Friday, May 22, 2015

Review of "Season of Upsets"

When I read the description of this book when the author sent me a review request, I thought I knew what to expect when reading it.  However, the book was much more than what I expected of the story.  I am glad I accepted Mr. Werner's request.  Here is my review of "Season of Upsets." 


Title/Author:
“Season of Upsets: Farm Boys, City Kids, Hoosier Basketball and the Dawn of the 1950’s” by Matthew Werner

Tags:
Basketball, historical, High school

Publish date:
November 15, 2014

Length:
260 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Indiana loves its high school basketball, especially in the 1940s and 1950s when all schools, no matter what size, played one tournament. There were chances for the small rural schools to upset their larger counterparts. The towns represented by these smaller schools would sometimes completely close to support these young athletes.  During the 1949-50 season, tiny Union Mills enjoyed a run to the Sectionals that is burned in the collective memory of the town.

That season, not only for Union Mills, but for the entire rural county of LaPorte, is captured in this crisply written book by Matthew Werner. Through extensive research and interviews, Werner captures the spirit of the players and coaches of each of the twelve schools in the county.

However, the book is much more than just about basketball. The reader will have a good understanding of what life was like in rural Indiana during that time as the trials and tribulations of the player’s families are also described in rich detail. While reading these passages, the reader will feel like he or she is living with these hard working people.

It would be a disservice to the book to compare it to the movie “Hoosiers” because this book is a much more complete picture of what it was like for a small rural school’s basketball team to face a much bigger urban school.  The basketball played by Union Mills in the county championship is just as exciting and good as any other basketball played. Werner’s recap of their games proves this. He also captures the spirit and emotions of these players and coaches in a manner that leaves the reader cheering for them until the very end.  A very good book that any basketball lover will want to add to his or her library.

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

Pace of the book:
I found the sections on describing rural life a little slow but very informative. The sections on the boys and the basketball seemed to flow a little better as a narrative but both are essential to the book.

Do I recommend? 
For anyone who is interested in that time frame, be it about the basketball, society or life in that era, this book will give the reader a slice of the Midwest during the 1950’s.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review of "Frozen In Time"

Before publishing this review, I must write this disclaimer: I was a HUGE Minnesota North Stars fan before they moved to Dallas and I am still bummed out about the move 22 years later.  So when I saw that there was a book recently published about the history of the team during the Minnesota years, I was thrilled.  Then to find out via Facebook that the author was more than willing to provide a copy for review, it took me maybe 1/4 of a second to request it.  This book brought back a lot of good memories for me, and I hope that other fans of North Stars hockey will pick it and have the same results.  Here is my review of "Frozen In Time."


Title/Author:
“Frozen In Time: A Minnesota North Stars History” by Adam Raider

Tags:
Ice Hockey, professional, history, North Stars

Publish date:
October 14, 2014

Length:
260 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
When the National Hockey League doubled in size from six teams to 12 in 1967, one of the brand new franchises was the Minnesota North Stars.  It was fitting that the state get a professional hockey team as the sport had flourished for many years at the youth, high school, college and minor league levels.  Now there would an NHL franchise to call Minnesota home.

The history of the franchise from its beginnings in that 1967-68 season up to April 15, 1993 when it played its last game before moving to Dallas is thoroughly covered in this complete book by Adam Raider. Just about anything a reader would want to know about the team during the 26-year time frame in Bloomington, Minnesota is covered.

If the reader wants to learn about the best players in franchise history such as Neal Broten, Mike Modano (while his best years were in Dallas, his first three seasons were in Minnesota), Dino Ciccarelli, or Bill Goldsworthy, there are bios on these players that take up a couple pages each.  If instead the reader is more interested in some of the players who made an impact on the franchise, but wasn’t a superstar – players like Curt Giles, Gilles Meloche, Danny Grant or Basil McRae – they are covered here as well.  There is also a “best of the rest” section in which fifty other players are given a paragraph or two describing their time in Minnesota. Front office personnel, the team’s only radio announcer are also given significant space in the book.  This publication brought back many fond memories of my childhood and young adult life as a North Stars fan.

The book isn’t just about the players, however.  It begins with a chronological narrative of the team’s history in Minnesota, from the approval by the NHL’s Board of Directors to the shuttering of Met Center in 1993. Some of the more controversial topics such as why Norm Green moved the team and what terms were really approved between the Gund brothers and the new owners in 1990 are covered and researched well.  It is important to note that these are written in a fair and unbiased method.  The last chapter is an excellent reference site for team records, statistics and highlights from each of the twenty-six years of Minnesota North Stars hockey.  If the reader was a fan of the team, it is a book he or she must add to the home library.

I wish to thank Mr. Raider and University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Do I recommend? 
Hockey fans interested in the history of the team will enjoy this account of all twenty-six seasons the franchise played in Bloomington, Minnesota.  Those who were North Stars fans during that time will especially enjoy reading this book and it is highly recommended to them.

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying links:


Friday, May 15, 2015

Review of "Mr. Hockey"

One popular question when having a debate on great hockey players is "Who was better, Gordie Howe or Wayne Gretzky?"   Without tipping my hand, let's just say that when I found this particular audio book at the library, I wanted to obtain more information so I could make an informed decision.  Here is my review of "Mr. Hockey"




Title/Author:
“Mr. Hockey: My Story” by Gordie Howe, narrated by Don Hagen

Tags:
Ice Hockey, memoir, autobiography, audio book, Red Wings

Publish date:
October 14, 2014

Length:
256 pages

Rating: 
3 1/2 of 5 stars (good)

Review:
Gordie Howe is one of the few athletes who is recognized by people who are not fans of the sport in which he or she played.  He was the first player to have played in the NHL during five decades and held all career scoring records at the time of his retirement in 1980.  While these may have been broken by Wayne Gretzky, Howe remains as popular as ever and the release of this autobiography was a much-anticipated book.

While he tells of his tales growing up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan with reverence and also how he became an NHL player at the tender age of 18 without sounding too self-serving, this book doesn’t really reveal any great new details about the man, nor does it stray away from the tried-and-true format for sports biographies. This doesn’t mean it is a boring book or one that should be avoided – it just didn’t have anything that lived up to the hype.

There are some touching moments when he talks about his personal life.  I especially enjoyed when he included letters that he and his wife Colleen wrote to each other – both when they were courting and when he was away at training camp or on the road. There are also letters written by his sons included in the book and they helped the reader picture the man off the ice.

Plenty of the book does deal with his career on the ice and about the business of hockey.  Most of his career took place when the NHL had only six teams and both the game and the business was vastly different than it is today.  Howe’s stories paint a good picture of what those times were like, and he is careful not to criticize either the game at that time or today’s players. 

The best section of the book when he talks about his playing days is late in the book, when he played alongside his two older sons, Marty and Mark (the latter joined his dad in the Hockey Hall of Fame).  It is obvious he was beaming with pride when he had the chance to do this, even if his body was not cooperating.

The narration provided by Hagen is also good.  Like the content of the book, it was solid but not spectacular.  But then, it matched the tone Howe had when he played.  He was mostly a gentleman but when he had to be tough, he was.  Overall, this was a good book to listen to while commuting and one that hockey fans will enjoy as long as they are not looking for something spectacular.

Do I recommend? 
While it wasn’t much different than other sports biographies, this book will be one that fans of either Howe or the Red Wings will enjoy. Readers who also like celebrity biographies will enjoy it as well, especially the stories of Howe and his sons.

Book Format Read:
Audio book

Buying links:



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review of "Split Season"

When I saw that a book was going to be written about the 1981 baseball season, I was hoping that it was available for review prior to publication.  The usual places where advance copies are available didn't have it, so I went for broke:  I found the author on Facebook and sent him a private message asking for one.  Lucky for me, he graciously accepted my request and I am very glad he did, as I enjoyed this book about that unique season.  Here is my review of "Split Season."


Title/Author:
“Split Season 1981: Fernandomaina, the Bronx Zoo and the Strike That Saved Baseball” by Jeff Katz

Tags:
Baseball, history, strike, Yankees, Dodgers

Publish date:
May 19, 2015

Length:
336 pages

Rating: 
4 1/2 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:
1981 was a baseball season that was unusual for many reasons. It was the first season in which a player’s strike took place during the middle of the season. It was the first season in which the divisional series was played.  This extra round of playoffs was necessitated by the decision to split the season after the 50 day strike ended. Oh, yes, there were also some memorable moments on the field as well when a portly Mexican pitcher took the baseball world by storm, the New York Yankees signed a player to the biggest contract at that time, and a relatively obscure pitcher for the Cleveland Indians pitched a perfect game, the 12th in the history of the game.

In his book “Split Season”, current Cooperstown (NY) mayor Jeff Katz writes about that strange season in equal parts baseball and labor negotiations.  Like the season, this split in topics was about equal in length and had many memorable passages in both parts.  Unlike the season, there was no outcry about a lack of quality or interest nor did it seem like a gimmick when Katz wrote about the action on the field and in the negotiation rooms with in-depth description and great research.

The sections on the labor negotiations, the issue over compensation to teams who lose players to free agency, and the poor communication on the topic between not only the two parties but also within the owners’ club, were my favorite parts of the book.  Most readers of baseball book don’t like to read about this topic, but Katz’s style made it fascinating reading that I couldn’t put down.  He did stay neutral on the topic, but if he had a bias, it appeared to be against the owners because of their poor communication and lack of solidarity. 

The baseball sections were great as well.  Reading about the rise of Fernando Valenzuela as a rookie for the Dodgers, the ranting and meddling of George Steinbrenner and also stories about other good teams that year such as the Oakland A’s and Montreal Expos will make the reader either feel like he or she was there, or will bring back many good memories of the game that season.   This despite the lower attendance after the strike ended and the ill-fated split season.  It should be noted that the two teams who had the best records in the National League that season, the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds, did not qualify for the playoffs in this format, something that embarrassed the owners who devised the scheme.

Like on the field, the best writing about the game itself was saved for the playoffs, especially the recaps of the league championship series and the World Series, won by the Dodgers in six games.  Just the writing about the Yankees alone in this section makes it fun to read.

My only issue with the book was that most of it focused on only a handful of teams and there was little mention of the non-contending teams.  One item that I did wish merited more attention was that it was the last season of baseball at Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota.  The old park that was the Minnesota Twins’ first home didn’t get a single mention.  The only reference about this was that the Twins were going to move to “the new Dome” in 1982.  As someone who spent many summer days and nights at Metropolitan Stadium, I was hoping the book would mention this.

Despite that slight, I enjoyed this book immensely and it is highly recommended for all baseball fans and historians.  It is an excellent account of one of the strangest years in baseball history.

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

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book: 
This was a very fast read considering the length of the book.  Because Katz writes most of this, especially the sections on the labor negotiations and the strike, in plain language, it made those sections easy to read and comprehend.

Do I recommend? 
Baseball fans and readers who enjoy baseball history will want to pick up this book on this pivotal but very unusual season for Major League Baseball

Book Format Read:
Hardcover

Buying links:

Monday, May 11, 2015

Review of "The Secret of Golf"

As one who loves to read about historical moments in sports, no matter which sports, I was drawn to this book on NetGalley when I saw it was about two legendary golfers.  The cover has a photo from their historic 1977 duel at the British Open, so naturally I was not going to let this one get away.  Very glad I made that choice as this was a fantastic book on two golf legends. Here is my review of "The Secret of Golf."




Title/Author:
“The Secret of Golf” by Joe Posnanski

Tags:
Golf, British Open, history, biography

Published:
June 9, 2015

Length:
256 pages

Stars: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Two golfing legends, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, are the subject of this book that describes the rivalry and eventual friendship between the two men. It starts when the men first meet when Watson was only 17. There were some tense times when both men were on the top of their game and providing drama at several major championships.  These stories make up the bulk of the book and they are short, compact, well-written stories. 

The best of these anecdotes is undoubtedly the “Duel in the Sun” when the two of them staged an epic shot-for-shot duel for the 1977 British Open championship at Turnberry.  The story of this championship is captured so well on these pages that I was getting just as excited reading the story as I was parked in front of the television set 38 years ago as a teenager.  Even the early chapters describing the childhoods of these two legends were great reads, something that is not easy to do when writing a sports biography.

However, this doesn’t completely describe the content of this book as there are short chapters with golfing tips and advice from Watson between each chapter of the Nicklaus-Watson saga.  Those chapters are titled “Hole ___” appropriately.  They range in topic from the mental aspect of the game to shot making tips.  The sections on the thinking that goes on during a round were my personal favorites.  As anyone who plays golf knows, it is definitely a mental game and these stories were very good advice.

In short, this was one of the better golf books I have read in a long time because of the topics, the writing style and the subject matter. Anyone who was a fan of either of these two men while they were winning major tournaments will enjoy this saga as they went from rivals to friends.

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

Pace of the book:
This was a very quick read as none of the chapters were very long and the storyline of Nicklaus and Watson held my interest throughout the book.

Do I recommend?
Whether reader plays or watches the game, he or she will enjoy this book not only about a historic major tournament, but also for the wisdom of the game that Watson shares. 

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:
(pre-order links until publication date of June 9, 2015)





Friday, May 8, 2015

Review of "I Am Sam"

This book has to be one of the more interesting reads I have done in a long time. This is because when I received the book from an executive of the publishing company, I believed I would be reading a biography of a forgotten soccer star from the past.  While that player does play a big role in the book, it was not what I expected at all.  Once I adjusted my expectations and read the book as a fictional story, it was much better.  Here is my review of "I Am Sam." 


Title/Author:
“I Am Sam” by James Durose-Rayner

Tags:
Soccer, Football (English), fiction, history

Published:
February 10, 2015

Length:
498 pages

Stars: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Jon Sammels was considered a tragic figure in the 1960’s and early 1970’s English Premier League soccer, a tremendously talented player who was left off the 1970 World Cup team for England.  His story is brought back to life by a television producer who must make a documentary as part of his job.  Sammels’ story as well as that of the fictional “Mr. Arsenal” (named for his favorite English Premier team) is told in this entertaining book by James Durose-Rayner.

While initially the reader will believe he or she will be reading a biography of Sammels, it becomes clear early in the book that the story is really about Mr. Arsenal.  He can be considered a tragic figure himself, as he is about to divorce his wife, will break up with his girlfriend and will get another woman pregnant.  How this part of the book plays out was what grabbed my attention in this novel and frankly, I felt his story was much more interesting than that of Sammels.

This is not to criticize Durose-Rayner’s writing about Sammels, done through the eyes of Mr. Arsenal as he does the research on “Sammy” to produce his documentary.  The writing about not only Sammy but the entire political scene of soccer at that time is top-notch and fans will really enjoy the vivid descriptions of Sammy’s spectacular plays and goals while Mr. Arsenal tries to not only do his job but make sense of his personal life as well.

No matter which part grabs your attention – the soap opera life of Mr. Arsenal or the great story of Sammy – this book is a fun read that will require a considerable amount of time to complete.  However, it is well worth that time, especially if the reader wants to learn about a player who is sadly forgotten when the discussion revolves around great English soccer players.

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

Pace of the book:
As the focus of my reading switched from the soccer and Sammy to the soap opera story, I enjoyed the book much more than I would have by simply reading it to learn about Samuels’ career.

Do I recommend?
Fans of English soccer will enjoy this story as well as readers who just want to be entertained with the story of a man trying to make sense of his life. 

Book Format Read:
E-book (EPUB)

Buying Links:


http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/i-am-sam-james-durose-rayner/1121084116?ean=9781909477834

Monday, May 4, 2015

Review of "Belles of the Ballpark"

If you saw the 1992 movie "A League of Their Own" it may have been the first time you heard of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  However, there was information and a book out about the all-female professional league before that movie came out.  With some new stories and a new publisher, this book is being released this spring and I was fortunate to obtain an advance review copy.  It is being released today and I recommend picking up "Belles of the Ballpark."


Title/Author:
“Belles of the Ballpark: Revisiting the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League” by Diana Star Helmer with Thomas S. Owens

Tags:
Baseball, history, professional, women

Published:
May 4, 2015

Length:
221 pages

Stars: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Born out of an idea from Chicago Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League started play in 1943 and lasted for 11 seasons, giving women the opportunity to play professional baseball.  There was a movie made in 1992 about the league, “A League of Their Own” and it revitalized interest in the only all-female professional baseball league.

This book was originally published in 1990, before the movie was released in 1992.  New stories from various players have been added to this updated edition along with additional information about the wing in the Baseball Hall of Fame on women in baseball and information gleaned from a new generation of fans of the league who never saw a game because they are too young, but their writing and travels keeps the memory of the league alive.

The foreword, usually a section that I skip when beginning a book, grabbed my attention.  It was an interview with former Major League player Casey Candaele who talked about his mother’s baseball skills and experiences playing in the AAGPBL.  From there Helmer will take the reader on a journey through the league from the viewpoint of the players. The stories will read a lot like those in books about the men’s leagues because these women went through the same travels, games, hotel stays and curfews.

There is no one aspect that is described in great detail in this book.  Instead it is more of an overview of the years the league was in existence, again through the eyes of the players as they are the sources of information in this book.  As a result, this was a very entertaining read that will be mostly humorous and happy, but with some melancholy thoughts as well. 

If the reader has only heard about this league by seeing the movie, he or she will discover that while the movie had the basic story down, there is much more to the experiences of the players than the movie had.  Even the author and a few interviewees state that there is so much more to learn about the AAGPBL than from the movie.  I agree with that statement, and because the book does not delve into great details, I was left wanting to know even more information.  In that sense, the book was a slight letdown, but if the goal of the writer was to leave the reader wanting more, than it served its purpose.

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

Pace of the book:
Very good as the chapters are not too long, the topics are compact and the stories are written in a manner that are easy to read.

Do I recommend?
Any reader interested in the history of this league will appreciate this well-written and informative book.

Book Format Read:
E-book (PDF)

Buying Links: