Friday, December 19, 2014

Short review of "Tales from the Miami Hurricanes Sideline"

Even though I am traveling this weekend, it hasn't stopped me from enjoying books.  I found this book on Amazon as an audio book and it was the perfect length - listened to it for almost the entire drive from the Hudson Valley region of New York to Dover, New Hampshire.   Writing this review from a tablet, so not in the usual format, but still giving the book its due, as I enjoyed listening to this collection of tales.  Here is my review.



Title/Author:
"Tales from the Miami Hurricanes Sideline: A Collection of the Greatest Hurricanes Stories Ever Told" by Jim Martz, narrated by Ax Norman

Published:
February 5, 2013

Length:
192 pages

Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Many college football fans,  including myself, did not pay much attention to this school and it's football team until the early 1980's when coach Howard Schnellenberger led them into prominence topped off by the national championship in the 1983-84 season.  Since then the football program has produced more championships and NFL players than most of storied programs.  This collection of first hand stories by players, coaches and other key personnel in the program is entertaining.  I especially liked the stories told by the man who was the team mascot for many years, especially when he was detained by police officers for holding a fire extinguisher so he could douse the flaming spear of the Florida State mascot.


It should be noted that there are also several good anecdotes about some of the year's before the "U" became the power it is now and some may look back on those times fondly as well.  All in all a decent book for any Hurricanes fan.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review of "Into Thin Air"

While this book has been in publication for 16 years, it is still a haunting account of an expedition to the top of Mount Everest. That it is told in first person by a survivor of the climb is even better. As I consider mountain climbing to be a sport, I wanted to post my review of this excellent book here. This is my review of "Into Thin Air." 


Title/Author:
“Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, narrated by author

Tags:
Mountain climbing, non-fiction, history

Publish date:
November 12, 1998

Length:
293 pages

Rating: 
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
In the spring of 1996, journalist Jon Krakauer volunteered to embark on an expedition to climb Mount Everest with a guided group to learn first-hand what these groups are like.  The mountain climbing community believed that the expedition to the peak was becoming too commercialized and that a trip to the top of the mountain could be bought by any climber regardless of ability. Krakauer was to write an article for Outside magazine on this topic and this would give him that experience.

The trip became deadly as not only members of his group perished, including the leader Rob Hall.  Scott Fisher lead another group who also had members perish on this climb and the first person narrative from Krakauer of this disaster is a gripping account that pulls no punches on opinions, speculation on what went wrong, and also what could have been done differently.

When reading or listening to the book, the reader will be immediately sucked into the dangers that the climbers, guides and helpers (also known as sherpas) must endure during each phase of the expedition.  Even the time spent in Himalayan lodging while waiting to begin the actual climb will make one stop and wonder why someone wants to take on such an apparently unpleasant task.  Because Krakauer is a seasoned climber himself, the explanation of the many reasons why someone would do this is given more credence.

While there are some passages that may not be clear to people with no experience in the sport, it is explained in easy to understand language so that it does not detract from the story.  I also believe that because I listened to the audio book, it was even more compelling than reading because the inflection in Krakauer’s voice while recalling the events added to the drama even more.

This book is more than a sports book – it is a reflection of the human drive and spirit, it is a tragedy and it is also an example of what a survivor of any disaster goes through with the remorse and guilt that he or she survived while others perished.  This book covers all of that and more.  An excellent read for anyone, no matter what interests him or her.

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book: 
For the most part, it moves along very well.  Not being a climber, I was a little lost when it got too technical, but that was minor and these were explained in a manner that helped explain the gear or terminology for readers like me with no experience.

Do I recommend? 
Anyone who likes a true account of any type of adventure, whether it results in tragedy or not, will want to read or listen to this book. 

Book Format Read:
Audiobook

Buying links:



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Review of "The Unlikeliest Champion"

When one thinks of elite programs in college basketball, the first schools that come to mind could include UCLA, North Carolina, Duke, Kansas and Kentucky.  Some believe that now the University of Connecticut should now be included on that list, partly because of their run to the championship in the 2010-11 season.  This book is a recap of that amazing season for the Huskies.  Here is my review of the book:


Title/Author:
The Unlikeliest Champion: The Incredible Story of the 2011 UConn Huskies and Their Run to the College Basketball National Championship” by Aaron Torres

Tags:
Basketball, college, history

Published:
January 5, 2012

Length:
284 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
The Connecticut Huskies have become one of the elite college basketball programs with four national championships in fifteen years.  The most improbable of these occurred in the 2010-11 season.  This book by journalist and blogger Aaron Torres recaps that season for the Huskies and also includes short biographies of many of the players, including All-American guard Kemba Walker.

Walker gets the lion’s share of credit for the team’s success, but Torres makes sure to include all players in the book as he relies on research and his knowledge of Huskies basketball to write a detailed account of not only the championship season, but also insight into many of the players. It made for an interesting and informative book in which I learned a lot about that team.  

It should be noted that I made these observations and enjoyed the book even though I am not a die-hard fan of this team.  Because of this, at times I felt it was written in a fashion that not only showed Torres’ fandom, but also that he was talking only to other UConn fans and forgetting that the reader may not have the passion and knowledge that he does.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if reaching out to fellow Huskies fans was his goal, but at times it just didn’t feel like a book to simply learn about the team.

The book covers the entire season, and I enjoyed the section on the Huskies’ run during the Big East tournament as well as the championship tourney.  The Huskies’ became the first team to win five games in five days to win that tournament, which some felt was even harder than winning the national championship.  Torres does a nice job of covering both of these and putting them into perspective.

Overall, this is a very good recap of both the season and the key players that made the 2010-11 season one of the more memorable ones for Huskies basketball.  Fans of the team will especially want to read this book.  

Did I skim?
No. 

Pace of the book: 
Personally, the book felt a little choppy to me as Torres mixed in chapters on player biographies in between accounts of the 2010-11 championship season. While this is a common format and good for breaks in the “action”, so to speak; my personal preference is for a beginning-to-end continuous recap of the season. 

Do I recommend? 
This is a good read for college basketball fans, especially fans of the University of Connecticut team.  Torres wears his fandom on his sleeve and it shows in this book. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the reader also roots for that team.

Book Format Read:
Ebook (Kindle)

Buying Links:



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review of "Among the Giants"

When I recieved an email from the publisher of this book, I was intrigued - a "giant" in the basketball world that wasn't a well known coach or professional all-star?   It is a very good book for teens and young adults with a message that is familiar but told in a unique manner.  Here is my review of "Among the Giants." 


Title/Author:

“Among the Giants: How One Underdog Pursued His Dream and You Can Too” by Jesse LeBeau


Tags:
Basketball, young adult, goals

Publish date:
October 23, 2014

Length:
254 pages

Rating: 
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Jesse LeBeau did not grow up in an area where basketball was an important part of the culture.  As an undersized kid in Alaska, he realized that if he was going to be able to pursue his dreams for success in the sport, he had to work hard and make sacrifices.  While he didn’t become a star in the NBA, LeBeau has had success with the game by playing charitable games and shooting commercials with professional stars like Allen Iverson and Kevin Durant.  He doesn’t take his success for granted and wanted to share the message of what it takes to succeed in this book.

The format of the book is like a basketball game, divided into four quarters, two overtime periods, the locker room and “post-game training.”  A total of 28 lessons, on everything from the right attitude to setting goals and always giving your best effort, are told in short chapters that are easy to read and follow.  LeBeau tells them in a manner that the reader will be able to feel his emotions, which are mostly joy, and will want to apply them to his or her endeavors.

There are also plenty of stories of Jesse’s interactions with famous people.  These are not just with basketball players, but other celebrities such as Heidi Klum and Dr. Dre.  Just like with the chapters on which LeBeau is advising the readers of life’s lessons, Jesse tells these stories with enthusiasm and joy.  Here the reader can feel the little kid in LeBeau as he shares these anecdotes – which have valuable lessons as well.

While this book is geared for young people, older adults will enjoy it as well.  Many of the traits and lessons can be applied in a grown-up world as well.  It was fun and entertaining to read as well and there are even some good basketball stories thrown in, especially the charity game that Jesse played with Iverson. 

Whether the reader wants to get some advice on what to do for a successful future, a parent wants to find out how to talk to his or her children about it or even just for a fun read, this book will do the trick. 

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

Did I skim?
No

Do I recommend? 
Absolutely – great message for teenagers and young adults presented in a way that they will enjoy reading. 

Book Format Read:
Ebook (Nook using the Google Play Books app)

Book site (for more information)


Other Buying links:



Monday, December 8, 2014

Review of "The Art of Fielding"

After hearing many good things about this book and reading many positive reviews, I decided to give this one a try, even though it has been three years since it was released.  Without giving away my take on it, here is my review of the best selling book "The Art of Fielding."


Title/Author:
“The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach, narrated by Holter Graham

Tags:
Baseball, fiction, young adult

Publish date:
September 7, 2011

Length:
516 pages

Rating: 
2 1/2 of 5 stars (okay)

Review:
Henry Skrimshander is a shortstop for tiny Westish College in Wisconsin and seems destined for a major league contract.  He is a whiz with the glove and got to Westish by being unofficially recruited by the team’s captain Mike Schwartz. Schwartz becomes Henry’s mentor during the time at Westish. There are three other important characters in this novel by Chad Harbach.  Owen Dunne, Henry’s roommate, who is gay and becomes involved with a dangerous affair after being hit by a ball thrown by Henry.  The college president, Guert Affenlight and his daughter Pella also are main characters in the story of Henry’s ambition and creeping self-doubt after the poor throw that struck his roommate.

The story itself seemed to go off course because there were so many different directions that I couldn’t figure out what was the proper course.  I was interested in this book because of the baseball theme and I always love a good baseball story.  After a while, even though the main male characters are part of a college baseball team and the story has good baseball scenes, I felt disappointed with the direction of the story.  I felt that all the side issues took away from the main interest for any baseball fan – what is going to happen to Henry and his major league contract?

That question along with others does get answered – but the book fell short of my expectations.  I had a hard time connecting with any of the other characters.  While there are some issues to be expected for a story with college students, such as self-realization, sex and what does the future hold, overall I expected something else.  For those looking for a good story of self-reflection, this does the trick. Also, the main question I had for the end of the story was answered, so I won’t totally knock the book.  But it fell far short of my expectations and therefore was a disappointment for me.

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book: 
I thought it dragged in many areas and probably could have been at least 100 pages shorter and still got the messages across that it meant to portray.

Do I recommend? 
Not if the reader wants to enjoy a true baseball story, but if the reader is looking for a coming-of-age story about college students, this might be one to read.


Book Format Read:
Audiobook

Buying links:



Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review of "100 Grey Cups'

Tonight there is a championship football game - the Grey Cup game for the championship of the Canadian Football League. I have started watching games from this league with its different rules, longer field and open play. Canada will be partying just like the United States will on February 1 for the Super Bowl -and has been for many years more than the U.S. In 2012, the 100th Grey Cup game was played and a book was written about the history of the trophy and game to commemorate the occasion.  It is a terrific book and I highly recommend it for any football fan. Here is my review of that book.




Title/Author:
“100 Grey Cups: This Is Our Game” by Stephen Brunt

Tags:
Football (Canadian), professional, championship, history

Publish date:
October 2, 2012

Length:
224 pages

Rating: 
4 ½ of 5 stars (excellent) 

Review:
The Grey Cup is the championship game of the Canadian Football League and like its American counterpart, the Super Bowl, Grey Cup Sunday is a day in which the entire nation will celebrate the game of football and people will attend parties for the game whether or not they are fans. However, the Grey Cup had an inauspicious debut and some interesting games and history during its infancy in the early 20th century.  During the 2012 CFL season, which would culminate with the 100th Grey Cup game, sportswriter Stephen Brunt published a book that looks at the history of not only the game, but also of the trophy and some of the teams that have made the history of this championship game very interesting.

Hockey fans know of the history of the Stanley Cup trophy and its humble beginnings.  The Grey Cup has a similar history of its own as it too was passed from various players and teams that didn’t exactly treat it with reverence. The chapters on the early history of the game alone were worth reading but the remaining chapters about the teams that have won the Grey Cup were interesting as well.

This book did not simply list each game’s winner and give a brief description of the games, although there is an index listing the winning team, losing team and MVPs for each year up to 2011. Chapters were in chronological order, but chosen for significant moments in Grey Cup history.  For example, the 1948 season was highlighted as the year that not only a team from the western portion of the country won the game, but it was when the Grey Cup became a national party. Other seasons highlighted included 1978 when the Edmonton Eskimos began a long run as the champions, 1995 when the Baltimore Stallions became the first and only team based in an American city to win the Grey Cup and 1935 when Winnipeg became the first team to win with American players on the roster.

The chapters would not only highlight the Grey Cup game and season, but would also narrate an interesting history on the franchise highlighted in the chapter.  For example, the chapter on the 1935 game talked about the entire history of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers team, including the 1950’s teams coached by NFL Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant and the later struggles for the franchise.  The most interesting chapter was the one on the 1995 champs, as the team was created by an experiment to expand the CFL into American cities. Baltimore was eager for football as this was the time between the Colts leaving and the Ravens arriving.  They put together a great team on the field and were the only franchise to stay intact when the American experiment ended, moving to Montreal to become the new Montreal Alouettes.

The book was well written, well researched and fun to read.  The only quibble I had was in a couple spots the scores given while writing about the progress of the game did not make sense.  For example, in the 1978 chapter about the Edmonton Eskimos, when describing the start of the third quarter, it was stated that the “Esks led 14-4 at the half, and stretched it to 17-3 not long after the break.”  There is no subtraction of points in the CFL, so this was confusing, most likely a typo that was missed.  It didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book – but it was enough to keep me from giving this a perfect 5 star rating. 

This was a fun book to read and learn more about the history of the Grey Cup.  The author writes proudly about its uniquely Canadian flavor and that made me enjoy the book even more, as it was apparent the author enjoyed writing it. Anyone who enjoys the Canadian version of football or wants to learn more will enjoy reading this.   

Did I skim?
No, as I was eager to learn about the history of the trophy and the game.  Therefore, I carefully read each chapter and took a little longer reading this book than usual.

Pace of the book: 
It took awhile to get through the book. Not only because the aforementioned desire to learn more about the game, but also because the chapters did not seem to flow freely while reading.  The main topic or team covered in the chapter would not necessarily be the subject throughout the chapter.  While very interesting and informative, it made me read the book a little more carefully.

Do I recommend? 
Anyone who wants to learn more about the history of the Canadian Football League, its signature game or the rich history of the trophy itself will want to pick this book up.  As a fan that has started watching and learning the Canadian game, this was an interesting look at the Grey Cup trophy and game.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Nook)

Buying links:


http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/100-grey-cups-stephen-brunt/1111393015?ean=9780771017445

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Review of "Sophomore Campaign"

Happy Thanksgiving Day to those who are celebrating today - hoping your day is filled with good food and good times with loved ones and that you enjoy all that you are thankful for.

While I was tardy in getting around to read this book, it was well worth the wait.  This was one occasion where the second story of a series was even better than the first.  Here is my review of the second installment of the Mickey Tussler series by Frank Nappi, "Sophomore Campaign."


Title/Author:
“Sophomore Campaign: A Mickey Tussler Novel” by Frank Nappi

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

Published:
April 1, 2012

Length:
265 pages

Rating:
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
In this second installment of the Mickey Tussler series, Mickey is coming back to the minor league Milwaukee Brewers for the 1949 season. This didn’t seem possible, given how the 1948 season ended, but after some long talks with Brewer manager Arthur Murphy, who was both a manager and a surrogate father to Mickey during that season, Mickey will come back with his amazing pitching ability.  Because of the violent collision that ended the 1948 season for Mickey, his mother Molly has misgivings about letting Mickey play.  But Arthur, who is now courting Molly, talks her into it.

However, there is more complications than just Mickey adjusting to baseball life this time.  Mickey’s battery mate and friend, Raymond “Boxcar” Miller, is dying of cancer.  To replace Boxcar on the field, Murphy brings in Lester Sledge, a catcher from the area’s Negro League team. This presents a whole new set of challenges, conflicts and issues for the team and the town.

Just like the first book in the series, the baseball scenes are at once very clear, action packed and authentic but at times a bit unrealistic. Mickey still has his unique pitching motion, and now Lester helps him develop a curve ball. The Brewers are battling their arch-rivals, the Rangers, once again, and reading about the games between the two teams makes for great drama.

The new tension for the Brewers with having Lester on the team brings back memories of reading about Jackie Robinson and the struggles he was having.  However, some people carry this dislike of a black baseball player a bit too far, and that also is compelling reading. Many people will know about the struggles Robinson had.  While this is a fictional account, this too is an excellent illustration of what race relations were like in that time.

Whether in movies or books, a sequel or the second in a series often falls short of expectations if the first one was a hit.  This isn’t the case here, as this story not only picked up where the first one left off, but it was even better with the added character of Lester, a very likable fellow whom the reader will enjoy as much as Mickey, Murphy, Molly and the rest of the Brewers – save for one, who will not be discussed as a spoiler here.

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

Did I skim?
No as I needed to read each chapter carefully to fully understand the situation and characters, just like the first story

Did I feel connected to the characters?
Yes – most of them. Like in the first story, I was cheering for Arthur, Mickey and Molly and now Lester as well.  The antagonists of the story, such as the sheriff, are easy to dislike. Another Brewers player, shortstop Pee Wee McGinty, is a character whom I enjoyed as well.

Pace of the story:
This book was a very quick read for me as the only new character who played a major role in the story was Lester.  That, along with a gripping story, kept me turning the pages.

Do I recommend?
Yes – for all the same reasons that I recommended the first story in the series (baseball, youth, autism) but also in this one for a story that does shed some more light on race relations at that time in America.

Book Format Read:
Paperback

Buying Links: