Some extra books I read in August. What a miserably hot month…
Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood****
Less a conventional biopic on The Mick and more a look at his life vis-a-vis his legend and the backdrop of postwar America. Not as thorough as I would’ve liked but still riveting given how Jane Leavy presents her subject.
Again glad I slept on my review. I really liked how this started but after a while, it morphed into a mess that’s predictably untangled at the end by a lot of exposition. Also, the multiple POVs are tough because all the characters sound the same. Still a lot to like, just didn’t finish well for me.
An interesting meditation on life, death and society. I was kinda wondering what the big deal was in the first half but the second is some of the most fascinating stuff I’ve read in a while.
The Man Who Liked to Look at Himself****
Aside from the obnoxious racism/sexism of the time, I greatly enjoyed visiting Mario Balzic on the job and seeing the empathetic way he navigates the depressed Pittsburgh ‘burbs. The best fictional detectives are horrified at what hath we wrought and Balzic is, revealed in the moving conclusion to this painful crime.
The Secrets We Kept****
I think this book has largely been mis-marketed. Many pick it up thinking they’re going to read a thriller-type tale about smuggling Dr. Zhivago into the USSR. There are aspects of this-and I think the book is more “thrilling” than its detractors give it credit for-but it’s not a spy thriller. It’s more of a Mad Men tale, only if Joan and Peggy were “typists” who moonlit for the CIA doing undercover stuff only women could get away with. Throw in a well-written queer dalliance and this is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Just know what you’re getting.
I did have to dock it a star because the Russia chapters do not satisfy. I don’t know enough about Boris Pasternak or Olga Ivinskaya to know how accurate Prescott wrote their story but it felt like she shortchanged Ivinskaya, making her seem small and non-existent without Pasternak. The West-based chapters are excellent though.
Bang the Drum Slowly****
A sad, moving tale about friendship and 1950s baseball. I admire how Harris allows Author Wiggen to be a multifaceted character. He’s honest about the racism of Wiggen’s dying friend Pearson and how Wiggen’s silent liberal tacitness allowed it thrive against the Black players in the clubhouse (in particular one who I have to imagine is based directly on Jackie Robinson). He also draws out what Wiggen sees in the silent, reserved Pearson and how he tries to carry the torch for his friend who is suffering in silence. I put off reading these books for too long.
Inside the Empire***
Klapisch did a better job with his book on the 92 Mets but this one is still a decent inside look at how the Yankees are run nowadays. You’re never gonna get that kind of insider access again but it’s good for what it is. Although I could’ve done without the attempts at pandering (Tom Yawkey was a racist, don’t ya know. Glad I was here to point that out!) instead of curbing one’s own racism (referring to Masahiro Tanaka as a “man of honor”).
It’s been a while since I checked in on my old friend Jack Reacher. I grabbed this one cuz I wanted to see how the man would romp through Child’s adopted hometown of New York. And it worked, no doubt. Child is so good at writing these, I’m mostly willing to look past the cliches and just enjoy the ride.
An interesting story told in the most boring and stilted way possible. I get Nancy Finley is trying to protect her family’s legacy but she leaves a lot off the page and what is actually in there is too brief to cover the magnitude of the 1970s Athletics. I definitely need to read more about the franchise at that time but this was a disappointment, even by an entry level standard.
A lot of writers I admire love Robert Parker. For the life of me, I’ve never known why. This is less insufferable than his Spenser books but the gender/sexual politics are still awful and the quality of the mystery doesn’t rise past the distraction.
May Cobb’s debut effort (and her sophomore one, which I liked more) gets the best of a Desperate Housewives meets Texas vibe. Still giving my first-time writer the charitable 4-stars because the MC was so incredibly stupid, even by the standards of these soapy tales. Cobb took a quality freshman effort and improved with book two and I’m excited to see where her trajectory goes.
Ms. Tree, Vol. 1: One Mean Mother****
Entertaining but after the initial story, I was hoping for more. Instead, it was the same story rewritten in different ways…
1. Ms. Tree reminiscing on the past while ruing the present.
2. A shadowy man appears.
4. Something to do with the Muerta Family
5. Ms Tree saves the day
Again, entertaining but I thought these would have a broader reach and was a bit disappointed when they didn’t.
The Pallbearers Club***
Really liked the beginning of this but the last third and the ending…eh? I was more invested in the relationship but Trembley can’t decide if he’s interested in the relationship or concept and kind of tries to have it both ways with ambiguity, though I’m not sure that works either. It’s a good work for what it is and I’ll definitely be checking out more of Trembley’s stuff but this had me deflated after a solid start.