The Bookshelf: Part 3 of 3 . . .


What follows is the third and final part of my annual Bookshelf piece, a Larsonthumbnail look at some of the books I have read in the past year. Hopefully, you will find something you want to read or to purchase as a gift. . . .

As for the 10 books that I most enjoyed this year, here they are, in alphabetical order . . .

The Arena: Inside the Tailgating, Ticket-Scalping, Mascot-Racing, Dubiously Funded, and Possibly Haunted Monuments of American Sport — by Rafi Kohan

The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood, by Sam Wasson

Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth, by Rachel Maddow

Circe, by Madeline Miller

Gloves Off: 40 Years of Unfiltered Sports Writing, by Lowell Cohn

The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck

The Jordan Rules, by Sam Smith

The Rhythm Section, by Mark Burnell

The Splendid and the Vile: A Sage of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Bliz, by Erik Larson

The Wax-Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife — Brad Balukjian

And now here is Part 3 of 3, and thanks for reading . . .

The Neon Rain — This is No. 6 in author James Lee Burke’s terrific books that follow the exploits of Dave Robichaux, a Vietnam veteran who now is a police detective in New Orleans. In this one, Robichaux discovers the body of a young prostitute on a river bank and from there, well, he runs into all kinds of uglies. Burke’s writing carries these books to great heights; in fact, when he writes about bayou country and the heat and humidity, the sweat almost forms on your forehead and runs off the tip of your nose.


Nightwork — Douglas Grimes, a pilot grounded by an eye problem, now is a night clerk in a fleabag hotel, who doesn’t hold out much hope for the future. Until he stumbles on a body and $100,000. In time, he makes his way to Europe and the adventures begin. This book, by Irwin Shaw, isn’t loud and obnoxious, like you might think it would be. It just flows along, quietly and enjoyably.


Nine Innings — The Baltimore Orioles played the host Milwaukee Brewers in just another American League game on June 10, 1982. Author Daniel Okrent took that one game and dissected it, then used it to tell all kinds of baseball stories. Nine Innings was published in 1985, but it still is a marvellous read.


Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit — Matt McCarthy, an Ivy Leaguer out of Yale, was selected by the Anaheim Angels in the 21st round of MLB’s 2002 draft. A southpaw pitcher, he played one year as a pro — he went to training camp with the Angels and was assigned to the Pioneer League’s Provo Angels. This book, published in 2009, is the story of that season. McCarthy tells it like it was, too, as testosterone- and adrenaline-fuelled young men spend a summer in Mormon country. There’s a cultural divide in the locker room, too, as the American players don’t mix with those from the Dominican Republic. McCarthy’s telling of the night Larry King — yes, that Larry King — and family were in the ballpark is worth the price of admission.


100 Things Roughriders Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die — If you are a follower of the Saskatchewan Roughriders or just an average CFL fan, this book is for you. Author Rob Vanstone, the sports columnist at the Regina Leader-Post, has been following the Roughriders for more than 50 years, first as a young fan, most recently as a sports journalist. He is a walking, talking Roughriders encyclopedia — I know because I used to work with him — and he has gotten it all down between the covers of this book.


One Minute Out — In the ninth book in author Mark Greaney’s series that follows the Gray Man, an assassin who actually is a good guy, he is in hot pursuit of the Consortium, a world-wide organization that profits from sex trafficking. Good escapism.


Prince of Fire: This is No. 5 in author Daniel Silva’s series that follows the adventures of Gabriel Allon, who longs to be able to focus on being perhaps the world’s greatest restorer of classic art but, in truth, is an Israeli assassin. In order for something like this to work, you need a likeable leading man, and that’s the case in these books. Prince of Fire isn’t an exception. . . . I also read The English Assassin (2), The Confessor (3), A Death in Venice (No. 4), The Secret Servant (7), The Defector (9), The Heist (14), The Black Widow (16) and The New Girl (19). . . . The Confessor, which involves the Catholic Church, the Second World War and the Holocaust, was especially good.


Red Metal — Written by Mark Greaney and H. Ripley (Rip) Rawlings IV, this is strictly a war novel with a mine in Kenya at its core. It’s full of all kinds of action and all kinds of battles as the U.S. ends up in conflict with Russia while wondering if China is next on the list. This book isn’t boring. Not at all. Greaney is the author of The Grey Man books; Rawlings is a former United States Marine Corps infantry and reconnaissance officer.


Red Robinson: The Last Deejay — Red Robinson was a pioneer among North American disc jockeys, spinning the hits on Vancouver radio stations while still in high school. During the course of his career, he met a lot of celebrities — Elvis Presley, Pat Boone, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers and a whole lot more — as he emceed and promoted all kinds of shows. Unfortunately, author Robin Brunet spends too much time on Robinson’s career as an advertising executive and not enough on stories about Robinson and his starry friends.


The Rhythm Section — Stephanie Patrick lost her parents and a sister in the crash of a passenger jet that, as it turns out, wasn’t an accident. Author Mark Burnell takes Patrick on quite a journey and a few name changes and personalities, from the brink of a drug-induced death to a world of international intrigue, and it’s all oh, so readable. This book, Burnell’s first novel, was published in 1999, something that, considering where the story goes and where history took us after that year, no doubt will surprise the reader.


The Splendid and the Vile: A Sage of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz — What a slam-bang of a book this is! A work of non-fiction that relies a lot on diaries — did everyone in England keep a diary in the 1940s? — it follows Prime Minister Winston Churchill as the Germans, having taken France, launch a horrendous air attack on London and other British cities. By using the entries from a variety of diaries, author Erik Larson allows the reader to feel the intensity and the emotions of a country under siege. Brilliant! . . . This was the best book I read in 2020.


Tear It Down — It’s easy to read one of author Nick Petrie’s books that features ex-Marine Peter Ash and make comparisons to writer Lee Child and his creation, Jack Reacher. So let’s just say that if you like the Reacher books, you will enjoy Ash’s exploits. Tear It Down is the fourth in the Ash series and each one of them is good escapism.


Walking Shadow — This is No. 21 in author Robert B. Parker’s series featuring Spenser, a private detective with a crackling wit. Come for a mystery and stay for the repartee between Spenser, Hawk, the friend, bodyguard and confidante, and Susan Silverman, Spenser’s psychologist gal pal. If you are looking for a few hours of escapism, you can almost always count on Spenser and that’s the case here. It all starts with an actor being shot while onstage . . .


The Wax-Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife — Brad Balukjian opened a pack of Topps 1986 baseball cards, then spent the summer of 2015 trying to visit each of the 14 players whose cards he discovered. (Fourteen? The 15th card was a checklist.) This is the story of that summer. It was a terrific idea and Balukjian executes it to perfection — like a neatly turned 6-4-3 double play.


The Wild One — The fifth book in author Nick Petrie’s series that follows the adventures of longer Peter Ash takes the reader to Iceland and into horrific weather as he searches for a young boy who might have some key numbers embedded in his photographic memory. It’s been said before, like three titles earlier on this list, but if you’re a Jack Reacher fan, you’ll like this series, too.


Here’s what they call a buzzer-beater for you. I found time on Saturday to finish Al Strachan’s Hockey Hot Stove: The Untold Stories of the Original Insiders. If you remember when the Hot Stove was appointment viewing during Saturday night’s second intermission on Hockey Night in Canada, you will enjoy this book. I don’t want to provide any spoilers, but there are a lot of anecdotes about the ‘Original Insiders,’ along with a pile of behind-the-scenes stuff involving the show. Yes, Strachan, who was the star of the show whether you want to admit it or not, deals with his disappearance, too.

That’s it for another year. . . . Enjoy reading!


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