Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Finished: Taylor Caldwell's 'On Growing Up Tough'

I hit up my dad's pile of Classic books and authors for a quick read and settled on Taylor Caldwell's "On Growing Up Tough." It's a cross between a memoir of her childhood and forays into essays on modern (1971) society's demise.

The Union Leader newspaper called it "Must reading for the weakly loafers and cry-babies who moan about America and how tough it is to make the grade." But I read it anyway.

There were great chapters and total clunkers. She was a prolific author and sold millions of copies but never, in my mind, had one famous classic. She just churned out popular book after popular book.

In this book she repeatedly recalls her tough childhood, likes to brag about her strict upbringing (too many times), and relates how her mom and dad used to smack her around. And that's what, she thinks, made her tough. Maybe it did, but I don't think the smacking around made her tough. It made her cynical and mean (a mid-20th century Ann Coulter).

However, I found myself marking up the book like crazy. At times it read like it could've been written today with chapters on men being feminized, liberal media, welfare recipients and allusions to "the Establishment."

But at other times she was very poignant. She praises a color-blind society, sticks up for all races; she speaks of her admiration of policemen; and criticizes do-gooder hypocrites and "plastic" phoney people. There was also quite a bit of humor though hidden in deep sarcasm.

It was hard for me to like her though. She comes off as hyper cynical and self-righteous.

Chapter titles ranged from "The Child-Lovers" to "What Happened to American Men?" to "T.L.C. - Keep Your Paws Off Me."

I struggled with a rating on this one, but ended up with a 7 on the Haugenometer, because it made me think and such of mix of shocking attitudes softened by deep thoughts and caring. I ended up feeling kind of sorry for her more than anything. It was kind of fascinating actually.

Among her quotes that jumped out at me:

- On a liberal aunt of hers, who "had a deep passion for the poor, from whom she was very careful to keep far, far away."

- On her grandmother, who said "Never trust anyone who weeps for the poor, unless they're damned poor themselves."

- "Children are tough little animals, not tender blossoms."

- "I was taught to have an independent and searching mind, to scorn weak tears, to detest dependency on the part of anybody, to be brave and to endure. To sin was intolerable. To defend oneself was demanded at all times."

- As a child, for one day, she decided to be a saint and when her father was struck by her odd behavior, her mother said "Just ignore her."
"But it was impossible to ignore me. That's what is wrong with saints, I've discovered. You can never ignore them, whether you want to or not, especially when social workers, puritan busybees, psychiatrically-oriented school teachers, child psychologists, community directors, censors, and other dreary people come in their guise."

- "Remember this: The strongest sign of decay of a nation is the feminization of men and the masculinization of women."

- "The American insanity for Loving Everybody is ruining my good temper and delivering my stomach to enormous bouts with acidity."

I don't quite do her justice with these quotes, as there are entire chapters that offer a more endearing and thoughtful portrait of her; but I'm too lazy to quote entire chapters.

I recommend reading it. She was an interesting woman.




Sunday, February 11, 2018

Finished: Parker's 'Hundred Dollar Baby'

Robert B. Parker is considered the "Dean of American Crime Fiction" and for good reason. He published 70 novels, 40 of them featuring detective Spenser.

I've read 13 of them, including the 34th Spenser novel, Hundred Dollar Baby, published in

From Goodreads:
When a mature, beautiful, and composed April strides into Spenser's office, the Boston PI barely hesitates before recognizing his once and future client. Now a well-established madam herself, April oversees an upscale call-girl operation in Boston's Back Bay. Still looking for Spenser's approval, it takes her a moment before she can ask him, again, for his assistance. Her business is a success; what's more, it's an all-female enterprise. Now that some men are trying to take it away from her, she needs Spenser. 
Spenser is a tough, but thoughtful, character. He is quick with a quip, dotes on his psychiatrist girlfriend and loves his dog. My kind of guy. He's a deeper character than many fictional detectives and seldom fires his gun.

This one kept me off balance with some nice plot twists and an ending I didn't see coming. Dang him.

Goodreaders give it a 3.8 of 5. The Haugenometer gave it a 7 of 10.

Now I'm going to try to squeeze in a Taylor Caldwell novel from my dad's library of classics before I dive into some Lenten reading to soothe my soul.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Finished: Koontz's 'The Whispering Room'

The Whispering Room is the second in Dean Koontz’s Jane Hawk series – the first being The Silent Corner. I actually liked it a little better than the first.

A summary from Goodreads:
In the wake of her husband's inexplicable suicide--and the equally mysterious deaths of scores of other exemplary individuals--Jane picks up the trail of a secret cabal of powerful players who think themselves above the law and beyond punishment. But these ruthless people bent on hijacking America's future for their own monstrous ends never banked on a highly trained FBI agent willing to go rogue--and become the nation's most wanted fugitive--in order to derail their insidious plans to gain absolute power with a terrifying technological breakthrough.
Driven by love for her lost husband and by fear for the five-year-old son she has sent into hiding, Jane Hawk has become an unstoppable predator. Those she is hunting will have nowhere to run when her shadow falls across them. 
The thing I liked about Whispering Room is it expounds more on what is causing these suicides and what the goal of the bad guys is. It also brings in a small-town sheriff, his family, and a school teacher, which better grounds the book rather than it being just some high-flying FBI-CIA-espionage-thriller.

In this second book, I also became more enamored with the main character, Jane Hawk. She is a little more real. She likes her vodka, loves her son and is vindictive as hell. So what’s not to like?

It got a little funky for me with a plethora of characters being introduced. For I’m a simple man and like being able to count the characters on one hand. But that’s no biggie. I just have to concentrate a little harder.

At first I wasn’t clear if this was a new series by Koontz or if it is a trilogy. Apparently it’s the latter, which explains my main gripe with it: That the story doesn’t end when the book ends. Sure, a few threads are eliminated, but the problem persists and apparently we have to wait for another book to see how Jane kills all the bad guys, saves her son and the world. Rest assured, she will.

Goodreaders give it a 4.3 of 5 and Amazonians a 4.6. On the 10-point Haugenometer, I went with a 7-.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Finished: Martel's 'The High Mountains of Portugal'

Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal might be the most fascinating book I’ve ever read.

It’s kept me up at night thinking. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up. I’ve been babbling to co-workers about it and boring my family with excerpts out of the blue. It’s a combination of Mark Twain’s humorous travelogues, C.S. Lewis spirituality and Edgar Allan Poe’s macabre madness.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s weird. Judging by reviews, some people hate it. Others love it.

Now I’m a guy who reads 90 percent murder/crime mysteries. Nothing too deep, just Jack Reacher cracking skulls and Gabriel Allon shooting terrorists. going along for the ride kind of stuff. I’m not an Oprah-list hoity-toity reader. But this book is more of the latter. It has analogies about analogies within dreams surrounded by grieving minds driven to despair. But it’s fun, the twists are incredible, the shocks are, well, shocking. But it comes together. It’s a thinker. And if I can do it, so can you.

What I don’t get is why Yann Martel isn’t celebrated more outside the fine literature world for the genius mind he has. CNN should be doing two-hour specials on this guy. I’d watch The View for the first time if they had him on. But instead we get phony scientists like Bill Nye being celebrated as some kind of genius, and king of flop movies, George Clooney, testifying in Congress like he’s an expert on Sudan; while intelligent, imaginative thinkers like Martel are relegated to C-SPAN 7 and the Journal on Canadian Writers with Weird Hair and relative anonymity beyond the book world.

This is an interesting well-rounded review of Martel and his works. He’s not without his critics but no writer worth his salt is.

I’ve been lacking a knock-out book for quite some time and frankly really needed one. Martel delivered again. Read it. I gave it a 9 of 10 on the Haugenometer.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Finished: Block's 'In the Midst of Death'

Kicked the year of with one of Lawrence Block's 60 novels: "In the Midst of Death." It's the third of his famous Matthew Scudder series.


Bad cop Jerry Broadfield didn't make any friends on the force when he volunteered to squeal to an ambitious d.a. about police corruption. Now he'saccused of murdering a call girl. Matthew Scudder doesn't think Broadfield's a killer, but the cops aren't about to help the unlicensed p.i. prove it -- and they may do a lot worse than just get in his way.
 
The main character is a recovering alcoholic and former cop.
 
 
It has been suggested that Scudder's struggle with alcoholism is in part autobiographical; while Block has repeatedly refused to discuss the subject, citing AA's own tradition of anonymity, in a column he wrote for Writer's Digest, Block wrote that when he created Scudder, "I let him hang out in the same saloon where I spent a great deal of my own time. I was drinking pretty heavily around that time, and I made him a pretty heavy drinker, too. I drank whiskey, sometimes mixing it with coffee. So did Scudder."

This book was published in 1976. Block is now 79 and still going strong. He's very active on social media and has a very interesting email newsletter. He was also best friends with one of my other favorite authors, the late Donald Westlake. Seems to me the 60s and 70s were a great age for mystery writers where guys like them churned out tons of pulp fiction often times under fake names depending on the specific genre or series. I'm currently reading a Westlake novel written under the name of Richard Stark.

Amazonians gave this a 4 of 5, but I wasn't quite as high, giving it a 6 on the Haugenometer.
 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Roth 5 from '07

My friend and co-worker, Wes Roth, is an occasional contributor to this blog (one of the top 5 Haugen blogs worldwide). He has unleashed his top five books from 2017.

Wes is a voracious reader but of a different ilk than I. He reads a lot of non-fiction and religious books. Wes’s reading was more heavy on the religious side this past year (and next) due to the fact that he’s taking some theology classes through Biola University and because he enjoys them and grows through them.

Here are his top books from last year, with his full Goodreads reviews at the links:

#1 by a mile was my daily devotional by Charles Colson: How Now Shall We Live?

As of right now, "Second to my Bible, this devotional and my notes and prayers will be my most important book to keep close to me and refer to it regularly in my walk with God" as a counter-cultural Christian.

#2 is "The Benedict Option" by Rod Dreher.

"For example, in the chapter on 'A New Kind of Christian Politics', Dreher argues that Christians should "get started with the antipolitical politics of the Benedict Option. Secede culturally from the mainstream. Turn off the television. Put the smartphones away. Read books. Play games. Make music. Feast with your neighbors. It is not enough to avoid what is bad; you must also embrace what is good." (pg 98). I have taken some of his suggestions to heart and made some great changes in my life this year.

#3 is "Evicted" by Matthew Desmond.  
Having grown up nowhere near the level of grinding poverty that Desmond shares in 'Evicted', this book really opened my eyes to the never-quite-get-out of pit of poverty in America--in this case, Milwaukee. And I never understood how there could be "profit from poverty." Every American should read this book.

#4 is As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God by Eugene H. Peterson

"As Kingfishers Catch Fire" is a wonderful collection of sermons and teaching by a longtime follower of Jesus and preacher of the Word. I will refer back to this book many times in the years ahead in my study of the Bible. His sermons are incredible to read and reflect on, then to apply to my life. I have gone back to this book, again and again, this year.

#5 is The President Will See You Now: My Stories and Lessons from Ronald Reagan's Final Years by Peggy Grande.  

This is a fantastic addition to the Reagan "canon" about a top aide who worked for President and Mrs. Reagan, post-presidency.  I also got to know her personally and was intrumental in bringing her to South Dakota this year for the Pennington County Lincoln Day Dinner.  This is a wonderful, endearing biography of the 40th President and his wife. I literally cried at the end (only two books have done that). 




Saturday, December 30, 2017

Finished the year with a loser

I finished the reading year with a dud. It was my 27th book of the year. Would've been nice to finish on a nice round number like 26, but my desire to read overpowered my OCD.

If the title of the book is accurate, “Losers Live Longer”by Russell Atwood, then this book will live for centuries.


It was published by Hard Case Crime which is famous for its detective noir and good noir at that. How this slipped through the cracks I don’t know.

The plot was forced. The main character was a dud. I felt nothing for him. The author tossed in an odd sex scene out of the blue and a couple other comments that seemed totally out of the flow. And he ended his chapters with weird attempts at deep thoughts or something that were just dumb.

Like:

It gave me a chance to close my eyes and forget.
Sweet forget, how I missed you.

Or:
I turned away from it and walked east, following my shadow, a long narrow stain spilling out in front of me.

Dumb.

As you can tell, I didn’t like the book. Gave it a year-low 5 on the Haugenomter, out of 10.  Going back to one of my old faithfulls, Lawrence Block, to start 2018. He's never let me down.

My lunch hour

This is how a high-roller like myself spends his lunch hour: Everybody’s Bookstore and some pepperoni pizza.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Lindy was a jerk but the book was good

True to my plan, I read another biography – this one on Charles Lindbergh. There’ve been a ton written about him, but I went with “Lindbergh A Biography” written by Leonard Mosley in 1976.

The only things I really knew about Lindbergh previously were that he flew across the Atlantic that his kid was kidnapped, and he was supposedly an American hero. I certainly didn't realize what a big deal he was at the time.

What I learned in this book is that he was actually a pretty rotten person. He was a racist, sexist, anti-Semite. He was also a hypocrite with little self-awareness.

In 2003 (two years after the death of his wife) it was revealed that, beginning in 1957, Lindbergh had engaged in covert sexual affairs with three European women, with whom Lindbergh fathered seven more children, none of whom learned of his true identity until a decade after his death in 1974.

One of the many parallels between then (1927 when he did his flight) and now are the accusations of "fake news." Yellow journalism was alive and well back then. Totally made up stories about him would appear on front pages of newspapers just to sell copies. As such, he grew to hate the media. Eventually, that was a major factor in him moving to England, where they were pompous enough people to not think him so special.

As he later became a PR tool of the Nazis by touring their aircraft facilities in Germany, it was that distrust in media that kept him from believing the published reports of the evil Hitler was doing. So he was branded a Nazi sympathizer and things spiraled down from there. He fought publicly with FDR. Was fond of fascists, but hated communists. He was an odd duck.

He was the kind of guy who was a genius with mechanical things but pretty much a stupid dork when it came to relating to people.

It was a fascinating history lesson written around this guy who I didn't like much. But I'm a smarter man than before I read the book, so mission accomplished.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Finished: Lee Child's "The Midnight Line"

Lee Child turned out another good, clever Jack Reacher novel in The Midnight Line.

As I've mentioned before, a book set in places I'm somewhat familiar with always endears itself to me. Much of this book took place in my hometown of Rapid City, so you know I was liking it. Even forays into Wyoming territory I'm familiar with added to its allure.

But you could set a novel taking place in my basement and it would still have to deliver a clever plot and intriguing characters to make it legit. This one did. How Child can make his 22nd Jack Reacher storyline so unique and interesting is beyond me.

From Amazon:
Reacher takes a stroll through a small Wisconsin town and sees a class ring in a pawn shop window: West Point 2005. A tough year to graduate: Iraq, then Afghanistan. The ring is tiny, for a woman, and it has her initials engraved on the inside. Reacher wonders what unlucky circumstance made her give up something she earned over four hard years. He decides to find out. And find the woman. And return her ring. Why not?

So begins a harrowing journey that takes Reacher through the upper Midwest, from a lowlife bar on the sad side of small town to a dirt-blown crossroads in the middle of nowhere, encountering bikers, cops, crooks, muscle, and a missing persons PI who wears a suit and a tie in the Wyoming wilderness.

The deeper Reacher digs, and the more he learns, the more dangerous the terrain becomes. Turns out the ring was just a small link in a far darker chain. Powerful forces are guarding a vast criminal enterprise. Some lines should never be crossed. But then, neither should Reacher.

It's a 7+ out of 10 on the Haugenometer, pretty much in line with the 4.3 of 5 by Amazonians and Goodreaders a 4.2.

A couple quotes I marked:

“You threatening me now?”
“More like the weather report. A public service. Like a tornado warning. Prepare to take cover.”  
 
“Billy was a hardscrabble country boy, maybe forty years old, lean and furtive, like a fox and a squirrel had a kid, and spent half the time baking it in the sun, and the other half beating it with a stick.”

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Link-oh-rama time

Haven’t had a link-oh for a while so let’s give it a go with some interesting stories you may have missed:

*** The weird story of feet washing ashore in Canada.

*** The year-end best book lists are hitting the interweb. Here are Amazon’s best books of 2017. Again, I just missed the cut.

*** And there’s this 5-star ebook that didn’t make any “best of” lists, because of the Russians.

*** I really liked this column about one-thingism and trying to live a well-rounded life.

*** Good report on Minnesota's newest champion.

*** I love Barnes & Noble, but agree with this. WSJ: ‘There’s too much stuff in the stores,’ says Barnes & Noble CEO

*** The top 10 books of 2017, according to the NYT Book Review

*** The top selling e-books for each of the last 10 years on Kindle.

*** Craig Sager was a flamboyant reporter of the NBA and died of leukemia. His wife, Stacy Sager, tells his story, with some advice for reporters: Listen.

*** Well at least she won this vote.

*** And there’s this 5-star ebook that didn’t make any “best of” lists, because the system is rigged! Rigged I tell ya!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Finished: 'Merry Christmas, Alex Cross' - ugh

Fittingly, I recently finished James Patterson’s “Merry Christmas, Alex Cross.” (FYI, a bunch of JP books are on sale for $4-5 on Amazon right now.)

It was a little much for me, kind of out there and strained credibility. But it was Alex Cross, so I finished it. It was kind of like Patterson didn’t have time to write a full novel, and didn’t want to release a novella, so he took two short stories and jammed them together back-to-back. It was really quite odd.
It's Christmas Eve and Detective Alex Cross has been called out to catch someone who's robbing his church's poor box. That mission behind him, Alex returns home to celebrate with Bree, Nana, and his children. The tree decorating is barely underway before his phone rings again--a horrific hostage situation is quickly spiraling out of control. Away from his own family on the most precious of days, Alex calls upon every ounce of his training, creativity, and daring to save another family. Alex risks everything--and he may not make it back alive on this most sacred of family days. Alex Cross is a hero for our time, and never more so than in this story of family, action, and the deepest moral choices. MERRY CHRISTMAS, ALEX CROSS will be a holiday classic for years to come.
It's no classic. It's the opposite of a classic, the most forgettable book Patterson has written. If you skip a Cross book, skip this one. I only gave it a 5 out of 10 on the Haugenometer, but the James Patterson worshipers at Amazon somehow manage to give it a 4.3 out of 5.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Finished: 'The Last Kind Words Saloon'

I picked up Larry McMurty's TLKWS off the bargain rack at the Wall Drug Book Store on my most recent trip to Wall. He's best known for Lonesome Dove, which I've never read (because it's never been on the bargain rack).

This was a good quick read I enjoyed a lot, though I'm not really sure what the plot was except to follow Wyatt Erp and Doc Holliday around while they wise-cracked and got drunk. Hey, doesn't take much to entertain me some days.

From Goodreads:
 In this "comically subversive work of fiction" (Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books), Larry McMurtry chronicles the closing of the American frontier through the travails of two of its most immortal figures, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Tracing their legendary friendship from the settlement of Long Grass, Texas, to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in Denver, and finally to Tombstone, Arizona, The Last Kind Words Saloon finds Wyatt and Doc living out the last days of a cowboy lifestyle that is already passing into history. In his stark and peerless prose McMurtry writes of the myths and men that live on even as the storied West that forged them disappears. Hailed by critics and embraced by readers, The Last Kind Words Saloon celebrates the genius of one of our most original American writers.  
Among the better lines:

"Nine out of ten statements Doc made were nonsense, but it was dangerous to stop listening because the tenth statement might be really smart." Could've been describing me.

"Hold on, I'll just go borrow that shotgun from Wells Fargo," Doc said. "Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it."

I gave it a 7- on the Haugenometer.

***

Before this I read Janet Evanovich's Explosive Eighteen, but it doesn't deserve it's own post. I really liked her first seven books of the series, but then tired of them, but kept picking them up and reading them in hopes of recapturing that. But it hasn't happened and I don't know why I didn't quit sooner, but should have. This is my last one. Promise.

They're all just the same. Her main character, Stephanie Plum, hasn't changed in the entire series. The characters haven't changed. No growth, no difference. No more.

I gave it a 5.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

I saw it in color and loved it

Wifey and I attended the Jamey Johnson concert last night at the Deadwood Mountain Grand. We both loved it.

I'm not very good at writing reviews but do it anyway.

Johnson didn't talk much, just played music nonstop for almost two hours, and there's nothing wrong with that. Preferable in most cases.

A couple songs in, after "High Cost of Living," he said: "First time in Deadwood. Didn't know there'd be so many of ya." Long pause, then: "What if we suck?"

They didn't.

He has such a deep, rich voice, it's incredible. The sound mix was perfect, as we were able to hear all his words over a large band. Between back-up vocalists, the guitars, two drummers and a trio of instrumentalists, there must've been a dozen of them.

He tossed in a tribute medley to George Jones and two songs and a shout-out to Tom Petty. He also brought his dad on stage for a song (bottom photo).

You can usually tell when a band is having fun and feeding off the crowd (they were) and at one point while the crowd was singing along to "In Color" the lights were turned on so Johnson could see how large the crowd was. It was packed. He smiled and turned to his guitar player with a grin. They dimmed the lights and cranked it up again.

My 20-year-old texted to ask how the concert was. I told him and added: "He speaks to me." The kid "lol"d to that, but Johnson does and the concert turned this fan into an even bigger fan.

Best 25 bucks I ever spent.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Finished Sandford's 'Field of Prey'

I got out of order on John Sandford’s “Prey” novels, but as the great Willie Nelson sings: “There’s nothing I can do about it now.” Except to read the books.

On a side note, great lyrics to that song:
I've survived every situation
Knowing when to freeze and when to run
And regret is just a memory written on my brow
And there's nothing I can do about it now.
“Field of Prey” is #24 in the series and I really enjoyed it. One of the things that draws me to the novels is the setting. Most are set in southern Minnesota, which I know pretty well. So it’s fun when Lucas Davenport ventures into Owatonna or Mankato, with several mentions of South Dakota. This one takes place in the Red Wing area on the Wisconsin border.
On the night of the fifth of July, in Red Wing, Minnesota, a boy smelled death in a cornfield off an abandoned farm. When the county deputy took a look, he found a body stuffed in a cistern. Then another. And another. By the time Lucas Davenport was called in, it was fifteen and counting, the victims killed over just as many summers, regular as clockwork. How could this happen in a town so small without anyone noticing? And with the latest victim only two weeks dead, Davenport knows the killer is still at work, still close by. Most likely someone the folks of Red Wing see every day. Won t they be surprised.
Amazonians like it, giving a 4.6 of 5. Goodreaders at 4.2. I need to loosen up my system because all I seem to do is hand out 6 and 7s lately on my 10-point system. But I won’t start today: 7+.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Reading list interrupted

My newest thing is to try to weave some biographies into my reading repertoire. My current rotation is about ten crime fiction novels, then a classic book, ten more fiction novels, and then one religious book. So I wanted to broaden my horizons a little more without delving into 800-page tomes like The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. More power to those who do, but I don’t have the upper body strength to hold those books the required time necessary, nor the patience or attention span.

And I didn’t want to do presidents, because those are all usually epic length, and also because everybody reads them and most have been studied to death and I have a working knowledge of most of them. So I’m leaning toward famous people, who I wouldn’t normally read about, don’t know a lot about beyond the rudimentary, but who also seem interesting and might teach me something.

So with that in mind, I knocked off Arnold Palmer’s A Life Well Played: My Stories.
Palmer takes stock of the many experiences of his life, bringing new details and insights to some familiar stories and sharing new ones. This book is for Arnie's Army and all golf fans but it is more than just a golf book; Palmer had tremendous success off the course as well and is most notable for his exemplary sportsmanship and business success, while always giving back to the fans who made it all possible. Gracious, fair, and a true gentleman, "Arnie" was the gold standard of how to conduct yourself in your career, life, and relationships.
I liked that he actually seemed to have written it himself. If he had a ghost writer it wasn’t a very good one. It was a little clunky at times, not as smooth as Doris Kearns Goodwin, but very interesting in a down-home gentlemanly way.

My main takeaways were that Arnie was a very competitive person, holds a couple grudges, loved his dad and his wife a lot, and is just a really, nice, old-school type of person who is not terribly impressed with the way society is headed. (It was like looking in the mirror with a lot less distance on the drives.)

It met my qualifications to be included in the rotation: quick read, interesting and I learned some stuff. Go figure.

I’ve also picked up a couple bios for the to-be-read file, including Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel, and Charles Lindbergh – Writer, Inventor, Pilot. I’ll keep you posted on those, but not until I knock off three or four of my usuals, or as I call them, the good stuff.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Finished: Craig Johnson's 'The Cold Dish'

I scored tickets to hear Craig Johnson speak at Black Hills State University last week. So I figured I better read one of his books.

He’s the author of the Longmire book series, which was turned into a television series. It’s sixth and final season (though Johnson hinted at some one-off movies down the road) hits Netflix on Nov. 17 (if I recall correctly, but probably don’t.)

I found Johnson to be very humorous, down-home, humble. He provided great insight into the characters, the writing process, the actors and the biz. It was well worth the money (tickets were free).

While Johnson practically lives in my backyard (Wyoming) and I love the Netflix series, I’d never read one of his books. Not sure why, but maybe was thinking they really weren’t up my alley for murder mysteries. Might’ve even been a little uppity myself, thinking they were more Louis L’amour-ish, and those were from my junior high days.

Anyway, picked up his first in the series, The Cold Dish. And loved it. Might be front-runner for my favorite book I read in 2017. It had all the stuff I like if you combined Dean Koontz-Lee Child-Lawrence Block: murder, mystery, sex, love, spirit worlds, good dialogue.
Walt Longmire, sheriff of Wyoming's Absaroka County, knows he's got trouble when Cody Pritchard is found dead. Two years earlier, Cody and three accomplices had been given suspended sentences for raping a Northern Cheyenne girl. Is someone seeking vengeance? Longmire faces one of the more volatile and challenging cases in his twenty-four years as sheriff and means to see that revenge, a dish that is best served cold, is never served at all.
I ended it late the other night and just sat thinking about the book. It’s like the book ends with Walt Longmire, suffering, half-drunk, sitting on the porch of his Wyoming ranch home, with his best bud, who’s just given him an iced tea instead of a beer, and you’re thinking about the book and gradually come back into the real world. But you don’t want to, you want to go back to Wyoming, but you can’t, because the book is over and you’re back in reality and you gotta go to work tomorrow and you're grumpy the book ended because it was so good.

I was also annoyed that I didn’t pick out the killer in the book until way too late.

Not sure if I liked the book more because I’d met the author, or if I would have liked it just as much without having met him. I guess it doesn’t matter. I liked it and will be picking up the second book in the series.

Goodreaders give a 4.1 out of 5. Amazonians a steller 4.5. The Haugenometer about hit 8 on this one but will settle with a 7+ on the ten-point scale.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

When the comics page and news page mix

I wonder at which point the late-night “comedians” became news.

Every morning on my news feed I see stories of what these supposed consciences of America had to say the night before. I don’t read the stories, because I don’t really need to be preached to by a guy whose previous claim to intellectual stardom was filming women in bikinis jumping on trampolines. (I didn’t know he had that show until recently, but probably would’ve watched highlights.)

I don’t remember radio newscasts reporting what Johnny Carson or Jay Leno or even David Letermen said. As a former journalist I’m just trying to get my head around why these jokers are taken as serious people. Nobody reports what Weird Al Yankovic thinks of the latest breaking news.

I haven’t, except in passing, watched any of them, so maybe I’m missing out on their genius, but I doubt it.

My television viewing habits are probably not considered mainstream. I was a pretty devoted Letterman viewer back when he was funny. Then he hit a period, from which he never recovered, when he turned bitter and mean and just wasn’t funny anymore. The only times I’ve watched late night since were those rare occassions when Prince would perform. Then I turned it off.

I don’t watch any of the other goofs either: Samantha Bee, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher. Give me the old school actually funny and cutting edge people, like George Carlin, Dennis Miller or Chris Rock, and I’ll watch. I don’t care if they’re lib or conservative. I’m really not afraid to have my ox gored, but I do like comedians who will gore everybody’s oxen. Not just one side

I also don’t watch the nightly news, network or local, nor do I watch the Sean Hannities or Rachel Maddows of the world. So you might think I’m an uninformed person, but you’d be wrong.

I have a news station on all day at work, usually muted. My Twitter feed is filled with newsies. In my job I hear politics, from every possible point on the political spectrum, from 8 to 5. So when I get home, the last thing I want to hear is talking-head blowhards, who frankly most times know less about the topics than I do.

For me, until the early darkness returns, my evenings involve working out (usually with dogs in tow) and gardening, then reading and writing. If the television is on during those times, it’s usually a baseball game or a music channel. Not that I don’t have my TV vices, like NCIS and Big Bang Theory reruns, but they don’ preach to me. (I get that on Sundays.)

I really think listening to cranky/angry people every night can’t help but make you cranky/angry yourself. So I try to avoid it because I don’t need any help in that area.

On that front, I’ve made a more recent effort to eliminate those types of people from my social media too. I recently discovered the mute button on Twitter, so I don’t see some people’s post but they still get the pleasure of seeing mine. The handful I muted are mostly complainers and virtue signalers. I followed them expecting something different. On Facebook I “mute but follow” several as well. If they’ve been ranting pro or against Obama or Trump over the years, they’ve most likely met that fate.

The new thing (to me) which I really like is Snapchat. I only do that with a handful of friends. The best part though is the family group, where me, the wifey and kids can get some pretty goofy, more private, free-for-alls going on that always bring a smile to my face.

That seems to be my goal. A few more smiles, a lot less politics, make Mark a happy, or at least less grumpy, boy.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Finished: Daniel Silva’s ‘House of Spies”

“House of Spies” is the 17th in the Gabriel Allon series. It has to be tough as an author to keep things fresh for that long, but Daniel Silva does a good job. Gabriel keeps growing as a person and a professional (he's now director of Mossad) and the world’s problems never cease.

At 544 pages, that’s a pretty heavy load for my attention span but it flew by quickly as the world’s intelligence agencies join forces to bring down an ISIS plot. This one isn’t as Gabriel Allon-centric as most of the novels, but he’s still the main dude. And a good one.
Allon's career began in 1972 when he, Eli Lavon and several others were plucked from civilian life by Ari Shamron to participate in Operation Wrath of God, an act of vengeance to hunt down and eliminate those responsible for killing the Israel athletes in Munich. Wrath of God is referenced in the books throughout the course of his life.
One of the things I really like about Silva’s books is the afterward he includes. It shows the amount of research he puts into these spy thrillers and also touches on some of the real problems the world faces. Also, while Silva never names the president of the United States you can tell which ones he’s referring to. Surprisingly, he’s quite critical of Obama, or at least his efforts in the war on terror. I say surprisingly because I assume Silva is a liberal, given that he’s a journalist from California and married to CNN’s Jamie Gangel. But you know what they say about assuming.

This was another home run by Silva. I gave it a 7 of 10 on the Haugenometer. Amazonians are hot for it as well, with a 4.6 of 5.
But House of Spies is more than just riveting entertainment; it is a dazzling tale of avarice and redemption, set against the backdrop of the great conflict of our times. And it will prove once again why Daniel Silva is “quite simply the best” (Kansas City Star).

Friday, October 6, 2017

A garden with lots of twists

Last week when we were in Illinois, our daughter took us to a really cool place called Allerton Park about 20 minutes outside Champaign. The 12,000-acre park is considered one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois, along with the Cubs, Rob Blagojevich and Chicago’s murder rate.

It was built on the private estate of Robert Allerton and is now managed primarily by the U of Illinois. Allerton made his money in hogs, parlayed that into the Chicago Stockyards and founder of First National Bank of Chicago. Basically, his family was rich. And he had a son who was an artsy-fartsy guy and began creating this landscape which includes forest, grasslands, trails, a mansion, gardens and sculptures.

Befitting a splendid Georgian manor house, the Formal Gardens feature extensive plantings and over 100 ornaments and sculptures to discover.
“He created a picture in the garden. Yes, he painted with vegetation instead of oil and canvas.”
 Being a sophisticated liberal arts dude myself, I found the place to be “really cool.” I’m sure that’s what the Allerton family was going for. "Hey, Alice, let’s build a really cool place hicks from South Dakota can come to and walk around."

According to Wiki:
It has been described as "a vast prairie turned into a personal fantasy land of neoclassical statues, Far Eastern art, and huge European-style gardens surrounding a Georgian-Revival mansion" .
I liked that it was a very eclectic place. You could be walking by a huge peony garden, then down a hiking trail for half a mile and come across a huge bronze sculpture of a bear attacking a man. Then through the forest and out into an herb garden or into a Buddhist sculpture garden or Chinese maze garden.


Pictured here are the Fremiet sculptures:

Two bronze sculptures by the French artist Emmanuel Frémiet (1824-1910) were returned to Allerton Park in September 2016. The sculptures are not original Allerton pieces, but were donated to the University of Illinois in 1959 and subsequently placed along the park trails. They were loaned out for a traveling exhibition in 1980, moved from the park to the Krannert Art Museum in 1988, and finally placed in storage until new settings were created in the park.

Popularly called Gorilla Carrying off a Woman and Bear and Man of the Stone Age (Denicheur d′Oursons), they depict violent encounters between animals and Stone Age people.[33] Subject to controversy since they were created in 1885 and 1887 because of the violent subject matter, they are, however, immensely popular with park visitors who enjoy being surprised by finding them in the woods along the Orange Trail.

All in all, this was the type of place for a romantic get-away with the significant other or a nice family outing. You can take an hour or a day. It was pretty cool.