Saturday, January 20, 2018

Review of "Basketball and Football"

It isn't often I will finish two books in one day, but that was the case for today. Instead of waiting to write the second review, I thought I would just do so now.  This book was a great collection of satirical pieces and short stories on basketball and football.  Having read a boxing book by this author before, I thought it would be good and I was correct.  However - he sent me the book in August so this one makes the Blogger Shame list.  But...at least it now makes me on track for my Blogger Shame resolution to review at least two of these books that have been sitting on my shelf for at least four months.  Here is my review of "Basketball and Football".



Title/Author:
Basketball and Football ” by George Thomas Clark
Tags:
Football (American), basketball, short stories, essays
Publish date:
August 16, 2017

Length:
298 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
With one of the simplest titles for a sports book, “Basketball and Football” by George Thomas Clark is a very entertaining collection of essays and short stories about those two sports.  Some of the stories are completely fictional, some are satire based on real football and basketball people or events and some even read like a newspaper account.

Something that was different about this collection was that there wasn’t a single story that I did not like. Of course, some were better reads or far more entertaining than others, but unlike other collections of stories or essays, this one did not have a single clunker in the mix.  Each one showcased the author’s writing talent, which is plentiful and beautiful to read.

Stories that are about the same person in the sport are grouped into a chapter and that chapter is titled with the name of the subject.  I thought these were the very best passages of the book as the humor and satire of these first person narratives were very entertaining and yet very true at the same time.  My favorites of these were the essays on LeBron James in basketball and former coach Bill Walsh in the football section.  A close second on the football side was the chapter on O.J. Simpson – which of course talks about not only his football career but also his notoriety later on in life for his famous murder trial.

Fans of these two sports will want to pick up a copy of this very entertaining book that is not only fun to read, it is one that once a reader stops, he or she will be done fairly quickly as it is a page turner that is hard to put down.

I wish to thank Mr. Clark for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)
Buying Links:


Review of "The Devil and Bobby Hull"

This book and I had a strange relationship.  I had checked the e-book version out from the library three times and never got around to reading it beyond the first chapter.  Then, when I got a free credit from my audio book account and saw that this was available in that format, I decided to try it and this time I actually finished it.  I am glad that I did.  While some other reviewers felt this book was very hard on Bobby Hull, I thought it was a fair and balanced account of his hockey career and his life.  Here is my review of "The Devil and Bobby Hull."




Title/Author:
The Devil and Bobby Hull: How Hockey’s Original Million Dollar Man Became the Game’s Lost Legend ” by Gare Joyce, narrated by Bernard Clark
Tags:
Ice Hockey, professional, biography, Blackhawks, Jets, Whalers, audiobook
Publish date:
January 1, 2011

Length:
274 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
Bobby Hull was arguably the best NHL hockey player during the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  He scored more than 50 goals several times during that decade and was nicknamed “The Golden Jet” for his flowing locks (until they started receding) while he skated up the ice.

In 1971, he and his Chicago Blackhawks came oh-so-close to winning the Stanley Cup. He played one more season in Chicago before he signed a contract worth one million dollars with the Winnipeg Jets of the brand new World Hockey Association (WHA).  While the signing gave the new league instant credibility and Hull newfound riches, it also marked a significant change in how his career would be viewed by the NHL.  This biography by Gare Joyce is an interesting look at Hull’s career and personal life as well, using information mostly gathered during a long interview with Hull at a restaurant owned by Wayne Gretzky.

I believe the book paints a balanced picture of Hull for both his hockey career and his personal life and reputation. The latter took a beating during his 1980 divorce trial from his wife, with whom he had five children including a son who was also proficient at scoring goals in the NHL, Brett Hull.  By the time of the divorce, Hull had been released by the Hartford Whalers, another team from the original WHA along with Hull’s old team in Winnipeg, who had released him earlier that season.  The story told in the book paints a broken but determined man who is going to give the sport one last chance, despite the fact the sport had basically frozen him out after jumping from the NHL to the WHA.

This is the other dark cloud of the book – Hull’s personal rift with Bob Wirtz and Harold Ballard.  These two men were owners of the Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs respectively and he felt they were the big reason he signed with Winnipeg.  The reader will hear mostly from Hull’s side of this war, but the author does a decent job of not taking sides and writing about this fairly. 

If a reader wants to learn more about Hull the player, this book does a very good job or providing that information as well. The best hockey scene in the book comes at the beginning when the final game of the 1971 Stanley Cup finals is relived in painful detail (to Hull and Blackhawk fans) when the Montreal Canadiens won the game and Cup.  There is also some good writing about his days in Winnipeg, especially when the Jets signed Swedish players Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg to play on the same line as Hull.  They produced some of the best hockey played in the short life of the WHA before four of the league’s teams, including Hull’s Jets, were merged with the NHL.

The audio version of the book was capably narrated by Bernard Clark with the exception of some mispronounced names.  Fortunately these are few and far between and are not people that play a major role in the book.  His narration helped me envision what was taking place on the ice and also made the dark parts of Hull’s life, such as the divorce and revelations of his spousal abuse toward his wife, seem even worse than mere written words would do.

This book paints a good picture of Hull’s life, warts and all, that a reader who is not familiar with him will get a balanced look at his life and career.  Those readers who remember him and were big fans may not like the negatives written but to me these were needed to paint the complete picture.

Book Format Read:
Audio book
Buying Links:

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Review of "The Secret Race"

One resolution that I plan on keeping this year is to clean out the older books on my shelves or e-reader clouds.  The challenge I had earlier posted was one part of this resolution - the other was simply to read some of the books I bought a long time ago, but never got to read.  This book is one of them - and now I wish I had read it as soon as it popped up on my Nook. An outstanding memoir that provides an inside look at the world of cycling and its doping scandal, I recommend that everyone reads this, even if they are not fans.  Here is my review of Tyler Hamilton's memoir, "The Secret Race."


Title/Author:
The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France” by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle
Tags:
Cycling, performance enhancing drugs, memoir
Publish date:
September 5, 2012

Length:
306 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
The rise and fall of Lance Armstrong was a spectacular story on both ends.  The doping scandal that was rampant in the sport of cycling ensnared not only Armstrong, but many of his teammates and competitors.  One of those cyclists, Tyler Hamilton, shares his story about his time in the sport and with Armstrong (called “Lance” throughout the book, not “Armstrong) in this outstanding memoir, co-written with Daniel Coyle.

What especially struck me about the book was Hamilton’s attention to every detail about the doping that goes on in cycling.  Not just the substances used, but the nicknames given, the undercover nature of communication between athletes and doctors, the methods of taking the drugs and the benefits a cyclists gets during the races.  Whether it was Hamilton’s description of taking “Edgar” (Erythropoietin), the details of his “BBs” (blood bags) when getting a transfusion of his own blood, or the conversations between racers on the trail, this is a book that is a page-turner, no matter what the reader’s level of interest may be in the sport of cycling.

The stories of how racers would either avoid or outsmart the drug testers read like spy novels.  This level of deceit, lies and evasion could only be told by someone who lived this type of life and Hamilton does it well.  This is true when not only talking about his own doping, but also that of Armstrong and other Postal team members.  He at times seemed in awe of Armstrong (before Lance’s eventual downfall) because he was always able to find a way to talk his way out of a tough situation.

Hamilton’s story itself is also very interesting, with his own climb from riding for various smaller teams to getting a spot in the prestigious US Postal team, the one that Armstrong raced for during his record stretch of Tour de France wins, wins that have since been stricken from records.  Hamilton himself has had the same thing happen to him with his 2004 Olympic gold medal in doubt because of a positive drug test.  While relieved he was able to keep his medal when the validity of the second positive test could not be verified, he eventually came clean on his doping. 

If a reader wants to learn about the actual sport, this book is a great source to do so.  Hamilton’s description of the riders who have to set the pace for the leaders, those who ride in packs or those who have to keep pace with the lead cyclist so that leader can maintain the speed he needs to keep the lead, is full of details that make a reader feel like he or she is on the bike. 

This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about the doping scandals in the sport of cycling or learn about the story of this Olympic champion whose personal and professional life took many drastic turns.  Be forewarned – once you pick up the book, you will not want to put it down.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Nook)
Buying Links:


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review of "When the Braves Ruled the Diamond"

Normally, any baseball book will get a glowing recommendation from me, even if it falls a bit flat from my expectations.  In this case of this book about the 14 consecutive division titles by the Atlanta Braves, my recommendation is conditional - try the print version, not the audio book and if the reader is a hard core Braves fan, go elsewhere as there will not be any new material here.  But for casual fans and readers, this one is one to try if one wants to learn about this team that went on an extraordinary streak. 


Title/Author:
When The Braves Ruled the Diamond: Fourteen Flags Over Atlanta” by Dan Schlossberg, narrated by Kyle Tait
Tags:
Baseball, professional, Braves, championship, history, audiobook
Publish date:
March 22, 2016

Length:
304 pages

Rating: 
2 ½ of 5 stars (just okay)
Review:
The Atlanta Braves ended the 20th century and began the 21st century by accomplishing an astounding feat – winning 14 consecutive division titles, not counting the 1994 season in which no team awards were given as a player strike ended the season on August 12 that year. This book by Dan Schlossberg covers each season in which the Braves won a division title and also has stories about the most important people who contributed to the streak.

While the team won all these division titles, the team was a disappointment in the postseason, winning the World Series just once during the streak (1995) and not making it back to the World Series after 1999.  That is a good analogy to describe this book about the Braves as well – despite all the great material and a good narrator, the audio book fell short of expectations.

The book started with very good stories on the general manager who put these teams team together, John Schuerholz, as well as manager Bobby Cox, pitching coach Leo Mazzone, infielders Terry Pendleton and Larry “Chipper” Jones (the two players who were named National League MVP during the run) and pitchers Gregg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz.  While avid Braves fans or readers who read a lot about baseball may be familiar with most of the material, these chapters contain good information for readers who wish to learn about these men.  The summaries of each season of the streak also are good for readers who want to learn the basics about the Braves in each of those seasons.

As an audiobook, however, there were several issues. One of the most glaring came at points during some of the season summaries.  There were random facts stated in the middle of the chapter that interrupted the particular story that was being told.  For example, during one of the seasons in which Deion Sanders played for the Braves, it was noted that Sanders was the first man to appear in both the World Series and the Super Bowl in his athletic career.  However, at the time this fact was said, it interrupted the recap of the 1995 postseason accomplishments of the Braves and Sanders was not at all mentioned in that part.  This was not the only time the narrative was interrupted by an unrelated fact.  It probably would not be as glaring in a print version, especially if it was meant to be a photo caption or footnote, but it was not clarified as such in the audio version.

The other shortcoming of the book, in this reviewer’s opinion, was the needless repetition of certain facts over and over throughout the chapters about the GM, manager, coach and players.  By the time that part of the book is over, the reader will certainly know that the Braves won 14 straight division titles, that John Smoltz was the only player to be on all 14 of those teams and that the Braves were 9 ½ games back of the San Francisco Giants in 1993 to come back and win the division that year.  All were interesting, and the first is why the book was written – but it didn’t need to be repeated so often. 

Despite these negatives, I did finish the book, I did learn some new things about this team and do believe that it is a book that casual baseball fans will enjoy.  If one is a hard core Braves fan, or baseball fan for that matter, there isn’t a lot of new information.

Book Format Read:
Audiobook
Buying Links:




Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Review of "Cold War Games"

This book served a couple of purpose.  One, I do like to read about the Olympics, especially during the Cold War era when the USSR and other communist nations supposedly sent "professional" athletes.  Two, this is the first book in my Blogger Shame challenge as I had downloaded this e-book in August but had not read it yet.  Therefore, since I have had it for more than four months, it meets the challenge - #1 of 24.  Here is my review of "Cold War Games."



Title/Author:
Cold War Games: Spies, Subterfuge and Secret Operations at the 1956 Olympic Games” by Harry Blustein
Tags:
Olympics, water polo, football (European), politics
Publish date:
August 1, 2017

Length:
368 pages

Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (okay)
Review:
The 1956 Summer Olympic games in Melbourne, Australia had one very memorable event – the water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union.  The match turned very physical, resulting in a gruesome-looking injury to a Hungarian player. This was a bloody injury to the nose, giving the game the nickname of the “Blood in i Water” match.

Why was this match so bloody? There were hard feelings between the two countries as a Hungarian uprising to break away from the communist rule of the USSR was crushed by the latter’s military.  These carried to the Olympics and that match, along with how the Soviet Union became a Olympic super-power, is captured in this book by Harry Blustein.

This book is more than just a sports book – it is a good historical book as well if a reader wants to learn about the inner workings of the Soviet sports machine.  The reader will learn how the Soviet Union was able to convince the IOC chairman Avery Brundage that its athletes were true amateurs.  Brundage took this position mainly because the United States athletes, in his eyes, were also subsidized with college scholarships and military service.  While a reader may not agree, it was an interesting argument.

There are also stories about the athletes. One touching story in particular is what an American male athlete and a Hungarian female athlete had to do in order to marry after the Games as Hungary was concerned about athletes defecting.  Also interesting was the role one of the water polo players from Hungary played in the uprising and his concern for his family during the Games. 

At times the book was very slow paced and a tough read, but the material kept my interest and by the end, I felt that I learned a lot about one of the most interesting Olympic games during the Cold War era.

I wish to thank Bonnier Publishing Australia for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Review of "The Summer Game"

Roger Angell is simply the best baseball author who has ever pecked at a typewriter or keyboard.  While I have read some of his work in the New Yorker or parts of his collections of essays, this is the first time I have read one of his books from cover to cover.  Having accomplished that, it will be something that I will do time and time again.  Here is my review of his first book, "The Summer Game." 


Title/Author:
The Summer Game” by Roger Angell
Tags:
Baseball, professional, essays, classic
Publish date:
March 1, 2004 – paperback version (original publication date – 1972)

Length:
303 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
Roger Angell is considered by many, including this reviewer, the best baseball writer to grace the pages of books or magazines.  This was his first book, a collection of essays covering the decade from 1961 to 1971. The topics are wide – everything from the birth of the New York Mets (the Mets are a favorite topic of many stories in the collection) to the Pittsburgh Pirates World Series victory over the might Baltimore Orioles in the 1971 World Series. 

While his prose about the action on the diamond is worth the price of the book alone, his writing on so many baseball topics is also a joy to read.  Whether the topic is franchise shifts, expansion of both leagues and the postseason, the “Year of the Pitcher” in 1968, the first year of indoor baseball in the Houston Astrodome or the euphoria of New England when the Boston Red Sox lived the “Impossible Dream” by winning the 1967 American League championship, Angell tells it in flowing prose and an entertaining style.

There are so many examples in the book that illustrate the beauty of Angell’s storytelling. Many times Angell explains why baseball is the best game, and I will use two quotes from the book to show how he felt about the game.  In the chapter titled “A Terrific Strain” (written after the 1966 season), Angell writes that “Baseball is perhaps the most perfect visible sport ever devised, almost never requiring us to turn to a neighbor and ask ‘What happened?’”  The second quote I will use for this came from the final chapter, “The Interior Stadium.”  When writing about how most sports are resembling all the others, he maintains that baseball is unique, writing “Of all sports, none has been so buffeted about by this unselective proliferation, so maligned by contemporary cant, or so indifferently defended as baseball.  Yet, the game somehow remains the same, obdurately unaltered and comparable only with itself.”

With prose like this, how can any reader who enjoys baseball NOT read this man’s work?  It is the perfect book for readers who have not read any of his work to pick up and start enjoying.  If the reader has read this book, it is well worth the time to pick up again, as it is one that I will re-read as the winter continues.

Book Format Read:
Paperback
Buying Links:


Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Blogger Shame challenge

While I try my best to review all books sent to me by the author or publisher there are some that fall through the cracks. I know that these authors have put a lot of time, sweat and sometimes money into getting the book out, so I thank them for their patience when this happens. I found this challenge when receiving an update from another blog I follow, Beyond My Bookshelf. So, in order to finally get to some of those older books, I will join this challenge. The rules are located here:

http://theherdpresents.blogspot.ca/2017/12/blogger-shame-challenge.html

I will start modestly - my goal is to review 24 books that have been in my possession for at least four months. That's two a month...a reasonable goal. When the book qualifies for one that will reduce the number of reviews I owe to these patient authors or publishers, I will post this picture.  Being a cat lover, that helps as well!  Thanks to The Herd Presents for setting this up.