Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review of "Toronto and the Maple Leafs"

This book sounded interesting - how does the hockey team who has not won the Stanley Cup in 50 years and charges the highest prices for tickets still continue to be so beloved in a growing modern city?  The answer, and more, is found in this terrific book by Lance Hornby. He knows a thing or two about the Maple Leafs - he has covered them for 31 years.  Here is my review of "Toronto and the Maple Leafs".


Title/Author:
Toronto and the Maple Leafs: A City and Its Team” by Lance Hornby
Tags:
Ice hockey, professional, history, Maple Leafs
Publish date:
October 3, 2017

Length:
240 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
On December 19, 2017, the Toronto Maple Leafs will celebrate their 100th anniversary. The city of Toronto has embraced the team for all 100 of those years and that love affair is still going strong despite the fact that the Maple Leafs have not won a championship since 1967. To put that in perspective, that was the last year in which the NHL had six teams in the league – now five times as many teams compete for the Stanley Cup, but none for the Maple Leafs since then.

So why does this city hold this team in such reverence?  The answer to this question is best explained in this wonderful book by author and sportswriter Lance Hornby, who has covered the team for the Toronto Sun since 1986. Through interviews, research and his own extensive knowledge of the history of the team, Hornby provides readers answers to this question along with wonderful memories of the team’s iconic former home, Maple Leaf Gardens and some zany stories about the arena and players.

The entire history of the team is covered in the book, including its homes and nicknames before Maple Leaf Gardens opened in 1931 and the opening of the team’s current home, Air Canada Centre. While those are interesting, the reader will especially cherish stories from Maple Leaf Gardens. There are many recollections from former team players and executives. Many of them have a story – Darryl Sitler has a particularly moving one about his run with Terry Fox. Every one of these men are fondly welcomed back as part of the Maple Leaf family, no matter how few games or how many years they were with the team. 

However, some of the best stories come from other people who had long-time connections to Maple Leaf Gardens such as ushers and long-time season ticket holders.  It is through their visions and memories that the reader will truly feel the bond between the Leafs and the city of Toronto.

For an idea of just how much this team means to the citizens of Toronto, one only needs to hear the story of Mike Wilson, the “Ultimate Leafs Fan” as described in the book. Hornby writes about his collection of over 2000 pieces of Maple Leaf memorabilia and stories behind some of these items.

Other important events in Maple Leaf Gardens are mentioned in the book, such as the first Beatles concert in 1964 and the arrival of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and the mess that was created when trying to have both teams as tenants. But these are simply minor distractions. The crux of the book is just what the title says – the love affair between a city and its team.  Hockey fans will want to pick this one up, especially Maple Leafs fans, even if they already know most of these stories.  It is a fun, fast paced book that was a pleasure to read – even for this old Minnesota North Stars fan.

I wish to thank ECW 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/Toronto-Maple-Leafs-City-Team/dp/1770413626/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr


Friday, August 18, 2017

Reveiw of "The Quarterback Whisperer"

While I don't consider myself an avid football fan (at least not at the same level I did may years ago), this season is bringing in many great football books.  The latest one I have read is an excellent memoir by Bruce Arians, the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.  Here is my review of "The Quarterback Whisperer."


Title/Author:
The Quarterback Whisperer: How to Build an Elite NFL Quarterback” by Bruce Arians and Lars Anderson
Tags:
Football (American), professional, coaching, Colts, Cardinals, Steelers, memoir
Publish date:
July 11, 2017

Length:
256 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
Bruce Arians is the current head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, but has been known to be one of the best quarterback coaches in the history of the NFL. He has been called “the quarterback whisperer” for his ability to get quarterbacks to play to the best of their abilities.  This book with that title is an excellent memoir on how he has been able to connect with some of the best players in recent years to play the position.

Arians states that he believes the perfect quarterback would be a mixture of the following: “ the heart and mind of Peyton Manning, the grit and leadership of Big Ben [Roethlisberger], the athleticism of Andrew Luck and the arm of Carson Palmer.” It isn’t a coincidence that these four men are the players he felt that have been the most successful of those he has coached.

The book reveals many of Araian’s plays, coaching techniques and psychology he uses in order to get the most out of his quarterbacks. It does not get too technical (even his play calling) so that casual fans will enjoy reading this book without getting bogged down, but sophisticated enough that football junkies will also enjoy it as well.

Interspersed within the stories he shares about each of the four quarterbacks, he tells about his family, his early days of coaching at Alabama under legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, and how he balances his work and family life. Given the workload of current coaches in both the college and professional levels, with many of them sleeping in their offices, it is refreshing to see a dedicated coach be just as dedicated to his family.  Through reading the book, it is clear how much he loves his wife Chris and his children.

More than just a book on X’s and O’s, this memoir of one of the best football minds on an NFL sideline today is one that must be read by all football fans, no matter what level of fan he or she is or what team the reader follows.  It is a fast paced, fun read that will be enjoyed by anyone who opens the book.

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

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying Links:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-quarterback-whisperer-bruce-arians/1125091829?ean=9780316432269


Monday, August 14, 2017

Review of "Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue"

Books that cover topics which bring back great memories will always draw my attention. This one did that as I remembered watching some great games between these two teams in the 1970's.  Therefore, I was very anxious to read this book.  This is my review of "Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue."


Title/Author:
Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue: Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Rivalry” by Tom Van Riper
Tags:
Baseball, professional, Reds, Dodgers, rivalry
Publish date:
April 13, 2017

Length:
208 pages

Rating: 
3 ½ of 5 stars (good)
Review:
If one asks a baseball fan today which is the biggest rivalry in the game today, the answer would most likely be one of the following three possibilities:  Yankees-Red Sox, Cubs-Cardinals or Dodgers-Giants.  However, if this same question was asked in the 1970’s there would be only one answer: Reds-Dodgers. The intensity of that rivalry in the old National League West division is relieved in this book by Tom Van Riper.

The two teams combined for 9 division titles in the 1970’s, with the Giants in 1971 being the only other team to do so. The star players were numerous – Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez for the Reds, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Don Sutton and Bill Buckner for the Dodgers. The rivalry really took off in the 1973 season, when the two teams battled in a terrific pennant race, one in which the Reds made a big comeback in the second half of the season.

That the author concentrates on the 1973 season was part of what made the book not live up to the expectations for which I had hoped.  There is plenty of information on the teams for that year, as well as some of the players for both sides.  There are even multiple pages of information on the general managers (Al Campanis and Bob Howsman for the Dodgers and Reds respectively) and even the broadcasters (Vin Scully and a young Al Michaels).  Therefore, if one wants to read about these two teams in the 1973 season, this is a very good source.

However, there is little information on the rivalry for subsequent years and that does a disservice to readers who remember how the rivalry sustained itself into the early 1980’s.  There is very little mention of any players who appeared for the teams after 1973, such as Tom Seaver who was acquired by the Reds in a trade from the Mets in 1977.  Also, the book shares very little interesting stories of the players as their write-ups are factual and statistical with few anecdotes.  This format is fine for readers who wish to simply learn this aspect of the players but it lacks the comfort of making the reader feel like he or she is talking to that player.  Also, like many other books with a narrow topic, this one will venture off into unrelated topics such as sabermetrics.  However, many of these do help the reader get a complete picture of that snapshot of this rivalry.

Overall, this book does get a passing grade for the sheer volume of information written about these two great teams from that decade.  However, the very factual style of writing makes it a slow read at times and more of a task than a simple pleasurable read.  Baseball historians and fans of one of these teams will enjoy the book and will want to pick up a copy.

I wish to thank Rowman & Littlefield Publishers for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying Links:


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Review of "Drive for Five"

Just when I thought there wasn't anything else that could be said or written about last February's Super Bowl, here came a book about the New England Patriots on NetGalley.  Of course, the 2016-17 Patriots are one of the more remarkable teams in recent years, so I picked up the book and it was even better than I hoped it would be.  Here is my review of "Drive for Five."


Title/Author:
Drive for Five: The Remarkable Run by the 2016 Patriots” by Christopher Price
Tags:
Football (American), professional, Patriots, championship
Publish date:
September 5, 2017

Length:
320 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:
The New England Patriots have been one of the most successful franchises in all of professional sports in the last fifteen years. They have won five Super Bowls in that time frame and the latest one, Super Bowl LI, was the biggest comeback win for any team in Super Bowl history. The story of that championship season for the Patriots is captured in this well written, well researched book by Christopher Price.

This championship was probably the most unusual of the five for New England because of the controversy and turmoil surrounding the team through most of the season.  It started when quarterback Tom Brady was suspended for four games after the investigation into the “Deflategate” controversy.  It continued with the sudden trade of linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns and even ventured into the tumultuous 2016 presidential election when Donald Trump mentioned Brady and coach Bill Belichick during the campaign.

Despite all this, the Patriots managed to win three of the four games without Brady and maintain a professional demeanor off the field and a winning performance on it. How they did it is captured beautifully through Price’s writing. His access to the players and coaches was a key factor in bringing the reader inside the team’s locker room (his account of how a player is picked to get “The Locker” was great writing) and the players’ insights.

Much like the season on the field, the book builds to a climax as the Patriots earn the top seed during the regular season, win two playoff games, then pull off the incredible comeback against the Atlanta Falcons. There is no need to recap all of those games in this review – the book does a fantastic job of doing that.  Even though readers will most likely already know the results, it felt like reading a dramatic novel when the Patriots were making their historic run in the fourth quarter and overtime of Super Bowl LI.

Something that makes this book stand out is all parts of the entire team – offense, defense and special teams – are featured in the book.  While Brady captures a majority of the text (much like any quarterback dominates the play and coverage of professional football today), Price does a very good job of featuring others such as Collins, running back James White (whom Brady himself said should have been the Most Valuable Player in the Super Bowl) and kicker Steve Gostkowski.

There are passages in the book where Price does show a bit of “homerism” toward the Patriots, such as a passage in which he believes there is a double standard on offensive pass interference calls on tight end Rob Gronkowski. There are not too many of these to make the book too much of a “homer” book and as is the case with many books about teams or players that have long stretches of success, there is a little chest puffing about the accomplishments.  That is understandable and at times, as it is here, perfectly fine to brag.

This is an outstanding book on a remarkable football team and is one that every Patriots fan will want to read to relive the 2016-17 season.  Even more neutral or casual football fans will enjoy reading about this team and its accomplishments.

I wish to thank St. Martin’s 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, August 10, 2017

Review of "Gratoony the Loony"

When I heard the name Gilles Gratton, I immediately thought of his very cool lion mask.  When I saw he wrote a memoir, I was anxious to read it.  When I saw ARC's offered on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to obtain one.  It lived up to all my expectations.  Here is my review of "Gratoony the Loony"



Title/Author:
Gratoony the Loony: The Wild, Unpredictable Life of Gilles Gratton” by Gilles Gratton and Greg Oliver

Tags:
Ice Hockey, Professional, memoir, Rangers, Blues
Publish date:
October 3, 2017

Length:
260 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Hockey goaltenders are often considered to be a little different than other players because of their superstitions, rituals or other idiosyncrasies they may perform.  One of the more colorful characters to have played this position is Gilles Gratton, who played primarily in the 1970’s for the World Hockey Association’s (WHA) Toronto Toros and the National Hockey League’s (NHL) New York Rangers.  His colorful career and life is captured in this memoir co-written with Greg Oliver.

More than any accomplishments he did on the ice, Gratton is best known for two eccentric items.  One is his lion mask, one of the best known masks ever worn by a goalie.  He shares the story of the idea for the mask in the very beginning, giving the book a very interesting start.  The inspiration was easy – Gratton’s zodiac sign is Leo, so he felt a lion mask would be appropriate. 


The second item for which Gratton is known is taking the ice wearing only his mask and skates. This occurred when the fad of streaking was in vogue, so he decided to do so on a bet.  This is also a story he shares in which the legend to which it grew to did not match the actual events.  He doesn’t spend too much time on this incident, but he has plenty of other material that fits the title here. Gratton shares many stories of wild times in both leagues both on and off the ice.


The writing is very good for a sports memoir, something that is typical for Oliver.  His contribution to the book can be found throughout the memoir and is the perfect fit for Gratton’s carefree discussion of his hockey career, his escape to practice transcendental meditation and his relationship with his parents, wives and children. This book was as fun to read as it was to watch Gratton play during his career.  Fans of the sport during the 1970’s will want to add this one to their libraries.


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


Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

 

 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Review of "Perfect"

Baseball fans know all about the struggles players go through to get to the Major Leagues. Sadly, sometimes that experience may be very short.  It may even last only one game - and this book is about one of those players whose one game in the Major Leagues was the best one that was ever played by anyone whose career was only one game.  This is my review of "Perfect."


Title/Author:
Perfect: The Rise and Fall of John Paciorek, Baseball’s Greatest One-Game Wonder” by Steven K. Wagner
Tags:
Baseball, professional, biography, Colt .45s
Publish date:
March 31, 2015

Length:
240 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
Most baseball fans, even those who follow the game closely, will not be familiar with the name John Paciorek.  Some may have heard of his brother Tom who had a long career in Major League Baseball.  John, on the other hand, had a Major League career that lasted exactly one game – but it was as good a game as one could have.  Playing for the Houston Colt .45s, he had three hits, two walks, three runs batted in, scored four runs and made a handful of plays in right field without an error.

The game took place on September 29, 1963, the last game of the season between the ninth-place Colt .45s and the tenth-place New York Mets. This game, and John Paciorek’s subsequent back injuries that were severe enough to keep him from playing in another Major League game, is captured in this book by Steven K. Wagner.  Wagner decided to pursue this writing project after reviewing the statistics of other players who appeared in only one Major League game and he unofficially declared John Pacioriek’s appearance to be the greatest one-game career in the history of the Major Leagues.

Not only does the reader relive the game through play-by-play quotes from Hall-of-Fame broadcasters Lindsay Nelson and Ralph Kiner, the reader will also read about how John Paciorek became a star athlete in high school, his short time in the minor leagues after signing a contract with the Colt .45s and then being brought up at the end of the season by the major league club. This part of the book, as well as the chapters on his subsequent surgery for his back problems and attempts to come back from the surgery, reads like a typical sports biography with information gleaned from research and interviews.

Wagner also writes about side stories from that otherwise ordinary game between two struggling teams.  That day also marked the end of Stan Musial’s career and two other players who would lose their lives during the following off season, Ken Hubbs and Jim Umbricht.  There are also tributes to other one-game career players, including Aubrey Epps who almost matched John Paciorek as he had three hits, three runs batted in and one run scored.  Epps, a catcher, also committed two errors in his one Major League game and recorded six putouts.  His story was even more tragic than John Paciorek as he was stricken with pneumonia during that off season and never made it back to the “show.” Overall, this is a decent book that readers who enjoy reading about relatively unknown players or about baseball history will want to add to their bookshelves.

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

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links:


Friday, August 4, 2017

Review of "Dead Line"

Just a bit different here - another review on another football book.  However, this time it's a fictional book and a very different type of story.  One that is gripping and a very quick read. Here is my review of "Dead Line" by Jack Patterson.


Title/Author:
Dead Line” by Jack Patterson

Tags:
Football (American), fiction, drama, Seahawks, Dolphins, audio book

Publish date:
August 28, 2014

Length:
258 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good) 

Review:
This story of kidnapping, gambling, greed, drug cartels - and oh, yeah a little football game called the Super Bowl was a great story.  Cal Murphy, an up-and-coming sportswriter for the Seattle Times, gets the dream assignment of every sportswriter - to cover the Super Bowl.  To make it even sweeter, the game pits the Miami Dolphins against Murphy's team he has followed since childhood, the Seattle Seahawks.

However, there is trouble.  Veteran Seattle quarterback Noah Larson, who will retire after the game, receives a call telling him that his six year old son Jake has been kidnapped and the only way Noah will see Jake alive is if he fixes the game so that his team loses.   Murphy, instead of writing about the game, will work with photographer Kelly Mendoza (who worked with Cal in the first book of the series as well) and the FBI to rescue little Jake. 

While the story is compelling, fast paced and fun to read, I was mildly disappointed in the lack of true suspense.  Every possible time that there was some kind of twist or unexpected development, it was one that I had predicted - even the one at the end which was the closest to a true surprise.  That, however, doesn't stop me from recommending this book for fans of football or drama.  The characters are all believable and well-developed, from the protagonists Cal and Kelly (for whom the reader can't help but cheer for) to the ruthless drug cartel hit men.

Note that this is the second book in a series.  The book can be read as a stand alone, as I did not read the first one previously and had no trouble connecting with Cal and Kelly or following the story.  The end does leave room for a third book, and it is one that I want to add to my list, along with going back to read #1.

Book Format Read:
Audio book

Buying Links:



Review of "4th and Goal Every Day"

Now that the calendar has turned to August, it is time that many people are looking toward the beginning of football season.  Whether one prefers to watch the games on Saturday or Sunday, football is certainly the most popular game in the United States.  The most successful college football program of the last few years, the Alabama Crimson Tide, is the subject of this book. 


Title/Author:
4th and Goal Every Day: Alabama’s Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” by Phil Savage

Tags:
Football (American), college, coaching, Alabama

Publish date:
August 29, 2017

Length:
336 pages

Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (good) 

Review:
With the recent long run of success by the Alabama Crimson Tide football program, this book looked like the perfect source of information on why the Tide has been the most successful it had been since the days of Paul “Bear” Bryant.  The author, Phil Savage, certainly has the pedigree to write about this.  His long career in football as a coach, scout and general manager, as well as his current position as a radio analyst for the Crimson Tide certainly places him in a position to intimately know the workings of the football team.

The reader will learn about Coach Nick Saban (for whom the author worked as an assistant coach with the Cleveland Browns) and his involvement of every aspect of the football program.  From recruiting to practice to film sessions to game day, the reader will be given a guided tour inside the program, learning about it from coaches, players (both current and former) and Savage himself as he has been connected to Alabama football since he was a very young fan.

My reservation about the book is that Savage’s style of taking the reader on this tour comes across to me as arrogant and elitist.  Throughout the book, Savage reminds the reader of Alabama’s recent string of championship and near-championship seasons and whatever part of the program is being discussed, well, it is just the best way to approach the task.  For a comparison, living in an area where there are a lot of New York Yankee fans, this sounds much like them – we are successful and we will constantly remind you.  There is no argument that Alabama has been the best college football program for the last decade.  I was just hoping to learn why it was, not to have this fact be constantly repeated through the book. 

Despite my misgivings about this writing style, I do give the book a passing grade for the insight, the knowledge and the details that Savage shares with the readers.  This book is one that every Crimson Tide fan will want to read – but Auburn Tiger fans may want to think twice before buying. 

I wish to thank St. Martin’s 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, August 3, 2017

Review of "No Way Down"

As a reader who loves to read about topics that I could never experience, mountaineering is a sport about which I am craving to find more books.  When this one was offered at a deeply discounted price, I had to jump on the offer and I wasn't disappointed.  I completed the book in one sitting - my flight back to New York from Minneapolis.  This is my review of "No Way Down."




Title/Author:
No Way Down: Life and Death on K2” by Graham Bowley

Tags:
Mountain climbing, death

Publish date:
June 29, 2010

Length:
288 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Climbing K2, the second highest mountain in the world, is considered by many to more challenging than climbing Mount Everest. This can become even more daunting when the season is cut short due to weather, which in turn makes the mountain more crowded when several teams of climbers, porters and Sherpas make the journey at the same time.  This happened in the summer of 2008 and this gripping account of that ascent that began August 1, 2008 and resulted in the deaths of 11 people makes for a terrific book.

One difference between this book and others on dangerous mountain climbing expeditions is that Graham Bowley is not a climber.  Instead, he is a journalist so his information sources were research and hundreds of interviews in order to write his stories and describe what the climbers were experiencing.  While this may result in a book that has less detail and technical description of the climbers’ actions and equipment, I felt this fact made it a very entertaining non-fiction “novel” if you will, making it very easy to read.

Some of the descriptions of the more tragic events on the mountain, such as the death of the husband from a fall while his wife was climbing to the summit, were heartbreaking.  The joy that people in the camps felt when they discovered that some who were feared dead were found alive will be felt by the reader as well.  It is an educational journey for those readers who are not familiar with mountaineering and an emotional story as well.  This book comes highly recommended for readers who enjoy these types of publications. 

Book Format Read:
E-book (Nook)

Buying Links:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/no-way-down-graham-bowley/1100564795?ean=9780061834790

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review of "A Cuban Boxer's Journey"

Sometimes travel is a great way to reduce the pile of books that are to be read.  This particular book is one that was on the cloud in my Nook e-reader for over a year, but on a recent flight I decided to read this one - it was very good and a quick read.  I was done with it in less time than it took to fly between New York City and Minneapolis.  Here is my review of "A Cuban Boxer's Journey."


Title/Author:
A Cuban Boxer’s Journey: Guillermo Rigondeaux – From Castro’s Traitor to America’s Champion” by Brin-Jonathan Butler
Tags:
Boxing, history, professional, politics
Publish date:
June 3, 2014

Length:
192 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review:
Guillermo Rigondeaux was a two-time Olympic boxing champion for Cuba who decided to take a shot at the big money of professional boxing in America.  Unlike the boxer to whom he was often compared, Teofilo Stevenson, he didn’t believe that just the admiration of his countrymen was the best he could do in the sport.  Rigondeaux’s tale of pursing the American Dream and what his cost to him and his family is chronicled in this enjoyable work by Brin-Jonathan Butler.

After Fidel Castro called Rigondeaux a “traitor” after the latter’s failed defection to Brazil in 2007, the young boxer became a “canary in a coal mine” as he later hopped aboard   smuggler’s boat and fought in the United States, including on the undercard of a Manny Pacquio fight held at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas where he performed well in front of the largest crowd he had seen.

While the coverage of Rigondeaux’s boxing matches and career is interesting and makes a good book by itself, Butler’s work shines even brighter when he writes about the struggles of the young man in both Cuba and the United States and how the two cultures can share in the difficulties in his decision to turn professional. There are also interviews with other Cuban boxers to give the reader a good picture of the Cuban boxing culture and the stories of struggles by Rigondeaux in both nations and how he overcame them are gripping and the best part of this book.  It is one that is recommended by anyone who enjoys reading about boxing, politics and different cultures.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Nook)

Buying Links: