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.
Who’s 50: The 50 Doctor Who Stories To Watch Before You Die
by Graeme Burk & Robert Smith?
ECW Press, 2013
Doctor Who is an institution, a television program that transcends television. Its immense popularity increases with each regeneration, but at fifty years old it is a daunting task to immerse one’s self into the entirety of the universe. Authors Graeme Burk and Robert Smith? seek to help the newcomers to Doctor Who lore in Who’s 50: The 50 Doctor Who Stories To Watch Before You Die. With so many of these stories available on DVD (check your local library) or Netflix, it’s quite simple to catch up on the most important events of the Doctor’s television run.
Though the front cover only shows silhouettes of Tom Baker, David Tennant, and Matt Smith, all of the incarnations of the Doctor are represented in the book. Burk and Smith? examine each of these stories with a critical eye that a true fan should appreciate. They do not hide their love for the characters, yet are not afraid to point out shortcomings in the writing or acting in particular episodes. This is a book written for fans by fans, and the passion of the authors is evident.
An important volume for fans of both the classic and the new series, if you want an in-depth discussion of Doctor Who episodes throughout the decades, Who’s 50 is definitely your go-to guide.
Heart of a Tiger: Growing up with My Grandfather, Ty Cobb
by Herschel Cobb
ECW Press, 2013
Baseball fans know Ty Cobb as a hard-nosed, mean-spirited icon of the game. The tales of his exploits, both on the baseball diamond and off the field, are nothing short of legendary. He held numerous records for decades, and is highly regarded for his baseball ability. But to his grandchildren, he was just “Grandaddy.”
Herschel Cobb delivers a different perspective of his grandfather in Heart of a Tiger, recounting several summers which he spent with an old man who happened to be a baseball legend. Herschel had a rough home life; his father (Ty’s son) was emotionally and physically abusive, and his mother was an alcoholic. But Ty was a sensitive, caring man who showed an enormous amount of love for his grandchildren.
Cobb went to great lengths to shield Herschel and his other grandchildren from his fame; the author was twelve years old before he discovered how great Ty had been. The two shared a special relationship, teaching the young Cobb how to trust an adult again after his father had shattered that ability. This is a sensitive, heart-warming memoir that will bring a smile to the reader’s face.
Who Is The Doctor:
The Unofficial Guide To Doctor Who – The New Series
by Graeme Burk & Robert Smith?
ECW Press, 2012
“We are here today because Doctor Who is the greatest show on television. We really mean this, by the way. That’s not hyperbole.” Thus begins the unofficial episode guide written by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith? (the question mark is a part of his name). Covering every episode of Doctor Who beginning in 2005, including the mini-episodes and animated specials, Who Is The Doctor is a must-have for any fan of the BBC’s rebooted science fiction series.
Burk and Smith? do a fantastic job covering the series and the performers. Written from a fan’s perspective with a great deal of levity, Who Is The Doctor is a fun read, but not suggested for those who have not yet watched the series. After all, it’s an episode guide, taking you from the first episode of the reboot, “Rose,” to the last episode of the sixth season, “The Wedding of River Song.” The authors point out holes in the story, things that the casual viewer may not notice until it is pointed out, but they also praise the good points of each tale. They are unabashed fans of the current Doctor, portrayed by Matt Smith, and heap enormous amounts of praise upon him for his work in the role.
The book itself has rightly received praise from such genre heroes as author Neil Gaiman and Doctor Who writer Robert Shearman. Anyone who is a fan of the television program starring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Billie Piper, Freema Agyeman, and Karen Gillan will enjoy and learn from Who Is The Doctor.