Monday, July 31, 2023

Review of “Right, Down + Circle”

One of the goals when I started this blog was to find books on various sports. Even 10 years later I still find new sports - this time I found one on skateboarding. Here is my review of Cole Nowicki’s tribute to the video game that got him hooked on the sport, “Right, Down + Circle”


“Right, Down + Circle: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” by Cole Nowicki


4 of 5 stars (very good)


Finding a book on the history of skateboarding can be a challenge. Writing a book that not only incorporates the history and culture of the sport, but also to write about the video game series that helped push skateboarding to the mainstream sounds like an even bigger challenge, but author Cole Nowicki does a good job of blending the two items together in this quick but fun read. 

Nowicki developed his love for skateboarding through playing the video game in the title and he talked not only about this game’s series (there were five editions) but also other video games in which a player would control a skateboarding character. While one does not have be a video game player to understand the text, it certainly helps.

The same goes for Nowicki’s description of the subculture of skateboarding. I didn’t know the difference between a 720 and a 900 before reading this book, and frankly I still will admit to not being fully understanding of the sport. But that doesn’t take away the very good storytelling Nowicki puts on display. He also does a fine job of chronicling the progress made to make the sport more diverse and inclusive from its beginnings as a largely white male activity. That is still the case but there are now more women, people of color and non-binary skateboard enthusiasts, per the book. 

At about 100 page, depending on which version one reads, this is a quick read and not one that goes into a lot of detail - but for a quick look at the world of skateboarding and the video games it inspired (or is it the other way around), this is a worthwhile endeavor. 

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


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Review of “18 Holes”

Collections of short stories are always good for when I don’t have large blocks of time to read - this collection of short stories on golf were perfect for me the last few days when I didn’t have a lot of reading time, but enough to read one or two of the stories. Here is my review of “18 Holes.”


“18 Holes” by Paul Paxton


4 of 5 stars (very good)


No matter the topic or whether the stories are fiction or nonfiction, a collection of short stories will always have some that are really good and some that are not so great. This collection of 18 short stories by Paul Paxton has much more of the former than the latter and the result is an interesting and quick read on various golf situations.

Many sound far-fetched, such as an assasination attempt of the President of the United States by planting a bomb in the cup on the 17th hole. There is a story about an ultra-secret service that uses golf as a cover for husbands to step out on their marriage. Another interesting one,and it was the one to me that was the most realistic, was on a Q-school player who is sweating out his chances to earn his professional card. 

The characters in most of the stories are developed fine for short stories and all of them even some of the most unrealistic ones, don’t lack in entertainment. Because each of them are fairly short, this book can be read in several short sessions. However, if a reader wants to get through it in one sitting, it won’t take long to achieve that, either. No matter how it is read, a reader who likes their golf will enjoy this collection of stories on the game. 

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


Monday, July 24, 2023

Review of "Hometown Victory"

Many times when I request a review copy of a book and the publisher does not grant it, I will look for the book in the library after its publication date.  While often I won't review a book here if that is the case, this book made such an impression on me that I had to write a review of the library copy. 

Title/Author: Hometown Victory: A Coach’s Story of Football, Fate and Coming Home” by Keanon Lowe with Justin Spizman

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: Thanks to a specific incident at the school in this book, (Parkrose High School in Portland, Oregon) that school’s football coach who was also a security guard became a hero in the eyes of many.  However, as this memoir shows, there are other ways in which a person can be a hero without stopping a potential mass shooting incident that made the author of the book, Keanon Lowe, this “hero.”

The incident is near the end of the book, but what is even better about this book is the manner in which Lowe, after taking over as head coach of a struggling football program, saw the good and the potential in each one of his players, even if they had not won a game in over three years. 

Without going into too much social commentary or emotion, he does speak often about his players who have many issues outside of football that need extra attention.  Most of the ways he addresses these do affect the football team but Lowe looks beyond that and writes about how his actions will help these young men in other parts of life more important than football.

While this type of story is not completely uncommon as many football coaches (and coaches in other sports) will help their young players overcome the burn of unfair life situations, what makes this a little different is that Lowe wanted to come home (he was a native of Portland) and left a career in NFL coaching to coach this football team.  He was a young rising star in the coaching ranks and even had experience in dealing with issues beyond the football field as he was a San Francisco 49ers assistant coach when Colin Kaepernick made his protests against police violence.  While this is not comparing that to situations such as young players defying a coach or parent, not attending school or practice due to transportation issues or losing loved ones to drugs or violence, it does show that Lowe knew how to deal with issues from a football team or player that had nothing to do with the game on the field.

Speaking of that, there is plenty of football action, both in practice and in games, in the book.  Parkrose did break their losing streak and made great strides in the first two years of Lowe’s coaching career there, but that is not what make the book so good.  What does make it one that I had a hard time putting down was the care and compassion Lowe showed to the young men he helped. This was especially evident in the writing he did about them, emphasizing that they needed this guidance to be prepared for life outside of football and high school as well. That is what made this book such a joy to read.

Link: Hometown Victory: A Coach's Story of Football, Fate, and Coming Home eBook : Lowe, Keanon, Spizman, Justin: Kindle Store



Sunday, July 23, 2023

Review of "The 1998 Yankees"

Regular readers here know that I like to read books on train rides to live games about the sport in which I am about to attend a game.  I had a recent bus trip to Citi Field to take in a Mets game, so what baseball book did I choose?  One about the other New York team - here is my review of a book about their 1998 championship team. 

Title/Author: The 1998 Yankees: The Inside Story of the Greatest Baseball Team Ever” by Jack Curry

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Ask any sports fan about who is the greatest team, no matter the sport, and you are very likely to get not only an answer that might surprise you, but you will also get a passionate explanation from that fan to explain their answer.  While Jack Curry is a very good baseball journalist who has covered the New York Yankees in both print and broadcast media, he does this very type of explanation in this book when telling the reader why the 1998 Yankees should be considered the greatest baseball team ever assembled.

The book has both typical and non-typical aspects of books that describe a particular season.  Typical in that there are many game recaps and insights into specific games, plays and player reactions over the course of the season.  In fact, this book goes further back than just the 1998 baseball season – it starts with the day the Yankees were eliminate in the 1997 postseason by the then-Cleveland Indians. Curry does well writing about the emotions of the Yankees on that day, and keeps it up throughout the book with all the highs and lows – mostly highs – in his description of the team.

Where the book does not fit into the typical one season recap is that the main stars of the team are the players who are described in the most pages.  While yes, readers will learn some information they may not have known about the “Core Four” of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada, other players are prominently on display in this book. 

Those include David Wells (yes, his story about being hung over while pitching a perfect game is confirmed), Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, World Series MVP Scott Brosius and second baseman Chuck Knoblach.  Some get more pages written than others, but this was something I really enjoyed in the book – learning about more than those players already known well and in the baseball Hall of Fame.  Plus, there is an excellent section on Brian Cashman, who was promoted to general manager of the team before the 1998 season and felt the pressure from owner George Steinbrenner to win the championship that year.

While I again want to emphasize that Curry is a journalist and not a fan, and in no way does this review imply that he sounds like a fan, the book can come across as trying too hard to convince the reader that there is absolutely no baseball team that can be considered better than the 1998 Yankees. There are several worthy reasons why this is case and Curry does make a strong argument, but there points repeated several times that don’t need to be, such as the 125 wins the Yankees racked up between the regular season and the postseason.  At the end, he acknowledges other teams that can make a case for being the greatest, but he sets them aside to let the reader know that in no uncertain terms, one must conclude it is this team.  Yankee fans will certainly not need any verification like this to make that assessment, but for other readers, this is a good book for helping to answer any questions they may have about this team.

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

Link: The 1998 Yankees: The Inside Story of the Greatest Baseball Team Ever: 9781538722978: Curry, Jack: Books

Monday, July 17, 2023

Review of "Got Your Number"

If you are a numbers person, sports are the perfect outlet to show off your love of numbers.  This book by a well-known ESPN personality takes those numbers and uses them to highlight the best of the best.  Here is my review of "Got Your Number. 


“Got Your Number” by Mike Greenburg with Paul Hembekides


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: As any sports fan knows, numbers are an integral part of sports, no matter what game.  Whether it is the number on a player’s jersey, the statistics, the team or individual championships or just some part of the sport that involves a number, they are a source of debate among sports fans.  That is case with this book by well-known ESPN personality Mike Greenburg and co-author Paul “Hembo” Hembekides as they bring a different perspective on numbers in sports.

Greenburg takes each number between 1 and 100 and assigns it to an athlete, team or other sports figure that will illustrate why the chosen figure is one of the very best in their sport.  Most, but not all, of these that are given to athletes are for the number on the jersey they wore and for the most part, this reader agrees with the reason.  It should be noted that in the introduction of the book, Greenburg states that the opinion he states about the number or sports figure is the correct one, but later does allow for debate.  That follows suit with his on-air personality and frankly, sounds just like all fans who engage in this type of debate.

Without sending too many spoilers, here are examples of how an athlete, coach or other figure who doesn’t wear numbers are honored in this book.  A legendary golfer, Jack Nicklaus, has the number of major tournaments he won as his number.  One of the best college basketball coaches, man or woman, is honored by the number of winning seasons she had at Tennessee.  That is Pat Summit, of course.  Finally, the horse who is considered the greatest Triple Crown winner ever, Secretariat, is honored by the number of lengths by which he won the Belmont Stakes in 1973 – a record that will likely never be broken.

The book is broken down into snippets on each honoree of about two or three pages and in each of them, the authors explain why (sometimes with other numbers) they chose that athlete or team.  Of course, there will be differences of opinion between the author and each reader (in my case, I agreed with most of them but I was very disappointed with a few, starting with #29) but that’s to be expected in any book that describes or lists the best of anything.  One final note – this is not limited to Greenburg’s lifetime or those sports performers he has seen.  There are several older honorees that make this book one that truly covers a long time frame and gives it even more credence to how good it is.  If you are a sports fan, you want to pick up this book.

Link: Got Your Number: The Greatest Sports Legends and the Numbers They Own: 9781368073561: Mike Greenberg: Books


Thursday, July 13, 2023

Review of “Tod is God”

 Regular visitors here know that I will read and review books on professional wrestling even though it is not really considered a “sport” and instead falls under “entertainment.”  Here is another book on that form of entertainment, “Tod is God.”


“Tod is God: The Authorized Story of How I Created Extreme Championship Wrestling” by Tod Gordon with Sean Oliver


3 ½ of 5 stars (good)


Tod Gordon, along with Paul Heyman, are credited with being the creators of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). It was as advertised- an extreme amount of violence and debauchery in its shows and its fans loved it. The title of this book, written by Gordon and Sean Oliver, came from a chant started by some of these fans and Gordon is very happy to tell you about it. 

That was one of the issues I had with the book. Of course, any memoir of anyone who had success in whatever line of work they did will want to talk about proudly. But I felt that Gordon did that a little too loudly and for a little too long. Plus, he spent some time defaming Heyman as best he could. Finally, he gave far too many accounts of the drinking, drug use and sexual escapades of not only the wrestlers but also of himself. It was not needed in this much volume to give a reader a picture of went on in the locker room and in bars and hotels. It also painted a less than flattering portrayal of Gordon. 

So why did I give the book a favorable rating? The stories about the actual business and about the wrestlers. The book actually starts out quite well with Gordon talking about his work in a Philadelphia pawn shop and his venture into the wrestling business. The way he was able to land a regular time slot on cable television for his new product Eastern Championship Wrestling (which of course was later changed to Extreme) made for great reading, just for one example of the type of text about the business side.

The other reason I gave this book a favorable rating is because there are mostly great stories of some of the wrestlers. Not just the well-known ones like Terry Funk, Mick Foley and the Sandman but also ones who are not as well known except for the hard core fans. One can learn a lot about the history of ECW through these stories and Gordon gives proper credit to his talent (as he calls the wrestlers throughout the book) as he should since it was them who puts on the shows that drew the fans.

The end of ECW did not mean the end of Gordon in the business but there isn’t much about that. Instead, it’s a mostly fun romp through the history of ECW that fans of the product will enjoy immensely. 

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


Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Review of "One Jump at a Time"

 As one who only watches figure skating during the Olympics, I had known the name Nathan Chen only because he won the gold medal in the last Winter Olympics games in 2022.  So, I was curious to see how his memoir would read and it was pretty good.  Here is my review. 


“One Jump at a Time: My Story” by Nathan Chen


4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: The best way to describe Nathan Chen’s journey to the Olympic gold medal in men’s figure skating is if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  That is exactly what he did to achieve a goal he had since he first set foot on ice as a toddler in Salt Lake City, when that city hosted the Winter Olympics, 20 years before Chen won his gold.  All of the ups and downs in his road to gold is told in this memoir.

It doesn’t follow the typical memoir in that there is very little of Chen’s personal life described by him.  Yes, he talks about family and his upbringing. This is especially true as his mother was one of his coaches, both for training and for emotional support.  But overall, the book is about his skating and his training.  He talks a lot about his various coaches and other people involved.  This includes Vera Wang, who agreed to design his costumes.

For the range of emotions in the book, there are certainly lows as well as the highs – and both came during the Olympics.  After a disastrous short program in the 2018 Olympics, he considered leaving because there was no way he would gain enough points to be in contention for a medal. But then he put on a great show in the free skate and gained more confidence as he prepared for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

However, the COVID pandemic did put a major detour into Chen’s plans, and here is where the book, and Chen, turns to a little too much negativity.  This is mainly because, by Chen’s own admission, he was very concerned about being infected with COVID and that would affect his training and school schedule (he was taking classes at Yale while training for the Beijing Olympics) as well as during the Games themselves.  It’s understandable but at times a felt to be a little too much while reading it.

It is helpful for a reader to understand the different technical aspects and descriptions of the jumps and movements of figure skating. His discussion on the programs and various movements suggested by coaches are very detailed and technical.  Not being too familiar with some of the jumps, such as the difference between a lutz and a Salchow, I had to look up some of these.  That can be both good and frustrating – the latter because of needing to put the book aside to look up terms, but good in that a reader who isn’t familiar with the sport will learn a lot.

Overall, fans of the Winter Olympics and figure skating will really enjoy this book and even if not, it is a good way to learn more about this sport that many watch only once every four year.

Link: One Jump at a Time: My Story: 9780063280526: Chen, Nathan: Books

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Review of "1934"

Having never heard of this team, I was curious when I read the synopsis before requesting a review copy.  This group of Canadian Black ballplayers deserve to have their story told and I am glad not only that I read this, but that there is an author who felt the same way and told the story of the Chatham Coloured All-Stars. 


“1934: The Chatham Coloured All-Stars’ Record Breaking Year” by Heidi LM Jacobs


4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: While many people know that when Black players were not allowed to play in the American Major Leagues and there were the Negro Leagues, very few are also familiar with teams of Canadian Black players.  While the Canadian teams may not have had their own separate league, nonetheless they played competitive baseball.  For one team, the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, their 1934 season in which they won the championship in their southern Ontario league was one looked upon fondly.  Author Heidi LM Jacobs tells the little-known story of this team, their stories and their connections to baseball history.

Like in the United States, the records for Black Canadian teams were not well organized and therefore it takes a lot of work to get the records and statistics.  For that reason, Jacobs relies on newspaper clippings and hundreds of interviews with family members of the team.  For that reason, there is a lot of anecdotal history of the All-Stars but not a lot of hard factual data.  With so many interviews and so many different names, the book can be a challenge to follow as, understandably, the dialogue shifts between different people.  Jacobs does a decent job of trying to keep the book organized and breaking up chapters by the months of the 1934 season was a key part of this. 

Even more than the history, the heartbreaking stories of the discrimination and racism the players faced and the excellent play on the field (all of which are similar experiences to those of their American brethren) the unexpected nuggets of interesting information were fascinating and what made this book enjoyable.  The one example I will give is the brief mention of one particular player who only appeared in a few games for the 1934 All-Stars, yet is probably the most recognizable name – Ferguson Jenkins Sr.  His son is the Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins Jr. It was very touching when Jacobs wrote about the tribute the junior Jenkins gave to his father during his Hall of Fame induction speech.

If a reader enjoys books about baseball’s Negro Leagues, then that person should pick up a copy of this book as well.  The stories are similar, just the nations are different, and the baseball played by this special team is just as good.

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


Link: 1934: The Chatham Coloured All-Stars’ Barrier-Breaking Year: 9781771964777: Jacobs, Heidi LM: Books

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Review of "When the Game Was War"

While wishing all American readers a happy Independence Day today, I decided to write a review on a book about the American game.  No, not baseball or football, but basketball since it was invented by an American without roots from other games in other countries.  This book covered a great era of the professional game and for the most part, I enjoyed it.  Here is my review of "When the Game Was War." 


Title/Author: When the Game Was War: The NBA’s Greatest Season” by Rich Cohen

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Just as there are many arguments between sports fans about who is the greatest team, athlete or event in a particular sport, this can also come up about the greatest season for a league.  This book by Rich Cohen makes the case that the 1987-88 season was the greatest for the NBA.  While it may not convince every reader that 1987-88 was the best season (including this reviewer – I chose another one in his honorable mention list, 1976-77), Cohen does make a compelling case for this argument.

The book reads better as a long editorial than as a history of that basketball season.  Not only does Cohen make his case about the 1987-88 season, he also makes a case for Isaiah Thomas to be included as one of the greatest players not only of that time – to be included in the conversation with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan – but also of all time.  While I did see a point to the main topic of the book, I do not agree with this assertion and at times, it feels like Cohen is writing more as a fan than as an author or historian when talking about Thomas. Bringing up Thomas’ infamous quote about Larry Bird more than once and defending it by saying it was a thought many Black players had felt like a defense of Thomas.  Cohen does point out his own biases toward not only Thomas and for the reason he felt 1987-88 was the best one, hence why I called the book more of an opinion piece.

I will also note that I have read reviews that point out many factual errors, a few of which I caught without needing to verify them.  Because I read an advance review copy, these were not detrimental to the goal I had for this book, which was to see why Cohen felt this was the best season.  There is also the matter of referring to a season by the latter year (i.e. 1987-88 would be 1988) which is inconsistent throughout the book.  Again, something that will hopefully be cleaned up in the final edition.

But…the positives far outweigh the negatives in this book, especially if the reader is a fan of basketball in that era.  The season is viewed through four teams – the Los Angeles Lakers (who ended up winning the championship), the Detroit Pistons (who lost in the Finals to the Lakers), the Boston Celtics (who lost to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals) and the Chicago Bulls (who lost to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference semi-finals). These four teams made the most sense to include, especially looking back now.  There was the reigning champs (Lakers), the old dynasty ready to end (Celtics), the hungry (and physical) team ready to take over (Pistons) and the new kids on the block getting ready to crash the party (Bulls).  Each team had a compelling chapter in the book and made for excellent reading.

Reading about the matchups during the season and in the playoffs between two of the four featured teams was also great.  Enough detail to truly feel how close the game was, and in the case of many Pistons games, how physical and even violent the play went. This was an era when the game’s big men played in the paint and not often out on the perimeter as Cohen notes.  While he doesn’t explicitly say this, I get the impression that he preferred this type of basketball.  I did as well and why despite the reservations I wrote earlier, I really enjoyed this book and fans of that era of professional basketball will as well.

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

Link: When the Game Was War: The NBA's Greatest Season eBook : Cohen, Rich: Kindle Store