Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Blake Crouch, and Crown Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Every choice one makes leaves the residue of that decision not taken and fuels a ‘what if?’ mentality. Such is the premise of Crouch’s latest novel that forces the reader into a world of mental gymnastics and infinite possibilities. Jason Dessen is living a fairly uneventful life; teaching physics at the local second-rate college, with a wife and teenage son at home. While out one night, he is attacked by a man and eventually loses consciousness. Upon opening his eyes, Dessen comes face to face with men in HazMat suits who question him about his memories. Unable to piece together what has happened, Dessen tries to return home, finding nothing as he left it. The more he explores, the deeper his realisation that he is no longer in Chicago or the life he knows. He exists, at least some form of Jason Dessen does, but his sense of reality is obliterated. No wife, no two-bit physics job, and no son. Instead, he is a genius who has concocted a means by which one can revisit past realms of reality, able to look at the outcome of choices not made, had they been the path taken. This form of reality, called superposition, posits that there are actually five dimensions to reality, all of which work in concert and create not a single universe, but infinite multiverses. These multiverses proceed based on the collection of choices made and different paths taken at the infinite crossroads in one’s life. As Dessen seeks to find the world from which he was taken, through an invention of his own making, he comes to realise that there are other Jason Dessens out there, all of whom are form of himself at different points in time, seeking to find the same central reality. With a wife and child oblivious that the ‘real’ Jason is not the one inhabiting their home, Dessen must not only return to his own reality, but convince them of what has gone on, with a plethora of other forms of himself trying to attain the same prize. A powerful and thought-provoking novel that pushes the limits of reality, thinking, and anything the reader may surmise. Not for those who are seeking an easy fluff piece to pass the time.

Crouch has an uncanny way of pulling the reader into the depths of his novels with little effort. While I was unsure of what to expect as I pushed through the first third of the novel, I soon became addicted to the idea and the journey on which the author was leading me. Jason Dessen is by no means a hero that captivates, nor are any of the others who inhabit these pages. However, the pure determination to sift through countless realities and reach the core issue kept me going. There are sections of the book that remain dense with the philosophical and physics-based discussions of dimensions and alternate realities, all of which caused my eyes to glaze over, but I soon realised that this was Crouch’s way to pull the storyline away from something corny and base it in a form of reality that might be beyond my everyday comprehension. The story progressed nicely, or at least as well as it could under the circumstances, leaving the reader to wonder up until the final page what might happen to Jason Dessen and all his incantations. It left me thinking, which can be a good thing, and wondering what could be and how life does unravel at various points. It may give a new perspective to any reader who takes the time to synthesise the premise as well as the science found therein, leaving a residue or wonder rather than dull completion when finishing the final sentence.

Kudos, Mr. Crouch for pushing the limits on my thought processes in this novel. Without getting too far off the beaten path, you open up new paths, new superhighways of possibility, buried beneath a layer of discarded options. 

Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen (Six Tudor Queens #1), by Alison Weir

Nine stars

As she embarks on a new series, Weir pulls on much of her past research to create strong novels based on the six queens of Henry VIII. The focus of this first novel is Katherine of Aragon, who was betrothed to England’s Prince Arthur at a young age. When she arrived in England, Katherine found herself unsure of the decision negotiated by her parents, though she understood she was a pawn to forge a necessary political alliance. Upon meeting her future husband, Katherine began to sense the awkwardness of the situation, for this was a man who did not show the raw attraction or curiosity she was told to expect. Her marriage to Prince Arthur became one of a friendship rather than an amorous connection, as Weir supports in numerous instances. Additionally, the controversial ‘non-consummation’ of their wedding is a historical gem Weir explores in the narrative, a key piece of information that plays a central role in the latter portion of the story. When Arthur became ill and did, Katherine renewed her role as pawn, though not in the same fashion. Her hand was potentially pledged to King Henry VII, the French dauphin, and Prince Henry (the heir to the English Throne) at various points, all to secure alliances, but also to keep options open for both Spain and England. Eventually, she married Prince (now King) Henry and their union seemed full of love, especially after receiving a papal dispensation to unite. Here began the next struggle in Katherine’s life, trying to give England an heir. A number of pregnancies ended in miscarriage or death days after birth, including a few sons. When one child survived, Katherine was overjoyed with Princess Mary, though the Queen realised that she still bore the yoke of producing a male heir. Could this issue be founded in God’s displeasure with their union? When Katherine eventually succumbed to menopause, she knew that she has failed Henry, though held firm that she has done all in her power. Henry refused to show his disappointment outwardly, though plotted with his closest advisor, Cardinal Wolsey, to bring an heir to the throne. Weir does mention an illegitimate heir, from Henry’s philandering, but no son around which England could unite. Thus began the delicate shift of dissolving his marriage with Katherine so that he could turn to the young Anne Boleyn, a former lady of Queen Katherine and the new love interest of the King. As the Queen refused to admit her marriage was anything but legal and the King failed to convince her to divorce, Henry turned to Rome for the pope to invalidate it. Katherine held firm to the earlier dispensation, hoping it would save her and ensure that she and Mary would never become black marks in the English history books. Katherine was eventually pushed out of her place as Queen, even as Rome refused to recognize Henry’s wedding to Boleyn, which caused the largest of schisms and led Henry to create the Church of England to justify his actions. Vilified by her husband while being supported by the English people, Katherine fought with all she had to keep her name clear and allow Mary her rightful place as heir to the throne. Even in her dwindling years, Katherine found many who spoke in favour of her marriage and against Henry’s conniving nature to blot out their marriage, a veritable act of treason to verbalise. A masterful novel that allows English history buffs to bask in Weir’s superior writing style that flows so effortlessly, Katherine of Aragon emerges not as a saintly woman, but one of passion who held firm to her personal and religious beliefs during a tumultuous time at the English Court.

While this is considered a piece of fiction, any reader who knows their history or has devoured much of Weir’s past work will realise that it is steeped in reality. As I read, I became aware that the ‘fiction’ moniker was placed there more to validate the detailed dialogue than a shuffling of facts to create a more dramatic story. Weir lays down a powerful narrative that flows effectively throughout Katherine’s life and shows that while she was isolated from her Spanish parents, she held firm to protect herself and her daughter from Henry’s self-centred approach to life. While long and highly detailed, Weir offers the reader an insightful look into the life of this first of Henry’s six wives, perhaps the strongest advocate of them all. Weir brings Katherine of Aragon to life in this opening novel and leaves readers itching for the next instalment, sure to be filled with as much drama, bridging from the narrative peppered throughout this book. There is surely crossover material to be explored more thoroughly within the second novel, though Weir is able to secure focus on events from Katherine’s perspective. This novel offers everything the reader could expect from perusing its title, with chapters full of anecdotes woven into powerful dialogue.

Kudos, Madam Weir for this exceptional piece of writing that piques the interest of readers from all walks of life. I look forward to the next book in the collection and how you tackle the Boleyn character. 

Black & Blue: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Eight stars

Patterson teams up with acclaimed writer Candice Fox to create a new and exciting series, beginning with this explosive BookShot. Harriet Blue is a detective in the Sex Crime Unit of the Sydney Police Department. She has been trying to chase after the Georges River Killer (GRK) for some time, the most notorious and elusive serial killer in Australian history. When she is called to the Georges River after a body is discovered, it fits all the key aspects of a GRK victim. However, she is not the only detective on-scene. Tate ‘Tox’ Barnes is a detective with a sordid past, with rumours swirling around him. Having somehow made it onto the force after killing a woman and her child at the age of six, Tox is hated by everyone and vilified at every turn. Blue is forced to work with Tox on this crime and endures his unorthodox methods for solving crimes, which proves that the body before them is not part of the GRK’s collection, but rather a killing that happened on the open waters. While Blue grows to respect Tox and his methods, she remains a pariah and the target for childish retribution. As Blue and Tox continue to follow leads, a separate plot line sees a rich yachting couple being held captive by a woman who has financial aspirations. Hope Stallwood will stop at nothing to get what she wants and is willing to take anyone down how impedes her plans. The closer. Blue and Tox get to solving their crime, the more the investigation pulls Hope’s plans into the mix. Will Blue be able to find the thread that connects these cases and save those involved before it’s too late? A great addition to the BookShot collection, which will keep the reader flipping pages as fast as they can be read.

Using this BookShot idea to introduce new series seems like a smart idea on Patterson’s part. Harriet Blue, the newest member of Patterson’s crime thriller collection introduces herself nicely in this shorter piece, offering enough breadcrumbs to lure the reader in, while leaving much for the upcoming full-length novel. Patterson and Fox highlight some of the strengths Blue brings to the table alongside her new partner, as well as the cloud that floats above them both, individually and as a pair. The story flows nicely with strong characterization and decent narration, which can be compared to some of the other detectives that Patterson has in his quiver (Cross, Boxer, Bennett). How Blue will fit awaits to be seen, though her introduction surely will leave readers intrigued with what else there is to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox for this explosive beginning to the series. I look forward to what else you have to offer in the coming months.

The Hostage: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Robert Gold

Seven stars

This BookShot story pulls the reader into a high-octane thriller from the opening paragraph. At a private event to mark the opening of the elite Tribeca Luxury Hotel in London, VIPs come together to celebrate the company’s newest addition to a profitable company. During the gathering, all eyes turn upward, where someone is hanging from an upper-storey balcony. The struggle turns deadly and the body plummets to the ground, which turns out to be the owner, Jackson Harlington. The hotel’s Global Head of Security, Jon Roscoe, begins an investigation as the hotel is locked down, seeking to discover where the killer might be hiding on the premises. However, the body attracts the authorities and the London Metropolitan Police soon arrive to take charge. Roscoe comes face to face with his old nemesis on the force, leaving him pushed out of the way, though he refuses to give up searching for the killer. When a mysterious phone call comes, hinting that the killer is running the show from within the facility, Roscoe must manoeuvre around, trying to remain one step ahead. More bodies pile up, each killed in a unique way. It is only later that the thread connecting all three victims is revealed, which turns the hotel’s crime scene into a shocking mystery years in the making. A story that picked up the pace with each passing chapter, Patterson and Gold know how to tell a story and keep the reader guessing.

Yet another BookShot leaves me wondering where time went as I dove in and did not surface until I had all the facts. Patterson and Gold use the short chapter format and a telling story to keep everything running at breakneck speed. With a collection of contrasting characters and a mystery simmering below the surface, the reader learns little at a time, but when the entire picture is revealed, it should have been obvious from the beginning. While there is nothing concrete to substantiate this, I had the sense that there was a series in the making from the way the Roscoe character presented himself, though time will surely tell. Patterson may be onto something with these BookShots, offering teasers into the future of possible new series with successful possibilities. Could Gold be joining the crew of faceless co-authors used to help Patterson garner added riches?

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Gold for delivering a wonderful story to the awaiting audience. I am curious to see if this partnership will return again for more Jon Roscoe action.

Open Heart, Open Mind, by Clara Hughes

Nine stars

Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes offers readers a look at the woman behind the name, digging deeper than the strength and determination for which she was so well known. In this quasi-autobiography/memoir, Hughes offers a glimpse into her life as an elite athlete as well as the struggles she faced throughout her career. Growing up in Winnipeg, Hughes faced a number of obstacles at an early age, including an alcoholic father whose love was offset with a broken household. From this, Hughes drifted into a childhood filled with gang associations, drugs, and booze, a life that could have spiralled into despair. It was only when she caught a speed skating race from the Calgary Olympics in 1988 that Hughes became enthralled by a new possibility, a life as an athlete. Training for a few years, Hughes was able to find her passion at the speed skating oval and left the instability of her current life behind. She found herself intoxicated with the regimented life of skating and the power of the blade, where she could escape her home life, her parents now formally separated. However, this passion with speed skating soon morphed into a love of cycling, which became Hughes’ new focus. She took up competitive cycling and made a name for herself, competing at the highest levels. With this intense training came a coach whose unorthodox style pushed Hughes past her limits and into a life of self-doubt. Mockery and bullying may have pushed Hughes to strive further, but also left her hating herself and doubting the love others had to offer. The passion Hughes found on her bicycle led her to qualifying and winning a bronze at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. While she became a praised Olympian, Hughes began to develop (or rediscover) some painful issues that resulted in severe bouts of depression, masked behind that cutthroat training regimen that left little time for reflection. While she continued to excel in the cycling world, her exterior self became a facade, as Hughes recounts through poignant chapters hinting at dark demons dwelling deep inside her. When she met her future husband, Peter, Hughes found someone with whom she could relate; another person whose carefree nature and drive to excel led to numerous exploratory adventures. While separated a great deal, Hughes was able to foster a relationship with Peter, fuelled, perhaps, by their time apart. After a decade of cycling and much success on the podium, Hughes could no longer fathom the gruelling life of countless injuries. This caused her to rediscover her passion for speed skating, and a coaching approach based more on respect than attack. With a coach who respected her dedication to success, Hughes was able to focus her attention on what she felt mattered, while still using training to mask her other issues. Hughes excelled on the oval and brought more medals home, the first Canadian to medal in both Summer and Winter Olympic Games. However, with such fame comes a requirement to do something with it. Hughes sought to advocate for those less fortunate, heading to Africa to advocate for sport as play. Her passion to bring sport to all corners of the earth seeps out through the narrative and brings the reader closer to understanding the importance of sport outside of competing. Coming full circle, Hughes addresses the pains of her personal struggles with depression and masking the agony of her youth through excessive training when she had to hang up her skates (and bike) and lived in a permanent state of retirement. The reader is able to better understand the Hughes the cameras did not capture and the pains that this elite athlete faced, putting more of an ‘everyday person’ spin on her life. By finding herself, both immersed in and away from sports, Hughes offers the reader a raw insight into the struggles elite athletes face away from the field/track/oval. A must-read for anyone who wants to be touched as they learn about the wonders of Olympic athleticism.

Hughes pulls no punches in this book, allowing the reader to see behind the proverbial curtain. Hughes takes the time to focus on the training regimen she undertook in preparation for her numerous Olympic Games, as well as event-day preparation. Offsetting this with the struggles between the Games and the limitations that training offers to mask the struggles inside the mind or body, Hughes found herself pushed in directions she could not have forecast. Never forgetting her roots in Winnipeg, but refusing to use that as a crutch, Hughes exemplifies how hard work and determination can sometimes pay off, though it is not a certainty for Olympic glory. I found myself curious as to how Hughes could have been an Olympic caliber athlete in two sports that differed greatly, though the narrative explores this and shows the reader how she could master both sports at different points in her life. It is surely an amazing story, which flows through well-constructed chapters, offering just enough to sate the curiosity of readers. Hughes does not shy away from the abuse she faced, in many forms, throughout her life, though she did not feel strong enough to overcome it until later and with the help of many. Clara Hughes is not perfect, though perhaps that is the point of this book. This personal story is powerfully presented with a personal flavour that shows the larger picture of an Olympian who seeks not to be a god, but an ambassador of determination and hard work. If the reader takes but one thing from this book, it should be that no struggle is insurmountable. 

Kudos, Madam Hughes for this insightful story that passes the realm of simple biography or memoir and digs much deeper to show how even more biggest stars can live lives with flaws.

Private Royals: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Rees Jones

Eight stars

Another BookShot pulls readers into the world of Jack Morgan and his Private establishment. Back in London, Morgan is liaising with his London office and its head,Peter Knight. When a call comes from the Duke of Aldershot, Morgan and Knight follow-up, only to learn that the Duke’s daughter, Abbie, has been kidnapped. Abbie is a royal wild child, known for her headline-hogging antics, usually tied into alcohol and drugs, after a humble childhood. With a random demand of £30 million by 11 the following morning, Private has little time to act and Abbie’s bodyguard is also missing. With a significant amount of blood at the scene, there is a possibility that both are already dead, though Private cannot give up up. When the Duke receives another call from the kidnapper, they vow to kill Abbie and let her head roll during the famed Trooping the Colour parade, should there be any delays. The Duke is panic-stricken and Morgan calls on a potential Private new recruit to show her abilities. Major Jane Cook uses her military abilities to posit who the kidnapper might be, finding clues related to a member of the service. When Private begins piecing things together, there is something about this kidnapping that makes no sense, leaving Morgan to question the entire affair. With Abbie still missing, the hunt heats up and Private is racing against the clock to find Abbie and save the image of the Royal Family. Well worth the invested time, particularly for those who enjoy the Private series.

These BookShots are addictive, as this was the second one I completed in as many days. Patterson works with Rees Jones to spin this tale, using some interesting plo lines and a collection of characters who fit in perfectly. Peppering the narrative with mention of the previous Private novel set in London, the reader does not feel this story is disjointed from what has come before. Its quick chapters and to the point storyline, readers can easily devour this story in a single sitting, and most will want to as the pendulum of guilt keeps swinging. With a plethora of BookShots coming down the pipeline, readers should be able to devour stories of all shapes and sizes, no matter the time restrictions their days present. 

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Jones for an explosive story that fits perfectly within the Private series. A wonderful teaser to lure people into the Private series.

Zoo 2: A BookShot (Zoo #1.5), by James Patterson and Max DiLallo

Seven stars

As I leap into the foray of James Patterson’s BookShots, I thought it best to start with a story based on a full-length novel I read years ago. Zoo was quite the phenomenon when it was published, positing what the world might be like if animals turned on humans through a pheromone-triggering set of cerebral changes. In this story, Jackson Oz is living in quasi-seclusion with his family in Greenland. His wife, Chloe, and son, Eli, have been able to adapt, though they are far from pleased with the isolated living situation. When the US Department of Energy reaches out to Oz, he is intrigued by the new approach to the HAC (human-animal conflict), focussing on scientific rather than military options. Oz chooses to leave Chloe and Eli in Paris with her family while he jets around the world to various locations, gathering evidence and samples that might help reverse or minimalise the effects overtaking the world. While in South Africa, Oz and the rest of the scientific group discover a feral human, wondering if things have morphed into the human realm. Further proof emerges in other parts of the world, which is the newest concern and adds new urgency. When Chloe and Eli’s time in Paris is compromised, Oz does all he can to reunite with them at a rural laboratory, while dodging feral humans at every turn. With the President of the United States demanding answers, Oz must find a way to tame the feral human issue before the entire world is overrun, leaving the ‘healthy’ contingent as a minute minority. An interesting follow-up to the original novel and worth the few hours of invested time to read.

I remember when I read ZOO and how I had a hard time suspending enough reality to completely enjoy the book. When I saw this BookShot, I thought I ought to give the idea another chance, knowing that I would not need to invest too much time to see what I thought. Patterson and DiLallo present an interesting concept in the continual fight between animal and humans, seeking to approach things from a scientific perspective. With much action and a high degree of drama, combined with short chapters and some plausible characters, I found myself somewhat intrigued to see how things would play out. Still in that realm of science fiction, I am able to keep a mind open enough to muddle through this piece. The BookShots idea is interesting, as Patterson lures readers with a short story to whet their appetite or bridge things between two full-length novels. I can see this lining his pockets as he continues with more co-author pieces, though their quality remains something for readers to judge over the next year or two.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo for this interesting idea. I may not be hooked on the HAC idea, but the effort leaves me curious to see what else might be on offer.

The Punishments, by JB Winsor

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, JB Winsor, and Boulder Digital Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In this insightful and Orwellian novel, Winsor asks the reader to suspend some reality as he takes things down the rabbit hole and posits an America like no other. With terrorism taking a grip on the American psyche and those agencies tasked with protecting the nation incapable of doing their roles, something has to change. In a future where robots have replaced the common worker, there are stagnant amounts of unemployment and homelessness. The country has turned to fundamentalist Christianity to protect itself and elects officials to run all levels of government with this religious outlook. At the pinnacle of this is the Department of Virtue, which seeks to run America according to Biblical Law, interpreting things literally from the Good Book. With their power, Virtue is able to influence Congress. and the White House to pass legislation to solidify biblical practices. Laws are passed to curb moral inferiority and those who do not abide will soon face punishment. At the head of Virtue is Reverend John, whose theocratic leadership seeks to purify America ahead of the upcoming Rapture, will stop at nothing to minimise opposition through whatever means possible. Erecting neo-crosses in public, rumoured to be a means of spying on the people, Reverend John gathered information on everyone to use when and how he sees necessary. However, not all politicians are on-side, specifically Senator William Thatcher, who tries his best to dodge the all-encompassing Big Brother nature of Virtue. Thatcher is known as a rabble-rouser and his fate will be sealed if he acts on some of the ideas he has been espousing. In order to push forward and show the country (and the world) that Virtue is serious, Reverend John sets about a series of events that capture his most ardent enemies in compromising situations and organises a set of punishments, to instil fear and show what happens to those who violate Biblical Law. As Thatcher works to protect his family, he must bring Reverend John and Virtue to its knees before America and the world succumb to this madman and his antics. A tongue-in-cheek novel worth investigating with an open mind and a critical eye.

Winsor offers a twenty-first century Big Brother meets Animal Farm in this satirical novel. The story does not play out as a strict mockery, evident to the reader who can read between the lines and see how Winsor provides the gaping holes a theocratic approach to governing would lead to the demise of modern America. There is much worth exploring in the novel, from the duplicity of those at the top to the complicity of elected officials when money or favours shape decision-making, through to the shepherd-sheep duality between leaders and the electorate. Winsor goes so far as to show how fear through public scapegoating can bring many into line. The text refers at numerous spots to the parallels between Virtue and Hitler’s Germany, with complete power coming from indoctrination and fear of reprisal. While the story does drag at times, the cross-section of characters with varied backstories and the varied plot angles do provide the reader with much to digest and offers some insight into the horrors that might befall a democracy should religion subsume any and all decisions in order to offer a stronger moral foundation. At a time when the Religious Right seem to feel they are the only true answer to the moral ambiguity rampant in America, Winsor shows how problematic such a pendulum swing might be for all involved.

Kudos, Mr. Winsor for this novel that offers readers a chance to think rather than simply glance at the words on a page. 

Private Paris (Private #10), by James Patterson and Mark T. Sullivan

Seven stars

As the Private series continues to grow, Patterson and Sullivan dive into the always scandalous world of Paris and its seedy underbelly. While making a short stop to check on Private Paris, Jack Morgan is surprised to hear from one of his longtime friends in Los Angeles. The man’s granddaughter is in Paris and has been dodging some drug dealers, who have their sights set on her. Morgan and head of Private Paris, Louis Langlois, begin searching and are able to find Kimberly Kopchinski, using a pseudonym to secure her at the same hotel as Morgan. However, Morgan and Langlois are soon pulled into another case, when a man of some importance is found murdered. Playing a territorial two-step with La Crime, France’s National Police Force, Morgan is able to have Private work in conjunction with the authorities to capture the group identifying itself as AB-16. When another body turns up and the same graffiti tag is left, Morgan turns to a local graffiti art expert, who is able to offer some assistance. More bodies pile up, forcing Morgan and Langlois to come up with a motive of sorts tied to the cultural importance of those who have been slain. As the investigation progresses, young Kimberly is captured from her hotel room, forcing Morgan and Langlois to divide their attention between both cases. They are left juggling a great deal, working with La Crime, though also trying not to violate any rules or judicial procedures. When things come to a head, even Morgan admits that he could not have guessed the pent-up anger that led to AB-16’s plot or what its mastermind has in store for the city in his grand finale. A truly intriguing addition to the series that will keep readers curious to the end while offering some of the more political narratives in the series to date.

There is no doubt that current situations in Paris, France, and all of Europe helped shape the narrative Patterson and Sullivan offer to readers. Xenophobia and Islamophobia are rampant through the story, though it serves to educate the reader, rather than provide a platform for hatred and division. From what little I know of French culture or sentiments, these are true feelings echoed within some of the arrondissements around the city and within some of the upper echelons of French Government. As with any push, there is sure to be a shove back, which the authors illustrate through the central antagonists in this story and through the AB-16 movement. Capturing more the sentiment that has existed in the city over the past 20-30 years than the anti-Muslim rhetoric headed up by some within America, the story allows readers to understand the animosity from a new perspective. Using local police and a Private protagonist who can educate Jack Morgan, the story earns some gravitas and substantial foundation, where some past Patterson novels have been weak. The settings, dialogue, and plot all strengthen the larger story and push readers into the seedier aspects of this City of Love. I was highly impressed with the approach and the way in which Patterson and Sullivan laid out their arguments, offering both ‘sides’ a chance on the soapbox.  

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Sullivan for this novel. It adds credence to a series that has had moments of utter weakness and disarray.

Mr. Hockey: My Story, by Gordie Howe

Eight stars

At a time when the name Gordie Howe is surely splashed all across newspaper headlines, I wanted to take some time to better acquaint myself with the man and explore some of his fondest memories. Who better to take me on this journey than Gordon ‘Gordie’ Howe himself? Growing up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Howe took to hockey at at early age. With the Depression in full-swing around him in the middle of the Canadian Prairies, there was little to do on those long-winter days than to lace up a pair of used skates and hobble over to the open ponds for a day-long game. As he grew, so did his passion for hockey, going so far as to idolise some of the greats while curled up on Saturday nights in front of the radio. When the scouts emerged to lure him away, it was Howe’s bashful side at fifteen that almost derailed his time in the NHL. He had the talent, but was not used to being away from home (or so far away). Only later, when he took the plunge and entered the Detroit Red Wings organisation, did Howe begin to flourish. Recounting some of his early days on the squad with well-established stars, Howe paints a very different picture from the NHL of today. Contracts were negotiated every year, players were never safe from trades, and the travel conditions were much less ideal than today’s private jets and fancy hotels. When Howe met his future wife, Colleen, things took a major turn for him, as he became a more grounded man and the biography shows a more sentimental man. When they married and had children, Howe became a doting father, while still remaining a marquee hockey player. He recounts the juggling act between a family at home and an NHL career, which could not have been easy, though he seemed to make it work with a wonderful wife and determined children who loved him to the core. Even after his foray away from the game, Howe could not remain inactive. Though he was shafted with his first office position within the Wings organisation, Howe did not let this ruin his future as he left retirement and stepped up to play alongside two of his sons in a new league, the WHA. A second career in Houston and Hartford allowed the Howes to develop new rivalries and set records few thought possible. By the time that second round of professional play ended, Howe had permanently etched his name into the record book and onto the hearts of many hockey fans around the world. Told with such honesty and attention to detail, this is a wonderful book to read as the world celebrates the life of Gordie Howe. 

After his recent passing, I dusted off this book, having put it aside for just this occasion. I knew the day was coming and felt this was a worthwhile tribute for the man who was arguably the best all-around player ever to lace up his skates in the National Hockey League. While that title does waft around the pages of this book, Howe would be the first to dismiss it, as he is not the type of man who looks for praise. Instead, he wanted to play the game he loved and foster a passion for generations to come. The modern NHL star lacks modesty as he strives for more money in a game that has seen salaries skyrocket and owners push their way to the trough for a larger slice of the pie. Howe sought not to line his pocketbook, but to play for passion and the thrill of the game. This comes out in the succinct chapters that offer an overall view of his life in and out of the game. While the book is by no means a comprehensive biography or memoir, it does allow the reader a better insight into some of the key moments Howe felt worth mentioning in a time that saw him break records and earn his keep. The passion for family, particularly Colleen, spills forth at every turn and the reader is treated to more anecdotes than they might have thought could be found. The entire delivery is one of pure recollection and well-formed storytelling, such that anyone who might have been too young to have seen Howe play can bask in the glory of those memories and feel as close to him as their parents or grandparents. Howe will surely be missed by the hockey world, and this is a little piece that readers can take to honour him in their own way.

Kudos, Mr. Howe for the touching book. You are the one and true MR. HOCKEY in my books!