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.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

TAKING on WATER

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

What started out to be a somewhat typical hackneyed small town drug mystery turned out to be a wild and crazy ride in last 100 pages. The author, David Rawding, skillfully guided the reader into a typical scenario of a minor town (in this case, Newborough, New Hampshire) with a drug problem...then lowered the boom big time. About halfway through the novel, you will discover that the author has a little bit of George R.R. Martin in him (in what way?)...meet David Rawding, a newbie in the literary world. Could the novel had a better first half? Of course, but this is his maiden novel. The prose was okay, but I thought that it could have been more descriptive. But I did like his usage of italic type whenever a character was thinking something to him/herself, such as, “...but a dead man lay at her feet, his eyes still open. I’m good. She said the words over and over in her head.” So let me tell you briefly about the story.

There are four main characters (the ideal amount) consisting of James Morrow, a social worker, and the love of his life, his wife Maya, a police detective. The other two are Tucker Flynn, a down on his luck lobsterman and his wife Melanie, a housewife. The novel starts off with James getting the impression that Tucker’s son Kevin was abused by his dad; Tucker getting a hard time on the water with rotund lobsterman Tom Braxton and his cronies, and Maya getting into a shoot-out on a drug bust and kills a gang member. None of the assumed heroin was found on the site. Now that sounds like a lot happening, but it took quite a few chapters to develop. I just gave you the abridged version. After James goes lobstering with Tucker, he finds that his allegations of child abuse are wrong. The Tuckers and the Flynns become friends. Later James comes upon a jumper (Carl Mending) on the bridge over the Skog River. James tries to talk Carl down, but he jumps. Maya and the police arrive too late.

Meanwhile, James goes to the Monroe Recreational Center and finds a overdosed boy in a bathroom stall. The police show up, but once again, it’s too late...the boy dies. Maya takes it upon herself to find out how and who is supplying the town with heroin. In the meantime, psychiatrist Carol Wayneright gives a talk to the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing meeting to talk about the bridge suicide and the death of the overdosed boy. After the meeting, James makes an appointment with Carol to talk about his mental health since his father (now deceased) use to beat him and his mother. Does he now have violent tendencies? Is Maya on dangerous ground investigating the town’s problems on her own? Why did Carl jump off the bridge? After a nor’easter hits the town hard, 850 of Tucker’s 900 lobster traps are destroyed...and he also loses his second job as a security guard. Now what can he do for moolah since he is broke and way behind his mortgage?

I know that you are saying, “Why did you say the first half of the novel was hackneyed (lacking significance) when so much happened? It’s because the first half pales in comparison to the second half of the novel. And guess what? I’m not going to say a word about the second half. I will tell you only that it is full of surprises and revengeful violence. This was a good maiden novel for David Rawding. If you want to know how it ends...go out and buy a copy of this thriller. Obviously, I highly recommend.
 
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: There are many books that deal with hateful revenge like our protagonist, James Morrow displayed in Taking on Water. If you look at a series of novels, one would have to say that George R.R. Martin’s, A Game of Thrones (a Song of Ice and Fire) is the number one revengeful serial of all time. What about a single novel? Well, for me, the answer is simple.

The most revengeful novel that I ever read was Stephen King’s Carrie (1974). Goodreads.com says, “Carrie knew she should not use the terrifying power she possessed...but one night at her senior prom, Carrie was scorned and humiliated just one time too many, and in a fit of uncontrollable fury she turned her clandestine game into a weapon of horror and destruction…”

Saturday, July 16, 2016

THE VOYAGE OUT

What does this novel have in common with the Seinfeld TV show? The show and the novel are about nothing. The novel and show are concerned with the trivialities of daily life. If you loved the Seinfeld show, you will love this novel. Virginia Woolf’s brilliant novel focuses on the upper middle class of Edwardian life in Great Britain. The voices for Woolf’s opinions are the passengers aboard a steamer heading to South America and the residents of the villa and hotel on the island of Santa Marina. They experience each other’s stances and persuasions in these three venues. They discuss art, politics, poetry, love, novels and education. Woolf’s novel has numerous characters, which is normally a no-no (so says Cormac McCarthy), but really has four main individuals (which is superb). If you read this novel carefully, you will learn how the Edwardians thought politically and socially. The novel was set in that period but not published until 1915 (The Edwardian period was between 1901-1910). Did I like this novel? Yes, but the reader must be attuned to dry prose and humor, similar to the British Public Television shows many people view with delight. Woolf’s work includes wonderful descriptive writing and long paragraphs (typical for the time frame). This was her first novel and only one written in a narrative fashion. She was influenced by the works of William Shakespeare, James Joyce and Marcel Proust. Wow, what a  threesome. Let’s talk about the story and plot (is there a plot?).
 
The novel opens with our protagonist, Rachel Vinrace, sailing on one of her father’s ten ships, The Euphrosyne (how do you pronounce that?) to South America. Rachel is 24 years old, but since her mother died when she was eleven, she has learned little about life and love (the birds and the bees included). She lives in Richmond, England with her aunts and ship owner dad, Willoughby. Her seldom seen aunt Helen Ambrose (2nd main character) and uncle Ridley (who spends his time editing the Greek poet Pindar) arrive on the ship. Aunt Helen’s brother owns a villa on Santa Marina island and Captain Vinrace will drop them off for an extended stay. When the Ambroses come aboard, they dine with Rachel, William Pepper (a Cambridge friend of Ridley Ambrose) and Willoughby Vinrace, Helen’s brother-in-law and Rachel’s father. What’s the beautiful Helen’s impression of the diners? “Pepper was a bore; Rachel was an unlicked girl, no doubt prolific of confidences, the very first of which would be: You see, I don’t get on with my father. Willoughby, as usual, loved his business and built his empire, and between them all she would be considerably bored.” Later on the trip, Willoughby picks up Mr. and Mrs. Dalloway stranded in Lisbon, Portugal. By the way, the Dalloways will be featured in several future Woolf novels including the the successful 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway.  On page 44, Clarissa Dalloway writes a letter after she says, “'Good-night-good-night! She said. 'Oh, I know my way - do pray for calm! Good-night!'”

Here is part of Mrs. Dalloway’s letter: “Picture us, my dear, afloat in the very oddest ship you can imagine. It’s not the ship, so much as the people...How long they’ve all been shut up in this ship I don’t know - years and years I should say...They talk about art, and think us such poops for dressing in the evening...then there’s a nice girl - poor thing - I wish one could rake her out before it’s too late...Oh, I’d forgotten, there’s a dreadful little thing called Pepper...It’s a pity, sometimes, one can’t treat people like dogs!” I only quote this passage so you can get the flavor of Virginia Woolf’s outstanding prose. Later, Mr. Dalloway kisses Rachel in her room and utters, “You tempt me, he said. The tone of his voice was terrifying. He seemed choked in fright. They were both trembling. Rachel stood up and went.” Was this Rachel’s first kiss? Most likely. The Dalloways get off the ship (we don’t see them again in this novel). Don’t panic, I’m only up to page 71 in a 363 page novel. Aunt Helen convinces Rachel to get off of the ship at Santa Marina island and stay at her seaside villa instead of going all the way to the Amazon with her father. At the villa, Helen offers to teach Rachel life experiences. Helen tries to enlighten Rachel about the birds and the bees. In the evening, Helen and Rachel take a walk to the hotel down the street. There (unobserved), they see the guests that will become central characters in this dry satire. The novel introduces the reader to the other two main characters: Terence Hewet, a London writer, and the extroverted St. John Hirst, a would be lawyer or Cambridge genius.

The ensuing pages merge the activities of the hotel guests with Helen Ambrose and Rachel of the villa. Many witty situations occur during the ensuing pages, such as getting mail from Great Britain…”Moreover, when the mail had been distributed half an hour ago there were no letters for either of the two young men (Hewet and Hirst). As every other person, practically, had received two or three plump letters from England, which they were now engaged in reading, this seemed hard, and prompted Hirst to make the caustic remark that the animals had been fed.”  Normally this would put me to sleep. But remember, this story is about nothing. Later two couples get engaged during the months to follow (I’m not telling who), six of the hotel/villa residents hire a steamer to go down the river to see the natives in their camps, but then, the novel takes a tragic turn. When they get back to the hotel/villa...someone will die. Who? I’m not telling. I think Woolf’s writing style will put some readers to sleep. I stayed wide awake since I enjoyed her panache. Why, I don’t know since similar novels have put me to sleep. It could be that I’m on a quest to read at least one novel from what I think are important novelist. Virginia Woolf definitely fits that category. I would highly recommend this life experience novel.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Since Virginia Woolf’s story of a voyage occurred just before WWI, I was wondering if Katherine Anne Porter got the idea for her book from Woolf’s classic. Porter’s novel, Ship of Fools occurs just before WWII. Amazon.com says, “The story takes place in the summer of 1931, on board a cruise ship bound for Germany. Passengers include a Spanish noblewoman, a drunken German lawyer, an American divorcee, a pair of Mexican Catholic priest. This ship of fools is a crucible of intense experience, out of which everyone emerges forever changed. Rich in incident, passion, and treachery, the novel explores themes of nationalism, culture and ethnic pride, and basic human frailty that are as relevant today as they were when the book was first published in 1962.

Now for the sad news. Virginia Woolf suffered from a mental illness now known as bipolar disorder. The beginning of the Barnes and Noble Classic that I read gives year by year highlights of her life.

“1939 - On September 3, Britain and France declare war on Germany. Living mostly in Rodmell (England), Leonard (her husband) and Virginia make a plan to commit suicide in the event of an invasion.”

“1941 - On March 28, after writing a note to her husband, Virginia Woolf fills her pockets with stones and drowns herself in the River Ouse. Between the Acts is published posthumously.”

So sad.

Picture of Virginia Woolf:


Saturday, July 2, 2016

PILLAR TO THE SKY

Having read William R. Forstchen’s One Second After (see my review of 4/15/2011), I expected to read an exciting adventure based on the novel’s title. Not so. I dozed off and on through the first 184 pages until something happened to wake me up. A woman astronaut, Selena Singh, has three of her toes sliced off when she had to unjam the tangled wire being dropped to Earth to start the building of the 23,000 mile high Space elevator. That’s right...A Pillar to the Sky. Who would even think of this project? Well, the author did. Sometimes I think that sci-fi writers come up with an idea that makes no sense at all then try to justify the story with farcical claims and details. This is one of those suppositions that makes little horse sense. I’m not saying that the story was all bad or boring but it was close to being a surreal probability at the very best. What one reads as monotonous sometimes becomes a smash hit in the movies; such as, the mind-numbing novel, The Martian (see my review of 4/15/2014) by Andy Weir. If you think potato farming is exciting then you will love this novel. If you are a reader who tends to count sheep when reading...then order an extra herd. Okay, what’s this novel about?

The novel begins with Dr.Gary Morgan, a PhD in astrophysics and engineering, sitting in front of the Senate committee headed by Senator Proxley who has the oversight of NASA’s budget. The senator reacting to Morgan’s request for money to build a 23,000 mile high elevator into space says, “In these times of economic stress, of towering deficits and public demand for budget cutbacks...pipe-dream schemes that are a waste of taxpayer’s money are utterly absurd and, frankly, a waste of my time as a senator who believes in fiscal responsibility.” As the process continues, Dr. Morgan and his wife, Dr. Eva Morgan, realize that they fighting a losing battle. Their bright daughter, Victoria, is fuming in the audience. Finally Gary Morgan makes his final statement, “Senator, ten years after its completion, this project has the potential of transforming the global economy...This project is not some ill-conceived flight of fantasy like those we see in far too many government proposals, which either deservedly get filed away and forgotten or become public embarrassments after they are attempted, when they fall flat…” The senator rejects their request for the funding of the Pillar to the Sky. As the senator leaves the room, he is verbally attacked by the Morgan’s daughter, sixteen year old Victoria, to no avail.

After the senate defeat, the Morgans are greeted by their long time mentor, Dr. Rothenberg, who consoles them at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. From here we travel back 18 years to see how this project started and then back to the present. This flip-flopping continued for quite a few pages. I fought gamely to stay awake. Finally, the Morgans and Dr. Rothenberg found a benefactor. On page 63, Dr. Rothenberg tells the Morgans (the Morgans always seem to be together), “A friend of ours who has taken great interest in the events of today. He expected this debacle. The moment the hearing closed and it was clear that NASA would be forced to entirely drop this line of research, he was already in flight from Seattle.” Then suddenly, we zoom back to 18 years earlier. Once again, I’m counting sheep. Later, the reader finds out that the benefactor is Afro-american billionaire, Franklin Smith. On page 77, Smith says, “With your help we are going to build that.” Smith flies the Morgans to Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands). This is where the Pillar to the Sky will be built or fail. Sometime later, a professor Garlin debates Franklin Smith about the project (I’m snoring) and says, “Are you familiar with the thesis of disruptive technologies?” “I am.” “You do realize if this tower-or, as you call it, this pillar-of yours actually works, it will put hundreds of thousands out of work...And to be blunt, sir, it would put into your hands, and your hands alone, access to space. I am uncomfortable with that.”

What happens next will require you to buy your own copy of this novel. Although the story was tedious for me, it might not be for you, especially if you think a space elevator can be built 23,000 miles high. I, for one, didn’t buy into the hypothesis. There was too much technical jargon versus sci-fi action. The best excitement for the first 185 pages is when Singh has her three toes severed. So I think you get my thoughts loud and clear. I must give this novel a neutral rating.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: Even though I’ve read and liked some of this author’s previous works, I will not read his novels in the future. If you write a clunker...then I move on. There are too many authors out there that I want to read before I pass on. But in doing a little research, I’ve found many despised sci-fi novels doing time in oblivion. Here are three:

The Saga of Seven Suns by Kevin J. Anderson. Blastr.com says, “Anderson has built quite a career both as a solo author and collaborator, but this epic saga has some outspoken detractors...Redditor FlaveC called it the worst pile of sci-fi crap ever!” Well, let’s cross this novel off our list of ‘books to read.’

The Eye of Argon by Jim Theis. Wikipedia says, “The Eye of Argon is a heroic fantasy novella that narrates the adventures of Grignr, a barbarian. It has been described as one of the genre’s most beloved pieces of appalling prose.” Cross that one off.

2121 by Susan Greenfield. Newstatesman.com says, “The neuroscientist’s first novel has clunking cliches, terrible characters and dialogue about the dissociation of reproduction from copulation.” So there you go, now I don’t feel bad about about wasting my time reading Forstchen’s novel. By the way there are many clunkers from big time writers that have received horrible reviews, but I choose not to mention them.