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.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Finished: Ted' Bell's 'Patriot'

Finished Ted Bell’s ninth Alex Hawke novel over the weekend. Was pretty proud of myself too, because I’m easily intimidated by thick books, but tackled this 700-pager  like a trooper and am a better man for it.

Intelligence officer Alex Hawke takes on power-hungry Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is wielding a terrifying new weapon, in the latest adrenaline-fueled thriller in Ted Bell’s New York Times bestselling series.
In corrupt Russia, an erratic Vladimir Putin is determined to forge his country into a formidable superpower once again. He intends to redraw the map of Europe, and will go to impossible extremes to realize his fantasies—including shooting down a civilian airliner packed with tourists bound for China. Kremlin scientists have developed a radical new weapon that could forever alter modern warfare. NATO, locked in a tense standoff over Ukraine, Poland, and Estonia, knows Putin will not hesitate to use it. But there is one man who can bring the world back from the brink: Britain’s foremost intelligence asset, Lord Alexander Hawke.
It probably could’ve been a hundred pages shorter if he took out all the descriptive crap I skip over, but it really was a page-turner. Alex Hawke is a bit like James Bond, has some cool big-boy toys and lots of friends in bad places, including Vlad Putin. So it gets a little outrageous in places, but nothing wrong with that. Living in reality ain’t all it’s cracked up to be either.

I gave it a 7- out of 10 on the Haugenometer, just because it was fun and flew by. Amazonians mostly agreed with a 3.7 out of 5. You can pick this book up for less than 6 bucks, so you might as well.

If I remember correctly, and I probably don’t, this is the only Hawke novel where he doesn’t have a girlfriend, wife or even a one-night stand. One crazy assassin lady put the moves on him, but he had better things to do. Don’t we all?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Getting caught up, while in Dante's hell

While I have a stack of books I could be reading, I'm waiting for the latest Ted Bell book to be delivered by the Amazon fairy. So I've been stuck for three days in Dante's seldom talked about tenth circle of hell where you've finished one book, but don't want want to start another, because you're waiting for an even better book.

Fortunately I have several anthologies with short stories that are perfect for such occasions and fell in with Nathaniel Hawthorne. First was "Young Goodman Brown" and then a must-read for all gardeners "Rappaccini's Daughter."

"Young Goodman Brown" "is often characterized as an allegory about the recognition of evil and depravity as the nature of humanity."

It is kind of a dour story about Mr. Brown and his dreamlike journey into the forest where he discovers, or thinks he discovers, that most of his family and friends are hypocrites and not as pure as their Puritanical beliefs would portend.

As for "Rappaccini's Daughter," Wikipedia sums it up well: "It is about Giacomo Rappaccini, a medical researcher in medieval Padua who grows a garden of poisonous plants. He brings up his daughter to tend the plants, and she becomes resistant to the poisons, but in the process she herself becomes poisonous to others."

Before those shorts I did knock off three novels which I was remiss in blogging about. They were:

Dean Koontz "The City" - I knocked this thick one off in about four days because it was so good. Gave it a 7 on the Haugnometer. Goodreaders a 3.8 of 5.

Of the two Koontz books I recently read, I liked this one the best. Maybe it's just because it reminded me a little of Odd Thomas.
Here is the riveting, soul-stirring story of Jonah Kirk, son of an exceptional singer, grandson of a formidable “piano man,” a musical prodigy beginning to explore his own gifts when he crosses a group of extremely dangerous people, with shattering consequences. 
Lawrence Sanders "McNally's Dilemma" - The McNally books are always a joy. This is the point in the series where Vincent Lardo takes over the writing of the Archie McNally stories due to Sanders' death. Gave it a 6, only because it was good but didn't wow me. Goodreaders were okay with it too, at 3.77 of 5.
After finding husband number two in a precarious position with an attractive young lady, Melva Williams pulls the trigger --- and readily admits to the crime passionnel. To shield her gorgeous daughter from the press and paparazzi, she turns to her longtime friend Archy McNally.
Dean Koontz "The Silent Corner" - The kick off to a new series featuring Jane Hawk, suspended FBI agent. I gave it a 7 of 10 and Goodreaders seem to like it even better as it checks in with a 4.01 of 5.
“I very much need to be dead.”These are the chilling words left behind by a man who had everything to live for — but took his own life. In the aftermath, his widow, Jane Hawk, does what all her grief, fear, and fury demand: find the truth, no matter what.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Link-oh-hump-day-rama

Got a quick trip coming up to move Junior into his apartment at college in Mankato. One of the best parts is getting to visit a great used book store there: Once Read Bookstore. Here's a nice feature story on it.

And other stuff:

*** So this is from Daniel Handler, best known for his Lemony Snicket series: If you want to get boys to read give them books about sex. Not sure what to think of this, so going to have to noodle it for a bit and maybe write a post tba.

*** One of my guilty pleasures is Sharknado, deal with it: How 'Sharknado' Casts Its C-Listers and Nearly Landed Trump as President

*** Here are the four books Mark Cuban is reading this summer

*** 13 Books to Read in August.
From a fast-paced, surprising novel about a Brooklyn mom on the run from the law, to a story collection about the varied lives of young, female Chinese immigrants, to a cookbook that tells you how to make classic American treats like Oreos and Nutter Butters (seriously), here are the books you need to devour in August.

*** 13 Writers Longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize.

*** The NY Times touches on hate from an unexpected source (to them).
The leaders of the Women’s March, arguably the most prominent feminists in the country, have some chilling ideas and associations. Far from erecting the big tent so many had hoped for, the movement they lead has embraced decidedly illiberal causes and cultivated a radical tenor that seems determined to alienate all but the most woke.
*** Is this really news? AP: Older people dying on job at higher rate than all workers

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Let's all think & talk alike, not

This is a good essay on why we need weird people. Why we need to unbundle our undies and allow people to say and write stupid, odd, controversial things. It’s a simple thing called free speech. Learn it, know it, live it.


(Isaac) Newton wouldn’t last long as a ‘public intellectual’ in modern American culture. Sooner or later, he would say ‘offensive’ things that get reported to Harvard and that get picked up by mainstream media as moral-outrage clickbait. His eccentric, ornery awkwardness would lead to swift expulsion from academia, social media, and publishing. Result? On the upside, he’d drive some traffic through Huffpost, Buzzfeed, and Jezebel, and people would have a fresh controversy to virtue-signal about on Facebook. On the downside, we wouldn’t have Newton’s Laws of Motion.
Historically, academia was a haven for neurodiversity of all sorts. Eccentrics have been hanging out in Cambridge since 1209 and in Harvard since 1636. For centuries, these eccentricity-havens have been our time-traveling bridges from the ancient history of Western civilization to the far future of science, technology, and moral progress. Now thousands of our havens are under threat, and that’s sad and wrong, and we need to fix it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Get rocked!

As promised, the second Bags Morton ebook hit the interwebs this week. To my dismay there have been no protest marches, threats of boycotts nor rending of garments nor gnashing of teeth.

Except by my wife of course, who I exasperate on a near daily basis:

Her: "Will you remember to put the wash in the dryer before I get home?"
Me: "I don't know."
Her: "Whadaya mean you don't know?"
Me: "I will TRY to remember, but we won't know if I actually did remember until you get home."
Her: "Grumble, grumble, something, something, jerk."

Back to Bags Morton, or the Summer with Bags as its become known worldwide.

Following on the stripper heels of Bags of Bodies comes Bags of Rock. It's a little shorter and a little cheaper, as I finally figured out the Amazon set-your-price tool. So it's only a buck ninety-nine. I mean seriously, for $1.99, even if you don't read or can't read, you should download it just so you can brag to people: "Hey, I downloaded a book today."

And your friends can look at you and say: "Wow, didn't realize you were such an educated person." Now put your shoes on the right feet and do it.

If you are a reader who likes a quick detective tale with biker gangs, strip joints and a rock band, and who appreciates a good chuckle, then this is just the book for you. If you don't like that stuff, why the heck are you even reading my blog/Twitter/Facebook feeds?

No friend of mine objects to a foot festering in a pickle jar on the bar counter, as this book begins. Soon there-after Bags is hot on the trail of somebody who is blackmailing his friend, the governor, with naked pictures of the gov's daughter, who is lead singer of the up-and-coming rock band, The Itch.

Trust me it's even better than it sounds. This is a little tamer language and sexual innuendo-wise (sorry)  than the previous Bags of Bodies, because the clientele is a little more hoity-toitie and less prison meaty.

The third still-to-be named Bags offering during this Summer with Bags is due out in August, though it's currently experiencing some technical difficulties. The hamsters in my old home computer, that still runs Windows 97, went on strike demanding more carrots. But I'm holding firm because once you give an inch to those little Lech Walesa wannabes, they will run rough-shod on you.

All three Bags books are quick reads. They aren't 700-page Moby Dick things you need to devote a year of your life to. They're two-night wham-bam-thank-you-Bags-ers that'll leave a smile on your face and your toes tingling.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Some mid-summer reading suggestions

While who some consider “interesting people” and who I consider “interesting people” don’t exactly jive, I do find these lists interesting as I try to read outside my fiction box on occasion.

 And so, in the spirit of Washington, D.C., bookishness, we’ve asked the most interesting people we know to tell us what they’re reading this summer—both the tomes at the top of their lists and their recommended guilty pleasure, if they’ll admit to having one at all.

 It’s funny to me how the hoity-toities like to consider most of the stuff I read to be “guilty pleasure” material, but they should realize I feel no guilt in it at all, only pleasure. As it is, most of the stuff I gleaned from their lists that I’m adding to my Books To Buy list come from the guilty pleasure genre. Pardon me for not reading about famous dead people every night of week.

My additions from their list:

Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton
The Highway and Badlands by CJ Box (then Paradise Valley)
The Fallen by Ace Atkins
House of Spies by Daniel Silva

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Finished Daniel Silva’s “Black Widow”

Daniel Silva rocks it in his latest book, Black Widow. I’ve read about 10 of Silva's 16 Gabriel Allon books and he’s done a great job of keeping my attention, which is not an easy thing to do.

Did you know Farrah Fawcett died about 20 minutes before Michael Jackson? Loved her poster.

Oh, wait, as I was saying …

As a former Middle East correspondent for UPI, who lived in Cairo, Silva has a unique grasp of the region and timely insight into various governments and terrorist groups. He seems well sourced and intelligent. This book tackles the ISIS situation. His main character, Allon, is in Jack Reacher territory, when it comes to my favorite protagonists in a series. He’s deep, dark, unflinching.

I really liked this one. A page-turner, realistic, timely.
Legendary spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon is poised to become the chief of Israel’s secret intelligence service. But on the eve of his promotion, events conspire to lure him into the field for one final operation. ISIS has detonated a massive bomb in the Marais district of Paris, and a desperate French government wants Gabriel to eliminate the man responsible before he can strike again.
They call him Saladin . . .
He is a terrorist mastermind whose ambition is as grandiose as his nom de guerre, a man so elusive that even his nationality is not known. Shielded by sophisticated encryption software, his network communicates in total secrecy, leaving the West blind to his planning—and leaving Gabriel no choice but to insert an agent into the most dangerous terrorist group the world has ever known. She is an extraordinary young doctor, as brave as she is beautiful. At Gabriel’s behest, she will pose as an ISIS recruit in waiting, a ticking time bomb, a black widow out for blood.
I also enjoy his “afterwards” to the book, where he details some of his research and stories behind the story. Like when he met former Mossad director Meir Dagan, who suggested that when the books become movies they cast somebody taller in his role.

Goodreaders give it a 4.3 out of 5, while Barnes & Schnable gives it a 4.4 of 5. It hit a 7- on the Haugenometer of 10.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Science!

It’s hard to argue with science, I’m told. So let’s not start now.

The headline of this story is: Science Says You Should Add More Fiction Books to Your Summer Reading List

So don’t be a Fiction Book Denier! Fiction is good for you, according to a consensus of scientists. Do not argue with me on this. People smarter than you and I have spoken.

If you don’t read a fiction book, specifically THIS fiction book, the polar ice caps will melt, oceans will rise and Al Gore will lose weight. Buy fiction now! It will help you build your empathy muscle (that’s right behind your pecs); help you assess and adapt to the world around you; and boost your creativity.
A number of research studies have shown that when we read about depictions of smell, touch, and movement, we use the same parts of our brain as when we experience these sensory stimulations ourselves.
When we read fiction, we help our brains experience and work through complicated situations that could come up in real life.
It’s science, folks. Science!


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Finished: MacDonald’s ‘Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper’

I’m a late-comer to him but finally getting around to knocking off some John D. MacDonald paperbacks. So far so good. He writes some fascinating stuff with unique plots that are out of the mainstream detective novels.

I don’t know if I’m ready to go as far as Jonathan Kellerman though, who says: “The Travis McGee novels are among the finest works of fiction ever penned by an American author.” But they've got my attention.

In The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper:
He had done a big favor for her husband, then for the lady herself. Now she’s dead, and Travis McGee finds that Helena Pearson Trescott had one last request of him: to find out why her beautiful daughter Maureen keeps trying to kill herself. But what can a devil-may-care beach bum do for a young troubled mind?

McGee makes his way to the prosperous town of Fort Courtney, Florida, where he realizes pretty quickly that something’s just not right. Not only has Maureen’s doctor killed herself, but a string of murders and suicides are piling up—and no one seems to have any answers.

Just when it seems that things can’t get any stranger, McGee becomes the lead suspect in the murder of a local nurse. As if Maureen didn’t have enough problems, the man on a mission to save her will have to save himself first—before time runs out.
This was written in 1968 so it’s not at all politically correct, which may be why I find it so refreshing.

Goodreaders give it a 4 of 5. I gave it a 6-plus of 10.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thursday BS around SD

Tea native competes on American Ninja Warrior (Tea Weekly)
“Honestly, I didn’t know what the show was until a bunch of people were saying you should do American Ninja Warrior.”

Carrier Leaves Mark on Winner School District (Winner Advocate)
“I am no better than anyone else, I can pick up a broom.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How the 10th man came to be

This is an interesting excerpt from the book “Why Dissent Matters.” It talks about “The Tenth Man” who was developed as a sort of devil’s advocate in military intelligence after Israel was caught off-guard by the Yom Kippur War.


If there are 10 people in a room and nine agree, the role of the tenth is to disagree and point out flaws in whatever decision the group has reached. Seems like this could be adapted for political and business models as well.
Killing the messenger is self-defeating. AMAN, the Israeli forces’ directorate of military intelligence, had to change the way it did business, and in the aftermath of the Agranat Commission it created two new tools: the position of the Tenth Man, also referred to as the Revision Department, and the option of writing “different opinion” memos.
The review is here. The book is: Why Dissent Matters: Because Some People See Things the Rest of Us Miss by William Kaplan (McGill-Queen’s University Press)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Story behind Bags' stories

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been on a hardboiled noir detective kick the past few years – primarily stuff from the 60s and 70s. They most often contain dark characters doings bad things. Though some of them have quirky detectives in funny situations and exude humor.

I’ve read so many of these, from Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake to John D. MacDonald, that I thought I’d try my hand at writing one. Ended up I wrote three. They’re shorter, not full length 100,000-word novels you have to pour over for weeks. Each of these you can knock off in two or three nights. 

They’re fast moving, somewhat quirky, set in South Dakota, as I like to do.

What I originally aimed for though was dark, nasty and gritty. It’s not entirely what I ended up with. Try as I might I just can’t get into that dark place needed to churn out some true noir. I think you’ll find the main character, Bags Morton, to be of very loose morals, but with his own set of principles he won’t stray from. The newly-retired cop is sarcastic and smart-alecky. He’s chasing bad guys in bad places, bars and strip joints. There are criminals and ex-cons and bar flies.

So the biggest thing that really separates this from most stuff I’ve written is these characters tend to talk like you might expect people like that to talk. There are more F bombs than I’m usually comfortable using. There’s plenty of promiscuity and sexual behavior (which is mostly left to your imagination.) So what I’m saying is don’t think you’re getting into a Bobby Trane, priest out wandering around kind of novel. It’s rated PG, but nothing like you don't see in your fave Netflix series. Don’t blame me if, after you reading all three, you are swearing like a sailor by the end of the summer. You were warned.

The plan is to release the first novel, Bags of Bodies, tomorrow. Look for some kickoff specials, though if you have Amazon Unlimited it's free.

In a nutshell, Bags Morton is enjoying retirement with his beautiful girlfriend. She would like to get married (and have sex with him) but not until Bags decides to quit messing around with other women. Bags, loves her too (and aches to have sex with her) but already has 3 or 4 marriages under his belt and has lost all faith in the institution. While they are sorting this out, people start dropping dead around Bags. First his mechanic is killed, then his barber, then his dog’s veterinarian. Bags decides to step in and use some of his previous contacts/convicts to figure out what is going on. And to kill the person doing it.

In July I’ll drop the second book, Bags of Rock.

In BOR, Bags gets called in by his old friend and former boss, The Governor, because the Gov is being blackmailed over nude pictures of his daughter, who is lead singer of an up-and-coming rock band. Things go sideways quickly when Bags shoots the Lieutenant Governor’s son during a robbery attempt; and a biker gang seeks revenge on Bags and the governor’s daughter.

Then in August, I’ll let loose the third book, tentatively titled Bags of Stone. See what we’re doing here? “Spend a summer with Bags.” Rather than dragging these out, let’s just “boom, boom, boom” get ‘em out there.

BOS introduces you to Bags’ friend Jonathon B. Stone, a homeless dude known to most others as Johnny B. Stoned. As homeless people are getting murdered in the downtown area, Johnny seeks Bags’ help. Bags goes undercover as a homeless person and prowls the streets trying to protect his friend and find the murderer. But nothing can ever be simple for him.

It seems I have trouble moving on to other projects while I have these sitting here begging me to go back and edit and rewrite. So I'm getting them out. Hope you enjoy a little break from the real world.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Finished: J. Kellerman’s “The Murderer’s Daughter”

I haven’t read a Jonathan Kellerman novel in quite some time for no other reason than getting caught up in other stuff. The Murderer’s Daughter is a stand-alone, with no Alex Delaware, Kellerman’s most famous character.
A brilliant, deeply dedicated psychologist, Grace Blades has a gift for treating troubled souls and tormented psyches—perhaps because she bears her own invisible scars: Only five years old when she witnessed her parents’ deaths in a bloody murder-suicide, Grace took refuge in her fierce intellect and found comfort in the loving couple who adopted her. But even as an adult with an accomplished professional life, Grace still has a dark, secret side. When her two worlds shockingly converge, Grace’s harrowing past returns with a vengeance.
I liked it a lot. I gave it a 7- on the Haugenomter, while Amazonians a 3.8 of five.

Kellerman is a psychologist himself, thus spins very believable psychological stories. His main character here, Grace, is a femme fatale with issues of her own. It’s dark, murderous, sexy – all the things I like.

One thing I personally like about Kellerman is his writing diversity (unlike say James Patterson). In addition to his psychological thrillers, he’s also written non-fiction psychology books, a book on vintage guitars and children’s books.  He is a clinical professor of pediatrics and still manages to kick out a novel a year. Pretty impressive dude. No one-trick pony.

I’ve liked every Kellerman book I’ve read and need to make it a point to get better caught up in a few others that have slipped past me.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wednesday BS around SD

No better place to raise kids than SD (Meade County Times-Tribune)
"Everyone sat at the table until everyone was done. They had to ask to leave the table. I never let them eat with their caps on,"

Montague a fourth-generation rancher (Meade County Times-Tribune)
"Being a mom is the most important job in the world. When it's all said and done, my kids are what I have to look back on and say, 'I did this.’”

Ernest Roth answered the call for WWI (Edgemont Herald Tribune)
“The rank and file of the fellows were quite unhappy with the machine gun assignment as rumor had it that these units were always the first to be ordered into the front lines of combat in actual battle and were consequently referred to as ‘Suicide squads.’”

Acting as an advocate for FFA (Brandon Valley Challenger)
“You maintain a positive outlook and advocate for FFA. You tell people how fun it is and try to get people into it. I’m really passionate, and I decided to go for it. It’s going to be a fun year.”

Local mother Florence Munger famous for running Ritz Café (De Smet News)
“I was spoiled because I would go in and eat whatever they served for the day,” Craig admitted. His favorite meals that his mom made were round steak slow-cooked in tomato sauce and fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Finished: James Patterson’s ‘Cross the Line’

I’ve pretty much abandoned new James Patterson books and his host of co-authors, with one exception. I still read the Alex Cross novels. But even they are getting a little stale.

Hey, gotta give it to Patterson, he figured out a formula, stuck with it and it’s worked millions of times over for him. Short sentences, short chapters, keep it moving. But I have to think, especially after you’ve made more money than God, that you’d want to try something new. Apparently not. Dance with the girl who brung ya, I guess.

So Cross the Line is a year old, as I don’t exactly rush to the newest Pattertson stuff. And it was okay.
After shots pierce the tranquil nighttime calm of Rock Creek Park, a man is dead: what looks at first like road rage might be something much more sinister. But Alex has only just begun asking questions when he's called across town to investigate a new murder, one that hits close to home: Washington's own chief of detectives. And Alex's former boss, beloved mentor of Alex's wife, Bree. 
Now there's a killer on the loose, a long list of possible suspects, a city in panic, and nobody in charge of the besieged police force. Until Bree gets tapped for the job.
Amazonians seem to have a higher opinion of it than I do, a 4.4 out of 5, but so be it. It’s a 6 on the 10-point Haugenometer. Goodreaders a 4 of 5, and Barnes & Snobles 3.8 of 5.

Now that it’s done I can rest with the satisfaction that I can go another year or two without have to read another Patterson novel.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Society is failing our boys

David French is fast becoming one of my favorite writers. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidAFrench


Here he nails it: Our culture is unlearning masculinity, and boys are paying a steep price.

He makes many great points, including these two:
Make no mistake, if these numbers showed an equivalent (and increasing) educational gender gap running in the opposite direction, the feminist Left would declare a cultural emergency. Indeed, it has declared a cultural emergency in spite of the dominant educational performance of women.
And ...
It is important to see and know that throughout that young man’s life, his dad wasn’t just nurturing him, he was also challenging him — pushing him to be stronger mentally, physically, and emotionally. To that end, it’s time to remember that strength is a virtue, rightly channeled aggression creates and preserves civilization itself, and there is nothing at all inherently toxic about masculinity. 

Tuesday BS around SD

Terry Cousins to Retire from Veterans Service Office (Winner Advocate)
His wife, Marlene, wanted to move back to South Dakota and specifically the Gregory area where she had lots of relatives.  Cousins jokes when he told Marlene “Don’t you remember how cold the winters were in South Dakota.”  Marlene added: “But they have changed.”

Montague a fourth-generation rancher (Meade County Times-Tribune)
"Being a mom is the most important job in the world. When it's all said and done, my kids are what I have to look back on and say, 'I did this,'" says Lawonza (Baker) Montague, 38, New Underwood rancher and mother of two.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wednesday BS around SD

Making a difference (Brandon Valley Challenger)
“(The Relay for Life) is one I can’t give up because it affects so many people,” Feltman said. “It just makes me feel like my mom would be proud of me, that we’re not just letting her die in vain.”

Building on a successful business model (Dell Rapids Tribune)
“It was so slow that I thought maybe if we had a retail store, it would give us more credibility online,” she said. “So, then we started as an occasional store on main street. We were just open one weekend a month, and then we got busy enough to where we started opening every day.”

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Sources say, an addendum

On a side note, I am occasionally asked where I get my news. For starters I get none of it from television. I seldom watch local news, never watch network news (though I do have Fox Business on mute in my office throughout the day) and I don’t do any of the late-night talk shows. (And don’t get me started on newspapers doing stories now on what was on Saturday Night Live the night before.) I don’t subscribe to any newspapers, but do read some we get at work. I find the Black Hills Pioneer to be my favorite.

Much of my news is gained via local and national reporters I follow on Twitter. Otherwise, it’s on websites.

My 2 cents recommends thehill.com for any news regarding legislation or events going on in D.C. I know a bit about that stuff and don’t really sense a political leaning there. Pretty straight forward reporting. I don’t waste my time with Politico.

My first-thing-in-the-morning routine on my Kindle usually goes in this order, after Twitter:
drudgereport.com (latest world and national news)

yahoo.com/baseball/fantasy (to see how my SDPheasants team is faring)

aceofspades.mu.nu (a snarky, sometimes profane, hodge-podge of news from politics to art to books and gardening)

twinsdaily.com (for major league features and minor league updates on the Twins)

powerlineblog.com (some conservative attorneys in Minneapolis with updates on national and Minnesota politics as well as Miss Universe reports, and one of the guys is from Watertown)

realclearbooks.com (daily compilation of book news from around the world)

tmz.com (I wash it all down with my daily dose of what the Kardashians and my second wife Jennifer Aniston were up to the night before)

Shake it all around and this is what you get.

'Sources say' this is the best website in the world

It’s not a new thing but it is an increasingly more common thing: “Sources say.”


Chalk it up to entertainment news or internet-influence but I notice a lot more anonymous sources being used in news stories than ever before. “Sources say” Justin Bieber is dating Venus Williams or “sources say” the President spilled ketchup on his tie today.

It used to be, at least back in my days in the newspaper biz, that anonymous sources were rarely used and if they were they needed to be double-sourced by another. Some of it today, I believe, is also the rush to be the first to get the news. So “sources say” ten people were killed by two masked gun wielding assault rifles, eventually becomes four people shot by one man with a pistol. Seems it’s usually best not to repeat the particulars of any breaking news story you hear. Give it some time to stew, for more sources to reaffirm the story.

I recall using an anonymous source once in my career. That was from a closed-door meeting among teachers and from a teacher I knew and trusted. And I had no other way of getting that news. Now, it seems when there are other ways the reporters seldom wait or work their way to get the facts.

I even saw our local paper use an anonymous website comment to a news story in a follow-up story. No name, no nothing.

But, then again, this is the same paper that has a very popular feature in its news section (not on the opinion page) called “2 Cents.” That allows people to write in anonymous comments complaining about life, neighbors and politicians. The paper does no fact checking on the comments, just prints them willy nilly.

It’s amazing to me. I formerly edited four different newspapers and if I’d walked into the bosses and suggested “hey, let’s run anonymous opinions and unchecked comments on our news page,” they would’ve hung me up by my toes after firing me.

To make it worse, this is probably the most read part of the paper, which would make me nervous as a publisher that the most popular thing in your paper isn’t written by your own reporters.

It’s like they don’t realize that anonymous sources can have agendas, or they can be drunk, or they can be uninformed. That’s why you name sources, so readers can make that determination. If “Mark Haugen” says something, people can say they never heard of me, they can say “oh, he’s the smartest man I know, so I better believe him” or they can say, “oh, that idiot is back on the sauce.” But anonymous sources don’t allow the readers to make that judgement, instead relying on the veracity of the publication doing the anonymous sourcing, and not many of them are shooting off the charts right now.

But, I get it. I’m a dinosaur. Newspapers aren’t just papers anymore. Unfortunately, they aren’t just news anymore either.

Tuesday BS around SD

Deacon Harold Condon is named Distinguished Alumnus (Central Dakota Times)

“I learned a lot at St. Joseph’s Indian School,” he said. “But it was the spirituality, the faith I learned that gave me the strength to get through many things in my life. I served in the Vietnam War.
I watched my son serve two tours in the Middle East. I lost a son to cancer.
Through these times, it was my strength of faith that brought me through.”


Yankton’s Geigle ‘Addicted’ To Archery (Yankton P&D)

“When I first started, I thought I’d come in here and have fun, and not compete,” she said. “And we just ended up getting into it. It gets addicted and you want to do more and more.”

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sunday BS around SD

St. Patrick’s Church, Wall, Turns 100 (Penn. Co. Courant)
In April 1917, Reverend John Connolly became the region’s first resident pastor. He was responsible for parishioners in Wall, Quinn, Wasta and New Underwood. That year, the Wall parish purchased the unused Congregational Church building for $1,000, and a rectory for $1,300. The loans were paid off in four years. Over those years, and a few more, Wall  grew to became the only mission under Connolly.

Sturgis student prepares for Navy (Meade Co. Times)
"It gets difficult at times, but you have to set your priorities. Obviously, school is the most important thing in my life right now because if I don't graduate then I can't do any of this Navy stuff," he said.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Friday BS around SD

Hill City reporter taking a hike (Prevailer News)
I’m about to begin a journey that I’ve had on my bucket list for many years now. I’m going to start on the Mexican border in California and hopefully not stop until I reach Canada. I’m going to hike the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

Worthing teacher retires after 30 years (Lennox Independent)
This May Worthing Elementary’s second grade teacher, Pat Hoffman, will bid her last second grade class goodbye. “I get pretty attached. I always cry the last day of school,” she said.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

SD man has scientists rethinking old Americans

In case you missed it, and I don’t know how you could have, a fossil discovered in San Diego has yielded potentially groundbreaking evidence suggesting that North America had human inhabitants more than 100,000 years earlier than previously thought.

It turns out that the lead author of the paper published in Nature announcing this discovery is the director of research at the Center for American Paleolithic Research, based in Hot Springs, SD.  His name is Steven R. Holen.

Holen’s peer-reviewed article in Nature is available at this link.

A separate (dumbed down for English majors) news article in Nature is here: Controversial study claims humans reached Americas 100,000 years earlier than thought

Their contention, if correct, would force a dramatic rethink of when and how the Americas were first settled — and who by. Most scientists subscribe to the view that Homo sapiens arrived in North America less than 20,000 years ago. The latest study raises the possibility that another hominin species, such as Neanderthals or a group known as Denisovans, somehow made it from Asia to North America before that and flourished.
“It’s such an amazing find and — if it’s genuine — it’s a game-changer. It really does shift the ground completely,” says John McNabb, a Palaeolithic archaeologist at the University of Southampton, UK. “I suspect there will be a lot of reaction to the paper, and most of it is not going to be acceptance.”

Thursday BS around SD

Local author to hold book launch party (Tea Weekly)
The time he has put in has paid off, as next weekend Wengert will host a book launch party for his two novels, Caveat Ties and Soul Shocked, that have recently been published. Wengert always aspired to be a writer for his career. He said, “In high school there were suggestions that I pursue a more realistic career.”

Whites looking to pass weather-watching baton in Edgemont (Herald Tribune)
The Whites have owned The Gun Vault since 2012, services provided are Gunsmithing, the sell of guns and ammo, etc. The Whites also own, Double Tap which was purchased in April of 2014 to help boost the local economy and provide a place of gathering. Double Tap offers both a firearm and an archery simulator; an archery range; self defense, gun, and survival classes; also the building can be rented out for different events ranging from birthday parties to quilting retreats.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

BS around SD ...

Some of the best and most interesting news stories appear in newspapers most people don't read. Since I still have the love of weekly newspapers running through my veins, I'm going to try to be diligent in bringing some of those articles to you first thing in the morning. I'll throw in some interesting stories from the dailies too.

Mostly I'll stick to featurish type stories and leave the boring policy and politics stuff to other places that want to be boring.

I've cleverly titled these segments "BS around SD" with the "BS" standing for "best stories" and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.

So let's start with a very interesting story from the Murdo Coyote and a feel-gooder from the Moody County Enterprise in Flandreau.


Tell Your Story … Bill Valburg (Murdo Coyote)
You may not have guessed ranching and flying go hand in hand but Valburg shares that his ‘49 Super Cub has been the best piece of machinery ever used on the family ranch. Valburg will celebrate his 90th birthday next January and will also be celebrating 70 years of braving the sky. Jones County is home to the Valburg family ranch but one county over is where the story first took flight.

Flandreau company donates 900 dozen eggs (Moody County Enterprise)
For every free throw made in Frost Arena by both the men’s and women’s basketball teams, Dakota Layers donated a dozen eggs. This year, 632 free throws were made and the company increased their total donation to 900 dozen or 10,800 eggs. That amount of eggs will feed approximately 900 families.

Monday, April 24, 2017

I have the hard-boiled fever ...

Got back on the noir crime novel train and knocked off Queenpin by Megan Abbot and One Fearful Yellow Eye by John D. MacDonald.

Queenpin rocked the old-school Vegas vibe and received the illustrious Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original as well as the Barry Award for the same. It was published in 2007. It is also unique in this hard-boiled crime genre as the protagonist is female.
A young woman hired to keep the books at a down-at-heel nightclub is taken under the wing of the infamous Gloria Denton, a mob luminary who reigned during the Golden Era of Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano.
This was my first roll in the hay with Abbot, who has a couple other novels out there. I’ll definitely be picking them up.Goodreaders give it 3.8 out of 5. The Haugenomter hit 7 out of 10 with this one.

A couple quotes from the book:
“Because she was solid gold, fourteen-carat, barely burnished despite twenty years of hard molling. But beneath it, I knew, beneath that gold and stardust, she was all grit and sharp teeth gnashing, head twisting, talons out, tearing flesh. She was all open mouth, tunneling into an awful nothing.” 
“You have to decide who you are, little girl, she told me once. Once you know that, everyone else will too.”
One Fearful Yellow Eye is the eighth novel in the Travis McGee series. I'm reading them out of order which doesn't seem to be a problem of continuity with the novels but is wreaking havoc with my OCD. This book was published in 1966.

The plot revolves around McGee's attempts to aid his longtime friend Glory Doyle in her quest to uncover the truth about her late husband and the blackmail which made over half a million dollars of his fortune disappear. It is largely set in Chicago, rather than the usual McGee haunt of Florida.

It boasts one of the higher ratings I’ve ever seen on Goodreads, a 4.1. I didn’t go that high with it, actually enjoyed Queenpin more, but a 6+ isn’t chicken feed either.
How to you extort $600,000 from a dying man? Someone had done it very quietly and skilfully to the husband of Travis McGee's ex-girlfriend. McGee flies to Chicago to help untangle the mess and discovers that although Dr. Fortner Geis had led an exemplary life, there were those who'd take advantage of one "indiscretion" and bring down the whole family. McGee also discovers he likes a few members of the family far too much to let that happen.
A couple quotes from the book:
“Every day, no matter how you fight it, you learn a little more about yourself, and all most of it does is teach humility.” 
“If there was one sunset every twenty years, how would people react to them? If there were ten seashells in all the world, what would they be worth? If people could make love just once a year, how carefully would they pick their mates?” 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Finished: MacDonald's 'A Man of Affairs'

A Man of Affairs by John D. MacDonald was an odd little book I enjoyed quite a bit.

I didn’t find it to be hardboiled fiction (certainly wasn’t a detective novel). It was more like a 1960s (?) business thriller set on a private island in the Bahamas. There were some affairs, a lot of drink, some fist-fights and murders, all centered around the takeover of a business by a playboy titan of industry.
Sam Glidden owed all his success to the opportunities he'd received from Thomas McGann, president of the Harrison Corporation. But now McGann was dead, and Mike Dean, a wildly flamboyant business speculator, was looking to add the Harrison Corporation to his long list of conquests. McGann's spoiled offspring, Tommy and Louise, saw the chance to make instant big bucks by selling out their shares. But Sam Glidden couldn't stand to see everything he'd worked for gobbled up by a barracuda like Mike Dean. So he wangled an invitation to the sand-and-surf soiree Dean planned for Louise and Tommy in the Bahamas ...
Amazonians seemed to like it alright, giving it a 4 of 5 stars. Goodreaders slightly less at 3.8. The Haugenometer settled at a 6 of 10.

If you don’t check out this book, you should check out something by John D. MacDonald. The dude sold over 70 million books in his day so he must’ve been doing something right.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Finished: Chaput's 'Strangers in a Strange Land'

After reading Archbishop Charles Chaput’s fabulous “Render unto Caesar,” I had high hopes for his latest book “Strangers in a Strange Land.” The bar was set high, as RUC was one of my favorite books. So it’s not totally surprising that SIASL didn’t meet expectations.


It was still good and I ended up with a well-marked up copy by the time I was finished, generally a good sign of what I consider interesting or thoughtful points. Yet this book seemed more term-paperish. Less original thought by Chaput and more use of citations. Obviously, a lot of Bible quotes, but many references to philosophers, both famous and obscure.

It was also kind of depressing. He’s pretty down on society right now and not particularly hopeful that Christians will pull us out of this funk any time soon. The message to me was more: Hunker down, do what you can within your little world, and cross your fingers because we are “strangers in a strange land” right now.

Amazon recaps the book:
America today is different in kind, not just in degree, from the past. And this new reality is unlikely to be reversed. The reasons include, but aren't limited to, economic changes that widen the gulf between rich and poor; problems in the content and execution of the education system; the decline of traditional religious belief among young people; the shift from organized religion among adults to unbelief or individualized spiritualities; changes in legal theory and erosion in respect for civil and natural law; significant demographic shifts; profound new patterns in sexual behavior and identity; the growth of federal power and its disregard for religious rights; the growing isolation and elitism of the leadership classes; and the decline of a sustaining sense of family and community.
It seemed almost a fitting book to read during Lent, which in and of itself is a somber, reflective season leading up to the Resurrection.

Here’s a good interview with Chaput by Kathryn Jean Lopez.

In it he says:
The book talks about the challenges we now face as American Christians — and yes, they’re serious — because if we’re not willing to face and understand our real circumstances, we can’t begin to change them. But the whole point of writing Strangers was to lead people through those challenges to claim the joy and hope of a life in Jesus Christ. If the book is about anything, it’s about why we can trust in God’s love for us.
The better that we live as Christians, the more others will discover Jesus Christ. That’s the only way to renew or convert a culture over time.
And I’d be remiss not mentioning that Chaput is former Bishop of Rapid City. Check out his interesting Wiki page.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

*** This is an interesting story about 1,600 people going missing in our national parks.
When 18-year-old Joe Keller vanished from a dude ranch in Colorado's Rio Grande National Forest, he joined the ranks of those missing on public land. No official tally exists, but their numbers are growing. And when an initial search turns up nothing, who'll keep looking?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Good news on hardboiled crime

I’ve always dabbled in reading old, pulp noir detective books, but dove head-first into them the past couple years. What started as an obsession with Donald Westlake turned me toward Lawrence Block and now I’m into Robert B. Parker, Max Collins, John MacDonald and others. So much so that I spent the past year writing my own hardboiled detective novel, or three.

So it’s with glee that I report this story that I may be on the right side of the publishing trend for a change as the ol’ fedora and fists novels make a comeback.

As political corruption, violence and gender politics gain fresh relevance, pulp noir is attracting new voices and audiences, giving the gumshoe a 21st-century reboot
“Corruption and violence are hardly things of the past. Men in power taking advantage of the weak and getting away with murder – that’s the stuff of headlines today,” he says. “People turning to crime in desperation or out of frustration and anger. Frightened men on the run, or vengeful ones on the hunt – when did that ever go out of date?”
Check it out (even quote Mr. Block): Dames, detectives and dope: why we still love hardboiled crime

Monday, March 20, 2017