Tag Archives: Football

For This Life Only by Stacy Kade

Jacob Palmer is a PK or Pastor’s Kid and has difficulty living under the family strictures requiring him to always be on his best behavior since the neighbors might be watching and judging his actions. To make matters worse, his twin brother Elijah is on the fast track to follow in the steps of both his father and grandfather to become the pastor at the local church which has become a family legacy. Needing to get away from another night of scrabble with his parents and young sister Sarah, Jace takes off to hang out with his friends, bumming a ride off his twin. Making it an early night so as not to break curfew, he has to call Eli to pick him up after he accidentally gets doused with a cup of beer (can’t let his dad know he’s had a sip or two). On the way home the car spins out on a patch of ice and their vehicle goes over the bridge killing one boy and almost taking the life of the other.

Even as he physically begins to mend, life for Jacob will never be the same. No longer able to throw the ball, his goal of a college sports scholarship is out the window. That’s the least of his worries as he has to adjust to a new family dynamic with broken parents and a traumatized baby sister as he carries the guilt of his brother’s death on his shoulders and tries to avoid the well
meaning platitudes of his classmates and the community.

Inexplicably Jacob finds himself seeking comfort from the school pariah, the daughter of the psychic who lives across the street from the church with the garish neon sign which makes his dad fume. This girl is off limits even to his friends since they hold her responsible for losing the state championship when two seniors were suspended based on her allegations of sexual harassment. Yet Jace sees a different side to the once hated Thera and, through her, starts to view life via a different lens.

For This Life Only by Stacy Kade is a powerful story dealing with some heavy topics such as sexual abuse, faith and religion, death and grief, loyalty and rejection. Kade shows a realistic snapshot of a family trying to deal with a senseless loss.

While there’s a lot going on with various subplots, unfortunately many of the characters aren’t fully developed and the story doesn’t quite gel. A further complication is the quick but confusing resolution leaving out some pertinent details which prevent the reader from attaining a fulfilling closure. While many YA books tend to be too wordy and need a little editing, this one could have easily added another fifty pages to properly wrap things up instead of using an epilogue to try and put a bow on a slightly incomplete story.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on my blog, Gotta Read.

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Hit Count by Chris Lynch

Teenage boys are the hardest audience to convince that reading fiction books is worthwhile. While girls will be happy with almost any topic, boys are much harder to please. Hit Count by Chris Lynch is the perfect novel to scratch that itch. It should be on the shelf of every high school library.

This book evolves around a family with two teenage boys, a mother, and father. Both sons are obsessed with football. The older son Lloyd Brodie, although tough, never advances beyond the Jayvee level and quits his Senior Year. It’s all downhill from there, as he drops out of school and spends his time smoking pot and bumming around the house. The reader isn’t sure if his denseness is drug induced or due to brain injury, but the author portrays him as a pathetic loser jealous of his successful little brother. In contrast, Arlo, 6′ 2″ and 240 pounds, is driven to succeed where his brother failed. He redoubles his efforts, training twice a day throughout the year with his best friend Dino so he can make the Varsity team in his Sophomore year. Once on the team, Arlo discovers he loves the violent contact necessary for the linebacker to do his job. Coach Fisk admires his determination, but sometimes has to bench his star player to keep him from harming himself. Arlo resents these time outs wanting to get back on the field and do some damage to the opposing team. He even gets aggressive during scrimmages with his team mates. Before long Arlo gets the nickname Starlo due to his stellar moves which leads to the team’s winning record.

The meaning of the term Hit Count evolves throughout the book. At first it refers to Arlo’s list of future accomplishments he would like to achieve. Many of the items are easily crossed off prior to his Senior Year in High School. Then the Hit Count is the number of people Arlo successfully targets to smash, until finally he considers himself to be a walking Hit Count. In the end, Coach Fisk reveals the correct definition. A hit count is used to limit the frequency of repetitive head trauma and concussions to improve the safety of youth athletes in competitive sports. Arlo’s mother keeps “The File” full of articles and photographs which both sons are forced to read to remind them of the dangers of concussions and sub concussive injuries prevalent in contact sports. While Arlo’s dad is proud of his son’s power and success on the field, Arlo’s mom refuses to attend the games and watch her son be clocked as he pulverizes the other teams roster. She cringes when reading the nickname Starlo in the local newspaper, intuitively knowing that such a designation is only earned after brutal actions. Eventually Arlo’s girlfriend Sandrine (Sandy) comes to agree and refuses to have “contact” with her boyfriend until the season is over.

What will appeal most to boys, besides the violence found in contact sports, is the graphic details of the game. Lynch rakes us through Arlo’s thoughts as he trains and plays his favorite sport of football. For me, it was a little excessive and upsetting (I’m a mom who is grateful my son got his varsity letter in golf and that her daughters got their letters in bowling and swim) even though I could understand his obsession to be the best and his need for the extreme workouts necessary to build his body into tip top shape. While the gratuitious violence was necessary to advance the plot, it still made me want to yell “stop” or “enough”. So in a way, this book was painful to read, especially after each head trauma episode. While Chris Lynch presents Arlo’s thoughts and feelings in excruciating detail (completely necessary to get the point across to the reader), I was surprised the ending was so brief. I wanted a little bit more about this kid I had spent over 300 pages getting to know. It should at least have had an epilogue. Four stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The One and Only by Emily Giffin

I wanted to label this book a contemporary romance with the title of The One and Only an indication of the topic, (although personally I would have called it My One and Only), but on second thought I feel that this novel by Emily Giffin is really a study of the various types of love an individual experiences in their life and how that love changes over time. In a way it is a coming of age story, even if the heroine is 33 years old.

The novel takes place on a college campus, Walker University, in Texas not too far from Dallas. The coach, Clive Carr, is a larger than life character in the Walker community (he was even offered a coaching job for the Buffalo Bills – declined due to the winter weather), but is suffering after the loss of his wife Connie to cancer. In play is his daughter Lucy plus his wife’s best friend and her daughter, Shea Rigsby – who was raised alongside Lucy almost as a sister. Giffin relates the story of the season following Connie’s death where the Walker football team plays its heart out for the grieving coach so they can give him the college championship which has alluded him for thirty five or so years. The new freshman player, Reggie, is the best thing to happen to the university since Quarterback Ryan James played for Walker and helped them win the Cotton Bowl. Ryan has had an amazing career and is one of the top quarterbacks of all time, playing for the Dallas Cowboys. These are the key players with some supplementary characters rounding out the crowd.

We learn all this from Shea, who tells her story in agonizing detail (she had to use a big spoon because the little ones were in the dishwasher). Over the year Shea examines the relationships in her life – her mom, her dad who lives in New York with his current wife and children, her former boyfriend Miller and her current boyfriend Ryan, her best friend Lucy, her affinity for football especially at Walker U, her talent for writing, and finally Coach.

From this point on I’m going to discuss the book as a whole with some spoilers, so if you want to be surprised, don’t peek.

It is obvious from the beginning that Shea has a thing for coach, even while she is hooking up with Ryan. This is a May/December romance which slowly develops throughout the book. I not not exaggerating, the process happens at an excruciatingly plodding pace. I listened to this book on tape, (exceedingly well read by Sophia Willingham) and with a total of twelve tapes, the two don’t express their feelings until tape 9, they kiss on tape 10 (and accidentally reveal their secret to Lucy), have a fight on tape 11 (with no make up sex – despite Shea’s attempts to get Coach in the bedroom) and finally at the end of tape 12 there is some sort of resolution, but again, no sex. So don’t expect fireworks throughout this book (although there is a provocative scene when Shea and Ryan hook up). The story is simply Shea’s journey as she discovers what she truly wants from life (as well as who she wants as key players in her future). It doesn’t necessarily go where the reader wants it to go and the conclusion is less than satisfying. Perhaps that is why I’ve heard rumblings of a sequel.

I have some advice for potential readers. First off, if you think football is a bore, skip this book. Second, if the idea that an older man could be attracted to a much younger woman (or vice versa) is abhorrent to you (especially if this relationship borders on the incestuous), choose a different book to read. However, if you are attracted to the idea of an unfolding romance or are curious how such a relationship might come about, then The One and Only is a perfect choice. I also highly recommend the recorded version. The novel starts slowly, but it builds our interest as we become invested in the characters. Perhaps I should refer to one of Coach Clive colloquialisms – it’s not the win, but everything that has gone before that goes into the game. So, it’s not how the book ends, but the build up to the conclusion which is important. It’s the idea of what Shea is willing to sacrifice for the sake of love and whose love she chooses over all others. Read the book to determine the answer.

Three and a half stars.