Category Archives: Books

“Later” by Stephen King

Book Cover for "Later" by Stephen King

“Later” is one of Stephen King’s old school thriller, horror, books kind of based on cheap paperbacks. King can spin a yarn better than anybody in my opinion. We start out with kind of cute little boy who has this thing where he can talk with the recently dead.

So it starts out kind of cute and fluffy and as the novel progresses, the cute becomes less, and things get strange and then they get scary and all the sudden the novel hangs a hard left and sprouts knives, axes, teeth, and chainsaws and I swear it turns again right back at the reader. All before we know what is happening.

And after the story’s climax, King drops something else on us. Not a horror, but something else, just as horrible.

I finished it with like, what just happened here?

I strongly recommend this book. I got my copy at the library.

“Leave Only Footprints” by Conor Knighton

My son gave me Conor Knighton’sLeave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park” for Fathers Day and I just finished reading it.

It’s a cool book. Knighton, a correspondent for CBS News, went to all our National Parks in one year in 2016. I think there were 59 National Parks in 2016 and it looks like we are at 64 now. He starts out on New Year’s Day on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park where the sun first shines on the contiguous USA and ends at Point Reyes National Park on New Year’s Eve which is the last place the sun sets (on that date) on the contiguous USA.

In between he travels to all the other parks and has a little bit to say on each one of them. It’s more than just a listing of highlights. He talks about why he is going on this journey (spoiler, he got dumped by a woman) and his experiences. I found out we have a lot of parks that I have never heard of that are hard to get to and are not very “wired” although given the book was based on his 2016 experiences.

He also has something to say about the Parks not being very diverse in terms of their racial diversity and what is being done about that.

This was a surprising book and I loved it. I highly recommend it.

Anne Hillerman’s “Stargazer”

Anne Hillerman's Stargazer - Book Cover

Stargazer is another detective novel by Anne Hillerman set on the Navajo Reservation. This one stars Bernadette Manuelito, a tribal policewoman, who gets involved in a murder case involving her old college roommate Maya and scientists doing research at the Very Large Array radio telescope (“That’s where Stargazer came from, get it.”) As in all the Hillerman books, Navajo tradition and the desert southwest are prominent in the story. Since Anne took over the series after her father Tony Hillerman died, she put more emphasis on the characters and the relationships between the characters. I kind of like that. Anne Hillerman has made the series her own.

I strongly recommend this book.

John Grisham – “A Time for Mercy”

John Grisham’s “A Time for Mercy” is a continuation of Grisham’s earlier “A Time to Kill” and “Sycamore Row.” The star is attorney Jake Brigance who is a little older and wiser, still trying to build his practice and suffering from his integrity and stubbornness. I am not going to reveal the plot of course but Jake gets stuck defending an undefensible youthful client on a charge of First Degree Murder. He’s also trying to win a slam dunk civil suit against a corporation.

Grisham is at his best as he builds up the back story on both cases slowly. Toward the last his courtroom narratives kept me reading for hours. I’m not going to reveal the ending of course but lets just say it is oddly satisfying.

“The Pot Thief Who Studied the Woman at Otowi Crossing” by J. Michael Orenduff

Book Cover

This is a fun mystery novel, the ninth in a series, by J. Michael Orenduff. The books feature Hubie Schuze who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico and makes his living by illegally digging up ancient Native American pots on public lands and selling them. He also supplements that income by copying such pots and selling them to unsuspecting tourists. Despite all that he seems like a nice guy. A nice guy who seems to know a lot of people who get murdered. Not that he does any of that though but he is under suspicion a lot and so has to try and solve murders himself to clear himself.

This latest murder is a puzzler. An unidentified man is killed on his way to Schuze’s shop. Thing is he shares DNA with Schuze and although the man’s death was captured on video, the police have no idea how he was killed or who did it.

So yes, solving the murder and figuring out who victim was is fun but even more fun is following Schuze’s moves as he goes to the solution. We learn about academic politics at the University of New Mexico, how a woman seduced him by teaching him how to iron clothes. He’s on a first name basis with the lead homicide detective. He consults his family, he drinks margaritas at happy hour. It takes him a while but he finally gets it.

There is lots of New Mexican culture and background in these books. I’ve read all of them and am looking forward to another.

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


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Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand

I have been reading some pretty heavy stuff and this looked like a good beach read and it is. It is not any sort of light fluff even though it is set on Nantucket Island where the Levin family spends their summers in the matriarch’s house. They have gathered there for decades.

Against a backdrop of beaches, tennis lessons, and romance are some hard things. The grandson is in the army fighting in Vietnam. His sisters who range from early teenagers to adults in their 20’s are having problems. The younger ones are maybe growing up a little too fast. The Mom and Dad are not getting along and Mom is really liking her gin and tonics maybe a little too much. Grandmother is in denial about everything. And so the story moves forward.

It was fun that the book was set in 1969 when the country was going through so many changes and it references a lot of things I remember vividly. Senator Edward Kennedy scandal at Chappaquiddick where he left a young woman to drown and never called the police, the moon landing, Woodstock, hippies, marijuana. I was only 14 then and it was all pretty amazing and I was stuck in the little burg of Eagar, Arizona up in the White Mountains.

I loved this book. The characters are real and so re their problems. Yes, they kind of work through what is going on but not everything is tied up at the end of the book. Just like real life. This is my first book by Elin Hilderbrand and will not be my last.

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.

Ray Wagner Collection Image
“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.