After getting caught committing a petty act of vandalism, two teenage boys land summer jobs at Prairie Winds Golf Course on the east side of St. Louis. Follow the adventures...
of Justin Ventimiglia and Keith Puccio as they explore a slice of life that they never knew existed. Observe the special relationship between adolescent boys, a cast of grown golfing misfits, and a young man battling the demons of cancer.
Explore the heart-wrenching relationship between an impressionable child and a pseudo Big Brother. Witness the summertime ride of the two youths in a poignant story about life and death. See them as they develop a love for the game of golf and apply those lessons to the challenges of life.
Experience the reactions of Justin and Keith to the vices of the world such as drinking, smoking, and gambling and watch how their knowledge molds their character. Take the journey with them as they battle a dysfunctional family situation, exposure to a life-threatening disease, and the vices of the world as they live a summer to remember.
“Not interested,” Curt said firmly.
“Then I don’t guess you want to hear about the extract from mistletoe and the Venus flytrap,” Tina continued.
Curt shook his head back and forth. “No.”
“Then, what about the food remedies?”
Curt rolled his eyes. “I guess if I’m desperate, then I could try lots of things.”
“Green tea is supposed to help. You can put some slippery elm bark in there or add rhubarb and thistle and watercress and roots. They’re all supposed to help.” Tina wouldn’t shut up.
“Tina, it’s my life that we’re talking about. I have to make a decision on chemotherapy right now,” Curt said.
“Don’t do it Curt. It’s bad for you. It kills good cells!”
Curt looked at the boys more amused than frustrated. He winked at Justin. “What else do you think might work?”
“Aromatherapy is supposed to be great for you,” Tina said.
“That’s food for thought,” Curt commented. “Enlighten me.”
“Different aroma oils help different senses,” Tina began again. Curt nodded. He waited to hear what was next out of her mouth. “There are all kinds depending on what part of your body you want to treat. There’s geranium and rose . . . and lavender. Or you could choose eucalyptus or sandalwood or French basil or even sweet fennel.”
“Does it have to be French?” Curt asked.
“What has to be French?’
Curt smiled at her. “ . . . The basil.”
Tina picked up the bar towel and flung it at him. “Quit making fun of me! I’m trying to help you out!”
Curt backed off, and with his tongue in his cheek, he remarked, “No, I find all of this very interesting. I had no idea.”
“It works!” Tina shouted.
“I just don’t think that it’s what I need at this point in time,” Curt said as he defended himself against her suggestions. “Is there anything else you’d like to recommend?”
“Yes! Organic blueberries! They kill cancer cells on contact,” Tina blurted.
Curt picked up the coffee pot and refilled her cup. “Then what am I supposed to do? Am I to pick up a handful of organic blueberries, rip these stitches out, and rub them on my colon?” Curt raised his voice a little. “Come on Tina, this is my life that we’re messing around with. If I’m forced to take out an insurance policy and try to get my body back to good health, I think that right now . . . today . . . I’m going to choose chemotherapy over organic blueberries!”
Title: Finish Line
Author: James Ross
ISBN Numbers: Hard Cover 978-1-4363-3327-6/Soft Cover 978-1-4363-3326-9
Genre and Target Market: Fiction; male relationships; sports
Publication Date: 2008
Author James Ross is on his game, weaving his sports theme into a highly entertaining and satisfying second novel called Finish Line. He returns J-Dub Schroeder to his beloved Prairie Winds Golf Course in East St. Louis after a near ten-year absence during which he battled his unscrupulous business partner/chiseler, Lewferd Zerrmann, for what was rightfully his.
Julie and all the old regulars from the first novel, Lifetime Loser, are there to welcome him home. J-Dub’s brother, Curt, has come on board. Because of his chance meeting across a craps table more than a decade ago with the fiery Tina Ventimiglia, he introduces two new characters in the summer of 2007, during which the book takes place except for the author deftly reaching back in time for stories that provide necessary footing for the present.
We meet them in the beginning—two early teens, Justin Ventimiglia and Keith Puccio, fresh out of school and into a bit of mischief. Now they’ve got a debt to repay and lessons to learn. Curt gives them an opportunity at Prairie Winds for just that, but when the workday is over, it’s time for the game of golf; and that, true to the author’s style, has plenty to teach about the game of life.
Ross understands the importance of a villain and tension and delivers it, not in the two-legged form this time, but as an illness—possibly a life-threatening illness; one that has crept in stealthily and has to be dealt with. Its thread and threat winds and twists around the protagonist until the very end, or as James Ross would say, the finish line.
Don’t think for one moment though that you’ll be bogged down or blanketed in depression about the trials of a sick guy—far from it. This book is packed with action, stories, plot, humor, interest, and surprises. Ross clips along at his usual good pace; not one that leaves you frantic and hyperventilating on the edge of your seat, but one that richly entertains and rewards you in its fast current.
The protagonist has his finger on today’s pulse and calls it as he sees it: from how the hospital experience and medical profession has evolved, to less-than-perfect politics, to cheaters at the game, to the gaming industry. Ross provides interesting and unexpected insight into many avenues that have bearing on his story.
I savored how intimately acquainted and comfortable I became with Prairie Winds. I personally like knowing where the cart barn is and a whole lot about what (and who) is in it. I can tell you the distinguishing features of many of the holes, how to cut greens and move pins, where the water hazards are, and what it feels like to walk through the front door of the clubhouse. I can tell you where the shower is, show you the imprint of Fred’s behind on the back booth, pour you a cup of coffee, or stock your cooler for the front nine. While I like all the detailed imagery that crept in when I wasn’t looking, I am crazy about the characters.
Ross is a man’s man. His characters are predominantly male and they have grown in number. They’ve got names like Pork Chop, Lug Nut, Bowtye, Captain Jer, and Paco. They play golf, play cards, gamble, work the night shift, fly planes, treat animals, and they like pretty women. Even though their histories and habits run the gambit with sometimes shocking consequences, they’re there for each other for life. They are friends, brothers, competitors, mentors, and the man next door. His female characters have presence and importance. They are socially conscious, sharp, quirky, and fun.
Ross is a storyteller—a talented one. His characters come from everywhere around the world, and dialogue rolls off his tongue. His stories come full circle—back to heart, happiness, family, and all-out goodness. Enjoy!
Reviewed by Barbara Milbourn, a writer and editor in Nashville, TN
Title of Document: Book Review
Book Title: Finish Line
Author: James Ross
ISBN Number: 978-1-4363-3326-9
Genre and Target Market: fiction, human drama, golf
Publication Date: 2008
Book Length in Pages: 289
For those who enjoyed author James Ross’ first novel, Lifetime Loser, you already will be familiar with the Prairie Winds Golf Course that provides the setting for a good part of his new release. You also will know many in the cast of characters who provide the background conversations of the novel during their daily rounds on the greens or while relaxing in the clubhouse. And, you undoubtedly will recognize the attention to detail and strong character development that Ross has used before to craft a rich and engrossing text. However, if you are discovering Ross for the first time through his new book, you will not be lost. Finish Line is a brand-new novel that stands alone with its storyline and style.
Justin Ventimiglia and his best friend, Keith Pucchio, were looking forward to a summer in St. Louis with mornings of mowing lawns and afternoons being rowdy teenage boys. However, a poor decision to vandalize the home of a cranky neighbor leaves them with a lengthy bill of damages that will not be covered by manicuring suburban lawns. Justin’s mom sets the boys up with jobs working at Prairie Winds Golf Course, as her former boyfriend is the manager there. Curt Schroeder promises days of hard work that will not soon be forgotten. However, it is Curt’s strength and incomparable work ethic, even in the face of a life-threatening health concern, that give the best friends the most memorable moments of their summer.
One element that Ross develops more in Finish Line than he did in Lifetime Loser, which was largely a legal and criminal thriller, is the complicated and nature of male relationships. Curt provides a stabilizing force to two teenage boys in desperate need of discipline and a strong role model. Justin has a mother with a history of poor decisions concerning the men she brings into the home, including her current husband. Keith’s dad is never mentioned beyond the easy access that he provides to his cigarettes. In this book, dads have either checked out or decided to release life’s frustrations on their families. In contrast, Curt maintains a strong relationship with Justin long after his relationship with Justin’s mom has ended. He takes the time to talk with the two boys every day about the importance of hard work and an honorable character, and provides the title for the book with his emphasis on the need to stick to a task until you reach the “finish line.” Through his attention to character detail, Ross brings to life the variety of ways in which men can impact the next generation of boys.
An interesting decision by Ross in Finish Line is his determined efforts to present characters that are relatable in their flaws and personal prejudices. He does not sugarcoat the lens through which Americans tend to view one another, particularly when concerning issues of race, social class, and sexuality. Readers should even be prepared to work through their own personal discomforts with some the language used and opinions expressed by the more outspoken personalities who exist within the pages of Finish Line. From the hesitation of Justin’s mother for her son to spend time with a black man who was working at the course to the frustration that Curt expresses when he is rushed to the hospital and faces doctors and nurses of foreign origin to the brashness with which a commercial pilot who frequents the golf course describes his extramarital sexual conquests, Ross shares a portrayal of the more unseemly side of our social interactions. These brutally honest moments are important, however, because they serve as a mirror to the reader. How do we approach those who are different from us? What impact do our words and actions have on our kids and others we may influence?
Musicians, authors, and actors are all familiar with the threat of the sophomore jinx. Will the second effort fall short of the high expectations set by the strength of the first record, book, movie, etc? With his new release Finish Line, author James Ross shows his readers that he has the material and the talent to continue with his writing efforts to great success. This is certainly welcome news, as he leaves us with quite the cliffhanger on the last pages of this new release. If you are a reader who enjoys books which examine the many facets of human nature, then I encourage you to open the pages of the great new book, Finish Line. Then, like me, anxiously wait for the next installment to hit the shelves!