Monday, February 6, 2023

2022 suckiest year ever for books

 Finally getting around to my review of books from 2022. Last year was not one for the books - in my world anyway.

Due to a number of factors, I only notched 25 books read. Among them, I only had three 8s on the 10-point Haugenometer and they all came in the first three months. So the last three-fourths of the year was kind of a stinker on the quality scale too.

The top-rankers included "In Plain Sight" by C.J. Box, which looking back I may have over-rated.

Dean Koontz came through with "Quicksilver" - a solid 8 as Koontz continues his mastery of the written world and a messed-up imagination.

The other 8 was "The Last Picture Show" by Larry McMurtry. He's kind of a messed up dude too, but this one probably had me thinking more about it for days afterwards than any other from 2022. 

I hope to hit the bookshelf hard in 2023. Hoping to double the output. One a week would be nice and not too much to ask if the rest of my life would just cooperate.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Finished: Noel Hamiel's 'South Dakota's Mathis Murders'

 It's always neat when you can read a book that features characters you know personally or knew of. It's even neater when you also know the author.

So it was with Noel Hamiel's true-crime novel "South Dakota's Mathis Murders." I've known of Hamiel for many, many years, but never met him until this past year after he retired to the Black Hills. Since meeting him we've talked on the phone and messaged a few times. He's a wonderful man.

The Mathis murders took place in 1981, when I was a senior in high school, so I remember the incident being in the news but don't really recall following it. When you're 17 in the 1980s there were much more important things in your life and they generally had big hair and wore tight acid-washed blue jeans.

Back to the book:

It was perhaps the most infamous murder case in state history. Ladonna Mathis was shot twice in the head at point-blank range inside the family's metal shed serving as their makeshift home. Two of her three children, ages 2 and 4, were also shot in the head. The brutality of the killings shocked the state and set off a frenzy of law enforcement activity. Despite its intensity, the investigation never found the murderer or the murder weapon. Though charged with the crime, the husband was acquitted, leaving the door open for endless speculation about what really occurred on that late summer morning of Sept. 8, 1981.

With renewed insight from those involved, veteran South Dakota journalist Noel Hamiel explores this cold case of murder and mystery that still haunts the Mount Rushmore state.

I was surprised to learn that Jeff Masten testified on behalf of the defense in the case - in regard to ballistic tests run by the FBI for the prosecution. Not that Jeff wasn't a brilliant man but he also went on to be Lincoln County State's Attorney and the first to use DNA testing in the state and ultimately put a man on death row. I've always thought of him as a prosecutor. My mom worked for Jeff for many years in Canton, including during that time. A sign of how small our state is, Jeff's sister lives in Rapid City. Her son and my son went to school together in Rapid City, played baseball together and were good friends. Her son (Jeff's nephew) also interned in my office. Small world.

Back to the book. I really enjoyed it. It's only a hundred pages or so, easily readable over the weekend. Noel's life was spent in the newspaper industry and the book reads like a well-researched newspaper story. 

Famed South Dakota historian Jon Lauck (who I also work with on my day job) has a blurb on the book saying it rivals Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood." I think Jon is being considerate or never read the second-best selling true crime novel of all time, but I recommend both books.

Everybody who reads "South Dakota's Mathis Murders" is going to be asked: Did he do it?

I don't think the prosecution proved he did (especially going up against some of the societal mores of those days) but I think subsequent analysis and comments from his father suggest he did.

Read it and tell me what you think.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Finished: Patterson's 'Triple Cross'

 The detective Alex Cross novels are the only ones I read from James Patterson any more. His latest, Triple Cross, was pretty good but could've been a hundred pages shorter.

James Patterson's #1 bestselling hero Detective Alex Cross hunts down a serial killer who targets entire families—and who will next be coming for the Crosses. 

A precise killer, he always moves under the cover of darkness, flawlessly triggering no alarms, leaving no physical evidence.  

Cross and Sampson aren’t the only ones investigating. Also in on this most intriguing case is the world’s bestselling true-crime author, who sees patterns everyone else misses.

The writer, Thomas Tull, calls the Family Man murders the perfect crime story. He believes the killer may never be caught. 

Cross knows there is no perfect crime. And he’s going to hunt down the Family Man no matter what it takes. Until the Family Man decides to flip the narrative and bring down Cross and his family. 

Honestly, it takes me a bit to get things straight when starting Cross novels because I often confuse him with Lucas Davenport from the John Sandford series (which I personally prefer). While this one didn't knock my socks off, Patterson's writing style makes for quick reading, even in books over 400 pages like this one.

I gave it a 7 on the 10-point Haugenometer. Amazonians a 4.5 out of 5.

Monday, January 16, 2023

'Bags of Shots' hits Amazon

 I have good news for you devotees of Bags Morton and the Bags series of novellas. The fourth installment is now available as an e-book on Amazon.

For just $1.99, basically the cost of a chicken egg, you can read "Bags of Shots." If you are a Prime member, you can download it for free. You won't be any smarter when you're done reading it, but you will have chuckled several times, rolled your eyes a couple more, and perhaps snorted once or twice.

In this one, the latest worldwide pandemic has finally reached southwest South Dakota, but Bags is largely oblivious to it. Reality hits him between the eyes, though, when his babe, Bobbi Jo, starts getting hot, and not the good kind of hot. The Tehran Fever has hit and there's no cure, except hospitalization to help with the symptoms and help patients hopefully ride out the storm. You can't be admitted until the fever hits 103 and Bags can't find a thermometer anywhere to even measure it.

While searching for one in the unlikeliest of places, FEMA trucks with medical supplies are being hijacked, and the state epidemiologist is kidnapped. That triggers a call from Bags' former boss and buddy, the governor, enlisting Bags and his unconventional (some would say illegal) methods in finding the doctor. If he can find her, Bags hopes to put her expertise to use on Bobbi Jo.

But the clock is ticking and the fever is rising.

***

Do you need to catch up or start at the beginning (not necessary, but fun):

Book #1: Bags of Bodies












Book #2: Bags of Rock









Book #3: Bags of Stone



Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Not earth-shattering, but I hit a little milestone

 I recently went over the 1,000 books sold mark on smashwords.com and feel pretty good about it. Sure, James Patterson sneezes and sells 1,000 books, but, on the other hand, I write my own books. That number doesn't include what I've sold on Amazon and other platforms.

I've just had a soft spot for smashwords. I joined them in 2011 shortly after their start-up. I liked the freedom they provided, the much higher author payment per book, and admired their grit in taking on the industry giants. They've been very successful, as now almost 200,000 authors are represented there.

It's still not a household name, but as part of its business model it gets you to the household names. If I upload a book to smashwords.com, they distribute it to other retailers like Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Scribd and public libraries. So it's pretty cool.

There's a lot of stuff on there I wouldn't read (there's something for everyone) and the quality range is pretty wide. But it's worth checking out and I urge you to.

If you're one of those 1,000, thank you very much.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Finished: McCarthy's 'The Road'

 Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" is just another example of how I don't get it as far as what is considered great literature of modern times.

He won a Pulitzer Prize for it; it was a best-seller; and chosen for Oprah's book club. All together now: Oooh, aaah.

I gave it a 5 on the 10-point Haugenometer.

According to Amazon, whose readers gave it a 4.4 of 5:

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.

The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, "each the other's world entire," are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

I don't argue that McCarthy is a great author. His shtick of not using commas and quote marks is cute. Heck, I wish it had been the rule of the land when I was kid. Imagine how much easier grammar and composition classes would have been.

But this is just a dull story of a man and boy trekking across barren, burned-out land. They mostly have monosylabic conversations, if you want to call them that. (I think I made that word up.) Nothing profound about it. They don't have names, and you don't know how the world got to this point. If he was going for bleak and boring, mission accomplished. 

McCarthy did a good job of showing probably what a post-apocolyptic world would look like. People not trusting each other, every man for himself kind of thing.

It just didn't do it for me and hardened my resolve to never join the Oprah Book Club.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Books for the kids

 When I was a kid my great-aunt Nora could always be counted on to give us kids gloves or mittens for Christmas. Assuming I lost at least one glove in between holidays, I would freeze my hand or hands until the next Christmas, knowing I'd get a new pair.

So it is that I have the Christmas tradition of giving a sure thing to my kids and their significant others for Christmas. Every other gift they get from ma and pa is labeled "From Mom and Dad," but this one is labeled only from me. And so their brains don't freeze, like Aunt Nora took care of my hands, I give them books. I know four out of the six usually get read. The ones that don't aren't because they aren't a great selection, it's because Junior doesn't read much unless it fits on his phone or it has to be carefully tailored to to his interests. 

After much thought and research during the course of the year, I picked up the following for them:

For history professor and son-in-law Stetston: The Good Country - A History of the American Midwest 1800-1900 by Jon K. Lauck. Even though there was a flagrant omission in the book (no mention of the Haugen empire) I bought it because Jon is a coworker and a friend and I wanted to do my little part to help his sales hit double-digits. 

According to Amazon:

At the center of American history is a hole—a gap where some scholars’ indifference or disdain has too long stood in for the true story of the American Midwest. A first-ever chronicle of the Midwest’s formative century, The Good Country restores this American heartland to its central place in the nation’s history.

Jon K. Lauck, the premier historian of the region, puts midwestern “squares” center stage—an unorthodox approach that leads to surprising conclusions. The American Midwest, in Lauck’s cogent account, was the most democratically advanced place in the world during the nineteenth century. The Good Country describes a rich civic culture that prized education, literature, libraries, and the arts; developed a stable social order grounded in Victorian norms, republican virtue, and Christian teachings; and generally put democratic ideals into practice to a greater extent than any nation to date.

For my son, Luke, the catcher of bad guys: Killing the Mob by Bill O'Reilly. 

The tenth book in Bill O'Reilly's #1 New York Times bestselling series of popular narrative histories, with sales of nearly 18 million copies worldwide, and over 320 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

O’Reilly and co-author Martin Dugard trace the brutal history of 20th Century organized crime in the United States, and expertly plumb the history of this nation’s most notorious serial robbers, conmen, murderers, and especially, mob family bosses. Covering the period from the 1930s to the 1980s, O’Reilly and Dugard trace the prohibition-busting bank robbers of the Depression Era, such as John Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby-Face Nelson. In addition, the authors highlight the creation of the Mafia Commission, the power struggles within the “Five Families,” the growth of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, the mob battles to control Cuba, Las Vegas and Hollywood, as well as the personal war between the U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy and legendary Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.

For Katie's Kwinn: Killing the Killers: The Secret War Against Terrorists by Bill O'Reilly.

In Killing The Killers, #1 bestselling authors Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard take readers deep inside the global war on terror, which began more than twenty years ago on September 11, 2001.

As the World Trade Center buildings collapsed, the Pentagon burned, and a small group of passengers fought desperately to stop a third plane from completing its deadly flight plan, America went on war footing. Killing The Killers narrates America's intense global war against extremists who planned and executed not only the 9/11 attacks, but hundreds of others in America and around the world, and who eventually destroyed entire nations in their relentless quest for power.

Killing The Killers moves from Afghanistan to Iraq, Iran to Yemen, Syria, and Libya, and elsewhere, as the United States fought Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, as well as individually targeting the most notorious leaders of these groups. With fresh detail and deeply-sourced information, O'Reilly and Dugard create an unstoppable account of the most important war of our era.

For daughter, Katie, and because she requested it: The Night Shift by Alex Finlay.

It’s New Year’s Eve 1999. Y2K is expected to end in chaos: planes falling from the sky, elevators plunging to earth, world markets collapsing. A digital apocalypse. None of that happens. But at a Blockbuster Video in New Jersey, four teenagers working late at the store are attacked. Only one inexplicably survives. Police quickly identify a suspect, the boyfriend of one of the victims, who flees and is never seen again.

Fifteen years later, more teenage employees are attacked at an ice cream store in the same town, and again only one makes it out alive.

In the aftermath of the latest crime, three lives intersect: the lone survivor of the Blockbuster massacre who’s forced to relive the horrors of her tragedy; the brother of the fugitive accused, who’s convinced the police have the wrong suspect; and FBI agent Sarah Keller who must delve into the secrets of both nights—stirring up memories of teen love and lies—to uncover the truth about murders on the night shift.

For daughter, Rylee: The Lost Girls of Willowbrook - A Heartbreaking Novel of Survival Based on a True Story by by Ellen Marie Wiseman.

Sage Winters always knew her sister was a little different even though they were identical twins. They loved the same things and shared a deep understanding, but Rosemary—awake to every emotion, easily moved to joy or tears—seemed to need more protection from the world.

Six years after Rosemary’s death from pneumonia, Sage, now sixteen, still misses her deeply. Their mother perished in a car crash, and Sage’s stepfather, Alan, resents being burdened by a responsibility he never wanted. Yet despite living as near strangers in their Staten Island apartment, Sage is stunned to discover that Alan has kept a shocking secret: Rosemary didn’t die. She was committed to Willowbrook State School and has lingered there until just a few days ago, when she went missing.

Sage knows little about Willowbrook. It’s always been a place shrouded by rumor and mystery. A place local parents threaten to send misbehaving kids. With no idea what to expect, Sage secretly sets out for Willowbrook, determined to find Rosemary. What she learns, once she steps through its doors and is mistakenly believed to be her sister, will change her life in ways she never could imagined ...

For daughter-in-law Kayla, I'm starting her on a new detective series I've heard about but haven't read myself. Hopefully they're good and she can lend them back to me. They're the first two paperbacks in the 18-book series.

Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (#1) by Louise Penny.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it's a tragic hunting accident and nothing more, but Gamache smells something foul in these remote woods, and is soon certain that Jane Neal died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.

Still Life introduces not only an engaging series hero in Inspector Gamache, who commands his forces---and this series---with integrity and quiet courage, but also a winning and talented new writer of traditional mysteries in the person of Louise Penny.

A Fatal Grace: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (#2) by Louise Penny.

Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder.

No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter―and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death.

When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Quebec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he's dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder―or brilliant enough to succeed?

And granddaughter Josie begins her literary journey with: My First Disney Classics Bedtime Storybook. It includes: The Lion King, Dumbo, The Jungle Book, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland and 1001 Dalmations.

I hope you Aunt Nora or Santa were good to you as well.

Friday, December 23, 2022

'Bags' books free for a short time

 One of my distributors, Smashwords.com, has a year-end promotion going on (never end a sentence with a preposition). 

Since I'm in a good mood I've made all three Bags Morton books available for free. Go to smashwords.com, sign in and search my name (it's listed at the top of this blog) and download away.

Then you will be properly prepared for the fourth book in the series coming in early 2023.

The Haugen Christmas letter, unthawed and uncensored

 It's time for the annual Haugen holiday communique in which I highlight all the good things that happened in our family in 2022 and leave out the bad stuff because you don't want to get me on a rant about the people who really pissed me off this year. 

The big news is the expansion of the Haugen Empire. 

Josie Jayne Kastengren came into the world on Easter Sunday, daughter of Rylee and Stetson. She's named after my dad, Joseph, and Stetson's grandma, Jayne. Sorry to break it to you other grandpas and grandmas out there, but yours is now only the second cutest granddaughter in the world. Smart as a whip too: Josie already knows her multiplication tables and babbles in English, Lakota and Norwegian. She's got a killer smile and more cheeks than the Kardashians in string bikinis. 

All three of them (the Kastengrens, not the Kardashians, thank God) spent a couple months this summer with us at the Haugen compound by Rapid City. Rylee made a small but positive career change this fall - going from teaching science to 130 seventh-graders and all the drama that middle-schoolers bring, to teaching 23 fifth-graders who actually still listen to adults and want to learn. Stetson is teaching at the University of Illinois and wrapping up his doctoral studies. They were back for Thanksgiving and seem to have taken well to parenthood.

The other newbie has been around for a few years but officially became a Haugen and is enjoying all the perks of that lofty title (including, but not limited to, free ice water at Wall Drug). Kayla and Luke were married in October here in the City of Rapids. They make their home in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., where Kayla recently attained her Master's Degree from Drexel. She is managing a store in Tysons Corner while job hunting for something more in her public health field. Luke continues to track down bad guys during the week and hunting deer, turkey and bear on weekends. He continues to impress and amaze me with the quality young man he's become.

Katie put another notch in her belt last month, managing another winning campaign for her boss, Congressman Dusty Johnson. I run into her a lot as our jobs often intertwine. It's fun watching her in action and seeing how she's adopted some of my better qualities while forgoing my grumpiness and cynicism. Those will come with time. Her longtime boyfriend, Kwinn, is still around and has become one of the family. He'd become a bigger part if he'd let me know where some of the gold deposits are in the Hills.

Our adopted son, Kirk, is doing a heck of a job leading his band of Norsemen. I'm still not ready to utter the "SB" word but if he manages to pull that off I promise to leave the family fortune solely to him (I hope he enjoys the riding lawn mower and 1,000 books).

Nancy, aka Wifey, continues assisting her chiropractor boss and they moved into a glitzy new office. She's still the social butterfly of our household and pries me out of the house on occasion to make me talk to people. Otherwise, she's a regular in her gym and enjoys long hikes away from me.

I'm wrapping up 18 years with Senator Thune. His recent blowout reelection (sorry, DT) should take me into retirement down the road, though no plans on that front, since I enjoy my job and coworkers and don't really see anything I'd rather be doing. My golf game sucks and I can't shoot straight, so it's not real enticing to pursue those hobbies any more regularly than I already do.

On a sour note, the day I'd been regretting for a while finally came last spring when we had to put down my buddy, Stanley. I still get choked up when I think about it and really miss him.

Ol' Huckleberry was similarly hit hard by the loss, so with that as my excuse, we added a puppy to the household. Finn is a chocolate lab who is high energy from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. He carries his orange ball with him everywhere, constantly begging anyone to throw it for him. He's really turned into a momma's boy but is really good company on my many walks and jogs. Looks like he's going to be an acrobatic Frisbee player too, though without opposable thumbs he's not very good at throwing it back.

So that's it from the Haugen house in 2022. Another memory filled year. I don't often look all that enthused about things (I suffer from Resting Bored Face), but when I reflect back on the years with these retrospectives I am reminded of what a wonderful life and wife I have. And I am so proud that we have three kids who are good people, each excelling in three very different occupations, of which the only thing in common is that they are helping people and making the world a better place. What more could a guy ask for?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Grandpa Haugen


Saturday, November 19, 2022

Coming to the defense of Taylor Swift

 Got into a Facebook spat yesterday with a friend over, of all people, Taylor Swift. (I like to engage people in the important issues of our day.)

I'm not a Swifty, but I've heard her music because I have two young adult daughters who grew up with her and are huge fans. Yet I couldn't name a song. One daughter even scored tickets to one of her upcoming concerts during the Great Ticketmaster Goatcoitus, as they're calling it.

Honestly, the friend didn't specifically name Taylor, but he referred to some "overrated blonde lady's concert" and that he didn't care for anyone posting 15-second snippets it they were at her concerts, so I assumed he was talking about Taylor. And all I said was "Lighten up, Francis." And I added a clip of Prince's "Kiss" video.

That's when things got ugly and he said: "I also find Prince to be far overrated." Then he told me to get in my little red Corvette and hit the road.

Those is fighting words and I let him have it by listing Prince's bonafides and told him we should all wish to be that overrated and to get out of the road before I ran him over.

So unless you care to hear about other people's flame wars on Facebook, which I'm sure you don't, my point here is that just because you don't like someone's music doesn't mean they are overrated and how do you rate a singer anyway?

One objective way is by album sales. Before her newest release, Swift had sold 42 million; Prince over 150 million. So if performers are judged by how many people like their performances and are willing to pay to hear them perform, neither is overrated.

Another way to judge them talent-wise, I think, is how many instruments they can play. Prince played 27 on his albums. I've seen Taylor play guitar, which is always a plus in my book. Now she's not shredding it like Prince (ranked No. 37th best guitar player in history of the human race), but she can play guitar and sing at the same time, which is more difficult than you think. Plus, I think I saw her play tambourine, which isn't saying much because I jumped on stage once and played tambourine too with my buddy's band in college. I don't remember it well so can't say if I played it well or not, but I've never read a review saying I played it poorly. I can say I played a pretty mean tuba in my high school years, was even offered a small college scholarship to continue that career, but I was also keen to the fact that college tuba players lived lonely, celibate collegiate lives, so I turned it down. 

I also think it's safe to say both have good voices. Sure, that's more subjective, but even if you don't like their types of music, it's fair to say they can sing. In a way, that can also be measured, as Prince had a range of 4 1/2 octaves, which is pretty rarefied air in the singing world.

So you can choose not to like their type of music, but I don't think it's fair to say they aren't talented. For instance, I don't listen to or like much pop music, but that doesn't mean pop musicians aren't talented. I also don't like bro-country and the Luke Bryans and Jasons and Justins of the world. But they must have talent, if nothing else at least a talent for being marketable.

And if you want to say somebody isn't talented, fine; just don't drag my man Prince into that argument or else be ready to face the music.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Quickie

 I like to ease into my morning with dim lights, no noise and a cup of coffee, while reading my favorite media.

Unfortunately, my 8-month-old lab approaches mornings like he’s jumping out of an airplane and his parachute won’t open.


Thursday, November 3, 2022

Quickie

I was at a meeting at a retirement community last week and they were having a Halloween party. I met an old guy dressed as a raven (not Baltimore) and I said: “Nice costume.”

He replied: “I’m looking for Lenore.”

I told him I loved Edgar Allen Poe.

He replied sadly: “At least somebody gets it.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

A bloody mess of reading

 Murder was the name of the game in the five books I read this past month. Seems the reading has been going in spurts, like blood from an artery, and I most recently hit the carotid.

It began with "Blood Feud" - a Robert B. Parker book written by Mike Lupica. Parker died in 2010 but various authors have picked up his Spenser series and carried it on (never end a sentence with a preposition.) Not sure how that works but I suppose they have some deal with the estate and most seem to do a good job with it. Gave this one a 6 on the Haugenometer.

Then was "Bloody Genius" - the 12th and most recent book in the Virgil Flower series by John Sandford. It was set on the University of Minnesota campus amid some feuding professors. I gave it a 7-.

Followed that with another Sandford book, "Righteous Prey" - the 32nd and most recent in the Lucas Davenport series. It was the ol' vigilante group killing people they felt had done bad things trope, but still good. A 7.

Then I went where I'd never gone before and read a book by Gu Byeong-Mo, a South Korean author. Her book, "The Old Woman With the Knife," was apparently a "sensation" in South Korea, but not so much in the Haugen house. Fortunately, it was translated into English, since my Korean is a bit rusty. The old woman is an assassin who, much like me, is beginning to feel the aches and pains and general slowing down with age. It was wordy, the plot seemed forced and under developed, but I finished it and gave it a 5. Gotta say, though, it was the best book by a South Korean I've ever read.

Then I cleansed the palate with another Robert B. Parker book - "Bad Business." This one was written in 2004 while he was still alive, though it doesn't appear that's a necessity for him. His main character, Spenser, is always a hoot. Gave it a 6+.

I'm only at 22 books for the year, one of my poorer showings, so I'll have to keep the blood flowing if I'm going to get back into respectable territory.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Reading game is slipping

 Fallen behind on my book reviews, which is difficult to do considering I haven't been polishing them off as quickly as usual. And I can't blame it on a sudden burst of writing inspiration either. Usually it's an either or. Doing one, so I'm lax in the other. 

This reading malaise is a combination of laziness and a new puppy who hasn't figured out the routine of napping on the bed in my office while I work, but mostly laziness and trying to get to bed earlier so I can wake up at the crack of dawn with him. Ironically, the pups are named Finn, and his basset hound sidekick Huckleberry.

My three most recent ones were pretty good ones, all earning 7s on the Haugenometer: Targeted by Stephen Hunter, Pale Kings and Princes by Robert B. Parker, and Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais.

Fiddlers by Ed McBain was a pretty solid 6. Nothing to write home about though; or barely to write at home about either.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Re-gifting the tomatoes

As I've mentioned before, I start heirloom tomatoes from seed in my greenhouse in March. I keep about 70-80 seedlings for my own use and give away another 40-50 to friends, most to one friend in particular.

We keep tabs on how my babies are doing. Usually I have a good crop and he has a good crop. This year, between deer, varmints and drought, my garden has sucked. His has not.

When I was complaining about my harvest, or lack there of, he said: "My wife's coming by your place tomorrow, want me to have her drop off some tomatoes?"

He didn't mean it as a punch to the gut, but I felt it. Sure, technically they were still my tomatoes, but he raised them. It would be like giving up a baby for adoption, someone else raising them, and then dropping them off at your house again when they turned 18. Okay, poor analogy, but you get my point.

I swallowed my pride and said "yes."

It hurt. But they tasted good so the hurt didn't last long.

My garden has picked up a bit since then, was probably a couple weeks behind him, but we still probably won't have enough to do much as much canning as usual this year. We'll see.

As we Minnesota Vikings fans are fond of saying: "There's always next year."

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The poker game

 I stepped out of my comfort zone last winter and accepted an invite from a neighbor I didn't know for a Thursday night poker game with a bunch of other neighbors I didn't know.

We've lived in this neighborhood for almost 18 years. It's a development of about 90 homes with a trail system, pond, park and good middle-class folks. I only know my immediate neighbors on each side and two other couples. I know a lot of people in the Black Hills through my job, but don't hang out with them. My wife says I'm a homebody. My wife's correct.

My best friend around here ranches about 50 miles away. We talk a couple times a week but don't hang out much because he's got kids in school and works rancher hours and ... lives 50 miles away. My other two best friends, one from high school and one from college, live 300 and 400 miles away, respectively.

When I do go out, to eat or listen to music, it's with my wife, which is great and I really don't wish to hang out with anyone else but her. I enjoy her company as much when we met 35 years ago. But, she's my wife, so it's different than hanging out with the guys. And as Hank Jr. sings: "All my rowdy friends have settled down." And so have I.

My wife has sensed my malaise and feels I spend too much time at home in my garden, with my dogs, with my books. So when a guy relatively new to the development posted on the neighborhood website "Hey, anyone interested in starting up a poker game?" I stepped outside my zone and said: "I am."

And I haven't regretted it.

We get together one night a week. I miss once in a while due to life. It gets cancelled occasionally because the organizer has a life too. But I hit it often and between about ten of us semi-regulars there's always six or so on hand for a friendly game.

It's not really my crowd, because I don't really have a crowd, but the social events I usually attend are work-related. Usually political or governmental, usually boring. But when I am home I don't do any political stuff. I check out. Avoid it. Don't want to talk about it, especially among strangers.

So the first night before I left for the inaugural game, I told my wife, if they start talking Trump or Biden or immigration or stolen elections, I'm done. Since a lot of people are really wrapped up in that stuff (weirdly so), I wasn't optimistic I'd be back for a second week.

And guess what happens? I walk in the door and two big dogs rush to greet me. That's fine. I love dogs. The guy hollers to them: "Lincoln! Trumper! Get back here!"

I thought: "Ah shit."

But other than the dogs' names, no political talk happened and mighty little has over the past year. It's quite amazing to me, because almost everybody else I'm around, anywhere, wants to talk politics with me once they find out I'm involved. But not these guys.

We have a couple retired military veterans, a liquor salesman, a home-builder, a car salesman, a civilian who works at the Air Force base, all just regular ol' blue-collar guys.

We play poker. It goes fast. It's fun. We play in his basement or garage. Most all of them drink from a keg the guy has in his bar. I drink my NA. There's crude jokes, burping, talk about music, talk about cars, talk about dogs and gardens, and more burping.

For one night a week I'm transformed into another universe from the suits and ties talking banking, ranchers talking about drought, and everyone else complaining about Trump and Biden and RINOs and immigrants and abortion and deficits and rules and regulations.

I love it. Glad I did it. Might have to expand my universe on other nights of the week.

Crazy talk, I know.

Friday, August 26, 2022

FInished: Daniel Silva's 'Portrait of an Unknown Woman'

 I really struggled to get through Silva's recently-released novel, the 22nd in the Gabriel Allon series.

Typically, I've liked how Silva weaves some art history into these spy novels. Makes me feel like I'm getting cultured while reading about people getting blown up. But this was one too many Picasso's for me.

In this story, Gabriel has finally retired from the Israeli Mossad, thinking he's going to begin a life of leisure and love with his long-suffering wife. But, of course, it doesn't work out that way and he's thrown into a mystery of forged paintings. The entire thing is one painting after another, with grueling detail about each. 

Halfway through I started humming the George Strait song: You Know Me Better Than That.

I'm into culture, clean up to my ears; It's like wearing a shoe that's too small

I've read all Silva's books. I loved the first 20. After the last two, I'm not sure I'll buy another. Oh, I'm lying, I'm sure I will but I probably won't pre-order it like this time and will wait until the paperback comes out. And cross my fingers.

Amazonians gave it 4.5 stars out of 5, which surprises me. I gave it a 4 of 10, which is just above a DNF.

This two-star review from Lizzie G. kind of nailed it for me:

"In cutting Allon free of The Office, Daniel Silva has metaphorically castrated his hero and turned him to a parody of the man he was. This book bears no resemblance to others in the series; the plotline is contrived, the characters wooden and the action - such as it is - unremarkable. The old gang get a single name-check towards the beginning and are then forgotten completely. With far too much detail of art and art forgeries, the book limps sadly along for 400+ pages, most of it merely padding out a non-story that I found impossible to care about. Two stars for the quality of the writing, no stars for the content."

Monday, August 8, 2022

Pass the peanut butter, please

 I'm a pretty health conscious guy. Not a freak about it but probably in the 90th percentile for exercising and watching what I eat. My dad had his first heart attack at 58 and died of his second at 62. I'm 58, so always looking for an edge to make it to 63 (that ol' father-son competition never dies).

So this article caught my eye: The top 5 worst foods that could SHORTEN your life expectancy

Experts at the University of Michigan calculated the health burden of different foods, becoming the first to put concrete scores on your favourite snacks.

They found that a portion of nuts can add almost 26 minutes to a person’s life, reports The Telegraph.

But every hotdog eaten shortens lifespan by 36 minutes.

Nothing really earth shattering as far as what's good or bad for you, but it details how many minutes are added or subtracted to your life if eating these foods.

It also details how good or bad each food affects climate change. I could give a rat's rear about that and think those measurements are just arbitrary attempts at social engineering and should just be called "guilt factors." The climate has been changing since the beginning of time and how many hot dogs I eat is not going to affect the tides in the Red Sea one bit. Were the dinosaurs eating pizza?

But I digress.

It's good to see some affirmation of choices I already make. I seldom drink soda. I eat a peanut butter sandwich for lunch five days a week. For that I gain 2.5 hours per week of life, about 125 hours per year or 5 days added on to my life. Throw in the salmon, bananas and tomatoes and I'm looking good.

But subtract the 50,000 bottles of beer from my younger years and it might be a wash. Still, progress.




Friday, August 5, 2022

Book bans not always what they seem

 Pamela Paul, former editor of NY Times Review of Books, writes in the NYT: There's More Than One Way to Ban a Book

Though the publishing industry would never condone book banning, a subtler form of repression is taking place in the literary world, restricting intellectual and artistic expression from behind closed doors, and often defending these restrictions with thoughtful-sounding rationales.

John Sexton talks about it in this Hot Air post: The far left bans books by not letting them get published in the first place

I've written a couple posts on this that went unpublished because I wasn't happy with how my point was coming across. Sexton nailed my point much better.

That basically is: Parents, schools and administrators deciding what is or isn't age-appropriate reading in their schools, is NOT banning books. It's called setting curriculum. There is actual banning of books or authors by book publishers, stores and nations around the world, but if a public library or local bookstore can do a display of "Banned Books" to lend or sell, then they aren't banned books. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

Setting 'em up, knocking 'em down

 Been making steady work in the reading department, though you wouldn't know it by reading this blog. I'll do better, probably, maybe, who knows?

I recently read a trio of Richard Stark novels featuring Parker. "The Man with the Getaway Face", "The Mourner" and "The Outfit." Stark is a pseudonym for Donald Westlake, the Grand Master mystery writer. Parker is a cold-blooded career criminal who you somehow end up liking. Anything by Westlake is good, most of it is great.

Also knocked off two Robert B. Parker books: "High Profile" and "God Save the Child." Author Parker (not the career criminal, that I know of) is best known for his novels about fictional P.I. Spenser, and the television series "Spenser: For Hire" was based on them. 

"High Profile" is actually another series featuring police chief Jesse Stone. 

I put all the previously mentioned in the 6-7 ranking on the Haugenometer. Fun reads, worth the time.

As proof I don't just read books by dead guys I'm still moving through the C.J. Box books that feature Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. Just finished the 11th book in the 22-book series: "Cold Wind."

A few weeks ago I turned my brother-in-law on to him. They'd actually been sitting on his shelf for a couple months, then he picked one up and hasn't put them down. He's already well past me in the series, but he's retired and doesn't do anything, so that's my excuse. He's much more of an outdoorsman than I am, so they really resonate with him. Fun books.