The Bookshelf: Part 3 of 3

Bookshelf

What follows is the third and final part of my annual Bookshelf piece, a thumbnail 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 best books that I read this year, here they are, in alphabetical order (the last three are in the compilation that follows) . . .

Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times by Mark Leibovich

The Border, by Don Winslow

Bower: A Legendary Life, by Dan Robson

K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, by Tyler Kepner

The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West, by John Branch

November Road, by Lou Berney

The Other Woman, by Daniel Silva

Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other, by Ken Dryden

Us Against You, by Fredrik Backman

We Were the Lucky Ones, by Georgia Hunter

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Past Tense — This is No. 23 in author Lee Child’s books that follow the adventures of Jack Reacher. It is a bit different in that for the first while it details two stories that run parallel to each other like side-by-side railroad tracks. As a reader you know that they are going to merge, you just don’t know when. Reacher, for his part, gets caught up in a tangled web when he visits Ryantown, Maine, in search of some family history.

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The Power of the Dog — This is the first of three amazing books that author Don Winslow has written about the U.S. government’s war on drugs. The Cartel and The Border, the latter having been released in February, are the others. Winslow obviously knows his subject inside and out, as he tells the story from the perspective of politicians and law enforcement people from both sides of the U.S./Mexico border, and from those inside the cartels and on the streets. It’s all amazing and gory, and, in Winslow’s hands, it all makes for a tantalizing read.

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The Quiet Game — Author Greg Iles knows his way around the southern U.S., especially Natchez, Miss. This was the first book to feature Penn Cage, a former district attorney in Houston turned best-selling author. In The Quiet Game, Cage is recently widowed and has a daughter, four-year-old Annie. He returns to his hometown of Natchez in an attempt to find some peace and quiet. Of course, he becomes embroiled in a situation that involves his father, who is a popular doctor, especially with the poor folks, an old love, her father and a whole lot more. I must admit that I quite enjoy the Iles-written books that I have read to date.

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The Reckoning — A war hero who is a gentleman cotton farmer in post-Second World War Mississippi kills the local Methodist preacher and doesn’t offer a defence. From there, author John Grisham takes the reader on quite a journey that includes the breaking apart of a family, a wife and mother in a mental institution, war, the Bataan Death March, lawyers, judges, life in small-town Mississippi and a whole lot more. In short, this isn’t your typical Grisham legal thriller; it’s more about historical fiction wrapped around everything else.

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Road to Gold: The Untold Story of Canada at the World Juniors — The biggest complaint about author Mark Spector’s look at Canada and the IIHF’s U-20 World Hockey Championship is that, at 220 pages, it isn’t anywhere near long enough. There are a number of entertaining anecdotes between the covers, and the opening chapter is especially interesting. It details the work done by Murray Costello, then the president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, to get the three major junior leagues to buy into the program that would produce such golden results at this tournament. Spector also explains how the tournament came to be such a major part of TSN’s programming when it started out as the property of CBC.

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Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other — Oh, how I looked forward to reading author Ken Dryden’s latest work! Yes, it met all expectations. In fact, it exceeded them. This isn’t a book strictly about Scott Bowman, though. Rather, Dryden, who played goal for the Bowman-coached Montreal Canadiens at one point in his career, had Bowman pick his top eight teams in NHL history in chronological order. Dryden then alternates chapters as he tells Bowman’s story and then writes about one of those top eight teams. Great stuff and a whole lot of memories here.

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Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike — Phil Knight, the author of this book and the creator of Nike, was heavily in debt in his younger days, as the first part of this book details. By the end of the book, he is worth US$10 billion. This is the story of all that went on in between, and it’s a pretty good read — just don’t expect to read anything about the sins of Tiger Woods. Particularly interesting are the stories emanating from negotiations with Japanese and later Chinese businessmen. A highlight may be the evening in which Knight and his wife, Penny, were leaving a movie in Palm Springs, Calif., and encountered Warren Buffett and Bill Gates in the theatre lobby. I’ll let you try and figure out how much money was standing there and chatting.

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Slow Curve on the Coquihalla — This is subtitled A Hunter Rayne Highway Mystery, Book 1. Hunter Rayne is a former RCMP officer who retired following the suicide of a friend and now is a long-haul truck driver. When a fellow driver dies in an accident on the Coquihalla Highway, Rayne decides to look into it and, yes, it turns out to be murder. Living in Kamloops, which is at one end of the Coquihalla — the other end is near Hope — I found it most interesting to read a novel in which I was familiar with many of the landmarks that were mentioned. Yes, I will search out Book 2, written by R.E. Donald.

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Sold on a Monday — Author Kristina McMorris has written an engrossing novel based on a newspaper photo from 1931 in which two youngsters pose under a sign indicating that they are for sale. Ellis Reed, a newspaper writer with a camera, is looking for his big break. He takes one photo, then comes back for another. One thing leads to another and Reed ends up on a soul-searching journey. This is a fine period piece.

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Us Against You — This is the sequel to Beartown, Swedish author Fredrik Backman’s stunning novel about hockey and life in a small town. The sequel doesn’t disappoint and, yes, it is about hockey as life and one as a metaphor for the other. Pick up either of these books and you will find yourselves lingering as you read, enjoying them like a DQ Blizzard on a hot August day. Oh my, but Backman can write!

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We Were the Lucky Ones — Georgia Hunter spins an amazing story with her first novel, which really is a work of historical fiction. Thanks to a high school English project, Hunter, then 15, interviewed her grandmother about the family’s history. As Hunter learned, that history was quite something, and she was able to turn it into this book a few years later. As the Second World War began, the Kurc family was living in Radom, Poland. They were Polish Jews, so you can imagine what was in their immediate future, and it wasn’t pretty. In the end, though, as Hunter discovered, they really were fortunate. Trust me on this one . . . a huge recommendation.

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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 . . .

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tomorrow: Part 2 of 3.