Category Archives: books
The Family Doodle Book
illustrations by Melissa Averinos
Adams Media, 2013
A nice balance between writing and drawing, The Family Doodle Book provides dozens of prompts to get children and parents sharing their ideas. Each prompt gives space on the left for the artist to write not only what is going to be drawn, but why. The right side is reserved for the art itself, and families can share that space to create something special together.
Designing trophies, drawing favorite flowers, illustrating something gross that a woman is about to step into—there are several different types of prompts to guide your doodles. This is a great project to get parents and kids to sit down and spend some time together.
The Sketchbook Project Journal
by Steven Peterman & Shane Zucker
Potter Style, 2013
Do you like to draw? Whether you are a doodler or an aspiring artist looking for inspiration, The Sketchbook Project Journal is a fun way to get your creative juices flowing. Just a few words are shown on each page, and you are expected to take that idea—that theme—and run with it. Examples include “Superheroes in Everyday Clothes,” “Friends of Friends,” and “Arrival.” Such broad themes could easily be interpreted thousands of ways, and that is exactly what will make this sketchbook so unique to each artist.
The Plot Whisperer: Book of Writing Prompts
by Martha Alderson
Adams Media, 2013
Sometimes you need a little push to put words down on paper (or on the computer screen). Author Martha Alderson provides 120 affirmation, plot and writing prompts to help stalled writers achieve their goals. The prompts in The Plot Whisperer: Book of Writing Prompts are designed to help the novelist, but can easily be adapted to other long-form writing as well.
If you find yourself stuck, unable to get over a particular hump in your story or screenplay, pick up a copy of The Plot Whisperer: Book of Writing Prompts to jump-start your storyline.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Master Class
by Tony Lee Moral
Michael Wiese Productions, 2013
Alfred Hitchcock is perhaps the most influential filmmaker in the history of cinema, enthralling audiences with his tales of suspense and inspiring directors to simply make better movies. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Master Class, Tony Lee Moral takes the reader though the cinematic process step-by-step, from the genesis of the idea to the execution on the screen and finally the promotion in the press. No stone is left unturned as the author examines the master’s techniques, showing how modern Hollywood continues to emulate Hitchcock on the big screen.
More than just words on a page, Moral challenges the reader to put those words into action at the end of each chapter. The exercises ask the reader to study a Hitchcock film for himself and identify the techniques discussed, then turn the critical eye on his own work and discover where he can improve in his personal journey to writing and movie making.
It would be a good idea for the reader to re-familiarize himself with some Hitchcock films before beginning this study. Many movies are referenced, but the four that seem the most prominent are Psycho, North by Northwest, The Birds, and Rear Window. If the reader will watch these gems before reading Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Master Class, he will have a better foundation from which to build.
Nailed! The Improbable Rise and
Spectacular Fall of Lenny Dykstra
by Christopher Frankie
Running Press, 2013
I was never much of a Lenny Dykstra fan during his baseball career, and knew little about his off-the-field activities following that career. I knew he had gotten into some financial trouble, but had no idea that he was such a force on Wall Street before the law caught up to him. Christopher Frankie, a journalist and former employee of Dykstra, portrays the former ballplayer as an unstable man despite supposed monetary genius in Nailed! The Improbable Rise and Spectacular Fall of Lenny Dykstra. To his credit, Frankie does not bash Dykstra at every opportunity, but actually tries to present him in a favorable light under certain circumstances.
There is very little devoted to Dykstra’s baseball career here. There is a brief section on his time with the Mets, the drama surrounding his trade to the Phillies, and his subsequent injuries and attempts to come back as a manager for the club when he realized his body would not allow him to endure the grind of the baseball season. Dykstra’s drive then leads him to go into business, and finally takes him to Wall Street where he received the endorsement of Mad Money guru Jim Cramer. But the walls came crashing down due to unethical and at times bizarre behavior.
Dykstra is now serving time in prison after pleading no contest to charges of grand theft auto and filing a false financial statement. Frankie’s account of how he got there is both intriguing and depressing.
Banzai Babe Ruth:
Baseball, Espionage & Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan
by Robert K. Fitts
University of Nebraska Press, 2013
A beautiful blending of baseball and history, Banzai Babe Ruth engages the reader in the attempt to forge a friendship using America’s pastime. Author Robert K. Fitts presents the events from both sides of the Pacific—the Japanese businessmen who are intent on bringing the Americans to their country for an All-Star tour in 1934, and the hesitations of the baseball luminaries in America.
The book reads almost like a novel, recounting the interactions between Babe Ruth and his Japanese fans, Moe Berg’s purported spy operations, and Lefty O’Doul’s tutoring young Japanese ballplayers. Highlights of the games are also presented, along with statistics and line scores in the appendices. Some chapters barely mention baseball, focusing instead on the political climate of the time and the war.
Banzai Babe Ruth is great for fans of baseball history, shedding light on a little-known subject in these modern times.
What A Writer Needs, Second Edition
by Ralph Fletcher
What A Writer Needs does not contain any deep truths or startling revelations; it is at its core simply a book of fundamentals written as a reminder and an encouragement to creative writing teachers. Teachers can get into a rut in their instruction just as writers can feel trapped in their work, and author Ralph Fletcher does a fine job of helping both break out of the norm with solid examples from his own career and the writing of his students. There are no exercises for the reader to practice, simply instructions and examples to illustrate each chapter.
Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season
by Matthew Silverman
Lyons Press, 2013
Richard Nixon. The Yom Kippur War. The Atkins Diet. The Mets, Yankees, A’s. Rollie Fingers’ handlebar moustache (and the subsequent facial hair of his teammates). Willie Mays’ retirement. George Steinbrenner’s foray into major league ownership. 1973 had it all, and Matthew Silverman helps recreate the events in Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season.
The books follows three of the most colorful franchises in baseball history while mixing in tidbits about pop culture and other notable events. The teams: Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s, led by Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, and Fingers; Steinbrenner’s New York Yankees, with Thurman Munson, the first DH Ron Blomberg, and the wife swapping Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson; the New York Mets with Willie Mays’ final days and the legendary Yogi Berra at the helm.
In a season when controversies were commonplace, Silverman hits all the high notes. The most interesting is obviously the decision made by Kekich and Peterson to swap families, and the author reports the situation professionally without passing judgment. Pete Rose’s altercation with Bud Harrelson in the NLCS is also retold in detail, as well as the “firing” of Oakland second baseman Mike Andrews during the World Series (a move overruled by commissioner Bowie Kuhn).
Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season is a book that should be in every baseball fan’s personal library.
Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Publishers and Agents Crave by Don McNair (2013)
Editor-Proof Your Writing
by Don McNair
Quill Driver Books, 2013
Every year, new books on writing flood the market, but many are a waste of time. I have a shelf full of writing manuals, but most have not been used since the initial read-through. There are a few, however, that are invaluable to me as a writer, and I count Editor-Proof Your Writing by Don McNair among those useful resources.
McNair’s straightforward approach to editing will help all writers, regardless of experience or genre. While the focus is on fiction, the tips apply to other forms of writing. The first section, “Putting Words In,” deals with interest-inducing hooks, point-of-view, and conflict. The gold, however, is found in the next section, “Taking Words Out.” McNair teaches readers how to eliminate “foggy writing” and entice publishers with a well-written manuscript. The third section goes past the writing stage and shows the importance of a critique partner, the benefits of a professional editor, and how to compose the query letter and synopsis.
McNair doesn’t teach you how to write, but how to edit what you have already written. Editor-Proof Your Writing is a wonderful tool for the writer who has completed his novel but can’t find an interested publisher.
The Phillies Experience
by Tyler Kepner
MVP Books, 2013
Baseball is a game rich in history, and each team carries with it good and bad memories. The Phillies Experience by Tyler Kepner takes a look back at the ups and downs of the Philadelphia franchise, going all the way back to the nineteenth century when the team was known as the Quakers. While those first few years are not broken down season-by-season, star players such as Charlie Ferguson and Ed Delahanty are recognized for their contributions to the team.
Beginning with the year 1900 and going through 2012, Kepner devotes an entire page to each season, giving readers a glimpse at the year’s highlights, won-loss record, and interesting anecdotes of the personalities that wore the Phillies uniform. Throughout this massive book, fans will find recollections of past stadiums, spectacular photographs, both black and white and color, and profiles of some of the most prolific players like Pete Alexander, Robin Roberts, Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton. In between each section is a “Record Book” showing the season leaders in several statistical categories, All-Star representatives, award winners, and Kepner’s “All Decade Team” for each ten-year block.
Baseball history fans will like The Phillies Experience; Phillies fans will love it. Kepner does a great job of presenting the team’s history without sugarcoating it, reporting the good and the bad. Sure, he writes with more enthusiasm about the winning seasons, but refuses to shy away from the negatives that the team has experienced over the years.
The True Secret of Writing
by Natalie Goldberg
Atria Books, 2013
In a creative writing class during my formal education, one of the textbooks assigned to students was Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg. That book made an impact on me, even though I had to cut through some of the mysticism that Goldberg clings to in her style. When I saw that a new book was coming from the author this year, I was very excited. Unfortunately, her book The True Secret of Writing is more about Zen practice than actual writing.
There are some good exercises hidden within the chapters, and one of the four sections is all about writing. That is not to say that one cannot learn anything from the other three sections; learning to let go of what one cannot control is a good recommendation for anyone, Buddhist or not. Goldberg explains a lot of what she does during her “True Secret” retreats, and rambles obsessively about sitting. Much of the book lacks focus, jumping from thought to thought, many paragraphs unconnected—even disconnected—to those around it. Some of the activities suggested in “True Secret Retreat Essentials” I will not participate in because of my Christian faith, but there are other aspects that do not violate my principles.
From a writer’s standpoint, the most important section in The True Secret of Writing is “Elaborations.” The exercises Goldberg suggests will be helpful to those who are just starting to write as well as those who have been putting pen to paper for decades. Of course, there is no “True Secret of Writing” revealed in the book, as everyone takes different paths and attains different levels of success, and the author admits that the title is tongue-in-cheek. But writers can benefit from Goldberg’s suggestions, though they may have to do a little digging to find them.
Phantom Hitchhikers and Other Urban Legends
by Albert Jack
A compact book full of fun anecdotes, Phantom Hitchhikers and Other Urban Legends will make readers smirk and giggle as they read embarrassing stories about anonymous strangers and famous figures. Bill Gates, Winston Churchill, Mick Jagger and David Bowie—no one is safe from these tall tales recounted by author Albert Jack.
Phantom Hitchhikers and Other Urban Legends would be a good book to take on a trip to read in the car as your spouse drives, or to work to read during bathroom breaks. The stories are short and light and can be digested quickly, and could even be turned into conversation starters or amended into jokes.
There is not really much else to be said about this treat of a book. Recommended for anyone who enjoys an amusing yarn.
How to Travel the World on $50 a Day
by Matt Kepnes
If you want to travel cheaper, longer, and smarter, you have to do some research. Author and world-traveler Matt Kepnes (keeper of the nomadicmatt.com blog) does a lot of the legwork for you and gives advice on pre-trip necessities, tips on travel and accommodations, and suggestions on other money-saving strategies. Kepnes has been at this for a while, and it’s always good to have a mentor (even if only in book form) before setting out on such an adventure.
One thing to keep in mind is that the “$50 a day” is meant to be a daily average of a year-long, round-the-world trip. There are some expensive up-front costs, and there will be some days that much less than $50 would be necessary, especially if you cook some of your own meals or crash on couches for free. Sometimes, the more adventurous you are, the more options you have at saving money.
If you have ever thought about taking a year-long vacation to travel the world, pick up a copy of How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and use it to learn how to leave your comfort zone and be happy about it.
Welcome to the Big Leagues:
Every Man’s Journey to Significance, The Darrel Chaney Story
by Dan Hettinger
Morgan James, 2013
The Big Red Machine was loaded with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers, but for every player there was a backup. Darrel Chaney played the backup role to several of Cincinnati’s stars until his trade to the Atlanta Braves after the 1975 season. Though he was never on the track to Cooperstown, Dan Hettinger wanted to tell Chaney’s story and relate it to motivational principles in the spiritual world in Welcome to the Big Leagues.
Hettinger goes back and forth talking about Chaney in one chapter (the “top” of an inning), and then his own experiences as a religious leader in the next (the “bottom” of an inning). Welcome to the Big Leagues is not so much a biography, but aims to be more of a book of inspiration to those who may not believe they make much of an impact on the lives of those around them.
Theologically, I do not agree with Hettinger’s positions, but there are general principles that can be gleaned from these pages. I would not recommend the book as authoritative in religion. However, there are some interesting anecdotes about Chaney’s time in the majors, as well as Hettinger’s work in the religious world, and there are lessons one can learn about how to handle situations with maturity and patience.
There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived
by Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press, 2013
The last .400 hitter in the major leagues. Twice a Triple Crown winner. Military hero. How do you introduce the late, great Ted Williams to a generation that is so far removed from his historic baseball career? Author Matt Tavares gives baseball fans a great tool at passing down the lore of the Splendid Splinter with There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived. A very quick read at only 40 pages, Tavares touches on Williams’ youth, his time in San Diego, his arrival in Boston, his service to the country, and his return to Boston after serving as a fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War. That’s a lot of information to pack into 40 pages, but Tavares does a wonderful job of simplifying the facts for younger readers.
My favorite part of There Goes Ted Williams is easily the artwork. Each page contains beautifully painted pictures of Teddy Ballgame hitting home runs, signing autographs, or running away from an exploding airplane. Even if there was not a single word printed on the pages, the book would be worth the cover price for the artwork alone.
Recommended for children aged 6-10, There Goes Ted Williams is the book you need to begin teaching youngsters about “the greatest hitter who ever lived.”
Watch the trailer for There Goes Ted Williams below:
by Mike Piazza with Lonnie Wheeler
Simon & Schuster, 2013
Spring training is underway, and new baseball books are starting to hit the store shelves. Mike Piazza released his highly anticipated memoir Long Shot a couple of weeks ago, and in it he tells of his upbringing, relationship with Tommy Lasorda, and love for the city of New York. He deals with some of the big stories of his career, including the steroid suspicions, homosexuality rumors, the Roger Clemens incident, and breaking Carlton Fisk’s record for most home runs by a catcher. The first eight chapters, which focus on Piazza’s early life through the minor leagues, capture the catcher’s personality best as he tells of meeting Ted Williams and convincing his college coaches to let him catch instead of play first base. Once he makes the big leagues in chapter nine, however, the story becomes a bit dry. We do see the evolution of the innocent, sheltered Pennsylvania boy into a hardened, cynical Californian and later New Yorker (granted, that evolution began in the minor leagues, but became much more pronounced as he was ushered out of Los Angeles). But Piazza’s recollection of specific games, at-bats, and even pitches can be a bit tedious.
Many players make a big splash by publishing “tell-all” biographies, exposing the shortcomings of former teammates and coaches. While he does take a few jabs at Pedro Martinez and Clemens, for the most part Piazza shies away from such an approach. Unfortunately, that makes the major league portion of the book more difficult to get through. There are interesting stories here and there, but the best part of Long Shot is definitely found in the first eight chapters.
Does Mike Piazza belong in the Hall of Fame? Only 57.8% of the voters showed support in his first year on the ballot, despite his staggering offensive numbers. That number is expected to rise in the coming years, and Piazza himself believes he belongs. “Election to the Hall of Fame would, for me, validate everything.” One look at his statistics, coupled with the fact that he has never been accused of steroid usage by any reputable source, answers the question quite clearly. The man worked hard for what he achieved, accomplishing great things despite the odds. If you are not familiar with his career, Long Shot is a good recollection. For those who remember his career well, read the first eight chapters and skim the rest.
The Ten Commandments of Comedy
by Gene Perret
Quill Driver Books, 2013
The fifth commandment of comedy, according to author Gene Perret, is, “Thou Shalt Be Concise.” That rule is followed religiously in this brief treatise on the art of comedy. At only 96 pages, Perret forces himself to be concise—to a fault—in The Ten Commandments of Comedy. A cold, analytic approach is taken with each “commandment,” and makes for an overall dry read. There is nothing wrong in what he writes, but there is not much meat to go along with the skeletal chapters.
Perret is an accomplished comedy writer, with a resume that includes work on The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show, Laugh-In, and The Carol Burnett Show. His most prestigious assignment came when he was named Bob Hope’s head writer after working on his staff since the late 1960s. Perret’s other writings are highly revered in the world of comedy; this one, unfortunately, does not live up to his name.
Draw 50 series
by Lee J. Ames
The late Lee J. Ames was an accomplished artist, having worked on Fantasia and Pinocchio for the Walt Disney Studios and taught classes at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and Dowling College on Long Island. In his Draw 50 books, Ames presents step-by-step instructions for drawing various subjects, from beasts to aliens to magical creatures. Some of the Draw 50 volumes feature other artists with Ames, such as Draw 50 Aliens with Ric Estrada and Draw 50 Magical Creatures with Andy Mitchell.
The emphasis in these books is imitation, and Ames explains, “Mimicry is prerequisite for developing creativity. We learn the use of our tools by mimicry. Then we can use those tools for creativity.” Each exercise progresses in six to eight steps until the drawing is complete, with the fine details being added in the final step. Some subjects are a bit more complicated, but none are too difficult that they cannot be mastered with patience and practice.
For those who enjoy drawing or believe they might like to learn to sketch these cartoon creatures, Ames’ Draw 50 series is good place to start.
A Matter of Time: The Unauthorized Back to the Future Lexicon
by Rich Handley
Hasslein Books, 2012
Three movies, two seasons of cartoons, and a handful of comic books contributed to one of the most fascinating time traveling franchises of all-time: Back to the Future. One may have difficulty navigating through all the who’s and what’s in the massive universe that came into existence because of BTTF, but Rich Handley helps bring some sense to it all in A Matter of Time: The Unauthorized Back to the Future Lexicon. Handley goes so deep into this fictional world, he includes not only the aforementioned movies, cartoons, and comics, he delves into the short-lived fan magazine, music videos, video games, commercials, amusement park rides, and even the photographs hanging in the Doc Brown’s Chicken restaurant at Universal Studios. And while it is reasonable to assume that the general public at least has access to these sources, Handley even gets his hands on screenplay drafts and film outtakes.
Some of the details here are very miniscule, from Marty McFly’s driver’s license number to words that were scrawled in graffiti in various places during the movie. Of course, you can learn about the Flux Capacitor, Doc Brown, and the entire McFly clan. There are also entries in the lexicon showing Darth Vader, Eddie Van Halen, and Alex Keaton’s place in the Back to the Future universe.
The appendices in the back of the book complement the book wonderfully. An episode guide, cover gallery, and even a family tree of sorts are among the extra pages at the end of A Matter of Time. Perhaps the most interesting page in this volume is the reproduction of the telephone book page Marty tore out in 1955, showing Doc’s historical address and phone number.
From beginning to end, A Matter of Time will delight Back to the Future fans with tidbits that they had forgotten.
The Book of Card Games
by Nikki Katz
Adams Media, 2013
You’ve been invited to a bridge party next Saturday night, but have forgotten the rules of the game. What do you do? Decline the invitation? Not if you have The Book of Card Games by Nikki Katz. Brush up on the basics with this volume, containing complete rules for a wide variety of card games, from the popular such as bridge and poker to the lesser-known like bezique and Sheepshead.
After a short section detailing the history of playing cards, general rules and etiquette that apply to almost all games, Katz launches into the rules of more than fifty card games, with variations for several of those. Tips, hints and strategies are also included in each set of rules under the headings “Card Facts” and “Up Your Sleeve.” If you have trouble finding anyone to play with, there are a number of solitaire games explained, including Clock, Free Cell, and Klondike.
Whether you need to verify rules that you have played by your entire life or you want to learn a new game to enjoy with friends and family, The Book of Card Games is a remarkable resource.