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.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Tannenbaum Tailors and the Secret Snowball


The author sent my thirteen year old grandson, Kai, an autographed copy of his novel to review:

The Tannenbaum Tailors and the Secret Snowball was a very nice way to start the holidays. The novel begins with Commander Brendan Holly and his team navigating their Icicle (a common elf air-transport) through the wintry sky. A violent wind shakes the Icicle, but the team brings it back under control as they fly into their assigned home. This whole operation was just a practice simulation created using virtual reality. But virtual reality wouldn’t be able to train them for what they were going to experience this Christmas.

At the Home Tree, which is a giant Christmas tree in the North Pole, a fire starts due to a faulty bulb. Commander Brendan rushes to the fire with Captain Emery. Soon the smoke renders Emery unconscious while they were trying to fix one of the water hoses. After being hospitalized, Captain Emery decides to give Commander Brendan the title of captain while he is recovering at the hospital. But then there is another fire! Most people realize that it’s too big of a coincidence not to be connected to the first fire.

Brendan’s dad, Lt. Holly, an officer at the Home Tree, gets on the case with Brendan. At the light bulb warehouse, Lt. Holly gives Brendan a pair of goggles that can detect a blue spark that the Spiritless leave behind. The Spiritless are a group of elves that once worked for Santa but have decided that humans don’t deserve Christmas. The officers find out that the desk clerk is one of the Spiritless. But what is the Spiritless’s goal? Can Brendan stop them?

JB Michaels wrote an excellent Christmas story and I’m glad that he wrote a sequel (which I will review at a later date). The plot in the novel moves kind of quickly, which caused the novel to be shorter than it could have been, but it kept my attention...very nicely. The second novel will be the extra length that I was looking for. I definitely liked this novel and would recommend it to YA readers 12-18 years old.
 
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Just to clarify the four star rating, Kai thought the novel was way too short and it is the only reason for the deduction of one star. It’s something that I’ve used in the past unbeknown to Kai. His thoughts show me that he is analyzing a novel properly.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

THE LAST ENGLISH VILLAGE


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

I don’t know what having a fellowship at The British Operational Research Society has to do with this novel, but James Ignizio made me feel like I was watching (actually reading) a dry English sitcom. The story was mostly told during a 1997 English road trip by a semi-boring English chap and a dying American but had its roots in a 1943 incident during WWII. I think the author did a good job keeping me awake in a story that was somewhat boring by tweaking my interest in the charm of common English life (if that makes any sense). A lot of sentences were spent on the English breakfast consisting of tea, fried tomatoes, watery scrambled eggs, a ghastly orange juice and a black pudding that turned out to be “congealed pig’s blood wrapped in a length of pig’s intestine.” Also highlighted were the many village pubs serving warm pints of local beer. Doesn’t the food sound great? I didn’t think that two elderly men, one a English birdwatcher (on a secret quest to find the five American survivors of a mysterious WWII B-17 crash) and the other, a dying American, who was trying to find a church depicted in a painting for the sake of burying his wife’s ashes (while driving around the English countryside in a almost 50 year old car), would hold my attention...but it did. Good work by the author.

In 1943, a German bomber parachute a mine over a small village in England. The mine seems to be heading for the church, which was filled with local townspeople listening to Christmas songs from the church choir. Outside the church, two Rolls Royces are parked listening to the concert. Could one of the occupants of the cars be Winston Churchill? If so, what’s he doing there? Meanwhile, a boy (Tommy Hawke in bed with a fever) observes a American B-17 crash outside his yard. He sees five survivors walk from the plane. A tall man with his head bandaged seems to drop something, but can’t find it, and his mates hustle him away from the plane. The boy falls asleep and when he wakes the next day, he tells his mom what he saw. She says, “Tommy, you must have been delirious. An aeroplane certainly did crash into the pasture, as you can plainly see. But it was a German craft, and no one survived...Tommy could hardly believe his ears.” What was she hiding from him and why? When Tommy tried to raise an objection, his mom said, “Tommy, listen carefully to me. You did not see any men climb out of that wreckage. Everyone on board died in the crash.” I thought that this was an excellent opening chapter and set the hook for the rest of the novel.

The novel now switches to 1997. Vince Collesano arrives in England with his wife’s ashes in a urn. Her final request to him was to bury her ashes in the cemetery of a charming church that her mother painted many years ago. Vince is met at the airport by his deceased wife’s cousin, Albert “Bertie” Ambrose, an eccentric semi-recluse birdwatcher. Vince never liked Bertie, but he needs his help in finding the church in the painting. Vince tells Bertie, “...just moments before she passed away she pointed to the painting. Her last words to me were that I bury her there. I only wish she would have been able to tell me just where in the whole of England that little church might be located.” Bertie said, “Don’t you worry, Vince, we’ll find it.” On page 29, the two gentleman head off in Bertie’s 1949 Morris Minor in quest of finding the church in the painting. Is that really Bertie’s quest? I know this novel seems boring, yet the author, James Ignizio, is able to combine the 1943 WWII bomber crash and the 1997 quest to find a church (in a painting) into a rather pleasing tale. Kudos to the author of ten books and The Last English Village, his first novel. I highly recommend this British sitcom clone.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: My favorite British sitcom was a twelve episode comedy in the late 1970s called Fawlty Towers starring John Cleese as Basil and Connie Booth as Basil’s wife, Sybil. They ran a seaside hotel in the fictional town of Torquay. The comical episodes were accompanied by hotel helpers, Polly (the chambermaid) and Manuel (the Spanish waiter). They were sooo funny!

The only British remake sitcom I watched was The Office. Before Steve Carell played Michael Scott, the general manager of a paper company, Ricky Gervais was playing David Brent in a similar role in England.

Of course, my favorite British comedy show was Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974) starring Terry Jones, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, and Terry Gilliam. The show was hilarious!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

THE ORDER OF ST. MICHAEL


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

J.B. Michaels, author of The Tannenbaum Tailors series, writes his first YA novel. He introduces the reader to Bud Hutchins, a combination teenage inventor and sleuth, who goes from Chicago to Salem, MA to farther cities in an attempt to recover his stolen tech. What is his tech? Bud has invented a teleport system that allows him disappear and reappear in different destinations, similar to Star Trek’s system, except Bud’s method for teleportation involves a wristband and destination markers. One assumes that this is the first adventure for the new boy wonder. This is not your usual mystery since it involves witches, zombies, a wolfman and much more. I thought the story was fast moving, but sometimes too rushed. Was the story interesting? Yes, but very predictable with very simplistic prose. Was it written that way on purpose? I think so since this is the author’s first stab at a YA novel. Since there were some mild swear words used in the text, I would say the author’s target age group is between twelve and eighteen.

The story opens with Bud, our protagonist, finding a “bloodied corpse” in a New England forest. The body is a male dressed in a gray robe and hood (a monk?) and has been drained of all his blood. Suddenly, Bud sees a hooded figure running from the scene of the murder...he pursues. He tackles the runaway and finds that it’s a female. She turns out to be teenaged Maeve (will she be Bud’s helper in future novels?). She says to Bud, “That was my uncle back there! I just called the cops. Who are you? There is no way the cops could have made it here this fast.” They hear police sirens in the background at the same time they are unexpectedly surrounded by six witches. Bud immediately teleports home, grabs a blue canister and teleports back to the forest. He pulls the pin to a smoke bomb, temporarily blinding the witches, while he and Maeve make a run for freedom. At this point, we meet Officer Hanks of the Salem police department. “Get your hands up! A deep, gravelly, male voice sounded from behind Bud.” Will Officer Hanks believe Bud? Will the witches return and attack the police station? The story is now off and running to the exciting conclusion.

I liked the fact that J.B Michaels wrote this novel utilizing only three main characters. Cormac McCarthy would be proud (the less main characters used, the better). My only real complaint (besides some rushed and short chapters) is the simplistic prose employed, since I feel the age group for this novel is betwixt twelve and eighteen...maybe the author targeted a lower age group. Anyway, I did enjoy this novel and recommend it to the older YA age groups.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Because of Bud’s invention talent, this novel reminded me of the only YA novels that I read as a youngster. What series is that? It’s Victor Appleton’s early 1900s series starring Tom Swift. I remember Tom’s adventures in novels, such as, Tom Swift and his Motor-Cycle, Tom Swift and his Airship, and Tom Swift and his motorboat. I wish I still had those original novels...they must be worth a small fortune. Many literary pundits say that Tom Swift was portrayed as a genius and modeled after inventors Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Glenn Curtiss, the aviation pioneer (see the Curtiss Jenny Biplane stamp of 1918).  

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Jesus and Magdalene


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

I’m not sure what Joao Cerqueira was satirizing...religion, environmentalists, other bleeding-heart liberals, or all of the above. Does he believe in these factions, or is his novel just a comedy, because it was fairly funny. The return of Jesus to earth was certainly uneventful. He seemed to be more like a mild mannered Clark Kent than Superman. Is Magdalene the nosy (always in trouble) Lois Lane? It seemed that way. Does she get her comeuppance? Can anybody except Al Gore care about all of these afflictions? The novel follows the exploits of Jesus and Magdalene through the genetically modified crops of corn in St. Martin (I’m assuming the country), the deforestation of land for the sake of a resort, and the racial bloodshed between blacks, whites, and gypsies. The author covers a lot of maladies. Does he do a good job? I’m thinking that he does, but I’m still not sure where his head is. Is that a mark of a good writer? Maybe, maybe not. I read his previous novel, The Tragedy of Fidel Castro (see my review of 1/19/2014) with a similar consternation. Is Mr. Cerqueira a Latino version of China Mieville, or an original? School is still out on that subject. But all things considered, It was a reasonably good novel, although different.  

“Jesus returned to Earth by walking down the middle of the road, without anyone noticing his reappearance.” Jesus noticed that, “The people were taller, fatter, hastier, and they no longer wore tunics or sandals…” Thus Jesus returns to modern life in St. Martin. Jesus meets Magdalene at a stall selling books and magazines pertaining to ecology. Magdalene has a twelve member environmental group called Green are the fields. She seems to be in charge of the group but is somewhat challenged by Judas. She sees Jesus as an activist and wants him to join her crew. She tells Jesus about Farmer Joe’s field of genetically modified corn and how her crew tried to destroy it but were chased off the farm. Judas wanted to burn it but was temporarily stopped by Magdalene. She tells Jesus why she is against genetically modified organisms, “Genetically modified organisms are a good example of the threat hanging over mankind. Instead of ending famine by improving traditional farming methods and eliminating protectionism of western farmers, they unleash mutations in pests and make them resistant to pesticides, triggering the collapse of world agriculture.” So the reader now gets a sense of what’s in her head. (I'm on page 23).

The rest of the novel deals with the further exploits of Magdalene’s crew and Jesus. They get involved in world worries such as deforestation, child labor, capitalistic greed, animal rights, and race riots. One wonders what makes Magdalene tick. A good hint is that her favorite novel is Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (see my review of 10/26/2015) and she tries to live her life out of what she learned from More's novel (written in 1516). Does her life end in a similar fashion as Sir Thomas More’s? As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I’m not sure what was in the author’s head when he wrote this novel. Is it a comedy? Is it a tragedy? Is the author for or against all these Al Gore type gaffes. I guess I’m too lazy to read up on Joao Cerqueira’s thoughts. Anyway, I did like this novel better than his previous one, so I do recommend reading his satirical effort.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Sometimes I wonder where a writer gets his ideas. Both of the novels that I have read of Joao Cerqueira’s are a tad strange. China Mieville created a new genre that he calls weird fiction. Is there a new genre for Cerqueira’s writings? Even Stephen King is now credited with the genre of supernatural fiction along with his standard horror genre. Can one of these authors write the next great American novel? I don’t think so, because the great American novel they would have to surpass is Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (see my review of 12/17/2012).

Saturday, December 10, 2016

the WITCH of lime street, seance, seduction, and HOUDINI in the spirit world


I wonder how long it took the author, David Jaher, to come up with that book title. Anyway, I do like historical fiction and this was a true event. Shortly after WWI, with the loss of tens of millions from the war and the Spanish (flu) plague, the age of Spiritualism commenced. Why people suddenly had the urge to speak to the dead seems strange to me, but a necromancer (or medium) could make some pretty good money fooling the public. Notwithstanding, some upper echelon people, such as, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (yes, he of the Sherlock Holmes novels), and Sir Oliver Lodge (a leading British physicist) became vocal supporters of Spiritualism in England. Both Doyle and Lodge lost sons and had a desire to speak to them after their deaths. Doyle asked, “What is the outcome of death?” and spoke of the New Revelation. Sir Lodge, President of The British Society for Psychical Research, claimed to speak to his deceased son, Raymond, through seances with a medium as did Sir Doyle with his deceased son via a former nanny turned medium. In January of 1920, Sir Oliver Lodge arrived in NYC to lecture his Ether of Space theory. The rage in the USA was the Ouija board game and even Thomas Edison was working on a way to communicate with the dead. At the same time Albert Einstein considered the possibility of contacting the dead before dropping the idea.

During Sir Oliver Lodge’s lecture in Boston, he said, “We all have etheric bodies, he explained, which psychics see as bands of variegated light. When a soldier was cut down, he abandoned his physical body-like a shriveled cocoon-for his perfect and permanent form.” After his lecture, he met Dr. Le Roi Crandon and his wife, Mina.The Globe reported, “Sir Oliver Lodge has put the whole question of spiritism and survival after death in a somewhat new light- a light that appeals to many intellectual people.” Dr. Crandon thought that Lodge’s theory was intriguing, but eccentric. Dr. Crandon’s wife, Mina, finds out that she has the talent to communicate with the dead (primarily with her dead brother, Walter) via her seances in the Beacon Hill area of Boston. “Mrs. Crandon’s forte was the motion of objects without apparent cause. Whether Walter (her brother) was in a violent mood or delivering one of his soothing poems, the Victrola (a old record player) piped his favorite songs.” In 1922, Sir Arthur Doyle arrived in NYC to preach his thoughts on spiritualism and spirit photography. Scientific American Magazine’s publisher, Orson Munn, and his editor, James Bird, became interested in all this talk about psychic research. Sir Arthur Doyle challenged the magazine “to conduct an investigation of psychic phenomena.” Munn’s magazine offered two $2,500 prizes for any medium that can prove physical phenomena or spirit photography. “It was ghost they were after.”

Meanwhile the reader is schooled on the life of Ehrich Weiss, the son of a Rabbi from Hungary. Ehrich will later change his name to Harry Houdini. After the Rabbi died, Harry attended seances in an attempt to contact his father. “The disappointing results, not to mention Houdini’s encounters with spooks on the flimflam circuit, were convincing him that there was no such thing as genuine mediumistic power.” Harry and his brother, Dash, then started work as magicians. Harry marries eighteen year old Bess Rahner (a German/Brooklyn girl), who becomes Harry’s show partner, but the show goes badly, and Harry hires on to Dr. Hill’s Traveling Medicine Show (the lowest rung in entertainment). The owner of the largest chain of vaudeville theaters, Martin Beck, sees talent in Harry and offers to take him on. Houdini becomes known as ‘The Handcuff King’ escaping virtually any kind of restraint. The rest is history. Houdini will spend a lot of time exposing mediums as frauds, so when he was offered a position as one of the five judges in Mr. Munn’s magazine contest...he jumps at the chance to expose more fakes. Many mediums take a crack at the prize money and fail to convince the five judges that they are really contacting the dead. By the way, all of this happens very early in the book (the book is 435 pages). The guts of the story is when the judges run into the convincing seances of the above mentioned Mina Crandon (now known as Margery). “Margery’s challenge was to prove that her brother lived after death.” Houdini needed to prove her a fraud. Let the battle begin!

Although sprinkled with some boring and repetitive seance chapters (from 1924-1926), the book was very informative. I had no idea this was going on after WWI, did you? The book culminates with the deaths of all the main characters, including the great Harry Houdini. Now don’t tell me that I should have a spoiler alert...I think that we all know that these people are no longer living. I believe the author did all he could do to make this book as accurate as possible. I do recommend this book, if anything else, at least to increase the knowledge in your noggin.  

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: I think that it's fascinating to reproduce the original ad for Munn’s $5,000 challenge:

                                                  ANNOUNCING

                                $5000 FOR PSYCHIC PHENOMENA

As a CONTRIBUTION toward psychic research, the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN pledges the sum of $5000 to be awarded for conclusive psychic manifestations.

On the basis of existing data we are unable to reach a definite conclusion as to the validity of psychic claims. In the effort to clear up this confusion, and to present our readers with first-hand and authenticated information regarding this most baffling of all studies, we are making this offer.

The SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN will pay $2500 to the first person who produces a psychic photograph under its test conditions and to the full satisfaction of the eminent men who will act as judges.

The SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN will pay $2500 to the first person who produces a visible psychic manifestation of other character, under these conditions and to the full satisfaction of these judges. Purely mental phenomena like telepathy, or purely auditory ones like rappings, will not be eligible for this award. The contest does not revolve about the psychological or religious aspects of the phenomena, but has to do only with genuineness and objective reality.

This is merely a preliminary announcement. The names of the judges, the conditions applying to the seances, the period for which this offer will remain open, etc., will appear in our January issue.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

SPARX incarnation: order of the undying (vol. 2)

The author sent an autographed copy of his novel to my thirteen year old grandson, Kai, to review:

Order of the undying brings a satisfying close to the Sparx incarnation series. It continues right where I left off (see my review of 10/22/2016). After wandering the caves, tensions between Nud and his friend, Kabor, were rising. Eventually, it leads to Kabor taking Nud’s Sparx stone. This was very unlucky because when Kabor tries to climb up a hole that may lead to the surface, the hole caves in burying Kabor and Nud’s stone. Although Nud finds his stone, he can’t find Kabor in the rubble.

Heavyhearted, Nud is forced to leave the pile for his own survival. However, his spirits are soon lifted when he discovers something that he would not have believed existed had he not seen it. What he discovered was a creature that resembled a white whale, but with horns that fan out. The white whale has immense knowledge and after studying Nud’s story helps him to figure out how to control the Sparx stone. As they part, the white whale gives him directions to Dromeron Odoon (a underground city). From this point on, Nud’s adventure will begin to shift away from escaping the cave to exposing Harrow’s evil secret.

Generally, it was a good series, but I would have liked more elaboration on what happens after Nud dies from old age. Throughout the novel the author, K.B. Sprague, does a good job except for a somewhat inconclusive ending. I would recommend this novel to YA readers 11-14 years old.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: It’s good to have my grandson, Kai, reviewing the YA book requests that I get (I turn down most of them), since I’m a tad tired of them. My main interest is in the classic and historical fiction genres.