What’s That Book? Football for a Buck by Jeff Pearlman

TitleFootball for a Buck

Author:  Jeff Pearlman

Genre: Nonfiction

Rating:

What’s it about?
This book highlights the rise and fall of the United States Football League (USFL), which lasted for three seasons in the 1980s. It dives into the incredible highs that the league experienced, such as enticing the talents of Steve Young, Jim Kelly and Reggie White to play in the league. But it also goes into detail on the laundry list of reasons why the league failed so quickly, as well as its ties to current US President, Donald Trump, who was one of the league’s team owners.

How did you hear about it?
I follow Pearlman on Twitter, so I was pulled in as he shared info about the book during the reporting process. I have also read two of his previous books, Gunslinger and Sweetness, which are biographies on Brett Favre and Walter Payton, respectively.

Closing comments:
It is impossible to read this book and not draw parallels between Trump’s actions now and how he acted in the USFL, despite that being over 30 years ago. Whether you support him or not, Trump was a key contributor to the eventual downfall of the league. Backed by a series of bold lies, he convinced the other league owners that a move from the spring to the fall to compete directly with the NFL was not only necessary, but it would allow the USFL to win a lawsuit against them for creating a monopoly on professional football. Instead of the slow, steady progress that the league initially aimed for, the immediately-shoot-for-the-moon path instead catapulted the USFL directly into the sun as it faded away into football history.

This book was especially interesting to read after the Alliance of American Football (AAF) failed this past spring as it also attempted to provide football for fans during the NFL offseason. That league was shut down after half a year due to some of the same pitfalls as the USFL, but after reading more about both leagues, it was clear the USFL had a lot of things right that the AAF didn’t. The USFL had some of the best football players in the world, while the AAF primarily had NFL rejects. And with Vince McMahon’s reboot of the XFL planned for next year, it’ll be curious to see if one of the other biggest egos in sports entertainment will take the history of these failed leagues and turn his venture into a success.

In closing, the reporting and storytelling by Pearlman are top notch as usual. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in pro football history.

Contributor:  Austin Vitelli is an associate editor for a medical publishing company and graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism. He’s been a football fan his whole life, cheering for his beloved Philadelphia Eagles. His blog, which mostly focuses on the Eagles, can be viewed at http://austinvitelli.com/thephillysportsreport/.


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What’s That Book? The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

TitleThe Other Wes Moore – One Name, Two Fates

Author:  Wes Moore

Genre:  Memoir/Biography

Rating:  4 stars

What’s it about?  An in-depth look at the lives of two young men with the same name, who grew up on the same streets in Baltimore, Maryland. One is serving a life sentence for murder, the other (the author of this book) graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Johns Hopkins University, is a Rhodes Scholar, earned a Master’s at Oxford, was a White House Fellow under Secretary Condoleezza Rice and is a combat veteran.

The author learned about the other Wes Moore after a series of articles in the Baltimore Sun about a jewelry robbery that went bad. The store’s security guard was killed and the other Wes Moore was one of the men convicted of murder.

The author was haunted by this story and determined to make sense of how two people who had very similar childhoods could go in such different directions. He writes, “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.” He wrote to the other Wes in prison and the two men began a years-long correspondence. This book is the result of their unusual relationship.

How did you hear about it?  One of my kids read it for his summer reading assignment about eight years ago. It looked interesting to me so I also read it.

Coincidently, we were at another son’s college graduation last week and the speaker was Wes Moore. Moore is now the CEO of Robin Hood, one of the largest anti-poverty forces in the nation. After hearing him speak about his experiences and listening to his simple and down-to-earth advice to the class, I knew I wanted to talk about the book.

Closing comments: I was glad to be reminded of this book and hear Moore speak. I recommend The Other Wes Moore to readers of all ages. You can read more about Wes Moore and Robin Hood here.

Contributor:  Ginette 😉


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What’s That Book? Leaving the Beach by Mary Rowen

TitleLeaving the Beach

Author:  Mary Rowen

Genre: Fiction

Rating:  4 stars

What’s it about?  The story of Erin Reardon and her search for happiness. Told in the first person and set in the working class town of Winthrop, Massachusetts, readers get to know Erin in alternating time periods—in the 1970s and ‘80s as an awkward teenager and college student, and in the 1990s as a young adult. As a slightly overweight teenager, Erin struggles to fit in, but finds comfort in music, to the point of obsession, as she latches on to a string of rock stars, certain that they are the only ones who understand her: Jim Morrison, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and the fictional grunge rocker, Lenny Weir, Erin’s main obsession. But Erin has major problems. Trouble at home and feelings of guilt and inadequacy lead to an eating disorder, alcohol abuse and a series of bad decisions.

Readers will enjoy reliving many classic teen and young adult moments as they relate to rock music, concerts and playing albums over and over. I like how Rowen describes the powerful one-on-one connection that can occur when you listen to music by yourself. Rowen also realistically shows the more painful times of rejection, not fitting in and the lonely moments suffered when everyone else seems to have life figured out.

How did you hear about it?  I saw Leaving the Beach reviewed by a few of my blogging friends and decided to read it myself.

Closing comments:  I thoroughly enjoyed this unique and fast read. Erin Reardon is both typical and remarkable, flawed but likable. Readers need to hold on to hope as she makes mistakes. I didn’t see the author’s truly original finish coming, and that made the book an even better read!

Contributor:  Book Club Mom

P.S. I was pleased to receive a message from Mary Rowen, who asked me to tell readers that, while Leaving the Beach is currently out of print, a newly edited version will be available in the summer of 2019. Learn more about Mary Rowen at MaryRowen.com.


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What’s That Book? Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

 

TitleFrog Music

Author:  Emma Donoghue

Genre: Mystery/Historical Fiction

Rating:  4 stars

What’s it about?  The fictionalized account of the 1876 murder of Jenny Bonnet, an enigmatic free spirit in San Francisco, who dressed like a man and earned a living catching frogs for restaurants.

The story begins with Jenny’s murder, which takes place in a rented room at a railroad saloon. An unknown assailant shoots through the window, kills Jenny, but misses her companion, Blanche Beunon. Blanche, a burlesque dancer at the House of Mirrors, is certain she knows who is responsible, but will the authorities believe her? The author cleverly frames this original story with music and lyrics of the times.

The majority of Donoghue’s characters come from historical record and comprise San Francisco’s gritty underbelly during a smallpox epidemic and record heatwave. Blanche’s efforts to both save herself and point to those responsible for Jenny’s murder reveal many complicated and unlikable characters who are trying to scrape by in a rough environment and willingly take advantage of each other. Blanche’s lover and his companion are former trapeze artists from a circus in Paris, where Blanche performed on horseback. A back injury has forced him to quit performing and now Blanche is the breadwinner for the trio, earning money from her “leg shows” and private rendezvous.

Blanche thinks nothing of this until she meets Jenny, who has a knack for asking unsettling questions, and forces Blanche to see her life as it is.

How did you hear about it?  It is this month’s mystery book club choice.

Closing comments:  The author presents a vivid picture of the seedy side of San Francisco during this time period, including its widespread abuse and racial intolerance. Her characters’ attitudes towards other races, including the French, Irish, Chinese, Italians and Prussians, show how prejudice was deep seated during these times. While the story is based on actual events, Donoghue includes themes of love, friendship and motherhood, yet most of her characters don’t come close to holding onto these things. While Blanche’s character is the most developed, Jenny is the most interesting one. She was well-known throughout the city and I was very interested in her back story.

Frog Music is not for the faint of heart, due to many graphic and weirdly violent sex scenes. Many readers will question whether they are necessary to the story. I’m not sure. I think on one hand, they help define the characters and the times, but I also think there were too many “defining moments.”

The mystery is solved in the final pages and an Afterward provides much detail about the author’s research and the musical references. I thought this was one of the best parts of the book.

Contributor:  Ginette 😉


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What’s That Book? The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

TitleThe Great Alone

Author:  Kristin Hannah

Genre: Popular fiction

Rating:  4 stars

What’s it about?  A story about a family of three who, in an effort to start fresh, move from Seattle to the open space of Kaneq, Alaska. Cora and Ernt Allbright had been happily married in the 1960s, but everything changed after Ernt returned from service in Vietnam. A prisoner of war for six years, Ernt came home with many demons. When Ernt learns he has inherited land in Kaneq from a war buddy who was killed in service, Alaska sounds like a perfect escape. A mish-mash of settlers in Kaneq form a divided community. Many are homesteaders from several generations back and many are there to escape, including the survivalist clan of Ernt’s buddy. The brief summer in Kaneq soon gives way to an unrelenting winter. And the shortened days reveal an even greater darkness inside the Allbright cabin.

It’s hard enough to adjust to Ernt’s depression and excessive drinking, but Cora has been hiding something much worse. The story is told from the perspective of their thirteen-year-old daughter, Leni, who tries to reconcile her love for her father with the man he is now.

The story starts in 1974 and finishes in the present, describing the many challenges and heart breaking decisions the Allbrights must make.

How did you hear about it?  My book club friend selected it for our December read.

Closing comments:  I enjoyed reading about Alaska and how people survive in such a difficult place. The author did a great job describing both the beauty and the danger of living in Kaneq. Survival is a full-time job there and the Allbrights meet many people who are willing to help.

Despite its 400 plus pages, this is a fast read. Although I enjoyed the story and descriptions, the characters are somewhat stereotypical, making the book a light version of an important time period. A perfectly tied-up finish will make some readers happy and will make others think the ending is unrealistic.

Contributor:  Ginette 😉


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What’s That Book? The Racketeer by John Grisham

TitleThe Racketeer

Author:  John Grisham

Genre: Legal thriller

Rating:  3 stars

What’s it about?  When Judge Raymond Fawcett is murdered and his safe is emptied, the FBI scrambles to solve a crime with very little evidence. Then comes an offer from Malcolm Bannister, a former attorney who is serving time in a Federal prison camp for money laundering. Bannister says he knows who did it and why, but he wants a deal.

How did you hear about it?  I was looking for something different and entertaining to read and found The Racketeer at the library.

Closing comments:  I enjoyed this clever story, which carries the reader through a plot that seems straightforward and evokes sympathy for Bannister’s seemingly wrongful conviction. Grisham introduces characters and presents facts as needed and by mid-story, we think we have an idea how it will all work out.

But new characters and twists lead in a different direction and just enough information is left hanging until the finish, when it’s all wrapped up. In the end, you can’t help but return to the beginning and rethink the characters. Grisham shows us that the question of what is fair game does not always have a clear answer.

I liked Bannister’s character, even as we learn more about him and see to what lengths he will go. I enjoyed the fast pace of the book and how Grisham pokes fun at the FBI. If you’re a lawyer or a former inmate and you take issue with some of the facts or unrealistic turns, make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end, telling us this is “indeed a work of fiction.”

It’s been years since I read The Firm, The Pelican Brief and The Client, which I thought were excellent. This does not seem as substantial, but is entertaining nonetheless.

Contributor:  Ginette


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What’s That Book? Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds by Nick Foles

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TitleBelieve It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds

Author:  Nick Foles, with Joshua Cooley

Genre: Nonfiction

Rating:  3.5 stars

What’s it about? This is a first-person account of the journey that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles experienced in the 2017 season, which culminated in the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory. After entering the season as the backup, he was thrust into the starting role after the starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, tore his ACL. Foles embraced his faith in God and overcame countless odds to achieve the greatest feat in an NFL season—winning a championship.

How did you hear about it? I’m an avid member of the “Eagles Twitter” community, so I get most of my Eagles news from there. It was hard to not hear about the Super Bowl MVP’s book while following the aftermath of the championship.

Closing comments: I learned a ton about Foles in this book, including information prior to his days in the National Football League. I was glad he included these parts instead of just focusing on the 2017 season for the entire book. It was great to hear about how he was recruited in high school, his eventual transfer from Michigan State to Arizona, and even aspects of his personal life. He’s an honest and open individual, which quickly becomes clear when listening to his interviews, and luckily, this translated into an honest, humbling book. Of course, Foles is no author, so the quality of the writing (despite the help of a real author) is not going to blow anyone away. The book probably could’ve been cut by about 40 to 50 pages and still have been just as interesting, but it doesn’t drone on and on either. Personally, I found the references to his religion a little over the top at times. I am glad that Foles’s belief in God helped guide him through his experiences, but for readers who aren’t into that kind of thing, it might come off as him pushing his religion too much. I’m sure this wasn’t his intention, so I can’t criticize it too much. However, for many people who don’t have as strong religious beliefs, it can be easy to glaze over entire paragraphs because it becomes rather repetitive. Overall, though, this was a fun, easy read and gave me some great perspective into the man that’s going to be at the top of the list in Philadelphia for a long time.

Contributor:  Austin Vitelli is an assistant editor for a medical publishing company who recently graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism. He’s been a Philadelphia Eagles fan his whole life. His blog, which mostly focuses on the Eagles, can be viewed here.


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What’s That Book? The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

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TitleThe Murder of Mary Russell

Author:  Laurie R. King

Genre: Detective fiction

Rating:  4 stars

What’s it about?  The 14th book of King’s Mary Russell series in which the author incorporates characters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries into new detective stories. This one includes Sherlock Holmes and his landlady, Mrs. Hudson, as well as Mary Russell, Holmes’ wife, a new character created by King at the beginning of the series. The book is based on Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott,” a tale involving Mrs. Hudson’s father as a young man, as he is transported as a prisoner from England to Australia. A mutiny ensues, the ship explodes and Hudson finds himself adrift.

The bigger story is about Clara Hudson, James Hudson’s daughter, and how she came to be Sherlock’s landlady and housekeeper, first at his Baker Street residence and now in Sussex. It begins in 1925 when Clara returns from the market to a bloody and upturned house. Sherlock is out and Mary is nowhere to be found and Clara fears the worst for a young woman she considers family. Who has been to their house and why are Clara’s personal belongings in disarray?

Clara has learned a few things about how to handle evidence and the process of deductive reasoning and has useful information for Sherlock when he returns. The book is partially narrated by Mary herself, with alternating chapters going back to 1850s when Clara is a young girl and later.

In the back story, James Hudson is not a great father, often drunk and hardly trustworthy, but father and daughter become partners in crime as they work the crowds in both Sydney and London, picking pockets and developing more elaborate schemes to steal people’s money. The stories come together at the finish to connect the Sussex visitor and Clara’s two lives.

How did you hear about it?  I learned about it from the mystery book club I run at my library job. We will be discussing it next week.        

Closing comments:  I enjoyed this story very much. Although I’m sure it’s best to read the series from the beginning, I was pleased to be able to jump in so late. The first of the series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, is presented as a memoir and introduces Mary to Holmes. Most of the books are about their relationship. The Murder of Mary Russell is different because it is about Mrs. Hudson. I would recommend the series to devoted Sherlock Holmes fans as well as to readers who enjoy detective fiction.

Contributor:  Book Club Mom

For more information, please visit these recent posts:

On mystery writer Laurie R. King, Sherlock Holmes and fan fiction

When you have a Twitter conversation with a character from a book


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What’s That Book? We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

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TitleWe Were the Lucky Ones

Author:  Georgia Hunter

Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating:  3.5 stars

What’s it about?  A fictionalized account of the author’s family in Poland and Europe during World War II. In 1939, the Kurc family lived in Radom, Poland. Sol and Nechuma had five grown children, just starting their lives. Everything changed when Germany invaded Poland. The parents were given jobs working in a German cafeteria. One brother was in France. Two others joined the Polish army. Mila Kurc’s husband disappeared and Halina’s new job was hard labor at a beet farm. The family was eventually forced out of their home and into a designated Jewish ghetto. The oldest son and his wife were sent to Siberia. For six years, the family was scattered, with little information about each other. They witnessed executions and faced brutal treatment and persecution by both the Germans and the Soviets. They endured unthinkable conditions, took innumerable risks to survive and resist, sometimes with the aid of Halina’s husband who was involved in the Underground.

Nearly six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and although the Kurc family suffered many losses, they all survived the war. When the war was over, some came to America, others settled in Europe, but they all left Poland. Georgia Hunter’s grandfather was the middle son, Addy, who was in Paris when Germany invaded Poland. He escaped and spent time in Spain, West Africa, Casablanca and Brazil, and had no contact with his family until after the war. When he arrived in America, one of the first thing Addy did was change his name, which was short for Adolf, to Eddie.

How did you hear about it?  My book club friend selected it.

Closing comments:  An incredible story of perseverance. The Kurc family survived a horrible period of history. Their courage and resolve—and, as the author says, luck—is a story that should be read and remembered.

On a side note, from a stylistic point of view, separate from the serious and important record of history, I felt that the book could have been shorter. While not a difficult read, it is over four hundred pages and the accounts are sometimes wordy and repetitive. In addition, it was sometimes difficult to keep the characters straight, as they did not possess enough distinct traits. The book often reads more as a wholesome Young Adult book, with an occasional scene that seems unbalanced with the overall style.

Contributor:  Ginette


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What’s That Book? The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

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TitleThe Nest

Author:  Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Genre: Fiction

Rating:  4 stars

What’s it about?  A dysfunctional group of middle-aged siblings who put the pressure on their charming but reckless brother to pay back a large sum of money from their inheritance. The story is set in New York and begins a few months before Leo, Jack, Bea and Melody Plumb are due to collect money from a trust (The Nest) their father set up years earlier before his death. Each had been counting on the money, which had grown substantially, but when Leo, drunk and high on cocaine, crashes his Porsche, their mother dips into the account to send Leo to rehab, pay off the young waitress in the passenger seat, and above all else, avoid scandal. Out of rehab, will Leo make good?

Leo, the oldest, made his money from a “literary” gossip magazine which helped propel their writer sister, Bea into fame. But Bea never got her long-expected novel off the ground and has been floundering ever since. Jack, always in Leo’s shadow, owns an antique shop, but he’s bad with money and has kept many financial secrets from his husband, Walker. And Melody wants desperately to send her twin daughters to college. She has scrimped and saved her entire adult life, but money is still tight. Secrets between the siblings and their spouses muddle up an already complex dynamic, heck to live through, but lots of fun to read about!

How did you hear about it?  Selected by my book club

Closing comments:  I loved this book. It’s a great balance between serious themes and entertaining plot lines. In particular, I love how the side characters develop and have their moments later in the story.

Contributor:  Ginette


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