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; 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!

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Finished: 'Trophy Hunt' by C.J. Box

This C.J. Box guy might actually make it as a writer. "Trophy Hunt" is the fourth in the 21-book series featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett.

This was another good one. It deals with cattle mutilations. If you're as old as I am you can recall the conspiracy theories of them back in the 1970s and 80s.

So far, all four books have had different, clever plots. Not the same old cookie-cutter stuff that many series writers fall into.

I'm not saying this passage reminds me of anyone or is a correct reflection of government workers (or any kind), but ... I thought it was funny:

"All my clerks are county employees," Ike said. "They work eight hours a day and not one minute longer. They take an hour for lunch and get two fifteen-minute breaks. If you woke one of them up in the middle of the night, she could tell you to the hour how long she has until retirement, how many days of sick leave she's got left this fiscal year, and to the penny what her pension will be. Those women keep me in a constant state of absolute fear." 

 I'm enjoying his books a lot. I gave this one a 7+ on the 10-point Haugenometer. Amazonians gave it a 4.7 of 5 and Goodreaders a 4.1.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Music is part of life

 We take a lot of things for granted. One of those occurred to me while driving home late last night with wifey from a Hairball concert with friends in Deadwood.

For those unfamiliar, Hairball plays rock covers from the 1980s and dresses accordingly. If you like Poison, VanHalen, KISS, Queen and Ozzie, you'd like them.

I told her: "We've sure heard a lot of music together."

Like many, we love our live music. 

We met on the dance floor at Dakota Territory, a nightclub in Sioux Falls, in 1986. I'm sure many of the same songs from last night were playing that night. I fancied myself a good dancer in those days, but the moves, like my opinion on my dancing, were mostly influenced by the 3.2 beer I was drinking. Now, I save my best moves for the slow songs.

In the 35 years since, music has been one of things that's bonded us. It's what we do. It's our thing.

Back then it was the Sioux Falls-area music scene. A friend of mine was lead singer for a band called Image. We were groupies for them. It's been rumored I was honorary tambourine player for them. But there was Aaron Baron, Flat Cat, Janitor Bob, Wakefield and many more we frequented at the Pomp Room and Phil's Pub.

We hit concerts in Omaha and Minneapolis: Prince, Aerosmith, KISS and Kid Rock.

We do much the same on an almost weekly basis in the Black Hills. The Robbinsdale Lounge provides mostly local country cover bands on Friday and Saturday nights. Deadwood and Sturgis bring in a good mix of regional and national acts. 

We cover all genres from Charley Pride and Elton John to Jamey Johnson, Shooter Jennings and Neon Trees. 

If they're live, we're there from rodeo grounds to coffee shops to street dances. We love it.

When we travel it's one of the first things we ask at the hotel desk: "Any place nearby that plays live music?"

I often think about it but never have really settled on what it is about music that makes it so special. Maybe it's the escape-ism. No worries when you're listening to a band. It's also the musicianship and the singing ability. I always appreciate people who can do things I can't or haven't made an effort to do. 

We really like supporting the locals and sometimes it's just cost-prohibitive, or we're too cheap, to go listen to some of the national bands I'd enjoy but not that much. For instance, the Zac Brown Band is coming to Rapid City this month. Cheapest ticket is $99. I've never once asked Alexa to "play Zac Brown Band" so I'm certainly not going to dish out a hondo to hear "Chicken Fried" for the 1,000th time, even if I am interested in how the band sounds live.

We also can be a bit snobbish. We critique them, especially the national acts. While we have our opinions, I'm not going to sit and nit-pic a local weekend band when they have day jobs and are just doing this for fun. It takes a lot of guts to get up in front of people and sing George Strait covers. I sing along to the Georges (Strait and Jones) in my kitchen cooking supper, but nobody is around to complain except my dogs and they don't say much. I take their silence as approval.

Looking back, I have no idea how many musicians we've listened to, but I know we never walked out wishing we hadn't.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Lest you forget ...

 The third in the Bags Morton series: Bags of Stone.

Take your turkey and stuff it

 I have probably an unpopular opinion regarding Thanksgiving. Yes, I have a lot to be thankful for this holiday and I'm very appreciative of that. But it's my least favorite holiday in terms of the food traditionally served.

I was paging through wifey's food magazine the other day, the Thanksgiving edition, and it reminded me that very little looked good to me. What did look good were some of the side dishes which seemed ten times more complicated than they needed to be. But that was about it.

For starters, I'm not a big fan of turkey. Ya'll can argue about the best way to cook it, but I'm not a fan of any of them. But, we always have it and I nab some of the white breast meat, slop on some gravy and douse it in salt and pepper and call it good. Turkey legs and other dark meat, yuck. 

Mashed potatoes. Not a fan either. I think I've mentioned that for the past couple years we've moved to a modified Mediterranean diet - more fish and very little white starchy stuff - meaning we rarely eat potatoes unless fries or hash browns when we're out on the town. We substitute wheat noodles for white, long grain and brown rice instead of white rice. We aren't total Nazis about it though. I have a particular weakness for Lay's potato chips after a workout. But I never really cared for mashed potatoes since I was a kid. Tolerated them, but didn't enjoy them.

Cranberries? Gimme a break. I'd rather have a handful of Sour Patch Kids.

Stuffing is okay once a year. It makes the meal bearable.

If it weren't for pumpkin pie, the eating portion of the day would be a waste to me. On T-Day and the preceding few days I'm usually good for two pies. Not slices. Entire pies. Straight up. No whipped cream. A slightly burnt crust earns bonus points.

The other holidays are much better on the taste buds.

Christmas, we usually have prime rib. Can't beat that.

Unless it's Easter. Then we usually have lamb chops and scallops or crab legs.

Fourth of July. Brat and burgers, man. 'Merica!

Thanksgiving has meaning for me. I just don't look forward to the food many of you make a big hub-bub about. Have a good one though. Just don't save any leftovers for me.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Finished: Brandi Carlile's memoir 'Broken Horses'

 It was about time for a break from my murder, mystery and mayhem reading and delve into a biography. So, on a whim, I tossed Brandi Carlile's "Broken Horses" into the Amazon cart.

Not really sure why. I'm not a particular fan of hers, had barely heard of her and couldn't sing you a song by her and you wouldn't want me to if I could. But I'd heard Shooter Jennings drop her name. I knew she produced Tanya Tucker's album with him. The book description seemed interesting, so I figured: What the heck?

She seemed kind of young (40) to be writing a memoir, especially considering she's not exactly a household name. But it was an interesting read. She's very introspective, admitted overly so, as many artistic types are. Her writing shows she's very aware of her faults and demons and she does a good job of making you feel like you're walking in her shoes.

Having not listened to her music before, I had Alexa play her music while I read her book. That was a new experience and made it more special. She describes her music as Americana, kind of folky, not really country, though she runs with that crowd. It's kind of Joni Mitchell meets Norah Jones. It's not my kind of music but my wife enjoys her now.

She tells some interesting stories having grown up dirt poor in a substance-abusing family. Moved around a lot and had a lot of oddball characters in her life. She is lesbian and it's a theme that is understandably key in her life and growing up. She talks about showing up at her baptism in the Baptist church and being turned away because she didn't answer the "homosexuality" question the way they wanted, which was supposed to have been: "No, I'm not."

Carlile became close with Elton John and the Obamas, and is/was a big fan-girl of Barrack and family.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter she wrote describing the feelings of finally winning a Grammy award. It made me feel happy for her. She definitely had her struggles and battled through them to get to the point where she is now - selling out Madison Square Garden.

If a memoir is written to make people understand the writer, to empathize with them, to make you really feel like they let you inside their life and thoughts, then Brandi Carlile certainly did that. I enjoyed learning more about her. While I probably won't be playing her music much, I will certainly continue to follow her career and life and wish nothing but the best for her.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Finished: Westlake, Box, Patterson, Flynn

 October was a good month for reading.

** Finished "Lethal Agent" by Kyle Mills, who has taken over the Mitch Rapp series for the deceased author/creator Vince Flynn. This is No. 18 in the series. I liked it a lot.

There's bioweapons, terrorists, drug cartels, lots of killing, and Rapp, the rogue CIA operative. All the things that make for a good, bloody thriller.

I gave it an 8+ on the 10-point Haugenometer. Amazonians liked it too with a 4.7 of 5. 

A couple quotes that caught my eye: 

Mitch Rapp: "And the American people ... they faint if someone uses insensitive language in their presence and half of them couldn't run up a set of stairs if you put a gun to their heads. What'll happen if the real shit hits the fan? What are they going to do if they're faced with something that can't be fixed by a Facebook petition?"

Stan Hurley: "It's not how you play the game, it's whether or not your opponent ends up dismembered in the woods."

** Finished the 1966 novel "The Busy Body" by Donald Westlake. It's a story of a mobster charged with digging up a dead body because the suitcoat the dude is buried in is lined with packages of cocaine. As is usual with Westlake novels, nothing goes right. In this case, the casket is empty.

It was good, not great. Not as funny as most Westlake novels. Gave it a 6 of 10. Goodreaders gave it a 3.8 of 5. Amazonians a 4.2 of 5.

** Knocked off the third in the Joe Pickett series by C.J. Box - "Winterkill." Another good one by him.

It's an hour away from darkness, a bitter winter storm is raging, and Joe Pickett is deep in the forest edging Battle Mountain, shotgun in his left hand, his truck's detached steering wheel handcuffed to his right—and Lamar Gardiner's arrow-riddled corpse splayed against the tree in front of him. Lamar's murder and the sudden onslaught of the snowstorm warn: Get off the mountain. But Joe knows this episode is far from over. And when his own daughter gets caught up in his hunt for the killer, Joe will stop at nothing to get her back...

The ending is not what you normally get in a novel, though I've gone there before.

I gave it a 7+ of 10. Amazonians a 4.7 of 5.

** Wrapped up the month with "Deadly Cross" by James Patterson. I don't read any of the co-authored books of Patterson. There are too many of them and some are probably good but I don't have the time to be messing with wannabes. 

This is the 28th book in the Alex Cross series. It interweaves two cases of Alex's and his wife. The Cross books are always good. This wasn't the best, but glad I read it.

Gave it a 6+ of 10. Amazonians seem stuck on the 4.7 number.

** Next up, I'm changing my murdery tune and cleansing the pallet with a memoir by Brandi Carlile. She intrigues me and I'll let you know how it goes.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Meth. We're on it.

Seems like forever since that slogan was unveiled by the State of South Dakota. It was less than two years ago and lit up the Twitterverse.

Seems like meth is still a big problem nationwide and The Atlantic looked into it. I think The Atlantic is one of the better publications around. They have good writers and go into depth on stories, like this story on meth.
Different chemically than it was a decade ago, the drug is creating a wave of severe mental illness and worsening America’s homelessness problem.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

This got my attention: A shortage of books?

Book shortage 2021: Why the supply chain issues won't ruin holidays (

Normally, as the holidays approach print book sales rise as people purchase gifts. Unfortunately, current supply chain issues, which for the book industry include shortages in labor, paper and delays in shipping, may impact how many books are available. Recent headlines warning of a book shortage spurred panic that books will be hard to get this year. 

Here is a pretty good explanation of supply chain woes affecting the world right now: Supply Chain Issues: ‘There Really Are Problems Everywhere,’ Even For Small Companies

If you happen to run out of books, hit me up. I'll set ya up.

Saturday, October 9, 2021


 You really should get on the ball and start reading the Bags Morton series - Bags of Bodies, Bags of Rock, Bags of Stone.

Like the shoe company says: Just do it.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Finished: Stephen Hunter's "Basil's War"

 Stephen Hunter is most famous for his Bob Lee Swagger novels. They are awesome.

His latest novel is Basil's War. It's neither a Swagger novel nor awesome.

I'm not much of a war novel or war movie guy. Not really into history either except for the occasional biography. I read this one simply because Hunter wrote it.

Basil St. Florian is an accomplished agent in the British Army, tasked with dozens of dangerous missions for crown and country across the globe. But his current mission, going undercover in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, might be his toughest assignment yet. He will be searching for an ecclesiastic manuscript that doesn’t officially exist, one that genius professor Alan Turing believes may hold the key to a code that could prevent the death of millions and possibly even end the war.

St. Florian isn’t the classic British special agent with a stiff upper lip―he is a swashbuckling, whisky-drinking cynic and thrill-seeker who resents having to leave Vivien Leigh’s bed to set out on his crucial mission. Despite these proclivities, though, Basil’s Army superiors know he’s the best man for the job, carrying out his espionage with enough charm and quick wit to make any of his subjects lower their guards.

It was a short story he turned into a novel and you could kind of tell. It wasn't that much of a story. And if you're going to write a movie set in World War II you'd think it would be halfway believable. This stretched the imagination and the realm of possibility on occasion.

I finished it. Gave it a 5 of 10. Amazonians a 4.1 of 5. Goodreaders a 4.73.

Pro tip: Read all 12 Swagger novels; skip this one.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Quick thoughts and notes

 It kind of scares me when I look to my left and to my right and then feel like I've kind of become a voice of reason. I used to be the crazy bomb thrower and really haven't changed anything but got nothing on some of the yahoos I'm seeing these days. 

The list of things I don't "get" continues to grow:

What's so difficult with just being nice anymore? If not nice, then how about just not being a jerk.

Horse dewormer? Really?

And why do they still call it a foul pole? If a ball hits it, it's a fair ball.

Why isn't my BCRX stock taking off like myself and much smarter analysts think it should?

Calling someone a RINO is a sign of a lazy mind who usually can't verbalize their argument nor often times even spell the term correctly. That also extends to other terms that get tossed around: "Communist" "Socialist" and "Nazi." Easy to say, difficult for many who use the terms to understand.

Why people hating on Kirk Cousins so much?

I get having opinions about masks but is it really worth screaming about?

How can my insurance adjuster and my contractor be $44,000 apart in estimates of hail damage to my abode?

** Jonathan Turley cites a poll on college speech. It ain't pretty, folks.

The latest chilling poll was released by 2021 College Free Speech Rankings after questioning a huge body of 37,000 students at 159 top-ranked U.S. colleges and universities. It found that sixty-six percent of college students think shouting down a speaker to stop them from speaking is a legitimate form of free speech.  Another 23 percent believe violence can be used to cancel a speech. That is roughly one out of four supporting violence.

** This is a couple weeks old, but David French's argument remains. I suggest everyone read it: The Descent of the Partisan Mind

When I speak to college students, one of the first things I say is that they should do their best to avoid the “partisan mind.” I don’t mean they should avoid voting for partisan candidates. I don’t even mean they should avoid running for office as a member of a political party. What I mean is they should reject partisanship as an identity, in part because we are learning that there are often no limits to the gullibility and rage of the truly partisan person, especially when negative polarization means that partisan commitment is defined by animosity against the other side. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Finished: Lucy Foley's 'The Guest List'

Had low expectations for this one. The coworker who borrowed it to me didn't seem too enthused about it but thought I might like it. I did. A lot. 

First let me say, I love women. I'm married to one and have two daughters. My physician is female; my veterinarian is female. I entrust my most valuable things to women. In my management positions I've hired maybe seven or eight people, all women.

Now, having attempted to establish my bonafides as an admirer of the skills of the opposite sex, it pains me to say I'm not a big fan of female murder-mystery writers. With a few exceptions, like Faye Kellerman and Joyce Carol Oates, they generally aren't dark enough for me. They're too wordy. I like it dark, stark, bloody and cold-blooded.

And this book featured a wedding planner? I'm thinking J Lo and some rom-com kind of thing. And it featured multiple point of views, alternating timelines, like flashbacks; more things I usually don't like. I knew I wasn't going to finish it.

But low and behold here comes Lucy Foley doing all that bad stuff well: Set in a dark boggy island amid thunderstorms, screams in the night, drunkenness, bullying, obnoxious frat-boy types, every character a little shady, every character a suspect of killing somebody. The trick the author played which I don't think I've seen before is the reader doesn't even know who the victim is, much less who killed them, until the end. Clever with a capital C.

Most of the negative reviews I read focused on the fact that none of the characters were likable. What's wrong with that? I enjoyed that part. Seems more relatable than everybody being likable. Have you ever met any people?

Amazonians gave it a 4.2 of 5. Goodreaders a 3.86 of 5. Haugenometer an 8 of 10.

I highly recommend The Guest List.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

'It's been a good year for the roses; Many blooms still linger there ...'

Wifey brought another rescue plant home from work a couple months ago. Her coworker said it hadn't bloomed in three years. After a little time with Dr. Haugen, this ol' Primrose is happy as can be. It's just a matter of listening to the plant when it tells you how much light it wants and how often it needs a drink. Then you sing to it. This one is a fan of George Jones and Conway Twitty.

Another excerpt from Bags of Stone ...

     “You know, Johnny,” I said. “It seems like maybe you should find a way to reconcile with that girlfriend of yours. Especially after three murders now. You shouldn’t be sleeping on the street. Period.”

“But she’s crazy. And you’re watching out for me.”

“It occurred to me last night that I’m not going to be able to do a good job of investigating while trying to keep track of you at the same time.” Besides it was killing my back. “Maybe you just need to put up with a little craziness for a few days. Better than getting killed.”

“You haven’t lived with her.”

“Still. My point remains. To catch this guy, I need to be on the move more. Do it for the others on the street who might be killed if we don’t get this asshole.”

He stared out the window blowing on his coffee.

“I suppose I could take one for the team.”

I dropped him off at their housing project. 

“Thanks for breakfast,” he said. “You’re a righteous dude, Bags. Like Ferris Buehler.”

“You’re welcome, Johnny. I’ll be around downtown this afternoon and check in on you. Keep your eyes open.”

“I will.” 

He trudged up the sidewalk to his apartment like a death row prisoner to the electric chair.

Get Bags of Rock here. Free if you have Kindle Unlimited.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

An excerpt from Bags of Stone ...

Bags of Stone available now at Amazon.

      "I’m talking about living on the street near you.”

“You’d do that for me?”

I think his eyes moistened.

“I’d do that to catch this killer.”

“Holy smokes.”

“Now it’s just going to be at night. I still need to make a living during the day. I’ll come down at nightfall. Probably not next to you, but where I can see you. Maybe across the street or down the block, but always within eye-sight.”

“That’d be awesome man. I’ll tell all the guys.”

“No, Johnny. You can’t tell anyone. We don’t know who is doing this or who to trust. Don’t look at me or talk to me. Ignore me.”

“Okay. After you catch him, can I tell people?”

“Yes. Then you can tell the world. Write a book.”

“I always thought I could be an author,” Johnny said. “Seems pretty easy.”

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Silva breaks a string with 'The Cellist'

 There's nothing worse than waiting anxiously for a specific book to come and and then it's a flop. Actually, there are a lot of things worse, but in the realm of book-reading it's numero uno.

As you faithful blog readers (bleaders?) know, I'm a big fan of Daniel Silva and his Gabriel Allon books. So I nabbed his newest one, The Cellist, the 21st in the series, and let it rest atop my TBR pile for a special occasion - the flight to D.C. and back to see my son.

It's a thick one - 458 pages. Fortunately, a thunderstorm left us sitting on the tarmac an extra hour on the connecting flight at Chicago, so I was able to finish it with plenty of time to spare so I could grouse about it to my wife in the seat next to me.

For starters, it was dull. The first 350 pages were full of banking jargon, Russians setting up fake accounts, laundering money, shell corporations, etc. 

After that, it picked up a little but then he ruined it with nonstop references to the President, the Coup and Jan. 6. He doesn't name Donald Trump, but it's obvious (for the second book in a row). If I'd wanted a Bob Woodward book detailing that portion of Trump's presidency I would've bought one. But I bought a book thinking it would be Allon killing terrorists and saving a pope or a prime minister and traveling Europe and the Middle East and teaching me stuff about famous artists.

This was Trump bashing amid a lame Russian financial scheme during COVID with the heroine being a cellist. Yes, a cellist!

Silva typically weaves current events into his fiction and did so a bit with President Obama, again, not naming him. But it was never so over the top and never vitriolic. This was over the top and vitriolic. I get it, you don't like him. Write a non-fiction book about it with your wife, NBC News correspondent Jamie Gangel. 

As the first two Goodreads reviews said:

Why in the world would the author sully a work of fiction with his personal anti-Trump propaganda? I have been a fan of Mr. Silva for many years but will no longer buy any future works of his.

And, if nothing else, the politics was forced ...

If I wanted to relive the last 18 month of the pandemic and a one sided view of US politics, I might, only barely have liked this book. It’s really sub-par writing for Silva. I’ve enjoyed most everyone of his prior Allon books! However, Silva’s treatise on his obvious world views, from carbon footprint, to sustainable green energy, evil billionaires, corrupt banks was too much. And no I do not forgive this author for making me pay to read his personal opinions!

It seemed he was writing for his buddies which he name-drops in the humble-brag acknowledgement section: Andrew Lack, Sally Quinn, Peggy Noonan, Henry Winkler, Gary Ginsburg, etc. Next time, just write a column in the Washington Post.

I don't even necessarily disagree with what Silva was saying, it's just not what I'm looking for when I'm looking to escape my day-job where I listen to that stuff endlessly. If I wanted Samantha Bee, I'd read her. 

Hopefully, since Trump is done, so is Silva's vendetta unleashed in his novels. 

I gave it a 6- on the 10-point Haugenometer. I hope he gets back on track with his next book or I'm afraid the Daniel Silva train has run out of track with this reader.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Coming soon-ish!

"I walked out of the Moonshine Bar at 11 with a 9."

And so begins the third novella in my Bags Morton detective series. 

With just a couple tweaks left in the Amazon publishing process, it will be live and ready to read. I will let you know when it's available, of course. In fact, I'll probably be somewhat obnoxious about it.

Until then, read Bags of Bodies and Bags of Rock. It's not necessary that you do so in order to enjoy this third entry, but the author would appreciate it if you did. And I think you'll be happy you did too. Of course, I'm a little biased, but others who've read them seem to agree. And millions of readers, okay, hundreds of readers couldn't be wrong.

If high-brow Oprah-Club novels are your bag, these Bags novellas are not for you. If quick reads, with plenty of twists and chuckles are for you, then get to it. There's some sex, drugs and rock n roll involved, so you should at least be an immature adult to best enjoy. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Start of Box series a pleasant surprise

 I've had a stack of twenty C.J. Box books staring at me for a few months now. Finally decided to dig in.

I was skeptical at first because it seemed, from what I'd heard about them, that his Joe Pickett series seemed like kind of a rip-off of Craig Johnson's Longmire series. Both law enforcement dudes in Wyoming, trouble finds them, they shoot people and all is well. But, I was wrong (yes, wifey, you read that correctly). Box's first book of the series came out three years before the first Longmire book. And, knowing a bit about how the process works, it's likely they were both working on their characters at the same time unbeknownst to each other.

There are similarities of course, since there's only so much you can write about in Wyoming. There's cows, antelope, Yellowstone and the Big Horn Mountains. And, fortunately for these two authors, there are a lot of guns.

My skepticism began to subside though as I read the first book, Open Season. It takes a little different tact. Joe Pickett is not Walt Longmire. Joe is a game warden, new on the job, young, unsure of himself, easily intimidated and a poor shot.

It was good enough that I moved on to the second in the series, Savage Run. There were actually some interesting plot twists and characters. 

In both books, there was some unexpected violence I enjoyed and even some sexual innuendo that was surprising for the Western genre. Surprising, but not unwelcome.

I think I kind of had it in my head that if I liked Longmire I shouldn't like Joe Pickett out of some kind of loyalty to Walt. But, I can like Mitch Rapp and Jack Reacher. I can like Gabriel Allon and Lucas Davenport.

So I guess Joe Pickett and Walt Longmire can coexist in my head too.

As is often the case, I usually get to where I want to be in my head, but the road getting there is longer than it should be.

I put both books in the 7 of 10 range and will keep reading the series - in order, of course. But first I'm going to knock off the new Daniel Silva novel that just showed up in the mail. See what Gabriel is up to.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Finished LB book of short stories

 Short stories don't get the credit they deserve. Some of the best, most memorable, writing I've read is in that format. Mark Twain's take the cake. Poe is right behind. William Faulkner, outstanding. A surprise for me was Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges.

Those guys turned out some of the funniest, most frightening and deepest stories I've ever read.

What I also like about them is you can grab a book of their collected works and knock one out in a few minutes. Don't have time to settle in for an hour or two of reading, but want to feel like you accomplished something, grab a short story.

I seldom read two in a row, especially if the one was good. I feel like they should stand on their own and if you read two in one sitting it seems like they meld together a bit. Read one good one and marinade on it.

Lawrence Block's collection I just finished featured twenty-one short stories. Some better than others, as obviously you're always going to have your favorites. But there were a couple where I went to work the next day and regaled the staff with the plots. I don't know if I actually regaled them. I might have bored them with my telling of the story, but I regaled myself by reliving them.

"Cleveland in My Dreams" was like a long joke with a zinger of a finish. I'll be telling that one to captive audiences the rest of my life.

"The Tulsa Experience" was one where Block just drops the hammer at the end with a twist that makes you wonder "Did he really just write that?"

"Some Days You Get the Bear" was just so darn weird that it made me respect the writer's twisted mind so much I wanted to be like him but would be worried if I were.

In his introduction, Block says: "Short stories should speak for themselves. Writers, on the other hand, probably shouldn't." He goes on to talk about his stories anyway.

Block is a master and a delight and one of my favorite writers. I have some issues with him personally that I have written about in the past. But I'm guessing Edgar A. Poe wasn't always the most delightful person at times either. Actually, iy seems like a running theme with most of the greats. Watch Ken Burns' documentary on Ernest Hemingway for a prime example.

Writers. Go figure.

Friday, August 13, 2021

The 'have-to' rule of marriage

 It took a few years of marriage but wifey and I finally settled on "Is it a 'have-to?'" to settle some of our discussions. Mostly, okay, almost always, it's me doing the asking.

See, my wife is the social one. She likes people and people like her. I like my dogs and a few people. 

Given to my own devices, I'm very content staying home, puttering, gardening, reading, writing, watching the Twins, walking the dogs, running or working out. The other thing is we both run in separate circles, don't really have many mutual friends. We have two couples who when they are in the area we do things with; otherwise she goes her way and I go mine (home).

She also comes from a large family who like to do things together. Like everything. They have get-togethers for the obvious things: weddings, birthdays, funerals. But those are not limited to just immediate family. It's also those of cousins, aunts, uncles, friends of family, neighbors, homeless people, the plumber, etc.

I have one sister I see about once a year. I saw my mom last summer and hadn't seen her for three years before that. We talk on the phone weekly but usually just a few minutes. We Norwegians are not a talkative bunch, and when we are together mostly just sit around and stare at each other.

As for my wife, I go to the obvious stuff, like immediate family birthdays, weddings, anniversaries; not out of marital duty but because I usually enjoy them. But then there's the breakfast in the park-type events. "Why are you all having breakfast in the park?" I ask. "To see everyone," she says. "But we just saw them," I'd say. "But my second cousins from Oregon are going to be there." It's the extended stuff that usually led to me asking: "Do I have to go?"

Or they have parties for any reason they can think of, like: So and so just got new wallpaper. Somebody got a new job. Somebody lost their job. Somebody just got out on parole. 

Wifey, recognizing my personality and foibles and the extended reach of some of the events, settled on: "How about if I just tell you if it's a 'have-to' and for the others you can decide whether or not to come and I won't be mad?" The "I won't be mad" was kind of a warning sign to me, but she stuck to it. And sometimes I go even if it's not a "have-to." I just feel better knowing I made the decision and it wasn't made for me.

I also tend to live in my own world and am, admittedly, not always the best judge of what the societal norms demand of me, largely because I don't care that much about the norms but also am largely oblivious to them.

So, I just ask her. Like the other day, she had a co-worker's adult son pass away and she was going to the funeral on Saturday morning. I've met the lady like three times and never met the son. But it seemed like one of those borderline things I might not be the best judge of, so I asked: "Is that something I should attend?" She said, no. So I didn't and felt a little guilty about it, but not enough to make me get cleaned up on my day off.

Having said that, funerals are a deal I have changed my feelings about over the years. It used to be if I didn't know the deceased person, why the heck would I go? Then my dad died and I remembered the good feelings I felt upon seeing MY friends and coworkers and such who came, even though they may not have known my dad.

They were there FOR ME. It hit me. Funerals aren't for the deceased. They are for the the family of the deceased.

So I started attending more funerals out of sympathy for my friends whether I knew their lost loved one or not. This last one was just pretty borderline and I err on the side of staying home in those situations.

I will say, I've never gone to a funeral and then wished I hadn't. I probably should err more on that side. But hey, a guy can only grow so much in 57 years. I'm still a work in progress.

Until then, the "have-to" rule still comes in handy.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Heart rate rising with every brush stroke

 I've mentioned before how much I enjoy my FitBit. One of the things it measures is BPM (beats per minute) for my heart. Like most things, I obsess over it a bit.

It's helpful in knowing my resting heart rate and my maximum heart rate when running. As for the resting heart rate, it's interesting to watch it rise or fall week to week or day to day, and I try to figure out the reasons for the movement - stress, not feeling well, too little sleep, etc.

The most recent change seemed to coincide with buying furniture.

Wifey and I have been married 30-plus years and have always had a hodge-podge of furniture, some hand-me-downs, some used stuff, an occasional new recliner. All different colors and brands. Heck, for the first 7-8 years living in Rapid City, we had a glass patio table as our dinner table, though we never set up the umbrella. We aren't that big of rednecks. Mostly, we just aren't very pretentious and lean toward the functional. If somebody doesn't want to have dinner with us because we have patio furniture in our house, so be it. 

But that changed a month ago, with my heart rate, because we bought our first new, matching set of living room furniture. Couch, sofa, recliner. The whole ten yards. Which, actually, turned out to only be five yards, because then I learned we needed to paint our living room, dining room and kitchen to match the furniture. And we needed new window treatments to match the paint. And new hanging decor to match the window treatments. Fortunately, the dogs are the right color.

It wasn't so much the buying the stuff that caused my heart to jump, it was the process of doing all the extraneous stuff: Picking a color, taping, painting, hanging things. And, while it's generally a good thing to be taller than average, it's not good to be the tall person when you're doing all that stuff. "Hey, tall guy, I can't reach up there!"

This past weekend we finished it all (with the help of daughter and son-in-law), but guess what? Our new furniture hasn't arrived yet!

Back to the heart rate. Apparently, when you're at your fittest, your heart rate is generally at it's lowest. For me, that's generally mid-summer. Between more running, more hikes with the dogs, and more back and forth to the garden, I'm at my peak by end of July.

My resting heart rate has been at 54 beats per minute. This past couple weeks it's started rising, 55, 56, 57, now 58.

That's not something to get concerned about. 58 is still good. But something caused it to go up and I think it happened somewhere between balancing one foot on the ladder on the stairs and the other foot on a ledge as I tried to hanging a huge 20-pound picture above the stairway to the basement and doing the same with wife holding the folded ladder at an angle while I hung another.

Or it could have been: "This white paint was supposed to have a gray tint, but it looks blue to me?" So we took it back.

Or it could have been: "I think we need to paint the ceiling too."

That was actually the one argument I won, or then we were looking at high 70s for the ol' ticker if I'd been stuck (tall guy) doing that..

Now, it'd just be nice if the new furniture showed up. Hope to hell it matches.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Some pillow talk

 I've got a soft spot for my pillow. My wife hates it.

I've had it for I'm guessing 20 years. I don't know what's in it, could be dog hair and dead prairie dogs for all I know. It's yellow. Not it's natural color. And it's always damp. I can set it on the railing of the deck in 90 degree weather all afternoon and it'll still be damp. Don't know what's up with that. Not sure I want to know.

Every time my wife changes the pillow case she threatens to throw it away. But she doesn't throw it away because she knows I'm a man who doesn't like change and who gets grumpy when things do change. Mostly she just doesn't want grumpy me grouching around the house.

She told me the other day she almost bought me a new pillow on Amazon but it was too expensive. (As if that's ever stopped her before.)

So the pillow lives on. It supports me and I support it. We have a bro code.

The thing is, when I come to bed late, I find her using MY pillow. I ask her, if it's such an awful, gross pillow, why do you use it every time I'm not here?

She says: "I like it. It smells like you."

Which I guess is a good thing. That scent consists of Old Spice deodorant, Listerene drool, OFF insect spray, and garlic-scented sweat. You can find it in your finer cologne sections. Just ask for: Ode deHaugs.

I laugh scornfully at those pillow commercials. I don't want a Purple pillow, a MyPillow, a TEMPUR pillow or one with magnets or one that supports my neck and is recommended by chiropractors nationwide.

I don't want a lavender scented one. I don't want a down one, a goose feather one, or a cotton one. 

I want the stinky, moldy, wet, yellow-stained pillow that forms to my head perfectly. It's gotten me this far, and I pity the nursing home that won't let me bring it in due to hazardous materials regulations.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Garden update

 A few days of 100-plus heat held the garden back a bit, but it survived. A half inch of rain last night rejuvinated things. As the man who jumped off the 10-story building was heard saying at each floor: "So far, so good."

Have picked some cukes and zukes and beans. A half dozen tomatoes had blossom end rot that I attacked with some calcium chloride spray (Rot Stop) and it's now looking like it could be a banner season in the Haugen household. I have some monster green peppers and my novelty plants of the year, the Red Peter peppers, are loaded. Along with several jalapeno and Habenaro peppers, I may spend all winter in the bathroom.

Here's a peek at some naked tomatoes.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Finished: 'The Wife Between Us'

 "The Wife Between Us," by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, was a slow starter but finished okay. I almost quit halfway through but trudged on, probably for the best because I want to save quitting for the absolute worst books.

It's certainly a good reminder that blurbs from reviews can be misleading, like: 

"A fiendishly smart cat-and-mouse thriller" ―New York Times Book Review

"Buckle up, because you won't be able to put this one down." ―Glamour

"Jaw dropping. Unforgettable. Shocking." ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

It's basically an ex-wife stalking her ex-husband's new fiance with some twists thrown in.

One anonymous 1-star review wrote, and I agree: "It just drags, the authors felt compelled to provide minute details on every activity, place, object, and thought."

It's kind of the opposite of how I write. I should probably be more detailed and descriptive. It would help turn those novellas into novels. But I don't like my books to drag, sometimes to the detriment of the reader not knowing what each character had for breakfast and what they were wearing while doing so. So be it.

Goodreaders gave it a ho-hum 3.85 of 5. The much more gullible and easily-pleased Amazonians a 4.4. I gave it a 6 of 10.

I didn't realize how far behind I'd fallen in logging my books. Life comes at you fast in the summertime. I also read in June and July:

** Hit and Run by Lawrence Block. 6. This was book four of five in the Keller series. 

** Forever by Jeffery Deaver. 7. Mystery author extraordinaire Ed McBain pulled together some of his buddies to write novellas for a series called "Transgressions." This is one of them. 

 Talbot Simms is an unusual cop. He's a statistician with the Westbrook County Sheriff's Department. When wealthy county resident's begin killing themselves one after another, Simms begins to believe that there is something more at play. And what he discovers will change his life . . . forever.

** Make Out with Murder by Block. 6. This was one of the better ones from the Chip Harrison series.

The streetwise gumshoe is Chip Harrison, who has finally secured himself a job, acting as the man-about-town for the corpulent detective Leo Haig. And it's on the dangerous streets of New York that Chip brings home his first case, one in which five beautiful sisters are being systematically murdered by a killer with a diabolical design.

** The Vengeful Virgin by Gil Brewer. 8. This was from the Hard Case Crime imprint. I enjoy the books they publish.

Her wealthy stepfather was dying - but not quickly enough. What beautiful 18-year-old would want to spend her life taking care of an invalid? Not Shirley Angela. But that’s the life she was trapped in – until she met Jack.

Now Shirley and Jack have a plan to put the old man out of his misery and walk away with a suitcase full of cash. But there’s nothing like money to come between lovers – money, and other women…

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Odds n ends

Here are some articles I've read recently that I found interesting. You might think so too. Or not.

*** This is about the former leader of the Proud Boys and Vice. What a kook: The Secret History of Gavin McInnes
In the ’90s, he played punk rock and helped create Vice magazine. Five years ago, he founded a very different organization: the Proud Boys, the far-right group that came to personify the vilest tendencies of Trump’s America. A former Vice editor interviews one of our era’s most troubling extremists.
I blame Twitter and social media. I'm not joking. Social media apps are driving the racial hysteria plaguing the country.

Once you admit the problem, then you can see how it perverts your thoughts and causes you to see every human interaction through the lens of racism. Once you admit the problem, then you can take steps to combat the problem.
*** Is Poe the most influential American writer? I would say 'yes.' A new book offers evidence.
 Poe largely created the modern short story, while also inventing or perfecting half the genres represented on the bestseller list, including the mystery (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Gold-Bug”), science fiction (“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion”), psychological suspense (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado”) and, of course, gothic horror (“The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” the incomparable “Ligeia”).
It was many and many a year ago,
   In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
   By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
   Than to love and be loved by me.

*** The book-burners are still at it. Guess it doesn't matter that it was named Book of the Year by The Economist and one of the best books of 2021 by The Times and The Sunday Times. It's called Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier.

I won't be buying it because it's not a murder mystery, serial killer novel or sexy pulp fiction noir. But if YOU want to, it's on Amazon, which kind of surprised me, but good for them.

*** There's always some dinks out there to complain, but the Juneteenth holiday seems pretty legit and appropriate to me. In doing some reading about it I ran across this speech by Frederick Douglass regarding Independence Day ten years before the Emancipation Proclamation. It's long, but worth the time.

*** "Pretend like you care about something other than profit and power, precisely to gain more of each." 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The cat

 Cat sitting daughter’s vicious psycho cat. Wife bought it some toys to win her over. Didn’t work. Attacked me shortly after this pic.

Random flowers around the house


This was the former trampoline area the previous homeowners had in the backyard. I tried some raspberries and gooseberries but didn't like how they were doing. Pulled them out last fast, built a flower bed and a little of this and a little of that and it seems to be off to a good start. Painted daisies, black-eyed Susan and coneflowers (not flowering yet) in the box. Planted from seed in my greenhouse this summer. 

In the rocks are some mint and milkweeds for the monarchs. 

Shasta daisies on the path to my garden.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Finished Dean Koontz's 'The Other Emily' and others

 Playing catch-up here a bit for those of you who care what books I've read.

The highlight was Dean Koontz's new novel "The Other Emily." I kick myself whenever I get off a Koontz kick and bother with other authors, because he's so consistently good. This didn't disappoint.

A decade ago, Emily Carlino vanished after her car broke down on a California highway. She was presumed to be one of serial killer Ronny Lee Jessup’s victims whose remains were never found.

Writer David Thorne still hasn’t recovered from losing the love of his life, or from the guilt of not being there to save her. Since then, he’s sought closure any way he can. He even visits regularly with Jessup in prison, desperate for answers about Emily’s final hours so he may finally lay her body to rest. Then David meets Maddison Sutton, beguiling, playful, and keenly aware of all David has lost. But what really takes his breath away is that everything about Maddison, down to her kisses, is just like Emily. As the fantastic becomes credible, David’s obsession grows, Maddison’s mysterious past deepens―and terror escalates.

Is she Emily? Or an irresistible dead ringer? Either way, the ultimate question is the same: What game is she playing? Whatever the risk in finding out, David’s willing to take it for this precious second chance. It’s been ten years since he’s felt this inspired, this hopeful, this much in love…and he’s afraid.

It's tough to say much more without giving away the twists and ending. I came close to figuring it out pretty early on, but Koontz surprised me with the grand finale and why it was Thorpe felt guilty. Suffice to say it was typical Koontz - good versus evil, quite frightening and bordering on the impossible, but the more you think about it, pretty probable.

I gave it an 8 of 10 on the Haugenometer. Amazonians a 4.3 of 5.

** Another one I was looking forward to was "The Sentinel." It's the first of the Jack Reacher series where author Andrew Child steps in to continue the popular series begun by his now-retired brother, Lee Child.

Having read the previous 24 books written by Lee, I have to say Andrew did a pretty good job. But, a devotee to the series like me could recognize some differences in style. The one that stood out to me most is that he had a much more talkative Reacher. Sometimes in unrealistic ways, like when Reacher is ready to defend himself against a gun-wielding bad guy, Reacher launches into a soliloquy of how he's going to defeat the guy before he does it. Meanwhile, apparently, the bad guy just stands there and waits for him to be done sermonizing before the fight begins. Otherwise, it was all good.

I gave it a 6 of 10 and look forward to the next one, "Better Off Dead," due out in October.

** I also read Lawrence Block's "No Score" - one of the short Chip Harrison series. Kind of a silly book, but mildly entertaining, as drifter Chip keeps having his quests to lose his virginity interrupted. I gave it a 5 of 10. The Harrison series is not one of Block's best, probably his lamest.

** I round out the list of missed reviews with Ace Atkins' "The Ranger." This is the first of six in the Quinn Colson series, a former Army Ranger returned to his home in the south and cleans it up. I gave it a 6 of 10.

Monday, May 24, 2021

A fun but 'short' visit

 My best friend from college, Steve, broke quarantine in Minnesota and visited the Black Hills with his wife last week. I met him for lunch in Hill City and then we roamed the streets. Talked non-stop for about three hours. It was great.

He’s in the small circle of close friends of mine. I have fewer than 10 people in my life whose opinion of me I actually care about. He’s one of them. He knows where the bodies are buried and would lend me his shovel to bury another. The two of us can talk the usual BS guy-talk but also get into deeper subjects, like aging parents, us aging, wives, kids, politics. Just like the old days, minus the bottle of vodka and Breakfast Club playing in the VCR for the 100th time. As they say, he gets me. Few do.

He’s also one of the few people who still calls me by my college nickname: Coz. Don’t even remember how I got that. For a short while I was “Speed.” Don’t ask. I liked that one, but it never stuck. Coz did. 

We took the obligatory selfie in front of a chainsaw-carved bear in Hill City and texted it to the third member of our college trio who was still under armed guard in his home outside Minneapolis. It took us a while as two old guys can do trying to get a decent photo of the two of us and the bear. When it was done, I was surprised by one thing – how short I appeared.

Being short is nothing new for me. I was one of the youngest in my grade growing up. Combined with being a late bloomer anyway, I was always six inches shorter than anyone in my class. Until my senior year. Then, as my dad had been telling me but whom I was beginning to doubt, I grew. By my freshman year in college I was 6-2. No longer short!

So what did this genius do in college? I befriended two of the tallest guys in my class, both basketball players, both 6-7.

Steve told me once that I’d apparently caught the eye of some vision-impaired or hard-up co-ed who had asked him: “Who’s that short guy you’re always hanging around?”

Rather than being flattered, and fresh off a long bout with short-man’s syndrome, I replied: “Short!? I’m six-foot-two!”

But there I was, the short guy again. And it reared its ugly head again in the selfie we took 35 years later. It even appeared Steve had grown another inch and I’d shrunk an inch. How’d that happen?

Saturday, May 8, 2021

How about those vaccinations, eh?

 Consistency is not a great American virtue of late. The COVID vaccine debate is a good example. I received my shots in March. No big deal. If you aren't getting yours, fine. I don't care. But the arguments against strike me as silly and often hypocritical.

For those who say "my body is a temple" so they aren't going to put a couple milliliters of a FDA-approved vaccine in their body, I've seen your temple hanging over your sweatpants at Walmart. It's built out of french fries, glued together with corn syrup and sprinkled with Cheetos. You wouldn't know the food pyramid from the Great Pyramid at Giza.

I'm a bit of a health nut the past few years. Certainly wasn't always that way. I grew up swimming in a cattle tank (the cows don't always face out) and getting sprayed down with RAID before walking beans in the evening by Selma Hansen (not Hayek, unfortunately). I started chewing Copenhagen at 16. Then I spent a decade of decadence consuming enough tequila and Old Milwaukee to keep Mexico and Wisconsin solvent through the 1980s. So I figure a little potassium chloride isn't going to do me in.

Then there is the "I only consume natural ingredients" crowd that will chow down every untested but friend-on-Facebook-approved supplement at the health food store. Oh look, here's some opossum sperm that will remove wrinkles. As Billy "Crash" Craddock would sing: Rub it in, rub it in. Here's some poison castor bean powder that will clear up my toenail fungus! Gobble, gobble. 

Or the not-so-natural-stuff: Viagra! Munch, munch. Gimme my Zoloft; I'm depressed.

I want the state to legalize weed so I can stay stoned through life, but don't tell me to get a shot that might save my life or that of my grandma. Instead, pass me a menthol cigarette or the vape pen with the newest flavor: Willie Nelson's socks.

You're worried about what you put in your body? Give me a break.

Ladies, lay off the Scensty then if you're so concerned with what goes in your bod. Maybe research what's in those scents before you inhale. (Hint: it ain't all pumpkin and dandelions.)

Lately I've been following these athletes who don't want to get the shot. Okay, fine. Then also knock off the illegal steroids. Quit visiting GNC for every testosterone-booster, pre-workout juice and after-workout powder. Pump iron like a real man. Go aunatural there too.

My body is a temple. Ha. Pass me the meth pipe, say over 12 million Americans. Over 36 percent are obese. Fifteen percent smoke cancer sticks. Over 6 percent have alcohol problems. About 88,000 people die of alcohol-related causes annually in the United States.

Four out of five Americans are prescribed antibiotics every year (antibiotics approved by the same government as the COVID vaccine, by the way). CDC estimates about 47 million antibiotic courses each year are prescribed for infections that don't need antibiotics. But I'm not going to get that COVID shot because I'm free! I'm not a sheeple! I watch what goes in my body. Pfft.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think we're at the point where the government has to mandate the COVID vaccine like they do childhood vaccinations. But it won't be long and private business will and, having been a small business owner, I'm fine with that. If Delta says you need a vaccine to fly, so be it. Drive to Florida instead. If Menards wants to see your vaccination card to enter and you don't have one, go to Runnings. If you want to go to the next Bruno Mars concert and he says you need to be vaccinated, good on him. Go see Miley Cyrus.

I feel good having had my shots. A little more secure. More free, believe it or not. I realize they aren't 100 percent foolproof. But I'm a gambling man and like my odds having it while I mingle among the crowds. Because I've seen those crowds, I know people in those crowds, and unlike some in those crowds I'll listen to my doctor before I listen to my Facebook friends who think they're doctors.

A little COVID vaccine for a little peace of mind? Straight into my veins, baby!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Finished: John Sandford's 'Ocean Prey'

 John Sandford's latest features Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers, which is always a good combination.

The 31st book in the series is unique in that it is the first one I can recall which is not Minnesota-centric. It takes place in Florida where Lucas is called in, now with the U.S. Marshals, to investigate the murder of three Coast Guard members. He recruits Virgil to serve as a deep sea diver, a talent I was unfamiliar with for Virgil.

An off-duty Coast Guardsman is fishing with his family when he calls in some suspicious behavior from a nearby boat. It's a snazzy craft, slick and outfitted with extra horsepower, and is zipping along until it slows to pick up a surfaced diver . . . a diver who was apparently alone, without his own boat, in the middle of the ocean. None of it makes sense unless there's something hinky going on, and his hunch is proved right when all three Guardsmen who come out to investigate are shot and killed. They're federal officers killed on the job, which means the case is the FBI's turf. When the FBI's investigation stalls out, they call in Lucas Davenport. And when his case turns lethal, Davenport will need to bring in every asset he can claim, including a detective with a fundamentally criminal mind: Virgil Flowers.

I cruised through the book (over 400 pages) in about three nights. It rated an 8 on the 10-point Haugenometer. Others seemed to agree as Goodreaders gave it a stellar 4.6 of 5.

** Previous to that I did what I said I wasn't going to do and read another Tim Dorsey book - No Sunscreen for the Dead.

It's the 22nd in the Serge Storm series.

The books focus on psychotic Serge and his stoner buddy Coleman traveling around Florida causing trouble. This time at senior living communities.

Serge and Coleman are back on the road, ready to hit the next stop on their list of obscure and wacky points of interest in the Sunshine State. This time, Serge’s interest is drawn to one of the largest retirement villages in the world—also known as the site of an infamous sex scandal between a retiree and her younger beau that rocked the community.

What starts out as an innocent quest to observe elders in their natural habitats, sample the local cuisine, and scope out a condo to live out the rest of their golden years, soon becomes a Robin Hood-like crusade to recover the funds of swindled residents. After all, our seniors should be revered and respected—they’ve heroically fought in wars, garnered priceless wisdom, and they have the best first-hand accounts of bizarre Floridian occurrences only Serge would know about. But as the resident’s rally for Serge to seek justice on their behalves, two detectives are hot on the heels of Serge and Coleman’s murderous trail.

In this epic adventure that jumps between present day and the tumultuous times of the Vietnam war, mystery fans are in for a witty and deliciously violent delight from the twisted imagination of bestselling author Tim Dorsey.

The books are so formulatic and inane, but they are funny and you don't need to use your brain. Those kind of books have a place when your mind is in that place and mine was.

It did the job - entertained - and was one of the better ones recently in the series. I gave it a 6 of 10. Unbelievably, to me, Amazonians gave it a 4.7 out of 5, which probably says as much about our society today as anything. Maybe people are just looking for an escape ... or doing a lot of drugs.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

A new favorite priest

 For one week this March and another the previous March 2020 (we book-ended the Wuhu) wifey and I vacationed at St. Pete's Beach in Florida. We have a favorite spot and enjoyed each stay immensely. We stayed Wednesday to Wednesday. One of the highlights each time was on a Sunday. Specifically, the church service in St. Petersburg.

My religious journey could fill many blog posts but in overview: I was raised Lutheran and converted to Catholicism about twenty years ago. There have been varying degrees of devoutness along the way, with highs and lows. It's safe to say the last three years have been a low. I've attended mostly out of obligation and during COVID mostly remotely via the interwebs. The past couple years, I feel like I've been a better Christian than a Catholic, so I guess that's the important thing.

But those two services in St. Petersburg have kept my Catholic flame flickering.

It's a smaller church in a residential neighborhood. The African-American priest refers to it as "the hood" though I would not have categorized it as such. But, then again, I visited at 10 a.m. on Sundays so probably catch the neighborhood in its prime.

The congregation was diverse. If I had to guess, I'd say half white, quarter black, with the rest Asian and Hispanic. Young people, old people, singles, and families. They were very friendly and greeted us with open arms.

They were a reflection of the priest. Out-going, exciting, oozed the spirit of Christ. He wasn't the stoic, formal, dry priest I see so much of. Don't get me wrong, I've known some good ones, some great ones even. But lately there've been none, other than him, who made me wish the service was longer.

At the end of our first Mass there, he asked who in the congregation had a birthday that week. A couple did. Everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to them. Then he asked if there were any visitors. We stood and he asked us to tell where we were from and what brought us there. Then everyone applauded.

His homilies (sermons to you non-Catholics) were touching, well thought out and made you want to hit the streets to tell your neighbors about Christ (or blog about it). He slipped in a couple "let me hear an 'Allelujiah!'s and the crowd responded. Not your average South Dakota priest.

We visited with him a bit as we left and he told me he'd served at a parish on the Pine Ridge Reservation years ago. He knew West River well. When we returned home from our first visit, I emailed the priest to tell him how much we enjoyed his Mass. 

Upon our return visit he saw me and said: "My South Dakota friend." When I received communion from him he gave me the host and then patted me on the shoulder like a friend. 

A good contrast was provided from the previous week in South Dakota where the priest during announcements at the end of Mass told us things would be returning more to normal at services. Though, during the part where we normally greet our neighbors with handshakes and "Peace be with you"s, there would be no handshaking and "I don't want you flashing peace signs back and forth."

Well, in St. Petersburg, the time came for "peace be with you" and the priest led the charge in flashing peace signs with the congregation and us with each other. It wasn't disruptive, it wasn't sacreligious, it wasn't disrespectful. It was fun and it was joyful.

We need a little more of that in my church, if you ask me (which they don't). I don't need a rock concert at my Mass, but I don't want to be falling asleep either. I don't need to be begged for money and I don't need to feel like I need to be scolded every other week either. 

I'm there to hear the Lord's word, celebrate it and feel better about life and raring to attack the week ahead feeling like God is on my shoulder guiding my actions, my decisions and my words.

After this recent Palm Sunday service in Florida, my wife got in the car and said: "I could've sat there another two or three hours."

I guess I wouldn't go that far, but I felt joy in my heart and Christ's presence with me. That's a job well done, sir. Wish it could happen for me more than two Sundays out of the last 52.

We'll probably never move to Florida, but when we visit we know where we're going to church. Let me hear an "Allelujiah!"

Garden update

 Pepper seeds not doing so hot. Going on three weeks and I'm not happy with the germination. Maybe 30 percent when they should be at 70. I started them before we left for vacation, in the greenhouse but without the heat mats on. Turned those on when we got home. Thought it would be warm enough to get them going but maybe not.

Patience, maybe?

I started some purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans a couple months ago for a new flower bed I built last fall. They are doing real well. Not sure when I want to plant them though. Winging it there. Will harden them off for a 10 days and maybe shoot for the 20th. We'll see.