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LSmith "L. Smith" RSS Feed (Upstate New York)

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The Phantom Punch: The Story Behind Boxing's Most Controversial Bout
The Phantom Punch: The Story Behind Boxing's Most Controversial Bout
by Rob Sneddon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.05
18 used & new from $12.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book on a controversial fight, October 4, 2015
The second heavyweight title fight between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston ended with one of the strangest and controversial endings in boxing history. Considering the history of the sport and its seamy underbelly, this is quite a statement. However, this outstanding book by Robert Sneddon makes the case for this statement and tells of the background of all aspects of this fight held in a small town in central Maine.

The book read much like a bout between two champion boxers that may start with a flourish, and then slow down as the two opponents feel each other out. In a boxing match that will often lead to more punches landing, more flurries by both fighters and eventually reach an exciting finish. This book did the same thing as it started with how many people view the ending of that fight today. Then there came a lot of background information on not only Ali and Liston but also about the town of Lewiston, Maine and the politics and officials that either helped bring the fight there or wanted to keep it away.

This portion of the book doesn’t sound like it would be exciting or of much interest to readers who are interested in the actual fight. However, that is not the case as much of this information is well researched and written in such a manner that a reader will be both well-informed and well-entertained while reading it. Sam Michael and the Nilon brothers are just a few of the people who may not be household names to boxing fans or historians but they played important roles in this fight.

The sections on boxing, especially for both Ali-Liston fights, were excellent reads as well. I was especially impressed with Sneddon’s account of the first fight between them in Miami, as that information was especially important when it came time to talk about the rematch. As for the punch that is the center of the controversy even to this day, Sneddon does report on it fairly, writing about views from both sides. He is careful to emphasize that there were many who felt the punch did land on Liston as well as report on those that believed it never connected. Because of this, I felt that this book was not one that tried to sway readers one way or the other, especially those that already have their minds made up. Instead, it seemed that the target audience would be for readers like me who have never seen the punch or the films of it and instead wanted to learn about this controversy. For this goal, the book hits its mark and is an excellent account of a heavyweight championship fight that will be talked about as long as boxing remains a sport.

I wish to thank Down East Books for providing an advance review copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Breaking Ground: How Jackie Robinson Changed Brooklyn
Breaking Ground: How Jackie Robinson Changed Brooklyn
Price: $8.69

4.0 out of 5 stars Decent book on Jackie Robinson from a little different slant, September 30, 2015
From the title of the book, I thought that this would be a book that was part biography and part history lesson. The biography would of course be about Jackie Robinson and the history would be about the borough of Brooklyn and how it changed through both the Dodgers and the broken color barrier in baseball that Robinson achieved.

While the book fell short of this, especially concerning the latter point, this is nonetheless a good short read about what Robinson meant to the life of the author. Alan Lelchuk writes some exquisite prose in his description of Robinson and what the man meant not only to the Lelchuk household but also to Brooklyn as a whole. At times the reader will forget that he or she is reading a book about a baseball player. Robinson seemed to be almost a mythical figure in the eyes of Lelechuk. While it was certainly refreshingly honest, at times it felt to be more idolatry than factual writing.

While not billed as a baseball book per se, the baseball passages are written well and from the point of view of a fan. Of course, all the baseball involves Robinson in some manner but that doesn’t matter. Because of the special skills Robinson brought to the baseball field, such as his speed, and the excitement rarely seen such as a steal of home plate, the baseball talk is very good. If a person just wanted to talk about Robinson with Lelchuk, these passages are very likely what he would tell that person.

Overall, I felt this book to be an entertaining and quick read about Jackie Robinson, but it lacked deep knowledge or insight to be a truly informative book. Nonetheless, any reader who wishes to read something quick about one of the most influential athletes whose achievements meant much more to society than they did to just baseball, this is a fine choice.

I wish to thank Mandel Vilar Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Six Decades of Baseball: A Personal Narrative
Six Decades of Baseball: A Personal Narrative
Price: $7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Very good book written by a fan for the fan, September 27, 2015
The best way to start this review is to describe what this book is not. It is not a professionally researched book on baseball history. It is not a meticulously written account of a particular baseball player, team, personality or season. Instead, it is a collection of stories written from the viewpoint of a longtime fan. Therefore, this book from Bill Lewers is not the typical baseball book.

Instead, it is a good read that a baseball fan that has seen many games and has many memories can identify with. Lewers writes about his life as a baseball fan, with several tales about his favorite team, the Boston Red Sox. He does also write about his visits to Fenway Park with reverence, even though he didn’t live in Boston. There are also plenty of anecdotes about the Baltimore Orioles and Camden Yards since that is the major league team closest to his residence in Virginia. Therefore, if the reader is looking for a fan’s point of view talking about many teams, it won’t be found in this book.

That doesn’t take away the sheer fun I had reading this because it was a conversation, although of course one way, between two fans. Because Lewers is a fan instead of a professional sportswriter or baseball researcher, the stories are those from the fan’s point of view and that is refreshing. Book like this are not plentiful and to have found one that tells stories about baseball much like ones that I would tell was very entertaining for me. I highly recommend this book to fellow baseball fans who want to read about stories that a fellow fan experiences.

I wish to thank Mr. Lewers for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Pace of the book:
While long, the pace of the book is good. The conversational style makes it easy to take breaks in reading the book and when the reader picks it back up, nothing is lost to the reader.

Do I recommend?
Baseball fans who just want to read something from another fan from the fan’s point of view will love this book. It is Red Sox and Orioles-centric, with a good amount of Yankee talk as well, but that is mainly because those are the teams he followed.

Big and Bright: Deep in the Heart of Texas High School Football
Big and Bright: Deep in the Heart of Texas High School Football
by Gray Levy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.48
31 used & new from $16.49

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book on Texas high school football, September 16, 2015
More than 25 years ago, America was introduced to the culture of high school football in Texas in Friday Night Lights. While that book was very popular in the description of one football program, Big and Bright takes that concept and expands it even further. In this comprehensive book by Gray Levy, football programs from all over the state of Texas are described in great detail.

Levy uses his experience as an educator and a football coach to write about various programs in the state, both in geographic locations and in size. No matter which program he writes about, from Port Lavaca on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to Albiline in the central portion of the state, Levy writes about the players, the coaches, the games and the community support for each of these football teams.

Through Levy’s writing, the reader will be caught up in the spirit of the town and understand why the communities will support these young men fervently. Also, the experiences of the coaches and the players are captured in each town. This was one of the better aspects of the book, especially when Levy writes about what the coaches would be doing not only on game night, but during the week and during school time as well.

Levy’s experience as a coach and educator make his writing very informative for the reader as well. He also shares his opinion on both the education system and coaching frequently in the book. He does explain why he has these opinions and backs them up with experience or facts as appropriate. One example of this that I enjoyed is when Levy states that he believes that “in general, Texas coaches are less authoritarian than coaches elsewhere.” He then goes on to write about examples illustrating why he believes this. Passages like this make the book very enjoyable to read.

The football passages are detailed, deep and very descriptive. Whether it is a description of the offensive formations, the game action for the week Levy visited the school, or the recap of the season for that program, these sections are rich in description. Football fans that love the game beyond the action on the field and want to know more about the strategy and the “X’s and O’s” will especially enjoy these parts.

This book should be added to the library of football fans of all levels, even if they don’t normally watch high school football. Readers who like books on social interaction and the human aspect of sports or gatherings will also want to read this as well. It was a book that I enjoyed very much and was a very good read.

I wish to thank Taylor Trade Publishing for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Pace of the book:
This was not a quick or easy read as the story for each school’s football program that Levy wrote about was described in great detail so it required careful reading.

Do I recommend?
Fans of high school football will enjoy this book as all aspects of high school football programs are covered in each chapter. Readers who have an interest in the sociology of high school football in Texas and how it bonds entire communities will also enjoy this book.

Thursday Night Therapy
Thursday Night Therapy
by Aaron M. Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.23
24 used & new from $8.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book on a weekly tradition, September 13, 2015
This review is from: Thursday Night Therapy (Paperback)
Every Thursday night, a group of men ranging in age from their twenties to their sixties gather together to play basketball. The game takes place under makeshift lights in the driveway of the founder of this game. While different players may have come and gone, this event has taken place for over thirty years. One of the participants, Aaron Smith who is the son-in-law of the founder of this game, captures the stories and journey of this ritual in “Thursday Night Therapy.”

The reader will learn about many of the players who have spent many Thursday nights over the years doing something that they feel is necessary for their own well-being. The game helps the men relieve stress, bond together because of this one common activity and also forget about the rest of the world for a few hours. There are several passages in which Smith describes this sensation. As one of the participants in the Thursday night games, he talks about the way he can put aside the outside world and concentrate solely on what is taking place on the court while playing. The reader will feel that as well, placing himself on that driveway while reading about the action taking place.

There are some poignant moments shared as well. One of those passages came when Fran, Smith’s father-in-law and organizer of the Thursday games, lost his mother earlier in the day one Thursday. With a heavy heart, he told one of the men gathered in the driveway to start the game what happened. Everyone is offering Fran condolences – then he goes inside to change and plays the game. Smith’s description of Fran’s play that night tells it all – “Sometimes with tears welling in his eyes and defenders closing in his face, Fran would drill a shot. Three after three. Shot after shot. It certainly was an inspired effort…”

That passage, and similar ones not only about the games but also how the men interact with each other and their families around Thursdays, is what makes this book a joy to read. The reader feels the camaraderie and will understand why this ritual is so important to these men. It was a heartwarming book and one that was also filled with humor as well as inspiring messages and some good basketball as well.

I wish to thank Mr. Smith for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Pace of the book:
Very quick as Smith’s stories and thoughts on the therapeutic value of the Thursday night games blend together well and are easy to read.

Do I recommend?
This book will be appealing to a broad range of readers, as this is as much a book on friendship, family and the mindset of these participants in the Thursday night games as well as a book on basketball.

Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig
Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig
by Jonathan Eig
Edition: Hardcover
112 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding biography on Lou Gehrig, September 4, 2015
Having not read a book on Lou Gehrig since middle school and wanting to learn more about the man, I picked up this book hoping to learn more about his playing career and how he dealt with the prospect of facing death. Those topics are certainly covered, but there is so much more to this book that it should be on every baseball fan’s list of books to read.

Meticulous research and superb writing make this book one of the most definitive biographies of Gehrig. The reader will learn about the man through many communications he made with doctors, his wife Eleanor and other important people in his life. The letters he exchanged with physicians at the Mayo Clinic, where his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was first diagnosed, were very moving. The same goes for his letters to Eleanor, especially the one written to her when he first learns of the disease and is optimistic that he will get better.

Gehrig went to the Mayo Clinic when he noticed how fast his baseball skills were deteriorating in 1939. Both this decline and Gehrig’s outstanding baseball career are covered by superb research and writing as well. No matter how one analyzes his career, Gehrig is one of the greatest players in the history of the game, yet Eig writes of his baseball prowess without a lot of fawning or exaggeration. The matter-of-fact style made reading about Gehrig’s accomplishments seem even more impressive.

Eig also writes about Gehrig’s personal life in a style that will keep any reader engrossed in the topic. Whether it is about his childhood in which his mother was very protective, the shy young man who did not socialize often with his Yankee teammates, or his marriage at 30 to an outspoken woman, the reader will gain insight into what made Gehrig into the man that he became.

Of course, no discussion about Gehrig can be complete without mentioning the moments that made him a legendary baseball player. Eig sets the record straight on what makes Gehrig seem larger than life. For example, the myth that Gehrig began his streak of 2,130 consecutive games played because Wally Pipp complained of a headache and was replaced by Gehrig is set straight in the book. The streak actually began the previous day when Gehrig appeared as a pinch hitter. Also, Pipp did not complain of a headache that day and instead was benched when manager Miller Huggins wanted to juggle his lineup. It doesn’t make the streak or the myth any less impressive, but Eig ensures that the correct story about the beginning of the streak is told.

It is this kind of research and writing that make this book one of the best sports biographies available. The reader will truly feel like he or she knows more about the man after reading this and will also have run through a full gamut of emotions when completing the book. One doesn’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this biography. Anyone who wants to learn the complete story of the man should read this book.

Pace of the book:
While I never was able to read large sections of this book in one sitting, it still was a fairly quick read in the total time it took me, especially considering the length of the book and some of the material, such as the medical sections describing ALS.

Do I recommend?
Readers who like baseball biographies or even biographies in general, will enjoy this book. With the in-depth research and narration about each important topic, this book should appeal to a wide range of readers. No matter how a reader has learned about Lou Gehrig, whether through baseball, the movie about his life or just word of mouth, the reader will certainly learn something new about the man.

Provoked: Make Me Book 1
Provoked: Make Me Book 1
Offered by Audible, Inc. (US)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good story great narration, August 30, 2015
I was provided a copy of the audio book in exchange for an honest review. This was a better story than I had anticipated, mainly because I thought it was going to be strictly a romance novel with the BSDM element. While it is that as the main characters of Charlie (Charlotte) and Neil do have unexpected feeling for each other, the mystery aspect is what kept me interested. I got confused at times and had to go back and re-listen to portions to catch back up. So if one listens to this audio book, not become engrossed in any other tasks because you might miss important parts of the story.

The dual narration by Kai Kennicott and Wen Ross was fabulous. Each of them made Charlie and Neil come alive and even more realistic. So for that part, it wasn't so bad I got to listen to them repeat scenes.

While BDSM is not my thing for reading material, the author did do a good job of transmitting the feelings of the Dom and Sub to the reader so it was clear that this was no game. I still am not a fan, but it was a good, well written story that was able to keep my attention and that alone is worthy of praise.

The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron
The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $13.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Very good biography on a baseball legend, August 28, 2015
The story of Henry Aaron is one that many baseball fans might be surprised to hear. Not because they have not heard of him, of course, but because of how much they may not know. From his beginnings in Mobile, Alabama to his days playing for the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro Leagues to his historic major league career with the Braves, this book by Howard Bryant covers it all. Add in some good narration by Dominic Hoffman and social commentary at the time of Aaron’s playing days and it makes for an interesting audio book.

Whatever one may think about the use of performance enhancing drugs and the legitimacy of records set by players who allegedly used them, a reader will believe that Aaron handled the situation with Barry Bonds passing him for the all-time home run leader with dignity and fairness. Through Bryant’s description of that time, it is shown that Aaron was both congratulatory to Bonds, though not overly so because of the controversy. It is also clear that Aaron did not want to be a big part of the celebration, as he only agreed to provide a video that was a somewhat tepid congratulatory message to Bonds. This is an example of how Aaron’s personality and manner was captured throughout the book.

While the book is primarily about Aaron and his plight as a black man in both the southern United States and what he went through as he approached Babe Ruth’s record, it did at times feel a bit preachy about race relations at that troubled time. While that cannot be ignored if one is going to write about Aaron, some parts of the book felt more like the author’s take on social issues instead of how they affected Aaron and his fellow black baseball players. While they were interesting, for this listener, those segments took something away from the big story.

The narration by Mr. Hoffman was very good as he never sounded to be too emotional during these passages. The evenness of his tone was soothing to hear. This came across like a conversation between the men on the porch, just passing the time talking about baseball and how it might affect other issues. Which is what the book was trying to do – sometimes it tried too hard – but overall it was a nice story on the man who many believe is still the home run king of baseball.

Never Foul A Jump Shooter: A Guide to Basketball Lingo, Lessons and Laughs
Never Foul A Jump Shooter: A Guide to Basketball Lingo, Lessons and Laughs
Price: $5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Very funny book on basketball terminology, August 23, 2015
All sports have their own language and lingo. This book on basketball lingo by Daniel Yost gives readers some insight into most of the words and terms used in the game. They range from those that are easy figure out (Charging) to clever (Charity Stripe) to puzzling (Drop a Dime) to clever (Posterized). This is NOT just a dictionary or glossary – there are plenty of opinions given and a lot of funny moments.

Through all of them, there are two characteristics of the book that Yost illustrates in the narrative about most of the terms. One is how this term can relate to a situation in everyday life. Now these “situations” may range from time on the job to relationships to just day-to-day life. The explanation of how this term may relate to the average person is a nice touch instead of just explaining what the term means on a basketball court.

The other characteristic of the book that the reader will appreciate is the humor. No matter the term, what it means in basketball or whether Yost likes the term or not, there are many times the reader will chuckle or laugh out loud while reading about that term. A very good example is the humor in terms that Yost does not like is his rant about the term “drop a dime.” In basketball, the phrase is used for the action of a player who is giving an assist to another player who scores. Yost feels the person who invented the term should be “strung up” and he also has some “news for ‘youse guys.’ An assist is a lot more valuable than a dime.” Nice to see read about how he really feels.

Overall, I gave this book a rating of four stars as after a while, it did feel to have a bit of repetition. But the humor was so funny, it kept me going to the end, and the basketball knowledge of the author shines through with his explanation of each term. Basketball fans of any level of the game will enjoy this funny and entertaining book explaining many of the colorful terms used in the game today.

I wish to thank Incorgnito Books for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Pace of the book:
This was a very quick read as it is in the format of a dictionary or glossary with each term defined listed alphabetically. However, as noted in the review, these are NOT dictionary-type definitions and as a result it can be read like a story.

Do I recommend?
Given the lingo and the use of many basketball references, non-fans may have a hard time with this book, but basketball fans will enjoy it very much.

Tommy Lasorda: My Way
Tommy Lasorda: My Way
Price: $9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good book on a legendary baseball man, August 20, 2015
Throughout his baseball career, both as a player and later as the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Tommy Lasorda was known as much for his positive spin on anything related to the team or his players. These traits come to life in this book written by Colin Gunderson. The author worked as the press coordinator for Lasorda for 12 years, so he knows many of these stories first hand.

The writing shows the in-depth knowledge as each topic covered, from loyalty to competitiveness to determination is rich with details from many players who Lasorda coached or had as a teammate. Of course, his Dodger loyalty is discussed in depth as he bleeds Dodger blue. Lasorda provides many quotes as well, and they add even more substance to traits that are shown to be important to him. Even for those readers who may not be fans of Lasorda or the Dodgers will enjoy the humor and genuine love Lasorda shares about many of these topics and people.

Those who are looking for something new or some previously unknown facts or characteristics will be disappointed as the public persona of Lasorda is proven to be completely true about the man. While at times it seems to be a bit excessive, both in Lasorda’s praise and the writing that makes him seem just too good, it at least is an accurate reflection. It is also very entertaining as the reader will often be laughing and smiling at some of the stories.

My favorite topic in the book was the chapter on patriotism. While this was a point he has made public before, many people may not realize that Lasorda’s favorite baseball moment did not involve the Dodgers. He has said that his proudest accomplishment in his career was when he was the manager of the United States Olympic baseball team in 2000 when the US won its only gold medal in baseball. He talks about that tournament with the excitement of a kid and it was the chapter that I felt was filled with the best baseball writing, especially when describing the game in the medal round when Doug Mientkiewicz hit the game winning home run against South Korea.

This is an entertaining, fun-to-read book on one of the most recognizable figures in recent baseball history. Readers will never be bored while reading this and should enjoy each story about this legendary manager.

Pace of the book:
This is a very quick read as I completed it in under two hours of total reading time. The stories come fast and furious and are never dull.

Do I recommend?
Most baseball fans will enjoy reading this book, but it is especially recommended for Dodger fans or fans of Lasorda as this will bring back many good memories.

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