Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Review of "Save by Roy"

Now that the new hockey season is in full swing and the baseball season over, I was looking to see if there were any new hockey books for review on NetGalley.  I was happy to see this one available on Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche.  Even though I was even happier to see this team eliminated in the playoffs last spring by my favorite team, the Minnesota Wild, I decided to pick it up and give it a try.  Here is my review of "Save by Roy."


Title/Author:
“Save by Roy: Patrick Roy and the Return of the Colorado Avalanche” by Terry Frei and Adrian Dater

Tags:
Hockey, professional Avalanche, history

Publish date:
November 5, 2014

Length:
320 pages

Rating: 
3 1/2 of 5 stars (good)

Review:
After a few poor seasons, the Colorado Avalanche, at one time one of the elite teams of the National Hockey League, decided to hire a rookie head coach who had no NHL coaching experience at the time.  He was well-known to the franchise, having led them to Stanley Cup championships in 1996 and 2001. Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy became Colorado’s head coach for the 2013-14 season. That season is chronicled in this book, a collaborative effort between Terri Frei and Adrian Dater of the Denver Post, both of whom have covered hockey for the newspaper.

After a brief recap of Roy’s career and life after hockey, the book really gets going when the press conference announcing Colorado’s hiring of Roy causes some stirring around the league.  How can someone who has never coached in the NHL lead a team that has struggled for the last four years?  Very well, thank you as the Avalanche won their division in 2013-14 and while they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Minnesota Wild, the season was considered to be a success.     

The book covers the season by recapping every game, some much more in depth than others.  These recaps are not newspaper stories, but instead they will cover a new aspect or situation facing the team, an anecdote about the player who played the biggest role for the Avalanche in the game, or possibly a simple rehash of the results.  In between these stories there were sections that had player biographies that read like the biographies one will read in team media guides.  However, those were more complete in this book with much more information gleaned from the player being profiled.  Those were enjoyable reads and strategically placed at various spots during the season’s recap.

There was also one more feature of the book that was interspersed in various spots in the book, and that was notes “from the notebook of” one of the two authors. These were alternated between the two writers and these features were my favorite part of the book. These pieces were informative, opinionated and entertaining.  Whether the pages from a notebook were about the feud between Roy and St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, how Roy would use the media to his advantage or just commentary on the games, these sections were welcome breaks from the season discussion. Just like how players enjoy breaks in the schedule during a long season, I felt refreshed and ready to continue after reading these.

While the main topic of the book is the 2013-14 Avalanche season, this was also a good source of information to learn more about Roy and what makes him tick both during his playing days and as a coach. The style of the writing is what one would expect from two newspaper reporters, but the stories don’t read like a newspaper.  Put together, they weave a good picture of the team and what the future holds for them. It is a book that any hockey fan will enjoy reading, especially Avalanche fans. 

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

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book: 
Very good.  I felt some of the game summaries and stories started to run together when reading them one after another, but the breaks in them with either player biographies or the notebook chapters made reading the entire book fairly quick.

Do I recommend? 
Avalanche fans will certainly enjoy this recap of this comeback season in which Roy was named the NHL Coach of the Year.  All hockey fans would enjoy reading this in-depth book.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:



Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review of "Scorin' On the Fourth of July"

I decided to switch things up a little and find a quick sports romance to present here.  However, keeping true to the spirit of this blog, I wanted to find one that had just as much sports as love or sex. I then wrote to a romance author whom I follow on Twitter more for her hockey tweets than for ones on books, Cassandra Carr, and asked her if any of her hockey stories would be a fit for this blog. She recommended this novella to me, so I picked it up and was glad I did. Here is my review of "Scorin' On the Fourth of July."




Title/Author:
“Scorin’ On the Fourth of July: A Red Hot and BOOM Story” by Cassandra Carr

Tags:
Hockey, fiction, romance

Published:
May 27, 2014

Length:
93 pages

Stars: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
No matter what sport or which city, it is always a trying time when an athlete goes to a new team either by trade or free agency.  In this fictional hockey story, free agent hockey star Mikael Maatta leaves Minnesota for Buffalo and is immediately asked to participate in a summer charity hockey tournament.  While both adjusting to his new location and playing in the tourney, he becomes smitten with the goalie on his team, Terri Kirkland who was on the gold medal winning US women’s hockey team.

While the story is centered around the budding romance between Mikael and Terri, I was interested in the book when I asked Carr if any of her hockey books contained a lot of hockey talk as well as the romance. This was an excellent choice for that as I believe it was very helpful to have both characters playing the sport.  It was realistic as well in the respect that it wasn’t a stretch to have Terri playing goalie against the men, as this was a summer charity tourney, where the intensity is not as high as it would be during the regular season.  But this also showed off the skills of Mikael as well and why Buffalo signed him. I enjoyed the game action scenes in the book. 

This book did not disappoint in that respect as there were many excellent passages that were not only about the game itself, but also a lot of behind-the-scenes activity that many teams will undertake when a new player arrives.  The adventures of finding Mikael a place to live, transportation and clothing are documented and I found myself enjoying these as well as the smooth skating and excellent saves of the two main characters.

Something I do have to say is that there was a conversation between Mikael and Terri that I hope was supposed to be humorous.  Mikael was asking Terri (who was familiar with the area) where he could enjoy water activities because he didn’t get a chance to do so in Minnesota.  Really?  In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, this supposedly intelligent adult man couldn’t find a place to enjoy water activities?  I was laughing at this part.

This was fairly light banter between the two characters and it stays that way through most of the story, even though their attraction grows.  This is not an erotic story, however, which was surprising given the title.  It is more of a sweet love story that has its tender moments as well as the anxiety they feel as Terri will not be on the team and is worried that in order to continue her career, she may have to travel far away. 

Unlike other sports romances that I have read that are short on the sport and heavy on love and/or sex, this story had a very nice balance of the two. Add that to the in-depth writing that shows Carr’s extensive knowledge of hockey and you have a quick read that would be enjoyed by readers of sports books as well as romance readers.    

Book Format Read:
Ebook (Nook)

Buying Links:



About the Author:

Cassandra Carr lives in Western New York with her husband, Inspiration, and her daughter, Too Cute for Words. When not writing she enjoys watching hockey and hanging out on the computer.

Cassandra has won numerous awards for her writing and also had one of her books cited as a Top Pick/Recommended Read by over a dozen review sites.

For more information about Cassandra, check out her website at http://www.booksbycassandracarr.com, "like" her Facebook fan page at http://www.facebook.com/AuthorCassandraCarr or follow her on Twitter athttp://www.twitter.com/Cassandra_Carr.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review of "The Captain"

I have had this book in my Kindle library for over a year and now that Derek Jeter has retired, I decided it was time to read it.   Or should I say listen to it, as I am now commuting nearly one hour each way, so I will be listening to audio books when reading time is limited.   This review was based on the audio book and here is the review of "The Captain."


Title/Author:
“The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter” by Ian O’Connor, narration by Nick Polifrone

Tags:
Baseball, Yankees, biography

Publish date:
August 16, 2011

Length:
448 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
While I cannot consider myself a fan of either the New York Yankees or of Derek Jeter, I respect the consistent excellence that both of them bring to the game of baseball.  When I found this book when looking for a good biography, I picked this up.  I then let it sit on my “to be read” pile for over a year until the 2014 regular season ended and I decided to read it after Jeter played his last game.  I was able to obtain the audio version of the book at no extra cost, and now that I have a longer commute, I decided to listen to the audio book and this review is based on that version.

This is a book that truly lives up to the title.  Ian O’Connor does take the reader on a journey of Derek Jeter’s life and career.  In the opening notes, O’Connor does state that he did not obtain interviews with Jeter and that the book was a result of research and interviews with other people. That is the strength of this book as O’Connor tells the complete story of Jeter’s baseball career from his days in Kalamazoo, Michigan to the 1992 draft when Jeter was unexpectedly available for the Yankees (my favorite chapter in the book) to his struggles in the minor leagues and finally his adventures in pinstripes at both the old and new Yankee Stadium.  

O’Connor covers many sports in the New York metropolitan area, including the Yankees and his knowledge of the game and the team shows in the book.  He writes not only about Jeter’s ride through the Yankee dynasty of 1996-2000, but also has many stories about the team itself and some of the players in those years such as Scott Brosius and Mariano Rivera.  The reader is taken through those seasons, as well as the more frustrating seasons as the Yankees waited nine years before winning another title.

Not only is Jeter’s baseball career covered in the book, but O’Connor also does a fine job writing about Jeter’s biracial roots, the values his parents instilled in Jeter and his sister and also the type of lifestyle that many men can only dream of.  What I really liked about this aspect of the book is that it did not turn scandalous, as many other biographies do on this topic, nor did it come off as too admiring.  Sure, O’Connor states at times that Jeter seems to be living a charmed life.  But he didn’t overdo it by letting the reader know that Jeter worked hard at keeping that portion of his life as private as possible, therefore it didn’t turn into tabloid material.

This isn’t to say there weren’t problems with the book as well.  Because I listened to the audio version, it was clear that the narrator, Nick Polifrone, was not familiar with some of the players mentioned in the book as there were several mispronunciation incidents of player names.  Two examples are Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia – the second syllable was pronounced with a long A sound instead of the correct short A sound.  Also notable is Robin Yount’s name was pronounced with the first syllable sounding like “You” instead of the proper “Yow.”  Of course this is not an issue for readers of the paper book or the e-book, but I was disappointed to hear these names not properly pronounced.

I also felt that at times O’Connor’s writing came across as an admirer of Jeter instead of an objective author. That came across when Jeter would be struggling – he would always find a way to overcome it. Those were written in a way that it seemed like the man could do nothing wrong and if he did, he would correct it. I also felt that O’Connor was critical of players not on the Yankees and other teams when it wasn’t called for. This was especially true when the book would need to include the other New York baseball team. The accounts of the 2000 World Series when the Yankees defeated the Mets and also the comparisons to responses by both teams to the 2001 terrorist attacks felt like O’Connor was trying to show just how much better the Yankees were than the Mets. I am sure that he did not intentionally do this, but that is how it felt, especially when listening to the book instead of reading it.

Despite these minor issues, I felt that the book was a very good recap of Jeter’s career and life up to the middle of the 2011 season, including the day Jeter got his 3000th base hit.  This book is well worth the time to read for learning more about Jeter and what lead to his Hall of Fame- worthy career.

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book: 
Excellent.  O’Connor keeps the book moving with interesting tales on each portion of Jeter’s career.  This is not only for his time with the Yankees but also during his high school days and his struggles in the minor leagues.

Do I recommend? 
Yes.  Whether the reader is a Yankees fan, a baseball fan in general or enjoys well-researched biographies, this book is a good choice.  If the reader is someone who believes too much attention was given to Jeter during his playing days or strongly dislikes the New York Yankees, then pass on this one.

Book Format Read/Listened:
Audio book

Buying links:


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Review of "Against Football"

Just in time for the new season, this book came out that asked the tough questions about this game that many others would not.   In the wake of the domestic abuse and child abuse scandals that rocked professional football and my own personal two-week boycott where I did not watch a NFL game nor any related highlights, I thought I would read this book to see where this author came down on these and other issues.  It was an excellent read.   Here is my review of "Against Football"


Title/Author:
“Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto” by Steve Almond

Tags:
Football, (American), Professional, college, high school

Published:
August 26, 2014

Length:
194 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)

Review:
There is no question that football is the most popular sport in the United States. Whether it is professional football with record television ratings for its championship game, college football with all the pomp and circumstance or high school football in which entire towns shut down on Friday nights for home games, Americans love their football.

However, Steve Almond, who is one of these fans who follows the game passionately, has written a thought provoking book in which he questions many aspects of the sport and what it says about society as a whole.  He addresses many issues from both the aspect of the game itself and the effects that the game has on other aspects of life.

This latter statement comes from the topics that Almond addresses and asks hard questions about what football does to address or ignore the problem. He writes about the bullying of Miami Dolphins lineman Jonathan Martin – but goes beyond calling out Richie Incognito.  He addresses racism and the thoughts of Martin’s fellow African-American lineman who also taunted Martin by saying he wasn’t “black enough.”  There are the calls that Martin wasn’t strong enough to confront his distracters. With bullying being a hot topic today, this was a very interesting commentary.

Of course, the topic of concussions is addressed in the book.  While Almond does not offer a lot of new or different aspects toward this issue, I felt that he used some powerful examples to show the dangers players face from multiple concussions or the condition that has been brought forward because of players suffering from it, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.  How a player suffered from concussions at a small college in Maryland during practice because his coach was driving him to hit harder by leading with his head is one of the most powerful pieces I have read on this topic.

As was all of Almond’s comments on topics like corporate welfare when NFL owners obtain taxpayer-funded stadiums, designation as a non-profit organization (yes, seriously!) and a very shrewd observation at the annual NFL combine.  When some of the players who are being brought out for work outs to the combine, they huddle up, place their hands together in the circle and broke it with a yell “On three…one, two, three, Get Money.”  That is an excellent illustration of what the NFL has become – these players put themselves through what some people consider either a slave auction or a meat market for one thing – to get money.

College and high school football always is addressed in the book, the former for many of its own tales of corruption and greed.  The most shameful has to do with the investigation or lack thereof, into an allegation of sexual assault in 2013 by Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.  There was compelling evidence plus a statement from the victim to warrant a full fledged investigation but it never was completed. It makes the reader again wonder just how much importance football has over a school. I thought this particular incident was also a good tie-in with the current scrutiny colleges are facing over their internal policies concerning sexual assaults as a whole.

These are just a few examples of the hard questions Almond raises. He does talk frequently of his own football fandom, and he does state in the book that he is not out to criticize or demonize fans who enjoy the game. He is simply asking these hard questions and I believe this is a challenge to all fans to ask themselves if they are aware of all these matters and if they are, then how do they feel about being a part of this?  It certainly made me question why I follow this sport. That is what I believe the message is to be taken from this book, and Almond writes a very powerful manifesto in order to be that messenger.

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
Excellent – this is a very fast read, even when the questions that Almond asks make the reader stop and think. 

Do I recommend? 
Yes – this should be required reading for anyone who enjoys the game of football at any level.  This book will make fans, coaches, administrators and players at least stop and think about what the game in its current state does to everyone.

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying Links:




Monday, October 6, 2014

Review of "The Legend of Mickey Tussler"

Avid readers know of this problem - when you have so many books in the pile to be read that some of them that you meant to read get pushed aside and forgotten.  This happened to me with this book after I received my paperback copy.  Then a gentle reminder from the author's assistant reminded me I had this book.  I am glad Sophia sent that e-mail, otherwise I just may have still put off reading this very good novel by Frank Nappi.  Here is my review of "The Legend of Mickey Tussler." 


Title/Author:
“The Legend of Mickey Tussler” by Frank Nappi

Genre/topics: 
Baseball, fiction, Young Adult (YA)

Published:
April 1, 2012

Length:
304 pages

Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Autism wasn’t diagnosed or understood in 1948 as well as it is today, and the main character of this interesting novel by Frank Nappi has that condition as he is dealing with how to use his tremendous talent to pitch a baseball.

Mickey Tussler is a 17 year old pitching phenom who was discovered by scout and manager Arthur Murphy.  Murphy is the manager of the minor league Milwaukee Brewers and when he sees the youngster fire apples into a barrel from 100 feet away, he thinks he can make Mickey into a pitcher for his struggling team.

Mickey does indeed become a pitcher for the team, where he has to learn to adapt to not only a new lifestyle away from his parents Clarence and Molly, but he also has to play a game in which the rules and nuances are completely unknown.  This is where I felt the character of Mickey was a little unrealistic, as how can he field and hit (no DH in 1948) to play in these games?  The baseball scenes don’t talk about Mickey doing anything other than pitching, so these left me wondering.

I also noted one other puzzling baseball scenario, but that is mainly because of the year the story is set.  Since this is 1948, when Mickey gets to meet Warren Spahn, the latter hasn’t reached his legendary status he eventually would attain during his pitching career for the Milwaukee Braves.  Had Mr. Spahn been simply introduced as a major league pitcher to Mickey, that would have been a little more plausible.

But this book is much more than just a baseball book.  It illustrates how an autistic child (and yes, at 17 I will call Mickey a child) affects everyone around him.  How his teammates accept him (like Pee Wee and his catcher Boxcar) or don’t accept him (like fellow pitcher Lefty) make for good reading.  Passages that are set on the farm where Mickey grew up will address other topics such as domestic abuse. 

One other note about the baseball scenes – it is a wild ride for the Brewers during the 1948 season as they soar to first place after Mickey gets in a groove.  Then he disappears after a night at the bar with teammates when he leaves with a mystery woman – and the team promptly has a lengthy slump.  When Mickey returns, the team picks it back up again.  I won’t give away any more about the season or the story – but I will say that it wasn’t what I expected at all.

Baseball fans, readers who enjoy young adult novels and anyone who just wants to read a feel-good story with some twists will enjoy this novel. 

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

Did I skim?
No as I needed to read each chapter carefully to fully understand the situation and characters.

Did I feel connected to the characters?
Yes - some of them.  I could relate to Arthur Murphy’s struggles to help Mickey adapt to the life of minor league baseball.  Molly was also a woman who the reader will cheer for.  However, I couldn’t quite connect with Mickey because I can’t imagine being afflicted with that condition, and I also thought Clarence was a despicable character.  That says more about Mr. Nappi’s development to make him someone so easy to dislike.

Pace of the story:
Overall it reads fairly quickly.  I felt it was a little slow at the start as Nappi was building his characters, especially Mickey.  Once Mickey started pitching for the Brewers, I felt the pace of the book was much faster.

Do I recommend?
Yes – for readers who enjoy good baseball sequences as well as a moving story about a teenager afflicted with a condition that wasn’t clearly understood at the time the story is set.

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links:



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Review of "Tales From the Minnesota Vikings Sideline"

When I saw this book was available for the Kindle, I was very excited as I have been a Minnesota Vikings fan for over 40 years.  I picked up to read on my vacation and I did so - and was sorely disappointed.  Here is my review of "Tales From the Minnesota Vikings Sideline."


Title/Author:
“Tales From the Minnesota Vikings Sideline: A Collection of the Greatest Vikings Stories Ever Told” by Bill Williamson

Tags:
Football (American), Vikings, history

Publish date:
September 7, 2012

Length:
192 pages

Rating: 
2 of 5 stars (not so great)

Review:
As a longtime Minnesota Vikings fan, I am always on the lookout for books on the team, especially those that would have good stories on the great Viking teams of the 1970’s.  I was able to obtain a copy of this book, but I was sorely disappointed with it.  A collection of the “greatest” Vikings stories ever is a stretch, to put it kindly.  Most of the stories could be written by most fans with either long memories or a little research. 

Not all of them are bad – some are downright entertaining, such as Bob Lurtsema’s party habits during training camp or some of the Randy Moss antics.  But overall, the stories about the great players for the Vikings during the entire history of the team are very short and not very entertaining.  They come mostly from other people’s recollection of them, such as coaches or teammates.  This does a disservice to great players of the team’s history.  How does a Hall of Fame player like Carl Eller get only a short six-paragraph mention lumped in with other defensive linemen? 

There are also several editing errors or typos that could easily be caught but somehow made it into the final copy.  One example is a 2001 story on Ron Yary that mentions a grass roots campaign led by then-owner Red McCombs “who both the team three years age.”   Another example is when talking about defensive lineman John Randle, a play “just con apses on John.”  Huh?  Collapses? 

The stories and chapters, such as the one on the death of Korey Stringer, seem very choppy and there are either abrupt endings to short stories or confusing breaks in longer ones.  There is not a good flow for continuous reading, nor are many good stopping points for those who like to read just a few pieces at a time.  It just feels like the book was quickly put together in a rush to beat a deadline.  This is how I felt for both the main section of the book which was published in 2004, and the extra chapter added in 2012 for the 2005 to 2010 seasons.  I could not get into a good rhythm for reading, which in turn decreased my enjoyment of the book. 

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book: 
This was a quick read, but because of the poor editing and sudden breaks in the stories, I had to stop every now and then to get back on track.

Do I recommend? 
Fellow Vikings fans may enjoy some of these tales, especially those with old time players like Bob Lurtesema and Bill Brown.  However, I don’t recommend this book for those strolls down memory lane as there are books with more complete stories.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009WSRGQW/ref=kinw_myk_ro_title

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Review of "Oriole Magic"

It has been awhile since posting the last review, but being away on vacation did give me a chance to catch up on some reading.   Got two complete books read and in the middle of a third one, so things will be back to normal here.  First review from those books is this one on a recap of the 1983 Baltimore Orioles championship season.  Here is my review of "Orioles Magic."


Title/Author:
“Oriole Magic: The O’s of ‘83” by Thom Loverro

Tags:
Baseball, Orioles, history

Publish date:
April 1, 2004

Length:
235 pages

Rating: 
2 1/2 of 5 stars (so-so)

Review:
The Baltimore Orioles were one of baseball’s most successful franchises for nearly 20 years – from their shocking 1966 World Series sweep to the 1983 championship, the team was very successful and this book by former Orioles beat writer Thom Loverro recaps that last championship season from start to finish.

The book starts with a look back at past Orioles disappointments - the 1969 World Series loss to the New York Mets, being the first team to lose a World Series after having a three-games-to-one lead to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979, to losing the Eastern Division on the last day of the season in 1982 to the Milwaukee Brewers.  These were used as motivation for the 1983 team, something Loverro reminds the reader regularly.  I thought it was mentioned too often, one of the problems I had reading this book.

I felt the biggest strength of this book was also its biggest weakness.  While Loverro does a good job of recapping the season’s games, it was hard to keep up on what series was being played against which team.  The details of each game were written up almost like a newspaper article written to be read in the morning edition.  That would be logical since Loverro covered the team for a Washington newspaper, but reading a book that is a narrative of the season written in that style was difficult to fully enjoy.  

I also felt that when the book left the recap to tell a story about a player, it didn’t seem to be connected with the season at that point. Here Loverro gets a plus for not only talking about the stars like Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. but also other players such as Dan Ford and John Lowenstein.  However, no matter who the story was about when it was told, it felt like a distraction to the recap of the season instead of an enhancement.

This wasn’t a terrible book as the details were good, the game-by-game listing at the end was a nice touch, and some of the player stories were interesting.  But as a book to read and enjoy – it just didn’t do that for me.  Therefore, the rating of this book is right down the middle – 2 ½ of 5 stars.

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book: 
It was a fast read, but very choppy as the narrative goes from recapping games to a story about a player back to the games to some other tidbit such as the fate of the manager.  This would be fine if they were somehow connected with transition sentences or paragraphs, which were lacking.

Do I recommend? 
Oriole fans will enjoy this recap of their latest championship. Other baseball fans may wish to pass on this one as there isn’t much depth or entertainment value in this book.  

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links: