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on 12 April 2012
First you need to know that I have read every book that John Grisham has written. Despite the fact that a few years ago he seemed to lose the plot and several of his books were not up to his usual standard, I can't help but buy the next John Grisham because I hope that it will be as brilliant as most of his novels. This book was described as a book about relationship and family breakdown, so I hoped it was a new branch of his writing that he'd nail. Sadly it isn't, and this is Grisham's worst book ever. I only kept reading because of my insane loyalty to him. If it had been any other author I doubt I would have read more than two chapters. This is definitely sport fiction, with a tiny bit of badly written 'family breakdown' added for padding. Imagine you are listening to a radio broadcast of a sport that you are really not at all interested in, and you have to listen to match after match after match. Bored yet? Now listen to fans talking about the matches. Transfer that to the page and that's what you're reading. The saving grace is that the book is so short! Sadly, I could not empathise with the main storyteller, the son who is travelling to meet with his dying father, because there is so little character portrayal. His story is sad, but the narrative is emotionless. Even the hero of the book, who I could have a little sympathy for, I couldn't empathise with because I had no grasp of him as a human being. Grisham describes baseball in a forward because his London publishers told him we wouldn't understand the book otherwise, but we didn't need 14 pages of description! Had the narrative been good, the rules would have been almost unnecessary. I was reminded of how J K Rowling described an exciting match, with such precision and tension that the reader couldn't help but be enthralled and on the edge of the seat, even though the sport was fictional! That is the quality of writing I expect from John Grisham, because he is capable of great writing, but this is poor. Maybe this book will be a success with baseball fans in America. And I suppose a good number of the books will be sold in the UK to Grisham fans like myself, but I suspect most of those books will remain unread. John Grisham's vocation seems to be to expose the failings of the US law systems and excite us with legal and criminal wranglings, and he needs to get back in the courtroom fast or he'll loose his following in the UK. Such a shame! If you're thinking about buying this book, spend your money on something else. If, like me, you just have to try it anyway, wait until you can buy it cheaply from a charity shop, because that's where a lot of copies will end up very soon!
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In a departure from his usual legal thrillers, Grisham here gives us a book about the world of baseball. The first person narrator is Paul Tracey, whose father, Warren, was a pitcher for the Mets in 1973 in the same season as Joe Castle, the Calico Joe of the title, was breaking all records as a rookie player with the Cubs. Warren is now dying and as Paul travels to see him, he tells us about his childhood, his hero-worship for Joe and why his relationship with Warren reached breaking point.

Normally I am a big fan of Grisham, but I was very disappointed by this book. Firstly it is very short and yet the plot, such as it is, is so slight as to barely maintain interest to the end. Instead the book is filled with extremely detailed descriptions of imaginary baseball games, so detailed that Grisham felt it necessary to give what he calls a summary of the basics of the game. This 'summary' runs to 13% of the entire Kindle book and was so dull that I gave up halfway through, deciding to trust that the book would make sense even if I didn't know what a drag bunt or a pick-off might be. By about the fourth chapter, I was so bored that I was speed-reading through the innings by innings match descriptions that fill easily half the book dropping back in whenever it looked like the plot might move along a little. However, the plot was so uninteresting and clichéd and the characterisation was so superficial that they did not make up for all the rest.

I would have given this book 2 stars but I recognise some people will be more interested in baseball and perhaps in interminable scoring statistics, even imaginary ones, than I and so have upped it by one star. Grisham says in his introduction 'Baseball is a game of failure'. Unfortunately I feel this self-indulgent book is an example of that. Here's hoping Grisham returns to form in his next novel.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 April 2012
Warren Tracey was a baseball player for the New York Mets, a nasty, violent and agressive man who made life for his family a living hell. Now many years later he is close to death and his son Paul who has had very little contact over the years with his father decides to visit him with the intention of putting to rest one tragic incident which has haunted him, the day his father vindictively hurt the popular and talented Joe Castle on the field.
I believed before reading this novel that the very essence was about a family conflict between a father and son, however this quite short book really was more about the game of baseball. If you are a huge fan and knowledgeable about this sport then this would be of great interest. It was not by any means a bad read, it had a few touching moments and I did want to know what happened in the end, but there was far too much baseball and not enough of a story.
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Of late Grisham seems to have wanted to experiment with different avenues from the legal tales which made him famous. I personally thought that the Theodore Boone novels were dire, even when judged against the young adult standards they were clearly pitched at. Playing for Pizza was, however, an interesting diversion although it certainly helped to have some understanding of American Football. This time round we have a full on baseball novel.

I can only think that the main reason for publishing it in the UK is rather cynically that the Grisham name will sell it to some unsuspecting punters. I would imagine that about a tenth of 1% of the people living here have sufficient understanding of the game to follow the detailed descriptions of what is going on, for example 'after eleven games Joe had forty at bats, twenty nine hits, twelve home runs and fourteen stolen bases.' I think I got the home runs bit but the rest had me struggling. However, if you are on board with all this you will probably enjoy this tale.

Arguably there are some interesting interpersonal relationship issues, particularly latterly between Paul and his dying father. However, that sort of writing, which verges on a good old fashioned weepie, is not really Grisham's strength. I really think he should stick to the knitting, or at least his publishers should appreciate that this sort of offering is not suitable for a British audience.
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on 30 September 2012
Anyone that became a teenager in the early 1970's will immediately take to John Grisham's "Calico Joe." Especially one that grew up in New York and liked baseball. I know, I was one of them. Grisham's book revolves around a washed up, aging picture for the New York Mets named Paul Tracy and his mercurial, volatile relationship with his son Paul. Added in is a rookie phenom for the Cubs named Joe Castle. Castle, dubbed "Calico Joe," sets major league records in his 1973 rookie debut for consecutive games safely hit. Paul Castle fell in love with Calico Joe, even keeping a scrapbook of his accolades unbeknownst to his father. Grisham portrays Warren as a philanderer, a beanball artist, a drunkard and an abusive husband and father. Shades of the Tony Conigliaro incident are introduced when the Cubs come into town to play the Mets with the National League East pennant on the line. With Paul and his disgruntled mother in the stands at Shea Stadium, the two watch as Castle goes up against his father after successfully pounding Warren for a hit his first time up.

The "code of baseball" is introduced, at least Warren's conception of it. If a batsman shows up the pitcher in any way the previous at bat, or is a cocky rookie, the next at bat will surely be a beanball. However, Warren was a cruel, mean "headhunter," and demanded Paul be like him in playing Little League. Without any remorse, the senior Tracy will throw at anyone's head as revenge, rarely missing. In Castle's second at bat, the lives of both the Castle and Tracy are forever changed. The ironies involved and the unpredictable twists of fate make this novel truly amazing. The names thrown out, e.g. Tom Seaver, Bobby Murcer, Ron Santo, Ferguson Jenkins, etc., bring back such vivid memories of a reader's lost youthhood that it is impossible to not love and embrace this fantastically written novel. Even more realistic are the memories Grisham introduces, such as his descriptions of the Long Island Railroad being ridden, Willets Point in Flushing and both old Shea and Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, etc., with fitting descriptions of the temperaments of the fans of each. Grisham fast forwards forty years later and cleverly plays out a scenario involving Warren, dying of cancer, a caustic Paul and a forever enfeebled Joe Castle.

The realism is strikingly apparent, regardless of Grisham's introduction of a fictional protagonist. In fact, the author cleverly let former Cub infielder Don Kessinger proof read and correct "Calico Joe" for realism. Kessinger's interjections make this story so absorbing, captivating and realistic that anyone reading this cannot but be spellbound by "Calico Joe." Memories flash of Carl Mays, Ray Chapman and Tony C. Mays was a right-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball from 1915 to 1929. Despite impressive career statistics, he is primarily remembered for throwing a beanball on August 16, 1920, that struck and killed Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians, making Chapman the only Major League player to die as a direct result of an injury sustained on the field. Similarly, Tony Conigliaro nicknamed "Tony C" played for the Boston Red Sox during their "Impossible Dream" season of 1967. He was hit in the face by a pitch from Jack Fisher, causing a severe eye injury and derailing his career. Though he would make a dramatic comeback from the injury, his career was not the same afterwards. Whether you like baseball or not, "Calico Joe" has something for any reader, guaranteeing a satisfying read!
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on 23 April 2012
First book i have ever totally lost interest in.It was so much facts and figures and no story.Why did John Grisham bother,I dont know.Got to page 26 and then stopped.
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on 9 April 2013
"Calico Joe" is a breezy little novel coming just under 200 pages , it is the first-person account of a fictionalized beaning of a Chicago Cubs prodigy by the name of Joe Castle, from Calico Rock , Ark. The story is narrated by Paul Tracey, son of Warren, the head-hunting power pitcher for the New York Mets who aimed a fast ball at the head Joe Calico and took him out of the game and ended his career.

In the summer of 1973 Joe Castle was the boy wonder and the greatest rookie anyone had ever seen and quickly became the idol of every baseball fan in America, including Paul Tracey. One day when Warren Tracey finally faced Calico Joe. Paul was in the stands, rooting for both his idol and his dad. Then the fatal pitch came and their life changed for ever.

In vintage Grisham fashion the story picks up pace as the story unfolds and jumps ahead almost four decades. Joe Castle is barely a functional groundskeeper at a school back in Calico and Warren Tracey is dying of cancer at home in Florida. Paul who had abandoned baseball a long time ago decided to track down Castle for reconciliation between him and his dad.

This novel is worthy of our valuable time whether you are a baseball fan or not. It is a total contrast to Mr. Grisham typical novels that are full of twists and turns and tension, "Calico Joe" is simply a sweet and simple story with a moral and of a relationship between a father and son. The beginning of the book is a detailed account on how the game is played with all the rules and jargon. This is rather a sad plot with very moving elements of forgiveness and redemption and the main drive that kept me turning the pages. The narrative and setting are solid and shifts back and forth between 1973 and 2003, keeping track of the changing periods was challenging at times. Although the data is not accurate according to the author's notes the recreation is nevertheless fun and does capture enough of the excitement for anyone, fan or not to enjoy.
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"Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." -- Luke 6:37 (NKJV)

Much baseball fiction is all wrapped up in the kind of juvenile fantasies that grown men continue to indulge. I admire John Grisham for going against the grain and looking at baseball through the lens of what can be wrong about baseball: self-centered players, abuse, sexual infidelity, cruelty, envy, and lying. Rather than just portraying that dark side, Mr. Grisham also exposes the possibility of receiving forgiveness, being reconciled to those who have been harmed, and finding peace. It's a nice ethical journey carried out amid some pretty exciting baseball writing that is soundly based.

Despite my admiration for Mr. Grisham's conception, I didn't feel that he carried it off nearly as well as he needed to. The rise of Calico Joe in the book's beginning is so far beyond possibility that reading those sections makes you feel that Mr. Grisham was just entertaining himself rather than trying to build the best possible story. A less over-the-top biography for Calico Joe would have worked a lot better, in my opinion. The fable-like quality led me to feel outside the story, rather than inside it with the characters.

The dark side of the story also seemed overdrawn. It's as though only absolute perfect white and the blackest black would satisfy readers. That's not giving readers enough credit. What about writing about real human beings of the kind we've all met? That would bring the message home much more than having such an extreme contrast.

I also found that the book lacked suspense. I didn't feel the tension build very much because what came next was kept quite predictable. That's not a good recipe for a fully entertaining novel.

I think part of the reason that Mr. Grisham is such a fine writer about lawyers is that his writing builds on a sound foundation of our skepticism about them . . . but not lots of knowledge. When Mr. Grisham tells us what it's like from the inside (with an ironic sense of humor), it's a great trip.

Those qualities just don't work so well when it comes to writing about sports.
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on 23 June 2012
I love John Grisham and have read most of his books, but I got bored of this after the first couple of pages. I guess if you are a die-hard baseball fan (not many in the UK I imagine), then you will like it.

Very disappointed,, glad I got it from the Library and didnt pay for it!
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on 30 May 2012
Received this book on pre-order so no reviews beforehand, sorry to say it's the the first book I have not been able to finish from John Grisham. I suppose if you are a big baseball fan you would find it interesting, unfortunately not a follower of this sport so lost interest half way through, tried hard to get into it, honestly. Have all his other books including Painted House, am also reading his Theodore Boone books. Would not recommend Calico Joe.Calico Joe: A father's guilt. A son's redemption
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