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, January 27, 2017

the OARSMAN


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

Okay, get your thinking caps on, because Zubin Mathai decided to write his novel metaphorically and not literally. I’m sorry, but I’m not a big fan of that type of writing. I don’t like to read a chapter and then think about what I just read; such as, Okay, what did that river represent, or what does ‘making it to the shores’ mean? These are the things that were in my head as I read this novel. Just tell me, when you say ‘getting to the shores’...do you mean the heavens? Some reviewers think that this kind of prose is artsy...not me. I’m not disparaging the story, just the way it was told. If I had my druthers, I would've liked to have read this novel literally, that’s all. Okay, enough of that. The story was sound enough, but it has been told many times before (visiting one’s past to correct your faults in order to be granted heaven)). You’re probably saying to yourself, this reviewer really hated this novel, that’s not true. I somewhat liked the novel. Alright, what’s this story about?

A oarsman takes a man, who has given up on life, down a river in a rowboat until he is stopped by the Judge standing on his island. The Judge says, “I said it every hour you have been here, and I will say it again. You cannot pass!” The Oarsman pleads the Man’s case and while the Judge was moved, he says, “Go back along this river, and this oarsman of yours will know how to use it’s currents in their special way. Go back and review your life and find reasons for that unworthiness I see pooled in your eyes and face. Return here a changed man, and I will let you through.” Now do you see what I mean about metaphors? Who is the Judge? Who is the Oarsman? What does the river represent? As soon as they rowed away, the Judge and his island disappeared. The Oarsman tells the Man that he doesn’t have to row, the currents will take them where they will. “The river also twisted and turned through time, one of it’s special tricks…”

The Man is eighty. The rowboat takes him back to where he got on the boat one month ago. The man gets off the boat and sits down under a large tree that bears plump green and blue fruit. He tells the Oarsman, “I used to live up that hill, and here was my favorite spot to sit.” What does the green and blue fruit denote? It reappears chapter after chapter. More metaphors? As the Man starts whittling a branch, a large warrior dressed in red armor appears out of the trees. Apparently the warrior has been harassing the Man to lead his warriors into an East versus West battle. Do the warriors kill the Man’s wife in order to get the Man to join them? Read the novel. The Man gets back into the boat with the Oarsman and continues his quest. The Oarsman asks the Man, “Are you truly willing to go on this quest of yours?” “Yes,” said the Man…”All I know is that I am unworthy. My life is empty. I need to know what went wrong in it so that I can make it to the shores and feel their salvation.” That’s a review of the first 19 pages.

The quest continues with the Man getting younger and younger as he tries to find the worthiness in his life. The figures of speech are sustained throughout the rest of the novel. Even Dan Brown’s professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, deals with less symbols in Inferno (see my review of 8/29/2013). Anyway, the novel was kinda interesting. I certainly found no fault in the writer’s composition, just his storytelling. I do recommend this novel with the caveat...read slowly.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: Children can learn figures of speech through many young YA books; such as, Loreen Leedy’s 2004 book, There’s a Frog in my Throat (a great book for teaching idioms), or Hanoch Piven’s 2010 book, My Best Friend is as Sharp as a Pencil (teaches school-related similes), or Marvin Terban’s 1993 book, It Figures (introduces simile, metaphor and hyperbole with definitions).

So come on kids, read these books and get a head start on adult novels!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

I Remember? a short story

Recently I was remembering my two year Marine Corp tour of duty in Hawaii from November 1964 to November 1966. Not the whole tour, just the time that I spent on The Marine Corps Rifle and Pistol Team (Pac/West). I put the question mark (?) in the title of this short story because after fifty plus years, my memory gets a little foggy, especially in the chronological order department. I do remember that when I first got transferred from Camp Pendleton, Ca to Hawaii - it was because my Company Commander said that, “I was running around with some bad Marines.” They weren’t bad, they just liked to booze it up and stay out late. Okay, there were a few fights but that was a normal happening in the Corps. Anyway, my Company Commander, a Major (I’m positive that was his rank), asked me, “Where do you want to go, Vietnam or Hawaii?” Being a single nineteen year old wiseguy (punk?), I said, “I don’t care.” He sent me home for my thirty day leave. While home in New Jersey, I received orders for a two year tour in Hawaii. If I would have gone to Vietnam, I’m sure that I would have been killed...and I wouldn’t have met my wife in Hawaii. So off I went to Hawaii to guard secret weapons in “hobbit-like” bunkers on a base that was hard to find. By the way, a couple of weeks after I arrived in Hawaii, my entire old regiment in Camp Pendleton got sent to Vietnam. Whew!

In the Marine Corps, during those years, you had to qualify with a rifle (in my time it was a M14 rifle) every year. As it so happens, when I qualified in Hawaii, I shot either a perfect score or close to it (I’m a tad vague on that). That impressed the “Green Mother” (the term we used to describe the Marine Corps since we wore green utilities, not camouflage). Anyway, that got me transferred to the rifle and pistol team in Ewa Beach (a thirteen man team). Talk about good duty! I would practice in the morning, sometimes firing rounds in the sky just to get rid of the ammo. Then I would drive (yea, I bought a 1951 Dodge wagon for $125.) to Honolulu where I moved in with two high school classmates who were going to the University of Hawaii. Mike never left Hawaii...he’s still there. A funny story is that one day when we were partying in our apartment at the U of H, we ran out of booze. So one of the guys said he would drive downtown and get some more beer. I flipped him the keys to my three-speed on the column wagon and continued to party. Well, he came back real soon and said that he didn’t know how to drive a stick. Apparently, he started the car and leapfrogged across the street and smashed in the side of a parked car. We all went down stairs and couldn’t believe what we saw. So we went upstairs and wrote a note to the owner of the smashed car concerning the accident. We took the note downstairs to put on the windshield of the car in question and guess what? The car was gone!

So anyhow, I didn’t take shooting seriously...I was a partying Marine. Every Marine had ‘crossed rifle’ insignias on their lapels; I imagined mine to be ‘crossed martini glasses’. I even took a job in Waikiki Beach parking cars for a nightclub called the Romney Room. If a customer didn’t tip me properly when I brought their car to the door...I would close the door on their ankle. Ouch! However, I did meet some great people who lived all year round in Hawaii that frequented the nightclub. Who? Richard Boone, who starred in the TV series Have Gun-Will Travel, Curtis Aiakea (I’m not sure I’m spelling his name correctly), the Hawaiian heavyweight wrestling champion, and his tag-team partner Tosh Togo (Harold Sakata). You would remember Tosh Togo as the villain Oddjob in James Bond’s Goldfinger movie (he killed people by throwing his hat). They would get tipsy and judo chop a table or so in half. Great fun! I wouldn’t have but two or three hours sleep and head back to the barracks for more shooting ammo into the sky. Occasionally, I would pick up a hitchhiker in order to try to stay awake. One time when I arrived at the base, the hitchhiker was ashen. I asked what was wrong. He said, “You must have run off the the road a hundred times.” Oh well, that happened every day. In spite of my drinking, when a shooting match came about, I became serious and came in second or third many times against the world’s best.

Then one day the CIA (they didn’t say who they were to me) showed up at the barracks. Apparently the New Orleans District Attorney, Jim Garrison, reopened the JFK assassination case in respect to Lee Harvey Oswald’s involvement. If I remember correctly, they showed me and the twelve other team members (individually) a Italian .38 carbine rifle with scope (not the actual one used by Oswald). Supposedly he fired three shots (one must have missed) killing JFK and wounding Texas Governor John Connally. I told the CIA (?) that it would have been a miracle for Oswald to do what he did with that piece of crap rifle. That was the end of that. Not long after (my memory is a bit cloudy), the barracks for the Marine Corps Rifle and Pistol team burnt down to the ground. The team was split up and we went back to our original posts. That was big trouble for me since I was used to partying and not guarding bombs in hobbit holes. I wasn’t your typical Marine...yes I had the ‘Semper Fi’ thing, but I was a free-thinker. The Corps didn’t like that. Once I got to Lance Corporal, I refused any further promotions. Why? Because I wasn’t going to stay in and I thought the promotion should go to someone who was going to re-enlist. The honorable thing to do, right? Well, the Green Mother didn’t think so. As a matter of fact, when it was my turn to get a re-enlistment talk when I had six months left in the Corps, the Sergeant in the office said, “Ohlarik, read a magazine for ten minutes and then get the f**k out of the office." Okay, no problemo! Haha!

Being back on guard duty spelled big problems for me since I lived in Waikiki and was used to the ‘good life’. By the way, (I told you I’m a little hazy) I forgot to mention to you that when I was still on the Marine Corps Rifle and Pistol Team, I was winning the Hawaiian long range (prone) championship with one round to go. It was either 1965 or 1966. Anyway my buddy Sergeant Brissey kicked me in the foot as I fired the last round. It went into the four ring instead of the bullseye, and I came in second. No big deal, Sgt. Brissey was a great guy. But once again I ran into some bad Marines. This time it got me and two others arrested in Waikiki. What happened? A screwball named Private Brassman, another guy (I don’t remember his name), and I went to Waikiki to have a good time. Luckily, I didn’t have my .45 pistol in my back waistband. Why did I go to town many times that way? People would look at me and think I was a cop? A gangster? I don’t know, but it was stupid. However we went to town that night without weapons (thank God). We got drunk and decided to go to the hotel’s rooftop and empty all the fire extinguisher’s on the parked cars and floor. We went downstairs and broke into the closed kitchen and made ourself dinner. It was the famous Princess Kaiulani Hotel. What were we thinking? We went to the bar area and danced with the guests and local girls, but Brassman disappeared. Where did he go?

My unnamed buddy and I went to my car to leave, but it wouldn’t start. Suddenly a large Hawaiian cop appeared at my driver’s window holding my car’s distributor cap. He said, “get out of the car!” Several more officers surrounded us. The big guy said, “What’s under that tarp in your back deck?” I said, “What are you talking about?” He lifted the tarp and there were many women’s purses and two gold hotel ashtray urns laying on my back deck. What?? Suddenly, the idiot Brassman barges through the officer ranks holding more purses. So that’s where the stolen goods came from! No wonder he was missing when my buddy and I were dancing. Obviously, we were arrested and the Marine base was contacted. As a sidebar, during our night of havoc, we saw a Marine and Sailor out together all night. Every time we saw them, they were drunker and drunker, arm in arm, prancing down Kalakaua Avenue. Then I saw them with the Sailor wearing the Marine’s hat and the Marine wearing the Sailor’s hat (I would say cover, but you probably would not know what I meant). The reason I’m bringing this up is because when we were put in a Honolulu jail cell, I saw the Sailor and Marine in different cells...all beaten up. What happened? I don’t know. The Marines came to pick us up in the morning. The hotel dropped the charges, but not the Marines. Fortunately, Brassman confessed to the whole crime. The last time I saw Brassman, he was in a cell wearing a straightjacket.

Okay, I was off the hook...not! The Gunnery Sergeant at the base hated my guts, and he brought me up on trumped up charges (not really, I was real bad that night). So now I have ‘Office Hours’ in front of the Captain. When my date in court came, the Gunnery Sergeant was all smiles as he read the charges against me. The Captain listened and took the papers from the Sergeant. Then the Captain said to me, “Before I go further, would you shoot for our local team and go to California for the state Championships?” I said, “Of course, Sir.” The Captain threw the papers in the waste basket and said, “Charges dismissed.” The Gunnery Sergeant was so mad he turned white. Wow, I’m off to California to reunite with one of my bad Marine buddies, who by now is out of the Corps. That’s going to be a problem...and it was. By the way, getting back to the Princess Kaiulani Hotel for a moment, Kui Lee was performing at the hotel the night of our arrest. If you never heard of this man...He wrote and sang I’ll Remember You, which was a big hit for many singers including Andy Williams, Elvis Presley and Don Ho (Kui Lee’s competitor at Duke’s in The International Market Place down the street from the Princess Kaiulani). Kui died of cancer at the early age of 34. His ashes were scattered over Waikiki.

Anyways, I was off to California with my new team. The Championship was being held at my old base, Camp Pendleton. By the way, the longest road on the base is named after John Basilone (a Raritan, N.J. native), who was a Marine Medal of Honor recipient from WWII. So my team got to the barracks late the first day. The next day was a off day, and everybody was outside stretching and getting ready for the big match the next day. Except me. I called my old buddy Jerry and his wife, Helen. I grabbed a bus and headed to Los Angeles. Jerry now worked for a race track (I can’t remember which one) because his brother, Bobby, was a big time jockey. Helen picked me up at the bus station, and we meet Jerry at the race track. Jerry was among many men holding down two horses that were about to mate (wow, that was something to see!). We finally got to Jerry and Helen’s house around 5PM. Jerry was dead tired and fell asleep. Okay, so Helen and I hit the town and many bars. Somehow we wound up at an amusement park on a pier. I can’t remember for sure, but I think it was the Santa Monica Pier. Needless to say, by the time Helen got me to a bus, it was very late (or early, depending on how you looked at it). I arrived back on the base in the wee hours of the morning...drunk as a skunk. Skunks do get drunk when they eat fallen fermenting fruit (I thought I would throw that in).

So that morning the team heads to the Championship’s site and our first event is the 200 yard offhand with a M14 high power rifle. This was my specialty event when I’m not blurry eyed, hungover, and shaky. The Captain wants me to shoot first...ouch, I wasn’t sober yet. So I went to the line and aimed in on the target. The barrel of my rifle was waving all over the target and my breathing was out of sync...but I fired my first shot anyway. The pit pulled down my target and it stayed down for awhile (they were trying to find where my shot went). I knew where it went...I missed. Can you imagine a world-class high power shooter missing the target? I was a lifetime Master in the NRA. So finally the target came back up and they waived a maggie’s drawers on me. This is a red flag on a long pole that the pit crew waives when you miss the target. Score = zero. I told the red faced Captain to challenge. If the challenge was denied and they still say I missed the target, it would cost the Captain ten dollars. Well, it cost him ten dollars because they reviewed the target and said, “Yes, you missed.” He was furious at me. I told him they were wrong. I fired my second shot. I knew I missed again (I could see my shooting career coming to a swift end). Again the pit crew waived the maggie’s drawers, again the Captain challenged and again it cost him ten dollars. I fired my third shot and I missed for the third and final time before the Captain jerked me out of the lineup. As quick as a flash, I was on a military plane heading back to Hawaii.

So what do you think? Was this a true story, or did I make the whole thing up?
Rick O    1/24/2017
        

Sunday, January 22, 2017

the little VOICE


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

I’m not really sure why Joss Sheldon wrote this rather depressing novel. Was he trying to outdo J.D.Salinger in cheerless writing? There are similarities between Sheldon’s novel and Salinger’s 1951 novel, The Catcher in the Rye (see my review of 12/23/2012), although I don’t want Mr. Sheldon going narcissistic on me because Mr. Salinger’s novel is considered an American classic (I’m not sure why). Salinger’s seventeen year old Holden Caulfield seems to feel less depressed when he hears the lines, If a body catch a body coming through the rye, sung by a child (from a Robert Burns 1796 poem). Mr. Sheldon’s Yew Shodkin seems to feel better when he quotes the sixth century BC Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. Neither character ever seems to reach a state of enlightenment. In my review of Mr. Salinger’s novel, I said that while in school, Holden Caulfield seemed to be drowning in boredom. In Mr. Sheldon’s novel, Yew Shodkin never gets a handle on school. At first, Yew lets a devil-like demon in his brain make him become rebellious in class, but after seeing that punishment is no fun, he becomes a rule-follower... but he is never happy with either strategy. Holden Caulfield likes to drink, smoke and make an ass of himself. When Yew grows up, he likes to take drugs (the modern variant) and make an ass of himself. In any case, neither character reach a position of nirvana.

Yew Shodkin is six years old when the novel opens and is in his mid-twenties when the book ends (the author never confirms). In Yew’s early years, a devil-like demon in his brain called the egot is causing him to be rebellious in school. Although he is feeling energetic and frisky, repeat punishment from the school’s headmaster, Mr. Grunt, and daily meetings with the school’s psychologist, Dr. Saeed become mind-numbing for Yew. “The egot had got me into deep trouble.” Besides school punishment, parental sanctions were even worse. Yew makes an epic decision...he will ignore the egot and start following the rules. Hallelujah! Yew becomes a rule-follower and is back in the good graces of his teachers and parents, although he losses his popularity with his classmates. Every time Yew accepts punishment, the egot becomes frailer, his teeth start falling out, his skin turns white, and he shrinks to half his size. “The egot died. And then it decomposed...I was finally free.” That’s the last the reader sees of the egot. Yew thinks, “Our society encourages us to obey authority. It’s a matter of Operational Conditioning; we’re rewarded when we follow authority’s rules and punished when we break those rules. Slowly but surely, we’re gently coerced into a state of total obedience.”

As Yew grows older, the rest of the novel challenges the previous statement. What will Yew do? Will he snap back to his natural form, rebel against the capitalistic state, join protest groups, turn to drugs, find happiness, or will he consider suicide? That’s a lot of questions! So, if you feel like pulling your hair out...get your own copy of this somber novel and find the answers to my questions. Although this novel was depressing, it can’t supersede the all-time depressing novel, Jay Asher’s 2007 novel, Thirteen Reasons Why (#1 on Goodreads depressing novel list). Okay, I do recommend Joss Sheldon’s novel, because it did make me ponder the societal decisions that are made in one's lifetime and whether they were good choices or bad choices.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: Okay, what are the most depressing novels ever written? Well, Goodreads has a list of 131 novels that are the most depressing. I was surprised to see that I only read three of them. All three were read many years ago when I was probably still a teenager. What are these three books? I’ll list them in the order they came on Goodreads list:

#39- Fahrenheit 451 (1953) written by Ray Bradbury. A dystopian nightmare. The book title reveals the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns.

#53- 1984 (1949) written by George Orwell. Was this the first modern classic of “negative Utopia?”

#114- A Tale of Two Cities (1859) by Charles Dickens. “Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!”

Well, I only read three, but they are all classics!   

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

CANDIDE


This 1759 novel by Voltaire is either a satire (on what? life? war?) or a comedy, I’m not really sure. The one thing I know is that the main characters (Candide, Cunegonde, the old woman, Pangloss and a few others) face one catastrophe after another and bounce right back. They are forever thinking that whatever happened must be for the best. Can anyone face as many tragedies as Candide and his friends face and be that optimistic? Wait, I’m having an “aha” moment...that must be the parody. Can you (Candide) get evicted out of a snug castle for kissing someone you love (Cunegonde), get captured by army recruiters from Bulgaria, try to escape and get sentenced to 36 floggings by 2,000 men or have your brains blown out by 12 musket balls...and still think that what happened was for the best? Wait, another “aha” moment...it’s a comedy. It must be because whatever happens to Candide doesn’t seem to affect his enthusiasm for life. What was 1759 prose like? Well, Voltaire's prose was very stark, leaving nothing to the imagination. After the King of the Bulgars stopped the flogging at 4,000 strokes, “A skillful surgeon cured the flagellated Candide in three weeks...his sores were now skinned over, and he was able to march, when the King of the Bulgarians gave battle to the King of the Abares.”
That prose wasn’t very stark, was it? Well how about when Candide decides to leave the battle. “Candide decided to go and reason somewhere else upon causes and effects. After passing over heaps of dead or dying men, the first place he came to was a neighbouring village in the Abarian territories which had been burnt to the ground by the Bulgarians...here lay a number of old men covered with wounds, who beheld their wives dying with their throats cut...the ground about them was covered with brains, arms and legs of dead men.” I didn’t even tell you what happened to the town’s virgins for fear of having my review rejected by Amazon! Anyway, this kind of descriptive (?) writing continues throughout the entire novel. Anyhow, Candide escapes to Holland, where he runs into his old tutor, Pangloss (from the castle), who is now suffering from syphilis. Pangloss tells Candide that the Baron and Baroness were all killed along with Candide’s love, Cunegonde, when the Bulgarians attacked Candide’s former castle. “And as for the castle they have not left one stone upon another. They have destroyed all the ducks and the sheep, the barns and the trees; we have had our revenge, for the Abares have done the very same thing in a neighbouring barony, which belonged to a Bulgarian lord.” This novel is so cruel, yet funny.

A anabaptist, named James, cures Pangloss (of course) and they (Candide, Pangloss and the anabaptist) sail for Lisbon, Portugal. Can another calamity happen? Yes, that’s what this novel is about. A tempest hits the ship, the anabaptist drowns, Candide, Pangloss and a nasty sailor make it to shore. As soon as their feet hit the ground, a massive earthquake happens! Woe is me. It destroys three/fourths of the Lisbon. Pangloss is hanged! That’s it, I can’t reveal anymore...there are numerous misfortunes ahead for our survivors (who are they?), and you haven’t met the ‘old woman’ yet. Is Cunegonde really dead? Is anybody really dead? Yes, many characters have been quartered or gutted or hanged...or were they? Voltaire was a known satirical polemicist, thus all the hostility in this novel. The Candide version that I read was from the Barnes & Noble classic series and was illustrated with many of the drawings by French artist Jean-Michel Moreau Le Jeune, who had his drawings inserted in later versions of Voltaire’s classic. The drawings were protested by the author to no avail. There are other artist who have illustrated this novel over the years, so I’m not positive these drawings were from Le Jeune. All in all, this was an enjoyable novel, although a little far-fetched. Get a copy of this classic and get ready to cry or laugh...your choice.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Most of the characters in this novel employ the idea that whatever happens is for the best. Although one of the characters, Signor Pococurante, who is a super rich Venetian, can’t find pleasure in anything. Pretty girls become boring; Raphael’s art does not delight him; the opera has contrived scenes; Homer always has Gods interfering with his works; Virgil is disagreeable; Milton (Paradise Lost) writes tedious commentary, and his eighty volumes of the  memoirs of the Academy of Science are filled with empty systems. This book was very funny to me, but I'm not sure the author meant it to be.  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Silmarillion


This is a guest review from Deron O:

The Silmarillion is J.R.R Tolkien’s mythopoeic masterwork in five parts that begins with the creation of the universe and concludes with downfall of Sauron. The tales told are epic, spanning thousands of years. One typically comes to this book by way of their love for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. For those with a fanatical love, I highly recommend The Silmarillion as it provides a framework for understanding the events that take place in those other works and thereby enriches one’s experience upon rereading them.

It goes without saying that it is not as accessible to readers as Tolkien’s earlier published books. I’ve unsuccessfully tried reading The Silmarillion at least twice, and rather than review a book that has been reviewed extensively by others, I’d rather explain how I finally read The Silmarillion successfully, hoping my experience will help you.

The sheer number of names and genealogical exposition frequently introduced on each page is daunting. Because they are based on Tolkien’s invented languages, the names are unfamiliar and their pronunciation guesswork, making them hard to remember. Specific people and places often have multiple names in the same or different languages that may change over time. Additionally, many characters have similar names, especially if they are familial. All this makes following Tolkien’s tale difficult. (These are similar challenges I’ve encountered when reading Russian literature, like Dostoyevsky.)

Immediately look up names that you’ve forgotten rather than vainly hoping the context will eventually become clear. You can quickly lose track of who is who in the story. While there is a name index in the back of the book, I found the sentence or two devoted to a name was insufficient and many times required cross-referencing to other names. Though this may seem obvious, use the internet rather than the book index as the descriptions are more in depth and you can quickly follow links to additional information.

The prose of The Silmarillion is difficult and somewhat archaic. For example, The Hobbit begins simply, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”, while The Silmarillion begins, “There was Eru, The One, who in Arda is called Ill├║vatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made.” Have your eyes glazed over already?

Take time with this book. Savor it. Tolkien delivers a lot of information in each sentence. Reread those you don’t understand. If you don’t, as with forgotten names, you’ll lose track of the story and become discouraged from reading further. Despite your best efforts, the amount of information may still overwhelm you. For that, an indispensable internet resource that I recommend is Professor Corey Olsen’s Silmarillion Seminar. Each lecture discusses a chapter, cementing the plot and themes in your head. You’ll also learn how to pronounce the names (they often sound beautiful) and how Tolkien developed his mythology. These lectures singularly convinced me that I could read and even enjoy a book that I once took as unapproachable.

I sometimes jokingly think that one doesn’t read The Silmarillion, one studies it. Reading it, really reading it, takes an effort, but an effort well rewarded in itself and because it will enhance your love many times over for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment:

My father's copy of The Hobbit was the first book I ever read. I can't remember what caused me to read the book. Did my father recommend it to me or was I spurred on to read it after seeing the Rankin/Bass animated classic of The Hobbit? I have the worst memory. I'm fairly sure that I've made up most of my life in my mind.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

THE SPY

Paulo Coelho has written a fine epistolary (a novel based on written or typed letters) historical novel about the execution of accused WWI spy Mata Hari. The novel is propelled by Mata Hari writing a letter to her lawyer, Mr. Clunet, explaining her life and how it came down to this death sentence. At the novel’s end, Mr. Clunet writes a letter back to her on the eve of her execution (she never gets this letter). I thought Mr. Coelho’s slant was probably correct...that she wasn’t a spy, but a victim of knowing too many political higher-ups in France and Germany. The novel, based on a true story, is written in my favorite genre...narrative nonfiction (so coined by one of my most-liked authors, Erik Larson). Did Paulo Coelho write a worthy novel? Yes, but not as good as his famed novel, The Alchemist (see my review of 2/9/2015). Mata Hari’s own braggadocious personality got her in front of a French firing squad more than anything else. As a exotic dancer in the early 1900s (usually stripping nude by the dance’s end), she met many important people who wanted to be her lover. She thought these VIPs would come to her defense...wrong. When somebody is in big trouble, the best defense for a guilty party is denial. The fact that many French soldiers were being killed daily by the Germans didn’t make the court feel very sympathetic.

Mata Hari, nee Margaretha Zelle, was born in Holland on 8/7/1876. She was sent to school to become a teacher after her mother became ill and her father went bankrupt. She was raped by the school’s principal when she was sixteen. “He called me into his office, locked the door, then placed his hand between my legs and began to masturbate...he pushed aside some papers on his desk, laid me on my stomach, and penetrated me all in one go, as if he were scared that someone might enter the room and see us.” Sometime later, she saw an ad from a Captain Rudolf MacLeod stationed in Indonesia. He was seeking a bride. This was her chance to get out of Holland. She married MacLeod and later regretted it. He accused her of being a whore since she wasn’t a virgin (because of the rape she never told anyone about). She had one daughter and one son, who was later murdered by his nanny. “Then one day, everything changed.” Captain MacLeod and Margaretha were invited to a local dance performance to honor an island ruler. Looking sensual, Margaretha was the hit of the party. Her husband was jealous and very drunk. A Dutch officer, Andreas, falls for Margaretha. His wife is so distraught that she commits suicide by putting a bullet in her heart. The next day the MacLeods took the first ship to Rotterdam, Holland. Did observing the exotic Javanese dancers give her an idea for a future profession?

"One day, I took a train to The Hague and went to the French consulate without anyone knowing...he attempted to seduce me...I got my one-way ticket to Paris...he asked what I could do.” She replied, “I’m a classical dancer to oriental music.” Once in Paris, she changes her name to Mata Hari and meets a Monsieur Guimet, who gives her a chance to perform in his private museum. She does her seductive dance of seven veils and receives a standing ovation. Okay, I just whet your appetite with a review of the first fifty-nine pages. The rest of the novel deals with her dancing career and how it got her into the supposed spy business. Was she a spy? I did a little research on Mata Hari (besides this novel) and couldn’t come up with any revelation that she was a spy for any country, no less France, Germany or Russia. You will have to read the rest of Paulo Coelho’s historical novel to find out why the French put her in front of a firing-squad. This is the type of novel that not only entertains the reader, but also improves his/her expertise of history. Although not the author’s best, I highly recommend reading this piece of history.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: I acquired this novel during Barnes & Noble’s Christmas sale of novels “signed” by the author...a very nice bonus.

In the author’s epilogue, I would like to impart to you the last two paragraphs of his novel:

Mata Hari’s body was buried in a shallow grave, which has never been located. According to habits of that time, her head was cut off and handed over to government representatives. For years it was kept in the Anatomy Museum on Rue des Saints-Peres in Paris, until, on an unknown date, it disappeared from the institution. Museum officials only noticed it was missing in the year 2000, although it is believed that Mata Hari’s head was stolen well before then.

In 1947, prosecutor Andre Mornet, by then publicly indicted as one of the lawyers who founded proceedings to revoke the “hasty naturalizations” of Jews in 1940, and largely responsible for the death sentence of the woman he claimed was “the modern-day Salome, whose sole objective is to deliver the heads of our soldiers to the Germans,” confided to journalist and writer Paul Guimard that the entire proceedings were based on deductions, extrapolations, and assumptions, concluding with: “Between us, the evidence we had was so poor that it wouldn’t have been fit to punish a cat.”

According to the New Testament, Salome (mentioned the the above paragraph) was the daughter of Herod II and Herodias. She is infamous for demanding and receiving the head of John the Baptist.

The brave Mata Hari faces the French firing-squad wearing her heavy silk kimono in which she slept in, black stockings, high-heeled shoes, a floor-length fur coat and a felt hat tied under her chin with a silk ribbon.


 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

MOTHER NILE, a novel


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

Warren Adler, the author of The War of the Roses (later a hit movie starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner), is the best descriptive writer that I’ve read in a long time. I could feel the heat of Cairo. I could smell the stench of Cairo’s slums. I could visualize the populated cemetery known as The City of the Dead. “He moved through disparate groups of people. Goats, sheep, and dogs crouched near the walls, husbanding thin slivers of shade. Occasionally, he would glance inside a mausoleum where humans and animals crouched in the darkness. Once, a woman appeared with a battered pot of murky liquid, throwing its contents on the dusty road.” How about the author’s description of one of the novel’s shady characters: “Salah was a tall, fierce-looking man with a face of crinkled tar paper from which crafty eyes darted covetously under the ragged rim of his red-checked kaffiyeh.” What was it like on a train? “In the air swirled odors of sweat, feces, urine, ripe fruit, and, unmistakably, hashish. Cooped chickens cackled and fluttered their wings.” Can this man write or what? What about the traffic in Cairo? “What greeted him was an unprecedented assault on his senses. Engulfed in a soup-like smog overheated by the mid-July sun was a hodgepodge of vehicular traffic moving like a river of molasses...scrawny donkeys pulling flatbed carts competed for space with ramshackle buses choked with people, trucks belching dark exhaust...young dark boys in filthy pajamas pushing huge nondescript burdens, cigarettes dangling from their lips.” At any moment, I was expecting Sydney Greenstreet (from the 1942 movie, Casablanca) to appear wearing a fez.

Okay, so you gather that I loved the author’s descriptive prose. What about the story? The story was two-fold, one part telling the story of Farrah Kelly when she lived in Egypt as a belly dancer, and the other part tells the story of Si Kelly (Farrah’s American son) as tries to find his half sister in Egypt. The reader will meet two main villains (there are others); one is King Farouk Of Egypt and the other is Zakki, the King’s pimp, chauffeur, lackey, and somewhat partner in the King’s illegal activities. Since this novel is historical fiction, some of the characters are real but most are not. The story is of Osiris (Si) Sean Kelly, a American born son of an Irish dad and an Egyptian mother. Farrah Kelly (43) is dying of cancer. Si is summoned from Cornell to sit with his mom. Before she dies, Farrah tells Si that he has a half sister in Egypt.”You have a sister, Osiris.” “A sister?” Then it came to him. “Isis?” She nodded…”I left her in Cairo, the City of the Dead. In the tomb of the family Al-Hakim. Come to my sanctuary.” “I don’t understand,” he cried…”There was no other choice. He would have killed my Isis, my baby. So I left her with the woman in the tomb of Al-Hakim family in the City of the Dead. ‘Come to my sanctuary’. Above the entrance. It is written.” As Farrah dies, she yells, “Zakki.” Si’s dad gives him the gold coin on a chain that his mother wore all her life. Si sells the coin for three thousand dollars and buys a round trip ticket to Egypt. Si doesn’t know it yet, but his half sister, Isis, is a princess since her father is King Farouk, now in exile in Rome, Italy. She is being stalked by the vengeful Zakki. The story is now off and running as Si heads to Egypt to learn his mother’s past and find his half sister.

The story now switches to Teenage Farrah’s life in Egypt before she comes to America. And the good news is that we are only on page forty seven of a three hundred and seventy two page novel. This was one of those novels that you wished was a thousand pages long. We find Farrah belly dancing in a Cairo nightclub. In the audience is a very fat King Farouk, alone at his table, eating tray after tray of pastries. After her dance, the King orders his lackey, Zakki, to bring her back to his table. Zakki goes to her dressing room and tries to have sex with Farrah unsuccessfully. It’s obvious to Farrah that Zakki hates the King. She goes to the King’s table and is taken on a whirlwind date from a yacht on the Nile to a casino and finally into the King’s bedroom. This goes on for a long period of time. Zakki, still trying to get into Farrah’s pants, tells her, “He (the King) is content instead with his own greed, his collections, his pleasures, pastries and pussy.” He is not afraid of the plots against him from the army. Farrah becomes pregnant. What happens after that is up to you to read. After this section is over, Si arrives in Cairo to start the search for Isis. What does Si think of Cairo? While laying “in a pool of sweat on a bumpy bed” in his hotel room, “From the streets rose the perpetual din. Auto horns tooted like irrepressible bratty children vying for attention. Noxious fumes seeped into the room, adding a choking pall to the overheated air. Too many people, he thought, glimpsing an image of a slithering mass of humanity locked in a snake pit. Why had his mother left Isis in this cesspool? Twenty-seven years was a nodule on a pimple of the ass of time in this weird shithouse of a country.” Historical note: Cairo was built for one million people, but housed eight million.

The writing by Warren Adler was so good that I let his quoted lines tell most of my review. Did I stumble upon a new way to review a book? Let the author review the book in his own words. Another thing that doesn’t happen very often with me... is no criticism of the author or novel! What occurs after Farrah becomes pregnant in Egypt and what transpires during Si’s quest for his sister is exhilarating and gripping to the nth degree. Did I like this novel? Does the pope wear a funny hat? Kudos to everyone responsible for this novel.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I was honored to have a review request from an author of his ilk. In his ‘about the author’ page, “Adler has also optioned and sold film rights for a number of his works, including Random Hearts (starring Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas) and The Sunset Gang (produced by Linda Lavin for PBS’s American Playhouse series starring Jerry Stiller, Uta Hagen, Harold Gould and Doris Roberts).

I was contacted by the author and his editor after they read my review of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile (see my review of 4/7/2012). They said, “We had the opportunity to read more about you and learned that you enjoy reading historical fiction. The reviews on your blog are so detailed and articulate! :)” Wow, what can I say?