Category Archives: books
You Can Change Your Life
by Rob Yeung
Pan Macmillan, 2013
As the new year approaches, the minds of many turn to resolutions: breaking bad habits and making positive changes. By the time March rolls around, however, many of those resolutions have been broken. Year after year, resolution after resolution, failures mount. How can one stick to those personal promises and actually change his behavior? Author Rob Yeung offers what he calls “easy steps to getting what you want” in his latest book, You Can Change Your Life.
Even with “easy steps,” the journey to change is difficult. Yeung, a psychologist, acknowledges the difficulty, but argues that by changing one behavior at a time rather than tackling an entire list (as many attempt at the beginning of the year), success is more likely. Yeung presents several studies, self-tests, and other helps to guide the reader towards the change he desires. Included after the main text is “The Change Manifesto” and “Motivation Toolkit” to help one stay on track.
If you are serious about making a resolutions that stick, implementing the suggestions in Yeung’s You Can Change Your Life could help immensely.
Doctor Who: A History
by Alan Kistler
Lyons Press, 2013
Fifty years is a long time, especially when it comes to television. For a program to last that long—through changes in cast and culture—is quite a feat. Doctor Who debuted in November, 1963, and enjoys more popularity now—fifty years later—than ever before. Children and adults adore the program, and it is finally more than just a cult hit in America.
Comic book historian Alan Kistler examines the classic British program from its very genesis, including the original pitch and evolution of the premise and characters. Each of the first eleven personalities to take on the role of The Doctor are profiled, with background information on the actors and the mannerisms they brought to the role. Special attention is given to the companions and other supporting characters, and of course the TARDIS. The behind-the-scenes players, from Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert to Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat, are given their proper due.
From beginning to end, this is a comprehensive look at one of the most beloved television shows in history. Any fan will absolutely love Doctor Who: A History.
Alternative Movie Posters
by Matthew Chojnacki
Schiffer Books, 2013
Hollywood ain’t what it used to be, and neither are the film posters hanging in movie theaters to promote new movies. But movie fans are a creative bunch, and a passionate bunch, and creativity and passion are combined with talent there is no limit to what can be accomplished. Look at all the fantastic fan films for Star Wars and Batman and countless other fictional worlds that are produced purely for fun. Similarly, artists have professed their love for movies by creating print film advertisements that exceed the quality of what you see on the theater walls. Matthew Chojnacki has collected examples of some of the best in Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground.
There is no shortage of variety in these posters. Some have a distinct 1970s VHS boxart feel to them, such as Justin Osbourn’s send-up for Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon on page 198. Others are styled after comic books, like Adam Limbert’s illustration for Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy on page 130, or present a more sinister atmosphere than the film itself, such as Bobby O’Herlihy’s Ghostbusters on page 80. My personal favorite is from Garbage Pail Kids/Cereal Killers artist Joe Simko; he captured the essence of Killer Klowns from Outer Space on page 132.
The book itself is nicely done. The artwork is prominently displayed on the 8 ½ by 11 page, and there is room at the bottom of each page for tidbits about the artists’ influences and favorite films. Many of the artists’ websites are also listed in the book and can be contacted for commissions. Alternative Movie Posters would make an excellent gift for any film buff and is one of the most enjoyable art books I have seen this year.
The Art of Movie Storyboards
by Fionnuala Halligan
Ilex Press, 2013
Films can be considered art on so many levels. There is, of course, the movie as a whole, the individual parts of the movie (from the acting to the set to the cinematography), and the advertising posters for the movie. But before any of that can be considered art, you have to start with something more primitive: the movie storyboards. Film critic Fionnuala Halligan has collected a wide variety of storyboards in The Art of Movie Storyboards: Visualising the Action of the World’s Greatest Films. The sketches are often rough representations of the final product, but the extent to which they are used by directors and actors show how important they are to what we eventually see on the big screen.
Movies represented here include Gone With The Wind, Psycho, The Birds, Rebel Without A Cause, West Side Story, Star Wars, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and many more. Some are instantly recognizable, while others require a bit more imagination. These are, however, all original storyboards, some illustrated by legends of the craft, others anonymous works that contributed to the greatest movies ever made.
Halligan writes in the preface, “Although storyboards are, by their very nature, quick and disposable, they are very much an art form, one which goes much deeper than the strip: they work at a very profound level of the filmmaking process.” She does a fantastic job of collecting them for posterity in this volume. The Art of Movie Storyboards would be a fine addition to any filmmaker’s library.
Rewrite: A Step-By-Step Guide To Strengthen Structure, Characters, And Drama In Your Screenplay, 2nd edition
by Paul Chitlik
Michael Wiese Productions, 2013
Writing is tough. A writer has to be patient and resilient to sit down and stare at a blank screen and then fill it with words that someone else will want to read. A writer has to want to write, and to share what he has written. Writing is tough.
But rewriting is tougher. Rewriting requires a person to take what they have created, kill it, and then try to bring it back to life. The author of Rewrite: A Step-By-Step Guide To Strengthen Structure, Characters, And Drama In Your Screenplay, 2nd edition is Paul Chitlik, a clinical assistant professor in screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and Television. Chitlik takes conventional wisdom and organizes it in a neat, step-by-step manner for the reader with exercises designed to make one’s first draft more presentable.
The information contained within the pages of Rewrite can be gleaned from other sources, but here it is presented all in one place. If the exercises are followed chapter-by-chapter, the reader should come away with a better second draft by the end of the book.
Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany
by Jovanka Vuckovic
Ilex Press, 2013
A brilliant crash course on all things macabre, Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany covers everything from music to movies to history in short form. Impossible to go in-depth on any subject in such a small space, author Jovanka Vuckovic introduces a slew of topics for readers to research further on their own as they delve into the wonderful world of horror.
Articles include “Men, Women, and Chainsaws,” “Attack of the Fifties ‘B’ Movie,” and “On the Origin of Horror Fiction, the Castle of Otranto.” There are also brief profiles of H.P. Lovecraft, Vincent Price, and Dario Argento, and overviews of the franchises A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Friday the 13th. Vuckovic includes several lists—“Five Famous Graveyard Poems,” “10 Must-See Fifties Horror Films,” and “10 Best Horror Movie Taglines”—and quotes from horror’s heavy hitters like Guillermo del Toro and Mary Shelley.
A bit of organization—either chronological or alphabetical—could have made it even valuable, but it is short enough that topics of interest can easily be found (not to mention there is a handy index at the end). Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany is a fantastic primer, highly recommended for anyone just getting into horror.
Who’s 50: The 50 Doctor Who Stories To Watch Before You Die
by Graeme Burk & Robert Smith?
ECW Press, 2013
Doctor Who is an institution, a television program that transcends television. Its immense popularity increases with each regeneration, but at fifty years old it is a daunting task to immerse one’s self into the entirety of the universe. Authors Graeme Burk and Robert Smith? seek to help the newcomers to Doctor Who lore in Who’s 50: The 50 Doctor Who Stories To Watch Before You Die. With so many of these stories available on DVD (check your local library) or Netflix, it’s quite simple to catch up on the most important events of the Doctor’s television run.
Though the front cover only shows silhouettes of Tom Baker, David Tennant, and Matt Smith, all of the incarnations of the Doctor are represented in the book. Burk and Smith? examine each of these stories with a critical eye that a true fan should appreciate. They do not hide their love for the characters, yet are not afraid to point out shortcomings in the writing or acting in particular episodes. This is a book written for fans by fans, and the passion of the authors is evident.
An important volume for fans of both the classic and the new series, if you want an in-depth discussion of Doctor Who episodes throughout the decades, Who’s 50 is definitely your go-to guide.
The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper
by James Carnac
If it be true, this volume that purports to be written by Jack the Ripper himself is a historical document without equal in recent times. If fiction, it is a fascinating piece that allows the reader to follow the killer’s supposed footsteps, creating a compelling backstory and interesting postscript. The book is divided into three parts: the first detailing James Carnac’s youth, the second recounting the “Whitechapel atrocities” and the reason for the his abrupt retirement, and the final part laying out an interesting series of events that allegedly occurred four decades after the final Ripper slaying.
There is some question as to whether this Carnac person ever existed, and if he did, if these events are a truthful telling of his life or simply taking credit for another’s crimes through careful research. Paul Begg, a noted student of Jack the Ripper, doubts the veracity of the third part of the manuscript if not the entire work.
In truth, we will likely never know the true identity of Jack the Ripper, be it this Carnac character or some other suspect previously examined. But The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper is a gripping read, regardless of the truth of its contents.
Writing The Horror Movie
by Marc Blake and Sara Bailey
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013
From Dracula to Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees to Hannibal Lecter, the iconic characters of horror seem to pervade pop culture more than any other genre. This time of year inspires countless aspiring screenwriters to start their own project, to create their own monster, to dream of giving birth to the next horror icon. Understanding any genre is necessary for success, and authors Marc Blake and Sara Bailey give future filmmakers a foundation in fright in Writing The Horror Movie.
Blake and Bailey examine many the most popular horror movies, their characters and structure, demonstrating what makes them work. The books starts slow, but it pays to stick with it past the first couple of chapters. The chapters on the five tropes, creating the nemesis, the three acts and cross-genres are especially insightful. The inclusion of a handful of writing exercises in chapter 14 almost seem to be an afterthought; exercises at the end of each chapter would have been more beneficial. Despite this shortcoming, Writing The Horror Movie is full of useful information and inspiration.
If the horror movie marathons this Halloween season have motivated you to finally focus on your scary screenplay, Writing The Horror Movie is an excellent book to help you through the basics of the process.
Jack the Ripper’s Streets of Terror
by Rupert Matthews
Arcturus Publishing, 2013
It is difficult to imagine living in 1888 when a brutal killer stalked strangers in the streets of London, waiting to pounce on his next unsuspecting victim. Author Rupert Matthews attempts to capture the atmosphere of the Londoners in Jack the Ripper’s Streets of Terror by exploring news reports and police records. Illustrations feature prominently throughout the book, including mortuary photographs of victims.
Of the more than 200 pages, author Rupert Matthews devotes just over ten to possible suspects in the unsolved killings. The focus of this particular book is not on solving the case, but on examining the environment of London at the time, the evidence collected and the rumors that circulated among people of the time. It is a fascinating book on a fascinating topic, morbid as it may be.
Writers Rehab: A 12-Step Program for Writers Who Can’t Get Their Acts Together
by D.B. Gilles
Michael Wiese Productions, 2013
At some point, every writer experiences writer’s block. Whether writing a novel, screenplay, or even a daily blog, there are times that the creative juices just refuse to flow. There are times that one needs to make himself uncomfortable in order to break through that wall and get writing again. Author D.B. Gilles gives a good dose of tough love in Writers Rehab: A 12-Step Program for Writers Who Can’t Get Their Acts Together.
Taking a cue from 12-step programs that tackle substance abuse, Gilles offers twelve suggestions to get the writer out of his rut. There are tips for motivation and inspiration, for dealing with critics, and for dealing with yourself. Gilles encourages his readers to not only press on in their writing, but to also recognize warning signs for depression and dangerous states of emotional distress, and to seek professional help in those instances.
Writers Rehab is a quick read and a nice kick-in-the-rear when you just can’t seem to fill that blank page.
Houston Astros: Deep In The Heart
by Bill Brown and Mike Acosta
Bright Sky Press, 2013
Houston Astros fans have not had much to root for in the past few years, but the franchise has enjoyed a rich fifty-year history full of legendary players and spectacular performances. Current and future Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan, Joe Morgan, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio all spent time in Houston, as well as superstars Cesar Cedeno, Glenn Davis and Mike Scott. The team appeared in the postseason nine times including one World Series; the city hosted the All-Star Game three times. All of these players and events are highlighted in Houston Astros: Deep In The Heart by Bill Brown and Mike Acosta.
Brown has been a member of the Astros broadcasting team for almost three decades, while Acosta has performed various duties for the team behind the scenes since the 1990s. There are perhaps no better men to write the Astros’ history than these. Stories of Bob Watson scoring the one millionth run in major league history, Ken Forsch joining his brother Bob Forsch as the first brothers to throw no-hitters in the bigs, Terry Puhl’s record-breaking 1980 playoff performance and more will entertain and educate baseball fans young and old.
Another highlight of Houston Astros: Deep In The Heart is the abundance of photographs: the first pitch by Bobby Shantz in 1962, the All-Star squads lined up on the basepaths in 1968, candid and action shots of Astros players throughout the years. Even without reading the words, one can get a sense of the pride Houston has had in its baseball team through the first five decades.
Recent seasons may have been difficult for fans, but if history truly repeats itself, good things will come again to the franchise. While you wait for those good things, relive the past accomplishments of the team with Houston Astros: Deep In The Heart.
W is for Wrigley
by Brad Herzog, illustrated by John Hanley
Sleeping Bear Press, 2013
If there is one thing I love as much as baseball, it’s art. Combine the two, and you certainly have my attention. Brad Herzog and John Hanley deliver a spectacular book honoring the Chicago Cubs and their 100-year old Wrigley Field in W is for Wrigley. The book is geared toward a younger audience, but anyone who enjoys baseball or appreciates art can get something out of it.
Each letter of the alphabet features a short poem, a couple of paragraphs of explanation, and breathtaking artwork. Hanley’s paintings capture the atmosphere of the ballpark, and his representations of actual players are stunning. Players such as Ernie Banks, Andre Dawson, Frank Thomas, Kerry Wood and Babe Ruth all make appearances, along with songwriter Steve Goodman, broadcaster Harry Caray, and architect Zachary Taylor Davis.
The poems are whimsical little verses, and there is all sorts of fun trivia in the informative paragraphs accompanying the artwork. For instance, did you know there is a sign on one of the rooftops on Sheffield Avenue that marks the years that have passed since the team’s last division championship, their last World Series appearance, and their last World Series win?
If you have a small Cubs fan in your family, this would be a great addition to his or her library. However, I believe even adult Cubs fan will enjoy W is for Wrigley.
How To Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times
by Roy Peter Clark
Little, Brown and Company, 2013
Bloggers frequently struggle with the length of articles; write too short and vital information may be omitted, but write too long and readers may become bored or distracted and click away to another site. Striking a balance between brevity and necessity is an essential skill.
In How To Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times, author Roy Peter Clark teaches how to capture and retain a reader’s attention, whether composing short blog posts, Facebook statuses, or Twitter updates. The tools Clark gives his audience are not exclusive to cyberspace, but also apply to newspaper editors trying to find the perfect headline, comedians looking to score the perfect punchline, and restaurateurs describing the daily special on a marquee sign. Examples of short writing abound: tattoos, classified ads, epitaphs, and the backs of baseball cards.
How To Write Short is full of examples and exercises to improve one’s short-form writing, a skill that is vital in this internet age.
Gibson’s Last Stand:
The Rise, Fall, and Near Misses of the St. Louis Cardinals, 1969-1975
by Doug Feldmann
University of Missouri Press, 2011
Featuring future a roster full of superstars and a handful of Hall of Famers, the St. Louis Cardinals were poised to be a dominant force in the National League in the late 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, the only finished on top twice: 1967 and 1968. Orlando Cepeda was sent packing after that 1968 season and Roger Maris walked away from the game. Tim McCarver was dealt to Philadelphia along with Curt Flood, though Flood decided to fight the system instead of report to the city of brotherly love. By the time all was said and done, the Cardinals roster had been dismantled to the point of disrepair, and regardless of who was brought in to plug in the holes they just couldn’t over come the Pirates or Mets in the East.
There was one man who stood above all the rest on the Cardinals roster in the early 1970s: Bob Gibson. Author Doug Feldmann anchors his well researched book, Gibson’s Last Stand, on the intimidating pitcher as he looks at the final years of Gibby’s career. Other players certainly factored into the Cardinals’ success and failures of the era: Lou Brock, Ted Simmons, Steve Carlton. But Gibson was the superstar, the one who represented St. Louis on the mound, the one who ruled the games in which he pitched.
Feldmann’s book is an excellent treatise on a disappointing era for Cardinals fans. They finished in either second or fourth place every season between 1969 and 1974, twice coming within a game and a half of first. The author breaks down the shortcomings each season, much of which can be traced back to a disintegration of the trust that had existed between the players and management during the winning years of 1967 and 1968.
Fans of baseball history will enjoy Gibson’s Last Stand, published originally as a hardcover in 2011 and now available as a paperback.
Practically Perfect: Killers Who Got Away With Murder…For A While
by Dale Brawn
As morbid as it sounds, murder almost always makes for a good story. Murder is central to the plot of many Hollywood movies and prime time television dramas. The networks are littered with programs documenting real-life lethal crimes, and murderers grab the attention of the media during their captures and trials. And, of course, books on the subject are easily found in any library or bookstore.
Author Dale Brawn, a law professor at Laurentian University in Sudbury, explores a number of Canadian cases in Practically Perfect: Killers Who Got Away With Murder…For A While. In each case, Brawn describes the original murder, the motivation and the means for each, and follows up with the circumstances that led to the criminal’s capture. In some instances it was the suspicions of surviving family members; in others it was another kill. In nearly every instance, a combination of the murderer’s stupidity and law enforcement’s luck contributes to the arrest.
While the stories themselves can be somewhat interesting, Brawn’s dry approach detracts from appeal. The author uses an almost journalistic approach to each, simply reporting facts for the most part. However, clarity is an issue. Brawn introduces a number of characters at the beginning of each chapter and then relies on pronouns throughout, which proves to be distracting and a bit difficult to follow.
If you enjoy true crime stories can wade through the confusion, there may be some good fodder here for your writing projects. For the casual reader, however, there are better choices than Practically Perfect.
If You Were Only White: The Life of Leroy “Satchel” Paige
by Donald Spivey
University of Missouri Press, 2013
One of the most entertaining men to ever play pro baseball was Satchel Paige, but few Americans were fortunate enough to see him because of his skin color. Paige played the majority of his career in the Negro Leagues and independent or semiprofessional leagues, being barred from playing in the majors until the late 1940s. Many of Paige’s exploits and sayings are well known, but one can only imagine how much more ingrained they would be in today’s culture if the color line had been erased sooner and he had been allowed to strut his stuff on the biggest baseball stage earlier.
Author Donald Spivey presents an in-depth biography of the pitcher in If You Were Only White: The Life of Leroy “Satchel” Paige. Originally published in 2012 in hardback, it is now available as a paperback from University of Missouri Press. Spivey covers the entirety of Paige’s life, from his upbringing in Alabama to his time in Alabama Reform School for Juvenile Negro Law-Breakers in Mout Meigs, to his antics on the baseball field, and on to his introduction to the larger world as a member of the Cleveland Indians in 1948.
Too much of baseball history is forgotten by the youth of today, and the mistakes of the past are sure to be repeated in some fashion if we do not remind ourselves of our shortcomings. Books such as If You Were Only White serve to educate us of both. This is a must-have for any baseball fan.
The Walking Dead Poster Collection
Insight Editions, 2013
One of the most captivating programs of the past few years, AMC’s The Walking Dead became an instant fan-favorite for both horror hounds and traditional television watchers. As the group of survivors fights to live another day, walkers surround them, hungry for human flesh. Gore is frequent, but not to the detriment of the story. The characters have become our friends; the grisly images each week keep us on the edge of our seats.
Insight Editions captures the gritty nature of the show in The Walking Dead Poster Collection, consisting of 40 high-quality images. The pull-out posters, which measure 12″ x 16″, feature scenes from the first three seasons as well as promotional shots. Included in this collection is Rick Grimes, Shane Walsh, Daryl Dixon, Michonne, Glenn Rhee, Merle Dixon, the Governor, Carl (with Rick), and several zombies.
The photos are all fantastic, but my favorite shows Glenn desperately trying to escape the walker in the well from the second season. These posters would look great on the wall of any college dorm room or underground bunker fortified to protect you from the walking dead.
Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line
by Tom Dunkel
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013
In the 1930s, Satchel Paige played on a baseball team with white ballplayers. So did Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, Hilton Smith, and Quincy Trouppe. The semiprofessional team was stationed in Bismarck, masterminded by Neil Churchill, cheered on by a mostly white population, and in high demand due to their superstar pitcher. But now, eight decades later, no one remembers them.
The era was different, to be sure. Nearly every town had an amateur or semipro team that battled for regional bragging rights. However, white men and black men did not share the baseball diamond often, and certainly not as teammates. Churchill, seeing the value of employing the best athletes regardless of race, dismissed the notion that teams had to be segregated and put together a formidable nine in the Great Plains.
Author Tom Dunkel does a fascinating job of bringing that era to life, telling the story of the players’ on-the-field and off-the-field exploits in a conversational style in Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line. Dunkel delivers highlights of key games, describes the difficulties of keeping Satchel satisfied in North Dakota, and details the disappointments of the black ballplayers who saw themselves as better than many of the big league stars of the day.
Some of the best baseball stories come from the National Baseball Congress championship of 1935, reigned by Churchill’s Bismarck team; conversely, some of the most poignant reminders of racism also come from that same tournament. Bismarck was color blind on the field, and the players were generally accepted by the community. But the scouts that witnessed the championship team were unable to take advantage of the abilities on display due to the racism that was still prevalent in the game and the country at large at the time.
Dunkel’s Color Blind is a fantastic record of a little-known team with some big-name players that history has largely forgotten. This book should be in every baseball fan’s library.
Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson On Life After Baseball
edited by Michael G. Long
Syracuse University Press, 2013
Despite his short career, Jackie Robinson remains one of the most well-known baseball players in history. Robinson was, of course, the man who broke the color barrier, the first black baseball player in the twentieth century. The recent Hollywood production 42 is a wonderful tribute to the man and gives us a glimpse of the pain and prejudice he faced when he courageously took his position on the baseball diamond in 1947.
After his playing career ended, Robinson took the fight for equality to pen and paper. Writing columns for the New York Post, New York Amsterdam News, and other publications, Robinson discussed a number of issues that caused division between white and black people. He wrote about his time in baseball, fondly remembering Branch Rickey and Pee Wee Reese. He expressed his disdain toward the racism that still existed in the Boston Red Sox organization at the time and in the lack of African Americans in front office and managerial positions. He touched on the Hall of Fame, at first bracing himself for the possibility that he would not be admitted and then, after learning of his election, writing, “I consider this honor the greatest which could have come to me.”
His columns were not limited to the subject of baseball, however. Robinson also wrote about racism in the PGA and in politics. He devoted ink to his family—his mother, his siblings, his wife, his children. And his readers were well aware of civil rights, from Malcolm X to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Editor Michael G. Long does a wonderful job collecting these articles into this anthology, Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson On Life After Baseball. These writings shed some light on Robinson’s opinions and activities after he left the baseball diamond. Long writes, “If there is any theme that unites many of the topics that Robinson addressed in his columns, it is this: first-class citizenship for all US citizens, especially African Americans who had long been denied the fundamental rights guaranteed by the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”