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, September 19, 2015


The British luxury liner Lusitania’s last crossing (5/01/1915) of the Atlantic Ocean is documented by Erik Larson, but in his narrative nonfiction way. What I mean by that is Mr. Larson has turned a history book story into a tear-jerking, cliff-hanging saga that seems to read like fiction, but is not. How did he do that? I read Diana Preston’s Lusitania (see my review of 6/30/2012) previously, but her version, although an excellent book, contained so much factual information that I was never able to warm up to the individual victims she highlighted. By the way, the authors mostly focused on different passengers aboard the Lusitania (which I will call Lucy for the rest of the review).
What almost brought tears to my eyes was how the British Admiralty (headed by Winston Churchill) seemed to want a tragedy to happen involving Americans traveling on British luxury liners to England. On page 190, Churchill says, “For our part, we want the traffic-the more the better; and if some of it gets into trouble, better still.” And King George V said to Colonel House, acting as President Wilson’s emissary, “Suppose they (the Germans) should sink the Lusitania with American passengers aboard?” (implying that the USA would finally be forced to enter WWI).

Meanwhile President Wilson, a recent widower, was spending his time romancing Edith Galt. Is this outrageous behavior, or what? But the most puzzling fact of the European war against Germany was the supposed success of the British in establishing Room 40 in order to decode all German submarine chatter. And they did. So why didn’t they use this advantage to warn Lucy of the ship’s impending doom? Because, they couldn’t warn every ship of the German sub activity since the Germans would then know that the British had broken their code. What! Maybe they did warn Lucy, but the information was too late in getting there. And where was the promised British naval escort when Lucy got close to port?

Before Lucy started for England, the Germans put ads in NYC papers warning passengers of possible impending destruction of the ship. Basically the ads said, “Notice! TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles…” If you saw the ad (a lot of passengers did not), it would take a great deal of courage to board any ship heading to Great Britain. Larson’s early chapters set the tone for the intense chroniclization (is that a word?) of Lucy’s voyage yet to come.

Some of the passengers were famous, such as: Charles Frohman, a theater impresario; George Kessler, a wealthy wine importer; Alfred Vanderbilt, son of Cornelius; Elbert Hubbard, author; Charles Lauriat, a book dealer carrying Charles Dickens’s original A Christmas Carol and original drawings from William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair;  and, Theodate Pope, a wealthy female architect and suffragist. The passengers and crew totaled 1,959, including a record number of children and infants. The American passengers were well into the multiple of hundreds. By the time Lucy left for England, Room 40 decoded German transmissions and knew that Unterseeboot-20, captained by Walther Schwieger was heading out to sea towards Liverpool looking to sink as much tonnage as possible (Lucy was their main objective), but Room 40 was focusing on another ship they thought was more valuable to Great Britain.

What kind of a man was Kapitanleutnant Schwieger? Well, once out to sea he spotted a Danish passenger liner out of Copenhagen, bound for Montreal. He couldn’t attack because the ship was too far away and moving fast. But in his log, he wrote, “An attack on this ship impossible.” But, “The entry revealed as well that he had no misgivings about torpedoing a liner full of civilians.” Germany’s Chancellor Bethmann wanted U-boat attacks on neutrals stopped before these attacks caused the neutrals to join the war against Germany. But he was overruled by Kaiser Wilhelm II (King George V’s cousin, believe it or not).

So what kind of man was the captain of Lucy, fifty eight year old Thomas Turner? He was a man determined to spend all his time running the ship. He was so focused on the management of the ship that the Cunard Line had to make Jack Anderson the Staff Captain (a new classification). The Staff Captain mingled amongst the high paying customers and had dinner with them at the Captain’s Table. Turner was a veteran sailor that worked his way up the ranks. He was highly capable of bringing the ship safely to England. He maneuvered the ship safely within 11-15 miles off the coast of Ireland while under the cover of heavy fog (a good thing).

Simultaneously, Walther Schwieger’s U-boat was running low on fuel and torpedoes so he decides to head home in the heavy fog. Luckily for him in the fog, a British armored cruiser passes directly over him undetected. Suddenly the fog lifted. “Schwieger trained his binoculars-his Zeiss ‘godseyes’-on a smudge at the horizon and was startled to see ‘a forest of masts and stacks.” This is trouble for Lucy. “Then I saw it was a great steamer coming over the horizon. It was coming our way. I dived at once, hoping to get a shot at it.” Okay, you know what’s coming next, but you will have to buy your own copy of this nonfiction thriller to find out exactly what happened, although it’s in the history books.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: So what kind of man was Herr Schwieger? A woman in Germany, who said she was Schwieger’s fiancee, stated that he was devastated about the sinking of the liner. He was never to torpedo another ship...he was a shattered man over what he saw in the periscope. Right! As it turns out, he continued to sink ships of all kinds in record numbers. He was even awarded Germany’s highest award, the Blue Max. He was finally killed near the end of the war when his sub was chased into a British minefield.

And what about Lucy’s Captain Turner? He was ravaged by what happened but felt that he didn’t do anything wrong. In an attempt to deflect the blame, the British Admiralty accused the captain of wrongdoing, even though the captain stayed on the bridge and went down with the ship. Somehow, he popped up and was rescued by a lifeboat. The Admiralty took Turner to court, but a judge found him innocent of any misdoings. He continued to work for the Cunard Line as a captain (although mostly on minor ships). Captain Turner died at the age of 76 from colon cancer.

Madly in love with his new wife, President Wilson played golf almost every day after Lucy’s sinking (even in the winter snow, playing with his wife using red golf balls). He spent two years writing letters back and forth with Germany and Great Britain. With the pressure of the German subs going on the rampage, sinking every ship they could find, he finally asked Congress to declare a state of war against Germany. What took you so long Mr. President?

Cunard Lines gave the 764 (out of 1,959) souls that survived the sinking of the Lusitania...a lifetime 25% discount on future sailings. Wow, thanks a lot.

Monday, September 14, 2015


This is a guest review from returning reviewer, Pat Koelmel:

Ever wonder what it would be like to be born transgender? A female in a male’s body? Or vice versa? Probably not. My guess is that it’s not the kind of stuff a typical eight-to-twelve-year-old (the target audience for George, a 2015 middle grade novel about a transgender boy, by Alex Gino) thinks about. Or perhaps it is, given the recent publicity surrounding Olympic gold medalist Bruce (now Cait) Jenner. In fact, one might even think the book’s release had been intentionally timed with Jenner’s debut as a woman, but it would have taken a prediction from the likes of Nostradamus to have pulled off something like that. The book was conceived twelve years prior with no such thing in mind other than: “There should be a book about a trans kid.” 

Written in the third person, the author chose to use the feminine pronouns (she, her, herself) when referring to ten-year-old George. An excellent decision, by the way, as it never lets you forget who George is: a girl trapped in a boy’s body.

Unable to reveal her big secret to her divorced mom or best friend Kelly (the two most likely people in her life to understand), George finds solace in such simple things like applying ChapStick (she pretends it’s lipstick) and flipping through her hidden stash of magazine friends, a term she uses to describe the few girls’ magazines she’s managed to discreetly collect over time. When no one is watching, she gazes into the mirror, combs her hair forward into bangs, and calls herself Melissa. Phew, imagine trying to hide who you really are day in and day out … and from everyone you know.

At school, to avoid using the boy’s bathroom (it stinks of pee and bleach), George restricts her drinking throughout the day. And then there are the two bullies who thrive on tormenting George. Amazingly enough, it is their mean remarks (“He’s such a freaking girl …”) that come closest to getting who George really is.

A rare ray of good news enters George’s life when her fourth-grade class puts on the stage adaptation of the novel Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. She fantasizes herself in the girl’s role, the kind and wise spider Charlotte. George, however, is expected to audition for Wilbur the pig, like all the other boys. With Kelly’s support, George tries out for Charlotte anyway, but it goes over poorly with her teacher. She thinks George is joking around. As a result, George is inconsolable. “She [George] had genuinely started to believe that if people could see her onstage as Charlotte, maybe they would see that she was a girl offstage too.”

Even worse, Kelly gets the part. “It was bad enough that she [George] wouldn’t be Charlotte. Now she would have to listen to Kelly talk about it, and possibly nothing else, for the next three weeks.”

So what happens next? Is there a chance for a happy ending? Honestly, I wondered myself. Transgender stories, as a rule, do not end well. But rest assured that the author has treated this sensitive subject in an age appropriate way.

Last words: Read George. Just as the disfigured Auggie in R. J. Palacio’s bestselling middle grade novel Wonder (see Pat's review of 8/25/2014) tugged at the heart, so will Alex Gino’s trans kid George.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Once again, the creative Pat Koelmel reviews a book dealing with social awareness. What's your thought on this matter? I personally feel is what it is. In another words, a person can't change what is innate, therefore he/she must be accepted into society as is.

For some reason this review reminded me of the pro tennis player, Renee Richards and the brouhaha that followed. Renee, who was Richard Raskind, underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1975. She was denied entry into the U.S. Open in 1976 because she was not born a women. The decision was later overturned in 1977. In the ensuing years, Renee did play competitively in the women's division, but I don't remember her ever winning a tournament. 

In 1984, in order to tell her story, she wrote Second Serve.    

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


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

Salem, why do I feel like I’m playing a game of geocaching when I read one of your books? What would a Salem/China Mieville novel do to the literary world? The flapdoodle factor in your novels is tenfold a normal novel, but somehow I semi-understood whatever. The hoi polloi will not understand a word you wrote, but my gut feeling says that you don’t care, am I right? The dross don’t count. The salient factor in your novels is always blurred, only patently obvious to you. To juxtapose your novel with Mieville’s Kraken would put someone’s cognitive ability on ice. Am I speaking your language? Okay, you know that I’m just having some fun with you. I still don’t sorta understand your novels, although this one was a tad easier to comprehend. I’m still trying to figure out quantum. Is it a discrete quantity of energy proportional in magnitude to the frequency of the radiation it represents, or a wad of money? It seems to change depending on what novel of yours I’m reading. Okey-dokey, my drivel is done (my compos mentis has been damaged), so let’s get on with the detritus! Wow, that was fun...besides Salem, did anybody understand what I just said? So what’s the confusing story about?

joe4 works for Dr. Naranja (remember him?) in N.Y.C. as an “engineer who analyzed the effect of acoustical vibrations on sidewinder solar satellites.” Got it? But joe4 says that he is a pop musician. By the way, you will have to find out yourself how he got his name. Anyway, joe4 just got a quantum account of one million from DJU, a music company who wants him to make hit songs for them. joe4 goes to his regular job in order to resign from Naranja’s all powerful company. He could be executed for trying to quit. But they put him through the ringer, take his journal from him (to be examined rigorously by a chief censor) as he awaits their decision. joe4 wondered if Naranja or DJU knew “that he dreamed his music, that he heard it when falling asleep, then he simply harvested it.” It was alien. “joe4, Dr. Naranja decided, was no competitor’s spy. He was, somehow, a human tuning fork, and Dr. Naranja knew he needed to know why.” The good Dr. Naranja decides to let him go, but puts Chief Intelligence Officer A0333 on joe4's tail for ten years (apparently not uncommon). joe4 and his dog, Aiode, arrive at a desert in four Corners (in Arizona?) in order to work on his alien hits for DJU. Does his dog speak to him? And by the way, what are biozippers and squid cartilage envelopes?

joe4 lives in a Silverstream with his dog, pumping out musical hits from his alien dreams. Dr. Naranja listens to the music from N.Y.C. and he says, “perhaps our reality is being- very, very cleverly- abducted.” joe4’s music is delivered to DJU in the form of chewing gum...and listened to through your molars? Had enough yet? No, you want more, don’t you? Well, buy your own copy of this wacko book to find out how it ends. I’m still trying to figure out if Salem is insane or brilliant. Right now, it’s a coin flip. But in all sincerity, I felt the same way with China Mieville until I read his third book. I’ve only read two Salem novels, so school is still out! I had a lot of fun writing this review...I hope you enjoyed it.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: By far the weirdest novel that I ever read was given to me by my son and guest reviewer, Deron O. It is Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (see my review of 2/01/2013). The following is my first paragraph of the review:

This novel is not a sequel to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass . In fact, it’s not like anything I’ve ever read before. Welcome to the world of ergodic literature. This was my first foray into this genre, and I liked it. This genre requires the reader to make a real effort to read and interpret the text. There are different ergodic levels, such as Charlton Mellick III’s bizarro Cuddly Holocaust or Ayn Rand’s play Night of January 16th, a murder trial where the jury is picked out of the audience, and their verdict decides the outcome of the play. I’m not sure where Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel fits in the world of ergodicity, but I’ll give the next reader an idea of what’s in store for you: hundreds of footnotes (some real, most not), one to four texts on the same page; some pages blank, some with one or two words; some pages upside down, some obliquely angled; and, different narrators on the same page. And why is the word ‘house’ always in blue and ‘minotaur’ in red? I have to say that some of the footnotes are pure genius. The reader does eventually understand what’s going on because the diverse narrators and variant footnotes are in distinctive fonts! Absolutely brilliant!