Category: Books

by Soji Shimada

 

I guess you could call Shimada Japan’s answer to Agatha Christie, but I wouldn’t put him in Dame Agatha’s league. Crooked House is a locked-room murder mystery with all of the usual ingredients: an isolated group of suspects, most of whom have something to hide, but not necessarily murder; an eccentric detective to amaze everyone with his astounding deductions; and a convoluted, somewhat clever plot.

I say “somewhat” clever because I didn’t buy the resolution to the story, which is more “howdunit” than whodunit. I suppose that, theoretically, it’s possible that the crimes could be committed per Shimada’s plot. But man … it takes a great deal of goodwill on the readers’ part to buy into it.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by Tucker Carlson

 

There’s a good reason that the left keeps targeting Fox News’s Tucker Carlson with advertiser boycotts. Unlike the Fox anchors who follow his nightly show, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, Carlson is neither a lightweight Trump sycophant (Hannity), nor a smug, intellectually lazy yuck (Ingraham). Carlson is sharp, witty – and often right. In short, to the left he’s a formidable threat.

If you watch Carlson’s show (raising my hand), most of what he covers in 2019’s Ship of Fools is old news. His targets are familiar: Obama, environmentalists, illegal immigration, open borders, and … well, most issues that progressives hold near and dear.  But unlike so many of the talking heads out there, Carlson is passionate and persuasive.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by Steve Almond

 

I suspect that Almond is mostly preaching to the choir with his book about the evils of American football. If you’re already down on football, you’ll cheer him on. If you’re a fan, you’ll view him as a spoilsport.

Either way, it’s difficult to argue with many of his points. Football does cause brain damage; NFL owners do extort taxpayer money for new stadiums; college student-athletes are anything but; etcetera, etcetera.

Some of Almond’s assertions are questionable. On the “homophobia” alleged to be rampant in the NFL, he drags out the stereotype about how players who dislike locker-room showers with gay teammates are actually afraid of their own sexuality. Does that mean that women who prefer not to shower with males are, in fact, afraid of their own sexuality? Is that a flawed comparison?

But football does present a dilemma. Physical aggression is ancient and part of our DNA. I’m not sure what you do about that other than channel it somehow – like through watching football. My take: It’s best to stop supporting high school and college football. As for the pros, they are handsomely paid and they now know what they are getting into.

Watching football is like watching porn: not good for you but still a component of a free society.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by William Kent Krueger

 

There is a dead judge and a missing boy in the northern Minnesota wilderness, and it’s up to our hero, a small-town, mild-mannered ex-sheriff, to save the day.

Iron Lake is an OK thriller, but it’s oh-so-familiar. If you read enough of these crime novels (I’m guilty), many of the protagonists – Jack Reacher, Harry Bosch, or in this case, Cork O’Connor – begin to morph into the same character. The hero will be a hard-headed, middle-aged man, often a cop or ex-cop, who drinks and smokes and broods over a lost love. And then there is a call to action, often involving a family member or that lost love, and our hero proves his mettle against all odds. Only the settings change in many of these books.

Iron Lake was of interest to me because this time the locale was not L.A. nor New York, but rather rural Minnesota, where I grew up. The story was fine; the characters were fine; but mostly this was nothing new.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by Michael Booth

 

As I type on this keyboard, we’re in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and so any book depicting the culture and lifestyle of a particular region probably needs a caveat: Was it written post-plague or pre-plague?

In The Almost Nearly Perfect People, British expat Michael Booth chronicles Scandinavia — but the Scandinavia of 10 years ago, which might be very different from the Nordic region post-plague.

At any rate, I’m of Nordic heritage (mostly Norwegian; some Swedish), so Booth’s travelogue-analysis was of special interest to me. Booth has been compared to Bill Bryson, but his book is less interested in Bryson-like humorous anecdotes and more about compare-and-contrast: How does Scandinavia stack up in relation to the rest of the world? What makes it unique?

Yesterday, I watched a news report about the one Western country that seems to be going against the grain in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. That would be Sweden, which will not surprise anyone who reads this book. According to the news story, the Swedes are apparently shrugging their collective shoulders about the virus while everyone else is taking drastic measures.

Are the Swedes showing the rest of us how to deal with a pandemic, just as they aspire to lead the way on gender equality and immigration? Or are they a nation of oblivious fools?  

The Swede in me would like to believe the former; the Norwegian in me fears the latter.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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Since we are “self isolating,” we thought this would be a good time to post something fun. So here are thumbnails of the covers of books that Grouch has read over the past 25 years. Where possible, the covers shown are the actual covers when the books were purchased, whether in 1995, 2005, or yesterday — probably about 95 percent of the titles. The list is alphabetical. 

Click on any image for a view of the full cover. 

 

grouchyeditor.com perfect people 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whew … that’s a lot of scrolling. If you’d like to read short reviews of about one-third of the above books, click here for an index with links.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by Mary Stewart

 

Why, you might reasonably ask, would I read a 58-year-old book by romance novelist Mary Stewart? OK, let me try to explain.

I was motivated by a mixture of:  a) nostalgia, b) a hankering to read what they call a “cozy” mystery and, last but not least, c) fond memories of … Hayley Mills. She starred in Disney’s film version of the book.

So sue me. Go ahead, sue me.  Moon-Spinners fulfilled my wish list.

By today’s standards, the story is certainly “cozy.” There is no sex; just romance. There is violence, but nothing graphic. There is no swearing. On the whole, it’s very tame stuff, which I suppose is good or bad, depending on your taste.

The plot concerns a young English girl living in Greece who, while on holiday at a small fishing village, stumbles on a gang of thieves, a murder, and a kidnapping. Throughout all of this drama, my mental image of the heroine was Hayley Mills. I enjoyed that, because Mills was my childhood crush.

So sue me.

 

Footnote:  As for the actual title of this book – to hyphenate or not to hyphenate – I give up. Take a look at this:

 

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by William Strauss and Neil Howe

 

“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night new decade.” – (apologies to Bette Davis in All About Eve)

 

According to this book, something big is about to happen. Think World War II big. Or Civil War big. In fact, it’s probably already happening, but in a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees, we just aren’t aware of it yet – but historians will be.

Strauss and Howe make a convincing case that America is well into its “Fourth Turning” – the final, crisis stage of four recurring cycles of history.

The authors go back about 500 years and present evidence that society nearly always (the Civil War being the lone exception) goes through:  1) a “high” (think post-World War II);  2) an “awakening” (the chaotic 1960s);  3) an “unraveling” (when this book was published, in 1997); and finally and potentially catastrophically, 4) a “crisis” (ummm … right now). And then the cycles repeat.

Turning links these historical patterns to another recurrence: four human generations. These are, in order, the “prophets” (Baby Boomers, in what seems to me a misnomer); the “nomads” (Generation X); the “heroes” (Millennials); and the “artists” (Gen Z). How these archetypes interact with the four historical stages determines the fate of mankind.

Strauss and Howe’s case is strong about America’s past. Where they falter is in the book’s subtitle: the “prophecy” part. Although they do provide caveats to their (often alarming) predictions for this century, many of their projections seem off-base.

Not even these guys could predict Donald Trump.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by Amy Tan

 

As I read The Joy Luck Club, I was reminded of what’s great about books, especially fiction. Here I am, a middle-aged white man living in 2019 America, suddenly immersed in the lives of Chinese women and their Chinese-American daughters, spanning most of the 20th century. It was a bit like snooping in a stranger’s medicine cabinet: Much of what you see there is fascinating; some of it is unfathomable.

Tan is very good at world-building. Open her book to any page and you are immediately absorbed by whatever she’s writing about. Vivid images and memorable metaphors abound. That’s the good news.

Yet if I’m honest … there are eight main characters in the story – four mothers and four daughters – and I often found them indistinguishable. The mothers all suffer hardships and learn valuable life lessons, which they attempt to pass on to their girls. The daughters are all more optimistic but also more foolish. At times I felt I was reading the same story four times over, just with different character names.

But Joy Luck seems relevant to me, some 30 years after its publication, in part because there is so much talk about China today, and it illustrates the gap between the Chinese way of seeing the world, and the American way. The Chinese – at least traditionally – seem to be all about fate and omens and what the West might consider superstition. They see America as a place of much opportunity, but too little wisdom and too much worship at the altar of money.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by David Foster Wallace

 

Wallace is the author of One of Those Novels I Mean to Read Someday — right after I finish re-reading Moby Dick and War and Peace. That book is called Infinite Jest, and I admit that its mammoth length is the main reason I haven’t yet tackled it.

In the meantime, I checked out Consider the Lobster, a collection of Wallace essays published in 2005. Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008, was a writer of infinite curiosity. He was highly intelligent but had a quality so often missing from the highly intelligent: humility.

Lobster contains Wallace’s observations on everything from a pornography convention in Las Vegas to the impact of September 11, 2001 on Middle Americans to, as the title implies, the boiling of lobsters.

All of it is interesting; all of it is engaging. My only complaint is Wallace’s love of the footnote (and footnotes within footnotes). At times it becomes distracting and tiresome.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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