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.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

PUDD'NHEAD WILSON and THOSE EXTRAORDINARY TWINS


This 1894 novel by Mark Twain was written during his dark period. His mom had recently died and his publishing company had just failed, leaving the great author bankrupt. Is the novel dark? Yes, but also humorous with many surprises and extra features. The novel transpires before the Civil War in the small town of Dawson’s Landing on the Mississippi River...of course. Now if you have read Twain before, you know he uses the vernacular of the times, so don’t be shocked by the vocabulary used by the negro slaves; such as, “Oh, de good Lord God have mercy on po’ sinful me- I’s sole down de river!” Also don’t be upset with the use of the “n” word...it’s Twain’s modus operandi (I will not use it in my review). Twain states that as he was writing this novel,”I had a sufficiently hard time with that tale, because it changed itself from a farce to a tragedy...But what was a great deal worse was, that it was not one story, but two stories tangled together; and they obstructed and interrupted each other at every turn and created no end of confusion and annoyance.” Somehow, Twain (he says he used-a kind of literary Caesarean operation) makes the two stories work by rewriting the twins story after the first story ends. The twins had a lesser role in the first story, but they became the main focus in the second story. Not only that, but they morphed from two dashing Counts (Angelo and Luigi) from Italy into a two headed, four armed, two legged freak. What? I told you that this was Twain’s dark period. Actually, Twain’s first novel written with a deep pessimism was his novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) (see my review of 11/08/2012).

“On the 1st of February, 1830, two boy babes were born in Percy Driscoll’s house: one to him, the other to one of his slave girls, Roxana (Roxy) by name.” Now Roxana was a pretty twenty year old slave who was almost white (she was only one/sixteenth black). She took care of Tom Driscoll and her own baby, Chambers, after Mrs. Driscoll suddenly died within a week of the children’s birth. “In that same month of February Dawson’s Landing gained a new citizen. This was Mr. David Wilson, a young fellow of Scotch parentage...he was twenty-five years old, college-bred, and had finished a post-college course in an Eastern law school a couple of years before.” He certainly would have launched a successful career in law, if he didn’t make a fatal remark on his first day in town. As David Wilson talked to a group of citizens, a dog began to yelp in the background. Wilson said, “I wish I owned half of that dog.” “Why?” someone said. “Because I would kill my half.” “They fell away from him as from something uncanny, and went into privacy to discuss him.” One said, “pears to be a fool.” “pears?” said another. “Is, I reckon you better say.” “Said he wished he owned half of the dog, the idiot", said a third. Just that fast Mr. Wilson became Pudd’nhead Wilson with nobody in Dawson’s Landing willing to let him represent them in a court of law. Wow, what a tough town. He hung up his law shingle but only got minor tangled account-book jobs. So he started taking Fingerprints from the town’s populace as a hobby. Two of the prints he took was from the babies Roxy was in charge of at five months old. By the way, so far I’ve only covered the first nine pages...a lot happens in this crazy novel.

Meanwhile one of Percy Driscoll’s slaves is stealing. Percy calls his slaves into his home. He tells them that if nobody admits the theft...somebody is going down the river (which means a much tougher life), but three admit the theft. Percy sells them, but not to the mean people down the river. Roxy now feels threatened. Can her baby be sent down the river? She decides to switch the babies. Chambers is now Tom Driscoll and Tom Driscoll is now Chambers. Percy suddenly dies (but not before he sets Roxy free) and the babies and Roxy are taken in by Percy’s brother, Judge Driscoll and his widowed sister, Mrs. Pratt. Roxy bumps into Pudd’nhead, and he takes fresh fingerprints from the babies. He doesn’t notice the switch (will he later?). Roxy now free, decides to become a chambermaid on a steamboat. She leaves the children in the care of Judge Driscoll and his sister. Tom (really Roxy’s black son) is now growing up to be a mean man with a big gambling habit, while the real Tom is an uneducated slave and lackey for Tom Driscoll. In the meantime down the street, the widow Cooper (Aunt Patsy) advertises that she has a room for rent. She gets an offer of double rent by twins from Italy. The whole town is anxious to meet the dashing counts. They arrive to the exuberant approval of the town. They become the toast of the town. Tom Driscoll insults the twins and gets a swift kick in the butt from Luigi, which starts a course of events that will explode throughout the rest of the novel. So much happens after the kick that the reader needs to take notes to remember the many zigzags that occur afterwards.

This is a somewhat unknown novel of Mark Twain’s (one of my favorite writers), but in my opinion his most brilliant work. In only 201 pages, he was able to spin a tale of hope, despair, and tragedy...yet be humorous at the same time. I highly recommend reading this old classic novel.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: In Mark Twain’s Final Remarks, he tells the reader how complicated this tale was to write:

“As you see, it was an extravagant sort of tale, and had no purpose but to exhibit that monstrous ‘freak’ in all sorts of grotesque lights. But when Roxy wandered into the tale she had to be furnished with something to do; so she changed the children in the cradle; this necessitated the invention of a reason for it; this, in turn, resulted in making the children prominent personages-nothing could prevent it, of course. Their career began to take a tragic aspect, and some one had to be brought in to help work the machinery; so Pudd’nhead Wilson was introduced and taken on trial. By this time the whole show was being run by the new people and in their interest, and the original show was become sidetracked and forgotten; the twin-monster, and the heroine, and the lads, and the old ladies had dwindled to inconsequentialities and were merely in the way. Their story was one story, the new people’s story was another story, and there was no connection between them, no interdependence, no kinship. It is not practicable or rational to try to tell two stories at the same time; so I dug out the farce and left the tragedy.”

“The reader already knew how the expert works; he knows now how the other kind do it.”

By the way, Twain gave us a free lesson on how to use a semicolon in the above final remarks.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Demon Conspiracy

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

I’m not going to say this story was banal, but the concept of demons living underground plotting to overthrow the humans living on the surface is clearly not new. Furthermore, the story was not scary as advertised on the novel’s back cover. If you want to read something scary, read Stephen King’s 1986 novel It. The terror the reader feels from the creature who appeared in the form of a clown (coulrophobia) was bona fide. I realize R. L.Gemmill’s story is a YA novel that might scare a young age group (how young is the writer’s target age?), but I expected more after reading all the previous glowing reviews. The prose was simplistic (I’m assuming it was written that way on purpose for YA reading). The story was generally okay but seemed rushed in order to create a euphoria that failed. And I must mention that I quickly tired of the line, “I have a lot of work to do and I must work hard and fast.” I can see that the author has a storytelling ability, but in my opinion, it’s still in the growing stage. Basically, I guess (that) I’m used to reading YA novels that are good to go for adults such as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games or Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Anyway, I’m saying that Mr. Gemmill’s novel is worth reading with the caveat that it’s not the cat’s meow for adults. Maybe I read too many classics. So, what’s the story about?

We meet the heroes of the story during a tragic event...a car crash that kills their parents. At the time of the accident, Kelly (the novel’s narrator) was six years old and had the ability to read minds. Her brothers are also gifted. Jon, who is ten years old, is a expert in martial arts using swords and knives. The baby of the family is Travis, who was three years old at the time of the accident. Even at a young age, he had the capacity to feel other people’s emotions. Fast forward seven years and we find the kids finally together in the loving foster home of Chris and Angie McCormick. Chris (a teacher) and the children sign up with Jon’s English teacher, Mr. Anton Edwards, for a Saturday caving trip to Pandora’s Cave. In advance of the group arriving at Crystal Creek Park, Ranger Ned Taylor sees something very strange at the cave’s entrance...a man dressed in a blue suit with an object that looks like a fire hydrant. As the ranger approached the cave, Ned says to the man in a suit, “Can I help you, Sir?” “He smiled back at Ned, as if amused.” Suddenly, the man and his device disappeared. Ned went to the dog pen and let the fiercely barking dog, Ripper, loose. The dog ran straight to the cave entrance followed by Ned. “As they reached the entrance, a host of colorful glowing eyes appeared within the cave’s pitch darkness. Ripper skidded to a halt.” What’s going on? What’s behind all those hateful multi-colored eyes?

The ranger was relieved by Head Ranger Melinda Laarz before the McCormick’s arrived at the park. Apparently, Ned didn’t tell Melinda what he saw in the cave because Ranger Melinda didn’t warn the McCormicks or the teachers (Dr. Mark Parrish and cave expert Anton Edwards). Was this an error by the author? Or did Ned really not tell Melinda what he saw? (It seems highly unlikely). Anyway, the group enters the cave. Incidentally, I’ve only reviewed the first 31 pages so far. I think I’m making the story more exciting than it was! The group work their way down to an area known as the Cathedral Room. Then, the unforeseen happens...the ground began to shake. EARTHQUAKE. (I can’t believe that I’m making R.L.Gemmill’s novel so intoxicating.) The ledge that the children and Chris were standing on drops about 50 feet. Chris is knocked out and has a broken leg. The kids are shaken but not seriously hurt. The two teachers must have been standing somewhere else because they are unaccounted for. Travis sets the still unconscious Chris’s leg with the metal frame of a backpack. Jon looks down the ledge that they are now on and can’t believe what he sees...a 20 foot demon on a stage addressing thousands of creatures! Okay, you got a taste of the first 51 pages of Mr. Gemmill’s novel. Now you will have to buy your own copy to see what happens in the next 309 pages.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the scariest novel I ever read was Stephen King’s It. It’s amazing how many people have a fear of a clown (coulrophobia). Do you remember the Seinfeld show called The Opera (1992) when a clown took center stage. Wikipedia says:

“Crazy" Joe Davola leaves Jerry a message saying he will put the "kibosh" on him. Kramer has tickets for the opera, Pagliacci and everyone is going, including Elaine and her boyfriend, Joey. Elaine drops in on Joe's apartment where she discovers that he has a wall of pictures of her that he took with his telephoto lens. After repeatedly calling her "Nedda" and insinuating she is cheating on him, he tries to trap her in the apartment, so she maces him with cherry Binaca and ends their relationship.

Jerry, Kramer, Elaine, and George go to the opera, where Elaine tells the others that Joey isn't coming, and Susan has to pick up a friend at the airport and can't come either, they have two extra tickets. George and Kramer attempt to scalp the tickets, each trying to get a better deal than the other, because George tries to sell the tickets for too little, and won't listen to Kramer.

As Jerry and Elaine wait for their friends to return, they are asked by a street performer impersonating Canio for a tip. Jerry had flipped a coin earlier, and it was taken by another spectator, so he didn't have any money for the clown, which annoyed him.

Meanwhile, "Crazy" Joe is getting ready for the opera by working out and sobbing as Canio's aria plays. He then puts on the white makeup for Canio's character, Pagliaccio. Later, Joe is seen, now in full Pagliaccio costume, walking through a park on his way to the opera house. He is antagonized by a group of hoodlums, but he uses martial arts to knock them all out.

Kramer is approached by a clown (not knowing it's "Crazy" Joe Davola) who wants to buy the leftover ticket to Pagliacci. Kramer then claims that the clown looks "familiar", to which Davola asks him if he ever went to the circus and if he liked it; Kramer answers that he had gone when he was little and that he was scared of the clowns. Davola then asks Kramer if he's still scared of clowns (while giving a menacing smile), to which Kramer uneasily answers, "Yeah."

Jerry and Elaine are still standing outside, and they get to talking about "their nutjobs" and discover that each of their Joes is the same person. They freak out, because Joe is probably now out to get both of them. Soon, the clown returns, and when Jerry tells him that he doesn't have any money, the clown responds, "I don't want any money." As they both stand there, Elaine thinks she smells cherries. The clown says, "It's Binaca." Just then, the real Canio starts to sing. Jerry and Elaine both scream (realizing it's "Crazy" Joe) and run away.

George has finally agreed to sell the ticket to someone as Susan runs up and says she can join him because her friend's plane was diverted to Philadelphia. George gives her ticket to her, and deftly gives the man his own; since he will not attend the show, he must then invent an explanation that will please Susan.

Kramer shows up with the tickets, and he, Elaine and Jerry take their seats. They are joined by Susan and Harry Fong, the man to whom George sold his ticket. They ask where George is; Harry says that he got George's ticket and Susan also tells them that he was "uncomfortable." Jerry and Elaine ask Kramer to whom he gave the last ticket. Just as the curtain comes up, Kramer answers, "Some nut in a clown suit." Jerry and Elaine panic as the audience applauds and the episode closes."

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

THE WOMAN IN CABIN TEN


Not in a hundred years would I have figured out who the victim was; or for that matter, who the murderer was in this whodunit, yet when it was revealed, it seemed to be an apropos resolve. Of course this novel by Ruth Ware reminded me somewhat of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train (see my review of 8/16/2015). Close, but no cigar. One thing that does stand out in Ware’s novel is the prose. She is someone who not only writes with a kinda descriptive style but also knows how to write with gripping proficiency. It’s one of those novels that perks your interest from the get-go to the very last word (wire to wire). This is the British author’s second New York Times bestseller, the first being her maiden 2015 thriller, In a Dark, Dark Wood. She’s two for two so far. Can she be Great Britain’s next Agatha Christie? Ruth Ware is a hot mystery writer but doesn’t have a Hercule Poirot, so once again, close, but no cigar. Okay, let’s review a little of the story. Just a little.
  
As the story opens, our principal character, Lo (Laura) Blacklock is being burglarized in her apartment while sleeping off an inebriated evening. She wakes up in time to find a burglar outside her bedroom door, who slams the door in her face (oouch), removes the spindle from the door knob and ransacks the apartment. When he leaves, she manages to unlock her bedroom door. She is super upset but doesn’t have a lot of time to pine over it (thank God for her prescribed  antidepressants). She is consoled by her boyfriend Judah (on his way to Moscow on business) and somewhat (for some reason I love that word) by the police. Lo works for a travel magazine, Velocity. Her boss, Rowan, being pregnant, can’t make the press voyage on the brand new ten cabin luxury cruiser the Aurora from London to the Norwegian Fjords. She assigns Lo to take the trip and write a good article on the voyage and it’s owners, the super rich Lord Richard Bullmer and his wife Anne.

Once on the small but lavish cruiser (one of the chandeliers has over two thousand Swarovski crystals), she is assigned cabin nine and is told to be in the Lindgren Lounge for cocktails and a facilities presentation at 7:00 pm. For the sake of setting the scene at the reception, let me tell you who was in attendance: Cole Lederer (a renowned photographer), Tina West (editor of the Vernean Times), Alexander Belhomme (a rotund foodie writer), Archer Fenlan (a extreme travel writer), Ben Howard (a ex-writer at Velocity), Lars Jenssen and his wife, Chloe (he of a Swiss investment group), Owen White (a UK investor) and of course, Richard and Anne Bullmer and their senior staff. Naturally, Lo Blacklock was also in attendance. That’s people enough for nine of the ten cabins. Why was cabin ten empty? Or was it? Was somebody going to be murdered tonight? Could be. Okay, the scene is set, now you will have to get your own copy of this stirring sophomore novel by Ruth Ware to find out what happens next.

I loved this novel. I was especially impressed with the prose and the flow of the story. If there were some hiccups in this novel, they went over my head. Okay if I stretch my imagination, I can come up with a few minor complaints near the end of the novel, but I’m going to keep them to myself. Do I recommend this novel? Does Grizzly Adams have a beard?

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Sometimes I’m amazed at what other reviewers are thinking. When I went to Amazon for the Customer Review score, I was surprised. Even though Ware’s novel is an unbridled hit, it’s only garnered an average score of 3.8 stars on 363 customer reviews. Why? Because 20% of the reviews are for one or two stars. The main reason why? The bad review is usually from a reader who has very limited experience reviewing books. They don’t even know what they are looking for. In their mind, it’s either a ‘good read’ or a ‘bad read’.

Here are some of their comments: boring, weak weak weak, epic fail, waste of time, don’t bother, awful, drivel, hated it, could not finish and my favorite...this book is so bad it should be free. Ha, ha. I guess it’s a case of Different strokes for different folks.    

Friday, September 2, 2016

MISSION: SRX Before Space Recon


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

Matthew D. White’s short story preludes his three volume space opera Mission: SRX series. If this story is a glimpse of what’s to happen in Confessions of the First War, Ephemeral Solace, and Deep Unknown...then this officer in the U.S. Air Force has a hit on his hands. Clearly the esoteric input was derived from the officer’s knowledge of modern aircraft and rockets. Of course there are many first contact novels out there; such as, H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1898), Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Rendezvous with Rama (1973)...my personal favorite. I’m not comparing White’s 53 page short story with the above space opera classics, but I am saying that I liked what I read and can only conclude that the author’s ensuing three novels must be a somewhat fascinating sci-fi journey (I have not read the author’s above mentioned novels). So let me tell you a little about this short story that foreshadows the main body of work by ten years.

The space cargo ship Defiance is hauling supplies between Earth and the Sol Bravo system (the first system found with intelligent life) when its navigation system malfunctions. Or is it interference from the previously peaceful Aquillian race? They are lost in space. Lt. Commander Warren Hughes of the USC (United Space Corps) cargo ship is suspicious that someone or something is interfering with his ship. Why? What cargo is he hauling? Suddenly the drifting cargo ship is contacted by the Aquillians. Lt. Commander Hughes tells them, “We have encountered significant interference to our navigation systems and are unable to continue to our destination.” The Aquillian ship responds with, “We have dispatched three transports along with our primary maintenance crew to lend assistance to your ship.” Assistance, really?

Meanwhile on a asteroid, a USC recovery team, led by Lieutenant Kael, is alerted by his Sergeant that the cargo ship Defiance is two hours late to its destination and is probably a little off course. Lt. Kael says, “So they’re a little off course. That’s not unheard of.” The soldier replies, “USC-Instruction states that a recovery team be alerted if an arrival is more than two hours late.” The team takes off in search of the missing cargo ship. What happens next will set the tone for the three eventuating novels. I thought the story was exciting but feel that Mr. White could do better with his prose...it was a bit too simple (my only knock, but it’s a big deal with me). Based on this prequel, I’ll give the ‘green light’ to the reading of the rest of the series.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: That’s about as long as I can write a review based on a 52 page short story without giving away the ending. I think short stories are a lost art, and if I remember correctly, it’s only my second short story review. The first being John Chu’s twenty two page, The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere (see my review of 8/21/2014). Actually there are more...I’m just too lazy to look them up.

I’m sure everybody has their favorite short stories, but the following three are among the most famous:

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry (1905)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1820)
The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe (1844)

How would you like to have a round table talk with those writers?