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

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Gretzky's Tears: Hockey, America and the Day Everything Changed
Gretzky's Tears: Hockey, America and the Day Everything Changed
Price: $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding book on a historical trade, March 1, 2015
Review:
August 9, 1988 is a date that has become famous in hockey history. It was the date that Wayne Gretzky, considered by many to be the greatest hockey player to ever lace up skates, was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. At the time, the Oilers were a hockey dynasty, having won the Stanley Cup four of the past five seasons, while the Kings were barely a blip in Los Angeles and even in their own building, playing second fiddle to basketball’s Los Angeles Lakers.

The trade left not only Edmonton, but the entire country of Canada in shock and despair. Los Angeles suddenly became a hockey hotbed and Kings games were must-see events, complete with celebrity guests. However, the burning question remained: why was this trade made? Why was the face of an entire sport traded from a team in the country where hockey is the national sport to a franchise in a warm-weather city? This question is covered from many different angles in this excellent book by Stephen Brunt.

Having read some of Brunt’s work earlier, I was looking forward to his writing on this event that stunned the entire sports world. The title of the book came from the fact that Gretzky was shedding tears at the press conference announcing the trade, stating that he was leaving Edmonton with a heavy heart and was sad to be going. Brunt’s research reveals that there was much more to this press conference than simply Gretzky showing his emotions. There is evidence that some, Brunt included, believe that this wasn’t the case at all, but instead something that Gretzky actually wanted.

The owners of the two teams and architects of the trade, Peter Pocklington of the Oilers and Bruce McNall of the Kings, are subjects that Brunt covered quite well in both his research and writing. Neither man comes off looking very good in this book, and given the endings for both of them, especially McNall, I believed that this was an accurate portrayal of them. McNall especially was portrayed as a complex figure, building his fortune in a Ponzi-type scheme and then have it come crashing down. However, more than just acquiring Gretzky for his team, McNall has grandiose plans for the entire sport and had a more than willing accomplice in Commissioner Gary Bettman. These were far-reaching plans that, as Brunt points out, are still being felt more than 20 years after the trade.

Not only does Brunt expose the roles of the three main people of the trade, he also dispels some myths about the trade, such as Gretzky was demanding the trade because his wife, Janet Jones, was an aspiring actress. This comparison to Yoko Ono was a popular tabloid topic in Canada, but Brunt dismisses that rumor as well as others and gets down to the real reason – the backroom discussions and dealings that all three men were involved in.

Stephen Brunt has written another winner with this book and is the most comprehensive account of not only the trade itself, but also what became of the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers after the trade. The research into Pocklington and McNall is also first-rate. This is a must-read for any hockey fan interested in learning more about how this one transaction transformed the game.

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book:
Excellent as I read this book very quickly. It moved along seamlessly from Gretzky to Pocklington to McNall and then to all parties involved in the trade.

Do I recommend?
All hockey fans should read this in-depth account of the trade that stunned the sports world and changed the culture of a sport, most likely for good


Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine
Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine
Offered by Audible, Inc. (US)
10 used & new from $19.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book on grass roots basketball, February 25, 2015
Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
The world of youth basketball, also known as grass roots basketball, has produced some great players who had success in the professional game such as Tyson Chandler. It has also produced stories of players who were expected to go far in their basketball careers at the age of 11 and 12 and buckled under the pressure of great expectations. The story of one coach and his team of players in Los Angeles is told in this interesting book by George Dohrmann. I was expecting stories like this about the players, but all of the main characters in this book were important to the story.

Coach Joe Keller is the main man of this tale, wanting to put together the best group of kids ages 10 and 11 and keep them together through high school in order to gain fame, fortune and to be the one to produce the next great player. Keller thought he had that player in Demetrius Walker, a young impressionable boy who, like many other players, sees his coach as his father figure. What follows is a story that will make the reader cheer, laugh, but mostly shake his or her head when it is revealed just how far Keller goes to ensure that Walker is noticed and hyped as much as possible.

There is considerable discussion about the role that shoe companies such as Nike, Adidas and Reebok play in the grassroots game. There are rankings of players online, recruiting of these players as early as age 9, and deals made in order to bribe parents into allowing their children to play on these teams. Keller paid rent for more than one of his player’s living accommodations – if that player wasn’t spending most of his time at Keller’s house. He did that and more for Walker’s family. Walker was good enough to have his picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated. What happens eventually to him and some of his teammates made me keep on listening to the book.

The narration provide by Speer for the audio book was very good as she told the story of young men and their interactions in a manner that you didn’t realize the gender difference or that it was a woman speaking language and phrases that young men share only with other young men. I felt that by listening to instead of reading this book, I was able to stay connected to the basketball players. I was cheering for them to all have happy endings by the end – whether that happened is something that I will not give away here. If one wants to learn more about the inner workings of youth basketball, this is an excellent source of information for that topic.

Pace of the book:
It moves along very well. The story stays on track as the author rarely veers off topic on side stories. They are all about Coach Keller, his team, his players or their families.

Do I recommend?
Yes – although be prepared for some melancholy stories as not all of the boys have successful endings. If the reader wants to learn more about grass roots basketball, both the good and the ugly, this book covers it all.

Book Format Read:
Audio book


Writing Fiction,Telling Tales: Be an Author
Writing Fiction,Telling Tales: Be an Author
Price: $0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A lot of good advice in a short book, February 22, 2015
There are many good tips in this short book, and they are very useful no matter what type of story one wants to write. While I don't see a book in my immediate future, these will be useful. I really like the tip to write things on index cards. That way, no matter how long it takes to put them together, items that one thought of months ago can be easily found without searching a computer or relying on memory. Excellent advice.


The Cortlandt Boys
The Cortlandt Boys
Price: $4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book on the aftermath of a championship, February 22, 2015
Rating:
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
In 1994, the Cortlandt Cavaliers won the Pennsylvania state boys basketball championship on a last second three point shot. It was a thrilling moment for the small town in the northeastern part of the state. It not only was a watershed moment for the community, it had a profound effect on the lives of the players and others. How this affected the future of those young people is the story told in this terrific novel by Laura Vanderkam.

The book has stories from 1994, 2004 and 2013-14. The first is set in the time when the thrilling win happened and the immediate joy and celebration save for one student. Max, who was at the game and a member of the school band, suffered an injury in the mayhem after the winning shot. She then went on to become a sports journalist for a major magazine. One of her assignments was to return to the town ten years later for a feature story. There, it is revealed what happened with some of the players and also a startling discovery is made in the town.

There is also a section in which the daughter of one of the players also attempts to recreate that special time by creating a scrapbook of that time 20 years later. Her story, and how she becomes intertwined with other players, is also interesting. However, this part of the story didn’t resonate with me as much as Max’s did. What became of some of the other players range from success to tragedy and these are all woven together in a book that is hard to put down.

The writing style is crisp and easy to follow. The characters are well-developed and have a certain personality that the reader will easily recognize and have some type of emotional reaction. The story will leave the reader running through the entire gamut of feelings and will not want the book to end. A terrific read that anyone would enjoy.

The basketball portions were well written as well, as the author’s knowledge of the game is evident when writing about the action on the court and what the players and coaches not in the game were doing. I felt like I was in the stands for that championship game.

I wish to thank Ms. Vanderkam and the publisher for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I skim?
No, as I was mesmerized by this story from the beginning with the boys winning the championship and then through the years and different views.

Did I feel connected to the characters?
For the most part, yes, as I really enjoyed the part of the book through Max’s point of view and I could relate to James and his life after the championship season. I didn’t really like the character of his daughter Janie, especially when she was the lover of one of the players who was cheating on his wife.

Pace of the story:
It moves very well. Unlike other stories and books I have read that change points of view, it transitioned to that time, place and point of view very well.

Do I recommend?
Yes – because this has elements of a good sports book, a murder mystery, some romance and also runs the range of emotions that a reader can feel. I believe that because these have all been intertwined well in this complex story, fans of many different genres will enjoy this book.


Till Death do us Part Series: Books 1-2
Till Death do us Part Series: Books 1-2
Price: $3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars are very good stories told by the author of the popular Sloane ..., February 16, 2015
These two novellas, which can be read separately, are very good stories told by the author of the popular Sloane Monroe murder mystery series. Having read the two stories previously, the two reviews for the two books are posted below. If the reader wants to get a sample of this author's writing style before investing in a full length novel, this is an excellent way to do so.

#1 Whispers of Murder

Having read and enjoyed all of the full length novels in the Sloane Monroe series, I was looking forward to seeing how well Ms. Bradshaw would do with a shorter story. Just like the longer selections, this novella keeps the reader guessing until the very end. There are so many twists and turns in the story that to describe any one of them would be too big a spoiler!

All of the characteristics of Ms. Bradshaw' s work that I enjoy are evident here: believable characters the reader can relate to, a fast paced story that doesn't drag at times, and surprises that occur just when you think you have it figured out. I will state that the first twist, when the bride collapses during her wedding, grabs your attention within the first couple pages and you won't want to put it down. An excellent quick read.

#2 Echoes of Murder

This second novella in the Til Death Do Us Part series is a tightly written story in which each paragraph is essential to either the story or the development of a chracter. Cheryl Bradshaw has taken those skills and written a great novella.

Much like the first one in this series, this story starts out with the setting of a wedding. There is drama early, there is murder at this wedding (although not who you would believe) and there are many twists and turns that follow. Not just in the murder mystery, but also with how the characters interact. Everything that makes for a good murder mystery is present here. This is another wonderfully written story in the series and I am eagerly anticipating the next one.


Echoes of Murder (Till Death do us Part Book 2)
Echoes of Murder (Till Death do us Part Book 2)
Price: $2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Another winner!, February 16, 2015
This second novella in the Til Death Do Us Part series is a tightly written story in which each paragraph is essentilto either the story or the development of a chracter. Cheryl Bradshaw has taken those skills and written a great novella.

Much like the first one in this series, this story starts out with tge setting of a wedding. There is drama early, there is murder at this wedding (although not who you would believe) and there are many twists and turns that follow. Not just in the murder mystery, but also with how the characters interact. Everything that makes up a good murder mystery is present here. This is another wonderfully written story in the series and I am eagerly anticipating the next one.


Whispers of Murder (Till Death do us Part Book 1)
Whispers of Murder (Till Death do us Part Book 1)
Price: $1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Another winner by Cheryl Bradshaw...Just shorter, February 15, 2015
Having read and enjoyed all of the full length novels in the Sloane Monroe series, I was looking forward to seeing how well Ms. Bradshaw would do with a shorter story. Just like the longer selections, this novella keeps the reader guessing until the very end. There are so many twists and turns in the story that to describe any one of them would be too big a spoiler!

All of the characteristics of Ms. Bradshaw' s work that I enjoy are evident here: believable characters the reader can relate to, a fast paced story that doesn't drag at times, and surprises that occur just when you think you have it figured out. I will state that the first twist, when the bride collapses during her wedding, grabs your attention within the first couple pages and you won't want to put it down. An excellent quick read.


Irving Titans
Irving Titans
Price: $3.07

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A few bumps, a lot of sleeze...but oh so funny., February 14, 2015
This review is from: Irving Titans (Kindle Edition)
It was 1989 and the Irving Titans were declining into oblivion after spending decades as one of the elite professional football teams. Enter a new owner who is ready to tear everything apart and brand the franchise as he wants. This includes firing a legendary coach and replacing him with a successful college coach whose ego is one of the few that can match the owners.

If the reader is a football fan from that era, this might sound very familiar. This fictional story about the Irving Titans is billed as a farce based on the exploits of the real Dallas Cowboys from that time. Just change the names and a reader would believe he or she was reading about Jerry Jones, Jimmy Johnson, Michael Irving and the rest of the Cowboys during their glory years in the early and mid 1990's.

The parallel universes of the Titans and the Cowboys are striking and I was impressed with how the author made the fictional team so much like the real one. Both fired a legendary coach, both traded the star running back to a team called the Vikings for many draft picks that would become key players (wonder if the fictional Vikings did better with that running back?) and in both cases, one of those star players, a wide receiver, found himself in trouble with the law over ladies and cocaine.

The "snow" that was in the possession of the Titans receiver was supplied by the back up quarterback Jimmy Stone, the antagonist of the novel. His account of those seasons with the Titans reads like a trashy novel with lots of drugs and a LOT of sex.

That last part is important because one of the ladies who services the players, coaches, owner and even a sportscaster holds them all hostage because she holds the goods on all of them Charlene Rivers fits the stereotype of the woman who sleeps her way to the top.

While the book is certainly raunchy and not for those readers who would be easily offended, it is EXTREMELY funny. I was in tears at times especially when the authors would describe Charlotte's antics. Her character and Jimmy's were both well developed and a reader can't help but like them even if their actions are less than honorable.

I did find the story hard to follow at times and it did read as a sleazy novel which is not my thing, at least when reading a book on sports. But for an entertaining and hilarious book, this fits the bill. Rated at three and a half stars, rounded up to four for Amazon and Goodreads.


The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager's Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life
The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager's Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Very good book on youth sports, February 11, 2015
Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Mike Matheny has enjoyed success in his baseball career, both as a player and as the current manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. He holds many views about the game that would be considered “old-school” and has applied those thoughts to both baseball and life when he has coached youth baseball. These beliefs and what he does with his young players has been communicated in a letter he gives all parents titled the “Matheny Manifesto.” It has become an Internet sensation, but more importantly, it has become a code by which other coaches and parents of youth sports participants would be well to follow.

The book has many pieces of advice that nearly everyone involved in youth sports has heard, such as let the kids make mistakes without being overly critical and that the coach is always right, even if he or she is not. There are some topics that might be surprising, especially in today’s specialized youth sports culture. Matheny advises parents to let a kid try all the sports he or she wants to play instead of determining early which one would be “the one.” He also speaks out against the culture of rewarding every participant for being present. On that topic, he simply says that this kind of reinforcement does not prepare the child for the inevitable failure that he or she will face in real life.

Matheny also talks about his faith in one chapter, but does not preach nor expect anyone else to also wear his or her faith on the sleeve. Instead, he simply explains how his Christian faith has helped shape his values and I thought this was one of the better written chapters in the book. His account of his playing and managing career in the major leagues was also very good and it tied in nicely with the points he was trying to make regarding youth sports.

This book is one that should be read by anyone involved in youth sports, no matter the role. While some readers may not follow every bit of advice not wish to read about Matheny’s faith, the book as a whole is a good reminder that these athletes are still kids, and these games should be about them and not the adults.

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

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book:
Very good – the breakdown of each chapter into smaller sections on a certain topic makes reading the book easier. If the reader just wants to read certain parts for reference or review, this format makes that easier as well.


The Franchise
The Franchise
Price: $7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Very good dark novel on the business of professional football, February 8, 2015
This review is from: The Franchise (Kindle Edition)
Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
While professional football is the most popular sport in the United States, there are always rumors about a darker side to the game and the business such as gambling, organized crime, performance enhancing drugs, and corruption. All of these topics and more are addressed in this dark novel written by Peter Gent.

While Gent is more known for his other football novel “North Dallas Forty”, this one is well-written and leaves no stone unturned in the brief history of the fictional Texas Pistols franchise. Everything about the franchise, from how it was awarded to Cyrus Chandler, to the public financing of a new domed stadium to becoming Super Bowl champions in only its fifth year of existence, is explored and questioned in the book.

The main character around which the franchise revolves is not Chandler nor the coach or general manager, but quarterback Taylor Rusk. Following the coach from college to the expansion Pistols, Rusk soon discovers the true nature of the business of running the Pistols and makes sure that he gets what he deserves, especially his desire for a Super Bowl championship. During this time, he becomes involved with Chandler’s daughter Wendy and their relationship is just as complicated as the business of the franchise.

There are connections to organized crime and gambling, and as the Pistols improve on the field and the money involved grows exponentially, the danger for Taylor, Wendy and some other players grows as well. There is a lot of blood and death in the book as some people meet untimely deaths. The ulterior motives of so many people, some of whom the reader would not expect, makes the story very dark.

There is some football scenes and action, especially when the Pistols face Denver in the Super Bowl, but they are not very numerous and are secondary to the main story of Taylor and his personal mission to unearth the diabolical nature of the business of professional football.

While I was hoping for more football and less death than what was written, I felt that this was a very enjoyable book. While football fans will enjoy this book, readers who enjoy crime novels in the style of James McElroy will also want to read this book.

I wish to thank Open Road Media for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.


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