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 3 of 3 . . .

Bookshelf

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

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

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

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

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

Circe, by Madeline Miller

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

The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck

The Jordan Rules, by Sam Smith

The Rhythm Section, by Mark Burnell

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

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

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

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

——

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

——

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

——

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

——

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

——

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

——

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

——

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

——

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

——

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

——

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

——

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

——

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

——

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

——

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

——

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

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

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. . . .

——

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?

——

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.

——

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.

——

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.

——

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.

——

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.

——

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.

——

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.

——

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.

——

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.

——

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.

——

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.

——

Tomorrow: Part 3 of 3.

%d bloggers like this: