Monday, December 25, 2023

The books gifted this year

 Per usual, the old man gifts the kids and their significant others a book each Christmas. Quite a bit of thought goes into this as some are bigger readers than others. So, to get some to read the books have to be spot on. (And, as an aside, audio books are not books; they're radio stations without music.)

The toughest to buy for is the youngest, Luke, who'd rather watch a YouTube video than hold an actual book in his hands. For him, just to be mean, I bought the thickest book, but it's about his hero: Elon Musk. The biography by Walter Isaacson is 688 pages, but it also functions as a bathroom reader, since there's not really a plot to follow. Fortunately, Luke goes to the bathroom a lot so should get it finished in 2024.

From the author of Steve Jobs and other bestselling biographies, this is the astonishingly intimate story of the most fascinating and controversial innovator of our era—a rule-breaking visionary who helped to lead the world into the era of electric vehicles, private space exploration, and artificial intelligence. Oh, and took over Twitter.

His wife, Kayla, is a more prolific reader, but I don't really have her genre or interests nailed down yet. For her I bought "Notes on an Execution." Not quite as dark as it sounds.

Ansel Packer is scheduled to die in twelve hours. He knows what he’s done, and now awaits execution, the same chilling fate he forced on those girls, years ago. But Ansel doesn’t want to die; he wants to be celebrated, understood. 

Through a kaleidoscope of women—a mother, a sister, a homicide detective—we learn the story of Ansel’s life. We meet his mother, Lavender, a seventeen-year-old girl pushed to desperation; Hazel, twin sister to Ansel’s wife, inseparable since birth, forced to watch helplessly as her sister’s relationship threatens to devour them all; and finally, Saffy, the detective hot on his trail, who has devoted herself to bringing bad men to justice but struggles to see her own life clearly. As the clock ticks down, these three women sift through the choices that culminate in tragedy, exploring the rippling fissures that such destruction inevitably leaves in its wake. 

Blending breathtaking suspense with astonishing empathy, Notes on an Execution presents a chilling portrait of womanhood as it simultaneously unravels the familiar narrative of the American serial killer, interrogating our system of justice and our cultural obsession with crime stories, asking readers to consider the false promise of looking for meaning in the psyches of violent men.

For my daughter, Rylee, a grade-school teacher, I chose: "Book Lovers" by Emily Henry.

Nora Stephens' life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.

Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.

If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.

For her husband, Stetson, who is wrapping up his dissertation: "Such Kindness" by Andre Dinis III. (When you have "III" behind your name, people know you're smart.)

A working-class white man takes a terrible fall.

Tom Lowe’s identity and his pride are invested in the work he does with his back and his hands. He designed and built his family’s dream home, working extra hours to pay off the adjustable rate mortgage he took on the property, convinced he is making every sacrifice for the happiness of his wife and son. Until, in a moment of fatigued inattention, shingling a roof in too-bright sunlight, he falls.

In constant pain, addicted to painkillers at the cost of his relationships with his wife and son, Tom slowly comes to realize that he can never work again. If he is not a working man, who is he? He is not, he believes, the kind of person who lives in subsidized housing, though that is where he has ended up. He is not the kind of person who hatches a scheme to commit convenience-check fraud, together with neighbors he considers lowlifes, until he finds himself stealing his banker’s trash.

Who is Tom Lowe, and who will he become? Can he find a way to reunite hands and heart, mind and spirit, to be once again a giver and not just a taker, to forge a self-acceptance deeper than pride?

The eldest child, Katie, has been on a fictional other worlds journey. For her: "Fourth Wing" by Rebecca Yarros.

Enter the brutal and elite world of a war college for dragon riders from New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Yarros

Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general―also known as her tough-as-talons mother―has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.

But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away...because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.

With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter―like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant.

She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.

Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom's protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.

Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda―because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die.

Her fiance, Kwinn, is another non-avid reader who has to be particularly targeted. For him: "The Savior of Deadwood" by David Wolff.

Arriving in Deadwood just days after the death of Wild Bill Hickok in early August 1876, businessman James K. P. Miller found the months-old mining camp in turmoil. By the time of his own death in 1890, Miller had gained a reputation as the "savior of Deadwood" for his efforts to bring prosperity to the area.

 Yet, while Deadwood denizens such as Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock became Western legends, Miller faded into obscurity. After fleeing his native New York in disgrace, Miller sought to redeem himself to his family and strike it rich in the West. Living under an assumed name in Montana Territory, Miller gained valuable experience in the grocery trade. He ventured to Deadwood soon after its founding in 1876, and, using his birth name, opened a successful grocery firm and exchange bank with a partner. The business endured a disastrous fire, a flood, and a series of dramatic economic ups and downs. 

Eventually, Miller became the town's preeminent promoter and developer, advancing several large projects and persuading outside investors to join him. He even played a key role in convincing railroads to build in Deadwood, bringing a permanency that few would have predicted. Author David A. Wolff has pieced together the largely untold story of how Miller helped turn a rugged gold camp into a permanent settlement. The Savior of Deadwood follows Miller's career while granting fresh insight into the early history of one of the most legendary towns of the Wild West, highlighting how violence, relations between settlers and American Indians, economic changes, and political battles shaped the modern Black Hills."

Read on peeps!

Friday, December 22, 2023

The Haugen holiday newsletter

 Welcome to the annual Haugen Holiday missive in which I give an electronic run-down of the parole status of the various Haugen hooligans. (You richies who mail your Christmas cards and own private jets really impress me given the USPS has proposed its fifth postage increase since 2021.)

This past year in Haugenland was like most, a mixed bag of good and bad. Mom's husband Tom passed away just before Memorial Day in Missouri, so we navigated the whole death in the family thing and were fortunate to get her almost immediately into an assisted living center in Milbank, SD. She enjoys the newly-built facility as much as anyone can under the circumstances and has my sister and family nearby. She's had more visitors in the past six months from Canton and LeMars and sites in between than she ever had in Missouri, so that's good.

Nothing like the buzz kill of starting off a holiday newsletter with some death and destruction, eh? That's life. It ain't all Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce fairy tales. (Over-under on that fiasco is July 1 and I'm taking the under. You?) It seems when Aaron Rodgers "ruptured" his Achilles in Week 1, the NFL execs needed to find a new drama queen for the season, and since Joe Exotic was still in prison, they trotted out TayTay and Trav.

But we Haugens have our own young lovebirds. We call them Layla - Luke and Kayla. A year of wedded bliss under their belts, they continue to live in northern Virginia with Klaus, their German Shepherd. Kayla is food safety supervisor for the Wegman's supermarket chain (any of you remember the Safety Dance by Men Without Hats? Another reason '80s music was the best.). Luke is still a catcher of bad guys and if you're a psycho creep doing dirty deeds you just might run into him or his buddies someday.

This summer Stetson and Rylee upgraded from their loft apartment to a house just a couple blocks from the University of Illinois campus. But enough about them. The star of that union, the one who puts the bubbly in Champaign, the "Noise" in Illinois and the "Grand" in grand-daughter is Josie Jayne. Coming up on 2 years old in a couple months, she's already been accepted to MIT and qualified for the 2044 Olympic games 400-meter run, but remains humble, which you kind of have to do until you're at least potty trained. She's a heck of a singer though and likes her kitty and dogs.

Our other son, Kirk, tore his Achilles last month and while we love him to death he's become kind of an anchor on our financial situation so it's likely we'll send him elsewhere this summer.

The eldest child, Katie, and her boy-toy, Kwinn, will be tying the knot this March in Florida in an exclusive beachside affair. She continues directing all things west of The River for our congressman; while Kwinn continues searching for the gold nugget of his dreams.

As for Momma H, she's still working for the back-cracker. They have a new high-tech shock therapy machine she's trained on, so if you see me out and about drooling from the corner of my mouth more than usual, you'll know why. She also got a new knee this year - wore out the old one kicking me. And she saved her friend's life by giving her the Heimlich at lunch one day. Just the usual year for her.

Not much new with me. Still working for Senator Thune. It'll be 19 years in January, far breaking the record of my previous longest job tenure of 5. I'm also grudgingly facing down the big 6-0 in six months. Pretty much approaching the golden years with Dylan Thomas' words in mind: "Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Meaning? Stay out of my way.

As for the doggos, it was kind of a rough year for ol' Huckleberry, as he celebrated his 11th birthday with a few more aches and pains than usual. He continues to mostly ignore the new pup and has claimed my lap now that Stanley isn't around. Crazy Finn, the lab, isn't one of those guys who eases into the day, like me. He hits the ground running and doesn't stop until dark, but he keeps me somewhat fit.

And I'd like to throw out a special gracias to some friends who really made my year and kept me from going totally insane: Jeff & Jill, Steve & Dallas, Abby, Theiner, Carl and the Thursday night poker boys. Ya'll, with Cinnamon, Saphire and Sandee, kept a smile on my face, though I hide it well.

Finally, may your holiday season be safe, soul-filling and fun; and may the New Year bring you the courage to break your resolutions early! 

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The latest scores

Here are my most recent reads - very average (as the Haugenometer score below them indicates). But a couple quotable quotes I enjoyed:

"The Big Bad City" by Ed McBain (1999)

"The End of the Night" by John D. MacDonald (1960)
"Like most small-bore, pretentious men, Riker Owen shows the tendency to strike an emotional attitude and then, using that prejudice as a base, draw vast, unreasoned, philosophical conclusions."

"Boone's Lick" by Larry McMurtry (2000)
"There was no sign of Ma, and no sign of our mules, either, but there was plenty of sign of Sheriff Baldy Stone, a short man who had grown very round in the course of his life."

"Fuzz" by Ed McBain (1969)
"Her face was spanking pink from the cold outside, and she exuded health and vitality even though she seemed quite upset by her husband's disappearance."

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Meanwhile, in the world of rock n roll ...

 This is a cool story: Rock Gods Call Him When They Need a New Thunderbolt

“He’s very enthusiastic,” Jagger said, “to the point of being too enthusiastic, sometimes.” At one of their earliest meetings, Jagger remembered, “I said, ‘Look, I can deal with this, but when you meet Ronnie and Keith, you have to dial it down a little bit.’”

And there's this: Pussy Riot on the Run From Vladimir Putin

“Have you seen our schedule?!” asks founding member Maria Alyokhina, huffing a strawberry kiwi vape, who also goes by Masha.

“There’s no time for poisoning!” says her bandmate Olga Borisova with a laugh.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

I'm c'raven' more House of Usher

 Wifey and I are about halfway through the Netflix series, The Fall of the House of Usher. My wife screams about three times per episode.

It's not going to be for everyone - gory, gruesome, scary, weird. But I have to say, it fits Edgar Allan Poe to a T.

While the Fall of the House of Usher was only a short story, readable in about an hour, the TV series is eight one-hour episodes. So there's not really much of a plot they are sticking to. I almost feel like they took the name Usher just so they could cash in on Poe's name.

Still, the writers very much stuck to the genre of Poe - macabre and spooky. I'm really enjoying it, mostly for that reason. Some of the names of the characters are cleverly pulled from Poe works, like Pym and Grampus. Probably something only nerdy English majors would notice.

My mind also wonders to weird places like: What would Poe's review of the series be? He was initially best known as a literary reviewer and one of the most critical. He would slice and dice people up with an acid tongue. I suspect he would do the same with this televised effort.

But I won't. I'm liking it.

Poe influenced many famous writers and is credited with inventing detective fiction. He literally invented an entire genre! That's crazy to me. 

I'm 90 percent certain my next tattoo is going to be a raven. If this series ends on a high note, it may be sooner rather than later. It's got me jazzed about EAP. Hey, it's better than a Taylor Swift tattoo, right?

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Anonymous quote I ran across ...

 "I'd rather be the oldest guy in the gym than the youngest guy in the nursing home."

And, let's hear it for the girls

 Xochitl Gonzalez wonders: What Did Hip-Hop Do to Women's Minds. From The Atlantic:

I’d heard these songs hundreds of times over the years, but that day—as a woman in her 30s making a playlist for a man who’d recently had a baby girl—I was suddenly hearing them anew. The volume seemed turned up for every mention of “hoes” and “bitches,” like someone had taken a sonic highlighter and run it over every verse about devious, promiscuous, and generally disposable women.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Boys not being boys

 Jonathon Haidt is increasingly worried about boys. From American Institute for Boys and Men:

Boys are in trouble. Many have withdrawn from the real world, where they could develop the skills needed to become competent, successful, and loving men. Instead, many have been lured into an ever more appealing virtual world in which desires for adventure and for sex can be satisfied, at least superficially, without doing anything that would prepare them for later success in work, love, and marriage.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Since we're talking music

 Let's talk about the greatest: Prince.

And his impact on that gal Travis Kelce is dating.

“Swift seems to have studied Prince and learned some invaluable lessons.”

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

From the bookshelf ...

 What I'm reading: An Ed McBain 1969 novel "Fuzz: An 87th Precinct Mystery". Only 95 bucks at AbeBooks, but I got my paperback edition for $4 at my bookstore.

What I'm reading next: The great Larry McMurtry's "Boone's Lick"

Just a reminder, you don't need to drop $28 on the newest 2023 release. You can go to a used book store and pick from volumes of great books from great prolific authors for $3-$4 each. The ones below from my most recent visit to my local used book store were written in 1957, 1960 and 1969.

Or, at least, mix it up a little. Give a new author a look AND check out the old masters too. 

Monday, November 6, 2023

Chris or Jamey? Who ya paying to see? (UPDATED)

 Chris Stapleton is coming to my neck of the woods for a concert this spring. I'm not trying to be contrarian here, but I haven't bought in (especially at 200 bucks a ticket) to all the hype. For my money and my Alexa time, I prefer Jamey Johnson.

They both have interesting back-stories, song-writing backgrounds and paid their dues to become stars. Stapleton is the hotter commodity right now, but outside of "Tennessee Whiskey" there's not a lot there for me. Lots of the same sound, same voice. While his CMA duet with Justin Timberlake was fun to watch, his song "Parachute" belongs in a middle-school play. 

Stapleton seems like a really nice guy, a good man, and I'd rather listen to him than any of the Bro Country Justins and Jasons, but for as hot as his star is burning right now it's got to burn a lot longer and with a more diverse catalog of songs than just growly, sad blues. 

Johnson, a former Marine, comes off the opposite to me. I'm guessing he's a nice guy, but seems grouchy and distant in the concerts I attended. He shut one down a couple songs early in Deadwood because a couple guys got into fisticuffs at the front of the stage. Come on, man, toughen up, don't be such a wimp. Think Waylon or George would've fled from the stage? I expected more from the "Somewhere between Jennings and Jones" singer.

Yet I find Johnson's voice better with a better range of songs. I had a friend tell me, when Johnson sings about the ups and downs in life you know he's been there.

Whichever you prefer, they're still in the 90-plus percentile of the rest of the performers out there. 

UPDATE: Here's a story singing Stapleton's praises.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Finished: Ryan Howard's '56 Days'

 At first glance I thought this book was written by former Phillies player Ryan Howard but I guess not. It was good anyway. Nice job, Catherine Ryan Howard.

It does the flashbacky thing quite a bit, which I don't usually like, but the author made it work; and cleverly so in some instances where she replayed the same scene but from the viewpoint of the other main character. I hadn't run into that before. Kudos for making Haugen jealous he didn't come up with that idea.

No one even knew they were together. Now one of them is dead.


Ciara and Oliver meet in a supermarket queue in Dublin and start dating the same week COVID-19 reaches Irish shores.


When lockdown threatens to keep them apart, Oliver suggests they move in together. Ciara sees a unique opportunity for a relationship to flourish without the scrutiny of family and friends. Oliver sees a chance to hide who -- and what -- he really is.


Detectives arrive at Oliver's apartment to discover a decomposing body inside.

Can they determine what really happened, or has lockdown created an opportunity for someone to commit the perfect crime?

The book starts just before the COVID pandemic hit in Ireland and then continues as they went into lockdown. I was skeptical I was going to like that too, but Ryan Howard did a good job. She was on point with how the pandemic was handled early on, the confusion, the fear, and wasn't preachy about face masks and didn't get into the vaccine argument. Again, kudos for deftly handling that.

The best were the twists. Not just one, but two or three. They whapped me alongside the head like those tortilla challenges on Tik Tok. Impressive.

I'm feeling generous today and going to give it an 8- on the 10-point Haugenometer. That's pretty much in line with the 4.1 of 5 by the Amazonians. And I didn't bother to check those goofy Goodreaders.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Speaking of the ol' ball and chain ...

 My celebrity crush has alway been Jennifer Love Hewitt. Her smile, her curves, her personality. If I had a hall pass it would be with her. (If my wife had one it would be Herb Dean, go figure.)

Anyway, it dawned on me a while back that I'm already married to JLH.

Tell me I'm wrong:

Sunday, October 1, 2023

35 years, uff da

 Today is my 35th wedding anniversary. Kind of a big deal, mostly due to the fact that somebody has been married to ME for 35 years. I wrote kind of a long, sappy deal but wasn't happy with it so deleted it. In short:

Anyone who knows my wife knows she's special. Ya, every husband is supposed to say that, but everyone else agrees so I must be right, "as usual" (she'd say sarcastically). She cares more than the average person, laughs more, talks more, hugs more. As the doctor she works for says: "85 percent of the patients come to see me; 15 percent come just to see Nancy.)

Before I turn this into another long, sappy deal, just watch the video or read the lyrics below. Pretty much sums up my situation word for word. FYI, Climax Blues Band is a sorely underappreciated group, as was their lead singer Colin Cooper.

When I was younger, man, I hadn't a care

Fooling around, hitting the town, growing my hair

You came along, and stole my heart when you entered my life

Ooh, babe, you got what it takes, so I made you my wife

Since then, I never looked back

It's almost like living a dream

And, ooh, I love you

You came along from far away, and found me here

I was playing around, feeling down, and hitting the beer

You picked me up from off the floor, and gave me a smile

You said, "You're much too young, your life ain't begun, let's walk for a while"

And as my head was spinning around

I gazed into your eyes

And thought, ooh, I want you

Thank you, babe, for being a friend, and shining your light in my life

'Cause, ooh, I need you

As my head was coming round, I gazed into your eyes

And thought, ooh, I want you

Thanks again for being my friend, and straightening out my life

'Cause, ooh, I need you

Since then, I never looked back, it's almost like living a dream

Ooh, I got you

If ever a man had it all, it would have to be me

And, ooh, I love you

Friday, September 29, 2023

Finally, a responsible adult, kinda

 It's usually not a big deal when somebody buys a new vehicle, but it kind of is in my household; as I'm the guy that buys one and drives it until a tow truck has to pull it from my driveway to the junk yard or I get pulled from it with the jaws of life. This stingy Norwegian gets his money's worth. 

So it was a bit of a surprise to wifey and kids yesterday when I traded in two vehicles: my 2002 Dodge Ram clunker with 204,000 miles on it; and my cherry 2006 canary yellow Mustang convertible. 

I traded it for a used 2017 Ford F-150 pickup, with low miles and all the bells and whistles.

To which my wife reacted: "This is much more responsible."

So, now, after 59 years of life and 35 of marriage I am finally responsible, in her eyes.

And she has a point. I've had three Mustangs, and they tend to go fast. Sometimes, you just gotta let the horses run, right? And sometimes when those kids in their RX-7s and Camaros pull up to the stop light next to you, it just might be more than the average old guy can resist to not maybe race them to the next light. But, I will say, in my five years with the latest Mustang, I never received a ticket while driving it.

Maybe I never exceeded the speed limit, or maybe I've gotten better at avoiding HiPo's. Only God knows. Well, actually I know too, but I'm not telling.

Another reason wifey is glad I don't have the Mustang, I suspect, is because I have an aversion to wearing seat belts. I know, I know. But if our most precious possessions, our children, don't have to wear them on school busses, why do I in my own car? (It's a column for another day and a frequent argument I have with a co-worker who, I guess, likes having me around.)

Little known secret: ever since a head-on highway collision in a Mustang when I was 21 (it wasn't my fault, the drunk guy came over the hill in my lane) I've envisioned that I will indeed die via car accident, probably flying through the windshield and in mid-air thinking: "I guess I should've worn my seatbelt".

Gosh, that was dark, Haugen.

Anyway, the latest Mustang had just kind of run its course with me. It's basically undriveable in the snow and the CD player didn't work - two important reasons for getting a new vehicle. Also, as a convertible, it was kind of a pain the butt, always making sure I wasn't leaving something on or under the seat when I parked somewhere. Like a gun, or a billfold, or a Prince CD.

So I've been looking. But the trucks I found that I liked where all white. Nothing wrong with white, but when you've owned silver, red and yellow Mustangs and a purple Miata, I've got a reputation to uphold. I didn't want to look like an electrician. Nothing against electricians, I just don't want to look like one. Shocking, huh? Get it, shocking?

When my dealer, who also takes my Skittles during our Thursday night poker games, told me he had just the baby coming in, I leaped. It's metallic silver. The CD player works. It's got some giddy-up and I traded the two cars to make some room in the driveway. The changing cars around to get out of the garage was becoming a pain in the rear.

Now the problem is the truck will barely fit in the garage. Looks like I'll be spending my weekend figuring that out. 

But I like it and it gave me something to blog about, way too much as you probably agree.

Safe driving everyone!

Thursday, September 21, 2023

In the game of life, be a Tom, not a Bill

You've probably seen the news where a U.S. Senator has led the charge for it to be an even uglier place. They've dropped the dress code of suits and ties and now allow shorts and sweatshirts on the Senate floor. 

While I won't harp on him (enough others have), when your crowning career achievement is to make the Senate an uglier place, you didn't have much of a career. Welcome to Walmart.

I'm with Mark Twain, of course, that clothes make the man. They don't have to be expensive or chic or trendy. But you dress appropriately for the occasion. 

Oddly enough, one of the biggest changes and things I still grapple with after turning from Lutheran to Catholic 25 years ago is the dress code. At the country church I grew up attending, men wore suit coats and ties. And this church was surrounded by corn fields and attended by farmers who wore coveralls and wife-beater shirts Monday through Saturday. They recognized the significance of their venue, of whom they were honoring. They weren't feeding the cows.

Catholics are much, much less attentive to that philosophy and it still bugs me. Blue jeans galore. T-shirts. But not me. You can take the boy out of the Lutheran church but not all the Lutheran out of the boy. You won't find me in blue jeans in church.

My son as a teen wanted to wear sandals one day to church. I told him: "Unless your name is Jesus, you don't wear sandals in church." I was a mean dad.

Don't get me wrong. I can dress like a slob. Catch me on the weekends and you'll see. Often times the same shirt a couple days in a row. Baseball cap, almost always. 

But, elsewhere, I'm generally known for dressing spiffy. Rarely suit and tie, (those are just for special occasions), but I've got my own style. If I had to categorize it, I'd say it trends toward 1970s college professor hip. You know, turtle-necks, mock turtle necks, solid-colored button-down shirts, with sport coat, sweater or vest, sometimes even the always-classy sweater vest not just anybody can pull off.

I like to dress nice and for the occasion. I dress differently for a night in Deadwood than a night at boxing. But I have outfits for both. Fedoras for some, bucket hats for others. 

Shoes too. Not quite an Imelda Marcos situation (Google it, kids) but getting close. 

Am I judgey about how others dress? Yes. Sue me. I figure, if somebody doesn't care about an event they are attending, they don't care how they look at it. I've seen high-ranking government officials in ripped blue jeans at important events where I'm wearing a suit and tie; and I find it disrespectful. It tells me they are more interested in sending some kind of message (look at me, I'm cool) than sending a message to the people the event is honoring (I'm honored to be here and took a few extra minutes to dress nicely to show my respect). 

And it's not like you have to spend a lot of money to look good. I'm still wearing coats and sport coats handed down from my dad. Goodwill has them too.

I remember a friend 30 years ago, lived a couple houses down from me. He didn't own a suit coat at the time, but he was going to a funeral. He stopped by the house and asked if he could borrow one of mine. I said sure. I respected the respect he was showing the deceased and his willingness to overcome any little bit of embarrassment to ask. 

I'll quit my rant for now and send you young'ns to the Google machine again: In a world of Bill Belichicks, try being a Tom Landry.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

When the ban isn't really a ban ...

 I'm against book bans, but let's not over-hype the problem. 

Here are some interesting findings from a couple researchers who looked into claims of censorship.

As it turns out, almost three quarters of the books that PEN listed as banned were still available in school libraries in the same districts from which PEN claimed they had been banned.

Let's not cry wolf. It doesn't help the cause.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Finished: Robert B. Parker's 'Bye Bye Baby'

 This is a continuation of the late RBP's Spenser series but written by Ace Atkins, chosen by Parker's estate to do so. This is Atkins' tenth and he does a really good job of keeping the characters and dialogue in sync with the original author. There are only subtle differences a long-time reader of the series would notice.

Carolina Garcia-Ramirez is a rising star in national politics, taking on the establishment with her progressive agenda. Tough, outspoken, and driven, the young congresswoman has ignited a new conversation in Boston about race, poverty, health care, and the environment. Now facing her second campaign, she finds herself not only fighting a tight primary with an old guard challenger but also contending with numerous death threats coming from hundreds of suspects.

When her chief of staff reaches out to Spenser for security and help finding the culprits of what he believes to be the most credible threats, Garcia-Ramirez is less than thrilled. Since her first grassroots run, she’s used to the antipathy and intimidation women of color often face when seeking power. To her, it’s all noise. But it turns out an FBI agent disagrees, warning Spenser that Garcia-Ramirez might be in real danger this time.

Some of the clever, thought-provoking lines I marked-up, as I tend to do, include:

"With age comes wisdom, but for some age comes alone."

"I wasted time, and now doth time waste me." (He likes to drop Shakespeare quotes on occasion.)

And, a reporter explaining why he doesn't read the comments posted below stories he's written:

"Sometimes people get up in the morning, take a shower, grab a cup of coffee, and head to an office. Other people get up out of their cages and start screwing with people. You know what? I think most of them are just lonely and sad."

Amazonians give it a 4.4 of 5; Goodreaders a 4.1; and the Haugenometer a 7 of 10.

Friday, September 15, 2023

How ya doin'?

 Some time ago, albeit gradually, I started taking the "How ya doin'?" greeting more literally.

I know it's basically a perfunctory greeting. To which you're supposed to respond: "Fine. How are you?" Most people don't really want to know how I am. They don't have any real concern for my well being. Sure, they usually don't want me dead or injured, but they don't really care if I'm having a good day or not. They don't want the details. They just want to move on to the business at hand.

Most days I'm doing great and respond as such.

But other days I'm not. And I have to admit it's kind of fun to make some people uncomfortable by responding with the truth.

"Oh, so-so. The dog puked on the carpet first thing this morning, then I got a speeding ticket going to work and my wife is mad because I forgot to take the garbage out. But, the day is young."

Or to my "How ya doin'?" they respond: "So far, so good."

Then I remind them of the story in Magnificent Seven (the first movie, not the lame remake) about the guy falling out of the seven-story building and at every floor below they heard him say: "So far, so good." They look at me like I'm a nut, which I'm fine with (never end a sentence with a preposition).

But, really, most days my head has a three-ring circus going on inside it. There's the clowns in one ring, the acrobats hanging on by their fingernails in the center ring, and the lions eating the lion-tamer in the third ring. And I like to make people aware that I'm not always okay.

If for no other reason, it's that I suspect most other people are not always okay either, and it might give them a little relief to know they are not alone. Everybody has crap going on in their life. If they say they don't then they are liars.

Now I'm not into over-sharing the details. But often times, my response leads to an actual conversation about things that are going on in their life and they want to know a few more details of mine.

It actually works out pretty well that way.

If people don't like that, then maybe they should try a different greeting, like: "Hello."

Friday, September 1, 2023

More on 'Miami Purity' and "what is noir?"

 Polly Stewart discusses one of my all-time favorite books, "Miami Purity," with another crime writer, Alex Segura. Very interesting. I really like his definition of "noir."

It’s where a character is painted into a corner by their own design, like their own mistakes or choices have put them in an impossible situation. And it’s usually relating to some kind of primal urge. It’s not like a plan that goes awry; it’s that they’ve made a mistake based on lust or greed or vengeance. They’ve chosen poorly, and now must pay the consequences. And that’s the story.

And the thing about noir is that there’s never a tidy resolution. You don’t get the happy ending where they kind of ride off into the sunset; it’s usually pretty bad. Miami Purity is very much a noir, a neo-noir, in that bad things happen to people because they make bad choices. And I find those kinds of stories fascinating because it feels like real life, where few things are tidy, and few things are resolved easily.

"They’ve chosen poorly, and now must pay the consequences." I like that.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Knocked off 4 more books, lots of people died

 I've fallen behind on what passes for book reviews around here, so let's get caught up on the latest:

The Girl With No Place To Hide by Nick Quarry (aka Marvin Albert). It was originally published in 1959. This was republished by Black Gat Books, which specializes in reprints of some of the best vintage mystery books. 

The woman comes into the bar and catches Jake’s attention immediately. Not beautiful, but there is something striking about her. She asks for Steve Canby, who’s just left, and dismisses Jake with a glance. Then she leaves. Jake doesn’t think much of it until he comes out of the bar and finds the woman being choked by a huge hulk of a man. Coming to her rescue, he barely manages to keep from being strangled himself.

Later, they end up at his apartment. Her name is Angela, and she just wants someplace safe to spend the night. Someone is out to get her. Jake Barrow is a private detective between jobs, so he agrees. But later that night when he returns from a false alarm from someone claiming to want his services, he finds her gone. Was the call a ruse? Who knew she was here? But this is just the beginning—it’s not long before his pursuit of Angela leads to murder.

Amazonians gave it a 4.5 of 5. It ranked a 7 of 10 on the Haugenometer.

All Good People Here by Ashley Flowers. I knew Flowers from hosting my wife's favorite podcast Crime Junkie. This was her first book and a New York Times bestseller last year.

Twisty, chilling, and intense, All Good People Here is a searing tale that asks: What are your neighbors capable of when they think no one is watching?

The book was given to my wife by my daughter. I was skeptical, figuring it was just some author given a book deal because she was somewhat famous, but it was actually very well written and enjoyable. So, never judge an author by their cover, I guess.

Amazonians gave it a 4.4 of 5; the harder-to-please Goodreaders of 3.9 of 5, and the Haugenometer a 7 of 10. 

After Death by Dean Koontz. Go figure, one of my favorite authors ended up being the one with a bit of a clunker. It was okay, but Koontz seems to be obsessed with this singularity thing, and I'm not. One thing I admire about him is that he writes what interests him and not what he thinks his fans want. But, hey, Dean, time for another one for the fans. Ditch the biological, computer-oriented singularity thing for a bit. Give it a rest.

Michael Mace, head of security at a top-secret research facility, opens his eyes in a makeshift morgue twenty-four hours following an event in which everyone perished—including him and his best friend, Shelby Shrewsberry.

Having awakened with an extraordinary ability unlike anything he—or anyone else—has ever imagined, Michael is capable of being as elusive as a ghost. He sets out to honor his late friend by helping Nina Dozier and her son, John, whom Shelby greatly admired. Although what Michael does for Nina is life changing, his actions also evoke the wrath of John’s father, a member of one of the most violent street gangs in Los Angeles.

But an even greater threat is descending: the Internal Security Agency’s most vicious assassin, Durand Calaphas. Calaphas will stop at nothing to get his man. If Michael dies twice, he will not live a third time.

From the tarnished glamour of Beverly Hills to the streets of South Central to a walled estate in Rancho Santa Fe, only Michael can protect Nina and John—and ensure that light survives in a rapidly darkening world.

Amazonians liked it and gave it a 4.4 of 5, Goodreaders a 4.2 and the Haugenometer a 6 of 10.

Mortal Stakes by Robert B. Parker. He is one of the absolute best. Give him a try. This is one of his famous Spenser series (the third in over 50, and written in 1975). It combines tough-guy private eye, with humor and emotion. The trifecta.

Everybody loves a winner, and the Rabbs are major league. Marty is the Red Sox star pitcher, Linda the loving wife. She loves everyone except the blackmailer out to wreck her life. 

Is Marty throwing fast balls or throwing games? It doesn't take long for Spenser to link Marty's performance with Linda's past...or to find himself trapped between a crazed racketeer and an enforcer toting an M-16. 

America's favorite pastime has suddenly become a very dangerous sport, and one wrong move means strike three, with Spenser out for good!

Amazonians a 4.4, Goodreaders a 4.2 and the Haugenometer an 8.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Read this

 Here's a story about rearranging your books.

FWIW, I arrange mine by author, not by size, color or alphabetically, like some lunatics.

Pulling down and replacing every book on your main shelves can be a kind of ritual, a trip down memory lane that reminds you, in brief flashes and long reveries, how you got to where you are. It’s turning to the back of a book to find the name and semester of the class it was read for, scratched lightly in pencil in the back cover. It’s remembering which books were purchased in which cities; which were gifts; which you have duplicates of, in case a friend needs them. 

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Hot stuff and not-so-much

 I usually like to try a couple new peppers in my garden. Two that did well in pots about bookend the hotness (Scoville) scale from mildest to one of the hottest:

Candy Cane Chocolate Cherry Pepper

Pepper with boldly striped fruits against uniquely variegated foliage! astonishing early maturing fruits are deliciously sweet and crisp, tasting great when eaten at any stage of maturity. Elongated, mini-bell shaped fruits ripen from green with white stripes to a unique chocolate and cherry red striped masterpiece. Ideal in containers, on the patio, or in the garden.

Days to Maturity: 60 to Green / 70 to Red Ripe

Height: 18 - 24 Inches

Spread: 12 - 18 Inches

Fruit Size: 3 ½ to 4 x 2 ½ to 3 Inches

Scoville Heat Unit: 0 - 100 SHU

Pepper 'Buffy'

This fiery little tobasco-type hot pepper has juicy thick-walled fruits which pack some heat! At maturity the peppers are red, slightly triangular in shape and about 1.5-inches long, with 500,000 Scoville heat units.

If interested, I get most of my seeds from, though I think I bought Buffy as a seedling at a local nursery.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Filling those boyhood memories

 My book collection seems to lack purpose or at least a unique purpose. Sure, it contains all the books I've read, but it's missing something and I finally figured out what.

It's missing two of the series I read when I was a kid - The Tarzan series and the Hardy Boys series. I don't know what happened to them when I moved out of the family home or when Mom sold it. I brought every other book. I'm guessing I borrowed them to somebody and never got them back (an annoyance of mine).

So I've made it a point to start building them up from scratch. I've started with the Tarzan series. It's the Ballantine Series, very distinguishable by their black covers and spines with cover designs by artists Neal Adams and Boris Vallejo.

It's a series of 24 adventure novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875–1950) and published between 1912 and 1966 (Wiki). I have 16 of them and working on the rest.

I think the first cover is my fave, with Tarzan coming to rescue Jane. (Did you know that in a later book when Tarzan ventures to America to find Jane, he finds her in ... spoiler alert ... Wisconsin!)

This one is pretty cool too:

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Finished: Block's 'The Autobiography of Matthew Keller'

 I'm sure it's happened but I'm not aware of an author writing a series and then capping that series with an autobiography of the the principal character. But Lawrence Block did just that with his Matthew Scudder series. It's a unique concept that could've fallen flat but did not because, well, it's Lawrence Block.

He wrote 17 novels featuring Scudder and closed it out with Scudder "writing" his autobiography. Block made it look like Scudder was writing it in a train-of-thought manner and pulled it off. I loved it. You have to read many Scudder novels for it to hit home and I have.

Running concurrently with it, you get the feeling that much of it is the 85-year-old Block's autobiography as well. It was cool.

I marked it up pretty good with quotes like: "Life, even as it lengthens, becomes increasingly about death."

And, a phrase common at AA meetings: "Feelings aren't facts." A lot of people, not just alcoholics, but also FOX News and CNN die-hards, might do well to heed.

One thing I learned, which I took as true, as Keller wrote about his time with the NYPD probably in the 1960s, was in regard to the "N" word. Even then, NYPD officers were advised not to use it. So, they found a way around it. They instead used another "N" word instead and referred to Blacks as "Norwegians."

So if a guy was recalling a liquor store robbery that involved two Black suspects, he'd tongue-in-check say: "It was, of course, two Norwegians." Didn't mean the cops weren't racist, but simply used semantics to get around using the word they were thinking.

As a full-blood Norwegian, that caught my attention. I'm surprised I haven't heard that reference before, given all the crime noir I've read from that era.

As for the book, I gave it a 7 and hope LB has several more novels left in him, though it appears Keller's career has come to an end. 

Oh, and my copy was signed by the Grand Master himself!

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Larry delivers the big hit

 It can now be told, the best book I've ever read is Buffalo Girls by Larry McMurtry.

I t's a bit surprising to me in a number of ways, but I also feel sometimes "when" you read a book goes a long way towards your reaction to it. And this one hit me at the right time. I've ranked some books high and looked back later and had second thoughts. Maybe that will be the case down the road with this one, but for now, it's numero uno.

Larry McMurtry returns to the territory of his Pulitzer Prize–winning masterwork, Lonesome Dove, to sing the song of Calamity Jane's last ride. In a letter to her daughter back East, Martha Jane is not shy about her own importance. Martha Jane—better known as Calamity—is just one of the handful of aging legends who travel to London as part of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show in Buffalo Girls. As he describes the insatiable curiosity of Calamity's Indian friend No Ears, Annie Oakley's shooting match with Lord Windhouveren, and other highlights of the tour, McMurtry turns the story of a band of hardy, irrepressible survivors into an unforgettable portrait of love, fellowship, dreams, and heartbreak.

I like murder mysteries; this is not one.

I like crime noir; this is not.

I like a little sexual tension; this has none.

I'm not much for history books either. While this is more historical fiction, it does gravitate around real historical characters, with a couple others thrown in for flavor.

The characters were deep. I felt like I could feel what they were feeling. The loneliness. They loss of a way of life and friends and animals. The changes they were encountering. The choices they were forced to make. It all just jived.

One of the unique writing techniques McMurtry used is every few chapters he inserts letter from Jane to her daughter, who is being raised "civily" back East. They get you thinking about where this is going. Where it goes I can't really say without spoiling it, so I won't. But it's good.

And the last line of the book made me laugh and close the book with a smile on my face. I leaned back in the recliner and thought about the experience. If I smoked, I would've lit a cigarette.

Amazonians give it a 4.3 out of 5; stupid Goodreaders a 3.7. I forsook the plus and minus rating and went with a 9.8 out of 10 -- not a Nadia Comaneci or Bo Derek (Google them you young pups) but definitely in the Angelina Jolie category.

Read it and tell me I'm wrong. I dare ya.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Dean Koontz

 The Washington Post has a great feature on the great Dean Koontz.

In 2009, Koontz published “A Big Little Life,” about Trixie. Like many dog memoirs, it is also a memoir of its author, a vessel for his life story.

Koontz shares plenty in that book. That he irons his underwear. That he isn’t particularly fond of most other writers; “I found this community as a whole to be solipsistic and narcissistic and irrational.” That the experiences of getting his books adapted to the screen have been mostly unrewarding, “because they’re all blithering idiots in Hollywood.”

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Almost found the Bo Derek of novels

 I'm impulsive by nature but have learned to control the impulses pretty well as my hair has grayed. But, occasionally, it slips like: "Hey, look at that cool yellow Mustang for sale!" A day later it's in my driveway.

I almost had another slip after reading a recent novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Loved it. I was jazzed. Maybe the best book I'd ever read. I was ready to give it the perfect rating.

Usually after I finish a book, I immediately retreat to my library/greenhouse/aquarium/conservatory/spare bedroom  and fill out my index card reviewing the book and stock the book on its proper shelf. But this time, I waited a couple days ... to think. I was about to enter uncharted territory. 

Before I gave the first-ever 10 rating on the 10-point Haugenometer, I wanted to make sure I didn't make a rash decision. So I pondered. What makes a book perfect? I've given 9s before, but never gone beyond.

In my ponderings I didn't have any great breakthroughs, but figured I wanted a book that did the following:

- A page-turner.

- An occasional chuckle.

- An emotion that touched me: Fear, anger, sadness, etc.

- A good twist.

- An ending that knocks my socks off.

- Makes me want to read it again.

- Causes me to annoy my coworkers by talking about it so much.

- Has a little sexiness to it.

Thankfully, I waited. Because upon further review, this book hit only seven of the eight notes -- one note shy of a full octave. Not quite worthy of being the Bo Derek of books (Millenials, Google her). More like the Farrah Fawcett of books - a 9.8.

The only thing it lacked and kept it from a perfect 10 was it needed a little sexy. It needed to, as Justin Timberlake sang, bring sexy back. Nothing hardcore, just a little brief nudity or some oohs and aahs. I'm surprised there wasn't something there considering much of the book took place in a whorehouse (your only hint). While it's just a minor quibble, it's a quibble none-the-less.

While I write up the review and make you wait on pins and needles for the unveiling of what I think is the best book I've ever read, but not the perfect book, what do you think constitutes the perfect book? And have you encountered it yet?

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Finished: 'Five Decembers' by James Kestrel

 This novel was 2022 Edgar Award winner, which is the highest award for mysteries, and deservedly so. It was awesome.

It's considered a historical noir murder mystery, but it doesn't get bogged down in boring history. It's set just before, during and after the attack on Pearl Harbor. That just serves as the backdrop. It doesn't delve into military or political stuff. It's just there and offers some explanation for various things that take place in the long-running murder investigation. There's romance, suspense, twists, the whole shebang.

December 1941. America teeters on the brink of war, and in Honolulu, Hawaii, police detective Joe McGrady is assigned to investigate a homicide that will change his life forever. Because the trail of murder he uncovers will lead him across the Pacific, far from home and the woman he loves; and though the U.S. doesn't know it yet, a Japanese fleet is already steaming toward Pearl Harbor. 

This extraordinary novel is so much more than just a gripping crime story—it's a story of survival against all odds, of love and loss and the human cost of war. Spanning the entirety of World War II, FIVE DECEMBERS is a beautiful, masterful, powerful novel that will live in your memory forever.

I gave it an 9 on the 10-point Haugenometer. Amazonians were even higher on it with a 4.6 of 5; Goodreaders a 4.5.

It's just a brilliant, engaging novel. Highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Relaaaax ... everything will be alright

 This book censoring and author cancelling thing is getting tiresome. It's being done by both sides of the political aisle while each hypocritically complains about the other.

I think individual communities and schools have the right to decide what is age appropriate for their youth. Beyond that, just mind your own business, read or don't read what you want, and chill out.

Per usual, I continue to boycott boycotts and think the world would be a better place if everyone adhered to my not-so-original advice of: Mind your own beeswax.

Here are a couple stories about the hypocrites among us:

Goodreaders are doing it:

As with everything else, Goodreads is being ruined by cancel culture and wokeness. It’s now a regular occurrence for authors to become the target of review-bombing campaigns, often targeting books that haven’t even been published yet. 

And so are librarians:

It is blindingly obvious that libraries, like public schools, have absolutely no interest in actually ensuring that people have access to a wide range of literature and information from various religious and ideological perspectives.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023


 Here's a fun story about conscientious art thieves ...

Instead of an art thief, he preferred to be thought of as an art collector with a radical acquisition style.

... and book thieves.

Alois Pichler, a Catholic priest from Germany stationed in Saint Petersburg, Russia, modified his winter jacket with a special inside sack and took more than 4,000 books from the Russian Imperial Library, from 1869 to 1871, before he was finally caught and exiled to Siberia for life.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Reupping for you procrastinators or forgetful ones

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

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

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

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

But the clock is ticking and the fever is rising.


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

Book #1: Bags of Bodies

Book #2: Bags of Rock

Book #3: Bags of Stone

Finished: John Sanford's 'Dark Angel'

 Dark Angel is the second book of the Letty Davenport series. She is the daughter of Lucas Davenport from Sandford's "Prey" series of books.

I wasn't blown away by the first Letty book, The Investigator, but felt this one was much better. In the first one she was more of the cliched bad-ass girl with gun. In this one her character is more well-rounded and set in the middle of the start of the Russia-Ukraine war. How Sandford got this book turned around so quickly in that relatively short timeframe is beyond me.

Letty Davenport’s days working a desk job at are behind her. Her previous actions at a gunfight in Texas — and her incredible skills with firearms—draw the attention of several branches of the US government, and make her a perfect fit for even more dangerous work. The Department of Homeland Security and the NSA have tasked her with infiltrating a hacker group, known only as Ordinary People, that is intent on wreaking havoc. Letty and her reluctant partner from the NSA pose as free-spirited programmers for hire and embark on a cross country road trip to the group’s California headquarters.

While the two work to make inroads with Ordinary People and uncover their plans, they begin to suspect that the hackers are not their only enemy. Someone within their own circle may have betrayed them, and has ulterior motives that place their mission—and their lives—in grave danger.

I gave it a 7 of 10. Amazonians liked it even better with a 4.5 of 5. Still, I prefer the Lucas Davenport or Virgil Flowers series.

** I'm a third of the way in on a novel - "Five Decembers" by James Kestrel - and it has the makings of doozy. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

A couple stories that made me chuckle

 This writer is flabbergasted as to Why Is Everyone Watching TV With the Subtitles On?

First off, I take issue with the word "everyone." I'm sure there is somebody out there who isn't, probably millions. None-the-less, I get what he's saying.

I seldom purposefully turn the subtitles on. Seems they're either on or not when I flip on Netflix or Prime. I will make the effort if it's some foreign movie, not even foreign language, just foreign accent. 

He makes the point that he loses all the nuances of the cinematic efforts of the movie when drawn to the words at the bottom of the screen. Seems to me, to avoid that, directors should include more nudity in their movies to draw the eyes elsewhere. Just a thought. 

I'm a problem-solver.

The other update is that we really only have a couple weeks left to let subtitles ruin our nights, as Greta Thunberg pointed out years ago that the world is ending this month. I'm guessing she's wrong and it's not the first time this girl genius has been wrong.

Despite her sparkling personality, I've never really been taken in by her charm and intellect. While I am generally an optimist, I am also a cynic and skeptic when it comes to the "experts" and the child spokespeople held up as such.

This story really does a number on correcting the experts, of which the media are not.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Finished: 'The Housemaid' by Freida McFadden

 This is a psychological thriller with a couple twists I didn't see coming. It was entertaining and I'll be checking out more books from McFadden, who in addition to being an author, dabbles as a physician specializing in brain injuries.

“Welcome to the family,” Nina Winchester says as I shake her elegant, manicured hand. I smile politely, gazing around the marble hallway. Working here is my last chance to start fresh. I can pretend to be whoever I like. But I’ll soon learn that the Winchesters’ secrets are far more dangerous than my own.

The writing was average, but the short chapters moved things along very quickly. These are a bunch of unlikeable characters, which turns some people off, but which I like. It's good enough that I shared it with a coworker, which I don't like to do unless they're good ones (the books and coworkers).

This has a 4.5 of 5 rating from Amazonians and 4.4 by Goodreaders. I'm giving it a 7 of 10, which probably would have been higher if I hadn't just read the higher-rated Miami Purity. Speaking of which, I picked up another Vicki Hendricks book - Iguana Love. Not sure what I'm getting into with that one.

Friday, May 19, 2023

The center of attention

 My niece graduated high school last weekend. At her open house, the aspiring English major had books and coffee mugs as centerpieces. This table proved to be the most popular, for obvious reasons.

Better yet, they look like they've actually been read.

Friday, May 5, 2023

What a tangled web we weave ...

 I have to keep this vague, with PC pronouns and all, so as not to incriminate the guilty, but a good-hearted friend of mine was recently hoodwinked into buying an author's book.

What they thought was a gift, ended up being "that'll be $19.99, please." Now my friend is left with a book they didn't want to buy and don't want to read, but know the self-published author is going to come back and ask: "So what'd you think of my book?"

So they approached me, either because they think I have nothing better to do with my life or because they know I'm a fast reader, and asked me to skim the book, take some notes, type them up and send them so it would seem like they read the book. Kind of a Cliff Notes thing. We haggled over the cost of my services (they must read one of my books, but I won't charge).

The book was borderline unreadable. I'm sure the author poured their heart into it and feels really good about it, but, well, you know. Ultimately I found enough key details to get my friend off the hook should they be asked. 

All I know is I should've charged more for my role in the deceit.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Thursday, April 27, 2023

That sinking feeling is dated

 The topic of quicksand came up in the office the other day.

Apparently somebody read that kids who grew up in the 60s and 70s had more of a fear of quicksand than anyone else. Theories were given.

Mine was Gilligan's Island.

Seems every other episode had one of the castaways sinking in quicksand. Remember them looking for Gilligan, only to find his white hat on top of the murk? It's etched on my brain.

Quicksand was a very popular plot twist in TV shows and movies in the '60s and '70s. This plot line was delivered in what seemed like anywhere for a spring of excitement and suspense in our programming. They were so common in the movies and TV than quicksand actually was in real life. Even series like Gilligan's Island, Batman, Lost In Space and The Incredible Hulk, had moments of quicksand in them. According to one quicksand enthusiast, quicksand appeared in nearly 3% of all movies made in the '60s.

There was also an abundance of sand boxes when we were growing up, that made it feel as though quicksand could happen everywhere. Now sandboxes seem to be a thing of the past and therefore children nowadays don't see it as much of a threat.

Someone else in the office cited some Atari game that had quicksand in it, but I'm sticking with the far more popular and long-running Gilligan.

I also heard a comedian say recently: When I was younger I really thought quicksand was going to be a bigger problem for me as an adult than it turned out to be.

Slate has a fascinating (and long) story about quicksand that will tell you more than you'd ever want to know about the subject: "The Rise and Fall of Quicksand"

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

What stood out during Florida trip

 One of the highlights of our annual week-long vacation to Florida the last few years has, interestingly enough, been the Sunday Mass at St. John's Catholic Church in St. Petersburg.

Coincidentally, during my grade school years living in LeMars, Iowa, my family attended St. John's Lutheran Church. Just a side note, interesting to me.

It's odd to me that our week of beaches, bikinis, baseball, rock bands and fishing, can be highlighted by that Mass and its priest. It's just such a joyous event. He is sunshine personified in the middle of all that sunshine that is Florida. It's joy in the middle of an older, racially-diverse, area of St. Pete. 

If you know anything about me, you should know I am an impatient man. Homilies (ie sermons) over 15 minutes start to make me feel itchy. Mass over an hour, similarly. This Mass lasted an hour and 40 minutes. The priest's homily just under an hour. (Yes, I time them.) But the entire event seemed like 30 minutes. It flew by. I couldn't believe I'd sat still that long, that enthralled, that touched. But I was.

At one point I thought to myself that when we got in the car wifey was going to turn to me and suggest: "Let's just quit our jobs and move here." Because I know she feels the same way about that Mass. I pondered what my reply would be. As it was, she didn't say it, even if she felt it.

Upon later introspection, of which I'm all too often a victim, I began to feel guilty for not enjoying all Masses, regardless of the priest and the location, the same way. Am I so fickle, my devoutness so shallow, that I need a particular priest to enthuse me? Shouldn't I be enthused for God all the time? Or most of the time?

Sure, a good priest makes a good congregation, but I feel like my baseline for enjoying church should be higher. They should almost always be good, with some great ones and an occasional clunker thrown in. Not everyone can be on their game every Sunday (just ask the Minnesota Vikings).

I need to work on that. Just another thing to add to the list. You'd think by year 58 I'd have it figured out. The older I get, the more stuff I find out I don't have figured out. 

I guess the season of Lent was a good time to give that extra effort, build some momentum, get better, be better. Life is tiring sometimes when you care about that stuff. I guess it's good that I'm thinking about it, trying. The struggle is real.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Finished: 'Miami Purity' by Vicki Hendricks

 I needed this book. It's been a while since I had one knock my socks off, and this one did. I read the book in one sitting, literally, on a recent flight to Tampa. Fortunately, for my seat-mates, it didn't literally knock my socks off.

I'm not easily shocked. I'm 58. I've seen a lot and done a lot. But this one had me wincing, laughing, grimacing and saying to myself "No, don't go there!" And the author went there. 

'Miami Purity' was awesome. It was lurid and explicit in parts. But it had to be.

It had to be because I had high expectations, as I'd seen the book referred to a couple times recently as the book that reignited the contemporary crime noir genre. And you can't reignite something by being lame. You have to light stuff on fire, toss gasoline onto it and watch it explode.

Noir is a genre of crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings. This had all that. If you are easily offended, this isn't for you. It will touch your inner pervert and make you look over your shoulder in the airplane to make sure someone isn't seeing what you're reading.

According to Amazon:

Sherri Parlay gives up her life of depravity, and with best intentions, finds a respectable job as a dry cleaner in hopes for a decent future. But nature and nurture plot against her when she meets the beautiful, tortured, and rich young Payne, who tempts her with the love and life she never thought possible. Even Brenda, Payne's domineering mother, can't keep the lovers apart when Sherri's animal passions take control. Unfortunately, Payne is not only a different kind of man from those in Sherri's past, he's worse than any on her list of sordid affairs. Twisted psychology and a pure heart lead her into the dark realm of disillusionment and crime, where she reaches into her deepest reserves for the strength to survive. This contemporary noir novel is reminiscent of James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice with a heavy dose of sexual realism that Cain might have enjoyed if his times would have allowed.

I read a lot of crime noir, primarily from the 1950s-60s. I've tried my hand at it myself with the Bags Morton books, but in those wasn't able to get as dark as I wanted, falling back onto my nature of smart-aleck humor more often than the stark darkness of the soul those true to the genre do. But I'm giving it a go on a current project I'm working on. Not sure if I'll ever publish it though, as people often have difficulty separating the author from the work. In that sense, I'd love to know Vicki Hendricks, to see if she's anything like her main character Sherri Parlay. I doubt it. But, if she isn't a nympho pervert, she has a great imagination and story-telling ability.

It's one book I'll probably read again, which seldom happens. I gave it a 9 on the 10-point Haugenomter. Amazonians gave it only a 3.7 out of 5, as I suspect many didn't know what they were getting into.

It's not an erotic novel though. It's a murder mystery, an adventure, a look into the dark soul of every evil character (and they all are bad people), with sex as a common theme between them. I probably should've chosen a different book to read during Lent, but then what would I have to talk about at Confession? Besides, I was a captive audience on an airplane. Not like I could browse the bookshelves for something else, and I'm glad there wasn't.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

No cash, no problem

 Wifey and I spent last week in Florida. If you like beaches, bikinis, bands and baseball you'd enjoy it. I do and I did.

One of the unique (to me) things we encountered was at the Atlanta Braves vs. Tampa Bay Rays baseball game. It was entirely cashless.

Sure, I've done the parking station credit card, paid for tickets with card, all that stuff. I'm not a techy nerd by any means but for an old guy I do all right.

But this was entirely cashless. We paid the parking attendant with plastic. He scanned it through his little handheld device. I bought the tickets through after being told they don't have ticket windows anymore. Even the concession stands had touchpad menus to make your choices and pay with card. The only reason employees were behind the counter was to bring you the food, and even they will probably be gone in a couple years. If desired, you could order your snacks and drinks from your seat, then go up minutes later and pick them up.

You could theoretically, easily, attend a ballgame and talk to nobody. This is all fine and dandy and the way of the world now, but I'm kind of old school. I like going up to the ticket window and chatting with the old lady about where the best seats or the cheapest seats are. I liked the back and forth with Wally the Beer Man (Google him) at Twins games. 

As much as I enjoy my quiet and solitude, I do like a little social interaction, especially at events that are supposed to be social and fun.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The scent of a bookstore

While recently reading a 1950s used paperback by John D. McDonald, I fanned the pages in front of my nose and told my wife: "If they could bottle this smell I'd wear it as cologne."

She said I'd smell like an old man. She's wrong (but don't tell her that).

As Keith Roysdon writes at "Just as smells of your mother’s cooking are an important part of memory and nostalgia, smell is a big part of longing for a proper used bookstore."

It's a fun read, but I think used bookstores are more popular and prevalent than he thinks. We are fortunate to have two good used bookstores in Rapid City, plus an independent bookstore and a BAM. Not bad for a small city.