Reading List for Patriots

I’ve put together a few patriotic books that I have really enjoyed – so much so that I plan on returning to them for a second, third, or fourth read.

John Adams 2

John Adams by David McCullough

It’s my goal to read a biography on every U.S. president and John Adams not only depicts one of the best, moral, upright men who have presided over our country, but McCullough’s book is quite possibly one of the greatest, gripping, and engaging biographies I have ever read, and probably will ever read. You will frequently hear readers of the book lament coming to the end of the book, aching for more, long as the book is. It reads like a movie, and you will actually feel like John Adams is a true friend by the end.

close to shore

Close to Shore by Michael Capuzzo

Think small-town America off of a New Jersey coast. The year is 1916. Beaches were just recently seen as recreational turf for outings and vacations. The ocean was seen as a big, safe, swimming pool. And the great white shark was believed to be as harmless as a puppy. Close to Shore captures the first known recorded shark attacks on American soil, in an age where violence in the waters was unheard of. This story inspired Peter Benchley’s Jaws which gave us one of the greatest American films of all time by director Stephen Spielberg. But Close to Shore is so fascinating, so unimaginable, that it would not be believed if it were written as fiction.


1776 by David McCullough

In McCullough’s detailed account of the monumental events in 1776, you have a much clearer and polished appreciation for the odds our forefathers were up against in the Revolutionary War. Not surprisingly, General Washington’s genius will blow your mind. And you will understand just how devastatingly close the Americans were to not winning our freedom. An intriguing, and sometimes suspenseful read. Another great by McCullough.


Devil in the White City by Eric Larson

History and fiction buffs unite! There’s something about America’s past that makes me well up inside. This book recreates America’s prime, and the author never bores when describing the pure-white city “as bright as Heaven itself, and so majestic that the Court of Honor alone brought grown men to tears upon seeing it.” Suspense seekers and history buffs ought to check this book out. It’s a lot of fun and very fascinating. And you will walk away with a deeper appreciation of the roots of America’s greatness, and why we are still the greatest country in the world 120 years later.


Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry

No other sport screams American pride like baseball, and in this book you will get a lot of both – baseball and American pride. Another book set in New Jersey, two triple-A teams pitted against each other on the day before Easter, April 18, 1981, neither knowing that they are about to go down in history as the longest professional baseball game ever. Even baseball naysayers will get caught up in the poet-like writing of Barry’s fascinating account. This is one of my all-time favorite books.


Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

Mr. Disney. Walt. One of my favorite men in history, who created the most beloved empire the world has ever known. Gabler’s meticulous account of Walt Disney’s life is eye-opening and truly fascinating, and is a true rags-to-riches story that will make anyone believe that if you are persistent enough, clever enough, and talented enough, you can make it anywhere in America.


George Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

And of course, no patriotic reading list would be complete without the life of George Washington, our nation’s first President. Earlier I praised McCullough’s John Adams as being the best biography ever written – this book is just a tick below, only because Washington, as a man, was not as personable and warm as Adams was. So no biographer in the world could create a personal attachment between the great Washington and his readers. But Chernow, I believe, did the greatest job that could ever be expected. Thought this is probably the longest book I have ever read, I will gladly be revisiting it as soon as I can, so fascinating it was.

Please feel free to share some of your favorite patriotic book recommendations below, we’d love to hear from you!




Some Reading Fun

Enjoy this excerpt from my book, The Man in the Box. There will be a release date for the second edition coming soon. And don’t forget to Like The Man in the Box Facebook page for a chance to win a free, autographed copy!

From Chapter 18

Robbie turned off the radio. It was up to him to break the ice. He said, “We missed you at breakfast.”

Taylor continued to stare at the window with her chin in her hand.

“That coffee’s for you,” he said, motioning toward the mug in the cup holder beside them. “Just cream. No sugar.”

“I like sugar now,” mumbled Taylor.

Robbie nodded, taking note of one of the many changes about his little girl. “How’s Darrin?” he asked, but bit his tongue as soon as the wrong name snuck out of his mouth.

“It’s Dwayne. And fine.”

“You never did tell me why you were crying last night. I figured you had broken up.”

“Dwayne wants me to go to a party that I know you’re not going to let me go to; it’s no big deal, okay? There. You know all you need to know.” She said this as she pulled a piece of paper out of a side pocket from her duffle bag and shoved it in his direction.

Robbie didn’t know what frustrated him more: the fact that this twerp was pressuring his daughter to go to a party or that she was still dating him.

Wanting to steer clear of the romance department, he ignored the paper she was pushing toward him and decided to just jump in feet first and get to the bottom of last night’s escape attempt. He asked, “What happened last night? Where were you going? Were you going to that party?”

“No, I wasn’t. It’s not for a while. Next month or something,” was Taylor’s muffled response.

“You know you’re grounded, right?”

“Good. I love missing out on my social life,” snapped Taylor, throwing the paper to the floorboard in a fit.

“Hey. Don’t get smart with me,” retorted Robbie, growing angry.

Taylor threw back, “You’re the ones who think you’re so smart! You don’t even know what I was doing last night!”

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you were sneaking out, Taylor. So maybe we’re not as smart as you think!” Robbie shook his head and vilified himself for his absent-minded comeback.

Taylor just rolled her eyes and turned her head away, refocusing her sight out the window.

After a moment, a calmer Robbie asked, “So what were you doing last night?”

“What do youcare? You’re too busy coming up with reasons to get me in trouble.”

“Not get you in trouble. We’re trying to keep you fromtrouble.”

Taylor just mimicked Robbie, sticking her lower lip out in a mock gesture. He just about blew a fuse. He prayed her own children would be just like her for the sole purpose of making her pay for all of his headaches.

“Here’s a newsflash Taylor,” started Robbie. “If you would just talkto us, then maybe we wouldn’t be so suspicious of whatever you’re doing. What is it, Taylor? I care; talk to me. Is it drugs?”


“You’re not into that voodoo Wicca stuff are you?”


“Is it sex?”


“Oh please don’t let it be sex. You already have a kid, don’t you?”

“Yes, Dad, I managed to hide my fat stomach from the entire family for nine months.”

“You see! I don’t know if you’re telling me the truth right now or just being sarcastic with me which, as you know, would be lying,” yelled Robbie. “I don’t know how to read you.”

“Why do you even have to read me at all? Why can’t you just leave me alone?”

Robbie stopped behind a line of cars at the stoplight. “Because you’re my daughter, and that’s not what parents do, Taylor. Apparently you’ll find that out in about fifteen years when little Wayne is sitting in your spot and you’re driving him to school.”

Taylor sighed in utter frustration saying, “I don’t have a baby, Dad!”

“Is there a chance that you could be having one?” Robbie awkwardly asked, unable to suppress his curiosity.

The light was still red, and Taylor flew open the door and jumped out of the car yelling over her shoulder, “I’m walking to practice!” Then she slammed the door, flying her duffle bag over her shoulder.

Robbie, in a moment of utter shock, had his eyes only on Taylor when he gassed the car to follow after her. He flew right into the car in front of him, lurching him forward, catching on the seatbelt. The sound of crunching metal sent him into a panic as he saw dollar signs float away on wings all around him. The coffee spilled all over his right leg throwing him into a world of pain, and he clumsily tried pulling his pant leg apart from his skin to ease the burn.

He looked at Taylor who was just a few feet away, expecting her to come back to the car. But she just gave him those eyes that told him he was just plain embarrassing and continued to walk off.


A Message From My Daughter

photo-16Hi. My daddy’s taking a nap.

I’d be crying right now just to see how long I can keep him awake, but my throat’s a bit sore, so I decided to hack into his blog and write a secret post without him knowing.

(By the way, I feel like I should be named James… I’ll see if I can get him to explain that some time.)

Here’s the thing. My daddy’s too proud to admit it, but he’s a  little stressed right now.

You see, he’s got over 10,000 people following his blog, but only 333 people have liked his book’s Facebook page. 

And that makes him sad.

His book’s been published by a local publisher, which is good. But bigger publishers, like Random House or Harper Collins won’t buy it if there’s not enough generated interest in it.

And 333 likes on Facebook is hardly enough interest to get them to publish his book.

He just turned in the final revisions for the second edition yesterday (he said he had made the classic first-time-author mistake of rushing it through the press too quickly). But he’s spent the last five months fixing it up and making it 100% better, and bestseller-worthy.

Which is weird because it already has an almost-perfect rating on Amazon and Goodreads.

I guess my dad’s a sort of perfectionist. I wonder if I’ll get that from him.

My mom is too, so I probably will.

Anyway. My daddy really believes with all his heart that his book can be a major bestseller.

(“I know all writers say that,” he insists as he paces around the house. “But this is seriously one of the best fictional books since… I don’t know… Jurassic Park!”) 

And if it becomes a bestseller, then that’s good news for me, because then I can brag to all my friends in the church nursery that my daddy’s a bestselling author.

Then they’ll say, “Well I’m too young to read his book. It’s too suspenseful and action-packed for someone my age.”

Then I’ll say, “Don’t worry. He’s working on a young reader’s novel that you’ll get to read in a few years.”

So please like my daddy’s book on Facebook. (I looked it up: it’s not enough to just “like” this post. You’ve got to actually click on THIS LINK.)

Plus, I hear there’ll be a drawing for 10 people to win a free autographed copy, so what do you have to lose?

He wrote up a book trailer a couple of days ago, so go check it out to see what it’s about. It looks too intense for me, but I’m sure you’ll like it.

Love, Baby A.

Is Divergent as Good as Hunger Games?

divergentThis is a spoiler-free review.

I just read Divergent by Veronica Roth.

Apparently she wrote it while she was in college and two other books completes her trilogy.

Like Hunger Games, it is set in a dystopian world, and also like Hunger Games, it is written in that awesome first-person present tense style that really seems to be catching on.

You should know that my wife and I are pretty obsessed when it comes to Hunger Games, and I’m sure Roth doesn’t appreciate her story being compared to something so superior.

However, one can hardly divorce the two.

Divergent lacks the big-picture suspense story that carries Hunger Games, as it’s sometimes hard to see where Roth is taking her readers. There’s little setup from the start, explaining her dystopian Chicago, which could have served as great suspense marks.

But at the same time, it’s not such a bad thing to learn about things as the protagonist does.

When I finished Divergent, Sarabeth asked me the same question everyone else is wondering: “Is it better than Hunger Games?

My answer was no.

“If you hadn’t read Hunger Games, would you have liked it more?”

My answer again, was no.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually enjoyed the book. But unlike Hunger Games, my criticisms kept building up.

My biggest hangup with the book was the love story.

Now, I realize this is a teen book centered around an adolescent girl, but I just kept rolling my eyes each time the love interests came together for yet more snogging and oohing and awing.

To be honest, it’s the most I’ve wanted to throw up due to such over-the-top sentiments.

Maybe I wouldn’t’ve felt that way if it wasn’t so forced and manufactured. Really, it was just very difficult to buy into.

As for the rest of the book?

I actually enjoyed the author’s world where society is broken up into separate factions based off of different virtues. It is a very well thought-out world, and many scenes were quite heart-stopping as you had no idea what the sadist villain was going to come up with next (don’t you just love a terribly wicked bad guy?).

Would I recommend it? Sure thing. A good fiction is hard to find these days, and I would qualify this as good enough. I’ll certainly be reading the next two books when they’re available in paperback.

However, I will say this. I’d much sooner allow my kids to read Hunger Games long before I hand Divergent over to them. It’s not as sexual, Katniss isn’t all googly-eyed and wounded by Cupid, and the lines of good vs. evil aren’t so blurred.

What are your thoughts on the book? Which series do you like better? Share your thoughts below.

Weighing Two Lives

I love biographies. And to me, the thicker, the better.

Probably because I want to know every juicy piece of information on the subject I’m studying.

I recently read two very different biographies.

You’ve heard of both men.

Both were great, their names are immortal, left lasting legacies, were geniuses in their own rights.

One was all-American, while the other was favored throughout all of England, and eventually the world.

One as born in the 18th century, the other in the following century.

One helped found a country, the other entertained audiences the world over.

John_Adams_bookJohn Adams, the brains behind the Constitution and advocate of secession from Britain, and second president of the United States, lived a moral, upright life. Though he was criticized and stabbed in the back nearly all his professional life, he loved life, loved his family, and kept his friends close.

Charles Dickens, many may be surprised to hear (as I was), was quite the opposite. Yet, he lived the life every artist dreams, while Adams felt his duty was in some way a curse, yet he stood firm, carrying his tasks faithfully and uncomplainingly.

Dickens was celebrated as the world’s greatest author and storyteller during his lifetime, yet he was unhappy with his life. He hated his wife, despised his children, disowned his father, and was ashamed of his siblings. He was an unhappy man with a short temper, and loose with women who caught his attention.


Adams, the weight of a new and shaky country placed on his shoulders, yet happy, loving, joyful, grateful, loved, and honored.

Dickens, blessed with fame and talent, yet discontent, angry, full of hatred and an unforgiving spirit.

There is sufficient evidence that John Adams was a believer and lover of God. While Dickens gives no such claim or shows no devotion outside his works. Dickens showed interest in merely himself and his wallet, while Adams spent himself fully on his fellow man and for the good of others, yet still found time to give his love and devotion to his family.

It’s an interesting study of comparison.

It’s funny, because I’ve been a fan of Charles Dickens for several years, but now, I’m not so sure I respect his memory much. However, my esteem and love for our Federalist president and founder has gone through the roof. Truly a man worth modeling one’s life and values after.

Truly a great man, and definitely a wonderful read which I’ll be returning to several more times.

Got John Adams’s biography by David McCullough here.

Get Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin here.

The Man in the Box, Chapter 4

My debut novel, The Man in the Box will be coming out in its second edition soon. Please enjoy these sample chapters until then (scroll down in “Book Recs” above for previous chapters). And be sure to Like The Man in the Box on Facebook for your chance to win a free autographed copy. More details here.

Chapter 4

Before Robbie had a chance to collapse from claustrophobia, he heard footsteps splashing in the water down one of the corridors. Feeling soiled in his wet clothes, and in need of answers, he ran after the echoes and called out, “Hello! Who’s there?”

The pattering footsteps was the only response he received. With the intensity of a bloodhound he followed the sound down the corridor.

The light from above did not reach Robbie that far into the cave, so he paused to let his eyes adjust to the darkness. Finally, he could just barely see the figure of a child about ten feet ahead. He walked slowly forward, not wanting to scare the kid off.

“My name is Robbie,” he said cautiously. “I just need to know how to get out of here.”

Although he couldn’t be certain of most things in the darkness, the young child was a girl (or else a boy with long hair), and she was glaring at him.

“Can you tell me where I am?” he asked as he inched closer to the little girl. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

He took a few steps closer, reaching out his hand toward her as if trying to feed a frightened fawn. The girl remained motionless, her arms down at her sides and her bare feet spread slightly apart.

“What’s your name?” asked Robbie.

Then, without so much as a warning the girl broke her scowl and hissed at him like a fierce cat, warning him to stay back.

He immediately pulled his hand back, still in one piece to his relief. As he studied her in the darkness, he realized she probably didn’t speak English. So he tried the only other way he knew to communicate, by gesturing with his hands.

“I’m,” Robbie said, pointing at his chest, “nice.” He said nice while smiling really wide and pressing his fingers into his cheeks. “I’m a friend,” he clarified.

Then he waved his arm around in a big circle followed by an exaggerated shrug: “Where are we?”

The girl took a step toward him, and against his instincts, Robbie stood his ground. She took another step and another, and gradually closed the gap between them. He could see her more clearly now as some of the blue light touched her. She looked like she was about eight or nine. She had long dark hair that dropped down her back in straight greasy lines. She wore a plain dirty beige cloak that hung down to her knees, like a burlap potato bag.

Now just feet away from each other, she moved her arm behind her back as if to scratch an itch. Robbie wondered what kinds of lice she might be carrying and cringed a little.

Even nanoseconds before she pulled her hand back in front of her bearing a dagger, he began to feel increasingly uneasy. Her eyes narrowed at him and she bared her teeth like a wolf. Robbie turned and sprinted in the opposite direction, all pretense of friendly grown-up behavior tossed aside as soon as he saw that threatening blade.

He heard her hissing and screaming from behind as he tried not to fall over anything in the darkness. He had to run with his arms stretched out in front of him in case he hit a wall. After a few uncertain feet, he saw light ahead. Robbie set his tracks on the faint beam that shined through the dark cavern.

He feared that the little girl was more an expert in running in the dark through ankle-deep water than he was; his wet shoes and socks were weighing him down. He tried not to imagine the little girl’s knife stabbing him in the lower back as he ran.

But somehow, before that happened, he made it to the light. The sudden brightness blinded him temporarily and all went black.

Next thing he knew, the ground gave way under him and he was falling. It all happened so fast that he didn’t even think to scream. All he could do was wait for the impact, as he twisted and twirled in the air, and pray that he wouldn’t feel it.

Suddenly he was submerged under lukewarm water and his body spiraled out of control as he plunged into the depths, feeling his limbs be torn apart in all directions. He choked on the water splashing down his throat. When at last the current stopped thrashing him about, he opened his eyes to determine which way he needed to swim for air. They had finally adjusted to the light and he was able to see the surface of the water and he swam toward the sun.

Just as he thought the water would never stop rising against him, his head broke through the surface and he gulped in a huge breath of air, satisfying his lungs to no end.

As he breathed in the delicious air he heard a loud shriek coming from above, followed by a splash close enough to spray his face. The girl was in the water now. She grabbed his foot and, with surprising strength, pulled him back under.

He tried kicking his foot to shake her off, but she grabbed onto his other foot holding them both together. Her strength was inhuman. The situation was quickly escalating into a full-on fight for his life as she began clawing at Robbie’s legs. She climbed all over him, pulling him further underwater. She then let go of a foot to grab his right hand, and she bit down where his thumb joined his palm. Robbie screamed in agonizing pain, sending the rest of his air up in bubbles. He tried to tear his hand away, but the girl would not release her bite.

Finally, in an act of desperation he swung at the girl with his one free foot, kicking her square in the stomach. The sudden release of her bite let forth a torrent of pain coursing through his hand. However, he was freed, so he quickly made his way up to the surface and again refilled his lungs with air, swirling blood all around him that gushed from his hand. His head spun wildly from lack of oxygen and too much pain.

Treading in the warm water, he began to grow nervous that he may have actually killed the girl, which of course was not his intent. He waited and watched the water, but she never surfaced. The only movement came from his own wading as he worked to stay afloat.

Panic grew in his chest as he started to realize that he was a murderer. It was self-defense! he assured the cynic voices screaming out in his head. If he hadn’t kicked her, she would have drowned him for sure. He ducked his head back under the water, but couldn’t see any sign of her. The lake was an empty abyss.

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From the Big Leagues to the Big Screen: The Story of Jim Morris


I had the privilege of interviewing legendary major league pitcher Jim Morris a few months ago. Here is how the conversation went:

Baseball fan or not, it is very likely you know something about former Devil Rays pitcher Jim “The Rookie” Morris. You will recall almost fourteen years ago when Walt Disney Pictures began launching real life sports dramas starting with Remember the Titans (2000). The next in line was The Rookie (2002), led by Dennis Quaid as big league hopeful, Jim Morris.

Not only did Morris’s life inspire a movie, but he also wrote a book, The Rookie, formerly titled The Oldest Rookie (coauthored by Joel Engel) which gives fans further insight into his life. In the preface Morris states, “It’s not me who touches people; it’s what I represent: the possibility that dreams from long ago may still come true, even if they look lost forever.”

“But what about people whose dreams really are lost forever?” I asked him over the phone. “People’s dreams aren’t lost forever,” he said adamantly. “You’ve got to dream a dream and make it come true.” This stubborn persistence does not stop at just words, as exemplified by his life story of achieving the big leagues at the age of thirty-five (twenty-eight is considered elderly in the modern world of professional baseball).

But he’s more than persistent. Somewhere beneath the taciturn exterior is a big-hearted man who finds value in people and seeks to connect. In one episode as described in his book, Morris and a group of guys are playing Poker while a storm rages outside. Morris draws back the curtains and jumps at the site of Andre the Giant peering in (no joke), probably looking for shelter. All of them were too stunned to do the polite thing and invite him in. “What would you have talked to him about if you had invited him to join you guys?” I asked. His answer didn’t miss a beat:

“I would have liked to get to know him. Get to know the man instead of the persona. You want to see what they’re like and see what their hearts are like.” He then quoted his grandfather, Ernest, “Don’t judge anybody by the outside.”

His relationship with his grandfather proved to be tantamount in Morris’s life. It was his grandfather who taught Morris, among other things, to follow his dreams, and how to treat a lady, be respectful, and be a God-fearing man. It was his grandparents that helped show him the way to God. From fifteen on, he knew that the way toward God was the path he wanted to take. “After my surgery I went from 88 mph throws to 98 mph throws.” He went on to say that that could only have been God, and that no one’s complained about him publicly attributing his success and talent to his Lord.

Even moving from town to town (his father was in the Navy), Morris has been playing baseball since he was three years old. Even from that age, his throw impressed the neighborhood kids enough to invite him to play in their games. Even before he made it to the minors, he was told that it could take more than a decade to make it to the major leagues – if he made it at all. I asked him if any part of him wanted to throw in the towel at that point. “No. I’m stubborn,” he answered.

Though he hadn’t yet hit seventy home runs in one major league season, Morris struck Mark McGwire out early in his career. One could only imagine what Morris thought years later in 1998 watching his former competitor rewrite baseball history. When I asked if he wished he could pitch to him again, he said that you “always want to pitch to someone again, especially when they’re at the top of their game.”

Morris would have had no regrets if his journey to the big leagues stopped at the triple-A’s or lower. “I did something to help a group of kids trust adults.” And that’s where the Disney movie picks up Morris’s life. As a high school biology teacher and baseball coach, his team made a wager with him that if they won the District Championship he would have to try out for the major leagues. He became a superstar literally overnight.

They won, he tried out, and he was drafted by the Tampa Devil Rays, thanks to his 12 consecutive 98-mph pitches – not his age. By his second day in the big leagues, he had to change his name to get a hotel room because everyone from everywhere wanted to hear and report his story, and why it took so long for this old rookie to finally find his place on the pitcher’s mound. When he and his agent pitched the movie idea to Disney that week, he told them, “I want [the movie] to be about the kids and second chances.” As soon as those words were out of his mouth in the producer’s office, he thought, That’s it. I’m done.

The movie was not only green-lit – it was everything Morris wanted, lacking only the relationship between him and his grandfather, and the impact he had on young Jim’s life. Aside from that, Morris was pleased with the final cut of director John Lee Hancock’s 2000 film. Since then, he’s directed The Alamo, The Blindside, and most recently the critically-acclaimed Saving Mr. Banks, which Morris expressed enthusiasm for. “[He’s] one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” said Morris about the director. He couldn’t emphasize enough how important it is for Hancock to get the facts right for his movies.

While filming, actor Dennis Quaid told Morris that if he sees anything wrong or out of character for him, stop him and correct him. Morris doesn’t keep in touch with his portrayer, although Quaid extended an invitation for him and his family to come out and stay at his ranch in Wyoming any time he’d like. “I feel like guys like him are on a different planet than guys like you and me,” said Morris when I asked if he plans on taking him up on that offer. “I just wouldn’t want to bother him.” I would love to hear someday that he took him up on it.

Jim Morris realized his childhood dream, with the help of a bunch of kids, at thirty-five. He pitched in twenty-one major league games from September 1999 to May 2000. Now, several years later, he’s travelling the world speaking to dreamers and baseball enthusiasts. He’s the official spokesman for Arms of Hope, a Texas-based non-profit Christian organization that assists children and single mothers in need of help. (You can check out their website at He lives with his wife and children in Kerrville, Texas with their two dogs Max and Butter. Oh, and he’s still teaching baseball. I guess some dreams, even after they’ve come true, refuse to die.

For more information on Jim Morris, visit his website at