The Bone Tree

imageIt took me eight weeks and 60 cents in library fines to finish this 804 page door-stop, which is part two of a trilogy. My biceps are firmer from holding the weight of it, which is about the same as a small dog. I dropped it on my face one night after nodding off and I resolved right then I would not do that again. My overall impression of the book is that it’s a good story, well written and has some really good bad guys, which is one of Mr. Iles strengths as a writer, in my opinion. In some places it gets too sentimental and in others overly apologetic for past misdeeds of the white race, but that stuff can be overlooked. In this installment we get the answer to the biggest crime of the 20th century, and we also lose two important characters, one good and the other a villain who possessed not even a shred of a conscience. I’m going to miss him. But his crazy uncle is still on the loose and he’s more lethal than all the romaine lettuce in Yuma. And there are plenty of loose ends to tie up, so it won’t be long before I take up Mississippi Blood to see where it all ends.

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Farm

D311AE36-970D-4F1A-ABFE-9ECE6D6307E8This book was still in the Local Interest section on the second day of the annual library book sale and I thought it would be worth a buck to see if it was any good. I am happy to report that it is. Farm chronicles a year in the life of Tom and Sally Bauer, who with help from their three children farm 1000 acres in northwest Missouri. They raise corn, soybeans, wheat, hogs and cattle. They are successful year in and year out thanks to their hard work, ingenuity, frugality and faith. They succeed in spite of challenges put before them by governments both federal and local, agri-business conglomerates, self-serving banks and most importantly, Mother Nature.

For me Farm proved to be a very satisfying reading experience. There are no tragedies, no treachery, no dishonesty or deception. Best of all there are no politics. Everyone featured in the narrative tries to do the right thing by everyone else, though sometimes priorities don’t always align. The Bauer family is a living illustration of the so-called “Midwest Values.” It was nice to read about good people for a change.

 

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Mr. Bridge

imageI picked up this book for a buck at the annual library book sale. The main reason I chose it was because the author had written one of my all-time favorite books, Son of the Morning Star. In reviews I have read of that book several said that the reason it was so readable was because the author was by trade a novelist, so I wanted to see what kind of novel the man writes. Turns out he writes a very interesting but hard to explain novel.

Walter Bridge is the walking definition of “up tight.” He has a rigid set of standards for what is right and what is wrong. He has no time for excess or frivolity. He doesn’t gossip or laugh at crude jokes. He doesn’t believe in being showy, and he has no respect for people who are. His role, as he sees it, is to provide the most comfortable life for his family that he can. He works hard, and by all standards he is a success professionally. When it comes to his family, he often decides that ignoring a problem is the best way to deal with it. His wife appears to be naive in the extreme, and she defers to him on almost every issue, regardless of importance. Mr. Bridge is rarely affectionate towards his wife, and this hurts her. She is mostly a caricature in this book, but I know there is much more to her story. To find out what I will have to read Mrs. Bridge, which I fully intend to do

The setting of the book is Kansas City in the early 1940’s. Many of the places mentioned are familiar since that is where I live. I remember in the late 1980’s a Merchant-Ivory film crew came to town to shoot the movie Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, and the whole city was atwitter because the Newman’s were in town. I haven’t seen the film but may look into it.

I liked the style of Mr. Connell’s writing, which was described on the book jacket as “spare, whimsical and ironic.” I guess so. Sentences are short and so are the chapters. There are probably less than half a dozen words in the entire book that the average fourth grader wouldn’t understand. To me it seemed very efficient, and I mean that as a compliment.

More than once I saw some of myself in Walter Bridge, and it doesn’t bother me at all.

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Great Plains

thumbnailI thought I lived on the Great Plains until I read this book and found out I didn’t. It seems the eastern boundary of said Plains is not fixed. It can vary depending on rainfall. To qualify for inclusion, annual precipitation cannot exceed twenty inches. So that means the Great Plains start about 100 miles to the west of where I live. And then disappointment set in.

Despite my shattered illusions I enjoyed the book, which I found to be part memoir, part travelogue and part history lesson.  It’s full of interesting facts. For example, I didn’t know that many of the weeds found today on the Great Plains came from Russia, the seeds apparently mixed in with the wheat immigrants brought with them for planting. Apparently Russian meddling goes back a long way.

The author drove about 25,000 miles over several years exploring the Great Plains, ostensibly for the conducting of research, but I also got the feeling he liked the vagabond lifestyle he lived in the process, which often required him to sleep in his car. The result is a smart, interesting and often funny book.

 

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Alexander Hamilton

E499FD98-66B0-46F4-A07D-8109023D99CFThat Miranda fellow must have been smoking some pretty powerful stuff when he got the idea to turn this book into a Broadway musical with rap songs. But I give him credit for choosing an interesting subject. Not only was Alexander Hamilton a primary player in the design and implementation of our democratic government and served as the nation’s first Treasury Secretary, but he also created a national system of banking and credit that still exists today. He was the founder of the United States Coast Guard, and he was instrumental in the creation of West Point Military Academy and the U.S. Mint.  He was a man of great intellect and limitless energy. As the leading Federalist of his time he was despised by Republicans who vilified him at every opportunity. His main antagonist was none other than Thomas Jefferson, who is portrayed in these pages as a petty, conniving coward who hid in the background while crony’s did his dirty work.

John Adams also gets his butt kicked by author Chernow. He portrays President Adams as a vain, jealous, insecure man who was not immune to “raving, cursing, indecent comments and loss of self control.” People who witnessed his tantrums speculated he was not fit for the office. Hmmmm. Something about that sounds very familiar.

Never tempted by wealth, Hamilton’s lifelong priority was to live as an honorable man, and the evidence suggests that he did so except in one area; he had lapses in good judgment concerning women who were not his wife. There were rumored to be many, but he only admitted publicly to one. Despite his transgressions he was devoted to his wife and children, and it appeared that towards him they all returned feelings in kind.

The book comes in at 731 pages and about two-thirds in it gets a little dry. A few times I caught myself counting the pages left until the end, but for the most part it kept my interest and was worth the commitment. I still have my doubts about that play.

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Early Girl’s Are Coming In

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Early Girl’s are true to their name. Fifty-one days from planting.

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The Lost Season

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The other night I was sitting on my deck in the twilight, watching the ballgame as fireflies rose twinkling from the lawn, and I started writing a post about the current state of the Kansas City Royals. I was going to call it “Why Do I Still Care?” The idea was to find some positives in this dismal season, and being keenly aware that there was a dearth of choices I planned to sprinkle in some feel-good generalities about the great game of baseball, the best game ever invented by humans. Full disclosure, I had already had several beers when this idea struck me. The next day I read what I had written, and the day after that I deleted it. Because it was sappy and unconvincing and it sucked.

In the harsh light of day there are no positives when your team is the second most hapless outfit in all of professional baseball (thank you, Baltimore). As I write this the Royals have lost 13 of their last 14 games. They were swept at home last week by the Cincinnati Reds, the worst team in the National League. They are 16.5 games behind a first place team that is itself just barely over .500. The Royals may have yet to hit rock bottom, but no doubt they can see it from where they are.

Last night I was sitting on my deck again, watching the game on my iPad, the best thing ever invented by humans, as 45 year-old Bartolo Colon bent the Royals to his will and picked up win #244. But something else occurred yesterday that raises the faintest glimmer of hope. Just before the game, the Royals sent closer Kelvin Herrera, undisputedly our most valuable trade chip, to the Washington Nationals for three well-regarded prospects. Couple that with the five college pitchers we took in the draft, and the two prospects we got for John Jay, and you could make a case that at least this train is on the right track. Now we need a playoff contender that is desperate to trade multiple prospects for a power-hitting third baseman. Then I might be able to look at the 2018 season as something other than a total loss.

So I tried to be optimistic about the future while I sat on my deck last night watching the game, as fireflies blinked above the freshly-cut lawn and birds chirped their final chirps before quieting down for the night and barely audible jet planes passed high overhead in a twilight sky streaked orange and pink and a 45 year-old man with a pot belly dominated the 2018 Royals like they were minor leaguers.

 

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