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.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Chris Rock has issues

 WIfey and I watched the Chris Rock comedy special on Netflix last weekend for the main reason most everyone else did: To see if he'd say anything about Will Smith and to see if Rock has gotten any funnier.

He did and he hasn't.

I try to keep in mind that I'm a middle class, middle aged, white guy from one of the whitest states around, and that I may not be his target audience. But I used to think his HBO specials were pretty funny. Yet, Saturday night, I thought he was funny maybe a third of the time. Seemed to recycle some old stuff.

I'm no delicate flower and appreciate off-color humor with the best of them but swearing for the sake of swearing and trying to be crude just to be crude and not out of necessity for the joke to work, doesn't work for me. Repeating the same "naughty" word ten times and shouting it a little louder each time, doesn't make it funnier. It makes you annoying. And screaming the word white people aren't supposed to say a thousand times in an hour is cringe-worthy to me.

To me, an amateur psychiatrist, Rock has some serious issues. Half the time he talked about how rich he was, the other half how much sex he has. Kinda made me doubt he's really all that. Then the last ten minutes he spent on Will Smith and "the slap" was kind of like watching a person come unhinged right in front of you. It was like I was a fly on the wall of his therapist visit.

It was uncomfortable and sad and not funny. He had a meltdown worthy of any of the Housewife shows, but it didn't seem contrived like theirs. You could tell he was genuinely embarrassed by the slap, probably by the fact he didn't fight back, and that everybody in the world saw it. 

But instead of paying his therapist to fix him, he made us all pay to watch him be embarrassed again. 

Made me wish Rock hadn't been wearing a necklace with Prince's love and peace symbol. There was no love and no peace Saturday night. And, worse yet for a comedy special, mighty few laughs.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Finished: John D. MacDonald's 'The Brass Cupcake'

 The title of this one had me curious and the author had me enthused. John D. MacDonald has sold an estimated 70 million books, of which I account for six of those with many more to come. The Brass Cupcake, fyi, is an old term for a cop's badge.

There are a lot of older terms in his novels because many were written in the 1950s. I know I harp on it but there are so many great mystery writers from the mid 20th century, that a person doesn't have to stick to James Patterson all the time. Be adventurous. He classifies as "hard-boiled crime" and that's the genre I've been hitting hard.

I'd seen MacDonald's name pop up in several reviews of more contemporary authors: "as good as MacDonald" or "shades of MacDonald." I decided to check out this MacDonald guy and he's fabulous.

The Brass Cupcake, according to Amazon:

Ex-cop Cliff Bartells might be the last honest man in Florence City, Florida. After quitting the force over a crisis of conscience, he takes a job at an insurance company buying back stolen jewelry. Cliff is focused on keeping the bottom line down and staying out of the spotlight.

But when an affluent tourist from Boston is murdered over a hefty collection of jewelry, Cliff finds himself wrapped up in a case that’s making national headlines. With the victim’s beautiful niece, Melody Chance, determined to help retrieve the goods, suddenly Cliff has the partner he never knew he wanted. Now all they need is a suspect: someone capable of cold-blooded murder in the name of profit. And that could mean anyone in this crooked town.

I gave it a 7-plus on the 10-point Haugenometer, while Amazonians a hearty 4.3 of 5.

Monday, February 6, 2023

2022 suckiest year ever for books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 26, 2023

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

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

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

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

Back to the book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read it and tell me what you think.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Finished: Patterson's 'Triple Cross'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 16, 2023

'Bags of Shots' hits Amazon

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

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

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

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

But the clock is ticking and the fever is rising.


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

Book #1: Bags of Bodies

Book #2: Bags of Rock

Book #3: Bags of Stone

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Not earth-shattering, but I hit a little milestone

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

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

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

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

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