Tuesday, November 14, 2017

IF you write, they may come

Writing is a solitary experience unless you are at a newspaper covering a big story, too big for a single reporter, or you're experienced and understand the collaborative experience. Me? It's just me and my blank screen.

You should know that I've stopped writing my blog posts IN Blogger, the platform that this blog is hosted on. Nothing wrong with doing it there. But the process is too clunky to be comfortable to a 'wordy' wordsmith. Actually, the right word is pleonastic, which my editor at the paper I worked on a half-century ago said repeatedly was NOT a good thing (that was the unfortunate bit). I talk too much and I write too much. And my parenthetical style of writing would drive an editor daffy, these days.

Currently, I write in a product called yWriter. That's because, when I get the energy, I attack any of the baker's dozen of book ideas I have. yWriter is VERY novel-writing concentric software. It's got it's quirks. But I have a few HUNDRED thousands of words written in it, so it feels comfortable.

But it is NOT good for shorter stuff. Or for organizing notes. Or for a BUNCH of things. The chief charm of the program is that it is free. Well, free with the stipulation that you actually TRY one of Simon Haynes' books. Which I did. Not a 10 Kovids rated experience, but a decent time waster if you enjoy science fiction. And I do.

ONE of the other suite of utilities I use to TRY and improve my writing is a program called SmartEdit from Bad Wolf Software. It's like having an editor here that I have paid for and don't need to KEEP paying for. The program version I have is not the latest, but it does the job. I imagine the newer version would do an even better job, but I am a creature of comfort and SmartEdit is Editor enough for me. Although, if I win the lottery, I would definitely keep current. A SmartEdit licence is good through all minor revisions for a year.

I get a kick out of it because it's more of a checker than a changer. It asks me to review potential issues and let's me know when I've gone the pleonastic equivalent of going nuclear. For example, it checks for potential swear words and it noted I'd used Dick in the two chapters I turned in recently for Tales from Deep in the Hole, a Wishography loosely based on my career as a rep softball head coach at the ripe old age of 15. Now, as it turns out, Dick was the coach who ended my rep softball playing career. Well, in effect. He decided his son would be better than me as a second baseman (not even remotely close to being a fact) and sent me over to play third base. Now, you have to be two things to play third base at a high calibre of softball. Brave. And no, I don't possess that gene. And the possessor of a strong arm. The noodle attached to my right side never qualified for strength at any time in my life. So, I was out of softball as a just-turned teenager and into playing Box Lacrosse ... where bravery was ALSO called for. But I digress.

SmartEdit is a moderately decent over-the-shoulder post-writing nagger that is worth the price asked ($67US). I think it's worth the price if you think you have a book in you.

My Irish friend Darren, the man behind Bad Wolf, has also addressed a LOT of the inefficiencies in yWriter and, indeed, Microsoft Word. The world runs on Word and the world hates the experience writing on Word. It's big, slow and encumbered with a million things you don't want. There is a thriving business out there for apps that are simply blank screens with NOTHING there to deflect your attention as you beaver away writing your stream of consciousness. Darren's new program is Atomic Scribbler, which is a successor to Page Four. It's basically Page Four with a lot of sidebar tools for writers. Tools they will use. And if you want that blank screen, Atomic Scribbler can come decently close. It's a good implementation that will PROBABLY get better.

Page Four was a word processor with the personal likes of the software creator. So is Atomic Scribbler, but it's MOVING in the direction that seems most helpful for novel-writing. It has bits and pieces of such utilities as Persona and Contour (both of which I use) and has a Scrivener approach in the making (No, I don't use Scrivener, probably the pre-eminent piece of novel-writing software).  In concept, it's basically a less frantic Liquid Story Binder XE. Which I have tried to use. And failed.

I think Atomic Scribbler is a comer. Is it the kind of software I will plunk down my hard-earned dollars for? It helps that the product is on sale for 25 per cent off for the next week and a bit. That's $47US right now and it makes for an enticing package for purchase. Certainly worth investigating. The users support forum is nascent at the moment but is already showing signs of being a thriving idea-driven forum. That's extremely good news. Like Calibre from Kovid Goyal, this is a solo creator-driven product. How much Darren lets in the ideas of others is key for it's development. He definitely is writing a product a novel-writer would want. The question is, is that writer JUST him, or the legions of would-be Amazon catalog stuffers?

Lastly, while you are at Bad Wolf, check out All My Journals. Again, this product has the ability to fit INTO a set of writing tools. Especially blog-writing tools. Writing journals has kept my friend Brian sane for years. But he never blogs. He should, 'cuz he's got things to tell the world. But he seems immune to the need to spew verbiage, unlike me. Yet he probably writes more every month than I do in a year ... although I should get credit for programming code, since that IS how I make my money these days. I imagine that he could take his journal entries and PICK AND CHOOSE items to put out on the Internet. And that would be made easier by All My Journals. I point this out to readers (reader?) in case that impulse to write exceeds even Twitter's new 240 character limit. And at the same time, let's you use the program as your own therapist, one that sits there and listen (reads?) without comment or judgment. It's a good idea, well implemented.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Advice to Mark Shapiro, a LITTLE more publicly this time

When asked in May what I would do with the then-hot Toronto Blue Jays, my response was “Trade ‘em, all and rebuild for the arrival of Vlady Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette in 2019!” Obviously, Shapiro and Atkins failed to telepathically heed my advice and instead stuck with the group as is. So, what to do THIS off-season. Trade most of ‘em and rebuild for the arrival of Guerrero and Bichette in 2019. Obviously!

I start the off-season with the stunner, setting the stage for the re-emergence of the Philadelphia Phillies as a contender and acquiring talent, youth and payroll space in return. Marcus Stroman, one of the five best AL pitchers this year and controllable until the next decade, gets paired with what is PROBABLY JUST the Troy Tulowitzki contract (and eminence grise), plus ex-Pirate prospects and now ex-Blue Jay prospects Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire to bring back outfielder Nick Williams, 3B Mikael Franco and young pitching prospects Harold Arauz (gotta keep our Harold holdings consistent) and Austin Davis. Arauz is something of a comer and Davis is pure lottery ticket, code for left-handed. Having re-upped ALMOST Ex-Blue Jay Marco Estrada, the Jays would then also bring back Ryan Goins on another one-year deal.

I’ll explain why about the trades later. Now, Shapiro has to dial up St. Louis and get them to take Josh Donaldson, Roberto Osuna and Max Pentecost off their hands for SS Paul DeJong, catcher Carson Kelly and almost major-league ready pitching prospect Mike Mayers. The Cardinals would have to ship another mid-level prospect in the deal, but would hasten to acquire Donaldson, pairing him then on the Redbird's left side of the infield with newly- signed Zack Cosert, a free agent fresh from the Cincy Reds. Cosert, who was looking at slim pickings in free agency would sign so quickly, the pen would burn through the contract parchment. Toronto would respond by re-signing Brett Anderson. Hmmm, some ‘splaining to do on that one.

Lastly, the team management would then try for lottery team luck by sending Kevin Pillar, senior super-sub Steve Pearce and veteran bullpen lefty Aaron Loup to the New York Mets for unable-bodied pitcher Matt Harvey, prospect corner infielder Jhoan Urena (seems Urena’s go well in T.O.) and years-away pitching prospect Nabil Crismat.

Okay, here come the how-come’s/why-fors.

Stroman is the sole big long-term loss for the team. Simply put, he’s worth a lot on the open market and I think the Jays would be over-joyed to make the proposed Phil trade. His increasingly antagonistic attitude might bring back fond memories of Kyle Lowry, but do the Jays have time to wait for his maturing? The team loses Tulowitzki and his Goins-esque offence and par to sub-par defence, plus that massive locker-room presence would seem a loss. But that $20 million pay cheque for THREE more seasons is just a LITTLE TOO RICH for Canadian blood and bucks. And Stroman isn’t going to be cheap much longer, as he enters arbitration. Still, by giving up Stroman and the ‘seemingly easy to replace’ Tulowitzki’s field presence, the Jays get a starting outfielder in Nick Williams. Plus a starting 3B in Franco, although the mercurial Franco might end up in LF, 1B or somewhere other than in Toronto. Bluntly, Franco is a major-league lottery ticket who might be a reasonable Donaldson clone or Buffalo-bound or a trade dump to some OTHER team that thinks he still has potential. As for the pitching prospects, neither should see Toronto coming out of spring training this decade. Next decade? Maybe.

As for Philadelphia, the price here for Stroman appears to be Williams and an exchange of hoped-for comeback kids in Franco for Tulowitzki. Yes, there’s cash to pay out, but Philadelphia is out from under the horrid contracts that saw the once-powerful Phillies descend into irrelevance due to unmovable contracts. That day has ended, the new Ryan Howard, Rhys Hoskins, has arrived and a new TV deal lets the club acquire Tulo’s contract and not blanch. Ramirez probably doesn’t replace Williams, but the team will go for a big-name add in the outfield that already includes Oudebel Herrera and Aaron Altherr. Moving Williams creates space. As for the former Pirates headed their way? Organizational fodder, although McGuire fills a catching slot. For the Blue Jays, Arauz will probably make the bigs, Davis probably won’t. But that’s what prospect roulette is all about.

Now, over to St. Louis, who has a catching prospect ready for the big-leagues in Kelly, but is blocked til the next decade by Yadier Molina. And rookie phenom DeJong still has to outlive his sophomore season and the potential jinx (Aledmys Diaz anyone?). And the constant stream of Cardinal pitching prospects will barely notice a dip into the waters to lose Mayers. And in return, one of the three best third-baseman in baseball, Donaldson, plus their new closer in Osuna and a catcher to replace Kelly, but with a new best-arrival date of next decade, in Pentecost. In different times, Donaldson and Pentecost get the deal done. Probably. If the Cardinals can work out an extension with Donaldson first. But to NOT have the guarantee in place with Donaldson costs the long-term controllable Osuna. St. Loo might have to throw in another prospect, with Austin Gomber, a left-handed hurler at the AA level making some sense.

DeJong immediately fills the bill for Tulowitzki’s replacement, giving Richard Urena more time to mature with a full season in Buffalo. Urena, Bichette and Guerrero percolate for another year. And infield group of those three, DeJong and Delicate Devon Travis means having good, young talent, enhanced by one more year of Goins for some guidance. Plus, there’s Lourdes Gourriel en route and he’s an all-rounder who hopefully comes along at the plate, in which case, the Jays will have a LOT of interchangeable parts to man the infield and cover as fifth outfielders.

Carson Kelly jumps the Jays’ queue of catchers, giving Dan Jansen a season in Buffalo to get better. Once he proves his offensive dream season this season is sustainable, the Blue Jays could be looking at a Kelly-Jansen tandem with Russell Martin around for guidance, to act as a third catcher and do a little backing up at DH, 3B and maybe 2B, if necessary. Or, a Martin tandem with one of the kids might play for two or three years. The Jays also might be able to replace Stroman in the starting line-up with Mayers, or he might head to the bullpen to compete with the likes of Tom Koehler or he might be the plug-in starter awaiting problems in Buffalo. But he’s close. And that counts in the winter.

Which leaves me trying to explain giving the New York Mets three members of their starting 25 on opening day next year, without getting possibly anything in the deal. It’ll be tough losing Pillar, he of the Superman-quality catches. But all highlights aside, he’s NOT the gold-glove centre fielder he’s portrayed as. In fact, he trails Kevin Keiermayer again and has fallen behind Byron Buxton. Add in his in ability to get his offence going, and now’s the time to sell. Another season at the end of the Blue Jays’ batting line-up, with little reason to move him up, might leave Toronto with an untradeable, but popular, trade asset. And the Jays have outfielders in the pipeline. The same reason can be applied to Pearce, who’s rep is better than we saw this year, and to Loup, who is an example of the old Branch Rickey saw, “Better to trade a player a year too soon than a year too late.” Loup regained some of his mojo this year, and remember, it’s LEFT-handed mojo. Out now, before the trade idea starts to stink.

Harvey, the possible Stroman replacement and possible new Brett Anderson, is the lottery ticket here. He’s an ace a year away from free agency (and given who his agent is, it’s almost guaranteed free agency). A good year and the Jays recoup a prospect in the 30’s. Something less than a good year, then the Jays didn’t spend much money. C’est la vie. Jhoan Urena is a corner guy and Crismat a pitcher. Neither should show up before Russell Martin retires. But both are good bets to at least make The Show. But this whole trade is about selling declining assets for a shot at Harvey for a season and a draft pick. And who knows, maybe Harvey succeeds and likes Toronto enough to want to stay. Hey, ask Marco Estrada if that’s possible. 

So, what line-up does John Gibbons trot out in 2018? Martin will catch and Justin Smoak will play first base. Beyond that? Well, it’s nice to think Travis will man second all year long. Not a great bet, but a big winner if it comes true. DeJong will start at shortstop and Franco at third. The outfield will have Teoscar Hernandez in centre, with Nick Williams in right. In left? One of Anthony Alford, Dwight Smith Jr. or Dalton Pompey will be in that spot come season’s start. Pompey’s in a make or leave situation. The other two can be in Buffalo. Which means I think Pompey might have an inside edge, if only he can stay healthy. The DH will be Kendrys Morales. He was an asset this year, barely. Next year he won’t be. And he’ll finish his contract as a pinch-hitter. He is what he is, a mistake that’s nowhere as huge as has been portrayed, but a mistake indeed. His switch-hitting power doesn’t play given his slothfulness on the base-paths. The subs? Kelly to play 60 cames as catcher, Goins, Ezequiel Carrerra as the fourth outfielder (and possible LF starter) and a 3B-type free agent who might get at bats in a platoon with Franco. Or Urena, who would be better off playing full-time in Buffalo at every infield spot. But I’ll stick with a one-year free agent. That’s the 13 slots for offence.

The pitching staff will be J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, Brett Anderson and Joe Biagini/Matt Harvey. The loser of THAT battle will battle Tom Koehler for the long-man on the relief staff. The new closer will be Carlos Ramirez. He’ll probably give up a run in 2018. Probably. Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes and Dominic Leone seem like a decent trio of righties. The left-handed alternatives are a little … young … in Tim Mayza and Matt Dermody. But having shown they CAN pitch in the majors this year, hopefully the bullpen will remain a strength. If not, bullpens can be rebuilt on the fly. The key is Ramirez coming in and doing a reasonable impression of Osuna at a fraction of the price.

In all, the Jays will lose the contracts of Donaldson, Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista, as well as Loup, Osuna, Pilar, Pearce and Stroman. That’s something approaching $80 million in 2018 potential compensation. The incoming players won’t total a fourth of that. The Shapiro-Atkins tandem COULD immediately start spending some of that money themselves. Getting sixth, seventh and eighth starters wouldn’t be a bad idea. The talent clock HAS been reset to 2019-2020, with enough pitching to make Gibbons feel comfortable about that. And the newly athletic and multi-postional capable squad would be fun to let run and rip.

In fact, what WOULD 2019 look like if Guerrero and Bichette over-achieve again? The catching duo would probably be Kelly and Jansen. If not, Martin would back-up there, at third, maybe at second and take the occasional turn through the DH spot. The 1B would be Smoak and Travis would still be at second. The left-side of the infield would be best buddies Guerrero and Bichette, with DeJong and Franco being delegated to back-up duties along with Martin. The OF would be Alford, Hernandez and Williams. The extra outfielder would be Gourriel. And Morales would pinch-hit. (Actually, Franco would probably be traded if both Kelly and Jansen make the team). The DH? Rowdy Tellez. The starting five pitchers would be Sanchez, (the perpetually re-signing) Estrada, Ryan Borucki, Mayers and Biagini/Anderson. The relievers would be the same set or some combination that includes about the same mount of talent and payroll. And one OTHER guy would be signed. Either a big bucks starting pitcher (or two) or a closer (assuming Ramirez fails in next year’s audition). As I said earlier, maybe Harvey likes Toronto.

And the pitching talent would be starting to arrive. Sean Reid-Foley, Connor Greene, Jon Harris, Tom Pannone, Justin Maese, Crismat, TJ Zeuch, Luis Perdomo and Arauz. Jordan Romano, Francisco Rios and Shane Dawson have their fans. The big bet on Ramirez is hedged by Nate Pearson, who merely turned in a sub 1.00 ERA in leading Vancouver to a title. He’s pitching starting pitcher innings right now, but profiles as a closer … if that position is open.

Logan Warmouth, Richard Urena, Jhoan Urena, Tim Lopes and Smith, Jr. would be potential backups. On a viable Major League team. With a payroll that beggars the addition of a big-time Free Agent. Or three. Alas, no spot for should be Blue-Jay lifer Goins. Sigh. But DeJong, Bichette, Warmouth and even Gourriel are shortstops by vocation. So's Richard Urena.

All for the price for a learning season this coming year. An EXCITING season.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I Think I Smell Tobacco Road Smoking

It's time for that most important time of the year, March Madness. It comes at a time when I need total immersion into something that isn't health-related and sitting around munching chips, guzzling sugar-free and sodium-free Mandarin Orange soda while watching what I hope will be a steady procession of exciting games is enough to put me to bed happy tonight.

And, it's a year where ANYBODY in the top THIRTY in this bracketologist's nightmare has a chance to get past this weekend. Win a championship? Well, that's another thing.

A week ago, I was all over Oregon to dark horse their way to the title. Admittedly, the Canadian content, including local kid Dylan Ennis, had something to do with that. But I saw an Oregon team that was ready for the NCAA's before the year turned over. Sure, the Ducks got bored to the point of losing to non-title contenders. But the talent and the 'arrogance' that a title team needs was in plenty evidence. But this past weekend dealt the Ducks a cruel blow. Chris Boucher out for the rest of the season with a blown-out knee. Quack!!!!

So, if not Oregon, who? The guard theory certainly made me immediately think of Kansas. Then Josh Jackson did whatever he did and Kansas lost in the Big 12. There will be extra motivation for Jackson to atone for his ... whatever he did. And Frank Mason III has been other-worldly this year. But here's the thing. Like my previous infatuation with Florida, Kansas tends to disappoint with the notable exception of Mario Chalmer's comeback kings back in the 'Aughts. I think it's time to move Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk back to the Bin of Dreams I keep in the attic. Oh, this undoubtedly makes them almost automatically the favourite, but over time, I think it's best not to let my heart get broken into even smaller bits.

Can Malik Monk go all Aaron Harrison on the tournament and play six top-calibre games? I'm guessing not. So, not Kentucky, which somehow got drawn into the Region of Death, the South, with heavyweight road-blocks in UCLA and (if I am wrong) North Carolina in the way. Besides, John Calipari (The Grayson Allen of coaching) is still coaching there and his in-game coaching is .... NOT NEAR A MATCH for his recruiting.

Defending champs Villanova, the team after a short man's heart? Again, save for the Florida Repeatin' Gators from earlier this century, defending champ means "which round do they lose in?" And I think I have the one Big 10/16 team that will be a surprise this year. Wisconsin doesn't shoot free throws all that well, which will be okay for the first 37 minutes of the second-round game between the Wildcats and the Badgers. I think the Wisconsin lead at that point will be large enough to survive the intentional foul onslaught. 'Nova is worthy of the top overall seed. But with the Curse of the Champeen hanging like the Sword of Damocles, I'm calling on Wisconsin to dispose of the Champs.

Hmmmmm, North Carolina? Certainly from the Tobacco Road neighbourhood in the dominant ACC. Experienced up and down the roster. Joel Berry II might only be two-thirds of Mason III, but he's been very, very good ... most of the time. Justin "I'm not Josh and was NOT going to be confused with him ... until THIS year when all things JJ were great!" Jackson gives the Tar Heels TWO honourable mentions in the coming Mason III coronation as Player of the Year. But North Carolina needs Isaiah Hicks to play six relatively foul-free games in a row. Well, make that five. Sorry Texas Southern fans, both of you. Hicks and the UCLA front-line are not a match in Tar Heel heaven. So that's, what, three number one seeds down?

The fourth to fall and the one to go the farthest (well, tied with Kansas for the farthest), is the "finally-respected by the Bracket committee" Zags/Bulldogs of Gonzaga. They have major league front-court talent, which will have the needed neutralizing effect on Arizona when they meet in the West Region final. But an unfunny thing will happen in Phoenix in the Final Four. The Zags will discover that height matters ... unless the opponent can shoot over that height.

Which means a Duke-UCLA championship final. Which feels right in this year of bad, REALLY BAD pre-season rankings. Sure, injuries had an incredibly negative effect throughout the nation, including taking Harry Giles out of the Player of the Year discussion. And off the starting five for Coach K's Dookies. He'd be smart to stay in school and earn an even BIGGER pay cheque in the summer of 2018. But, history keeps banging us over the heads to take the money when you can. Losing one season means that BIG free agent contract is just another year away. All that said, Giles HAS to play big for the ... let's call them height-challenged Blue Devils.

And that's because the UCLA front-line is NBA-sized. And T.J. Leaf and his NOT height-challenged teammates will have Lonzo Ball creating lay-ups. Ball, however reminds me of Chris Paul. And Paul's exit from the college game was messy piled upon messy. And that was despite having more experience than Ball. Plus, it's not really Ball that I have issues with. It's his lightning rod of a father who will somehow dominate the Final Four stage from off-stage by saying something bizarre thanks to a willingly complicit Media. In fact several somethings in an unacknowledged battle with Comrade Donald for attention. The task of staying focused amidst the pressure of "CBS' One Shining Moment in the making," along with trying to neutralize his father's fodder of foolishness will prove a step too far.

Which brings me back to Duke. The "why nots" for Duke are easy to figure out. A bit of a tallness issue. The issues with Grayson Allen. That swoon when Coach K left the team for pain-relieving surgery. And EVERYBODY in the country seems to have a long-term dislike for the confidence (read AIR-oh-gantz) that seems to permeate every Blue Devil once the kid accepts the scholarship.

To me, surviving the injury bugs (Allen, Giles and Amile Jefferson, as well as The Coach), the ACC tournament, and yes, the confidence, combined with the experience, makes me think the Blue of Duke will outlast the Blue of UCLA in an entertaining final, 81-77. Why? I love Luke Kennard's game. With Allen back, the Bruins cannot swarm Kennard to force the ball out of his hands. Allen is the release valve for that plan. (and yes, Allen's well documented dirty play difficulty will dominate the media scrums in Phoenix for the rest of the questions beyond Mr. Ball.). I wouldn't relish playing Kennard straight up. And that is why I think this is yet another banner/pennant to rise to the rafters at Cameron, Duke's Tobacco Road home.

So, beyond UCLA and Duke upsetting their ways to the Final Four, what other water-cooler upsets do I see making tongues wag? I honestly, rarely go against chalk on the weekends. But in this year of multiple teams getting to that top ranking, I think I have to throw away tired old ideals. It's also the year of the Virginia commonwealth popping up in near-record numbers.

I think that the sweetheart that gets past the first weekend will be Middle Tennessee (knocking off Minnesota in a 5-12 game, and then Butler. Wisconsin's weekend whacking of Villanova (an honorary V-school) will be the upset of most importance as the tournament quarters the field. Otherwise, there's a LOT of Virginia action that will make the wahoos proud of their state. Virginia getting past UNC Wilmington won't be an upset, but a win over Florida WILL be, albeit a slight one. Vanderbilt, an honorary V-School, will win the 8-9 West matchup with Northwestern.

Virgina Tech will be Wisconsin's first victim, falling to the Badgers in an 8-9 game. VCU's loss to Saint Mary's is expected in a 7-10 clash. But I think that game might be amongst the tourney's best in the round of 64.

I like Marquette to top South Carolina in a 7-10 pairing. That, and the Wisconsin toppling of Villanova accounts for all the East upsets. I'm passing on the popular picks of SMU to down Baylor this weekend and East Tennessee beating Florida because everybody picks on Florida ... including me. But not THIS round.

The West upsets are positively going to be rare. Vandy over Northwestern and then pfft! Maybe it's the Xavier Rathan-Mayes fan in me, but I can't see Florida Gulf Coast beating Florida State, although it'll be fun to watch. The FGC Eagles do have upset momentum in a LOT of brackets. Not mine.

Lots of opening upsets in the MidWest. Michigan State gets the 8-9 nod over the higher-seeded Miami for no other reason than picking against Tom Izzo is dumb. If they weren't playing Kansas in the second round, I'd like the Spartans to make a run. Michigan, not to be confused with Izzo's squad, will drop a decision to 10th-seeded Oklahoma State. And in keeping with the upsets that will dominate talk Saturday morning, will be Rhode Island taking out Creighton. I passed on the trendy Nevada over Iowa State 5-12 upset. Other-wise, it's Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk to the Final Four. Literally.

Now, the South is going to be uber-entertaining. Not only do the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee back their supporters in taking the 5-12 game, but also eliminate 4th-seeded Butler before succumbing to North Carolina. The last of the opening round upsets is the usual 8-9 pot boiler as Seton Hall stops Arkansas. I wanted to have Wake Forest in the 6-11 game with Cincinnatti, but the Deamon Deacons failed in a First Four matchup with Kansas State. So, I will take the Bearcats over the Wildcats. Lastly, I passed on another trendy pick, 10th-seeded Wichita State, which will be shocked by the 7th-seeded Dayton Flyers. Shocked, if you go by the Hail, Mary pickers who believe explicitly in the KenPom ratings. After the games Thursday and Friday, UCLA does the upsetting, nabbing 2nd-seeded Kentucky, top-seeded North Carolina and then ANOTHER One seed in Kansas. 

Duke wins, and I already have the shirt for that.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The Top 27 Books of 2016 .. The Early Version

2016 has been history for about ten minutes now. So, it's time for me to recall fondly the best books of the last 12 months ... as far as my enjoyment was concerned. I make NO allusions that these were the 27 best in terms of quality. But I enjoyed the heck out of them. And maybe you might too.

As usual, I wait until the end of the year and then do a search in my Calibre database for all the books that I scored 10 Kovids when rating them in Calibre. Kovid Goyal is the creative mind behind Calibre, the best eBook tracking system that there is. You can give Calibre a checkout by going to Features – calibre if you want. I guarantee that you will derive SOME benefit from the program if you read books via an eReader of whatever sort. And if you do, don't forget the DONATE button in the upper right. Otherwise, this program is free. So, spend to your consciousness's limit.

Now, this FIRST DRAFT of this past year's gems is going to be, by necessity, brief. Nature calls and the night is still young. To do work. Rumplestiltskin. But I did want to note the 10-Kovid books and I will comment on all but one of them later.

The list of books that rated my top score:

  • Jonathan Abrams's Boys Among Men
  • Ben Lindbergh's The Only Rule Is That It Has To Work
  • Bob McKenzie's Hockey Confidential

  • Elizabeth Bonesteel's The Cold Between
  • Lindsay Buroker's Star Nomad
  • Tanya Huff's An Ancient Peace 
  • Marko Kloos's Terms of Enlistment & Lines of Departure & Chains of Command
  • B. V. Larson's Dreadnought & Rebel Fleet
  • Ken Lizzi's Under Strange Suns
  • Arlene F. Marks's The Genius Asylum
  • John J. Nance's Orbit
  • Mike Resnick's The Prison in Antares
  • John Sandford and Ctein's Saturn Run

  • Jack Campbell's The Assassins of Altis & The Pirates of Pacta Servanda
  • Tanya Huff's Third Time Lucky and Other Stories of the Most Powerful Wizard in the World 
  • Kristen Painter's Miss Frost Solves A Cold Case
  • Jody Wallace's The Whole Truth

  • Jeffery Deaver's Where the Evidence Lies
  • Gina Lamanna's Sprinkled

  • Bruce Desilva's A Scourge of Vipers
  • Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg's The Pursuit
  • Paul Levine's Bum Rap

Young Adult
  • Zac Harrison's Crash Landing

I wasn't sure there was a standout winner even two weeks deep into Decemeber. I loved the laugh-out-loud humour of Huff's collection of short fantasy stories that date back decades, featuring the lazy and lusty wizard Magdelene. I think the book is every bit the equal of Henry Kuttner's Robots Have No Tails. And I spent an AWFUL lot of the year reading the works of both Buroker and Kloos, with both authors getting me to read more than a THOUSAND pages of their series this year. I admit, I came THISclose to repeating last year's conceit of handing Buroker the title for getting me to eagerly devour nine books in the Fallen Empire series. On the other hand, I gave three of the five books in Kloos's Frontlines series a full 10 Kovids. Does nine good to great books outweight five decent to great books? I don't have an answer either. So, no repeat of the series as best book concept I trotted out last year when K. K. Rusch won for the Anniversary Day Saga sub-series.

I was charmed by Painter and I thought Wallace had a brilliant take on super powers for the comic book-inclined among us. The sports books were strong this year and I enjoyed the antics of Lindbergh, the depth of investigation by Abrams and the look behind the scenes McKenzie enjoyed with a handful of hockey subjects. One of which was the dreaded David Frost blight on society, of which I was a small participant of. But McKenzie's look at it from the Sheldon Keefe angle was informative, honest and it might be the only positive to ever emerge from the darkness Frost brought onto the hockey scene over the last three decades.

But in the end, it was a book after my own heart. The fourth tome in the Liam Mulligan series of thrillers by New England mystery writer Bruce Desilva. I only was tipped to Desilva by an email from Lee Goldberg and many thanks go to him for that. Mulligan is, or was, a writer for a fictional Providence newspaper, hanging onto relevance by the width of a newspaper broadsheet. Enjoyed the first book in the series and then less of the second and the third was at best mediocre. Honestly, I wasn't sure WHY I picked up the fourth, A Scourge of Vipers. It's the completist in me, I guess. I had only four books in the series (a fifth has now been obtained) and I didn't want to leave one unread. As an ex-newspaperman who gets together with a couple of other old fuddie-duddies from back in those days about three, four times a year, there remains a certain romance in my memory for the good ol' days when newspapers were relevant. I loved the biz and was sorry I left it when I did, especially for radio and then a PR position. But with the unions moving into small weeklies at the time, I wouldn't have kept enjoying working at the paper I was at for much longer anyways.

Desilva's book is the most rivetting, gut-renching depiction of a smart-ass reporter with scruples finding a way to both save the day, end up fired and better off and find true love, or at least a reasonable facsimile of it. I wanted to BE Liam Mulligan by the time all was said and done.

More about the book and all the rest in the next blog. When will that be? Wish I knew. Check back frequently if you care. No promises as to when.