Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere

Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is Lucas Mann's personal narrative of his experience following the Clinton Lumberkings, a single A minor league affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, through the course of an entire season. It is not a day by day account of the games and players so much as it is the author's observations and perceptions of the players, the fans, and the city of Clinton, Iowa, viewed through the context of the historical and economic history of the city, as well as the author's personal background.

Mann provides an interesting history of the city's birth, growth and decline into what it is today, a working class town with a subpar reputation (and about 25 minutes from my hometown). This city is one in which the current team of young, unpolished, inexperienced itinerants of professional baseball are laboring to leave behind in order to move up the developmental ladder.
Along the way, some players are seen as probably having reached the zenith of their professional baseball careers and will soon have to pursue alternative careers outside baseball. Some players are seen as having an opportunity to advance to the next level or two, but not of making it to "the show;" too few players are seen as having the most realistic potential to realize their ultimate goal.

The transitory nature of minor league baseball, particularly at low level single A level, is set against the long standing loyalty of a core group of baseball fans who, despite the economic downturn experienced by the city, stayed and found some consolation and stability in the team which continued to play in their city through some rough years. Although the team can and does change from season to season, even from month to month, these steadfast fans chronicle the team season to season, year to year, in their own ways. In doing so, they are able to accept and adapt to the change they have experienced in their own lives and in their own city.

Overall, the book was an interesting read and thought provoking far beyond the context of minor league baseball. It's an interesting view of a city, its minor league baseball team, and its fans.

Friday, November 21, 2014


The Astronaut Wives Club tells the story of the wives of the first astronauts in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. Being the wife of an astronaut was not easy. The men were often gone for long periods of training, many were unfaithful while away, and they had terribly dangerous jobs. In the meantime, the women were left to take care of their children and homes, all alone. They also faced tremendous pressure from NASA to present themselves as wholesome happy housewives. Due to the stress and common worries, the wives bonded together for socialization and support.

Each of the first missions were detailed as the wives recalled how they felt when their husbands were blasted off into space and, once they got home and became heroes.

Not only is this book a fascinating look into what life was like for astronaut wives, but it's also a look at what American life was like during the decades of the space race. (Geez, everyone chain smoked). I found it fascinating and very readable.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Big Scrum

The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football details an important time in football history.

Miller describes how Theodore Roosevelt grew up as a sickly child, but one who would do anything to overcome his ailments. Thus, he became a solid athlete and sports enthusiast, though he never really played football.

At Harvard, Teddy was a fan of the game, which looked quite a bit different than it does today. The sport resembled a more violent version of rugby. No equipment was worn, and the ball only moved forward in kicks. As the sport grew in popularity, so did the number of injuries and deaths of its players. This caused great concern among many people. One such person was Harvard president Charles Eliot, who wanted to outright ban football. He was not alone. Many schools banned the sport.

If you read The Big Scrum, you'll find out how Teddy was able to gain support for football and eventually help transition it into the game it is today.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


The Night Gwen Stacy Died is the story of two young runaways who are modeling their lives after Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. Sheila is 17 yrs old and works at a gas station in Coralville Iowa. She dreams of moving to Paris one day, but then comes to realize how unrealistic that dream is. Peter Parker is a 20-something taxi driver who often stops in at the gas station where Sheila works. He lives with his mother and is still haunted by his brother's suicide many years before. Though Peter and Sheila rarely talk, she finds herself oddly attracted to him.

One night Peter Parker comes in with a gun. He wants Sheila to run away with him. She agrees and they make it look like he robbed and abducted her. They drive to Chicago. Peter has prophetic dreams and feels that they were supposed to come to Chicago. Sheila takes the name Gwen Stacy and they find jobs while Peter tries to figure out why they are there.

The book is kind of hard to explain because there is a lot of symbolism and different themes-- Peter has prophetic dreams, Sheila takes on Gwen's persona, she also has a strange connection to the taxidermy coyote in the University of Iowa's Natural History Museum, and coyotes show up numerous times throughout the book. You can interpret that as you will.

I found the story compelling though I felt it needed a bit more character development. I didn't always understand Sheila's actions. The books switches between voices and I enjoyed hearing situations from both Sheila's and Peter's perspectives. The pacing of the book is a bit slow in the middle but it really picked up near the end and I found the ending to be satisfying, yet I want to hear more of their story.

It's a little offbeat, and won't appeal to everyone. I found it to be a satisfying mix of Jennifer Egan and of Spider-man.      

Thursday, October 30, 2014


I have never thought much about the history of running as a sport, but, because I'm a runner, I decided to give this book a try. Kings of the Road is the story of how running became such a popular sport. I hadn't realized that, prior to these three men, Shorter, Rogers, and Salazar, running wasn't a huge American sport.
The story begins by introducing and giving brief descriptions of the three men, how they grew up, what their running style was. Runners weren't big name athletes, most could barely live on their paltry earnings. These men ran because they loved it, not for fame or fortune. He also talks a bit about the history of Falmouth Road Race, the NY Marathon, and the times these men competed against each other. The only time all three ran against each other was once, in Falmouth.
You wouldn't think that reading about someone running would be terribly interesting, but Stracher does a great job describing the race in a way that makes it exciting. He also really brings the "characters" to life, describing their personalities and lifestyles.
I recommend this book to readers of sports non-fiction. Doesn't matter if you are a runner, the writing, suspense and competitiveness will appeal to all.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure

This book by Matthew Algeo is a fabulous retelling of Harry and Bess Truman's post-presidency road trip. It gives us a glimpse of what life was like for ex-Presidents. Harry had one of the most normal post-Presidential lives and this excursion is just one example. It was interesting to read about how people reacted to his trip and where him and Bess ate and stayed. It's a quick fun read that takes you back to the 1950s when the open road offered recreation, not traffic and headaches.

Our book discussion group enjoyed reading and reminiscing about simpler times with this one! 

Thursday, October 16, 2014


If you're looking for another exciting YA series to try, check out the Maze Runner by James Dashner.  It's the first in an exciting thriller series and is a finalist for the Iowa Teen Book Award. 

In the Maze Runner, we meet an unnamed character who wakes up in an elevator.  He has no memories of his previous life, and no idea how he got in the elevator.  When the doors open, he finds himself outdoors crowded by a group of men about his same age, which he guesses is 16.  He slowly learns that all of them are in the same predicament.  Some have been there for several months, but no one really knows where they are or why.  Various supplies and food is sent up in the elevator for them.  They were able to build a farm and a small house but they are enclosed by giant walls.  Every day the walls open to reveal a path that leads to a giant maze.  Several of the boys enlist as maze runners to try to map the maze and see where it goes.  If they get stuck out there at night, they are stung by giant mechanical beasts.

Okay, so it sounds kind of weird but it will really pull you in.  The mystery will keep you turning pages.  The book has two sequels and a prequel, so you won't learn all of the secrets in the first one.  Check this out if you enjoyed Hunger Games!

Friday, September 19, 2014


Destination Truth: Memoirs of a Monster Hunter is written by TV personality/world explorer Josh Gates.  Josh hosts the popular SyFy series, Destination Truth.  If you've never seen the show, it follows Josh and his crew as they travel to remote parts of the world searching for creatures, ghosts, and monsters that supposedly reside there.  Many times, they find alternative explanations for what locals have been seeing, however, sometimes they are able to catch evidence of paranormal activity that leaves them scratching their heads. 
Josh's memoirs begin by describing how he got the hosting job at SyFy, his first sloppily planned investigations and the hijinks, fun, and danger that subsequently ensues.  He also includes details about the cryptids they have investigated and what his conclusions are on whether or not they really exist.  It is interesting insight from someone who has traveled, investigated, and met with many witnesses around the world. 
Even if you have never seen the show before, this is a fun read.  Josh is witty, honest, and not afraid to poke fun at himself.  Reading about the cultures and the stories they have passed down from generation to generation appeals to many readers.  This would also be a good book for teens with an interest in the paranormal.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Destiny of the Republic interweaves the stories of Charles Guiteau, James Garfield, and Alexander Graham Bell. Charles Guiteau's life story is quite fascinating and it is very clear that the man who would kill Garfield was insane.
James Garfield's story is very American for that time. He grew up poor, but was able to make a name for himself. He never aspired to be President, and reluctantly took the position. He hoped to make changes to the spoils system, but never had the chance.
Bell's story is included as he worked desperately to invent something that could detect the bullet in Garfield's back. He had an interesting history working with the deaf.
Millard is an expert at crafting nonfiction in a way that appeals to the reader. She chooses lesser known historical events and brings them to light by revealing all the characters involved. It was very hard to put down this book, wondering what would happen next. She also does this exceptionally well in The River of Doubt.
I would recommend this to anyone that is a nonfiction reader, especially of history.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse

I recently finished listening to the audiobook edition of Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse by James Swanson. I have previously read and enjoyed Swanson's other books about Lincoln, Manhunt and Chasing Lincoln's Killer.

Bloody Crimes follows both Lincoln and Davis and explores their similarities and differences. Davis seems to have been in a bit of denial about his defeat and was in no hurry to leave his capital city of Richmond. Davis isn't villified in the book, he is actually made out to be an intelligent, thoughtful- though misguided, person.

Lincoln was just beginning to enjoy his victory when his life was cut short by Booth's bullet.

Swanson again retells Lincoln's death, but most of the story is told from the point he is carried into Peterson house, just across from Ford's Theatre. His body travels cross country and great pains were to taken to ensure he looked decent enough for public viewing.

This is another great Lincoln book and is unique because of the focus on his death, rather than life. That sounds a bit morbid, but truly, it is fascinating. Also, you'll learn a lot about Jefferson Davis and what it was like to lose the Civil War.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Marsbound by Joe Haldeman

This is the second novel by Joe Haldeman that I have read. The other is The Accidental Time Machine, which I very much enjoyed. This novel was also very good because of it's readability. Haldeman does not get deep into the science behind his fiction, he keeps it simple and interesting so it will appeal to all fiction readers.
This particular novel follows a teen girl named Carmen, who is moving to Mars with her family. Obviously set in the future, they use a space elevator to reach a station above the earth and then board a shuttle for Mars. The entire trip takes about 8 months. For me, this was the most enjoyable part of the story because I liked imagining what it would be like to live in a space elevator and shuttle for so long. It was also interesting to read how the technology worked.
Once on Mars, Carmen finds herself in a heap of trouble and makes a startling discovery. The second half of the book is quite a bit different from the first, but also very entertaining. I highly recommend it to science fiction and adventure fans. Will also appeal to teens.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Well I just got back from vacation and read a few interesting books on the way.

The first book I finished was The Big Burn by Timothy Egan. It is essentially two stories interwoven, the friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot which lead to the creation of the Forest Service, and the nation's largest wildfire in the summer of 1910. He describes the politics and passion behind the nation's conservation movement and ascribes much credit to the huge wildfire for fanning the flame, so to speak. Much of the book recounted the terrible days and nights the rangers and firefighters spent trying to put out the flames. Many died and many more were severely injured by the flames, smoke, and falling trees.  Another great read about a little known event that had a big impact. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Lost City of Z

Here is another bestseller I finally got around to reading, The Lost City of Z by David Grann. It's about the British explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in 1925 while searching for a lost elaborate city in the Amazon. The lost city of gold, or El Dorado, was long sought by explorers to the region. Fawcett wasn't searching for gold as much as he was searching to prove himself correct. He believed in a civilization that could live and thrive in the dangerous region. He himself had visited the Amazon numerous times and learned how to communicate with the local tribes and avoid the disease and starvation that had plagued so many. If anyone could find a lost city, it would be Fawcett.
Fawcett also took along his son Jack and Jack's friend Raleigh. They were last heard from on May 29, 1925. He was a well known explorer, so many people decided to venture after him. The book reports that some have estimated over 100 people died or were lost trying to find him.
The story is fascinating and Grann does a terrific job of describing the character that was Fawcett. He, himself, also ventured to the Amazon region and found a world much different than the one Fawcett explored.

This is a great adventure read that doesn't get bogged down by scientific facts or narrative. Highly recommended for adults, and teens would also like this!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Run Like a Mother

This one's for the ladies. The ones who like to move and move fast. It's called Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea. It all started with two women who had just had children, trying to get back into running shape. They decided to pitch an article to Runner's World about their journey. That whole experience with them trying to balance family, work, and running lead them to write this book.

There is a lot of great advice in here for runners of all ages, but it is geared toward time crunched mothers who have to consider their families in their decisions. They give advice on nutrition, racing, finding motivation, and managing children and husbands. The training plans are geared toward beginners.  Their insight is both humorous and helpful. This is a great read for women athletes who can relate to the authors' experiences and find inspiration in their successes. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Playing with the Enemy by Gary Moore

At first glance, one might think Playing with the Enemy by Gary Moore is a baseball book. However, it really is a book about many things, World War II, rural life, and dealing with disappointments.

Gary Moore wrote the book about his father who was an amazing player. At 15 he was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers. However, World War 2 began and baseball came to a standstill as players enlisted in the service. Gary's father, Gene was able to enlist as well and was placed on a team that traveled the globe playing baseball. Everything changed when the U.S. captured a group of German soldiers and, for reasons you'll have to read to find out, had to keep them secret. The ragtag team of baseball players were forced to keep close watch over these prisoners. So what did they do? They played baseball with them.

This is a great uplifting read from a local (ish) author. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

American Lion

Quick pick-
Andrew Jackson, one of our most hated Presidents, is the subject of the biography, American Lion by Jon Meacham. So why would you want to read about Jackson anyway? Well, his idea of the Presidency was unique, as he took great pride in the position and power. His term was filled with social drama of high society. Meacham also gives us insight on Jackson's mistreatment of Native Americans and slaves.
Don't be fooled, this is no textbook on his presidency. Meacham writes a very readable book about a very complicated man. A great read for history buffs!

Sunday, May 4, 2014


Breathers: a zombie's lament by SG Browne is a bit of a horror story, but mostly a romantic comedy. It's about Andy, a middle aged zombie who reanimated after a grisly car accident. His wife died and his daughter was sent to live with her aunt. He wandered back home and now lives in his parent's wine cellar.
Being a zombie is a bit shameful for all involved. Andy can't speak because of his accident so he limps around town with a wipeboard over his neck. More often than not, he comes home covered in food and garbage people have thrown at him.
His parents are ashamed of him and hide him away when friends come to visit. Andy really only leaves the house to go to his support group meetings where you meet an interesting cast of characters, some who meet their untimely demise when breathers (aka living people) beat them and pull off their limbs. Rita, a suicide victim with stitches over her neck and wrists, soon becomes Andy's love interest though he struggles with his feelings because he still misses his wife.
Ultimately, this a funny and touching story about what it's like to be an outsider.
Check out "Andy's blog" here.

Monday, April 28, 2014


4:09:43: Boston 2013 Through the Eyes of the Runners by Hal Higdon.

Before I left to run Boston, I happened to receive this book for review, so I was very interested to get a feeling for what to expect.
When I first started reading the book, it seemed a bit disjointed. It begins with a foreward, preface, and introduction. They were not in chronological order and they seemed to jump around quite a bit.  I was getting a little lost. Once the chapters started, the story stuck with a more chronological order that I appreciated. Each chapter focused on a different runner's perspective of that day. I got a true feeling for what it was like to be in Boston that day, first the nerves and anxiety, then the excitement, then the terror and sadness.

I appreciated hearing all the different perspectives, but I felt it could have been written better. Higdon is great running coach and writes well technically, but I felt this lacked a little in terms of writing style. Nonetheless, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in running and, more specifically, the Boston Marathon. You get a feeling of what it would be like to be there in the best of times and the worst of times.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Grief Observed

Easily the saddest book I have ever read, C.S. Lewis' book A Grief Observed is his journal he wrote after his wife Joy died of cancer.
It was the first time in his life that he had experienced such a sudden jolt of pain and it is evident in his words that he was completely lost. Lewis' faith was tested and he shares his doubts and anger towards God with readers.
"What chokes every prayer and every hope is the memory of all the prayers H. and I offered and all the false hopes we had. Not hopes raised merely by our own wishful thinking, hopes encouraged, even forced upon us, by false diagnoses, by X-ray photographs, by strange remissions, by one temporary recovery that might have ranked as a miracle. Step by step we were 'led up the garden path.' Time after time, when He seemed most gracious He was really preparing the next torture."

It is a very personal experience that few people are willing to share with the world. As time passes, Lewis comes to conclusions about death and life that will give hope to anyone who has lost a loved one.

"God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't."

Monday, February 24, 2014

Eleanor Vs. Ike

Scott County Reads book discussion group just finished a discussion of the book Eleanor Vs. Ike by Robin Gerber. The book is a work of fiction that explores the possibility of an election between Eleanor Roosevelt and Dwight D Eisenhower.
We discussed if the events in the book could actually have happened or not. We also talked about what did happen in the election between Eisenhower and Stephenson, compared to the fictional election between Eleanor and Ike. Gerber did a great job blending facts with the fiction and we all had to do our homework when I came to distinguishing the two.
All members of the group really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to fans of history and historical fiction.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Assassination Vacation

Venture into the hilarious world of assassinations. Yes, hilarious. Sarah Vowell, a humorist/columnist/voice of public radio has a morbid interest in Presidential assassinations. She set out to visit various sites across the U.S. that are linked to the assassinations and recorded her adventures in this hilarious travelogue.

Vowell brings readers to the homes of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley as well as to more obscure places such as the Mutter Museum which has specimens of John Wilkes Booth's thorax and Charles Guiteau's (Garfield's assassin) brain.

Here is a chart from the Mutter of Pres. McKinley after he was shot.

By speaking with the historians, curators, and tour guides, Vowell brings readers very close to the assassins by revealing their lives, motives, and deaths. For example, she points out that many people hated Lincoln, and Booth thought that he would be a hero. Also revealed is the poor and lonely childhood of McKinley's assassin, Czolgosz. Looking to find a place to fit in, he began attending anarchist meetings and thus began his plan.

Though death is the "theme" of the book, Vowell looks at the assassinations as as story and examines each character objectively and with humor. Those interested in history will be pleased to learn a great deal about the assassinations- much more than is ever taught in any school. Travelers will be inspired to visit the many museums and historical sites mentioned. Recommended for fans of Lincoln books and travelogues.

Hear Sarah Vowell read an excerpt here