Game Plan

0140369708-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Game Plan by Thomas J. Dygard
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Barton High Tigers’ head coach is injured and everyone is worried who’ll be the coach for Friday’s upcoming game, enter the student manager. Game Plan by Thomas J. Dygard follows Beano Hatton as he is propelled from nobody student manager to acting coach with all the pressures of school work and getting players to follow his lead, all while figuring out how to actually coach and prepare for a game.

Except for the first chapter, the narrative follows Beano Hatton beginning for being called to the principal’s office for the first time in his life—though not the last he’d have that week—and being asked to coach the Tigers football team against rivals Carterville. Except for telling his best friend Danny to cover for him as student manager, Beano keeps quiet until the Principal gives the team the news and hands it over to Beano. What follows is an awkward, stressful week as Beano figures out how Coach Pritchard scouts and makes up game plans while at the same time attempting to get the team to follow his lead, easier said than done with the star quarterback having an issue with him. But once Friday night comes and the ball is kicked, Beano has to manage the game.

From kickoff to the final whistle, Dygard writes a convincing flow of a football game which after the narrative build-up before and through the game of Beano making coaching decisions makes for a thrilling last third of the book. The first two-thirds of the book reads like a made-for-television young adult movie, but actually good. Though some of Dygard’s dialogue and words choices are a little off, they would be far superior to what one would hear and see on the aforementioned movie. The only other fault would be Dygard basically not having Coach Pritchard not have any notes on upcoming opponents which sounds far-fetched even for a little town high school coach with a staff of one.

Game Plan is one of those young adult sports books that is simply a good read that can be done in a day because it draws you in and frankly is nearly perfect for a book of its genre. Thomas J. Dygard hits all the right narrative keys to make this book keep the reader interested in how a nobody student manages to gain enough confidence of the football team to lead them through the last game of the season.

Tournament Upstart

ccbf31666864d71596e2b687177444341587343Tournament Upstart by Thomas J. Dygard
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

A small-town basketball team is playing against teams from the big cities looking to shock the state of Arkansas. Tournament Upstart by Thomas J. Dygard follows a little Class B team that’s decided to play against the big boys of Class A for the state championship, unfortunately not only do they have those teams to contend with but also their own internal struggles.

Taken from the perspective of their 23-year old rookie coach Floyd Bentley, the Cedar Grove Falcons arrive at Talbott State University trying not to be overawed by the big arena or facing the defending state champions in the quarterfinals. But after their upset victory, season-long tensions among the players boil up to the surface after Floyd’s inexperience with such a big event occurs. Over the next two days, Floyd attempts to get everyone back on the same page on the team even as they achieve another upset and then battle for the state championship that comes down to the final shot.

While the game action is well written, the basic set up at the beginning of the book—primarily how a team could go up a Class and the tournament still have the correct amount of teams—quickly raised questions followed closely by Floyd’s “mistake” which didn’t make much sense if you looked hard at it. The internal divisions were not bad, but they did strain the narrative somewhat.

Overall Tournament Upstart had a good premise but the young adult narrative quickly falls apart if looked at too closely. It’s not bad, but I’ve read other of Dygard’s work that I find better.

Rogues

RoguesRogues by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Rogues, the short story anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, contains over twenty stories of above average quality and wonderful use of the titular quality that connects all the stories. The twenty-one stories from several genres features significant characters as rogues no matter gender, species, and orientation from authors both well-known to general audiences and some note so.

Of the twenty-one stories featured in Rogues the three best not only were high quality writing and features very roguish characters, but also were able to introduce a reader into the already established universe they take place in that only enhanced the story. The opening story “Tough Times All Over” takes place within the First Law world that Joe Abercrombie established himself writing about, “The Inn of the Seven Blessings” by Matthew Hughes takes place with in the world of Archonate, and “A Cargo of Ivories” by Garth Nix takes place within the world of Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz. While these were the best, the stories by Joe R. Lansdale, Michael Stanwick, and Patrick Rothfuss set within an establish world they had create were also very good.

The stories especially created for this anthology is a mixture of the very good, the bad, and those that were just missing something. Daniel Abraham’s “The Meaning of Love”, David W. Ball’s “Provenance”, and Scott Lynch’s “A Year and A Day in Old Theradane” were wonderfully written stories in two separate genres that were in the top seven stories of the whole collection. “Now Showing” by Connie Willis is unfortunately one of the worst stories of the collection which was a shame considering that she wrote about several interesting ideas, but the execution with the characters crushed the story. Yet some of the stories while good and having roguish characters just felt like they were missing something: “Heavy Metal” was missing a fuller backstory to the main character and a better understanding of the supernatural powers at work yet once done could become a fascinating future series for Cherie Priest, and “The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives” was fantastic homage to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson by Lisa Tuttle that just felt it could have been more.

Yet some of the biggest disappointments in this collection were from established authors and their established series. The worst story of the collection is “A Better Way to Die” by Paul Cornell that takes place in his alternate history timeline that features the spy Johnathan Hamilton but the reader has no idea about the world if you had never read an earlier story that featured Hamilton. And my personal disappointment was “The Rogue Prince” that George R.R. Martin wrote as an Archmaester of the Citadel as a biography of Daemon Targaryen but was more of a history of the events leading up to The Dance of the Dragons that he told in “The Princess and the Queen”.

The twenty-one stories that make up Rogues feature–more than not–very good short stories from across genres whether in established worlds or one-offs. Yet like all anthologies, it is a mixed bag in quality and expectations, but often than not the reader will be satisfied after finishing these stories with time well spent in several wonderful settings following some very unscrupulous individuals.

Individual Story Ratings
Tough Times All Over by Joe Abercrombie (4.5/5)
What Do You Do? by Gillian Flynn (3.5/5)
The Inn of the Seven Blessings by Matthew Hughes (5/5)
Bent Twig by Joe R. Lansdale (4/5)
Tawny Petticoats by Michael Stanwick (4/5)
Provenance by David W. Ball (4/5)
Roaring Twenties by Carrie Vaughn (3/5)
A Year and A Day in Old Theradane by Scott Lynch (4/5)
Bad Brass by Bradley Denton (2.5/5)
Heavy Metal by Cherie Priest (3/5)
The Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham (4/5)
A Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell (1/5)
Ill Seen in Tyre by Steven Saylor (3/5)
A Cargo of Ivories by Garth Nix (4.5/5)
Diamonds from Tequila by Walter Jon Williams (3/5)
The Caravan to Nowhere by Phyllis Eisenstein (2.5/5)
The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives by Lisa Tuttle (3/5)
How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman (3.5/5)
Now Showing by Connie Willis (2/5)
The Lightning Tree by Patrick Rothfuss (4/5)
The Rogue Prince, or, A King’s Brother by George R.R. Martin (2.5/5)

Now Showing

RoguesNow Showing by Connie Willis
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Lindsay loves old movies and enjoys good movies, as did her former boyfriend Jack before he got expelled just before he graduated. After months of not going to the Movie Drome, she’s convinced by her friends to watch some movies but she only agrees if they actually watch movies. It turns out Lindsay is a rare individual in this near-future world of 100 screen movie theaters, someone who actually wants to watch films not go to all the movie-themed restaurants and stores housed in the Drome. When she bumps into Jack, Lindsay’s evening is basically shot and she learns about a conspiracy of fraud. But while the mysterious intrigues of the Drome are interesting to explore, Lindsay letting herself be treated like all ladies that “date” scoundrels in movies undermines everything. For over half the story, I wanted Lindsay to sucker punch Jack but instead they had sex while Jack got some evidence of his fraud conspiracy. My rating is more of the ideas and the detailing the near-future world than the story and characters.

The Meaning of Love

RoguesThe Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In independent “city” within a city, a life-long resident has taken a exile prince under her wing while he’s hiding from his evil stepmother. While Asa has used her street smarts to keep Prince Steppan alive, he has fallen in love with a girl he hasn’t met who is about to be sold as a slave by her family for much needed money. Asa promises to save Steppan’s great love and then runs into to bounty hunters looking for a recent Chancellor of the greater city around her hometown. Knowing the man, Asa comes up with a plan to help both her friends get what they want and in true roguish fashion even makes some money as well.

Bad Brass

RoguesBad Brass by Bradley Denton
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Professional substitute teacher Matthew Marx has another side to him, he steals from other criminals especially dumb ones like the band instrument thieves from his ex-wife’s high school. Having found out about this little ring of high school thieves, or wannabes, Marx is looking to take their illicit gains for himself only to witness a bizarre exchange especially when one of the thieves steals the buyers’ stolen van with some of the stolen band merchandise. When back at school, Marx realizes that half the “crew” are just band geeks brought in because they know stuff about the “products”. Although Marx himself is a rogue in every sense of the word and the story was well written with subtle comedy woven throughout, compared to some of the other stories in this anthology it just felt average.

Provenance

RoguesProvenance by David W. Ball
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A lost Caravaggio comes to the attention of art expert Max Wolff, although he is considered one of the most upright professionals in the art world is a dealer in underworld stolen art. After getting his hands on the painting, Wolff gives its history to “prosperity gospel” preacher Joe Cooley Barber, from the madman artist to the Nazis and East German Stasi, to dictators and arms dealers then a lowlife thief. But possibly the biggest rogue among the bunch that has touched this painting is Wolff himself, who’s own history with the painting is bigger than he let on with Barber. Ball set up the little twist to the end earlier and one doesn’t full appreciate it until finishing the story of a very unique rogue.