Category Archives: Books

“No Middle Name” by Lee Child – Short Stories featuring Jack Reacher

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No Middle Name is a collection of short stories featuring the thriller superhero Jack Reacher. The stories are satisfying for the most part with no big surprises except for a couple of them that feature Reacher as a teenager. One in particular is over the top. Spoiler alert below.

A young sixteen year old Jack Reacher finds himself all by himself in New York City back in the 70’s one night and quite a night it is. Let me see, what happens. Well he goes to a bar and just sits down with a table of four college coeds. One of the coeds decides to take young Jack to a concert with her as protection. The same night the 16 year old Reacher rescues a female FBI agent by slapping a top mafia guy. The mafia guy tries to get revenge by getting a bunch of his friends to teach young Jack a lesson. Well that didn’t turn out very well for the bad guys. The same night, the college coed has Jack show her how much he likes her and she was so gratified that she decided to return the favor. (The weird part, she committed a felony twice with young Jack as the victim, but I digress) Anyway while she is showing Jack her appreciation do you think he is distracted. Oh no, he is not. He sees a guy sneaking up on them with a gun and determines it is the Son of Sam killer that was terrorizing New York at the time. Young Jack being the nice guy he is doesn’t interfere with the coed and waits until after she is done before he tells here what he saw. He ends up telling the FBI agent about the mass killer but not about the child rapist coed Reacher is hanging with.

It was quite a night for young Jack. Raped twice and finds the Son of Sam killer. Sorry if I offend.

I confess that I didn’t read all the stories. I will say that I read enough. Got my copy at the library. You want to know what is strange. On Amazon you can get the hard copy for half the price of either the paperback or the Kindle version. What’s up with that. Any publishing industry mavens out there that can explain that?

“My Struggle: Book One” by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I heard somebody talking about a series of autobiographical novels by a Norwegian Author and was fascinated by the concept. I mean, what is an autobiographical novel anyway? I have a feeling that many autobiographies are somewhat novels but I don’t want to get side tracked down that rabbit hole. So anyway I read about the the books.

The books are six in number published in Norwegian from 2009 to 2011. The books are called “My Struggle” and numbered one through six and were written by Karl Ove Knausgaard and reveal his private life, thoughts, and dreams. He names family members and gets into all sorts of private matters. This has resulted in turmoil with his family members and amazingly he did not anticipate the response from the people close to him.

I just finished Book One and found it fascinating. There really is not plot or anything and the whole book is about the struggle he had dealing with his father. He describes in detail his actions, his thoughts and responses to what is going on around him and for some reason I find it gripping and read it very quickly. He turns his life inside out with all the contradictions, and self defeating thoughts and actions and inconsistencies. It is almost like reading about oneself. (Or at least myself). It has been said that reading the book is like opening up somebody else’s diary and finding your secrets in it.

So, I am looking forward to reading the other five. Only three so far have been translated into English but I am sure that it is just a matter of time.

The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis

I just got through reading the “The Gulf: The Making of American Sea” by Jack E. Davis and the timing turned out great. The book is an environmental history of the Gulf of Mexico starting with the native Americans who lived along the gulf before contact with Europeans and ending with the present heavily polluted Gulf with highly populated and industrialized shores.

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My wife kayaking on the Bon Secour River in Alabama

The book describes how the present situation came to be from an area that was beautiful and pristine teeming with wildlife and fish.

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Orange Beach, Alabama

I learned that the Gulf of Mexico has an annual dead zone of almost 8000 square miles from Spring until Fall where the oxygen level is too low to support life. It comes from the Mississippi River basin where about half of the USA’s rural population and farms are. Phosphorous, nitrogen and other pollutants running off of farms, and maybe my front yard, drain into the Gulf via and use up all the oxygen in the water.

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I learned that hundreds of square miles of coastal marsh has been filled in to create marinas and beachfronts for condo development.

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A barge on the MIssissippi River in New Orleans

I  also learned that coastal land is disappearing because of sea level increases caused by man made global change combined with man made modification to the coast that reduces natural barriers to storm surges and flooding.

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A production platform producing gas from the Mobile Bay Field, near Fort Morgan, Alabama

Davis writes about pollution from industrial activities such as chemical plants and paper mills.  He also writes about how with global warming that it is expected that we will have fewer hurricanes per year but they will be of ever increasing power and intensity.

This is a great, well researched, very readable  book that is sounding an alarm. Those of us that love the Gulf of Mexico should read it. I love it the Gulf. I spent the early part of my career building pipelines in and around the Gulf. I have fished its waters and love spending time there in the summer.

This country needs to get serious about climate change. it seems like every few years we have an unprecedented hurricane, more powerful than the previous ones. I am the first to say that one hurricane does not prove that global warming is happening but to me it is apparent that the extra energy in the atmosphere is having catastrophic effects already.

Jack E. Davis is a history professor, with an interest in Environmental History, at the University of Florida

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline

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This is one of those books that I had to hang and I quit it once but came back to it and I’m glad that I did. One Perfect Lie is not about golf it is about a small town in mid America and this town is riddled with lies. The kids lie to the parents, the parents lie to each other and to themselves. The kids live almost parallel lives to the parents who are clueless about is going on.

Into this comes a stranger, a stranger with his own agenda and lies of his own and to make things worse he is going to teach at the local high school and help coach the championship baseball team. He has come with a cover story and has done his research using facebook, twitter, instagram, and snapchat on the kids and their parents. He has a list of those who are vulnerable and he sets to work to exploit those vulnerabilities.

So I was like ewwww!! and about plugged and abandoned this novel but I came back to it and I’m glad I did. Lisa Scottoline does a great job setting up this whodoneit and then peeling away the various layers to the truth below. That’s all I’m going to say without giving away the story.

I’m glad that I stayed with this book, it turned out to be a great read.

KIllers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, a journalist for the New Yorker, is an amazing book. It is non-fiction and concerns the systematic murder of Osage Indians in the 1920’s in northeastern Oklahoma by white people for money. The money came from oil lands owned by the Osage Tribe. Revenue from the oil royalties and lease bonuses made the tribe very wealthy and the money was divvied up by “headrights” or shares in the revenue based on one’s ancestry. You couple that with a system whereby most Native Americans were deemed incompetent to manage their own affairs and had court appointed guardians to oversee their funds. This was a perfect storm for fraud, murder, and crime.

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The Indians were killed by poisoning, gunshots, and in one notable incident a house was blown up with dynamite. Not one murder was solved by the white people in power and some of those who tried to expose what was going on were murdered themselves. Law enforcement, doctors, undertakers, the judicial system were all involved in the scheme.

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Pawhuska, Oklahoma, county seat of Osage County where much of the events described in the book take place.

Enter J. Edgar Hoover and the brand new Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover sent a former Texas Ranger, Tom White to Osage County and told him to find the murderers and bring them to justice. White had a huge job at hand and brought in other agents in undercover roles and they were able to file charges, bring to trial, and convict in Federal Court the kingpin, William Hale, of the murders despite considerable local resistance. Grann calls Tom White one of the heroes of the situation but Hoover was jealous of the attention White was getting and made sure that he got all the credit for the conviction. Hale was implicated in about 27 of the murders.

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Bison at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve north of Pawhuska, in Osage County

Hoover then declared victory and left town. The tribe new that there were lots more murders than that and that there was more than one person responsible and for decades the stories and suspicions were handed down in the various families. Gann did a lot of research including days at the National Archives going through old custodial records and grand jury testimony from long ago. He thinks that there were hundreds of murders and many many killers who were never brought to justice. This is an amazing book. Grann calls the treatment of Native Americans, the country’s “Original Sin.” This was an important story to tell and Grann does a great job of it.

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The oil still flows in Osage County

I was able to attend an event in Tulsa, sponsored by Booksmart Tulsa, where David Grann talked about the book. It was in a university auditorium and the the venue was packed. Osage County borders Tulsa County and there were many Osage tribal members in attendance including several direct descendants of the murdered people and there were several descendants of the murderers there. It was very emotional to see how this book by exposing the crimes and sins of the past had an effect on people today.

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Osage County is one of the prettiest places in Oklahoma

It made the question and answer part of the event very interesting. People would get up and thank Grann for writing the book and then they would say who they descended from. Grann already knew many of these folks from his research in writing the book. One could sense the mutual respect. One young man, a descendant of a victim, got up and made a good point about whether the book really did anything for the tribe or was it another example of a white man taking something from the tribe. Grann acknowledged the point without any defensiveness.

This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read.  I purchased my autographed copy at the event from Magic City Books.

Anne Hillerman – Song of the Lion

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Song of the Lion”  is the third book of the Jim Chee, Joe Leaphorn, Bernie Manuelito series that Anne Hillerman took over from her late father and has made her own. She uses the characters  Chee and Leaphorn that her father developed and added Chee’s wife Manuelito to the mix.

Chee and Manuelito are Navajo Nation Police and Leaphorn is a retired from the same force. This case starts out with car bomb in the parking lot of a high school in Shiprock, New Mexico and is associated with a mediation of all interested parties concerning a resort development right outside Grand Canyon National Park. The three have a difficult time trying to sort out all the sketchy characters involved in a case that has roots going back decades.

If you love the desert southwest and are interested in the Navajo, Hopi, and other tribes, and conflict between tribal rights and traditions and the forces for economic development then you will like this book. Ms. Hillerman has done a great job adopting her father’s series and adding new dimensions to it.

I give it a thumbs up rating. It is a great read.I got my copy at the Tulsa City County Library. I give them a thumbs up also.

“Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West” by Bryce Andrews

I like to read and I read a lot but I don’t get excited about most of what I read. When I do get excited its like, stop reading everything else, stop blogging, stop watching television, stay up late and show up at work tired. Badluck Way is one of those books. It is about the author’s one year stint as a ranch hand on a big ranch in Montana. He loved working there but he felt he had to leave.

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This book really spoke to me. I am no cowboy and don’t know a thing about ranches or cows but I have known people who know all about that. I have been fascinated by how the west is changing, but still kind of staying the same. The ranch that Bryce Andrews worked on is the Sun Ranch near Ennis, Montana. It’s a 17,000 acre spread near Yellowstone Park that was owned when Bryce worked by a gazilloinaire named Roger who was trying to make the ranch sustainable. Sustainable meant that cows, wildlife, such as elk, and deer, and predators such as wolves migrating from Yellowstone all live happily together.

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I have always thought that horses have a great sense of humor.

Bryce and his cohorts worked hard. The one thing I learned about ranching while growing up is that there is a lot more to it than riding horses. A ranch hand has to know about cows and their various illnesses and ailments, horses, and in addition fixes a lot of fence, cleans out spring boxes, and has to know about plumbing, electricity, auto mechanics, in addition to house maintenance. The other thing is that the work never stops and there is also something else to do and some things cannot wait. If a heifer is having problems calving and it is late the in the day, too bad about you plans. Ranching is hard ass work and there is no other way about it. It can be blazing hot or freezing cold, it doesn’t matter. Most people working ranches that I have known are very tough and very hard workers.

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Island Park, Idaho, less than an hour south of the Sun Ranch

The other thing I liked about the book is its description of modern ranching. Horses are just one means of transport among others for moving around the ranch. I’ve had ranchers tell me that horses are a pain. A four wheeler doesn’t need to be fed, they don’t have vet bills, they don’t cause trouble. Lots of the work in the book is done on four wheelers and pickup trucks. Four wheelers in particular can cover a lot of rough territory in a short amount of time and can carry lots more gear than a horse can carry.

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The other thing about the Sun Ranch where Andrews worked is that it is owned by a wealthy person. There are lots of family owned ranches in the west but it seems that more and more wealthy individuals own the ranches. The guy, “Roger” who owned the Sun Ranch while Andrews worked there bought it from the actor Steven Seagall. Non ranches owning big ranches is nothing new in the west going back to the 19th century. There is something about owning huge amounts of land, especially land with mountains, streams, timber,and wildlife that is very attractive to people.

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Photo by Golo, displayed under Creative Commons license allowing use with attribution and no derivatives.

The book is really about the wolves. The wolves who were reintroduced into Yellowstone Park in 1995 have been very fruitful and multiplied greatly and have, not being respecters of signs, have spread far beyond the National Park into the surrounding area including ranches where they have sometimes killed lots of cattle. Some of the wolves are collared with radio transmitters and the ranches can monitor the movements of the wolves.  The wolf reintroduction although successful has been very controversial and in some areas of the west if you think that the wolves are a good thing, you are best advised to keep the opinion to yourself. Anyway Andrews experiences dealing with the wolves affected him personally very much.

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The other thing about the book I liked is its portrayal of “cowboys.” Andrews talks about how after a couple months after starting work at the ranch he got properly outfitted with the right gear and clothes, he remarked to the ranch manager how Andrews thought he was looking like a real cowboy and the manager made the withering, pithy observation that he thought he preferred the word cowboy as a verb than a noun. (And a I can tell you that a such western withering, pithy observations can be humiliating).

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So it is not a sad story about a way of life that is disappearing, it is more of a story about how  way of life is changing with the times. It helps that Andrews is a talented and interesting writer and has a great respect for land, the owners, and the people who work the land. I found the book to be compelling read.

Meantime, the grinding crunch of capitalism works. Roger had to sell the ranch to a mining executive in 2010 because of the economic downturn. Roger Lang secured the future of the ranch as a refuge by selling conservation easements for almost all of it.

Bush by Jean Edward Smith

In this era of supercharged presidential politics I’ve read a book about George W. Bush written by a presidential biographer who in an even tone really smacks Bush’s presidency hard. Smith gets into Bush’s decision making style as the cause of most of the difficulties. Bush called himself “The Decider.” His concept was that he would hear the various sides and then go off by himself and decide what to do and that was that. There was no revisiting a course nor was there any explanation of how he came to decide something.

The result was chaos. An Iraq invasion based on flimsy evidence was the main thing along with an unprecedented presidential endorsement of torture. Arrogance and recklessness are not the a good basis for sound policy.

Smith is much kinder about the later years of Bush’s presidency when his popularity was very low. He dealt with the financial crisis in a much different way and went ahead and did several things that ran counter to his conservative tendencies but proceeded anyway and probably saved the country for a much worse mess. When the auto industry was wobbling at the very end of his final term Bush decided to not leave it for the next president, Obama, to solve. Bush made several other controversial actions to save the industry.

Another side of Bush’s story was the lengths he went to make sure that his staff accommodate Obama and his incoming staff for a smooth transition. This time was a an era of great graciousness on the part of Bush. He and Obama have and their families have stayed great friends to this day.

I loved the book and I have to confess that I was not a fan of Bush especially when he okayed torture and when it came out that the there really was no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

What does the book have to do with the situation today? I’ll repeat that arrogance and recklessness are not good ways to run a country.

The Old Man by Thomas Perry

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I just read “The Old Man” by Thomas Perry. Perry is one of my brain candy authors, full of manly men doing manly stuff and all very competent,  always prepared, and always know just what to do in any situation especially those where swift, violent action is required. Unlike some of us who are lost and befuddled and hope everything turns out.

Meet Dan Chase, about my age, a retired old fart in Vermont. He has a house, a car, two dogs, and a past. A long time ago in Libya he was a US intelligence agent who got involved in a cash payoff that went badly and he got framed of taking a money, but he was really innocent. So he had to go undercover with a false identity and hide. So he a bugout kit with cash, several sets of identity papers, guns, ammo, and knives. Thirty five years go by and nothing happens and then some people from his past show up and he goes on the run.

So it is a wild ride with some twists and turns and unexpected as he dodges and weaves trying to stay alive.

Another rock solid escapist thriller read from Thomas Perry.

It’s brand new and I got my copy free from the Tulsa Public Library. Saved some bucks I tell ya. I’m a big library fan.

Best Short Stories of 2016

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The Best Short Stories of 2016 is the latest release of an anthology of short stories that comes out every year and I have been buying and reading faithfully since the mid 1980’s. I love short stories. The author has to get to the heart of the matter quickly and not waste precious words, everything has to count. I love the variety of stories plus each author has the opportunity to put in a blurb about the story, their inspiration perhaps or what they were trying to do with the story.

The stories are selected by a assigned editor who sets the tone. In my very gauche way of thinking there are types of editors and it reflects in the stories they select. The first group of editors emphasize stories where the main action is in the mind of the characters and here the story is full of conversation between the characters and most of the action is in the thoughts of the characters and is reflected in very subtle clues in the action. Awkward silences and such.  The second type of editor picks stories where things actually happen and the dialog and narrative is in direct consequence to the action that is taking place.

This book emphasizes the first which is not my preference generally but it works here. The editor, Junot Diaz,  also seemed to pick stories by authors outside the mainstream and the stories reflect that. They are very interesting for the most part and reflect viewpoints that are not my own which is one of the main benefits of reading in my view, seeing the world through another’s eyes. This book has several stories which are very lively and interesting reading.