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 Amazon.com. 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 rohlarik@gmail.com. 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.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

GO SET A WATCHMAN

This novel should have passed muster (when originally submitted to the publisher) but it didn’t for whatever reason. I thought Harper Lee’s second novel (actually her first) was an acceptable stand-alone venture. Of course, if that would have happened, we wouldn’t have had the American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, would we? Many people think that her new novel taints her classic. Gregory Peck’s (he played Atticus Finch in the Mockingbird movie) son, Stephen, believes his dad would have advised Lee against publishing the second novel. Some people don’t even give Harper Lee credit for writing Mockingbird...they think that her childhood friend,Truman Capote (author of 1958’s Breakfast at Tiffany's and 1966’s In Cold Blood) wrote the classic for her. I believe that to be hogwash. After her success with Mockingbird, she spent a lot of time researching for Capote’s bestseller, In Cold Blood. As a matter of fact, Capote was used as Harper Lee’s blueprint for her character Dill in her books. Capote was small, submissive, and bullied as was Dill. Capote, in real life, visited his aunt each summer and was the pal of the tomboy, Harper Lee. Why their friendship dissolved in the later years is unknown. I think that some of the reviews I’ve read are relatively too bearish on Lee’s second published novel (although her first submitted manuscript). What would the reviewers have written if Margaret Mitchell had published a prequel or sequel to her 1937 classic, Gone with the Wind? Anyway, enough said about that...but I will talk about some famous authors that wrote a classic and then stopped writing for various reasons in my comment section. 
 
The original Mockingbird novel occurred in 1935. Twenty years later (1955), Jean Louise Finch (now 26 years old, but I’ll still call her Scout...her original name) arrives in the fictitious town of Maycomb, Alabama to visit her now 72 year old father, Atticus Finch. He is still a lawyer but has serious arthritic problems in his shoulders and hands. She is picked up at the train station by Henry (Hank) Clinton, who is madly in love with Scout. Atticus has since moved into a different house with his sister, Alexandra (Scout’s aunt), who considers Hank White Trash and well beneath the Finches. Atticus has made Hank his partner in law. When Scout gets home, Atticus finds out that Calpurnia’s (remember her from the first book) grandson just ran over the town drunk and killed him. Now the boy is in serious trouble. Atticus, knowing that Calpurnia brought up Scout after Atticus’s wife died, says that he will defend him. Scout is proud to hear that. They all go to church the following Sunday, and the Preacher Stone says, “My text for today is taken from the twenty-first chapter of Isaiah, verse six, For thus hath the Lord said unto me, go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” I only brought that up so you know where the title of the novel came from. Later that day, Atticus and Hank go to a meeting at the courthouse. Scout finds a pamphlet in Atticus’ house that’s titled The Black Plague. It states that blacks are inferior and how to keep them in their place. What! Scout has always been color blind...does this mean her father and Hank are now racist? She hurries to the meeting and goes up to the colored balcony (where she was in the Mockingbird trial) and can’t believe what she hears. What’s going on with her father? Don’t think that I'm giving away the story, because I’m early into the novel...I’m just giving you a taste of what is to come.

By the way before I continue, I don’t remember that Scout’s brother, Jem, died. Did he die in Mockingbird? I really don’t remember that happening. It’s casually mentioned in this novel, but not elaborated on...very strange. Anyway getting back to this novel, I think the make it or break it part of the novel occurs in the twenty pages of chapter 14. Those pages were either brilliant or simpleminded, and I’m not sure which. It’s the chapter when Scout visits Uncle Jack (remember him?) to find out if her father is a racist. Uncle Jacks dissertation about the current black/white problem was so convoluted that I couldn’t make up my mind whether Harper Lee didn’t know what she was writing about, or whether it was written purposefully. I’m leaning towards that she knew what she was writing. Because after Uncle Jack momentarily pauses, she says, “What’s this got to do with the price of eggs in China, and you know exactly what I mean.” Then he continues on with his farcical speech, and Scout says, “Stop woolgathering and answer me!” All Scout wanted to know is why Atticus, Aunty, and Hank are now racist. She never gets a clear answer. Later, she says to herself, “Mad, mad, mad as a hatter. Well, that’s the way of all Finches. Difference between Uncle Jack and the rest of ‘em, though, is he knows he’s crazy.”

I did like the novel but struggled with what it’s intention was. Other than the familiar characters, there was little said or reminisced about that tied this novel to Mockingbird for me. And what was the plot? After the first few pages, the boy who ran over the drunk is never heard from again. What? The dialogue didn’t offer the reader enough of clues to understand what the problem was between the blacks and whites in the twenty years after Mockingbird. I’m not saying that I wasn’t entertained, but I expected a lot more than I got out of this novel. Maybe that’s why a lot of famous authors wrote their classic and then retired the pen. If you read To Kill a Mockingbird, you are sort of pushed into reading this novel, but I can only give it a ordinary rating. Not bad, but no cigar.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: So what authors wrote a great novel then never wrote another? I mentioned Margaret Mitchell in the first paragraph. She disliked her lack of privacy after writing Gone With the Wind. Unfortunately, she was hit and killed by a car twelve years after publishing her classic novel. In 1996, a misplaced novella of hers, Lost Laysen, was found and published.

The great Oscar Wilde wrote plenty of plays and poetry, but only one novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (see my review of 8/08/2015) in 1890. His novel was met with so much criticism that he never wrote another.

Although J.D. Salinger later wrote some short stories and a novella, he never wrote another novel after, The Catcher in the Rye (see my review of 12/23/2012) in 1951. He turned into a well known recluse.

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar was published in 1963. Why didn’t she write another? She committed suicide less that 30 days after publication. Ouch!

In 1847, Emily Bronte wrote the classic Wuthering Heights. Why didn’t she write another? Because she died a year later of tuberculosis after she got a bad cold attending her brother’s funeral. Wow!

Anna Sewell’s classic children’s story Black Beauty was written in 1877 while she was confined to a bed. She died five months after publication. Am I bringing tears to your eyes, or what?

Ross Lockridge, Jr’s 1948, Raintree County is considered one of the “Great American Novels”; however, he committed suicide three months after publication.

Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1958, but mother Russia made him turn it down. He never wrote another.

Okay, and finally we have Ralph Ellison’s classic racial novel Invisible Man published in 1952. A fire in his home destroyed the manuscript for his second novel. Oh well, let’s stop here, I don’t want you to get more depressed.

Truman Capote and Harper Lee in happier times:

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

the WRIGHT BROTHERS

It doesn’t get any better than the genre of narrative nonfiction. Award winning author David McCullough provides many cliffhanging chapters, while just telling the facts about the Wright brothers. That takes immense talent and now I know why one of my favorite writers, Erik Larson, said, “I stumbled across McCullough’s The Johnstown Flood at a bookstore. I loved it. It had suspense, drama, class conflict, dire goings-on-all the things the history books I’d read in high school and college lacked.” That’s what I’m talking about...nonfiction that reads like fiction. Erik Larson is the best-selling author of The Devil in the White City (see my review of 01/26/2012) and many other best-sellers. Okay, so how do we make history more exciting for our kids? I suggest that the U.S. Department of Education appoint a literary panel to find the books that that will tell history in a way that the students will enjoy and retain. The books are out there...find them! The lack of excitement in history books has gnawed at me for years. Jon Meacham’s American Lion about President Andrew Jackson’s life put me to sleep many nights. I’m not trying to be cruel, but Meacham’s writing, while accurate, was boring. I want history to be exciting and rousing. Believe me...it’s possible, just read McCullough’s or Larson’s books.

Wilbur and Orville Wright were born the sons of a preacher man (wasn’t that a 1969 Dusty Springfield hit song?). The Bishop Wright and his wife Susan (She died early from tuberculosis at the age of 58) brought up three other children (Katharine, Reuchlin and Lorin), besides the soon to be famous brothers. All were remarkable human beings in their own right. The Bishop moved the family often, depending on where his preaching was needed, until he settled the family in Dayton, Ohio. Wilbur (a genius) and his brother Orville (a mechanical genius) were enterprising from the get go. They started a Dayton newspaper and then moved on to their own bicycle shop selling their own indigenous brand. In 1899, inspired by the works of European's Lilienthal and Mouillard, Wilbur wrote a letter to the Smithsonian Institution requesting all the information that they had on human flight. Then they asked the U.S. Weather Bureau in Washington, D.C - Was there a location in the U.S.A. that had constant winds of about 15 MPH? The answer…Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. They built a glider and brought it to Kitty Hawk. Once there, the brothers studied the flight of the local birds. The glider had flights as far as 400 feet at 30 MPH. Once November came, the brothers left the glider there and went back to Dayton and their bicycle business. 
  
The world’s leading Authority on aviation Octave Chanute comes a calling after the boys built their first experimental flyer the next year. The brothers continue their trials during 1901 and 1902. Then they go home to perfect their flyer and build an engine. Eureka! On 12/17/1903, they had four successful flights at Kitty Hawk...the longest flight goes a half mile at a height of 852 feet in 59 seconds. They did it. Later that day, while the flyer was on the ground, a gust of wind destroyed the flyer as it rolled over again and again. It will never be flown again. They go back to Dayton in order to build a new and improved flyer and engine. Instead of going back to Kitty Hawk, the brothers rent 84 acres of a pasture from the President of the Fourth National Bank in the Dayton area. They make 50 test flights on the field with no local interest (most of the population thought flying was for birds only). After many failures with the new flyer, Wilbur soars a 1,000 feet. Surprisingly, a rich beekeeper, Amos Ives Root, takes an interest in the Wright brothers and writes an inspiring story about them in his publication, Gleaning in Bee Culture. The Wright brothers contact the U.S. government to see if they have any interest in their flyer. They don’t (they just wasted a ton of money on someone else’s failure). But Britain’s War Department is interested! And so are the French. And so are the Germans. Wilbur contacts the U.S. again and they say that they still have no interest in their flyer.

On May 22nd 1906, a U.S. patent for the flyer’s design is issued to the Wright brothers. Wilbur goes to Paris to negotiate the sale of their flyer to the French. Orville ships the flyer to France. This is where I stop my review, so you can buy your own copy of this wonderful book and find out for yourself what happens next. It’s certainly a matter of history, but do you remember what happens next? Of course not, neither did I. It was a significant eye-opener for me. This kind of writing not only educates the reader, but makes the reader think that he is reading a fabrication. It doesn’t get any better than this. David McCullough has received the Pulitzer Prize for Truman and John Adams (see my guest reviewer, Deron O’s assessment of 12/05/2015). I guess that if I had to be critical of anything pertaining to this book, it would be the profuse amount of pages spent on the laudation of the Wright brothers near the end of the book. The author backs up his facts with 40 pages of source notes.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: There were a lot of sidebar stories in David McCullough’s book, such as, President Teddy Roosevelt wanting to be the Wright brothers first passenger. Luckily for him, Lt. Thomas Selfridge (a member of Alexander Graham Bell’s Aerial Experiment Association and probably a spy for Bell’s group) got the first ride as a passenger. During his flight with Orville, a piece of the prop broke off Orville’s flyer causing a horrific crash. Selfridge was killed. “His was the first fatality in the history of powered flight.” Orville was badly hurt but survived the accident.

Since his career was similar to the Wright brothers, I also enjoyed the pages about Glenn Curtiss. While comparable to the Wright brothers as a bicycle builder, he was also a racer and builder of motorcycles. He later built aeroplanes for the U.S. Army and Navy. His Curtiss Jenny biplane is featured on the first U.S. Airmail Stamp. He won the first international air meet in France (the Wright brothers didn’t register for the race).

 

  The evolution of the Wright brother’s flyer:


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Nth Day


The author sent me an autographed copy of his novel to review:

Wow, what a story! Can anybody write a darker story than this Jonathan Huls’ novel? This is the most arcane and harrowing novel that I’ve ever read. I am in no way disparaging the great works of the dark master, Cormac McCarthy, but it surely challenges his best depraved novels, such as Outer Dark (see my review of 03/01/2013). Huls even (like Cormac) rebuffs the general rules of English grammar (so do I somewhat). Are Huls’ paragraphs too long? Of course they are, but I think that that (I love using "that" back to back) is an editing problem that can be fixed in the future. What I fancy is that Mr. Huls is a storyteller. And what is the most important component of literature?...were you entertained? And yes, I was entertained. So to the reviewers that attacked this novel...lighten up and get real. Literature isn’t all about iambic pentameter, is it? No, did you really like those Shakespearean plays that were forced on you in high school? I didn’t. When I read and review a book or novel, the most important task an author must provide to me is "a good story", don’t put me to sleep...and I was wide awake during all 321 pages of this novel. A note to Mr. Huls: Your paragraphs should be no longer than twenty lines (that’s my sometimes rule for my reviews). But, I wouldn’t worry about that because you can hire an editor to take care of those problems, just write like the wicked storyteller you are. Anyway, what’s this enigmatic novel about?   

On the 8th day God was reborn (actually August 20th) in history’s suggested second immaculate conception via the couple of Dave and Julie. Although they were high school sweethearts, Dave figured she must have cheated on him. The baby was named Justin, and he was silent when he came out of the womb. Justin rarely cooed or showed any affection to his parents. He only needed to eat once a day and never cried. But, he had an unmistakable calming effect on anybody that was around him. As Justin reached one year old, his parents decided to throw a birthday party...they invited 50 people. Somehow, 100 people showed up. Julie told Nick that he would have to go to the store for more food, beer, and soda. But when they checked their supplies...It seemed like they had an abundance of food and drinks. How is that possible? Later that day, a baby girl named Cassie was dying after she ate some rat poison that Dave forgot he laid out on his property. As people gathered (including Cassie’s mom), Dave tried to give CPR to no avail. The girl was not responding. Her mom knew that she was dead until Justin crawls to Cassie and sits down next to her. Miraculously, Cassie starts to breath and is back to normal almost immediately. Did Dave’s CPR finally kick-in or did Justin perform a miracle? On the way to the hospital, Cassie’s mom freaks out. She says her daughter is dead and now is a zombie. As she attacks Cassie, she causes the ambulance to crash. Once they are in the hospital, mom tries to kill Cassie again. By the way, the next day, the majority of the world’s population changed eye color to emerald green. What?

The novel moves to our third main character, Theodore Silt, a homeless man, or is he a billionaire? He lives in the streets of Atlanta. He often goes to a soup kitchen where he meets a retired Beth, who works at the kitchen. They become friendly and semi-date at a diner over peach cobbler for about four years. One day, Beth follows Theodore many blocks until he arrives at the airport. She sees a man (Simon, his aide) hand him something as he boards a private jet. He takes off. What is going on? Simon tells Theodore that he has to meet a bogie (someone who is on his case) in NYC. He meets the bogie (reporter Susan Barr), and she doesn’t believe that this bum is the billionaire Silt. He convinces her that he is and gives her ten million dollars. By the way, I‘m not giving the story away...It’s only page 56. I must tell you that I hated Susan Barr.

Meanwhile the scene shifts to Cassie. Her mom is now a dope addict. Once again mom tries to kill Cassie but instead dies when she falls on a knife that Cassie had in her possession to protect herself. This causes Cassie to be orphaned and shuffled around because of the murder/accident of her mom. Did she kill her mom? She finally gets a foster home, but the foster father, Darrell, is a pedophile. After Darrell pounces on Cassie, she thwarts his attack and gets out through the front door. Where does she go?

The scene shifts to Justin, who, at two years old, changes his temperament after he gets mad and kicks over a board game that he was playing with his father. The pressure is on to punish the boy. Justin goes to his room and stares at the ceiling. Everything is getting dark. His father, urged on by the wife, goes to Justin’s room (he hears a siren). The wife comes in and says that the siren they are hearing is a signal that they should take cover. Is a tornado coming? Did the boy summon it? The boy walks out the front door nonplussed. He walks to a orchard and sits down and eats an apple. The parents, who were following him, panic and head back into the house. The tornado hits the house, and Justin’s parents are never seen again. Justin heads east (walking).

Now I’m going to stop my elucidation of Huls’ novel because the story gets big time juicy from here to the exciting end. What will happen when Justin meets a disgusting villain named Nick (I hated him) from Quicky Mart? What will happen when Cassie meets a now drunken Theodore Silt? What will happen when Justin turns money into blank pieces of paper? And finally, what will happen when Justin, Theodore, and Cassie unite? Wow, this was some page turner. This is the kind of novel that makes me wonder why a major publisher didn’t pick it up. If this novel had their editorial help...I believe this novel would be a bestseller. Did I like this novel? Are the Irish lucky?

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I do like to read novels involving God. I think that as one gets older, one starts to think more about the possibility of God existing. If not, it’s going to be a long sleep.

I sometimes think that I want to read John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost . But then I remember that I hate poetry, and this poem was originally ten books and 10,000 lines of verse when published in 1667. Don’t I already know the story of Eve and Adam and the fall of the angle Satan (by the way, I recently watched a hockey game and one of the player’s name was Satan). So... as many times that I have had that book in my hands, I have always returned it to the shelf of the book store.

Even the great astronomer, Carl Sagan touched on the subject in his 1995 book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

REDSHIRTS

Did you ever notice that on the TV show Star Trek that an Ensign or lower ranked person wearing a redshirt got killed in every episode? In that show... Kirk, Spock, Bones, Chekov and Scotty normally wore yellow or blue shirts (although I remember an occasional show where one of them wore red). This is the hypothesis of John Scalzi’s Hugo and Locust award winning novel. Suppose that same thing was happening in real life to a starship named Intrepid (an Enterprise look-alike). How could a redshirt always get killed on an away mission while the five main officers never suffered a death? Oh, they might get hurt badly, but they soon miraculously recover. What could cause this phenomenon? Scalzi came up with a heretofore somewhat brilliant maiden plot, but I don’t think that this novel was his best. And I’m a big fan, having read at least six of his novels. Redshirts became a little confusing at times, especially when the five lab Ensigns decided on how they would solve the redshirt death problem. It was still an enjoyable perusal (I shudder when a reviewer says...an enjoyable read). Anyway, let’s talk about the characters and the plot.
 
We are far into the future and aboard the starship Intrepid (isn’t that a Vietnam era carrier?) led by the officers: Captain Lucius Abernathy, Science Officer Commander Q’eeng, Chief Engineer Paul West, Medical Chief Hartnell and Astrogator Lt. Kerensky (the one that always gets hurt). Enter our protagonist, Ensign Andrew Dahl (I’ll call him A.D. for the rest of the review). He is assigned to the Intrepid’s science lab with Hester, Finn, Hanson and Duvall. Sounds like too many characters, right? But somehow Scalzi makes it work. On A.D.’s first assignment on an away mission, the ship encounters a plague on the planet Merovia. A landing team led by Lt. Kerensky is trying to find a vaccine for the plague when they are infected. A redshirt is liquefied (of course) and Lt. Kerensky is dying. Commander Q’eeng gives A.D. the job to find a cure for Lt. Kerensky (the hell with the rest of the planet). A.D. is given six hours to find a cure. What? Q’eeng tells A.D. to put the info in this mysterious box that the Universal Union has acquired from an extinct race of warrior engineers. After six hours, A.D. brings the results to the bridge (it’s just gibberish). But the science officer finds the  answer and Lt. Kerensky is cured. What? 

After some more close calls for the officers and subsequent deaths of the redshirts on away missions, A.D. runs into a redshirt (in self-hiding) named Jenkins. He says that he has done his research, and there is only one starship that has the same statistical patterns for away missions as this ship. Duvall says, “Who are they?”. On page 103, Jenkins says, “They don’t exist and neither does this. This is the starship Enterprise. It’s fictional. It was on a science fictional drama series. And so are we.” Wow, tell me about it. Jenkins says, “It’s fictional, You’re real. But a fictional television show intrudes on our reality and warps it.” Jenkins further says, “You’re all extras, but you’re glorified extras. Your average extra exists just to get killed off, so he or she doesn’t have a backstory. But each of you do.” A.D. says, “If this is a television show, then it was made by people. Whatever and however they’re doing this to us, they are just like us. And that means we can stop them. We just have to figure out how. You have to figure it out, Jenkins.” On page 140, Jenkins sends a note to A.D. and the lab people, “It says he thinks he’s come up with something that might work, he wants to talk to us about it. All of us.”

This is where I stop my review and you buy your own recommended copy of this novel. I did like this novel...it’s just that I’ve read better from this Tor.com writer. Okay, I know that it won all the awards, but I still have my opinion that many authors respect. Normally Scalzi’s novels are easy to understand (I don’t need or want the scientific facts to enjoy a sci-fi novel), but this novel was a tad fuzzy on the remedying of the resolution. I think this novel would have been better-off if the author would have thought the ending through for a better resolve. I guess I didn’t buy into the fact that a writer of a TV series of the past (The Chronicles of the Intrepid) could control or influence the life and death of characters that are in the far future.  

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: The idea that you may die in combat is in the head of anybody that has been in any of the services of the military. I was a U.S. Marine from 1963-1967 and did think lightly about it, but when you are 18 years old and cocky, one thinks that that (I love using those words back to back) is unlikely. I’m sure many dead marines thought the same thing. Anyway, as I said, I did like the novel including the three semi strange codas at the novel’s end.

Incidentally, The Star Trek TV series debuted on NBC in 1966 and ran for three seasons (79 episodes). I don’t know if you saw it, but SNL did a parody of the show, The Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise starring John Belushi as Kirk; Chevy Chase as Spock and Dan Aykroyd as McCoy. It was hilarious!

Oh no! Two of the stars of Star Trek are wearing red!