Monday, September 18, 2017

Review of "Play Big"

Even if the name Dr. Jen Welter doesn't sound familiar, her accomplishment in football and the NFL is something even non-fans of football may know.  In 2016 she became the first woman to coach in the league and her methods became the talk of the town. She decided to help others, especially young women, learn from her experience and empower themselves to accomplish whatever they want.  Here is my review of her book "Play Big." 



Title/Author:
“Play Big: Lessons From the First Woman to Coach in the NFL” by Dr. Jen Welter
Tags:
Football (American), memoir, women, coaching, Cardinals
Publish date:
October 3, 2017

Length:
256 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
Football has been an important part of Jen Walters’ life since she was a child.  She played tackle football in school, had a long and successful career in women’s professional football as a linebacker, became the first woman to play in a men’s professional league (as a running back), and then became the first woman to coach in the NFL when she was the linebacker coach for the Arizona Cardinals during the 2016 training camp and preseason.  Being so good at breaking glass ceilings, she decided to help other women accomplish the same thing in their fields with this fast-paced book that is a quick and enjoyable read.

While women are the targeted audience of this book, it is very useful for everyone. Advice on such traits maintaining a positive attitude, keeping lines of communication open and facing adversity is given out liberally between stories and accounts of her football career and some information on her personal life and education as well. An example of this type of advice that she learned during her football career came when she was studying the Cardinals’ playbook and she came across the term “salt and pepper.”  She was trying to figure out what it meant in football – as it turned out, it was a minor detail in the team’s own language.  It was a lesson to not get too lost in minor details and she uses that to provide advice to readers.

Even though Dr. Welter was a coach, don’t expect to read about playbooks, how a linebacker will fill the gap before a running back gains yardage or the drills she made her players run.  Instead, the coaching she did in both the men’s indoor football league (the same league in which she was a player) and for the Cardinals was about attitude and confidence. Her notes left for each of her players became the talk of not only the Cardinals’ training camp, but of the entire league.  While her time with the Cardinals may have been short (she was considered an intern and no interns were kept by the team after the preseason ended), her legacy for women in a game that has been an exclusive male club will last for a long time. 

I wish to thank Da Capo Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Review of "Battling the Oceans in a Rowboat"

The first thought I had when seeing this title is that the author had to be crazy to try to row across the ocean in a rowboat.  After reading this, I can't say I completely erased that thought, but I came away with a lot of respect for this man.  Here is my review of "Battling the Oceans in a Rowboat."

Title/Author:
“Battling the Oceans in a Rowboat” by Mick Dawson
Tags:
Rowing, adventure, memoir
Publish date:
August 22, 2017

Length:
288 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
Seeing this title may make the reader wonder how in the world can any person row across the entire ocean in a rowboat. This book by former Royal Marine Mick Dawson explains just how – and he has done it more than once.  It should be noted that early in the book, Dawson explains that this is a specially designed rowboat – it is not the type that one typically sees on a lake or pond.

Encountering practically every type of peril that one can encounter in the open sea, Dawson writes about his adventures in a specially designed rowboat with equal parts humor and melancholy.  It is especially poignant when he writes about family, especially when his father passed away. 

However, that is not the main emotion will take away from the book as Dawson’s courage and endurance in his expeditions.  The first attempt that Dawson attempted at rowing across the Pacific Ocean in 2004 is described in the beginning of the book and the reader will instantly be sucked into the adventure.  Then future attempts, until he is finally successful in this quest, are covered in as exquisite detail as the first.  There are some slow sections of the book when Dawson writes about things such as the repairs made to the boat before a race from San Juan or about his time in the Royal Marines, but they don’t detract from the adventure the reader will take along with Dawson.

This book is a decent read and recommended for readers who like to read about adventure in the high seas. I wish to thank Center Street for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/battling-the-oceans-in-a-rowboat-mick-dawson/1126840693?ean=9781478947516#/



Saturday, September 9, 2017

Review of "Ali:A Life"

Upon hearing that a new biography on Muhammad Ali was going to be published this fall, my first thought was "What can be written about him that hasn't already been said?" This book answered that question by digging deeper into many aspects of Ali's life.  Having read an outstanding book by this author on Lou Gehrig, I was even more intrigued and was very happy to obtain an advance review copy.  Here is my review of "Ali: A Life."


Title/Author:
“Ali: A Life” by Jonathan Eig
Tags:
Biography, boxing, professional
Publish date:
October 3, 2017

Length:
626 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
Not much needs to be said about the impact Muhammad Ali made on the sport of boxing, civil rights in the United States or the Muslim faith. There have been many books and articles written about the man on all of these topics and more.  Now there is one source for inside information on Ali the man, Ali the boxer and Ali the spiritual figure – this outstanding biography written by Jonathan Eig.

Covering Ali’s entire life, from the childhood of Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky to his death in 2016, Eig uncovers stories behind Ali’s transformation from being one of the most despised men in America (at least by white Americans) to one of the most beloved figures.  Information on just about every aspect of Ali’s life – his association with the Nation of Islam, his training methods, his marriages and eventually the neurological issues that plagued him even before his boxing career ended – are all addressed in the masterful storytelling that has won Eig widespread praise.

Nearly anything that has been said about Ali, even if just in mythological or legendary status, is mentioned in the book.  Stories such as the one about a stolen bicycle leading to his interest in boxing, the real source for his famous quote about “no quarrel with the Viet Cong” and the atmosphere of his famous first fight with Joe Frazier in 1971 at Madison Square Garden are written in a flowing style that makes them, and the rest of the book, a joy to read.

This is the case even with controversial or unpleasant topics. The reader will gain a better understanding of the importance of the Nation of Islam in Ali’s transition from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and the roles that Elijah Muhammad, his son Herbert and Malcom X played in that part of Ali’s life.  Ali’s conviction on draft evasion, his subsequent association with Don King and his generosity with his money that led to financial problems.  Through all of these, however, Eig never fails to remind readers that often Ali was simply being kind to everyone whom he would encounter.

Ali’s boxing career is just as well chronicled as his life. Good coverage of nearly every fight in his career can be found in the book and the bigger fights such as the first and third fights against Frazier, his two knockouts of Sonny Liston and the “Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman have substantial pages written. While many of these fights have been covered in other books (some of which were references for Eig’s research as well as over 500 interviews), these accounts of those great matches will leave the reader reliving those fights or give some new information.

Just like his biography on Lou Gehrig, Eig’s biography on “The Greatest” paints a comprehensive picture on a beloved icon in American sports in an enjoyable, entertaining book that readers will want to add to their libraries.  One doesn’t have to be a boxing or sports fan to enjoy this, especially since Muhammad Ali transcended sports to become an iconic figure.  It is a biography that comes close to that status in the world of books.

I wish to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (PDF)

Buying Links:


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Review of "The Journey Home"

Since I went on a bus trip with some co-workers this Labor Day weekend to Yankee Stadium, I decided to dig through my large pile of books that I received from an author or publisher but did not read yet.  I found this memoir of one of the Yankees' "Core Four" players, Jorge Posada.  Appropriate for reading on this type of trip, I took it along and it was a decent read.  Here is my review of "The Journey Home."


Title/Author:
The Journey Home: My Life In Pinstripes” by Jorge Posada with Gary Brozek
Tags:
Baseball, memoir, professional, Yankees
Publish date:
May 31, 2016

Length:
344 pages

Rating: 
3 1/2 of 5 stars (good)
Review:
Jorge Posada was a key member of the recent New York Yankees success that resulted in five World Series championships and two additional American League pennants between 1996 and 2009.  He recalls not only his baseball career with the Yankees but also his upbringing and journey to the major leagues in this memoir written with Gary Brozek.

His relationship with his father is the most interesting aspect of the book, as he recalls the lessons taught by his father Jorge Sr. that Jorge Jr. could not understand at first.  A good example of this type of lesson does not deal with baseball, but instead the chore of painting a wrought iron fence.  Instead of easily spray painting the iron bars without any other work, the father insisted his son sand off all rust and old paint before applying the new coats – by hand.  Jorge Jr. talks about how that chore that he hated taught him how important it is to prepare properly and complete a job the right way. 

This type of work ethic also applied to his baseball skills and development, both from his father and in the organized baseball he played in his native Puerto Rico and at an Alabama junior college.  This led to his being drafted and signed by the Yankees, with his father providing assistance and advice along the way – but not enough to interfere with any coaches.

After that, Posada talks about his time in the Yankee system, during which he became a full-time catcher and what it meant for him to be a Yankee.  The chronology of his time with the Yankees is written with fondness for the memories and gratefulness for the chances he was given.  The seasons in which the Yankees won the World Series are covered in the greatest detail, while other seasons are skimmed over, which makes reading these passage feel choppy and disjointed.  The story ends when Posada announced his retirement in early 2012, which was a surprise as this is not a common point to end this type of book.

It should also be noted that his son, Jorge III, was born with a rare condition affecting his skull and the reader will feel the heartbreak and relief that Jorge and his wife Laura feel while their young son undergoes multiple surgeries.  The support and love shown by his Yankee teammates is illustrated as well and it makes for one of better parts of the story.

Overall, this reads like a typical sports memoir with a little less on the actual game playing and more on the athlete’s life before his professional career.  Yankee fans will enjoy this book, especially if they enjoyed the “Core Four.”

I wish to thank Dey Street Books for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links:

Friday, September 1, 2017

Review of "The Call"

This request for a review came as a surprise - the author found my profile on Facebook and then we talked about this book.  It certainly sounded interesting and it did not disappoint. The subject matter was as interesting as I hoped it would be.  Here is my review of the fictional baseball novel "The Call."




Title/Author:
The Call: A Baseball Novel” by Laurie Boris

Tags:
Baseball, fiction, drama, umpires, women

Publish date:
August  21, 2017

Length:
300 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Margie Oblonsky has dreams of following her father and twin brother into a baseball career.  However, she is going in a different direction and goes to umpire school.  She graduates second in her class and works in the minor leagues.  What she encounters in these games and the situations she faces are told in this entertaining novel by Laurie Boris.

Margie and her twin brother Tim, a pitcher in the Cincinnati Reds organization, both begin their trek toward the majors around the same time, but Tim, as a third round draft choice, gets called to the show much quicker than Margie. She had encountered hostile umpiring partners; including one who helped instigate a brawl in a game that they worked.  The brawl was part of a cover-up for something even darker, in which Margie and a reporter who was writing about her had to look out for their safety.


Set in the early 1980’s, the novel read a bit choppy for me, but the stories of Margie, Tim and his best friend Dan are easy to follow and engrossing.  There is a love interest in the book as after Margie ejects Dan from a game, he asks her to dinner afterward and from there they start a slow but steady romance.  Unlike some romances in otherwise “straight” sports fiction, this one becomes a key part of the story instead of a distraction. 

The baseball scenes are well-written and realistic – everything from Margie’s experience in school to Tim’s pitching in the major leagues.  The reader will feel like he or she is either behind the plate or working with Margie on the bases with the details.  The less glamorous parts of the job, such as the long travel, “crappy motels”, and monotonous paperwork when players are ejected, are covered as well.  In the acknowledgments, Boris thanks Perry Barber, one of the first female umpires in professional baseball, for her assistance. That kind of information proved to be very valuable for this book as it made the story much more realistic.

Many topics about the sport of baseball are covered – the drug abuse that was prevalent in that time period, the use of performance-enhancing drugs, the atmosphere in the locker rooms of both players and umpires and bureaucracy that both players and umpires face in order to advance are all illustrated throughout the story.  The evaluations that umpires must have in order to move up to higher leagues is very well covered and makes the reader relate to Margie’s struggles to advance.  Even scenes with fans are written well, such as the cute scene when two little girls ask Margie for her autograph because they recognize her as an umpire.  It is made even better when she tells the girls to keep the thumb inside the fist when making an “out” call, one of Margie’s early lessons.  This is an entertaining novel in which all of the main characters are realistic and easy to cheer for and is recommended reading for all baseball fans.

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

Book Format Read:
E-book (EPUB)

Buying Links:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B074KS2BZ8/ref=x_gr_w_bb?ie=UTF8&tag=x_gr_w_bb-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B074KS2BZ8&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Monday, August 28, 2017

Review of "Playing Hurt"

This book has the most powerful message of any book I have read since starting this blog over four years ago.  From the very first page, this was a gripping story and I could not put it down. For those who watched the late John Saunders on ESPN, this book will really leave a mark on their souls.  This is my review of his memoir written with John U. Bacon, "Playing Hurt."


Title/Author:
Playing Hurt: My Journey From Despair to Hope” by John Saunders with John U. Bacon
Tags:
Sports Broadcasting, ice hockey, memoir, behavioral health
Publish date:
August 8, 2017

Length:
328 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
This is not a typical memoir of a sports figure. In the very beginning, John Saunders talks about his thoughts of suicide by describing a trip across New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River.  From there, he opens up about the demons that he lived with while battling depression through his entire life until his death in 2016.  This memoir written with John U. Bacon is raw, soul-bearing and a book that a reader will have a hard time putting down.

Saunders was an award-winning broadcaster, best known for his work on the ESPN show “The Sports Reporters.”  He also covered college football and basketball as well as hockey for the network.  The native Canadian was a good hockey player in his youth, eventually playing college hockey in the United States.  When an injury and lack of commitment to the game made him realize he had to do something else for a career, he turned to broadcasting and worked in smaller Canadian cities, Toronto and then Baltimore before ESPN.

Through all of this, Saunders was constantly filled with self-doubt and depression.  In the book, he talks of the physical abuse he endured from his father and the sexual abuse from a female friend of his parents.  He talks of his hurting himself by burning, his troubles with intimacy that resulted in a failed marriage and the constant doubt he had in both his hockey and broadcasting career.  He eventually righted himself to have a good career and a loving marriage with two daughters, but even then he battled demons.  If he wasn’t doubting himself about being a good father, he sank into depression after reading social media postings criticizing his work.  All of this on top of a serious concussion when he blacked out doing a college football show makes his story even more amazing.

What made this book a very gripping read was not only the rawness of this story, but how much he realizes what is happening and yet he feels powerless to control it.  He has great respect for the doctors who helped him and much love for not only his wife and daughters but also for his colleagues who showed their support for him as well.  It is a powerful work that shows how mental health issues can be hidden from the outside world but can deeply affect the people who are suffering.  When Saunders shared his time spent in the psychiatric wing of a hospital and two other patients with whom he formed friendships, it was such a moving message illustrating how people who are suffering share a common bond.

This is a book that must be read – not only to learn more about depression and what it can do, but also to gain an understanding of the man whom many spent each Sunday morning listening to in order to catch up on the sports news. I was always a fan of The Sports Reporters and Saunders, but now I have an even more deep respect for what he did and the legacy he left behind. 

I wish to thank Da Capo Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links:


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Review of "Hoop"

While I normally don't share my lack of athletic ability here and instead read about those who do have wonderful skills, there was a time where I played a lot of basketball and I was able to at least compete at a good level.  For those like me who have ever played the game, this book will either bring back a lot of memories or at least explain why so many of us loved this sport.  Here is my review of "Hoop."


Title/Author:
Hoop: A Basketball Life in Ninety-five Essays” by Brian Doyle
Tags:
Basketball, amateur, short stories, memoir
Publish date:
October 1, 2017

Length:
240 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
Brian Doyle could be considered a hoops junkie. While he never played the game as a college or professional player, he has a deep and profound love for the sport. That is clearly evident in this wonderful book of 95 essays all dedicated to the game he loves.

The book covers a wide swath of topics related to the game.  Doyle writes about coaches in the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) leagues and his own days of playing CYO basketball.  He writes about drills like the weave. He, like many others, feels it is a waste of time – how often will a team actually run the weave during a game?  Answer: none.  Also mentioned is the drill every player dreads – suicide sprints (aka wind sprints).  For those who don’t know what they are, read about them in the book. For those who ever played the game and ran them, the dreaded memories will come back.

There is so much more covered about basketball.  The nets on the baskets, the type of court that one plays on, the shorts and sneakers worn, the best player he ever played against, the kid who knew he wouldn’t make the high school team, but played very well in the last practice before cuts – they are all covered in the book along with so many other aspects of the game.

Doyle’s writing on the game drew me in like how a shooter on a hot streak draws defenders.  The more I read, the more I wanted to keep going.  Just as that shooter should be fed the ball as often as possible (another topic of one of the essays) the reader should keep going on with this book until finished. 

Readers who have ever played the game, no matter the skill level or how long he or she laced ‘em up, will want to read this book for the memories and to gain a newfound love for the game itself.  For readers who have never played, but often wonder what draws people to the sport, these essays will tell that in a beautiful manner.

I wish to thank University of Georgia Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0820351695/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0820351695&linkCode=as2&tag=netg01-20