Thursday, March 4, 2021

Review of "A Course Called America"

 I selected this book simply for the reason that it has been awhile since I read a good golf book and this one was a decent choice.  The biggest surprise I found out is that this the third book of a trilogy - which means I have to go hunting for the first two.  Here is my review of "A Course Called America."

Title/Author:

"A Course Called America: Fifty States, Five Thousand Fairways and the Search for the Great American Golf Course" by Tom Coyne

Tags:

Golf, memoir, travel

Publish date:

May 25, 2021

Length:

416 pages

Rating:

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

This is the third book by golf writer Tom Coyne that could be described as the ultimate road trip for golf fanatics.  After previously writing similar books on golf courses in Ireland and Scotland, Coyne returns to his native country and embarks on a criss-cross journey of the United States and plays on courses in all 50 states and at every course that has hosted at least one U.S. Open. 

While on this journey, Coyne absorbed much information on the courses.  He writes about course designs and the people who made some of the courses the magnificent sections of real estate that they are reputed to be.  He also writes about some of the culture that makes up some of these courses or villages – I thought the best one in both terms of humor and the information was about The Villages in central Florida. He writes with knowledge of these courses and while at times it does get a little dry, the human aspect of the stories behind the courses are what make them good.

The writing about the golf played by Coyne on these courses is much the same way.  He doesn't delve too much into describing each shot.  Instead, he includes those shots and rounds that also have an extra helping of human interaction and humor.  The best one of these came when he needed to hit a shot to the left to reach the fairway and didn't hit far enough left.  The response by one of his playing partners is not fit for printing here but was so funny it left me in tears.

Any golf fan or player will enjoy this book that takes a look at many courses and is a fun trip across the country that readers will want to experience, even if it has to be vicariously. 

I wish to thank Avid Reader 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/Course-Called-America-Thousand-Fairways-ebook/dp/B08LDWRLBT/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=



Saturday, February 27, 2021

Review of "Tom Seaver and Me"

I decided to pick up this short book while in the middle of two fairly long books (reviews to come soon) just to get a break from them.  It was a productive break from the longer volumes as this one told stories about Tom Seaver that I had never heard before.  Here is my review of "Tom Seaver and Me."

Title/Author:

"Tom Seaver and Me" by Pat Jordan

Tags:

Baseball, memoir, professional, Mets, Reds, White Sox

Publish date:

May 26, 2020

Length:

192 pages

Rating:

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

This friendship between a Hall of Fame pitcher and a well-known sportswriter could fall under two categories. One could say that opposites attract, since Tom Seaver was one of the very best pitchers in the history of baseball while Pat Jordan was a "bonus baby" pitcher of the late 1950's who ended up washing out in the Milwaukee Braves farm system. Or, one could view the friendship between the two men as one of mutual respect for what each of them did in their chosen professions.  Either way, a reader is sure to enjoy this work documenting a friendship that lasted over four decades.

The book is broken into chapters titled with the year that Jordan writes about specific interactions with Seaver. They cover various topics like a pickup basketball between them in 1971, a neat story about Jordan asking Seaver for an autograph because Jordan's grandson found out his grandfather knew a "baseball player", and later on, Seaver's small vineyard that was a successful business for him.  There is baseball talk in the book as well, as one might expect, and it was mostly about Seaver but the reader learns a little about Jordan's pitching as well.  This makes for probably the funniest aspect of the book as Jordan repeatedly tells Seaver throughout the years that his fastball was faster than Seaver's.  Seaver takes this good naturedly, especially when he sees Jordan is not interested in the finer points of growing the perfect grapes for wine.

Even though the book is very short and has a large time gap from the 1980's to 2013, it is notable for covering most of the highlights of Seaver's career.  There isn't much about his 1969 season, which makes sense when the bond between them started in the 1970's but a reader will still learn about Seaver's outstanding years with the New York Mets, his stunning trade to the Cincinnati Reds in 1977 and the blunder that the Mets did when they obtained him again, only to let him be claimed by the Chicago White Sox in 1984, with whom he won his 300th game.  While the baseball sections are very good, the book's main strength is in the later years when Jordan writes about Seaver's diminishing capabilities due to Lyme disease and later dementia with some melancholy prose.  While it is sad to see the decline of Seaver, Jordan is able to banter with the great pitcher in those years and makes for good reading as well – both the happy and the sad.

Any fan of Tom Seaver or the Mets will enjoy this book, especially with Seaver's recent passing as it tells a side of him that many may not know about and it would take a special friend to tell those stories.  Pat Jordan fits that category and does a terrific job of sharing his bond with the man whose fastball was slower than his.

Book Format Read:

E-book (Hardcover)

Buying Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Tom-Seaver-Me-Pat-Jordan-ebook/dp/B086H5YK7N/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1614452721&sr=8-1

Monday, February 22, 2021

Review of "Gretzky to Lemieux"

Just the title alone should make fans of hockey in the 1980s excited as those are two of the greatest players to ever don a sweater in the NHL.  Add in the fact that many other greats played alongside them in the 1987 Canada Cup and they faced the Soviet Union national team on their last great run before the team was broken up when the USSR dissolved and you have a great book for capturing the excitement of those three games.  Here is my review of "Gretzky to Lemieux."


Title/Author:

"Gretzky to Lemieux: The Story of the 1987 Canada Cup" by Ed Willes

Tags:

Ice Hockey, professional, history, international

Publish date:

October 2, 2007

Length:

256 pages

Rating:

4 ½ of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

In 1987, the power structure of international hockey was beginning to undergo a seismic shift.  The Soviet Union national team, which had long been the most powerful team in the world, was beginning to crack as players were looking to either play elsewhere or became bolder in the criticism of their system thanks to the political shifting of their country. 

The other powerful nation in hockey, Canada, was also undergoing a change of leadership among the players as Wayne Gretzky was widely considered to be the best player in the National Hockey League while an up-and-coming player named Mario Lemieux was thought to be the one person who could possibly match Gretzky.  When these two nations met in the finals of the Canada Cup series in September 1987, it produced some of the best hockey played in that era, with the two players in the title working together to score the winning goal in the third game. The three games in those finals, along with some great storylines, are described in this book by Ed Willes.

Just a glance at the rosters of both teams makes a reader realize that this was a special series as many all-time greats were playing for both teams.  Instead of listing them in this review, it should just be noted that Willes does a very good job of writing about the star players of both squads as well as the contributions of those who may not be as recognizable to the casual fan.  The coaching methods of both coaches, Mike Keenan for Canada and Viktor Tikhonov for the Soviet Union.  It was widely believed that the latter's decisions in the third game may have led to the ultimate victory by Canada, but Willes doesn't make that claim – instead he lets the reader make that decision.  Willes does offer thoughts and analysis as well as recaps, and together they make for excellent reading. 

It should also be noted that all three games in the series ended up with a score of 6-5 – the first game was won by the Soviet Union and the next two by Canada.  Those scores are reflective of the wide-open offensive that was typical for professional hockey at that time and was very thrilling for fans to watch.  This book, even though it is nearly 15 years old, is still worth the time to read to look back on a thrilling series that many still talk about nearly 35 years later.

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Amazon.com: Gretzky to Lemieux: The Story of the 1987 Canada Cup eBook: Willes, Ed: Kindle Store


Saturday, February 20, 2021

Review of "The Pride of Minnesota"

Admittedly, I am a sucker for any book on the Minnesota Twins.  When advance copies of this book became available, I immediately snapped it up and it was just as good as I had hoped.  Here is my review of "The Pride of Minnesota." 


Title/Author:

“The Pride of Minnesota: The Twins in the Turbulent 1960’s” by Thom Henninger

Tags:

Baseball, professional, history, Twins

Publish date:

May 1, 2021

Length:

344 pages

Rating:

4 ½ of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

During most of the decade of the 1960’s, the Minnesota Twins were one of the better teams in the American League.  They won the pennant in 1965 and while they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in an epic seven game World Series.  Much success was predicted for the team, but they did not win another pennant in a five year stretch in which they not only won many games but built a loyal following in the Twin Cities.  This excellent book by Thom Henninger covers that six year stretch in which the team won that 1965 pennant, the first two American League West Division titles, and fell just short of winning one of the most epic pennant races in baseball history.

If there was a characteristic of the book in which it might fall short of a reader’s expectation, it is because the bulk of the book starts with the 1965 season.  The Twins actually started to be noted as a good team in 1962 when they finished second to the Yankees in the American League. This started a gradual rise for the Twins and a gradual decline for the Yankees.  The attention was now on players like Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Jim “Mudcat” Grant instead of the aging New York start.  Henninger writes in excellent detail about not only the games and progress of the Twins’ march to the pennant in 1965, he provides the reader with excellent stories about many of the players as well as the action on the field.  This detail goes down to the last pitch of game 7 in the World Series when Bob Allison struck out against Sandy Koufax ending the Twins’ championship dreams.

Henninger continues with this style of writing that will take the reader inside the team during the 1967 pennant chase in which the Twins were one of four teams that took the race down to the final weekend.  The Twins just needed to win one game of the final two against the Boston Red Sox.  While describing both wins by the Red Sox, the writing is good enough to bring pain back to Twins fans who might not want to remember that fateful weekend at Fenway Park.  This style of writing continues into the 1969 and 1970 seasons when the Twins won the first two American League West Division titles and also tells the stories of new players who were important to the Twins success such as Rod Carew, Bert Blyleven and Jim Perry. 

Like many other baseball books about a particular year or time frame, there are passages on the pop culture, social issues and politics of the time.  What makes this book a little different in this aspect is that instead of just concentrating on the national events of the time, there are references to these events in Minnesota and the Twin Cities.  For example, there is a good deal of material on the musical British Invasion of 1964 and 1965 and the arrival of the Beatles.  But instead of just concentrating on their success nationally, Henninger writes about the one time the Beatles played in Minnesota at Metropolitan Stadium in 1965 when the Twins were on a road trip.  One of the best pictures in the picture section is here when George Harrison is featured donning a Twins cap. 

Other events covered in the book with a Minnesota theme were the floods and tornadoes in the 1965, the destruction of many businesses along Plymouth Avenue in north Minneapolis when other cities were experiencing riots in 1967 and the rash of bomb threats nationwide in 1970, which included a bomb threat called into Metropolitan Stadium during a Red Sox-Twins game.  Giving these parts of the book a local flavor was an excellent touch that readers from Minnesota will enjoy.

This is a book that any Twins fan or baseball fan from the Upper Midwest will want to add to their collection.  Full of both cultural references and excellent baseball from that era, it is a fine recollection of when the Minnesota Twins were one of the better teams in the American League.

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

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)                                                                                                                              

Buying Links:

https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9781496225603/

https://www.amazon.com/Pride-Minnesota-Twins-Turbulent-1960s-ebook/dp/B08MQ43K4P/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr

Monday, February 15, 2021

Review of "How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius"

The synopsis of this book should be enough to pique the interest of any basketball fan as it did for me.  I expected a good read on the game when picking it up, but this book far exceeded those expectations.  This review really doesn't do justice to it, so I will just post it here and hopefully it will inspire others to check out this great book by Nick Green. 


 Title/Author:

"How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius" by Nick Green

Tags:

Basketball, history

Publish date:

March 2, 2021

Length:

272 pages

Rating:

5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

This is a book on basketball that is really like no other one on the market today. Author Nick Green breaks down the sport in its basic areas such as shooting three-point shots, dribbling and free throws.  But he doesn't stop there – he solicits input from other industries and art forms as varied as ballet, baking and cartography and compares those skills to the skills necessary to perform these basketball skills.  Add in a chapter at the beginning about the early history of the game described in this same manner and you have a terrific book on the sport.

That beginning chapter, in which the tone for the rest of the book is set, is brilliant in its way that it will draw a reader into the early version of the sport the way Dr. James Naismith drew it up and the original rules.  Green injects plenty of humor in this chapter that he liberally sprinkles throughout the book. He will use examples of NBA stars and what they do extremely well such as Steph Curry's three-point shooting or Chris Paul's dribbling skills to illustrate why not only are special talents, but how they are analyzed by experts in other, non-basketball areas.  Green doesn't forget past masters of the game either, such as Marques Haynes for his dribbling skills with the Harlem Globetrotters.  I also liked his references to George Mikan – not only for his career as the first NBA "big man" but also for his use of the three-point line when Mikan was the first commissioner of the ABA and that league's use of the arc.

What is also impressive is the variety of other industries that Green was able to compare to basketball and how they related to basketball.  Before reading this book, I never would have thought to wonder if Mikhail Baryshnikov, the famous Russian ballerina, would be able to dunk a basketball.  Who knew that making pasta from scratch had skills relatable to dribbling? These are just two of the wonderful skills that Green introduces to the reader that really enhance one's basketball knowledges and appreciation.  

If a reader follows basketball at all, no matter the interest level or whether high school, college or professional, this book is a must-read.  This review barely scratches the surface of the treasure trove of knowledge that a fan will learn.  This book is, well, a stroke of genius.

I wish to thank Abrams 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/Watch-Basketball-Like-Genius-Astrophysicists-ebook/dp/B08GP16429/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Review of "Fred From Fresh Meadows"

If you read this and are a passionate fan of any sports team, then this book comes highly recommended as there is sure to be some story that you will be able to relate to when this super New York Knicks fan tells his life tale.  Here is my review of "Fred From Fresh Meadows." 

Title/Author:

“Fred From Fresh Meadows: A Knicks Memoir” by Fred Cantor

Tags:

Basketball, professional, memoir, Knicks, fans

Publish date:

November 28, 2020

Length:

155 pages

Rating:

5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

There are fans of every team in every sport who consider themselves the biggest fan of their team. For the New York Knicks, it is hard to imagine anyone being a bigger fan than Fred Cantor, an attorney who is a native of New York City and has followed that basketball team for as long as he has known the game. This book, a straightforward memoir of his life as a Knicks fan, is a great read for anyone who considers themselves a fan as described above.

One of the best qualities of this book is how Cantor can find a Knicks connection for nearly every personal story he has to tell.  Whether it was taking the SAT exam after a late night of Knicks basketball on the West Coast, his wheeling and dealing with others to get cable TV and later season tickets so that he would not miss any games, or (my favorite story in the book) playing goalkeeper in a pick-up soccer game so that he could bring his transistor radio and listen to a Knicks playoff game while still participating in the soccer game, Cantor demonstrates time and time again why he should be an inductee into the Knicks fans Hall of Fame – if they ever create one.

The other aspect of the book that is very appealing is that it is relatable to other fans who have the same type of passion, even if not necessarily at the same level or with the same willingness to take risks to see or listen to games.  Anyone who can’t stand to see the rival of their favorite team win will love reading about Cantor’s extreme dislike of the Boston Celtics.  Any fan who has scraped and saved to obtain that magic ticket to a playoff game that they remember for decades will shake their head in appreciation while reading about Cantor’s favorite Knicks memory, game 5 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.  There were so many times where if a fan inserts the name of their favorite team, such as the Minnesota Twins for this reviewer, they could possibly tell the same type of story.

Those are a just a few of the reasons that fans of any team in any sport who are passionate in their following of the team will want to read this book.  Even if they couldn’t attend as many games as Cantor did or take some of the risks he took, any fan will be able to relate to the wonderful stories.  A quick read at 155 pages, it is one that will let the reader escape into his or her fandom just as much as if they were seeing their favorite team live.

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

Book Format Read:

E-book (PDF)                                                                                                                                   

Buying Links:

https://www.amazon.com/FRED-FRESH-MEADOWS-Knicks-Memoir/dp/B08P3PCBQB/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=9798567762912&linkCode=qs&qid=1613245346&s=books&sr=1-1&tag=x_gr_w_bb_sin-20

 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Review of "The Short Life of Hughie McLoon"

It isn't often I find a book that has equal parts of more than one sport, but that was the case with this interesting book on a young man whose life ended too soon in the early 20th century - but oh, what a life he lived!  Here is my review of "The Short Life of Hughie McLoon"



Title/Author:

"The Short Life of Hughie McLoon: A True Story of Baseball, Magic and Murder" by Allen Abel

Tags:

Baseball, boxing, biography, Athletics, history

Publish date:

March 9, 2021

Length:

221 pages

Rating:

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

In the early 20th century, baseball, boxing and life in the United States was in some ways vastly different than today and in others, it seems very similar.  This contrast is illustrated in this biography of a young man who despite living a relatively short life, had many different lifestyles in boxing, baseball and owning a speakeasy in the era of Prohibition.

 

Hughie McLoon had many issues in his life.  He was physically challenged due to a fall off a see saw at age three. His father left his mother when he was five and his stepfather played a more active role in his upbringing, Hughie never officially took the name of his stepfather. However, there were some positives, such winning a Scholars Popularity contest under the name of Hughie Geatens.

 

Hughie's escape was baseball – first when he attended the games of his local team, the Philadelphia Athletics.  He soon became their batboy and mascot.  The latter was not uncommon for people like Hughie as many teams felt that rubbing the heads or humps of either hunchbacks or people of color would bring them luck.  Hughie didn't mind this as felt he had a role on the team, despite their fall to the bottom of the standings.  This section of the book gave a good look into the Athletics at that time, including owner/manager Connie Mack and the inner workings of a baseball team at that time.

The same could be said for managing a boxer as when Hughie's services were no longer needed for the Athletics, he became a mascot and water bucket carrier for local professional boxers, which led him into the life of being a manager in that sport – complete with the ties to organized crime.  Hughie never became part of a mob family, but he had dealings with them frequently in this and his other occupation, the owner of a speakeasy.  Here is where the book is best at its description of early 20th century Philadelphia, as the push toward Prohibition and the high-living style of the 1920's is on full display.  

These descriptions are what make the book a decent read as the story of Hughie himself at times got lost in the talk of prohibition or baseball business.  Hughie's life may have been too short, and the book at 220 pages might also be considered as such because of all the variations in Hughie's life, but in both cases, it is a fun ride.

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

Book Format Read:

E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

Amazon.com: The Short Life of Hughie McLoon: A True Story of Baseball, Magic and Murder eBook: Abel, Allen: Kindle Store