Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Call it spring fever

 I don't know what's up the last few weeks, except very little writing and reading, thus no blogging.

Yeah, we had a somewhat stress-filled earlier-than-planned trip to Champaign for the birth of my first grandchild. All's good there, momma and baby doing fine, but that might have thrown me out of whack. 

I did visit the awesome used bookstore there and dropped some cash on nine books, to which I laughed when the lady checked me out and asked: "Would you like a bag for those?"

No, I want to walk around downtown with nine books in my arms, one of which is a twenty-pound autobiography by Mark Twin (Vol. 2 of  3). Seriously. Do paper bags cost that much? How many books do you need to buy to get a bag?

Also, my mind's been preoccupied with my best buddy Stanley, who is nearing the end of his tremendous life as a dog. He's slowed down a lot and it seemed like the end was imminent. I called my son a week ago and said I'd probably be putting him down last weekend. I think Stanley overheard the call because he's been reinvigorated and bounced back good as new. For now. 

Otherwise, I've just been out of sorts, unmotivated, lazy and generally a dull boy.

I did get through two novels in the last month: Robert B. Parker's "High Profile," a Jess Stone novel; and Richard Stark's (aka Donald Westlake's) "The Mourner." I even screwed that up. I read it out of order. It's the third book and I have the first two but didn't check to see which was first in the series. Very unlike me and messed with my OCD.

On the writing front, I've had the fourth Bags Morton book done for some time but my editor has been dinkin' around doing her real job and raising her family and forgetting that I should come first in her life. Maybe I should pay her more. Or, for that matter, pay her period.

Meanwhile I have another half dozen books in some phase of unfinishedness and keep jumping around from one to another hoping something will click but nothing is clicking. That aggravates me more and just exacerbates the cycle.

So I need to quit whining, get my head screwed on straight and start punching the keys. That's kind of why I wrote this. Just to prime the pump. Get the fingers working again.

We'll see if it works. 

Friday, April 8, 2022

Things That Recently Caught My Eye

 1. Let's talk sex! Things ain't how they used to be.

An interesting opinion piece in today’s NY Times about the norms surrounding sex and how they may have become a bit too lax for our own good. The author suggests that the absolute permissiveness of the modern day has left a lot of people feeling somewhat confused and dejected about sex and relationships.

2. And rightfully so. They've been making a big deal out of an interview from when Prince was 11. 

3. Crime! “Unruly passenger” incidents, and other types of strange behavior have all soared recently. Why?

4. Why not? Neil Patrick Harris interviews David Copperfield, because he can.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Eponyms

 This Kevin Williamson column has a bit about eponyms. The word eponym refers to two things: a word derived from a person’s name and the person whose name formed the word.

The (possibly embellished) story is that Derrick was a convicted rapist who was spared execution for his crime by volunteering to become the London executioner, a job no one much wanted. He was appointed to the position by the Earl of Essex, whom he would later execute. Essex elected for beheading rather than hanging — big mistake: Derrick was an innovative hangman but apparently not very good with an ax, and he took several swings to finally do in the earl.

That story seems like a good premise for a novel.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Finished: McMurtry's 'Horseman, Pass By'

 This was Larry McMurtry's first novel, written at the age of 25, and is considered a classic by those who consider such things. It was published in 1961. The main character's older stepbrother, Hud, pretty much a jerk, served as the main character in the movie "Hud" and was played by Paul Newman. Not bad for a first novel. (All that info was from Wikipedia.)

As was this:

The title of the novel derives from the last three lines of the poem "Under Ben Bulben" by William Butler Yeats, which are carved on Yeats’s tombstone:

Cast a cold eye

On life, on death.

Horseman, pass by.

This was the first of what became known as the Thalia trilogy. Thalia is the town in which the books are set. I much preferred McMurtry's "The Last Picture Show" (the third) thus this novel reminded me a lot of it. Maybe I would've liked "Horseman, Pass By" more if I had read it first. That's what I get for reading books out of the order they were written. I guess we'll never know as the Horseman is out of the barn now. See what I did there?

According to Amazon:

Horseman, Pass By tells the story of Homer Bannon, an old-time cattleman who epitomizes the frontier values of honesty and decency, and Hud, his unscrupulous stepson. Caught in the middle is the narrator, Homer's young grandson Lonnie, who is as much drawn to his grandfather’s strength of character as he is to Hud's hedonism and materialism.

I enjoyed the book. It wasn't a cowboy Western. It was more the gritty ranch life of Texas with some dark themes thrown in. Wasn't a pick-me-upper.

One reviewer of the book summed up McMurtry's writing very well: "The author does not telegraph how you are supposed to feel or interpret events. He just depicts events with flesh and blood characters, people whose motives you may partially know, or think you know. But judgment on their choices and actions lays squarely on the reader’s shoulders. McMurtry wants no part of telling you how to take it."

I gave it a 6 of 10 on the Haugenometer. Amazonians a 4.3 of 5.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Bikinis, bars, beaches and baseball

 Wifey and I recently finished our annual Florida Fest, where we scrimped all year so we could blow our savings on a week-long gluttonous grilled shrimp and blackened Grouper fish taco extravaganza on the beach.

Some rando thoughts, observations and anecdotes about the Sunshine State:

** If you are in your 50s and want to feel young, attend Sunday Mass in Fort Myers. Let's just say you don't have to worry about babies crying during the service.

** Don't get me wrong, the service was lovely, the priest was great and it was a huge church. There's a portion of the Catholic Mass where names of ill or deceased people are read and we are asked to pray for them. It was the longest list of names I've ever heard read at a service. 

I was only half listening because, obviously, I didn't know any of the people there. So it was like: Marvin O'Connor, Harley Johansen, Mildred Margrove, blah, blah, blah, and then "Secretary Madeleine Albright." It woke me up. The rest of the service I was thinking: Was the former United States Secretary of State a member of this parish, or did they have a church secretary by that name, or do they just honor random politicos here?

** While we stayed at St. Pete Beach, we were in Fort Myers for a Twins spring training baseball game.
A lady sitting behind me said to her friend: “Let's get something to eat at halftime.” I bit my lip - yes, that is possible for me to do, especially because wifey was squeezing my knee with her vice-like grip, as she does when she wants me to bite my lip.

** Other than that outing, we did the least stuff we ever did on a vacation besides eat and sit on the beach and listen to bands. Day after day. It was great.

Wifey asked me on the beach: "Why do the women wear less clothes than the men?"

I wisely answered: "I hadn't noticed."

** Our first day there it rained off and on. So we did go 10 miles into St. Petersburg so I could visit the largest used bookstore in Florida only to find out it didn't survive COVID-19. It survived Amazon's take-over of the book industry and society's shift to reading nothing longer than 140 characters, but all the Ivermectin in the world couldn't help it pull through the Wuhan flu shutdown.

** There's a 7-11 and a Dunkin' Donuts across from the hotel we stay. They line up 40 deep to get coffee at DDs, but 2 people deep for 7-11 coffee. You know where this impatient soul got his java.

** The first question people ask you is "Where ya from?" When I tell them South Dakota, 9 out of 10 say a variation of "Oh, wow." Like we're from Mars or something. The 10th person says "Where's that?" So I ask: "Ever heard of Mount Rushmore?" They all have heard of that.

One couple said they went to Deadwood last year. "We caught COVID there," they said and laughed it off.

** I read two books on the trip, one of them "The Paris Apartment" by Lucy Foley. The guy under the umbrella next to us was reading "The Paris Detective" by James Patterson.

I held up my book and asked him if his detective ever stayed at my apartment. He looked at me like he was one of those people who didn't know where South Dakota was.

** The more I visit Florida, the more I like it. And, oddly enough, the more I visit Florida, the more I like South Dakota.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

And the 2022 gardening season begins

 Planted some pepper and egg plant seeds today. Up until last year I started my tomato seeds on St. Patrick's Day but I pushed it back a couple weeks because they seemed a little leggy by my usual planting time of Memorial Day weekend. So those are yet to come.

We'll see what this year brings - rabbits, deer, hail, wind, drought, grasshoppers, fungus. I'm ready. Let's get ready to rumble.



Thursday, March 17, 2022

Well, it was worth it

 Finished Dean Koontz's "Quicksilver" and it was worth the 29 bucks I plunked down (never end a sentence with a preposition). 

The namesake of the book is Quin Quicksilver, a baby found in the middle of the road and raised by an orphanage fun by nuns. At 18 he ventures out to become a writer, and as with most writers, his life gets wild.

Quinn had a happy if unexceptional life. Until the day of “strange magnetism.” It compelled him to drive out to the middle of nowhere. It helped him find a coin worth a lot of money. And it practically saved his life when two government agents showed up in the diner in pursuit of him. Now Quinn is on the run from those agents and who knows what else, fleeing for his life.

During a shoot-out at a forlorn dude ranch, he finally meets his destined companions: Bridget Rainking, a beauty as gifted in foresight as she is with firearms, and her grandpa Sparky, a romance novelist with an unusual past. Bridget knows what it’s like to be Quinn. She’s hunted, too. The only way to stay alive is to keep moving.

Barreling through the Sonoran Desert, the formidable trio is impelled by that same inexplicable magnetism toward the inevitable. With every deeply disturbing mile, something sinister is in the rearview―an enemy that is more than a match for Quinn. Even as he discovers within himself resources that are every bit as scary.

In usual Koontz fashion, it's good versus evil, a little sermonizing on the state of mankind, but not overly so. It was vintage Koontz with a dose of the supernatural and the ah-shucks kid forced into being a hero or a wimp. It's a book about free-will and the choices men make.

I liked it and gave it an 8 on the Haugenometer scale of 10. Amazonians agreed and gave it a 4.1 of 5. 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Impulsive buy I hope is worth it

 Did something today I haven't done in a long time. I purchased a hardcover book and paid full jacket price for it.

My reading funk this week, only surpassed by my writing funk, was hitting hard. I'd had my fill of Block, Box and McMurtry and needed a jolt. When in doubt, go to Dean Koontz.

He has a new one out called Quicksilver. I could've ordered it on Amazon for almost half price, but their two-day delivery has gone the way of Blockbuster. I needed it immediately. Today. To read tonight.

So after work I drove out of my way to Books-a-Million, so add another 30 dollars in gas for the two miles extra, and I plunked down $28.99 toward Dean's new swimming pool. It hurt. I usually do used book stores, library sales and E-Bay for my books. But, like a heroin addict, I needed my fix and needed it now.

Hope it's worth it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

5 Things That Recently Caught My Eye

 1. Let's hear it for the Knights: To date, $4.5 million has been raised, all of it going directly to relief efforts.

The Catholic fraternal organization has set up “mercy huts” in Poland, right across the border from Ukraine. When fleeing refugees enter Poland, they can immediately receive food, medical supplies, clothing, and relief from the Eastern European winter weather. The huts are based on the principle that guided the Knights’ humanitarian efforts in Europe during World War I: “Everybody welcome, everything free.”

2. Marcus Foster: A Black Hero You’ve Never Heard Of

Stressing old fashioned values like hard work, self-help, and academic achievement, Foster helped thousands of children as a public educator in Philadelphia. Foster was poised for even greater things as Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District. But in 1973, he was cut down in a hail of cyanide-filled bullets, assassinated by the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Marxist terrorists better known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst.

3. Because we all need more COVID news: The long, strange history of anti-vaccination movements

The history of smallpox is a reminder that, while they may seem new, anti-vaccination movements are as old as vaccination itself. People’s reasons for opposing vaccines — concerns about side effects, a preference for natural remedies, fear of government overreach — haven’t changed that much either.

4. Earth's biggest bookstore: Amazon, Notorious Bookstore Killer, Kills Off All Its Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores

Today, Amazon has worked its way into so many facets of our lives, from shipping people essential products to hosting the websites where people get their news. But it looks like replacing your local bookstore with one of its own was a bridge too far.

5. UFF DA! Four-dollar gas through November in South Dakota

Its 2022 fuel outlook predicts an average $4.11 per gallon of gas in April and a high of $4.25 per gallon in May. While the per gallon price will drop some it won’t fall below $4 until November.


Monday, February 28, 2022

A novel thought from a writer: Words matter

 The homily today (sermon to you non-Caths) got me thinking, which I guess is sort of the point.

It reflected on the first scripture reading from Sirach and the priest proposed that the old adage about judging a person by their actions, wasn't entirely true. He said, citing Sirach, and, unknowingly, the late Rush Limbaugh, that "words matter" too.

The topical verses from Chapter 27 are: 

When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do people’s faults when they speak.

The furnace tests the potter’s vessels; the test of a person is in conversation.

The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so speech discloses the bent of a person’s heart.

Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.

My first thought was: consider that scripture when you listen to your favorite politician. (Especially the: "speech discloses the bent of a person’s heart" part.)

My second thought was: that explains a lot of the issues in today's toxic society, particularly with social media, but also news media, even email and texts between friends and family.

I would posit that we communicate more than ever in the history of the world - and instantaneously. So our words really do matter, because we use so many of them. 

Couple that with what I believe to be fact that we as a society are woefully informed as to meanings of words, literature, history, etc. - basically the liberal arts. Thus, we throw out all these words and absorb all these words but don't have the ability to put things into context, to see gray areas, and we certainly don't take the time to consider them.

All we often do is get these words thrown at us, gobble them up and then shoot words back at people without the education, or time, to consider them and study them before we respond.

Often, the responses are simplistic, they're vulgar, they're thoughtless. And down the rabbit hole we go.

In history, words were more difficult to transcribe and more difficult to attain with long periods of time between responses. So they were more considered and deliberate. Moses chiseled out the 10 Commandments. The words were delivered by God but those words were carefully chosen. In 1517, Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by nailing his 95 opinions on the church in Germany; they were meticulously written and thoughtful. When a printer set type one letter at a time, the words mattered because you didn't want to waste them. Not that long ago, we hand wrote letters to people, probably more well thought out, personal and nuanced than currently.

Now we fire off tweets and texts and emails with our fingers as fast as our mind can think of the words, then use auto-fill and spell-check to clean up our spelling to look smarter than we probably are, and then hit "send" often without much consideration for facts or the feelings of the recipient.

What is all to often the result is thoughtlessness, showing a thoughtless, unserious person; or meanness, showing a mean, inconsiderate person; or vulgarity, showing a vulgar, dark-hearted person.

Yes, our actions matter, but so do our words. The whole "sticks and stones" adage has proven to be false. Words do hurt people. Words do reflect our inner being. Not that we aren't allowed a dumb comment or something said in haste or anger on occasion, but the entirety of our words is a pretty good indicator of who we are. 

Now scroll through the latest Facebook comments you left for your congressman or on an article you commented on from the local newspaper, then check your Twitter feed for what you called people or commented on and tell me I'm wrong. That's who you are. Own it, for better or worse. If not for better, work on it.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Larry McMurtry - an underappreciated wordsmith

 I just finished my fifth Larry McMurtry novel, "The Last Picture Show," and am able to confidently say he is the best writer among the clan of authors I've fallen in with. (Never end a sentence with a preposition, but you can with two.) Those more famous authors include Dean Koontz, James Patterson, Lawrence Block, Lee Child, John Sandford, Daniel Silva.

Sure, some of them have better imaginations or plot twists or stumbled into a character they made a career out of (Lucas Davenport, Gabriel Allon, Jack Reacher, etc.) But when it comes to getting into the guts of a character so you feel what they feel, see what they see, I haven't run across anyone better. It can be salty. There is profanity, racism, N words, raunchy sex, lives lived and loves lost. But it's life, particularly in the plains of Texas, and he makes you feel it to the bone.

The characters he created were so good, they often ended up on screen, like "Lonesome Dove" and "Brokeback Mountain." The characters were so deep they attracted A-list actors like: Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Debra Winger, Shirley MacLaine, Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd. 

When I Wiki'd him, I was distressed to learn he died last year. This New York Times obituary is worth the read just to see his quirky life and his other career as a book collector and seller. 

He wrote 30 novels, so I have plenty more to go and look forward to them.

I gave "The Last Picture Show" a stellar 8 on the Haugenometer. 

Monday, January 31, 2022

Finished: Block's 'Random Walk'

 This book, Random Walk, was way out of character from most Lawrence Block novels. Written in 1988, it grabs you mostly by making you want to see how he's going to draw it all together. You know he will, you're just not sure how. It was a bit of a struggle getting there, but satisfying. 

It begins in the Pacific Northwest. Guthrie decides to take a walk. He doesn't know how far he's going or where he's going. A journey of any length begins with a single step and Guthrie takes it, facing east.

Wonderful things happen as he walks. He begins to draw people to him. The group grows and walks and heals.

The random walk: It never ends, it just changes; it is not the destination which matters, but the journey.

What that Amazon synopsis leaves out is that interspersed throughout those chapters is a serial killer, a small dose of Block I was used to. The guy is in the real estate business and manages to kill over 100 women. The reader kind of figures the nut-job is at some point going to meet up with the group of walkers who find that their journey heals their ailments as they walk. What we don't know is what will happen when he does. For that, you'll have to read it.

This is another novel that Block draws on his several trips to South Dakota. The walkers start in Oregon and along their way drop down from North Dakota into Belle Fourche and several small communities in South Dakota before another stop in De Smet and then down through Sioux Falls. I've written about Block's references to South Dakota in several books and even talked to him about it. I find that pretty cool. 

Cool enough for a 6 rating on the 10-point Haugenometer. Amazonians gave it a 3.9 out of 5.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Thanks

 Almost forgot to say "thank you" to those of you who downloaded books at smashwords.com during their holiday season sale.

Dozens of my books were downloaded. Always a good feeling to see what I write getting read.

While I did it to schlep my newest e-book "Bags of Stone," it was fun seeing people downloading that plus "Runaway Trane" and even my first book, "Joshua's Ladder."

Sometimes I forget about those and only hope the new ones keep getting better so I can nail that one where I finally feel it's THE one and hit up some publishers. So far I like the way I'm doing it - my way. But I'd be lying if I didn't say it'd be nice to get struck by lightning someday by a big publisher. 

'Til then, look for another Bags story soon. I also finished a more "adult" crime novel, but the timing has to be right before I drop that. Some books you just don't want your boss or mother to read.

Finished: Block's 'Cinderella Sims'

 Finished one of Lawrence Block's earliest books "Cinderella Sims." It's actually a 2003 reprint of the novel he published in 1958. It was originally titled "$20 Lust."

It's a splendid look at how he progressed in his career. It's a bit amateurish. You can tell he was turning out several books a year at the time, most destined for the smut publishers at the time, but some for more mainstream press when he felt the novel was worthy. According to the forward written by a friend, this was kind of in between. But you see glimpses of what would become greatness.

It's a first edition I bought on E-Bay, but it's from a library. So it has all the stickers and library card holder. I try to clean those up and take all that stuff off but they apparently used glue back in those days that could hold automobiles together. Try as I might with my limited patience and a razor, and gunk remover, it just ends up looking like a depressed old library book that tried to slit its wrists.

But, the book was interesting, especially if you're into Block and his career. It featured a man's quest to become a weekly newspaper owner, so that was nice. I gave it a sympathetic 5 of 10 on the Haugenometer.

According to Amazon: "After Louisville Times reporter Ted Lindsay loses his wife--first to another man, then to a car accident--he relocates to New York, where he meets Cinderella Jones, who is on the run from a gang that she stole fifty thousand dollars from."

This is a better description from Publishers Weekly: "Originally titled $20 Lust and published under the pseudonym Andrew Shaw by Nightstand in 1961, this early Block novel has its quirky charms. As the MWA Grandmaster explains in the Lawrence Block Bibliography: 1958¤1993, "much of the work in question was bad, and categorically so... in the early sixties I wrote a soft core sex novel every month, designed to titillate but not to inflame, with a requisite sex scene in every chapter." Strip away the requisite sex scenes and one is left with a dark, clever crime story that shows Block's emerging strengths: good storytelling, a bright sense of humor and more than a few flashes of good writing. Ted Lindsay, a reporter for the Louisville Times, loses his wife to another man, then to a fatal accident. He relocates to New York in order to get a new start. He's unsuccessful until he sees "the girl." The girl turns Ted's life upside down, setting him on a path of treacherous lies, deceptions and dangers as they try to outwit the gang that's after her. The sex scenes, mild by today's more graphic standards, are more likely to amuse than titillate. Readers who have not yet discovered the joys of Block - bookseller/thief Bernie Rhodenbarr, PI Matthew Scudder, hitman John Keller, etc. - should skip this one. But established Block fans should enjoy this peek at the author's obscure apprentice work and be grateful that he moved on to create better books."

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Finished: Box's 'In Plain Sight'

 This one had a twist that wanted to make me shout.

"In Plain Sight" is the sixth of twenty-two in the Joe Pickett Series by C.J. Box. I'm reading them in order, as any sane person should do, and it's the best so far.

I pride myself in seeing the twists ahead of time. My pride took a beating in this one. I had to read the paragraph again to make sure I'd read it correctly. It was the kind that makes me question the mental stability of the author. Like "You crazy bastard. What kind of twisted mind comes up with that?"

I'm envious.

Ranch owner and matriarch Opal Scarlett has vanished under suspicious circumstances during a bitter struggle between her sons for control of her million-dollar empire. Joe Pickett is convinced one of them must have done her in. But when he becomes the victim of a series of wicked and increasingly violent pranks, Joe wonders if what's happening has less to do with Opal's disappearance than with the darkest chapters of his own past. Whoever is after him has a vicious debt to collect, and wants Joe to pay...and pay dearly.

Some of the reviews thought the ending was a bit much, but that's why they call it fiction. My only complaint, and it's not so much a complaint as it seems to be his style, is that the book moves along at a steady pace until the last few chapters when Box shortens them up James Patterson style. It's like he's anxious to get to the ending himself and gets in a rush. Maybe it's just his thing. It works, I guess. It's just something I notice in his style.

I gave it an 8 of 10 on the Haugenometer; Amazonians a 4.7 of 5; and Goodreaders a 4.2 of 5. 

Saturday, January 8, 2022

A 'Hitt' but not a 'hit' but worth the effort

 In case you hadn't figured it out by now, I have a thing for mid to late 20th century crime noir. That started with Donald Westlake and continued through Lawrence Block and others.

Those "others" are often referenced in those books, so I check them out. Also, Amazon has that thing where "If you like X, then you might like Y." That's how I stumbled across Orrie Hitt.

According to Wiki:

Orrie Hitt (October 27, 1916–December 8, 1975) was a prolific American author of over 150 books, mostly mid-century erotica, but including some crime novels early in his career. It's been said he wrote a book every two weeks at the prime of his career, sitting at his dining room table, fueled by large glasses of iced coffee and cigarettes. His first two books, I'll Call Every Monday and Love in the Arctic were hardcover books published by Red Lantern, but his career would ultimately be made writing paperback originals.

As a paperback writer, many of his books were written as "work for hire" and the copyright held by the publishing company who, anticipating a very short shelf life, never bothered to renew the copyright or return the rights to the author. The fact that all of his books, prior to 1964, are in the public domain has been beneficial to the legacy of Orrie Hitt, in that it has made them more readily available to contemporary readers.

Original Orrie Hitt paperbacks are collectible not only among aficionados of 1950s and 1960s cover art, but also among readers of mid-century erotica and crime novels, who find them superior to those of other "hack" writers of the time.

The one I just read was titled: "She Got What She Wanted." It wasn't good. With a 4 out of 10 on the Haugenometer it's one of the lowest ratings I've ever given a book besides a "DNF." But, Wiki says he's good so I might try one more.

What amazes about these guys is how prolific they were. As mentioned above, Hitt wrote over 150 books, at one time churning out a book every two weeks. It only figures there'd be some clunkers there.

Other authors of that era/genre I like include: Ed McBain/Evan Hunter, Gunard Hjertstedt/Day Keene, Gil Brewer and more contemporary Walter Mosley.

Guys like that often had pseudonyms, sometimes several, as they would have a different name for the different genres they dabbled in: crime, soft porn, sci-fi, etc. They were talented writers who are now largely forgotten but are starting to see a resurgence thanks to publishers like Hard Case Crime. 

Sure, Patterson, Child, Koontz, Sandford dominate the mystery/crime bookshelves now, but it's fun to read these guys who set the stage for them. I suspect the old-timers had more interesting lives too.

Here is the Goodreads synopsis of "She Got What She Wanted.

Della Banners was born into poverty. It had been a hard life up in the hills. But she discovered early that a girl with her figure could get things from men. So when she ran away to the city, she was ready to try anything. That's when she met Jack. Jack immediately sized up her assets and suggested that she belonged in sales. His line of business is selling roofs and siding, but to do it right, he needs someone to find the prospects. That's where Della comes in.

Pretty soon she finds she has a knack for finding new customers, and a better knack for conning them into buying jobs they don't really need. Della and Jack are on their way to success. The only trouble is, Jack is married, and his wife is less than understanding. Because Della wants it all--the money, the new car, the nice clothes--and Jack. And heaven help anyone who gets in her way.

Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 books in review

 I wouldn't consider 2021 to have been a knockout year as far as books I read. Seemed like a lot of 6s among the 44 books I finished.

The total was down from the year before, but I had more time to read in 2020 thanks to COVID, and I did more writing in 2021 that cut into my reading time (so that's a good thing). I also hit a couple ruts this year where I didn't read anything for a week or two. Not sure why. Just wasn't feeling it.

My highest rated book (a 9) was also the first book I read in 2021. That was "The Order" by Daniel Silva, who then followed with the worst book of his Gabriel Allon series.

There were also five 8s in the bunch.

Looking back, the one that jumps out at me as my favorite of the year was "The Guest List" by Lucy Foley. It was clever and stuck with me through the year as I talked to people about novels. It was good enough that I bought a copy for my future daughter-in-law.

Another highlight of 2021 was my discovery of C.J. Box and his Joe Pickett books. I'm really enjoying those and as I glance at my TBR piles, I still see about 15 remaining. So that gives me hope for 2022.

I'm hoping to see new books by John Sandford, Dean Koontz and a bounce-back book from Daniel Silva this coming year. Maybe Lawrence Block will surprise with a new one as well.

I'll continue to try to fill in the Block library as well as Donald Westlake.

So many books, so little time. But I'll give it the ol' college try.

Happy reading in 2022!

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The perfect gift

 Wifey knocked it out of the park with her gift-giving this Christmas with a gift only book nerds could truly appreciate. She bought me an IntelliScanner.

With its accompanying software, I can scan the ISBN numbers on my books. It then searches the internet, probably Amazon, and then lists the book, author, pages, etc., with a photo of the cover and then alphabetizes them. 

With the "search" tool I can look up authors, titles, notes I added. The handiest thing is it then publishes them to a custom website, which I can access from my phone or anywhere.

I'm a bit sad in that it makes my little notebooks and cheat sheets obsolete. I used to stuff them in my pocket when I went to a bookstore, if I remembered. I did that because I have a faulty memory and while trying to fill out my Dean Koontz collection, for example, I would often find myself buying doubles of a book I already have. Those days are over.

If I wanted to, it could also be used for CDs or movies too.

I looked at such software a couple years back and they all seemed to lack something or have some glitch I didn't like. This thing is perfect! It does everything I need it to and more.

My biggest problem is with the bookstores themselves. Sometimes they put a sticker over the ISBN or UPC and I have to pick at it with my fingernails to remove the sticker and get to the code. That slows things down, but I get there.

On rare occasion a book scans wrong and brings up a different book, so I do have to be careful about that. To keep on eye on it I only do about six books at a time, then review them. 

I have a couple hundred books scanned so far, mostly from the authors I follow, but have yet to hit the big ones, like Koontz, John Sandford and Lawrence Block, which are quite numerous. It'll be a job but one I'll enjoy.

Assuming the thing works for a while, I give it a five-star review. It's fabulous and I highly recommend it.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Christmas books

 Per the Christmas tradition, I bought books for the kids and their significants. Some received two, because I love them more, and because I know they either read more or I just ran across more books I thought they'd like. 

I know these goofballs pretty well by now so I try to personalize them a bit. They are supposed to text me and say they read them and what they thought, but that tradition hasn't really caught on; except for my future daughter-in-law. She does a good job of that. 

So here's a rundown of who got what:

For Kayla, future DIL, who is marrying my son in October: "The Guest List" by Lucy Foley. It's actually an awful book to give to a future bride, but, frankly, I thought that's what made it a good gift. Ramp up the pressure leading to the big day. It was also one of my favorite books from this past year.

For Junior, her future husband: "The Greatest Gambling Story Ever Told" by Mark Paul. It's advertised as "Seabiscuit" meets "Narcos." It's a short one, as the girls took glee in pointing out to him, not the most voracious reader.

For my son-in-law and soon-to-be PhD Stetson, two books: "The League" by John Eisenberg. How five rivals created the NFL and launched a sports empire; and "Bleeding Out" by Thomas Abt. The devastating consequences of urban violence - and a bold new plan for peace in the streets.

For his pregnant wife, educator, and my daughter, Rylee, a book highly recommended to me and a #1 NY Times best-seller "Educated, a Memoir" by Tara Westover. How a girl born to a survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho had her eyes opened and eventually graduated from Harvard and Cambridge. It's supposed to be a pretty crazy story.

For my oldest daughter Katie, two books: "Diary of an American Exorcist" by Stephen Rossetti. Demons, possession, and the modern-day battle against ancient evil; and "The Flower Boat Girl" by Larry Feign. A novel based on a true story, her father traded away her youth. Sea bandits stole her freedom. She has one way to get them back: Became the most powerful pirate in the world.

For her gold-digger boyfriend, Kwin: "Sooley" by John Grisham. This time Grisham moves from the courtroom to a different kind of court, the basketball court. 

Also, for my granddaughter coming in April, I began the tradition for her with her first book ever: "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." I can't wait to read it to her.

Frankly, I'd like to read all of these books myself. They'll probably end up back in the house one way or another, so I have that to look forward to.

Merry Christmas. Read some books next year!

Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Haugen Christmas card

 "It's time!", as Bruce Buffer would say, for the annual Haugen Winter Solstice newsletter where I inform you of happenings around our household from the year 2021 in case you don't follow us daily on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or read the court news in the newspaper. (For you young'ns, newspapers are big sheets of paper that used to print local news, sports and entertainment.)

Some accuse me of being cheap for not sending out Christmas cards with a pretty picture of the fam. But that's not the case. I'm simply lazy. Besides it's usually the most visited post of the year on this blog, oddly enough, just edging out any posts where I mention Amanda Knox. Seriously, Google sends everyone here when I mention her name. I don't understand it but ... did I mention Amanda Knox?

Once again, in 2021, the State of the Haugen Union was strong. 

First, the big news. Looks like Nancy and I are going to be grandparents. My favorite child, Rylee, is set to have my favorite granddaughter, probably named Lena, on April 25. Fans of the Miss Congeniality movie will know that is the perfect date

When pageant host William Shatner asks Miss Rhode Island to describe her “idea of a perfect date,” she infamously responds: “April 25th — because it’s not too hot, not too cold. All you need is a light jacket!”

Rylee and Stetson continue to reside in Champaign, Illinois, where she teaches seventh-grade science (this year in person and not via the interweb) and coaches cross country, and Stet is putting the finishing touches on his doctoral thesis at the University of Illinois. He's explained his thesis to me several times but, near as I can tell, it's basically "Why nobody likes Aaron Rodgers." Or it might have something to do with the Dawes Act of 1887. One of the two.

They spend a few weeks each summer at the Haugen compound outside Rapid City; and we're especially looking forward to having them this summer. Hopefully they'll bring Lena too. It'll be a welcome change of pace cleaning up baby puke instead of dog puke. 

Speaking of which, Stanley and Huck are still going strong. Stanley is still the best dog ever in his golden years, and Huck continues to be the ornriest. They are 12 and 9.

Oldest daughter Katie is still hanging out with her mountain man, Kwinn, in the Hills of Black near Keystone. She hit the big 3-0 this summer but doesn't look a day over 21. She's still running the show West River for Congressman Dusty Johnson and I see her a lot as our day jobs cross paths. They got a cat named Neville, who was kidnapped this summer by a vacationing Minneapolis miscreant. They drove to the Twin Cities and, after a tense standoff, rescued Nevs from the loon (probably named Karen and probably a meth-head). Most of that is a true story.

Luke passed the one-year mark for his job with a defense company in the suburbs of D.C. doing stuff he can't tell me much about because I "don't have a high enough clearance." He likes to drop that line on me for payback for all the embarrassing ping pong losses he's suffered at my hands over the years. Luke also notches probably the second biggest Haugen news of the year as he became engaged to his college sweetheart Kayla. She will be wrapping up her Master's degree in June from Drexel University in Philadelphia. (Trivia question: What's the Drexel University nickname? Trivia answer: The Dragons. As you can see, I try to make these updates not just entertaining but educational as well.) Her degree, near as I understand, is in public health/epidemiology. (It would be nice if some of these kids did things I could understand, like be simple English majors, but noooo.) Kayla can tell you about all things COVID or the next thing to plague us, and then you can choose to believe her and do something about it or just go drink your horse dewormer. It don't matter to me. They're looking at an October wedding.

Lastly, but not leastly, Nancy continues to befuddle many by remaining married to me. Thirty-three years is my best guess. She continues as a chiropractor's assistant in Rapid City. She's always bringing home gifts from clients, including cookies, jams, fresh trout and 9 mm ammo, so apparently I'm not the only one who likes her. She also continues to befuddle me by being amazingly nice to people. Have I mentioned she's the best person in South Dakota? Seriously.

I'm wrapping up my 17th year with my best boss ever, Senator John Thune. The nation anxiously awaits his decision to run, or not, for reelection. (Hint: I think he will but you didn't hear it from me.) If he doesn't, I plan to move on to my final career goal: Renting umbrellas to co-eds on the beaches of Florida, probably near Twins spring training camp around Fort Meyers. Another mostly true story. I also published another book, the third in the Bags Morton detective series, probably the best books nobody has read. A fourth is done and will be published soon, as I just can't shake the guy. You can get the first two for free now through Jan. 1 thanks to a deal they're doing at Smashwords.com; and then buy the third one at Amazon. You might think it crass of me to be pimping my books during a Christmas letter, but then you don't know me very well.

Otherwise, this past year, Nancy and I continued to pilfer Deadwood of money, hit as many live bands as we could, and watched lots of boxing and MMA. We spent a week in March frolicking at our favorite hide-away in Florida and the kids joined us for a few of those days. Then we all reunited for a long Labor Day weekend at Luke's place and did a bunch of touristy things in the D.C. area. 

Looks like everybody will be back in the Hills for Christmas. The place should be hopping as Luke is bringing his young German Shephard named Klaus and the Rylee bringing her cat, Aria. Stan and Huck are in for a treat.

Those are the highlights of 2021 for us, pretty memorable actually, with few low-lights. We're hoping yours was well and that 2022 is a winner for all of us.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!