Morning Miracle: Inside the Washington Post a Great Newspaper Fights for its Life — Late in 2016 came news that the Washington Post was making money, again, and was soon to hire as many as 60 journalists. Written by Dave Kindred, who is best known as a sports columnist, this is a tremendous look at the inner workings of one of the world’s best newspapers as it fights for its life. Kindred was given access to every nook and cranny, and the book reads like it. Published in 2010, it is as relevant today as it was then. There also is a world of hurt here, as journalists continue to do what they do, while their world collapses around them.
My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance — You may know Harry Belafonte best as a singer — Day-O, Island in the Sun, Man Smart (Woman Smarter), etc. — or perhaps even as an actor. After reading his memoir, written with Michael Schnayerson, you will come to realize that Belafonte, 90, was one of the most important civil rights activists of our time. He was there with Martin Luther King Jr., and with Nelson Mandela and behind the scenes when so much more history was written. This is an amazing book, with Belafonte leaving no stone unturned, personal or otherwise. I was reading this book as January turned into February, which made it that much more relevant.
Night of Thunder: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel — This is the fifth of author Stephen Hunter’s nine (so far) books that detail the fictional exploits of Bob Lee Swagger. Night of Thunder takes place around Bristol Motor Speedway and a NASCAR race, with a family of crooks working to rip off the joint. Unfortunately, they involve Swagger’s daughter, Nikki, who is a reporter for a local newspaper. The rest is gunfire, helicopters and explosions. You’ll have to guess who wins in the end, though.
Night School — This is book No. 21 in the best-selling Jack Reacher series, which is written by Lee Child. The story, which is set in 1996, this time takes Reacher to Europe, mostly Hamburg, Germany, as he works to untangle a mess that involves terrorism and all kinds of federal and foreign agencies, including, yes, the CIA and FBI. Unfortunately, taking Reacher to Europe just doesn’t work. Something is missing here. Perhaps not enough bad guys got their heads banged by Reacher. Or, perhaps, Child simply ran out of Reacher-related ideas. While we hope this was a one-off, we will wait to see what’s next in the adventures of Jack Reacher.
North River — This is a novel about Dr. Jim Delaney, who works in an Irish-dominated neighbourhood in Brooklyn in the latter part of the Great Depression, prior to the Second World War. He comes home one day to find his three-year-old grandson on the doorstep and the child’s mother long gone. But this book is so much more than that because author Pete Hamill, a legend in the world of New York City’s newspapers, brings that city to life like no other writer. What’s that on your tongue? The grit and soot from the streets of New York. . . . Damn, this is a good one. I didn’t want it to end.
One Night Only: Conversations with the NHL’s One-Game Wonders — As of the writing of this book, there were, according to author Ken Reid, “about 350 men, give or take” whose entire NHL careers comprised one game. Reid, an anchor at Sportsnet, talks with 39 of those men in this book. As the title infers, the book features conversations as opposed to story-telling. Reid spoke with many of his subjects via telephone, so there isn’t a lot of up close-and-personal here and, after a while, the stories start to run together. Still, it’s especially interesting to read how these men felt as they realized the dream of playing in the NHL, and then later realized that, just like that, it was over. There is one horrible editing error — the chapter on Dave Chartier, who played with the Brandon Wheat Kings, features a photo of Dave Chartier, a player of the same name who played for the Saskatoon Blades.
The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper, and the Making of a Classic — Author Richard Sandomir, who writes for The New York Times, has written a wonderfully interesting book that chronicles the last days of Gehrig’s career with the Yankees and all that went into making the movie that followed his death. Sandomir details the search for actors to play Gehrig and his wife, Eleanor, and all that went into getting the movie to the big screen in a hurry. Interestingly, MGM boss Samuel Goldwyn wasn’t a baseballer; he wanted a love story. Gary Cooper, who plays Gehrig, wasn’t a baseballer, either. In the end, there was little about baseball in the movie. Still, the movie is a classic and this book tells the story of how it came to be.
Rink Burgers — Author Todd Devonshire was born, raised and played his minor hockey in Big River, Sask. He and his wife, Dawn, go home for a weekend and open boxes and memories, almost all of which are connected to his days as a minor hockey player. This book is rich in reminiscing and will result in a lot of smiles, especially if you have ever been in a small-town arena that was awash in the smells that come with rink burgers and fried onions.
The Sisters Brothers — A weirdly comic western by Patrick deWitt features a pair of bad brothers — Charlie and Eli Sisters — although one is quite a bit badder than the other. They are assassins for hire and their latest job takes them from Oregon City into California in search of their next target. The humour, you should know, is darker than midnight. In the end, though, the Sisters brothers prove that even the bad guys can go home again.
Stick a Fork in Me: A Novel — Pete Wallace is the athletic director at Western Ohio University and he’s closing in on retirement. Author Dan Jenkins uses Wallace’s reminisces and all kinds of characters to skewer the NCAA, professors, coaches, husband/wife relationships (his wife has a serious case of golf) et all. This is a quick read, but it’s Jenkins at his sarcastic and hilarious best.
Testimony — Imagine being a teenager fresh out of Toronto and finding yourself in Arkansas playing the dives and juke joints with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks? That’s how Robbie Robertson got his start in the music business, and he tells us all about it in Testimony, an amazing memoir. Robertson now is 74 years of age; this book ends with The Last Waltz, the final concert in the volatile run of The Band, on Nov. 25, 1976. All that transpired between Arkansas and The Last Waltz is between the covers of this book and a lot of it isn’t pretty. That includes a European tour as Bob Dylan’s backup band as Dylan was going electric. Robertson packed a lot into the 33 years covered by this book and he introduces the reader to a whole lot of music history.
Time of Departure — I picked this book because the author, Douglas Schofield, is from Kamloops. A crown prosecutor-turned-writer, he now lives in the Cayman Islands, where he writes and practises law. This book is a crime mystery wrapped around Claire Talbot, who works in Florida and has recently been promoted to Felony Division Chief. I can’t reveal too much without ruining it for future readers, but it’s all about the unsolved murders of nine young women, and there is quite a twist in this story.
War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team — This one of the best football books that I have read. Author Michael Holley delves into the Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in explaining how the organization got to the top of the NFL ladder and how it manages to stay there. Holley also looks at how Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff left the Patriots’ front office to join the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons, respectively. There is lots of inside football stuff between these covers.
The Whistler — Disbarred lawyers. A casino on Native American land in Florida. Organized crime. A crooked judge. What could go wrong? There’s all that and more in the latest work from John Grisham. Maybe it was just me, but this one really didn’t grab me. It’s pretty straight-forward with few surprises.
— This is book No. 21 in the series of books by Michael Connelly that features Harry Bosch. He now is retired from the LAPD but has his private investigator’s ticket and also is freelancing on cold cases for the San Fernando Police Department. That means that in The Wrong Side of Goodbye, Bosch is working two cases — he’s looking for a serial rapist and, at the same time, searching for a possible heir to a fortune — both of which have the usual twists and turns. This is more good reading from Connelly.
(Part 3 of 3)
Here are the top 11 books that I read over the past year, in no particular order (I attempted to limit the list to 10 but I just couldn’t do it):
Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese
North River, by Pete Hamill
Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius, by Bill Pennington
Testimony, by Robbie Robertson
My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance, by Harry Belafonte, with Michael Schnayerson
The Miracle Mile: Stories of the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, by Jason Beck
Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen
The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse, by Tom Verducci
Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador, and the Future of Hockey, by Ken Dryden