Curveball

The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, the First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League

Written by: Martha Ackman
Narrated by: April Matthis
Rating: 1 – Everyone should know this story and this woman’s tenacity

An Inimitable Perspective of Professional Baseball

Being a big baseball fan, I was surprised I had never heard of Toni Stone (aka, Tom Boy Stone, and Marcenia Lyle Stone). How could such a compelling story of overcoming odds not be in the mainstream the way Jackie Robinson is.

This book is fascinating from the get-go as Toni’s own words describe her motivations, struggles, tenacity, and her love of the game. I tried to picture myself as a white male trying to make it in the baseball world. My cortisol level skyrockets, just thinking about trying to do that. Toni was fearless and didn’t care about the opinions of others. Sure she was disappointed when she was rejected for being a “woman in a man’s world” but she remained committed to the goal.

True comparisons of Toni are not possible as most of her stats weren’t recorded at that time. Journalists were covering white baseball and the black newspapers weren’t capable of following the traveling ballclubs that Toni played. However, I’m going to read this book again with my aspiring baseball/softball playing daughter so she’ll be aware of Toni’s efforts and dedication against all odds.

A sad anecdote from the book about the reaction from fans (white and black alike) when in 1985 Vince Coleman an outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals made the following comment: “I don’t know nothin’ about him. Why are you asking me about┬áJackie Robinson?” Sadly, that’s actually the thoughts and attitudes of many, if they ever hear of Toni in the first place.

My favorite part was hearing that Toni was ostensibly an Oakland Athletics fan based on the story from Ernie Banks about seeing her at the ballgame.

Other works for consideration:
1. ESPN Article and interview with Martha Ackman
2. San Francisco Chronicle Article
3. Making My Pitch: A Woman’s Baseball Odyssey, by Ila Jane Borders
4. Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, by Charles Leerhsen

We Are Legion

We Are Bob

Written by: Dennis E. Taylor
Narrated by: Ray Porter
Originally Reviewed: 02-27-17 on audible.com
Rating: 2 – Fitting for those who enjoy Sci-Fi,
Psychology (split/multiple personality disorder), and humorous storytelling

Thoroughly Enjoyed It, But…

It’s really hard to level criticism against a book that attempted this monumental undertaking. Seriously, the premise of this book could easily have crashed before liftoff due to the complexities of both time and personalities, but the author definitely had a plan, stuck to it, and ended up with an obvious first book of a series that could span one-hundred titles.

My criticism is this: so much was skipped in exigency of completing this book. Some philosophy, split personality disorder, relativity, physics, biology, evolution all were sacrificed to tell the tale of a world suffering at the hands of religious conservatives (the only point he really tries to make in the book (which was juvenile and baseless anyway)).

I’m really excited to listen to the sequels – and hopefully parallel novels – that will come. The world created by Dennis Taylor has potential to rival the Star Wars Universe, Star Trek, etc., if only he could encompass more of the aforementioned and expand some antagonist viewpoints.

The narrator was fine and I was easily able to listen at 3x speed.

Other works for consideration:
1. Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk
2. Spell or High Water: Magic 2.0, by Scott Meyer
3. Red Shirts, by John Scalzi
4. Pilot X, by Tom Merritt

QB

My Life Behind the Spiral

Written by: Steve Young
Narrated by: Steve Young, George Newbern
Originally Reviewed: 08-05-17 on audible.com
Rating: 2 – For Sports Fans, and Any Else Who Cheer For the Underdog

Could’ve Been the Greatest Ever…

… I don’t think anyone disputes the potential Steve Young had to be the Greatest of All Time. But the dichotomy is that he wasn’t because he was behind Joe Montana for so long but wouldn’t have been as good as he was had he not been behind Joe Montana for so long. The takeaway from this book is that Steve felt the same.

I thoroughly enjoyed this entire book and it endeared me to Steve even more than I was before. Although I was too young to watch him at BYU, his was a household name throughout Utah even as a backup in San Francisco. Because Utah doesn’t have a professional football team, local fans are split between geographically closer Denver, but Steve Young following San Fran (we also, like everyone else, have our pocket of dumb Cowboys fans).

Steve’s description of his anxiety was most compelling about his career, but mostly how he overcame it. There are other anecdotes you’ll love and cry over, but I’ll let you discover them on your own. This, by no means, is a great auto-biography in regard to writing style. Jim Abbott’s auto-biography is still tops for me as his overriding theme was his perfect game with the rest of his personal history scattered throughout. Steve could’ve done the same by building up to his Super Bowl MVP performance, because after that, one already knows that he and the 49ers didn’t win another Super Bowl. In this book, his religious faith and anxiety are the overall theme.

The narrator was fine, but Steve narrates the opening and epilogue; he could have done the whole book which is what I expect from an auto-biography… I want to hear from him, emphasizing what he thought was important. Bruce Springsteen narrating his auto-biography is my favorite of all time.

I usually listen at 3x speed and had no issues with this book.

Other works for consideration:
1. Imperfect, by Jim Abbott
2. The Arm, by Jeff Passan
3. Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen

14

Written by: Peter Clines
Narrated by: Ray Porter
Originally Reviewed: 08-14-17 on audible.com
Rating: 2 – A Fun One with Polorazing Reviews on Audible

A Surprisingly Fun and Unique Story

My biggest complaint about books these days is that they lack originality, this book does not fall into that category. I picked this book up on the $4.95 special a few weeks ago and just planned to listen to it “some day when I have nothing else” But my brother listened to it and said, it was a lot of fun and fairly well written; we rarely disagree on books so I had to jump into this. Through the first few chapters I was starting to think my brother and I were more different than past history has manifested, but the book became good, and then really good. It was not anywhere near “great”, but it’s delightful and probably worth a second listen in a year or so.

Essentially this book is a cross between your standard mystery and standard fantasy, but the author’s presentation and the confluence of multiple historical themes and personalities is where he really captured me. Knowing now what I do, I would have paid full price for this book.

I usually listen at 3x speed and had no issues with this book. The narrator, Ray Porter, was excellent. He also did both of Dennis E. Taylor’s books of the Bobiverse series of which he was even better. In “14”; there were only a few characters that he brought to life, but in the Bobiverse, there’s several and each are performed masterfully.

Other works for consideration:
1. Bobiverse Series, by Dennis E. Taylor
2. Dead Moon, by Peter Clines
3. A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs

This Kind of War

The Classic Korean War History

Written by: T.R. Fehrenbach
Narrated by: Kevin Foley
Originally Reviewed: 08-14-17 on audible.com
Rating: 2 – A must read for warriors, in preparation of conflicts yet to come

As We Sit on the Precipice of Part II…

Most people don’t realize what an Armistice actually is and therefore don’t know that this war in Korea never ended. Although we managed to not re-enter major conflict with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for the past 65+ years through the chaos and posturing of both Kim Jong-il and his father before him, it now seems inevitable that we will have to contain the exacerbated shenanigans of Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-un.

To do this, we have to study part one as if it occurred only two decades ago instead of six. And regain our lost experiences from 40 years of guerrilla warfare that we’ve mostly been engaged in. ‘This Kind of War’ brought so much perspective that I never really had. I grew up with Vietnam as the overture of American Foreign Policy debacle and then entered the Fanatical Islamic Terrorism age that we currently find ourselves. Although the macro view of the war is the premise of the book, the author delves into the tactical to operational and strategic engagements that helped lead to the Armistice as well as the preceding ousting of MacArthur (bad thing), but replacing him with Ridgway (good thing).

The book is filled with anecdotal examples of the deterioration of our military professionalism from the Greatest Generation in WWII up till the unanticipated invasion by the North.The fact that this preceded (in hyperbole) LBJ’s Great Society is quite ironic that we see the continuation of social experiments in our military today as we face the same enemy.

I normally listen at 3x speed, but usually am forced to slow for jam-packed details of history and foreign names of locations and people, but had no problem with the narrator in this version.

My guess is if we do get involved in full-spectrum conflict in Korea, 30-50% of our Soldiers will be returning in body bags, which will pale in comparison to the 100,000s of Koreans (North and South) that will die. We’re probably not ready for this, the way that MacArthur’s forces weren’t ready the first go around. However, the consequences will be far more deadly and although nuclear consideration during the first war were there, they are undeniable in this one, even if only through the contamination of from damaged radioactive facilities.



Other works for consideration:
1. Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick
2. Act of War, by Jack Cheevers
3. East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950, by Roy E. Appleman
4. Article for Soldiers, by Jonathan Love

Once There Was a War

Written by: John Steinbeck
Narrated by: Lloyd James
Originally Reviewed: 03-21-2017 on audible.com
Rating: 2 – A must read for warriors, others might not fully appreicate this perspective

An Inimitable Perspective, Only Capable of Steinbeck

This collection has got to be my most cherished book from audible. There’s so much here that resonates with this Soldier that I can’t believe that the sentiments are not from the current conflicts. Steinbeck captures what no others have. The easily unnoticed details of everyday life that seem so arbitrary are written so beautifully that one gets lost in the miasma of war to follow the floating butterfly.

Although I didn’t cry, I could feel Steinbeck reaching out and gently massaging my emotions; he made me laugh and caused a soul stirring tremor. Each story is short, but flows as one aspect of one life during one battle. Yet, he covers London through the Mediterranean – an often forgotten portion of World War II – brilliantly.

Regarding the narration: mellifluous prose that brings Steinbeck to life. Lloyd James did well with this one. He narrates several Heinlein books, including my favorite – Starship Troopers – and I couldn’t help but feel as if Steinbeck, Heinlein, and James were all locked in a room and created both of these books concurrently. I’ve listened to other Heinlein books narrated by James and have listened to several of Steinbeck’s by different voices, but the two aforementioned are so a like that if one didn’t know the backstory of either, it would seem as if they were each parts of a magnum opus. Steinbeck’s stories are so similar to the philosophy that Heinlein analogously portrays through Juan Ricco.

I normally listen at 3x speed and had no problems with this one. The audio is crisp and without editing errors that are saturated in Lloyd James’ narration of Starship Troopers.

Highly recommend this book, especially if you’re or were a Soldier.



Other works for consideration:
1. Band of Brothers, by Stephen Ambrose
2. The Poem of El Cid, by unknown
3. The Song of Roland, by unknown
4. Article – Verses Born in Battle: A Comparison of World War I and GWOT War Poetry, Luke Ryan

Surprise, Kill, Vanish

The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators and Assassins

Written by: Annie Jacobsen
Narrated by: Annie Jacobsen

Rating: 1 – All should read to understand this secret history

Unsung Heroes Who Answered the Call

These are the people we need to honor, the ones who have been executing the tough assignments around the globe during and since WWII. Our country is actually very generous with their praise of military members and their civilian counterparts of OGAs, but our common knowledge of covert operations in media is severly lacking. You could argue that the obscurity of such operations is essential to the success, but after a while (50 years) I think we should be educating ourselves on these men and women. This book is a great leap forward in this undertaking, highlighting a few of the operations and personalities engaged is covert operations.

This book primarily follows the – nothing short of incredible – career of Green Beret turned covert operator Billy Waugh. However several others are mentioned and explored. From cross boarder operations in Vietnam to kill/capture missions of terrorists and assassins across the globe. Waugh who first entered service before the Korean War and served as an infantryman in that conflict, became a Green Beret and fought in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, also continued his service to this country into his 70s, conducting operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other areas. Most incredibly – as noted by another subject of the book – what is known about Waugh’s exploits is incremental to what he actually did throughout the past 60+ years… in fact Billy is probably still called upon to do things no others can/will.

This account of covert operations is mostly conducted by former Special Forces (a.k.a. Green Berets) and actually only mentions their navy counterparts balancing balls on their noses once, when Billy had to do a mission instead of a Seal in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I don’t diminish anything done by the great operators of the Navy Seals, but this book is a breath of fresh air instead of the constant bombardment from the “Trident Publishing House”.

Relentless Strike is a more contemporary history that includes the military covert actions of both the Army and Navy, but Surprise, Kill, Vanish is by far a more comprehensive history with more details of action however still masked with a veil of secrecy.

I listened to this book on Audible at 3x speed and had no issues. The author is the narrator and does a fine job.



Other works for consideration:
1. Relentless Strike, by Sean Naylor
2. Killing Pablo, Mark Bowden
3. 12 Strong, by Doug Stanton
4. Black Hawk Down, by Mark Bowden
5. Five Years to Freedom, by James N. Rowe
6. Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, by Giles Milton
7. Rogue Heroes, by Ben Macintyre
8. Wild Bill Donovan, by Douglas Waller
9. Beyond Valor, by Patrick O’Donnell

Nothing To Envy

Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Written by: Barbara Demick
Narrated by: Karen White
Originally Reviewed: 09-21-17 on audible.com
Rating: 1 – All should read to understand what North Korea really is

The Non-Fiction Version of 1984

Throughout the book I was constantly saying to myself that the totalitarianism environment of North Korea (nK) was just like that described by George Orwell in, 1984. My feelings were validated toward the end of the book when one of the defectors from nK – who had found Orwell’s prophetic masterpiece – was so surprised as the vivid detail of that dystopia paralleling that of his homeland.

Prior to this book, I had read, This Kind of War, by T.R. Fehrenbach, and Act of War, by Jack Cheevers (both giving me a glimpse into nK life and barbarism), but it was Demick’s Nothing to Envy that really portrayed the plight of the people living under the brutal regime, their fundamental misunderstanding of all life outside of nK, and their inculcated resentment toward the US and South Korea. It’s funny how this last bastion of Socialism is so iconic of the full embrace of the ideology, but people throughout the world still believe it an ideal form of government.

I highly recommend this book as we are on the precipice of another war. The Soldiers who’ll be intimately involved with the reunification of the nK people must understand the indoctrinated, ignorant, and emaciated people so they’ll have compassion instead of only the quixotic American perspective of “join or die” because that won’t work and we’ll find ourselves in another Asian Quagmire.

The narrator was great (I only give five stars to the truly fantastic) and I was able to listen at 3x speed without any issues. Her voice endured me to the defectors more than a male voice probably could and I truly appreciate her as the voice of Barbara Demick and the nK defectors.



Other works for consideration:
1. This Kind of War, by T.R. Fehrenbach
2. Act of War, by Jack Cheevers
3. East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950, by Roy E. Appleman

The Great Gatsby

Written by: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Narrated by: Jake Gyllenhaal
Originally Reviewed: 09-29-17 on audible.com
Rating: 2 – Don’t bother unless you just want to say you’ve read it

What’s All the Fuss?

Other than the beautifully descriptive prose (on par with the truly ‘Great’ Steinbeck) this story was – relative to its legacy – wholly unworthy of the praise it receives. In fact, I only rated it three stars for the imagery the author was able to convey and my delight in hearing the flow in the writing. However, Gyllenhaal, the editor – or both – nearly ruined it for me as the dubbing in the beginning was obvious and Gyllenhaal’s voice even changes with the character Tom Buchanan.

This isn’t an awful story and captures a perspective of that time, but seriously the story itself is nothing novel or inspiring; it’s just a random story. The title even fails at helping this book as I anticipated a thorough investigatory history of Jay Gatsby and what made him so great. But, in the end he’s just a character among characters, he just has the natural attraction that brings the story together. It’s almost as if the author drafted several distinct and unrelated characters and decided to put them all in a story and then created Gatsby as the connection.

I usually listen at three times speed, but had to slow it down to 2.5 in order to hear everything clearly and appreciate the poetry.

I probably won’t listen to this again. It’s not the worst of the “classics” I’ve listened to, but by no stretch of the imagination “…the Modern Library editorial board voted it the 20th century’s best American novel.”



Other works for consideration:
1. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
2. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
3. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

Twelve Years A Slave

The Autobiography of Solomon Northup

Written by: Solomon Northup
Narrated by: Louis Gossett Jr.
Originally Reviewed: 10-02-17 on audible.com
Rating: 1 – All Should Read this Story that Was Almost Lost

An Overwhelmingly Emotional Story of Grit

I, like most, hadn’t heard of this book until it became a movie. Not knowing anything about it, I assumed it was a modern day tale of suspected cruelty during our nation’s darkest history. Even picking it up on the Audible sale, I didn’t know what this really was and I’m grateful for the short introduction attesting to its place in history as the best "first-hand account" and the epilogue that explained how this lost auto-biography came back to life by a precocious little girl who dedicated her life to this work.

This book is a definite read for everyone and with Louis Gossett Jr. as narrator, you get a corollary powerful voice representing the author’s will and determination that very few others could.

Especially, with our current race division struggles in this country, this book provides anecdotal evidence of true barbarism that should quell the racial fervor on all sides; but I’m sure it will not.

I was able to listen at my usual 3x speed and I look forward to listening to this one again. I haven’t watched the movie yet, but looking forward to it.



Other works for consideration:
1. The Collected Works of Frederick Douglas, by Frederick Douglas
2. Slave Stealers, by Tim Ballard