Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Book year in review

 I set a new record for books read this past year (60) thanks in large part to nothing better to do. 

It's not something I'm bragging about as much as it's a nice benchmark for years to come and showed me it is possible to adjust my schedule and read at various times of the day rather than just before bed. There are so many books I'd like to read and if I can do a book a week for 10 years, that's over 500 books (according to my Canton High math). That goes a long way toward finishing off the Koontz, Block and Westlake catalogs that I'd like to do.

According to the Haugenometer that ranks books on a 1-10 scale (unlike everybody else's 5-point scale), I had no books hit the 9 mark. I did however have ten hit the 8 mark.

Among them, for book of the year winner I'm going with "When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes" by Lawrence Block. It was the year of Block for me, reading about twenty of his novels, so that's only appropriate.

I sprinkled some nonfiction in this year, including biographies on Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne and Einstein; also a book on Adolf Eichmann and a book of collected columns by Charles Krauthammer.

All in all, if 2020 was a good year to escape from, I did my best.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Christmas presents, whether they like it or not

 Now that the presents have been opened I can announce The Big Reveal - the books I carefully researched and curated for purchase for my kids and their significant others.

It's a tradition appreciated by some (my daughters) more than others (my son). He'd prefer a box of ammo, but as we say in this house: "You git what you git, so don't have a fit."

For my political daughter I gave political commentator Candace Owens' book: "Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation."

She contends that the Democrat Party has a long history of racism and exposes the ideals that hinder the black community’s ability to rise above poverty, live independent and successful lives, and be an active part of the American Dream. Instead, Owens offers up a different ideology by issuing a challenge: It’s time for a major black exodus. From dependency, from victimhood, from miseducation—and the Democrat Party, which perpetuates all three.

To her boyfriend: Hampson Sides' "Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West."

At the center of this sweeping tale is Kit Carson, the trapper, scout, and soldier whose adventures made him a legend. Sides shows us how this illiterate mountain man understood and respected the Western tribes better than any other American, yet willingly followed orders that would ultimately devastate the Navajo nation. Rich in detail and spanning more than three decades, this is an essential addition to our understanding of how the West was really won.

To my science teacher daughter, who is more of a fiction reader: Oyinkan Braithwaite's "My Sister the Serial Killer."

Korede is bitter. How could she not be? Her sister, Ayoola, is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola's third boyfriend in a row is dead. Korede's practicality is the sisters' saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, the trunk of her car is big enough for a body, and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures of her dinner to Instagram when she should be mourning her "missing" boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit.

For her husband, whose read about 200 books toward his PhD this past year or so, I gave a break. I can't interrupt his studies for some lame book on Aaron Rodgers. So I gave him a t-shirt that says: "I like big books, I cannot lie."

To my son, who fancies himself a chess player and more fancifully enjoys beating his dad at it, I gave: Walter Tevis' "The Queen's Gambit." Now, more than likely, he's going to watch the Netflix miniseries based on the book instead and tell me he read it. But that's something he'll have to live with on his conscience and admit to during his next confession or polygraph.

Eight year-old orphan Beth Harmon is quiet, sullen, and by all appearances unremarkable. That is, until she plays her first game of chess. Her senses grow sharper, her thinking clearer, and for the first time in her life she feels herself fully in control. By the age of sixteen, she’s competing for the U.S. Open championship. But as Beth hones her skills on the professional circuit, the stakes get higher, her isolation grows more frightening, and the thought of escape becomes all the more tempting.

For his fiance, I gave two books, because she's my favorite. While they were hunkered down with us for a couple months during the Wuhu shutdown, she knocked off about 20 of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series when she needed a non-thinking break from her epidemiology textbooks. So I gave her the 27th book in that series: Fortune and Glory. Hopefully it eases Kayla's pain in not knowing if Stephanie ends up with Ranger or Morelli.

When Stephanie’s beloved Grandma Mazur's new husband died on their wedding night, the only thing he left her was a beat-up old easy chair…and the keys to a life-changing fortune. But as Stephanie and Grandma Mazur search for Jimmy Rosolli’s treasure, they discover that they’re not the only ones on the hunt. Two dangerous enemies from the past stand in their way—along with a new adversary who’s even more formidable: Gabriela Rose, a dark-eyed beauty from Little Havana with a taste for designer clothes. She’s also a soldier of fortune, a gourmet cook, an expert in firearms and mixed martial arts—and someone who’s about to give Stephanie a real run for her money.

And I gave her a more topical one along her professional tastes: Kate Moore's "The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women."

The incredible true story of the women heroes who were exposed to radium in factories across the U.S. in the early 20th century, and their brave and groundbreaking battle to strengthen workers' rights, even as the fatal poison claimed their own lives.

I hope they enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy giving them. And I don't demand a book report from them (like rumor has I did of my son as a youth), but a text saying "I read the book" is always appreciated it.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Bernie-isms from LB's Burglar books

 There are 11 books in Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr series. I finished them all, nine of them in the last two months. They all have the same premise: Bernie the burglar breaks into a place to steal something, runs across a dead body he had nothing to do with, gets arrested for the murder by a cop who knows he didn't do it, then must solve the crime to save his rear end and the theft gets overlooked as long as he shares the proceeds with the cop.

They're predictable, but funny and clever. Sometimes overly clever. But the witty banter and one-liners throughout the books kept me coming back.

Here's a sampling:

The Burglar in the Closet

Describing a cop: "He had bigger shoulders than most people, and very widely spaced eyes, as if while in the womb he'd toyed with the idea of becoming Siamese twins and decided against it at the last minute."

The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling

"When you don't know what you're looking for you have a great advantage, because you don't know what you'll find."

On a middle-class neighborhood: "Three out of four houses there contain at least one woman who plays mah-jongg when she's not at a Weight Watchers meeting."

On his friend, a dog-groomer: "She stands five-one in high heels and never wears them, and she's built like a fire hydrant, which is dangerous in her line of work."

"He wore a khaki army shirt, unbuttoned, and beneath it his T-shirt advertised the year's fashionable beer, a South Dakota brand reputedly brewed with organic water."

When a man says: "Ask me anything." He responds: "What's the capital of South Dakota?"

The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza

Bernie's friend Carolyn: "I can resist anything but temptation."

The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian

Carolyn on her looming hangover: "Bernie, I got news for you. I'm not gonna be clearheaded in the morning. I'm gonna have a head like a soccer ball that Pele got pissed at."

The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams

Bernie after he quit jogging: "I still wear running shoes - they work just as well at low speeds."

The Burglar In The Library

A murder suspect: "I don't know who picked you to be the head wallaby in this kangaroo court."

The Burglar In The Rye

A suspect: "He was a hall monitor his junior year, did you know that? He was in the Latin Honor Society, he played trombone in the school band. Did you know that?"

Bernie: "I know the capital of South Dakota."

"That's neither here nor there."

Bernie: "It's not here, but I'm pretty sure it's there."

The Burglar On The Prowl

"I don't play cards with men named Doc or eat at places called Mom's."

"The windows on all four floors were darker than a burglar's conscience."

"If there's a way to avoid shaking a hand that's thrust at me, I've yet to figure it out, and I always wind up taking the proffered hand before I have time to wonder whether or not it's something I really want to do."

Carolyn: "Bern who has one drink? It's like one pant or one scissor. They come in pairs. Nobody has just one drink."

The Burglar Who Counted The Spoons

Carolyn: "You've got an alibi but you want to keep it to yourself, and how can it do you any good that way? What is she, Bernie, married? Are you droppin' your load in some other man's Maytag?"

Friday, December 18, 2020

Bags Morton addictions begin at Smashwords - FREE

 The e-book-selling website kicks off its holiday sale today. It's an opportunity for authors to offer their wares at a reduced price. And, man, I couldn't have reduced mine any more without having to pay you to read them. I haven't gotten that desperate for readers yet.

While I first offer my books at Amazon, because that's where something like 75 percent of e-books are purchased, I eventually (after the contract allows) slide all my e-books over to Smashwords. I sell vastly more books on Smashwords than Amazon, which seems odd. But it's probably because that's where I started with my first book. It's where I have my most loyal following, if you'd call it a following. (It's somewhere between David Koresh and Jim Jones.)

And they do a better job of promoting independent authors. Amazon sticks to promoting Koontz and Patterson; and the Haugens of the world are dismissed as mostly an annoyance. 

Smashwords also treats the authors better. For a 2 dollar book, Smashwords keeps about 40 cents, with the rest going to the author. Amazon is about opposite that. So I remain loyal to Smashwords and have sold over 1,200 books there and given away about 5,000 free downloads. Not enough to let me quit my day job but enough to feel appreciated. And you can get them in about all formats, not just for Kindle.

On top of all that craziness, this week I made the second Bags Morton book available on Smashwords. So you can "buy" the first one of the series, Bags of Bodies, and "buy" the second one, Bags of Rock, for the same price. All free! 

So you might be asking yourself: "Self, has Haugen lost his damn mind?" Maybe so. But I'm about gaining readers, not Benjamins. And there's always the possibility that the third and fourth books of the Bags Morton series will come out in 2021, and you'll be hooked on the Bags books like meth and need to buy more. That's when I'll jack the price up to an entire $1.99 and will be rolling in greenbacks in my bed, laughing like Elon Musk must do every night. Bags, like love, is a drug and you'll be hooked on him and I'll be rich. It's a win-win for everyone.

And they thought I was crazy. Pffft.

All you need to do to begin this addiction is to go HERE and sign up if you haven't already. Download the books with the code, LR74Y, and let the hallucinations begin.

But seriously, kids, don't do drugs, unless they're books. Then do lots of them.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Finished: Block's 'Resume Speed'

 My year of Lawrence Block continued as I finished his novella "Resume Speed." It's a prime example of why you shouldn't avoid novellas. Just because they're short (this one about 100 pages) doesn't mean they can't be quality reads.

This character-driven book follows Bill as he, again, arrives as a drifter in a small town in Montana. Gets a job, meets girl, falls in love with girl, all is good. Or so you'd think.

As many of Block's books do, it features a man with a drinking problem. There are lessons to be learned in the book and questions you will be asking yourself when you finish. What more can you want in a book?

Block is an expert at putting the reader in the mind of the character and how even the small things in his life combine to bring him to a fullness even in a hundred pages. I enjoyed it.

I gave it a 6+ on the 10-point Haugenometer. Goodreaders gave it a 3.8 of 5 and Amazonians a 4.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The annual Haugen Holiday communication

 It's time for the annual Haugen holiday newsletter where I could lie to you about what a wonderful year it's been in our household, where it was all rainbows and unicorns and the dogs pooped cotton candy.

Or it could go like this:

My truck got wrecked but is still drive-able. Both cars sustained several thousands of dollars in hail damage. Four hailstorms messed with the house and garden. I met a couple nice highway patrolmen. 

Nancy and I managed a trip to Florida just before the virus hit and we sneaked away to D.C. to visit Junior a couple months ago. I also made a solo run down to Missouri for a quick visit to my mom's. Otherwise we mostly sat around the house and stared at each other. I got the better end of that deal. We had a houseful for a couple months as kids with Covid-affected jobs found their way home and hung out. We enjoyed that.

I'm winding up my sixteenth year with the senator, about ten years longer than any previous job I had. The Rona played some games with our office but we didn't miss a day serving the fine citizens of West River. My life, to this point, was otherwise mostly unaffected by the plague. I still run, but shorter distances and slower, as my back dictates. The garden sucked this year, as previously outlined in this fine blog. I managed to pop a couple pheasants, wrote a couple books (still awaiting editing by my stellar but underpaid proofreaders) and read a lot. Surprised, with all that, I don't have my own reality TV show.

Nancy's father passed away in February. It was tough, but everybody was able to say their "good-byes" before he died, so that helped. She continues to enjoy her job as chiropractic assistant. She helps a lot of patients and kills a lot of office plants (which is better than the other way around), and has turned into an exercise machine with the gym being next door to her work. She still orders me around a lot, but I'm use to it (and probably need it). She hikes every weekend to find her Zen. Still manages to fit in several trips to "Walgreens" with our eldest daughter.

Speaking of the kids ...

Katie Jo continues to be her usual remarkable self. She's still West River Director for our U.S. Congressman. She also served as his campaign manager. After consulting with a renowned South Dakota historian, I determined she is only the second female campaign manager for a victorious House/Senate candidate in South Dakota history. She continues to see her miner guy from Keystone (not "minor" but "miner" - spelling matters).

Rylee (or Mrs. Kasty, as her students call her) is still enlightening young skulls full of mush in Champaign, Illinois. She added "cross country coach" to her resume this year and had a great first season. She especially enjoyed that she was able to be with some students in person rather than via Zoom. Her best friend from high school moved to Champaign, so that's been fun for her. Her doctoral-student husband Stetson added "professor" to his resume as he taught some freshman classes at the U of I. Their cat is still alive and so are their Packers, but nobody's perfect.

Luke had an eventful year getting tased, pepper sprayed and racing cars at the police academy before making a difficult choice to accept a counter-intelligence position with a defense contractor in northern Virginia. I'd tell you more about it if I understood it but then he'd have to kill me. He seems to have found his niche there. He also "put a ring on it" as Beyonce urged him to do. "It" being a she - college girlfriend Kayla Erickson. A super young lady who fits perfectly in the fam. No wedding plans yet as Covid and the Catholic church haven't got their act together yet.

Stanley turned 11 this month, has slowed down, but still jogs with me and did a great job on our couple pheasant hunts. I fear the next year won't be kind to him (and thus me) but we'll be best buds to the end.

Huckleberry continues to be the ornriest goofball in the family (and that's saying something). His best bud is Nancy - kind of a birds of a feather thing, I suspect.

We consider ourselves blessed to have been healthy this year and don't take it for granted knowing the heartache a lot of people encountered. We also didn't get looted and resisted the urge to do any looting of our own, so we got that going for us. 

Here's hoping your 2021 is spectacular and makes up for whatever 2020 threw at you. Remember (and I just came up with this original saying off the top of my head; think it's kind of catchy): "We're all in this together!" Unless you live more than twenty miles from me; then you're on your own. Good luck.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The Haugens

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Finished: Westlake's "Ordo" and "A Travesty"

 These two novellas by Donald Westlake were first published back in the 1970s but recently republished by Hard Case Crime, an outfit that specializes in the works of crime noir authors, under the title "Double Feature."

It's typical Westlake stuff - meaning they are both excellent. Westlake is unique among writers because you never know what you're going to get from him. There's no set formula. The settings vary from New York to Hollywood. The only thing you know is that they will be clever, without being overly so. He doesn't plop something into the last chapter out of the blue to make things come together. Yet, you never quite see it coming. He writes comedies, soft core erotica, murder mysteries and bungling burglers (ie Dortmunder). All you need to know is if the book is written by Westlake (or any of his plethora of pen names) it will be good.

As Stephen King said: "A book by this guy is cause for happiness."

"A Travesty" was eventually turned into a TV movie starring William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman. It starts with a movie critic who accidentally murders his girlfriend and follows his trail as the detective assigned to the case befriends him. The detective finds that the critic has a knack for solving other murder cases and calls on him often. Eventually, stuff happens as their lives (and the detective's wife) intertwine to bring about the conclusion. I consider it a dark comedy and gave it an 8 on the Haugenometer.

"Ordo" follows a Navy sailor who discovers many years later that his first wife (who was 16 but told him she was 19) has become ... oh, I can't tell you because that's the first surprise in the book and a good one. This is more of a think-piece, not a murder mystery or anything. Just a story full of surprises. I loved it. Gave it an 8-.

Again, I implore you, if you are a fan of fiction or mysteries, don't discount these books because they were written 40 years ago. Westlake is one of the all-time greats and you're missing out if you don't give him a try. You'll be hooked. 

The other great thing is that unlike a John Sandford or Lee Childs or Ted Bell, you don't have to wait around a year for his next book to come out. I've read about 30 by Westlake, and the best news is that I've got another 85 to go. My only fear is I won't live long enough to read them all.