Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: HOUSE BUILT ON ASHES by José Antonio Rodríguez

I reviewed House Built on Ashes: A Memoir (University of Oklahoma Press) by South Texas's José Antonio Rodríguez for Lone Star Literary Life. This is an engaging memoir by a writer with a fine eye for detail. Rodríguez uses small details to create a large story.

José Antonio Rodríguez
House Built on Ashes: A Memoir
University of Oklahoma Press
Paperback, 978-0-8061-5501-2, (also available as an e-book), 208 pgs., $19.95
February 16, 2017
“The lessons you’ve been taught about that golden land of promise called the United States sparkle before you like a glass of crystal cold water, and you marvel at your good fortune … becoming something mighty and tall with all that no one must ever doubt is right, becoming something you don’t know yet you hope will render you almost unrecognizable to who you are now, becoming one of them, becoming American.”
José Antonio Rodríguez grew up in McAllen, Texas, the youngest of ten children born to a homemaker and a citrus-farm field hand. On weekends, they crossed the river to visit family in the tiny Mexican village where Rodríguez was born. During the summers he worked Panhandle onion fields, as his mother told him to do well in school so he won’t have to pick onions when he is her age. Rodríguez excels and is placed in the Gifted and Talented Program in school. Eventually, he applies for naturalization because the scholarship he needs is only available to U.S. citizens. He’s conflicted when he swears the oath of loyalty, forsaking Mexico forever: “Up until this moment, that village over there across the river with its border guards and police dogs seemed like nothing but outhouses, sweat, and dirt,” Rodríguez writes. “Nothing to miss. Nothing at all.”

House Built on Ashes: A Memoir by José Antonio Rodríguez is the twentieth volume in the University of Oklahoma Press’s “Chicana & Chicano Visions of the Américas” series, the editorial board of which boasts Rudolfo Anaya, Denise Chávez, and Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, among others. House Built on Ashes is Rodríguez’s account of a creative, sensitive, intelligent child growing up not quite here and not quite there; realizing he’s gay as he begins to question the logic of antiquated customs, chafing against a macho culture; learning that there’s no such thing as a small humiliation, and that dignity is essential but costly.

House Built on Ashes is structurally atypical. Loosely chronological, the story is told in lyrical yet spare prose, creating evocative sketches, like linked short stories. Rodríguez has a fine eye for small details that tell a large story and envelop you in a place and time. When his father leaves to find work in Texas, “One day the evening came, but he didn’t. One morning the rooster called but didn’t wake him.” On childhood tradeoffs: “Now we must wear shoes all the time. And the fence keeps people from stopping by to talk to Amá, the way they did on the other side.” On the jarring dislocation of moving to the United States, where his aunt’s house includes a garage: “Why would cars need a room?” Rodríguez is a master of the simile. At the border inspection, they “stare at our hands like we didn’t always have them”; his cousin’s bed is “tall and full like cakes from a bakery,” “her curls tight like her giggles.”

Packing for a Thanksgiving trip from Rodríguez’s upstate New York university to Texas to visit family serves as catalyst to excavate the past. “I think then of who we are before we are taught customs, flags, pledges of allegiance, names of nation-states, their margins on a map, and the armed men who guard them,” Rodríguez writes. “I think of what we lose when we win.”

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


A Coming of Age Story for Adults

  Genre: Contemporary / Women’s Fiction / Coming of Age
Date of Publication: April 7, 2017
Number of Pages: 160

Ana Petrescu (aka Miss Vulpe) is a troubled teenager determined to solve the mystery of her parents' double suicide. Escaping the scrutiny of her legal guardian and the unwanted interference of several therapists, she starts looking up people from her mother's past. Her sleuthing requires her to lie about her identity, her age, and her lack of experience with men. While impersonating Miss Vulpe is more fun than going to school, there's bound to be trouble and heartache when her web of lies unravels.

Excerpt from The Adventures of Miss Vulpe
By Maria Elena Sandovici

“Louisiana, 1982”

Rogers smiled at me. The bayou grew darker. Trees were sprouting out of the water, half green, half swallowed by rot. The insects grew louder. The old man still didn’t speak. The wooden construction with the shabby pier where we stopped didn’t strike me as a dwelling fit for living. Was it the old woman’s boat house? Rogers nodded at me, and I grabbed my backpack. I was trying to look through the trees to see the actual house, but all I saw was green wilderness. Rogers gave the man money. Not much. He gave him a fistful of bills, the largest of which was probably a ten. The money looked crumpled and sweaty and I then realized that Rogers was nervous too, even if he now seemed to me more grown up than his thirteen years. The man reached into a satchel I hadn’t noticed before, and handed Rogers something that looked like a dead animal. I thought I’d already caught malaria and was seeing things.

“It’s a squirrel,” Rogers explained. “Mawmaw will cook it for supper. It’s real good.”

At that the man in the boat smiled for the first time since we’d met him. We stepped onto the pier. I figured the boards might be rotten, but Rogers led the way carrying his squirrel, and if his boyish hand was sweating onto its matted fur, his smile didn’t waver. So I mimicked his confidence and followed.

The old woman was sitting in a rocker on the porch. I didn’t see her at first. She had her minou with her, that crazy black cat that was constantly watching us. She said something in French.

“English, Mawmaw,” Rogers said.

“So you the rich boy,” she said to me, taking the squirrel from Rogers. I half hoped he was joking about us eating that beast, though the other, more adventurous side of me was dying to taste it. The old woman clicked her tongue, and I wasn’t sure if it was at the dead squirrel or at me, the rich boy. Her eyes made me uncomfortable. Though she was white, she had the eyes of the people on the train.

“You eat squirrel before?” she asked, laughing.

I shook my head. “No, Ma’am.”

“You’ll like it,” she said and her eyes became kinder. She reached a bony hand to tousle my hair, and she winked at me as she opened the creaky door and went into the house. We grabbed our backpacks and we followed. Minou sat in the doorway and spat. The old woman scolded her in French and threatened her with a gnarly broom. Minou spat again, undeterred and refused to budge. The door stayed open letting in the wet heat of the bayou.

Maria Elena Sandovici lives in Houston with her dog. She travels to Bucharest often and also to Spain, but her favorite trip remains 45 South to Galveston. She has an art studio at Hardy and Nance in the Warehouse District, open the third Saturday of every month, blogs daily at, and writes poetry in the voice of her dog. She is also the author of three previous novels about women who are struggling with finding their place in the world.


Excerpt 1
Sketchbook 1
Excerpt 2
Guest Post
Sketchbook 2
Excerpt 3
Sketchbook 3

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 5/22-28

Bookish events in Texas for the week of May 22-28, 2017: 

Special Events:
Boldface: A Conference for Emerging Writers, Houston, May 22-26

Annual Meet the Authors: New Writers Event, San Antonio, May 27

Lubbock-Con 2017, May 27

plus fest: everything plus poetry festival, Houston, May 27

Ongoing Exhibits:
Stories to Tell: Selections from the Harry Ransom Center, Austin, February 6-July 16

Sandra Cisneros: A House of Her Own Exhibition, San Marcos, February 15-July 1

Texas Writers Exhibition, Fredericksburg, May 1-31

Monday, May 22:
Murder By the Book, Dennis Lehane will sign and discuss Since We Fell, 6:30PM [line number required]

River Oaks Bookstore, Leroy Chiao discusses and signs One Orbit, 6PM

BookPeople, STEVE HAMILTON public stock signing of Exit Strategy, 12PM

BookPeople, ASHLEY BLOM speaking & signing How to Eat a Lobster and Other Edible Enigmas Explained, 7PM

Malvern Books, Malvern’s Multi-Verse with poet Joe Brundidge, 7PM

Spiderhouse Ballroom, Austin Poetry Slam featuring Glori B. and hosted by Christopher Michael, 7PM

University of Texas Press offices, Stephen Harrigan discusses and signs They Came From the Sky, 6:30PM

The Writing Barn, Workshop: "Writing From Life: The Art of Fiction" with Bethany Ball, 6:30PM

Dallas Museum of Art, Arts & Letters Live: Anne Bothwell from KERA's "Art&Seek" will moderate a conversation with Margo Jefferson, author of the NBCC-award winning Negroland: A Memoir, and Damon Tweedy, author of Black Man in a White Coat, 7:30PM

The Wild Detectives, Women Galore Literary Festival: Morgan Parker will read from her new collection of poetry, There Are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé, plus readings from local poets courtney marie and Fatima-Ayan Malika Hirsi, 7:30PM

Fort Worth
The Dock Bookshop, Fort Worth Poetry Slam and open mic!, 8PM

Black Labrador, Houston Writers House meeting with Elizabeth White-Olsen of Writespace Houston, 6:30PM

Brazos Bookstore, Deb Olin Unferth reads and signs WAIT TILL YOU SEE ME DANCE, 7PM

The Korova, PuroSlam!, 10PM

Wednesday, May 24:
Deep Vellum Books, Dark Moon Poetry reading series, 7PM

The Wild Detectives, Women Galore Literary Festival: RonAmber will present poems from Hot Banana Pudding: Elevated Notions on Socio-political Situations in Motion, 7:30PM

Thursday, May 25:
BookPeople, CHRISTINE LENNON speaking & signing The Drifter, 7PM

Mr. Catfish & More, NeoSoul Poetry ATX, 8PM

Deep Vellum Books, Nonfiction Authors Association DFW meeting featuring "The Art of Author Branding" with Mary DeMuth, Author of 30+ Books, 7PM

Half Price Books Mother Ship, Collectible Conversations: A Checkup with The Book Doctor, 6PM

South Dallas Cultural Center, author Sanderia Faye hosts African Diaspora: New Dialogues with poet Douglas Kearney (plus Candy and Dallas Poetry Slam), 7:30PM

Brazos Bookstore, Nathan Hill reads and signs THE NIX, 7PM

Leonel Castillo Community Center, Tintero Projects: Readings & Workshop Series presents Afro-Latinas in Tejas with Natasha Carrizosa, Ariana Brown, and Jasminne Mendez, 6PM
Heroes Lounge, Dallas Poetry Slam: Cards Against Humanity Night, 8PM


B&N, Lubbock-Con Event, 7PM

B&N, Why the Raven Calls the Canyon book signing with E. Dan Klepper, 7PM

Saturday, May 27:
Half Price Books - Clear Lake, Local Author Saturdays. Meet local Indie authors and pick up their latest release!

Katy Budge Books, Quarterly Book Talk: Beach Reads Edition, 4PM

River Oaks Bookstore, Jane Alvey Harris reads and signs Riven, 3PM

San Antonio
B&N - La Cantera, Guest Author Michael Kihntopf, 2PM

The Twig Book Shop, Michael Corcoran discusses and signs All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music, 2PM

B&N - Town Square, Jessika Fleck signing The Castaway Carnival, 1PM

B&N, When It Rains book signing with KJ Ten Eyck, 12PM

Friday, May 19, 2017

Review: THE BOOK OF POLLY by Kathy Hepinstall

I reviewed The Book of Polly (Pamela Dorman Books) by Kathy Hepinstall for Lone Star Literary Life's Mother's Day issue! This book about the relationship between a mother and a daughter is a gem: funny, touching, and smart.

Kathy Hepinstall
The Book of Polly: A Novel
Pamela Dorman Books
Hardcover, 978-0-3995-6209-9, (also available as an e-book and on Audible), 336 pgs., $26.00
March 14, 2017
‘“No one calls my daughter a liar,” [Polly] said, leaning on the word in a way that made me miserable because I was, in fact, a liar. And I had told some lies—and even worse, some truths—about my mother to my classmates. In my defense, she was great fodder, and this was years before she killed our neighbor.’
In a small town outside of Houston, Texas, Pauline “Polly” Perkins Havens, a fifty-eight-year-old widow, gives birth to a little girl, Willow, eight months after the sudden death of her husband. Never knowing her father and not really knowing her much older siblings, Willow is terrified Virginia Slims–smoking, margarita-aficionado Polly will die before Willow can get to know her (“It ruined the feel of guinea-pig fur and the crunchiness of popcorn”), leaving Willow unmoored in the world. Feeling cheated of her family and pressed for time, Willow is obsessed with learning Polly’s secrets (“The story was a blank stare and I wanted it to blink”). And Polly, having escaped her past in the swamps of Louisiana, does have secrets.

The Book of Polly: A Novel is Kathy Hepinstall’s smart, clever, sardonically hilarious, and moving story of the relationship between a mother and a daughter. A woman graces the cover of The Book of Polly wearing a strawberry-red skirt suit reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy, with impeccable hair and makeup, holding a garden trowel, a falcon perched on her shoulder. That’s right, I said a falcon; all will become clear.

The Book of Polly proceeds at a steady pace, not cluttered up with extraneous storylines. Hepinstall’s word choice is precise, her phrasing often a delightful surprise (“In my mind the worst-case scenario loped along like a runaway spaniel, leash trailing, enjoying its freedom and eluding all pursuers”). Hepinstall’s characters are quirky and complex; Polly is a bundle of inexplicable contradictions, like most of us, but mysteriously so to a child. It doesn’t help that Polly and Willow are a lot alike. Willow’s first-person narration, reflecting the imperfect understanding of a child, lends to the mystery.

Hepinstall’s dialogue will have you laughing aloud. Here Polly and Willow are discussing a dinner party during which Polly will try to charm the neighbors into helping pay for their shared backyard fence:
“Jesus says in the Bible to make friends with your enemies and turn the other cheek and really try the nice way first to get them to go in on a fence.”
“I don’t remember that particular verse,” [Willow] said.
“Well, maybe you should stop daydreaming about that Dalton boy in church, sassy brat.”
There is something classic about The Book of Polly, with the garden symbolizing time. “Time kept passing and passing no matter what we did. It had slid inside my training bra and made my breasts grow,” Willow says. “It had killed the eggplant crop and given birth to the peppers. It was, at this very moment, under my mother’s scarf, pulling up hairs like garden weeds.” I’m reminded of Anne Tyler or Jane Smiley, but with Jonathan Tropper’s sharper edge. Think Larry McMurtry’s Terms of Endearment, think Steel Magnolias. Note that Shirley MacLaine starred in both movies.

Y’all go hug your mothers.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017



  Genre: Women’s Fiction / Historical / Family
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Date of Publication: May 16, 2017
Number of Pages: 334

Scroll down for Giveaway!

After serving seventy years in prison for the murder of her sister, Eula, Della Lee has finally returned home to the Texas town of Puerto Pesar. She’s free from confinement—and ready to tell her secrets before it’s too late.

She finds a willing audience in journalist Mick Anders, who is reeling after his suspension from a Boston newspaper and in town, reluctantly, to investigate a mysterious portrait of Eula that reportedly sheds tears. He crosses paths with Dr. Paloma Vega, who’s visiting Puerto Pesar with her own mission: to take care of her ailing grandmother and to rescue her rebellious younger sister before something terrible happens. Paloma and Mick have their reasons to be in the hot, parched border town whose name translates as “Port of Regret.” But they don’t anticipate how their lives will be changed forever.

Moving and engrossing, this dual story alternates between Della’s dark ordeals of the 1940s and Paloma and Mick’s present-day search for answers―about roots, family, love, and what is truly important in life.

Check out the book trailer!

Praise for Before the Rain Falls:

Still wiping away tears! Before the Rain Falls is simultaneously heartbreaking, hopeful, and joyous: a story of complex characters with varied pasts and bright futures. Loved it! - Jennifer B. on Goodreads

This novel takes readers on an emotional, fast-paced, ride through one sister's journey to self, redemption, and the true meaning of "freedom." - Nicole W. on Goodreads

There is romance, mystery, and secrets that are kept till the very end that will have you not wanting this beautifully written story to end. - Carol B. on Goodreads

Camille recently left an award-winning real estate career in San Antonio to become a full-time writer. Along with her husband of 19 years, she enjoys raising their four children. She has a bucket list that is never-ending and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She's lived in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California, and spends enough time in Hawai'i to feel like a local. She's traveled to four continents (so far), and met Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. She just about fainted when she had a chance to meet her musical idol, Paul McCartney, too. Camille studied political science in college but found working on actual campaigns much more fun. She overdoses on goodies at farmer’s markets (justifying them by her support for local bakeries) and belts out Broadway tunes whenever the moment strikes. There's almost nothing she wouldn't try, so long as it doesn't involve heights, roller skates, or anything illegal. The Memory of Us is Camille's debut novel. Her second, Before the Rain Falls was released on May 16, 2017.

May 17-31, 2017 

Excerpt 1
Author Interview
Guest Post
Excerpt 2
Deleted Scene

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