Friday, September 14, 2018

TGIF link-o-rama

*** I bought the book Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War on pre-order for my politico daughter's birthday. It arrived yesterday. At first glance of the cover, it gives the impression it might be some light-hearted anecdote-filled book of funny tussles, but it's not.

From WSJ:
Yet to those involved, the fighting was serious business. Reputations for courage and honor had to be acquired and defended; in the infancy of American democracy, voters rewarded men who stood up for themselves — and, by extension, for their constituents. This was especially true in sections of the country where violence or its threat was part of daily life. As Ms. Freeman points out, white rule in the South continually depended on violence, actual or potential, against slaves. In the West, violence drove Indian tribes off their land and made it available to settlers. Andrew Jackson, an offstage figure in Ms. Freeman’s tale, was a hard-scrabble Carolina kid who first made his reputation in Tennessee as an Indian fighter. He became a national hero by defeating the British at New Orleans in 1815. When he ran for president in the 1820s, many Easterners were appalled to learn he had killed a man in a duel. Westerners and Southerners took the opposite view, praising Jackson for avenging an insult to his wife.

The author is a serious writer. Joanne Freeman.

From Wiki: Joanne B. Freeman is an American historian and tenured Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University. Having researched Alexander Hamilton both independently and collaboratively with mentors and peers for more than forty years, she is regarded as "a leading expert" on his life and legacy. In 2005 she was rated one of the nation's "Top Young Historians."

*** South Dakota writer Joseph Bottum emailed that: The second installment of my twice-a-month column in the London Spectator, noodling about life and politics on the prairie, is now available online. And I thought I would send it along for your amusement, if only because it opens with a scene in the Sundog coffee shop here in the town of Madison.

*** My 7th grade niece was at my house this summer before going on a trip through Yellowstone and back to the east side of the state. She's a big reader, so I picked out a handful of books she might be interested in and borrowed them to her. She also had the privilege of sleeping in my office/library/greenhouse/conservatory. So all that knowledge could seep into her brain by osmosis.

One of the books was Huckleberry Finn. We had a little talk about the language in the book. I told her that's how they talked back in that day and that's why those words are used but that they are hurtful words and she should never use them. (On a related note, if you get the chance watch the PBS documentary on Mark Twain, where several African-American historians make similar arguments).

Anyway, she texted me the other day that she'd finished it and loved it. Take that you foolish censoring librarians and schools.

*** Was talking to a friend about The Handmaid's Tale the other day. She's a history and political science major, very well read. We were laughing about these goobers who dress up like red penguins to protest at events and I told her I got the gist of what they are trying to say but never read the book nor saw the television show.

She said she read the book and it was the absolute worst book she's read in her life. She said she seldom, if ever, throws a book away; is kind of a hoarder of them, like me. But she threw it in the garbage.

So I'll probably pass on it, even though Barnes and Shnable keeps pimping it to me in their emails.

*** Realclearbooks.com has chosen this as its book of the week: “Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life” organizes a cluster of men’s problems — unemployment and underemployment, divorce, social isolation, addictions to porn, drugs, and video games, criminality, misogyny, and general irresponsibility — under the rubric of alienation. Men increasingly feel as if the job market, politics, and culture have no place for them. Their response has been, in various ways, to effectively drop out of society.

*** Seems Lee Enterprises is really good at running closing newspapers. Lee Enterprises shuttered the Missoula Independent, 17 months after buying it and five months after the paper unionized.

*** And finally, the author of 'How to Murder Your Husband' is arrested for allegedly killing her husband.

She should have written: 'How to Murder Your Husband and Get Away With It'

Monday, September 3, 2018

Finished 2: 'McNally's Chance' and 'Jimmy The Kid'

For those who think you have to read popular contemporary authors to be cool, you're wrong. Some of the best, like Donald Westlake and Larry Sanders, are no longer with us in body but alive and well in spirit and on the written page.

Westlake is a Grand Master mystery writer who is one of my favorites. He weaves plot twists and humor like none other. I recently finished his very clever "Jimmy The Kid."

Westlake also wrote under several other names, including Richard Stark. In JTK, his famous Dortmunder Gang bases their crime on a book one of the Gang read, which was written by Stark. It worked so well for one of his former protagonists, Parker, that they figure it will work for them if they follow it to the tee.

But nothing goes as planned for the Dortmunder Gang, ever. It left me chuckling up until the final line. I gave it an 8 of 10 on the Haugenometer. Amazonians gave it a stellar 4.4 of 5.
Kelp has a plan, and John Dortmunder knows that means trouble. His friend Kelp is a jinx, and his schemes, no matter how well intentioned, tend to spiral quickly out of control. But this one, Kelp swears, is airtight. He read it in a book.

In county lock-up for a traffic charge, Kelp came across a library of trashy novels by an author named Richard Stark. The hero is a thief named Parker whose plans, unlike Kelp and Dortmunder’s, always work out. In one, Parker orchestrates a kidnapping so brilliant that, Kelp thinks, it would have to work in real life. Though offended that his usual role as planner has been usurped, Dortmunder agrees to try using the novel as a blueprint. Unfortunately, what’s simple on the page turns complex in real life, and there is no book to guide him through the madness he’s signed on for.
Among the great lines, that are best in context with the story:

"Beer drinkers got a low center of gravity."

"Money paid to a kidnapper is not deductible on your income tax."

As for Larry Sanders, "McNally's Chance" was actually written by Vincent Lardo, as he carries on the Archie McNally series upon Sanders' death. He does a good job of it.

When bestselling romance author Sabrina Wright asks for Archy McNally's help in finding her missing husband, Archy is quick to write it off as a simple domestic case. But this one's a page-turner of the first order: Sabrina's daughter ran off, she sent her husband to find her, and now they're both missing in action.
If only Sabrina hadn't told her adopted daughter that she really is her natural mother. That sent daughter looking for father, a Palm Beach blueblood who paid Sabrina handsomely for his anonymity. So it's up to Archy to find the fugitive family members before local gossips get wind of the story-and start pointing fingers at some of Palm Beach's most prestigious names.
It was entertaining, as all McNally books are, but wasn't riveting like JTK. I gave it a 6. Amazonians gave it a little better 4 of 5.

Among the best lines:

"It was 110 in the shade and very drunk out."

"Oh Lord, make her a good girl ... but not immediately."

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Finished: Rosling's 'Factfulness'

Just when you think you know it all, along comes a book like "Factfulness" to set you straight.

A guy in our office liked this book so much he bought a copy for everyone a couple months ago. I knocked off a chapter here and there and finally finished it. Oddly enough, the author, Hans Rosling, suggests later in the book that is the way to read it. So information is absorbed and considered.

Keep in mind, this wasn't written by some goofy cable talk show host. This guy has cred: Hans Rosling was a medical doctor, professor of international health and renowned public educator. He was an adviser to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, and co-founded Médecins sans Frontières in Sweden and the Gapminder Foundation. His TED talks have been viewed more than 35 million times, and he was listed as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. Hans died in 2017, having devoted the last years of his life to writing Factfulness.

The full title of the book is: "Factfullness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World - and Why Things Are". He starts with a short multiple choice quiz that most likely will prove how uninformed you are. Coincidentally, of the subgroups of people he gave the test to over the years, journalists did the worst. It might behoove them to fork over the 15 bucks.

It's a book I think everybody would benefit from, but especially journalists. It's not overly optimistic, but shows that things are not as bad as usually presented by the media. Things aren't perfect, but they are getting better. From poverty to disease to women's rights, they are all going in the right direction, many with remarkable improvement in a short time.

I was stunned at the end to learn the Rosling was terminally ill while writing most of the book. So if a guy had reason to be negative, he had it, but wasn't. So he wasn't around to do the media tour and cash in like Jordan B. Peterson and his "12 Rules for Life". But it's received raved reviews. According to Bill Gates, it's "one of the most important books I've ever read - an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world."

Yet it doesn't read like a textbook. It's interesting, woven with humor, sadness and reality.

Amazonians gave it a 4.6 out of 5. The Haugenometer doesn't work on nonfiction books, but if it did would tell you to read it. You'll be smarter and look at things a bit differently. Or don't. Your call.

It's one of the more heavily marked-up books I've read, but here's just some tidbits to whet your appetite:

- Today, most people, 75 percent, live in middle-income countries.
- Most people have enough to eat, most people have access to improved water, most children are vaccinated, and most girls finish primary school.
- Over the last 20 years, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has almost halved.
- There are three things going on here (regarding our negativity instinct): the misremembering of the past; selective reporting by journalists and activists; and the feeling that as long as things are bad it's heartless to say they are getting better.
- Critical thinking is always difficult, but it's almost impossible when we are scared. There's no room for facts when our minds are occupied by fear.
- If we are not extremely careful, we come to believe that the unusual is usual: that this is what the world looks like.
- Everyone automatically categorizes and generalizes. He says it's a "necessary and useful instinct to generalize. One again, (though) the media is the instinct's friend. Misleading generalizations and stereotypes act as a kind of shorthand for the media, providing quick and easy ways to communicate.
- Almost every activist I have ever met, whether deliberately, or, more likely, unknowingly, exaggerates the problem to which they have dedicated themselves.
- We have to seek to understand why journalists have a distorted worldview (answer: because they are human beings, with dramatic instincts) and what systemic factors encourage them to produce skewed and overdramatic news (at least part of the answer: they must compete for their consumers' attention or lose their jobs).
- He suggests: Be less stressed by the imaginary problems of an overdramatic world, and more alert to the real problems and how to solve them.
- When we have a fact-based worldview, we can see that the world is not as bad as it seems - and we can see what we have to do to keep making it better.

I think there's probably something for everyone to dislike in this book. He gores some sacred cows here, from both sides of the political aisle. His personal ideology is liberal but, again, seems very thoughtful, provides examples, and most importantly provides facts. Argue with him if you want. My guess is you'll lose.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Tomatogeddon

So I figured out the secret for a good garden - rain.

Seems you can water to your hearts content for four months with unremarkable success. But let it rain 18 inches in one summer and it's the Garden of Eden. Some smart guy told me there's nitrogen in the rain that makes the difference. I'll take his word for it. The rain also begets humidity which, well hello, rain forest anyone?

My little garden plot is in the foothills of the Black Hills, a semi-arid climate, where until this year I'd forgotten what humidity was. Also, the clay soil is better for making pots than growing anything.

But, that was then, this is now.

I've been dumping kitchen compost, rabbit poop, grass clippings, bags of soil and peat into foot-high raised beds, the last 12 years and that's helped. I've always managed enough tomatoes to keep wifey happy and to can just enough to get us to the next season.

But one of the problems of the past few years since I've begun starting heirloom tomatoes from seeds is that I've had a wide range of harvest dates. They ranged from 65 day varieties to 85. So I always had tomatoes but not like that big boatload where you could just set aside a day to can forty jars. It was a half dozen here, a half dozen there.

This year my boat came in. The planets aligned and all my plans came to fruition.

I chose my best varieties from over the past five years and kept them mostly in the 72-78 day range. Purple, red, pink, yellow. And I planted more of them (squeezed about 70 in). And the rains came. And the heat and humidity hit. And the tomaters exploded.

We've "put up," as my grandma used to say, about 42 jars of tomatoes, 10 of a tomato soup recipe the wife likes, and another seven quarts today of pretty hot salsa. And two flats of tomatoes are still sitting in the garage and more almost ripe ones waiting to be picked. (The big one in the photo went to today's salsa.)

As opposed to my years gardening East River, I've never really had extra to give away, because I kind of hoard my tomatoes. Want zukes or cukes and I'll hand them out on the highway. But tomatoes, take a number.

Looks like this will be the year where the tomato scrooge turns nice.

As the song says, rain is a good thing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sticking up for the little guys

Two concerts last week led me down a rabbit hole where I eventually ended up at the old motto of “shop locally.”

Wifey and I went to the town celebration in Wall for the express purpose of seeing a Sioux City band named 35th and Taylor. I heard them last year at Rapid City’s Summer Nights concert series and really liked them. They are young kids (20s, which are kids to me) who are a step up from the local bar bands, of which I have my favorites too, but on the cusp of breaking out to the bigger time. They opened for Bon Jovi in Chicago last winter.

They are a hard rock band, but not heavy metal. They have a great lead female singer with the raspy voice I like, a bass player with an excellent voice too, and above-average guitar players and drummer. They played Summer Nights in Rapid City a couple days prior and were headed to Sturgis to play a few gigs at the Rally. This was a nice schedule-filler for them, and they’d played in Wall the previous year.

They rocked the rodeo grounds in Wall. Unfortunately, not many people were there to hear them. I don’t know if they get paid a flat rate or a percentage of the gate, or both, but either way, if people want them back, they need to support those kind of acts.

Sure, everybody (but me) seems to want to attend Garth Brooks concerts. But Garth didn’t get to be Garth by people not supporting him when he was a no-name.

The concert was 10 bucks ahead of time or 15 at the gate. Sure, it might not have been your stereotypical western South Dakota, rodeo grounds type of music. But what the heck else was there to do within a 30 mile radius of Wall that night?

More people need to attend those things so: A, that band will come back again; or B, the event is successful enough so they will continue to bring other bands every year.

Then, a few nights later a friend of mine was among a small crowd who attended the Casey Donahew Band in Sioux Falls. I’ve been to two CDB concerts in Rapid City and Sturgis. Both pretty well attended. Not sure why they didn’t draw better East River.

CDB is a big deal in the Red Dirt Texas sound. They tour up into Canada. They too are on the cusp, if not closer, to the big-time than 35th and Taylor.

If you want to help young bands, attend their concerts, buy a CD for 15 bucks. Even if it’s not quite your brand of music, one ticket and one CD will mean more to those acts than a pair of $80 tickets to hear some aging rock band on a reunion tour. And there’s no reason not to support both.

I love local bands. They have character and characters and are hidden jewels of talent. Our favorites include Crash Wagon, Tie Dye Volcano and Pumpin’ Ethyl. Hardly household names outside of their areas. But they put themselves out there for you; put yourself out there for them.

So that thought then led me to a similar argument for buying books and supporting little-known authors (you know there had to be a self-serving component somewhere here, right?).

Again, whether it’s me or any other no-name author or retiree writing his memoir of life on the Plains or his time serving in the military. Buy a dang book. Or spend 99 cents for a Kindle version. James Patterson isn’t going to feel like you are cheating on him and it will mean more for that young, or not-so-young, author. Worse case scenario, you are out a couple bucks and couple nights’ reading time. Best case scenario, you enjoy the book and made the author’s day. Then, take two minutes and leave a short review on line. It will encourage that writer to write more and get better at what he or she does.

And shop your local book stores! Sure, I buy books on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble every time I go to Sioux Falls. But I buy just as many books at the two used book stores in Rapid City and the book store in Wall.

If you want those places around, it’s not like you have to drop 100 bucks. Buy a $5 book and be on your way. It’ll make the owner’s day. And come back the next month.

I compare all that to when I owned a weekly newspaper. Every $20 ad I sold, I appreciated immensely. A $40 or $75 ad made my day. It also made the electricity payment for the month. When you don’t buy an ad or a subscription, you don’t have a local weekly paper anymore. Then the beauty salon and local bar have one less (very valuable) place to promote their business. Then they close too. When the newspaper is gone, the post office won’t be far behind, because odds are the newspaper is the biggest mailer in town and post office’s get judged by the quantity of mail they deliver. When the post office closes, the town won’t be far behind.

So support the little guys now. Then someday they may be the big guys whose next appearance you wait in line to see.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Finished: McMurtry's 'Anything for Billy'

This was another I picked up off the legendary Wall Drug Bookstore bargain rack. I'm not being very original when I say Larry McMurtry is an awesome writer. His characters are unique and layered. I knew I couldn't go wrong for five bucks, and was correct.

"Anything for Billy" is kind of a travelogue where you don't expect much of a plot, just am East Coast guy following Billy The Kid around because he's bored; but it ends up being a tightly woven one that comes together with a bang at the end. If you read this, as you should, play the fun game of asking yourself: "Who kills Billy?" I'm not ruining the ending for you, because everyone knows Billy dies at the end. But there's some controversy over who actually did it.

From Goodreads:
The first time I saw Billy he came walking out of a cloud....Welcome to the wild, hot-blooded adventures of Billy the Kid, the American West's most legendary outlaw. Larry McMurtry takes us on a hell-for-leather journey with Billy and his friends as they ride, drink, love, fight, shoot, and escape their way into the shining memories of Western myth. Surrounded by a splendid cast of characters that only Larry McMurtry could create, Billy charges headlong toward his fate, to become in death the unforgettable desperado he aspires to be in life. Not since Lonesome Dove has there been such a rich, exciting novel about the cowboys, Indians, and gunmen who live at the blazing heart of the American dream.
Billy has some great lines, like:

After learning what a butler is and does: "If I was ever a butler I'd probably shoot the whole family the first day."

On seeing his spurned girlfriend riding into town: "Oh, dern! This is gonna give me a headache."

Some lines from Sippi, the well-off writer tagging along with Billy: "No doubt it's always the unkissed girls you remember when you're about to be killed."

"I suppose what united Billy and the other gunmen was their determination to defy any order, no matter who it cam from, or what the consequences."

And there's the unique vivid descriptions McMurtry provides: "... on a day so hot and still you could hear a watch tick from thirty yards away."

After being shot, he's told by the killer: "Hurry and die, chapito. I've ridden a long way and I need to water my horse."

I'm giving this one an 8+ of 10 on the Haugenometer. High praise. I loved it. Amazonians were on board with me, giving it a 4 of 5. Goodreaders where less generous with a 3.5 of 5, but most of the complaints where that it wasn't historically accurate. Well, duh. It never claimed to be. It's fictional, loose historical fiction at best. Why would you want to read the same historical account anyway? There'd be no twists, turns or surprises. People can be so persnickety.

Billy would've shot 'em.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Two articles worth reading

The Wise Do Not Always Weigh In

“When one has too many answers,” Merton wrote, “and when one joins a chorus of others chanting the same slogans, there is, it seems to me, a danger that one is trying to evade the loneliness of a conscience that realizes itself to be in an inescapably evil situation. 



The threat to Holleeder’s life stems from a decision that she made, in 2013, to become the star witness in a mob trial. She agreed to testify against the most notorious criminal in the Netherlands, a man known as De Neus—the Nose, a reference to his most prominent facial feature. This was a risky choice. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Finished: Hunter's 'G-Man'

Stephen Hunter is one of my favorite authors because it seems he takes his time and gets it right. It appears he's not on some deadline to turn out two books a year. It's most obvious in the detail he puts into his book, almost a bit too much for me; because I like guns, but I'm not a guns and ammo nut (in the best sense of the word) like some people are. But those details are something that makes Hunter's books so unique and interesting, as well as the masterful plotting.

From Amazon:
The Great Depression was marked by an epidemic of bank robberies and Tommy-gun-toting outlaws who became household names. Hunting them down was the new U.S. Division of Investigation — soon to become the FBI — which was determined to nab the most dangerous gangster this country has ever produced: Baby Face Nelson. To stop him, the Bureau recruited talented gunman Charles Swagger, World War I hero and sheriff of Polk County, Arkansas. 

Eighty years later, Charles’s grandson Bob Lee Swagger uncovers a strongbox containing an array of memorabilia dating back to 1934—a federal lawman’s badge, a .45 automatic preserved in cosmoline, a mysterious gun part, and a cryptic diagram—all belonging to Charles Swagger. Bob becomes determined to find out what happened to his grandfather— and why his own father never spoke of Charles. But as he investigates, Bob learns that someone is following him—and shares his obsession. 

Told in alternating timeframes, G-Man is a thrilling addition to Stephen Hunter’s bestselling Bob Lee Swagger series.
This is book 10 in the Bob Lee Swagger series and is good stuff. I gave it a 7 of 10 on the Haugenometer. Amazonians a 4.5 of 5. 

I could've gone higher but was worn out after 464 pages of shoot-outs.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Finished: Johnson's 'Death Without Company'

Finished the second in Craig Johnson's Longmire series: Death Without Company. It was okay, but not on par with the series debut.


From Goodreads:
When Mari Baroja is found poisoned at the Durant Home for Assisted Living, Sheriff Longmire is drawn into an investigation that reaches fifty years into the mysterious woman’s dramatic Basque past. Aided by his friend Henry Standing Bear, Deputy Victoria Moretti, and newcomer Santiago Saizarbitoria, Sheriff Longmire must connect the specter of the past to the present to find the killer among them.
It was convoluted at times and difficult for this ol' mind to follow. When it wasn't confusing, it was a little on the boring side.

I'm surprised I gave it 6 of 10, which seems a little high. Maybe I'm still under the influence of the great television series and the enjoyment I took in listening to the author speak in Spearfish last year. Amazonians were more generous and gave it a 4.5 of 5. Goodreaders a 4.2.

Here's holding out hope book number three gets things back on track.

Gooseberry Jam - first try

Gotta say, it turned out well. I was worried I didn't use enough pectin, because the recipe called for half a package. When it was too late, I realized it was for half a 6 oz. package and I used half a 3 oz. package. Oops. But the consistency was just right. Go figure. Added a few strawberries too, just to be edgy.

Then ...

Now ...

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Garden of Haugen

A few random photos of the garden, which is looking great as long as the hail stays away.


Heirloom Tomatoes


Some polinator attractors


Lettuce, Kale & Onions


Cukes mixing it up with the snow peas.


More Tomatoes


Another Sunflower, because I thought it was purty.


The guardian of the garden and taste-tester, Bosch.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Around the house

I took some random photos of things growing around our house (thank you 6 1/2 inches of rain this past two week).


Dill, Oregeno & Thyme


Front porch with succulents, petunias, eggplant, clematis, some luffa squash that aren't doing much in the rectangle container, and I forget what the yellow flowers are.


Plums from one of my five plum trees.


Daisies

Monday, June 25, 2018

You'll never guess the latest racist author ...

Laura Ingalls Wilder!

Yep, ol' Half Pint has been deemed a racist by a bunch of biofocal-wearing purple-hairs at the American Library Association.
A division of the American Library Association has voted to remove the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder from a major children’s book award, over concerns about how the author portrayed African Americans and Native Americans. 
 The board of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) made the unanimous decision to change the name on Saturday, at a meeting in New Orleans. The name of the prize was changed from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. 
The association said Wilder “includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values”.
So by today's standards, some people's anyway, the Racist Writers Club now includes: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Mark Twain and Harper Lee. They are all dead, of course, so they can't defend themselves. 

I'd pay money to hear Twain's response to these folks. Guessing Ingalls and Lee could've held their own too in rebutting the charges. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Finished: Sandford's 'Golden Prey' and Bell's 'Overkill'

So I went back to back with John Sandford's second-newest entry into his Prey series, "Golden Prey," and Ted Bell's newest in the Alex Hawke series, "Overkill."

It was a good contrast in how the former continues to hum along with fresh ideas and character growth, while the latter, I'm disappointed to say, is coming precariously close to jumping the shark. (For those of you young'ns unfamiliar with the term, check this out. Sorry, Fonzie.)

I suppose the argument could be made that Lucas Davenport's antics, working at behest of a presidential candidate, could be a little far fetched also; but good grief this is book #27 in the series so I cut the guy some slack. Davenport as a character is maturing, aging, his relationships with his wife and kids are evolving. His character continues to grow.

This is only the 10th book in the Hawke series and he's chasing Vlad Putin around the globe in Goldfinger type mountains lairs in the Swiss Alps, with entire armies forming in two months, escaping in mini subs, etc. I know, the series has always been a little Bond-esque, but they've been rooted in current events. This seemed to stretch incredulity as the author tries to fit in a Trump-Russia theme, but fails. I felt the battle scenes were too long and the ending overdone and inconclusive.

Amazon says of "Golden Prey" (which, fyi, Stephen King calls "The best Lucas Davenport story so far.":
Thanks to some very influential people whose lives he saved, Lucas is no longer working for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, but for the U.S. Marshals Service, and with unusual scope. He gets to pick his own cases, whatever they are, wherever they lead him.
And where they’ve led him this time is into real trouble. A Biloxi, Mississippi, drug-cartel counting house gets robbed, and suitcases full of cash disappear, leaving behind five bodies, including that of a six-year-old girl. Davenport takes the case, which quickly spirals out of control, as cartel assassins, including a torturer known as the “Queen of home-improvement tools” compete with Davenport to find the Dixie Hicks shooters who knocked over the counting house. Things get ugly real fast, and neither the cartel killers nor the holdup men give a damn about whose lives Davenport might have saved; to them, he’s just another large target.
Amazon says of "Overkill":
On a ski vacation in the Swiss Alps high above St. Moritz, Alex Hawke and his young son, Alexei, are thrust into danger when the tram carrying them to the top of the mountain bursts into flame, separating the two. Before he can reach Alexei, the boy is snatched from the burning cable car by unknown assailants in a helicopter.
Meanwhile, high above the skies of France, Vladimir Putin is aboard his presidential jet after escaping a bloodless coup in the Kremlin. When two flight attendants collapse and slip into unconsciousness, the Russian leader realizes the danger isn’t over. Killing the pilots, he grabs a parachute, steps out of the plane . . . and disappears.
Hawke has led his share of dangerous assignments, but none with stakes this high. To save his son, he summons his trusted colleagues, Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard Ambrose Congreve, former U.S. Navy SEAL Stokley Jones, Jr., and recruits a crack Hostage Rescue Team—a group of elite soldiers of fortune known as "Thunder & Lighting." Before they can devise a rescue plan, Hawke must figure out who took his boy—and why. An operative who has fought antagonists around the globe, Hawke has made many enemies; one in particular may hold the key to finding Alexei before it’s too late.
But an unexpected threat complicates their mission. Making his way to "Falcon’s Lair," the former Nazi complex created for Hitler, Putin is amassing an impressive armory that he intends to use for his triumphant return to Moscow.
I gave Sandord's book a 7 of 10 on the Haugenometer and Bell's a 6.
Amazonians liked Sandford's even better with a 4.5 of 5 and Bell's the same as me with a 3 of 5.

Overkill wasn't a deal killer for me on the series. Just hoping Bell steps it up a little on the next one.

Sandford, on the other hand, can't write more novels fast enough for my taste.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

So, what ya reading?

I'm always interested in what people are reading, especially my kids, as it's something I really tried to instill in them.

So I noticed this week that my oldest daughter, 26, was reading what looked to be kind of an odd one and caught my eye: The Soul of an Octopus. I'd never heard of it (which is not surprising), but apparently it's been on some nonfiction best-seller lists. It was borrowed to her by a friend/local state legislative candidate, who as a friend said: "That is a great legislator that hands out books."

It probably won't end up on my TBR list, but that's okay.

I didn't notice what my other daughter, 22, is reading but have been enjoying her blog, where she offers insights into her first year of teaching 7th grade science in Illinois.

Her husband, who is pursuing a PhD in history at U of I, is the most voracious reader I know. He's seldom without book in hand.

His stack on my dining room table was: The Search for Order 1877-1920; The Rights of Indians and Tribes, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace; and The Plains Political Tradition, Essays on South Dakota Political Culture (co-written by my co-worker Jon Lauck).

Then there's my 20-year-old son, who is working for a DoD agency this summer near DC. He is on his second reading of Ted Kaczynski's "The Unabomber Manifesto."

So we run quite the gamut in the Haugen house.As for me, I just finished John Sandford's latest entry to the Prey series, Golden Prey.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Dying for a good ending

If you're a fan of Charles Krauthammer, you know that he's been battling cancer and admittedly says he doesn't have long to live.

He's a national treasure and I really enjoy his columns, his television appearances, and his book, "Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics".

I had to chuckle today at this anecdote about Charles as told by author/columnist Marc Thiessen:
A few years ago, I was talking with Charles Krauthammer in the Fox News green room when the news that someone famous had passed away flashed on the television screen. Charles told me the way he hoped to go when his time came. His dream, he said, was to be assassinated during the seventh-inning stretch at a game at Nationals Park. He wanted to die in what he once called “my own private paradise,” where “the twilight’s gleaming, the popcorn’s popping, the kids’re romping and everyone’s happy.”
I have the same kind of wish but not as specific. I told a friend a couple years ago that when I die I want it to be front-page news. Not because I'm famous or anything, but I want it to be exciting. I'd settle for odd.

I really don't want to go in my sleep or via heart attack or cancer. That's so pedestrian. I want, like Charles, something people will talk about, laugh about, or respond with an "uff da."

Like: A victim of a bank robbery gone wrong, a hostage situation or a mountain lion jumping out of a tree. A buffalo pushing my car over a cliff. The stranger the better.

I remember a few years ago during the Sturgis Rally, a guy was killed on his motorcycle when a portable toilet fell off a truck in front of him. I'm sure that's not the way he wanted to go and it's unfortunate. But now he's got a story to tell in Heaven.

And as I've said before, life is all about the stories you can tell ... even in death.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Finished: Elmore Leonard's 'Last Stand at Saber RIver'

I didn't know what I was getting into when I picked up this Elmore Leonard novel off the bargain rack at the Wall Drug Bookstore.

Leonard is best known for his crime fiction and thrillers (think "Get Shorty") but actually began his career with Westerns. This is one of those, written in 1959. It was fantastic. As I've come to read, his Westerns are among the best in the genre (think "3:10 to Yuma).

This, his fourth novel, was turned into a movie starring Tom Selleck.

Amazon sums up Last Stand at Saber River this way:
A quiet haunted man, Paul Cable walked away from a lost cause hoping to pick up where he left off. But things have changed in Arizona since he first rode out to go fight for the Confederacy. Two brothers—Union men—have claimed his spread and they're not about to give it back, leaving Cable and his family no place to settle in peace. It seems this war is not yet over for Paul Cable. But no one's going to take away his land and his future—not with their laws, their lies, or their guns.
Amazonians gave it a 3.9 out of 5. The Haugenometer rated it a stellar 8- on the 10-point system.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Finished: Peterson's '12 Rules for Life'

I'm not much for self-help books, because, as I told my wife, really, for me, what's the point?

I jest. I could use a lot of help, but I'm kind of to the point in life where I feel I know what I could do to improve myself. When I identify something, I either change it, or choose not to. I don't wait for New Year's Day to make a resolution to do something to make myself better. Thing is, sometimes, after weighing the pros and cons I choose to continue doing something maybe I shouldn't because I like it too much and am willing to roll the dice.

One self-help book I read years ago and found valuable was Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People." I recommended it to my kids and other young adults I encounter in the workplace.

But I've been hearing a lot about this Jordan Peterson fella. He's hot on social media. He does a lot of videos, which I haven't watched. And he's written a best-selling book, 12 Rules for Life. I continued to hear and read more about this book. One friend told me that two of his friends read it and found it life changing. A former intern in our office told me the same thing.

So even though I didn't feel like having my life changed, I figured it couldn't hurt to give it a whirl, see what it was all about. Plus, Peterson seemed to be making all the right people mad. I was curious.

I just finished it, and it wasn't life changing. It was mostly life wasting. Now, that may be a little harsh. I did mark it up quit a bit with my Bic, which is usually a good thing. Mostly, it just meant he had some good lines I liked, some information I found interesting. But it was a slog. It was common sense ideas surrounded by Freud and Jung references wrapped around Biblical references that made it five times longer than it needed to be.

In essence, I found he had two main points:

1 - "There is a dividing line between order and chaos." He proffers that living along that line makes life more fulfilling. You become an interesting person, without slipping into craziness.

2 - "If we each live properly, we will collectively flourish." True again. If each of us improves ourselves a bit, society will improve a bit. If each of us improves a lot as individuals, society will improve a lot as a whole. True dat.

One reviewer probably explained it well and accounts for my lack of excitement about the book. He said, if you've had a responsible father figure in your life and you have an average working knowledge of the Bible, there's not much new in here for you.

But, as we know, a lot of people, particularly young men, don't have those two things in their lives. And for them this book has changed their lives for the better. That cannot be a bad thing.

As for all the criticism about Peterson, particularly among the political left, I don't see it in the book. Maybe it's in his videos. But I'd bet it's mostly overblown, as there is now an academiac, a psychiatrist, speaking clearly and convincingly (even with footnotes!) with suggestions that (gasp) there are differences between men and women. That was really the only thing I saw in this book, and it was one chapter, that I can figure makes them nuts. It doesn't make me nuts.

He comes across as a little arrogant at times (he is Canadian after all), but that doesn't make him wrong.

Here's a good recent story on him from The Hill.

Among things he points out:

Children in father-absent homes are four times as likely to be poor.

He preaches confidence. "If you're not the leading man in your own drama, your'e a bit player in someone else's."

Life is suffering. As say, Buddha, Christianity and the Jewish faith.

Take risks, let children take risks. "When you explore boldly, when you voluntarily confront the unknown, you gather information and build your renewed self out of that information."

"You have to say something, go somewhere and do things to get turned on. And, if not ... you remain incomplete, and life is too hard for anyone incomplete."

The majority of people who were abused as children do not abuse their own children. Some do mimic their abusers, but others learn from the abuse that it is wrong and choose not to do it. "Abuse disappears across generations."

Pay attention. "The things you can see, with even a single open eye. It's no wonder that people want to stay blind."

From Freud: "A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of succes that often induces real success."

It can be tough to choose an upward path because it is difficult. "Vice is easy. Failure is easy, too."

"You are important to other people, as much as to yourself. You have some vital role to play in the unfolding destiny of the world. You are, therefore, morally obliged to take care of yourself."

Define who you are. Refine your personality.

"To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open."

Seems for not liking the book, I wrote a long post about it. Maybe I did like it?



Thursday, May 10, 2018

Finished Lawrence Sanders’ (Vincent Lardo’s) ‘McNalley’s Bluff’

Among several other novels, Lawrence Sanders wrote seven books featuring Palm Beach detective Archy McNally. Then Sanders died and Vincent Lardo picked up the McNally series with nine more. McNally’s Bluff is the sixth one of those.

Per Goodreads:
When self-styled impresario and former human cannonball Matthew Hayes rents a luxury villa on Palm Beach's famed South Ocean Boulevard, the locals roll their eyes. But when he scuttles the traditional backyard accoutrements of swimming pool and tennis court in favor of a grand garden hedge maze modeled after the one at Hampton Court, the South Florida smart set can't wait for their invitations to the gala opening of the Amazin' Maze of Matthew Hayes. 
The big night arrives and gasps of wonder and delight are replaced by those of horror, as Hayes's ladylove, Marlena Marvel, in the role of Venus, is discovered at the center of the maze, very dead indeed. The authorities are stumped, as Hayes's carnival background gives rise to a number of possible suspects - and the huge crowd at the unveiling included its fair share of questionable characters. Or are there other forces - and more devious minds - at work? And Hayes's flair for the dramatic only complicates a mystery that has more false leads than his Amazin' Maze. It's up to Archy McNally to see through the scam and catch a killer.
Goodreaders give it a 3.7 of 5. I gave it a  6 of 10 on the Haugenometer. The characters were entertaining, but the conclusion to the mystery was a bit forced. It also seemed the author resorted too often to  “let me give you a recap” of what’s happened so far, because it was getting a little too twisty and turny. If your mystery is too complicated to follow, don’t write it; at least not for simpletons like me.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Almost Cinco de Mayo link-o

In a world that I barely recognize anymore, it's good to have books. Books are good and orderly, the words are black, the pages white, the pages are numbered consecutively, the planets align. You can pick a genre you like, step outside from time to time, but always come back and know that Koontz will Koontz and Grisham will Grisham.

But in the real world now, where Boy Scouts aren't boys, where Tom Brokaw is a horndog, lettuce can kill you, Cliff Huxtable is a rapist, and Kanye West makes Kim Kardashian look like the brains of the family, I'm tossing in my cards, chomping on the popcorn and rolling my eyes at this sci-fi show called life - while reading a book.

I just ordered 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. Maybe he can make sense of it all.
Happiness is a pointless goal. Don’t compare yourself with other people, compare yourself with who you were yesterday. No one gets away with anything, ever, so take responsibility for your own life.
One of the rules for men should be: If you don't act like your stuff don't stink, it won't be big news when it does.

Another rule should be: Read the links Haugen provides you:

** If for some crazy reason you actually want to stick around this earth longer than you normally would, here are five habits that can add more than a decade to your life.
The five healthy habits were defined as not smoking; having a body mass index between 18.5 and 25; taking at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, having no more than one 150ml glass of wine a day for women, or two for men; and having a diet rich in items such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains and low in red meat, saturated fats and sugar. 
** Here's some good timing for this author whose “definitive biography” on Bibi just came out this week: Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu.

** This guy wades into dangerous territory to show (using science) that teachers are not underpaid. Unleash the hounds on him!
Most commentary on teacher pay begins and ends with the observation that public school teachers earn lower salaries than the average college graduate. This is true, but in what other context do we assume that every occupation requiring a college degree should get paid the same? Engineers make about 25 percent more than accountants, but “underpaid” accountants are not demonstrating in the streets.
** The word police are at it again and, boy, am I in troublllllle.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

So this made my day …


We get some weekly papers at work, including the Hill City Prevailer. A co-worker was going through them today and she asked: “What’s your dad’s first name?” (Actually, she emailed the question even though my office is 10 steps away.) I emailed back: “Joseph.”

A minute later she brought this clip to me.

Almost 40 years later and 350 miles away, he must’ve made quite the impact on Lorena.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Finished: 'The Devil Knows You're Dead'

The Devil Knows You’re Dead is the eleventh book in Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder series of 18. But I still have no idea what the title means.

According to Goodreads:
Scudder is back, tracking a killer through the alleys of Hell’s Kitchen and mapping the darker regions of the human soul. 
Glenn Holtzman sits on top of the world, watching the sun set from his penthouse… half and hour later he’s just another statistic, gunned down in a phone booth on Eleventh Avenue. When the cartridge casings of the fatal shots turn up on a well-known local Vietnam Vet the whole of the Big Apple knows it’s an open and shut case. But not Scudder – this Yuppie lawyer has skeletons in his closet and Matt can hear them rattling.
One guy reviewed this and nailed it on the head when he suggested that most crime novels have a detective investigating a crime and you get some personal details of him in the periphery. Here you get the main story being about the detective’s personal life with the crime he’s investigating kind of in the background. Because, you can’t have a crime novel without a crime.

As such, the personal dilemmas Scudder deals with throughout this are very enthralling, but the conclusion to the criminal investigation was kind of a dud and came out of the blue.

Still, good book. The Haugenometer gave it a 7+ of 10, Goodreaders a 4 of 5, and Amazonians a 4.3 of 5.

Published in 1993, it received the prestigious Shamus Award for Best P.I. Hardcover Novel.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Finished: Void Moon, Coward's Kiss and a biography

What do Michael Connelly, Lawrence Block and Mother Teresa have in common? I finished their books this past week.

See, it isn't that I haven't been reading. It's that I haven't been blogging about reading. And usually I'm not one of those weirdos who read two or three books concurrently. Circumstances made me do it.

I was reading Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a Personal Portrait, as a nod toward some more appropriate Lenten reading than my usual murder and mayhem books. I was just about finished with it when my mother-in-law showed up. I was really enjoying it, and knew she would it. So, being one of her four favorite son-in-laws, I let her read it while I was going on vacation, in a blatant attempt to move up out of the number three spot on her list.

It's a revealing look at Mother Teresa's life from the first-person view of Father Leo Maasburg who accompanied her on her travels for many years. It soothed my soul and reinforced my belief in prayer. So my "thoughts and prayers"go out  to all those who mock those words.

But then I needed a short novel to read on the plane during a trip to whacky Florida. So I chose Block's Coward's Kiss, a splendid tale of murder with more twists than a Disney World roller coast. (And, no, I didn't go to Disney World. Try snorkeling at Key Largo, visiting Hemingway's old home in Key West, with a jaunt up to Fort Meyers and Clearwater for some spring training baseball and beach ogling.)

I gave it a 6+ on the Haugenometer.

Upon my return to the hinterlands, I dug into Void Moon, another top-notch, unique thriller by Connelly, who I'm a late-comer in appreciating and who is fast becoming one of my favorite authors.

It isn't a Harry Bosch novel, which he is most famous for, but features a female burglar with a lot on her mind and a big moral choice to make at the end. It was a most-excellent stand-alone novel.

I gave it a 7+ on the Haugenometer.

Sorry for no links to these books and authors, but I'm feeling lazy tonight. Use your own Google machine for a change.

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).