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.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Footsteps of Cain


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

Derek Kohlhagen has written a gem of a horror fiction novel. The Horror Writer’s Association says that “Horror fiction is fiction that elicits intense fear, dread or dismay in the reader”. Well, this novel does that and more. Why is this indie novel not a bestseller? Why hasn’t a major publisher picked up the option on this novel? It’s the best indie novel that I’ve ever read in my seven years of reviewing books on my site. Did the novel have a fault? Yes it did, I almost hesitate to mention it since it’s so minor compared to the almost squeaky clean story, but as it is my nature, I’ll nickel-and-dime it anyway. At times, the lack of vernacular language rubbed me the wrong way. True, we don’t know what year this story takes place, but one has to assume that when we go back 20,000 years to learn the story of Ejelano and the Spirit, the dialect would be in a more primitive form. Certainly the Spirit wouldn’t say things like, “THIS IS MY SUPERBOWL”, or "YADDA YADDA YADDA", or “THE GUYS IN THE OFFICE HAD A POOL ON YOU” (to fail or not to fail). Anyway, despite that minor flaw (maybe it’s me), I savored the novel. The chapters flipping back and forth between the main characters (Samuel and Ejelano, the immortal) created a desire to read quickly to find out what happened next (the 388 pages rushed by). And the author’s ability to tease the chapter endings was clever. Okay already, what’s this novel about? I was hoping you would ask that question.

A man in a wasteland gets walking dreams about a woman named Lena. When he wakes, he can’t remember...it’s been so long. Then the Spirit jars him to attention. “AHH. ALRIGHTY, THEN. LET’S GET THE LEAD OUT, MY BOY. WE’RE BEHIND SCHEDULE. COME ON, OFF YOU GO. ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR! HIPPITY HOP, VERMIN, HIPPITY HOP!" (the Spirit always talks in capital letters). The man thinks, “I’m not doing this for you. I never have." (speaking to the Spirit in his mind, he hasn’t used his vocal chords for thousands of years). “WHATEVER YOU WANT TO TELL YOURSELF. NOW, LET’S GO KILL SOME MORE PEOPLE! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? YOU’RE ALMOST DONE!” Wow, is that a feisty opening or what? The man is immortal. “The immortal had forgotten his name, eons ago. He never used it, never spoke it aloud anymore, and over the expanse of time it had slipped from his memory like so many other things. He remembered precious little about where he’d come from.” The immortal had destroyed most of mankind during the last 20,000 years or so. He was heading for the last place (where humans still live).The reason he is walking the earth and killing mankind is because of a woman. “Her name was Lena. Her name was Lena, and she’d been dead a very long time.” “HEEEY! YOU’RE NOT AS FAR GONE AS I THOUGHT! LEEEENA! AND YUP, SHE’S DEAD. OF ALL THE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD (WHAT’S LEFT OF THEM, AT LEAST) YOU WOULD KNOW THAT THE BEST, WOULDN’T YOU?”

Meanwhile, the scene shifts to the last place, the Spire. It’s a 600 year old mining facility that could house a thousand people under its dome. Samuel is the maintenance chief and part of the council that runs the complex. It’s surrounded by a massive outer wall sixty feet tall and thirty feet thick. The problem is that they know very little about the computers and servers that run the compound. Many of the generators remained dormant because Samuel and his crew didn’t know how to get the files out of the servers. They only had partial lighting for the same reason. They didn’t know how to close the massive gate or how to fire the cannons situated on the eight guard towers atop the wall. This system was installed hundreds of years before the last humans stumbled upon the huge facility. The goal of the computer room researchers (led by Samuel Creado, Kelly Prince, and their crew) was simple...find out how everything works! Kelly Prince had permission from Sam to delve into the data drives and recover the lost knowledge and maybe get the sleeping generators to improve the automated production of the farms and water purification plants. Another worry was the unexplained disappearance of people. What could be causing that? “As more investigation went into the unsettling disappearances, a pattern began to emerge. It had been learned that, prior to going missing, the victims had been complaining of flu-like symptoms: pounding headaches, coughing, raging fevers...nosebleeds. Then, one day, they would be erased from the face of the world, leaving the ones who remained completely at a loss.” I know this review is getting long, but I’ve only reviewed the first 23 pages...so much happens in this novel that it’s hard to make my review brief.

Okay, now the third problem at the Spire facility is Tristan Englewood, the leader of The Church of the Reclamation. Tristan’s father had seen the immortal and his black cloud of crows destroy a town. His father wrote The Message and passed it on to Tristan. It told the Prophet’s story. “Witnessing this thing, I named it Reclaimer, for that is its form and function...to recapture and purify the souls of who remained of this world and leave behind something suitable for rapture...to recall the worthy and cast them forward into the What Comes After.” Thus, a religion was born. Tristan is becoming a problem for Sam and the council. He is convincing people to join his religion with his sermons on his makeshift pulpit, “Fear not, blessed people of the Spire! This is not where you will end! Many layers of paradise await you, if you will only see the truth! The Reclaimer is not a monster! Not evil! He comes to ease your pain, and deliver you beyond this horrid place! Fear is unnecessary! We will be the last ones of our kind to exit this world, and we can do so with grace if we but submit to his will!” Is Tristan right? Is Ejelano the savior? Or is there a big surprise for The Church of the Reclamation coming? Haha, I think so. I have to say that I was impressed with the author’s storytelling abilities. Every time the reader thinks he has a handle on the plot, another problem pops up, even for the immortal who is walking in the direction of the Spire.

“One foot, and then the other. On and on he walked. He was a man, but was also much more...much different than what a man was. He could do things that regular men could only dream of. He was strong. Fast. He could see things miles away with crystal clarity.” He was Ejelano, the immortal. As he walked toward the last place, “...a rumbling sound rose up from all around him. All at once, the ground was shaking and heaving, so much that he was raised up several feet and then unceremoniously dropped as the ground fell underneath him. He was only just barely able to keep his footing. A fissure in the earth ripped open at his heels, and from inside an illumination of the purest white sprang forth. He leaped away from it, bewildered.” It was like the earth was being eaten. Was it? The Spirit seemed startled. “UH OH. The voice was confused...profoundly uneasy. He had never known it to express fear, but its current tone was the closest he had heard it come. Wait. This...wasn’t you? NO, IDIOT...THIS ASSUREDLY WAS NOT ME. SOMETHING’S WRONG. IT SHOULDN’T BE HAPPENING SO SOON. What do you mean? What is it? DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT. WE’RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME. YOU NEED TO GET MOVING. NOW.” Okay, that’s it, I reviewed the first 87 pages out of a 388 page novel. This novel was some trip. I don’t know what genre the author thinks his novel belongs to, but I say its Horror. It’s way too early to mention Derek Kohlhagen’s name alongside, dare I mention, Stephen King...but it’s worth considering. By the way, I noticed that the author is a big fan of the ellipsis...so am I. Anyway, grab your own copy of this masterpiece and find out how all this ends...not for nothing, you will not believe the final showdown.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I might have got carried away with my review, but it’s been a long time since I read a horror novel this good, especially with a newbie self published novel. Incidentally, I looked at Goodreads.com’s list of the best horror novels and would you believe that Stephen King has six of his novels in the top ten, including the top three spots. The leading three novels are The Shining (1977), It (1986), and ‘Salem’s Lot (1975). Can the man write, or what? And his son, Joe Hill isn’t too bad himself. In the top fifty list, he comes in fifteenth with Heart-Shaped Box (2007) and thirty-sixth with Horns (2009).

Monday, February 27, 2017

MORTY'S TRAVELS


The author sent me a copy of his book to review. Review done by Children's Picture Book Specialist, Pat Koelmel:

Author/illustrator Anderson Atlas calls his 2016 space romp, Morty’s Travels, a cross between a picture book and chapter book, and I would have to agree. I would suggest for next time, though, to either expand on a story until it’s a real chapter book or chip away at the text until it’s a 600-word maximum (an industry standard) picture book. After all, a book for children should be one or the other as age ranges differ with each. Okay, let’s move on to the story. What’s it all about?

After inhaling the pollen from an unknown species of flower (later identified as the humongo flower), Morty finds himself transported from Earth to another planet. The story follows him on his quest to return home which takes him to yet another planet called Lan Darr. Youngsters will enjoy the tension created by the strange characters and numerous obstacles Morty encounters as he searches for the elusive pollen that will bring him back home. They will also get a kick out of the many aliens pictured in the colorful illustrations. In this reviewer’s opinion, drawing aliens is Mr. Atlas’s forte. Readers can also try their hand at drawing aliens with the help of the bonus step-by-step “Draw an Alien” tutorial, which comes included.
What wasn’t so successful was Star’s (the space woman Morty befriends during his travels) explanation to Morty on how he could tell which people are bad and which are good. This is preachy (a big no-no in children’s literature). Kids just want to be entertained like anyone else. Additionally, while kids enjoy stories with adult figures (as in the 2011 picture book Those Darn Squirrels by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri), I feel, in this particular case, the Star character would have been more relatable to children had she been the same age as Morty verses an adult.
There are also some editing issues. I found several inconsistencies throughout the book. For instance, when Morty first comes across the humongo flower on Earth, he doesn’t know what it is. However, when he meets Star, he calls it by name. I found some typos, too, as well as missed opportunities to tighten up the text.
So, do I recommend this book or not? After weighing the good and the bad, I say, “Heck, yes!” In spite of some of the negatives mentioned, Mr. Atlas has a flair for delivering a kid-friendly tale, and his detailed, imaginative drawings are, well, out of this world.
 RATING: 4 out of 5 stars
Comment: While by no means have I read every picture book on space travel, a favorite of mine is The Way Back Home (2008) by Oliver Jeffers. And after checking Goodreads list of picture books on the subject, it appears to be preferred by many as it ranks #6 out of 107.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Who Was Joseph Pulitzer?


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

The lack of notes in this somewhat historical novel impinges on the validity of the genre. Terrence Crimmins has written a decent story about Joseph Pulitzer, but without defining notes, it just becomes a novel. I’m certainly not accusing Mr. Crimmins of making this story up; it’s just that without the appropriate notes...it’s merely a novel. There were also some storytelling errors, such as on page twenty two. Joseph was just fired as a waiter at a popular restaurant, when one of the restaurant’s regular customers says, “Aw, Joseph, don’t feel so bad. Being a waiter is a tough job...some friends of mine own a law firm and they could use somebody to run errands, and maybe more. What do you think?” Joseph says, “Can I start right now?” The very next line says, “So began Pulitzer’s career in journalism…” What happened to the law job? The lack of continuity is a big bugaboo of mine among other literary malfunctions. I’m not trying to be gruff to the author, but if you are writing a historical fiction novel...make it 100% believable. We all know that Joseph Pulitzer established his prize in various literary categories (in his will) upon his death, and Mr. Crimmins does enlighten the reader to the Hungarian immigrant’s rise to fame. But why does the reader have to refer to SparkNotes to verify the legitimacy of Mr. Crimmins claims. Again, I’m not charging Terrence Crimmins of anything...just make it easier for the reader to presume what you wrote is accurate. Make sense?
 
A seventeen year old Joseph Pulitzer didn’t approve of his mother’s second husband, so he left home trying to enlist in various armies including his homegrown Hungarian Army. He was rejected because of his frail looking body. Finally, when he went to Germany, he found a American Union Army recruiting office looking for men to fight in the Civil War. But when he arrived in the Port of New York, he found out that he was going to be cheated out of his bounty money, so he dove overboard and became a runaway. Subsequently, he joined the Lincoln NY Cavalry and received his bounty. But after striking a non-comm officer, he became a orderly for a officer throughout the Civil War. After the war, Pulitzer headed to St. Louis in hopes of finding work. “He had a huge ambition and a lofty opinion of himself as a man who could achieve great things, and in this he was correct. He was also very sensitive, did not take orders well, and was what we would today call a control freak. Pulitzer had an ego that made him feel he could do things better than other men, and considered it a gross injustice when any other occupant of the planet earth ever questioned his judgement...today we might call Pulitzer bi-polar.” Pulitzer goes to the library every night, “becoming a self-taught man who not only learned the intricacies of the English language, but passed an exam to obtain a law license.”

After many lowly jobs in St. Louis, he became a cub reporter for the St. Louis Post. The owner of the paper, Mr. Schurz, took him under his wing. Pulitzer exposed injustices throughout St. Louis thus making enemies of the greedy opposition (this habit would last a lifetime). He quickly rose in rank inside of Mr. Schurz’s newspaper, eventually buying the paper from Schurz. When he met his future wife, Kate, she wanted to know what his goal was. He said, “To help the millions of immigrants who weren’t as lucky as me.” Doesn’t that sound like today’s plight in the USA? Somethings seem to repeat themselves every hundred years or so. Pulitzer ultimately merged with The Dispatch and it became the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Pulitzer hires a cub reporter, William Randolph Hearst, who recently dropped out of Harvard University. However, the golden spoon Hearst soon left for San Francisco to start his own newspaper empire. Meanwhile, Pulitzer’s continuing editorial attacks of “the powers that be” caused problems for his now wife, Kate. “Pulitzer had to hire bodyguards to accompany both himself and Cockerill (his main man) about town, and they continued to be snubbed in high society. This was deeply disturbing to Kate, who had never considered the possibility that her marriage would affect her social standing.” The rest of this book is history. It’s up to you to grab your own copy of this novel to unearth the conclusion. I know that I criticized the author in the first paragraph, but his novel deserves to be read.
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RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: I especially liked page 263 (two pages from the end):

"So, now that we are at the end of our little story, who was Joseph Pulitzer? He was a man with a fascinating life, who came to America as an angry seventeen-year-old who barely spoke English, yet developed and owned two major papers in the country some twenty years later. Despite numerous challenges, including poverty and antisemitism, he succeeded, and not only did he succeed but he brought out a new and different kind of journalism. He reached out to people who had not previously read newspapers, connecting with them on a gut level that raised their expectations of their own fate. It was odd that, as an immigrant, he brought about a very American cultural revolution, and helped to shake the ground under the powers-that-be that changed the whole tone of political life.”    

Friday, February 17, 2017

EVERYBODY BEHAVES BADLY


Mon Dieu, Lesley M. M. Blume has written more than an historical novel revolving around Ernest Hemingway’s writing of The Sun Also Rises (1926). This novel gives the reader the details behind the birth of the modern movement of literature and the death of descriptive writing. Goodbye to Victorian Literature writers like Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Thomas Hardy, Lewis Carroll, et cetera. Say hello to the 1920’s writers, such as Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and, of course, Ernest Hemingway. Also say hello to Pablo Picasso and his Surrealism art movement. It’s the 1920's in Paris, France, and America’s talented expatriates flock to it. The leader of the movement in Paris is American poet Ezra Pound. His new rules of writing are: never use superfluous (unnecessary) words, never be descriptive and distrust adjectives. “It was time for a revolution.” “Some expats likened their Paris experiences to an extended, drug-fueled party.” If Ezra Pound was the king of the movement, Gertrude Stein was assuredly the queen. Hemingway was warned before he met Gertrude at her apartment “to maintain a reverential hush as she spoke.” and “don’t frighten her or she won’t talk.” Stein’s preferred term when describing herself was “genius.” Hemingway’s rival in America would be F. Scott Fitzgerald, who published The Great Gatsby in 1925, but “his style remained decidedly old-school.” Publisher Charles Scribner, who published both authors, said, “Fitzgerald was a nineteenth-century soul. He was wrapping up a grand tradition; he was the last of the romantics. He was Strauss. Hemingway, by contrast, was Stravinsky. He was inventing a whole new idiom and tonality.” Is this good stuff, or what?  

Hemingway married his biggest fan and helper, Hadley Richardson, when he was twenty two and she thirty. They planned to go to Italy where Hemingway served in the Red Cross Ambulance Corps during WWI, “...where he was wounded within weeks of arrival.” Hemingway planned to make a living as a freelance reporter for the Toronto Star and supplement their income with Hadley’s $2,000-$3,000 Trust Fund. But before they could go to Italy, they met American novelist Sherwood Anderson who told them about Paris. “During his visits, when he wasn’t reading aloud from his own manuscripts, he extolled the wonder of Paris to the Domicile crowd; the city was now a magnet for creative types from all over America.” Sherwood made a convincing case for Hemingway to ditch plans for Italy and book passage for France. “Paris was, after all, now a laboratory of innovative writing and the supposed creative center of the universe.” Sherwood recommended the Hotel Jacob et d’Angleterre in Paris. Once settled in, the Hemingways headed for the Cafe’ Le Dome, the gossip center for the Left Bank’s expatriate colony. Luckily for the Hemingways, they were able to stretch their monies because the dollar was very strong compared to the franc after the war. “Other writers must also have sensed that Paris was a treasure trove of literary possibility...for the American writer Malcolm Cowley, Paris was like cocaine, and just as debilitating a habit when it came time to pull himself together and work.” Hemingway was not overwhelmed by Paris like many Americans. “In holding back, Hemingway gave himself a distinct advantage as a clearheaded, removed observer. Later, many of his fictional protagonists would share this attribute.” Would you believe that so far all that I have reviewed is the Introduction and the first seventeen pages of the novel?

The Toronto Star is now sending the twenty three year old reporter all over Europe. His interview with Italy’s Benito Mussolini helped get him front page stories. Meanwhile in Paris, the expat literary gods were now known as The Crowd and didn’t meet in bars or cafes, instead they met in private homes and salons. These are the same artists I mentioned in the first paragraph. When Hemingway went to Switzerland, he sent for his wife Hadley. For some reason Hadley decided to bring all of Hemingway’s manuscripts with her. When she momentarily left her compartment on the train, the manuscripts disappeared. A frustrated Hemingway was sent back to Toronto for a prestige weekly salary of $125. Hadley informed him that she was pregnant. After a trip to Spain with the newly met founder of Contact Publishing Company, Robert McAlmon, and Bill Bird, co-founder of The Consolidated Press Wire Service, Hemingway quit his job and went back to Paris with Hadley and the baby. “There would be no more freelancing, no more deadlines, and no accepting faraway assignments. There would be only the writing - real writing.” In Paris, Hemingway starts writing in a rented flat overlooking a sawmill. “However gently administered, the sound of a buzzing saw-combined with the cries of a newborn-continually drove Hemingway out of the apartment to write.” With Hadley’s Trust Fund now being mismanaged by a friend of hers, they entered a period that Hemingway called their “complete poverty period.” Hemingway started to work for a new publication, the Transatlantic Review supervised by British novelist and literary editor, Ford Madox Ford. Although Hemingway didn’t get paid, Ford published everything that he wrote (short stories). “I knew I must write a novel,” Hemingway recalled. “...and here he was, practically over-the-hill at twenty-four, still without a major work to his name.”

Ford became one of the Crowd’s greatest host, throwing tea parties in his little Transatlantic office. At one of the tea parties, “Hemingway made a tea party appearance, at which he first encountered expat editor and writer Harold Loeb. This meeting would alter the course of both men’s lives.” “When they weren’t bludgeoning each other (Hemingway loved to box with all his friends) or whacking balls across a net, Hemingway and Loeb frequented cafes and bars together, drinking and trading stories.” What was important to Hemingway’s career was the fact that Loeb was about to publish his first novel, Doodab, with Boni and Liveright, a major American publisher. Why was that important? Because, so far, every Manuscript that Hemingway sent to America was rejected and Loeb would soon prove an invaluable asset in correcting that problem. Don’t panic! I’m not giving the story away, I’m only on page 56. This is a must read for potential reviewers, if you want to build a good literary foundation while establishing your writing skills. I, for one, have learned a lot from reading this historical novel. I patently advocate this novel and lecon livre.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I think it’s interesting that in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda came to Paris loaded with cash off the success of The Great Gatsby novel and his other bestsellers. They rented a luxurious apartment near the Arc de Triomphe. Meanwhile, Ernest Hemingway yet lived in his Sawmill apartment and was still repressed in the money category. Would the last great descriptive writer meet the first great modern writer? Yes, indeed.

At the Dingo bar in Paris, Fitzgerald bumped into Hemingway, who was with Lady Duff Twysden (the object of every man’s eyes) and her boyfriend Pat Guthrie. Fitzgerald bought champagne for the group and later passed out. It was an unusual first meeting, but the two writers became staunch friends. By June 1925, “Hemingway and Hadley had been seeing quite a lot of Fitzgerald and the two writers had even taken a road trip together.”

“Zelda is crazy”, Hemingway informed Fitzgerald one afternoon. What did Zelda think of Hemingway? “She called Hemingway a phony he-man and a pansy with hair on his chest.” Yet Fitzgerald highly respected Hemingway. “His literary crush on Hem, the sportsman-stylist, the pugilist-storyteller” as John Dos Passos (American novelist and member of The Crowd) put it, quickly became apparent to everyone in the Paris Crowd.”

One thing for sure was that Hemingway had dealt descriptive writing the coup de grace. Hemingway reduced writing down to it's most simplistic form, "The first and most important thing of all, at least for writers today, is to strip language clean, to lay it bare to the bone," he said. "And that takes work." Yet his friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald continued to write bestsellers in his old fashion descriptive way for years to come.

I’m not sure what genre this book is. Some reviewers and I are calling it a historical fiction novel, while others state that it’s an almost obsessively researched biography. Either way, it’s a must read.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

HELLO, MY NAME IS OCTICORN

This is a guest review from Children’s Picture Book review specialist, Pat Koelmel:

Most children, if not all, at one time or another feel like they don’t fit in, and as a result, they have a tough time making friends. Also tough is crafting innovative stories on the subject of this popular (sometimes even overdone) universal theme. But in this 2016 picture book (created by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe for children ages 4-8) a friendless, one-of-a-kind Octicorn puts a charming, oh so fresh spin on it.

So what is an Octicorn? Well, it’s what you get when you mate a unicorn with an octopus. How could this have happened, you ask? Hey, it’s a quirky picture book. Anything can happen in a quirky picture book. But if you still insist on having it spelled out, it happened the usual way: a unicorn and octopus meet, fall in love, and, well, you know the rest. The story goes on to give the many reasons why an Octicorn, in particular, makes for an especially good friend. I guarantee that it will have children and adults alike chuckling, but at the same time, it will tug at your heartstrings. Well-paced and undeniably child-relatable, this tale also comes with an ending that tickled my fancy but, sorry folks, that’s for me to know and you to find out.

Now, a word about the illustrations by the talented Justin Lowe who perfectly captured author Kevin Diller’s forlorn Octicorn with simple yet expressive (a combo not so easy to pull off) black and white drawings. By the way, both Mr. Diller and Mr. Lowe have impressive credentials. While Diller currently focuses on writing children’s books, once upon a time he was a screenwriter, playwright, and producer. And Justin Lowe? Besides being an artist, he is also a filmmaker. 

This brings me to my closing paragraph where I planned to sum up why you should buy this book. But if all those glowing comments above haven’t already sold you, I doubt if anything else I say will change your mind. As for me, this book had me at hello.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Hello, My Name is Octicorn was self-published prior to catching the eye of HarperCollins. That’s right. So, to those authors and/or illustrators who are self-published, you could be next.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

DAVE! parts 1-3


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

Initially, I didn’t think Marc Richard’s novel was very funny...until I warmed up to his unique style. He has a way of making the reader laugh at the simplest things. I think that the best word for his humor is silly. I must say that once I snuggled up to his modus operandi, I starting enjoying his zany novel. The novel had a touch of Jack Finney’s 1955 novel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers but with a comical political twist. The author has President Donald Trump building the border wall between the USA and Mexico in 2017, but has President Mel Gibson (that’s right, he of Mad Max) finishing the wall in 2030. But President Gibson, who wants to be know as Uncle Mel, continues the wall until it rings the entire United States of America including the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and Canada. Since Alaska and Hawaii are outside the wall, he sells those states. He has evicted all the Muslims and Mexicans. The wall was so expensive that 75% of it had to be made of wood. CNN News reported that 94% of the population are in poverty, 5% are rich and 1% are middle class. Mom and pop stores are gone. “Wal-Mart had completely taken over the country...now that it’s government run, it is the one-stop shop for all your clothing, cereal, beer, porn, marriage license, hot-air balloon rides, and party planning needs, and so much more. Some of them even have churches in the back, so that you could spend your entire Sunday there if you so chose.”

The protagonists are for the most part; Starlet Richter, a transgender woman; Eric Tisdale, a pool hustler and one time lover of Starlet’s (when she still had a penis); Carlton, a transgender man, who is involved with the overthrowing of the government, and of course, Dave. Starlet has now had the full transsexual surgery to be a woman, however Carlton still has a vagina (I told you this story was silly). Eric was home watching TV when a Uncle Mel ad came on, and Mel said, “Hey America, it’s me again, Uncle Mel. I’ll tell ya, I’ll never tire of looking at that wall. What a fine job our craftsmen and craftswomen did constructing that beauty.” The President is overjoyed that we got those who didn’t belong here back to their homeland. He says, “They were not true citizens.” Haha. Eric’s friend, Ray, calls and wants to know if he noticed that the President’s face slipped. Eric said that he didn’t notice. Meanwhile, Eric goes off to 'the protest wall' where he hears the same story from a few of the other protesters. His other friend, Nick, shows him the video replay on his phone, “You see that shit, yo? His chin just about hit his chest. That face be slippin’. It ain’t real, homie. That’s some straight alien shit. Uncle Mel ain’t from this world, dude.” Has President Mel Gibson been replaced by a alien...was Donald Trump an alien? If so, how many people in America have been replaced?

Eric, Ray and Nick are conscripted by Carlton into the Invaders. The Invaders are led by Dave (who is Dave?) with the mission to destroy the forces in Washington, DC and take back the country. In the meantime, Starlet is protesting at the wall between Maine and Canada. She meets a couple with a motor home that befriends her. Their assignment is to knock down the wall between the USA and Canada. As Starlet and the Topplers (that’s the name Dave gave the protesters who were trying to knock the wall down) start hacking at the wall, a Canadian on the other side of the wall says, “We fine over here.” Starlet says, “Don’t you want to come back to America?” The voice on the other side says, “Nope. We like it ‘ere. Dis is ‘ome.” Another Canadian says, “Ya.” Starlet says, “Okay, well f**k you guys.” This novel for the most part is a riot. As the boys (well Carlton is not fully a boy yet) rush to Annapolis, Maryland for a big meeting with Dave, Starlet discovers that some of the people at the wall are aliens. She also discovers that the aliens are knocked out by touching a 3.7 volt battery (from a mobile phone) and killed when they touch a 12 volt battery (from a car). Wow, how can she pass that information along to the Invaders. I have to stop my review here. I’ve only touched on some of the doings in this amusing novel. You will have to get your own copy of Marc Richard’s novel to find out what happens in depth. The novel is smartly divided into three parts (all in the same volume). By the way the last few pages are ridiculous. I highly recommend this funny sci-fi novel.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: I was wondering what were the funniest sci-fi books ever written and I saw that Best-sci-fi-book.com had a 19 novel list. I’m only going to show you the top three:
  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979 )- “It begins with the destruction of Earth, and things go downhill from there.”
  2. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (1997) - “Willis’ delectable romp through time from 2057 back to Victorian England.”
  3. This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It. by David Wong (2012) - “Two reluctant and generally irresponsible heroes are aware of huge invisible spiders that live in people’s heads due to their earlier ingestion of a drug called soy sauce."

Friday, February 3, 2017

the GIRL BEFORE


This is the best psychogenic thriller I’ve read in a long time. Not only is this story avant-garde (I love that word), it also has a taste of ergodic literature in it, although mild if you compare it to Mark Z. Danielewski’s, House of Leaves (see my review of 2/1/2013). Author JP Delaney has left some pages unnumbered, a lot of chapters without quotation marks, such as the THEN: EMMA chapters, and various pages are left nearly blank except for questions that applicants must answer before they can be approved for the rental on One Folgate Street. The action is in London, England. The tension is breathtaking. Do you think I liked this novel? Did James Cagney play tough guys in the movies? For some reason, the word ‘girl’ is very popular in recent bestsellers; such as, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train (see my review of 8/16/2015), Armando Lucas Correa’s The German Girl (see my review of 11/13/2016) and Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin Ten (see my review of 9/7/2016). Okay, a woman is not a girl, but it’s close. Anyway, all of the above novels are bestsellers, and JP Delaney’s novel is no exception. This was one of those novels that you hated to end. You know the feeling...Wait, it’s over? That’s it? Anyways, let me tell you a little about the novel’s characters.

The main characters are kept to a super friendly (Cormac McCarthy?) five if you count the exclusive self-operating house on One Folgate Street in the London area of England as a character (I did). You might ask, who are these people? Let’s start with: Edward Monkford, One Folgate Street’s architect, owner and renter of the capricious house in question. He considers himself an alpha male, as do all of the woman he meets in the novel. He is a extreme controller and perfectionist. Did he kill his wife and child, or was it an accident? He got permission to bury them under the house. Why does he only rent the house to women who look like his deceased wife? Did he kill ‘the girl before’, Emma? Emma Matthews, a troubled girl who had a bad break-in at her previous address. We learn early in the novel that she is dead. That’s why her chapters are THEN: EMMA. She was getting therapy because of the anguish she suffered in the attack. Was she murdered in the mysterious house or was it an accidental death. Why did it always seem like she was lying? Did Edward Monkford or her previous boyfriend, Simon, kill her? Did Simon’s best friend, Saul, kill her? How about the recently caught burglar, Deon Nelson, who attacked her and burglarized Emma’s old apartment? He says he didn’t do it.

Simon, Emma’s boyfriend before Edward Monkford. He is big time in love with Emma, but he reacts badly when Emma tells him that she gave oral sex to the burglar. After an argument she throws him out of their new rental on One Folgate Street. Is he angry enough to kill Emma? If he killed Emma, why does he leave a bouquet of lilies on the doorstep of the house every day after she died? Why does he tell everyone who will listen to him that Edward Monkford killed her? Jane Cavendish, the current renter of One Folgate Street. Her chapters are headed NOW: JANE. She had a stillborn birth...a daughter named Isabel. She needed a fresh start, which included a new address and new job. She moves into One Folgate Street and becomes the novel’s main protagonist. Jane finds out about Emma’s death. Emma had an affair with Edward Monkford, the same man she is having an affair with. She starts to suspect that Edward killed Emma. The House (the fifth main character) is accessed by a smartphone, computer or bracelet worn by the renter and is run by a program called Housekeeper. Sometimes Housekeeper will disable part of the house’s systems until you answer some inane question on the computer. Is the house capable of murder? Does the house punish you, if you don’t follow the over 200 rules of the rental agreement you signed?

I found the house disturbing. When Jane got the rental, she had to have the Housekeeper app installed on her phone, laptop and on a “special bracelet that triggers One Folgate Street’s sensors.” The Housekeeper app controls all functions of the house and will not let you Google anything. On page 13, the rental agent gives Jane the lowdown on a few of the many rules, “Basically, it’s a list of dos and don’ts. Well, don’ts mostly. No alterations of any kind, except by prior agreement. No rugs or carpets. No pictures. No potted plants. No ornaments. No books-” Jane says, "No books! That’s ridiculous!” The agent says, "No planting anything in the garden; no curtains-” Jane says, “How do you keep the light out if you can’t have curtains?” “The windows are photosensitive. They go dark when the sky does.” “So, no curtains. Anything else?” “Oh, yes,” Camilla (the agent) says, “There are about two hundred stipulations in all…” And I’ve only touched on a few the idiosyncrasies of the house. Sometimes it almost felt like the house was alive. I have to say that I was a little surprised when Emma’s murderer was revealed. I would tell you who it is but then you wouldn’t read the novel. And, that would be a shame because you would miss out on this year’s best thriller.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: In the ABOUT THE AUTHOR page, the following is recorded:
The Girl Before is the first psychological thriller from JP Delaney, a pseudonym for a writer who has previously written bestselling fiction under other names. It is being published in thirty-five countries. A film version is being brought to the screen by Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard.

I did a little research and found out that the author is Tony Strong, bestselling author of The Death Pit , The Poison Tree, The Decoy and Tell Me Lies.