Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Good Field, No Hit - Duane Decker's Beloved Blue Sox (Book Review)

As Michelle Nolan comments in Ball Tales, Duane Decker's "Blue Sox stories, originally published from 1947 to 1964 and reprinted into the early 1970s, are among the most cherished and best remembered sports books of the baby boom generation."  The books follow the fortunes of thirteen baseball players trying to make their major league fortunes through various challenges.  I found them at the John Ward School library, introduced them to my brother, and more recently shared them with my nephews.  I was delighted to hear that my eldest nephew Christopher had submitted a book report on the first book in the Blue Sox series - which I thought you would enjoy:
Good Field, No Hit

Have you ever played baseball? Have you ever played some heads up hustling baseball? Johnny Madigan has played in the bush leagues for six years. Six loooong years. Sportswriters everywhere have tagged him, Good Field, No Hit, for the way he guards third base, but his complete and utter lack of power at the plate. Johnny’s kid brother, Buzz, Is always convinced that someday Johnny will make it to the big leagues. Johnny is not so sure. This is why when the Blue Sox pick him up Johnny, it is like a dream come true. 

The Blue Sox are in desperate need of a third baseman, as their other one is washed up and over the hill. On the hard-hitting Blue Sox however, sometimes being a good fielder is not nearly enough. Especially when competing with a 6”4”, 250 pound, maniac named Mike Marnie, who  has got more power than anyone in the majors. This same monster is only half as good with his defence at third, but the longball is all that matters to Jug Slavin, coach of the Blue Sox. It looks like Johnny is going down to the Bluefield Clippers, a Blue Sox farm team in the middle of nowhere, for sure. Ol’ Jughead was a power hitting shortstop when he played in the league himself. This is probably why he had eyes for the talent of Mike Marnie of Johnny Madigan. As for Marnie he is pretty sure of himself. He even goes out of his way to be a jerk to Johnny because, “No team could hold both players. There was simply too\ much bad blood between them. The club would split up into sympathetic fractions, and no coach could allow that. Marnie had kept it that way since spring training. It was a good move from his side of the fence, even if it was a dirty pool.”

Just before what Johnny believes is his last game in the big leagues, Buzz stops him at the gate to the field and tells him that he has a hunch, a certain hunch, that today was the day that Johnny will finally make it into the lineup. At the time Johnny just laughs. He isn’t laughing when Mike sprains his ankle and Johnny comes into his first ever MLB game. Johnny is the starting third baseman until Mike gets healthy again, but the question is, can Johnny prove once and for all that he, not Mike, has what it takes to be a starting third baseman in the MLB. All the signs point to yes. Until one day, out of the blue, Johnny is affected by the common disease, rabbit earitus. Or in better known terms, a heckler. Hecklers are a breed of human who take great joy in knocking certain athletes off their game. Will Johnny be able to handle the pressure?  

This story is a classic example of the scrappy little guy against the big mean, knuckleheaded guy with just the right amount of perseverance, and the importance of following your dream.

I can definitely relate to Johnny as I play third base on my little league team to. I know from experience that a team player in the dugout, is ten times better than a good player on the field. A team player unifies a team. A self-first player breaks one up. 

This compulsive, fast paced, and explosive, baseball themed book by Duane Decker is one of the greatest books I have ever read. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes Matt Christopher books. Sadly it is extremely rare, and the only copies on Amazon are $389.99. One of the best books in Duane Decker’s Blue Sox series, this book will delight readers of all ages.  

Thank you for being a guest blogger, Christopher!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dominion by C. J. Sansom (Book Review & Giveaway)

Title: Dominion   
Author: C. J. Sansom
Publication Information: Hardcover, Mulholland Books (Hachette), February 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction   ISBN: 0316254916
Plot: Imagine if England had surrendered to Hitler.  In Sansom’s dark and convincing alternate history, it is 1952 and Germany is ruling England while Winston Churchill is hiding out from the authorities, encouraging a British Resistance. Newly recruited to the cause is David Fitzgerald, who has been surreptitiously passing along information obtained from his government job.  He kept his involvement from his wife whose family are ardent pacifists but that has created distance in his marriage, already strained by the death of their child.  When David’s Oxford friend Frank is committed to an asylum, both the Americans and Germans learn that Frank holds the key to a secret that could result in devastation to the whole world.  Only David can be trusted to rescue Frank, and as his cover is blown, he and his cohorts desperately try to escape with German agents in hot pursuit.

You can see the book trailer here, which is quite atmospheric.

Audience: Fans of Robert Harris’ Enigma, Alan Furst, and my old favorite, Anthony Price. Sansom is best known for his historical mysteries about Matthew Shardlake (the first of which I gave my mother for Christmas two years ago) but no previous knowledge of his work is needed to enjoy this book, one of just two standalones he has written.  You can buy the book here:     

What I liked:  This is a brilliantly depicted vision of what could have been, and even the minor characters are fully drawn and believable, particularly the secretary whose interest in David causes her downfall.  It’s a big, thick book (my favorite kind) and hard to put down.  It was the perfect read for a cold winter night (the last alternative history I liked this much was Black Hearts in Battersea).  It's a dark and deliberate journey to another world.

What I disliked:  I sympathized with the main character, David, but couldn’t really like him.  However, I forgot my feelings for him as I was drawn into the deadly chase, which included memorable scenes set in a pervasive, ominous London fog.  It takes a few minutes to acclimate oneself to lesser known historical characters, but then I sat back and enjoyed the blend of real and imaginary.  
Source: I received this book from the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to learn more about the author and various readers' interpretations of this book.   For one lucky person, I have a hardcover copy to give away (US/Canada only) – please leave a comment if you are interested, and I will pick a winner.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What to Read in a Blizzard or During the Long Winter

My part of Boston got about ten inches of snow yesterday so it's the perfect time to recommend some winter favorites!  These are books that would make you feel the cold even if it were a warm July day.


Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik (illustrated by Maurice Sendak) - This is one of the first books I remember, and I can hear my mother's voice reading to me:  It is cold.  See the snow. See the snow come down.  Little Bear said, "Mother Bear, I am cold. See the snow.  I want something to put on."

Snowbound with Betsy by Carolyn Haywood - Several years before I encountered Betsy Ray, I had met this other Betsy, an outgoing girl with pigtails and (later in the series) a little sister named Star.  I read every book by Haywood several times and even named my Teddy Bear after a minor character.  In this book, a storm cancels school the week before Christmas and some travelers are stranded at Betsy's home.   
Winter Cottage by Carol Ryrie Brink - A father and two daughters, down on their luck, appropriate a Wisconsin summer cottage when their car breaks down.  The father tries to repair their fortunes by entering contests while teenage Minty yearns for a permanent home.  Along with Two are Better Than One, this is my favorite Brink.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sailing Out of Darkness (Book Review)

Publication Information: Whitefire Publishing, trade paperback, 2013 
Genre: Inspirational Fiction 
Plot:  Samantha, in her mid 40s, is recently divorced from a cheating ex and rebounded into an affair with a childhood friend, Jack, whose live-in girlfriend objected violently.   Ashamed of her lack of control and poor choices, Samantha leaves her home, boat, and beau to visit Italy where her daughter is studying in Florence.