Saturday, May 31, 2014

Welcome Ghana!

This morning it is my privilege to welcome Ghana to TexasBookLover.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Elegantly Naked In My Sexy Mental Illness

Elegantly Naked In My Sexy Mental Illness, Heather Fowler
978-1-938466-28-1
Submitted by the publisher
$18.95, 268 pgs
“There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” Francis Bacon
Elegantly Naked in My Sexy Mental Illness is Heather Fowler’s fourth collection of short fiction. These seventeen stories run the gamut from (mostly) benign eccentricity to psychosis, between normal human lunacy and bat-shit crazy, and give a nod to the circumstances and environments that contribute to each. I was eagerly anticipating this collection because short stories are my favorite form of literature and, come on, is that the best title EVER, or what?

The collection begins with “The Hand-Licker,” in which we are introduced to Evan, schizophrenic and off his meds, for whom time is not linear and who is haunted and harassed by the memory of a former girlfriend, Sharon. Sharon’s face has a habit of animating inanimate objects, her voice issuing forth to taunt Evan. The title of this story refers to Evan’s compulsion to lick women in whose hands Sharon’s face appears. He desperately wants not to return to jail and to avoid commitment but the meds render him dull and his world duller, a gray wash superimposed over a world that, without the intervention of the drugs, is Crayola-bright. The trade is unacceptable. 

Our second story, “Losing Married Women,” begins with one of the best opening sentences I’ve read: “I am an unrepentant harvester of other people’s marriages.” It’s a disturbing sentiment and as such has accomplished its task: the feeling conjured is at once fascinating and repellent, sort of like the proverbial train wreck. Unfortunately the story evokes nothing after that first promising sentence.

“Speak to Me with Tenderness, Howard Sun” is perhaps the most satisfying tale. Howard and Lisa are coworkers who are attracted to each other but Howard has the social skills of an eight-year-old child. For instance, this is how he invites Lisa to a football game: “I have two tickets,” he said. “Want one?” Howard communicates mainly with mixed tapes and poetry; said poems he copies and leaves at Lisa’s desk for her to find. Things get progressively stranger as Howard begins creating alternate personas on Facebook in a campaign to get to know Lisa without having to actually talk to her – a “thought-tryst.” As Lisa’s therapist muses, “…Howard Sun is a person with either extreme fear, extreme mental illness, or extreme cruelty. But which is it?” This is an excellent question. This story is a brilliant exploration of the effects of social media. Does the pseudo-anonymity allow us to be more our true selves or does it render personal intimacy ever more difficult?

Two of these stories strike me as particularly relevant on this day as I listen to news reports of a monster in California who decided that many anonymous women must die because a couple of individual women had rejected his attentions. Apparently any woman can serve as a stand-in for any other woman because we function in this society as symbol, rather than individual – we are “other,” without personhood; we are denied agency and viewed as vessels for anything that needs stowing: love, babies, ideals, hopes, opinions, religions, insecurities, prejudices, hatreds. “Ever,” the first story in this category, is a classic tale of obsession, of stalking, inevitably escalating to its logical conclusion in which the narrator asks the question, “If a woman falls in the woods with no one around to see her, does she make a sound?” The second story is “Tiger Man.” Terry and Jane are none-too-gracefully handling their marital problems. Terry comes across a book titled City Men, Emasculated. It espouses the usual cliché about hunters being denied their essential purpose, blah blah blah. Terry’s friend eloquently expounds on the premise.
“Women,” Frank said. “They want you to be Mr. Sensitive, then Tarzan. Tarzan, Mr. Sensitive, Tarzan, Mr. Sensitive. No matter which way you go, you’re screwed. Go caveman, and you get: A sexist pig, outmoded, and an overt representation of ‘the man.’ Go sensitive flower, and you’re emasculated for not being a bodice-ripping Fabio. Women inspire personality disorders.”
Why is this an either/or proposition? Is a healthy balance too much to ask? Are men congenitally incapable of complexity? They are not, after all, amoebae. Reviewing my notes on this story reveals that I have written, “Women suck. Boo hoo.” Terry would do better to read On Origin of Species. Adapt or let your bloodline die off. 

Heather Fowler
Unfortunately, this volume disappoints. The uneven quality is distracting. I was heartened time and again by a promising beginning and then more often than not frustrated by lack of follow-through, as if the story was incomplete. On the other hand, there is definite promise here. Ms. Fowler is a talented chameleon, moving between time periods, languages, and cultures rather effortlessly: from revolutionary France in “Blood, Hunger, Child” to plague-ridden Florence in “Mother’s Angels” to the call-and-response revival-inflected rhythms of the American South in a satisfying homage to Flannery O’Connor titled “Good Country. People.” Note the use of punctuation in the title of that piece. That “period” is important. This book is visually arresting. It features original artwork, “A Cabinet of Curiosities,” created by Pablo Vision especially for each of these stories.

Heather Fowler’s previous stories have been nominated, and won, awards. People With Holes (Pink Narcissus Press, July 2012) was a finalist for Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Award in short fiction. Individual stories have been nominated for storySouth Million Writers Award and a Pushcart Prize. This leads me to believe that maybe Elegantly Naked isn’t her best work. In that spirit, I’m going to read some of her earlier work and report back. Stay tuned. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

In Memoriam


It is Memorial Day here in the United States of America. Today we remember our fallen and their families. We remember that our beloved country exists today thanks to the convictions and bravery of men and women willing to fight to the last for what should be universal truths.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed - Declaration of Independence
You don't have to agree with and support every move your country makes in order to be a patriot. There are plenty of things wrong here; I will not name them today. There are many more things that are right here; I will not name them today. I will say that patriotism means loving your country enough to gaze at it with eyes wide open, to appreciate and celebrate the good, and to examine that which must be improved with honesty and introspection. Patriotism demands that you get to work in support of the country that supports you, in whatever way you can.

In keeping with the literary theme of this blog, I offer you an essay by Lt. General William James Lennox, Jr., MA and PhD in Literature from Princeton University and fifty-sixth Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, on teaching literature and poetry to soldiers.

Romance and Reality
By Lt. Gen. William James Lennox Jr. 
As I write this, American soldiers serve in harm's way in places such as Mosul, Fallujah, and Jalalabad. For young leaders in today's Army, the war on terror constitutes a difficult and sometimes tragic reality.

Meanwhile, in the small classrooms of West Point, young cadets consider war through the eyes of Rudyard Kipling, Carl Sandburg, and John McCrae. During his or her plebe year, every West Point cadet takes a semester of English literature, reading and discussing poetry from Ovid to Owen, Spenser to Springsteen ("Thunder Road" provides a catalogue of poetic devices). Cadets must also recite poems from memory, a challenge that many graduates recall years later as one of their toughest hurdles.

Like warfare, poetry can result from the collision between romance and reality, as the ironic title of Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est" memorably observes. So too, our new cadets arrive full of romantic idealism, then spend the next forty-seven months at the Academy learning the pragmatic realities of discipline, integrity, and leadership.

Why, in an age of increasingly technical and complex warfare, would America's future combat leaders spend sixteen weeks studying the likes of simile, irony, rhyme, and meter?

Those who can't communicate can't lead. Poetry, because it describes reality with force and concision, provides an essential tool for effective communication. Like most colleges, West Point emphasizes both verbal and written communication skills, and our faculty evaluates cadets on their substance, style, organization, and correctness. In studying poetry, cadets gain a unique appreciation for the power of language. From alliteration to onomatopoeia, the poet's tools allow words to transcend the limitations of syntax. We may hear that transcendence in Shakespeare's imagery and Whitman's passion, but it is there as well in the closing cadence of MacArthur's farewell: "when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of the corps, and the corps, and the corps." We do not hold our cadets to this standard of stentorian elegance; we do, however, teach them to appreciate what makes this language different.

Second, poetry confronts cadets with new ideas that challenge their worldview. The West Point curriculum includes poetry, history, philosophy, politics, and law, because these subjects provide a universe of new ideas, different perspectives, competing values and conflicting emotions. In combat, our graduates face similar challenges: whether to fire at a sniper hiding in a mosque, or how to negotiate agreements between competing tribal leaders. Schoolbook solutions to these problems do not exist; combat leaders must rely on their own morality, their own creativity, their own wits. In teaching cadets poetry, we teach them not what to think, but how to think.

Finally, poetry gives our cadets a new and vital way to see the world, a world that many of my generation could not have imagined. When I entered West Point in the summer of 1967, Academy graduates were waging a very Cold War in central Europe and a very hot war in the jungles of Southeast Asia. In the thirty-eight years since, countless changes, some magnificent and some tragic, have shaped a very different future for my grandson.

Often, these tectonic shifts in history and society resist clear exposition, particularly when these shifts involve armed conflict. Louis Simpson noted this elusiveness when he wrote:

To a foot soldier, war is almost entirely physical. That is why some men, when they think about war, fall silent. Language seems to falsify physical life and to betray those who have experienced it absolutely—the dead.
Since the Iliad, poetry has allowed its writers to capture wars chaos and horror with a power that other artists lacked. One can, for example, read a hundred accounts of the Crimean War, but none of them will convey its pointless barbarity like Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade." Those few stanzas convey the romance and reality of warfare more clearly than any other medium.

We may not produce a poet laureate at the United States Military Academy. If, however, we develop graduates who can communicate clearly, think critically, and appreciate the world through different perspectives, we will provide the Army and the nation with better leaders.
Originally Published: March 1, 2006, Poetry Magazine

Monday Round-up, May 26 - June 1

Bookish events in Texas for the week of May 26 - June 1, 2014:

Special Events

Comicpalooza - The Texas International Comic Con! Houston, May 23-26

Books Alive! - Don't Eat the Bluebonnets - Katy Visual & Performing Arts Center (KVPAC)'s signature live musical performance series advocating literacy through the arts, returns to KVPAC West Oaks! May 30, 9:30am & 11am

Tuesday, May 27:

Spider House Cafe & BallroomAustin Poetry Slam, 8PM
Every Tuesday night at Spiderhouse, poetry, score cards and cash prizes come together for an evening of competitive art.

Dallas
B&N, Lincoln Park, Barb Schmidt: The Practice Simple Tools for Managing Stress, Finding Inner Peace, and Uncovering Happiness, 7PM

Houston

Murder by the BookSarah Jio will sign and discuss her newest book, Goodnight June (Plume; $16).
Starting at 6:00 p.m. the night of the event will have a Goodnight June scavenger hunt with prizes!, 6:30PM

San Antonio
B&N, San Pedro, Sun Poets' Society Open Mic Poetry, 7PM

The Woodlands
B&N, The Woodlands Mall, Teen Author Panel: Joy Preble, Varsha Bajaj and Christina Mandelski, 6PM

Webster
B&N, Baybrook II, Poetry Reading and Open Mic, 7PM

Austin
BookPeople Presents Bestselling Author Sarah Bird speaking & signing Above the East China Sea, 7PM

BookwomanBook Talk with Janis Powers author of Mama's Got a Brand New Job, 7pm 

Dallas
Crow Collection of Asian Art, The Mindful Child with Susan Kaiser Greenland, 6:30PM


Garland

Houston

Corpus Christi

Houston


Lubbock


Sunday, June 1:


Garland
 
Houston

Katy Budget BooksJoin three of our favorite local authors as they sign and discuss their latest releases: CC Hunter (aka Christie Craig) with Reborn, Sophie Jordan with Tease (a New Adult novel), and Joy Preble with The A-Word, 2pm


San Antonio
B&N, La Cantera, Romance authors Teri Wilson (“Unmasking Juliet”) and Patricia Fischer(“Deep in My Heart”) discuss and sign their books, 2pm

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Sermon

"I have sometimes dreamt that when the Day of Judgement dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards-their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble-the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, 'Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading'"

--from "How Should One Read a Book?" The Common Reader, by Virginia Woolf




Saturday, May 24, 2014

Until You're Mine

Crown Publishing
978-0-8041-3689-1
Submitted by the publisher
$24.00, 355 pgs

Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes is one of those psychological suspense novels that is practically impossible to review without spoilers. I’ve tried not to give anything away but please proceed at your own risk.

James Brown is expecting a child with his second wife, Claudia. James is a submariner in the Royal Navy and absent from home for long stretches. Claudia is a social worker who very much wishes to return to work after the baby is born. They place an ad for a nanny. Zoe Harper answers that ad and is everything you could possibly wish for in a live-in nanny – unmarried and childless, experienced, possessed of glowing references, and Montessori-trained.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, the police are investigating a couple of particularly grisly and macabre murder scenes; someone has been performing amateur C-sections on full-term mothers. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. And there lies the problem.

Until You’re Mine is an average treatment of well-worn material in every respect – until the last chapter. The last chapter blindfolds you and spins you around a few times so that you are completely disoriented. The mother of all plot twists at the very end transforms this book from unoriginal to vertigo-inducing. Can you now call it original because it turns out to be clever? I confess myself conflicted. After all, you have to get through more than 300 pages of undistinguished before you get to the unique. I did not appreciate the tactic. However, if you are a die-hard fan of the psychological thriller formula, then you will enjoy this tale.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Welcome Bermuda!

This afternoon I am delighted to welcome Bermuda to TexasBookLover. I should really start visiting my viewers, yes?



Friday Funny



Thursday, May 22, 2014

Throwback Thursday

RIP Langston Hughes, 1967

Dinner Guest: Me

I know I am
The Negro Problem
Being wined and dined,
Answering the usual questions
That come to white mind
Which seeks demurely
To Probe in polite way
The why and wherewithal
Of darkness U.S.A.--
Wondering how things got this way
In current democratic night,
Murmuring gently
Over fraises du bois,
"I'm so ashamed of being white."

The lobster is delicious,
The wine divine,
And center of attention
At the damask table, mine.
To be a Problem on
Park Avenue at eight
Is not so bad.
Solutions to the Problem,
Of course, wait.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Opposite of Maybe

The Opposite of Maybe, Maddie Dawson 
Broadway Books 
9780770437688
Submitted by the publisher
$14.00, 391 pgs
Relax. Nothing is under control.

As it turns out, Betty White has been impersonating Soapie (a toddler’s attempt to pronounce “Sophie”) all along. Soapie is Rosie’s profane, hard-headed, charming, 88-year-old grandmother whom Rosie describes as, “…so frail that it feels as though she’s constructed of chicken bones and coat hanger wires held together with Scotch tape, but she’s also tough, like a wild animal that’s about to bolt.” When we meet Soapie she’s lying on her kitchen floor, having fallen (again) while mixing Bloody Marys for her yoga class. That’s right – Bloody Marys and yoga. She had me at hello. Soapie’s health has been deteriorating recently – falls, irregular heartbeat, forgetfulness – and Rosie has been trying to persuade her to hire a home health aide. It’s not going well. This is how not-well it’s going:
“But I want you to be happy –“ 
“No, you don’t. You want me to be safe, and that’s a whole different thing. And now that I’m a thousand years old, I’m going to start having me some fun, and I am not hiring some nurse to follow me around. If I want to drink and smoke and have sex, then it’s nobody else’s goddamned –“
“Sex?” Rosie says. “You’re having sex?” 
Soapie looks at her with amused, narrowed eyes. “Well, I really got your attention now, haven’t I?”
Rosie, a poet and English teacher, and Jonathan, a potter and collector of antique teacups, have been together for fifteen years. They are the last of their Connecticut social group still unmarried, childless-by-choice, and mortgage-less; they like it that way, without what Jonathan calls the “…unsavory entrapments of adulthood.” Rosie says Jonathan has “clung to his grad student existence as though it were an ethical stance.” They have their routines; they’re comfortable with each other. This is how comfortable they are:

[Jonathan’s phone rings during sex one Saturday morning. And he answers it.]

“You know…I think it’s great and all that we’re so comfortable with each other…but sometimes, just sometimes, wouldn’t it be nice if it was…romantic again?”

He blinks. “Romantic is overrated. Sometimes you get it, and sometimes you don’t. We get laughs and realness, which has got to be better over the long haul.”

“I know,” she says. “But can’t we shift gears? We used to be able to shift gears. I think once upon a time, the phone could even ring, and we didn’t pay any attention to it. Remember that?”

He says, “There’s nothing wrong with us. This is just life. Middle-aged life.”

I wanted to shoot him then, on page eight. Rosie is restless and bored and dissatisfied, stymied by Jonathan’s inertia at every turn, but she doesn’t quite know that yet – actually, she doesn’t want to know. Knowing becomes unavoidable when Jonathan finally proposes and announces that they need a fresh start. In California. Opening a teacup museum. After some thought, Rosie decides she’s “98 percent happy” with this plan. Until Jonathan takes off for San Antonio with his business partner in the museum to eyeball some collectible teacups that have just come on the market. The day before the wedding. What’s the big deal? They can get married at city hall any time they want, he says. But Rosie knows she can’t move across the country and leave Soapie unattended and her home and her students for THIS. So she stays. And Jonathan goes.

Rosie moves back in with Soapie in what is supposed to be a temporary arrangement. It’s just a short break from Jonathan, just a little time, that’s all, she’s going to follow him to California after she gets her grandmother settled, she really is. At Soapie’s place she discovers that her grandmother has found help around the house: Tony is separated from his wife, missing his son, at loose ends; George is a lifelong friend whose wife is suffering from Alzheimer’s in an assisted living center. As Rosie tries to sort out everyone else’s lives, she discovers that she is pregnant. And The Opposite of Maybe is about what happens next.

Maddie Dawson
Author Maddie Dawson has a gift for dialogue, the way people really talk, and a fondness for word games. She is at her best when describing emotions without getting all gooey on us.
And Rosie, just sitting there, is having the most blinding sort of epiphany…when you realize that your crazy, impetuous grandmother might be drunk and mean, but she’s also right about you. Really, what is she doing with her life? She’s lived this quiet little tucked-in, halfway unsatisfying life…She never had a family, she never owned a house, she never even bought a brand-new car, had a disastrous love affair with an inappropriate person, or even dyed her hair some ghastly shade of red. How does this happen, that you get to be forty-four and you don’t’ have anything – not even an ill-advised tattoo – to show for it?
The Opposite of Maybe is the perfect summer vacation companion – immensely readable, fun and affecting, devoid of all pretense, and utterly charming. Toss it in your beach bag or backpack. You can thank me later.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Texas Tuesday

In this season of graduations and in keeping with the great books here at TexasBookLover, I'd like to share a Q&A with the author of School Board, Texas's own Mike Freedman, who graduated from the MBA program at Rice University in Houston this month. You can read my review of School Board here.

Mike Freedman
Q & A with author Mike Freedman

Tell us about your military experience as a Green Beret. Did certain novels have great meaning for you while were in Iraq?

My choice to join the military probably originates with being abroad for the first time during college (my junior year was spent at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland), and that experience coinciding with 9/11. Processing 9/11 as a young American abroad affected me in a way I’m sure was vastly different than had I been stateside. If not for those two events, I’m sure I would have gone to law school like every other rich kid.

You could say that my time in the Special Forces was the greatest education of a lifetime; a far different path than my classmates took. If a soldier leaves the war with nothing else, they at least take away a sense of humility and awareness. From that awareness, most veterans I know are serious, but don’t take themselves too seriously.

As far as reading overseas, I read voraciously – especially dissecting the American dark humorists like Heller, Southern, Berger, Vonnegut, Pynchon, Percy, Toole – and during my second tour I often carried around Bruce Jay Friedman’s brilliant Stern and Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags. They might as well have been my body armor.

With all of that military experience and time spent abroad, why choose to write a novel that is set in Houston?

I wrote School Board because I wanted to use main characters, like Tucker Davis, to tell the tale of those who went overseas–be it in Vietnam or Iraq/Afghanistan–and to tell the tale of my wildcatting hometown of Houston, for much of the madness of those ten years had its roots in that setting as well.

You portray a singular period in Houston history: 1999, when the city was aflush with money and confidence, but just before it would receive a black eye following the Enron scandal. What is it about Houston you want people to take away from School Board?

There is really no city like Houston. You have to grow up here (or at least live here a few years) to understand the culture, as it is where the South meets the West, with just enough international dash thrown in for good measure.

In my opinion, the tale of Enron is very Houston, so much so in fact that you can’t tell the story of modern day Houston without addressing it. By that I mean that in Houston you have to take the ugly with the good, and sometimes they are one in the same (no zoning laws, for example). The same maverick spirit that made things possible, like the Texas Medical Center and NASA, also gave us Enron. That’s Houston.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Monday Round-up, May 19 - 25

Bookish events in Texas for the week of May 19 - 25, 2014:

Special Events

The Boldface Conference for Emerging Writers, Presented by University of Houston - Glass Mountain and University of Houston - Creative Writing Program at University of Houston - Central CampusMay 19-23

Comicpalooza - The Texas International Comic Con! Houston, May 23-26

Monday, May 19:
Austin

Dallas
Barnes & Noble, Lincoln Park, Jeffery Deaver to Discuss and Sign The Skin Collector, 7PM

Houston
Brazos Bookstore, I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Hustle a Beast: An Evening of Poetry, A Reading by Elizabeth Lyons, Karyna McGlynn, Frances Justine Post, and David Tomas Martinez, 7PM

Murder by the BookDavid Downing will sign and discuss his newest stand-alone Jack of Spies, 6:30PM

Tuesday, May 20:
Austin
BookPeople Presents Guggenheim and Stegner Fellow STACEY D'ERASMO speaking & signing Wonderland, 7PM

Spider House Cafe & Ballroom, Austin Poetry Slam, 8PM
Every Tuesday night at Spiderhouse, poetry, score cards and cash prizes come together for an evening of competitive art.

Dallas
Barnes & Noble, Lincoln Park, Longmire Author Craig Johnson to Discuss and Sign Any Other Name, 7PM

Houston
Blue Willow Bookshop, Jarrett Krosoczka will sign his books, including PEANUT BUTTER JELLYFISH, his latest picture book, 5PM


The Woodlands
Barnes & Noble, The Woodlands Mall, K. L. Armstrong: Odin's Ravens, 6PM

Wednesday, May 21:
Austin

Malvern Books, W. Joe’s Poetry Corner
Presenting W. Joe’s Poetry Corner, in which our host W. Joe Hoppe interviews a poet, who will then give a reading and answer questions from audience members. 7PM

Dallas

Half Price Mother ShipMeet Texas gardening expert, radio host and writer Neil Sperry. Neil will sign his new book, Neil Sperry’s Lone Star Gardening, 4PM 

Austin

Dallas
Horchow Auditorium, DMA Arts & Letters Live, Rick Atkinson - "From D-Day to V-Day," 7:30PM

Nasher Gallery Lab Featuring Poets Bruce Bond and Corey Marks, 6PM

Menil Collection, Presented by Writers in the Schools (WITS) and Menil Collection, The Watchful Eye: A WITS Student Reading, 7PM

River Oaks BookstoreKeva Horry - Glamorous Sacrifice: Life…in the Shadow of Championships, 5PM


Friday, May 23:
Austin
Barnes & Noble, Arboretum, Meet & Greet Book Signing With Joanne DiMaggio
Your Soul Remembers Accessing Your Past Lives through Soul Writing, 6PM

BookPeople Presents National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation JOSH RUEBNER speaking & signing Shattered Hopes: The Failure of Obama's Middle East Peace Process, 7PM

Dallas
Barnes & Noble, Preston Royal Shopping Center, Duct Tape Parenting A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient KidsAuthor Signing, 11AM

Hilton Anatole, The Ecomomist's John Mickelthwait & Adrian Wooldridge - The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State, 12PM

Frisco

MysteryPeople Presents #1 New York Times-Bestselling Author DOUGLAS PRESTON speaking & signing The Kraken Project, 4PM

Malvern BooksThe Lion & The Pirate Unplugged
In association with VSA Texas (The State Organization on Arts and Disability) and the Pen2Paper Creative Writing Contest (a project of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities), we’re delighted to present an inclusive (mic-less) open mic for writers and musicians. Join us for this fun and friendly evening suitable for performers of all ages and abilities! 7PM

Dallas
Barnes & Noble, Preston Royal Shopping Center, Gregg Jones signs Last Stand at Khe Sanh, 2PM

El Paso
Barnes & Noble, Fountains at Farah, El Paso Days Elroy Bode Author Signing, 2PM

Houston


Mansfield
Half Price Books, Poet Giselle Robinson will present readings and sign her latest book, Cadence. Books available for purchase from the author with proceeds going toward Giselle Robinson’s cancer treatment, 1PM

McAllen
Barnes & Noble, Northcross, Dr. David Bowles signing Flower, Song, Dance: Mayan and Aztec Poetry, 2PM

Plano

The Woodlands
Barnes & Noble, The Woodlands Mall, Lewis Price: God Did It, 2PM

Sunday, May 25:
Austin
Barnes & Noble, Arboretum, Kay Robertson: D Is for Duck Calls, 10AM

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Black Lake

Black Lake, Johanna Lane 
Little, Brown & Company
978-0-316-22883-1
Submitted by the publisher
$25.00, 224 pgs

“…there had to be unsaid things between husbands and wives, and he had learnt that, though these were the things that saved you, they separated you too.” - John Campbell

The main character in Black Lake by Johanna Lane is not a person; it’s a house. But the word “house” doesn’t do justice to Dulough. A castle estate set on the Irish cliffs of the North Atlantic, Dulough is a concept. The Campbell family, father John, mother Marianne, and the children Katherine and Philip, live at Dulough (“black lake” in Irish). It has been in the Campbell family for 150 years. When funds run precipitously low due to, it seems, general lassitude on John’s part, he does the unthinkable: he allows the government to run Dulough as a museum for tourists, which will pay for needed repairs to the property. In return, John receives a salary for the first time in his life and the government builds a small cottage for the family alongside the caretaker’s cottage. When the “upstairs becomes the downstairs” neither is on sure footing. The ensuing turmoil allows the existing faults in all of these relationships to shift, with tragic consequences.

Fast forward six months: twelve-year-old Katherine Campbell finds herself locked in the top floor ballroom of Dulough with her mother Marianne. Marianne is the one with the key but she doesn’t want to leave. She has, however, taken leave of her senses.   

"It was after the snow that the mother began to talk about the girl’s brother as if he were still with them. One morning, as the girl did her lessons, her mother said, 'I’d like you two to have this finished by lunch.'

The girl’s heart jumped. But it was a tiny word, two – a slip of the tongue, perhaps."

Moving back and forth in time, between an omniscient narrator and the members of the Campbell family, has the same result as a game of telephone. Each narrative includes the same ingredients, the same information, but the different perspectives become a disjointed truth. The character on whom the future of this family hinges is the last to speak. Marianne Campbell will fill in the blanks left by her children and an obtuse, ineffectual husband.  

Black Lake is author Johanna Lane’s debut novel. She grew up in Ireland and now makes her home in New York City. Lane is either an empath or else she remembers better than most how it feels to be a child. She is a genius at conveying both the brutal, inexorable logic and the free-association of a child’s mind. “The men were older than his father; they had deep lines in their faces. Like valleys, Philip thought. He imagined tiny glaciers settling into their skin, the ice cracking and expanding. They had been doing glaciated valleys in Geography.” And this: “He thought about the man who hadn’t flinched when Mrs. Connolly poured tea on the back of his hand. He wouldn’t have much tolerance for children who didn’t do what they were told. Philip imagined the man pouring teapot after teapot onto his outstretched hands. And him not being allowed to flinch, either.”

Johanna Lane
The Irish countryside is also a character in this tale, the environment wild and formidable, the atmosphere thick with foreboding. Lane also possesses a gift for description. “The wind was already in the gardens, the tops of the trees bent as if they were straining to talk to each other and straining to hear.” And this: “A ring of yew trees encircled the churchyard, a sign that his family believed they were going to heaven. But the trees had the opposite effect. It was dark under their canopy, even in the middle of the day. The roots curled themselves into the graves and the branches twisted into the contortions of the wind.”

Like all good Irish tales, the theme of social justice haunts the place. During her turn, Marianne, upon discovery of the family diaries John has hidden away, will tell you the history.

“John had never thought of his family as privileged. They had lived in a grand house, yes, but they’d had no luxuries. And yet he realized now that he had been spoilt. He had been brought up to think that there would always be enough money, magically there, because people like them always had enough. It was unthinkable that they would have to compromise themselves to accept a job they didn’t want, a job that might take them away from Dulough, a patch of Ireland they had a right to.”

Black Lake is ready to inherit a place amid the long and strong tradition of family dramas set in the great Gothic homes of Irish history.

Bonus: you can check out Johanna Lane's photographic inspiration for Black Lake on her Pinterest page.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Whitehall Mandarin

The Whitehall Mandarin 
By Edward Wilson
978-1-909807-53-2
Submitted by the publisher
$29.95, 362 pgs
The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
You know how you can tell you’re not reading just any old spy novel? There’s a bibliography included at the end.

The Whitehall Mandarin by Edward Wilson is a historical novel of espionage set in London when the Cold War was never colder. The story begins in 1957 in St. James Park where British spy William Catesby, an agent with SIS, is photographing a meet on a park bench between Jeffers Cauldwell, an American cultural attaché suspected of running a spy ring for the USSR, and an employee of the British Admiralty. The difficulty in reviewing spy novels is that almost anything I say will be a spoiler so please bear with me; this may seem a trifle vague. 

During the next fifteen years, Catesby makes his way from London to Moscow to the Laotian border searching for spies, protecting secrets, and guarding the United Kingdom from implosion. He has seen the enemy and it is them. You have to appreciate a spy whose preparation for a mission includes reading The Heart of Darkness. As Catesby wraps up spy rings, moles, and triple agents, a strange thing happens. The flow of nuclear secrets to Moscow dries up. Full stop. But Catesby knows the agents are still out there. What happened? Have they seen the error of their ways? Has everyone suddenly come down with a case of patriotism? Or has another player taken the field? While exploring these questions you must consider that communism was never some "monolithic international conspiracy." Keep in mind that subtlety and nuances (much to the consternation of George W. Bush) do exist; all communists are not necessarily the same. As Catesby says of the Vietnamese, “They weren’t merely walking a tightrope between Moscow and Peking; they were doing pirouettes on it.”

Edward Wilson
The characters and details are woven so tightly and creatively into historical events that I dare you to separate fact from fiction. It’s all here – Fidel Castro, Chairman Mao, Klaus Fuchs, Anthony Blunt, Kim Philby, the Profumo Affair. Speaking of honey traps, I now know way more about the “sexual circus” fetishes of Britain’s upper-classes than I’d really like to. There’s an entirely plausible conspiracy theory about the assassination of JFK that I’ve never heard before and I live in Texas. Those of us who are elderly enough to remember the Cold War, third-world countries as pawns on the global chessboard, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the subsequent relief and hope that all of that was behind us, will appreciate this novel. Younger readers who watched Maidan Square in Kiev on CNN and now hear the hymns to mother Russia issuing from Crimea on Victory Day would do well to read this book. As it turns out, this historical fiction spy novel is actually quite timely. The ultimate secret had my head spinning and by the end of this story I was gasping aloud. What if? The Whitehall Mandarin is a dream for book lovers – a smart, sophisticated spy novel.

The author is a fascinating character in his own right. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Edward Wilson studied International Relations on a US Army scholarship and served as a Special Forces officer in Vietnam. His decorations include the Army Commendation Medal (with “V”) and the Bronze Star. Wilson left the Army and surrendered his US citizenship in favor of Britain where he taught English and Modern Languages for 30 years. The Whitehall Mandarin is his fifth novel.

I leave you with a question to ponder: Why did Nixon go to China?