Category Archives: books
The Hunt for a Reds October: Cincinnati in 1990
by Charles F. Faber and Zachariah Webb
The 1919 World Series has received its fair share of coverage, though more because of the scandal than the actual baseball played. Much has been written about the timeless “Big Red Machine” teams of the 1970s. But the wire-to-wire championship team of 1990 has been largely overlooked by authors and baseball historians. Now twenty-five years removed from that historic season, authors Charles F. Faber and Zachariah Webb have delved into the magic season of 1990, profiling the players involved and examining the season month-by-month, hitting several highlights along the way.
The first seventy-three pages are devoted to the history of baseball in the Queen City up to 1989, giving a foundation and setting the stage for the 1990 season, which saw a lockout that forced the Reds to open the season on the road for only the third time in the team’s history. Many of the players and staff are given a brief biographical profile, from the superstars like Barry Larkin, Chris Sabo, and Eric Davis, all the way down to the bench players like Billy Bates, Herm Winningham, Terry McGriff, and Luis Quinones.
On more than one occasion, a fact or anecdote is repeated, giving the reader a feeling of déjà vu. There are also some minor errors, such as the statement that “Keith Brown never played a game in the majors” (Don Brown was the intended player), and that Paul O’Neill “had been a Reds fan since childhood and did want to leave Cincinnati” (rather than “did not want to leave”). The statements can be properly understood in the context of the book, though, and are not enough to distract from the overall value of the work.
The appendices at the end cover some of the things you might expect, from the game-by-game results to the individual player statistics. Perhaps the most interesting is Appendix E, which examines how the players from the 1990 roster left the Reds, beginning with Ron Robinson’s trade in June (for Glenn Braggs, who later left via free agency), through Barry Larkin’s free agency (and subsequent retirement) in 2004.
The Hunt for a Reds October is an excellent, in depth book that gives an inside look at the last World Champion in Cincinnati, and will be enjoyed by Reds fans who remember this underappreciated ballclub.
Purchase The Hunt for a Reds October by Charles F. Faber and Zacahariah Webb through Amazon or through the McFarland order line (800-253-2187).
Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs
by Erik Didriksen
Quirk Books, 2015
William Shakespeare is best known for his brilliance as a playwright, but his skill with pen and paper extended to the area of poetry as well; the Bard is also known for his mastery of writing sonnets. Author Erik Didriksen combines the Bard’s language with today’s most popular poets, also known as songwriters, for the humorous parody Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs.
Ranging from classic rock (“Free Bird” and “Light My Fire”) to country (“Folsom Prison Blues” and “King of the Road”) to more recent top 40 hits (“Party Rock Anthem” and “Call Me Maybe”), Didriksen creates wonderful Victorian versions of twentieth and twenty-first century lyrics. This small volume will have readers laughing as they try to sing these popular songs with Shakespearean language.
This book is a perfect gift for anyone who loves Shakespeare or music. Didriksen might as well have been writing about himself when he stylized the couplet of MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”:
Though I have of my craft imparted much,
my artistry’s beyond what thou canst touch.
Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter
by Kate Clifford Larson
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Much of the Kennedy legacy has been well-documented, the ups and downs of the political machine that boasted some of the most powerful people of the twentieth century. For many years, one of the greatest tragedies the family faced was kept a secret. Rosemary Kennedy, the oldest daughter of Joe and Rose, was intellectually challenged and struggled to keep the pace of her siblings. Never progressing past the mental age of about twelve, she was lobotomized at age 23. The botched surgery rendered her incapacitated, and the family remained quiet about her condition and whereabouts for decades. The horrendous things that happened to her inspired the family to get involved in organizations that helped mentally disabled people.
Author Kate Clifford Larson, intrigued by Rosemary’s brief obituary in 2005, set out to uncover the truth and impact of her life. Larson’s conversational style of writing makes Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter and easy read, despite disturbing details of the young woman’s life. Larson utilized resources that were previously unavailable to biographers, including a collection of Rose Kennedy’s diaries, letters, and scrapbooks at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. These sources help to present a fuller picture of the Kennedy family, for better and for worse.
[Review by TWJ contributor Jim.]
Montana: The Biography of Football’s Joe Cool
by Keith Dunnavant
Thomas Dunne Books, 2015
Joe Montana is one of the biggest name in sports, in the world. Ask a kid who follow’s Manchester United in Manchester England and he is still going to know who Joe Montana is. As a Bengals fan in early 1989, I remember watching Super Bowl 23 with my family and feeling the “pain” of a Joe Montana comeback leading the 49ers to a crushing Super Bowl win over my beloved Bengals. The Bengals have never been close again.
In Montana: The Biography of Football’s Joe Cool, you get to know the history and the behind the scenes stories of some of Joe’s biggest comebacks and victories. Keith Dunnavant does a great job of laying out the great history of Joe Montana without overdoing it with game by game details. He starts off with Joe as a child and takes you, year by year, through his great NFL career, concluding in Kansas City. I was especially interested in hearing the details of his battle on the field with his Hall of Fame backup in San Francisco, Steve Young. I especially enjoyed the details of his brief time with the Chiefs. Although he didn’t win a Super Bowl there, he showed that he was still a great quarterback able to win football games. It’s a great, easy read, you’ll have a hard time putting this one down.
Baseball Superstars 2015
by K.C. Kelley
I remember getting books like this as a kid through the Scholastic order forms that came home from school. I was a stat-head from the very beginning, but I also enjoyed reading about players’ performances that didn’t necessarily show up in the statistics, like Madison Bumgarner’s dominance during the World Series, and Mike Trout’s combination of power and speed. Thirteen baseball stars are given the full-page treatment in this book; in addition to Bumgarner and Trout, young fans can read about Miguel Cabrera, Yu Darvish, Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Gordon, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen, Yadier Molina, David Ortiz, Buster Posey, and Giancarlo Stanton. After those thirteen profiles, four more pitchers are highlighted at the end with a paragraph each under the header, “Throwing Heat!” They are Stephen Strasburg, Corey Kluber, Johnny Cueto, and Craig Kimbrel.
The book is written for younger fans of the game, without the in-depth analysis one might expect from more adult sources like ESPN or Sports Illustrated. Baseball Superstars 2015 gives readers a few paragraphs about the featured players, basic statistics and highlights, and a “history lesson,” reminding youngsters that there is a wealth of baseball history to learn. It’s a great book to encourage fandom in young readers.
Congratulations to J. Daniel, the winner of The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball by Charles Fountain! If you didn’t win, order a copy on Amazon today!
The Stephen King Companion
by George Beahm
Thomas Dunne Books, 2015
There are few modern authors whose names are immediately recognizable to such a broad audience as Stephen King. Widely considered the greatest horror writer of this generation, King’s novels are eagerly devoured by fans young and old, and the movies based on his books are always among the most anticipated. In The Stephen King Companion, George Beahm chronicles King’s life from his very early, pre-published years, all the way up to his most recent release, Revival. Before getting to King’s first published novel, Carrie, Beahm examines his family life, his early influences, his time as a student at the University of Maine, and his initial career as a teacher. While the meat of the volume is the review of King’s output as a writer, these early chapters give readers a fuller understanding of the horror master’s themes and influences.
Beahm leaves no stone unturned in this massive tome of Stephen King’s work. Every novel is cataloged, with plot synopses and critical reactions, along with the enduring legacy of the stories. While The Stephen King Companion’s focus is the literary output, Beahm does not ignore the screen adaptations of King’s writings. They are generally mentioned in passing, unless there is a juicy story attached to it (as in The Shining and King’s distaste for Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation); there are also about fifty pages are devoted to the “Screamplays” in part six of the book.
The Stephen King Companion was undoubtedly a labor of love for Beahm, and it stands as the definitive look at one of horror’s greatest writers. Fantastic illustrations by Michael Whelan and Glenn Chadbourne are included throughout, making it even more enjoyable. Stephen King and horror fiction fans will absolutely love The Stephen King Companion for it thorough treatment of “America’s best-love bogeyman.”
In The Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe: Classic Tales of Terror, 1816-1914 edited by Leslie S. Klinger (2015)
In The Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe: Classic Tales of Terror, 1816-1914
edited by Leslie S. Klinger
Pegasus Books, 2015
When one thinks of macabre short stories, Edgar Allan Poe is often the first author that comes to mind. His morbid ability makes him the most popular of the genre, and often others are forgotten. In The Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe is a collection of stories compiled by Leslie S. Klinger to remind fans of the genre that there are tales not penned by Poe, but worthy of attention.
Klinger writes in the introduction, “While a few of the stories have been widely anthologized, most have been lost in the shadow of Edgar Allan Poe.” He is well-studied in the fiction of the time period, having previously edited The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, The New Annotated Dracula, and The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft.
Two names in this anthology that are very familiar are Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes) and Bram Stoker (author of Dracula). Their stories included here are “The Leather Funnel” (Doyle) and “The Squaw” (Stoker). Other writers include M.R. James (who influenced H.P. Lovecraft and Neil Gaiman), Saki (also known as H.H. Munro), W.C. Morrow, and E.T.A. Hoffman. Each story is well-crafted, preceded by a brief biography of the author, and presented with footnotes where the edi-tor deemed necessary. In The Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe is an excellent collection that will darken any day, especially during the Halloween season.
Doctor Who: The Dangerous Book of Monsters (The Doctor’s Official Guide)
by Justin Richards
BBC Children’s Books, Published by the Penguin Group, 2015
The Doctor Who series has introduced some of the most creative and terrifying monsters to the world, and Justin Richards collects a good number of them in The Dangerous Book of Monsters. A brief description, basic data (such as origin, speed, size, and “dangerous rating), and survival tips are included with each entry, along with color photographs and sketches throughout. The book is colorful and engaging, and will keep those interested in fighting these monsters busy for hours, studying each species’ weakness just in case they attack. The Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, and Silents are all here, along with some lesser-celebrated baddies like the Foretold, Adipose, and Spoonheads.
Designed for children seven to eleven years old, The Dangerous Book of Monsters is an entertaining and attractive hardbound book. It ends with some sage advice from the time traveler from Gallifrey: “Do as I say. Always….Trust your instincts….Keep alert….If in doubt, hide….Failing that: run!” A great book for kids…and adults who refuse to grow up.
[Review by TWJ contributor Jim.]
Parcells: A Football Life
by Bill Parcells and Nunyo Demasio
Crown Archetype, 2014
Whether you follow football or not, you know the name Bill Parcells. He is a Hall of Fame coach with a big personality and was always good at providing a good audio clip when talking to the media. Wouldn’t it be interesting to get a behind the scenes look at this complex man and what makes him tick? You have your chance now, as you follow him from his upbringing in northern New Jersey to the day he was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame.
In Parcells: A Football Life, you will get a behind the scenes look of Duane “Bill” Parcells and his life and career in football. Stories like how standing up to a neighborhood bully as a child shaped his conviction to be confrontational, as it clears the air. You’ll also hear about his friendships with such men as Bob Knight, Jerry Jones, Leon Hess and many, many others. You’ll hear about a game early in the career of Knight, when he was coaching at Army, and as they were leaving, Parcells, there supporting his friend as a fan, punched out a fan trying to hit Knight. Then Knight and his team form a protective “bubble” around him as they leave the gym and the police looking for him. There are many many other good stories in this book, good luck trying to put it down!
The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball
by Charles Fountain
Oxford University Press, 2015
It is one of the most interesting—and tragic—stories in baseball history. The 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal, arguably the best team in baseball, should-be Hall of Famers involved in the nefarious activity of throwing games for profit. But not just any games. These were World Series (or world’s series) games, the ones that were to determine who was truly the best team of the year. The heavily favored White Sox squared off against the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 Series, but fell five games to three.
In The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball, author Charles Fountain examines the circumstances that led to one of the biggest fixes in sports history, one that saw several Chicago players banned for life due to their participation. Fountain’s research shows the complicity of not only the gamblers and players, but also the owners. Baseball survived the scandal and evolved, requiring integrity of all involved.
I was a little disappointed that Fountain did not discuss the possibility of the involvement of Reds players as well, though he does delve into Hal Chase’s alleged betting in 1918. His treatment of the White Sox, though, particularly Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver, is second-to-none. This is a phenomenal look into the history and environment of the 1919 World Series, one that baseball fans will never forget.
Would you like to win a free copy of The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball? Stay tuned for details on how you can win a copy from The Writer’s Journey!
Silver Screen Fiend
by Patton Oswalt
For four years, comedian/actor/author Patton Oswalt faced a serious addiction that affected both his work and social life. He was not addicted to alcohol or drugs, but to film. In his quest to become a director, and his belief that absorbing the works of others would help him achieve that goal, he watched hundreds of films (maybe thousands; I didn’t count, but he does include a list of every movie he viewed on the big screen, and it takes more than thirty pages to list them all). He finally realized, after four years, that he was not accomplishing anything toward his dream. The last movie he watched during his four-year binge was George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. His disgust at what he thought would be a great film, and the time he spent discussing it with his friends (who were also appalled at its underwhelming story), showed him that his time could have been better spent.
Oswalt still goes to the theater occasionally, but with a different mindset. He writes, “My love of watching movies has turned into a love of savoring them. And the flirtation with becoming a filmmaker abides, and has stayed fun.” This book must have been a cathartic experience for him, hashing out his shortcomings during this four-year stretch. He writes some about his standup, and a little about his time as a writer at MADtv, and briefly mentions his role on The King of Queens, but the focus of Silver Screen Fiend is his time spent at theaters such as the New Beverly.
Silver Screen Fiend is interesting and entertaining, but will be quickly forgotten. Some readers might relate to Oswalt’s obsession, and some might see some of his habits in their own lives as they Netflix themselves to death (because who can afford that many movies at the theater?), and perhaps it will encourage some of those who are waiting for the right moment to follow their dreams, to actually create the moment and follow them now. But for the most part, the book will be read, chuckled over, and placed on the bookshelf to be forgotten. Perhaps Joss Whedon said it best, “This is a book for anyone who strives to be great, or is bored in an airport.”
Writing Fantastic Fiction
by Jennifer Joline Anderson
There are countless books about writing on the market today. Each book addresses the subject in a slightly different way, but all ask the same general question: “How do you write a good story that keeps readers interested?” Jennifer Joline Anderson’s Writing Fantastic Fiction is no different in the question, but approaches it from a middle school grade level. This short book, only five chapters and 56 pages, offers simple suggestions to get your story started and develop an interesting plot, whether the aspiring author is shooting for a novel-length work or a short story.
Information boxes scattered throughout the book offer advice and examples of successful, published authors, new and old. Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, and Veronica Roth are a few of the authors featured. Writing Fantastic Fiction explains the differences in points of view, describes how to storyboard, and even advises how to find ideas for stories. It is a good starting place for a young person who wants to try his hand at writing, and can point them in the right direction as they begin.
Writing Fantastic Fiction is geared toward grades six through eight, but even older students and adults that are testing the waters may find some gems in this volume.
Little Miss and Mr. Me Me Me series
by Dan Zevin
Three Rivers Press, 2015
32 pages each
Growing up, I always looked forward to the Scholastic book order forms, and I would beg my mom to order more Mr. Men/Little Miss books. I loved those short little stories and simple illustrations, and the morals and manners they slyly taught were beneficial. They have been around for more than four decades, and have taught countless kids the proper way to act.
Now, there is a series for adults who did not experience the originals. The parody series, Little Miss and Mr. Me Me Me, features annoying adults that don’t have it all together, though they think they do. The first four books in the series and Mr. Selfie, Little Miss Basic, Mr. Humblebrag, and Little Miss Overshare. Four more books are scheduled for publication in March, 2016. I guarantee you know some of these people. Hopefully you, yourself, are not found in these pages.
These are books for a grown-up audience. There is no foul language, but some of the topics are risque and not appropriate for younger readers. After reading them, you may want to share with your ridiculous friends who emulate these very attributes, hoping they get the hint. But they probably won’t.
William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third by Ian Doescher (2015)
William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third
by Ian Doescher
Quirk Books, 2015
Ian Doescher’s adaptation of Star Wars’ episodes IV through VI into the Victorian language of William Shakespeare was a brilliant idea, and the execution was tremendous. When it came to the prequels, however, Doescher suffered from inferior source materials. Episodes I and II simply did not match the originals in quality, and the adaptations, while there were some clever twists, were not as enjoyable as the first three. Fortunately, The Revenge of the Sith was a return to form for Lucas and, subsequently, for Doescher.
William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge follows the events of the movie, replacing modern language with that of Shakespeare’s day and utilizing such devices as narration from “Rumor.” Doescher continues to employ rhyming quatrains for the lovers, Padme and Anakin, though the rhymes are imperfect as Anakin’s path to the dark side separates him from Padme’s love. Mention must be made of Nicolas Delort’s illustrations throughout the series, a perfect mixture of the futuristic looks of Star Wars with a touch of traditional English garb and culture.
Doescher has brought to fruition a fantastic idea, and this reviewer hopes he is able to continue this series with the new Star Wars films that begin releasing later this year.
My book Ironology 2015: The Iron Writer Challenge is now available on Amazon! Ok, it’s not technically “my” book. It’s an anthology of flash fiction, and one of my pieces, entitled “Red & White Stripes,” is included in it. So buy this book featuring my story (and about sixty others)!
Essential Horror Movies
by Michael Mallory
Universe Publishing, 2015
This is the time of the year that books about horror movies get more attention, with the leaves turning and the pumpkin spice flavoring everything and the greatest holiday of all right around the corner. Michael Mallory’s Essential Horror Movies looks like the book to get this year, measuring 9.4 x 12.4 and full of bloody details about the most important horror films in the world, from the Universal classics Dracula and Frankenstein to the more recent Scream and Friday The 13th. Mallory delivers a brief synopsis of each film or series, making mention of remakes and reboots, and reproducing iconic scenes from the silver screen.
Mallory also includes some interesting sidelines, spotlighting Japanese horror, the makeup artists, and made-for-television horror films. He will remind you of movies you had forgotten, that you need to watch again, and that you never knew existed. He wraps up with an article about the future of the genre, and a list of fifty additional films that all horror buffs should check out. Surprisingly, Creature From the Black Lagoon did not receive an entry into the “essential” or the “additional.” Aside from that, there is little to complain about in this impressive volume.
Baseball Immortal: Derek Jeter
by Danny Peary
Page Street Publishing, 2015
He was one of the most humble, yet most exciting players to watch over the past couple of decades. New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter redefined what a player could do under the pressure—and despite the constant attention—of the media in the Big Apple. Everything he accomplished was handled with poise and character, and he retired as one of the most respected players in the game. Looking through the pages of quotes by Jeter, and by others about Jeter, a reader can get a sense of what a special player he was going all the way back to high school.
Danny Peary’s collection of quotes does not bring much to light that was not already known. Despite being a highly private person, Jeter’s exploits on the field were widely reported. However, bringing all the information together into one place is an invaluable resource to fans of #2. Jeter’s family members, teammates, coaches, and opponents are all quoted in this extensive volume. Perhaps the best line comes from former Tampa Bay skipper Joe Maddon, who said, “They created the Hall of Fame for players like him. Never a doubt. Totally earned. He may be the first 100 percenter.”
Derek Jeter fans will treasure this book about one of the most loved figures in recent Yankees history.
The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray
by Robert Schnakenberg
Quirk Books, 2015
Bill Murray turns 65 years old today. He is one of the most beloved comedic actors of the past four decades, and his legend grows with each photobomb and impromptu kickball game. Robert Schnakenberg’s The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray, subtitled A Critical Appreciation of the World’s Finest Actor, examines the enigmatic entertainer’s professional career through all the ups (Ghostbusters) and downs (Where the Buffalo Roam). All of his film appearances are listed with an overall movie rating and a Bill Murray score to guide the diehard fan in what to watch first, and what to watch only if you have nothing else to do. There are also anecdotes (styled “Tales from Murrayland”) and tidbits about movies Murray didn’t appear in. For instance, Murray was apparently considered for the roles of Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Forrest Gump.
Obviously, in a book this size, there is a lot of information about what Murray did not do. He could have been Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, and Sully in Monsters, Inc., and the titular character in Shrek. But for one reason or another, he wasn’t. There are also several facts included in this book that seem extraneous, such as the fact that Murray does not find Adam Sandler funny, he doesn’t like e-mail, he prefers Mexican Coke, and he usually dressed up as either a hobo or a ghost for Halloween when he was a child.
Schnakenberg wraps up the book with some quotations by Bill Murray, and others about Bill Murray. Among the wise words of the Murricane is this gem on art: “It’s hard to be an artist. It’s hard to be anything. It’s hard to be.” Murray has done an excellent job of entertaining millions with his art, and Schnakenberg does a fine job capturing those moments in The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray.
The Game: Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball’s Power Brokers
by Jon Pessah
Little, Brown and Company, 2015
[Review by TWJ contributor Jim.]
As sports fans there is so much we see and then we draw conclusions based on what we observe. This book will show you all that you didn’t know. Centered on three men, Don Fehr, George Steinbrenner, and Allan “Bud” Selig, you learn how these three men played a big role in how the game of baseball is today, at least professionally. You will get a behind the scenes look at labor negotiations, the running of the Yankees empire and the egocentric, selfish ways of Major League baseball’s ninth Commissioner.
In The Game by Jon Pessah, readers get a unique inside view of how Selig and the owners forced out former Commissioner Fay Vincent until Selig decides to retire. Selig is a man obsessed with his own image and legacy and doesn’t care who gets in the way of improving his perceived image and legacy. Steinbrenner is ruthless and cut throat, but as you see how his life ended and how many of the men who worked and played for him adored him, your heart will soften towards him. Fehr is portrayed as the stubborn union leader who is ultimately and incorrectly blamed for baseball’s steroid problem. This book is an easy and entertaining read, good luck trying to put it down.