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Mr. Hockey: My Story

Gordie Howe. Putnam, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-3991-7291-5

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In this genial memoir, Howe recounts his remarkable career as a professional athlete. Raised in Depression-era Saskatoon, Canada, Howe developed the toughness and drive that would be the hallmarks of his playing style. Ambidextrous and with unusually short legs (27 in. inseam) on his 6'1" frame, Howe could do everything on the ice, and was as renowned for his fighting as for his scoring (A "Gordie Howe Hat Trick" is when a player has a goal, an assist, and a fight in a game). After winning four Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, Howe played on a line with two of his sons in the WHL Houston Aereos, and received that league's most valuable player award in 1974, at the age of 46. Howe modestly downplays the qualities that earned him the name of "Mister Hockey." The chapters on his impoverished childhood provide a vivid picture of a world without central heating or indoor plumbing where kids played on frozen ponds and made shin guards out of magazines. Even as a star with the Red Wings, Howe still worked day jobs in the off-seasons, and his long career tracks the transformation of elite athletes from regular Joes at the mercy of owners to the mega-millionaires of today. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Back Around the Table

David Venable. Ballantine, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8041-7685-9

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QVC personality Venable follows up his popular Comfort Foods That Take You Home with an expansion of nearly 150 familiar recipes that are easy for home cooks of all tastes and skill levels. Standards like breakfast quesadillas and pasta carbonara mingle with riffs on familiar classics like the Mint Julep (mixed into a slushy version) and a chicken cheesesteak version of the classic egg roll. Chapters on slow cookers and pressure cookers enable owners to find new uses for the items likely bought on QVC, with recipes for Asian pulled pork; and smoked gouda, bacon and pea risotto. Purists may take umbrage with Venable's use of pre-made ingredients such as Velveeta and Steak-Umm chicken strips for the aforementioned egg rolls, but such components are more of an anomaly (readers are asked to create their own teriyaki sauce for grilled teriyaki pork phops, for example). That's not to say there aren't a few misses—the red velvet milkshake, which incorporates the titular cake mix with ice cream, cream cheese, chocolate syrup and whipped cream sounds questionably. Fans of Venable and home cooks in search of a reliable set of standards will find a lot to like in this practical, accessible collection. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hell-Bent: One Man's Crusade to Crush the Hawaiian Mob

Jason Ryan. Globe Pequot/Lyons, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7627-9303-7

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Journalist and author Ryan (Jackpot) recounts the story of a man on a mission to find justice for his son's murder and take down the Honolulu crime syndicate believed to be responsible. The sordid saga begins in 1975 with the shooting death of Chuckers Marsland amid a plague of violence and corruption in Hawaii with gangsters shaking down gambling operations, offing rivals, and partying with Don Ho. Amid those suspected of the murder are Eric Naone, a violent bodyguard, Ronnie Ching, "thief, pimp, drug dealer, and professional killer," and Raymond Scanlan, a corrupt ex-cop with a missing service weapon. Enter "abrasive, aggressive, tough-talking" Charles Marsland, grieving father and civil attorney turned head city prosecutor, who is intent on speaking out about the legal system's "incompetence, cronyism, [and] outright corruption." In addition to avenging his son's death, Marsland seeks to prove that local businessman Larry Mehau is the shadowy godfather of the Hawaiian mafia. The book culminates in a trial against the major suspects after a confession by the notoriously deceptive Ching hoping to exchange information on Mehau's criminal activity for a plea bargain. Ryan's well-researched account expertly weaves historical fact into an engrossing true crime narrative to present a fascinating piece of Hawaiian history at odds with its idyllic image highlighting the efforts of a truly unsung hero. Agent: Jessica Papin, Dystel & Goderich. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Scars & Stripes: The Culture of Modern Roller Derby

Andreanna Seymore. Schiffer, $34.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-7643-4689-7

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Seymore, a sociologist as well as a photographer, was fascinated by roller derby the moment she encountered it, and in order to gain an insider's photographic access to this tightly-knit sport, a "mix of counter culture and extreme sport," that "felt like a burleque troop meets a religious revival," she decided she needed to join it. Before she knew it, the "so-called roller derby ‘project' became everything" to her, and she "couldn't tell whether my derby career was leading my photography project, or if it was the other way around." More interested in the people and culture than the sport itself, Seymore portrays the skaters, their supporting community, and their "wild and crazy" ways in this raunchy, voluptuous, slightly scary but warmly passionate collection of photographs and quotations from derbyers. Although the community is proud of roller derby's recent evolution toward a more "athletic and serious" sport, they reminisce with nostalgic glee over its early days of fishnet stockings, hot pants, punk makeup, and stickered nipples; pudding-mud wrestling and on-the-floor brawling, and this funky exuberance dominates the book, which will be a must-have for the sport's participants and fans. But what may surprise outsiders is the strong sense of family, commitment, and loyalty that emerges from these pictures; although men, who are relatively new to the sport, appear in the book, most affecting are the images of powerful, committed women celebrating their strength and outrageousness and mentoring young girls to do the same. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Deep Space: Beyond the Solar System to the Edge of the Universe and the Beginning of Time

Govert Schilling. Black Dog & Leventhal, $29.95 (226p) ISBN 978-1-57912-978-1

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Astrophysics has always lent itself to beautiful books and astronomy journalist Schilling gives readers a pop science coffee table book on the subject that is both gorgeous and accessible. He starts small, with our sun and solar system, and expands outward, both further away and ever deeper into space and time. The chapter "Birth of Stars" offers panoramic photos of colorful gas-swathed nebulae where stars coalesce, including the Orion, the Eagle, the Rosette, and Tarantula nebulae. Short vignettes show how stars evolve and die, and consider the search for exoplanets. From the Milky Way and its companions in the Local Group, Schilling expands to explore the diversity of galaxies, and then the galaxy clusters spread throughout space. The journey concludes with a look at what has shaped our universe: relativity, space-time, and the Big Bang. With its casual and expansive structure, the book rewards both regular readers and those who prefer to dip in at random. Illustrated with some 400 vivid photos and diagrams and a custom-drawn star atlas by noted astrocartographer Wil Tirion, Schilling's book offers a mesmerizing look at our universe from close to home to deep, dark space. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Say What You Really Mean! How Women Can Learn to Speak Up

Debra Johanyak. Rowman & Littlefield, $32 (156p) ISBN 978-1-4422-3005-7

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Johanyak (The Lost Art and Forgotten Science of Being a Woman) covers well-trod ground in this earnest career guide. Seeking to convey stronger and more effective ways of communicating to improve romantic, familial, and professional relationships, Johanyak pinpoints 10 distinct verbal pitfalls and gives each its own chapter of analysis and discussion. Academic studies research, magazine and news articles, anecdotal information, all are presented, but, overall, much of what the tome offers is simply common sense, and the expected watershed of practical tips for clearly identifying and resolving problem areas never appears. Some of the language and constructs used—one scenario describes a woman as fearful of being seen as "loose," while pages in another chapter are devoted to dissecting how Adam and Eve's communication skills failed them—come across as archaic. Johanyak does, however, end each chapter with suggested strategies for positive change that are worth reviewing, though one can't help but wish that these were more thoroughly developed. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune

John Merriman. Basic, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-465-02017-1

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The Paris Commune is an event that tends to more referenced than understood, but Yale University historian Merriman (The Dynamite Club) changes that with this harrowing account of its 64 days in 1871. He brings the reader up to speed quickly, from Napoleon III's rule as Emperor to the humiliation of the Franco-Prussian War to the birth of the Commune, when a "spontaneous defense of National Guard cannons had quickly evolved into an insurrection and then a revolution." While post-Napoleon III French leader Adolphe Thiers and French elite holed up at Versailles and plotted the downfall of the Commune, the Communards struggled to adjust to the realities of running Paris. Francois Jourde, one of the Commune's National Committee members, hints at how woefully unprepared the Communards were for governing: "We were very embarrassed by our authority." Merriman's writing is straightforward and unsentimental, and he captures just how fast events transpired in Paris for the Commune up to the Bloody Week, when the Army of Versailles overran Paris and executed between 12,000 and 15,000 Communards. In the aftermath, Thiers and his forces labeled the Communards "wild animals" and worse, but Merriman turns his focus on the longevity of the Commune's ideals: "The Communards may have been mortal, but their cause was not." (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Blues: A Visual History: 100 Years of Music That Changed the World

Mike Evans. Sterling, $29.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4549-1253-8

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In this lavishly illustrated book that is part fan's notes and part music history, music historian Evans (Neil Young) digs deep to reveal the taproot of the blues in the music of W.C. Handy, the so-called father of the blues and its many branches, from classic blues, country blues, and big city blues to rhythm and blues, the blues revival, blues rock, and the blues today. In an effort to offer a definition of the blues, Evans quotes everyone from Ray Charles and B.B. King to W.C. Handy, who says that "the blues came from the man farthest down. The blues came from nothingness, from want, from desire. And when a man sang or played the blues, a small part of want was satisfied from the music." Evans provides useful sketches of the men and women who established the form and those who continue to keep it alive, from Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Muddy Waters to Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Bonamassa, and Gary Clark, Jr. Evans furnishes a "selected blues playlist," providing a valuable resource for readers searching for an introduction to various forms of the blues. Evans' richly illustrated text offers a useful introduction for anyone interested in discovering the history of the blues. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Best Writing on Mathematics 2014

Edited by Mircea Pitici. Princeton Univ, $24.95 (424p) ISBN 978-0-691-16417-5

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Pitici, who teaches math and writing at Cornell University edits his fifth consecutive edition of the year's best writing in mathematics, opening with a tone-setting essay that convincingly argues, via the philosophy of John Dewey, that mathematics, like art, is intrinsically a valuable human endeavor. The following essays cover a broad swath of mathematics that include entertaining puzzles, complicated proofs, pedagogical philosophy, and technical discussions of mathematical problems. The pedagogical entries are both serious and light: one discusses using food to demonstrate concepts from pre-calculus to calculus and beyond, while another, on the concept of "grace" as an element of teaching, is quite moving. For readers interested in rigorous mathematics there are plenty of challenges. One piece begins "A Klein Bottle is a closed single-sided mathematical service of the genus 2," and then explores the concept for 20 pages. There are several timely articles on big data—what it is, the surprising ways it can be used, its role in designing language translation programs, and how it might be abused. Many of the technical articles are difficult and demand a mathematical background, other entries are well suited for readers more casual readers; the volume is intended to capture both audiences and does it well. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans

Peter Shankman. St. Martin's, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-1-137-27966-8

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Marketing and PR expert Shankman (Nice Companies Finish First) offers a hilarious, astute, and ultimately practical guide to creating customers so satisfied they'll promote your company with zombie-like fervor. The book points out that a major mistake made by many companies is approaching customer services as a project rather than a lifelong mission. It also maintains that the "breeding ground" for a zombie army starts with an empowered employee base and a culture of trust. The author illustrates his idea of "rabid" customer service through lively anecdotes about his own good and bad customer service experiences with well-known companies like Chase Bank and Verizon. He also offers other people's stories of not-so-well-known companies that still managed to wow them, including a Honda dealership in Buena Park, Calif., and a bodega in Manhattan. The zombie analogy, rather than wearing thin, lends a fun, pop-cultural appeal to what could have been a run-of-the-mill business book. References to "infecting someone" with enthusiasm, and being at risk for a customer "ripe for infection from your competition," for instance, are spot-on. This entertaining yet valuable work is a must-read for any business owner or executive interested in turning satisfied customers into avid brand ambassadors. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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