Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Book Review: You Ought To Do A Story About Me (OT) (life after the NFL)

You Ought To Do A Story About Me: Addiction, An Unlikely Friendship, and the Endless Quest for Redemption, by Ted Jackson (HarperCollins, $27.99, 329 pages, 2020)

1990

How many times has a journalist or reporter heard this: "You ought to do a story about me"?

Suppose you, the journalist or reporter, met a homeless man on the street, engaged him in conversation and learned he had played in the NFL and  more than one Superbowls. Would you believe him? Would it make front page news?

This actually happened to author and photo-journalist Ted Jackson in Louisiana. The player was Jackie Wallace of the Arizona State University Wildcats (where he majored in Math), the Minnesota Vikings, the Baltimore Colts, and the LA Rams. And yes, he has a Superbowl ring.

What happens to professional athletes when they can no longer play at the top of their game? Are they ready to be 'just normal?"

The wise athlete has set aside funds or invested in the market, or finished a degree or two, and not spent all his new-found salary. Others who make it big suddenly, go overboard. The average professional football career lasts 3-7 years and young men start that career (and adulation) right out of college with no life experience, little budgeting knowledge.

Jackie Wallace was one such young footballer. Read how he fell into a depression, became addicted and ended up in prison three times. It could happen to anyone. But then, keep reading about his roller-coaster ride of love, loyalty, and coming out on top.

A 30-Year Friendship Between a Fallen Athlete and  Photo-Journalist


What also happened to Jackie were a lot of head concussions - before the world knew about CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) or TBI (traumatic brain injury) resulting in early dementia and perhaps contributing to Wallace's ups and downs, addiction recoveries and fallbacks, too numerous for this reader to keep track of.

2020

But author Jackson published his book in 2020. What happened to Jackie Wallace between the front-page newspaper story in 1990 of his success and failure, and the next couple of decades? Did he die young or did old friends find him after the article and set up an environment for Wallace to succeed in life once more?

Writing Style

This is a book about a black man from New Orleans and his life during the Civil Rights Era (and beyond) written by a white man from small town Mississippi about the same age but with very different experiences, reviewed by a white woman from the north who grew up about the same time. Very different lives. Both men were deeply religious as well.

Jackson's life is mirrored next to Wallace's with photos embedded (but no captions) and cryptic chapter titles. Mostly a fast read, once momentum is achieved but, nevertheless, a long book. Putting it aside halfway through will still be a fascinating experience but finishing the book will profoundly affect the reader.

"A benevolent friend and a thief. An addict, an abuser, and a pilgrim. A selfish philanthropist. A humble narcissist bent on self-destruction." (page 181) A complicated man (as we all are) and his life choices.

Jackie Wallace was not "an athlete dying young.*" 

Or was he?

Caveat: This book was sent to me for review. It is available in the Howard County, MD, public library.

*To an Athlete Dying Young, by A H Houseman

Friday, January 8, 2021

Book Review: Paws vs. Claws (An Arthur and Queenie Mystery) - dog, cat, girl, boy, cow

Paws vs. Claws: An Arthur and Queenie Mystery, by New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award winning author Spencer Quinn/Peter Abrahams (Pas de Deux Corp/Scholastic Press, 2019,  309 pages, $16.99, grades 3-7, ages 8-12)

Ah, that prolific and delightfully entertaining Spencer Quinn of the 12 Chet (dog) and Bernie (human) books is at it again, this time for kids with his 3 Birdie (girl) and Bowser (pup) books


and now the 3 Arthur (dog) and Queenie (cat) books!

Mix in a set of 11-year-old fraternal twins (who loathe* each other) - Harmony and her brother Bro (in the grade behind); the old Blackberry Inn run by Mom, since Dad and Mom were divorced; an incorrigible* dog narrator (Arthur) and feline authoress, Queenie. Add in ambidextrous* Jimmy whose black eye was caused by running into a ladder or a door or a branch or Walter. And don't forget the gone-cow, a coma, a drowning, and . . . the oh-so-aptly named Catastrophe Falls (not named after a cat).

Our dog Arthur loves sports stuff: hockey pucks and baseball balls, especially in mud season in Vermont. Our cat Queenie loves her morning saucer of cream from Sweet Lady Em, a cow who seems to have disappeared: thus, the mystery in the title.

The Narrators

Note that the title and subtitle put the dog before the cat (this comment is at the request of an 11-year-old reader who has a dog).

Chapters are narrated by either Queenie the cat , The Cat's Meow, or Arthur the dog, mostly alternating chapters. For readers familiar with the Chet and Bernie series, you will recognize a lot of Chet in the thoughts of Arthur the dog. 

Writing Style

A bit slow to start out and a bit too reminiscent of Chet's train-of-thought writing (thinking), nevertheless, an engrossing book that makes the reader feel smart - hints develop into crucial clues later on but when first introduced, the hints are natural parts of the plot.

*look it up!

Read More About It! Book 2 in the series is Ruff vs. Fluff. Book 3 is Bark vs. Snark. The three books in the Echo Falls series are written for grades 5 and 6 (ages 8-12), primarily - Down the Rabbit Hole, Behind the Curtain and Into the Dark.

The Spencer Quinn books may be available at your friendly neighborhood public library.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Book Review: A Borrowing of Bones (veterans, Vermont, dogs, murder mysteries)

A Borrowing of Bones: A Mercy Carr Mystery Book 1, by best-selling author Paula Munier (Minotaur Press, 2018, 342 pages, $26.99)

Another 24-hour book! Finally!

I have read many books lately that are hard to finish (I am a reader/judge for three literary awards that just about anyone can enter so reading lower-quality books to the final page can be a long chore); therefore, I was delighted to discover A Borrowing of Bones to be a good, fast, yet long read. 

Value added was provided by the two main characters having been deployed to Afghanistan (as was I) and their two dogs being r-e-a-l major characters: one, a Malinois/Belgian Shepherd, Elvis, (like a German Shepherd) had been a military working dog while the other, a rescue Newfie mix, Susie Bear, was trained in search-and-rescue (SAR) for his person, a Fish and Wildlife Department game warden in Vermont.

I truly liked all the characters plus the two dogs play a major role. What more could one ask for?

In addition, . . . . 

The reader will be pleasantly surprised to find several chapters (out of 50) ending on cliffhangers and be totally surprised by the twists and turns!

Plus plenty of references to Shakespeare and Vermont history and geography. Though I have been to Vermont, if I had a map, I would hopefully be able to find the places mentioned - unless they are fictional.

Bonus

I also found half a dozen 'triplets,' two in the beginning, one in the middle, and others at the end. After noticing the first two, I paid attention, looked for others and realized author Paula Munier was having fun with her readers. Here is an example of the triplets: "bones, bodies and bombs" in one sentence. and another - "Shakespeare's scripts and sonnets and soliloquies."

But, . . . . 

Any book this long is bound to have some errors - either typos or factual errors, even in a fiction book, if the author is not a subject matter expert. I read some reviews that really harped on this. I can usually forgive one or two -  Munier wrote some other things that I wasn't quite sure about plus there were several sentences that I had to read a few times to understand. However, both protagonists had been deployed to Afghanistan as I had: I learned early in my work there that Afghani referred to the currency not the people. I was quite harshly called on that so I didn't forget it. The author, on page 44, makes the same error. She has not been to the country but has spent a lot of time with an organization called MissionK9Rescue so I was surprised at that error.

Now, About the Plot

A woman veteran and her former Army dog are walking through the woods one morning when they come upon a baby! She takes the baby, reports the incident - and later the baby is removed from the hospital by someone unknown. 

This veteran also finds human bones in the woods close to where her dog alerts on the scent of explosives.

A man is stabbed to death. The veteran's home is ransacked. Her grandmother, a veterinarian, tries to match our hero up with the Fish and Game agent, also an Afghanistan veteran, with a SAR dog.

Another stabbing.

And so on. Exciting.

Writing Style

I like short chapters. Munier provides them along with considerable conversation so the 50 chapters (untitled though) speed by. I liked this book so much that I just might read the second

Book 2

and third
Book 3

books in the new series (hope they are a bit shorter) and may also read Fixing Freddie: A True Story of a Boy, a Mom, and a Very, Very Bad Beagle.

Caveat: This book can be found in the Howard County, MD, public library system.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Book Review: The Bookshop (England, widow, small town bookstore)(OT)

The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald (Mariner Books, 1978, 156 pages, $14.95) (author is a Booker Prize winner and was also the recipient of National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction) Now a major motion picture* (2018).

Intriguing Cover

"Books Matter"

A small English town does not have a bookshop. A 10-year resident and widow purchases a very old house (centuries old) in the middle of town, moves in and opens a bookshop necessitating hiring a 10-year-old girl as a part-time assistant. 

"A Good Man Gone"

Replete with a Boy Scout troop, a fancy gala at the home of the retired General and his 'do-good wife,' a rather lazy BBC employee and his girlfriend, an old cantankerous gentleman in an even older house. Lolita has just been published and on the recommendation of the cantankerous old man, the bookshop owner, Florence Green, purchases 250 copies to sell, creating quite the sensation.

Just because a town does not have a bookshop, does it need one? Perhaps there is a reason why it does not have a bookshop. . . but, now, with said bookshop, how to close it down? 

Writing Style

Ms. Fitzgerald writes as the British author she is, with numerous words I had to guess at and even more references to British life (although I understood the references to the Royal Family and to Baden-Powell). Sentences were either short and easily comprehended or quite convoluted.

Book Club Selection

Written in 1978 and taking place even earlier, The Bookshop was a selection in my book club, therefore, I did finish it. Otherwise, I would not have read the entire book, short though it is at 157 pages.

Caveat: This book is available in our county public library system, along with the DVD. I would suggest reading the book first (I didn't). Reading the Introduction after finishing the book will make the reader more appreciative.

*