The Blog's Mission

Wikipedia defines a book review as: “a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review”. My mission is to provide the reader with my thoughts on the author’s work whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. I read all genres of books, so some of the reviews may be on hard to find books, or currently out of print. All of my reviews will also be available on Amazon.com. I will write a comment section at the end of each review to provide the reader with some little known facts about the author, or the subject of the book. Every now and then, I’ve had an author email me concerning the reading and reviewing of their work. If an author wants to contact me, you can email me at rohlarik@gmail.com. I would be glad to read, review and comment on any nascent, or experienced writer’s books. If warranted, I like to add a little comedy to accent my reviews, so enjoy!
Thanks, Rick O.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

HOTEL BRUCE

This review is done by my Children’s Picture Book Specialist, Pat Koelmel:

Not every sequel, be it a sequel to a movie or a book, can live up to its original. Well, in the case of Hotel Bruce, a picture book for ages 5-8 by author-illustrator Ryan T. Higgins and sequel to the fabulously popular Mother Bruce (had I reviewed it, I’d have given it five shiny stars, that’s how much I loved it), it came close...real close.

Okay, so here are the bare facts about Hotel Bruce. A grumpy bear by the name of Bruce, upon migrating back north in the spring with his charges (four geese who believe him to be their mother), finds his home transformed into a hotel by three mice. What happens after that will have kids roaring with laughter. As for Bruce, well, he just plain roars. But what else would you expect from a cantankerous bear whose home has been turned upside down? By the way, if you want to know how a bear ends up the mother of four geese, pick up Mother Bruce, recipient of the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor.

Kids will also flip over Mr. Higgins’ laugh-out loud illustrations. Detailed and colorful, each spread will give little ones plenty to look at. Bruce’s expressions alone (which range from grumpy to grumpier to grumpiest) are worth the price of admission.
 
So if you’re looking for someplace a little different to stay for your next vacation, check out Hotel Bruce. It’s got all the amenities.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars
 
Comment: Coming soon (September 26, 2017 to be exact) is Ryan T. Higgins’ third installment in the Bruce series, Bruce’s Big Move. Other picture books by this author include Twaddleton’s Cheese, Wilfred, and Be Quiet!   

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

WE GOT IT ALL WRONG: death and grief, heaven and hell and mental illness

The authors sent me an autographed copy of their book to review:

I’m sure Beverly Hafemeister and Kym McBride are very discerning ladies, but I have to treat their dual work as a novel and not as a workshop type book. I didn’t see any credibility in anything I read, but it was sorta entertaining. The reviewers that gave this book five stars are obviously friends of the writers. I repeat...their story didn’t have an ounce of believability. Beverly is the healing recipient and Kym is the psychic medium conducting phone seances (for the lack of better words) between Beverly and her minister friend, Hal, who passed away the year before. Beverly has many mental problems including “fits of weeping and heavy depression followed by feelings of weighty despondency.” Kym writes that Beverly will serve as the experimental “lab rat” in this book. Beverly writes, “You will find, as Kym and I did, that we go through life unaware of our largely invisible spiritual support system no matter what our preferred religious dogma is.” That’s right, they both have spiritual guides that that help them through life. Beverly’s guide is Bob (or Cherith) who “is a master of disguises with a droll sense of humor and is the perfect compliment to an uptight client.” Kym’s guide is Timingo, who is “level-headed and rather straight laced...the perfect guide for a medium.” By the way, good news: according to Kym, we all have invisible spiritual guides to help us through life...as they would say on the TV show Laugh-In...“I didn’t know that.”

One of the main themes in this book (out of respect, I don’t want to use the word novel again...in case they are right, you never know) is the Invisible Structure. What is that? Okay, I’ll tell you what it is, but you will not understand. “It is a beautiful, organized, multifaceted support system that surrounds all people at every stage of life. This structure’s parameters guide you back to Source that is achieved through levels of enlightenment (knowledge).” If they are talking about thanking the Lord (the Source?) for watching over you everyday, then I agree one hundred percent! I’m also a little foggy on some of the invisibles, such as, a crossed spirit, which Hal (Beverly’s deceased friend) was one of. By the way, all Beverly had to do to talk to Hal was make a phone appointment with Kym and start talking to Hal after saying her name and Hal’s name three times. Anyway, “crossed spirits still have their personality, intelligence, sense of humor, and style of speaking. Their feelings of love do not stop. They still have their free will. These souls can decide if they feel a loved one is ready or not to know things about them and their transition.” But you have to understand that they are on the otherside, ghost are not. Crossed spirits cannot see ghost, because ghost are still stuck on earth. Ghost tend to be mischievous. And most importantly, “not unlike some of the living, they feel they are trapped by their circumstances.”

Kym says that she has “talked to close to 1,000 dead people” since working as a medium. At the end of each chapter, the authors summarize their life theme’s progress. Kym’s thoughts are relayed to the reader under the heading of, Kym’s Professional Journey or Personal Growth Questions. For instance on page 87, Kym asks, “What’s your attitude towards ghosts wanting to take up residence in another person’s aura? Anger, compassion, a desire for revenge? What’s triggering your feelings? What’s your opinion of the host? Are they weak-willed, a victim, empathetic, a sinner?” Wow, that’s a lot to chew on! I’ll have to get back to Kym on that later. Beverly, in one of her Beverly’s Personal Journey segments says, after a phone conversation with Kym and Hal (still dead), “Another surprise of the reading concerns automatic handwriting. I don’t feel really comfortable with that idea (I wouldn’t either). As Edgar Cayce (a non-profit Org. in NYC that runs workshops on spiritual growth) warned, you never know who’s on the other end. To whom are you connected? Oh well, maybe I’m being too much a worry wart. It should be a fun way to communicate directly.” Well I’d be a little worried myself. Anyway you get the essence of this dual written workshop type book. Obviously I’m a nonbeliever, but a lot of people do believe in the spiritual world. With that in mind, I recommend this book to all doubters and followers of the spiritual world.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: If anything else, the world of spiritualism is certainly entertaining. Recently I enjoyed David Jaher’s The Witch of Lime Street (see my review of 12/10/2016). Basically this novel pits Harry Houdini against Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (yes, the author) and the world of spiritualism and the mediums who oversee it. It was a true story and very entertaining.

I also read Irene Weinberg’s, They Serve Bagels in Heaven (see my review of 10/11/2016). This novel wasn’t even close to being believable, but again it was enjoyable. The novel that makes you think twice about afterlife is neurosurgeon Eben Alexander’s, Proof of Heaven (see my review of 8/10/2013). The doctor’s credentials make his story convincing.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

INTO THE WATER

Whoa Nellie (no pun intended)...Did Paula Hawkins write this book or did somebody else write it? It has an almost separate style and tempo than her recent bestseller, The Girl on the Train (see my review of 8/16/2015).This is a somewhat puzzling story encompassing an English country town (Beckford) full of apparently guilty people who occasionally commit suicide by drowning themselves in the pool of the town’s river (or were some of them murdered?). Sigmund Freud could have made a nice living in this town. When you read this novel make sure that you have pen and paper handy because you will need to take notes to remember the myriad of characters in this story. Paula, if you are going to have what seemed like twenty five main characters...insert a dramatis personae in the novel. Okay, as the story starts to unravel, the reader remembers who is who, but it took me almost two hundred pages to get there. In your new novel, I did like the short chapters and the different narrators for each chapter. I’m going to say that Paula Hawkins narrowly missed having a sophomore jinx on her hands. But in the last two hundred pages, she pulled a "rabbit out of the hat" and saved the novel. Her endgame was intense and maybe a tad brilliant. Paula Hawkins made the river seem like it was alive...was it a drowning pool or “a place to get rid of troublesome woman?” That’s for you to find out.

Jules (Julia) Abbott hears from the police. Her estranged sister, Nel Abbott, has drowned in the pool of the town’s river...they think it might be suicide. Jules ponders to herself, “I was thinking about what I was going to say to you when I got there, how I knew you’d done this to spite me, to upset me, to frighten me, to disrupt my life. To get my attention, to drag me back to where you wanted me. And there you go, Nel, you’ve succeeded: here I am in the place I never wanted to come back to, to look after your daughter, to sort out your bloody mess.” Jules goes back to her former town and old house. It’s empty, so she lets herself in and starts looking around Nel’s old room (which is now Nel’s daughter Lena’s room). Jules is looking under the bed when she hears, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Nel’s teenage daughter, Lena, has arrived. Jules says, “I’m sorry. I’m Jules. We haven’t met, but I’m your aunt.” Lena instantly dislikes her Aunt Jules. Lena tells Jules that the police are downstairs. Jules meets Detective Inspector Sean Townsend and Detective Sergeant Erin Morgan (two more of the main characters). Det.Townsend tells Jules, “DS Morgan will be your liaison with the police. She’ll keep you informed about where we are in the investigation.” Jules asks, “There’s an investigation?” DS Morgan tells Jules, “Your sister’s body was seen in the river by a man who was out walking his dogs early yesterday morning...she was fully clothed, and her injuries were consistent with a fall from the cliff above the pool.” Jules asks, “You think she fell?” Lena says, “You don’t think she fell, do you?” “You know better than that.” Did she commit suicide, fall or was she pushed over?

Nel had been writing a history of all the drownings that occurred in the pool of the river that was below a cliff. Most of the town’s population were annoyed with Nel’s version of the drownings. Lena Abbott’s best friend, Katie, recently committed suicide in the drowning pool. Katie’s mother, Louise Whittaker, blamed Lena and Nel for her daughter’s death. Was Louise involved in Nel’s drowning? Was Katie’s teacher, Mark Henderson, the reason Katie drowned herself? What did Katie’s brother Josh know about her drowning. The town’s psychic Nickie Sage had her own theories on how Nel and Katie drowned. Nickie thinks their deaths are linked with the long ago drowning of Detective Sean Townsend’s mother, Lauren. And what does Sean’s father, Patrick, the town’s retired disciplinarian policeman, have to do with these deaths? Why did Sean’s wife, Helen Townsend, hate Det. Erin Morgan and seem to have a schmaltzy type relationship with her husband’s father, Patrick? I told you that this story starts out very confusing with many characters. This is probably where a lot of the reviewers abandoned this story and issued one or two stars. If they would have continued reading, they would have seen how all this tied into a clever conclusion. My opinion of this novel changed from negative to positive halfway through the story, so I understand why the reviewers (who vacated the story) rated it so low.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: The writing style of Paula Hawkins’ second novel was (in my opinion) very different from her first novel. It made me think of the old argument about Harper Lee’s novel, To kill a Mockingbird. Many pundits say that her lifelong friend, Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) wrote that novel for her. That notion was reinforced when her less than great second novel, Go Set a Watchman (see my review of 2/23/2016), was published 55 years after her first novel. I don’t believe in those rumors, but it did make me mull it over.

Ghostwriting must be a lucrative job, but why would you want to write a book without getting credit for it? The dictionary says, “A ghostwriter is a person who writes one or numerous speeches, books, articles, etc. for another person who is named or presumed to be the author.” Think about it, how can James Patterson write six novels every year? How can Bill O’Reilly pump out books from his Killing series seemingly every two or three months. Check out how many books in this series he has published in the last four years while hosting a television show.  

Monday, May 15, 2017

Rascal Farms

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

Well, Mr. Anderson Atlas, author of Morty’s Travels (see my review of 2/27/2017), has written yet another picture book for ages 4 and up; although, I’d be willing to bet that even younger ones would appreciate the antics of the woodland animals featured in this particular story. Here’s a brief summary: A hungry raccoon, tired of eating slugs and pinecones, stumbles upon a farm and proceeds to raid the crops. Soon all the other animals follow suit, and before long, there’s nothing left. After, the animals realize what they’ve done and try to make amends.
Overall, while I enjoyed the story, there were several things that didn’t work for me. For instance, I wish that the animals would have somehow noticed how their stealing was affecting the farm and the family who lived there before it was entirely depleted. And why the farmer didn’t do anything to stop them either is a mystery. As for the ending, I would have liked to have seen the animals compensate the farmer by reseeding his farm instead of growing their own crops in the forest and delivering only a small box of food as reparation. I would also suggest that the author take a closer look when editing. I noticed a number of repetitive phrases and a typo or two.
Okay, now for the things that did work. First on my list were the many clever solutions the animals came up with in order to feed their own families in the future. What also stood out for me was how well the author communicated three out of the five senses (sight, smell, and taste) when the raccoon first encountered the farm’s bounty of food. Given the fact that the use of any of the five senses helps the reader to truly connect with a story, I was right there on the farm with the raccoon. But, all in all, my favorite thing about Mr. Atlas’s writing is that I get a clear sense of his passion for storytelling.
So, do I recommend this book? That would be a yes for the pluses just cited, the super cute animal drawings, and the author’s ability to make little kids (and big kids, like me) giggle.
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars
Comment: Some of the funniest picture books I know feature animals. Outstanding examples include Henny by Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins, Snappsy the Alligator by Julie Falatko (author) and Tim Miller (illustrator), and Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin (author) and Betsy Lewin (illustrator). Another favorite featuring a mythical creature is Larf by Ashley Spires.  

Friday, May 12, 2017

HEART of GOLD

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

Warren Adler, the best selling author of The War of the Roses and Mother Nile (see my review of 1/5/2017), has written a tension filled novel with more twist and turns than Carter has little liver pills (am I showing my age?). Wow, what a 368 page ride! Besides being a thriller, the novel asks some important questions. The first question is: What’s the price of honor? Would you debase yourself for a hundred million dollars in gold coins? This novel answers that question loud and clear. The second question is: Why did nearly four million Jews walk meekly into the gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland? And thirdly, why did Jewish work gangs rifle through the incoming Jews luggage and search their bodies for valuables after they were gassed to death? Our heroine of the novel, Karla Smith tells her Jewish lawyer, Milton Gold, why they did that according to her father (who was there), “While their fellows froze, they stole layers of clothing, smuggling it out of enclosures. They were the scavengers. They feasted on the possessions of the dead while other Jews threw their carcasses into the fire, and still others gathered the rendered fat from their bodies and packaged it to manufacture soap...they used the bits and pieces from this hoard to buy favors, to buy time, to bribe, to cheat.” While this seems painful, can you blame them for wanting to live another day? What would you do?

The premise of the story is centered around two main characters (that’s to my liking). It starts out with a beautiful girl from Montana coming to NYC and hiring a seedy Manhattan lawyer, Milton Gold. She seeks Milton’s help in securing a hundred million dollars in gold coins. She is the only one who knows where it’s hidden in the communist controlled Poland of the 1970's. She tells Milton that her dad died three weeks ago and on his deathbed told her the story of the hidden gold. He told her of his time as a Polish prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp. He hated the Jews. “My father’s family were bankers...I have only some vague recollections about him telling me about that. The family had this bank in Warsaw. In September of 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, his father removed the bank’s reserves and hid them somewhere in the city. Sometime in the summer of 1943, the family was apprehended and everyone shipped off to Auschwitz, which was also a work camp. The family never survived the camps...only my father.” Did Karla’s dad tell her the truth? She continues her story to Milton, “When the Germans dismantled the camps in the face of the advancing Russians, my father escaped. He made his way back to Warsaw, found the gold, then moved it in an attempt to get it to the West. The problem was that the Russians were advancing too fast and he had to hide it elsewhere...he got through to the Allied lines and joined the tide of displaced persons flooding Europe. He managed to make his way to America, then to Butte.” Why didn’t he go back to Poland and regain the gold?

After Karla’s meeting with Milton, she calls him and tells him that she is being followed. He sneaks out of his apartment building and meets her at a bar. When they leave they are followed by two men, who attack them. Milton shoots one man and they escape to a cheap hotel near his office. Milton tells her, “Like you, Karla, I don’t think I have a choice. I’m afraid I’m in this, whether I like it or not.” Karla tells Milton why her dad hated Jews, “He saw the Jews as pariahs, betraying each other to survive. Telling lies. Committing brutal acts against their own people just to stay alive, even for just a few more days. What infuriated him most was the conventional perception portrayed almost everywhere you looked-that it was only the Jews who suffered in those camps, only the Jews who were exterminated.” Milton doesn’t buy her dad’s story. He tells Karla, “He was obviously deranged by his experiences. Six million Jews were murdered, most shoved into the gas chambers. Innocent people. If you read, as you say, you know he was wrong.” So who were these men that attacked Karla and Milton? Were they from Poland? And what did these men want? I’m sorry that I’m asking so many questions, but as Warren Adler’s story develops, many different cabals come into play. Warren Adler is one strong storyteller with excellent descriptive prose (not overdone like Diane Ackerman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife). I’ll let you buy your own copy of this novel to find out what happens to this exhilarating couple once they land in Poland in search of the gold. Do I recommend? Did the Chicago Cubs go 108 years before winning another World Series? Yes they did!

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: In most mysteries or thrillers, tension and suspense must be the main goal of the author in order to hook the reader immediately. I mean right out of the gate from the first page to the last. I think Warren Adler accomplished that feat in this novel. The reader didn’t know which group (there were three) pursuing them were good or bad, if any. They all had their reasons for wanting the treasure, but the tension continued throughout the novel because Karla stuck to her guns (not literally). She wanted all the gold and wasn’t going to tell anybody where it was, even under the threat of death while cornered in a communist country. The novel’s tension didn’t let up until almost the last page. Good job Warren Adler.

Okay, the best tension authors are Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy...hands down. But there is no use listing their novels since everybody knows them. However, I’ve read various novels over the last several years that were highly tense. One novel is Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (see my review of 2/1/2013) which was my first venture into ergodic literature. In my review’s last paragraph, I wrote, “Back at the house, things are bleak as the house finally started to attack.” Yea, that was an intense novel! The second novel was Dostoyevsky’s 1866 novel, Crime and Punishment (see my review of 11/17/2014). The murderer, Rodion Romanovich (one of several names that he uses in this novel) has interviews with Porfiry (Russia’s Hercule Poirot) that were very anxious. And lastly I have to give credit to Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, for switching his story lines, chapter to chapter with cliffhangers to create strained moments for the reader.