Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Book Shelf: Part 1 of 4

Just in time for Christmas, here’s a brief look at some of the books I have read over the last while:

The Black Ace -- An old friend has died and Brad Shade, a former junior hockey star and ex-NHLer, is in Swift Current for the funeral. Of course, he gets drawn into the situation as there may be more to an apparent suicide than what meets the eye. If you are aware of author G.B. Joyce’s history with the citizens of Swift Current, there is more to this book than meets the eye, too. (Penguin, 362 pages, soft cover, Cdn$22.00)

Boy On Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard -- John Branch, a writer with The New York Times, wrote a three-part series on Boogaard, a WHL and NHL enforcer, for his newspaper. That led to this book, a thoroughly engrossing and unsettling look into the life on and off the ice of a giant of a man-child who wanted only to fit in and not be lonely. You need to read this book and then ask yourself why there still is fighting in hockey. You also might ask yourself how many positive drug tests it takes before the NHL, NHLPA or teams will intervene in the life of a troubled player. (HarperCollins, 371 pages, hard cover, Cdn$32.99)

Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? (The Improbable Saga of the New York Mets’ First Year) -- That first year was 1962. Casey Stengel was the manager and he’s the one who coined the book’s title. Pulitzer Prize-winner Jimmy Breslin, the legendary New York newspaper columnist, takes us inside the Mets’ world, and it‘s hilarious and touching, all at the same time. Sheesh, Richie Ashburn could have returned for a second season with the Mets, but he chose to join the Philadelphia Phillies’ broadcast crew and took quite a paycut to do so. This is a quick and terrific read that should be on the must-read list of any sports fan. (Kindle)

City of Fallen Angels: A Mike Ward Mystery -- Mike Ward is a journalist for a wire service. He is Canadian and has been writing from Europe in the pre-Second World War years. But now he has been assigned to Los Angeles and all its glitter and its grunge. Yes, there has been a suicide, or was it a murder? Author Howard Engel gives the reader characters who are rich and dialogue that is richer. (Kindle)

Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football -- The New York Jets allowed author Nicholas Dawidoff access to all corners of their operation during the 2011 season -- they gave him everything he needed, including a security code, a locker and a desk. He attended meetings, stood on sidelines, watched games with co-ordinators. The result is one of the best sports books I have read. It especially provides the reader with a real feel for the brutality of pro football, not only with the injuries, but with the lack of job security for players and coaches. If you get the opportunity to read this book, do so. (Little, Brown, 485 pages, hard cover, Cdn$32.00, US$29,00)

A Drink Before The War -- Dennis Lehane is a favourite of mine, and he doesn’t disappoint with this book that introduced us to private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. The action takes place in Boston, so, yes, there are politicians involved. It’s Lehane’s ability to turn a phrase and to capture the seamy side of Boston in all its stinking glory that allows this book to rise to the top. This is good stuff, really good stuff. (Harper, 323 pages, soft cover, Cdn$12.99) 

The Drop -- I don’t know that anyone writes about the mean streets of Boston better than the afore-mentioned Dennis Lehane, and that is in evidence here. There are gangsters and bartenders and love and a puppy, all wrapped up into a nifty, grungy story. This one isn’t long so is perfect for a cold winter’s night. (Kindle)

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt -- Michael Lewis, perhaps best known in sporting circles as the author of The Blind Side and the terrific Moneyball, has turned to Wall Street for his latest book. He has been here before, especially with Liar’s Poker, a book that read like a novel but was about his time as a trader, so the ground isn’t unfamiliar. But, like Liar’s Poker, Flash Boys is so fantastic that the reader thinks it has to be fiction. Making Flash Boys even more interesting is that the hero, if he can be called that, is Brad Katsuyama, a Canadian who, in the beginning, works for the Royal Bank of Canada and wants only to do the right thing. (Kindle)

Future Greats and Heartbreaks: A Year Undercover in the Secret World of NHL Scouts -- Author Gare Joyce, who knows his way around more hockey arenas than he no doubt cares to admit, is a draft geek, no matter the sport. But with hockey in his veins, he is partial to the NHL draft. Thus, he spent the 2006-07 season inside the world of NHL scouts and the resulting book, which was published in 2008, is a terrific read with great insights from a number of perspectives. The reader gets a feel for life as a scout, some of which isn’t especially comfortable, and for the pressures on teenage hockey players as they strive to reach the NHL. (Kindle)

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