Review: Get Behind Stan Lee Book

Bob Batchelor’s ” Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel” (Rowman and Littlefield, 2017) takes the reader through the life and struggles of the most well known comic book creator in Pop Culture in a wonderful read.

The book starts off walking the reader through the early childhood of the comic legend, from his parents struggling with ways to make money to support the family, especially his father, who was many times unemployed. This family background leads to Lee’s incredible work ethic throughout his life. Lee’s love for reading early on, especially the classic works like Shakespeare, helped form his writing skills that inspired many of his comic creations. The book mentions that Lee’s love for “Frankenstein” and “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde” helped created The Hulk, and his love for Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare, and Alexandre Dumas influenced creating the character Thor, along with Howard Hughes and the Cuban Missile Crisis inspiring the Iron Man/Tony Stark character.

After graduating high school, Lee began his writing career, starting off as an office boy for Timely Comics, which was geared to be a men’s magazine. The book covers the years Lee worked his way up from a gofer to ending up being the head of Marvel Comics, and his relationships throughout the years with the staff, freelancers, and artists in the company, including other comic pioneers Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

Batchelor’s book is not just a date to date biography, but has plenty of interesting storied added to in that keeps the reader engaged. One interesting story from 1977 (when comic sales were down) is when Lee had to be convinced to take a chance on doing a comic tie in with a science fiction movie, called “Star Wars,” which not only became a cultural phenomenon itself, but also saved Marvel from bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy is a common theme throughout this book as well, which was educational for this reader who was not familiar with all of the different bosses, mergers, and bad deals that occurred throughout Lee’s and Marvel’s history. The business undertone in the book makes the text more than just about a man who wrote comic books. Many people may have thought that every creation Lee made was a success, but the book takes the reader through characters like Savage She Hulk, The X-Men, and other titles that did not sell well at first, or was only in limited runs due to an early business deal which Marvel was only allowed to produce a certain number of titles per year. Bad business deals also put the company in trouble several times, including the famous attack on comic books in 1954, which involved Frederick Wertham attacking comic books for its contents. This Senate hearing ended up with the creation of the Comic Code Authority, which put limits on what could and could not be placed in the books, which affected the industry and caused many writers and artists to be fired.

Even throughout the bad business deals and attacks on the industry, Batchelor paints Lee as a person who perseveres throughout his life, including the fact that Lee wanted to be seen as a “credible” writer by his peers, besides comic books, and worked on the men’s magazines and had dreams of being a novelist, but was seen as a comic book writer. The reader gets a nice heart-filled touch to what may be seen as just a fact based book.

“Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel” is not just a basic biography where the author presents a lot of research material (although it is very well researched), but it presents themes of The American Dream of a man who wanted one goal, but embraced another that turned him into a legendary figure in publishing, even through down turns, such as sales plummeting, canceled series, and numerous bad business deals and multiple bosses. The easy to read chapters makes this 204-page book an educational read for many who love comics, or just want to know more about the man behind many of the great comic book creations.

 

(A Special Thanks to Rowman and Littlefield for the Reading Copy of this book).

 

“Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel” (Hardback ISBN: 978-1-4422-7781-6 and ebook ISBN: 978-1-4422-7782-3) is available at http://www.rowman.com. Or order at 800-462-6420

For information about the author, go to http://www.bobbatchelor.com

 

If you are looking for comics, culture, and collectables, and live in the Columbiana, Ohio area, visit WatchTower Heroes, LLC, located at 6 Main Street Columbiana, Ohio 44408. Check them out at http://www.watchtowerheroes.com and on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/WatchtowerHeroesComics/

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Book Review: Victoria and Albert: You’ll Love this Book of Royalty

The book “Victoria and Albert A Royal Love Affair” (St. Martin’s Press, 2017) by Daisy Goodman and Sara Sheridan is not just filled with not wonderful photographs detailing Season 2 of the PBS series, but is also an outstanding biography of the royal couple.

This book is the official companion to the television series starring Jenna Coleman (known from her stint on Doctor Who) and Tom Hughes. The book has many pleasant photographs on the set of the show, including behind the scenes photos and stories that describe how the writer, set designers, and other cast members approach the show and their characters. The book also tells the story of the couple based on historical research and the use of Victoria’s journals.

The biography part of the book is well researched , and the authors add many pleasing information, giving a back story and extra information on topics during the reign of the couple, especially during the second series of the show. The book includes several timelines of historical events that were a part of the Victorian society, such as the working conditions of children, the popularity of satire in the newspapers, and the technological advances during this period. The writers also detail the events of the Irish Potato Famine, The “Corn Laws”, and how they affected those around Victoria (the famine and “Corn Laws” especially affected Sir Robert Peel that caused a rift within his own political party). The companion also covers topics like the several assassination attempts on Victoria’s life and the working conditions inside of the palace, along with the advances and historical precedents that Albert helped bring to society.

Since this is also a book about the television series, there are wonderful cast quotes about their characters, how the costume designers and set designers created the settings, and humorous tales about extras and the animals used on the show (for instance one extra was sent home for having blue hair, and the dog that plays Victoria’s Dash was actually deaf).

The book even covers descriptions of the symbolism in the culture at the time, such as what the hidden messages meant for use of different kinds of flowers, to a description of medicine uses during the period (such as leeches), and what the criteria was for a person to inherit the crown.

The great thing about this book is that someone who has not seen the television show would not be lost in the book. The reader can come into this book with no idea of the show and enjoy the book, because it is part biography. The layout of glossy pages, filled with quotes from the series is beautifully done, along with the pages of the extra information, such as the coverage of one would be assassin who was referred to as “The Boy Jones,” how Royal Christenings were done, and covering the etiquette and food of the time.

Goodwin and Sheridan’s companion book is not just for fans of the show, but for history readers. There is so much information, timelines, and drawings that the reader will take several minutes on each page gazing at the glossy layout filled with color and black and white photographs.

The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” applies here, because if one just sees the cover, they will think it’s just about the television series, which is a shame because there is so much to this book to please history and pop culture readers, along with those that like to see how a series is created (including the work that goes into a show), on top of those that want to read about one of the most famous Royals. This is one book that must be read, and then read again.

 

 

A very special thanks to St. Martin’s Press for the advanced reading copy.

 

“Victoria and Albert A Royal Love Affair” by Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan (St. Martin’s Press, 2017 ISBN: 978-1-250-17530-4) is available where books are sold. For more information on books by St. Martin’s Press, go to : http://www.stmartins.com.

For more about Daisy Goodwin to go: http://www.daisygoodwin.co.uk

For information about Sara Sheridan, go to : http://www.sarasheridan.com

Book Review: Get in the “Popular” Group.

Joddie Zeng’s “The Popularity Project” (Author House, 2015) takes the reader on a journey where a high school junior places herself into a situation with a new look, personality, and school all for the sake of a secret project which finds herself discovering a part of herself that she didn’t knew existed in this wonderful Young Adult book.

The main character, Ariella Winters, is a girl at Easton High who could care less about the typical life that her peers deal with; boys, drama, and being popular. All Ariella has cared about since she was younger was getting the grades she needs to be accepted into her dream college. When her and a few other students end up in the “New You Project” given by her teacher (a project where each student is transferred to another school and put out of their comfort zone) Ariella starts to change her thinking about the other classmate stereotypes that she grew to know.

Ariella gets placed in Lincoln Bay High School, and her topic is to be a part of the popular crowd and study popularity, where she has to try and befriend the “popular” group and learn from her experiences. With help from her best friend, she gets an appearance makeover , from clothes (no more bagging shirts and sweatpants) to getting contacts, and tips on makeup.

During the project, she has to fake her way through liking the girls she normally would not think about even talking to (and vice versa), along with the fact that the star athlete on the soccer team (the guy everyone at the school wants to date), Ashton Walker, becomes attracted to her.

Ashton’s and Ariella have somewhat the same idea on love, but on a different spectrum- he wants to hook up and keep love causal, while Ariella doesn’t believe in high school romances lasting, along with her “who has the time” mindset, because all she needs is college. As the reader may find out, Ariella and Ashton, after several bantering where the she blows him off, end up being more than just classmates.

Zeng’s book is filled with funny conversations between the characters. Ariella and her best friend, Flora, have some of the funniest wit and conversations between each other that makes the book humorous where the reader will laugh out loud. She also has a unique relationship with her aunt, where they spend time watching reality shows at night, which is also enjoyable. However, the book’s focus is geared on her interactions with Ashton, who is not only the stereotypical annoying star athlete, but also, a young man who has reasons for the way he acts, which shows depth to the character (even though the annoying attitude doesn’t die out once Ariella and Ashton become closer for this reader). Even though it’s hard to be compassionate to the Ashton character, Zeng shows , like any high school labeled person, there are layers to his life, while he is trying to figure out his youth and where he belongs (plus, being an older reader, the bias is different than a young adult reading this).

The heart of the book is at the ending, when Ariella has to go back to her school and give her conclusions to her teacher. Her speech during the presentation is inspiring and hopeful in dealing with the topic of cliques in the school systems. Ariella not only starts out hating the project, but finds discoveries about other people, including herself, throughout the story, which is what a great coming of age book should entail. Zeng has the characters and themes nailed in the book, probably because she is still a teen author, but that should not detour older readers not to check this out, because it is well beyond a typical teen writer’s skills- this book is amazingly written, where some adult authors in the genre could learn some writing tips from this author.

Overall, the book is extremely entertaining, while engaging. This is not a “Mean Girls” book, where the character joins the popular group and goes around cutting down the other students. Although there are a few minor misses with a few characters (namely the revengeful bad girl Tara, who gets written out pretty quickly after a climatic engagement), the book is a wonderful read. Even though the last statement with Tara is awkward, there are pleasing interactions with other the characters like Ariella’s parents, Ashton’s best friend Elliot, and Ariella’s Aunt Stella.

The art work on the cover shows a camera being held up towards the sky, which is a reference to Ariella’s hobby of taking pictures of the stars, but there is another symbolism to this illustration. The cover shows that Zeng has a bright future, if she decides to pursue it, in her writing. This book is truly one that fans of Young Adult books should check out from a wonderful author in her debut.

 

 

Thank you to Joddie Zeng for the review copy.

 

“The Popularity Project” by Joddie Zeng (2015 ISBN: 978-1-4969-6940-8) is available at book sites and at http://www.authorhouse.com. For more information about the author, go to http://www.joddiezeng.com

 

Book Reviews: Cleveland Rocks with Radio History

 

These two books feature some of the historic times of Cleveland radio, and are rich with tales from a time when radio was not so predictable, in playlist format and personalities.

 

One of my favorite television shows growing up was “WKRP In Cincinnati”. I loved watching the crazy deejays on the show, especially Dr. Johnny Fever, and the high jinxes that occurred on the program. Many times as a child, I would play my records and tapes, pretending to have my own radio show by channeling my inner Casey Kasem and Wolfman Jack. Even though some of the stories on WKRP was thought to have been made up for the show, there were many crazy deejays and radio station personalities across the country whose stories influenced the show. In their book “Cleveland Radio Tales” ( Gray & Company Publishers, 2017), Mike and Janice Olszewski tell some of the stories that were experienced from radio stations in Cleveland Ohio.

The book details many different unique, and just plain odd, people that worked at the area radio stations, including on-air talent like “Count” John Manolesco, who performed a live exorcism on the air (who also claimed he was a vampire and an astrologer), to the legendary story of how Jack Paar, before he went on to become the host of “The Tonight Show,” stopped the city from panicking during the broadcast of Orson Wells’ reading of “War of the Worlds.” The book tells a story about Murray Saul, who worked for WMMS, and held a big party at his apartment with complete strangers only to wake up the next day to the place being looted, to the times the WMMS staff ran up huge bar tabs on the company’s accounts.

There are some great brief stories about musicians and acts that came into the radio stations, such as Gene Simmons of Kiss, Michael Anthony of Van Halen, an incident at Blossom Music Center involving Greg Allman and a flying bat, to why The Moody Blues were in their dressing room at Cleveland Public Hall holding on to their gear. The book tells a quick story about how great wrestling managers Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Jimmy Hart were to the staff at WMMS.

The book covers pirated radio stations, some country stations on the AM dial, and other tales from Cleveland radio’s past. Some of the stories involve the time Leonard Nimoy wanted Jim Morrison to be on the television show “Star Trek”, when a deejay lost the company car after being at the local bar too long, and a story of an on-air talent who hid drugs in the wall when he was leaving the station to go elsewhere, only to find the drugs in the same spot two years later when he returned to the station.

The book is a short read (188 pages), with short chapters. Some of the stories are quick and not elaborate in detail, due to the many tales in the book, there is only so much that the authors could possibly put in the book. The short read makes the book enjoyable and one that Cleveland historians would enjoy, along with those that grew up listening to their favorite Cleveland radio personalities.

 

“Cleveland Radio Tales” by Mike & Janice Olszewski (Gray and Company Publishers, 2017 ISBN: 978-1-938441-90-5) is available at http://www.grayco.com or at 800-915-3609.

 

In his book “Lanigan In The Morning: My Life In Radio” (Grey & Company Publishers, 2017), John Lanigan takes the readers through an interesting journey through his radio and television career.

Lanigan is a well known radio and television personality in the Cleveland, Ohio markets, but the early chapters of the book tells the reader that he is really from Nebraska. Lanigan was born in San Diego, and moved to Nebraska when his father decided to help with the family hardware business. Lanigan’s football dreams ended early, which started his love for radio, spinning records at a local radio station in Nebraska. Lanigan then went on to do radio in Colorado (where he befriended a young John Denver), New Mexico, and Dallas before ending up in Cleveland (at one time his weather man in Cleveland was Al Roker, whom Langian tells a funny story with Roker and him at a TV Awards show).

Lanigan talks about his television career, which he was famous for “The Prize Movie” show on WUAB in Cleveland, where he had several famous guests come in and help him host the show (which included Don Rickles, Drew Carey , and Arnold Schwarzenegger to name a few). Lanigan tells a story where one reporter was so tired of seeing the contest movie clip (where fans could guess the clip to win money) that the answer was revealed in one of the papers, unbeknown to the viewing audience.

An interesting topic in the book describes how some of the other radio stations used devious tactics to prevent the other stations from succeeding in the markets. This was during a period before the big corporations owned several stations at a time. Lanigan examines his problems with rival Cleveland station WMMS radio crew, along with a feud with shock jock Howard Stern.

There are many great stories in the book , from his failed promotional events, which is something that could been seen on TV’s “WKRP In Cincinnati” with its hilarities, including the time Lanigan was asked to be the Grand Marshal for a Cleveland parade that did not go as planned. There are stories about some of the famous people he met throughout the years, including entertaining stories about Bob Saget, Tony Bennett, and an unknown Barack Obama. He also talks about his favorite interview of all time, which is a touching story, and his return to radio with his show with Mike Trivisonno (another Cleveland legend in radio) and his first thoughts on working with Trivisonno.

Even though the book is pretty short (155 pages) and not in a normal chronological order (which has it’s appeal, but parts jump around at times), the book is entertaining, humorous, and at times, touching. There are some great photographs used in the book (Lanigan interviewing Carrie Fisher during Star Wars, in a car with Clint Eastwood, and a shot of George Hamilton on “The Prize Movie” to name a few). One doesn’t have to just be knowledgeable in Cleveland history to enjoy this book (like this reviewer who grew up outside Youngstown, Ohio and was a fan of “The Prize Movie”). Lanigan and his writers, Peter Jedick and Mike Olszewski, have a nice book on the travels of a radio personality in the pre-internet world.

 

A Special Thanks to Gray & Company for the book copies for review.

 

“Lanigan In The Morning: My Life in Radio” by John Lanigan with Peter Jedick and Mike Olszewski ( 2017 Grey & Company, ISBN: 978-1-938441-93-6 or ebook ISBN:978-1-938441-94-3) can be found, along with their other titles, at http://www.grayco.com, or at 1-800-915-3609

 

 

Book Review: “Girl” Is The Future of The Wild West

 

One of the many great publishers putting out books right now is Jimmy Patterson Books. Not knowing much of the company, besides the name of James Patterson, the books they have sent for review have been unique and well written for the YA genre. Lyndsay Ely’s “Gunslinger Girl” ( JIMMY Patterson Books/Little, Brown and Company, 2018) is the latest product of the company.

Ely’s book is part western, part science fiction/dystopian , and lots of fun. The story involves a girl named Serendipty “Pity” Jones, who is great with shooting guns. She ends up in a city called Cessation where she becomes a part of the theater. At the end of certain shows, “The Finale” occurs, which involves the killings of criminals, thieves, and others that disobey the woman that runs the place, named Selene. Even though the city seems to have no real rules, Selene has the final say, and the residents obey by her rules.

While she trains her skills in the theater show, and trying to escape her past, Pity befriends several people in the theater, along with catching the eye of Selene, who promises her favors in return for her loyalty. The city deals with outside movements of political upheaval that makes its way into the story.

The book combines the old West ideas, such as using guns, knives, and rifles as weapons, while combining future and modern technology like trucks and video walls, to combine a new West setting. The theater aspect and its Finale, is similar to the idea of creations like the books The Running Man, or The Hunger Games, where the circus type acts perform the sentences of criminals in front of eager audiences, but with a nice twist in keeping the setting of the old western weapons. The novel combines romance, action, and character twists (no spoilers here, but several characters are not who they seem to be), while delivering the coming of age of Pity’s character, who is trying to escape her past while trying to be the best at her skill.

The only negative critique of the book is the names of the characters. Although , like any of the writers covered on this site, the respect of anyone writing a book and getting published (especially a big name publisher like this one) is always here with this page, but there seems to be too many character names starting with “S.” Although throughout the book Serendipity is called “Pity” ( the full name is still a great character name instead, in this opinion), other characters are named Selene, Santino, Siena (a bounty hunter), Sheridan, and a Dr. Starr. There are other characters in the book, including Max (who is involved in the romance aspect of the book), and Olivia, but there are over five characters (counting Pity) with the same letter name. If the reader is not paying close attention to who each character is in the book, they can get confused in the plot of who is doing what, as opposed to other books where the reader could just remember the first letter of the name of the character (which this reader has done before, when books are filled with characters with non regular names). However, that being the only complaint, that’s a remarkable achievement for Ely’s debut novel.

Lyndsay Ely’s debut novel is filled with many things: romance, action, character twists, and great character development, along with combining two different time periods (the West meets the future) to send the reader on a exciting trip that young adults, along with any age readers, will enjoy. The ending of the novel leaves the reader wanting more, which is a great thing in this situation. The publishers have chosen wisely in adding Lyndsay Ely to their roster of author. Good things are yet to come with this writer.

 

A special thanks to Jimmy Patterson Books, Hatchette Books, and Little, Brown and Company for the advance reading copy.

 

 

“Gunslinger Girl” by Lyndsay Ely (JIMMY Patterson/Little, Brown, and Company ISBN-13: 9780316555104) is available at bookstores everywhere and online. For more information about JIMMY Patterson, Little Brown and Company, and Hatchette Books, visit http://www.littlebrown.com or http://www.hatchettebookgroup.com.

For more information about Lyndsay Ely, visit : http://www.Lyndsayely.wordpress.com or on twitter at: @lyndsayely

Book Review: You Will Not Want To Leave “Kent State”

“Leaving Kent State” by Sabrina Fedel (Harvard Square Editions, 2016) is an interesting Young Adult book about a teen and her family living during the 1970 Kent State University protest.

Rachel Morelli is a seventeen-year-old whose father is a professor at Kent State University. Rachel is in love with her neighbor, Evan. Evan just returned injured from Vietnam and has to deal with the aftermath of coping with a normal life, along with his experience being a young man in the war. Evan was a great guitar player before going over to Vietnam, and returns home with a damaged hand with missing fingers. Rachel not only tries to get the old fun loving friend back that she remembers, but also has to hide her feelings for him. Meanwhile, Rachel’s dreams of going to Pratt University for art is in jeopardy as her parents want her to go to Kent State, which is deemed a safer, and cheaper, environment.

The book is filled with some great references to Kent, Ohio, from not only the university buildings, but also the places downtown, such as the bar JB’s, and Brady’s Cafe. There are also references to certain street names that residents of Kent would recognize. The author is knowledgeable with the Kent State sites, buildings, and cultures (including a reference about a local musician named Joe Walsh). Even though the book takes a while to get to the main themes of the stories (will Rachel go to Kent or Pratt and what happens with her and her family when the Kent shooting occur), the character development is well written where the reader is not anxious or bored with the slow build up of the story. Any reader or follower of the historical aspect of Kent State University officials calling in the National Guard, along with the shootings, knows that these events are going to happen, but Fedel’s build up makes the events more powerful with Evan, Rachel, and her family’s reactions of the events.

Anyone that is familiar with Kent State, or history in general, would like this book. The family’s thoughts of the events and the war itself, it is not preachy to those that may feel differently than the characters. The concept of creating a story through the point of view of a senior in high school during the events is unique and enjoyable. Being a Kent State graduate, this book was interesting, powerful, and entertaining all at the same time. Sabrina Fedel may have a slow build up to the events at times, but the developing of the characters makes the pay off well worth it.

 

Thanks to Sabrina Fedel for the copy of the book to review.

 

“Leaving Kent State” by Sabrina Fedel (Harvard Square Editions, 2016 ISBN: 978-1-941861-24-0) can be found at : http://www.harvardsquareeditions.org. For more about Sabrina Fedel, go to : http://www.sabrinafedel.com.

Book Review: Take The Alone Trip

“Alone” by Cyn Balog (Sourcebooks, 2017) is not just another Young Adult Horror/Mystery book, but it an adventure that is enjoyable and full of twists and turns.

The book involves the character Seda and her family, whose mother inherits a old house in Pennsylvania that in the past was used for murder mystery parties. The house is filled with secrets, hidden passageways, and creepy rooms with props like dead bodies and broken mirrors. When her mother decides that she doesn’t want to sell the house , unless the buyer will use it as a horror attraction for the parties that used to be thrown there, Seda shows more hatred towards the house, along with being away from her friends and her old school. When a group of stranded teenagers show up during a snowfall, things in the house start to take a mysterious turn, where noises are heard, and people start to disappear.

Seda’s mother is a well respected college teacher who is loved by her students, and also a major fan of horror and slasher films. Even her younger siblings are exposed to her mother’s love for the genre at ages six and four. The four other children enjoy playing with the props found in the house and playing jokes on each other (and Seda) throughout the house.

The house is, of course, not only filled with dark, hidden rooms, but is also hidden away from most of civilization, with the only local general store being twenty miles away at Art’s General Store. The house is on top of a mountain, which is a perfect setting for mysterious things to occur.

The great thing about this book is that it has all the typical stereotypes of a horror/mystery tale, without sounding predictable where the reader can predict what is going on. This story is a perfect example of a classic Gothic novel from the 1800s or 1900s, with twists and turns in the plot, along with the complexity of the main character Seda. Throughout the reading, the reader will wonder if what they are following is real, an imagination, or both (As with my writings of book reviews, no spoilers will be given). The mother is a writer who likes horror films, the siblings are still young enough to be innocent, and the main character has issues she is dealing with being a normal 15 year old besides having to be isolated in a castle filled with a history of fright.

Balog creates wonderful settings and twists in her book, and it is well written that an adult can read this book and not feel insulted that it’s a YA book. The chapters are short and starts out with press media statements that would have been in the brochure for the house when the visitors were there for their weekend escape. Some of the statements provide a small history of the house, and the people that are associated with the place. The writing makes the reader believe that they are actually in the house reading the notices.

Even if you are not a fan of the Young Adult genre, but love a good classic gothic themed book, this is the book to get. The reader will get sucked into the tale that they will be wondering what (and who) is real and what is not. Just when the reader thinks they have the ending figured out, there is another twist to the plot (even to the end). Sourcebooks has a wonderfully (and sometimes confusing, but in a good way) book that will take the reader on a mysterious expedition. There needs to be more books in this genre as great as “Alone.”

 

A Special Thanks for Sourcebooks Fire for the Advanced Reading Copy.

 

“Alone” by Cyn Balog is available where you find books or at http://www.sourcebooks.com. You can find more about Cyn Balog at cynbalog.blogspot.com

 

Book Review: Orbison Book Is More Than Just Pretty Paper

” Roy Orbison:The Authorized Biography” (Center Street Publishing, 2017 ) by Roy Orbison Jr., Wesley and Alex Orbison, with Jeff Slate is a wonderful in depth collection of one of the greatest singers of all time.

The book is filled with photographs of Roy Orbison, his friends, and record covers, along with capturing the life of one of the early Rock Music pioneers. The book takes the reader through the early days of his life, when Orbison was influenced by musician Lefty Frizzell, his high school bands, and the day he discovered Rock Music by listening to Elvis Presley. Orbison’s story journeys through his heartbreaks, from his struggles with his record labels (where one label released older material of his when he was on a newer label to cash in on his success), to taking management to court, and his personal heartbreaks with the death of his first wife and kids.

This coffee table book is filled with beautiful glossy pages with photographs of his performances, some famous friends he met on the way (The Beatles, Johnny Cash), and album/single covers, and promotional events. The photographs are wonderfully put in order of the timeline of the story, which adds to the collection.

The authors add great stories in the book within the telling of the biography, like when Johnny Cash told a young Orbison that he should lower his voice if Roy wanted to make it in the music business (which his signature voice later was one of a kind and separated him from other acts), to Sun Records Owner Sam Phillips told Roy, after Orbison called him for a record deal via the advice of Presley, responded by hanging up on Orbison and told him that he (Phillips) ran the label, not Elvis. For fans of the later years of Orbison, the tale of him joining the super group The Traveling Wilburys with Tom Petty, Jeff Lynn, George Harrison, and Bob Dylan is definitely worth the read alone (along with the story of how the band name and first single “Handle With Care” came about). There is also the story about how his smash hit “Pretty Woman” was created. The book follows how Roy’s Cinemax black and white concert in 1986 led to his major comeback in the U.S.

This book is a perfect mix of photographs and text, which is not seen in many Rock Music coffee table style books. They usually carry more photographs and little to no text, however there is a great balance of the two in the 252 page volume, along with a nice discography, with the record release dates and the label included in it.

“Roy Orbison” is not just a nice picture book, but one that has great stories as told ,and put together, by his family members. The text covers the story of Roy’s life from his early beginnings to his rise to stardom, and his return right before his death. The authors state that they put the book together so Roy’s story could be told, and to “put the record straight.” This is not just a book for Roy Orbison fans, but for fans of the history of Rock and Roll. The authors of this collection have compiled a wonderful tribute to a Hall of Famer, and one of the greatest singer in music history. There is so much to learn in this book that it should be a required use in any Rock and Roll History class.

 

 

“The Authorized Roy Orbison” by Roy Orbison Jr., Wesley and Alex Orbison with Jeff Slate is available by Center Street Publishing, an imprint of Hatchette Books (ISBN: 9781478976547). Visit Hatchette Books at: http://www.hatchettebookgroup.com.

 

Thank you to Hatchette Books and Center Street Publishing for the reading copy of this book.

What’s Odd About Christmas? Novelty Songs For The Season!

Christmas music. Some love it, some despise it. There are some classic songs, and there are some that are so bad they are good. Some favorites songs of mine include 1988’s “Christmas Without You” by Tommy Page (the B-side of his first hit single “A Shoulder To Cry On”), “Merry Christmas Darling” by The Carpenters (which was released several times in the 1970s), and Barry Manilow’s “River” (which is a cover of Joni Mitchell’s song from his 2002 Christmas album). One can not go wrong either with the Michael Buble 2011 Christmas CD, and last year’s Oak Ridge Boys “Celebrate Christmas” CD (which you can read the full review in the archives). But for every great song (Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” or the version by the Muppets), there is awful ones (“Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”).

Just like in the early days of Rock and Roll, Christmas time brings out the novelty songs. Some famous Novelty, or Oddity songs, throughout the years have been 1976’s “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees (who later became a host on “Solid Gold”) , 1950’s “The Thing” by Phil Harris (which hit #1 on the charts), and Los del Rios’ 1995 “Macarena.” Ray Stevens and “Weird” Al Yankovic made a career of parodies and novelty hits. So, to celebrate the season, here are some of my favorite Christmas Novelty songs. You may remember these, may never heard of them, or may never want to hear them again, but these are some of my favorite novelties that does not include singing chipmunks or barking dogs (in no particular order).

 

  1. “The Heat Miser” (1974). Everyone loves the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials (at least you should). These show were, next to Charlie Brown, was the anticipated shows to watch when Christmas time came around. Shows like “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” are classic shows in animation. The best one was 1974’s “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” where Santa decides to take a vacation after getting a cold before Christmas. In order to make things right with a town called Southtown USA, Mrs. Claus needs some help from Mother Nature’s two bickering sons, The Heat Miser (who loves the warm weather) and The Snow Miser, who loves the cold. The Heat Miser was voiced by George S. Irving, who was a Broadway actor, and later voiced the narration of the cartoon Underdog. For those that do not like the snow and bad weather, this is the song to keep the cheer if you don’t live in warmer climates.
  1. “Superstar” (1977). This song was a re-recording from a 1972 album “Snoopy’s Christmas” from the Peter Pan Record Label, which produced novelty records, along with records and book combinations, where kids could listen to the record while following along with the book. This album featured the Peanuts characters (although not voice by the actual actors) with a Christmas theme, sung by the Peppermint Kandy Kids. This album did not have the Snoopy’s Chrismas song by The Royal Guardsmen that was released on the label Laurie. I used to listen to this cassette all the time when I was younger , especially this song. Snoopy is missing from the rest of the group while they are getting ready for Christmas, but is actually outside in the yard planning his own backyard concert to perform. Some may listen top this song and think it’s awful, but it brings back childhood memories of me dreaming to be able to play in a band (which I was able to do later on). The song “Children of The World Unite Tonight” is another good song on the record, which lets kids know they don’t have to wait to be an adult to help others, but “Superstar” is the one that I remember the most from this record.
  1. “Even A Miracle Needs A Hand”-Joel Grey (1974). A song from another great Rankin/Bass production “Twas The Night Before Christmas,” about a family and their mice friends who offend Santa by writing him a letter saying he is a fraud. This song is sung by Joel Grey, who was a singer, actor, dancer, and stage talent (You can see him on the early Muppet Show TV Series). He voices a clock maker who tries to convince his children that even though it is close to Christmas Day, they can still help miracles occur. Another great childhood memory with a great message. Too bad this song isn’t play much during the Christmas Season on my local radio stations.
  1. “Yelling at The Chrismas Tree”- Billy Idol (2005). This song was off his “Devil’s Playground” CD (which is not a Christmas Album) and was written by Idol and Brian Tichy, who has played drums for many bands including Foreigner. The story tells young Billy in London during Christmas time, where his father comes home drunk from his favorite English Pub. Just like Idol’s other work, it has a punk-ish feel to it. This is one of my favorite rock original songs and is not played , but it is still a great beat with humorous lyrics to it.

5″Rusty Chevrolet”- DA Yoopers (1987). I first heard this song on my local Youngstown Radio Station years ago, but don’t hear it much anymore. The band from Michigan, makes novelty and parody songs, along with running a gift shop, whose website claims to have the “World’s Largest Chainsaw.” Some of their songs have been played on the Dr. Demento” radio show. Anyone driving an older vehicle during the winter season can appreciate this song.

  1. “What Can You Get A Wookie For Christmas (When He Already Owns A Comb)- 1980.

Star Wars and Christmas? Today that is not unheard of with all the Star Wars Christmas sweaters and clothing that are released now, but in 1980, Christmas meant getting the new Star Wars figures or play sets. RSO Records decided to release a Christmas Album based on Star Wars characters (called “Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album”) where droids were working in a factory to help Santa. Anthony Daniels gave his famous C3PO voice to the recording, and there was even a Star Wars Christmas TV Special in 1978, with the cast of the film, that many die hard fans still have nightmares over.

Most people will remember this album for being a young Jon Bon Jovi singing on the sing “R2D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas” (Jon’s cousin had a hand in producing the album). The album actually sold well at the time, and had several different printings with different covers, due to the Star Wars references being removed for a time being. This song actually reached #69 on the U.S. Charts when it was released in 1980. Die hard fans may not appreciate this song, but it’s a funny novelty song that mentions several of the original characters. I remember playing this 45 single over and over when I was younger.

If you are tired of hearing the same old Christmas novelties, like “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas,” or ” I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” these are some fresher, and borderline strange, songs that you can add to your play list!

 

Book Review: Befriending the Girl Next Door? Only If You Speak The Right Language

 

I have not read a Young Adult book in several years (the last one being Jay Asher’s “The Future of Us” before starting doing more reviews for this page), and was excited when I read the synopsis for Jared Reck’s “A Short History of the Girl Next Door” ( Knopf Books For Young Readers 2017), however the book is as disappointing as losing the championship basketball game that the main character may encounter.

The book is about Matt , who is in love with his best friend, Tabby, and has yet to tell his feeling for her. They have been friends since childhood, hanging out watching Star Wars movies and eating his little brother Murray’s Nerds candy after taking him Trick or Treating. But when Tabby starts to date the star player on the basketball team, a senior named Liam, her freshman year, Matt starts to feel jealously and wonders if he is losing his friendship that he grew up loving.

There are plenty of basketball descriptions in the book, since both Liam and Matt are on the basketball team(and live for the game), which is reminiscent of the television show “One Tree Hill” (which I loved), but once something tragic happens in Matt’s life, he has to struggle with dealing with his feelings while handling his other pressures, like school, assignments, and basketball.

There are some good things about the book, like the humorous titles that start each chapter, and Matt’s English Teacher, Mr. Ellis, is not your typical teacher that a person on the basketball team would find amusing, but Matt enjoys the writing and jokes that happen in his class (once again, a possible nod to “One Tree Hill’s” Lucas character). Another humorous part is when Matt’s mother decides to match his Halloween costume with Murray, who is four at the time, which gives the reader a flashback to the classic movie “A Christmas Story.” Without giving spoilers, there is a part towards the end of the book that captures a touching interaction with Matt and his Grandfather. Also, many o have dealt with the struggles of having feelings for their best female friend growing up either in high school or junior high and whether or not to tell that person.

With that said, the biggest distraction from the book is its language. There is not a page that goes by where there is not some sort of cuss word on the page, and most of the time, it is not in a humorous way. The cursing is overdone to the fact that it just gets annoying, and offensive, after a few chapters. Yes, I know kids today cuss more than usual, but in this case, it’s almost used as a way that the author couldn’t come up with a creative way to get the characters to say anything. High school kids can (and do) drop F -bombs from time to time (my years in education can attest to that), but it’s totally useless to have something along the lines of “What the F#@*’n F,” or “F&$*’n F%ck Me” (the exact quotes are not used but are similar in nature, due to the fact I am using an advanced copy for this review, but it’s very close to this on a constant basis). This book is geared for ages 12 and up, but I wouldn’t let a 12-15 year old get a hold of this book just because of the language. This is geared for a more mature teen reader, closer to 18 year olds.

The story is nice overall, but the ending becomes a let down, and leaves the reader hanging with wanting to know how the characters end up, but even that made me not really care about the characters that much, due to the excessive language throughout the book. I ended up not caring or feeling sympathetic towards Matt, or his problems, with his massive use of cussing so much. I have much respect for any writer who gets a book published, along with getting their book on a major publisher, and as much as I wanted to like this book, due to the language and story ending, the overall book falls flat in my opinion.

 

(A Special Thanks to Random House Teens and Knopf Books for Young Readers for the Advanced Kindle Copy for this review).

 

“A Short History of The Girl Next Door” by Jared Reck (ISBN: 978-1-5247-1607-3) is available where you get books. You can download it as well (EBook ISBN: 978-1-5247-1609-7) or go to: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com , along with their other book titles.

You can find Jered Reck at http://www.jaredreckbooks.com