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Tuesday
Jun132017

Book Review: White Sox (and other baseball worth mentioning) for Women

White Sox (and other baseball worth mentioning) for Women. JoAnn Fastoff. Perfect Paperback, 2017, glossy trade paperback, 109 pages.

Reviewed by Dennis Hetzel.

“Baseball is an example in its purest form of nine individuals making a team effort,” JoAnn Fastoff writes in the opening pages of White Sox (and other baseball worth mentioning) for Women. Her love of America’s game shines through, and you can be any gender to enjoy it. 

To some extent, the organization and premise of the book—helping female fans learn more about baseball in general and the White Sox in particular—do not do justice to the richness of the content.

For example, Fastoff goes beyond the White Sox to introduce readers to female and Negro League ball players with fascinating stories to tell. She has used her passion for the White Sox and America’s game to bring some important and interesting players in the nation’s social history to life.

Effa Louise Manley was the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. She co-owned the Negro League Newark Eagles. Raised by a black stepfather and white mother, she also was active in the civil rights movement and a social activist. We also meet the first woman to play professionally in a man’s league. Tonie “Tomboy” Stone played second base for the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns. She had to deal with insults as both a woman and an African-American.

For Sox fans, the book is a treasure trove. The author doesn’t just write about the stars either, introducing players who would make great trivia questions, such as Dwayne Wise. As Fastoff writes, Wise “entered the White Sox game in the top of the ninth inning against Tampa Bay on July 23, 2009, and saved Mark Buehrle’s perfect game by leaping over the wall to make a spectacular catch.”

Among the greats, consider Ted Lyons, who pitched all 21 seasons of his career with the White Sox, from the 1920s through the 1940s. Any baseball fan loves trivia like the following tidbit: “Manager Jimmy Dykes realized Lyons was a crowd pleaser and started using him only on Sundays, hence the moniker ‘Sunday Teddy’.” In his last full season, Lyons had 2.10 earned run average and completed each of his 20 starts, something unimaginable in baseball today.

Fastoff even takes a brief tour of White Sox logos over the year, noting the Sox have changed their logo 18 times, reminding us just how ugly the disco-era Sox logo and uniforms were. It would have been fun to see all 18 logos instead of just three.

Fastoff also looks back on broadcasters who shouldn’t be forgotten, including Harry Caray. Those who weren’t in Chicago when Caray was broadcasting Sox games missed hearing him at his most outrageous. As Fastoff writes, “He quickly became popular with the South Side faithful, even though he wasn’t always so popular with the players.”

Somewhat surprising was only a single, passing reference to Bill Veeck, surely the most colorful and interesting team owner in baseball history. Still, baseball is about the players, and Sox fans will read about everyone from Shoeless Joe Jackson to Luis Aparicio to “The Big Hurt” Frank Thomas and many more.

The book has some scattered editing and organization issues. The opening chapters function as a “baseball for dummies” primer on the rules of the game aimed at a female audience. This material is so basic that any reader with a deeper understanding of the game will skip those sections and perhaps dismiss the book entirely. A table of contents detailing specific chapters would help readers understand that there is a lot more to the book than that.

The book also lacks photo credits and attribution of information. The author may have taken many of the photos herself, but others obviously are from other sources. Direct quotes and historical references also are unattributed. An appendix listing credits and sources would provide acknowledgment where it’s due. It also would help readers and researchers who want to delve deeper into the lives of the many interesting people who populate the pages of this entertaining book.

 

Tuesday
Jun132017

Book Review: Defiance

DefianceLance Erlick. Finlee Augare Books, April 27, 2015, Trade Paperback and Kindle, 290 pages.

Reviewed by Serena Wadhwa.

In the third of a four-part series, the growing tension among the Federation’s highest leaders bring additional excitement and questions to this action-packed sequel. As the legend of a rebellion becomes more of a threat, and the GODs’ (Grand Old Dames’) fears drive reactions that divide some of the key players’ loyalities, Regina is even more determined to find her sister and make peace with her mother. Knowing that the Federation needs her, Regina wants to make sure it is on her terms. 

“Regina’s DNA was vital to reversing a worldwide fertility collapse, but only if she was alive.”

The discovery of a seed vault increases the tension and defiance, as Regina wants to negotiate the release of her sister with precious seeds from a variety of plants, animals, and humans. She ensures there are enough for those that helped her in this discovery and when tragic news hits, she is aware it is now up to her to see if other vaults like this exist. And Regina’s mother returns to the scene. We are not sure in what capacity; as in the previous volumes, we are led to believe there is allegiance with the Federation. Regina also struggles with her own sense of abandonment from her mother.

In this volume, we see a lot more action than in the previous two. As Regina makes her way to her sister’s location, we witness many occurrences of running into Federation agencies and other people that cannot be trusted. We witness the loyal Marginals, Working Stiffs, and other women who believe in the legacy and have found hope in it. Many of these women are willing to risk their life to get Regina where she needs to go, believing she is the key. And we witness a flourishing relationship Regina develops with Ester, her partner in navigating the terrain to Alaska.

Erlick does not disappoint as we read about Regina’s travels and narrow escapes to find her sister. I like the consistency in Regina’s character and the moments of vulnerability the author allows her to have. We see how valuable family is to Regina, how it’s hard to trust others, and how that process occurs in her relationship with Ester. I think the story provides a good example of how trust builds slowly. I was torn between following the adventures of Regina and the sub-plots relating to the women of the Federation, yet felt there was a good enough balance between the two. 

I am looking forward to reading how this all ends as the book continued to hold my curiosity and attention.

 

Tuesday
Jun132017

Book Review: Vigilance

Vigilance. VigilanceLance Erlick. Finlee Augare Books, March 30, 2015, Trade Paperback and Kindle, 249 pages. 

Reviewed by Serena Wadhwa.

In the second of a four-part series, it is not only the adventures of Regina Shen that continue, but also the growing despair of the Federation to maintain harmony while figuring out the key to ensure the population’s survival. We begin to learn of the growing interest the Federation has in Regina and what makes her so special. We begin to see the struggle Regina has with this new found attention and her ambivalence with this “specialness.” Regina harbors unique DNA the GODs (Grand Old Dames) believe will ensure the survival of the female population. When Regina finds out this is the reason the Federation is hunting her and kidnapped her sister, she realizes she has leverage. Her focus, however, is in finding her sister as she wrestles with older sibling guilt about not being able to protect her younger sister from the Federation.

Regina doesn’t understand her growing popularity. We are introduced to a legend, through Mo-Mere (a woman who teaches Regina about the world that once was), and Regina slowly learns about a prophecy of a rebellion. Who will lead it? Regina finds herself adjusting to her modified appearance, hoping to throw off those that pursue her. Living up to parental expectations is one thing; living up to a legend is another. “Everyone’s confidence in me was both a comfort and a burden.” Giving hope to other Marginals that a different life may be possible, Regina finds herself at the University as she moves closer to finding her sister and the truth about her mother and her existence. As Regina’s vigilance to elude the Federation grows, the Federation is desperate to capture her, particularly the Inspectors who both have their own agenda and reasons.

If you like action, this book provides that. The plot focuses on Regina finding her family and on her growing awareness of the discrepancies within the castes. Subplots compliment the main storyline and the character descriptions paint a picture of what these individuals are like and how the world they live in shape most of that. Erlick maintains his artistic ability to move the reader through the story, offer unexpected twists, and has the reader rooting for the heroine.

 

Tuesday
May302017

Book Review: Charlie and the Tortoise

Charlie and the Tortoise. M. J. Mouton (Author), Jezreel S. Cuevas (Illustrator), Cara Santa Maria (Foreword). Rare Bird Books, December 6, 2016, Hardcover and E-Book, 24 pages. 

Reviewed by Lisa J Lickel.

Author MJ Mouton shares his time between Louisiana and Chicago. He became passionate about the sciences and wanted to share his discoveries with his children, so he created short stories about world-changing discoveries. Three of these stories I found have been published. They are lavishly illustrated rhyming text picture books featuring the basic elements of the discoveries of naturalist Charles Darwin, physicist Richard Feynman, and astronomer Carl Sagan.

Charlie and the Tortoise is Mouton’s tale of Charles Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1832, a stop on his voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. Mouton features Darwin’s study of birds on the island, particularly finches and why their beaks developed differently for different purposes. The story begins with a contemporary rendering of Darwin as a youth who loves being outside, and all things nature. He gets a chance to learn more when he sails away.

Using simple rhyming text, Mouton explains Darwin’s method of study, “Charlie whipped out his book in a pinch. ‘This bird’s beak is different, but it’s still a finch!’”

On the island, the young Charles Darwin, Charlie of the title, meets a tortoise who speaks, encouraging Charlie to study the differences in the animal species. “I’ve noticed the birds. I’ve been here a while . . . 200 years,” he said with a smile. “You’ll have to bear with me, I speak as slow as I walk.” To which Charlie exclaimed, “Holy cow! You can talk!”

Although a dog named Hitch is featured inviting readers to join him in discovering the series, his role is merely to accompany Charlie, and shows up in various illustrations. Each book in the series so far has a foreword by an exclaimed expert in the field. In Charlie and the Tortoise, Cara Santa Maria, a science communicator and television personality, explains that Darwin inspired her to study science, too, and entreats readers to continue a lifelong adventure of asking questions.

Charlie and the Tortoise is a cute way to explain Darwin’s method of study and his eventual conclusions. Geared toward young children and early readers, the information is not overwhelming for young minds. The illustrations are clear, simple and vibrant. A general historical outline of Darwin’s life is included on the inside back cover. This book was published as one of the Tiny Thinkers series, highlighting real-life scientists who changed our world.

 

Tuesday
May162017

Book Review: A Fine Line (A Sebastian Drake Novel)

A Fine Line (A Sebastian Drake Novel). Dan Burns. Chicago Arts Press, June 6, 2017, Hardcover and E-Book, 294 pages.

Reviewed by Marssie Mencotti.

This fine detective novel is a thoroughly engrossing Chicago experience as well as an engaging tale of the corrupting effect of power and privilege. I went down every street with Sebastian Drake. I understand his loyal midwestern friendships. And you cannot know Chicago without knowing that everyone here is connected by less than six degrees. I was also captivated by the incipient creepiness of old Chicago landmarks and the fact that there is no statute of limitations on cover-ups, personal vendettas, and the machinations of the elite.

The leading character, Sebastian Drake, is making his living as a writer and as we are reading about him in this novel, he is writing about his alter ego in a new novel for which he has received an advance. I enjoyed the book within a book device.  It was interesting to see how much of the real case Drake was adding to his novel and how much he was leaving out.

Which brings me to the perfect title of the novel: A Fine Line. Every event we experience has its outcome differentiated by a fine line. It is the fine cut that was made to sever the young woman’s hand from her body. It is Drake’s persona wavering on a tightrope between boozy self-indulgence and disciplined sobriety. It is a fine line of demarcation between right and wrong and knowing when to defend and when to attack.

Drake’s character is slowly revealed.  We are presented with a seasoned specialist skilled in a variety of professions. He is a spy, a journalist, a detective, a bookstore proprietor, a husband, and a father. His qualifications for the jobs he is being asked to multi-task are spot on. This makes his work seem effortless. To be fair, Chicago people do not usually flaunt their abilities. Better to let people find out the hard way. The internal monologue that Drake keeps regarding his work, his family, and his past is stated in a very sober way. Even the way in which Drake deals with the tragedy in his past life is private and personal.  

Drake’s sense of justice may sometimes seem more like poorly handled anger management but he does put the bad guys away without hesitation. For a character that is so qualified in all of his professions he only does what he feels like doing and leaves the management of his empire to others, making him to seem cold and indifferent to one or more of them. Someone else runs his beloved bookstore. His ex-wife cares for his children. His friend Scotty manages the guns and the gun range. His agent manages his book business, and so on.  So although he is a superstar, he is dependent on many others.  Perhaps this is the fine line between who he is and who he appears to be.

He is not always “emotionally available.” Two instances of this come to mind. First, his burgeoning feelings for Angie, a Chicago Police detective, spike and deflate in just a day or two. Once she’s out of the picture, he starts to think about his ex-wife again.  Later in the book when an incident involving his daughter occurs he is less emotional than mechanical.  True, he feels more effective seeking her with his brain and not his heart but we never feel that he truly considers the dangerous consequences if he’s wrong.

This is a compelling read on many levels.  How does a man so qualified for success manage to fail at the things that are personal and succeed beyond expectation on the things that are public? To read this book merely as a detective story is not to see that the underlying tension, the “Fine Line” is the key to Sebastian Drake’s true nature. He lives for the tension in the taut moment of the reveal. 

 

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