Goodreads Reviews

108 Stitches: Loose Threads, Ripping Yarns, and the Darndest Characters from My Time in the Game108 Stitches: Loose Threads, Ripping Yarns, and the Darndest Characters from My Time in the Game by Ron Darling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m surprised to say that my first reaction to reading this collection of anecdotes was that Ron Darling is profane. I am so used to his mannered, intellectual analysis of baseball that the street language threw me.

This is not his first book so instead of a career memoir, this is a loosely organized review of people he’s known one way or another as a result of baseball. His career in the majors and the broadcast booth has exposed him to a variety of players, coaches, and managers, giving him an interesting perspective.

Some of these are interesting, some revelatory, and some amusing. My favorite may be the tale of Don Zimmer, one of my favorites, but no doubt readers will pick their own.

The book is coauthored with my old fantasy baseball league pal Dan Paisner, who no doubt helped polish some of these. This is a book for not just Mets fans but those who love the game and want some inside scoop on the key figures from the last 40 years.

View all my reviews Simple Dreams: A Musical MemoirSimple Dreams: A Musical Memoir by Linda Ronstadt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While a slight memoir, I actually found it fascinating to hear her thoughts on music, her singing, and the rock business. Her impressive career defies definition because she refused to let one genre define her.

She clearly has deep roots in music and a strong familial connection where music was an everyday aspect of their lives, as opposed to today when everyone tunes in on their own, robbing families of the shared experience.

She is focused on her professional career so it’s a little hard to track her romances and her children. I believe the first time she mentions her son, he’s already 10 or 12. While she discusses John David Souther, Pete Hamill, and Jerry Brown, she totally ignores George Lucas.

The book needs supplemental material easily found in Ron Brownstein’s 1974 book or the recent documentary.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A SortabiographyAlways Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eric Idle has always been seen as the one member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus who continues to revisit the troupe and their material. On the surface, it strikes one as clutching on to past glory when instead, it’s clear in this autobiography that he really is its caretaker. He doesn’t act with the others’ consent and always involves them so each project has their blessing (and occasional contribution).

But Idle proves to be more than just that, an inventive actor/singer/writer/director/comedian, he has run the gamut since his college days. Looking back, he is somewhat startled by being part of a generation that blossomed in the aftermath of World War II. He recognizes how blessed he has been to work with and befriend such a stellar array of performers and creators.

The narrative could have used some shaping along with some introspection in parts. Things such as his first marriage, relationship with his son, and his drinking get glossed over and while his daughter, from his enduring second marriage, is mentioned a lot, we don’t get a real sense of their connection either.

He narrates his own story for the audiobook which enhances the entire experience. He is appropriately somber when he discussed the death of his dear friend George Harrison as well as the suicide of Robin Williams. But otherwise, he’s cheeky and engaging.

If you enjoy Python or his other works, by all means, give this a listen.

View all my reviews Half of a Yellow SunHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I use Adichie’s TED Talk about the “Dangers of a Single Story” but have never read her work. This happened to be a selection of my alumni book club but I couldn’t keep up. Recently, I started over again and was captivated by the narrative of a group of people caught up in the disastrous civil conflict that briefly led to the nation of Biafra. Drawn from research and first-hand accounts, Adichie creates a rich cast of characters centering around twin sisters, one who follows her heart and marries an academic revel while the other runs the family business and takes up with a visiting white man who effectively goes native.

As Biafra declares independence, all seems swell, but chapter by chapter, we see the struggles, ineffective leadership, and widespread famine that took so many lives. Fortunes turn to dust, dwellings go from palatial homes to a single room in a crumbling building. Ugwu, the houseboy, winds up getting conscripted and has his own harrowing experiences.

Her writing is rich, the scenarios gripping. You feel for these people and their plight, the consequences of their choices.

Well worth the time.

View all my reviews A Thousand ShipsA Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Trojan War told from the women’s point of view is all the rage thanks to Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles and Circe and now this book. Here, Haynes traces the twenty year conflict from multiple perspectives, with each chapter a different narrative as the war progressed. As a result, we learn of their stories, their heartaches, their longing, their eternal waiting, and enduring sorrow.

The muse Calliope is scattered throughout, a temperamental narrator, urging her poet to really listen to her words, getting frustrated when he won’t tell the women’s side of things, insisting she’ll find someone who will. Less effective are Penelope’s letters to Odysseus as she merely recounts his own exploits to him, although, with every successive chapter, her letters grow snarkier and more personal as her wait for him grows from months to years to decades.

This is a good, solid read although lacks the sparkle in the narrative I found in Miller’s works. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Haynes herself, and suspect she did her prose a disservice with a relatively flat reading (except for Penelope and Calliope, interestingly enough.

View all my reviews Secret IdentitySecret Identity by Alex Segura
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alex puts his affection for and experiences with comics on full display in this engaging mystery. Carmen Valdez is that rare person: a female comics fan who is working in the business. Yes, it’s at the bottom-of-the-barrel Triumph Comics in 1975, one of the lowest points in the history of the field, but it’s her dream come true. It gets better when she brings her hopes and dreams to a collaboration with editor Harvey Stern, giving birth to The Legendary Lynx.

When Stern winds up dead, and the police can’t find the murderer, Carmen takes it on her to unravel the mystery, biting off more than she could imagine.

Alex, a former colleague at DC Comics, brings this era to life with nice details, making Triumph feel like a true part of the industry in those days. He adds colorful details and characters while slowly unspooling the mystery.

A solid mystery for fans of the genre and a fun story for comic book afficiandos.

View all my reviews The Guest ListThe Guest List by Lucy Foley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A murder mystery told from, more or less, five points of view, this story of a wedding on a remote Irish island is an interesting character study. Everyone arrives harbors secrets, grudges, hopes, and desires. Everyone is there to celebrate the wedding of glam gal Jules to her rising TV star partner Will. His bridal party consists of his old pals from private school while she has her best mate Charlie and half-sister Olivia on her side.

The majority of the story is told the day before the wedding and then the day itself, intercut with a third-person narration recounting that evening when a body has been found and we’re left wondering who it is and who committed the crime.

Many of the characters feel like types and not fully fleshed out characters. And when we get to the victim, too many threads to lead to this character which is beyond belief, undercutting the story’s power.

The relationship between Olivia and Hannah, the plus one narrator, was the most interesting in the novel and is never completed.

This is good summer reading but a tad too lightweight for me.

View all my reviews Daisy Jones & The SixDaisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was quite the buzzy book last year and I was tempted to read it but never got around to it. When it was our Faculty Summer Book Club selection, I was pleased.

I didn’t anticipate blowing through it in two days, totally captivated by the story and narrative. An oral history of the fictitious group Daisy Jones & The Six, we find out how they came together, began to perform, and caught the right moment to gain attention. At the same time, Daisy Jones, daughter of wealthy, absent parents, was the It Girl of a generation, talented and self-destructive. But, when she and lead singer/writer Billy Dunne begin collaborating, magic happens propelling them to the top of the pops.

But of course, it’s never easy and we see the demons each member of the band carries. And looking back forty years later, their are contradictions, self-delusions, faded memories, and old issues raised.

Their story doesn’t really connect them to their contemporaries so we don’t really understand where they fit in the major trends that marked the 1970s (Soft Rock, Heavy Metal, Disco, and Punk). This would have helped, I think.

Also, Reid brings all the varying threads to a simultaneous, too-good-to-be-true climax that falls for literary tropes as opposed to something more realistic. She then follows up with, what for me were two emotional blows that really increased my appreciation for the story.

While Daisy and Billy are meant to be center stage, to me, his wife Camila is the most interesting, original character in the book and her story helped round things out tremendously.

A fine, entertaining read.

View all my reviews Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky, #1)Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wavered between four and five stars because Roanhorse made me fall in love with the world and her characters but abruptly ended the novel, with the second volume not out until April 2022.

I read this first because it was a Hugo nominee and I am trying to be an informed voter, but it also earned a rave from my wife.

I found the characters, the mythology, and the conflicting forces fascinating. And as the novel progressed, I was torn between really wanting to luxuriate for some time in the world and really wanting this be that rare creature, a done-in-one novel.

A very good read.

View all my reviews AfterlifeAfterlife by Julia Alvarez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again, Julia Alvarez depicts the intertwined lives of four sisters, just as she did in the wonderful In the Time of the Butterflies. Here, the sisters are seniors and the eldest, Izzy, is displaying classic signs of being bipolar, culminating in her nine days absence as she is driving to join the others for a birthday party.

Second sister Antonia is the focal point of the novel, chronicling the year after her second husband has died. She’s grieving, trying to figure out what comes next when an undocumented 17-year-old, Estella, winds up hiding in her garage because the love of her life cannot abide her arrival, carrying another man’s child.

Between Estella and Izzy, Antonia is pulled along with equal tugs on her heart. Her navigating these demands and her emotional journey form the core of this thin novel. It takes a little time to engage you and the other two sisters are woefully underdeveloped as characters. This cold have used some space to breath, to fill in gaps, but Alvarez chose this and for the most part it works just fine.

View all my reviews PiranesiPiranesi by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, so I was predisposed to like this new, far shorter novel.

What I didn’t expect was something so different. We have an otherplace and our narrator, Piranesi writing detailed journal entries about his experiences in the marble labyrinth, his only consistent company the albatrosses and various birds. He’s visited twice a week by The Other, who seems less interested in understanding the layout and nature of The House, as Piranesi calls it, than other matters.

Bit by bit, we gain insight into what has happened, who was involved, and in a somewhat lyrical way, Clarke takes us into the mind of a man changed, arguably for the better. I had some guesses proven wrong and was consistently surprised as things unfolded.

I read this as an audiobook and I have to give credit to narrator Chiwetel Ejiofor for a superb job.

View all my reviews Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey by Jane Austen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am clearly not the audience for this book, but I dutifully listened to it via the excellent CraftLit podcast. Thank goodness I did since host Heather Ordover walked me and the other listeners through how Austen’s work was a satire of the gothic novel among other things.

I found myself zoning out here and there as it felt like nothing was happening until the end of the chapters when Ordover goes back in and points out subtleties and shifts of tone, characterization, etc. Without her guidance, I would have been bored out of my mind.

This is a lighter weight work compared to her other, better know, novels but still does a fine job spotlighting society, the kind who vacation in Bath for the season.

View all my reviews The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2)The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The middle chunk of a book is never easy, but here, J.R.R. Tolkien doesn’t tread water but, instead, expands on the world of Middle Earth, its players, and its history. Book Three moves things along nicely with the remnants of the Fellowship. We, of course, meet Treebeard and the Ents, which provides a nice spotlight on Merry and Pippin.

Book four takes a darker turn as Frodo, Sam, and Gollum skirt the edges of Mordor. We have treachery and deceit, the appearance of Shelob, and a fine look into Sam’s character. Similarly, the internal debate between Sméagol and Gollum is wonderful.

When published as a standalone volume, it is very dark and dispiriting for the characters, but there’s plenty here to make the reader want to see how it all ends.

Masterful plotting and storytelling.

View all my reviews Swords and Deviltry (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #1)Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When DC announced it was adapting Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, I rushed out and bought the first paperback collections of the stories. Maybe I read the first volume, but nearly 50 years later, I have no recollection. I saw something about the series recently, which reminded me I have always meant to read these.

Finally, I have finished book one and was very entertained. Unlike the traditional barbarians, these are two young swordsmen in a unique realm, who bring different experiences and backgrounds to their partnership which mixes drama, humor, adventure, and sorcery in equal doses.

The book collects three short stories originally published in Fantastic (April 1970), Fantastic Stories of Imagination (October 1962), and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (April 1970). Each gets a solo tale while, “Ill Met in Lankhmar”, where they meet, won both the Nebula Award in 1970 and the Hugo Award in 1971.

Recommended and I look forward to the next one.

View all my reviews Leonardo da VinciLeonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoy Walter Isaacson’s clear writing along with his in-depth research, placing events in a fine context. This book is no different and while I knew Leonardo was a genius, I never knew the full scope of his accomplishments.

We get his life story along with his interactions with so many key figures of the 15th century Renaissance, combinations I never knew about such as his friendship with Machiavelli. What is made clear here is that Leonardo’s insatiable curiosity and patience in research resulted in theories and concepts that, had they been published, would have made him the most accomplished artist and scientist perhaps in history. While many of his mechanical devices didn’t actually work, his study of the human body was decades ahead of others including a theory about the heart that wasn’t proven accurate until the late 20th century.

The book is printed on heavy paper, an ideal way to present the 100+ illustrations to illuminate the text.

I highly recommend this one.

View all my reviews Baseball 100: A Celebration of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All TimeBaseball 100: A Celebration of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time by Nel Yomtov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was delighted to see two former colleagues and fellow baseball fans Kickstart this book because I knew it would be a true labor of love.

Books like this will always spark debate but I will say this, it would take a lot of in-depth research to rebut their choices. And to the armchair analysts, they provide 25 runners-up to fuel hot stove debating.

Nel Yomtov concisely recounts why each player made their 100 while Mark Chiarello captures the essence of each athlete. His impressionistic style conveys their majesty, power, grace, and authority. They nicely blend the best from the Major Leagues and the Negro League (and the negro Leaguers had the best nicknames), something missing from many previous versions of this list.

As with any book of this nature, the list is a snapshot in 2020 when they produced this as the current crop of players make their mark, vying for a place on the list (I’m looking at you Jacob deGrom).

Printed on heavy paper to capture the artwork, this is an excellent book and worth being on any baseball fan’s library shelf.

View all my reviews Morning Star (Red Rising Trilogy, #3)Morning Star by Pierce Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story sprawls and requires lots more pages, but it does allow Brown the luxury of letting the characters have moments where they actually speak with one another, reflect on their actions and options. As a result, this final volume in what is now the first trilogy is a satisfying conclusion.

If anything, the focus on the core characters means they seem impossibly invincible, escaping near death time and again, especially Cassius and Aja. New allies arrive and new alliances formed and the solar system is remade, hopefully for the better.

Brown may overwrite some of the interior monologues and repeat themes and observations, but he has a compelling style that keeps you reading along with a meticulously plotted saga. There was, I admit, one plot point late in the book that felt incredibly wrong and I let it annoy me until it was explained and all was well with the world again.

Do I need the next trilogy? My daughter says yes. Things end very nicely here so I may give this universe a rest before making a return visit.

View all my reviews True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan LeeTrue Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always thought myself in the minority regarding the opinion that Stan Lee’s creativity ended when he became Marvel’s publisher in 1970. Thankfully, I have learned I am not alone with no biography addressing this as pointedly as Abraham Riesman does in this fascinating biography.

There is no question Riesman has an agenda, which seems to be debunking the Stan Lee Myth. We may argue he goes too far in stripping Stan of his creative contributions to the Marvel Universe, but it may be a result of trying to balance the scales in a debate that will never end since most of the primary sources are no longer with us.

Riesman does a nice job on the early years, right up to Lee going into World War II. But the post-war period, through FF #1 needed more. First of all, many co-workers always said he was an excellent art director and developed a good commercial sense. Al Jaffe recounted on time he attended a cover meeting, expecting it to last all day, but Stan generated a few dozen cover ideas in a matter of hours. There were reports of him dictating full scripts during this period to secretaries so he seemed adept at the plot-first and full-script styles.

We have anecdotal evidence that Stan and Jack did kick ideas around, both in the office and in the car rides back to Long Island (courtesy of driver John Romita). So, it wasn’t as cut and dried as Riesman makes it out to be.

I think Roy’s role of mentee and creative contributor during the latter ’60s got short shrift.

But, the complete and utter failure of Stan to create original works on his own in new media (film, television, webisodes) is sad to contemplate. Because we also know that in the right environment, he still could make valuable contributions. As Mark Waid recently noted on Facebook, Stan read work with his name on it and would make editorial and art comments that seemed more often than not to be spot on.

Not mentioned here is the series of How to books bearing Stan’s name, packaged by Dynamite and published by Watson-Guptil. I co-wrote the How to Write Comics volume and was handed an outline that Stan clearly had a hand in creating. He answered emails from me about things he wanted to be covered or addressed so he was not always an absentee landlord of his name.

The book is a must-read bio, but possibly the best critical analysis of Stan’s written work probably remains the volume from Tom Spurgeon and Jordan Raphael.

View all my reviews OutlawedOutlawed by Anna North
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This alternate history take on the Hole in the Wall Gang is a fascinating feminist take, filled with exciting characters and situations. When Ada finds herself barren, she finds herself dismissed from her marriage by her mother-in-law and, soon after, is scapegoated for a series of infant deaths her hometown is convinced was a result of witchcraft. We’re talking 1894-95, so one would think we were past this nonsense but apparently not.

After spending some time in a covenant to avoid being arrested (and likely stoned or killed), she sets out for Hole in the Wall in the hopes of finding her way to a master midwife who has written the only sensible book on women’s health issues. She finds eight others, lesbians and other barren women who have formed a small, close-knit family, including their spiritual leader, the Kid. They thieve and rob, under the Kid’s guidance, to sustain themselves, slow to welcome Ada to their ranks.

Then they set their sets higher, and all hell breaks loose.

The writing is clear and draws you into Ada’s plight. The others are well-sketched but lack her depth of characterization. Weakening the overall impact was the narrator’s poor ability at creating other voices for men and women.

An engaging story worth a read.

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White Teeth by Zadie Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’ve seen good things written about Zadie Smith, especially related to her debut novel. When I decided I needed something modern for my British Literature class, this came to mind.

Having just completed it, I have no idea how to teach it. I was so incredibly let down after all the fever-induced hype, especially all the back cover quotes. What did they see that I missed? Why do I feel nothing for this novel?

It’s a generations-spanning work as two unlikely men are thrown together at the end of World War II and become friends. We watch them take wives, sire children, hate their jobs, suffer indignities, and family drama. We then follow the wives and then the children and it’s all messy, set against the second half of the 20th century. It’s hard to remember it’s set in England because cultural, political and world events seem nonexistent, we’re trapped in this small melodramatic bubble.

There’s no one to like, no one to root for, as everyone is casting about, adrift yearning for meaning to their lives. It’s a bleak and largely unpleasant look at British society.

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Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I could not skip reading this book, given the enthusiasm for Angie Thomas’s works among my students. I specifically bought the book, so I could be up on the conversation and then make it available in my classroom library.

This prequel to The Hate U Give was seemingly inspired by the questions actor Russell Hornsby had about Maverick Carter, the man he played in the film adaptation. Thomas got to wondering more about the man’s backstory and hence the novel.

She does an effective job of showing the mistakes a teen can make and either learn from the experience, as Maverick does, or shy away from the consequences as Iesha, the mother of his first child, Seven, does. He makes mistakes but thanks to his mother’s love and the belief Lisa has in him, he slowly starts to make the decisions that put him on the path to the man we know.

Lisa, the teen who loved him and is pregnant with Starr, is nicely contrasted with Iesha who loves Seven, but is not ready for the parenting responsibilities. Lisa, smart, dedicated, and college-bound, acknowledges her role in the conception and her story is as interesting as Maverick’s.

There are some subtle nods to both THUG and On the Come Up.

Definitely good my high schoolers.

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