Saturday, March 28, 2015

Finished: Koontz's 'Saint Odd'

This was the seventh and last of Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas series. Reading the novel, while knowing that, was like reading a person's obituary.

The trouble with series is that the author usually has to restate things from previous books, assuming there's always some goofball out there who starts with the most recent book instead of starting at the beginning of the series.

Koontz does a great job of managing that background while introducing clever new characters. He is my favorite living author, showcasing a versatility you don't see in many of the most prolific writers. I've always thought it's tougher to write an original novel now than it was 100 years ago, and tougher next year than last year, simply because the plots have been taken, the mysteries have been solved, and there are only so many ways to kill a person or make them interesting. But Koontz does.

I gave it a 7-plus on the Haugenometer. Goodreaders gave it a high 4.13 of 5, and Amazonians a 4.4 of 5. So I was even low by their standards, where you don't see many 4s.

And Odd always has great lines appropriate to our day:

"Everything barbarians do is nothing, no matter how loudly they insist it's something."

"I never knew if I was drawn to eccentric people or if they were drawn to me."

"Free will. The thing that makes life worth living in spite of all the anguish it brings."

Friday, March 27, 2015

Link Omanda

For some reason, a post I did a couple years ago about the "lying eyes" of Amanda Knox gets more hits than anything else every week on this dopey little website. Lots more. Like ten times more.

So I'm more than happy to see another link-baiting possibility with this story on a new book coming out about the whole spectacle. Just to be clear, this post includes Amanda Knox, sex, rape, murder, Italy, and just for click insurance, even though it doesn't: Kim Kardashian.
There were even rumors that a student serial killer was on the loose. Like any story that lures the press, Ms. Kercher’s murder at face value was enough to rally the troops. 
Then, everything changed with the arrest of Ms. Kercher’s American roommate Amanda Knox. From the moment Ms. Knox was arrested, along with her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, the media scrum turned into a full blown circus, fed by what, at times, seemed like the audible sound of website clicks as we, the press, fleshed out the new version of the story.
Of all the strange twists in this saga, one of the oddest to me is her current employer. Amanda Knox has been deemed guilty of rape and murder and sentenced to 28 years in prison. She refuses to return to Italy to serve the time (I get that; I wouldn't either). So what is she qualified to do for employment in the U.S.? Oh, yeah, let's hire her as a journalist. Yep, she's working for a Seattle newspaper. Must be part of their Hire a Convicted Felon on the Run Program.

UPDATE: I wrote this post last night and then lo and behold today came the news that Knox was acquitted by Italy's high court. Go figure. I go back and forth on her guilt or innocence and probably, from what I've followed, wouldn't have been able to vote to convict. But I still have my doubts about her innocence and probably wouldn't hire her at my newspaper or want her rooming with my daughter.

Here are some other stories I better link to before they get whacked by breaking news:

*** Don't let facts get in the way of an agenda. U of M prof calls BS on cow book.
My experience shows me that the real truth is that dairy farmers care deeply about their cows. The care of cows is very good and gets better all the time. The milk produced is the safest, most regulated and inspected and wholesome food we consume.
*** Why the war on cancer hasn't been won. Good story.
"The war on cancer will not be won in one dramatic battle, it will be a series of skirmishes."
*** Don't buy any ripe bananas. The end is near.
Physicists predict the universe is primed for a “cosmological collapse” that will cause the universe to stop expanding at its current rate and ultimately collapse in on itself to wipe away all known matter.
*** Reading is hard. Calling people racist is easy.
Unfortunately what gets missed in the fun game of “You’re a racist for disagreeing with me!” is a discussion about how much people should be forced to subsidize the lives of others, whether entitlement programs that disincentivize labor are healthy for individuals or society, whether the explosive growth of disability rolls can be sustained and so on and so forth.
*** Cover design unveiled for Harper Lee's new novel. It's a tree. A moody tree. And we all go: "ooh, ahh."

*** Ellen Conford, an award-winning children's writer, has died.

*** The most anticipated books of Spring 2015, besides Runaway Trane.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Deep thoughts from a shallow pool

The subhead to this fine blog "There's the right way, the wrong way, and the Haugen way" is from my father, who was primarily an English teacher, among other classes.

When a student would try to stump him or argue with him about the correct usage of a word or phrase or anything, and it seemed Dad might be on the losing end of the battle, he would spout that phrase and add: "In this classroom, it's the Haugen way."

It's pretty much served as the mantra of my life. I saw it phrased differently in a Donald Westlake novel I read recently where a character said: "Break other people's rules if you want, but never break your own."

I mention that because over the course of the last 10-15 years I've been able to do my own writing without obnoxious, bossy editors referring to stylebooks and dictionaries and correct usage. I can resort to the Haugen way.

In publishing books, like my new one coming out soon, it's the same way. You can read countless articles about how long or short chapters should be, how long or short a novel should be, how many characters you should introduce, how the story arc should go, etc. A recent one I saw said if you are writing a murder mystery, you need to have a dead body within the first 30 pages. Another said 100.

If it's a writer I respect, I read their suggestions. If it's some blogger or agent or other person "in the biz" I pass. I stick with the Haugen way. When it comes to length of chapters or book, I go back to something I heard long ago regarding newspaper reporting and how long the story should be (in the days before USA Today bastardized the business) and that's: Start at the beginning and end when you're done. Seems logical.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Finished: 'The Comedy is Finished'

I finished Donald Westlake's aptly-named novel The Comedy is Finished. It's aptly named because it was the final novel he wrote before passing away.

It was not your typical Westlake novel. It was great, but different. He usually offers some slapstick humor, odd characters and clever twists. He's usually light-hearted. This was darker. It had a lot more sex and much more bloody murder. When it comes to sex and murder in a mystery, count me in. I'll be at the front of the parade waving the baton. But it was out of the norm for The Don, as I and other friends call him.

This was also a thinker. When I finished the book, I turned off the television and pondered the ending in silence. It was that good.

The other thing about this book that made it stand out in my mind is the cover. I think I'll write another post about this, but I've been thinking about book covers lately. I decided I've never purchased a book because of it's cover. I've bought them because of recommendations from friend, because they're by a certain author, or I've heard mention of them in other media.

But this one, I bought because of the cover! Technically, I was looking through 20 Westlake books, trying to decide which one to buy and this cover caught my eye, because, well who doesn't like a gal in sunglasses? So I bought it. You should too.

I'm giving it a 7-plus on the Haugenometer. Amazon gave it a lower 3.2 out of 5 (and I'll grant that the middle part was a little dry, but I also think some of that lower rating is because it's not what Westlake fans were expecting). Goodreads gives it a 3.54 out of 5.

Goodreads summarizes:
The year is 1977, and America is finally getting over the nightmares of Watergate and Vietnam and the national hangover that was the 1960s. But not everyone is ready to let it go. 
Not aging comedian Koo Davis, friend to generals and presidents and veteran of countless USO tours to buck up American troops in the field. And not the five remaining members of the self-proclaimed People's Revolutionary Army, who've decided that kidnapping Koo Davis would be the perfect way to bring their cause back to life...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday 81-degree-link-o

For those of you who like short link-o-ramas:

*** Never read this dude, but know some who have and sounds like he rocked it.
Fantasy author Terry Pratchett, whose Discworld series delighted fans with liberal doses of imaginative storytelling and off-beat humor, has died at age 66.
*** The twisted history of your fave board game: Monopoly.
An interview with Mary Pilon about her new book, ‘The Monopolists,’ which uncovers the real story about how Monopoly became the game it is today.
*** Disney makes $1 billion bet on a magic wristband.
If you want to imagine how the world will look in just a few years, once our cell phones become the keepers of both our money and identity, skip Silicon Valley and book a ticket to Orlando. Go to Disney World. Then, reserve a meal at a restaurant called Be Our Guest, using the Disney World app to order your food in advance.

Friday, March 6, 2015

My fave characters ...

I was thinking of whom my favorite pulp characters are and found it's mighty tough to start ranking them in order. Of the top 20 I put together, they all have their strengths. If they were fish, there's not a one of them I would throw back if they landed in my boat. Then again, with my fishing prowess, I never would have caught them in the first place.

My top 20 fictional action characters from a recurring series are ... envelope please:

Jack Reacher - Veteran (Lee Child)

Odd Thomas - Fry cook (Dean Koontz)

Virgil Flowers - Minnesota Bureau of Apprehension (John Sandford)

Gabriel Allon - Mossad (Daniel Silva)

Bob Lee Swagger - Former Marine (Stephen Hunter)

Matthew Scudder - PI (Lawrence Block)

John Dortmunder - Thief (Donald Westlake)

Lucas Davenport - Minnesota Bureau of Apprehension (John Sandford)

Alex Hawke - MI6 (Ted Bell)

Serge Storms - Homicidal maniac (Tim Dorsey)

Alex Cross - Psychologist (James Patterson)

Stephanie Plum - Bail bondsman (Janet Evanovich)

Evan Tanner - Adventurer (Lawrence Block)

Deucalion - Monster (Dean Koontz)

Spenser - Detective (Robert B. Parker)

Alex Delaware - Child psychologist (Jonathan Kellerman)

Bernie Rhodenbarr - Burglar (Lawrence Block)

Parker - Thief (Richard Stark/Donald Westlake)

Mitch Rapp - CIA (Vince Flynn)

Jack Ryan - CIA (Tom Clancy)

   Honorable mention:
Keller - Hitman (Lawrence Block)
Peter Decker - Detective (Faye Kellerman)
Jesse Stone - Police chief (Robert B. Parker)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Finished: Ted Bell's 'Warriors'

Took me a while to finish this almost-500-pager, but all was good with Alex Hawke and his Warriors.
Dashing counterspy Alex Hawke must rescue a kidnapped American scientist as the United States and China move dangerously close to all-out nuclear war in this adrenaline-fueled thriller in the New York Times bestselling series that combines the hallmarks of Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, Ian Fleming, and Daniel Silva.
The Amazonians give it a 3.9 out of 5. Goodreads about matches that with a 3.87. The Haugenometer puts it at a relatively high 7-.

The one thing that stuck out to me more in this novel than in other Hawke novels is how stereotypical Bell's characters are. Sure, you have Hawke being the rich Brit and Stokely the big, tough black guy; and Fancha, his hot rap pop diva; but then there's Froggy the Frenchman, Chief Rainman the Native American, and Brock the CIA guy and the Chinese Ninja's. There's not a stereotype that gets challenged. Oh, well, sometimes the characters don't need to surprise you if the plot does.

I realize I'm not glowing over this novel despite giving it a good rating. I really did enjoy the book, it's just that the character thing bugged me a bit. They were good, just not interesting in and off themselves.

Quote I liked about Hawke: "It's said he was good at war. Maybe it was because he was so inordinately fond of peace." Seems I've heard something along those lines before, but can't place it.

And the book also spurred me to do some reading about Seneca, the first century philosopher. Pretty interesting stuff if you're into the whole Caligula, Claudius, Nero thing.

And it also spurred me to order Truman Capote's true-crime book, In Cold Blood. Stay tuned for that one.