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 1 of 3

Books

This week I will post the annual three-part Bookshelf, in case you are looking for some help as you do your Christmas shopping — for yourself, a family member or a friend. . . . As I journey through retirement, I have found myself mixing in a few books from days gone by and also note that I have been reading more and more books that don’t have much, if anything, to do with sports. In 2021, perhaps because of the lack of normalcy, there also has been more reading of ‘lite’ fiction. . . . Anyway, here they are — most of the books that I read in 2021. . . .

An Accidental Sportswriter: A Memoir — Robert Lipsyte was there from Muhammad Ali’s career through baseball’s steroid era and a whole lot more. For a lot of that time, he was The New York Times’ lead sports columnist. He revisits all of that here, and also writes about his own hits and misses as a writer in a real gem of a book.

A Man Called Intrepid — Intrepid was the code name for William Stephenson — later Sir William Stephenson — and this is the story of his involvement in the Second World War. It’s a fascinating story about spies and counter spies and codes and code breakers and deception and a whole lot more. The detail provided by author William Stevenson is out of this world. (NOTE: William Stevenson, the author, wasn’t related to William Stephenson.)

A Promised Land — I finished this 700-pager early in February and knew then that I wouldn’t read a better book in 2021. Written by Barack Obama, the two-term U.S. president, it isn’t at all ponderous or heavy slogging. He is a terrific writer with the knack for explaining complicated goings-on in easy-to-understand terms, whether it’s a financial crisis, his country’s relationship with Russia, events leading up to the Arab Spring, or the killing of Osama bin Laden. This is Volume 1 of a two-book set. I eagerly await the next part. Spoiler alert: Mitch McConnell is exactly what you think he is.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup — Elizabeth Holmes had a dream. But is that what it was, or was it really happening? John Carreyrou, a writer with the Wall Street Journal, got a tip about Theranos, a startup that was going to revolutionize the field of blood-testing. His writings for the paper led to this book, one that is an unbelievable read, and one that proves the adage about a fool and his money, or, in this case, fools and their money. (Note: Holmes, who is on trial in San Jose, Calif., has pleaded not guilty to nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy.)

The Bastard — Written by John Jakes and published in 1974, this is Book 1 in The Kent Family Chronicles, historical fiction that charts the growth of the U.S. Book 1 follows Philippe Charbonneau, whose mother never married his father, the 6th Duke of Kent, from France to England and then to Boston. By now, he has changed his name to Philip Kent and finds himself wrapped up in the beginnings of the American Revolution. . . . All told, The Kent Family Chronicles features eight historical novels.

Bearcat Murray: From Ol’ Potlicker to Calgary Flames Legend — If you want to read a hockey book that is loaded with anecdotes, this one is for you. Murray, whose little-used first name is Jim, does the talking and George Johnson, a terrific writer who somehow got squeezed out in one of those Postmedia massacres, does the writing. Hey, the ol’ Bearcat had a fan club with chapters in Boston and Montreal. Who knew?

Big Lies in a Small Town: A Novel — In alternating chapters, author Diane Chamberlain tells the story of two artists who lived 78 years apart and how they became intertwined in so many ways. Their stories take place in Edenton, N.C., so the book is full of southern politics and prejudice. This is a well-written book by an oft-published author that just drags the reader into the story as it progresses.

Billy Summers — Brilliant. This one, from author Stephen King, is absolutely brilliant. Billy Summers is a hitman who has decided that he will do one more job and then hang up his rifle. Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but King does a masterful job of weaving together all the threads. A wonderful read.

Blacktop Wasteland — The main character in this brilliant work of fiction is Beauregard Montage, known as Bug to friends and acquaintances. He’s married with two young sons, and there also is a daughter from another relationship. His is a day-to-day existence, which leads to him living two lives. In one, he’s the proprietor of a small two-bay garage that is fighting to stay open. In the other, he’s a driver — yes, a getaway driver — and he’s really, really good at it. He’s also in a perpetual state of conflict because of all this. Author S.A. Cosby has put this all together into a terrific story that won an L.A. Times book prize for mystery/thriller of the year.

The Breaker — This is the sixth book in author Nick Petrie’s series involving Peter Ash, an ex-Marine who just can’t stay away from bad situations. They find him — indeed, they seem to hunt him out — and then he takes it from there. If you like Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne and Harry Bosch and their ilk, you’ll enjoy Peter Ash and his world.

Broken — Don Winslow has done it again, only this time he hits a home run with six short stories, all of them centred in the world that he seems to know so well — bad guys, bad cops, drugs, thugs and all the rest. If you haven’t already, you’ll want to read his trilogy — The Power of the Dog, the Cartel and The Force. It’s all great stuff, and Broken fits right in there.

The Broken Shore — Having stumbled on Jack Irish, an Australian TV series, I discovered that it was based on novels written by Peter Temple. The Broken Shore isn’t a Jack Irish book, but it is quite good. Temple has a quick wit and a way with words. Keep in mind that it all is Australia-based, but if you stick with it you won’t be disappointed. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s gritty, bloody and obscene. Oh, and it’s good. Really, really good. . . . The sequel, Truth, is awfully good too.

The Bushman’s Lair: On the Trail of the Fugitive of the Shuswap — More than 20 years have passed since John Bjornstrom, aka the Bushman of the Shuswap, was hiding out in the wilds surrounding Shuswap Lake in the Interior of B.C. With this book, author Paul McKendrick details Bjornstrom’s story and everything is included, from his involvement with Bre-X to his escape from a prison facility near Kamloops to his capture and a run for mayor in Williams Lake, B.C. And when you turn the final page, you are left to wonder whether Bjornstrom was an eccentric running from society or if he really did have a plan.

Call Me Indian: From the Trauma of Residential School to Becoming the NHL’s First Treaty Indigenous Player — This isn’t a work of fiction. It’s Fred Sasakamoose’s story, one that goes from a residential school in Saskatchewan to four years with the Moose Jaw Canucks to the NHL and back to the area around Sandy Lake, Sask. Sasakamoose doesn’t pull any punches about his time in the residential school or anything else, including his battles with alcohol and his regrets about not being a better father. In short, this is a book that you should read, but know that you won’t soon forget it. Unfortunately, COVID-19 took him from us on Nov. 20, 2020, before his book was published.

Camino Winds — This is a followup to Camino Island, the book that introduced us to Bruce Cable, who owns Bay Books. The prolific John Grisham has another winner here, too, as he writes about a hurricane, a dead writer and a whole lot more. So much of what Grisham writes is relevant to the times and this one isn’t any different. Pay attention to the many chunks of dialogue, some small and some no so small, that are commentary on today’s U.S. political situation as much as anything else.

Part 1 of 3

The Bookshelf: Part 2 of 3 . . .

Bookshelf

What follows is Part 2 of a three-part look at some of the books I have read over the past 12 months. Before we get to those, here are a handful of suggestions from the thumbnails that appeared here a year ago. If you haven’t read these, you can’t go wrong with any of them:

Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times, by Mark Leibovich

Bower: A Legendary Life, by Dan Robson

Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL, by Jeff Pearlman

Hockey Fight in Canada: The Big Media Face-off Over the NHL, by David Shoults

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

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

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

Us Against You, by Fredrik Backman (but only if you already have read Backman’s Beartown)

Now here is Part 2 of this year’s bookshelf . . .

Gloves Off: 40 Years of Unfiltered Sports Writing: Lowell Cohn, now retired, had a lengthy career as a sports columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press Democrat. This is his look back at some of the people he dealt with and things that he witnessed. He doesn’t pull any punches as he writes about his career; no, it’s not a compilation of columns. I’m a sucker for books of this type, but this one really is an entertaining read.

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The Good Earth: My mother was a reader and I can remember seeing Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth in a bookcase at home. But I can’t explain why I hadn’t read it before the summer of 2020. Published in 1931, it follows the life of a Chinese farmer and his family through more than 50 years of change, and it always returns to the importance of owning land. It won a Pulitzer Prize so I don’t need to tell you how good it is — but it’s great. It also is the first book in Buck’s House of Earth trilogy, the other two being Sons (1932) and A House Divided (1935).

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The Gray Man — This is the book that started the legend of The Gray Man, aka Courtland Gentry. He’s an assassin who at one time worked for the CIA but most times freelances. In his debut, there is a bounty on his head, and he faces down a dozen kill squads, but not without paying a price. Author Mark Greaney has created a likeable leading man, and the excitement is palpable between the front and back covers.

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The Grim Reaper: The Life and Career of a Reluctant Warrior — With help from writer Kevin Allen, then of USA TODAY, former hockey enforcer Stu Grimson told his story in a book that came out in the autumn of 2019. The book’s title is a touch misleading because Grimson, who had about 400 fights combined in major junior and the NHL, doesn’t seem to regret any of it. That may seem a bit strange seeing as he was forced into retirement by post-concussion syndrome. Anyway, he provides some valuable insight into the thought-process of NHL heavyweights — their anxieties and fears, both for the present and the future. Grimson, who was adopted, also opens up about his personal life, including a surprising introduction to his birth father.

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The Guardians — Cullen Post is a lawyer/minister who spends more time lawyering than preaching. His lawyering is aimed at correcting wrongful convictions and the group he works with, Guardian Ministeries, has had some successes. This book, by the prolific John Grisham, is about one of those cases, and a whole lot more. It’s good Grisham and the genesis, unfortunately, was a true story, as the author informs us at book’s end.

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The Huntress — I absolutely loved The Alice Network, and The Huntress is every bit as good, if not better. Both books were written by Kate Quinn. The Huntress is the story of two young men who pursue war criminals and are brought together with a Night Witch, a woman who was part of a female crew that flew night bombing missions for the Russians during the Second World War. The hunters’ latest target is a woman in Boston, who isn’t what she is trying hard to be. There are great characters and much intrigue here. You won’t be disappointed.

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The Jordan Rules — I don’t have any idea why I hadn’t read Sam Smith’s book prior to May. I finally read it while taking breaks from watching The Last Dance, the 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan, co-starring the Chicago Bulls, on Netflix. Smith, a writer with the Chicago Tribune, details the Bulls’ 1990-91 season. As the Bulls run to their first NBA title, the reader is left to decide whether The Jordan Rules was the name for the way the Detroit Pistons played defence on Jordan or how his teammates came to feel about what dictated life with the Bulls. If you haven’t read this, it’s great. Interestingly, Smith now writes for the Bulls’ website.

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Major Misconduct: The Human Cost of Fighting in Hockey — Author Jeremy Allingham, a reporter with CBC in Vancouver, takes an in-depth look at the post-hockey lives of three former enforcers — James McEwan, Stephen Peat and Dale Purinton — and what he uncovers isn’t at all pretty. Interestingly, all three got their starts as enforcers in the WHL, a major junior league that has yet to ban fighting. This is a horrifying look at life after hockey fights and should be read by anyone involved in junior hockey — from fans to parents to executives.

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The Mighty Oak — Tim O’Connor is the fighter — goon — for the West Texas Hockey League’s El Paso Storm. But his best days are behind him and he’s feeling it all over. O’Connor, whose nickname is Oak, hasn’t yet come to grips with the fact that a hip and a shoulder and a whole let else have him headed for hockey’s junk heap. He’s hoping the Oxy and Toradol and Adderall and whatever else is available will get him through it. Then he punches a cop. Author Jeff W. Bens has written an engrossing character study of a hockey enforcer trying to find a way back into a previous life.

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Mission Critical — I had heard of author Mark Greaney and his Gray Man books, but I hadn’t ready any of them until this one, which is No. 8 in the series. Court Gentry is The Gray Man; he also is an assassin, code name Violator. In Mission Critical, Violator is working for the CIA and there is a lot of nastiness happening in a paperback that runs 706 pages. But it is readable and it is fun.

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Mohawk — I don’t know if there is an author who captures small-town life in all of its idiosyncrasies like Richard Russo. Such is the case, again, in Mohawk as he follows a handful of citizens through the routine of their daily lives and stays with them as they deal with life’s ups and downs. Mohawk was published in 1986 and it is as great today as it was then.

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Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World! — A member of the U.S. freestyle ski team suffers a career-ending injury and ends up running high stakes poker games in Los Angeles and, later, in New York City. This is the story of how Molly Bloom did all of that and more. She spills some of the beans in anecdotes that involve players like actors Tobey Maguire, who comes out rather poorly, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck, and some Russian gangsters. The obscene amounts of money thrown around in these games prove only that some people have no idea how the rest of us live. In the end, though, it all comes crashing down. Unfortunately, the book ends before the end, which is the part where Bloom pleads guilty to federal charges. You’ll have to turn to Google to find out what happened in court.

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Next: Part 3 of 3.

The Bookshelf: Part 1 of 3

Bookshelf

There are at least three people who stop off here on a regular basis and have asked in the past few days about the annual book list. Well, it’s here. . . . I have done this for a while now, writing thumbnails on books I have read over the previous 12 months. Perhaps this will help with your Christmas shopping or your own Christmas list. . . . And whatever you do, don’t forget to treat yourself!

As for the books on my Christmas list, you can start with Barack Obama’s A Promised Land; Finding Murph, by Rick Westhead; Broken, a collection of short stories by Don Winslow; and James McBride’s best-selling and award-winning Deacon King Kong. . . . Yes, you also can include The Sentinel, the latest in Jack Reacher’s adventures; Michael Connelly’s The Law of Innocence; and A Time for Mercy, by John Grisham. . . . I also had Al Strachan’s Hockey Hot Stove: The Untold Stories of the Original Insiders on the list, but I cheated and purchased it earlier this week. . . . And I eagerly await Call Me Indian: From the Trauma of Residential School to Becoming the NHL’s First Treaty Indigenous Player. The story of Fred Sasakamoose, who died last week, it is to be published on April 6. . . . But enough of that . . . here’s the first of three parts of this year’s Bookshelf . . .

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Agent in Place — This is another Gray Man novel by Mark Greaney. I will tell you that the first chapter grabs you and before you know you’re 30 chapters in, and I will leave it at that. . . . Agent in Place is No. 7 in Greaney’s ultra-successful series.

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The Arena: Inside the Tailgating, Ticket-Scalping, Mascot-Racing, Dubiously Funded, and Possibly Haunted Monuments of American Sport — Rafi Kohan, a freelance writer and editor who lives in New York City, has given us a really intriguing look at the arena/stadium/sports facility game. He visited numerous facilities and saw the nooks and crannies, and he wrote about all of it. From the huge food service crew for a New York Mets game at Citi Field, to the end of the days for the Pontiac Silverdome, the Olympic facilities in Utah and a whole lot more . . . it’s all here in an engrossing and ultra-informative read.

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The Black Russian — Frederick Bruce Thomas was born in 1872 in Mississippi. He would go on to become an entertainment mogul in Moscow and later in Constantinople. Author Vladimir Alexandrov tells Thomas’s story between the covers of this book, and it’s an amazing tale. In places like Moscow and Constantinople, Thomas, a Black American, rarely had to deal with a colour line, but it was a different story when it came to politics and upheavals.

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Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth — This book, written by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, opens with the opening of a gas station in Manhattan and before you know it you’re drawn into what is a stunningly good read. It’s about the oil and gas industry and I guarantee that you will never fill up your car again without thinking about what you read here. You also will have your socks blown off by the amount of money that is in play; you may have heard or seen figures before, but not like what you will read about here. However, if there is a thread here, it is Vladimir Putin and his rise to power. Scary and amazing, all at the same time.

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Blue Moon — Jack Reacher finds himself between Albanian and Ukrainian gangs in Lee Child’s latest book — it’s No. 24 — on the vagabond former military cop who roams the United States righting wrongs as he travels. If you are a Reacher fan, or even if you aren’t familiar with him, you’ll enjoy this one as he eliminates two camps.

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The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood — It was one of the milestone films in big screen history, and author Sam Wasson’s book is just as good. Wasson shapes the book around screenwriter Robert Towne, director Roman Polanski, and actors Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson as he writes about the before, during and aftermath of Chinatown. Good stuff!

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Burke’s Law: A Life in Hockey — Hockey lifer Brian Burke tells his story, with the help of Stephen Brunt, a former newspaper columnist who, like Burke, now is at Rogers Sportsnet. This book is about what you might expect from Burke — loud, obscene and opinionated. It is interesting how he claims on more than one occasion that “white noise” from the media never bothered him, but he then spends a lot time ripping into those same media types. I would have liked a bit more inside dope on the NHL-NHLPA battles, but it wasn’t to be.

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California Fire and Life — If you haven’t yet discovered author Don Winslow through his drug wars trilogy — The Power of the Dog, The Cartel and The Border — get thee to a book store. After that, go back and start reading Winslow’s earlier stuff. California Fire and Life is an insurance company; Jack Wade is an insurance claims investigator. There is a fire and, of course, not all is as it seems. There are good guys and bad guys, and Winslow’s writing.

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Circe — Oh my, what an interesting book! It’s a novel based on Greek mythology. Admittedly, the only time I have an interest in that subject is in the odd crossword puzzle. But author Madeline Miller can write — oh, can she! — and she really brings the subject to life. Circe, a daughter of Helios, the Titan sun god, and Perse, a sea nymph, is banished to an island where she learns all about witchcraft. Give this one a look; you won’t be disappointed.

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The Colorado Kid — Written and marketed in the style of pulp fiction that once was hugely popular — hello there, Mickey Spillane — it is easy to tell that author Stephen King, he of horror fame, had fun with this one. It’s a quick read and it’s different, as you will discover if you give it a try. The story involves two veteran small-town newspapermen relating a local murder mystery to an intern, with some terrific dialogue. King also had fun burying some pearls of wisdom along the way.

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Fair Warning — Chances are that If you are a reader of any kind you have a favourite writer or two or even six. That being the case, you trust your favourites to deliver for you. That’s exactly what Michael Connelly does time after time. In Fair Warning, he brings back journalist Jack McEvoy for a third time, and this time he’s tracking a serial killer.

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Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O’Malley, Baseball’s Most Controversial Owner, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles — I always was of the belief that Walter O’Malley picked up his Brooklyn Dodgers and moved them to Los Angeles in 1957 because he was a greedy old you know what. It turns out I was wrong. As author Michael D’Antonio details in Forever Blue, O’Malley badly wanted to stay in Brooklyn, but with the dawning of the automobile era he needed a ball park with parking. O’Malley was prepared to build the facility with his own money, but he needed land. In Brooklyn, he was up against Robert Moses, who was unelected but immensely powerful. Ultimately, O’Malley came to realize he wasn’t going to get the help he needed. Through it all, city officials from Los Angeles were courting him, all of which finally paid off. . . . I’m a sucker for baseball books from this era, and this one didn’t disappoint.

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The Girl in Saskatoon: A Meditation on Friendship, Memory and Murder — Alexandra Wiwcharuk was 23 years of age in May of 1962 when she was murdered alongside the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon. The murder hasn’t been solved. Author Sharon Butala, who attended school with Wiwcharuk but was hardly what one would call a close friend, decided to write a book about it and, she hoped, come up with some answers. When she was done she had a book that was more about growing up in Saskatoon, at the time a little city that also was growing up, and all that came with it. Butala can write, and this is good, really good. . . . BTW, The Girl in Saskatoon is a seldom-heard Johnny Cash tune. You’ll have to read the book to find out the back story.

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The Girl Who Lived Twice — This is another in the series of books about the adventures of Lisbeth Salander. Author David Lagercrantz had done an admirable job of picking up where the late Stieg Larsson left off. This one is a bit — OK, quite a bit — different than the earlier ones, in that it involves a Sherpa and an Everest expedition as key plot elements. I would have liked to have had more Salander, but, then, that’s all part of the mystery, isn’t it?

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NEXT: Part 2 of 3.

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

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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