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, May 30, 2016


The author sent a copy of her book to me for review:

Melissa Burch, you are one gutsy lady! Besides putting yourself in harm’s way in Afghanistan, you exposed your sexual affairs to the world with this book. Not for nothing, you were engaged to George (he of the Greek Navy) whilst you had various one night stands with Pakistani and Afghan men, not to mention the lesbian affair in NYC. I know that you said that you found your ‘spiritual self’ via the teachings of the Russian mystic and spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff, but it still takes a undaunted attitude to write this book. My hat is off to you. I think your continuous concern about your up and down weight problem (mostly up) should take a backseat to your future treks. I found your journey to be very interesting but thought the prose could have been better and more descriptive. I’m also not sure that your filming and documentary problems had anything to do with being a woman. The United States populace was not interested in hearing that the Russian people were just like us during President Ronald Reagan's years in office (1981-1989). Also, the U.S. press wasn’t interested in stories about Russia and Afghanistan making peace (as you also stated)... the full court press was on against Russia! The U.S. wanted Gorbachev’s hated Communist Party dissolved and it was in 1991. If you wanted to do a documentary about the average Russian today, it would probably sell. Okay, let’s write a little about the story.

In 1979, Russia decided to invade Afghanistan with the purpose of ousting the Afghan president and replacing him with a Afghan socialist. The war lasted over nine years. Three years later, Melissa Burch (21 years old) would go to Afghanistan (supposedly for CBS) and film a mujahideen (a group engaged in Jihad) ambush of Soviets. The ambush was a success, but later, the Russians would destroy an Afghan village in retaliation. Melissa takes the pictures of the Russian helicopter the mujahideen shot down. Melissa is wounded. The commander of the mujahideen team bandages her up, and guess what? “We kissed hard, fast. I allowed lust to pull him inside me…” Enough said, you get the picture (sexual encounter one). Melissa leaves the team and gets a new mujahideen team lead by Commander Razik. Suddenly, Melissa starts yelling that she wants to be home for Christmas (she wanted to bring Dan Rather of CBS the footage on time). By causing a scene about going home, she accidentally saved the whole group from being blown up on a just mined road. “The mujahideen who had stopped us had just mined the road, not expecting any comrades to drive through at night. Had we arrived a few minutes later, we would have all been blown up. My intuition and my outrageous action had saved us.” 
After returning home from Afghanistan, she moved to NYC to become an independent filmmaker. She meets Sarah Peterson (a fellow filmmaker, who will become Melissa’s lesbian partner at a later date). John, a British journalist of the BBC, contacted Melissa for the purpose of going…” back into Afghanistan to cover the alleged cease-fire in the Panjshir Valley, for the fourth anniversary of the Soviet invasion.” She has two contracts (from BBC & CBS) for the films. They are holed up in Pakistan awaiting to be picked up by the mujahideen to go back into Afghanistan. While waiting for the mujahideen team to arrive, a Pakistani guide has sexual “overtures” towards Melissa. “I could have screamed, scratched him, bit him. Instead, I let him enter me and then shoved him out the door.” Woe is me (just kidding). The mujahideen team finally arrives, and they are on the way up the 7,000 foot peak to Panjshir Valley. The team is lead by Commander Shaskti armed with Chinese weapons. Melissa tires on the trip up the peak. Another commander, Ahmed, wanted her out. The second commander, Baba Fawad, interceded. “Forget about him. You stay here.” How many commanders does a mujahideen team have? Guess who Melissa has sex with next? You guessed it...Baba Fawad.

I’m stopping my review around page 90. There is a lot to be learned about Melissa’s life in the ensuing pages (especially the rows with her alcoholic mom, who went to the famous Smith College and was friends with Sylvia Plath). I found this book to be refreshing since Melissa Burch unmasked her soul. That took a lot of courage. Can anyone be more honest? I didn’t think her book was five star, but Melissa Burch is surely a five star human being. I highly recommend this true story.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: I must say that I will never understand the Muslim religion. Yes, I know there are many different sects. In this book, it seems that it is normal to have four wives. Yet, it’s okay if the husband has sex with an American girl? And on page 101, we find…”In a refugee camp, a Pakistani male doctor was stoned to death after treating a woman alone in her tent. Sick women walked for miles to see the French woman doctor, their only chance for medical care.” Are you kidding me?

Even sicker were the occupying Soviets who, “A six-year old tiny, shrunken boy was lying on a table with a white bandage on his stump. Earlier in the day, one of the French doctors had amputated his leg. He had stepped on a shiny, green, plastic bird-like toy, a mine. The Soviets threw thousands of these anti-personnel mines out of their helicopters hoping kids, villagers, or a mujahideen would pick them up or trip on them and blow up an arm or leg, maiming them for life.”

War is cruel.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


The author sent an autographed copy of his novel to my twelve year old grandson Kai O for review:

The Gemini Effect is two interconnected stories about two versions of a boy named Zeke. It all starts with Zeke’s father’s invention. The invention is called QuARC. Zeke found out about this invention from his father’s journal, which was the only thing he had left from his father...who disappeared when he was about two years old.

Zeke is rebuilding the QuARC for a mysterious man that he only knows as The Chairman. The Chairman promises compensation for Zeke if he helps him. Zeke will use his reward to help him and his mother out of the poor situation they are in. However, after the first successful test causes chaos in the school, Doc the janitor, confiscates the QuARC. Now Zeke has to retrieve it to receive the Chairman’s bonus that will help his family.

At this point the story really flares up. So this is where I will stop my review so you can read this fantastic novel for yourself. The author shrouds most of the characters in mystery, which makes the novel that much more interesting.

In conclusion, I really liked this novel...I would even say that it is one of the better books that I’ve read. The author, Scott Jarol, is quite a capable writer. I would passionately recommend this novel to readers aged nine to fourteen years old...and beyond.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I think my grandson is probing deeper and deeper into the stories that he is reading, making his reviews more expounding. Another good review from my grandson.   

Friday, May 20, 2016


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

Although I didn’t dislike this novel, I wasn’t enamored with it either. There was racism on both sides, but for what reason? The novel was a tangled story without any real direction. Black versus white is understandable, but the characters in this story seem to have a problem with each other, whether they were black, white, male or female. What is this novel about? After reading 425 pages, I’m still a little foggy on that note...what was the novel’s point? The author, Alan S. Kessler, seems to be a storyteller, but the story didn’t seem to have the same flow chapter to chapter. I do see the author’s talent (I understand that it’s not easy to write a novel), but he needs to write in a more orderly manner, instead of drifting back and forth between characters. And talking about characters...did we need this many to tell this story? I don’t think so. I’m a big time believer of five to six main characters per story. It makes for superior reading with a user-friendly understandability. With due respect to the author, overall I thought the story was slightly humdrum and written in a somewhat pedestrian fashion. Okay, what was this novel about...I’m a little hazy, but let’s give it a spin. 
The first 21 pages were rousing: it’s 1974 and teenage Jimmy Sullivan stands by and watches two other boys beat up and kill a black man for no reason. Since Jimmy wouldn’t take a plea bargain, he is sent to prison for life. In prison, he is approached by another prisoner, Todd Munson. Todd tells him that he needs the protection of the Church of the Christ, Judea or he will be on his own. Jimmy joins the teachings of the church and soon learns to hate Jews and blacks. The church was founded by a Mr. Walters in Ohio. We find out that Todd is dying of lung cancer and has selected Jimmy to educate the new white prisoners to the church’s ways. After ten years in prison, Jimmy is given a book from Willard, the book cart attendant. It’s The Diary of Anne Frank. After reading more holocaust books, Jimmy questions his new faith and decides to write a letter to a girl (Tammy) that he was going to date on the day of the murder. She writes back and eventually convinces him that her religion is the real church of God. Jimmy gets permission to marry Tammy in prison. Before that can happen, a prisoner from his old church plunges a spike into Jimmy’s kidney. “Curled into a fetal position, he managed to inch Tammy’s photo out of his pocket. Blood pooling around him, he stared into her blood smeared eyes.” Wow, I thought that I had an exciting novel to read...what a start.

Then we retro to 1942 to witness, Clarence Olgibee (five year old black kid) being dumped into a barrel by some white kids in a park. Clarence’s parents (both teachers) just ignore what happened. What is the lesson supposed to be learned? I didn’t get it. Then for some reason we retro to 1955. Clarence, now 17 and a senior in high school (already accepted to Oberlin College), is living on an all black street named Brighton Road (where the better black’s live). The one exception living on Brighton Road is the Munson family, who are white. Mother Olgibee is a disciplinarian and father Olgibee seems to be in his own world studying everything imaginable. Clarence’s friends are Todd Munson (the same one from paragraph two) and high school football lineman Willard, who has some deep emotional problems and behaviors. Lastly we have Gwen, a pretty black girl that wishes she was white (Clarence falls in love with this control freak). Now there are many other characters, but I’m keeping them out for the clarity of the story. Clarence’s cousin, Ortis, comes to his house for a stay. He’s a hip kid that is not a good influence on his cousin Clarence. After Ortis leaves Ohio, he gets killed, but somehow continues to talk to Clarence throughout the novel. I’m only about forty pages into the book.

The boys go into a curb painting business, have a traffic accident rolling Todd in a barrel into a busy street and later meet Gwen and her girlfriend in a park. Clarence falls in love with this pretentious black girl who thinks she should be white. Later that day, “Clarence bent over the piano stool…You practicing? his mother called out... I’m in love! he wanted to tell her but shivering, knew desire had no heart.” Later, Clarence has mixed feelings about Gwen’s attitude, “Her white boyfriend dumped her. She’s a stuck-up princess who lives in an apartment but still walks around with her nose in the air. The witch is lucky I’m taking her anywhere. She didn’t care that Cousin Ortis died.” Later, Gwen accuses Clarence of impregnating her...Clarence doesn’t believe it and joins the Navy. I’m a hundred pages or so into this novel and this is the exact  point where I lost interest. The novel had too many characters, most of them had no bearing on the story. Mr. Kessler’s prose was acceptable, but the story lacked a strong plot and reader attachment to the characters. I can only give a neutral rating to this novel.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: I prefer to give a book a four or five star rating, but every so often I can’t. This is not to say that another reviewer will not see it differently. Amazon has their own internal system. What is it? Okay, here it is:
Five stars= I loved it
Four stars= I liked it
Three stars= It was okay
Two stars= I didn’t like it
One star= I hated it
So there you go...I thought Mr. Kessler’s novel was okay (even after all my criticism).  

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


This is a guest review from past contributor and artist, Pat Koelmel:

I picked up this 2015 memoir by naturalist Sy Montgomery to learn more about octopuses after I caught wind of a news blurb about Inky the octopus who made a daring, Shawshank Redemption worthy escape from the National Aquarium of New Zealand. According to an article by NPR’s Scott Simon, evidence showed that the determined octopus “squeezed through a slight gap at the top of his tank, flopped to the floor, then slithered about eight feet overland to slide down a drainpipe more than 160 feet long, and finally to plop into the bay.” (Inky, wherever you are, I hope you’re happy.)

Wow, I thought, how incredible is that? I soon learned, however, that an incident like Inky’s is not unheard of. According to Ms. Montgomery, escaping octopuses are so commonplace, most aquariums now have their octopus tanks equipped with escape-proof lids.

Okay, so when you imagine an octopus, what do you envision? A monster like in Jules Verne’s 1870 sci-fi novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? Or an alien species? Its anatomy is, after all, out of this world. “We go: head, body, limbs. They go: body, head, limbs.” Wait! There’s more. They also have three hearts, nine brains, and blue blood. Still, in spite of all this, I, for one, am amazed at how differently I came to feel about an animal who in my eyes could have easily been cast as a sidekick to the infamous creature from the Black Lagoon. 

While there are 250 or so species of octopus, the author focuses on the giant Pacific octopuses she befriends (yes, befriends) at Boston’s New England Aquarium. Her mission to get up close and personal with these baggy, eight-armed cephalopods (under the strict supervision of the aquarium’s trained staff) begins with the gentle (yes, I said gentle) Athena. After plunging her arms into the cold 47 degree Fahrenheit water of Athena’s tank, the author writes: “Twisting, gelatinous, her [Athena’s] arms boil up from the water, reaching for mine. Instantly both my hands and forearms are engulfed by dozens of soft, questing suckers.” Of this first experience, Ms. Montgomery interestingly enough likens the octopus’s touch to an alien’s kiss. I’d like to weigh in and add that it was at this point Ms. Montgomery became totally smitten with her subject. This initial connection, in fact, is so powerful she eventually takes on the rigors of scuba diving in order to view octopus in the wild.

Now for some facts: “The giant Pacific octopus is one of the world’s most efficient carnivores in converting food into body mass. Hatching from an egg the size of a grain of rice weighing three-tenths of a gram, a baby giant Pacific octopus doubles its weight every eighty days until it reaches about 44 pounds, then doubles its weight every four months until maturity.”

Additionally, did you know that octopuses, in general, have beaks much like a parrot’s, allowing them to consume things like crab? Did you know “An octopus’s arm muscles, by one calculation, are capable of resisting a pull one hundred times the octopus’s own weight?” Did you know that “octopuses live fast and die young?” The giant Pacific, for example, averages a life span of only three to four years. And did you know that an octopus’s suckers are like the taste buds on a human tongue?

It may also surprise you to know that the octopus is known for its inquisitiveness, intelligence, and ability to learn. (Google “YouTube, octopus intelligence” and see for yourself. You will be amazed.)  

As Ms. Montgomery tenderly recounts each of her many, close encounters, she does so with a writing style that is exquisite, even poetic at times. For instance, she says of Athena: “her head is silky and softer than custard” and “Athena rises up from her lair like steam from a pot.” And of another octopus by the name of Kali, she says: “Then Kali fluffs up her suckers on her arms like the frills on a petticoat and waves her arms at us.” Through Ms. Montgomery’s eyes, we truly get a glimpse of these beings’ majestic qualities. I am reminded of the old adage: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

With that said, whether you read this book or not, the next time you visit an aquarium, you may, at the very least, rethink these animals … or any animal, for that matter. As Wilson, a former engineer and the New England Aquarium’s most experienced octopus volunteer, puts it: “We’re only starting to understand animals.”

As for me, thanks to Ms. Montgomery’s deep devotion to bringing a better understanding of this species to light, I believe that I have come to know, without having actually met one, the soul of an octopus.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I love books that are entertaining and educational at the same time. Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is one of my favorite novels...and movies. I’m not sure, but I think Captain Nemo’s Nautilus submarine was attacked by a Giant Squid (a kissing cousin of a octopus?). Here is the attack caught on camera (just kidding):

Saturday, May 7, 2016


Is this 1902 story by Owen Wister the blueprint cowboy (the author designates them as cow-boys or cow-punchers) novel for thousands of novels and movies yet to come? Yes indeed! It opened the gates for the great Zane Grey (see my 5/13/2015 review of Riders of the Purple Sage) and later for the prolific western writer Louis L’Amour (Hondo:A Novel). This is the first full length western novel that wasn’t a pulp/dime novel. It features the good guy (the Virginian), the bad guy (Trampas), the lovely schoolmarm (Miss Molly Stark Wood), and the honest rancher (Judge Henry) of the Sunk Creek Ranch in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. And some of the great descriptive writing with the local colloquial dialect of the times. Want some example words? How about hawss (horse), seh (sir), hyeh (here), mawnin (morning), or oveh yondeh (over yonder). Wister’s novel opened the doors for many great writers besides the few that I mentioned above. We (the readers) wouldn’t have Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s 1940 novel,The Ox-Bow Incident (see my review of 11/26/2012), or Jack Schaefer’s 1949 novel, Shane, or in more modern times, Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. What canned food were the cowboys eating on the trail? How about sardines, potted chicken, tomatoes and deviled ham (they are still favorites). I’m only bringing up this information because I thought that the secondary effect of reading this novel was a good ole history lesson. Okay, let me tell you a little bit of the story.

An unnamed man, who has traveled from the northeast, gets off the train in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. He has been hired by ranch owner, Judge Henry of The Sunk Creek Ranch (for what position is never known), but he does become the narrator of the story. A tall handsome cowboy meets him at the train tracks and tells the tenderfoot (that’s the most name our narrator will get) that it is 263 miles to the ranch; therefore, they will have to stay overnight in the crowded town before heading to the ranch in the morning. The tall handsome cowboy is ranch hand...the Virginian (no other name is ever given). After the Virginian finds shared beds for them, he sits down at a card dealer’s table and gambles with five or six others. One of the cowboys, Trampas, says to the Virginian as he sits down, “No place for amatures.” (that is how the author spelled it) The Virginian doesn’t say anything. Trampas raises the bet...another gambler raises the bet again...the next man threw his cards down... while the Virginian looked at his cards. Since the Virginian didn’t speak right away, Trampas spoke. “Your bet, you son-of-a---. The Virginian’s pistol came out, and his hand lay on the table, holding it unaimed. And with a voice as gentle as ever, the voice that sounded almost like a caress, but drawling a very little more than usual, so that there was almost a space between each word, he issued his orders to the man Trampas:- When you call me that, smile!” After a lot of quiet tension…Trampas had made his choice. “And that choice was not to draw his steel.” The descriptive writing throughout this novel is very colloquial with the spelling of the times. It was interesting but made you read some lines over and over again until you were sure you got the correct meaning.

The dislike between the Virginian and Trampas will continue throughout the novel culminating in a final showdown. Anyway, the Virginian and the tenderfoot start the long ride back to the ranch on the horses, Buck and Muggins. Along the way, they run into a Mr. Taylor who tells them that Bear Creek is building a schoolhouse and they hired a teacher from Vermont. He says that it’s a Miss Molly Stark Wood. Taylor doesn’t know if she is young or old. Molly will become the Virginian’s heartthrob. The Virginian and the tenderfoot finally get to the Judge’s ranch. “Judge Henry’s ranch was notable for several luxuries.” He had milk, butter, eggs and chickens. ”In those days his brother ranchmen had thousands of cattle very often, but not a drop of milk, save the condensed variety.” At the ranch, the reader is entertained with many tales from the cowboys with monikers such as: Honey Wiggin, Nebrasky, Dollar Bill and Chalkeye. Then there is the crazy hen, Em’ly, who will sit on anything that looks like an egg; for instance, potatoes, onions, soap, peaches and once on new born puppies! By the way, I’m only on page 68 of the novel. Whether the cowboys are in the bunkhouse, on the trail, or relaxing at a cook-out, the author comes up with captivating sidebar stories among the men in that western dialect. Somewhere in the novel the Virginian suspects that his friend Steve is rustling cattle. Will he get caught? How will the honest Virginian react? Will the Virginian get promoted to ranch foreman? Will the Virginian get his girl? There is so much to tell you about this exceptional novel of 389 pages that I must stop here before I reveal all the juicy action still to come. This was a remarkable and somewhat sad story. The novel also has a long introduction by John G. Cawelti, Endnotes by Stefanie Sobelle and pages of comments and questions.

Owen Wister dedicated this book to his friend, Theodore Roosevelt, President of The United States of America and fellow Harvard University student. To Wister, Roosevelt embodied the traits of both East and West-”socialite and cowboy.” “The novel is set in post-Civil War America and is essentially a novel of a friendship between North and South, symbolized by the nameless narrator and the nameless Virginian. Each must leave the old, fractured East and establish himself in the new, wild-yet optimistic-West: a place for moral regeneration.” I highly recommend this delightful forerunner of all the western/cowboy novels that have been written in the past and present.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: The first TV western of 90 minutes was The Virginian, starring James Drury as the Virginian (he still has no name) and Doug McClure as his top hand, Trampas. Have you noticed that Trampas is a friend on TV and an enemy in the novel. The other similarities are the TV show’s ranch owner Judge Garth (played by Lee J. Cobb) and Judge Henry in the novel. One of the horses from the novel, Buck, is Doug McClure’s horse in TV series. Otherwise the TV show is only in the vicinity of the novel (loosely connected). The show played for nine seasons (249 episodes) from 1962 to 1971 and is in third place for long running western TV shows. So, who is first and second? In first place is Gunsmoke, which ran for twenty years (635 episodes) and in second place is Bonanza, which ran for fourteen years (430 episodes). I remember watching those shows every Sunday when I was much younger. Cowboy shows were prominent during the 1950's through the 1970's (and later). They were so much better than the current lame sitcoms.

From the novel: