Friday, November 21, 2014

Review of "Namath"

When a biography of a sports figure, especially one as complex as Joe Namath, covers all aspects of the subject's life, one might question how balanced and complete this book would be.  This excellent biography covers all aspects of Namath's life very well.  Here is my review of "Namath." 


Title/Author:
“Namath: A Biography” by Mark Kriegel, narrated by Scott Brick

Tags:
Football (American), professional, Jets, biography

Publish date:
July 26, 2005

Length:
528 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Football fans of all levels, from casual to hard-core, have heard of Joe Namath in some way.  Many know of him for guaranteeing a win for his team, the New York Jets, over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III (which was not called by that name yet).  Others may know him from his high risk, high reward style of play in the old American Football League before it merged with the established league to create the National Football League.  Yet others may remember him for his commercials (the segment on his famous panty hose commercial is worth reading or listening to twice), his hard drinking, his love of the ladies and just being a rebel in the 1960’s and 70’s. 

No matter what aspect of Joe Namath intrigues the reader, he or she will enjoy this well researched, well written biography of the man by Mark 
Kriegel,.  Kriegel,’s time with the New York Daily News gave him insight into the complex character of Namath that others who did not see him during his glory days with the Jets may not have. 

While the chapters on his exploits on the field are very good, the best research and writing were in the chapters about his time at the University of Alabama and his post-football life when he eventually did settle down, got married and raised two daughters. Some may have a hard time picturing “Broadway Joe” doting on two little girls, but that is exactly what he was doing at the time.

The other reason that I felt this was an excellent book was how 
Kriegel, related to the reader how Namath’s character was developed.  This was a complete description of that process, from Namath’s childhood with divorced parents, how Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant became his surrogate father at Alabama to his hard partying, perpetual bachelor lifestyle as a pro quarterback to his life as a married man.  That is a lot of changes and complexities, each covered in detail.

The audio book was a very good version of this work, with excellent narration by Scott Brick.  He, like the author, covered the book in an even keel, never putting too much emotion or acting into his delivery.   This was one of the most complete sports biographies that I have enjoyed, and the balance of each aspect of Namath’s life is why I believe every sports fan should pick up this book.


Pace of the book: 
The narrative seemed to flow freely and because it followed a chronological timeline, this made the audio book easy to follow.

Do I recommend? 
Yes, especially for football fans who recall “Broadway Joe” and his fearless style of play. However, this is also a good read for people who like celebrity biographies, especially as Namath’s celebrity status lasted long after his football career was over.

Book Format Read:
Audio book

Buying links:




Monday, November 17, 2014

Review of "Double Play"

In previous reviews and posts, I have mentioned that I have been looking to add sport romance books to my reading lists, as long as they include the sport prominently.  This memoir by Ben Zobrist and his wife Julianna is one of the best - because it is a real life romance, not fictional. A book I thoroughly enjoyed, here is my review of "Double Play." 


Title/Author:
“Double Play” by Ben and Julianna Zobrist with Mike Yorkey

Tags:
Baseball, Rays, faith, Christianity romance, marriage

Publish date:
April 1, 2014

Length:
261 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
When I saw this biography of current Tampa Bay Rays infielder Ben Zobrist, I wasn’t sure what to take away from this book.  Knowing that he was a man of faith and that his wife was a popular Christian singer, I was expecting to read a biography about his success that was completely due to his faith in God. Ben Zobrist did talk about that, but this book was so much more than just a message of inspiration.

This couple was brought together, in both of their minds, because of their faith.  Both wanted to pursue their dreams – Ben in baseball, Julianna in music – and wanted to make sure that the path they took toward those goals was the one that they felt God would lead them to.  They are good stories; especially Ben’s when he paid $50 for a tryout that led to a baseball scholarship and eventually a professional contract.   

However, I felt what was the best part of this book was the budding romance between the two of them and how both of them never wavered from their principles just to be together.  It had to be right and within their beliefs and they made it happen.  I have noted before that I was looking for good sports romance books – that this one happened in real life made it of the best sports romances a reader could ask for.

The book alternates narratives throughout, although some of Ben’s passages about baseball are longer.  He covers every part of his career – his college days, his minor league career when he was a newlywed and the struggles he first had with Tampa and what he did to improve enough to be named to the All-Star game in 2008. There is enough baseball talk to satisfy sports fans and yet it is basic enough that readers who do not follow the game can understand.

Julianna talks about her past issues, including a harrowing experience in her youth, her struggles with relationships and her love of music that eventually led to a recording contract.  Her story also includes her relationship with God, her trials and tribulations as a baseball wife and her joy of not only doing something she loves but also her joy of being a mother.

This book was an uplifting, refreshing sports biography.  Instead of the stories of hardship, drinking, womanizing and later regret, the reader is treated to learning about two people who through the love of their God, they discovered their love for each other. 

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

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book: 
This was an extremely quick read as I completed the book in one sitting in less than two hours.  The switching between Ben’s and Julianna’s stories was a big reason for this.

Do I recommend? 
This is a book that readers of many different genres will enjoy. There is enough baseball talk for a fan to enjoy.  Readers who like inspiring stories, especially those based around the Christian faith, will want to read this book. Romance novel readers will think one of their fictional reads will have come to real life when reading this book.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:



Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review of "Battle of the Bay"

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the "Earthquake World Series" when baseball took a back seat to Mother Nature when the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's faced each other in the first World Series meeting between the neighboring clubs.  This book chronicles not only the Series and the earthquake, but the entire 1989 seasons for both teams.  Here is my review of "Battle of the Bay"


Title/Author:
“Battle of the Bay: Bashing A’s, Thrilling Giants and the Earthquake World Series” by Gary Peterson

Tags:
Baseball, history, Athletics, Giants

Publish date:
March 12, 2013

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
When fans think of the 1989 World Series, there are two thoughts that immediately come to mind.  One, of course, was the devastating earthquake that hit the area just before the start of game three.  The other is that the series was dominated by the Oakland A’s, winning the series in a sweep when they never trailed for even an inning in the four games.  However, there was much more to the 1989 season for both the A’s and their opponents in the World Series, the San Francisco Giants. The seasons for both teams and the memorable moments are captured in this book by Gary Peterson.

I was impressed with this book for two reasons. The first one was the balance in covering both teams’ 1989 seasons without any apparent bias toward one club or the other. Most fans in a region with two baseball teams will usually favor one team or the other, and reporters will usually have greater knowledge of the team for which they cover regularly.  But in the case of Peterson and this book, both teams have equal footing for both the amount of space in the book, the tone of the passages for each team (overwhelmingly positive for both clubs) and for the unusual stories.

From the off-field exploits of Oakland’s Jose Canseco and his brushes with the law to the inspirational comeback from cancer of Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky, both teams are covered completely in the book.  Not only these types of stories, but the reader will be taken through each team’s season, from important regular season series to the division-clinching games and through their respective league championships, both the Giants and A’s are well chronicled in the book.

That leads to the other reason I was impressed with this book. The baseball recaps were thorough and complete.  Nearly every series played by both teams was described and where the teams were in the standings at that particular point in the season.  The reader will learn about many players on both teams, not just the stars. From Carney Lansford of the A’s falling just short of winning the American League batting title to Kevin Mitchell of the Giants and his antics, the reader will be following both teams through the entire season.

The earthquake is also covered in a respectful and complete manner, with aspects from both Candlestick Park and the region as a whole. Thoughts from the players and the commissioner of baseball (who ultimately decided the World Series would not be cancelled) and a story of a man who was found alive in the rubble on a bridge make that chapter a compelling read.

Overall, this was a very good book that covers all aspects of the season for both teams.  It does not go into great depth for either team or the World Series, but it is an entertaining book that all baseball fans should enjoy.

Did I skim?
No - the book was an easy read, easy to follow, and was interesting along the way.

Pace of the book: 
The book moved along at a terrific pace, as the recaps of the seasons for both teams were complete, but not too detailed as to drag the book down. 

Do I recommend? 
Fans of both the Giants and A’s will enjoy this balanced account of the 1989 season and World Series, while readers who like to read about baseball history will also like this book.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Guest review: "Playing the Enemy"

Through the wonder of social media and blogs, I have discovered another book review site that like this one, aims to review books on many different sports and introduce readers to them.  One of these bloggers from the United Kingdom, Aiden Williams, has been kind enough to allow me to share some his reviews here. Keeping in mind the goal of increasing the variety of sports portrayed here, here is Aiden's review of "Playing the Enemy", a book on rugby and Nelson Mandela that inspired the movie "Invictis."


Rugby enthusiast or not, there won’t be many people who don’t instantly recognise iconic the cover image of the moment Nelson Mandela, dressed in a Springbok jersey, handed the Rugby World Cup to the imposingly tall, blonde Afrikaner Francois Pienaar. It’s an image that has come to symbolise the moment that South Africa really began to become the Rainbow Nation. The moment that Mandela’s forgiveness manifested itself in such a public and heart winning way. The moment that appealed to the Afrikaner’s hearts rather than their minds.
John Carlin was the South African correspondent for the Telegraph through the turbulent end to apartheid, Mandela’s release, the first free elections and of course the 1995 Rugby World Cup. In that time he developed not only as deep an understanding of the troubled nation and is people as a foreign correspondent could, but also got to know Mandela and the thought processes which lead the great man to that symbolic act on the Ellis Park turf.
Rugby was the Afrikaner sport, a sport where the non whites of apartheid South Africa would actively support the opposition over the hated Springboks. The green jersey and the Springbok name and symbol itself were emblems of the regime hated by the oppressed majority. But Mandela saw it as the vehicle to win over his former oppressors and in the World Cup, his chance came to show his forgiveness and unite a nation.
Mandela had long taken an approach of wooing those who held him captive; learning their ways, their passions, their language. He soon learned that Rugby held the key to the Afrikaner’s emotions, and the sporting boycott which prevented international competition was hurting them deeply. Carlin’s engaging book charts the political evolution in South Africa through the tumultuous years from Mandela’s imprisonment and release. The country’s future hung in the balance through this time with the threat of civil war ever present, and a fearful white minority seeking solace in their one true passion: Rugby. Carlin weaves this political mess into a compelling tale with Rugby at its core along with interviews aplenty with both oppressed and oppressor alike, all the while against the backdrop of the approaching Rugby World Cup and all that it meant to the country.
The interactions between President and players both before and during the World Cup make for very interesting reading, as Mandela urged “his boys” to take their opportunity to push the country further along the road to integration on the back of the political prefabricating. The players bought into his vision and as they progressed through an ultimately successful World Cup, the story reaches its iconic conclusion, and the rest is, as they say, history.
The book was also the basis for the 2009 film Invictus, and in both formats the story is well told, but in the book form, the greater detail, depth, insight and context Carlin is able to provide makes for a great read for both sports fans and non sports fans alike.
Links:
The Sports Book Review blog:  http://thesportsbookreview.com/ 
For more on this review:  http://thesportsbookreview.com/2013/12/18/playing-the-enemy-nelson-mandela-and-the-game-that-made-a-nation-john-carlin/#more-61  

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review of "Spurrier"

College football fans know that Steve Spurrier has become one of the most successful coaches in the game.  He has a knack for making success out of programs that never had it before.  His story and how this son of a preacher became the intense coach we see on the sidelines each Saturday are detailed in this biography by Ran Henry.  Here is my review of "Spurrier." 


Title/Author:
“Spurrier: How the Ball Coach Taught the South to Play Football” by Ran Henry

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

Publish date:
November 14, 2014

Length:
336 pages

Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:
College football fans have seen his grimace underneath his visor many times. Steve Spurrier has made an art out of taking football programs that have had very little success and making them winners.  He did this at Duke, Florida and now South Carolina.  The legendary status of the “ball coach” grew in Florida when he took the Fun ‘n’ Gun offense to a new level, bringing a national championship to the university.

This book by Ran Henry chronicles how a son of a preacher from Tennessee became the ball coach that is either loved or hated by college football fans, depending on their loyalties. There is a lot of detailed research and stories about Spurrier’s childhood and high school playing days, when “Orr” (his middle name, which is used frequently throughout the book) became a schoolboy legend for his prowess in not only football but baseball and basketball as well. 

We follow through to his college playing days, capped off by a Heisman Trophy award, then to his so-so professional career. These are not covered in the detail that his youth years are – indeed, the book was at 49% when the first chapter of his college days starts.  That doesn’t leave a lot of space to cover the rest of Spurrier’s football career, both as a player and coach.

While the book covers every stop of the ball coach’s career, it didn’t seem to give the proper amount of coverage for each one, especially his time in the United States Football League with the Tampa Bay Bandits and his time at Duke University, where he got the students and alumni excited about a sport other than basketball.  Even when the book starts out with a terrific passage about Florida versus Tennessee, it fizzles from there if the reader wants to find out more about how the legend grew for Spurrier in Florida as again this chapter of his career seems to be given short shrift.

However, like a furious fourth quarter comeback, the author does a wonderful job covering Spurrier’s resurrection of the South Carolina Gamecocks.  The reader will learn everything about the coach during his time at South Carolina.  Everything from politics (he believed the Confederate flag should not fly at the capital) to the relationships with his quarterbacks.   The depth of these stories and how they result in the first football championship of any kind for the Gamecocks makes for great reading.

After spending so much time on Spurrier’s youth, I was worried that this book would not cover the topics about which I wanted to read about regarding the first man to coach a Heisman Trophy winner after winning it as a player. This was true for the most part, but just the stories from Columbia, South Carolina alone make this a book worth reading.  

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

Pace of the book: 
This was a choppy read – it never seemed to get into a nice flow or groove where I was turning the pages quickly.  I also found it difficult to keep up with all the different names thrown out at the same time. 

Do I recommend? 
Yes, but only if the reader wants to learn more about the young Steve Spurrier – the time when he was shaped into the man he would become by his father. If you are looking for more information about his playing and coaching career, this one didn’t cover as much of that time as expected, with the exception of his last three years at South Carolina.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Talking hockey with Cassandra Carr

I had the chance to ask some hockey questions to romance author Cassandra Carr, who has a series of hockey romance books published, one of which was reviewed here, and knows a thing or two about the sport.   Here is that interview:



1.      How did you become interested in hockey?    
     
 I’ve been watching hockey from an early age, but really became a fan when I moved to the Western New York area in 1994. I started following the Buffalo Sabres, and have been a fan for twenty years now. Try me in bar trivia, especially about the Sabres, but generally the NHL works too. A couple of guys have found out the hard way that it’s not a good idea to challenge me. ;-)


2.      What methods of research have you done to be able to write such detailed passages about the game?  Not just the on-ice action but also about topics such as front office dealing and player accommodations.
      
      If you watch the game long enough you pick up enough. I’ve also watched a lot of specials and behind-the-scenes stuff. Oh, and read a lot of newspaper and magazine articles. Those “getting to know” the players interviews yield a lot of information too.


3.      From our earlier email conversation, I know that when your favorite player  Jason Pominville, was traded from your favorite team, the Buffalo Sabres, to my favorite team, the Minnesota Wild, you made this story a bit of revenge for that trade.  Do you base your fictional team, the Buffalo Storm, off of the real-life Sabres?  If so, what similarities do you use to bring that reality to the game?

I would guess they’re loosely based on the Sabres, but not really anything specific. I know a fair amount about the arena where the Sabres play, so I’ve used some of that info. Other than that, there’s no real specificities. But yes, that was a bit of my own revenge.


4.      Okay, I can’t resist this question.  In my review, I noted that Mikael could not find places to enjoy water activities in Minnesota.  Was this a tongue-in-cheek humorous passage or was this part of the above-mentioned “revenge”?

Eh, probably a little bit of both. I like to inject humor into my stories. Sometimes just to do it, sometimes to lighten up the overall mood a little.


5.      What marketing or selling technique do you have to attract readers who may not be interested in romance or erotica but love to read good sports stories?

I don’t think I use anything specific. Most authors use similar marketing techniques. I always think I should do something different, but I haven’t sat down and done any brainstorming.


6.      How do you see the upcoming season shaping up for the sport in general and the Sabres in particular?

The Sabres will not finish well, but the silver lining may be Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. As far as the sport in general, some of the old powerhouse teams are going down and others are finally rising. But who will win the Stanley Cup? No idea.


7.      Are you currently working on any other projects and are there any other books that will soon come out with hockey-based themes?   There is your Buffalo Storm series, of which this book is a part, but are there others?  Feel free to shamelessly plug your works here! 

I have a male/male series of hockey books – the Safe Harbor series, which includes See the Light and Hiding In Plain Sight; and more on the way. I’m in the midst of putting all the books that I have audio rights to on audio, through iTunes, Audible, and Amazon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review of "West by West"

I checked this book out from the library hoping to learn a little bit more about Jerry West the man and Jerry West the basketball legend.  This book delivered on one of those two goals. Here is my review of "West by West."


Title/Author:
“West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life” by Jerry West and Jonathan Coleman

Tags:
Basketball, professional, Lakers, autobiography

Publish date:
October 19. 2011

Length:
327 pages

Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:
Today in our celebrity-obsessed culture it can be forgotten that entertainers and athletes can be human too.  One of the greatest basketball players of all time, Jerry West, shows his humanity in this candid autobiography written with Jonathan Coleman.  He not only shares his flaws with readers, but also does not make excuses nor shows regret for how his life turned out. Nonetheless, West manages to put together a book that is equal parts basketball and personal revelations that will leave the reader in various emotional states.

While he has been driven throughout his basketball career as both a player as for the Los Angeles Lakers and later as a coach and general manager for the Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies, he reveals himself to be a person who has a hard time getting close to others, would succumb to depression and had a hard time dealing with the death of his brother, who was killed in action serving in the Korean War. 

For readers who want to know a lot about his basketball career, there surprisingly was little mention of this by West in the book.  Yes, he does discuss the 1971-72 season when the Lakers won it all and some of the disappointment when the Lakers would often finish second to the Boston Celtics several years in the 1960’s.  He spends more time talking about his relationships with team owner Jerry Buss and the coaches (Phil Jackson) and players (especially Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant) during his time as the general manager of the Lakers.  This was a disappointment to me as I didn’t get to see West in his prime as a player, and I would have liked to learn more about that time in his life.

He does spend an inordinate amount of time talking about his flaws – everything from the failure of his first marriage to his inability to get close to people. Of course, he talks about the abuse he suffered from his father and how he succumbed to some of the temptations that every professional athlete encounters. These passages can be depressing at times. This is not meant to be interpreted as West is feeling sorry for himself.  Rather, he is exposing himself for all to see. 

Overall, this is an enormous undertaking for the man whose silhouette is the logo of the NBA.  It cannot be easy to bare one’s soul as West does in this book. However, the manner in which this is told is very choppy and does not flow very well.  Basketball fans who want to learn more about West’s career would do better to search elsewhere, but readers who want to delve into the mind of the man nicknamed “Mr. Logo” might enjoy this one.

Pace of the book: 
Good overall.  While at times the book shifts back and forth between West’s basketball career and his personal life without following a timeline, it reads fairly well and at a good pace. Because of the lack of a timeline, it feels choppy during some chapter. At times it also can be tough to read because the reader can feel West’s pain, but it doesn’t slow the book down.

Do I recommend? 
Yes, despite the lukewarm rating. Fans of the NBA or of West will certainly be interested in the book but readers who may not be sports fans but instead want to delve into the psyche of a driven man will also enjoy this book.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:


http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/west-by-west-jerry-west/1100041179?ean=9780316053501