Sunday, December 20, 2015


I know I've been slacking...some have just been taking a bit longer to read than others but reviews will be up this week.

Monday, October 12, 2015

In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In a Dark, Dark Wood
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press (August 4, 2015)

Ruth Ware brings us a mystery thriller in the vein of Gone Girl and this year's bestseller, The Girl on the Train.  If you liked those two books, you will not be able to put this one down.

Are twisted mystery thrillers going to be the future?  This is a book that just could not be placed down.  It will have readers on their edge of their seat wondering what happened and how did we get to where we are?

The first book to be published by Scout Press, Ware tells us the story by way of narrator Leonora Shaw, a crime fiction writer.  Shaw is on a getaway weekend with a childhood friend who she had not seen in ten years.

All we know in the opening pages is that there was a bachelorette party and the narrator soon ended up at the hospital following the weekend's events.  But how did she get there and why?  These are the questions that get answered as readers quickly make their way across the 300 plus pages.

Shaw had not seen Clare Cavendish in ten years when she gets invited to her hen party (British version of a bachelorette party?).  In talking to another childhood friend, Nina, she decides to accept that invitation.  They share a room in the cottage.  Also invited were Flo, Tom, and Melanie.

When she wakes up in the hospital, she has two black eyes, a bandage on her head, and there's a police guard outside her room.  This worries her not because of how she ended up in the hospital but because she wants to know what she has done.

In trying to remember what happened, Nora must revisit her past--a part of her life that she wishes to remain buried.  It's essential for Nora to do this so that she can uncover secrets, reveal motives, but most importantly, find the answers to just how she got there and why.

Ware's debut is addicting and I expect that this is the first book in a long run of books.

The book has been optioned by New Line Cinemas and Reese Witherspoon will produce.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

City of Promises: A Trilogy on the History of Jewish New York

Haven of Liberty: New York Jews in the New World, 1654-1865 (City of Promises)

Emerging Metropolis: New York Jews in the Age of Immigration, 1840-1920 (City of Promises)

Jews in Gotham: New York Jews in a Changing City, 1920-2010 (City of Promises)

General Editor: Deborah Dash Moore
Written by Howard B. Rock, Annie Polland and Daniel Soyer, Jeffrey S. Gurock With a Visual Essay by Diana L. Linden

The three-volume series was the winner of the 2012 Jewish Book of the Year Award as named by the National Jewish Book Council.

Comprehensive and ambitious, it can be a dry read at times.

Volume I takes us back to pre-colonial America where we see the first Jews arriving to New Amsterdam.  Howard B. Rock shows us how they were challenged by both the politics and economics of the time.  However, they overcame those barriers and soon laid the foundation for what would eventually become a thriving Jewish community.

Volume II, written by Annie Polland and Daniel Soyers, takes us through the next few decades of Jewish New York.  Perhaps because of the time period that it covers, this volume was a dry read and one that I had to fight the verge to sleep just to read it.  This volume focuses in on how Jews built their surrounding environments: tenements, banks, shuls, shops, stores, and settlement houses. It shows how complex that the Jewish immigrant society was in this era.

Volume III, by Jeffrey S. Gurock, takes us all the way up through modern times.  How shows how the Jewish neighborhood life has become the most distinct feature of New York City.  NYC is still the capital of American Jewry because of the deep roots in worlds that supported diversity in politics, religion, and economics.

The account of Jewish New York is the first of its kind and Diana Linden's visual essay complements the three volumes.

Book Review: Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg

Bream Gives Me Hiccups & Other Stories by Jesse Eisenberg
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Grove Press (September 8, 2015)

Inspired by The End of The Tour, the veteran actor of the screen takes to print to write his fiction debut: a collection of short stories.  In this book, we now know that he can write just as well as he can act.  An author of three plays, Eisenberg's work has previously appeared in both The New Yorker and McSweeney's.

What we have in Bream is a collection of 44 short stories that are hilarious, moving, and inventive.  Eisenberg is able to explore the insanity that is the modern world...or ancient Pompeii if you will.

The unique title comes from the title of the first section, a collection of restaurant reviews as written by a nine-year-old who goes out to eat with his recently divorced mother.  From present day LA, we travel to the dorm rooms of a St. Louis college and ancient Pompeii.  He gives us a world of misfits, reimagines history, and the ridiculous overreactions that some stories may bring us.

One of the funniest pieces is an email exchange from a guy and his girlfriend.  The guy's sister soon takes over the exchange and it goes in a direction where no one even thinks to consider: the Bosnian genocide.

Another exchange sees a college freshman from New York now enrolled at a university in St. Louis.  She's now living with a roommate that steals her ramen.  Upset, she writes her high school guidance counselor in a series of letters.

Eisenberg brings us the first five phone calls from telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell.

Perhaps from having worked with great screenplays in the past and writing plays of his own, Eisenberg has a gift of writing both humor and character.  His writings are grouped into chapters and in doing so, they work better than being collected in a random order.  Eisenberg is funny, self-ironic, and offers readers an original voice in print.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Recently Published Baseball Hall of Fame Biographies

Pedro by Pedro Martinez
Published just before his induction this summer into Cooperstown, the colorful Hall of Fame pitcher opens up and tells his story for the first time.  Before we knew him as the 8x All-Star and 3x Cy Young Award winner, Pedro Martinez was a little kid in the Dominican Republic who dreamed of playing pro ball one day.

He was said to be not durable enough to last in Major League Baseball.  He was a scrawny power pitcher with a lightning arm.  What nobody saw coming was the fire inside the pitcher.  Nobody saw his ability to will his way into baseball immortality.

In his memoir, we relive it all.  From the lowly days in the minors to his days with Montreal all the way to his run with the Boston Red Sox.

This memoir shows that Martinez is bold, outspoken, and intimate.  It's no-holds-barred as the pitcher will entertain and inspire future generations of baseball fans.

War on the Basepaths: The Definitive Biography of Ty Cobb by Tim Hornbaker
DO NOT READ THE AL STUMP BIOGRAPHY.  We finally have a book that we can call a definitive bio of The Georgia Peach.

I know what they say about Cobb.  He played dirty.  He was rude, nasty, racist, and hated by fellow players and the press.

Hornbaker does for Cobb what he did for Charles Comiskey in providing us with an unbiased biography of one of the greatest players to ever step foot on a baseball diamond.  Using detailed research and analysis, Hornbaker gives us the full story--one that is not unaltered like previous books have been.

Tommy Lasorda: My Way by Colin Gunderson
Lasorda managed the Dodgers for 20 years and led the team to two World Series championships in the 1980s.  Known for his honesty, humor, enthusiasm, and Dodger blue, Lasorda was a two-time Manager of the year and a 1997 Hall of Fame inductee.  This authorized biography is written by a longtime Dodgers press coordinator.  One of the game's greatest ambassadors, Lasorda has been able to foster connections with players, fans, and management.

Gunderson interviews 30 former players and closest friends of Lasorda to bring us a glimpse of the iconic manager that has never before been seen.  In doing so, Gunderson gives us a book that is enlightening, uplifting and hilarious as we see the game from Lasorda's eyes.

Coming later this year: Pudge: The Biography of Carlton Fisk by Doug Wilson.

Book Reviews: Presidential Biographies

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
Meacham draws on original research to gives us a new portrait of a president that is overexposed but the least understood.  Complicated and elusive, Jefferson is familiar to everyone because of his writing the Declaration of Independence among his many other accomplishments in the early days of America.  This biography offers up Jefferson as the human being and as a politician.  He was a Renaissance man that led America through ferocious partisanship and cultural warfare during an era of both economic change and external threats.

All due respect to historian Joseph Ellis, this is the single-volume biography that Jefferson deserves.

John Quincy Adams: American Visionary by Fred Kaplan
The award-winning biographer offers is a new take on a president that is often overlooked despite his being a prescient statesmen.  You won't find Adams on any best or worst presidents list.  The stereotypical thought about Adams: grim, rigid, and largely irrelevant disappointment.

For the first time ever, Kaplan gives us a multifaceted portrait of a misunderstood figure.  He evaluates Adams' triumphs and disappointments but also manages to explore Adams' far-reaching influence of his enlightened principles, definition of leadership, and vision for America's future.

Engaging and carefully researched, Kaplan's book on Adams makes for a groundbreaking look at Adams and his legacy.

Reagan: The Life by H.W. Brands
Brands is back.  Back again.  Brands is back.  Tell a friend.  Brands has previously given us biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt.  With Ronald Reagan, he gives us a sixth biography that re-tells American history.  This is the first major biography in the time that has passed since Reagan died in 2004.

Controversial as Reagan was--seen as an icon of strength or a caricature of ideological rigidity--Brands has brilliantly succeeded in reconciling those views in order to give us a powerful new portrait of the former president.

Brands takes us on a journey through Reagan's life from the time that he voted four times to FDR to the revolution of conservatism in American politics.

The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789 by Edward J. Larson
With elegant prose and exacting research, Larson tells us how Washington played an indispensable role in rescuing the nation.  Often overlooked, Larson uncovers the role that our nation's first president played in the Constitutional Convention and the first federal election.  The states truly came together after Washington showed his willingness to serve as the first president of the United States.

The examples set by Washington have never been more poignant than today.  Our nation has been fractured by political parties since the country's founding in the 1700s.  Friction is foundational, Larson reminds us, but so, too, is compromise.  Where is the Henry Clay and Daniel Webster of this era?

The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House by Chuck Todd
With his comfortable perch from NBC, Chuck Todd has had unfettered access to the White House.  Todd examines both Obama as a president and as person in telling what can only be described as a crucial story of the Obama presidency that will shape America for the decades to come.

This book is more than being a book about politics.  It's also about the psychology of the presidency.  Todd draws on hundreds of interviews for this book of over 500 pages--including exclusive interviews with the president himself.

Todd's book is unique, provocative, and a comprehensive examination of Obama's presidency.

Book Review: Ally by Michael Oren

Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide by Michael Oren
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Random House; 1St Edition edition (June 23, 2015)

Oren's memoir is a personal account  of his time serving as the Israeli ambassador to the United States.  What he does is provide a frank yet fascinating look at the relationship between America and Israel.

Growing up in New Jersey, Oren would later relinquish his American citizenship so that he could serve as the ambassador form 2009 until he stepped down in 2013.  This was not a pretty time for the Middle East.  The Arab Spring started during this time and America's role changed with the start of the Obama administration.

Oren provides cultural, personal, and historic ties that bind the two countries even as the relationship seems strained over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iran nuclear program.  Oren beautifully interweaves his own personal story with the behind-the-scenes meetings of leadership.

All in all, Oren gives us a ringside seat to some of the significant political moments of recent years.  The memoir is compelling and it is certainly timely with the debate over the Iran agreement.  Yet, at the same time, it's a testament to the alliance between the two countries.  Oren proudly served the Jewish State of Israel while still treasuring his American identity.

Next month sees the release of Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama by Dennis Ross.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Reviews of Sports Biographies and Other Sports Books

Dolph Schayes and the Rise of Professional Basketball by Dolph Grundman
Hardcover: 232 pages
Publisher: Syracuse University Press (October 7, 2014)

Grundman gives us the first-ever biography of Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes.  One of the fifty greatest players to ever play in the NBA, Schayes may very well be the only Jewish player to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.  Schayes life is profiled from the time he grew up as the child of Jewish Romanian immigrants through his playing career at New York University and with the Syracuse Nationals.  It isn't just Schayes life that Grundman reflects on but also how basketball as a whole was undergoing some major changes.

Frank Robinson: A Baseball Biography by John C. Skipper
Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: McFarland (October 31, 2014)

Skipper gives us the first biography of the Hall of Famer.  Robinson, one of the few Triple Crown winners in baseball, played for both the Reds and the Orioles.  He became the first African-American to manage teams in both leagues.  No matter what he was doing, the Hall of Famer always demanded respect.

Marvin Miller, Baseball Revolutionary by Robert F. Burk
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: University of Illinois Press; 1st Edition edition (January 26, 2015)

Miller is one of the few contributors to the world of Major League Baseball that is not in the Hall of Fame.  He should be and Burk goes the distance in giving baseball fans the first biography of the labor leader.

Miller may have been the single person to change the business of sports when he was named as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.  Burk follows his life from hard times during the Great Depression to dealing with racial and religious bigotry along with Washington politics before he made his mark in history with the MLBPA.

Miller's legacy is as follows: decent workplace conditions, a pension system, outside mediation of player grievances and salary disputes, a system of profit sharing, and the dismantling of the reserve clause which led the way for free agency.

Allies and adversaries alike praised Miller for his attitude, work ethic, and honesty.

Gil Hodges: A Hall of Fame Life by Mort Zachter
Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (March 1, 2015)

Like Miller above, Gil Hodges is one of those that should have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame a long time ago.  It's a travesty that he hasn't.  Zachter's biography of the Brooklyn Dodgers great and former New York Mets manager is the one that he deserves.

Hodges was a hero on the playing field, in the Marines during World War 2, and during his life in general.  One of the finest first basemen to ever play the game, Hodges was an icon in New York City.  He later managed both the Washington Senators and New York Mets.  He was the Mets manager when they won it all back in 1969.

While Zachter examines Hodges' career on the field and in the dugout, he also looks at the life he led.  Hodges had a dry sense of humor but was a witty man.  His honesty and integrity by far are his defining elements.  First hand interviews with those who knew him help to provide a better appreciation for this should-be Hall of Famer.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Book Review: Repeat by Neal Pollack

Repeat by Neal Pollack
Paperback: 236 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (March 24, 2015)

Repeat is what Groundhog Day could have been had Bill Murray's character been forced to relive his entire life up to that day rather than the same day over and over.  As a novel, it is quite daring as we have seen a similar story play out on screen but never can I recall reading one in book format.  Hilarious scatological, Pollack has written what Groundhog Day could have been like had Phillip Roth written it.

Repeat tells the story of Brad Cohen, a failed screenwriter.  As a screenwriter, he's down on his luck.  Somehow, through strange circumstances, he finds himself reliving the first 40 years of his life again and again.  Each time he goes to bed on the night before his 40th birthday, he finds himself in his mother's womb.  Cohen knows what has happened during his lifetime and upon repeating his life, he takes advantage of the stock tips and sports wins.

Try and try as he may to get out of an infinite loop of repeating his life, nothing seems to work at all.  His wife, Juliet, may be a way out but as Cohen soon finds out, it's not easy being able to win somebody's heart again especially when he already knows her that well.

In his various repeats, Cohen finds himself working as a political pundit, being a millionaire playboy, to exploring yoga in India, or just being a lifelong independent scholar.  One of my favorites is his time working as a political pundit especially when he jumps on the Clinton bandwagon in 1990 and the Obama bandwagon very early on, too.  He decides to quit his job when he realizes that nobody is taking any action on his knowledge of bad events to come.

All in all, Pollack gives us a book that is unique but comes with the heart and warmth of what we expect from a novel written by Nick Hornby combined with that of sociopolitical satire.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Book Review: The President's Shadow by Brad Meltzer

The President's Shadow (The Culper Ring Series)
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (June 16, 2015)

Brad Meltzer is at  it again.  With his third thriller in the Culper Ring series, readers are bound to be on the edge of their seat turning page after page after page.  The third book finds Beecher White seeking to uncover his father's past. In the process, it is revealed that there were government cover-ups, secret military locations, and of course, the key to finding out just how Beecher's father died while serving in a speciial navy unit called the Plankholders.

Meltzer is known for his fast pace, suspense-filled, and historically reseatched novels.  This book is no exception with my having finished it in the span of one day.

What kicks off this book is the discovery of a severed arm in the Rose Garden.  The arm carried a Plankholders memento, thus requiring a visit from Beecher in a secret laundry room at the White House as the White House is not sure who to trust after a security lapse.

With a would-be presidential assassin on the loose, Beecher aims to track down what happened to his dad when he was just a kid.

Meltzer's work continues to show that he belongs there with the ranks of John Grisham.  Personally, he's above Grisham at this point.

One of the most anticipated books of 2015, Meltzer doesn't disappoint and leaves you wanting more even though it feels as if Beecher's store may be coming to an end.  If it does, I'm fine with that.  I trust that Brad can come up with a new cast of characters for people to fall in love with.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Media silence on Extortion Threat against Daniel Grossberg

Last Monday, Joe Sonka broke the news at Insider Louisville that Daniel Grossberg, a candidate for State Treasurer in Kentucky, was being threatened by his former media consultant, Jacob Conway, with extortion.  Conway, in a tape recording, also made anti-Semitic comments.  Those comments were picked up by JTA News on Monday.  The JTA article was picked up, in turn, by the Forward.

Sonka's story was picked up by The Washington Free Beacon and the Independent Journal Review.

Now, outside of Joe Sonka, did any Kentucky media report on it?  Not really, no.  The Kentucky media was silent aside from Joe Arnold of WHAS-11 TV in Louisville.  Arnold's report, which focused on the extortion more so than the anti-Semitic comments, aired on Friday evening to lead off the 5:30 PM news.

I am privy to information that has not been covered anywhere in the media, including in Sonka's story.  I emailed this information to all the major newspapers, radio and television stations in Kentucky.  I reached out to the national media as well.  Aside from JTA and the Forward, there was no traction on that front.  The only person to respond was Joe Arnold.  In the interest of full disclosure, I know Joe Arnold and he follows me on Twitter.

What I do know is this:  The county attorney in Jefferson County has been looking into issuing an indictment against Jacob Conway for extortion and pursuing all criminal charges.  Daniel Grossberg, who was a candidate for state treasurer, was called in as an eye witness during the last week, where he was questioned by the county attorney, detectives, and handed over all evidence of extortion.

There is an investigation into extortion, harassment, hate crime, etc.—much more evidence than the tape.  As of this past Friday, they have hired a special prosecutor

The Courier-Journal and the Herald Leader should be ashamed of themselves.  If one is being extorted, I guess they need to be a basketball coach in order to make the front page, let alone the newspaper.  Joe Gerth was way too busy dealing with allegations against Jamie Comer that are over 20 years old (Let me stress: any form of domestic abuse is wrong).  Meanwhile, what happened to Grossberg was only recently and yet the Kentucky media was just nowhere to be found.  Though Gerth did have the following comments to say: "If any charges come of it later, I’ll be interested in following."

Who knows when the charges will be filed but that's beside the point.  The deafening silence, and I cannot stress this enough, is enough to make one bang their head against the wall.

Sure, the treasurer's race is a down-ticket race but it's still an elected position and what happened is sad.  The lack of media coverage, to say the least, is very frustrating.  If I were a publisher, I would be up in arms with my chief political reporter to ask why in the hell did they choose not to report anything on this!

To WAVE-3, WLKY, and WDRB, where were you during the last week?  I know that people from WAVE-3 follow me on Twitter and I've been pushing the above articles very hard on my Twitter account during the last week so it's not like they didn't know what was happening.

The CJ has a larger circulation than Insider Louisville.  It gets read by people who do not have the internet, like my grandmother for one.  And yet?  They were just silent like they didn't even care at all.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015


I have a pile of unread books that I am making my through as fast as possible so as to get reviews published here or other sites, if need be.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review - Lincoln and the Jews: A History by Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell

Lincoln and the Jews: A History by Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (March 17, 2015)

Abraham Lincoln is one of my favorite presidents and being a member of the tribe, I very much looked forward to reading and enjoying this book.  Enjoy it I did--except for the part where it is said that Lincoln's killer was the son of a member of the Tribe.

From the time that Lincoln was born in 1809 until his tragic assassination in 1865, the number of Jews living in America skyrocketed from 3,000 to 150,000.  This is mostly due to Jews escaping horrid conditions in Europe.

Because of Jonathan Sarna (When Grant Expelled the Jews) and Benjamin Shapell, we know a lot more about President Lincoln's meetings with those in the Jewish community and the consequences of said meetings.  The duo have managed to uncover the complex relationships between the president and the Jews of his era.  The effects of these connections continue to be felt to this day.  Lincoln was the first president to really give the Jews the respect and courtesy that they deserved.

Their discoveries are accompanied by a number of photographs and original manuscripts--letters, appointments, pardons, personal notes, and humble requests.  Because of President Lincoln, the Jewish people living in America were able to overcome the prevailing anti-Semitism of the Civil War period.  This was a president who befriended, protected, and admired Jews despite the tense climate in which Jews were seen as suspicious or scapegoats.

This is the same president who overturned General Orders No. 11 when Jewish leaders came to him with complaints.

Almost 150 years to the day after Lincoln's death, this book gives us a new perspective on one of American history's dynamic time periods in which there was a fight over slavery.  Lincoln's relationship with the Jews is one that should offer lessons in history, tolerance, and the development of our current society.

For Jews with an interest in politics, this book being a must-read is a no-brainer.  It's a chapter in our freedom that has so rarely been explored.  This book is a classic that will be looked upon for years to come.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Peace in the Middle East

The comments from the White House today are not surprising given the President's remarks of late.  All I have to say in response is this:

No duh. Arafat and Abbas both walked away from the best deals that they were ever going to get. No Israeli Prime Minister will ever agree to any deal with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas in its government.

There was a point in time in which I did support a two-state solution but that went out the window the moment that Hamas joined the PA unity government. Time and time again, Hamas has shown that they have no interest in peace with Israel. If the Palestinians are truly committed to peace, they ought to arrest every member of Hamas and put them in jail.

White House at odds with Jewish Establishment

The rhetoric coming from the White House is leading to a rift with the Jewish Establishment, be it the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Rabbical Assembly, and Orthodox Union.

It's certainly one thing to see rhetoric coming from the left but when it comes from the White House, it makes me start to seriously consider whether pro-Israel Democrats such as myself still have a home in the Democratic Party. I'm going to keep an eye on the Democratic Party platform and see if there's another fight relating to Israel like there was in 2012.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review - You Can't Make This Up by Al Michaels

You Can't Make This Up: Miracles, Memories, and the Perfect Marriage of Sports and Television by Al Michaels with Jon Wertheim
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition/First Printing edition (November 18, 2014)

Al Michaels is one of the legendary broadcasters of our time.  A longtime sports broadcaster for ABC and NBC Sports, Michaels takes to print as he shares his memories of a career in broadcasting.

Michaels takes us on a highly entertaining and insightful behind-the-scenes tour as he takes us back through time through some of the most memorable sports telecasts of which he was on the call.  It isn't just the thrilling games that Michaels revisits, it's also those figures who had an impact on Michaels career.

Michaels has been on the call for eight World Series, two NBA Finals, nine Super Bowls, eight Olympics, and hosted three Stanley Cup Finals.  He's never taken his eye off the ball in forty years as a broadcaster.  He's never become jaded nor has he taken his career for granted.  It was almost over before it begun.  Michaels was hired by the Los Angeles Lakers as a broadcast partner for the great Chick Hearn but it didn't last at all.  This false-start would soon lead Michaels to broadcast Minor League Baseball games in Hawaii.

We all grow up dreaming of a sports career.  Not Al Michaels.  He knew from a young age that he wanted to broadcast sports for a career.  His career took him to Hawaii and that was followed by a brief stay with the Cincinnati Reds, where Michaels became friends with both Pete Rose and Johnny Bench.  From Cincy, Michaels moved cross country to broadcast the San Francisco Giants.  It was with San Francisco where Michaels would be hired to be a broadcaster for ABC Sports' Monday Night Baseball.  Working with ABC Sports later led to a full time career, including years on Wide World of Sports and two decades as the voice of Monday Night Football.  Working for ABC also meant working with Howard Cosell.  Cosell wasn't the easiest person to get along with and if you crossed him, you likely never talked with him again.

When NBC Sports won MNF, Michaels would go with them.  He's now been there for nine seasons but he shares his thoughts on what it was like to work with John Madden for seven years.  There was the brief Dennis Miller era and Michaels writes about those years, too.

Michaels' work at the Olympic Games saw him in the broadcast booth for the greatest hockey game ever played and it wasn't even aired live!  The 1980 hockey game between Team USA and Russia was aired live to tape and Michaels shares the stories behind his call of the gold medal run.

Michaels was in the booth for the 1989 World Series and he takes us behind the scenes of the earthquake that hit.

Because of the earthquake and O.J. Simpson, Michaels wasn't limited to just sports reporting.  He also did a bit of journalism, too.  He's no fan of the "You heard it here first" type of broadcasts, which often leads to misinformation.

Through it all, Michaels covers his broadcasting philosophy and the nuances that come with the trade.  He shares what it was like to work with Cris Collinsworth, Bob Uecker, Bob Costas, Jim McKay, Roone Arledge, Tim McCarver, Doc Rivers, Frank Gifford, and Dick Ebersol, to name a few.

This book is highly recommended for sports fans.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Book Review - The Secret Game by Scott Ellsworth

The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph by Scott Ellsworth
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (March 10, 2015)

The Secret Game is a book that comes highly recommended by the likes of Bob Ryan, Mike Krzyzewski, and Roland Lazenby.  Ryan says that it "is much more than a story about basketball."

A full decade before the Civil Rights movement began, Ellsworth exposes not just the history of basketball but the bravery of the African Americans and whites fighting against segregation in the South, especially North Carolina.

At the North Carolina College for Negroes, John McLendon, the future Hall of Fame coach, was borrowing from James Naismith as he worked to invent a fast-paced form of basketball.  A group of former college players at the all-white Duke University had formed a team at the medical school and didn't just defeat the Duke varsity team, they beat everybody that played them.  All but one team.

Standing in Duke's way was McLendon's team in the spring of 1944.  These two teams were risking it all--their futures, their freedom--to play a game that was unheard of in the South.  Think about it.  Brown had yet to be decided.  The bus boycotts in Montgomery hadn't started yet.  Jackie Robinson's Major League debut was a full three years away from happening.  Before all those events even happened, two teams of basketball players made history on their own.

Until now, there story hadn't been told.  Ellsworth tells their story in the vein of Seabiscuit and The Boys in the Boat.  This book is researched and sourced.  In both daring and dangerous ways, two groups push back against segregation in order to play basketball.  Ellsworth reminds us who heroes are and what they can be.

Book Review - The Global War on Morris by Steve Israel

The Global War on Morris: A Novel by Congressman Steve Israel
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (December 30, 2014)

When a member of Congress pens a book, it usually means that they are running for higher office, mainly President.  This is not the case for Steve Israel.  Instead, he writes a political satire that isn't just witty but also ripped from the headlines.

This is a guy that's met the characters and heard the conversations, not to mention the government dysfunction, too.

In The Global War on Morris, Israel takes us back on a time machine to 2004 when George Bush was running for re-election against Democratic nominee John Kerry.  President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Scooter Libby play a big role in the novel.  It may be fiction but I could certainly see them using such dialogue.

The principal character in the book is Morris Feldstein, a pharmaceutical salesman that lives and works on Long Island.  He loves the Mets, Turner Classic Movies, and his wife, Rona.  Morris prefers things stay how they are.  He's not a guy who prefers to watch the news and he hates to argue.  His wife, Rona, may want to change the world but he prefers life as it is.

"If Morris clung to any philosophy," Israel writes, it is "'Don't make waves.'"

Seduced by a lovesick receptionist while making a visit to a doctors' office on his sales route, Morris succombs to a moment of weekness and ends up charging a non-business expense on his company credit card.  It's easy to see how this isn't a big deal.  Not in the eyes of the government.  It's a very big deal and changes Morris' life as he knows it.

NICK, the giant supercomputer that is part of a top-secret government surveillance program, has other plans for Morris.  NICK puts Morris' life together--friends, family, friends' friends, traffic violations, his daughter's political activism, his wife's patients, and even failures in romance--and suddenly, Morris is the target of every federal agency with an acronym.

This debut novel from Congressman Israel is hilarious and the rights have been acquired by Rob Reiner and Royal Pains co-creator Andrew Lenchewski and they will develop it as a cable comedy series.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Book Review: Dirty Rush by Taylor Bell

Dirty Rush by Taylor Bell
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Gallery Books (January 13, 2015)

The creative minds behind the best-selling White Girl Problems are back with an all-new book, described as being the first true glimpse of "real" sorority life in all it's fucked up glory.  Co-creators Tanner and David Olivier Cohen have manged to write another hit book.

Rebecca Martinson, responsible for a very harsh email, pens the foreword, authenticating the book's depiction of what it means by "going Greek."  Her original email is included in the book.

To put it lightly, if Mean Girls were set in a college sorority instead of in high school, it would be this book.  Tom Rothman’s TriStar has optioned the film rights with Brownstone Productions’ Elizabeth Banks & Max Handelman set to produce.

Author Taylor Bell gives us an account of her freshman year at Central Delaware University and gives us an unfiltered look at what goes on behind closed doors in Greek Life.  The Beta Zeta legacy has no interest in becoming the fifth member of her family to pledge the sorority but the BZ sisters aren't about to let her not join.  The sisters might drink, act crazy-cool, and come off as hilariously bitchy but they somehow are able to lure her in to the jacked-up world with one party after another.

She finds a way to deal with the fast-food ban and even some of the other rules imposed on her by Collette Winter but still finds herself having the time of her life.  Some of the BZ sisters turn out to be true friends.

During winter break, Taylor finds out what really happened to her sister in college and that paves the way for the final third of the book, where things start to become really interesting.  A sex tape is leaked and the girl looks like Taylor and shit--go figure--hits the fan.  Her boyfriend doesn't have her back.  Collette wants her to resign.  Taylor has to find a way to survive the scandal and she soon finds out which of her sisters are her true friends.

I'll be honest.  This book isn't really something that I would normally read but when I saw that Elizabeth Banks was set to produce a film adaption and the Mean Girls comparisons, I knew that I had to give it a chance.  I'm glad I did because it was one of those books that you just can't put down.  Call it a guilty pleasure but what Cohens did here is genius.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Book Review: Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Funny Girl: A Novel by Nick Hornby
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; Unabridged edition (February 3, 2015)

Acclaimed novelist and screenwriter Nick Hornby is back with a new novel.  This time, he takes us back to London in the 1960s.

Starring the intrepid Sophie Straw, Funny Girl is a charming tale of ambition, creativity, and self-identity with an interesting cast of characters including actor Clive Richardson, producer Dennis Maxwell-Bishop, and comedy writers Bill and Tony.

Straw, formerly Barbara, is the winner of Miss Blackpool but she quickly decides that she wants to move to London and become an actress.  She becomes a television comedienne and gets cast in a leading role on her first audition.  Crazy, right?

Hornby has given us a book with both humor and heart.  He has managed to endear us to a small cast of characters--flawed, funny, and unforgettable as they may be--by doing what he does best.

I don't know whether this book will be adapted into a movie or television series.  Given the amount of behind the scenes that take place over a period of a few years, it's really hard to see this as a movie.

Hornby's wit and storytelling has proven time and time again that he can do no wrong.  Funny Girl is no exception.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Book Review - Veronica Mars (2): An Original Mystery by Rob Thomas: Mr. Kiss and Tell

Veronica Mars (2): An Original Mystery by Rob Thomas: Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Vintage; Mti edition (January 20, 2015)

Our favorite private investigator returns with a case that takes us into the Neptune Grand and exposes the hidden workings of the hotel.

The Neptune Grand is the ritziest hotel in Neptune, California even though there have been shady dealings and high-profile scandals that somehow seem to follow the hotel's guests.

When a women claims that a staff member assaulted her and left for her dead, the hotel hires Veronica Mars to disprove or prove her story.  It's a complicated case and not helping are those witnesses that refuse to cooperate.  The hotel doesn't want to turn over their reservation list and the victim refuses to say who she was meeting that night.

The attack happened months ago and the victim claims to have a fuzzy memory of the night.  The hotel's surveillance system doesn't really give us a complete idea of what happened.

It's a mess of a case for Veronica and she is consumed by it.  She knows that somebody is lying but doesn't know who.

I don't want to say too much.  After all, we're talking about a mystery here but it was a quick read for me.  I started on a Friday and finished on a Sunday.  Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham leave us waiting for more.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train: A Novel by Paula Hawkins
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (January 13, 2015)

There are some books that one cannot put down until they are finished reading them.  The Girl on the Train is one of them.  For her debut novel, Paula Hawkins has written a page turner that very well could be the next Gone Girl.  As I spent the past week devouring page after page, I was imagining a movie playing in my head.  DreamWorks Pictures has already optioned the film rights.

If this book is not being heavily requested at libraries or bookstores, I'd be surprised since it is very impossible to put down.  I went into 2015 with The President's Shadow by Brad Meltzer as the book that I was most looking forward to.  There's still a chance that Meltzer's book wins the 2015 Solzy Award for Best Fiction Novel but Paula Hawkins' debut novel is going to give him a run for the money.  I say that with all seriousness, too.

With its dark themes of obsession, isolation, and loneliness, Hawkins gives us a book that will remind readers of the Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, most specifically Rear Window.  Our narrator, Rachel Watson, has secrets of her own as the plot zigs and zags through the 322 pages.  She rides the train every day and one day, she notices something is off.  From the moment she gets involved, readers are in for a heck of a ride.

With An unreliable narrator, an intricate plot, and a huge payoff of a surprise ending that NOBODY can see coming, the suspense grows by the minute.  Pages will turn fast.  Trust me.  I spent most of Shabbas reading rather than schmooze at the Shabbas table just to finish reading this book.

This may just be the thriller of the year.  You won't be able to put it down.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls: Strong Denunciation of Anti-Semitism

Following is a translation of the remarks on antisemitism delivered by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls to the National Assembly on January 13, 2015:
…The first question that has to be clearly dealt with is the struggle against antisemitism. History has taught us that the awakening of antisemitism is the symptom of a crisis for democracy and of a crisis for the Republic. That is why we must respond with force. Since Ilan Halimi in 2006, after the crimes of Toulouse, antisemitic acts in France have grown to an intolerable degree. The words, the insults, the gestures, the shameful attacks, as we saw in Creteil a few weeks ago, which I mentioned here in the Chamber, and which did not not produce the national outrage that our Jewish compatriots expected. 

There is a huge level of concern, that fear which we felt at the HyperCacher at Porte de Vincennes and in the synagogue de la Victoire on Sunday night. How can we accept that in France, where the Jews were emancipated two centuries ago, but which was also where they were martyred 70 years ago, how can we accept that cries of  “death to the Jews” can be heard on the streets?  How can we accept these acts that I have just mentioned? How can we accept that French people can be murdered for being Jews? How can we accept that compatriots, or a Tunisian citizen whose father sent him to France so that he would be safe, is killed when he goes out to buy his bread for Shabbat  because he is Jewish? This is not acceptable and I say to the people in general who perhaps have not reacted sufficiently up to now, and to our Jewish compatriots, that this time it cannot be accepted, that we must stand up and say what’s really going on.

There is a historical antisemitism that goes back centuries, but there is also a new antsemitism that is born in our neighborhoods, coming through the internet, satellite dishes, against the backdrop of the loathing of the State of Israel, and which advocates hatred of the Jews and all the Jews. It has to be spelled out, the right words must be used to fight this unacceptable antisemitism.( …)

Without its Jews France would not be France, this is the message we have to communicate loud and clear. We haven’t done so. We haven’t shown enough outrage. How can we accept that in certain schools and colleges the Holocaust can’t be taught? How can we accept that when a child is asked  “Who is your enemy” the response is “the Jew?” When the Jews of France are attacked France is attacked, the conscience of humanity is attacked. Let us never forget it.

And to how to accept the indignity of a serial hater having a full house on Saturday night, when the country was mourning for what happened in Porte de Vincennes? Let us never pass over these matters in silence, and let justice be implacable with those who preach hate. And I say that emphatically here at the National Assembly.

And to finish my remarks, Ladies and Gentleman, when someone, a young man or woman, a citizen, has doubts and approaches me or the Minister of Education with the question: “But I don’t understand, how come you want to silence this comedian, and you put the Charlie Hebdo journalists up on a pedestal?” There is a fundamental difference – and this is the battle that we have to win, educating our young people – there is a fundamental difference between the freedom to be insolent – blasphemy is not a crime and never will be – there is a fundamental difference between that liberty and anti-Semitism, racism, excusing terrorism and Holocaust denial, which are crimes that the courts must punish with ever greater severity.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Book Review - Called Out but Safe: A Baseball Umpire's Journey

Called Out but Safe: A Baseball Umpire's Journey by Al Clark with Dan Schlossberg
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (May 1, 2014)

Al Clark worked as an umpire in more than 3,000 games for thirty years.  He was lucky enough to work two All-Star Games, seven playoff series, and two World Series.

Clark was the umpire behind the plate during a game in 1991 when there were three Jews all wishing each other a happy new year when Shawn Green stepped up to the plate and Jesse Levis was the catcher.  How many times has that happened in baseball history?

Al Clark provides an entertaining memoir.  He shares his stories of managers Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, and Dick Williams.  Some of these folks were not friendly to the umpires.  Clark tells of how he tore his hamstring while ejecting a player or manager (I meant to put this review up a while ago after I read the book).  Heck, he even ejected his own father, a sportswriter who made his way into the dressing room.

It was Clark who was there for Nolan Ryan's 300th win, Cal Ripken's 2131st game, and the "earthquake" World Series of 1989.  He shares stories from all these games and many more.

Clark opens up about the scandal he was embroiled in.  This is what led to his retirement from baseball.  Had he realized what he was doing was wrong, he would have never done it.

Outspoken and hilarious, Clark's book provides the rare opportunity at what life is like for an umpire.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Book Review - The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter

The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter by Ian O'Connor
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (April 3, 2012)

The Captain is the definitive biography of future Hall of Fame member Derek Jeter.

This book is not an authorized biography in the sense that O'Connor sat down for hours at a time with the shortstop.  Instead, as one who covered the Yankees, O'Connor drew upon his prior interviews with Derek.  It's because of O'Connor's covering of the Yankees that he was able to draw on that unique access to The Captain.

With over 200 interviews, O'Connor is able to tell us how the biracial baseball player from Michigan started on his journey to become the shortstop of the New York Yankees.  The interesting thing?  Jeter was always telling people how he would be the future Yankees shortstop.  A funny thing happened on the way to the Bronx...

We go behind the scenes to when Jeter was struggling in the minors.  Despite being homesick and making an abundance of errors in the playing field, Jeter willed his way.  He had coaches and managers who served as mentors while he played in the minors.

It wouldn't be a Jeter book without discussing the whole rivalry with Alex Rodriguez.  Jeter has a one strike and you're out policy...of which Rodriguez broke the cardinal rule by talking bad about Jeter.

It may have looked easy for Jeter but it never was.  He worked hard to become the player he became.  He struggled along the way.

The paperback version of the book includes a new chapter on the chase for his 3,000th career hit--the first Yankees player ever to accomplish the milestone with the Yankees.  True, there have been other members of the 3,000 hit club that played for the Yankees like Wade Boggs and Dave Winfield but they didn't join the exclusive club with the Yankees.

When people talk about the definitive biography of Derek Jeter, they will be talking about Ian O'Connor's book for years to come.  It's an incisive, exhilarating, and revealing look at one of the best players in the game.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

2014 Solzy Awards

I started tweeting these the other day but here are the 2014 Solzy Awards.

Best Comedy Album: 2776: A Levinson Bros. and Rob Kutner Presentation

Best Musical Album: Jukebox the Ghost

Best Motion Picture Soundtrack (Tie): Begin Again: Music From and Inspired by the Original Motion PictureGuardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1

Best New Television Comedy (tie):
Broadcast: Marry Me
Cable: Sirens, Playing House

Best New Television Drama: The Flash

Best Breakout Star on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Jordan Klepper

Best Basketball Book: Players' First: Coaching from the Inside Out by John Calipari, Wildcat Memories: Inside Stories from Kentucky Basketball Greats by Doug Brunk, Fightin' Words: Kentucky vs. Louisville by Joe Cox and Ryan Clark

Best Sportswriting Memoir:  Scribe: My Life in Sports by Bob Ryan

Best Comedic Memoir (Tie): Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian by Bob Saget, Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Best Biography: Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History by Joseph Telushkin

Best Fiction Novel: Veronica Mars: An Original Mystery by Rob Thomas: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Most Anticipated Book of 2015 (Tie): The President's Shadow by Brad Meltzer; Lincoln and the Jews by Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell

Best Kentucky Sportswriter: Larry Vaught

Best National Basketball Writer: Mike DeCourcy

Best Baseball Writer (Tie): Derrick Goold, Rick Hummel

Best Group of Sports Bloggers: United Cardinal Bloggers

Best Kentucky Broadcaster (Tie): Tom Leach, Bob Valvano

Most Annoying Person on Television...Period: Skip Bayless (ESPN)