The Pitcher: A Novel by William Hazelgrove (Koehlerbooks, $15.95, 241 pages)
Everyone has a dream. Ricky’s is to pitch for the baseball team of the high school that he’ll be attending in the coming year. The Hispanic youth has a great fastball but no control, so the dream appears unlikely to come true. But then he meets The Pitcher, a former major league baseball player who pitched his team to victory in the World Series. The Pitcher is not only gruff, he’s in mourning for his late wife and wants nothing to do with the world.
William Hazelgrove has fashioned a near classic baseball story with a few unexpected elements. Because Ricky is Mexican-American in a predominantly white and prosperous community, he faces discrimination based on his ethnicity and poverty. He’s willing to do almost anything to prove that his athletic skills are good enough, knowing full well that life generally gives you only one shot at success. Can he somehow convince The Pitcher to be his coach and mentor?
This novel is completely unlike Hazelgrove’s previous book, Rocket Man, but it’s engaging and uplifting. It would be a perfect story for a young athlete-to-be who needs inspiration and encouragement. Ricky demonstrates that grit and determination are essential qualities for dreamers.
A review copy was provided by the author.
The Card: A Van Stone Novel by Jim Devitt (CreateSpace; $10.99; 248 pages)
When reading Jim Devitt’s self-published novel The Card: A Van Stone Novel, one can’t help but think of the classic cartoon Scooby Doo. In it, three high school students become entangled in a web of intrigue for which one must be willing to suspend belief to a large degree to buy into.
The story starts innocently enough, as 18-year-old Van Stone wins an essay contest to become a clubhouse go-fer for the Seattle Mariners major league baseball organization. This would be a summer dream for many young men, but it is not far into the novel that the connection to baseball is minimized and instead shifts to the mystery surrounding the Moe Berg baseball card given to Van by his father. (For additional information on why this is significant, see The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg by Nicholas Dawidoff. To give away more would be to compromise the ending of this book.)
Van’s father worked for a company called Biotrust, which is involved in high level, top-secret scientific research, before he left to become an independent businessman. Van’s precious possession, his father’s gift, is associated with a vicious plot to uncover a highly classified secret, sucking Van and his two best friends onto both a quest to solve the mystery and a fight for survival.
The book loses steam about a third of the way through despite some unexpected twists in the final 20 or so pages. The fact that Van and his friends never go to the police until a Mariners employee brokers a meeting is hard to fathom, and the reason given for this at the end of the story is nearly untenable. The dialogue between the three best friends is flat in most instances, and the closeness of the relationships of the main characters does not come through to the extent it could.
This reviewer could not find any information indicating that the book is specifically intended for Young Adult audiences. However, taken as such, it has more merit. The simplicity of the storytelling and character development would not be as much of a drawback in that case, and a young, male reader – in particular – might find this an enjoyable book to pick up as professional baseball heads into its playoff season.
A review copy was provided by the author. Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel, which deals with a young man, the game of baseball and the musician known as Bob Dylan.
A review of Life On Hold: A Novel by Karen McQuestion.
Meet Me on the Paisley Roof by Murray Tillman – Bascom Hill Books, $14.95
This is a book that I very much wanted to like and enjoy. However, no matter how hard I tried I could not seem to find a part of the story to grab on to. The plot just seemed too simple and basic. Again and again, I decided that I would read on to the next chapter and it would surely get to be more interesting. It did not.
I can, however, certainly see how the retro tone of this book will remind some of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn; Mark Twain’s Young Adult (YA) characters. The narrator’s voice does have a charmingness about it. Perhaps this book will become popular as a YA book. It simply was not adult enough for me.
Now here’s a first for this site. While perusing the web I found another book blogger’s review of this same book and was startled to see how similar her thoughts were about Paisley Roof. With her permission, I’m quoting her review as follows.
The reason it has taken me so long to review this book is because I have tried and tried to work my way through it but to no avail. I cannot say this book is poorly written. The storyline just did not hold my interest.
I understand it is a coming-of-age story but it was simply too juvenile for my liking. I loved the major issues that were incorporated into the story… Like being left with a step-parent and the friends having serious family issues such as domestic violence. Overall, I think this book is for younger readers.
Thanks to Vern for letting me quote her review! You can follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/iwearpearls .
Vern’s book review blog site is http://www.shoutingoutatbabylon.blogspot.com .
This space for rent. (Just kidding… I have no idea why WordPress left so much blank space at the end of this post. It’s always something, isn’t it?) A review copy of Meet Me on the Paisley Roof was received from the publisher.
Raise the name Joyce Maynard in a crowd of readers and you’ll likely hear both strongly positive and strongly negative feedback. The novella Labor Day appears to be Maynard’s shot at redemption as she produces a Joan Didion-like tale told in slow motion and factual tones. Because there’s not a lot to the basic story, the slow storytelling lacks the grace of Audrey Niffenegger and the “just the facts” style lacks the icy precision we generally get from Didion.
The story is told from the perspective of Henry, a 13-year-old male who lives with his post-divorce loner mother Adele. One day they make a trip to the local shopping mall together to buy clothes for the new school year. In the hardware department of Priceline, Henry is approached by a tall man who says he needs help. He’s an escaped state prison inmate named Frank, and he’s picked out Henry and Adele as the perfect people to hide him. We follow the three characters for the next six days and nights, and there’s not much more to the story.
Because Maynard writes in Henry’s voice, Labor Day often sounds either juvenile or like a young adult (YA) story, depending on your tastes. I would not be surprised to hear that some young people pick up this novella and enjoy it, but many adult readers may find it tiring as the telling never leaves first gear. And, of course, not much happens. It would be logical to think – and the typical reader will – that Frank will try to persuade Adele and Henry to leave the state or country with him; not a difficult prediction. Is such an escape likely to be successful? I’ll leave it to you to figure out the odds.
Maynard ends the story then provides an addendum wherein we move forward 18 years to see what happened to Henry, Adele and Frank. It’s a touch that would work well in a film, but seems a bit forced and pointless here. Most readers would prefer to use their imagination.
In the end, there are simply not a lot of life’s lessons to be learned in the tale of a mother and son who hide an escaped fugitive for less than a week. This reader hopes that Maynard’s next novel is bigger and bolder, and more universal in appeal.
Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Once young boys had dozens of books to chose from that chronicled the lives and achievements of their sports heroes; of baseball heroes like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Sandy Koufax; of football players like Johnny Unitas and Paul Horning. Those days are apparently long gone, but then along comes this somewhat-adoring view of the life of tennis great Pancho Segura. Little Pancho covers the life of the dirt-poor, extremely sickly, Ecuadorian who began winning tennis championships in his teens and continued doing so until the age of 67.
Segura was the man who introduced the two-handed forehand to tennis and went on to coach a young man who would find some success, a player known as Jimmy Connors. Author Seebohm writes with a smooth and flowing style that makes this biography as easy to read as a young-adults version. She also focuses on the “pay it forward” aspects of Segura’s life, such as the fact that his coaching of Connors led Connors to later coach a “struggling but talented” Andy Roddick. Roddick learned Segura’s skills via Connors.
The only drawback with this story is the feeling that Segura’s personality is never quite captured. Still, a charming life well told.
University of Nebraska Press, $26.95, 210 pages
Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.