The Bookshelf . . . Part 1 of 3

Bookshelf

It’s back, by popular demand (well, Dan Russell always asks for it) . . . For the past few years, I have compiled lists of books that I have read over the previous 12 months, and posted them here. With any luck, you may find an idea or two to help you get through your Christmas shopping.

So . . . here is Part 1 of 3 of the books that I have read so far in 2018.

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All-American Murder: The Rise and Fall of Aaron Hernandez, the Superstar Whose Life Ended on Murderers’ Row — This book chronicles, as the title suggests, the rise and fall — an amazingly quick fall at that — of Aaron Hernandez, who was a tight end with the NFL’s New England Patriots when it all came crashing down. By book’s end, the reader knows that there can only be one outcome. But what leads to that outcome is mind-numbing; it is absolutely incredible how much badness one person of such high visibility was able to cram into his young life. James Patterson, one of the biggest-selling authors of this generation, had a hand in the writing, along with Alex Abramovich, with Mike Harvkey.

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American Gods — If you choose to read Neil Gaiman’s work, suspend all your beliefs and open your imagination wider than it has ever been. This is science fiction and fantasy and everything in between; it is a horror story and reality. It is about gods and non-gods and war and our culture. And it’s likely different than anything else you have ever read. After you have finished it, you will look at the people next to you somewhat differently, whether you are shopping, dining, at a hockey game . . .

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Beartown — Beartown is a town, presumably in Sweden, that loves its junior hockey team. In fact, if there is a word stronger than love, well, that’s what it would be. Written by Swedish author Fredrik Backman (and translated by Neil Smith), Beartown is one of the best works of fiction that I have encountered. It explores the relationship between a team and a hockey-obsessed community, including the parents and sponsors to whom winning is the only thing. This is a dark, dark novel and, if you know anything at all about junior hockey, it is absolutely full of truisms. It often will have you shaking your head, nodding your head and raising an eyebrow — often at the same time.

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Beneath a Scarlet Sky — At the age of 18, Pino Lella finds himself as the personal driver for General Hans Leyers, a man of great power within the Nazi party. It’s late in the Second World War and Leyers is working in the area of war-torn Milan, Italy. Oh yes, the teenager also is a spy for the resistance. Written by Mark Sullivan, this one is based on the story as related to him by Lella, and as you read you have to keep reminding yourself that this is non-fiction.

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The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created — Jane Leavy wrote two earlier baseball classics, The Last Boy and Sandy Koufax, and you can put The Big Fella right there, too. While The Last Boy was about Mickey Mantle, The Big Fella details the life and times of Babe Ruth. Meticulously researched, Leavy writes not only about Ruth but about the impact he had on the people around him and, indeed, society at the time. This is a wonderful, wonderful look at America in Ruth’s time.

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Bottom of the 33rd — Darn, but this is a great book. . . . The Rochester Red Wings visited the Pawtucket Red Sox for an International League baseball game on April 18, 1981. It turned into the longest game in pro baseball history, lasting 33 innings and taking 8 hours 25 minutes to play. The game was suspended on April 19, around 4 a.m., with 19 fans still in the stands at McCoy Stadium. The final inning, the 33rd, was played on June 23 and lasted only 18 minutes. Author Dan Barry magically explores the game, all of its nuances and oh, so many sidebars. Like the pitcher who went home at 1 a.m., but whose wife wouldn’t let him in because she thought he and teammates had been out drinking and carousing. . . . If you haven’t already read this one, find a copy and prepare to be entertained.

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Camino Island — This work from prolific author John Grisham is somewhat different from the legal thrillers that he has written. There aren’t any lawyers involved in what is a book drafted around the world of rare books. The pace is leisurely as it follows Bruce Cable, who owns a bookstore on Florida’s Camino Island, and Mercer Mann, a would-be writer who is trying to find her way into a second novel.

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Clandestine — This cop book, written by James Ellroy, has been around since 1982. Ellroy, of course, also wrote the Black Dahlia and LA Confidential, among other works. He is a master of the noir detective novel and Clandestine is no exception. It follows Fred Underhill, who is an LAPD detective when the book opens but, well, you’ll have to follow the twists and turns to see if he still has a badge at book’s end. If you like the noir genre, you’ll love this one.

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Court Justice: The Inside Story of My Battle Against the NCAA — Ed O’Bannon, a former basketball star at NCAA, and lawyer Michael McCann explain in plain terms how and why the former chose to be the frontman in a lawsuit aimed at allowing so-called student-athletes to control the use of their names and likenesses. It all started after O’Bannon’s college basketball career was over when he saw his image playing in an EA Sports video game. Through it all, the NCAA comes out looking like a plantation owner.

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Darkest Hour: How Churchill Brought England Back from the Brink — Using archived material, author Anthony McCarten provides us with a play-by-play of the days leading up to Britain’s official involvement in the Second World War. Hitler is moving west through Europe and, surely, Britain will be next. At the same time, the political arena in Britain is a mess, with Churchill only days into his run as Prime Minister. There are those who would negotiate with “Herr” Hitler and “Signor” Mussolini. Churchill, though, isn’t so sure. But will he or won’t he?

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Dark Sacred Night — The latest from author Michael Connelly has Harry Bosch, who is officially retired from police work but just can’t give it up, and LAPD detective Renée Ballard teaming up. Bosch is kind of freelancing with the San Fernando PD, and is investigating a cold case, while Ballard works the late show (night shift) with the LAPD. Connelly is a master at writing this kind of fiction, and Dark Sacred Night is another fine addition to the library that includes Bosch.

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Father Bauer and the Great Experiment: The Genesis of Canadian Olympic Hockey — This book, from author Greg Oliver, deserves a prominent spot on the shelf with others that detail important stories in Canada’s hockey history. There was a time when senior hockey teams, most of them having had to fund-raise, represented Canada at Olympic Games and World championships. Then along came Father David Bauer, whose dream changed the face of Canadian hockey. It wasn’t that easy, though, and Oliver has all the stories right here. If you care about Canada’s hockey history, don’t miss this one.

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Finnegan’s Week — Fin Finnegan is a cop in San Diego but he would rather be an actor. He really doesn’t have a whole lot of luck at either. Finnegan, with three ex-wives behind him, is the main character in author Joseph Wambaugh’s book from 1995. It’s full of lots of great dialogue and some truly off-the-wall characters.

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TOMORROW: Part 2 of 3.

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