Tag: Sports

Nonfiction Mini Reviews (Nonfiction November 2018) and New Additions to my TBR

November 29, 2018 Blogger Events 11

Nonfiction November 2018

 

Another Nonfiction November (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?, Julie at Julz Reads, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, and me) is in the books! And, it was an awesome one. I read/listened to eight books and only one was a stinker. And, my favorite book of Nonfiction November was Dopesick by Beth Macy!

I usually use Nonfiction November to create my Nonfiction TBR for the coming year and I found some great books to get that started!

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

Nonfiction mini reviews

2018 Nonfiction November Mini Reviews

Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times by Mark Leibovich
Nonfiction – Sports (Released September 4, 2018)
400 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Penguin Press)

Plot Summary: Political writer Leibovich switches gears to go deep inside the NFL…with extensive access to Tom Brady and the Patriots.

My Thoughts: Mark Leibovich is the Chief National Correspondent for The New York Times Magazine focusing on politics and the author of This Town (my review), a look at the cultural landscape in Washington, D.C. I didn’t love This Town…but, I did love Leibovich’s dry, sarcastic writing style and his propensity to make fun of self-important big-shots. And, he does all that in Big Game…but, the targets are now self-important NFL owners (and there are some seriously eccentric personalities in this bunch) and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Leibovich covers concussions, Deflategate, owner/player/Commissioner dynamics, and more. It’s full of funny anecdotes about all the looney-tune personalities and hoopla surrounding the game…and doesn’t dig into the actual X’s and O’s of football too much, which I appreciated. There’s a big focus on the Patriots and my favorite person in the book is Tom Brady’s Dad…who seems like a down-to-earth guy who is flummoxed by his son’s somewhat woo-woo lifestyle. If you liked Jeanne Marie Laskas’ Concussion (my review), you’ll like this one!

“You guys are cattle and we’re the ranchers,” the late Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm once told Hall of Fame offensive lineman Gene Upshaw during a collective bargaining negotiation. It is an oft-quoted line that encapsulates the whole setup. Players get prodded, milked for all they’re worth, sold off, put out to pasture, and slaughtered. Implicit also here is that the cattle’s time is fleeting, like Not for Long football careers. “And ranchers can always get more cattle” is how Schramm’s quote concludes.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released January 1, 1994)
237 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Anchor)

Plot Summary: Lamott’s guide to writing well and living the writing life…based on writing workshops she taught.

My Thoughts: This was my maiden voyage with Anne Lamott and I had some pre-conceived notions about her because she often writes about faith. I thought she’d be wise and heartfelt…and serious. But, she totally surprised me with that last one! She’s relatable and funny…even irreverently funny, which I loved. I don’t have any grand writing ambitions, but I suspect this book would be invaluable to anyone who does. And, in her writing advice, I see many of the things I love to see in the books I read. Her overall message is: listen to your characters, they’ll show you the way. Sometimes she does get overly philosophical about “art,” but I loved it overall and would love to read more by her.

Your work as a writer, when you are giving everything you have to your characters and to your readers, will periodically make you feel like the single parent of a three-year-old, who is, by turns, wonderful, willful, terrible, crazed, and adoring. Toddlers can make you feel as if you have violated some archaic law in their personal Koran and you should die, infidel. Other times they’ll reach out and touch you like adoring grandparents on their deathbeds, trying to memorize your face with their fingers.

Dopesick by Beth Macy
Nonfiction – Investigative Journalism (Released August 7, 2018)
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: Beth Macy investigates America’s decades long opioid crisis, which is rampant in both rural and suburban areas in Central Appalachia.

My Thoughts: This book scared me sh*tless…there’s really no other way to say it. I knew America had an opioid crisis on its hands, but I had no idea how pervasive it was and that many people originally got addicted via doctor-prescribed painkillers. This book opened my eyes…and, as a parent, got me hoping that this trend will die a hard death by the time my children are old enough to encounter this stuff. Macy chronicles the many levels of failure in dealing with the opioid crisis…from drug companies, to law enforcement, to public policy makers, to doctors. It’s like the cigarette atrocity of this generation. Dopesick is a must read for parents…along with What Made Maddy Run, Girls & Sex, and Missoula…and is a good companion read for Hillbilly Elegy.

He remembered a dislocated coal miner from Grundy, Virginia, confessing that OxyContin had become more important to him than his family, his church, and his children. “It became my god,” the man said.

Driven by Julie Heldman
Nonfiction – Sports Memoir (Released August 22, 2018)
446 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Author (Self-Published)

Plot Summary: The memoir of Julie Heldman, a top-ranked pro tennis player in the 1960’s – 70’s and the daughter of Gladys Heldman, a legendary figure behind-the-scenes of the tennis world (she founded World Tennis magazine and was partially responsible for the formation of the Virginia Slims women’s tour, the precursor to today’s WTA).

My Thoughts: I’m a huge tennis fan, which is why I gave this self-published memoir a shot. There was a ton of fascinating tennis history in this book…the battle for equal treatment of women on the pro tour, the personalities of legendary players from that time (ex: Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert), and the politics surrounding pros and amateurs. Driven also focuses on Julie’s relationship with her mother (Gladys) and Julie’s eventual battle with mental illness. Famous and beloved in the tennis world, Gladys was a bit of a Mommie Dearest behind closed doors. While somewhat interesting, Heldman beats a dead horse for close to 500 pages (an outrageous length for this book). Driven is desperately in need of an editor…to cut repetitions, to craft story arcs, and to improve the writing (some sections felt like she’d copied directly from her childhood diaries). The tennis history is what kept me reading, so unless you’re an avid tennis fan, there’s probably not much in here to make it worth wading through the muck.

I grew up in a family where the youngest and most demanding child was the world’s largest tennis magazine.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
Nonfiction (Released October 2, 2018)
219 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: W.W. Norton)

Plot Summary: Lewis dives deep into the inner workings of murky government agencies (i.e. Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture, etc) to explore the obscure risks the government grapples with every day.

My Thoughts: Michael Lewis is a master at making boring, tedious information sound fascinating and he did it again with The Fifth Risk. He shines a light on obscure people with important and interesting, but relatively unknown jobs within the federal government. He exposes risks that regular citizens probably never consider, but that the federal government works to mitigate every day (i.e. the electrical grid). And, he investigates the Trump transition (or lack thereof). There is an incredible amount of information packed into just over 200 pages…so much that the book felt like a brain dump at times. Despite being fascinated by almost everything he shared, I’m still unclear what his overall purpose is: is he trying to educate U.S. citizens about all the things government does for them / saves them from? Trying to expose Trump’s non-existent / unorganized transition? Figure out the biggest risks in government? Publicly recognize unsung government heroes? He seemed to have all these purposes at various times. Mostly, I took from it that I had no idea what certain parts of the government do…and now I know a little more. Also, it’s clear what side of the political aisle Michael Lewis identifies with…and he writes from that perspective.

Another way of putting this is: the risk we should most fear is not the risk we easily imagine. It is the risk that we don’t. Which brought us to the fifth risk. […] The fifth risk did not put him at risk of revealing classified information. “Project management,” was all he said.

Audiobooks

American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent by Tamer Elnoury
Nonfiction – War (Released October 23, 2017)
9 Hours, 42 Minutes
Bottom Line: Read it
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Dutton)

Plot Summary: Written under a pseudonym for the author’s safety, this is his story of working undercover for an elite counterterrorism unit following 9/11.

My Thoughts: Elnoury made a career change from going undercover in the drug world to undercover in the terrorism world. And, his story is absolutely chilling. It illuminates terrorism plots that were thankfully thwarted and characters who are the worst of the worst. But, the most interesting part about it for me was the exploration of Elnoury’s version of Islam and how he feels about those that practice the radicalized version of his religion. And, I wondered if the terrorists in this book read it and recognized themselves in it…and what that means for Elnoury’s safety.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
Nonfiction – Business / Investigative Journalism (Released May 21, 2018)
11 Hours, 37 Minutes
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Knopf)

Plot Summary: The true story of the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of the Silicon Valley biotech startup, Theranos.

My Thoughts: My favorite types of business books are the explosive, behind-the-scenes tell-all kinds (DisneyWar by James B. Stewart, Those Guys Have All the Fun by James Andrew Miller, and House of Cards by William Cohen) and Bad Blood fits the bill. Though I did get lost in some of the science and engineering details, I was fascinated / horrified at the arrogance of Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos’s young CEO who viewed herself as the next Steve Jobs, and the lengths Theranos went to to create a “unicorn” despite the absence of a viable product. This one will make a great “Dad” gift for the holidays!

New Nonfiction to My TBR

Silence in the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge (November 21, 2017)
Recommended by Reading with Jade (it was her favorite nonfiction read so far this year)…this one caught my eye because I loved Quiet by Susan Cain (my thoughts) and I’ve become more and more interested in introversion as I’ve gotten older. 

A transformative account of an experience that is essential for our sanity and our happiness.

Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert Ressler and Tom Schachtman (May 1, 1992)
Recommended by Kazan at Always Doing…I love true crime and this by two guys that track serial killers.

The man who coined the term “serial killer”, Ressler is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes who combines observation and a knowledge of psychopathic personalities to draw profiles of unknown perpetrators that are astonishingly accurate descriptions based on various aspects of the crime itself.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (October 21, 2014)
Recommended by Tina at TBR, etc…I’ve obviously been hearing about this book for ages from many people, but Tina’s Instagram post was what really made me want to read it.

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott (May 1, 1993)
Recommended by Sarah K, one of my blog readers (via my comments section)…I love honest accounts of motherhood and loved my first Anne Lamott this month (Bird by Bird).

The most honest, wildly enjoyable book written about motherhood is surely Anne Lamott’s account of her son Sam’s first year.

Dead Girls by Alice Bolin (June 26, 2018)
Recommended by Kelly at Stacked…she paired this one with Sadie by Courtney Summers, which I liked, in her Fiction / Nonfiction pairings post. More for my true crime TBR list, which is getting longer every minute.

A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women.

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Phillips (October 16, 2018)
Recommended by Susie at Novel Visits…I’m all for a juicy celebrity memoir, especially one that’s great on audio!

A memoir by the beloved comedic actress known for her roles on Freaks and Geeks, Dawson’s Creek, and Cougar Town who has become “the breakout star on Instagram stories…imagine I Love Lucy mixed with a modern lifestyle guru.”

The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber (April 15, 2013)
Recommended by Tina at TBR, etc.…more for my true crime TBR!

After his December 2003 arrest, registered nurse Charlie Cullen was quickly dubbed “The Angel of Death” by the media. But Cullen was no mercy killer, nor was he a simple monster. He was a favorite son, husband, beloved father, best friend, and celebrated caregiver. Implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 patients, he was also perhaps the most prolific serial killer in American history.

What was your favorite read and top TBR add of Nonfiction November?

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3 More Books That Are Perfect for Summer Reading: Beartown, Standard Deviation, Since We Fell

June 22, 2017 Book Lists 21

When I originally posted my 2017 Summer Reading Guide, I said I’d be adding more books that are perfect for summer reading to that list throughout the summer. Well, here’s the first installment of add-ons! And, they are GOOD.

BeartownBeartown by Fredrik Backman by Fredrick Backman
Fiction – Sports (
Released April 25, 2017)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Simon & Schuster)

Plot Summary: While small, down and out Beartown goes crazy over its youth ice hockey team’s run in the Swedish national tournament, something explosive happens to throw the town’s and team’s hopes into jeopardy.

My Thoughts: I was hesitant to read Beartown because I abandoned Backman’s smash hit, A Man Called Ove, pretty early on. But, Beartown is an entirely different story and is one of my favorite books of the year so far! Beartown has been compared to Friday Night Lights, which is accurate in that this is a story of a town who’s hopes are declining every day and whose youth sports team is really the only thing it’s residents have to be proud of. Backman makes you feel the core emotions of sports…what makes something that can seem frivolous mean so much to some people.

It’s only a game. It only resolves tiny, insignificant things. Such as who gets validation. Who gets listened to. It allocates power and draws boundaries and turns some people into stars and others into spectators. That’s all.

Like Friday Night LightsBeartown is far more than just sports fiction. It’s about high school, marriage, intense pressure on young children, bullying, class, and violence. The first paragraph smacked me in the face and I was fully engrossed until the very end. It’s a book you can fly through…I couldn’t stop turning the pages even though I easily guessed the what and who of what happened (thanks to a super spoiler-y comparison a major book blogger made to another book…GRR). Beartown would make a fantastic summer reading book and is jam packed with discussion material for book clubs.

Since We Fell by Dennis LehaneSince We Fell by Dennis Lehane
Fiction – Thriller (
Released May 9, 2017)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Ecco)

Plot Summary: After a traumatic experience as a broadcast journalist covering the earthquake in Haiti, Rachel becomes a recluse despite her happy marriage…until she begins to question everything about her life and is sucked into something far bigger than she ever imagined.

My Thoughts: Since We Fell is the first psychological thriller I’ve enjoyed in ages! Maybe that’s because it reads more like character-driven fiction, especially in the first half. The twists do hit like an avalanche eventually…there’s just a solid set-up to make you care about the characters first. And, those twists all surprised me, yet made sense with the story, which is the number one criteria that a thriller must have for me to enjoy it…and where most thrillers fall apart for me. Since We Fell is a thriller for people who have been frustrated with psychological thrillers lately…and, if this isn’t enough, check out this first line:

On a Tuesday in May, in her thirty-fifth year, Rachel shot her husband dead. He stumbled backward with an odd look of confirmation on his face, as if some part of him had always known she’d do it.

Standard Deviation by Katherine HeinyStandard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
Fiction (
Released May 23, 2017)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Knopf)

Plot Summary: When Graham and his bubbly second wife (Audra) become friends with Graham’s introverted first wife (Elspeth), Graham begins to ponder the state of his marriage and his family (including a ten year old son with Asberger’s).

My Thoughts: Standard Deviation is one of those novels where not a ton happens, but the “yes, that’s exactly how it is” writing and spot-on commentary about marriage, introverts and extraverts, and parenting carry the story. It’s an honest rumination on a not perfect, but not completely dysfunctional marriage. Though Graham and Audra certainly have their issues, there is a clear love for each other that was a nice change of pace from my usual fare of stratospherically dysfunctional marriages/families. I loved Graham’s (who narrated the book) salty, dry sense of humor and the way he honestly addressed the aspects of marriage and parenting that it’s socially expected of people to always portray as unicorns and rainbows.

Graham didn’t admit this to anyone, even Audra, but part of him was secretly pleased that Matthew had been caught looking at porn on a school computer. Wasn’t that—wasn’t that something normal kids did?

Audra is a massive chatterbox and someone who I don’t think I could be friends with in real life, but her total lack of filter made her amusing to read about. The collision between Audra’s extraversion (she constantly invites random people over for dinner and to stay as houseguests in their NY apartment) and Graham’s introversion, as well as Matthew’s Asberger’s, added a bit more intrigue to the story. My only complaint was an overly abrupt ending that will probably irritate some people. If you like straight talk about marriage, this book is for you!

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Read One, Skip One: Trophy Son and Woman No. 17

May 30, 2017 Mini Book Reviews 10

Trophy Son by Douglas BruntTrophy Son by Douglas Brunt
Fiction – Sports (
Released May 30, 2017)
288 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press)

Plot Summary: Thanks to his father’s rigorous and stifling coaching, tennis prodigy Anton Stratis has never known much outside of his sport…until he decides to take control of his life.

My Thoughts: Though this novel is set inside the grueling world of elite tennis and the professional tennis circuit, it’s really a unique spin on a coming of age story, an indictment of the world of overbearing sports parents (check out this article Brunt wrote for Time on the topic!), and a story about a fraught relationship between father and son. It’s about the psychological and emotional side of professional tennis and the experience of a young and ill-equipped man trying to figure out who he is in the midst of the bubble. Brunt nailed the feelings of a young athlete with an overbearing sports parent and the panicked feeling that goes along with losing your mental edge.

He shouldn’t have been here, but I knew why a guy like that stayed. Not the money. Not even the game. It was the lifestyle. And that’s the irony.  The sick truth of it, for any top player, for any child prodigy gone pro, for me and my relationship with tennis. We hung on to this thing that crippled our humanity because now that our humanity was crippled, this thing was all that we believed could make us happy anymore.

Brunt’s writing is superb…not in the overly literary sense, but in the entertaining, snarky, and “yes, that’s exactly how it is” sense. And, he writes about tennis like a true, longtime fan rather than like a writer who researched tennis for his book. I was rooting for Anton to come out of it all without completely dying inside and I even got a little teary at the end! With the elite sports setting of You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott (my review) and the father/son dynamic of The Great Santini by Pat Conroy (my review), Trophy Son is a book you can fly through and is going on my Best of the Brain Candy list. 

Woman No 17 by Edan LepuckiWoman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
Fiction (
Released May 9, 2017)
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (Hogarth)

Plot Summary: When recently separated Lady Daniels hires S (a young artist) as a live-in nanny for her toddler son so she can write her memoir, S becomes more involved in events affecting Lady’s family (including her teenaged son) than she ever imagined.

My Thoughts: Woman No. 17 was not at all what I expected. It was described in the publisher’s blurb as “sinister, sexy noir about art, motherhood, and the intensity of female friendships, set in the posh hills above Los Angeles.” Unfortunately, I didn’t get the “sinister, sexy noir” vibe and the art piece struck me as ridiculous (though, I’m admittedly not an art person).

It’s hard for me to really pin down what this story is about…there are multiple storylines, which felt muddled to me. Is it about Lady navigating her newly separated status? Her friendship with S? Her relationship with her children, particularly her teenage son? S’s oddball art project? S’s relationship with her parents? I have no idea! The most compelling story for me was Lady’s relationship with her teenage son, Seth, and I think I would have been happier had the book focused just on that. Or, at least been described in the blurb as a story about a mother and her son rather than a story about “female friendship.” Seth himself is a multi-faceted, engaging character that (possibly inadvertently) carried the book in my view. Sadly, it wasn’t enough for an overall win.

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Backlist Beauties: (Most of) the Best Backlist Books I Read Last Year

January 19, 2017 Book Lists 18

One of my 2016 goals was to read more backlist books since I had great success with the few I read in 2015 (50% were 4.5 or 5 star reads). As I approached 2016’s halfway mark, I realized this was the one goal where I was utterly failing to make inroads! So, to keep me honest, I decided to briefly highlight a few backlist books in an occasional “Backlist Beauties” feature.

Here’s the 2016 crop (with one missing, which was so good it’s getting it’s own mini review) and, hopefully, I’ll read enough excellent backlisters throughout 2017 to warrant more than one post!

(Most of) the Best Backlist Books I Read Last Year

Our Souls at Night, Kent HarufOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Fiction (Released May 26, 2015)
179 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf) 

Our Souls at Night is a sweet, calm, and uncomplicated novel about two older people (Louis and Addie) who stopped caring what everyone else thought and did what they needed to do to be happy. It’s sort of like they read The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, which I happened to be listening to while reading this book. This novel reminded me a bit of My Name is Lucy Barton, as much of the story and background on the characters is revealed through conversations between Louis and Addie.

I told you I don’t want to live like that anymore – for other people, what they think, what they believe. I don’t think it’s the way to live. It isn’t for me anyway.

Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina HenriquezThe Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Fiction (Released June 3, 2014)
286 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf) 

This powerful book about the life of immigrants living in the U.S. is initially quiet, but I couldn’t put it down towards the end. It forces the reader to see life in America through a different set of eyes. There’s lots to chew on here and it would make a fantastic book club selection.

When I walk down the street, I don’t want people to look at me and see a criminal or someone that they can spit on or beat up. I want them to see a guy who has just as much right to be here as they do, or a guy who works hard, or a guy who loves his family, or a guy who’s just trying to do the right things.

 

This is the story of a happy marriage, Ann PatchettThis is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Nonfiction – Essays (Released December 11, 2011)
308 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Harper) 

Pat Conroy is one of the rare authors whose fiction and nonfiction I’ve truly enjoyed. Now that he’s gone, Ann Patchett might be taking his place (thanks to his recommendation in A Lowcountry Heart). She covers the gamut of topics in this essay collection: marriage (obviously), divorce, writing, book tours, opera (the only low point for me), friendship, how to be productive, and the story behind the opening of Parnassus Books. She lives an interesting, yet fairly normal life and I like her outlook on things.

What I like about the job of being a novelist, and at the same time what I find so exhausting about it, is that it’s the closest thing to being God you’re ever going to get. All of the decisions are yours. You decide when the sun comes up. You decide who gets to fall in love and who gets hit by a car. You have to make all the trees and all the leaves and then sew the leaves onto the trees. You make the entire world.

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl StrayedTiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Nonfiction (Released July 10, 2012)
308 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Vintage/Random House Audio) 

In this compilation of columns from her time as the Dear Sugar advice columnist for The Rumpus, Strayed blends empathy, truth, bluntness, and humor to form a perfect blend of “yes, that’s exactly how it is” observations about life and useful, non-judgmental advice about how to live it. I’m not an advice column type of person or an audiobook lover, but the audio version of this book (narrated by the author) earned 5 stars from me.

Trust yourself. It’s Sugar’s golden rule. Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.

You Are An Ironman, Jacques SteinbergYou Are An Ironman by Jacques Steinberg
Nonfiction – Sports (Released September 15, 2011)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Gift (Publisher: Viking) 

The intertwined stories of six amateur triathletes’ attempts to complete Ironman Arizona 2009 (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run), a race that can last as long as 17 hours. A friend gave me this book after learning I was competing in a Sprint Triathlon and I figured I’d peek at a few pages, but probably not read the whole thing. Boy, was I wrong! I teared up within the first 50 pages and was thoroughly inspired by the stories of these regular people attempting an extraordinary feat. 

The road to an Ironman truly begins with someone deciding to place one hand in front of the other in a pool, or one foot before the other on a fast-walk that might progress into a jog or a run.

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Mini Reviews: Generation Chef by Karen Stabiner and Before the Wind by Jim Lynch

December 8, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 15

Can a mini review include not one, not two, but three quotes, thus making it look more like a full length review?! Yes, I’m going with it. There’s no other choice when the writing is as glorious as Jim Lynch’s in Before the Wind.

Generation Chef, Karen StabinerGeneration Chef by Karen Stabiner
Nonfiction – Cooking / Food (Released September 13, 2016)
288 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Avery Books)

Plot Summary: Journalist Karen Stabiner follows young chef Jonah Miller as he opens his first New York City restaurant, the East Village Spanish spot, Huertas.

My Thoughts: Generation Chef‘s look into a new restaurant’s first year of life is equal parts food and business book. I particularly loved getting a behind the scenes look at the ups and downs of an entrepreneurial restaurant venture. Running a new restaurant clearly takes courage and a steady hand and I was frighteningly nervous for Miller and his team as they approached each new milestone (applying for a liquor license, awaiting a New York Times review, etc). I realized how much I respect people who run small businesses and I’m fairly certain I couldn’t pull it off without an emotional breakdown.

Specific to the restaurant business, Generation Chef highlighted how hard a new restaurant has to work to get noticed amidst the NYC clutter. Stabiner provides illuminating color about the frenzied restaurant environment of the early 2000’s and the impact of social media. She also compares Miller and Huertas’ story with that of other famous chefs including David Chang, Stephanie Izard, April Bloomfield, and Gavin Kaysen. Generation Chef reminded me of Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, minus all the drugs and sexual angst, and is a great choice for people interested in the business side of opening a new restaurant. Plus, it made an appearance on my 2016 Books That Make Perfect Holiday Gifts List!

Before the Wind, Jim LynchBefore the Wind by Jim Lynch
Fiction (Released April 19, 2016)
306 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf)

Plot Summary: Josh Johannssen and his somewhat estranged family, a sailing dynasty, reunite in an attempt to win the Pacific Northwest’s prestigious Swiftsure race.

My Thoughts: Behind the Wind is 100% up my alley and I have no idea why I’d never heard of it until Catherine at Gilmore Guide shoved it into my hands recently. It plops the dysfunctional family element of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth into a sailing environment with brilliant results.

For years, sailing bound us. We were racers, builders and cruisers. It was our family business, our sport, our drug of choice. Yet eventually, sailing blew us apart, too.

Within the first five pages, Lynch delves into the psyche of sailors and boaters in general and his writing about sailing is filled with “yes, that’s exactly how it is” moments. 

Sailboats attract the loons and geniuses among us, the romantics whose boats represent some outlaw image of themselves. We fall for these things, but what we’re slow to grasp is that it’s not the boats but rather those inexplicable moments on the water when time slows.

His sense of humor sparkles when making fun of sailing (i.e. a hilarious rant about the ridiculous sailing lingo) and when describing his family’s quirks (of which there are many), but a genuine love for both shines through it all.

Nobody forgets meeting my father. Loud, tall and meaty, he invades your space and claims the right-of-way. There is nothing moderate about him. A leader and a lout, a gentleman and an ass, he never concedes a weakness, admits a sickness or says he loves anybody. Yet the flip side is that when you please him, your body temperature climbs a degree or two.

As with many books I love, the suspense lies in what ends up happening to these characters. The questions of what made Josh’s sailing prodigy sister (Ruby) abandon the sport, what shady antics are most of the family members up to now, and what incident figuratively blew up the family decades ago drove the novel’s suspense. Lynch does go on sailing tangents fairly often, but I found them interesting because he adopts the tone of the rare tour guide that uses dry humor to make something you’re not that interested in come alive. Before the Wind is an underrated gem that you should read immediately if you’re a fan of dysfunctional family stories…and, I can’t wait to read more of Lynch’s work.

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Three Favorite 2016 Summer Reads: Siracusa, The Hopefuls, and You Will Know Me

August 11, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 30

In July, I had a reading streak of absolutely perfect light reads that would be great for vacation. All these books will be going on my 2016 Summer Reading Guide.

Siracusa, Delia EphronSiracusa by Delia Ephron
Fiction (Released July 12, 2016)
304 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Blue Rider Press) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: Relationships are put to the test when two couples (and one couple’s somewhat odd daughter) vacation together in Italy.

My Thoughts: Siracusa might be my favorite vacation-type read so far this year! It’s light and fast-moving, but also smartly written. The story is told from each of the four adults’ perspectives and the writing style shifts with each voice. Going into the trip, both marriages had their own issues, with each spouse frequently mocking his/her partner. As the trip takes on a somewhat surreal quality, everyone starts acting out…refusing to hide their pent-up resentments any longer. Ephron generates suspense by dropping little hints about innocuous moments that later take on greater meaning…contributing to the feeling that things are eventually going to combust.

Beyond the story itself, the characters’ musings on everything from marriage and cheating to travel and the writer’s life allowed Ephron’s writing to shine and kicked this book a notch above other vacation reads for me.

I must have understood more than I realized, how fragile things between us were. Now I do nothing but look at things other ways, flipping them up and around, examining them, trying to understand at the very least my own obtuseness. I think, I really do torture myself with this: Surprises don’t come from people we know well, certainly not people we love. We call them surprises but they are inevitabilities. I must have been playing a role, a starring role, in an inevitability.

Siracusa is a fantastic choice if you’re heading on vacation (particularly to Italy).

The Hopefuls, Jennifer CloseThe Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
Fiction (Released July 19, 2016)
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf)

Plot Summary: When young couple Matt and Beth Kelly move from New York City to Washington, D.C. for Matt’s job, they must navigate marriage and friendship in the political world.

My Thoughts: While The Hopefuls is set in the political world, it’s not a book about politics. Rather, it’s a book about marriage and friendship set against the backdrop of politics. Beth finds D.C. an odd and unwelcoming place until she and Matt meet the Dillons, another couple who will become their best friends. Beth is an accessible and relatable narrator and her witty commentary about the douche-y D.C. politicos had me chuckling. Maybe it was her pop culture references (including one about Friday Night Lights!) or her propensity to point out D.C. traits I would also find annoying or the fact that she and Matt’s time in NYC coincided with mine, but I felt like she was speaking my language. The Hopefuls also tackles themes that resonated with me: making new friends as adults (and navigating the boundaries of said friendships), the nosiness of small towns, and trying to find your footing in a new place.

Here’s what I still hate about DC: the way that nothing is permanent, the feeling that everything and everyone you know, could (and does) wash away every four or eight years. All of these important people, so ingrained in the city—you can’t imagine that this place could exist without them. But one day they’re gone and everything keeps moving just the same. Who can get their footing in a place like this? It feels like quicksand to me.

My only complaint was that the ending wrapped things up a little too nicely, yet didn’t. The question of where the characters end up was answered, but some large issues that figured prominently in the storyline and certainly should have impacted the outcome of the book were left unexplored. Despite the unsatisfying ending, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride (which, as I discussed here, is generally more important to me anyway) and highly recommend The Hopefuls as a light, relatable summer read.

You Will Know Me, Megan AbbottYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Fiction (Released July 26, 2016)
352 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: A tragic accident throws fifteen year-old gymnastics prodigy Devon Knox and her family’s carefully constructed training plans into chaos. 

My Thoughts: If you’re looking for a book that you can fly through, this is it. Megan Abbott writes young girls in the most deliciously demented way (see The Fever and Dare Me) and what better world for characters like that to inhabit than elite gymnastics. Only this time Abbott throws in a pack of overly zealous parents to deepen the appeal. She choreographs a meticulously drawn world of tiny powerhouse girls, parents who push all else aside to “help” their daughters achieve “their” dreams, and families whose literal (mountains of credit card debt, multiple mortgages) and figurative fortunes ride on their daughters’ young shoulders. 

A few months later, after placing sixth on beam and bars in the Level 10 Junior Nationals in sunstruck Orlando, she was ranked first among all Level 10s in their home state. “The greatest day of our life,” Devon said, and everyone laughed at the our, except it was true, wasn’t it?

Though the central plot points weren’t entirely unexpected, Abbott’s writing style had me on the edge of my seat, frantically turning pages, even though I was fairly confident I knew how this would end. The paragraphs are short…with an almost breathless quality and I could feel the tension crackling. If you’re not getting a big enough gymnastics fix during this week’s Olympics competition or just want a page-turning beach read, You Will Know Me is your ticket.

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8 Books About the Olympics

August 4, 2016 Book Lists 17

8 Books About the Olympics


As I first talked about a few months ago, the Olympics (and particularly the Summer Olympics) is my all-time favorite sports event. So, when the Summer Olympics rolls around every four years, I turn into quite the fanatic…in my TV viewing and my reading! 

8 Books About the Olympics

In the Water They Can’t See You Cry: A Memoir by Amanda Beard
Seven-time Olympic swimming medalist Amanda Beard candidly talks about what it was like to be in the spotlight at such a young age, her struggle with depression and cutting, her experimentation with drugs, and her return to swimming after having a baby.

Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters by Joan Ryan
An investigation of the grueling training practices in elite gymnastics and figure skating…and the physical impact on young girls.

One Day in September by Simon Reeve
The story of the 1972 terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics and Israel’s operation (“Wrath of God”) to hunt down every one of the surviving terrorist. There was also an award-winning documentary of the same name that was released in conjunction with the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World by David Maraniss
I’m listening to the audio of this book right now. I’m about halfway through and am learning a lot about the first Olympics that contained a doping scandal, the beginnings of sponsorship deals for athletes, and a teenage Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (review)
This book has been everywhere…but it really is one of my favorite books about the Olympics. I got wrapped up in the excitement of Joe Rantz and the University of Washington rowers’ quest to win gold and loved the historical background of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which was used as a propaganda instrument by the Nazis.

The Secret Olympian: The Inside Story of the Olympic Experience by Anonymous
A member of the 2004 Great Britain Olympic team gives an honest and juicy behind the scenes account of the Olympic experience – his own and that of fellow Olympians. This is the Olympics “gossip” book!

The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway (review)
The true story of a Hawaiian sugar plantation elementary school teacher (Soichi Sakamoto) who trained (starting in an irrigation ditch!) a group of mostly Japanese-American children to swim for the Olympics in the late 1930’s/40’s. With all the history about training methods, this is truly a swimming nerd’s book!

You Will Know Me: A Novel by Megan Abbott
A dark, twisty novel set in the world of elite competitive gymnastics. I just read this one and I couldn’t put it down. It’s going on my 2016 Summer Reading Guide and my Sports Books list.

And a bonus documentary…

The Last Gold: The Greatest Untold Story in Olympic Swimming History
This documentary about the U.S. women’s quest to beat the steroid-riddled East Germans to win just one swimming gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics premiered at the L.A. Film Festival this summer. I’m still trying to find out how to watch it at home. It appears to only be available through in person showings at this point.

Stay tuned for a few more Olympics-themed posts over the next few weeks.

This post contains affiliate links.

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Top 10 Reasons I Love the Summer Olympics

June 7, 2016 Top Ten Tuesday 45

Top Ten Tuesday


Top Ten Tuesday
 is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish that asks bloggers to create Top Ten lists on a variety of bookish topics. This week’s topic is Top 10 Reasons I Love X.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m obsessed with the Olympics…particularly the Summer ones. The 2016 Rio Olympics are coming this August and I’ll have a couple of Olympics-themed posts around that time. In the meantime, I thought I’d give you a little preview of why I love the Olympics enough to write multiple blog posts about them. Plus, writing this post gave me a valid reason to go down the Olympics Internet rabbit hole!

Top 10 Reasons I Love the Summer Olympics


They get you to (temporarily) care about sports you don’t normally care about…
For me, it’s Beach Volleyball, Kayaking, Diving and Track & Field.

Certain moments stick in your head forever…
Like the moment legendary American diver Greg Louganis hit his head on the 3 meter springboard at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

You see history being made…
Like seeing the Men’s 4×100 Medley Relay win gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics to clinch Michael Phelps’ 8th gold medal, surpassing Mark Spitz for the most gold medals in a single Olympics.

You get swept up in the emotion…
Like watching Jason Lezak overcome a seemingly insurmountable deficit in the final leg of the men’s 4×100 Freestyle relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in a bar on Long Island, with a horde of other people who didn’t care at all about swimming. The entire bar was laser-focused on the TV, screaming their heads off for Lezak to catch the heavily favored Frenchman (Alain Bernard, the 100 Freestyle individual event gold medalist).

There is unintentional comedy…
“YOU CAN DO IT, KERRI!”

You get to make fun of the United States’ latest attempt at attractive Opening Ceremony uniforms…

U.S. Olympic Uniforms 2016

Photo Credit: Instagram/Ralph Lauren


Unknown athletes become big stories…
Eric Moussambani of Equitorial Guinea swam the 100 meter freestyle in the 2000 Sydney Olympics after learning to swim just months before the Games and never having seen an Olympic size pool before. Though he finished more than a full minute behind the eventual gold medalist, he became a media sensation, earning the nickname “Eric the Eel”.

Like during March Madness, anything can happen…
The U.S. women’s swim team hadn’t won a single gold medal in the 1976 Montreal Olympics (because all the medals were being won by doped up Eastern Europeans) until their final shot in the 4×100 Freestyle relay, where they upset the favored (and cheating) East Germans. And, coincidentally, a documentary called The Last Gold covering this story is premiering this week!

Sports that normally don’t get attention take center stage…
Swimming, Gymnastics, Track & Field

There are hot people…

swimmer Ryan Lochte

U.S. Swimmer Ryan Lochte (2004, 2008, 2012, and hopefully 2016)

 

Retired Russian swimmer Alexander Popov (1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004)

Retired Russian Swimmer Alexander Popov (1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004)

 

Hurdler Lolo Jones

U.S. Hurdler (and Bobsledder!) LoLo Jones (2008, 2012, 2014, and hopefully 2016)

 

Serbian Tennis Player Ana Ivanovic (2008, 2012, 2016)

Serbian Tennis Player Ana Ivanovic (2008, 2012, 2016)




Read One, Skip One: The Throwback Special and The Never Open Desert Diner

March 24, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 19

The Throwback Special, Chris BachelderThe Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder
Fiction (Released March 14, 2016)
224 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it…if this is your niche (see below for details).
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: W.W. Norton) 

Plot Summary: Bachelder uses an annual gathering of a group of middle aged men to reenact the 1985 NFL play where Lawrence Taylor broke Joe Theismann’s leg (and ended his career) to opine on broader life themes.

My Thoughts: The Throwback Special is a book that’s about far more than the title and summary suggest. It’s about life (marriage, parenting, insecurities, human behavior, etc) with a weird football tradition as the backdrop, not the other way around. The somewhat laughable “middle aged dudes gather to incredibly seriously reenact a famous football play” premise works because Bachelder’s social commentary and writing are pitch perfect…and the characters frequently drop socially inappropriate bombs about their personal lives and thoughts in the middle of mundane conversation. The book opens with each player arriving at their nondescript hotel and it reads like the opening scene of The Dinner…with social commentary so biting and spot-on that you don’t realize all the characters have done is arrive at a hotel (or, at a restaurant, in The Dinner‘s case).

The men had reached an age when they gained or lost significant things in relatively short periods of time, and it was not unusual for someone to show up in November having acquired or divested weight, God, alcohol, sideburns, blog, pontoon boat, jewelry, stepchildren, potency, fertility, cyst, tattoo, medical devices that clipped to the belt and beeped, or huge radio-controlled model airplanes.

I suspect this book has a niche, rather than a broad appeal (but, it falls squarely in my niche!). If spot-on social commentary, male friendships/behavior (similar to Shotgun Lovesongs), sports (you don’t have to be interested in football to enjoy this book, but it is a bonus), and darkness simmering beneath the mundane (similar to Why They Run the Way They Do) push your buttons, grab this book! If you need more action, this one probably isn’t for you. 

Never Open Desert Diner, James AndersonThe Never Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
Fiction (Released March 22, 2016)
304 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (Crown) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: When quiet truck driver Ben Jones stumbles upon a mysterious woman in the remote Utah desert, his life takes a series of odd and dangerous turns.

My Thoughts: The Never Open Desert Diner begins quietly, with a strong sense of place and a eerie, Twilight Zone-type feeling…all of which held promise for me. I enjoyed the concept of a creepy diner in the middle of nowhere that, while perfectly maintained, is never open to the public. And, lovable curmudgeon Walt Butterfield (the diner’s owner) and “down on his luck, but trying to do the right thing” Ben Jones were both characters I could get on board with. BUT…

At the 20% mark, I had no idea where the book was headed and was kind of excited about that prospect. But annoyance set in when I felt the same way at the halfway point. I needed some sort of bone to keep me going because the writing itself, while fine, wasn’t carrying the book alone. When the action finally did pick up, it was completely ridiculous and eye-roll inducing. I really wish I could tell you the two lynchpins to the ending without spoiling the book because you might snort with laughter.

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Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas is Not Just A Football Book

November 24, 2015 Sports 26

I come from a football-loving family. We watched the NFL every Sunday growing up. My Dad played college football. Both my brothers played high school football and one of them went on to play Division III college football as a linebacker. And, my husband and I are still huge college football fans.

I watched my youngest brother get knocked out during one of his college games. When he came to, he passed the sideline “concussion test” and was cleared to play the remainder of the game, which he did. I recently asked him what he thought about the increasing focus on football players’ risk of brain injury and he said that (had he known the risks when he started) he probably would have played anyway because he loved the game so much. 

And, this issue became front and center for the NFL this weekend (again!), as controversy swirled around why Rams QB Case Keenum was left in the game after he was clearly dazed following a hard tackle (read more here).

Concussion, Jeanne Marie LaskasNonfiction – Medical Mystery/Sports
Released November 24, 2015
288 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House) via NetGalley

Headline

Concussion is a so much more than a “football book”; it’s a medical mystery, a David & Goliath story, an immigrant’s story, and a story of a big-business cover-up…and, it’s my favorite nonfiction of 2015!

Plot Summary

The story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a native of Nigeria, who immigrated to the U.S. and used his neuropathological research into brain injuries to football players (i.e. CTE) to take on the National Football League (NFL).

Why I Read It

Carmen from Carmen’s Books and Movies Reviews brought this book to my attention. I honestly wasn’t expecting much, but figured I’d give it a shot since I love sports books and I have former football players in my family.

Major Themes

Brain injury to football players, politics of big business sports, whistle-blowing and cover-ups, Nigeria and its civil strife, depression, race, an immigrant’s experience

What I Liked

  • This book was such an unexpected surprise for me! A third of the way through, football had been mentioned only once.
  • The book opens with an intriguing “mentee vs. mentor” situation involving Bennet and his eccentric mentor, Dr. Cyril Wecht (the only member of a 1970’s forensic pathology panel who backed the JFK two bullet theory), which created immediate suspense.
  • Bennet is an incredibly endearing person on the page. His experience growing up in war-torn Nigeria, his childlike wonder at basic features of America, and his incredibly naive view of what it would mean to take on the NFL made me root for him immediately. His experience as an immigrant also made for some unexpected humor:

    Also, in America everyone stayed on his or her side of the road. That was a noteworthy feature right there. The people going west stayed in the westbound land and the people going east stayed in the eastbound lane. This is so organized!

  • Laskas is an engaging writer and story-teller. She skillfully framed this story as a battle between good and evil. She included passages written by Bennet that give the reader a glimpse inside his brain. She captured the highs of the successes and the lows of the setbacks in a frenetic atmosphere that pulls the reader along with it. And, she created a palpable sense of outrage at a multi-billion business that has spawned “athletic men who have turned into suicidal toddlers.”

    A guy spends fifteen years bashing himself in the head repeatedly with more than sixty g’s of force for a living, and then goes insane – well, his workplace owes him something.

What I Didn’t Like

Not one thing.

A Defining Quote

Nigeria was emotion, fire and prayer and hunches, and America was reason, ambition, and wealth. He bounced between those two spheres, not quite in one but not quite in the other. And maybe it was the necessity of having to hang in there, in the uncertainty of transition, pulling forward and getting pushed backward, that enabled him to see what others had not yet seen.

Good for People Who Like…

Medical mysteries, corporate cover-ups, David vs. Goliath stories, investigative journalism, exposés

Other Books You May Like

Other medical mysteries:
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

A focus on Traumatic Brain Injury in a different population (veterans):
Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel

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