Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Crown: The Official Companion, Volume 1 (Robert Lacey)

When you pick up The Crown: The Official Companion Volume 1, rest assured that you are in the hands of a true expert. The hit Netflix show trusted author Robert Lacey to be its historical consultant, and the companion book brims with his authoritative knowledge.

But if you're not watching the show (and why not???), you'll still appreciate this engrossing look into the life of the fascinating Queen Elizabeth II. Volume I covers such topics as her childhood, her unexpected succession after the abdication of her uncle and death of her father, her coronation in all its glory, and her sometimes volatile relationship with her sister Princess Margaret. In addition, The Crown dives into the queen's real connection with her first prime minister, Winston Churchill.

Lacey doesn't skimp on details, and his knowledge and research are definitely impressive. There are biography pages thrown in, too, which makes the book slightly confusing to read. One is not quite sure where one section ends and another begins. But all in all, I would recommend The Crown to any fan of the show or anglophile.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Last Amateurs (John Feinstein)

John Feinstein’s The Last Amateurs is a timeless look at small-time college basketball as it plays for its one shot at big-time glory. The Patriot League may not be well known to many outside of college basketball circles, but at the time of the book's release, it was one of the few leagues in the top division of college basketball where some of the teams did not have athletic scholarships and played for the love of the game.

Feinstein’s recap of the 2000 Patriot League season and conference tournament weaves through each of the seven colleges and service academies as they play for one invitation to the NCAA tournament, also profiling the coaches and players as they struggled to balance life, basketball, and school (in the case of the players). The culmination of the book is the conference tournament, where each of the schools tries to win up to three games in order to get into the NCAA tournament, and where one loss means the end of their basketball season.

The Patriot League certainly doesn’t feature the huge schools that grab your attention, but it does have kids and coaches who love the sport. The Last Amateurs is a gripping, entertaining, fun read that will remind you about the best of college sports in an era where many times its uglier side can be brought to light elsewhere.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Our Kind of Cruelty (Araminta Hall)

Gillian Flynn, otherwise known as the Gone Girl priestess, wrote a blurb for Araminta Hall's Our Kind of Cruelty.  In it, she stated that the novel was disturbing but that she loved every minute of it. It seems every dark and twisted thriller nowadays is judged on how it compares to GG, but I will put myself out there to say that this outranks it in the need to "feel like you must take a shower afterwards."

That's not to say it's not a great read -- I couldn't put it down!  Our narrator is Mike Hayes, who is totally, completely, and blissfully in love with Verity Metcalf.  Mike and Verity do a sick and twisted role play game called the Crave.  While they were once together as a couple, Verity breaks it off over Mike's one night stand and rebounds quickly into a happy marriage with Angus.  But Mike sees Verity's new stage of life as just a part of their "game," and eventually goes deep into stalking her, with things taking a very dangerous turn.

You won't find the twists in Our Kind of Cruelty that you found in GG, but the suspense is the real "killer" here.  From the very first page, the reader knows that Mike and Verity's story will not end well.  It's getting to that point that keeps you turning the pages fast.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Finding Jake (Bryan Reardon)

I picked up Bryan Reardon's moving Finding Jake after a recommendation from a trusted colleague.  I'm so glad I did because this is one novel that keeps you guessing -- you're never quite sure what to expect, which is a trait that the best books present to their readers.

Reardon makes us guess ourselves by asking us to confront a simple question -- as parents, do we really know everything about our children?  The main character Simon Connolly loves his family -- wife Rachel, son Jake, and daughter Laney.  One ordinary day, he receives the devastating news that there has been a shooting at his children's school.  One by one, each parent is reunited with their child until Simon is one of the few left waiting for news. What really happened to Jake? Did he ever really know his own son?

Finding Jake is simply heart wrenching, and Reardon wisely alternates time periods so we learn about the family's past as well. The post climax goes on a little long so as to take me out of the zone a bit, but that doesn't take away from the fact that Finding Jake really packs a punch.