The Bookshelf: Part 3 of 3

Books

What follows is Part 3 of my annual look back at a year in reading. The list concludes with a list of the 10 books that I most enjoyed in 2021, in alphabetical order. I didn’t include books by Don Winslow in that list because they would have dominated. You really can’t go wrong with anything by Don Winslow. . . .

Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate — Despite the lengthy title, this was a truly fascinating read. It was published in August 2013, and you can bet that not much has changed in the intervening eight years. Author Rose George was able to spend five weeks on the Maersk Kendal, one of those giant container ships you may have seen going under the Lion’s Gate Bridge. To say that this one is an eye-opener would be a real understatement.

Nothing Ventured — In the Clifton Chronicles, author Jeffrey Archer’s seven-book series following one family, one of the characters, Harry Clifton, is a writer of crime novels involving a copper named William Warwick. Now Archer has spun Warwick into a series of his own, starting with Nothing Ventured. There’s nothing deep here, just an easy read. The second and third Warwick books, Hidden in Plain Sight and Turn a Blind Eye, also helped get me through a few days in the latter part of 2021.

October 1964 — Published in 1995, this was picked by The New York Times as its sports book of the year. As much as it’s a story of the 1964 World Series, it’s a story of that MLB season with a heavy focus on the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees. They would meet in that World Series, and this is more a story of how they got there than anything else. Written by the legendary David Halberstam, it is impeccably researched and loaded with anecdotes and notes on many greats and a lot of not-so-greats. I had read this 20 years ago; I think I enjoyed it even more this time around.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — First, Quentin Tarantino made the movie of the same name, then he wrote the novel. If you have seen any of his movies, well, this is just as quirky. It is, as The New York Times, put it “a pulpy page-turner.” It also features Charles Manson and his crew and a whole lot of Hollywood-based gossip.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft — A few years ago, Stephen King — yes, that Stephen King — took a break from writing thrillers to bang out this really neat book. In the first bit, he tells about his early life and how he came to be a fiction writer. Then he goes on to write about writing — some dos and a lot of don’ts. And he finishes up with a detailed report on the accident — he was drilled by a guy in a blue van — that almost killed him. This was a nice, enjoyable look into the life and thought process of one of today’s most-prolific writers.

Pain Killer: A Memoir of Big League Addiction — This one, by former WHL/NHL enforcer Brantt Myhres, is hard to read, especially the first two-thirds. Myhres didn’t have much of a childhood, then went on to fight his way through the WHL and into the NHL. But a lot of it was snort coke, guzzle Jack Daniels, punch an opposing enforcer in the face, get punched in the face. Rinse. Repeat. Myhres really should be dead. Really. This book is ample proof of that. Instead, despite having only a Grade 9 education, he turned things around to the point that he ended up working for the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings as player assistance director. That lasted for three seasons until he lost his job in a regime change. If only this book had fewer cocaine-and-Jack anecdotes and more on Myhres’ life after snorting and drinking, more on why none of the NHL’s other teams has hired him, more on his work with First Nations youngsters. If only . . .

Pat Quinn: The Life of a Hockey Legend — Despite never having met the late Pat Quinn, author Dan Robson has done a more than credible job of chronicling the life of the cigar-chomping guy who was known as The Big Irishman. Quinn never gets nearly enough credit for being ahead of the game as a coach, especially when it came to using video, basic analytics, nutrition and various training techniques. Robson also explores the downside of Quinn’s career, including the eye-opening episode where he agreed to join the Vancouver Canucks — and accepted a hundred grand — while under contract to the Los Angeles Kings.

The Second Life of Nick Mason — After five years in jail and with at least another 20 years ahead of him, Nick Mason, the creation of author Steve Hamilton, makes a deal with a devil named Darius Cole. And thus begins Mason’s second life, one that is on the outside, mostly in the streets of Chicago, but is controlled entirely by Cole. Mason is one of those good bad guys, so this is quite readable and enjoyable. . . .  Exit Strategy is the second book in what surely will become a long-running series.

The Sentinel — This is the 25th book in the series that chronicles the adventures of Jack Reacher, the lone wolf who makes his way aimlessly across the highways of a nation, always seeming to find a mess to clean up. In this one, there are Russians and Nazis and a whole lot more. Yes, it’s all good fun. This is the first Reacher book not to have been written solely by James Grant under his pen name of Lee Child. He shares writing credit for this one with his younger brother Andrew Grant, who is Andrew Child in the publishing world.

Serge Savard: Forever Canadien — This book, written by journalist Philippe Cantin, was a huge success in Quebec with the French version selling more than 30,000 copies. And it’s no wonder. Serge Savard was one of the great players in the history of the Montreal Canadiens, one of the NHL’s proudest franchises. Cantin, with Savard’s co-operation, runs through his childhood and his climb up hockey’s ladder — from all-star defenceman to Montreal’s GM, a job he lost four games into the 1995-96 season when president Ronald Corey fired him. Savard lets it all hang out, too, as he pulls back the curtain to show the Canadiens, warts and all.

Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink — It was May 17, 1979, and the Philadelphia Phillies were at Chicago’s Wrigley Field for a game with the Cubs. The Phillies scored seven runs in their half of the first inning but, with the wind blowing out, it wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. Author Kevin Cook takes an entertaining inning-by-inning look at what transpired on that glorious afternoon, with lots of anecdotes and sidebars on participants like Dave Kingman, Bill Buckner, the troubled Donnie Moore and a whole lot more. This is a wild and crazy read.

A Time for Mercy — John Grisham has brought back lawyer Jake Brigance for a third time — after A Time to Kill and Sycamore Row — and he doesn’t disappoint. This time, Drew Gamble, 16, whose family is all but indigent, has shot and killed a policeman. Of course, the story isn’t that simple and, yes, it’s a page-turner.

The Wanted — The homes — 18 of them — belonging to some of the elites have been broken into and it turns out that the perps are three young people. The mother of one of them hires Elvis Cole to get to the bottom of this mess, and he brings sometimes-partner Joe Pike along for the ride. Cole and Pike are regulars in books by author Robert Crais.

The Winter of Frankie Machine — If you haven’t figured it out already, I am a big, big fan of author Don Winslow. And I absolutely loved this book that was published in 2006, Frank Machianno, aka Frankie Machine, is a retired hit man trying to make an honest buck. He runs a bait shack on a pier in San Diego and has a few other things on the go. He’s got an ex-wife, a daughter and a girl friend. But now someone wants him dead. Yes, it’s a familiar story, but Winslow’s writing makes it different.

Without Remorse — It had been a long, long time since I cracked open a Tom Clancy-written book, so I didn’t know what to expect from this one that was published in 1993. The paperback version is 685 pages and I really enjoyed it. This is the first book that features John Clark as the primary character and it bounces smoothly between the various storylines.

The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret — Nashville had the A Team. Motown had the Funk Brothers. In Los Angeles, it was the Wrecking Crew. These were the studio musicians who played on oh, so many hit songs, including for the Beach Boys. Did you know that Glen Campbell — think Wichita Lineman and By the Time I Get to Phoenix — was a member of the Beach Boys? Did you know there were two Beach Boys bands, one for the studio and one on the road. Author Kent Hartman has all that and a whole lot more here. I guarantee that if you read this one you won’t ever look at ’60s and ’70s music the same ever again.

Year of the Rocket: John Candy, Wayne Gretzky, a Crooked Tycoon, and the Craziest Season in Football History — There may be just a bit of hyperbole in the title but the CFL’s 1991 season really was one to remember. Prior to the season, comedian John Candy, a true, blue Canadian, hockey star Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall, then a tycoon and later a convict, purchased the Toronto Argonauts. Then they signed Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish star who likely would have been the NFL’s first overall draft pick had he not headed north. The Rocket got what then was football’s richest contract and, all these years later, it still makes an observer shake his head. Author Paul Woods, who has followed the Argonauts for years as a journalist, writer and fan, was there for all of it and details the entire story — the good, the bad and the ugly that followed 1991.

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A Promised Land, by Barack Obama

Billy Summers, by Stephen King

Blacktop Wasteland, by S.A. Crosby

Call Me Indian: From the Trauma of Residential School to Becoming the NHL’s First Treaty Indigenous Player, by Fred Sasakamoose

Deacon King Kong, by James McBride

The Dynasty, by Jeff Benedict

Newspapering: 50 Years of Reporting from Canada and Around the World, by Norman Webster

Serge Savard: Forever Canadien, by Philippe Cantin

Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink, by Kevin Cook

The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret, by Kent Hartman

Part 3 of 3

The Bookshelf: Part 2 of 3

Bookshelf

With Christmas Day only a few shopping days away, here is the second of my three-part Bookshelf piece, an annual look at some of the books I have read over the previous 12 months. . . .

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The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL — This is an irreverent, cheeky and humorous look at the history of professional hockey’s premier league. Written by Sean McIndoe, who is known as Down Goes Brown on social media channels, it also includes all kinds of interesting tidbits. I mean, who remembers that Teemu Selanne’s first signed NHL contract was with the Calgary Flames?

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George Garrett: Intrepid Reporter — George Garrett, who retired 20 years ago, spent 43 years as a reporter with radio station CKNW in Vancouver. Through diligence and hard work, the native of Mortlach, Sask., became a legend of the big city airwaves. This is his story, as written by Garrett, but, more than that, it’s the story of a completely different media era. Garrett was at CKNW from the 1950s through the 1990s, when B.C. was a cauldron of major stories, and was on the scene covering many of them. This was in the days when there was competition among TV, radio and newspaper reporters, when major news created a real buzz. That was then; this is now.

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Jail Blazers: How the Portland Trail Blazers Became the Bad Boys of Basketball — There was a time when the Portland Trail Blazers were one of the NBA’s dominant teams. But it all started to unravel as general manager Bob Whitsitt, armed with billionaire Paul Allen’s money, chose to build a team that featured as much talent as he could acquire and let the coaching staff sort it out. Character? Chemistry? What’s that? The result of this chemistry experiment is between the covers of this book that was written by Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune. As you read this book, you will continually find yourself shaking your head and asking how anyone with experience in sports management would think something like this would work. The book does get dragged down in game-by-game details, but not in the off-court antics and dramatics.

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K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches — I am a huge baseball fan, and this is a terrific addition to any library. Author Tyler Kepner is The New York Times’ baseball columnist, and he tells the stories of 10 pitches — curveball, cutter, fastball, knuckleball, sinker, slider, spitter, splitter et al — through archives and interviews with baseball people. This is baseball — and baseball’s history — at its very best. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this one.

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The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West — This is a stunningly good book. John Branch, a New York Times writer who also wrote Boy On Ice: The Derek Boogaard Story, documents the lives of the Wrights, the Utah-based family whose men have come to dominate the world of rodeo, especially in saddle bronc. But this book is about so much more than cowboys competing in rodeos. It is about a family whose patriarch remembers the past while he lives in the present and wonders about the future. This book is just so, so good. I can’t recommend it enough.

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Light It Up — Peter Ash, a former Marine, finds himself in the Denver area for the third of author Nick Petrie’s books in the series. Yes, that means money and marijuana and a whole lot more. This is good escapism.

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The Long and Faraway Gone — After reading the terrific November Road, which appears later on this list, I went looking for more of Lou Berney’s writing and came upon this one. Oh, what joy! In this one, Berney writes of two people who are searching to find the past while wondering what is in the future. This is a book that really does wrap itself around you.

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A Man Called Ove — Written by Fredrik Backman, who also wrote Beartown and Us Against You, both of which are terrific, this is the story of Ove, a lonely man whois moving toward life’s end following the death of his wife. It is a disheartening and delightful read, all at the same time. Like the other two books, this one provides a number of snapshots of real life, as it deals with the issues of day-to-day living.

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Mightier Than the Sword — This is the fifth book in author Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles, a sprawling saga that follows the lives of the Clifton and Barrington families. Yes, it is a terrific soap opera, but there are more than enough twists and turns, along with good people and bad guys (and gals), to keep a reader intrigued and involved. . . . Cometh The Hour — This is Book 6 of the seven-book series. It’s all good fun from a master storyteller. . . . The series concludes with This Was A Man. This is the stuff of which hit TV series like Dallas and Dynasty once were made.

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The New Iberia Blues — This is book No. 22 in author James Lee Burke’s series about Dave Robicheaux, who now is a sheriff’s deputy in New Iberia, the parish seat of Iberia Parish, in Louisiana. The characters are as fresh in this 22nd book as in any that preceded it, and Burke can write. Oh, can he! But be forewarned . . . this one isn’t for the faint of heart.

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November Road — This one made a number of “best of 2018” lists and with good reason. Using the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as something of a backdrop, author Lou Berney puts the reader in Frank Guidry’s hip pocket as he tries to stay alive. A fixer for the New Orleans mob, Guidry realizes his time is up, but he has no desire to go quietly.

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The Other Woman — This is a spy novel and it is a good one. A really good one. Author Daniel Silva weaves quite a story around Gabriel Allon, who is the chief of Israel’s secret intelligence service, and his search for a mole. Before Allon is done, the U.S., British and Israeli intelligence services appear headed to splitsville. No spoilers here, but this book contains a wonderful plot element. Great stuff! Highly recommended. . . . Also recommended: House of Spies, The Kill Artist, and The Rembrandt Affair, three more books by Silva that I read in the last while, each of them featuring Gabriel Allon.

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Tomorrow: Part 3 of 3.

The Bookshelf . . . Part 2 of 3

Bookshelf

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.

Part 1 appeared here yesterday and may be found by scrolling down a wee bit.

And here is Part 2 of 3 of the books that I have read so far in 2018.

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Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL — If you aren’t old enough to remember the USFL, it was a spring league that actually made the NFL nervous. Until, that is, a guy named Donald Trump took over the New Jersey Generals and, like a pied piper, led the league over a cliff and into obscurity. This is a great read, full of all kinds of anecdotes and head-shaking moments. When you’re done with it, you are left to wonder what might have happened had the USFL been able to avoid Trump and had it stayed a spring league. Author Jeff Pearlman obviously had fun writing this one and it shows.

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The Force — In the world of gritty novels about those who live on both sides of the law, and even on the edge, there was Mickey Spillane. Then came Joseph Wambaugh. Now it’s Don Winslow. Winslow’s latest work, The Force, tells the story of Denny Malone of the NYPD and his partners as they transform into exactly what it is they are trying to get off their streets. Warning: There are times during The Force when you may feel as though you need a shower.

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The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye — This is the fifth book in the series that features the unique Lisbeth Salander and Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist. The series began with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that was written by the late Stieg Larsson. He wrote two more — The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Next. With Larsson’s death, David Lagercrantz produced The Girl in the Spider’s Web. The latest book in the series opens with Salander in prison and goes from there, as she exposes corruption the system and Blomkvist gets another scoop for his magazine.

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Heart of the Game: Life, Death and Mercy in Minor League America — All signs pointed to Mike Coolbaugh having what it takes to play Major League Baseball. But he never was able to get into the right place at the right time. When he turned to coaching in the minor leagues, he ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time and died after being struck on the head by a foul ball. In this book, S.L. Price, a terrific writer with Sports Illustrated, weaves a story that ties so many things together, especially how fate brought Tino Sanchez, who hit the fatal foul ball, and Coolbaugh together that night in North Little Rock, Ark. This book is hard to read at times, but it also is hard to put down.

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Hockey Fight in Canada: The Big Media Faceoff over the NHL — David Shoalts, who covers the sports media for The Globe in Mail, has written a book that explains all of the intricacies involved with Rogers landing the contract as the NHL’s national broadcaster in Canada. He also explains how CBC-TV stayed involved and, in fact, ended up giving — GIVING! — Sportsnet space in its office building and on its airwaves. Shoalts also covers the crowning of George Stroumboulopoulos as Hockey Night in Canada’s host, and his departure to make room for the return of Ron MacLean, who just may be the most powerful hockey TV personality in Canada. One other thing — if you are one of those hockey fans who wonders why the national sports networks force feed you so much Toronto Maple Leafs stuff, well, Shoalts explains that, too.

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A Legacy of Spies — Author John le Carré has spun another gem that includes old favourite George Smiley and a cast of characters from the British Secret Service, all of whom know their way around the Cold War. The focus of this book is Peter Guillam, who had worked closely with Smiley but now is retired . . . until a letter arrives.

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Lightning Men — Author Thomas Mullen follows the early careers of Lucius Boggs, Denny Rakestraw and other black officers as they begin to integrate the Atlanta police force in the 1950s. Lightning Men is the sequel to Darktown and they really do tell the stories of what was a completely different era. Or was it?

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A Matter of Confidence: The Inside Story of the Political Battle for BC — This is the book that is likely to make aspiring journalists want to be involved in covering the political arena, at least in British Columbia. Authors Rob Shaw and Richard Zussman both have been involved in doing just that, and here they chronicle all that happened prior to, during and after the province’s 2017 election. You may remember that the Liberals won that election — both in the number of seats and the popular vote — but their minority government lost a non-confidence vote to the Green and NDP parties. This is a must-read for political junkies and, for that matter, anyone who votes.

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The Midnight Line — This is another (No. 22) in the long line of books by Lee Child that detail the wanderings of Jack Reacher. This one is Reacher — and Child — at his best. It all starts with a West Point Military Academy ring in a pawn shop in Wisconsin, and it’s a great, albeit dusty, ride from there. (Please, though, let’s not have any more Reacher movies starring Tom Cruise.) . . . If you’re a real Reacher fan, you also will want to get your hands on No Middle Name, a collection of Reacher-related short stories from Lee Child.

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Only Time Will Tell — This is the first book in The Clifton Chronicles, author Jeffrey Archer’s seven-book series that follows the lives and loves of Harry Clifton, along with family and friends. I am a sucker for books of this nature — see Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth and its sequels — and really enjoyed Only Time Will Tell. Yes, I will be reading the remaining six books in Archer’s Clifton Chronicles. (I have since read the second book in the series, The Sins of the Fathers; the third, Best Kept Secret; and the fourth, Be Careful What You Wish For. This is good escapism, and isn’t that what fiction is supposed to be?)

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Original Highways: Travelling the Great Rivers of Canada — The South Thompson River flows quietly past our home. I will never look at it the same way, nor will I take it for granted, after reading this tremendous book by Roy MacGregor, one of the great Canadian writers of this generation, who also has a lifelong love affair with the canoe. The South Thompson isn’t one that gets profiled in this book, but the Fraser is there, along with a number of other great Canadian waterways. It is stunning to read about the amount of abuse that has been foisted upon these rivers and their tributaries. But, at the same time, it is uplifting to learn there are a whole lot of people out there who care and who are working so hard to help these rivers regain their health. If you are one who cares about water and has an interest in history — and even if you don’t — this is a wonderful read. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that our schools couldn’t go wrong by making it part of their curriculum. (There are lots of rivers out there; here’s hoping there is a sequel, or even two, in MacGregor’s future.)

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TOMORROW: Part 3 of 3.

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