Category Archives: books

Napoleon Wasn’t Short and St. Patrick Wasn’t Irish: When History Gets It Wrong by Andrea Barham (2015)

Napoleon wasn't short

Napoleon Wasn’t Short and St. Patrick Wasn’t Irish:
When History Gets It Wrong

by Andrea Barham
Michael O’Mara, 2015
192 pages

If you haven’t already forgotten all the history you learned in high school, you can forget it now. Andrea Barham takes a number of historical “facts” to task in her latest offering, Napoleon Wasn’t Short and St. Patrick Wasn’t Irish: When History Gets It Wrong. This neat little book offers short discussions on such varied topics as women gladiators, women popes, and the wives of Henry VIII. Did Abraham Lincoln really write the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope? Did Paul Revere cry, “The British are coming!” on his way to Concord? Was Captain James Cook really eaten by cannibals in Hawaii? These questions are examined by Barham, but sometimes a definitive answer is still just out of reach.

History buffs will get a kick out of Napoleon Wasn’t Short and St. Patrick Wasn’t Irish, though I doubt the myths that have been propagated—sometimes over the course of centuries—will be disbelieved by many now.

Learn more about Michael O’Mara.

Purchase Napoleon Wasn’t Short and St Patrick Wasn’t Irish: When History Gets it Wrong by Andrea Barham.

Pedro by Pedro Martinez and Michael Silverman (2015)

Pedro

Pedro
by Pedro Martinez and Michael Silverman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
336 pages

Growing up, Pedro Martinez was always an underdog. He was smaller than the other kids, shorter, not as strong. His brother Ramon Martinez was a dominant pitcher, a highly prized prospect for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Pedro was often seen as nothing more than Ramon’s little brother. Despite success in the Dodgers’ farm system, he never got the respect he believed he deserved. It was not until he was traded to the Montreal Expos that Pedro was finally seen as his own man, as he dominated National League hitters north of the border.

In his autobiography, written with Michael Silverman, Pedro relates his experiences as a young man in the Dominican Republic who looked up to his big brother Ramon, wanting to follow in his footsteps to the major leagues. Pedro surpassed all expectations by becoming a Hall of Famer.

Pedro is not a game-by-game breakdown of his career, but a general overview of his seasons with some highlights sprinkled in. He deals with his reputation as a headhunter, sometimes referred to as “Senor Plunk.” He also talks about how he felt overlooked in the the 1999 MVP race and the 2002 Cy Young voting, though he does admit Ivan Rodriguez and Barry Zito had stellar years as well.

In a short chapter dealing with steroids, Pedro expresses disappointment but not resentment toward those who used performance enhancing drugs. He says he was tempted in 1992 when he was in the minor leagues, calling himself “the perfect candidate to take steroids,” but declined after learning the side effects, and states that once he reached the major leagues he was never offered steroids. For those looking for dirt on formerly unnamed users, Pedro does not go there. All of the names mentioned in the chapter are already widely known.

There is so much more that Pedro writes about: learning from Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, “fighting” with Don Zimmer, his gameday routine and the art of pitching. Pedro is an entertaining autobiography, as the pitcher does not hold back in sharing his opinions of teammates, managers, and opponents. Fans will enjoy the behind-the-scenes look that Pedro offers, though it is not a dirt-digging, tell-all book.

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On The Road With The Oak Ridge Boys by Joseph S. Bonsall (2015)

Oak Ridge Boys book

On The Road With The Oak Ridge Boys
by Joseph S. Bonsall
Harvest House Publishers, 2015
272 pages

I fondly remember listening to the Oak Ridge Boys with my sister as she drove me around in her Mercury Lynx when I was a little kid. Songs such as “Elvira” and “American Made” remind me of a simpler time. Tenor Joseph S. Bonsall reminisces about some of the Boys’ biggest songs, best fans, and blessed moments in his recently released memoir, On The Road With The Oak Ridge Boys.

Bonsall covers a number of topics in the memoir, from the Boys’ non-musical interests and the state of country music today to the viral nature of their 1981 hit “Elvira” and the group’s friendship with the 41st President of the United States George H. W. Bush. He relates interesting anecdotes about playing in the Astrodome in Houston, and singing the National Anthem before a variety of sporting events.

On The Road With The Oak Ridge Boys is a light read and will be of special interest to fans of the group.

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The 50 Greatest Players in St. Louis Cardinals History by Robert W. Cohen (2015)

Cardinals book

The 50 Greatest Players in St. Louis Cardinals History
by Robert W. Cohen
Taylor Trade Publishing, 2015
386 pages

Every baseball team with a substantial amount of history behind it has those players who are undeniably great. Usually the top five or ten players can be generally agreed upon, even if the order of ranking them causes some debate among fans. The Yankees lay claim to Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio. The Reds rest on Bench, Rose, and Robinson. Boston boasts Williams and Yaz. The Pirates, Clemente and Stargell. Likewise, the St. Louis Cardinals have their fair share of all-time greats, including Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Albert Pujols, and Bob Gibson.

The further down the list you go, though, discussions become more heated and forgotten stars of the past are brought back into the spotlight. Robert W. Cohen presents a case for his rankings in The 50 Greatest Players in St. Louis Cardinals History, referencing a player’s season-by-season dominance in the league, as well as their statistical fortitude when compared to other Cardinals throughout history. Only a player’s time with St. Louis is considered in the rankings, but Cohen does not ignore their contributions to other teams in his short biographical sketches.

Everyone who has been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame with a Cardinals cap on the plaque is mentioned, and ranks highly in Cohen’s book. There are also players whose Hall of Fame cases were built in other cities, such as Steve Carlton and Orlando Cepeda, but their contributions as Cardinals were significant enough to warrant inclusion among the top fifty. Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, John Tudor, Edgar Renteria, and Terry Pendleton are just a few of the other names included among the fifty best.

Cohen’s style is a bit dry, relying on statistics to tell the narrative rather than examples of why the players should be considered. There are exceptions to this, such as the case of Joaquin Andujar, who checks in at number forty-nine. The author displays Andujar’s eccentricity through quotes such as, “You can’t worry if it’s cold; you can’t worry if it’s hot; you only worry if you get sick. Because then, if you don’t get well, you die.”

The 50 Greatest Players in St. Louis Cardinals History is well-researched and informative, and Cardinals fans will enjoy it. Readers whose fandom lies elsewhere, however, might struggle to make it through some of the chapters that lack entertaining anecdotes.

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500 Words You Should Know by Caroline Taggart (2015)

500words

500 Words You Should Know
by Caroline Taggart
Michael O’Mara, 2015
192 pages

Do you ever get bored with your vocabulary? Perhaps you want to express your thoughts in a more powerful fashion. In either case, Caroline Taggart’s 500 Words You Should Know is indispensable to logophiles. Most of the words should be familiar to readers, but Taggart does challenge some modern-day usage of words such as decimate and kudos. It is interesting to learn the history of such words, and decide whether we should become inured to their incorrect usage.

Taggart divides the entries into seven themed sections to help the reader locate the perfect word for whatever situation he finds himself. In the first section, the author warns that overuse of these words “become boring or annoying if taken too far.” In other words, as you aspire for a burgeoning vocabulary, take care not to become ostentatious.

The author states the book is not “intended to teach or to preach.” Rather, “it hopes to stop you briefly in your tracks as you flick through its pages and say, as I have done, ‘Ooh, that’s a nice word.’” Certainly, those who like nice words will enjoy 500 Words You Should Know.

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How To Be A Man (And Other Illusions) by Duff McKagan (2015)

Duff McKagan Guns N Roses How To Be A Man And Other Illusions Da Capo Press

How To Be A Man (And Other Illusions)
by Duff McKagan
Da Capo Press, 2015
304 pages

In 2011, Duff McKagan’s first autobiography, It’s So Easy (And Other Lies) hit the bookshelves. In it, the bass player recounts the highs and lows (because of being high) with Guns N’ Roses, and his journey to recovery from drug addiction. On Friday, McKagan’s story continues in How To Be A Man (And Other Illusions), touring with a new band (Walking Papers), playing shows with Axl Rose in South America, being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, sitting in with Slash for one song when the guitarist opened for Aerosmith, and raising two teenage daughters.

In between tales of his life, McKagan throws in nuggets that he thinks every man should know, such as one hundred essential albums and more than forty books you should read. He explains the rules of sharing a hotel room (or other small space) with another person. He gives tips on international travel. And he explains the importance of loyalty, using the example of his BlackBerry.

McKagan is an entertaining character, and his second memoir made me chuckle several times as I read it. While he has sobered up, he has not cleaned up his language, so the book is not recommended for younger readers. McKagan briefly reminisces about his time in Guns N’ Roses while discussing the South America gigs with Axl, but the majority of this volume deals with 2012 to the present. Fans of McKagan’s columns on ESPN.com and SeattleWeekly.com will enjoy the witty banter of How To Be A Man (And Other Illusions).

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The League of Outsider Baseball by Gary Cieradkowski (2015)

outsider

The League of Outsider Baseball
by Gary Cieradkowski
Touchstone, 2015
240 pages

Gary Cieradkowski is well known as the creator of the Infinite Baseball Card Set blog, and now many of his illustrations are available in hardback form in The League of Outsider Baseball. Subtitled “An Illustrated History of Baseball’s Forgotten Heroes,” readers will find little-told stories of some of the game’s most famous stars, such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Clemente, as well as the players that have faded from modern memories, such as Pete Reiser, Russ Van Atta, and Jimmy Lyston. As a Reds fan, I paid special attention to the pages dedicated to Ryan Freel, Willard Hershberger, Harlan Pyle, and Kitty Burke.

There are seven categories in the book: Bush Leaguers, featuring stories of the all-time greats before they were great; Could-Have-Beens, telling of players that never reached their full potential because of tragedy; International Game, showing the game outside the United States; Bad Guys, with an excellent run-down of the players implicated in the 1919 Black Sox scandal; People’s Game, featuring people who were famous in other arenas of life like George Bush and Frank Sinatra; Race Game, showing some of the best players that were barred from the majors like Josh Gibson; and Odd Balls, “the characters that make the game’s history so rich and interesting.”

Each entry is beautifully illustrated and brings the history of baseball to life for the reader. Cieradkowski set out “to create the book I always wanted to find in the bookstore,” but he ended up with a book that anyone would be happy to find. The League of Outsider Baseball is not only one of the best baseball books of 2015, it is one of the best non-fiction books of 2015. Highly recommended for fan’s of our national pastime, and anyone else who just likes to read interesting stories about interesting people.

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Visit the Infinite Baseball Card Set blog by Gary Cieradkowski.

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Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe by Mick Wall (2015)

Black Sabbath Symptom of the Universe by Mick Wall

Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe
by Mick Wall
St. Martin’s Press, 2015
400 pages

The most legendary of all heavy metal bands, Black Sabbath has a long history with and without singer Ozzy Osbourne. Noted rock author and former publicist to the band Mick Wall gives fans a rundown of the band’s ups and downs in Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe, how they evolved from the Earth Blues Band to the pioneering heavy metal masters, and the revolving door of singers, bass players, and drummers. The book not only holds the original lineup as the most authentic, but gives due respect to the Ronnie James Dio era as well.

The first post-Dio era, featuring singers Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, and Tony Martin, was a dark time for Black Sabbath, and Wall does not hold back when addressing the dynamics of their relationships with the band. The return of Dio in the 1990s, and his subsequent departure when he refused to participate in Ozzy’s “No More Tours” farewell tour, paved the way for Martin to return to the group before the ultimate reunion with Osbourne.

Solo projects are not altogether ignored, though the focus is on Osbourne and Dio. From Randy Rhoads’ death to biting a dove’s head off to Osbourne’s relationship with Sharon, Ozzy is given more than his fair share of non-Sabbath ink in Symptom. Likewise, Wall delves into Dio’s solo recordings, though not quite as deeply.

The soap opera that is Black Sabbath makes for an interesting subject, as well as the ascension of Osbourne as a solo artist to heights that the band never imagined in the 1970s. Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, and the various other members of the band are recognized for the parts they played in creating and perpetuating the heavy metal genre.

While Wall’s opinions of various albums and performers are not hidden, they help to make the players more real to the reader. As with most rock biographies, foul language is an issue here. That said, Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe is highly recommended for mature fans of classic rock and heavy metal.

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Sail Away: Whitesnake’s Fantastic Voyage by Martin Popoff (2015)

sailaway

Sail Away: Whitesnake’s Fantastic Voyage
by Martin Popoff
Soundcheck Books, 2015
224 pages

David Coverdale is a rock icon with a stellar voice that never quite received the respect he deserved. In Sail Away: Whitesnake’s Fantastic Voyage, author Martin Popoff sheds light on the underappreciated singer and his career, starting with Deep Purple in the 1970s, following him through various early incarnations of Whitesnake and the success of Slide It In, Whitesnake (1987), and Slip Of The Tongue. Coverdale’s project with Jimmy Page, solo albums, and the 21st century Whitesnake albums are covered very briefly in an epilogue.

Much of Sail Away reads like an interview, with long quotes from musicians and publicists. Popoff conducted thirty interviews between 1998 and 2014 for this book, and researched a number of publications for additional information, including Circus, Hit Parader, Kerrang!, and Music Express. This is a decidedly British biography, and Popoff has a tendency to editorialize at times while commenting on the records and musicians.

There is quite a bit to do with the process of selecting songs, and the relationships that Coverdale had with the guitarists he employed over the years, including John Sykes, Adrian Vandenberg, and Steve Vai. Not much is written about the backstage antics on tour; the focus is almost entirely on the albums, songs, and relationships.

Sail Away is an interesting read, but not necessarily thrilling. It seems Whitesnake was generally a business-like band that lacked much personality beyond the records themselves. Classic rock and hair metal fans may enjoy learning more about Coverdale, but the book is far from essential reading.

Learn more about Soundcheck Books.

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The Cy Young Catcher by Charlie O’Brien and Doug Wedge (2015)

cyyoungcatcher

The Cy Young Catcher
by Charlie O’Brien and Doug Wedge
Texas A&M University Press, 2015
208 pages

The Cy Young Award is the highest individual honor a pitcher can receive after an outstanding season. During his major league career, catcher Charlie O’Brien played with thirteen different pitchers recognized as the best pitcher in the league. Some of those pitchers were at the end of the road (Pete Vuckovich, Steve Bedrosian, Jack McDowell), while others were in their primes (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Roger Clemens, Pat Hentgen). Some were still learning how to effectively pitch at the big league level (John Smoltz, Chris Carpenter). O’Brien utilized his wisdom behind the plate to call the pitches that would get batters out and help his team win, and his pitchers trusted him to make the right calls.

The Cy Young Catcher is a thirteen-chapter book in which O’Brien discusses working with these thirteen pitchers, but it is so much more. With his conversational tone, O’Brien discusses the ups and downs of his career, what worked and what didn’t, and what went on in the clubhouse. He expresses disappointment with Darryl Strawberry‘s selfish attitude at the end of the 1990 season, and explains how he encouraged Chipper Jones to take infield practice more seriously. He mentions Dwight Gooden‘s hospitality when he first arrived in New York, attributing some of the young pitcher’s substance abuse struggles (which he never personally witnessed) to his desire to be liked. He also discusses the allegations of steroid use by Toronto teammate Roger Clemens, stating his opinion that Clemens never used, pointing out that he even refused to use a scuffed ball in a game because he considered it cheating.

O’Brien is also known for developing the hockey-style catching mask, and writes about the difficulties he faced in getting approval from baseball to use it in a game. He peppers the books with compliments about various managers and umpires, and gets a few digs in as well. The Cy Young Catcher is a highly entertaining book. The language may be a bit too salty for younger readers, but mature readers will enjoy his stories and recollections of his major league experience.

Learn more about Texas A&M University Press.

Purchase The Cy Young Catcher by Charlie O’Brien and Doug Wedge.

For the Love of Baseball: A Celebration of the Game That Connects Us All edited by Lee Gutkind and Andrew Blauner (2014)

fortheloveofbaseball

For the Love of Baseball: A Celebration of the Game That Connects Us All
edited by Lee Gutkind and Andrew Blauner
Skyhorse Publishing, 2014
256 pages

[Review by TWJ contributor Jim.]

They say baseball is a sport fading in popularity and that it is struggling to stay relevant. People are allowed to have opinions and they are allowed to be wrong, as well. Baseball is a great sport that I personally love and I enjoyed reading about others who love it as well, for many different reasons. This is a book written by not one person, but 24 different authors, all with a unique perspective on the great game of baseball. One author shared how she had a pretend career as a baseball player, and talked about how that played out. Who hasn’t had a pretend career in baseball? For the record, I’m a pitcher, who throws a great sinker and am still going strong at age 36. One author shared about his time as a bat boy for the new York Yankees and how Don Mattingly sent him looking for a bat stretcher before a game. You didn’t know that they had those? Neither did I….until i slowly picked up on the joke.

In For the Love of Baseball you will realize that there are others out there who love this great game and share similar, if not the same, affections for the game of baseball. It is a great book to read at the beginning of the season, to get excited about the upcoming year, or anytime in between. You’ll also learn some cool facts in the book, like how Finland has a version of baseball, that there are many different models of baseball gloves and you’ll read about the heart breaking story of Billy Southworth. Take some time to read this great book and remember why you love this great game, why you still look at the boxscores and why you still get excited, like you did as a kid, to walk into a ball park with the excitement of what you are about to experience.

Learn more about Skyhorse Publishing.

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Baseball Myths: Debating, Debunking, and Disproving Tales from the Diamond by Bill Deane (2015)

Baseball Myths

Baseball Myths: Debating, Debunking, and Disproving Tales from the Diamond
by Bill Deane
Rowman & Littlefield, 2015
220 pages

Baseball is the most romanticized of all the sports, with legends growing more legendary with each passing season. In the days before the internet, unbelievable stories were told among friends and incredible feats were reported in newspapers…but how many of those stories and feats were embellished? The truth behind some of the game’s most enduring tales, while based on actual occurrences, are uncovered by author Bill Deane, former senior research associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and managing editor of Total Baseball.

Legends surrounding Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Derek Jeter, Pete Rose, and Babe Ruth are all examined and for the most part soundly refuted. Some issues may still be left to speculation and disagreement, but Deane has done a remarkable job with his research and explanation of his findings. The book is divided into four sections: “Baseball’s Infancy,” “The Truth About Ruth,” “The Lively Ball Era,” “Timeless Myths,” and “The Expansion Era.” In this paperback edition, two additional myths are disproved about Cool Papa Bell (scoring from first base on a bunt) and Harry Chiti (the player traded for himself).

Each myth is clearly marked and swiftly dealt with; the reader can take in one or two at a time, or delve into larger chunks of text and learn more about baseball’s history in a short amount of time. Baseball Myths: Debating, Debunking, and Disproving Tales from the Diamond is excellent for young fans as well as old, and everyone who picks up this book will be able to start separating fact from fiction in the national pastime.

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Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre: A Biography of The Doors by Mick Wall (2014)

The Doors

Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre: A Biography of The Doors
by Mick Wall
Orion Books, 2014
512 pages

Jim Morrison is one of the most enigmatic figures in rock and roll history, and in the four decades since his death, there is as much myth as there is fact believed about the singer of The Doors. British music journalist Mick Wall sets out to separate fact from fiction and clear up the misinformation that has been widely accepted as accurate history. One such area of confusion deals with Morrison’s death: Wall refutes the long-standing notion that the singer died in a Paris bathtub, and presents the truth of Morrison’s demise.

Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre—which is subtitled “A Biography of The Doors”—is about Jim Morrison. The other members of the group—Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore—are each given a brief biographical sketch, but after that are generally only mentioned in relation to the singer. Make no mistake, this is a biography of Jim Morrison more than it is of The Doors, because without Morrison, The Doors would not have existed. That is not to discredit the musicians that provided his backdrop; Wall is very respectful toward them and gives them as much ink as is possible. But even after his death, they are simply overshadowed by Morrison.

Wall was able to secure some reluctant interviewees for his book, including Jac Holzman, Bruce Botnik, and Bill Siddons. Along with interviews with Manzarek, Kriger, and Densmore, and others who knew Morrison during his days with The Doors, Wall paints a picture of a larger-than-life individual who was made even bigger than that by posthumous biographies such as No One Here Gets Out Alive and Oliver Stone’s 1991 film. Wall tries to reign in some of the legend that is so ingrained in the minds of the fans, but it will be interesting as time goes on how much truth wins out over the more tantalizing tales that have been told.

Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre is a necessary work to understand who The Doors—and specifically Jim Morrison—really were. There are obviously sensitive themes and crude language throughout, so it is not recommended for younger readers, but adults should find it entertaining as well as enlightening.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates’ 1960 Season by David Finoli (2015)

pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ 1960 Season
by David Finoli
Arcadia Publishing, 2015
128 pages

Nearly every franchise has that one season that is etched into the minds of hardcore fans—one season that stands above all others. For the Pittsburgh Pirates, that season is 1960. Third baseman Dick Groat was the MVP, while 20-game winner Vern Law won the Cy Young Award. Young right fielder Roberto Clemente was coming into his own, while Roy Face was one of the most successful closers in the game. More than a half century later, Danny Murtaugh is still revered for his tenure as manager of the team. Baseball history will never forget Bill Mazeroski‘s dramatic Game 7 home run to win the World Series against the New York Yankees.

In Arcadia Publishing’s latest release in the “Images of Baseball” series, author David Finoli recalls the magical season at Forbes Field through vintage photographs featuring the players, the front office, and the park. In addition to the stars, Finoli examines the lesser-known players, from Rocky Bridges to Bob Oldis to Gino Cimoli. The photographs are a mix of portraits, candid, and action shots. There are a couple of unfortunate instances when the photo extends past one page, and part of it is obscured in the binding between the two pages. The most glaring example is on pages 66-67; Face and Mazeroski can be clearly seen, but Smoky Burgess is lost in the fold. Fortunately, there are very few instances of the photo taking two pages.

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ 1960 Season is a great way to learn about one of the best teams the Steel City has ever fielded, with a fine selection of photographs collected for posterity.

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William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First by Ian Doescher (2015)

Shakespeare-Episode-I

William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First
by Ian Doescher
Quirk Books, 2015
176 pages

Much like the movie it was based on, Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace is the weak link in this series of books. It would be difficult for anyone to dress up George Lucas’ greatest misstep, but Doescher does his best and remains true to the filmmaker’s vision, Jar Jar Binks and all. Doescher does some interesting things with the characters, such as giving Jar Jar more intelligence than most would. When speaking in asides to the audience, Binks speaks Shakespearean English, fully in iambic pentameter just as the other characters; when conversing with the other characters, however, the last syllable drops off. Conversely, the other Gunguns receive the full ten syllables, even with their native dialect.

There are other deviations from the iambic pentameter with other characters: Yoda speaks in haiku, while Valorum tacks on an eleventh syllable at the end of his lines. Another quirk with the language includes the two-headed podrace commentator, who uses the pronoun “we” instead of “I.” Qui-Gon Jinn has a Julius Caesar moment during his final battle with Darth Maul, and tribute is paid to Samuel L. Jackson’s long career in Hollywood in several stanzas.

One of my favorite parts of William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace is the conversation Doescher inserted between two unnamed Jedi in Act IV, Scene 5, foretelling the regression of technology and Jedi skills that would be seen in Verily, A New Hope. A weak explanation, but a nod to the lack of consistency between Lucas’ original trilogy and the prequels.

William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace is a step back for the series, but Doescher should be able to right the ship with the next installment (scheduled for a July release) as he will have better source material from which to work. Still, for the completist, this tale is necessary as it tells the innocent beginnings of Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars saga.

Learn more about Quirk Books.

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Purchase William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First by Ian Doescher.

Purchase William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Boxed Set: Includes Verily, A New Hope; The Empire Striketh Back; The Jedi Doth Return; and an 8-by-34-inch full-color poster.

I Don’t Care If We Never Get Back by Ben Blatt & Eric Brewster (2015)

idontcare

I Don’t Care If We Never Get Back:
30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever

by Ben Blatt & Eric Brewster
Grove Press, 2015
272 pages

If you have ever dreamed of visiting all thirty major league stadiums in a single summer, read this book first. Especially if you want to make the trip in an even more cramped period of time, such as thirty days. Harvard graduate Ben Blatt devised a schedule using a computer-generated algorithm that would take him to every stadium in a 30-day period in the most efficient way possible. His friend, Eric Brewster, agreed to tackle the journey with him, even though he didn’t like baseball. A missed first pitch, a rainout, and three speeding tickets later, the pair accomplished what they set out to do.

This is the ultimate road trip book for baseball fans, even though it doesn’t delve into the baseball much. It is more a story of friendship, of helping each other execute a task that seems crazy and impossible. Along the way they got to hang out with Theo Epstein, do laundry with David Lough‘s father, and eat lunch with the Jacksonville Jaguars. I Don’t Care If We Never Get Back is an entertaining read from start to finish, and might cause the reader to wonder how much he really loves baseball.

Learn more about Grove Press.

Purchase I Don’t Care if We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever by Ben Blatt & Eric Brewster.

Cincinnati Reds Legends by Mike Shannon, illustrated by Chris Felix, Scott Hannig, and Donnie Pollard (2015)

redslegends

Cincinnati Reds Legends
by Mike Shannon
illustrated by Chris Felix, Scott Hannig, and Donnie Pollard
Black Squirrel Books (an imprint of The Kent State University Press), 2015
100 pages

There are countless books that rank the best players for each team, and each list has a different set of standards and a different outcome. Mike Shannon‘s recent release, Cincinnati Reds Legends, is no different in that regard, except it doesn’t rank the top forty Reds against each other. Rather, it lists them chronologically, starting with the Wright brothers (who count as one) of the 1869 Red Stockings to Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi to several Big Red Machine teammates to current Reds Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto. The book is divided into four sections, each representing a time period and each containing ten players. The one-page biographies are well-written with nuggets of information that readers will enjoy, but the real value in this book is the artwork.

Each player is featured in a full-page illustration by one of three renowned sports artists: Chris Felix, Scott Hannig, and Donnie Pollard. The author himself admitted that art would “carry this book,” and it does. Without the artwork, Cincinnati Reds Legends is simply another book about Reds players, a listing of some of the most famous names to wear the Cincinnati uniform. And as interesting as Reds fans would find such a book, the art sets it apart and makes it more accessible to non-Reds fans as well.

As for the players included, it is far from an exhaustive list of Cincinnati greats. Those excluded include Roy McMillan (though his portrait is featured before the title page), Leo Cardenas, Jack Billingham, Chris Sabo, and Johnny Cueto. Shannon writes, “If you want to tell us whom we shouldn’t have left out, you also have to say which included player you’d take off the team.” A difficult task, as Shannon concisely demonstrates why each included player should be considered a legend in the Queen City.

Reds fans will go crazy for this book, while baseball fans and sports art fans will treasure the illustrations found within. Hands down, this is my new favorite Reds book.

Learn more about Black Squirrel Books (an imprint of The Kent State University Press).

Purchase Cincinnati Reds Legends by Mike Shannon, illustrated by Chris Felix, Scott Hannig, and Donnie Pollard.

Willie & Me by Dan Gutman (2015)

willieandme

Willie & Me
by Dan Gutman
HarperCollins, 2015
176 pages

Most baseball fans are familiar with “the shot heard ’round the world.” Bobby Thomson launched a Ralph Branca pitch for a home run in 1951 to win the pennant for the New York Giants, while rookie Willie Mays watched from the on-deck circle. Have you ever wondered what would have happened if Thomson walked, and Mays came to bat? Dan Gutman explores that possibility in his latest “Baseball Card Adventure” book, featuring time-traveling fourteen-year old Joe Stoshack.

Those familiar with Gutman’s previous “Baseball Card Adventure” books know that Stosh always has the best intentions when he travels to the past, looking to right some wrong or prevent some tragedy. He has visited Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ray Chapman, Roberto Clemente, and Jackie Robinson, among other legendary characters in the story of baseball’s history. Willie & Me is the twelfth and (unfortunately) finally installment in the series, and for the first time a living player is the titular character. However, Mays does not play a major role in this book himself, unlike former “Baseball Card Adventures.” He is featured very briefly, but because of Stosh’s interference with the game in 1951, history changes when Stosh returns home. Distraught by the changes, he decides he must change history again, returning to 1951 a second time.

The series is written for a younger audience, primarily boys aged 8-12, but adult baseball fans who enjoy time travel fantasy will get a kick out of these books as well. Gutman does an excellent job in describing the era to which his young character travels, and is faithful (for the most part) to baseball history in his stories. I am sad to see this series end, but have truly enjoyed traveling through time with Joe Stoshack on his adventures.

Learn more about HarperCollins.

Learn more about Dan Gutman.

Purchase Willie & Me by Dan Gutman.

Baseball: Great Records, Weird Happenings, Odd Facts, Amazing Moments & Other Cool Stuff by Ron Martirano (2015)

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Baseball: Great Records, Weird Happenings, Odd Facts,
Amazing Moments & Other Cool Stuff

by Ron Martirano
Imagine! Publishing, 2015
128 pages

Baseball is full of colorful characters and silly superstitions, and author Ron Martirano does an excellent job of sharing some of the more entertaining stories in Baseball: Great Records, Weird Happenings, Odd Facts, Amazing Moments & Other Cool Stuff. From Germany Schaefer‘s theft of first base to the epic “you’ve been traded to Japan” prank played on Kyle Kendrick, Martirano covers a wide spectrum of baseball oddities.

Each entry is a quick read, short enough to tackle in between innings while ESPN goes to commercial. Stories are divided into four sections: unusual, magical, painful, and traditional. Readers are sure to learn a few things while being reminded of others. In either case, Martirano presents the events in an accessible and entertaining fashion. Baseball fans young and old will enjoy Baseball: Great Records, Weird Happenings, Odd Facts, Amazing Moments & Other Cool Stuff.

Learn more about Imagine! Publishing.

Purchase Baseball: Great Records, Weird Happenings, Odd Facts, Amazing Moments & Other Cool Stuff by Ron Martirano.

Philadelphia Phenoms by Michael Baumann (2014)

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Philadelphia Phenoms
by Michael Baumann
Sports Publishing, 2014
256 pages

Every city that fields professional sports teams takes pride in the greatest players on those teams. Some cities, such as Philadelphia, are fortunate enough to have professional teams in multiple sports. Michael Baumann makes it his task to identify the “most amazing athletes to play in the city of Brotherly Love” in Philadelphia Phenoms. Whether wearing the uniform of the Phillies, Eagles, 76ers, or Flyers, there is no shortage of athletic prowess in Philadelphia.

There are some very obvious selections: Mike Schmidt, Julius Erving, Reggie White, and Wilt Chamberlain are all present. Older stars that may be overlooked by younger fans, such as Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn, and Chuck Bednarik are also discussed. The most interesting chapter, however, focuses on the Phillies’ current second baseman, Chase Utley.

Baumann makes a compelling argument for including Utley rather than his contemporaries Jimmy Rollins or Ryan Howard. According to Baumann, Utley is among the ten best athletes in Philadelphia history, one of the ten best second basemen ever in all of baseball, and the second-best Philadelphia position player behind Schmidt. Part of the author’s argument stems from the fact that Utley does everything well, but does not particularly stand out in any one area. However, from 2005-2009, Utley has the second-best WAR in the National League (five points behind Albert Pujols), and is a full 12.3 points ahead of third-place David Wright. Baumann writes that “œit’s utterly bizarre for a player like Utley, someone who played for good teams in a big media market, got his jersey dirty, played hard, and posted spectacular seasons to be underrated, but here we are.” It will be interesting to see how Hall of Fame voters deal with Chase Utley’s career when it comes time to decide whether he belongs in Cooperstown.

Philadelphia Phenoms is, first and foremost, a book for fans of the teams and players in that city. However, general sports fans will also find some interesting anecdotes and conversation starters in Baumann’s writing.

Learn more about Sports Publishing.

Purchase Philadelphia Phenoms by Michael Baumann.

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