Category Archives: books
There is no shortage of publications covering the British television show Doctor Who. Justin Richards, the creatie consultant to BBC Books’ range of Doctor Who titles, authored the 2014 release, Doctor Who: The Secret Lives of Monsters, examining some of the most popular baddies in the fictional universe.
While the layout leaves something to be desired, Richards’ treatment of the subject matter is top-notch, first looking at each creature as if they were real beings. Richards goes on to take a behind-the-scenes look at them, including the inspiration for them and showing photographs of actors behind the masks and props makers. The author also takes the reader on a trip through time and space by looking how each incarnation of the Doctor dealt with the monsters.
A collection of sixteen removable color prints of original artwork by concept artist Peter McKinstry is included inside an envelope in the back of the book, making this volume all the more enjoyable. Doctor Who fans will no doubt find The Secret Lives of Monsters informative and educational, especially when they come face-to-face with some of the most terrifying aliens in the universe.
He was one of the most respected presidents that has served this country, and countless books have been released to celebrate his eight years as the leader of the free world. This recent release from Thunder Bay Press, written by Randy Roberts and David Welky, is a brief but respectful overview of President Reagan’s life, including his career in film, governorship of California, and the presidency.
What sets this book apart from others, however, are the pieces of removable memorabilia included. Reprints of magazine covers, brochures, a ticket to the 1981 inauguration, and a “Reagan-Bush ‘84” bumper sticker are among the eleven pieces of removable memorabilia. Fans of the late President will cherish these mementos along with the commentary and photographs found throughout the volume.
NFL Confidential: True Confessions from the Gutter of Football
by Johnny Anonymous
Dey Street Books, 2016
Purportedly written by an offensive lineman who was thrust into the starting lineup, only to find his job yanked away from him when a veteran returned from injury, NFL Confidential is like peeking into a pro locker room through the eyes of a bitter, confused, arrogant backup player. “Johnny Anonymous” claims to hate the NFL and all the politics of the game, but when he finds himself taking snaps as a starter, he plays along just fine. He rediscovers his love for football, but continues to spew hatred toward the people that allow him to play.
The author mocks his teammates and his coaches, whines about the physical aspects of training camp and practice, and fantasizes about being cut so he can find something else to do with his life. This is not so much an exposé of the league as it the infantile rantings of an ungrateful athlete. He drops the “f-bomb” far too often to be taken seriously, and comes off as a fool who simply doesn’t realize how good he’s got it.
The copyright page states that the “book is not authorized, sponsored, or otherwise approved in any manner by the National Football League.” Certainly there are some harsh things said about the NFL within the pages, but it’s nothing I haven’t heard before. This is just the first time it has come from a player and not a journalist or superfan.
And who exactly is the author, “Johnny Anonymous”? The prevailing theory online seems to be David Molk, offensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles. Not all of the characteristics fit, but it must be remembered that “names, physical characteristics and other identifying details have been changed, and in some cases composite characters created, to protect the privacy and anonymity of the individuals involved.” It will certainly be interesting to see if Molk has a job next season, especially if it is revealed that he is the actual author.
There are a few parts of NFL Confidential that are somewhat interesting, but overall it felt like a chore to read and I felt wholly apathetic toward this poor rich man’s plight. If we could all be so unfortunate to make hundreds of thousands of dollars to do, as he proudly admits while begging for our sympathy, nothing.
Curious Goods: Behind the Scenes of Friday the 13th: The Series
by Alyse Wax
BearManor Media, 2016
Throughout the years, horror anthology programs have appeared on television. From The Twilight Zone to Chiller to Tales from the Crypt, there have been ample opportunities for fans of the macabre to enjoy the gory genre on the small screen. In the late 1980s, Paramount utilized the popularity of the Friday the 13th film series, using the name for a syndicated television show. Jason Voorhees was not a part of this show; cursed antiques were the central objects in this series. I remember staying up late to watch Friday the 13th: The Series, and loved every second of it. It has been years since I have seen the show, but still have vivid memories.
Alyse Wax’s new book, Curious Goods: Behind the Scenes of Friday the 13th the Series is a fantastic journey back to the antique shop with Micki and Ryan and their adventures of tracking down cursed objects. Wax gives an episode-by-episode breakdown for the entire three-season run of the show, along with quotes from the main actors, producers, writers, and directors. She also delves into John LeMay’s decision to leave the show after two seasons, the Don Wildmon controversy, and includes an interview with series creator and executive producer Frank Mancuso, Jr.
After reading this episode guide, I will definitely be revisiting Friday the 13th: The Series soon to see what I missed all those years ago while watching on my little grainy black-and-white television in my bedroom, long after I should have been asleep.
Beyond Bartman, Curses, & Goats: 108 Reasons It’s Been 108 Years
By Chris Neitzel
Windy City Publishers, 2015
It is difficult to imagine being a Cubs fan, disappointed year in and year out despite an immense amount of talent. I followed the Cubs briefly in the late 1980s and early 1990s thanks to daily coverage on WGN, and have visited Wrigley Field three times (so far). In 1989, I fell in love with the ballpark, and claimed the Cubs as my favorite team. It didn’t last long, as the Reds roared through the 1990 season and won the World Series. It was difficult to be in Cincinnati and not root for the Reds that year. Yet, I still have a special place in my heart for the lovable losers from Chicago.
Lifelong Cubs fan Chris Neitzel has released a new edition of Beyond Bartman, Curses & Goats to include the 2015 season and the heartbreaking National League Championship Series against the Mets. In this well-documented book, readers will learn about bad trades, daft drafts, and overwhelming competition. My personal favorite is “Reason 105: Hall of Fame Players, Hall of Fame Results…Not So Much,” and the curious coincidence of having so many great players with so little postseason success. From Ernie Banks and Billy Williams to Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg, the Cubs have boasted some of the greatest players in history, but do not have any recent World Series rings to show for it.
Neitzel hopes that the Cubs soon break their losing streak so that “further editions of this book will no longer be needed.” In the meantime, though, Cubs fans will get a kick out of his self-deprecating humor and solid research on the team everyone loves despite the losses.
I became a Chicago Cubs fan in 1989 when my dad took me to Wrigley Field. Rick Sutcliffe pitched that day against the Montreal Expos; Jerome Walton, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace all played. And my favorite baseball player at the time, Shawon Dunston, was the shortstop. The vibe of the ballpark, sitting in the bleachers, just the whole experience enthralled me. I rooted for the Cubs through the end of high school, but the strike of 1994 soured me on baseball in general. I have since come back to love the game for what it is, and root for the Cubs when they make the playoffs. The Reds are my #1 team, but the Cubs are a pretty close second.
The Cubs will always be one of the more popular teams in baseball, and as such, there are a lot of choices when it comes to Christmas gifts. Here are a few suggestions for the Cubs fan in your life.
- Beyond Bartman, Curses, & Goats: 108 Reasons It’s Been 108 Years by Chris Neitzel
- Wrigley Field: The Long Life and Contentious Times of the Friendly Confines by Stuart Shea
- The Cubs Fan’s Guide to Happiness by George Ellis
- Wrigley Field: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Chicago Cubs by Ira Berkow
- Essential Games of the Chicago Cubs DVD set
Most people don’t think of horror during the Christmas season, but for the true horror nut the genre is a year-round obsession. If you have someone on your to-buy-for list that thinks Halloween should be a month-long holiday rather than one day, here are some suggestions.
- The Stephen King Compainion by George Beahm
- Stephen King novels (classics like The Shining, It, Pet Sematary; newer titles such as Revival, 11/22/63)
- In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe: Classic Tales of Terror, 1816-1914
- Essential Horror Movies by Michael Mallory
- Pumpkin Cinema by Nathaniel Tolle
- Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany by Jovanka Vuckovic
Superman made his debut in Action Comics in the 1930s, but superheroes existed long before that. Author Chris Gavaler argues that superhero mythology has existed as long as the universe, which he asserts is billions of years old. Gavaler starts with the Big Bang Theory, then examines different historical figures as well as fictional characters to establish his premise. If you can overlook Gavaler’s belief in the big bang and an old earth, this is an interesting examination of the basis of the modern superhero.
The book is a somewhat scholarly read, not for the easily bored or distracted. Some of Gavaler’s references and comparisons can be confusing, and the reader may have to reread several paragraphs to grasp exactly what is being said at times. I would not recommend it to younger comic book fans, but perhaps college age readers with a recent familiarity of world history would enjoy it.
A Just and Generous Nation: Abraham Lincoln and the Fight for American Opportunity by Harold Holzer and Norton Garfinkle (2015)
A Just and Generous Nation: Abraham Lincoln
and the Fight for American Opportunity
by Harold Holzer and Norton Garfinkle
Basic Books, 2015
There are few Americans that would argue against Abraham Lincoln’s place among the greatest Presidents in United States history. His brave yet humble leadership stabilized the union in the midst of its most dangerous trial, the Civil War. The result of that conflict, the freeing of the slaves, has been heralded as his crowning achievement. Yet there are some who claim the emancipation of the slaves was of secondary importance of the conflict.
Authors Harold Holzer and Norton Garfinkle make the claim in A Just and Generous Nation that Lincoln’s impetus for war was economic rather than moral. There is no doubt that economics concerns were important to the sixteenth president, as they have been important to every other man who has held the office. The authors write, “More than any other president, Lincoln is the father of the American Dream that all Americans should have the opportunity through hard work to build a comfortable middle-class life.” That statement is not controversial, and even their assertion that economics played a larger role in the Civil War than slavery is not without merit, but the conclusions drawn from those assertions smack of partisanship.
The first half of the book is a good overview of Lincoln’s ascendancy to the highest office in the land, and speaks to his own “hard work.” He had nothing handed to him; he was responsible for doing what was needed to achieve success in his own life. The second half of the book, however, begins to assign blame for later economic hardships to partisan politics and particularly Republican leaders (Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Reagan, and the younger Bush), set against the “American Dream of successful middle-class society” presidents (Wilson, both Roosevelts, Johnson, Clinton, and Obama). The authors then turn around and state all too truthfully, “Politicians of both parties typically spend more time raising money for their political campaigns than working on legislation or governing.”
Certainly Lincoln was a shrewd politician that pushed for legislation that would eventually eradicate slavery, with or without the Civil War. I am not sure that I would assign the immorality of slavery to a lower rung of importance as the authors did, but they do make a compelling case.
A Just and Generous Nation starts strong and is interesting in its theory of Lincoln’s economic interests. History buffs may enjoy the read, though it is doubtful to shed much new light or change the minds of those who have grown to admire and emulate the Great Emancipator.
Baseball is the one sport whose history is every bit as important as what is happening on the field. The record books are held in reverence, and the heroes of the past loom over the stars of today. With that in mind, here are some fantastic books that the baseball fanatic in your life will love.
- The League of Outsider Baseball: An Illustrated History of Baseball’s Forgotten Heroes by Gary Cieradkowski – This is at the top of the list for a reason. If you buy no other book for your baseball fan this holiday season, but this one. From the excellent illustrations to the entertaining articles, baseball fans the world over will absolutely love The League of Outsider Baseball. This is the most important and highest recommended book on this list.
- Pudge: The Biography of Carlton Fisk by Doug Wilson – Wilson has made a name for himself with some fantastic baseball biographies; his work on the life of Carlton Fisk is his most recent. Baseball fans will also enjoy Wilson’s The Bird (biography of Mark Fidrych) and Brooks (biography of Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson).
- 101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out by Josh Pahigian – A good list of baseball meccas to help you plan your summer vacation.
- Baseball Myths: Debating, Debunking, and Disproving Tales from the Diamond by Bill Deane – A fun read with shorter articles that examine several legendary tales from the diamond. Stories about Derek Jeter, Pete Rose, and Babe Ruth are included.
- Tony Oliva: The Life and Times of a Minnesota Twins Legend by Thom Henninger – Tony Oliva is one of the most popular players in Minnesota history, and Henninger’s look at his life shows why.
Not everyone likes to read. I get that. Well, maybe I don’t get that, but I am aware of that fact at least. So here are some other ideas for the baseball fan on your list.
- OYO Sports Figures and Playsets – This LEGO-like toy is a great gift if you know your fan’s favorite player.
- Super Stadium Baseball Game – Kids (and kids at heart) can have hours of fun with this game.
- The Baseball Card Game by TDC Games – Not as involved as Super Stadium, but a fun way to pass the time.
- Classic Board Game – A great trivia game from the early 1990s, including 100 baseball trading cards.
- Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns – Ten DVDs chronicling the history of the national pastime. Originally aired on PBS in 1994; updated in 2010.
Be careful when you tell someone they must do something; that demanding language often backfires. The premise of 1001 TV Shows You Must Watch Before You Die is a good one, chronicling many of the culturally significant programs that have appeared across the world. There are many obvious choices, from The A-Team to Zorro, but the omissions are sometimes more significant.
How anyone could include Keeping Up with the Kardashians rather than Family Ties is a mystery. Other shows missing include Growing Pains, Home Improvement, and One Day at a Time. It is nice to see some shows that I had forgotten, like Alien Nation, and I was happy to see that The Dukes of Hazzard made the cut despite the inane political correctness that is sweeping the earth these days.
Make no mistake, 1001 TV Shows You Must Watch Before You Die is a good book with solid write-ups, but it is dangerously misnamed.
Writing and drawing for comic books is a true art form, and the skills needed to succeed are much different than what a short story writer or novelist might utilize. Here are some books to help those who are exploring their talents in the comic art form.
- Words For Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis
- Creating Graphic Novels by Sarah Beach
- Mastering Comics by Jessica Abel & Matt Madden
- The Art of Comic Book Writing by Mark Kneece
- Foundations in Comic Book Art by John Paul Lowe
- How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Most writers who dream of working in comics love to read them as well, so they may also enjoy the books below.
There are innumerable books on the market targeted toward aspiring authors. Some are more worthwhile than others. Here is a short list of some books that writers might find useful.
- Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents
- Editor-Proof Your Writing by Don McNair
- The Writer’s Devotional by Amy Peters
- Fast Fiction by Denise Jaden
- 500 Words You Should Know by Caroline Taggart
While those books can be very beneficial, there are three that are indispensable. Find out if the books listed below are on your friend’s bookshelf, and if not, you have a perfect Christmas gift.
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
- The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler
- Roget’s Thesaurus or The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus
Tomorrow: ideas for an aspiring comic book writer and/or artist.
One of the best catchers to ever play the game, Carlton Fisk never backed down when facing an opponent on the diamond or in the front office. He hit one of the most legendary home runs in World Series history in 1975, but is also remembered for butting heads with ownership in both Boston and Chicago when he felt he was being treated unfairly. Opponents on the field also faced the wrath of Fisk if he felt they were not respecting the game—just ask Deion Sanders (or read chapter 17 in this book).
Author Doug Wilson has made a name for himself with some excellent baseball biographies on Brooks Robinson (Brooks, 2014) and Mark Fidrych (The Bird, 2013), and Pudge: The Biography of Carlton Fisk is no exception. Wilson spends a good four chapters on the catcher’s early life, from his boyhood through the minor leagues, before arriving in Boston in chapter 5. Several chapters are devoted to a single season apiece, with special attention paid to Game Six in 1975, Fisk’s departure from Boston prior to the 1981 season, and the collusion battles of the mid-1980s. Wilson’s conversational style makes reading a joy, and he succinctly explains difficult and complex topics with ease.
Pudge: The Biography of Carlton Fisk is an entertaining read (just as Wilson’s prior books), highly recommended to baseball fans.
Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume One introduction and commentary by Gary Gerani (1977)
Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume One
introduction and commentary by Gary Gerani
Abrams ComicArts, 2015
These books that reproduce the original Topps trading cards are priceless, especially when the subject matter is Star Wars. In 1977 and 1978, Topps produced five series of cards to promote the movie, 330 cards in all. Topps employee Gary Gerani gives a fantastic behind-the-scenes look at the concept and production of the trading cards in the introduction, and provides commentary throughout the book for various cards.
I have seen several of these cards, and own a handful, but having the entire set available in one place is a real treat. I especially love the behind-the-scenes cards that were produced as a part of the fifth series in 1978. In addition to all of the cards, the art from the wrappers and stickers are also reproduced here, as well as a special section at the end featuring the 16 non-Topps cards that were included as giveaways with Wonder Bread in 1977.
Purchasers of the hard copy of the book also get four special bonus cards taped inside the back cover. All in all, Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume One is a wonderful look back at a simpler time of collecting.
Rock Chronicles (Second Edition)
edited by David Roberts
Firefly Books, 2015
This massive volume covers 250 of rock’s biggest and most influential artists, from Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry to Bruce Springsteen and Jimi Hendrix to Muse and System of a Down. Classic rock, folk, metal, progressive, country rock, and experimental, David Roberts and his team of collaborators attempt to cover every important subgenre under the rock umbrella. Some bands were omitted because of space limitations (you won’t find Joan Jett, Lita Ford, or the Runaways anywhere in the book), and there are some questionable choices as well (Extreme is included, rather than Poison or Quiet Riot), but in general this is an excellent collection of information.
Photographs of all major band members appear at the top of an artist’s entry; a timeline of their tenure can be found at the bottom. Each artists’ four best-selling albums are noted at the top, while each major studio release is included in the timeline at the bottom. The articles are top-notch, providing an overview of each band’s career and major highlights, as well as some interesting trivia along the way.
Rock fans will spend hours reading Rock Chronicles, looking up the bands they have never heard of and rediscovering others they have forgotten.
Van Halen Rising
by Greg Renoff
ECW Press, 2015
One of the greatest American hard rock bands, Van Halen’s showmanship and musicianship is unparalleled. In Van Halen Rising, author Greg Renoff travels back to the time before Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” inspired countless young men and women to pick up guitars and start shredding, to the early days of the Van Halen brothers and David Lee Roth in California. A band that was written off as having no commercial potential, they were, as the subtitle proclaims, the “southern California backyard party band that saved heavy metal.”
A meticulously researched book, Renoff quotes childhood friends of the band members who were able to recall those early days and describe the parties, and, more importantly, the music. Renoff examines the influence of bands like Ten Years After and Cactus on Eddie and Alex, the impact of various cultures on Roth, and how they were able to merge those different styles into a popular style all their own.
Such an extensive look at a band’s pre-fame days is rare. Renoff does a phenomenal job, and Van Halen fans all over the world will savor every word of Van Halen Rising.
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).