Tag Archives: Books

Nomadland by Jessica Bruder

Jessica Bruder, a journalist, wrote Nomadland, a book about the (almost) hidden army of people who have decided for one reason or another to abandon permanent homes in favor of a life on the road. They don’t have real estate, they have “wheel estate.” they are not homeless, they are “houseless.” Many of them made this choice to follow a dream that doesn’t entail a house, maintenance, insurance, rent, and all the rest. I know a few of those people. Others made the choice because staying in a house or apartment did not add up. The type of arithmetic when you take your income and subtract food, medicine, insurance, other bills, and you don’t have enough for rent. They did it out of necessity. They are being squeezed out by the high cost of housing.

Where do they live? Many live in RV’s, new and old, travel trailers, truck campers. Some even live in their cars. Where do they park their vehicles? In RV parks, and on BLM and Forest Service land in the west. Walmart parking lots are popular, in commercial areas where their rigs blend in, public parks. Anywhere they are allowed to, and a few places where they are not. There are apps that guide them to free camping spots.

What do they do for money? Some live off their savings or in whatever jobs they can find. Thousands work for Amazon during the peak pre-Christmas season at their gigantic fulfillment centers. Amazon has a name for them, they are the Camperforce. Amazon loves them because of their work ethic and willingness to work for not very much money. Others work seasonally as camp hosts for National and State forests. They work the sugar beet harvest. All sorts of things.

Where do they go when they are not working. Thousands head to Quartzsite in southern Arizona where they boondock in the public lands surrounding town. The meet up in groups, learn the tricks and rules of the road from each other and enjoy the warm winters.

The author Jessica Bruder spent three years and researching this lifestyle. She even got her own van in order to embed even closer with them. You can tell she kind of fell in love with the lifestyle and the people. She tells the story with great empathy and insight.

I loved this book. And hey a movie is coming out starring Frances McDormand.

“The Sentinel” by Lee Child and Andrew Child

The Sentinel

I just finished The Sentinel by Lee Child and Andrew Child. It’s another Jack Reacher story. Lee Child has written a bunch of books featuring Reacher, an ex-Army MP officer who is big and tough and travels around the country and runs into many bad guys harming good people. This is another one of those books and this one falls flat on its face. I am not going to tell you the plot, but there is not a whole lot of action in this book. It’s mainly narrative and dialog. Boring narrative and boring dialog.

I hate to say it but maybe the book falls short because it has two authors. Lee Child collaborated with his younger brother Andrew Child on this book. Apparently this is the first book of a four book deal struck with the two authors. I’ve never really enjoyed fiction with two or more authors. This was a quick read and I am glad that I did not buy it. Thank goodness for our libraries!!

Anyway, that is how I feel.

The Sentinel by Lee Child

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


View all my reviews

The Room where it Happened by John Bolton

I just got through reading Bolton’s memoirs of his brief time in the Trump Administrator as National Security Director. The book is certainly eye opening as Bolton describes working with Trump on issues such as China trade, North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction, the threats from Iran, and finishes off with the crisis in the Ukraine that led to Trump’s impeachment.

Bolton gets way down in the weeds and what comes out is his contempt for the way Trump does things. To Bolton, our president cannot maintain a train of thought for very long, cares little for issues except to the extent that he can use him to advance his own interests. He also doesn’t know the first thing about negotiating and mistakes personal relationships with international relationships. Bolton describes Kim Jong Un of North Korea laughing at Trump when he figured out that he could easily use that personal relationship to get concessions in negotiations.

Bolton also excoriates the House of Representatives for a lazy kind of impeachment where due to electoral schedules the calendar was abbreviated and so in the interests of time the issues were all focused on the Ukraine where in reality there was probably grounds for impeachment in a consistent pattern of self dealing by the President. The House also did not pursue their subpoenas in court so there was not much of an investigation and the process because ultra polarized and resulted in an acquittal by the Senate.

Bolton fears an unleashed Trump in a second term. The only thing that restrained him from many things in his first term was the fear of not being re-elected. Trump was barely constrained anyway and he’ll be much worse.

The book was interesting also as it gave me an insight into Bolton. The guy is pretty smart and has a lot to say. Once I understood where he comes from I could see where he got a lot of his beliefs. He is big into American Sovereignty for example which makes him very suspicious of any treaties that limits that for example. Despite some reports Bolton is not endorsing Biden. Bolton doesn’t say much about Biden but really goes after Obama and his policies.

The book scorches Trump pretty good. Trump did everything he could to stop publication of the book. It does not cast him in a good light.

I highly recommend this book.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

I just finished reading “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes. It is certainly comprehensive. It starts at the start of the 20th century and ends of course with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is very comprehensive as it surveys the development of modern physics and then gets into the huge industrial complexes built within just a few years with just one goal, to get enough fissionable material to make a bomb before the Germans, Japanese and Russians.

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“Little Boy” Atomic Bomb like the one dropped on Hiroshima

There are many interesting items in the book, such as:

  • Albert Einstein was instrumental in getting the United States to think about an atomic bomb. He played no part in the development of the bomb because he was considered a security risk.
  • USA believed the Germans were ahead in development because Germany was the center of Physics research. It wasn’t until after the war that they found out how far behind Germany was. The scientists working for the US knew that the basic science was well known and it was inevitable that other countries were going to develop the bomb and there was really not much that could be done to prevent it.
  • When the Manhattan Project started, the basic science for the bomb was considered settled so the work was to develop the technology to apply the science and fabricate a bomb. The huge facilities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Hanford, Washington were there to get enough fissionable material to make the bomb. The basic plan was to make a bomb to test, and then after that drop bombs as fast as the fissionable material could be produced and fabricated into bombs.

So the physics is interesting and the technology challenging and so big parties when the test bomb at Trinity exploded. Rhodes does a great job sobering things up talking about the allied program of bombing residential areas in both Germany and Japan with mixtures of high explosives to break the houses and apartments and incendiary devices to make them burn. Rhodes also writes of the aftermath of the nuclear bombing including first person accounts of the horrific effects. Many people vaporized, others charred, others roasted alive. Many died of radiation sickness.

Atomic Bomb Test
Atomic Bomb Test, Bikini Island, 1946

There is a lot of second guessing going on now about if we should have dropped the bombs or not but the Americans were concerned about the casualties if the allies invaded the Japanese Homeland. They looked at the battle of Okinawa where the allies lost over 12,000 lives and the Japanese had 110,000 soldiers killed. In addition 40,000 to 150,000 Okinawan lives were lost. The allies estimated they would lose 400,000 to 800,000 lives invading the Empire. The estimated deaths after the bombing was 90,000 to 146,000 at Hiroshima and 39,000 to 80,000 at Nagasaki, many if not most innocent civilians including children, mothers, and elderly people.

Atomic Bomb Casing the ""Fat Man""
Model of Fat Man Atomic Bomb used on Nagasaki

I am very interested in Atomic Energy, the Manhattan Project, and all things Cold War. I spent a big part of my life in New Mexico, home of Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Sandia Laboratories, and the Trinity Test site. My mother worked at the Hanford Site, source of our Plutonium in a clerical role after the war. I have other relatives who worked in military nuclear related industries. I think other boomers have ties to the Cold War era.

Anyway, the book is 838 pages and too me forever to read but there is a lot of information that is packed in there. I loved it. I got my Kindle version very inexpensively on during a promotion.

“American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummings

American Dirt book cover

American Dirt‘ by Jeanine Cummins is a work a fiction following the Lydia and her son Luca, residents of Acapulco, Mexico. Lydia owns a bookstore and befriends a mysterious man who comes and is really interested in books. Her friend turns out to be a leader of a local cartel. The problem is that Lydia’s husband is an investigative journalist looking into her friend’s cartel.

Things take an explosive and tragic turn and Lydia and son Luca have to flee for their lives quickly and she decides the only place where they can be safe is El Norte, the United States. She has to think fast, make decisions at the spur of the moment and has to trust people. Some people she encounters are very helpful, others are total crooks. The books kept me on my toes the whole time.

The most interesting part of the story is “Le Bestia” the network of freight railroads running north and south in Mexico. Le Bestia is the fastest way for the migrants, including those from South America to make the long journey. But is dangerous, it is dangerous to try and get on and it is dangerous to ride. Here is a brief CNN video about the Le Bestia, the Death Train.

I don’t want to give away the story but this book has compared to “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. I think American Dirt is a great book and certainly worth reading.

“Grass, Soil, and Hope – A Journey Through Carbon Country” by Courtney White

Grass Soil Hope Cover

This book caught my eye at the “Quick Pick” section in our local library. It piqued my interest as I am really interested in climate change and what can be done about it and of course Carbon is at the center of that debate.

The book is about a lot of things including carbon sequestration in soil via sustainable agriculture that builds up the soil and reduces the amount of fuel and fertilizer used while maintaining the the productivity of the land to provide food. I like win/win solutions to problems and reframing conflicts into cooperation and the practices and principles put forth in this book makes me very hopeful. I am very much interested in hope now.

You can get Grass, Soil, and Hope at the library!

“My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love” by Karl Ove Knausgaard

My Struggle, Book 2 Cover image

Karl Ove Knausgaard is a Norwegian writer who has caused a stir with his autobiographical fiction. I finished Book 1 about a year ago. I loved it but it was exhausting to read as Knausgaard delved into every single detail of his life. Book 2 is the second of six of his My Struggle series and it was every bit as fascinating and interesting as the first. It covers marriage and his three kids and his love hate relationship of being in a marriage and taking care of his kids, while trying to write.

He strips away the veneer of what society expects him to say about his thoughts on marriage and child raising and says what he really thinks, and his reactions to what he thinks. He applies the same process to the literary world and expresses the tiredness and resentment he feels toward readings and writings and literary things in general. He would rather spend the time writing rather than talking about his writing.

The whole thing is intense and I could only take about 50 to 60 pages at a time. Many paragraphs are over a page long. The angst is intense. So I’ll be getting Book 3 soon. I buy the books because it takes me too long to read them to get the library version.  You can get the Kindle version on Amazon for $10.

Want a pro tip – I am moving away from Kindle except for very low priced books. I found an online used  bookseller who will sell me Book 3 of the series  for $5 including shipping. Meanwhile I will give my copy of Book 2 to  our excellent local used book store Gardners. They will give me $5 credit against future books (yes I checked, they don’t have Book 3.) So my net cost of Book 3 is approximately $0. Sorry I digress into my thriftiness. 

What about the poor authors you say? They will miss out on royalties as I execute my strategy. Yep, I feel sorry for them, but I am trying to solve my problems. They can worry about their own problems. I still buy lots of books especially from authors just starting out. I happily pay full price for those books.

Beverly Green: Sasquatch Hunter by Andrea C. Neil

This novel is about Beverly Green a native Okie who made her mark in New York City and returns to Oklahoma to kind of slow down a little bit and get back to her roots and chill out a little bit. 

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Chickens play a prominent part of the story. Especially one chicken with an attitude.

So she moves to Guthrie, Oklahoma, the former state capitol (and still brooding about it) about an hour north of Oklahoma City. She opens a small bookstore but this being the gig economy and all she also gets.a newspaper gig as a side hustle  and raises chickens.

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Guthrie is a funky old town and is the perfect setting for this story.

The editor at the local paper where she works has assigned her the job of reporting on a local Sasquatch sighting and she dreads it. She doesn’t believe in Sasquatches see, but she was also tormented in her youth by visions of the beasts.

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This has nothing to do with the story. It is a scene from the pharmacy museum in Guthrie.

She sullenly goes through the motion of pursuing the story, talking to local characters who believe in the creatures. In the meantime she keeps running into a man who she gradually becomes very attracted to. I guess that it what makes this a romantic novel. To me it is a romantic comedy and this part of the novel is hilarious. I haven’t read too much fiction before where a female character goes on in detail about why she is attracted to a guy. 

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The pharmacy park hosts a small scene in the book. This is the family at the park. My Father-in-law, a former pharmacy and now gone, is honored there with a plaque. 

I am more into thrillers, detective stories, and non-fiction but this book drew me in and I kept going. The writing just pulled me through was very sparkly and interesting from start to finish. The story involves a Sasquatch stakeout, chickens, and a kiss (a kiss is just a kiss right? or is it?) . It seems set up for a sequel or maybe a whole series.

I give this four stars out of four, or five out of five or however many stars you like. It’s a good read, and I hope there is another one from Andrea Neil soon.

You can get the book at Amazon or if you live in Tulsa at Magic City Bookstore. Both the physical book and the Kindle version, which I got, is are reasonably priced. You can sample some of her writing at her blog.

“Manhattan Beach” by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach  by Jennifer Egan is quite a read. It is a novel set in the middle 1930’s through mid World War II about a girl Anna and her family who live in New York City. The book starts out a little quietly but builds to quite a story featuring Irish and Italian mobsters and associated treachery, learning how to be come a navy diver, U Boat attacks, double lives, hopelessness and redemption. The book is about how complex people are and we don’t really fully understand others. I loved it and recommend it highly.

 

Dean Koontz – The Silent Corner

I am mad at myself after reading “The Silent Corner” because I have always shied away from reading Dean Koontz because I thought he was not a very good author. Was I ever wrong. He is very skilled and in this book puts together a very good suspenseful novel.

The star of the book is Jane Hawk, a top notch FBI agent whose husband, for no good reason, commits suicide after leaving a chilling suicide letter.  jane starts checking into things and finds out that all sorts of people are committing suicide and there are other disturbing trends also so she starts checking into things more closely and that makes certain highly placed people angry. Very angry so she has to go into hiding, and get off the web.

She has to deal with a shadowy cabal of ruthless Silicon Valley executives, rogue FBI agents and all sorts of good stuff.

This is a very good thriller and proves that one can write a very good book where everybody keeps their clothes on and the writing is not cheesy.

I give this book five star out of five.