Category Archives: Books

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.

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

My Life in the Service

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.

Matthew Maloney at Chateau d'lf

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.