American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst — If you don’t remember, Patty Hearst — yes, of that Hearst family — was kidnapped by a rag-tag outfit that called itself the Symbionese Liberation Army on Feb. 4, 1974. Author Jeffrey Toobin, who is a senior legal analyst with CNN and who also wrote The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, provides us with an engrossing tale of all that followed the kidnapping. It’s all here, from the bank robberies to the strangeness of attorney F. Lee Bailey to Hearst’s trial and everything in between. Remember as you read this book that there was nothing resembling social media in 1974, and the FBI, well, it couldn’t have found its butt with either hand.
Anatomy of a Song — Author/music historian Marc Myers has written columns for the Wall Street Journal that feature interviews with singers, song writers, musicians et al. In effect, he has been writing about the stories behind the songs. In this book, he expands on that theme to profile 45 songs, all of them big-time hits that live on. Why 45? Remember when you purchased music on 45s? Included are tunes by Otis Redding, Elvis Presley, Bonnie Raitt, Merle Haggard, The Neville Brothers, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart, Joni Mitchell and on and on. The stories behind these songs are mesmerizing.
Behind the Bench: Inside the Minds of Hockey’s Greatest Coaches — Craig Custance, a hockey writer with ESPN, sat down with 10 successful coaches — Mike Babcock, Dan Bylysma, Bob Hartley, Ken Hitchcock, Claude Julien, Todd McLellan, Joel Quenneville, Mike Sullivan and John Tortorella, and Ron Wilson — and watched video from a key game in each of their careers. Custance then wrote about what he witnessed and the chatter that went on in each session. You may not learn anything that really is earth-shattering, but this is interesting stuff. If you weren’t aware, successful coaches are intense individuals, something that really stands out here. . . . One word of caution: Best to read this book in six or more sittings so that the chapters don’t run together. . . . One other thing: I found it odd that Custance didn’t even make reference to McLellan’s six seasons as the general manager and head coach of the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos and how much that meant to his career. After all, McLellan, then 27, took over from the soon-to-be disgraced Graham James as the Broncos’ GM and head coach.
Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius — In the days when the New York Yankees seemed to be defined by the actions of George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin, Bill Pennington covered the American League team for the Bergen Record and The New York Times. That means that Pennington was an eyewitness to a lot of what happened in what came to be known as the Bronx Zoo. Pennington was in a lot of the bars that were frequented by Martin, who had a propensity for finishing scraps that he may not have started, and he was at most of the games in which Martin’s baseball genius was on display. This is an entertaining read, one that reads as though the author was there, which, of course, he was.
The Bone Tree — It started with Natchez Burning and author Greg Iles continues the story with The Bone Tree. If you like long reads, these two books are for you. But note that each runs more than 800 pages in paperback. Still, they are well worth it, with Iles bringing in JFK, the KKK, the FBI and a whole lot more as he explores what once was a way of life in the Deep South.
Born to Run — It took more than seven years for Bruce Springsteen to write his autobiography; it would have been worth the wait had it taken him 14 years to produce what is an extraordinary book. This is the story of a legendary music man who really is just like the rest of us. He had issues with a father, who obviously had his own problems, and there are battles with anxiety and depression. Springsteen writes of all that, along with life, death, love and, yes, the E Street Band, and he does it without any puffery. This is easily one of the top books that I read in 2017. In fact, this was so good it took me a month to read it. I didn’t want it to end, so I would pick it up, read a few pages, then put it down, savour it for a few days, and do it all again.
The Chemist — Her name is Alex — or is it Juliana? — and she is a seeker of truth by any chemical means necessary. She is well-educated and well-trained and really, really good at her job. But now the very government that employed her is hunting her down. Written by Stephenie Meyer — yes, that Stephenie Meyer, who wrote the Twilight franchise — this isn’t science fiction or fantasy, just good escapism.
The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse — Author Tom Verducci received an amazing amount of access to the Chicago Cubs as they won the franchise’s first World Series title in 108 years in 2016. He used that access to tell the story of how the championship roster was built, in the process telling the stories of many of the participants. This is an enjoyable read and one that provides a whole lot of insight, especially into manager Joe Maddon and how he looks at the game of baseball.
Burning Bright — If you like the Jason Bourne movies, or the Jack Reacher and Harry Bosch books, you will enjoy reading author Nick Petrie’s works that feature Peter Ash, an Afghanistan veteran who battles white noise — his PTSD includes claustrophobia — and bad guys. This is good escapism for those smoky summer days or chilly winter nights. . . . Burning Bright is the second book in the Ash series; The Drifter came before it..
Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador, and the Future of Hockey — This is a book about Steve Montador, who never was a top-end player on any of the teams on which he played. But he was the kind of player every team needs — one who does the dirty work and never complains. Montador died in 2015 and an examination of his brain showed CTE. Ken Dryden, who also wrote The Game, which is in the discussion as one of the best sports books ever written, has done it again. His examination of Montador’s life shows the stresses with which a depth player must learn to cope as he struggles to get to the NHL and then works to stay there. Everyone loved Montador and yet he was a loner, but Dryden is able to get close to him and give the reader a real feel for him. As the book nears its end, Dryden, a former NHL goaltender, offers up two ways — really simple ways — to save hockey from this kind of story. Unfortunately, the Gary Bettmans and Ron Robisons of the hockey world, the men who wield the power, won’t be impacted by books and stories of this nature. So the battle to lessen the number of brain injuries in hockey will continue.
A Gentleman in Moscow — It is 1922 and Count Alexander Rostov has been sentenced by a Bolshevik tribunal to house arrest in the Metropol, a hotel that just happens to be right by the Kremlin. But this is a grand hotel . . . as in really, really grand. That is the basis for a truly glorious book by Amor Towles, an author whose writing is rich and enjoyable and fun. The reader encounters twists and turns and glorious characters. My goodness, but this is a great book.
The Gray and Guilty Sea — This is the first in a series of Garrison Gage mysteries written by Scott William Carter. Gage is a private investigator who has retired to the coast of Oregon — to a town called Barnacle Bluffs — in a bid to escape from memories and lose himself where nobody knows his name. That lasts until the body of a young girl washes up on a beach. Gage is a likeable character, albeit with plenty of snark to him, and that makes it all work.
(Part 1 of 3)