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.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Kidnapped

Sharpen up your Gaelic and colloquial language skills if you want to get through this classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson set in 1751 Scotland...smoothly. Although published in 1886 in a boy’s magazine, Young Folks, the story is told in the local Scottish dialect with lots of Gaelic thrown in for good measure. I loved the challenge. I’ll give you a sample of what I’m writing about. When our narrator (young seventeen year old David Balfour) meets his crotchety Uncle Ebenezer for the first time at Ebenezer’s dilapidated estate and while David’s having something to eat, Ebenezer answers David’s question of: Why is he so hostile to him? “Hoot-toot!” Said Uncle Ebenezer, “dinnae fly up in the stuff at me. We’ll agree fine yet. And, Davie, my man, if you’re done with that bit parritch, I could just take a sup of it myself. Ay,” he continued, as soon as he ousted me from the stool and spoon, “they’re fine, halesome food - they’re grand food, parritch” (I’m assuming that he is talking about porridge). Later he says, “Na, na; na, na, I like you fine; we’ll agree fine yet; and for the honour of the house I couldnae let you leave the way ye came. Bide here quiet, there’s a good lad; just you bide here quiet a bittie, and ye’ll find that we agree.” Did you notice that Stevenson is a big fan of the semicolon? Later, I’ll give you some examples of the Gaelic language in this story. Some of the characters are real, such as the Jacobite rebel, Alan Breck Stewart, who has been fleeing from the British redcoats in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rebellion (Charles Edward Stuart’s failed attempt to grab the British throne from King George II, in 1745/1746). There are a lot of innuendos of actual happenings in this excellent work of historical fiction to go along with the compelling fictional story.  

The story opens with David Balfour talking with Minister Campbell of Essendean. David’s father has recently died (his mother previously), and Campbell reads David a letter in which states is his inheritance, “give my boy this letter into his hand, and start him off to the house of Shaws, not far from Cramond. That is the place I came from”, he said, “and it’s where it befits that my boy should return. He is a steady lad, your father said, and a canny goer; and I doubt not he will come safe, and be well lived where he goes.” So off he goes to live with his Uncle Ebenezer, who he has never met. On his walking trip to his uncle’s estate, he ask people on the road about the House of the Shaws. The responses are not good. The last person he asks is a woman on top of a hill as they look down to the valley at a ‘great bulk of a building’...with anger, she says, “Blood built it; blood stopped the building of it; blood shall bring it down. See here!” she cried again “I spit upon the ground, and crack my thumb at it! (what does that mean?) Black be its fall! If ye see the laird, tell him what ye hear; tell him this makes the twelve hunner and nineteen time that Jennet Clousten has called down the curse on him and his house, byre and stable, man, guest, and master, wife, miss, or bairn-black, black be their fall!” Wow, it doesn’t sound like David is going to a friendly asylum. Once David gets to his uncle’s estate, he finds Ebenezer unsympathetic with his situation. During an evening storm, Ebenezer sends David up an unfinished tower with missing steps and without a candle to retrieve a chest. David realizes that his uncle might have been trying to kill him after he almost falls to his death. Why is Ebenezer trying to get rid of David? A irritated David locks Ebenezer in his room with the promise that Ebenezer will answer all of David’s questions in the morning.

The next morning, before David can quiz Ebenezer, a ship’s cabin boy comes with a letter for Ebenezer from the Hawes Inn at the Queen’s ferry. It’s from a Captain Hoseason of the ship Covenant. It reads: “Sir,-I lie here with my hawser up and down, and send my cabin-boy to informe. If you have any further commands for over-seas, to-day will be the last occasion, as the wind will serve us well out of the firth. I will not seek to deny that I have had crosses with your doer, Mr. Rankeillor; of which, if not speedily redd up, you may looke to see some losses follow. I have drawn a bill upon you, as per margin, and am, sir, your most obedt., humble servant, ELIAS HOSEASON. Agent.” Now you can see for yourself why this novel was so hard to understand. The cunning Ebenezer says to David, “You see, Davie, I have a venture with this man Hoseason, the captain of a trading brig, the Covenant, of Dysart. Now, if you and me was to walk over with yon lad, I could see the captain at the Hawes, or maybe on board the covenant if there was papers to be signed; and so far from a loss of time, we can jog on to the lawyer, Mr. Rankeillor’s. After a’ that’s come and gone, ye would be swierto believe me upon my naked word; but ye’ll believe Rankeillor. He’s a factor to half the gentry in these parts; an auld man, forby: highly respeckit, and he kenned your father.” What is Ebenezer scheming? What is he trying to hide from David? Later on that day, Ebenezer tricks David to come aboard the ship where he is knock out, chained and stowed below after which his uncle is seen sitting in the stern of a boat pulling for town. The ship was bound for the Carolinas...David realized that “white men were still sold into slavery on the plantations, and that was the destiny to which my wicked uncle had condemned me.” This is where the story takes off...and prospers. End of my 43 page review.

I liked this novel but thought Treasure Island (1883) was more exciting and was easier to comprehend the language (see my review of 8/23/2016). I promised you something in Gaelic. Okay, half way through the novel, the ship David was on (the Covenant) sunk. You can say, a little hole will sink a big ship, or you can say in Gaelic, bathaidh toll beag long mhor. I have no idea how you would pronounce that. Lastly, the author, China Mieville constantly uses the word ‘that’ consecutively (that that) in his novels, but Stevenson used ‘there’ consecutively (there there). Here is the sentence on page 144, “Now,” said he, “there is a little clachan not very far from Corrynakiegh, and it has the name of Koalisnacoan. There there are living many friends of mine whom I trust with my life, and some that I am no just so sure of.” So there there you go (Haha).

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Robert Louis Stevenson died at an early age of 44 in Samoa. He was sickly all his life, suffering from consumption (now called tuberculosis). In his later years he found the sea air helpful to his health. He travelled to the Hawaiian Islands (where he became a good friend of King Kalakaua), the Gilbert Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand and the Samoan Islands. In Samoa, the natives loved him, naming him Tusitala (teller of tales).

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A CHILD MADE TO ORDER


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

Norwegian filmmaker and author Piotr Ryczko offers the literary world something unique. He has written a quality enigma/thriller novel whereas the reader may dislike the personalities of (as I did) all the main characters (six). Is that a good thing? I say yes, if that was the author’s intention. And I believe that to be so...since there is no joy or time for commiseration in this novel. In fact, it is a very dark story involving the obscure business of permanently modifying genes in living cells to correct mutations and treat the genetic cause of the disease (CRISPR). It also features IVF, a medical procedure whereby an egg is fertilized by sperm in a test tube. All these procedures are performed on unhappy infertile woman. Why is everybody so angry in this novel? I’ll bet that Cormac McCarthy would love this novel. Did any of these women think to get married so they could adopt? Apparently, it’s next to impossible for a singleton parent to adopt a child in Norway. I did like this novel, however it was not without it’s flaws. Why didn’t Viola or Magda give the reader a good layman’s explanation of what mitochondrial disease was? I couldn’t find a easy answer to this disease on the internet. I also didn’t understand why it took so long to tell the reader exactly how Marcus died. Lastly, why did it take over half the novel before the reader finds out that Pål was a suspended cop? These are details that seem minor, but cause the reader to somewhat stumble through the story in a wishy-washy way...if that makes any sense.  

The story is based in Oslo, Norway in 2016. Marianne Stine, a women’s rights campaigner, had disappeared three years earlier. Since her disappearance, her video blog that catered “to the community of infertile women” has been inactive. Marianne has a condition known as mitochondrial disease, which caused her to have three miscarriages in a row. Where did she go? Meanwhile, Viola Voss, the investigative reporter who tried to find Marianne with the help of Police Officer Pål, is being promoted to Middle East correspondent in Syria. She was being promoted by her mother, Anne, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Aftenposten. While the party was downstairs waiting for Viola to join the festivities, Viola, who also suffers from the mitochondrial disease was…"Upstairs, in the bathroom. Dressed in her onyx Sherri Hill one-shoulder cocktail dress. Hiding like a wounded animal, scraping her knees against the bathroom tiles. This was the only place where she didn’t feel like she was about to lose her mind. And the only thing that took away some of the numbness, stabbing at her heart, was the scrubbing. Her hand clenched onto a piece of wiry cloth, while she did her best to remove a practically non-existent stain from the bathtub.” What happened in that tub five years ago?

Her boyfriend, Ronny (a doctor), finally gets Viola to come downstairs for the promotion celebration. Everything goes well, including the news that Ronny has given up his practice and will go with her to Syria...until the doorbell rings (note to the author: I also love the ellipsis). It’s Mrs. Stine, Marianne’s disgusting mother. “Three years earlier, Viola offered to help look for Stine’s daughter. She was a public figure, a known personality in the blogosphere, but most of all, she was the voice of the many childless women out there.” What did Mrs.Stine want of Viola? The missing person case was dropped a long time ago. Viola tries to push Mrs. Stine nicely out the door, “But just as she had almost managed to get rid of the older woman, Stine shoved a phone into her face.” Viola says, “But. But. But...The blog has been dead since she disappeared. Right? So, what is this? Stine pressed her finger at a snippet of text from Marianne’s blog. A fresh comment read: Don’t let the bed bugs get under your undies-Anon.” Viola tells Mrs. Stine that it could be anything...probably a prank. But Mrs. Stine vigorously disagrees, “These are my words, Miss! I sang them when I put her to sleep. Don’t you see? My baby...She is alive.” Wow, what’s going to happen now? Will Viola disappoint her pig headed mother and give up her promotion to look for Marianne again? Did Marianne find a clinic that can cure her disease? If so, can they cure Viola’s? Or is what’s to come a criminal hoax? I only reviewed the first twenty pages of this suspenser (notwithstanding my first paragraph of analysis), the other 276 pages are on you. I do recommend reading this dark tale...it’s a trip.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: I wondered how authors like Piotr from Norway heard about my reviews. Then I checked my internal stats and saw that I’ve had 1,373 “hits” on my site from Scandinavian countries. Enough said...the internet is truly worldwide. Are there any great Norwegian writers? I couldn’t find any, but there are several great Scandinavian writers. Surely you have heard of the Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen and his The Complete Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales (1835). And what about the great Swedish children’s writer, Astrid Lindgren and her Pippi Longstocking character (1945).

But I saved the best anecdote for last. Swedish writer Stieg Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004. After his death, three manuscripts that he wrote for his own pleasure (with no intention of publishing) came to light. They are; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005), The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006) and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2007). Besides becoming bestsellers, all three novels were adapted as motion pictures. Go figure.       

Saturday, June 3, 2017

the BEAR and the NIGHTINGALE


Although Katherine Arden is a Texan by birth, she writes like a seasoned Russian novelist. I presume studying Russian literature in Moscow had a lot to do with her Russian folklore style. I especially admire her using the Russian peculiarity (to us, not to them) of each character having multiple names. Sometimes this causes confusion for the reader. But when you realize that Russians have a first name, patronymic name and surname spelled in many varieties each, it’s less puzzling. They might also have a peasant name or a cutesy/loving name to go along with their other names. For example our main character is Vasilisa, but she is also known as: Vasya, Vasilisa Petrovna, Vasochka, and Vedma by a bathhouse spirit named Bannik. Oh yes, Vasya sees lots of spirits and they all relate to her. If you want a better example of multiple names, read Dostoevsky’s 1866 masterpiece, Crime and Punishment (see my review of 11/17/2014). Katherine Arden’s descriptive writing is in play when writing about the approaching cold winter in northern Russia, “The season was just turning, the drab fields full of shaved stubble and dusted with snow...it was cold, but Vasya did not think of it. She had been born to cold.” Throughout the novel the author has a foreboding style of writing that makes the reader wince when thinking of what’s going to happen next...and the heebie-jeebies usually transpire. I find it hard to believe that this novel is Katherine Arden’s first.

Katherine Arden recreates fourteenth century Russia with this fresh tale drawn from old Russian fables. Pyotr Vladimirovich was a great lord living on rich lands with many peasant workers. He enjoyed a good life with his wife, Marina; sons, Kolya, Sasha and Alyosha and daughter, Olga. Longtime nurse and nanny, Dunya, also lived in the big house, now the chief cook and family storyteller. Early in the novel, Dunya tells the tale of The Frost King, “The master of the white snow, the black firs, and the silver frost”, to the children. All the peasants believed him to be real along with all the other woodland spirits. Later in the day, Marina tells Pyotr, “I am with child.” Pyotr was concerned because Marina was older now “and she had grown so thin that winter.” Marina said, “I want a daughter like my mother was.” Marina’s mother is a story in itself. During the reign of Ivan the first, “A ragged girl (Marina’s mother) rode through the Kremlin-gates, alone except for her tall gray horse. Despite filth and hunger and weariness, rumors dogged her footsteps. She had such grace, the people said, and eyes like the swan-maiden in a fairy tale...when Ivan first saw this girl, he sat unmoving for a full ten minutes. A year later he married this mysterious girl.” Who is she? Where did she come from? “The princess would not say where she had come from: not then and not ever.” The Church didn’t like the princess or her  daughter, Marina. “At the bishop’s insistence, Marina, her only child, was married off to a boyar (Pyotr) in the howling wilderness, many days’ travel from Moscow.” The stage is set for the birth of Vasya. Will she have the same special abilities and attributes as her grandmother had?

Vasya is born. “Marina breathed out once, gently, and died.” Before Marina died, she named the baby girl, Vasilisa...Vasya. “All that winter, the house echoed with the child’s cries. More than once, Dunya and Olga, despaired of her, for she was a scrawny, pallid infant, all eyes and flailing limbs. But the winter passed and the child lived. She ceased screaming and throve on the milk of peasant woman.” As she got older, Vasya had a habit of going into the woods alone. One day she didn’t come home for supper after a day in the forest. Who was Vasya calling when she sat in the snowy forest and said, “I know you sleep when the snow comes, but couldn’t you wake up? See, I have cakes (stolen from Dunya’s kitchen).” With no answer, Vasya decides to go home, but for some reason gets lost in the woods. She sees a tree unlike another. It was big, black and gnarled like a wicked old woman. “A man lay curled like a beast at the foot of this tree, fast asleep. She could not see his face; it was hidden between his arms. Through rents in his clothes, she glimpsed cold white skin. He did not stir at her approach.” With Vasya’s urging, he finally woke up. One side of his face was fair with a gray eye. The other side of his face was a mass of bluish scars with the eye socket sewn shut. He says, “What manner of girl-child comes here, all alone?” And then softer, “Such eyes, Almost I remember...Well, come here.” He made his voice coaxing. “Your father will be worried.” What did this thing (?) almost remember? I know that I told you a lot, but so far I’ve only reviewed the first 24 pages of a 314 page novel...are you ready to buy your own copy yet?

Before the one-eyed man could do any harm to Vasya, “There came the crunch of hooves in the snow, and the snorting breaths of a horse. A horse and rider stepped into the clearing. The horse was white and strong; when the rider slid to the ground, Vasya saw that he was slender and bold-boned, the skin drawn tight over cheek and throat. He wore a rich robe of heavy fur, and his eyes gleamed blue.” I told you that the author’s descriptive writing was to my liking. Anyway, who are these strange men and is one of them the Frost King? If so, who is the other man? The man in the rich robe of heavy fur says to the one-eyed man, “What is this?” The ragged man cringed, “No concern of yours, she came to me-she is mine.” The newcomer said to him, “Is she? Sleep, Medved, for it is winter.” So, they obviously know each other. Vasya is now frightened and turns around and flees. The stranger doesn’t follow. Vasya is eventually found by her brother, Sasha and returned home. Later, “Sasha, though he told no one, ranged the forest to the west, looking for this one-eyed man, or an oak tree with roots about its knees. But never man nor tree did he find, and then the snow fell for three days, straight and hard, so that none went out.” Okay, that’s the end of my 29 page review. The real good stuff is still ahead...and I mean real good. Did you notice that I never mentioned the bear or the nightingale? I also didn’t mention all the Russian folklore spirits and demons that you will meet. Only one thing annoyed me. I had to keep going to Google or Wikipedia to decipher some Russian words; such as, devushka (girl) or domovoi (a household spirit in Russian folklore). Guess what? I didn’t realize that the author had a glossary at the book’s end that would have answered all my questions. Oh well!

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I looked up a listopia that Goodreads.com had on the internet concerning the top novels based on Russian folklore. They all seem to be recent novels, so I don’t know what the criteria was when the vote took place, but the following are the top two novels:

  1. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (2012). This was a surprise because it was a novel that I reviewed in 2013. Goodreads.com said, “Alaska, the 1920s. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on a fresh start in a stark place, and Mabel is haunted by the baby she lost many years before-when a little girl appears mysteriously on their land, each is filled with wonder, but also foreboding...is she what she seems, and can they find room in their hearts for her?” What did I think? Check out my review of 4/13/2013.
  2. Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire (2014). Goodreads.com said, “Elena Rudina lives in the impoverished Russia countryside. Her father has been dead for years. One of her brothers has been conscripted into the Tsar’s army, the other taken as a servant in the house of the local landowner. Her mother is dying, slowly, in their tiny cabin. And there is no food. But then a train arrives in the village…”