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Book Review: My Cubs, A Love Story by Scott Simon

My Cubs

A Love Story

By Scott Simon

Lovable losers, cursed ballpark, crazy, loyal fans…this describes one of the most beloved teams in baseball. The fans certainly didn’t stop following them even after not winning a pennant since 1908. Now that they are the top dogs, cream of the crop World Series Winning Cubs they have all kinds of new followers.

My Cubs is a book that might help the newcomers and naysayers understand the history of the Chicago Cubs. I am not sure anyone who hasn’t been a diehard fan can ever really slip into the skin of a true Cub fan, but that is ok, you will still enjoy Scott Simon’s love story about his favorite team.

If you are not a Cub fan, the stories Simon paints with color and caring will bring you into the ballpark anyway. He has intimate knowledge of the team. One of his mother’s best friends was married to Charlie Grimm. He was a former player and the manager for the team when they played the Series in 1945.

Simon gives the reader an inside look at the beginning of the Goat Curse. It has apparently expired since they won the Series in 2016. He tells us about some of the super stars in baseball that played for the Cubs, like Ernie Banks. He confirms what all fans know, Wrigley Field is as much a part of the team as the outfielders that bounce off the famous ivy. The stories and legends he writes about are interesting to Cub fans, baseball fans and anyone who loves to read a slice of history told by a fascinating author.

I attended my first Cub game at Wrigley in the early 1980’s. Fergie Jenkins pitched and they lost. It didn’t matter. I was sitting in Chicago in the warm sunshine watching my favorite team. It would have been great to see them win; we still had a great time. Fast forward to 2016, the last game of the World Series, rain delay…you know the rest of the story.

Scott Simon has won countless awards for his writing and broadcasting. His career has spanned years and continents. His accolades are well deserved and hard earned. Following wars, politics and sports he has seen it all and shared it with the world. Baseball fans and especially Cub fans will undoubtedly agree that this little love story about the Chicago Cubs is one of the most heartfelt inside looks at the team in print.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from  Penguin First to Read in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Swing by Philip Beard – A Grand Slam Must Read!

Swing    Swing

By Philip Beard

317 pages

Eleven- year-old Henry Graham has a lot to learn about life. What he knows for sure is his father moved out, his mom was unhappy and the 1971 Pirates are heading for a pennant race. What he doesn’t know is how long his father will be gone, how his family will cope with the hole left in their lives  or if his beloved Pirates will win or lose the series.

Determined not to lose everything that makes his live normal, Henry decides to skip school to go to a Pirates’ game alone.  He takes the tickets that his father left behind, hops a bus and meets John Kostka. John will affect Henry’s life for years to come.

John is a man with many problems of his own, but that doesn’t stop him from reaching out to a child who seems adrift. Henry’s mother tries her best to make things as normal for Henry and his sisters Sam and Ruthie after her husband “… had gone to start a new life with one of his students”.

Sam has grown from a promiscuous teen to a bitter adult. Ruthie is failing physically but has reconciled her past and enjoys her future, no matter what it brings. Henry has demons and is at a crossroad in his life that will either enable him to go forward or slip into his family history of past mistakes.

Now married with children, Henry is working as a professor like his father did many years ago.  His life is good, but not perfect. He is up for review and may lose his job and his wife Maggie battled breast cancer and is still fighting the demons it left behind. His children have issues that they may or may not grow out of, only time will tell.

At first, I thought Beard named his book Swing because it is about baseball. Then I thought it was because John has no legs and instead of walking, he swings his torso after putting his hands on the ground to move. Then I thought maybe Swing was named for the way life is going along and all of the sudden decisions pop up that make you go back and forth like a pendulum hoping to choose the right thing to do. Or maybe it is about how your life can Swing out of control in an instant and you can go with it or fight the force of nature. Swing is all of these and more.

Beard uses every word to drive the reader toward the crossroads in his character’s lives that everyone experiences in some shape or form. On the surface this book is one of a legless man becoming a father figure to a little boy who desperately needs one, but doesn’t realize it.  The impact on young Henry and his family is pivotal. Grown-up Henry has a less than perfect life, just like most of us, yet he has learned from John that life goes on even when you think you’ve lost everything. It will be different, but can be just as rich and full.

Subtle nuances woven in tell as much about the story as the main plot. Franny the dog is so real, I see her in my aging Labrador. I held my breath when she had trouble walking, praying that on the next page Franny would slowing rise and lumber home with Henry.

Swing is one of the most compelling novels I have ever read. Beard masterfully pulls the reader into the life of Henry, both as a child and man. The depth of his characters gave them life from the very first page.  I could not put this book down. I took it to work to read on lunch and break, putting my headphones in so people would think I was listening to music so they wouldn’t interrupt me. I cooked dinner with it in one hand and read late into the night.

I like a lot of books for a lot of different reasons. I loved Swing because it was so real I felt I knew Henry and his family by the end of the book. I rejoiced in their victories, felt pain in their sadness and identified with the fact that during your life bad things happen. It is how you cope that matters. Swing deals with heavy issues but is easy to read. After reading it, I realized all of the subtle nuances that affected the story that another author may not have used with the mastery of this one. This allows the reader to think about Swing long after finishing the book.

This is Beard’s third book, and I already have the other two in my queue to read. I suggest you visit your bookstore, download or go to your library to get Swing and read it right now – or at least this summer. Beard has a note at the end “In memory of both the service and daily bravery of Sgt. Kenneth Kocher”. Take time to search out Sgt. Kocher’s Facebook page, to read about the person the character of John is based upon.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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Filed under baseball, Book Review, family, Philip Beard, Pirates

Book Review: The Perfect Game by Leslie Dana Kirby – A Grand Slam for this Debut Author!

The Perfect Game The Perfect Game

By Leslie Dana Kirby

331 pages

Lauren and Liz Rose are excited to be living in the same city again. Lauren moved to Scottsdale, AZ after finishing med school, Liz moved to Arizona with her husband Jake Wakefield, when he became the star pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The women are especially close because they lost their parents in an accident as children. Even though they were raised by a loving grandmother, they cherished the memories of their parents and the time they spent with each other.

After a grueling night in the ER, Lauren hears the devastating news that her sister is dead. She has been brutally murdered in her home in an apparent robbery while Jake was on the road. She had just seen Liz, and her sister told her she had some big news that she would share later, but now it was too late. The only thing Lauren wants is justice for her sister.

Things go from bad to worse for Lauren as the police are diligently collecting evidence against the killer and it appears to be her. She is furious and adamant that she is innocent, but the investigation is relentless. When Jake helps shield her from the police and press, they found comfort in each other. They spent time together, mostly discussing the case, memories of Liz and baseball.

Because she lived in California, Lauren didn’t know Jake very well. She believed they could become friends until the police arrested him for her sister’s murder. The prosecution had a tough job ahead of them. Everyone knew and loved the gorgeous hunk of a man who was the darling of the Diamondbacks. Who doesn’t love a man that pitches a perfect game and how on earth could he ever kill his wife?

It is said the best defense is a good offense, and that is the tactic used by Jake’s lawyer. To prove reasonable doubt, he implies the police were correct in the first place, and Lauren is the true killer. The press is having a field day, capitalizing on the sensationalism of the trial.

I cannot believe this is Kirby’s debut novel. The Perfect Game grabs you in the first few pages, taking you on the roller-coaster ride of emotion with her characters to the end. You get into the heads of Jake, Lauren, the lawyers and police because her descriptions and backgrounds of all of them are solid and believable. I found myself wanting to yell, “No! Don’t trust him!”.

It is fast paced, with smart dialog that puts you in the ER and courtroom with the characters. The plot is solid, throwing a few curve balls at the reader just when you think you’ve figured it out. As far as I’m concerned, Kirby not only hit one out of the ballpark with this book, it is a grand slam.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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Filed under baseball, Book Review, books, debut novel, poisoned pen press