Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review of "Five Strides On the Banked Track"

I remember watching Roller Derby on TV as a kid and it got me interested in roller skating, although never to be one of the participants.  So when I was offered a book on Roller Derby to review, I jumped at the chance, and was glad I did.  Here is my review of the e-book of "Five Strides On the Banked Track."




Title/Author:
“Five Strides On the Banked Track: The Life and Times of the Roller Derby” by Frank Deford

Tags:
Roller Derby, History

Publish date:
April 8, 2014 – re-release in electronic form.  Originally published in 1971

Length:
137 pages

Rating: 
4 ½ of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
When I found out that a book on the Roller Derby was going to be offered by NetGalley, I was very happy.  To find out it was written by Frank Deford, one of the most prominent sports writers and a member of the National Sports Writers Hall of Fame, well, that just made it even better.  The book did not disappoint as it was a well written, fascinating look at history and players, both male and female, of the Roller Derby.

Many people over 50 will recall when Roller Derby was a staple on television, several nights a week in some places.   It was part sport, part show, but always entertaining.  The sport was developed in 1935 by Leo Seltzer, initially as a skating endurance contest.  It later included contact thanks to a suggestion by legendary sportswriter Damon Runyan.  The sport took off from there, becoming a spectacle that would have troubles during World War II and then take off when television helped beam it into households.

Deford weaves the history of the sport into stories about the lifestyle of Roller Derby skaters.   It is a unique lifestyle that can harden people and they seemed to form their own convent.  It was common for skaters to become romantically involved and get married while on the road.   Some of the stories are inspiring, some are somewhat sad, but all of them paint a picture about what the life of a Roller Derby skater is like.

The only drawback of the book is that there is no update on what became of the skaters Deford portrayed in the book.  Since the book has been re-released as an e-book, that information would have been a nice touch to let fans who watched these skaters know what happened to them.  Deford’s writing makes the reader really connect with these performers as they are really just regular men and women who were eking out a living on the “banked track” as was commonly stated.  One big difference between these athletes and those of today – there is a lot of junk food eaten by the skaters as they are on the road, and nearly every one of them smoked cigarettes.  Can you imagine LeBron James or Russell Wilson lighting one up as soon as they hit the locker room?

Overall, this is a very good book for readers who have never had the chance to enjoy Deford’s writing, for readers who remember the spectacle that was the Roller Derby, or for those who just enjoy human interest stories. 

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: 
Very good, as the history of Roller Derby is told in a brief but complete manner.  The stories and interviews with the players are interesting and humorous as well as a little poignant.  

Do I recommend? 
Yes, whether the reader is old enough to remember when Roller Derby was a television staple or not.   The book is an interesting look at the past with some lessons and observations that are still relevant more than 40 years later.  

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review of "26.2 Miles to Boston"

I thought it would be appropriate to post something about the Boston Marathon this week, given the remembrance of the victims of the bombing at the race last year and the running of this year's marathon coming up on Monday. Despite the tragedy of last year, it is one of the premier sporting events held each year. Here is my review of an excellent book of the history of this race.  




Title/Author:
“26.2 Miles to Boston: A Journey into the Heart of the Boston Marathon” by Michael Connelly

Tags:
Running, Marathon, Boston, History

Publish date:
March 18, 2014

Length:
296 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
The Boston Marathon is considered THE premier event that runners of all abilities set as a goal – if he or she can complete Boston, then that is one of the top achievements one can complete. There is a lot of interesting history along the course of this road race, and this race is chronicled in a terrific book by Michael Connelly.

However, there is an interesting twist to this book in that Connelly does not give a chronological history of the race.  Instead, he follows the course from Hopkinton to Boston, with each chapter covering one mile of the course.  The last two chapters cover the last 385 yards of the race (the extra distance added to a marathon race) but in two different ways.  One of the chapters tells of the stories of exhaustion, exhilaration and agony that runners have once they view the finish line. The other chapter on this portion is about the 2013 bombing and the stories that runners, spectators, responders and race officials have about those terrifying minutes.  

In each chapter, he describes the terrain, turns and atmosphere of the mile.  The reader feels the agony of climbing Heartbreak Hill on Mile 20, the ear-splitting screams of encouragement from the women of Wellesley College on Mile 12 and the drop-off of 165 feet as the runners move onto the town of Ashland in Mile 2.  By describing these and other unique features of the course, the reader feels like he or she is traveling along the course and can imagine how the runners must feel while traversing that mile.

Of course, the book wouldn’t be complete without stories about the runners themselves, and there are plenty that are interspersed in each chapter along with the course description.   These stories cover the entire 117 year history of the event and include some of the best-known runners from Boston Marathon lore. There is seven-time champion Clarence Demar, whose story of running is told in Mile 2.   John “The Elder” Kelley, one of the more popular runners to ever run the event, has a very good story of trying to bait another runner when battling for the lead in Mile 6. 

The thrilling finish in 1982 between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley is also replayed in Mile 6.  Not every story told necessarily takes place at that point on the course, but they all are woven together in the chapters seamlessly. Readers will be able to still follow the course, but will at the same time have their emotions tested as the stories are mixtures of joy, heartbreak, sadness and redemption.  

In short, everything that makes a runner want to get out and put one foot in front of the other is captured in this book and it makes for a terrific read for runners, spectators or anyone who just is interested in this annual event.

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book: 
Very good.  The format aided in making this a faster read, although it wasn’t too fast with the insertion of personal stories in the middle of the description of the terrain and makeup of the particular mile.

Do I recommend? 
Yes.  Whether the reader is a runner, is interested in the history of the Boston Marathon or enjoys personal stories of triumph, this book will be a fine choice.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Nook)

Buying links:



Friday, April 11, 2014

Review of "Tri-Mom"

I stumbled across this title online, and was intrigued by the title - what the heck is a Tri-Mom? After a couple of emails to the author, I was given a copy to review. This was a quick and enjoyable read. Here is my review of Tri-Mom: 




Title/Author: 
“Tri-Mom: Swimming, Biking and Running Through Motherhood” by Debra Hodgett with contributions by Lindsay Zucco, Carla Hastert, Jennifer Garrison, Christine Palmquist, Elizabeth Waterstraat, and Jennifer Harrison 

Tags: 
Running, biking, swimming, women, memoir, advice 

Publish date: 
April 15, 2013 

Length: 
222 pages 

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good) 

Review: 
When an athlete in any sport undergoes a major lifestyle change such as getting married, having a child or undergoing a career change, this will also change how that athlete trains and competes. Debra Hodgett shares her tales of what it takes to balance family life and her athletic goals in this quick and easy read. 

The book is targeted to women who are training and competing in triathlete events while trying to also be a wife, mother and friend. It is not an easy balance to maintain, and Hodgett’s stories about some of her adventures with her husband and sons will leave the reader laughing out loud. I especially loved the story about the shark bites while she was swimming and had to bring her sons to the training session. That was one of the many times I was laughing out loud while reading this book. The humor of Hodgett and her co-authors make this book fun to read.

There are many practical tips that can be adapted by any woman who is trying to balance various aspects of her life with something else, not just being a triathlete. The stories and sections that describe the triathlete lifestyle are very good, as the reader can feel that he or she is in the pool or on a bike alongside the athlete. 

Not all of the stories are Hodgett’s experiences. Six other female triathletes shared their stories of balancing training, competing and family life as well and the common bonds all of these ladies share in addition to being athletes was intriguing. This was the only section of the book where I had trouble while reading. The reader has to be careful and realize when one of the co-authors is now speaking and not get caught thinking that it is a story of Hodgett’s. She tells a brief story about each of her co-authors before their contributions. All of the other contributors’ stories are toward the end of the book, so that is where the reader will need to be on his or her toes to realize that this story is a little different perspective. 

By the end of the book, I realized what these amazing women have done and had nothing but admiration and respect for what they accomplished. This book is highly recommended for any woman who is looking for a way to balance participating in a sport and her family. 

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

Did I skim? 
No. 

Pace of the book: 
Very good. No chapter or story is very long and the writing style is such that the reader will not get bogged down in too many details. 

Do I recommend? 
Yes, if the reader is looking for a book of not only what it takes to be a triathlete, but also what some great stories about everyday situations that you make you laugh, then pick up this book.

Book Format Read: 
Paperback

Buying Links:

http://www.amazon.com/Tri-Mom-Swimming-Running-Through-Motherhood-ebook/dp/B00CDWM1OG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397217473&sr=8-1&keywords=tri+mom 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Review of "The Race"

I was very happy to see this book offered on NetGalley as Darrell Waltrip was not only a great NASCAR driver during his time, but he has become a great commentator and makes NASCAR telecasts fun to watch.   Here is my review of "The Race."




Title/Author:
“The Race: Living Life On the Track” by Kyle Froman, Billy Maudlin, and Darrell Waltrip
 
Tags:
Auto racing, NASCAR, spirituality, Christianity

Published:
May 15, 2014

Length:
224 pages

Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (good)

Review:
I picked up this book hoping to be able to read more about Darrell Waltrip and gain some insight from him on his NASCAR career as both a driver and a commentator.   While there is some of that in this book, that is not the focus.  Instead, the role that God and the Christian faith has on Waltrip and the rest of the NASCAR community is the focus of this book that is co-written by Waltrip and two Motor Racing Outreach leaders. 

This isn’t to say that there isn’t any commentary on racing.  Indeed, Waltrip shares both knowledge and anecdotes about racing.  As a casual NASCAR fan, I appreciated some of his insight into some of the technical aspects of the sport, such as his explanation of how clean air helps the driver in front.  He mixes that with how his spirituality has helped him in his NASCAR life and does so without sounding too preachy – he simply shares how it has shaped him.

Similarly, the passages by Froman and Maudlin were also told in a manner not to preach but to share and possibly teach.  I especially liked the conversations they had with either fans or citizens about their spirituality.  Both men also told of how they felt that God was calling them to not only share their spirit with NASCAR drivers and crew members, but also to learn lessons from the interactions with these men and their families on their faith as well.

Overall, this was an enjoyable book once I got used to the format and the topics.  I would recommend it to NASCAR fans who want to learn more about the connection between the sport and Christianity.  If religion is a topic a sports fan wishes to avoid, then this would not be a book I would recommend.

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

Did I skim?
I did skim some of the stories by the ministers when they seemed to be saying the same thing several times by simply quoting a different Scripture passage.  Otherwise, no 

Pace of the book: 
Good for the most part.  Aside from the aforementioned repeats of a message, both the spiritual messages and the racing stories were good.

Do I recommend? 
NASCAR fans will enjoy Waltrip’s stories and his humor, although people who are not strong followers of the Christian faith may want to skip this one and find other NASCAR books without this aspect.

Book Format Read:
e-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

None at the time of this review. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review of "The Tomb That Ruth Built"

Having read some of the books in Troy Soos's Mickey Rawlings series several years ago, I was thrilled to see that  he wrote a new story recently and even more thrilled that Mr. Soos gave me an ARC in exchange for a review.   I loved the previous books that I had read in this series (the first three) and this one was all that I expected.  Here is my review of "The Tomb That Ruth Built." 



Title/Author:
“The Tomb That Ruth Built” by Troy Soos

Tags:
Fiction, baseball, murder, mystery

Published:
March 22, 2014

Length:
192 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Mickey Rawlings, the utility infielder who is as adept at solving a murder as he is at fielding a scorching line drive, is back in the seventh installment of the Mickey Rawlings Murder Series by Troy Soos.  This time, Mickey is now a New York Yankee at the start of the 1923 season and while he and girlfriend Margie are settling in the Bronx, there is a gruesome discovery at the site of the brand new Yankee Stadium.  The body of a bootlegger has been found under the site and the team owner wants Mickey to help solve the crime.  There are a few reasons why: one is that the victim was a former teammate of Rawlings, the owner doesn't want the bad publicity and since Rawlings’ roommate is Babe Ruth, it also becomes Mickey’s job to be sure the Babe doesn’t get implicated in this as well.

If this sounds complicated, it really isn't while reading the book.  As with the other books in this series, Soos does a terrific job of weaving detailed and rich baseball scenes with the grittiness required when Rawlings needs to ask questions or might find himself needing to protect not only himself but Margie as well. 

It should be noted that this book can be read as a stand-alone as well as any of the others in the series.  Soos does describe enough about the characters so those readers who did not read the earlier books won’t be missing key details, yet it doesn't repeat so many items that those who have read all of them won’t be skipping over those parts.  That is not easy to do when writing a series, but Soos does so masterfully.

Not only is the baseball realistic, but so are the characters and sites that are set in the 1920’s.  Prohibition was the big topic during the time frame of this novel and the reader feels like he or she is right there in the speakeasies with the characters.  The descriptions of the scenes and the dialogue are realistic for the time frame and Soos’s writing shows that he is quite knowledgeable of that era as well.

Any baseball fan or fan of murder mysteries will enjoy this outstanding tale that is equal parts baseball and mystery.

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

Did I skim?
No

Were the characters realistic? 
Yes.  Soos’s main characters in each of these novels, Mickey and Margie, are portrayed in a manner that the reader will be able to connect with them.  Soos’s baseball knowledge and research are very helpful in making Mickey’s character believable as a major league baseball player.  The other characters are not portrayed in an over the top manner so they are realistic as well.

Pace of the story:
Excellent  

Do I recommend?  
Yes.  Baseball fans and murder mystery fans alike will enjoy the latest Mickey Rawlings saga.

Book Format Read:
Ebook (Kindle)

Buying Links:


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review of "The Best Seat In Baseball"

I was recommended this book by a friend on a social media site and was intrigued.  I had never known there was a book published about the trials and tribulations of major league umpires aside from those that were written by umpires themselves.  So I picked up a copy.  Here is my review of "The Best Seat in Baseball." 


Title/Author:
“The Best Seat in Baseball but You Have to Stand!” By Lee Gutkind

Tags:
Baseball, professional, umpires

Published:
March 11, 2014 (originally published 1975)

Length:
240 pages

Rating: 
3 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:
This book of the chronicles of a National League umpiring crew during the 1974 season was originally published in 1975 and has been re-released in ebook formats now.  Lee Gutkind traveled with the crew that was headed by Doug Harvey, who later was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and gives the reader an inside look at the men who are not remembered during a game unless they make a mistake – the umpires.

It was billed as a tell-all book that would make fans realize exactly what umpires must go through and how they endure life always on the road, since they do not have home games like the players, how they interact with fans and other people in each city and some of the shenanigans they do as well to bide their time.  Some have called this the “Ball Four” of umpires.  There is some NC-17 language in the book, but that is about all that this book has in common with the Jim Bouton classic.

Some of the stories are downright entertaining, such as the cab driver in Chicago who will only give rides to and from the ball park to umpires.  His take on what these men are like is funny, touching and even a bit poignant.  If for no other reason, this story alone would be a good reason to pick up this book.

However, the same can’t be said of some of the other passages in the book. Gutkind touches on some sensitive issues, such as infidelity (although none of the four umpires in the book are guilty of that in any of the stories) and race issues.  However, some of these and other stories tend to get a bit wordy and start to repeat themselves.  The book could have had some shorter passages or not repeat some topics and still have been able to make the same points.

Overall, this book is okay for baseball fans, and one that those who are interested in learning more about the umpires would really enjoy.  But as an interesting read, it struggled to keep my interest and was only mildly impressed.  An okay read. 

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: 
It felt to be dragging at times, especially when the talk was about Williams and the reason he was in the major leagues was only for integration.  After a while I got tired of hearing that and to have it described for several pages made for tough reading. 

Do I recommend? 
If you are a hard core fan of 1970s baseball or are interested in the life of an umpire, then pick this one up.  If not, then I recommend passing.

Book Format Read:
E-Book (Kindle)

Buying Links:



Friday, March 28, 2014

Review of "Pete Rose: An American Dilemma"

Having been an avid reader of Kostya Kennedy's Sports Illustrated articles, I was eager to pick up this book on one of the most polarizing figures in baseball history, and the book was everything I had hoped it would be.  Here is my review of "Pete Rose: An American Dilemma."  


Title/Author:
“Pete Rose: An American Dilemma” by Kostya Kennedy

Tags:
Baseball, biography, Reds, Hall of Fame

Published:
March 11, 2014

Length:
362 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Pete Rose has been one of the most polarizing figures in baseball for the last 25 years.  In that time, he signed an agreement that permanently banned him from associating with Major League Baseball, has admitted in a tell-all book that he bet on baseball after denying so for over 15 years, spent time in prison for tax evasion, hawked as much memorabilia and as many autographs as he could and yet still have a lot of support to win reinstatement and enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame.   All of these topics and more are covered in Kostya Kennedy’s outstanding book on Rose.

This isn’t a typical biography in which the story of the subject is told from birth to present day.  Oh, sure, there are pages about Rose’s youth, his relationship with his father and his climb from the minor leagues to the Cincinnati Reds.  However, the focus of the book is on Rose and the manner in which he handles himself with the ban from baseball. 

There are several chapters interspersed throughout the book on his presence in Cooperstown, New York during the weekend in 2012 when two players were inducted into the Hall of Fame.  These stories of Rose and his presence in the hamlet selling anything he can while at the same time being banned from enshrinement in the museum less than a mile away on Main Street smacks of part irony, part melancholy.  Kennedy makes the reader feel like he or she is experiencing induction weekend in Cooperstown during these chapters.  When Barry Larkin, one of the players inducted that year, mentions Rose during his acceptance speech, the reader cannot help but feel Rose is there, thanks to the prose of Kennedy.

Other topics which are captured and vividly described by Kennedy are Rose’s relationship with his oldest son, Pete Jr.  Here another emotional event is illustrated well when Pete Jr. makes his major league debut with the Reds in 1997, but cannot enjoy the moment with his father in the clubhouse because of the ban.  

However, my favorite chapter in the book was chapter 17, simply titled “Gate Keepers.”  The first paragraph in this chapter is all you need to know in order to understand the title.  It ends with the phrase “Keep Pete Rose out of the Baseball Hall of Fame.”   This was the meeting in 1991 when a special committee met and drafted the rule that became known as the Pete Rose rule – simply that a person on baseball’s ineligible list shall not be eligible to be elected to the Hall of Fame.  Kennedy can barely hide the contempt for this rule, calling it “the greatest disservice to be inflicted upon the Hall of Fame induction process…”  and further stating that nothing else “has so deeply stained the procedure, nor delivered such a blow to the integrity of the process as a whole.”   This shows that not only has Kennedy done his research, but that he has a deep passion for the topic.  His writing is a reflection of that passion.

No matter how the reader feels about Rose and whether or not he belongs in the Hall of Fame, this outstanding book should be read by every baseball fan. The stories are rich, the research through, the interviews with other players and Rose’s family members riveting and the entire book is a fine work by Kennedy.

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
Excellent.  Kennedy’s writing keeps the reader engrossed and the pages turning, whether the topic is Rose hustling to third base on a hit, the gambling investigation, Pete Jr. or the latest sale of Rose merchandise in Cooperstown.

Do I recommend? 
This is a must read book for any baseball fan.  It doesn’t matter whether you like Rose or not, nor does it matter how the reader feels about whether or not Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame, this book will keep the reader riveted.

Book Format Read:
e-book (Nook)

Buying Links: