Sports Stories (2015)

Fade Away by Harlan Coben

Myron Bolitar was a star basketball player in college and headed for the pros when his knee was permanently injured in a freak accident during a pre-season scrimmage game, abruptly ending his career. He headed to law school, did a little work for the FBI and then became a sports agent. In this third Myron Bolitar novel, Bolitar is recruited by the owner of the New Jersey Dragons, ostensibly to play ball, but really to locate their missing star player, Greg Downing, before the tournaments start. The owner says that as part of the team, Bolitar will have access to the players and their closely held knowledge of each other.

Bolitar is aided by a group of cohorts including his slightly sinister, preppy college roommate, Win; a female sports reporter, Audrey Wilson; and his sharp-tongued assistant, Esperanza. They follow a twisting trail to discover the location of the missing player. As the investigation proceeds, Bolitar must deal with secret meetings, sixties radicals, mob goons seeking repayment of gambling debts, blackmail and a nasty custody fight. 

This is an action packed book, yet the characters are well developed and Coben gives Bolitar a sharp, sarcastic sense of humor. The book was originally published in 1996, so parts are a bit dated (think car phones and acid washed jeans). Despite this, it is a fast-paced, entertaining read.

The book comes to a satisfying conclusion as Myron Bolitar learns a little more about professional sports, the life of an investigator and his own psyche. Although this is the third in the series, it can certainly stand alone as a page turning mystery.

Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais
New York Dead by Stuart Woods
A Cool Breeze on the Underground by Don Winslow

Terry Z. Lucas, Rogers Memorial Library

Dick Francis’s Gamble by Felix Francis

The author’s father, Dick Francis, published each year from the early 1960’s until his death in 2010, his last few novels collaborative efforts with Felix. Dick Francis had many best sellers and numerous fans who waited eagerly for the next title: Felix’s books promise to be popular as well.  All the books have the exciting world of horse racing as their setting. ‘Gamble” is narrated by former jockey Nicholas Foxton who becomes the hero of the tale after his co-worker is shot dead next to him at the Grand National.

Though he and Herb work together at a small financial advisory firm, Nick is greatly surprised to learn that the dead man named him executor and heir to his estate. While sorting through Herb’s papers, Nick makes some discoveries that plunge him in to a world of international financial fraud, illegal betting, money laundering, and murder, with Nick an intended victim.

The writing is crisp, and polished. There is lots of action, interest with the various plot threads, and Nicholas is a likeable, engaging hero. There is a richness of detail which brightens the story.  And there is romance, for Nick’s loving girlfriend Claudia has an important role in the book, reminding him of what matters most in the life of this ex-steeplechase jockey.

Dark Horse by Tami Hoag
Royal Heist by Lynda LaPlante
The works of Robert B. Parker
The works of Sue Grafton

Suzanne McGuire, Commack Public Library

On Earth as it is in Heaven by Davide Enia

Enia’s first novel, a multigenerational saga about a teenage Sicilian boxer in a family of boxers, was a critical and commercial success when it was published in Italy in 2012. Cosi in terra was then translated by Antony Shugaar and published in the United States in March 2014 where it met critical acclaim. The story is set in Palermo, Sicily with a timeline that reaches from WW2 to the early 1980’s. Davidù is the narrator of this story and it opens when at the age of nine he first enters a boxing ring so his great-uncle Umbertina can see if the child has the potential to follow in his father and great-uncle’s footsteps. 

Davidù is growing up in the crime-ridden and dangerous city of Palermo where the Mafia controls the town and poverty and illiteracy plague its residents. The novel’s glow comes from inhabitants such as Davidù, his grandmother Provvidenza, an elementary school teacher, his grandfather Rosario who barely survived WWII as a POW in North Africa, and his great-uncle Umbertino who trains Davidù in the hope that he will win what he and Davidù’s father could not – Italy’s National Boxing Championship.

The language and action in the novel can often be brutal and crude but the characters and their stories make it worth any discomfit that a reader might experience. Between the action of the boxing matches, Davidù’s coming-of-age story, and the unforgettable characters On Earth as it is in Heaven will hold the interest of both male and female readers. 

The Contender by Robert Lipsyte
The Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
The surrealism of Haruki Murakami

Kathleen Carter, Retired, Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library

Calico Joe by John Grisham

When Joe Castle is called up to the majors in 1973, he becomes a star player, quickly rising in popularity as he begins to break record after record. The kids want to be him, the players want him on their team and it seems like he can do no wrong. That’s how Paul Tracey feels, at least. Paul loves baseball and having a dad who’s a pro ballplayer is everything a kid could dream of except Paul’s dad isn't the best guy. When Paul’s dad and Joe meet on a fateful day in August, two careers will be changed forever and Paul’s love of baseball will be irrevocably changed.

An easy read even though it includes such heavy topics as abuse, dysfunctional families, death and alcoholism, Calico Joe gives the reader an inside look at baseball through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy. Although not historically accurate, Grisham peppers the book with stats and sightings of real players to coordinate with his two fictional players: Joe Castle and Warren Tracey. The parallel story of Paul Tracey trying to set right the pitch that ruined both his father’s and Castle’s careers plays on the reader’s emotions and keeps you wondering if Warren will do the right thing in the end.

Told from Paul’s point of view and alternating between his memories of 1973 and the present day, this book is good for baseball lovers, sports fans and those who don’t know much about the game but would like to read a book about baseball without getting bogged down in too many technicalities. The story is easy to follow and has enough of a hook to keep the reader interested. Women will enjoy it for its emotional aspects while getting caught up in the hype of the game while men will enjoy it for its historical look at one summer in baseball while not being overwhelmed by dramatics.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (2011)
Battle Creek by Scott Lasser (1999)
The Man with Two Arms by Billy Lombardo (2010)

Azurée Agnello, West Babylon Public Library

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella

The Black Sox Scandal of the 1919 World Series rocked the baseball world and became a cautionary tale for all young baseball devotees. Joe Jackson was an uneducated hick, yet a gifted hitter, and was found guilty along with eight other players of accepting money to throw the series. The sense of betrayal of the baseball-loving public was hard to imagine at a time when baseball was America’s sport and its players were idols. The next year after being indicted for gambling against his own team, Joe was banned from baseball for life. Shoeless Joe Jackson is the metaphor for the innocent man corrupted by the greed of others. His story has captivated readers of all ages and Kinsella’s magical realism treatment of Joe’s story was beautifully translated to the screen in Field of Dreams. Originally Kinsella wrote a short story Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa and then fleshed it into a full-length novel entitled Shoeless Joe in which he incorporates J. D. Salinger into his quest to build a baseball field on his farm because a radio announcer voice tells him: “If you build it, he will come.” 

Snow in August by Pete Hamill
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

Peggy McCarthy, Retired, Smithtown Library

Rules for Becoming a Legend by Timothy S. Lane
A story of family dysfunction, love, loss, acceptance, basketball, and how one boy succumbs under the pressure of being a hero in a small town.

Jimmy Kirkus is a 16-year-old phenom; superstar of his high school’s basketball team and destined for the NBA. All is right with his world. Until the brick wall. One day after practice, Jimmy stays behind in the gym and repeatedly runs into the brick wall until he falls down unconscious.

The chapters in the novel are dedicated to before and after-- ten years before the wall, 2 days after the wall, 3 months before the wall, 3 months after the wall, and so on. Before the wall, the reader gets the history of Jimmy’s dad, who was lined up for the NBA until a knee injury sidelined him for good. It also shows how he dealt with his hero status, his marriage to Genny, and the death of their first daughter, Suzie. After the wall, Jimmy must decide whether or not he’s ever going to play ball again.

The many chapters make this easy reading, but jumping back and forth before and after the wall confused me much of the time and I had to keep looking back to the chapter headings. This is a good read for young adults, as it deals with powerful topics, but doesn't delve too deeply into them. It’s told in third person so we never get inside Jimmy’s head, but can imagine what he’s feeling.

Labor Day, by Joyce Maynard
Battle Creek, by Scott Lasser
Tap Out, by Eric Devine
Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library

The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N. Murari

It is 2000, and the Taliban has gained control of Afghanistan. Rukhsana is a twenty-four-year-old female journalist who had worked for the Kabul Daily until the Taliban took control and sent women home to don a burqa. One day the Taliban announces its intention to hold a cricket tournament, the winner of which will represent Afghanistan in international cricket and give the brutal regime a cloak of respectability in the world.

Rukhsana knows this is a ludicrous idea—the Taliban could never embrace a game rooted in civility, fair play and equality but she also realizes that this is a chance for her brother, her cousins, and herself to escape their repressive homeland and her forced marriage to a Taliban official. Those who are chosen for the Afghan team will be sent to Pakistan to train where they could escape to freedom.

Having learned the game from an Afghan neighbor she is now betrothed to, and having played at college in Delhi, Rukhsana disguises herself as a man and secretly trains her brother and cousins how to win their freedom with a bat and a ball.

The details of life under the cruel Taliban regime whose laws dictate that women should only be seen in the home and in the grave, the man and woman accused of adultery shot dead in the street, the former president hanged outside his palace -- set alongside the pure democracy of a sport such as cricket, make this a solid read for lovers of sport and those who follow current events.

Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez

Grace O'Connor, Retired, West Islip Public Library

The Peerless Four by Victoria Patterson

It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when women were actually banned from participating in sports-related activities. The consensus was that women should not aspire nor pretend to be men through athletics—it would make them less attractive and jeopardize their childbearing abilities. The Peerless Four is about a real-life group of Canadian women (“The Matchless Six”) who were allowed to compete in the Olympics—specifically those in Amsterdam in 1928. The characters may be imaginary, but their historic plight is not. The book follows four young women who experience joy and personal clarity through sport, in spite of society’s disapproval. Told through the eyes of their chaperone, a frustrated runner in her own right, The Peerless Four traces the path of four determined women who blazed the trail for women in sports.

Profiles of the women are included at the beginning of the book giving insight into their personalities and a feeling for the times in which they lived. The first person narration provides an easy read and the story encompasses history, love, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. A poignant moment in the book is a letter, composed a few years after the events have taken place, providing a follow-up on each character—some having fared better than others—but all forever affected by their love of sport.

Short in length and a light read, The Peerless Four provides a feel for the history of women in sports. It will appeal to anyone with an interest in that history, anyone who may have experienced it and it may serve as a primer for young women today who may not be able to imagine it.

Extraordinary Women Athletes by Judy L. Hasday
Game Set Match by Billie Jean King
100 Trailblazers by Richard Edward Lapchick

Deborah Formosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library

The Might Have Been by Joseph M. Schuster

This is the story of Edward Everett Yates, an aging baseball player driven by the slim chance of anyone beating the odds against making a major league team.  After he is sidelined by a freak accident during his own chance, he passes up an opportunity to “settle down” for a life helping others chase that dream.  At 60, he finds himself broke and alone, managing a failing bush-league team.

The author’s style is simple and direct and his focus is clearly on our hero. Yates really lives “in the moment” and is constantly adjusting to events beyond his control.  Consequently, the pacing is erratic and the tone varies from slapstick comedy to near tragedy.  The book should appeal to sports fans of all ages and to anyone who ever wondered why an attractive youngster never “grew up.”

This book could spark a lively discussion. Schuster has simply re-imagined The Natural as it might have played out in the last quarter of the twentieth century.  Book clubs could compare it to Malamud’s original and Redford’s movie version or even discuss the values of the culture which supports Yates’ lifestyle.

Battle Creek by Scott Lasser
The Sweetheart by Angelina Mirabella
Wild Pitch by Mike Lupica

The Natural
Slap Shot
Jackie Malone, Bellmore Public Library