Monday, December 30, 2013

Review of "We Are the Ship"

While on a long drive back home from visiting family members this past weekend, I decided to listen to an audio book on baseball's Negro Leagues.  I have not listened to an audio book in a long time, so it was a treat to do so.   It was doubly so because this was a very entertaining book to listen to and enjoyable as well.   So, to end 2013, I am posting this review of "We Are the Ship."  Enjoy the review and I wish you a happy and prosperous 2014.   Oh, and I will still be reviewing books as well.  In fact, there are a couple of my resolutions that I am making that are about this blog, so I will be posting them as well.   Happy New Year!


Title/Author:
“We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball” by Kadir Nelson (audio book narrated by Dion Graham)

Tags:
Baseball, history, Negro Leagues

Published:
February 1, 2009

Length:
1 hour 55 minutes total reading time

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
There have been many books written about the history of the Negro Leagues, so there was really not a lot of new material to be reviewed in this book by Kadir Nelson.  However, the manner in which this book was written and narrated was a refreshing version of the history of players who deserve all the accolades they deserve for the dedication that they gave to the game they love.

The history of the Negro Leagues, from their beginnings under Rube Foster to the decline of the leagues after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, is told from the viewpoint of a narrator who was a player in the Leagues, but remained nameless and team-less.  He can best be described as an “Everyman” type of player.  

This player, personified by the terrific reading of Dion Graham, lets the listener feel like he or she is on the dusty fields with the players on those days they play two or three games.  Or on the buses traveling from city to city with the stories of keeping the driver awake or maybe players sharing driving duties.  Or the problems the player faced during the days of segregation when trying to buy food or find a place to sleep for the night.  Or learn a little more about the superstars of this time, such as Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige or Josh Gibson. Graham’s smooth delivery and happy personification of the “everyman” player makes it a joy to listen to an audio book.

This is sold as a children’s book, a fact I did not realize until after I listened to it and did a little research on Nelson.   While listening to it, I did not get the impression that this was a children’s book (recommended for ages 8 and up).  The language, while fairly simple, was sophisticated enough to keep older children and adults interested.  There are still many facts that can be learned while reading or listening to this book.   Overall, this is a great book for anyone who wants to either learn a little more about the Negro Leagues or just wants to be entertained by some great baseball stories.  

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
This was a quick book.   As I listened, I actually replayed a few of the sections on the CD as I didn’t want to miss some important information.   The narrator didn’t read it so fast that the information couldn’t be absorbed, but because he was very entertaining as well as informative, I replayed certain sections where I missed something because I was laughing.

Do I recommend? 
Yes.  As mentioned in the review, I believed that I gained a much better understanding of this book in the audio format than I would have had I read the paperback or e-book.   But no matter which format the reader prefers, this book should be added to the reading list of every baseball fan.    

Book Format Read:
Audio Book

Buying Links:



Friday, December 27, 2013

Review of "Heart of the Blackhawks"

Title/Author:
"Heart of the Blackhawks: The Pierre Pilote Story" by L. Waxy Gregiore and David M. Dupuis

Tags:
Ice hockey, biography, Blackhawks

Published:
October 1, 2013

Length:
400 pages

Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: 
Pierre Pilote was one of the premier defensemen in the National Hockey League in the late 1950’s and 1960’s but ask most hockey fans today if they have heard of him and you will get mostly blank stares. I was one of those who had never heard of him, but when I saw that this book was available for review on Net Galley, I decided to give it a try. I am glad that I did as this book is not only a biography on Pilote, but also a very good illustration of what life was like in the NHL during the last days of the “Original Six” – the time frame when there were only six franchises in the league.

The structure of the book is true to the form that a biography of an athlete takes. That is, it starts with Pierre’s youth, his family background and uprising and how he developed his hockey skills. It follows his career through the Canadian juniors, the minor league team in Buffalo for which he played (remember this is the 1950’s and only six teams – no Buffalo Sabres yet) and then through his days with the Chicago Blackhawks. His career did extend to the Great Expansion of 1967-68 when the NHL expanded to twelve teams and he finished his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

That last fact is a bit ironic, as it was some of the games against the Maple Leafs (as well as the Montreal Canadiens) that Pilote got his reputation as not only an excellent defenseman, but as one of the toughest players of that time as well. The book is filled with many stories from Pilote about those games. Of course, the best ones for both stories and achievement were the 1961 Stanley Cup finals in which the Blackhawks took home the title.
While nearly every sports biography will have stories shared by the athlete portrayed and many fellow players, what made this one a little different was that Pilote talked mostly about two topics – hockey and family. There isn’t a lot of retelling stories in the bars (some, but not many) hotels or trains. That was a positive for me, as I enjoyed the stories about the hockey best. I especially enjoyed those in which the fans were a bit unruly and what the players did to protect themselves.

If there was a negative in the book, I thought it was the overuse of exclamation points by the authors when quoting Pilote or other players. The stories were told as quotations, but each one of them had most of the sentences ending in exclamation points. As a reader, I found this a bit disconcerting, as I would not be able to determine which stories were really exciting for the player to recall. While entertaining, I found these to be distracting.

However, this doesn’t take away the overall enjoyment of reading this book, which was a fun look back at a different era in hockey. Many long-time fans look fondly back at the days of the “Original Six” and this book does that.

I wish to thank NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I skim? 
No.

Pace of the book:
At times it felt slow, but overall it is a good read without being tedious. Not being familiar with much NHL history at the time there were only six teams, I took my time in some of the chapters to absorb the information.

Do I recommend?
Yes. While the story is a compact version, it is a good read for anyone who enjoys an uplifting story. The hockey talk is basic enough so that non-sports fan can still understand that part of but enough insight that a fan of the game will enjoy it as well.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Review of "A Champion's Mind"

This was a different autobiography on an athlete - different for reasons that are explained in the review.   Because of these differences, I felt this was an outstanding book on tennis great Pete Sampras and I highly recommend that any tennis fan or reader who enjoys a good autobigraphy pick this one up.  Here is my review. 

Title/Author:
“A Champion’s Mind” by Pete Sampras and Peter Bodo

Tags:
Tennis, autobiography

Published:
June 10, 2008

Length:
320 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)

Review:
Pete Sampras retired from tennis holding the record for most career Grand Slam victories and his journey to setting that record is chronicled here in his autobiography that covers his tennis career.  I added that last phrase to the sentence because unlike most biographies or autobiographies on athletes, this book focuses solely on his tennis career.  There are stories about his childhood, but they are about the development of his game during his youth when he was a tennis “prodigy.”  What is refreshing, however, is that he doesn’t complain about any bad breaks during his youth. There are no bad parent stories as can be so common in tennis (think of the parent stories of tennis stars such as Mary Pierce, Jennifer Capriati or the Williams sisters).   There isn’t even talk of his struggles.   It reads that Sampras is aware that he had a talent for the game, that he was raised comfortably and is appreciative of what his parents provided for him.

That appreciation also transcends to his coaches during adulthood.   He gives credit to Pete Fisher for helping develop his game although Sampras believes the athlete is ultimately responsible for his or her success.   He speaks almost with reverence about Tim Gullickson who ultimately succumbed to brain cancer (more about this relationship later).   Sampras also talks much about Paul Annacone and his coaching and friendship as being another key component to the success he had on the court. 

Because Sampras talks tennis and little else in this book, there is rich detail in many aspects of his game.  Not only match highlights, but he talks much about his mindset to reach certain goals.   From a teenager who burst into the spotlight with his 1990 U.S. Open title up to his last Grand Slam, the 2002 U.S. Open, the reader will follow Sampras’s  career and what he did physically and mentally to achieve the greatness that he attained.   

Two passages that resonated with me were actually connected to each other.  The first one is a moment that anyone who saw it while watching this match like I did will remember.  During a match against Jim Courier in the 1995 Australian Open, Sampras broke down and was openly crying.  He had just learned of Gullickson’s terminal diagnosis and the emotional toll on him finally broke through.   This changed the minds of some media members who felt that Sampras wasn’t emotional or even human – that this outburst finally showed he was “human.”  Sampras always felt that was an unfair image portrayed.  He felt that he was simply able to put those aside when focusing on his tennis.  Yes, he had human emotions and feelings but just didn’t express them openly as often.   I thought that this reaction was a microcosm of the entire book – that Sampras was not apologizing or bragging about his career, he was simply who he was and this was why.   It was refreshing to read such an autobiography.

I also found it refreshing that when reading this, I wasn’t reading about an athlete who was heavily into partying, drinking, drugs or sex.  He didn’t talk much about these topics, but until he met his wife late in his career, he just didn’t find those as important as his game.   Again, something I found very refreshing.   That was a big reason I loved reading this book and will highly recommend it for anyone who either is a tennis fan or simply wants to read a different type of autobiography.

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
Excellent.  Since Sampras talks mostly tennis with very few personal side stories, the book reads quickly and stays in chronological order.

Do I recommend? 
Yes, especially for tennis fans, both avid and casual.   The avid fan will appreciate the inner tennis technical talk, the casual fan will enjoy reliving the highlights of Sampras’s career, and anyone who wants to read an autobiography that isn’t filled with a lot of chest thumping will enjoy this as well.

Book Format Read:
E-Book (Kindle)

Buying Links:



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review - The Soul of Baseball

Any words I add to this will only be repeating what I wrote in this review. An outstanding book on an outstanding baseball player and person. Enjoy this review and by all means, go out and get this book. Whether you buy books, get them from a library, or collect them - this one is a must read.

Title/Author:
“The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America” by Joe Posnanski

Tags:
Baseball, Negro Leagues, history, biography

Published:
October 13, 2009

Length:
306 pages

Rating:
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)

Review:
Baseball is supposed to be a fun game. Many people will complain about it’s all about the money now, that performance enhancing drugs have ruined the game and other similar maladies. But for those of us who can overlook all of that and just enjoy the GAME itself for what it is, then this is a book that is required reading. Buck O’Neil, even in his nineties, still enjoyed the game as much as a kid.

That enthusiasm also extended to life itself, as the stories he told in this book by Joe Posanski show that he still enjoyed the simple pleasures in life as well. He would hug every lady that approached him for an autograph or chat. He would greet familiar faces, such as sons of former teammates with infectious laughter and cheer.

But what really set these stories apart for me was that O’Neil was never bitter or angry about his life or the circumstances. There were several instances in the book, including an interview on a radio show, where it seemed like someone was trying to make O’Neil angry or tells about how wrong life was for black ballplayers before Jackie Robinson. But it never worked – O’Neil repeatedly stated that his life was blessed and that he wouldn’t have traded it in for anything else.

This type of attitude was reflected in other stories as well. The chapter that told of Buck attending a regular game in Houston was one of the best in the book. In it, he talks about Roger Clemens as a power pitcher, enthusiastically cheering a diving catch in right field, talking about what runners at first would do in his day…in other words, it was all about BASEBALL. Nothing else. Of course, he would get requests for autographs and stories from passing fans, and he would accommodate them. Buck O’Neil was simply the type of baseball player that is the closed thing to the type of player kids will idolize. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book on his later stages of life.

Did I skim?
No.

Pace of the book:
There is never a boring moment in this book. I read it a little slower than my usual reading pace as I did not want to miss anything.

Do I recommend?
Yes. Baseball fans and historians alike will be thoroughly entertained by O’Neil’s stories, his love for the game so many years after he played and Posanski’s great commentary as well.

Book Format Read:
e-book (Kindle)

Buying Links: 
http://www.amazon.com/The-Soul-Baseball-Joe-Posananski-ebook/dp/Boo13TXAoY/

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review of "Big Hair and Plastic Grass"

Having spent MANY nights at baseball games while growing up in Minnesota during the 1970's, I was very interested in this book.  Brought back some good memories and some additional stories that were very entertaining.   Here is my review of "Big Hair and Plastic Grass."

Title/Author:
“Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s” by Dan Epstein

Tags:
Baseball, history, politics, society

Published:
May 25, 2010                                                                       

Length:
351 pages

Rating: 
4 ½ of 5 stars (Very good)

Review:
A franchise moves halfway across the country after only one season in the Pacific Northwest.   A controversial book describing the antics of baseball players off the field.  Those are two of the events in baseball in 1970, setting the table for an entertaining and interesting decade for the sport.  The book is broken into chapters for each year 1970-1979 with a few extras on topics such as hair styles and uniforms.  

The baseball season recaps are quite informative and well researched.   Not every detail is included, such as you don’t see the listing of individual award winners listed each year, but there are recaps of the season for each of the four division winners, other teams that played significant roles in the season and then brief recaps of the League Championship Series followed by a detailed account of that year’s World Series.  

None of these are written in great detail, but with enough so that the reader will get a good feel of what it was like to be watching that championship series.  Whether it was the 1971 Series that introduced night games and saw the Pirates become the first team to come back from being down three games to one, or the 1977 Series in which Reggie Jackson hit three homers on three pitches, it is all covered in this book.

If there was a problem with the baseball coverage with this book, I thought that some of the best moments or performances were ignored or omitted in favor of giving more information on only the teams that were contenders.  As an example, there is no mention of Rod Carew at all in the 1977 chapter when he had one of the best individual seasons of the decade with a .388 average, the highest at that time in over 30 years and was the American League MVP.   Another omission was when Mike Marshall became the first player in to lead both the American and National Leagues in pitching appearances. His record 106 appearances with the Dodgers in 1974 is mentioned in that chapter, but his 90 appearances for the Twins in 1979 to set the record in that league is not mentioned.  

However, there is more than just baseball covered in this book.  Using the game as a background, many political and social issues of that time are discussed as well.  As an example, to illustrate the “sexual revolution” of the times, a story of two pitchers who swapped wives is included in the book. The fashion tastes of the decade are covered in a chapter about the uniforms worn by various teams.  As a personal note, I must admit that one of my favorite jerseys of all time is called hideous, among other terms, by the author.  That jersey is the “rainbow” jersey of the Houston Astros. Ah, well, guess I can’t agree with him on everything, right?

As a whole, this book was very entertaining and great stroll down memory lane as I recalled many of the stories and games described.  Some of the social commentary was informative for me as well, especially in the early part of the decade as I was a kid at the time and didn’t fully understand the significance.  Whether you were a fan at the time or just would like to learn more about that interesting decade, this book is a good read. 

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
Excellent.  I moved quickly through each chapter, whether it was a baseball chapter or one on a different topic.

Do I recommend? 
Yes. All baseball fans, regardless of age, will enjoy this look back at that decade.  Fans who followed the game will love remembering the stories and those who were not around then will be entertained at the comparison between the eras in both baseball and American society as a whole.

Book Format Read:
E-Book (Nook)

Buying Links:

http://www.amazon.com/Big-Hair-Plastic-Grass-Baseball-ebook/dp/B003JTHYH6/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1386801214&sr=1-1&keywords=big+hair+and+plastic+grass

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Winner of baseball trivia books

I have drawn the winner of the baseball trivia 4 pack.   Using the very non-scientific method of drawing the winning name from slips of paper out of my 2009 AL Central Championship Twins hat, the winner is....Lisa!  
Lisa, I will send you an email with the contact information for the publisher.   For those who did not win this time around, I will have another giveaway after the new year.   Will probably do it in mid-February when baseball fans first hear those magical four words - "pitchers and catchers report."

In the meantime, I will be posting a review on a 70s baseball book later this week.   Thank you to everyone who entered and keep reading these great sports books.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Review of "Beyond Birkie Fever"

As I am always on the lookout for books on different sports, I was pleased to run across this one on cross country skiing. A well-known cross country skiing event in northern Wisconsin recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, and this book is a very good source of information on that event and what it means to his life. 

If you comment on this post, or any of the past three posts, you will be entered to win a 4 pack of baseball trivia books.  Details are explained on the November 30 post.


Title/Author:
“Beyond Birkie Fever” by Walter Rhein

Tags:
Cross country skiing, autobiography, endurance sports

Published:
November 20, 2013

Length:
248 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
This story of a cross-country skier’s experienced with the famous Birkebeiner race is a fascinating account of not only the history and trails on the course, but also of his trials and tribulations as an athlete.  More than the sports aspect of the book, the human spirit aspects of the story are what make this book worth the time to read it.

Rhein takes the reader through his own youth and how he got the inspiration to take up the sport early in the book.   His mother was one of the participants in the first “Birkie” (be sure to read the introduction for more great stories on this first races from other participants) and from there he gets the bug.  The story doesn’t read like the typical autobiography, nor is it one where unexpected wins or fantastic finishes are documented.   Rhein’s story reads much like other amateur participants of events like the Birkebeiner, marathons, or other endurance sports.  It is an accomplishment just to finish, let alone win.

Some of the stories are quite humorous. My favorite one was of the time Rhein and his friend Doug decided to train during the summer by using roller skies. Between the hilarious description of the equipment itself and the misadventures while using the equipment, it was a great read.  So was Rhein’s account of one particular marathon he was running when he was getting hungry and saw a partially opened energy bar package lying on the road.  I won’t give any more away about that story, but it is one that the reader won’t soon forget.

Overall, this is a very good memoir about an amateur cross country skier and his trials and tribulations while training for and competing in one of the biggest events in the sport.  Even if a reader knows nothing about the sport, it is still worth the time to read this entertaining book.

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
Excellent. 

Do I recommend? 
Yes.  While the book is mostly stories about skiing, people who are looking for training ideas might also find the book useful as his stories about his marathons and other runs are helpful as well as entertaining.

Book Format Read:
e-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Free books! Giveaway of baseball trivia books

In the spirit of Black Friday weekend, I am going to make it easy to shop for a gift for the baseball fan in your life.  Black Mesa Publishing has generously allowed me to offer a 4 pack of baseball trivia books to one lucky reader of this blog.   The books are all in the series of "The Ultimate Test of True Fandom and are the following titles:

- Baltimore Orioles IQ
- Cleveland Indians IQ
- Cincinnati Reds IQ













Also a trivia book on all of Major League Baseball, MLB IQ





In order to enter the contest, simply leave a comment with your email address on either this post, the review of "Baltimore Orioles IQ" that was posted November 25 or on the interview with the author of these books, Tucker Elliot, posted November 30.  The winner will be randomly drawn on December 7.  The winner will be given contact information to the publisher and the books can be obtained as either e-books or paperback format.

Good luck to everyone and keep reading.

Lance

Interview with Tucker Elliot

I recently had the pleasure to interview Tucker Elliot, author of several baseball trivia books and also a book on military families, "The Day Before 9/11".     He also has another book in the works that combines a military theme and baseball, which he details below in one of the answers.



What inspired you to write “Baltimore Orioles IQ”?
I’ve had a lifelong fascination with baseball stats, history and memorabilia – but when I was a kid, my parents were very careful about who was “acceptable” as my heroes if you will, because they didn’t want me being influenced by athletes who lacked morals. Cal Ripken and Dale Murphy were at the top of my mom’s list of players she felt were good role models, so of course I was a diehard fan of both those guys – and naturally when I signed a contract to write in this series my first choices were Atlanta and Baltimore. As things turned out I agreed to write several books but I didn’t get to choose how they were queued or the Orioles would have been written 2-3 years ago.

You have written similar books on several teams.  Will you write about all 30 major league teams?
That’s a goal for the series for sure. I am currently working on other teams – the Twins, for example, as well as the Pirates – but due to other projects I’m involved with there will be a pretty good lag between future IQ books.

Describe your research for the book, including anything you wish to share about his family or friends whom you may have contacted during this process.
I always start by reading memoirs and biographies on the great players from whichever team I’m researching. I won’t always read them cover-to-cover, but I’ll take down notes about specific moments that should be in the book. I usually contact the team and ask for old media guides, as they are great resources. The last two things I always include in the research is a comprehensive look at the franchise record book and recaps for any and all postseason trips.

In the book, you address topics that can be considered controversial, such as the inclusion of players accused of taking performance enhancing drugs.  Why did you choose to include them?
I don’t mind taking shots at Barry Bonds or other players from the PED era – and in fact I’m firmly in the camp that believes Roger Maris and Hank Aaron are the rightful season and career home run champions. I took as many shots as I could at Bonds in writing my last book on the Braves and had a good time contrasting him with Dale Murphy (who wrote the foreword to the book) – and you can see that in this Orioles book as well when I refer to what Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds did as “not naturally occurring events.” That being said … yes, Rafael Palmeiro, Miguel Tejada and Brady Anderson are in this book and they are three names from Orioles history that get brought up in this discussion – and statistically, there aren’t many other ways to explain what Anderson did, though to my knowledge he’s never admitted nor been proven to have used PEDs. As for Palmeiro, he denied it before Congress, tested positive for steroids a few weeks later, explained it by saying he didn’t do it on purpose, and then denied it again, and he denies it to this day. Ultimately I chose to include them in the book because what they did on the field is an important part of franchise history. Should there be an asterisk next to their names in the record book? Well, others can debate that – but you can’t pretend that what they did isn’t relevant. It’s a wholly separate question from asking if what they did is tainted.

Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself – if you are a baseball/sports fan, why you became an author, and anything else you wish to share.
My family is from Georgia but I grew up in the middle of Nowhere, FL. Around the time I was 8 or 9 we got a stoplight. Seriously. Most days we spent fishing and playing sports. My parents were worried about my education so at night when I was listening to the Braves on the radio my mom would have me write “game reports” and she’d check my spelling and everything. In high school I wrote an essay on baseball and my teacher told me I had to rewrite it on a more serious topic. So I wrote an essay about the World Series and my teacher gave up. Anyway, I knew from an early age that writing was something I wanted to pursue. I’m a diehard Braves fan. I’m right handed, and bitter. I’d gladly be a fat thirty or forty-something reliever (Terry Forster maybe?) who gets to play half of forever just because he’s a southpaw. I’ve lived all over the world – North America, Asia and Europe – and have been influenced tremendously by foreign cultures. I’m a diehard fan of European soccer (Bayern Munich and Chelsea) but I’ve been to a cricket match in Indonesia before, too.

Do you have any projects or books that you are currently writing? Is there anything you wish to add, about the book or anything else?

A few years ago I wrote an essay that was essentially a memoir on being a teacher and coach and entered it in the Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. I did well enough that I actually got a book contract out of it. I began writing a lot about education issues and also sports. Writing about baseball has been especially good for me because as my writing career has progressed my new projects have taken on much more serious issues – 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how all of it has impacted military kids living overseas with their soldier parents. I wrote a rather dark book titled The Day Before 9/11 that’s a true story about these topics – and being able to go back to baseball for a few hours each week is a relief when the rest of my time is spent reliving some rather painful true life events. As for current projects, I’m writing the memoir for Tony Stevens – he was in the Twins’ farm system on 9/11 and later he left baseball to join the Marines and served three tours in Iraq. The Day Before 9/11 was the first of three eBooks on 9/11 related topics that are meant to introduce Tony and his story to readers. The Memory of Hope and 11 Bombs are the second and third eBooks and will be released after the first of the year. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Review of "Baltimore Orioles IQ"

I received a request from the publisher of this book for a review.  Mildly surprised to see a request to review a trivia book, I decided to go for it and I was glad I did.  Even though this isn't my favorite team and as a result, I didn't do so good on the trivia questions it is still a book worth consideration.  Here is my review of "Baltimore Orioles IQ."


Title/Author:
“Baltimore Orioles IQ: The Ultimate Test of True Fandom” by Tucker Elliot

Tags:
Baseball, trivia, Orioles

Published:
October 13, 2013

Length:
148 pages

Rating: 
3 1/2 of 5 stars (good)

Review:
Books on sports trivia can be tricky to review as a reviewer may not know much about the topic and therefore may not know the accuracy of the information as presented.   I found this to be my dilemma when a review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher who requested that I review it.   Feeling up to a challenge, I decided to give it a go and also contacted the author in case I had any questions.

While I have not followed the Baltimore Orioles closely so some of the material would not be known to me, I did find that the book had some very good narrative pieces and was organized well.   I felt it was clever that the questions were divided up by topics and each topic was an “inning.”  For example, the first inning was about numbers worn by Orioles players.  There were 20 questions on this topic, with 10 questions asked in the “top of the first” and the other 10 questions asked in the “bottom of the first.”  There were 10 such innings for a total of 200 questions.   The difficulty of the questions, at least to this serious baseball fan who follows a different team, ranged from fairly easy to having no clue to the answer without searching Google.

Without doing a through fact check on the validity of each question, I did match the answers to the questions I did not know back to the question to at least see if they made sense from what I did know or recall.   While this may not a totally accurate way to verify information, I did find it useful in order to get a feel if this was a trivia book that would be useful to baseball fans, especially Orioles fans, and I found it to be that.   If I did want more information on a question, I contacted the author who was very responsive and helpful. 

Elliot has written several of these trivia books on different teams and is continuing to do so.  That is good news for baseball fans, for if you like trivia books on your favorite team, this format makes reading them and answering the questions easy and fun.   I recommend this book for both Orioles fans and hard-core baseball trivia buffs. 

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
I was able to go through the questions pretty quickly.   The organization of the topics helped with that, along with the answers being listed at the end of each half inning instead of the back of the book.

Do I recommend? 
Yes to Orioles fans, as they would enjoy this book best.  It would be also good for trivia buffs who want to win the next round of bets with their buddies for some lesser-known facts.

Book Format Read:

E-Book (PDF)

Buying Links:


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Review of "Off the Ropes"

When searching for my next book, I stumbled across this gem when searching boxing books.  When I read that it was about Ron Lyle, I was very happy as it is hard to find books on fighters such as him who didn't win a championship but was a very good boxer in an era where there were many great fighters.  Here is my review of his biography, "Off the Ropes." 


Title/Author:
“Off the Ropes: The Ron Lyle Story” by Candace Toft

Tags:
Boxing, Biography

Published:
September 10, 2013 (e-book - Original publication date: May 15, 2010)

Length:
264 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)

Review:
Ron Lyle is a name only serious boxing fans would recognize today.  He did not win a heavyweight title during his career.   He had what many would be considered a troubled life because he was convicted of murder at a young age, later would be acquitted of another murder charge, divorced twice and never truly fulfilled his goal of becoming a champion.  However, he does not regret what turns his life took and talks about everything, the good and the bad, freely with author Candace Toft.  The result of this is a fascinating book about his life that is a terrific insight into the man and what made him tick.

Hard core boxing fans may be disappointed with the boxing portions of the book as Toft does not describe Lyle’s fights, including his most famous bouts against Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, into great detail.   She does write enough about them that the reader will get a feel of what happened in the ring during those fights, but there isn't a blow-by-blow recap or many exchanges between fighters or fighter and corner men. 

Those, however, do not take anything away from the rich stories told by family members and Lyle himself about his time in prison, his dedication to family, his marital triumphs and failures, and most importantly, Lyle’s fierce commitment to his goal of fighting for the heavyweight championship.  The reader really does feel like he or she is sitting next to Lyle and knows the man personally from the details written about these topics.  What is very intriguing to me is that to this day, Lyle will not share any details about the incident that resulted in his murder conviction.  His account did not sound like a man who would commit such an act, yet it also doesn’t exactly sound like something a defense lawyer would use in order to get a client acquitted.  Lyle accepted this verdict, did his time and became focused on his boxing goals with the help of two men who were willing to take him under their wings.

I also liked how Toft wove this focus into the other aspects of Lyle’s life.  She explains how this focus on his boxing career contributed to his marital problems, his demanding training regiments but yet he would never forget that family was important.  He comes across as a loving father despite problems with his wives and fiercely loyal to his mother and siblings.   Overall, this is an outstanding biography on a boxer who may not be a household name today, but has a story that is worth sharing.  Highly recommended for any boxing fan.

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
Excellent.  While the book may have lacked specific details about parts of Lyle’s life, the stories told by the many people interviewed made it an entertaining and fast read.

Do I recommend? 
Yes.  Fans of that era of boxing or boxing history buffs will enjoy reading about this fighter who engaged in a very memorable fight for his moment of fame in the boxing ring.  

Book Format Read:
E-Book (Kindle)

Buying Links:



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review of "Fourth and Long"

With the Minnesota Golden Gophers enjoying a good season, I have been watching more college football this year than I have the past few seasons.  So I decided to pick up this book on four Big Ten football programs and I am glad I did.  Here is my review of "Fourth and Long" by John U. Bacon.



Title/Author:
“Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football” by John U. Bacon

Tags:
Football, American, College

Published:
September 3, 2013

Length:
352 pages

Rating: 
4 1/2 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:
A book that explores the landscape of college football through four Big Ten schools was reason enough for me to pick up this excellent book by John U. Bacon.  What he did with his unlimited access to the football programs at Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Northwestern was chronicle nearly every aspect of the game today.   That includes the good, the bad, the ugly, the greed, the passion and the joy that makes millions of fans care about good ol’ State U. every Saturday in the fall.

Of course, discussion of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State could not be avoided and Mr. Bacon handles this matter with the proper amount of sensitivity and objectivity.  The main focus on Penn State is the new coach and the players who stayed with the program in 2012 even after the NCAA allowed them to transfer schools without losing a year of eligibility.  Even if the reader is not a Penn State fan or looks upon the school and football program less favorably because of the scandal, he or she cannot help but to be uplifted by the unabated enthusiasm and pride these young men have for their school.

As for Ohio State (or should I say THE Ohio State University), they also have problems of their own since they are also ineligible for postseason bowl games, but they have also hired one of the biggest names in college football coaching, Urban Meyer.  Their season too has some interesting moments and the intensity of the Ohio State – Michigan rivalry is told with interesting anecdotes.

Which leads me to Michigan.  Bacon not only tells of the football team’s comings and goings, but it is through the Michigan athletic program where I believe he is at his best in explaining both the good and bad of college sports.  Good in areas such as fierce loyalty by fans, the lack of public funds used for stadiums (he writes scathing commentary on pro teams who use the threat of leaving to secure public funds for facilities) and the sheer numbers of fans who care.  Bad in areas such as college athletics becoming more corporate and the continuing milking of these loyal fans for more money.  He likens the latter to a frog that is placed in a pot of water and the temperature of the water is very slowly raised until it reaches a boiling point and kills the frog.  He asks the rhetorical questions of when the fans will reach that point.

The fourth program analyzed is Northwestern and this one is very different than the other three.  Bacon does a nice job of illustrating how Northwestern still is able to maintain its strict academic policies and also be competitive in football.  They are the new kids on the block compared to the other three schools, having had many losing seasons until 1995.  How they have dealt with the new found success and the people involved is woven into very interesting tales.

Overall, this book is an excellent accounting of four Big Ten programs, each with their own issues and traditions.  All college football fans should read this book, especially Big Ten fans and that includes fans of the other eight schools in the conference.

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
Very good.  It never seemed to drag or steer off course.   What also helped make this a good read was that Mr. Bacon never stayed too long on the story of one school.  Staying on one too long would make the reader forget what was going on with the other three.  However, he didn’t jump around too much, so it was easy to follow the saga for each school as well.

Do I recommend? 
Yes, especially for Big Ten fans.  But even though the book follows the trials and tribulations of four Big Ten teams, all college football fans should enjoy this one.

Book Format Read:
E-Book (Nook)

Buying Links:



Saturday, November 9, 2013

Interview with David Todd

I recently had the pleasure to speak with David Todd, author of "In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People" and ask him a few questions about the book and his upcoming writing projects.



Q: What was the inspiration for “In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People”?
David A. Todd

A:  Frankly, I wish I knew!  After I finished my first novel, I needed an idea for the next one and the idea just came to my mind.   However, I would say that because I don’t like the changes in baseball lately such as specialty pitchers, I wanted to create a character that would be like someone such as Walter Johnson.  Ronny Thompson’s character spoke for those who long for those days. As noted in your review, I do realize that Ronny’s performance would be impossible in today’s game, but I developed his character for the nostalgia. 

Q: Why the tie–in with organized crime?

A: I had a conversation with a person who said that he was a baseball fan, but he was not aware of the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  I wondered how someone who called himself a fan could not know about this, but realized a lot of people don’t know or study history. I then thought of what a modern version of that scandal might look like. From there the plot with the organizations placing large bets and bribing players to throw the World Series in much the same manner.

Q: What were your baseball experiences?

A: I have been a fan of the Boston Red Sox and the San Francisco Giants (because of Willie Mays).  My earliest baseball memory was seeing Bill Mazeroski hit the winning home run in the 1960 World Series.  Unfortunately, I only played pickup baseball as I didn't have the skills to play well enough to make a team.

Q: Do you have any future sports books or writing projects?


A: I am writing a sequel to this book, titled “Headshots”, which is about 25% complete.  I got the idea from one of my beta readers who noted that the end of “In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People” there were several plot elements to finish.  These included what would become of Ronny and his girlfriend Sarah, how he dealt with his injuries, would the bet be paid off, what would become of the mobsters who were caught or the three players who took the bribes.   So with all of these elements to finish, a sequel is being written.  I am learning new writing skills as I write it and I anticipate it being released in time for the 2014 baseball season. I also have ideas for stories about professional football and college basketball.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Review of "Knuckler"

I picked up this book to pay off a bet.  A small but fun group of baseball book junkies of which I am a part of decided to place a wager on the World Series.  Each person who wished to participate would pick a team.  If that team LOST the World Series, then the person who picked them would have to read a book about the WINNING team and post a review.  I picked the Cardinals to win.  So, I had to find a Red Sox book that I thought would be interesting.  What could be more interesting than the story about a knuckleball pitcher, especially one who is beloved by Red Sox Nation?  I read this book and am now posting my review so my debt is officially paid off!  Enjoy this review of "Knuckler." 


Title/Author:
“Knuckler: My Life with Baseball’s Most Confounding Pitch” by Tim Wakefield with Tony Massarotti

Tags:
Baseball, autobiography, Red Sox

Published:
April 6, 2011

Length:
301 pages

Rating: 
2 1/2 of 5 stars (just okay)

Review:
At first I was very happy to see that there was a book written about Tim Wakefield, a player whose career defines perseverance.  Having set many of the team pitching records for the Boston Red Sox, I expected his autobiography to be rich with many stories about his ups and downs, the various roles he has played in his pitching career and maybe even a few personal insights.

Alas, it wasn't to be.  There were two glaring issues I had with the book while reading it.  One was that it wasn't written in the first person.  While autobiographies of celebrities are almost always written by a ghostwriter, they are at least told in the first person.  This book doesn't do that – the pitcher is always “Tim” or “Wakefield”, never “I” or “me.”  So that was problem number one.  

Problem number two, at least for me, was a trivial mistake, but one big enough that had me wondering where else I would find gaffes like this.  Wakefield was a member of the 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates team that lost a heartbreaking game 7 to the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series.   It is a highlight finish that was memorable for many reasons.  The section describing that winning play is actually well written except for one detail:  the batter who got the game winning hit was not “Fernando” Cabrerra as written in the book, but instead Francisco Cabrerra.  While that may seem small, I had this thought: if the writer couldn't get a memorable moment like that correct, what else could be wrong in this book?  While I didn't do a fact check on everything, it still seemed to take away from the book as a whole.

This isn't to say there weren't good parts to this book.  I enjoyed the sections about the nuances of the pitch, whether it was about how to throw it, how to catch it or how it moves in a crazy fashion.  I also liked some of the information on knuckle ball pitchers of the past such as Phil and Joe Niekro and Wilbur Wood.  However, what would have made those even better would have been more stories about them, not just a recap of their playing days.  

That same reporting style of writing was evident in the rest of the book as a large portion of it is devoted to the ups and downs of the Red Sox franchise during Wakefield’s time as a pitcher for them.  While it was somewhat fun to relive the historic comeback the Red Sox made against the New York Yankees in 2004, and uplifting to see Wakefield become such an iconic figure for the franchise, the book felt more like a Red Sox history lesson (and one that skims at that) than it did as a biography for Wakefield.  A disappointing read for me, but Red Sox fans might enjoy it for a brief historical perspective of the recent team history.

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
It moved along fine.  It never really dragged along or seemed too dry despite the lack of insight or personal stories.

Do I recommend? 
No, unless the reader wants to learn more about the nuances of the knuckleball.  That was the best part of the book.  But if the reader wants to learn about the Red Sox or Wakefield’s career as a whole, those can be found in other sources.

Book Format Read:
E-Book (Kindle)

Buying Links:




Sunday, November 3, 2013

Short review of "Collision Low Crossers"

Normally a shorter review like this will be reserved for a short story or flash fiction, not a full length book.  However I could not do more than skim this book through several parts.  Therefore I am leaving a shorter review, listed below.  I do wish to thank NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2 1/2 of 5 stars.  (Okay)

Review:

This book, written by a former member of the New York Jets coaching staff, provides a unique pespective into that life:  the life of an NFL coach.  Everything from play creation to scouting to the combine of prospective draft picks is covered.  The latter was my favorite topic of the book and had a quote from a coach that makes the reader raise his or her eyebrows. Paraphrasing it, this coach felt that with many middle aged white men appraising mostly young black men, it had the feel of a Southern plantation in the pre-Civil War era.

That, however, was the best humor and story telling in this book for my liking.  There are plenty of personal stories, especially about Rex Ryan, but they just felt like pauses in the high stress world of coaching.  The book was a difficult read for me mainly because it is geared for the hard core football person who loves the inside scoop.  If that is you, get this book.  If you are a more casual fan like me who only pays attention on Sunday and Monday night (and the occasional Thusday) then pass on this.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Review of "In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People"

There are times when reading a book that you have to change the perspective of how you view the story.  I had to do that when reading this entertaining fictional story by David A. Todd.  Without the snark of saying that it had to be fiction since the Chicago Cubs are in the World Series, I will just note that some of the events don't seem that they could really happen...but it doesn't matter because they all work in this story.  Here is my review of this book.



Title/Author:
“In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People” by David A. Todd

Genre/topics: 
Baseball, fiction, Cubs, Yankees, family, crime

Published:
August 25, 2012

Length:
270 pages

Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
First a synopsis of the book: Ronny Thompson just wants to play baseball. He's good at it, and can pitch the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series victory in over a century. So why are all these Mafia-type events swirling around his life? How does he extricate himself from them? And how does he concentrate on winning games, rather than on his estrangement from his parents, his girlfriend, and an aggressive reporter, and on so much that his farm upbringing didn't prepare him for?

This is the perfect description of this story of baseball, the mob, an unlikely romance and the naivety of a young farm boy from Kansas. Ronny Thompson has wonderful pitching skills and is a once-in-a-lifetime pitcher who has an incredible rookie season for the Chicago Cubs.  With over thirty wins in the regular season, three no-hitters, pitching every game in the final weekend of the regular season and on two days of rest for the duration of the playoffs, the kid is just too good to be true.  So, going back to the synopsis – why is all this happening to him?

The reason is simply a high-stakes bet between crime organizations in Chicago and New York on the outcome of the World Series.  If the Cubs can actually beat the New York Yankees in the World Series (so you KNOW this has to be a work of fiction) the Chicago mob is set to gain eighty million dollars.  So both organizations get to work – one will do everything it can to distract Thompson to throw him off his pitching, the other will do everything to protect him.  This includes using of their call girls to pose as his “girlfriend.” 

Just like the baseball, the lengths these two otherwise street-smart organizations go to in order to make sure the outcomes are to their liking are far-fetched.  Staging auto accidents, planting a false story of Ronny’s dad taking money from the school where Ronny pitched college baseball and finally a planned shooting at Yankee Stadium during game 7 of the World Series are all events that seem over the top.  Also, there are events that just seem to happen that put Ronny in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as a drug bust, that are also captured by a reporter and photographer.

However, put them all together and it makes for a fun and entertaining read.  Sure, maybe the reader will have to suspend reality while doing so, but all of these elements are blended together in a manner that will have the reader cheering for Ronny throughout the story.  I was pumping my fist when he pitched his no-hitters just as if I was at Wrigley Field witnessing it.  I was touched on following him fall for Sarah, the girl planted by the Chicago mob to help him through the season, but realizing that she was falling in love with him as well. 

As I worked through the book and enjoyed the story for what it was instead of thinking that there is no way a kid will pitch with this kind of success while enduring all these terrible occurrences, I found myself appreciating this author’s work more and more.  By the time of the book’s conclusion, I realized I just read a very entertaining work of fiction that was meant to do just that – entertain.  It wasn't meant to be a lesson in baseball or crime family history.  It was just a good yarn that was fun to read and left you cheering.  I won’t give away the ending – but since this is fiction, I will let you come to that conclusion.  Or better yet, pick up a copy and you will find out for yourself.

I wish to thank the author for his generosity of providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. 

Did I skim?
No

Did I feel connected to the characters?
Yes, at least to Ronny, Sarah and Lind, the Chicago reporter who was following Ronny and “exposed” some of his shortcomings.  Of course, it is hard to find a “connection” with crime figures, but what was interesting about them is that Todd didn’t make them fall into the typical stereotypes.

Pace of the story:
Excellent – the baseball portions, the family issues and the final game all move along without slowing down, but at the correct pace so that it doesn't seem rushed.

Positives:
While I am certainly no prude, I found the lack of stereotypes, sex scenes, excessive violence and foul language extremely refreshing.  I don’t mind any of these in a story when they are tastefully presented or integral to the story.  However, when they are included just for shock value or to add something “extra” then they are a major turn-off.   By leaving them out, Mr. Todd concentrated on the story at hand, and that made it a good read.

Negatives:
I did find some of the baseball achievements unrealistic, even for fiction.  The amount of pitching Ronny does, on two days rest, the number of games he wins, and the number of no hitters he throws in a season – three - is a big stretch of imagination, even for a fictional book.  While calling this a “negative” might be too strong, I felt that if Ronny’s achievements were closer to realistic, the story could still have held its own.

Do I recommend?
Yes – for any baseball fan or crime fiction reader.  This book has excellent prose on both of those topics.

Book Format Read:
ebook (ePUB file)

Author Media Links:

Buying Links: