I LOVE Pro Wrestling!!

Wait, wait! Come back! Ok, I get it. Wrestling isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and everyone has their own reasons for that. I’m not necessarily trying to convert anyone but what I would like to do with this post is show professional wrestling as I view through, of course, book recommendations!

Before I get into the recommendations, I want to let you know a few things about my personal fandom:

  1. I know that wrestling isn’t real. Well, I know that the outcomes are predetermined (for most matches…more on that later), I know that the moves are choreographed, and I know that when the wrestlers argue with one another, it’s been written by a team of writers (although, again, that’s not always true). Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I have answered the question “Why do you like wrestling? It’s fake!” more times than I could ever count. My response is usually, “Your favourite movie is also fake, but that doesn’t stop you from loving it.”
  2. I have been a fan of wrestling since I was five years old. Wrestlemania III happened on my birthday in 1987. I just turned eight and I went to my uncle’s house to watch it. He had one of those HUGE satellite dishes in his front yard and he got all the wrestling PPVs (pay-per-views). I fell in love with the pageantry, the battles between good and evil, the colourful costumes and face paint, the bonkers promos (monologues given by wrestlers). I couldn’t get enough.
  3. My peak wrestling fever was during the Attitude Era of WWE. Popular wrestlers like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and The Undertaker engaged in ridiculous storylines and matches. This was while I was in university and once I got my degree, I fell away from wrestling for a while. I picked it up a few years ago and I’ve been obsessed again ever since!

Here’s a few of my favourite books about wrestling:

The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling by David Shoemaker

My hope is that some of you reading this who haven’t watched wrestling before will be intrigued enough to at least check out this book. This is a book featuring the untimely and tragic deaths of many wrestlers. This is something else that has intrigued me about wrestling over the years. Far too many wrestlers have died young. Whether it be through murder, suicide, drug abuse, or some combination of these, wrestlers, especially during the eighties and nineties, were dying at a rapid rate. Shoemaker explores many of those deaths in this book, giving a brief biography while concentrating on what led to the tragic end. Wrestlers to this day are more often than not on the road, often performing 300 days or more a year. They fly or drive from venue to venue all across the world. Couple that with the pain they suffer and wrestlers from the past would often turn to unhealthy combinations of pain medications, illegal drugs, and alcohol. It’s an issue that has largely been eradicated today but the tragic past of wrestling is on full display in this book.

 

To Be The Man by Ric Flair and Keith Elliot Greenberg

Chances are, the first name you think of when you think “wrestling” is Hulk Hogan. Chances are also good the second man is Ric Flair. Flair has been in the news for the wrong reasons the past week with serious medical issues (get well soon, Ric!) but he has been a fan favourite for decades. Flair portrayed a character who wanted, and got, all the finest things in life: private jets, the finest clothes, the loveliest ladies. The thing is, he also lived his personal life that way. He’s been married three times, has dealt with financial issues most of his professional career, and been in two (two!) plane crashes, one in which he broke his back and was told he would never wrestle again (he did so for three more decades). Through all the trials and tribulations, he is still the life of every party, drinking everyone under the table and WOOOOOOOing all of the ladies with his ubiquitous catchphrase. This autobiography takes us through the early years of Flair’s life and career up until about 2000. He was working on a second book that is to be released later this year and there’s an ESPN 30 for 30 film coming in November about his life. No one has lived the rock star life in wrestling quite like Flair. This one is a fun read.

 

Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling by Bret Hart

Bret Hart was my favourite wrestler growing up. He is probably the best technical wrestler ever, which means he makes the moves look real and he tells a great story with his wrestling. You believe he’s in pain and you believe he’s inflicting it. The Hart Family is a legendary one in the world of wrestling. In their hometown of Calgary, the Hart boys and other young hopefuls would work on their craft in The Dungeon, which was the dingy basement of father Stu Hart’s house. Of all the people who survived The Dungeon, Bret was the most talented. Where he suffered was with his mic work. He did cut some memorable promos but his character development often left something to be desired. The most famous (or infamous) moment of his career, which Hart writes about extensively in his book, is what became known as the Montreal Screwjob. Bret was the WWF champion in November of 1997. However, he was soon moving to WCW or World Championship Wrestling. Vince McMahon, the owner of WWF knew this and was fine with it but he was fearful that Hart would bring his belt to WCW, embarrassing McMahon in the process. So, while Hart was told he would win on Sunday and then give up the belt on Monday, McMahon concocted a plan where Hart would lose to Shawn Michaels on Sunday. Hart went into the match thinking he was going to win but instead was put into a submission hold where the referee, also in on the Screwjob, told the timekeeper to ring the bell. Hart was livid and would spit on McMahon, who was ringside, and later punched him backstage. Drama! It’s a rare moment where the plans were made without the knowledge of one of the participants.

So! That’s a glimpse into why I love wrestling so much. It’s not for everyone but I think the participants certainly deserve respect for their athleticism, their dedication, and their suffering for their passion.

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Rule #1: Read Exit Strategy!

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Title: Exit Strategy (Nick Mason #2)

Author: Steve Hamilton

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Goodreads

Release Date: May 16, 2017

Genre: Thriller, Sequel

In the follow-up to The Second Life of Nick Mason, the remarkable hero fights to take back control from the crime lord who owns his life, as he races to complete a daring and dangerous new mission. . . .

Nick Mason has been given a true mission impossible: Infiltrate WITSEC, the top-secret federal witness-protection program that has never been compromised, locate the three men who put his boss Darius Cole behind bars for life, and kill them.

But first he has to find them—they’re ghost prisoners locked down around the clock in classified “deep black” locations by an battalion of heavily armed U.S. marshals charged with protecting them—and the clock is ticking. Cole is appealing his conviction, and these witnesses are either his ticket to freedom or the final nail in his coffin. If they testify, Darius Cole will never step foot in the outside world again. If they are killed, he will walk out a free man.

As he risks everything to complete his mission, Mason finds himself being hunted by the very man he replaced, the ruthless assassin who once served, then betrayed, Darius Cole. Rather than waiting to be Mason’s next victim, he has escaped witness protection to hunt down and kill Mason himself.

In an action-packed journey that leads from a high-security military installation in the Appalachian Mountains to a secret underground bunker hidden far below the streets of New York City, Nick Mason will have to become, more than ever before, the lethal weapon that Darius Cole created.

I was introduced to Steve Hamilton, and in turn Nick Mason, through a Twitter recommendation from author Don Winslow (The Cartel, The Force). Mason, a new character for Hamilton, had an intriguing story. The reader is introduced to Mason in The Second Life of Nick Mason, where we find Mason in prison for at least 20 years. That is until Darius Cole introduces himself. Cole ran Chicago before he was arrested and still runs it from his prison cell. He gives Mason the chance of a lifetime: a ticket out of prison. Thing is, he will be at the mercy of Cole. Whatever he wants done, Mason has to do it. As you can imagine, the things Cole wants done aren’t exactly law-abiding. At the end of the first book (another highly recommended read), Mason is firmly in the clutches of Cole and desperately looking for a way out for the sake of those closest to him, especially his ex-wife and daughter.

In Exit Strategy, Hamilton ratchets up the action BIG TIME! Mason is still completing jobs for Cole while looking for an escape. Cole is also looking for his own escape: he’s trying to buy his way out of prison. Along the way we meet who I consider my favourite character of the series to date: Sean Burke. Burke is a former operative of the IRA who once worked for Cole. As a potential witness against Cole, Burke has to go. Only it’s not that easy. Burke is a capable fighter who is absolutely merciless. He is written wonderfully and a joy to read about, as twisted as that may sound!

Along with the action comes a few casualties. Without spoiling anything, there is a high body count in this novel. It’s as if Hamilton is hitting the reset button for the third novel. New enemies are revealed, some old ones are cast aside. I can’t wait to see what happens next! I highly recommend this novel and this series in general.

*A huge thank you to Steve Hamilton for my copy of the novel!*

5 out of 5 Big Bald Heads!

 

Lust, Money, and Murder, Oh My!

Title: Lust, Money, and Murder

Author: Mike Wells

Genre: Thriller

Read on: July 12, 2017

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Born in the worst suburb in Pittsburgh, Elaine Brogan is bright, beautiful and bold. When her father is falsely arrested for passing counterfeit $100 bills, Elaine vows to become a Secret Service agent and track down the man responsible. After barely surviving the arduous Secret Service Training Academy in Laurel, Maryland, she is transferred to bleak and blustery Great Falls, Montana. But things do not go as planned, and Elaine soon finds herself betrayed and thrown into an adventure that takes her halfway around the world, from dark and mysterious Sofia, Bulgaria, to Moscow Russia, and finally, to Milan, Italy. In the end, will Elaine find the love and happiness she truly seeks…or will she turn to a life of obscene wealth, power and corruption?

Mr. Wells, you weave a fantastic tale! If you’re looking for a great summer read, look no further. Wells introduces the reader to Elaine Brogan, a woman who endured a difficult childhood to become a leading expert on counterfeit money coming into the United States from around the world. I was honestly worried when the story went in this direction. I didn’t think the world of counterfeit money could be interesting. I’m happy to say I was mistaken! Wells describes this line of work with a clear passion that transfers to the reader. Brogan has revenge on her mind in the earl going but one of the truly rewarding things about reading a Mike Wells novel is that the story will never stagnate. He takes the reader on a journey through different countries and different storylines. At a breakneck pace, Elaine has her world turned upside down more than once. As a reader, I was left delightfully off-kilter the whole time.

You may think you’ll be with Elaine throughout the whole story and she certainly is the focal point. However, this world Wells has created puts the reader into the minds and lives of a number of characters, some virtuous, others…not so much. By the end of the third part of the story, I was mesmerized and wanting more. That’s another beauty of Wells’ books: while I did read the first three books consecutively as one novel, you can read them as smaller stories of about 100 pages each. Warning: there will be cliffhangers and you will be reading all of these!

I highly recommend this series. I’ve read the first three and, to my great surprise and pleasure, the fourth installment is there waiting for me too! Time to hop back on the roller coaster!

Five out of five Big Bald Heads!

*Huge thanks to Mike Wells for providing these books for review!*

 

Review: Devastation Road

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Title: Devastation Road

Author: Jason Hewitt

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Release Date: July 3, 2017

Read on: July 7, 2017

Goodreads

A deeply compelling and poignant story that, like the novels of Pat Barker or Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong, dramatises the tragic lessons of war, the significance of belonging and of memory – without which we become lost, even to ourselves.

Spring, 1945: A man wakes in a field in a country he does not know. Injured and confused, he pulls himself to his feet and starts to walk, and so sets out on an extraordinary journey in search of his home, his past and himself.

His name is Owen. A war he has only a vague memory of joining is in its dying days, and as he tries to get back to England he becomes caught up in the flood of refugees pouring through Europe. Among them is a teenage boy, Janek, and together they form an unlikely alliance as they cross battle-worn Germany. When they meet a troubled young woman, tempers flare and scars are revealed as Owen gathers up the shattered pieces of his life. No one is as he remembers, not even himself – how can he truly return home when he hardly recalls what home is?

After the lighter, boisterous Blackstone, Devastation Road offered a more grounded, sobering look at after time in history, World War II. And not just WWII but the people who are not often remembered in the re-tellings of that time: the people who lost their homes, their families, themselves.

Owen is the protagonist of this tale. He awakens in a field, unable to remember much about his life. He begins to recall bits and pieces of his life, all while trying to find his way back home. He knows he is English, he can remember family members and other people important to him, but he cannot piece it all together. Hewitt does a great job of making the reader feel the frustration of Owen as pieces of his life return to him while others disappear again. It’s Owen’s short-term memory that is most affected. He ha to rite things down to ensure he remembers them.

Along the way, he meets Janek, a young Czech searching for his revolutionary leader brother, Petr. He also meets up with Irena, a young mother unsure of how to raise her son in this post-war world.

As this trio (as well as the baby, named Little Man by Owen) make their way through what remains of Europe after this war, they learn a lot about one another. Sometimes too much. This is less a story about the war as it is a story about the people left behind and how they can possibly continue after such, well, devastation.

I really enjoyed this story. Hewitt doesn’t shy away from the difficult glimpses into each of the main characters lives. The decisions made by each of these people are not always popular, but they are made by people who feel there is no other option. That may be the biggest tragedy of all: those left behind to make sense of this new world.

4 of 5 Big Bald Heads.

*Thanks to Little, Brown and Company and NetGalley for the copy of this novel*

Review: Blackstone

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Title: Blackstone

Author: Richard Falkirk

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Read on: June 23, 2017

 

In the immortal words of Staind, “It’s been a while!”. First, I should apologize for my extended absence. The school year ended on June 24 but I then graded the World Geography public exam, which means I graded Question 59 of the exam 2654 times from June 27 to July 3. Sooooooo, with that not-at-all tedious task out of the way, my summer has been freed up considerably to review books. I have a back-to-back review session here this evening, beginning with Blackstone, a novel originally written in 1972 by Richard Falkirk, recently re-released by Thistle Publishing.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read (about 280 pages), so the character development wasn’t extensive. Not surprisingly, we stay mostly with Edmund Blackstone himself. Blackstone (I’m doing everything I can but to put an exclamation point after Blackstone’s name each and every time I type it. It just feels like he deserves one. This is a series and one of the future novels is titled “Blackstone on Broadway”. I can only hope he breaks into song every now and again.) is a Bow Street Runner, the first police force of England. There aren’t many of them, they never wear uniforms, and they often have a shady past which allows them to interact with the shadier members of English society in order to solve their cases. There is a push to have an official police force in England, one with uniforms as we would know them today. However, the Runners are the law at this time and Blackstone is their de facto leader.

Blackstone is, for lack of a better word, a badass. He carries around a club of sorts to smack around the bad guys, he drinks whisky (of course he does), and he is a big hit with the ladies. His mission in this first novel of the series is no small task: he is to protect the future Queen of England, Victoria. Blackstone’s enthusiastic punishment of the baddies catches up to him and he ends up suspended. With no Blackstone to protect him, Victoria is promptly kidnapped and only one man can find her: Batman! I mean, Blackstone! See, the exclamation point just makes sense.

There are a few misdirects along the way and more than enough action. But it’s not all plot and no character. Blackstone is an interesting character. He presents himself as being confident and self-assured but he is constantly second guessing himself. He’ll chastise himself for bragging about his exploits and he’ll dwell on a negative comment from others. Too many of the modern day protagonists have no real flaws or at least any concern about their own actions. Blackstone is the exception.

I had a great time with this one. I hope Thistle keeps bringing out the series. I’ve checked online for copies and the original hardcovers are going for hundreds of dollars! Oh Blackstone, you extravagant hero! Blackstone!

*Thanks to Thistle Publishing and NetGalley for the copy of this novel.*

Next Up: Blackstone

51e-omjlnyl-_uy250_Imagine if Jack Bauer were British…and lived during the 1820s…and was protecting a young future Queen Victoria. That’s pretty much Edmund Blackstone. Which is to say, he’s pretty awesome! This is the first in a series of novels written by Richard Falkirk (Derek Lambert) in the seventies. This is a great, quick read so far. More to come soon!

Review: Where Dead Men Meet

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Title: Where Dead Men Meet

Author: Mark Mills

Genre: Spy Thriller, Historical Fiction

Goodreads

Release Date: November 17, 2016

Read On: June 19, 2017

A return to the period adventure thriller in Where Dead Men Meet reestablishes Mark Mills as a master storyteller for fans of William Boyd, Charles Cumming, or Robert Harris

Paris, 1937. Luke Hamilton – a junior air intelligence officer at the British Embassy – finds himself the target of an assassination attempt. A clear case of mistaken identity, or so it first appears. As Luke is hunted across a continent sliding towards war, he comes to learn that the answers lie deep in a past that predates his abandonment as a baby on the steps of an orphanage twenty-five years ago.

From the author of the bestselling The Savage Garden, and set against a terrific backdrop of Europe on the cusp of the Second World War, this is a compelling novel, rich in adventure, espionage, secrets and lies.

This book hit a lot of the right buttons for me. It’s a period piece, set in Europe in 1937 when war is about to break out. The reader is taken all across Europe, from England to France to Switzerland and many other places in between. We also have a protagonist who doesn’t know anything about who his real parents are and what it could mean for his life.

Mills does a great job of planting the reader in the middle of the action right away, with a mysterious man approaching our hero, Luke Hamilton. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game that takes Hamilton all across Europe, meeting friends and enemies along the way and never being completely sure which is which. The author keeps you guessing until the final pages, never certain when the next double-cross may occur.

Hamilton is someone you can relate to (y’know, except for all the being shot at and chased stuff…). He is in his mid twenties, trying to find his place in life. His world is suddenly turned upside down and he has to find out his true identity, which might actually get him killed. Hamilton teams up with Pippi, a fully realized and capable partner who brings along her own troubled history.

On a personal note, I recently brought a group of students to Europe for a school trip and it seems everywhere we went played a role in the novel. Munich, Lucerne, Mount Pilatus, Venice, Fribourg. So very cool. These locations are really characters themselves, each bringing it’s own atmosphere that Mills expresses wonderfully with his writing.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good spy novel with a little pre-WWII intrigue thrown in. I’m hoping to be able to read further adventures of Luke Hamilton soon.

5 Big Bald Heads!

*Big thanks to Blackstone Audio and NetGalley for the copy of this novel.*