Friday, January 23, 2015

Review of "Ice Gold"

When the Winter Olympics are held, one of my favorite sports to watch is curling.  Seeing the rocks slide down the ice to the house while the sweepers madly clear the ice in front grabs my attention and I don't stop until the gold medal matches.  When I saw that a book was available for review about the two Canadian gold medal teams from the 2014 Olympics, I jumped on the chance to read it.  Here is my review of "Ice Gold."



Title/Author:
“Ice Gold” by Ted Wyman

Tags:
Curling, Winter Olympics

Publish date:
October 1, 2014

Length:
240 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
During the 2014 Winter Olympics, a rare accomplishment occurred when both the men’s and women’s curling teams from Canada won their respective gold medals. The stories of both teams and how they rose from curling club competition to Olympic champions are captured in this book by sportswriter Ted Wyman.

The two skips of each team, Jennifer Jones and Brad Jacobs, are the prominent characters in the tales of the two squads, as Wyman details their lives in and out of the rink and how they both achieved their goals through hard work and each overcoming obstacles. Whether these obstacles were their personal lives or on the ice, the way both Jones and Jacobs rose to the top of their games is an inspiring story.

The book alternates chapters between the men’s and women’s teams, which is a good format as it keeps the reader in the flow for both teams. The chapters were not too long, which helped keep me on track while I was reading it. The styles for the writing between the chapters on the men’s and women’s teams were different as well. Wyman tells of the relationships and inner conflicts for the women, such as when Jones had to let a long time teammate go in favor of a new player.  For the men’s team, Wyman writes a lot on their training and athleticism.  I chuckled when he would mention how good they looked in their t-shirts.  

The stories of both teams were inspiring and it is clear to the reader that these teams were revered by an entire nation when they achieved their dreams of winning the gold medal.  It was not the typical Olympic book with these stories and will be a good addition to the library of someone who is a curling aficionado or likes uplifting Olympic stories.

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

Pace of the book: 
Having not followed the sport of curling for very long and am still only a casual fan at best, I had some difficulty with the more advanced terminology and descriptions of some of the matches.  These passages took me longer to read as I sometimes had to refer to looking up some of the terms.  But overall, the flow and pace of this book was very good.

Do I recommend? 
Serious curling fans or athletes will enjoy this book on two excellent teams that overcame long odds to win Olympic gold medals

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Review of "Faith In the Fast Lane"

As part of my resolution to reduce the number of books on my pile to be read, I also resolved to read those books provided by authors or publisher faster after receiving them.  This was the first book read to fulfill that part of the resolution, as I picked up this weekend after receiving it this past week.  It was a quick read and a much better book than I first believed it would be. Here is my review of "Faith In the Fast Lane."


Title/Author:
“Faith In the Fast Lane: How NASCAR Found Jesus” by Chad Bonham

Tags:
Auto Racing, NASCAR, faith, Christianity

Publish date:
January 15, 2014

Length:
192 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
While many sports tend to not intertwine faith and Christianity into the games or events, NASCAR takes a completely different approach to Christianity and welcomes faith into its “family.”   How this came to be is documented in this well-written book by Chad Bonham. Along with some history of the sport itself and many stories of the various ways NASCAR drivers have shown their faith, Bonham takes the reader on a journey of many different aspects of the life of not only the drivers, but their families, crews and fans and how their Christian faith is part of their lives.

On the back cover of the book, one of the points made is that the book will make the reader “recognize, embrace and answer God’s call on your life.” Aside from the afterword by the President of Motor Racing Outreach (MRO), I didn’t find that to be the case while reading this book.  By that, I mean that the book concentrated on telling the history of the relationship between faith and NASCAR along with personal stories from many people, mostly drivers.  The book did not come across as preaching or pleading with the reader to explore his or her relationship with God.  Instead, by telling these stories, it is up to the reader to determine if these stories will inspire him or her.

That is the tone of the stories as well. From all time greats such as Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip to young drivers like Trevor Bayne, their stories of faith and how that helps them on and off the race track are very interesting. However, drivers are not the only people featured in this book.  Bonham interviews people from all aspects of the racing experience – crew members, spouses of drivers, people who serve as ministers and workers who help spread the message are included as well. This produces a book that is not only diverse in how faith is a part of the NASCAR atmosphere, but also a book that readers of nearly all levels of faith and also any denomination can read and enjoy.

This is a book that I believe can be enjoyed by anyone who is a NASCAR fan, wants to learn about the sport’s history, or wants to learn more how the Christian faith can impact people’s lives. This book does that in a manner that does not preach nor condemn those who may not have the same level of faith as others, but still tells the way that Christianity can make a difference in one’s life. 

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

Pace of the book: 
Because the stories and interviews are compact and woven together well, this was a very quick read for me, finishing it in less than two hours.

Do I recommend? 
Fans of NASCAR will enjoy this book, especially with the stories and background information on the early days of the sport.  Readers who enjoy faith-based or Christian-based books will also enjoy this, no matter what level of belief or faith they may feel.

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Publisher link:

Buying links:


http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/faith-in-the-fast-lane-chad-bonham/1116914184?ean=9780817017347

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Review of "Seasons in Hell"

I was in the mood for a lighter book to review, and I was able to obtain an inexpensive digital copy of this book originally published in 1996.  This one did the trick, as it was one of the funniest books on baseball that I have read.  Here is my review of "Seasons in Hell." 


Title/Author:
“Seasons In Hell: With Billy Martin, Whitey Herzog and the ‘Worst Team in History’ the 1973-1975 Texas Rangers” by Mike Shropshire

Tags:
Baseball, Rangers, Humor, history

Publish date:
March 25, 2014 (digital version. Originally published 1996)

Length:
219 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
When a young sportswriter received the news that he was going to be working on the Texas Rangers’ beat in 1973, he didn’t really know what to expect.  That sportswriter, Mike Shropshire, ended up writing about that assignment in this hilarious book about what was arguably one of the worst baseball teams in the history of the game.  

That season the Rangers finished with 105 losses and was managed by Whitey Herzog, who would later achieve more success managing the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals.  The bulk of the stories and book is centered on this 1973 team and many of the quotes that Herzog has in this book, especially on the abilities and skills of his players, is reason alone to invest some time in this book.

This is not a new topic for books – the inside stories of a major league baseball team, some of which are not family-friendly. However, unlike other books that have been written by players, I felt that this version of that theme, from the vantage of a writer who travels with the team and has to submit a story every day during the season, gave the reader a different perspective.  Instead of simply telling everything that happened to him, Shropshire’s version of these wacky stories has the feel of being that “fly on the wall” – and it is a very funny version.

Even after that terrible season, the book stays as funny as ever when Billy Martin becomes the new Rangers manager. Anyone who knows about Martin’s history for drinking and fighting will appreciate these stories as well. They stay in the same short, compact format that makes the book easy to read and enjoy.

While it is entertaining, there are editing and factual errors that pop up and were a distraction for me.   One is the misspelling of names such as “Mohammad” Ali and Don “Larson” instead of Larsen, the correct spelling of the man who pitched the only perfect game in a World Series. 

Even worse, when Jim Bibby threw a no-hitter for one of the few bright spots in that 1973 season for the Rangers, Shropshire mentions that it is the third no-hitter in the Senators-Rangers franchise history. He even lists the other two – Walter Johnson in 1920 and Bobby Burke in 1931.  Problem is – that Washington Senators franchise did not become the Rangers, but instead moved to Minnesota and became the Twins in 1961. The franchise that became the Rangers was the “new” Washington Senators that started play in 1961 to replace the team that left for the Twin Cities. 

While these errors may take away from the historical accuracy, history is not what this book is about.  It is about sharing funny stories about a team that was one of the worst the game has seen.  In that context, this book is certainly worth reading as the reader will be entertained from the first page to the last.

Pace of the book: 
This was a very quick read as I completed it in less than two hours of total reading time.  It was a page turner for me because it was so entertaining.

Do I recommend? 
Yes, to baseball fans who enjoy humorous stories will enjoy this as it is geared toward readers who enjoyed books such as “Ball Four” and “The Bronx Zoo.”

Book Format Read:
E-book (Nook)

Buying links:



Sunday, January 11, 2015

Review of "The Greatest Game"

One resolution I made that should be easy to keep is to reduce the number of unread books on my reading devices, especially those that I bought awhile ago and never got around to reading. This book was one of those so I opened it up again and once I did, I never wanted to put this one down.  As a fan of hockey in the 1970's, this one brought back a flood of memories, including New Year's Eve when I watched this historic game.  Here is my review of "The Greatest Game." 


Title/Author:
“The Greatest Game: The Montreal Canadiens, the Red Army and the Night That Saved Hockey” by Todd Denault

Tags:
Ice hockey, history, Canadiens, Soviet Union

Publish date:
October 26, 2010

Length:
346 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
On December 31, 1975, an international hockey game took place between the Montreal Canadiens and the Soviet Red Army team. These two teams were considered to be among the best in their respective leagues and continents and the game was highly anticipated by hockey fans all over the world.  Not only because of the quality of the teams, but because of many other factors. The Cold War was in full force.  The entire nation of Canada was nervous because the Soviet Union was now considered either equal to or superior in Canada’s national game.  The style of play in the National Hockey League was becoming more physical and violent thanks to the Philadelphia Flyers and their two consecutive Stanley Cup titles. This last point was of great concern to many who believed the game was getting too violent, with less emphasis on skill and more on fighting.   

All of these aspects and more are the setting for this terrific book by Todd Denault.  Not only does Denault write about the game itself, almost shift for shift, but the game’s chapters are preceded by well-researched and well-written chapters about the history of hockey in the Soviet Union up to that game as well as how the Canadiens built their team that would play in the game and the general state of the sport in the 1970’s.

Like many other books that are written about a specific game or series, this one has a lot of information that is not directly related to the main topic.  However, instead of these chapters being merely filler, these passages have a connection to the historic game on New Year’s Eve 1975 as this information gives the reader the feeling of why this game took on such importance.   For example, there is a good section about Bobby Clarke, the star center of the Flyers teams that became known as the “Broad Street Bullies” and won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975 as much by intimidation and violence as well as skill.  Those who felt hockey was becoming too violent anticipated this game as being a showcase to prove that this type of play is not needed to produce good hockey.

The best written sections of the book, however, are those about the Soviet teams, including the Red Army team.  By the time this game took place, goalie Vladislav Tretiak and forward Valeri Kharlamov were well-known in Canada and the United States as well as Russia and Denault treats them in the book as the stars that they were. The reader learns much information about them and their teams as well.  The book also recalls how they were well-received by the citizens of Canada.  Tretiak was so good in the game (no spoilers on the result if you do not know) that he received a standing ovation from the Montreal fans.  I was watching that game as a 14 year old fan in Minnesota and I too was applauding his performance by standing in front of the television set. 

This book is an excellent read for any hockey fan, but especially those who want to learn more about the two best teams in their respective continents in the 1970s. The reader won’t feel the “us vs. them” mentality while reading this as if seems the Cold War was temporarily suspended for three hours.  “The Greatest Game” lives up the game itself and is a worthy book on the game and the sport of hockey at that time.


Pace of the book: 
It wasn’t a fast read as I carefully read the chapters on the history of Russian hockey and some of the earlier games by this team as I was not familiar with that history and wanted to learn more.

Do I recommend? 
Hockey fans, especially fans of the sport in the 1970’s, will love this book as it covers so many important players, teams and the history of international hockey played by Canadian and Russian teams during that time frame.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Nook)

Buying links:



Sunday, January 4, 2015

Review of "Headshots"

One of my resolutions this year is to catch up on my reading, especially books that have been provided to me by the author or publisher.  When I received a friendly email from the author of this book asking if I had a chance to review it yet, I was ashamed because I forgot about this book.  I am very glad he sent that message, as I would have missed out on reading this terrific sequel to a book I reviewed a few months ago.  Here is my review of "Headshots" by David Todd. 


Title/Author:
“Headshots” by David A. Todd

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

Published:
August 28, 2014

Length:
259 pages

Rating:
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
In this sequel to the excellent story In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People, Headshots picks up the story in the seventh game of the World Series, at the point described in In Front of Fifty Thousands Screaming People where Ronny Thompson’s life changes.

After getting injured by a gunshot in the seventh game of the World Series, Ronny now must reconcile three issues: repair and rehabilitation of his injuries so that he can come back for the next baseball season, reconciling with his girlfriend Sarah and figure out his love and feelings for her and how to deal with the Mafia who arranged the hit on him and now who have three contracts out for her death. This will require protection for her from the FBI so he must address that issue as well, especially since he is now a celebrity athlete, not a country boy on the farm.

Like the first book, this story has some baseball passages, a lot of mystery and Mafia crime issues and a bit of romance as well.  Ronny and Sarah continue their relationship by becoming engaged and expecting their first child.  In order to protect them, it is decided that Sarah will stay at the farm of Ronny’s parents with protection.  I thought this part of the story was well-developed and all of the characters show a good deal of intelligence without typical stereotypes.  That helped me believe this part of the story as I was reading.

In the meantime, Ronny has two surgeries to treat the injuries, but they leave him unable to pitch right away and he starts the next season on the disabled list.  He does come back, but still has something nagging in his shoulder, so he eventually pitched out of the bullpen.  The Cubs, while not a bad team, cannot repeat their success and miss the playoffs.  This time, the baseball passages, such as a skirmish between the Giants and Cubs over brush back pitches and hit batsmen, were more realistic as well. 

Like the first story, these passages were short and were not a big portion of the book, but important enough that the baseball was a key to understanding Ronny and his issues.  This time, his major concern was the safety and welfare of Sarah and their unborn child.

This is important, because the bulk of the book concentrates on the Cerelli and Washburn crime families who engaged in the high stakes bet.  As it becomes clear that the authorities are on to the shooting of Ronny, the extortion of three Cubs players to throw games and the contracts out on Sarah, these crime family members are leaving nothing to chance and try to make sure that Sarah is eliminated, as well as any nosy reporters who seem to be finding out more information as well as the authorities.

The adventure and pursuit that lead to the final conflict between Ronny, Sarah and these hit men is a very compelling story and the ending was one that even though it is somewhat predictable, was very entertaining and one that let me exhale when complete.

There are times the sequel is better than the original, more often in books than in movies. This book was a good example of this, as I enjoyed reading this one more than the original.  It did help to have the background information gained in the first book, but this one felt a little more realistic and as a result, I was engrossed into the story. The reader does need to read Fifty Thousand Fans first or he or she will not be able to understand this book.  But after doing that, make sure to follow up with this one as it is an even more gripping story of the Mafia, a little romance – and yes, some baseball as well.

I wish to thank Mr. Todd for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
                                                                                                                                             
Did I skim?
No

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

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

Book Format Read:
ebook (ePUB file)

Author Media Links:

Buying Links:





Friday, January 2, 2015

Review of "Down to the Last Pitch"

For my first review of 2015, I thought I would pick a book that has been on my to-be-read list for a long time.  I was excited to finally read this one, as it was about the 1991 World Series. Being a Twins fan all my life, this certainly was a book I would hope bring back many good memories and have some great stories about the games and event of that Series.  While there was some of that, overall this book was not as exciting as that World Series, considered by some to be the greatest World Series ever.  Here is my review of "Down to the Last Pitch"




Title/Author:
“Down to the Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time” by Tim Wendel

Tags:
Baseball, history, Twins, Braves

Publish date:
April 1, 2014

Length:
304 pages

Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:
The 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves is considered by many to be the greatest World Series of all time. Five of the seven games were decided by one run, four of them in extra innings won in walk-off fashion and all seven games were won by the home team. The Twins had the home field advantage and thus won the Series and I have been a lifetime Twins fan. So of course, this is going to be one of the best books I have ever read, correct?  Well, this recap by Tim Wendel of not only that World Series but also much of the 1991 season fell a good deal short of expectations.

Given the title, I expected this book to be about that epic World Series, the two teams and some of the players. The format of seven chapters, one for each game, also sounded exciting as there would be a full description of each game and maybe some reflections on the action that took place. I was looking forward to hearing Mark Lemke and Brian Harper describe the thrilling play that won game four for the Braves in the 12th inning.  Or maybe how Gene Larkin felt when he was hurting when stepping into the batter’s box in the 10th inning of game seven?  Some of those types of stories and interviews were in the book, but they were placed between a lot of pages about players, teams and events that had nothing to do with the 1991 World Series.

There is more information about Ricky Henderson and Nolan Ryan in this book than there is about many of the Twins and Braves players. This is mainly because the author covered those two players and some other events of the 1991 season for a brand new publication, Baseball Weekly.  While these are not bad stories (it’s always fun to read about Henderson, especially when he talks about himself in the third person), I was disappointed that these stories were placed right in the middle of chapters about the game and the flow of reading about the World Series games was lost.

This was even a problem with the passages in which Wendel DID write about the game.  A brief story or bio of one of the key players of the game was placed right in the middle of the game description, again disrupting the flow of reading the book. I also thought that the format of some of the chapters made the result anti-climactic. Kirby Puckett’s game winning homer in the 11th inning of game six, or David Justice’s game winning run in game three in the 12th inning didn’t seem as thrilling reading about them after long passages about other topics.

At least the fact that both the Twins and Braves went from last place to first place in 1991 is prominently mentioned.   This would be appropriate, since these other topics made the book feel more like it was about the entire season across Major League Baseball, not just this World Series.

Being a Twins fan, I certainly wanted to relive this Series and that kept me reading, No matter how it was constructed, nothing can make me NOT enjoy reading about or watching Larkin bloop that single into left field and drive home Dan Gladden to score the only run of game seven.  But as a whole, the book, while decent in the parts that does recap the World Series, was a disappointment to me.

Pace of the book: 
It was a fast moving book despite the sudden change in topics during the middle of several chapters.

Do I recommend? 
Twins and Braves fans will enjoy the stories from this World Series, as will baseball fans who want to relive some of the highlights of the 1991 season.  Just be prepared to read about a lot of other information not related to the two teams. 

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Short review of "Circus Catch"

For the final review of 2014, I accepted a gift copy of this book not exactly sure what to expect.  It turned out to be one of the funniest sports books I have read.  Here is my review of "Circus Catch."


Title/Author:
"Circus Catch" by Michael X. Ferraro

Publication date:
October 31, 2014

Length:
198 pages

Rating:
4 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

Imagine a crucial moment in  tense football game between two arch rivals. The tem trailing late in the game attempts a Hail Mary pass.  The reciever catches it! Tie game with the extra point to come giving a tem its first championship shot in a long time! But wait...the star wide receiver sys he DIDN'T make the catch and is trying to convince everyone it's not a catch.

Tht is the setting for "Circus Catch" a hiliarious story that spoofs pro football, the media and current Americn pop culture. The reciever who is the center of the storm even had a name change - he's  known as B-Wack.  The first time I saw that name I was in tears from the laughing.  As I was several times aftward as well with many more funny pssages.

Frankly, I took the message of B-Wack's actions as an extreme case of wnting to do the right thing, something always taught when playing sports. But when it causes millions of people to freak out in the manner they do in the story it just makes one wonder how low can we go.

Sports fans will love the many spoofs of current sports strs and topics.  Cleveland sports are especially coverred since the story revolves around the Cleveland football team.  A quick entertaining read that will leave you laughing even if you are not a sports fan.

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