimer’s and face a future as alien as any dystopian society.

Lastly, I would be amiss if I did not bring to your attention, as evident in her acknowledgements, the in-depth research Ms. Genova did on the subject of Alzheimer’s and academic life at Harvard in order to tell this story.

Courtesy of that research, here are a few general facts about early onset Alzheimer’s as they appear in the book:
  • There are an estimated five hundred thousand people in the United States with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Early-onset is defined as Alzheimer’s under the age of sixty-five.
  • Symptoms can develop in the thirties and forties.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Rick’s Reviews thanks Patricia for her insightful review of a novel that deals with the sensitive plight of thousands of patients and their families. The first case of this disease was treated by German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer in 1901. He followed the symptoms of Auguste Deter until she died in 1906.

From the movie:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


This novel by Wilkie Collins took me the better part of a month to assimilate. It had to be was that good. This is the novel that in 1860 kicked the great Charles Dickens’s butt. What do I mean by that? Well, Dickens published his classic novel A Tale of Two Cities at the same time, and lo and behold, Collins’s novel outsold Dickens’s novel. To make matters worse, both were published in serial form in Dickens’s periodical, All the Year Round, from April 30 to November 26, 1859 before being published as novels in 1860. This had to embarrass Dickens even though they were best of friends. Could Collins’s novel be the first great mystery? Many literary pundits believe so. There are more twists and turns in this novel than “Carter has liver pills” (circa 1868). Some of the characters in this novel challenge real life Victorian villains; such as, Justice Blackborough and Lord MacDonald. At the time the novel was written, men were dominant in English society. So I wonder...was Wilkie advocating women’s perseverance and grit (Marian Halcombe), or women’s frailty (Laura Fairlie)? Since Laura later refused to sign a important document for her husband, I believe the answer is the former.

Is Wilkie Collins a descriptive writer? You bet your sweet bippy! Here is part of his description of Laura Fairlie’s uncle: ”Mr. Fairlie’s age, when I saw him, might have been reasonably computed at over fifty and under sixty years. His beardless face was thin, worn, and transparently pale, but not wrinkled; his nose was high and hooked; his eyes were of a dim grayish blue, large, prominent, and rather red round the rims of the eyelids; his hair was scanty, soft to look at, and of that light sandy colour which is the last to disclose its own changes towards gray. He was dressed…” Wow! And what does Laura’s hair look like? Okay, here is part of Wilkie's description, “Her hair is of so faint and pale a brown - not flaxen, and yet almost as light; not golden, and yet almost as glossy-that it nearly melts, here and there, into the shadow of the hat. It is plainly parted and drawn back over the ears, and the line of it ripples naturally as it crosses her forehead.” Why can’t modern day authors write like this? I’m only bringing this up so you know why I couldn’t rush through this classic...each sentence had to be appreciated for what it was. The reader can clearly visualize what each character looked like. By the way, the 1948 movie was undoubtedly aided by Wilkie’s descriptions because each actor looked exactly like they were conveyed in the novel.

The novel itself is narrated by many of the characters in an alternating manner, although only one is narrated by a villain. This is done in a way wherein the reader envisions the cast of characters in the same room passing along the baton until the story ends. Some narrations are epistolary, others are in the first person. How did Wilke come up with the idea for this complicated novel? As a lifelong sufferer of gout, he was known to be addicted to opium (in the form of laudanum). As a side effect, can this drug tweak the writer’s artistry? Many of the English writers were (for whatever reason) on this drug. And did Charles Dickens get the idea of a recurring character from Wilkie Collins? I’m talking about Collin’s character, Pesca versus Dickens’s Orlick in Great Expectations, published in 1861. All of this is guesswork on my part but isn’t supposition the fun part of reviewing a novel? I ask a lot of questions, don’t I? Well, that being you want to know what this novel is about?

Walter Hartright (the first narrator) is an art teacher who has been hired by Frederick Fairlie of Limmeridge House to be a live-in art teacher at the mansion for Frederick’s niece, Laura Fairlie and her half sister, Marian Halcombe. Before he starts his employ, he meets a mysterious woman in white on the road at midnight. She is in a hurry and seems stressed out. She wants to know if Walter knows a certain Baronet, he says that he doesn’t and she seems relieved. He helps her find her way to London. After she leaves, two men in a convertible carriage stop a policeman and ask him if he has seen a lady in white. Apparently, she has just escaped from a asylum. Who is this lady in white? The next day Walter starts his job at the mansion. He meets a somewhat unlovely but very intelligent Marian Halcombe who dotes on her beautiful but docile half sister, Laura Fairlie. The uncle, Frederick Fairlie, lives alone upstairs ogling his art possessions. He seems to be a hypercondriac because his illnesses are never revealed or diagnosed in the novel. He can’t stand loud noises, light bothers his eyes, and visitors to his room (if granted) must speak in low tones because of “the state of his nerves.” Walter tells Marian about the lady in white (we find out later that she is Anne Catherick). It is revealed that Anne (who is a dead ringer for Laura) was loyal to Laura’s mother (since passed on), a well known teacher. As the months pass, Walter and Laura fall in love.

Marion ask Walter to quit his employ because Laura is engaged to be married to Sir Percival Glyde, a Baronet. The marriage was arranged by Laura’s father before his death and Laura agrees to it because she couldn’t break her promise to her father. An unsigned letter arrives for Laura stating that Sir Percival is evil. Before Walter leaves, Marian and he learn that the letter came from the lady in white. Heartbroken, Walter leaves Laura and soon leaves the country, joining a journey to Honduras. Sir Percival comes to Limmeridge House as a house guest in order to make arrangements for a future date of marriage with Laura. From here on in, the novel gets very mysterious with numerous twist and turns. The reader will meet the lady in white’s mother (what does she know about the evil Baron? Is she in cahoots?) and the Baron’s good friend...the obese Count Fosco (the original confidence man?) and his cigarette rolling wife, the Countess Fosco, who is Laura’s aunt. What does this loathsome couple have to gain with the impending marriage of Sir Percival and Laura Fairlie? Will Walter come back from Honduras in time to unravel the mystery? Is Sir Percival’s motive for marriage monetary? Why does Italian language teacher Pesca reappear in the novel 600 pages later? Yes readers, there are many surprises ahead...some hurtful, some joyful. I can only say that I can’t remember when I enjoyed a novel more than The Woman in White.  

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I mentioned the 1948 movie in the second paragraph. Well I can’t find the movie anywhere, but I did some research on it. As I said, Wilkie’s descriptions of the characters were so good that it was easy for the movie people to cast the parts. Here are the characters and the actors in the missing movie:
Walter Hartright is played by Gig Young (excellent choice).
Laura Fairlie and Anne Catherick are played by Eleanor Parker (in a dual role).
Sir Percival Glyde is played by John Emery.
Marian Halcombe is played by Alexis Smith (too good looking for the part?).
Count Fosco is played by the obese Sydney Greenstreet (a no- brainer!).
Countess Fosco is played by Agnes Moorehead (another no- brainer!).
Frederick Fairlie is played by John Abbott.

The movie poster:

Friday, July 3, 2015


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

In Failed A. Robert Allen asking, “If you could, would you redo your life, how about past lives?” Is reincarnation really a possibility? Where does the soul go? Wow, this novel is intriguing and full of unanswered questions that nobody alive knows the answers, although novels, such as, Proof of Heaven (see my review of 8/10/13) written by Dr. Eben Alexander seems to think they have the answer. I believe that Mr. Allen’s approach to this subject is refreshing and dissimilar to other books on this subject. It’s almost a Pre-Novel for a cleaned-up version of Dante Alighieri’s 14th century epic poem, The Divine Comedy, without the tour. The novel is highly polished for a first-time effort, and I read that…”Failed Moments is a fictional account of the exploits of his ancestors during racially charged periods in the past.” (in the author's bio)

Patrick Walsh arrives at the Boigen Hotel on the West Side of Manhattan to meet a first date. He doesn’t remember seeing this hotel before. His date turns out to be his deceased Aunt Grace of five years ago. What is this place? His aunt takes him into the hotel cafe named Reflektions for coffee. They are served by an elderly man with the initials “P.S.” on his shirtsleeve (who is he?) and he tells them, “I think it might be best if the two of you finished your chat in your room. Here is your key card.” In the room, Aunt Grace tells him, “Your body is forty blocks north of here on Tenth Avenue in St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital and you are on life support.” He was hit by a stray bullet. Apparently the hotel is a conduit to the afterlife, with street exits for reincarnations, heaven, second chances and hell. His Aunt Grace tells him that his past two lives are being recalled so he can correct his past mistakes. She will go with him as a guide and helper. Is Aunt Grace the ghost of the past, like in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol?

Patrick’s first life was as Patrice, a affluent mixed race (gens de couleur) plantation owner on a island that is now known as Haiti. It’s the late 1700s and slavery is abundant even though the holder of the island, France, has freed the slaves. It’s a trifecta story of mixed race owners at odds with white owners (grands blancs), who will not let go of slavery and of the slaves who demand their freedom. The second life story is about Patrick (Paddy) Allen in 1863 N.Y.C. during the Civil War draft riots. I found this story less interesting than the first. In between the remedial efforts of Patrick and Grace, they meet once again at the Reflektion Cafe. I thought that it was witty of the author to have Patrick and Grace observe the past as birds sitting on a branch. It’s an unique novel written with excellent prose.

I do recommend this novel and have only one complaint. Maybe it’s me, but I didn’t get a good handle on what Patrick corrected in his past lives. What I mean is that the reader never really finds out what mistake he made in the past. If it was there, I missed it. However, it was an enjoyable novel from a budding author. Buy it and enjoy!

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: So what book is out there that offers the definitive answer of what happens after death? Well, Mark Hitchcock, holder of a Masters and Doctoral degree from the Dallas Theological Seminary thinks he knows. He wrote, 55 Answers to Questions about Life After Death.

 Amazon says, “Four thousand years ago, amid tragic suffering and death, Job asked the question of the ages: “If a man dies, will he live again?” Since the dawn of history, the subject of death and the afterlife has been the great question of human existence. It’s a subject that everyone wonders about. What lies behind the veil of death? Is there really life after death? Is there a place called Hell? (with all these questions, it sounds like I wrote this synopsis) This small yet power-packed book answers in a very straightforward, reader-friendly format, all the most-asked questions ordinary people have about death, near-death experiences, cremation, purgatory, hell, heaven, and our future bodies. You’ll be amazed at awaits us beyond the grave.

Is there sex in heaven?

It’s a fair question! And so are the rest. Go ahead...flip to the table of contents. Discover another one, two, or fifty-four others that are guaranteed to intrigue you. Questions like: Do those in heaven know what’s happening on earth? And will I see my pets in heaven?

Because even if you’d rather avoid the topic, death will not avoid you (what if I get bit by a vampire?). So fire away! Ask the tough questions, and get the dead-on answers you need. Straightforward and easy to read. 55 Answers to Questions about Life after Death satisfies that nagging, curious voice whispering from the center of your mind.

Sorry, the wise guy comments in the brackets are mine and not part of Amazon’s critique.