Category Archives: 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.

Willie Nelson’s “Roll Me Up and Smoke When I Die – Musings From the Road

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I just finished this slim volume and boy is it a gem of a book. Willie Nelson wrote this book about his life and his family and his philosophy of life. I first took notice of him when he came out in the 70’s with his Red Headed Stranger album (remember albums?) which I played over and over. Well that was over 40 years ago and you know Nelson is still making records and at 83 years of age has a very rigorous performance schedule.

Willie writing about himself is one thing but he includes little snippets from his friends, family, and fellow musicians writing about him. I thought that was great especially the vignette’s from his children from several different mothers. The other thing I really liked is the lyrics. He started out writing poetry when he was six years old and did that until he learned to play the guitar. His lyrics read like poems. One of the last songs he quotes is “Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth”

…We believe everything they tell us

They are going to kill us so we gotta kill them first

But I remember the commandment thou shalt not kill

How much is that soldier’s life worth

And what happened to peace on earth

Wow,

So I am not sure that I would like to hold up Willie Nelson’s life as one everybody should emulate but he has some things to say that are worth reading.

My Life in the Service by Matthew Maloney

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My Life in the Service is the story of my Uncle Matt, a pharmacist from Idaho who served his country in the Army during World War II. He kept a diary during that time and the book is a transcription of his diary. I did some of it, my Dad did the rest and the husband of my cousin in California made it into a book (and I think that he did a great job). I think I first started transcribing the book in middle 1980’s and the book just came out in print just recentlly.

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Most of the entries were very brief and reflected a life in the Army of hurry up and wait, endless inspections, the waxing an waning of military discipline. He was a pharmacist, not an infantryman so he dispensed medicine and was always in the rear echelon. Still he sailed on a troop ship (the USS Susan B. Anthony which sunk by a mine in the English Channel during the invasion of Normany – no lives were lost) from New York to Algiers in 1943 and then while on land experienced air raids. (Nowhere in the book does he describe his life being in danger).

He spent time not only in north Africa but Italy and France. He seemed like he had a lot of free time. He and his buddies were always catching rides to go visit cities and see the sites. He tried to climb up Pompei but it was erupting and raining down hot stones on him and he retreated. He visited Naples, Rome, and various cities in France. He ate great dinners, drank a lot of beer, went to dances and the opera.

He took a lot of pictures, many of which are in the book. He took pictures of his buddies, German and Italian prisoners, the Eiffel Tower, cathedrals, mountains, meadows, and anything else that piqued his interest. Film was hard to get in wartime so he used a lot of paper film and developed it himself. His curiosity about the world and his desire to sample as much of it as he could comes through in the book. His diary started when he went in the Army and ended when he got out, a period of July 7, 1942 to September 8,1945.

I remember Matt as one of the world’s great guys. He was a lifelong bachelor and was a partner in a pharmacy in Jackson, Wyoming from the 1940’s to his death in mid 1970’s. If you were a visitor to Jackson during this period you probably went to his store. It was Jackson Drug Company, right on the square in downtown. He lived in an apartment upstairs, right down the hall from the local draft board. Our family visited him quite a bit back then, back before the Jackson became a home for the beautiful people.

The local paper, the Tulsa World, has been featuring once a week or so survivors of the war and telling their stories. It has been a favorite part of the paper for me, reading the stories of these young men and women who entered the war with an attitude that they had a job to do. Uncle Matt’s experience reads similarly. A reflection of a different time in our country when attitudes were different.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

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The purple tag is from the Tulsa library.

I read a lot, we are one of the few families in America who get a newspaper delivered every day plus I read the online New York Times, and I get several magazines. Most of the time I have two books going, one nonfiction and one fiction. Every once in a while though I start reading a book where I shut down all my other reading and other activities until I finish it and Anne Tyler‘s “A Spool of Blue Thread” is such a book. I quit all my other reading and a lot of other activities just to read this saga of the Whitshank family.

I think that this may be one of those books where everybody gets something different out of the book. What I got was a family where everybody is a little different but there is a common thread between them. It is also a book about people and how they can change but basically stay the same. It is a book about families and the myths they have about themselves and how they think those myths make them exceptional. I loved this book. It may be one of the best books I have ever read. So I recommend it highly!

I got this copy from the Tulsa Library, for free!! I work that free angle hard because I am kind of cheap I guess. Plus I like to support our libraries.

Make Me by Lee Child – Jack Reacher Again

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I just got through reading the Kindle version of Lee Child‘s Make Me. Lee Child writes the Jack Reacher series of books. I think there are about twenty now. Jack Reacher is one tough hombre. 6’5″ tall former Army Military Police officer who doesn’t take crap from anybody. Something happened in the Army a long time ago and Reacher quits and now travels on foot or train with nothing but the clothes on his back an ATM card and his toothbrush.

This book opens up with him getting off the train in Mothers Rest somewhere in the Great Plains about five hours north of Oklahoma City and is surrounded by wheat. He runs into a former FBI agent now PI there who is looking for her partner who has gone missing. They team up naturally and they find out that something is not quite right in Mothers Rest. Something evil is going on. To figure it all out they end up traveling to Oklahoma City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Phoenix and then finally back to Mothers Rest.

Reacher in his search for justice ends up murdering several people, one of them twice (nice trick huh) don’t worry though because they were all bad people who were circumventing our justice system and needed killing.

Anyways, this is my brain candy so don’t criticize me.

I got the Kindle download free my the Tulsa City County Library. You can’t beat free.

A great review of the book from the New Yorker They like it! Hmmm, they usually like boring literary fiction featuring depressed people and no action.

Extreme Justice by Vincent Green

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I just finished reading Extreme Justice by Vincent Green. It is a fictionalized account of an interesting historical event. The murder during World War II of a German soldier by Johannes Kunze by his fellow prisoners at a prisoner of war camp in Tonkawa, Oklahoma,after they found out that Kunze was acting as an informant to the Americans. It is a fascinating book from many different aspects. The soldiers were some of the 275,000 German soldiers of the famed German Afrika Corps who surrendered to the Americans and British after losing the battle North Africa.

Some interesting things to me were that the German non-commissioned officers strictly forbade the soldiers under them to read anything the Americans provided about the war. They insisted that the Germans were winning the war and that soon America would be a German colony. They also taunted their American guards by saluting them with Heil Hitler salutes and such. The other thing was that the Americans guarded the perimeter of the camp but the Germans had free rein on maintaining order and discipline inside the camp especially at night.

So what happened was that in November 1943 a German NCO found out that Kunze was informing to the Americans and he scheduled a meeting of the prisoners late at night to discuss the matter. When the other prisoners found out what was happening they rioted and brutally beat and murdered Kunze.

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Kunze’s grave at Fort Reno, Oklahoma. Originally he was buried at Tonkawa but after the war the Army moved the remains of all POWs that were buried in Oklahoma to Fort Reno to a special section of the post cemetery where 62 Germans and 8 Italian POW prisoners were buried (some remains have been removed and sent back to Europe by now)

The American guards finally went in and found out what happened and basically arrested the five prisoners that had the most blood on them. The German’s were flabbergasted because they considered it strictly a German affair and none of the American’s business.  They actually thought that after Germany won the war then it wouldn’t matter.The Americans had a different view. They were afraid that if they let these guys off and word got out then they could lose control of all the POW camps. They also knew that there were American prisoners in Germany who for one reason or another had been sentenced to death but had not been executed yet. Nobody wanted to start the executions because they knew the other side would execute their prisoners. So the Americans wanted a very fair, at least in appearance, trial that would withstand international scrutiny. The trial was to observed by a Swiss Embassy diplomat.

The Americans also wanted the prisoners to be found guilty. For the lead prosecutor they picked their top man, Leon Jaworski, who later became famous as being the Special Prosecutor during the Watergate scandal.  The Army could have picked any defense lawyer in the country to defend the Germans and Jaworski made requests that somebody competent be appointed but the Army appointed a civil attorney from Arkansas who had never tried a criminal case of any sort to be the defense attorney.

So from there it was kind of a farce especially with a jury of American military officers. The trial itself was considered secret and when the verdict came it was considered secret also and none of the prisoners were told what the verdict was or what the punishment would be. They were all sentenced to hang. So they were all led back to their cells where they eventually figured out what their fate was to be.

There was some hope because late in the war, the Americans had 14 Germans condemned to die and the Germans had 15 Americans condemned to death and there was negotiation of a prisoner exchange at the German -Swiss border.  One thing led to another and chaos descended on Germany and then Hitler killed himself and the Americans had no idea who in Germany  could make the exchange happen. Then the the allies liberated the prisoner of war camps and retrieved the condemned Americans. That and the discovery of the German concentration camps had disgusted the world with Germany and Germans and nobody was in a mood to be merciful, and all that destroyed the German’s hopes.

One day, soon after the German surrender, the prisoners, who were held at the Army’s Fort Leavenworth prisoner, were marched one by one a quarter mile to a warehouse where they were hung in a gallows rigged up in an elevator shaft. Apparently it took about 20 minutes for them to die after being hung according to the book although they were unconscious. All told fourteen German POW’s were executed for killing informers among them.

The book is very informative and moves at a fast pace. Yes the trial that the German prisoners had was a farce but they were among 200 or so who beat Kunze to death. Only one person, a German chaplain tried to stop the murder but he was told to leave by the other prisoners. So maybe justice was served but there is a lot of mud out there for everybody.

As an aside we still read about farces like this every day here now in America. Criminals who are defended by incompetent attorneys before judges who don’t seem to care.  I’ve heard that the criminal justice system in the US is not concerned about Justice, it is about due process or procedure. I can’t tell you how many times when an official of a law enforcement agency excuses stupid conduct by an officer by saying, “Everything that was done was in full compliance with our procedures.” Like that excuses anything. Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong supporter of law enforcement and hate criminals but an unjust system is corrosive to society.

Anyways, this is my extended review.

The book is out of print. I purchased a used copy on Amazon for 99 cents plus three times that postage and handling. I also see where you can download a pdf version for free here.