Tag Archives: sports novel

When the Men Were Gone

when the men were gone

When the Men Were Gone: A Novel by Marjorie Herrera Lewis (William Morrow, $26.99/$15.99, 240 pages)

When the Men Were Gone, based on a true story, is Marjorie Herrera Lewis’ debut novel about Tylene Wilson, an assistant principal at a Texas high school who takes over the school’s football team during World War II, when all of the men are either at war or returning home dead.

Wilson has grown up an avid fan and shares many childhood memories with her father, but when she steps up to make sure the boys get one last chance to play football before the war comes calling, she is seen in a less than favorable light by many of the locals.  Her heroic gesture is met more with scorn than gratitude, because “everybody knows” that coaching football in Texas is clearly a man’s job.

When Wilson finally clears the imminent hurdles with her principal and the school board, the team takes the field for its first game against a powerhouse program in front of a full house with reporters from hours away descending upon Brownwood, Texas.

It turns out that Wilson does know what she’s doing, and Lewis tells both an inspiring and enjoyable story.  She does well to avoid too much commentary and simply leads the reader through the thoughts and actions of the characters, bring the story to a satisfying conclusion.

The book, however, is arguably a bit too lean at less than 250 pages.  Its primary drawback is that a little more meat at times could have made for a better, more complete story.  This does not seem to have been the goal for Lewis, but more could have been done to shore up the characters and plot.

Lewis herself covered the Dallas Cowboys for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and endured some taunting from some insiders before winning them over.  She went on to join the Texas Wesleyan University football staff.  Though not autobiographical, Lewis apparently relied upon her knowledge and personal experiences to lend credibility to the inspiring account.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  When the Men Were Gone will be released in hardbound and trade paper versions on October 2, 2018.

Dave Moyer is the Superintendent of Schools for the Elmhurst Unit District 205 public school district, located just north of Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel about baseball, love and Bob Dylan.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Home Field Advantage

home-field

Home Field: A Novel by Hannah Gersen (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 432 pages)

One of the joys of reviewing books is when one comes across a new book or writer that was not previously on the radar screen. That is what happened to me with Hannah Gersen’s novel Home Field. Plain and simple, Gersen delivers the goods.

Gersen tells a touching story of loss and redemption that engages and avoids sentimentality. Her ability to craft meaningful and natural dialogue among characters, which is difficult for many writers, is impressive.

In Home Field, Dean Renner is a revered small town football coach in rural Maryland. However, his personal life is not as orderly or successful as his disciplined routine as that of a head coach (amid the excitement of Friday night lights).

Dean’s wife Nicole, whose first husband died young, suffers from depression and ultimately commits suicide in the most unsettling of ways. His stepdaughter, Stephanie, wrestles with the loss of a father she never knew followed by her mother’s untimely death. Dean battles his own troubles as years of emotional isolation during his marriage took its toll. Was Nicole’s unhappiness due to Dean’s obsession with coaching, or did he absorb himself in coaching to fill the void that her mental illness created in his life? Or, is it just the way of things that the unscripted complexities of life do not lend themselves to executing a plan in the way that X’s and O’s on a chalkboard equal success on the field?

On top of it, Dean must play single father to his two boys, one of whom – Robbie, is a mystery to him. Robbie’s attraction to the theater and his extreme sensitivity are foreign to Dean’s practical, tactical approach to life. It is Robbie who holds the mirror up to the characters’ souls; it’s his actions that bring the events in the story to a head, and bring the hearts of the community together.

home-field-back-cover

Coach Renner appears to achieve some peace of mind as the story comes to a close. But, one question remains. He could not save his wife from herself. So while he works miracles with other people’s kids, can he save his own?

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a public school superintendent in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Baseball Dreams

Life and Life Only

Life and Life Only: A Novel by Dave Moyer (iUniverse, $14.95, 200 pages)

Because I like baseball (having written a baseball novel), have endured martial strife, and am a father (all major themes in Dave Moyer’s novel), I enjoyed reading Life and Life Only. It details Dan Mason’s life from his birth in 1974 to his early-forties in the future year of 2018. Incidentally, the book was published by iUniverse, Inc., in 2009, nine years before the story ends.

An abundance of facts are presented as the novel primarily follows the baseball career of talented pitcher, Dan. We accompany him through youth, high school, summer, college and semi-pro baseball as he seeks his dream of playing professional and eventually major league baseball. Unfortunately an arm injury undermines that dream. Baseball also is an important part of his marriage to the lovely Southern belle, Anna Jean, and even permeates, in a positive way, his excellent relationship with his only child, Melinda Sue.

The novel does have its shortcomings, however. The interspersing of historical details and the music of Bob Dylan aside, it has, as I mentioned, an abundance of facts. And Moyer often presents these facts randomly, and sometimes in a helter skelter manner, frequently changing point of view in the process. Such a voluminous number of facts ultimately sacrifices the drama inherent in Life and Life Only. Moyer regularly violates the important writers’ adage of “Tell, don’t show.” Thus he keeps the reader at a distance instead of inviting him into each scene.

Even with the novel ending some nine years after publication, it seems very autobiographical. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I simply mention it because a little poetic license might well heighten drama.

Life and life only (1)

Again, I enjoyed the book. I am sure I would have found it more compelling with fewer facts and more drama.

Recommended (3 stars out of 5).

Alan Mindell

Alan Mindell is the author of The Closer: A Baseball Love Story, and The B Team: A Horse Racing Saga.

The Closer Mindell

Dave Moyer is an education administrator in the greater Chicago area, author, and a reviewer for this site.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My Father’s Gun

Rules for Becoming a Legend (nook book)

Rules for Becoming a Legend: A Novel by Timothy S. Lane (Viking Adult, $26.95, 352 pages)

“The time is out of joint.” Hamlet, Act I, scene 5, line 188

Timothy S. Lane’s Rules for Becoming a Legend, released in March, is a strong debut novel. In the age of travel ball and the mistaken belief that every child is a Division 1 and/or professional prospect of some type, there are many not-so-subtle lessons contained in the pages of Rules. For those who truly do have the talent to excel at a chosen sport, the message is scarier.

In a basketball-crazed town, Jimmy “Kamikaze” Kirkus is even more talented at basketball than his father, Todd “Freight Train” Kirkus. “Freight Train,” a one-time sure thing star in the NBA, is known in his middle age as nothing more than a flop who loads trucks with Pepsi for a living.

One disaster after another descends upon the Kirkus family, creating something known to the locals as “The Kirkus Curse.” Only some of it can be traced to the actions of the characters themselves. While in life, the vicious cycle of misfortune that results from a single misdeed is all to real for many, in this novel it is taken to a close-to-unbelievable extreme.

In the midst of these sad circumstances, young Jimmy must decide for himself if it is worthwhile to pursue the path to becoming a sports legend; a journey which may lead to his ruination. In Rules, the joys of childhood are lost far too quickly.

Lane’s characters are interesting and the major themes resonate. There are high quality passages throughout the book such as, “The warmth around Genny (Todd’s wife) was delicious, and the moment he settled in next to her he was able to regain the just-below-the-surface sleepiness that was the best part of waking up….”; the end of a strong passage in which Genny suppresses her anger toward her husband, “Letting even just a little of that in would blow the hinges off the whole thing and she would suffocate…”; or, considering the meaning of Jimmy’s basketball throughout the book, the strong use of personification, “He (Todd) set the ball on the table and swept up the broken vase. The basketball watched him work.”

Lane tells the story in a sequence of never-ending flashbacks, which is understandable initially but unnecessary and/or irritating later on in the book. Despite the examples above and many other well-worded passages, the book is generally written in a fragmented manner – intentionally so it would seem, to accentuate the characters’ thoughts and circumstances. However, there are times when this is not stylistically necessary and, therefore, subject to question. Yet, neither criticism detracts from the general reader’s overall enjoyment of what is otherwise a very solid effort.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

Rules (audible audio)

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “A slam dunk of a debut… Rules has the authenticity and pathos of a great Springsteen song.” Jonathan Evison, author of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novel.

Dave Moyer is an educator, a former college baseball player and coach, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Pitcher

The Pitcher: A Novel by William Hazelgrove (Koehlerbooks, $15.95, 241 pages)

The Pitcher (nook book)

“I had a friend who was a big baseball player back in high school/ He could through that speedball by you/ Make you look like a fool, boy…/ Glory days, they’ll pass you by….” Bruce Springsteen, “Glory Days”

The Pitcher is Jack Langford, a 25-year major league baseball veteran, whose existence consists of watching games on television in his garage and drinking Good Times beer. Ricky, who lives across the street from Jack, is an aspiring pitcher on the cusp of high school with much more arm than control. Ricky’s mother is a noble soul, trying to raise her son and advance his future in the midst of racism, poverty, and violence.

The writing flows smoothly, the characters are interesting, and the story itself is intriguing. The Pitcher is clearly an enjoyable read, particularly well suited for young adult males. Its only detractors are those baseball purists who like everything in their baseball literature to 100% accurately reflect the game down to the smallest minutiae. From strictly a baseball standpoint, there are some technical inaccuracies (e.g., when Jack finally agrees to give lessons to Ricky and help him make the team, they are nothing like what pitching lessons would actually consist of). There are some others as well, such as description of the interactions between umpires and coaches, coaches and players, etc. However, this is fiction, and in all fiction one must be willing to suspend disbelief. If the baseball fanatic can get past some of that, there is much for them to enjoy here. The story will bring back feelings like hope or joy or disappointment for those who once played the game.

The premise of The Pitcher is strong. This reviewer cannot help but speculate how the major issues dealt with in the book (racism, immigration reform, how to live when one’s dreams seem to be over, domestic violence, access to health care, etc.) would have translated to a larger audience if not confined to a first-person telling by Ricky, whose 8th grade maturity level and vocabulary do not always do them justice.

All of that being said, The Pitcher is a worthy rendering of the age old theme of a boy, a ball, and a dream.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the author. Dave Moyer is an education administrator and a former college baseball player. He is also the author of Life and Life Only, a novel about baseball and Bob Dylan.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized