The Bookshelf: Part 1 of 3

Bookshelf

For the past number of years, I have posted thumbnails of some of the books I have read over the previous 12 months. So here were are again. Perhaps this will help with yourChristmas shopping or your Christmas list. . . .

What books are on my Christmas list?. . . The Grim Reaper, by Stu Grimson . . . Rob Vanstone’s 100 Things Roughriders Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die. (No, I’m not a Roughriders’ fan, but I spent 17 years at the Regina Leader-Post, so I have some interest there.) . . . The Irishman, by Charles Brandt. It first was published as I Heard You Paint Houses. (Watching The Irishman on Netflix is on this week’s list of things to do.) . . . Blowout, by Rachel Maddow . . . Where The Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens . . .

Anyway . . . here’s the first of three parts of this year’s Bookshelf . . .

——

Basketball: A Love Story — This book is the offspring of a 20-hour,10-part TV series produced by ESPN. There were many hours of interviews that didn’t make the cut, so it remained for authors Jackie MacMullan, Rafe Bartholomew and Dan Klores to put together a wonderful oral history of basketball. It is amazing to hear so many stories told by the women and men to whom the game has meant so much. I really, really enjoyed this book.

——

Before the Lights Go Out: A Season Inside a Game on the Brink — What, if anything, is wrong with the state of hockey in Canada? If there is a problem, is it due to falling registration numbers that can be blamed on the high cost of getting children involved in the game? Why aren’t more new Canadians becoming involved at a young age? Why was there such a backlash when Hockey Canada decreed that young players were going to have to play cross-ice? Author Sean Fitz-Gerald tries to get to the root of the situation in this book. Unfortunately, this is more like two books in one. He spent the 2017-18 campaign with the Peterborough Petes, and the time he spent with the OHL club as it struggled through an abysmal season takes up a lot of the book. That doesn’t leave nearly enough space for everything else, a lot of which is focussed in the Peterborough area. Still, this is an interesting read in that it does examine some issues facing Hockey Canada.

——

Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times — If you enjoy it when someone pokes the bear, you will absolutely love this book. Author Mark Leibovich is a huge fan of the New England Patriots, but that doesn’t stop him from having fun at the expense of the NFL, its commissioner, the owners and THE SHIELD. This is good stuff! . . . If you don’t believe me, The New York Times called it “a gossipy, insightful and wickedly entertaining journey through the N.F.L. sausage factory.” It is all that, and more.

——

The Blue — Who knew that a book about porcelain could be so engrossing. Author Nancy Bilyeau impeccably researched novel involving spying, murder, kidnapping and, yes, love in the 18th century is gripping. England and France are at war and porcelain is a commodity that is much in demand. Genevieve Planché is the main character — she was born in England but is of Huguenot descent — and she often finds herself torn as the story twists and winds its way from England to France. I quite enjoyed this work of historical fiction.

——

The Border — This is the best fiction book I read in 2019; in fact, this is the best read I have had in a long, long time. It is the final book in author Don Winslow’s trilogy about the American government and its war on drugs. The trilogy began with The Power of the Dog. Then came The Cartel. . . . Both books were excellent. The Border, though, is better than that. There are times when you wonder if what you are reading really is fiction, because a lot of it certainly seems factual. Winslow spent more than 20 years researching and writing; he knows his subject and it shows.

——

Bower: A Legendary Life — I read this one early in 2019 — yes, it was a Christmas gift — and I guaranteed at the time that it would be on my top 10 list for the year. It didn’t turn me into a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it introduced me to Johnny Bower, one of the NHL’s greatest goaltenders who, more importantly, was a kind and gentle person, a true family man and a lover of life. Author Dan Robson does a wonderful job of telling Bower’s story. You can only shake your head in disbelief at the conditions and wages that were part of the lives of Bower and so many other players who were involved in the NHL pre-1967, or, worse, were stuck in the minor leagues. . . . One note about Bower: The Toronto-area community in which he and his wife Nancy ended up living in named a park after him. Bower would visit it daily . . . and pick up any litter that was left laying around.

——

The Browns Blues: Two Decades of Utter Frustration: Why Everything Kept Going Wrong for the Cleveland Browns — How bad have the Cleveland Browns been? So bad that author Terry Pluto’s book needed two subtitles. Pluto, a long-time columnist with the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has a number of books to his credit, explains why fans of the NFL team have suffered such pain and anguish since 1999. Why 1999? Because that’s when the NFL returned to Cleveland after the original Browns had departed for Baltimore following the 1995 season. Get into Pluto’s book and you’ll find yourself doing a lot of head-shaking because he doesn’t hold back when it comes to pointing fingers.

——

Cemetery Road — Greg Iles has done it again. The author of the southern U.S.-based Natchez Burning trilogy is back in Mississippi and, again, he has produced a gem. Since leaving his hometown of Bienville, Miss., Marshall McEwan has become an all-powerful journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winner based in Washington, D.C. Now, with his father dying, he’s back in Bienville to run the family newspaper. It doesn’t take long before he’s embroiled in, well, just about everything you could imagine — from love to hate, from politics to murder — and is faced with making one decision after another.

——

The Cold Dish — I have watched numerous episodes of Longmire, the TV series based on books written by Craig Johnson. This is the first of the Longmire books and it ended up being one of the series’ episodes. I quite enjoy the TV series, but I have to tell you that I liked this book a lot more, if only because Deputy Sheriff Victoria (Vic) Moretti is a whole lot saltier and sassier on the written page than on a TV screen.

——

A Dedicated Man — Author Peter Robinson has written more than two dozen crime novels featuring Inspector Alan Banks, who left the police force in London for a quieter life in the Yorkshire Dales in the north of England. The first of these books — Gallows View — was published in 1987, and the latest — Many Rivers to Cross — in 2019. . . . A Dedicated Man came out in 1988 and is the second book in the series. . . . Somehow these books had escaped me until earlier this year. I quite enjoyed my initiation and certainly will be back for more.

——

Tomorrow: Part 2 of 3.

The Book Shelf, Part III

Bookshelf

As most of you will be aware, my original site got hacked late in November and I have been idle since then.

Tonight, I have opened a new site that may be temporary. If the other site is repaired soon, I will move back there.

But I wanted a spot to post these book notes — Parts I, II and III.

I am sorry they are so late but, hey, stuff happens.

In the meantime, enjoy!

What follows is the third of three parts.

Enjoy, and please keep on reading!


Morning Miracle: Inside the Washington Post a Great Newspaper Fights for its Life — Late in 2016 came news that the Washington Post was making money, again, and was soon to hire as many as 60 journalists. Written by Dave Kindred, who is best known as a sports columnist, this is a tremendous look at the inner workings of one of the world’s best newspapers as it fights for its life. Kindred was given access to every nook and cranny, and the book reads like it. Published in 2010, it is as relevant today as it was then. There also is a world of hurt here, as journalists continue to do what they do, while their world collapses around them.


My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance — You may know Harry Belafonte best as a singer — Day-O, Island in the Sun, Man Smart (Woman Smarter), etc. — or perhaps even as an actor. After reading his memoir, written with Michael Schnayerson, you will come to realize that Belafonte, 90, was one of the most important civil rights activists of our time. He was there with Martin Luther King Jr., and with Nelson Mandela and behind the scenes when so much more history was written. This is an amazing book, with Belafonte leaving no stone unturned, personal or otherwise. I was reading this book as January turned into February, which made it that much more relevant.


Night of Thunder: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel — This is the fifth of author Stephen Hunter’s nine (so far) books that detail the fictional exploits of Bob Lee Swagger. Night of Thunder takes place around Bristol Motor Speedway and a NASCAR race, with a family of crooks working to rip off the joint. Unfortunately, they involve Swagger’s daughter, Nikki, who is a reporter for a local newspaper. The rest is gunfire, helicopters and explosions. You’ll have to guess who wins in the end, though.


Night School — This is book No. 21 in the best-selling Jack Reacher series, which is written by Lee Child. The story, which is set in 1996, this time takes Reacher to Europe, mostly Hamburg, Germany, as he works to untangle a mess that involves terrorism and all kinds of federal and foreign agencies, including, yes, the CIA and FBI. Unfortunately, taking Reacher to Europe just doesn’t work. Something is missing here. Perhaps not enough bad guys got their heads banged by Reacher. Or, perhaps, Child simply ran out of Reacher-related ideas. While we hope this was a one-off, we will wait to see what’s next in the adventures of Jack Reacher.


North River — This is a novel about Dr. Jim Delaney, who works in an Irish-dominated neighbourhood in Brooklyn in the latter part of the Great Depression, prior to the Second World War. He comes home one day to find his three-year-old grandson on the doorstep and the child’s mother long gone. But this book is so much more than that because author Pete Hamill, a legend in the world of New York City’s newspapers, brings that city to life like no other writer. What’s that on your tongue? The grit and soot from the streets of New York. . . . Damn, this is a good one. I didn’t want it to end.


One Night Only: Conversations with the NHL’s One-Game Wonders — As of the writing of this book, there were, according to author Ken Reid, “about 350 men, give or take” whose entire NHL careers comprised one game. Reid, an anchor at Sportsnet, talks with 39 of those men in this book. As the title infers, the book features conversations as opposed to story-telling. Reid spoke with many of his subjects via telephone, so there isn’t a lot of up close-and-personal here and, after a while, the stories start to run together. Still, it’s especially interesting to read how these men felt as they realized the dream of playing in the NHL, and then later realized that, just like that, it was over. There is one horrible editing error — the chapter on Dave Chartier, who played with the Brandon Wheat Kings, features a photo of Dave Chartier, a player of the same name who played for the Saskatoon Blades.


The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper, and the Making of a Classic — Author Richard Sandomir, who writes for The New York Times, has written a wonderfully interesting book that chronicles the last days of Gehrig’s career with the Yankees and all that went into making the movie that followed his death. Sandomir details the search for actors to play Gehrig and his wife, Eleanor, and all that went into getting the movie to the big screen in a hurry. Interestingly, MGM boss Samuel Goldwyn wasn’t a baseballer; he wanted a love story. Gary Cooper, who plays Gehrig, wasn’t a baseballer, either. In the end, there was little about baseball in the movie. Still, the movie is a classic and this book tells the story of how it came to be.


Rink Burgers — Author Todd Devonshire was born, raised and played his minor hockey in Big River, Sask. He and his wife, Dawn, go home for a weekend and open boxes and memories, almost all of which are connected to his days as a minor hockey player. This book is rich in reminiscing and will result in a lot of smiles, especially if you have ever been in a small-town arena that was awash in the smells that come with rink burgers and fried onions.


The Sisters Brothers — A weirdly comic western by Patrick deWitt features a pair of bad brothers — Charlie and Eli Sisters — although one is quite a bit badder than the other. They are assassins for hire and their latest job takes them from Oregon City into California in search of their next target. The humour, you should know, is darker than midnight. In the end, though, the Sisters brothers prove that even the bad guys can go home again.


Stick a Fork in Me: A Novel — Pete Wallace is the athletic director at Western Ohio University and he’s closing in on retirement. Author Dan Jenkins uses Wallace’s reminisces and all kinds of characters to skewer the NCAA, professors, coaches, husband/wife relationships (his wife has a serious case of golf) et all. This is a quick read, but it’s Jenkins at his sarcastic and hilarious best.


Testimony — Imagine being a teenager fresh out of Toronto and finding yourself in Arkansas playing the dives and juke joints with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks? That’s how Robbie Robertson got his start in the music business, and he tells us all about it in Testimony, an amazing memoir. Robertson now is 74 years of age; this book ends with The Last Waltz, the final concert in the volatile run of The Band, on Nov. 25, 1976. All that transpired between Arkansas and The Last Waltz is between the covers of this book and a lot of it isn’t pretty. That includes a European tour as Bob Dylan’s backup band as Dylan was going electric. Robertson packed a lot into the 33 years covered by this book and he introduces the reader to a whole lot of music history.


Time of Departure — I picked this book because the author, Douglas Schofield, is from Kamloops. A crown prosecutor-turned-writer, he now lives in the Cayman Islands, where he writes and practises law. This book is a crime mystery wrapped around Claire Talbot, who works in Florida and has recently been promoted to Felony Division Chief. I can’t reveal too much without ruining it for future readers, but it’s all about the unsolved murders of nine young women, and there is quite a twist in this story.


War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team — This one of the best football books that I have read. Author Michael Holley delves into the Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in explaining how the organization got to the top of the NFL ladder and how it manages to stay there. Holley also looks at how Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff left the Patriots’ front office to join the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons, respectively. There is lots of inside football stuff between these covers.


The Whistler — Disbarred lawyers. A casino on Native American land in Florida. Organized crime. A crooked judge. What could go wrong? There’s all that and more in the latest work from John Grisham. Maybe it was just me, but this one really didn’t grab me. It’s pretty straight-forward with few surprises.



— This is book No. 21 in the series of books by Michael Connelly that features Harry Bosch. He now is retired from the LAPD but has his private investigator’s ticket and also is freelancing on cold cases for the San Fernando Police Department. That means that in The Wrong Side of Goodbye, Bosch is working two cases — he’s looking for a serial rapist and, at the same time, searching for a possible heir to a fortune — both of which have the usual twists and turns. This is more good reading from Connelly.

(Part 3 of 3)


Here are the top 11 books that I read over the past year, in no particular order (I attempted to limit the list to 10 but I just couldn’t do it):

Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese

North River, by Pete Hamill

Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius, by Bill Pennington

Testimony, by Robbie Robertson

My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance, by Harry Belafonte, with Michael Schnayerson

The Miracle Mile: Stories of the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, by Jason Beck

Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen

The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse, by Tom Verducci

Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador, and the Future of Hockey, by Ken Dryden

The Book Shelf, Part I

Bookshelf

As most of you will be aware, my original site got hacked late in November and I have been idle since then.

Tonight, I have opened a new site that may be temporary. If the other site is repaired soon, I will move back there.

But I wanted a spot to post these book notes — Parts I, II and III.

I am sorry they are so late but, hey, stuff happens. I am stumbling along trying to get this stuff posted, so, at least for now, this site will be all about words. OK?

In the meantime, enjoy!


American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst — If you don’t remember, Patty Hearst —  yes, of that Hearst family — was kidnapped by a rag-tag outfit that called itself the Symbionese Liberation Army on Feb. 4, 1974. Author Jeffrey Toobin, who is a senior legal analyst with CNN and who also wrote The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, provides us with an engrossing tale of all that followed the kidnapping. It’s all here, from the bank robberies to the strangeness of attorney F. Lee Bailey to Hearst’s trial and everything in between. Remember as you read this book that there was nothing resembling social media in 1974, and the FBI, well, it couldn’t have found its butt with either hand.


Anatomy of a Song — Author/music historian Marc Myers has written columns for the Wall Street Journal that feature interviews with singers, song writers, musicians et al. In effect, he has been writing about the stories behind the songs. In this book, he expands on that theme to profile 45 songs, all of them big-time hits that live on. Why 45? Remember when you purchased music on 45s? Included are tunes by Otis Redding, Elvis Presley, Bonnie Raitt, Merle Haggard, The Neville Brothers, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart, Joni Mitchell and on and on. The stories behind these songs are mesmerizing.


Behind the Bench: Inside the Minds of Hockey’s Greatest Coaches — Craig Custance, a hockey writer with ESPN, sat down with 10 successful coaches — Mike Babcock, Dan Bylysma, Bob Hartley, Ken Hitchcock, Claude Julien, Todd McLellan, Joel Quenneville, Mike Sullivan and John Tortorella, and Ron Wilson — and watched video from a key game in each of their careers. Custance then wrote about what he witnessed and the chatter that went on in each session. You may not learn anything that really is earth-shattering, but this is interesting stuff. If you weren’t aware, successful coaches are intense individuals, something that really stands out here. . . . One word of caution: Best to read this book in six or more sittings so that the chapters don’t run together. . . . One other thing: I found it odd that Custance didn’t even make reference to McLellan’s six seasons as the general manager and head coach of the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos and how much that meant to his career. After all, McLellan, then 27, took over from the soon-to-be disgraced Graham James as the Broncos’ GM and head coach.


Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius — In the days when the New York Yankees seemed to be defined by the actions of George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin, Bill Pennington covered the American League team for the Bergen Record and The New York Times. That means that Pennington was an eyewitness to a lot of what happened in what came to be known as the Bronx Zoo. Pennington was in a lot of the bars that were frequented by Martin, who had a propensity for finishing scraps that he may not have started, and he was at most of the games in which Martin’s baseball genius was on display. This is an entertaining read, one that reads as though the author was there, which, of course, he was.


The Bone Tree — It started with Natchez Burning and author Greg Iles continues the story with The Bone Tree. If you like long reads, these two books are for you. But note that each runs more than 800 pages in paperback. Still, they are well worth it, with Iles bringing in JFK, the KKK, the FBI and a whole lot more as he explores what once was a way of life in the Deep South.


Born to Run — It took more than seven years for Bruce Springsteen to write his autobiography; it would have been worth the wait had it taken him 14 years to produce what is an extraordinary book. This is the story of a legendary music man who really is just like the rest of us. He had issues with a father, who obviously had his own problems, and there are battles with anxiety and depression. Springsteen writes of all that, along with life, death, love and, yes, the E Street Band, and he does it without any puffery. This is easily one of the top books that I read in 2017. In fact, this was so good it took me a month to read it. I didn’t want it to end, so I would pick it up, read a few pages, then put it down, savour it for a few days, and do it all again.


The Chemist — Her name is Alex — or is it Juliana? — and she is a seeker of truth by any chemical means necessary. She is well-educated and well-trained and really, really good at her job. But now the very government that employed her is hunting her down. Written by Stephenie Meyer — yes, that Stephenie Meyer, who wrote the Twilight franchise — this isn’t science fiction or fantasy, just good escapism.


The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse — Author Tom Verducci received an amazing amount of access to the Chicago Cubs as they won the franchise’s first World Series title in 108 years in 2016. He used that access to tell the story of how the championship roster was built, in the process telling the stories of many of the participants. This is an enjoyable read and one that provides a whole lot of insight, especially into manager Joe Maddon and how he looks at the game of baseball.


Burning Bright — If you like the Jason Bourne movies, or the Jack Reacher and Harry Bosch books, you will enjoy reading author Nick Petrie’s works that feature Peter Ash, an Afghanistan veteran who battles white noise — his PTSD includes claustrophobia — and bad guys. This is good escapism for those smoky summer days or chilly winter nights. . . . Burning Bright is the second book in the Ash series; The Drifter came before it..


Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador, and the Future of Hockey — This is a book about Steve Montador, who never was a top-end player on any of the teams on which he played. But he was the kind of player every team needs — one who does the dirty work and never complains. Montador died in 2015 and an examination of his brain showed CTE. Ken Dryden, who also wrote The Game, which is in the discussion as one of the best sports books ever written, has done it again. His examination of Montador’s life shows the stresses with which a depth player must learn to cope as he struggles to get to the NHL and then works to stay there. Everyone loved Montador and yet he was a loner, but Dryden is able to get close to him and give the reader a real feel for him. As the book nears its end, Dryden, a former NHL goaltender, offers up two ways — really simple ways — to save hockey from this kind of story. Unfortunately, the Gary Bettmans and Ron Robisons of the hockey world, the men who wield the power, won’t be impacted by books and stories of this nature. So the battle to lessen the number of brain injuries in hockey will continue.


A Gentleman in Moscow — It is 1922 and Count Alexander Rostov has been sentenced by a Bolshevik tribunal to house arrest in the Metropol, a hotel that just happens to be right by the Kremlin. But this is a grand hotel . . . as in really, really grand. That is the basis for a truly glorious book by Amor Towles, an author whose writing is rich and enjoyable and fun. The reader encounters twists and turns and glorious characters. My goodness, but this is a great book.


The Gray and Guilty Sea — This is the first in a series of Garrison Gage mysteries written by Scott William Carter. Gage is a private investigator who has retired to the coast of Oregon — to a town called Barnacle Bluffs — in a bid to escape from memories and lose himself where nobody knows his name. That lasts until the body of a young girl washes up on a beach. Gage is a likeable character, albeit with plenty of snark to him, and that makes it all work.

(Part 1 of 3)