Category Archives: reviews

How He-Man Mastered the Universe by Brian C. Baer (2017)

HeMan Masters of the Universe

How He-Man Mastered the Universe
by Brian C. Baer
McFarland, 2017

The story of He-Man is well-known to children of the eighties, but author Brian C. Baer is able to dig even deeper into the beloved franchise in his recent book, How He-Man Mastered the Universe. Baer examines every aspect of the Masters of the Universe, from the toys to the cartoon to the movie to the reboots and more recent collectible action figure releases. The author looks at the groundwork laid for the success of He-Man by the marketing behind Star Wars, and the influence He-Man had on many subsequent pop culture franchises such as Transformers, G.I. Joe, and the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe.

What impressed me most about Baer’s book is the attention paid to the big screen adaption of the Eternian hero in 1987. The toys and original cartoon have been widely covered over the years, with little more than a passing mention to the live-action film. A good bulk of Baer’s book, however, is devoted to how He-Man was brought to life by Dolph Lundgren. He breaks down the movie with an in-depth review, discusses the financial woes that hamstrung the ending, and even includes conceptual drawings for He-Man, Man-at-Arms, Teela, Skeletor, and She-Ra, who unfortunately was written out of the script.

Baer also discusses the New Adventures of He-Man cartoon that aired in the early 1990s, the 21st century reboot by Mike Young Productions, and the new line of toys that came with that. Baer wraps up How He-Man Mastered the Universe with a look at what many of the film’s actors are doing today, as well as others who were involved with He-Man through the years.

How He-Man Mastered the Universe is a highly enjoyable book; children of the eighties and He-Fans in particular will love it.

Learn more about McFarland.

Purchase How He-Man Mastered the Universe by Brian C. Baer on Amazon or directly from the publisher at www.mcfarlandpub.com or via the order line at 800-253-2187.

The New York Times Story of the Yankees 1903-Present edited by Dave Anderson (2017)

Yankees

The New York Times Story of the Yankees 1903-Present
edited by Dave Anderson
Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2017

Regardless of your personal opinion of the New York Yankees, there can be no denying the rich history of one of baseball’s most storied franchises. In The New York Times Story of the Yankees 1903-Present, nearly 400 articles are presented for the reader to peruse, covering many of the most famous names in baseball history. Tales of their accomplishments on and off the diamond, battles with health, battles with each other, good times and bad times are all presented to present a baseball yet human narrative.

Major events such as Babe Ruth’s 60-homer season, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series, Billy Martin’s hiring and firing and hiring and firing ad nauseam can be found within these pages. Tributes to the greats like Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Casey Stengel at their passing are present. The reprinted articles span from September 1902 through December 2016, presenting as full a picture as a 542-page book will allow.

The casual baseball fan will recognize many of the stories presented here, and it is certainly interesting to read them in the context of when they happened, rather than decades later. The evolution of newspaper reporting and use of language is also clearly seen. For instance, an article from 1910 reporting Willie Keeler’s retirement called him “the most scientific of batsmen.” Such a turn of phrase may have sounded clever in the early twentieth century, but now seems quaint and antiquated.

The New York Times Story of the Yankees 1903-Present is a highly recommended anthology for fan of baseball’s history, especially the history of the New York Yankees.

Learn more about Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers.

Purchase The New York Times Story of the Yankees 1903-Present edited by Dave Anderson.

Baseball’s Best 1,000: Rankings of the Greatest Players of All Time (4th Revised Edition) by Derek Gentile (2017)

Baseballs Best 1,000

Baseball’s Best 1,000: Rankings of the Greatest Players of All Time (4th Revised Edition)
by Derek Gentile
Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2017

I love lists. Lists of great records, great books, great baseball players. Everyone has a top ten list. A few have a top 25 list. Some even have a top 100 list. Derek Gentile puts everyone else to shame with his list: Baseball’s Best 1,000: Rankings of the Greatest Players of All Time. This massive volume takes fanaticism to the extreme, not only figuring out who was the best, or who belonged in the top ten, but how the legends of the Negro Leagues like Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston should be rated, and where the likes of Jeff King, Lee Mazzilli, and Steve Kemp should be ranked in baseball’s long history.

Gentile’s list was initially published in 2004. He started with a list of about 20,000 players, then worked it down to 1,000. He instituted a ten-year rule, which left some players on the outside in 2004. A few of those who I believe should be considered among the top 1,000 of all-time have fallen through the cracks in the meantime. Current stars Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, and Justin Verlander are missing; the recently retired Prince Fielder, Roy Halladay, Scott Rolen, Johan Santana, and Alfonso Soriano are also absent. In addition, there are a handful of active or very recent players who are ranked a bit lower than I think they should be, such as Miguel Cabrera (#407), Ichiro Suzuki (#445), Jeff Kent (#534), Albert Pujols (#544), Joe Mauer (#930!!!). Perhaps they are in about the same place they were in the last edition, and Gentile simply did not update their rankings yet, or maybe this is how Gentile views them. This is, after all, his list. A few new names may appear in the next edition, as several players are approaching the 10-year mark in the majors, such as Johnny Cueto, Clayton Kershaw, Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, and Joey Votto.

In any case, Baseball’s Best 1,000 is a fantastic resource that may remind you of a few guys you have forgotten over the years, like Pedro Guerrero (#321), Don Slaught (#561), and Danny Tartabull (#721). Gentile also runs through a brief who’s who of the best managers, “pre-historic” players, female greats, Japanese stars, and even those who retired with a 1.000 batting average, having only batted once in the big leagues.

At 5.5 x 6.2 inches, the paperback book is small enough to carry with you to the ballpark so you can compare notes with your buddies while watching your favorite team play. You can argue about the rankings of some of the more unsavory characters in the game, or bemoan the fact that Bill Dahlen (#104) and Minnie Minoso (#105) are still not in the Hall of Fame, agreeing with Gentile’s accurate appraisal of their careers.

So who is the best of all-time, according to Derek Gentile? Is it “ The Say Hey Kid” Willie Mays? Or “The Sultan of Swat” Babe Ruth? How does “Hammerin’” Hank Aaron rate? Where is “The Big Train” Walter Johnson? You’ll have to get the book for yourself to find out. Baseball’s Best 1,000 is scheduled for an April 4 release.

Learn more about Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers.

Purchase Baseball’s Best 1,000 (4th Revised Edition) by Derek Gentile.

Star Wars: Topps Classic Sticker Book (2017)

Star Wars Sticker Book

Star Wars: Topps Classic Sticker Book
Abrams, 2017

After reviewing the series of Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Cards, it seems only natural to move on to the Star Wars: Topps Classic Sticker Book, also published by Abrams. While the Original series displayed all of the cards and stickers from the trading card sets for the original trilogy, Star Wars: Topps Classic Sticker Book is more than a display. These are actually stickers.

More than 250 stickers spanning the original trilogy and a handful from The Force Awakens, the book also contains five pull-out posters that can be used as backgrounds for the stickers. But on the flip-side of each poster is a reproduction of some of the original puzzles that could be created using the original sticker card backs.

Several of the stickers retain their original size, though some are shrunk down. In addition to several character stickers, featuring the main stars as well as fan favorites like Max Rebo, Grand Moff Tarkin, and Nein Nunb, the alphabet stickers from the 1980 Empire Strikes Back series are included.

Star Wars: Topps Classic Sticker Book is a blast from the past, and any Star Wars fan will get a kick out of seeing (and sticking) these stickers again.

Learn more about Abrams.

Purchase Star Wars: Topps Classic Sticker Book.

The Spark and the Grind: Ignite the Power of Disciplined Creativity by Erik Wahl (2017)

The Spark and the Grind Erik Wahl

The Spark and the Grind: Ignite the Power of Disciplined Creativity
by Erik Wahl
Portfolio, 2017

I have no doubt that Erik Wahl is a well-received and engaging speaker, though I have never heard him speak. He writes with confidence, and perhaps his thoughts are more polished and refined when limited to just enough time for a speech, rather than 200-plus pages. In this format, sadly, I found it difficult to grasp exactly what Wahl is trying to say, as he often rambles, contradicts himself, and stretches to make examples fit his chapter titles.

Many authors struggle with self-aggrandizement in their writing, relying too heavily on examples from their own lives. Wahl is the opposite, talking about himself briefly and offering no concrete examples on how his principles have affected his creative process. He speaks in broad strokes, making it difficult to understand how to utilize his advice.

After reading The Spark and the Grind, I struggled with what I could say about this book. I decided to peek at the reviews on Amazon, and to my amazement, there was only one negative review out of 69. Sixty-eight reviewers rated Wahl’s book with five stars, immediately raising a red flag about a book that was released only three weeks ago. While there are a few interesting but underdeveloped concepts found within, The Spark and the Grind is far from a five-star book.

Great speeches do not always translate well to the page, and perhaps that is the issue here. The dust jacket boasts that Wahl is “one of the most sought-after speakers on the corporate lecture circuit.” I have no reason to doubt that claim, but his writing certainly does not measure up to his reputation.

Learn more about Portfolio.

Purchase The Spark and the Grind by Erik Wahl.

Return of the Jedi: The Original Topps Trading Card Series (Volume Three) edited by Gary Gerani (2016)

ROTJ

Return of the Jedi: The Original Topps Trading Card Series (Volume Three)
edited by Gary Gerani
Abrams, 2016

The third installment of Abrams’ Star Wars trading card books focuses on the third (now sixth) movie in the franchise, Return of the Jedi. As with the first two books, product designer Gary Gerani recounts the process of reading the screenplay and selecting photos from LucasFilm’s library for use on the cards. It is clear from his writing that by the time they were readying this product for release, he had become quite a fan of George Lucas’ space opera.

Each Return of the Jedi Topps card is reproduced in this volume, with the front and back of each receiving its own page. This is a change from the Empire Strikes Back book, in which the horizontal cards were shown with the front and back on a single page. Gerani occasionally writes a sentence or two about specific cards, but for the most part they are allowed to stand on their own. As with the previous two volumes, bonus cards are again included with this third volume.

Return of the Jedi

I was not even ten years old when Return of the Jedi was originally released, and while I have a handful of the vintage cards from this series, I never came close to completing the entire set. To have all of the cards presented here in one volume, in a much more affordable format than tracking down the originals, is a fantastic way to relive my formative collecting years without breaking the bank.

Star Wars fans young and old will love all three Original Topps Trading Card Series books.

Learn more about Abrams.

Purchase Return of the Jedi: The Original Topps Trading Card Series (Volume Three) edited by Gary Gerani.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (2016)

Princess Diarist Carrie Fisher Star Wars

The Princess Diarist
by Carrie Fisher
Blue Rider Press, 2016

This book sat on my desk for over a month before I decided to finally open it. I purchased it after the author’s passing, and avoided any reviews or even descriptions of what was contained within these pages, other than that it contained the late Carrie Fisher’s found diaries, her “recollection of what happened behind the scenes on one of the most famous film sets of all time, the first Star Wars movie.” If you are not aware of the contents of The Princess Diarist, be warned: there are spoilers ahead. Go back now if you plan to read this book and don’t want to know anything about it (assuming you have not already read other reviews).

Want to continue? Read on… Read the rest of this entry

Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s by Jason Turbow (2017)

Dynasty, Bombastic, Fantastic Jason Turbow

Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s
by Jason Turbow
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic is the story of the Oakland A’s, a team stocked with some of the best players in baseball in the early 1970s. Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Dave Duncan, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers…they all played a key role in the team’s dominant run of three straight World Championships from 1972 through 1974. None was a bigger star—in his own mind, at least—than owner Charlie O. Finley. The businessman moved the A’s from Kansas City shortly after securing the team, and shrewdly managed his personnel until baseball’s labor laws broke down, causing an exodus of not only the A’s but many major league rosters in the late 1970s. Finley’s first major loss came when his star pitcher Hunter jumped ship, just a few years after the owner stood his ground against another young pitcher (and kept him, at the time).

But Hunter’s departure came later; from 1972-1974, nothing could stop the Oakland powerhouse. Their three-year reign saw them defeat the Cincinnati Reds, the New York Mets, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it was not all smooth sailing. Contract disputes, poor attendance, arguments over playing time, and Finley’s manipulation of players play a major role in by Jason Turbow’s historical account. The author freely admits that Finley, if living, “wouldn’t likely appreciate his portrayal here.”

Besides the verbal clashes with the front office, there were a number of physical fights in the clubhouse as well. Turbow says, “I detail the major dustups in the book, but omitted many others that didn’t fit into the narrative. I had a recurring experience during my interviews: Player says that it was all overblown and the team didn’t fight as much as the media made out; I recount to a player a litany of the most prominent skirmishes; player goes quiet, shakes head and grudgingly agrees that maybe there’s something to it after all.”

Dynastic. Bombastic, Fantastic is a great way to get your blood pumping for another great season of baseball.

Learn more about Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Purchase Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s by Jason Turbow.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Hidden Treasures by Adrian Besley (2017)

Monty Python

Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Hidden Treasures
by Adrian Besley
Abrams, 2017

British humor (or humour, if you prefer extraneous u’s in your words) does not always translate well when performed for American audiences. Even the venerable Monty Python struggled when they first came to the United States, despite their reputation across the pond. Adrian Besley’s Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Hidden Treasures is a fantastic retelling of the troupe’s history on the BBC, including the formation of the group and their eventual success in America, all the way through their successful reunions of recent years.

The Pythons write in the foreword, “Abrams, the publishers of what they feel is one of the most original and fascinating books ever produced by Monty Python, have asked us to let you all know that this is one of the most original and fascinating books ever produced by the Monty Python team.” A truer statement has never been uttered.

The real draw for this volume is the “removable memorabilia.” Included are pages of scripts, postcards, animation artwork, and posters. In all, there are 22 removable facsimiles of memorabilia from the Pythons’ archives. Throughout the book, the reader can also find QR codes which can be scanned to watch the sketches referenced throughout.

Monty Python fanatics will absolutely love Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Hidden Treasures and the memorabilia it includes. Highly recommended for fans of the irreverent British comedians.

Learn more about Abrams.

Purchase Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Hidden Treasures by Adrian Besley.

I Adulted! Stickers for Grown-Ups by Robb Pearlman (2017)

I ADULTED stickers

I Adulted! Stickers for Grown-Ups
by Robb Pearlman
Universe, 2017

When I was a kid in elementary school, I always looked forward to getting a sticker on my homework. “Super!” “Fantastic!” “Great Job!” Those stickers were often more important than the actual letter grade. As I grew older, those stickers appeared less frequently. In high school, they were gone altogether.

Now that I am an adult, I never get stickers anymore. There is no adhesive affirmation that I did “Awesome!” on any project at work, or that my ideas were “Incredible!” Outside motivation is not easy to find. That is what makes the 100 stickers included in Robb Pearlman‘s I Adulted! Stickers for Grown-Ups “Brilliant!”

There are stickers for a number of everyday adult accomplishments, and just because no one else noticed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pat yourself on the back. From “I Cooked for Myself!” to “I Ignored the Online Troll!”, I Adulted! Stickers for Grown-Ups is a fun collection with which you can memorialize the mundane. “I Put Money in the Bank!” “I Called my Elderly Relative!” “I Didn’t Tell my Boss Off!” These are just a few of the day-to-day deeds that deserve some recognition.

Just in case there is something you want to celebrate that is not included, there are eight blank stickers for you to write in whatever little thing you think was “Amazing!” Just about anyone who misses childhood will appreciate this book.

Learn more about Universe.

Purchase I Adulted! Stickers for Grown-Ups by Robb Pearlman.

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