Monthly Archives: January 2011

Jackie Houchin News & Reviews

Jackie Houchin

Jackie Houchin is a writer in the Los Angeles area who frequently covers cultural events, and writes reviews for several Southern California websites and for three different mystery magazines: Mystery Scene, Crimespree, and The Strand. We have ties through the United Brethren church, and crossed paths when I lived in California.

Jackie also posts lots of reviews on her own website, Jackie Houchin’s News & Reviews. She apparently likes my reviews of mystery books, because she has asked to republish five of them on her site. Just today, my review of “I Am Number Four” appeared.

Here are links to all five of my reviews on Jackie’s site.

  1. I Am Number Four,” by James Frey and Jobie Hughes. (The version.)
  2. The Long Goodbye,” by Raymond Chandler. (The version.)
  3. Passport to Peril,” by Robert B. Parker. (The version.)
  4. The Winter of Frankie Machine,” by Don Winslow. (The version.)
  5. Stranger in Paradise,” by Robert B. Parker. (The version.)
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Book: I Am Number Four

This was a superb book. I loved it, beginning to end. Read it on my ColorNook.

I recently discovered, or rediscovered, juvenile fiction. “I Am Number Four” (2010) is a sci-fi piece set in contemporary America. The violent Mogadorians invaded and destroyed the world called Lorien, despite the people there who possessed superpowers. Fortunately, a spaceship containing nine children, plus their mentors (called Cepans), escaped. These children would all, in time, develop superpowers, which they could hopefully use to defeat the Mogadorians and reestablish Lorien.

These nine children and their adult Cepans (who lack superpowers) have been hiding on Planet Earth, living without contact with the other pairs, and awaiting the day when their superpowers develop. They already possess unusual speed and strength, but the superpowers will take everything to a whole ‘nother level.

Meanwhile, they are being hunted by the Mogadorians, who want to kill them before their powers emerge. The children are numbered from one to nine, and a Loric enchantment restricts the Mogadorians to killing them in order. The book begins with Three being killed. Then we switch to Florida, where 15-year-old John Smith experiences a third ring burning into his leg, telling him that Three is dead. He and his Cepan, Henri, immediately move to Paradise, Ohio, the latest of numerous moves in their efforts to stay ahead of the Mogadorians.

John enters high school, where he butts heads with football players and falls head over heals for Sarah. His superpowers–called Legacies–also begin appearing (it’s different for all of the kids). But inevitably, the Mogadorians are going to track them down. You know from the start that a confrontation will come. Also, we learn that the Mogadorians, having depleted their own world and now Lorien, have their sights on subduing earth.

The book cover says the author is “Pittacus Lore,” whom we are told “has been on earth for the last 12 years preparing for the war that will decide Earth’s fate.” Since the book is told first-person, my assumption is that “Number Four” and “Pittacus Lore” are the same person. But he’s supposed to be 10,000 years old, and says he’s been trying to unite the Nine. So I’m not totally clear on this.

Back in the real world, the book is a collaboration between James Frey, who came up with the idea for the series, and Jobie Hughes, a 30-year-old guy born in Washington State, raised in Ohio, and now living in New York.

This is the first book in what is being called the Lorien Legacies. A movie is coming out in February 2011, so they’re not wasting any time, since the book was printed in August 2010. I’m not excited about the movie, but I will anxiously await further books in this series. I want to see where it goes.

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The Rise and Inevitable Fall of Keith Olberman

I’m delighted about the departure of Keith Olberman from MSNBC.

Not because of his liberal views. There’s room for that on TV, and should be. After all, we’ve got a whole network devoted exclusively to conservative views. If MSNBC wants to commit their evening line-up to a weak counter-balance to FoxNews, that’s fine. There’s an audience for that.

And not because Olberman lacks ability. The guy is extremely talented. “Countdown” showed a lot of creativity. As a writer, I’ve always admired Olberman’s dexterity as a wordsmith; he could really turn a phrase, and knew how to do it with humor, which isn’t as easy as you think. He always seemed, to me, quite bright, though without the political background which provides knowledge and insight, which you find with the likes of Joe Scarborough, Britt Hume, and Chris Matthews.

In that way, Olberman was akin to Glenn Beck. Beck spent most of his career as a morning shock jock, and only gained an interest in politics when his Top 40-DJ career was waning and he realized he needed a new gig; talk radio was just then taking off, and he decided that’s where his future lay. Olberman got his start in sports, where he became a rock star of sorts with Dan Patrick on SportsCenter. But in turning to political punditry, he’s had to learn on the job. His lack of depth, like Beck’s, is apparent. Though Olberman avoids the wild-eyed rantings of Beck.

No, the reason I bid a happy adieu to Olberman has to do with character issues. His smugness. Inflated ego. Pomposity. Arrogance. Sense of self-importance. His inner diva.

In 2008, I read a New Yorker profile on Olberman called “One Angry Man.” As I’ve written before, nobody does profiles as well as the New Yorker. In this profile, Olberman’s arrogance and diva nature shone through, and I remember thinking, “This guy will someday implode.” To me, it was just a matter of time before he and MSNBC reached an unhappy parting. (I predict the same meltdown will happen with Glenn Beck, eventually.)

I’ve read for years about how the mainstay NBC news personalities disliked Olberman (and MSNBC’s nighttime line-up in general), because of the overt partisanship. People like Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw felt that Olberman’s blatant liberalism unfairly tarnished the image of the NBC news division, and I agree. Williams, Brokaw, and the other NBC mainstream journalists kept their distance from Olberman.

Sean Hannity recently interviewed Sarah Palin. That’s like Ken interviewing Barbie. Totally softball stuff. Likewise, I remember, during the presidential campaign, when Olberman landed an interview with Barack Obama. Olberman slobbered all over Obama, trying to be chummy and not ask anything confrontative. It was pathetic, and Obama seemed embarrassed by it. There are only scraps of journalist in Olberman.

This partisanship is why I despise both the MSNBC nighttime programs and the entirety of FoxNews. It’s not journalism. And it’s not truth. When your focus is to tear down the other side–whether it’s the Republicans or the Democrats–and to never say anything good about the other, then you’re not interested in truth. You’re just a puppet, a spouter of talking points. FoxNews no longer makes any pretense about being an objective news organization. MSNBC wants to have it both ways. Both networks know the audience they are trying to reach–the choirs they preach to, the people who care less about light than about having their preconceived views affirmed. And that’s not me. I’m in nobody’s choir.

As with Bill O’Reilly and others, there have been stories of Olberman being a diva around his staff. That always turns me off.

Speaking of O’Reilly: Olberman regularly attacked him, often placing him among that day’s candidates for “Worst Person in the World.” O’Reilly, instead of responding to Olberman, smartly went above him to attack General Electric, the parent company. O’Reilly found many excuses to unfairly demonize GE. This didn’t please GE.

I suspect that Comcast, the new parent company, was not excited about becoming O’Reilly’s new target of derision. If O’Reilly told viewers to cancel their Comcast subscription and switch to another carrier, tens of thousands of them would mindlessly obey.

During the Bush years, I grew to like Olberman. He was speaking about things which were a deep concern to me, particularly in regard to the wars and torture. But increasingly, he became shrill, and his sense of self-importance clouded everything. Then one night he ended an otherwise okay “Special Comment” piece by saying, “Mr. Bush: Shut the hell up.”

That’s when he totally lost me. That was way, way over my line.

Olberman was definitely good for MSNBC. During his eight years as “Countdown” host, he did what Phil Donahue, Alan Keyes, and a whole bunch of other bigger names couldn’t: he created an audience for the MSNBC evening shows, and he did it on talent alone (being an unknown, that’s all he had). So kudos for that.

But his ego did him in. And yet another unhappy parting–an Olberman trademark–occurred. An ESPN executive once said of Olberman’s departure, “He didn’t burn bridges here. He napalmed them.” I’m sure that’s the case once again.

Where will Olberman turn up next? Beats me. Probably on radio. I don’t see any TV network making a place for him.

Interestingly, Olberman’s TV spot is being filled by Lawrence O’Donnell, whose ego rivals Olberman’s. He lacks Olberman’s talent, but does bring political depth. But I suspect he’ll self-implode, too. As will Ed Schultz, who is taking O’Donnell’s previous spot. Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow are the only sane ones in the line-up. In my view. And Matthews is the only one I care to watch.

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Book: The Fabulous Clipjoint

“The Fabulous Clipjoint” (1947), by Frederic Brown, is a coming-of-age story about Ed Hunter, whose father is murdered in a Chicago alley. Ed, age 18, is living with his stepmom and stepsister. He heads to Wisconsin to see his Uncle Ambrose, who works in a carnival. Ambrose immediately leaves with Ed, determined to find who killed Ed’s father and Ambrose’s brother.

The novel moves along at a nice pace. The interaction between Ed and Ambrose is interesting, as are the tactics Ambrose uses to track down the killer in Chicago’s underworld. You see wise old Ambrose, a very street-savvy sort, mentoring Ed and steering him toward manhood. Along the way, Ed learns much about the father he never truly knew–that he was not the weak, pathetic man he thought he was.

I found this book as a freebie epub somewhere on the internet and read it on my ColorNook. Frederic Brown won the 1947 Edgar Award for “Best First Mystery Novel” with this book, having already published hundreds of stories in pulp magazines.

This was a very good book, and since it was free, I consider it a great find. I understand that there are six more books featuring Ed and Ambrose.

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The Economy is So Bad That….

I got a pre-declined credit card in the mail.

CEOs are now playing miniature golf.

Exxon-Mobil laid off 25 Congressmen.

I saw a Mormon polygamist with only one wife.

McDonald’s is selling the 1/4 ouncer.

Angelina Jolie adopted a child from America.

Parents in Beverly Hills fired their nannies and learned their children’s names.

My cousin had an exorcism but couldn’t afford to pay for it, and they re-possessed her!

A truckload of Americans was caught sneaking into Mexico.

A picture is now only worth 200 words.

When Bill and Hillary travel together, they now have to share a room.

And, finally…

I was so depressed last night thinking about the economy, wars, jobs, my savings, Social Security, retirement funds, etc., I called the Suicide Hotline. I got a call center in Pakistan, and when I told them I was suicidal, they got all excited, and asked if I could drive a truck.

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My Top Book Picks of 2010

I finished 2010 having read 80 books. That’s the best I’ve done in a couple decades. One of the perks of having surgery is the recovery time–lots of down time which is perfect for reading. I had three surgeries in 2010, and also spent a lot of time in hospitals while my Dad was having quadruple bypass surgery. In that way, I plowed through the books.

Most of them were fiction, and most of the fiction books were mysteries. Here are my ten favorites, in order.

  1. The Winter of Frankie Machine (Don Winslow). A former mob hitman, who built a life apart from the mob, gets sucked back in when someone tries to kill him. Lots of little things going on, and every one of them is tied up by the end of the book. Just superb.
  2. Pop. 1280 (Jim Thompson). Told first-person by a sociopathic town sheriff. If you like roman noir–and you’ve got to be slightly twisted to like it–you’ll love this book. Thompson’s “The Killer Inside Me” is probably better known, and may be a better book (also about a murderous policeman), but Pop. 1280 was endearingly quirky.
  3. The Return of the Dancing Master (Henning Mankell). The first Mankell book I’ve read that wasn’t about detective Kurt Wallander.
  4. The Galton Case (Ross MacDonald). Perhaps the best Ross MacDonald book that I’ve read thus far in the Lew Archer series.
  5. The Girl Who Played with Fire (Stieg Larsson). Not as good as “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” but still REALLY good. Lisbeth Salander, one of the most interesting female characters in any book, was the focus this time.
  6. Judas Horse (April Smith). I read two April Smith books back-to-back. Both were excellent. The main character is a female FBI agent.
  7. Stranger in Paradise (Robert Parker). A Jesse Stone novel, probably my favorite so far.
  8. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins). This awakened me to the whole world of juvenile fiction, where I’m finding some good books. Two more books in this series yet to read. About a future totalitarian society in which teens are selected to compete in a televised death-match.
  9. The Long Goodbye (Raymond Chandler). This was a darker, humorless, less likable Philip Marlowe than in Chandler’s previous books in the series. But the plot was extraordinary.
  10. Sunset and Sawdust (Joe Lansdale). Set in East Texas in roughly the same era as “The Bottoms,” which is an even better book. This one involves a woman sheriff in the early 1900s.Lansdale’s depiction of race relations in that era and territory is what really keeps me glued.

On the nonfiction front, let me mention a few books I read.

  1. Where Men Win Glory (Jon Krakauer). This is the story of Pat Tillman, told by a true literary craftsman. Fascinating book. Tillman did not have a good experience in the military.
  2. Tears in the Darkness (Michael Norman). A new book on the Bataan death march, revolving around a soldier who survived it. The depiction of the days leading up to Japan’s invasion of the Philippines, and the ferocious fight the Americans put up, was especially interesting. Douglas MacArthur, who didn’t prepare for the inevitable warfare, comes across very poorly.
  3. War (Sebastian Junger). A wonderful book about US soldiers constantly under fire in a remote area of Afghanistan along the Pakistan border. Junger, like Krakauer, is an amazing writer. This book really teaches you what goes on in war.
  4. The Bottom Billion (Paul Collier). Somewhat of an academic book about the billion people in the world who live in the poorest countries. Focuses on the factors which keep those countries from developing. Very illuminating, and important.
  5. Joker One (Donovan Campbell). Campbell was a platoon commander in Ramadhi, Iraq, I prefer books by reporters, but Campbell tells his story with such humanity. You see a leader with a servant heart. This book was a pleasant surprise.
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Are Electronic Readers Hurting TV Viewership?

An interesting study from internet service shows that most iPad reading occurs 7-11 pm. We can probably assume that the same is true of persons with the other electronic readers, which ReadItLater couldn’t track–the Nook, Kobo, and dozens of others.

This reading is occurring during Prime Time TV. Are people replacing TV with actual reading? Tell me it’s not true!

CNN reported on this. The article noted that people may be multitasking–reading on their iPad with the TV on. CNN wrote, “It’s something of a return to a traditional leisure hour image: People settling down on the couch after the evening meal to read the paper or a book, possibly to listen to the radio at the same time.”

I find myself doing the same thing with my Nook–the TV is on, and I’m aware of what’s showing, but I’m also reading. And reading takes a lot more concentration, so the TV becomes background stuff. Sometimes, God forbid, I even turn the TV off completely!

The article points out that TV execs won’t like this, because they want your full attention. They don’t want you burying your head in a book, newspaper, or iPad during commercials.

But I think it’s great. Anything that encourages more reading.

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The Ritual Placing of the Book

Macy Halford, writing on the New Yorker website about the Kindle, said, “When I read a book all the way through to the end, I want the evidence stuffed and mounted on my bookshelf.”

I feel a lot the same way. I enjoy finishing a book, and then finding just the right spot for it on a bookshelf (we have five bookshelves in our living room, two in our bedroom, and one in the computer room). I’ve read four books on my Nook so far, but when I’m done, there’s no holy Placing of the Book ritual.

Halford continues, “My suspicion is that people who prefer e-readers use them primarily to read Harlan Coben, and are happy to be able to delete the physical evidence.”

True, to an extend. I’ll use the Nook for books that I would probably just return to a used bookstore, or to which I don’t care to designate precious shelf space. My Black Lizard, mysteries, for example–I’ll continue reading the dead-tree versions. And I’ll continue experiencing the post-epilogue-ish ceremonial Placing of the Book.

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Facebook Political Views

Facebook allows you to state your “Religious Views” and your “Political Views.” One of my Facebook friends had this:

Political Views: Yes, I have them.
Religious Views: I have those, too.

That, of course, is not in the spirit of Facebook, where you’re expected to tell the world absolutely everything about yourself. No being cryptic.

My own Facebook “Political Views” says, “Moderate, but you might think me liberal.” As I’m sure many of you do think of me. I decided to look up the political views of my Facebook friends, and I found a fascinating assortment. Some just said “Republican” or “Conservative,” but others waxed far more interesting. Many would describe me, including the simple “Unclassifiable.”


  • I’m a rebel against the new establishment.
  • Caught in the middle
  • Pondering
  • Whomever – but I’m always right! 🙂
  • Incorrect
  • Depends on the Issue.
  • Too complicated for sound bytes
  • Right Wing Republican Wacko [the same person who had “Right Wing Evangelical Republican Wacko” as his religious view]
  • Other
  • You don’t know, and I won’t tell. I like it that way.
  • Tired of crooks
  • Thoughtful
  • Responsible
  • I hate politics, but I suppose they’re necessary…
  • Lots of ’em
  • Go very for left and when you think you cant go any further take two more steps to the left.
  • I don’t want to play anymore
  • Optimistic
  • Right vs. wrong not right vs. left
  • Opinionated
  • Does It Really Matter?
  • Tend to be middle of the road
  • Constitution Party, but a monarchist at heart
  • Definitely left of center
  • God, soldiers, family
  • Medium Rare
  • Conservative most of the time.
  • You say “liberal”, I say “biblical”
  • Reformed Biblical Reconstructionist
  • Conservative Hippie
  • Disappointed
  • Looking for a nice conversation over lunch about how Jesus wants the world to spin
  • I want to actually help the poor, not just talk about it
  • Don’t give a sh*t!!!
  • I don’t love politics–or political TV. I vote based on convictions and who might be at least a little bit honest.
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2010: a Big Year for News

When it comes to news stories, 2010 was a very big year. Not as big as 1968–not even close–but probably bigger than 2004. I wrote about both 1968 and 2004 in one of my early blog columns.

There were several really big news stories which dominated headlines for an extended period:

  • Earthquake in Haiti kills 250,000.
  • The 2010 midterm elections, with all kinds of stories: Tea Party influence, Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell, Republicans win the House and almost the Senate….
  • The rescue of the Chilean miners.
  • The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The Health Care bill passes.
  • The controversy over the “Ground Zero” mosque.

Then there were all of these stories:

  • Scott Brown wins Massachusetts senate seat of Ted Kennedy.
  • The 2010 Winter Olympics.
  • US missionaries from Idaho imprisoned, charged with child kidnapping.
  • Jay Leno returns to the Tonight Show, Conan finds a new gig.
  • The Decision: Lebron joins Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosch in Miami.
  • Arizona passes a controversial illegal alien law.
  • Release of the iPad.
  • Toyota goes through a devastating recall.
  • Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupts in Iceland, shutting down European air traffic.
  • New coalition government in England.
  • Terrible floods hit Pakistan.
  • Google pulls out of Mainland China.
  • A Florida wacko preacher threatens a “Burn the Koran” day.
  • Controversy over full-body scanners at airports.
  • Repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
  • The Times Square bomber.
  • Ten Russian sleeper spies deported.
  • Elena Kagan nominated to the Supreme Court.
  • Engagement of Prince William and Kate.
  • World Cup in South Africa.
  • California almost decriminalizes marijuana.
  • North Korea shells civilians in South Korea.
  • General McChrystal resigns after Rolling Stone interview. Petraus takes over.
  • Jerry Brown wins California governorship (again) over billionairess Meg Whitman.
  • French riot over pension issues.
  • Return of Michael Vick, frustration for Tiger Woods, the end of Brett Favre (?)
  • Facebook conquers the world.
  • Glenn Beck’s big Tea Party rally in Washington DC.
  • Avatar becomes the highest-grossing film of all time.
  • The Wikileaks revelations.
  • The hugely productive Lame Duck session of Congress.
  • A few notable deaths: Elizabeth Edwards, Leslie Nielsen, Tony Curtis, Dennis Hopper.

What am I missing?

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