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).