Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review: BLAME by Jeff Abbott

I reviewed Blame: A Thriller (Grand Central Publishing) by Austin's Jeff Abbott for Lone Star Literary Life. This is smart, page-turning suspense. Abbott has all of the mad skills.

Jeff Abbott
Blame: A Thriller
Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover, 978-1-4555-5843-8, (also available as an e-book, an audiobook, and on Audible), 384 pgs., $26.00
July 18, 2017
“When you lose your memory, it’s a chance for the people around you to rewrite history.”
When she was seventeen, Jane Norton drove a SUV off a twisty road in an affluent Austin suburb, killing her best friend and next-door neighbor, David Hall. Jane suffered a closed-head injury that put her in a coma for four days and erased her memory of the three years preceding the accident (“The old Jane died; every version of David died”). Two years later, nineteen-year-old Jane is homeless, friendless, and family-less: she cannot bear to live in the house next door to David’s parents, and her mother refuses to move; her former friends turned on her, blaming her for popular golden-boy David’s death; she flunked out of college, unable to cope with the stress.

On the second anniversary of David’s death, Jane wakes to a message on social media: “I know what you claim you don’t remember, Jane. I know what happened that night. And I’m going to tell. All will pay.” When David’s mother, Perri, arrives at his grave that morning, “All will pay” is scrawled across the granite in white chalk. These taunts set in motion a chain of events prodding Jane’s memory awake, an intolerable threat to those who never forgot.

In Blame: A Thriller, Austin’s New York Times best-selling author Jeff Abbott explores the function of memory and its relation to identity, the corrosive effects of blame, the nature of regret, and the many forms of culpability. Jane says that “memories are the engines for our feelings.” If our memories are us, what happens when we don’t have memories?

Abbott’s characters are complex and diverse, and feel authentic. Technology is a character in Blame. It’s everywhere: Jane’s mother’s blog, the Dark Web, texting, social media, hackers. It’s fascinating to watch people react when the blame begins to spread, no longer confined to Jane. Perri’s paranoid descent is particularly affective as a study in grief. She is tightly-wound, brittle, ready to snap like a twig in cold weather. “[Jane] murdered the person Perri used to be,” Abbott writes.

He uncannily conjures the interiority of a teenage girl, and Jane’s flaws are refreshing—Abbott has resisted the temptation to perfect his protagonist. What if you recover your memory and discover you don’t like who you were? Blame has elements of a procedural with Jane as the investigator, her amateur sleuthing putting her in ever more danger as she gets closer to the mystery. Abbot presents a buffet of suspects with competing agendas. Who wants what from Jane? And how reliable is our narrator?

Writing with precision, Abbott concisely sets the stage in a page and a half, then incorporates twist after twist into a tight, fast-paced plot. The atmosphere is ominous, the sun-drenched gateway to the Texas hill country incongruously, viscerally creepy. Jane’s third-person narrative places the breadcrumbs masterfully, the momentum steadily escalating until this psychological suspense becomes an action thriller in the last fifty pages.

Abbott is a master craftsman, an architect, Racehorse Haynes building a case for reasonable doubt, brick by brick. Blame left me shaking my head in admiration for his mad skills.

Previously published in Lone Star Literary Life.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 7/24-30

Bookish events in Texas for the week of July 24-30, 2017: 

Special Events:
Texas Authors Marketing Event, Houston, July 28-30

2nd Annual Dallas Public Library Local Authors Book Fair, July 29

Texas Latino Comic Con, Dallas, July 29

Texas Shakespeare Festival, Kilgore, June 29-July 30

The LaNana Creek Press Summer Letterpress and Book Art Intensive, Nacogdoches, July 8-August 5

Literary Non-Fiction Workshop, Archer City, July 23-30

Ongoing Exhibits:
Of Texas Rivers and Texas Art, Austin, June 5-August 13

Illustrator of the Century Garth Williams, Abilene, June 8-September 1

George Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio, San Antonio, June 23-September 4

Monday, July 24:
Brazos Bookstore, "100 Black Men, 100 Black Books - Texas Stories: Part 1" featuring Holly Charles, author of VELVET; Stephen Moss, author of WE COULD NOT FAIL: THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICANS IN THE SPACE PROGRAM; and Tyina Steptoe, author of HOUSTON BOUND: COLOR AND CULTURE IN A JIM CROW CITY, 7PM

Murder By the Book, Ilona Andrews will sign and discuss the newest Hidden Legacy novel, Wildfire, 6:30PM

South Padre Island

Paragraphs on Padre, Meet the Author Series - Jessica Carlos, 1PM

Wednesday, July 26:
San Antonio
Carmens de la Calle Café, Jazz & Poetry with Purpose, 7:30PM

The Twig Book Shop, Catherine Powers discusses and signs The Spree of '83, 5PM

Sugar Land
B&N - First Colony, Story time with local author Maria Ashworth, 10AM

Friday, July 28:

Cedar Hill
B&N - Hillside Village, The Cartel 7: Illuminati: Roundtable of the Bosses book signing with Ashley and JaQuavis, 7PM

Heroes Lounge, Dallas Poetry Slam All Star Slam: 1994 - 2017, 8PM

The Wild Detectives, White Rock Zine Machine launches "Bestiary," 7PM

KamiPosi, KamiPosi Poetry Slam, 7PM

South Padre Island
Paragraphs on Padre, Meet the Author - Rickey Pittman, 1PM

Saturday, July 29:
Texas Star Trading Company, Al Pickett and Jimmie Keeling sign Mighty, Mighty Matadors, 1PM

B&N - Preston/Royal, Geoffrey Thomas signs The Wayward Astronomer, 1PM

Dallas Public Library - Bookmarks, The Children's Author Series of Bookmarks in NorthPark presents Nancy Churnin, author of Manjhi Moves a Mountain, 10:30AM

Interabang Books, Kristin Schell discusses and signs The Turquoise Table, 3PM

DeSoto Civic Center Library, Dallas Area Writers Group workshop: "So You Wanna Write A Book" with Michelle Stimpson, 10AM

El Paso
El Paso Public Library - Memorial Park, Tumblewords Project Workshop: "One Perverse Sidewalk" with Chauncey Lowe, 12:45PM

Galveston Bookshop, Andy Horne signs In the Company of Decent Men, 2PM

Brazos Bookstore, Rebecca Whitehead Munn discussing and signing THE GIFT OF GOODBYE, 7PM

Half Price Books - Clear Lake, Local Author Saturdays: Meet local Indie authors and pick up their latest release!, while supplies last

River Oaks Bookstore, Jan Reid reading and signing Sins of the Younger Sons, 3PM

Round Rock
Round Rock Public Library, Story time: Amy Jackson reads Cassandra and the Night Sky, 11AM

San Antonio

Thursday, July 20, 2017


I reviewed Legends and Lore of the Texas Capitol (The History Press) by Mike Cox for Lone Star Literary Life. 'Cause the Texas lege is special, and they're in session.

Mike Cox
Legends and Lore of the Texas Capitol (Landmarks)
The History Press
Paperback, 978-1-4671-3758-4, (also available as an e-book), 224 pgs., $21.99
June 26, 2017

Mike Cox gets the call in the early morning of February 6, 1983: the Texas capitol is on fire. Cox, a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, races to the scene. Governor Mark White is there, as are Austin mayor Carole Keeton and Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby, in whose office the fire began. (Curiously, the current lieutenant governor continues to set things on fire.) From this dramatic beginning, Cox sorts history and myth related to Texas’s beloved sunset-red (it’s not pink) granite capitol.

Legends and Lore of the Texas Capitol isn’t an academic exercise for Cox—it’s personal. His great-grandfather helped build the current capitol during the 1880s, and his grandfather always wanted to write a book about the capitol. Cox’s first paid job was in the building; he worked in the Senate as an assistant sergeant-at-arms in 1965 and 1967. Cox has done prodigious research, building on his grandfather’s previous work. The project is well documented, footnoted, and appendicized, with a bibliography and an afterword appropriately titled “Sine Die.” Contemporary and historical photographs and reproductions of historical documents enhance the stories.

There are lots of fun facts and figures: the capitol is bigger than the one in D.C., as well as the German Reichstag and British Parliament; the interim capitol (between fires) housed the first students of the newly chartered University of Texas; the current capitol was funded by a land sale of three million acres in the Panhandle which became the XIT, the world’s largest ranch; it took four thousand rail cars of granite from Burnet County to build the capitol.

Cox tells the story of how Austin won the last election for which town would be Texas’s capital with the help of the El Paso Plan: hundreds of voters in El Paso County voted for Austin, but the 1860 census would reflect a population of forty-three. We read about a raid on the treasury in 1865, and how some things never change: when the original capitol burned in 1881 it was a total loss because the lege was too cheap to fund fire hydrants on the grounds. There’s a fascinating chapter on the Oak Hill (née Convict Hill) neighborhood. Then there was the time Tex O’Reilly restored freedom of the press for the San Antonio Express-News packing four guns, “one on his hip, one under his shirt, one in an armpit holster and one in his left pocket,” as he stormed into the chamber. Governor Preston Smith went to East Fifth Street for barbecue once upon a time and his state car was briefly impounded because he illegally parked in the O. Henry House lot.

Legends and Lore of the Texas Capitol will help you win bar bets and belongs in the collection of every Texas history buff. Rife with tongue-in-cheek humor, the volume sports such chapter titles as: “Why the Capitol’s Not in Tehuacana,” “Half a Watermelon on a Corn-Crib,” and “Fortunately W.C. Walsh Paid Attention in Math Class.” Murder stories, ghost stories, and love stories are all included, which sounds just about right.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 7/17-23

Bookish events in Texas for the week of July 17-23, 2017: 

Special Events:
Texas Shakespeare Festival, Kilgore, June 29-July 30

The LaNana Creek Press Summer Letterpress and Book Art Intensive, Nacogdoches, July 8-August 5

Build A Better World “Adventures in Writing” Kids’ Writing Camp, Midland, July 17-21

Gemini Ink Writers Conference, San Antonio, July 21-23

Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, Grapevine, July 21-23

Literary Non-Fiction Workshop, Archer City, July 23-30

Ongoing Exhibits:
Of Texas Rivers and Texas Art, Austin, June 5-August 13

Illustrator of the Century Garth Williams, Abilene, June 8-September 1

George Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio, San Antonio, June 23-September 4

Monday, July 17:
Blue Willow Bookshop, Story time with author Emma Virjan's rhyming books, 11AM

Wednesday, July 19:
Roosevelt Library, Gemini Ink presents a "Conversation/Interview: Real Women Have Words" with Marilyn Atlas, award-winning producer of HBO’s Real Women Have Curves, winner of the 2017 Jackson Poetry Prize, Patricia Spears Jones, and radio personality Molly Cox, 6PM

The Twig Book Shop, Jeffrey Hunt discusses and signs Meade and Lee After Gettysburg: The Forgotten Final Stage of the Gettysburg Campaign, from Falling Waters to Culpeper Court House, July 14-31, 1863, 5PM

Sugar Land
B&N - First Colony, Story time with local author Maria Ashworth, 10AM

Friday, July 21:
BookPeople, ACE ATKINS speaking & signing The Fallen, 7PM

Deep Vellum Books, Night One of "Two Roads A Synesthesia Of Bonfires & Beer" presented by Poets on X+ & Pandora's Box Poetry Showcase (learn the secret handshake for entrance to night two at a private residence), 7:30PM

Murder By the Book, Fiona Barton will sign and discuss The Child, 6:30PM

Plainview Civic Center, Vicki Hamblen signs The Rim to Rim Road: Will Hamblen and the Crossing of Texas' Palo Duro Canyon (part of the 9th annual Texas Plains Trail Region Tourism & Preservation Roundup), 11AM

San Antonio
The Twig Book Shop, Jan Reid reads and signs Sins of the Younger Sons, 4PM

Saturday, July 22:
Texas Star Trading Company, Dr. Sandip Mathur signs Cowboys and Indian: A Doctor's First Year in Texas, 11AM


El Hueso Cafe, Brownsville Slam Poetry, 6:30PM


El Paso
B&N - Sunland Park, Beverley Blount Signing The Blount Guide to Phonetic Reading, 2PM

El Paso Public Library - Memorial Park, Tumblewords Project Workshop: "Fudge the World" with Chauncey Lowe, 12:45PM

B&N - Stonebriar, Reavis Wortham discusses and signs Hawke's Prey, 11AM

B&N - Firewheel Mall, Reavis Z. Wortham signs Hawke's Prey, 2PM

B&N - Westheimer Crossing, Karen J. January signs Lessons Mama Never Taught Me, 1PM

Blue Willow Bookshop, Leah Harper Bowron will discuss and sign her novel COLORBLIND, 1PM

Clayton Library Center, Speak!Poet with SAVANNAH BLUE and JEREMYAH "THE FLUENT ONE" PAYNE, 2PM

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Words & Art: Writing Workshop, 1PM

Half Price Books - Clear Lake, Local Author Saturdays: Meet local Indie authors and pick up their latest release!, while supplies last

Hogg Middle School, Brazos Bookstore presents Chris Colfer, reading from his new book THE LAND OF STORIES 6: WORLDS COLLIDE, 4PM [ticketed event]

Murder By the Book, Jeff Abbott will sign and discuss his newest thriller, Blame, and Ace Atkins will sign and discuss his new Quinn Colson novel, The Fallen, 4:30PM

The Bosslight, Storyteller's Night #1 at the Main Pecan, 7PM

San Antonio
The Twig Book Shop, Terra Lynee signs Nathan's Fate, 11AM

B&N - Town Square, Autumn Carpentier signing Walking on Water, 1PM

Sunday, July 23:

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review: THE LIGHTS by Brian McGreevy

I reviewed The Lights: A Novel (Rare Bird Lit) by Brian McGreevy for Lone Star Literary Life. This is satisfying literary fiction from a Michener Fellow whose brain co-created AMC's The Son (from Philipp Meyer's novel) here recently. You might've heard of it.

Brian McGreevy
The Lights: A Novel
Rare Bird Books (A Barnacle Book)
Paperback, 978-1-9455-7212-8, (also available as an e-book), 216 pgs., $16.95
May 9, 2017

Leda and Mark relocate from New York City to a gentrifying East Austin when Leda receives her Hogwarts letter. In this instance, “Hogwarts” refers to the Michener Center for Writers (MCW), the prestigious graduate program in creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin.

Physical and emotional dislocation, combined with the fierce and paranoid competition among her fellow writers, bring out the worst in Leda, an academic overachiever (“Lisa Simpson–ing”) and insecure twenty-something who drinks too much and believes in portents. Leda falls in with fellow students and best friends Harry and Jason (“imaginary Norman Mailers and George Plimptons toasting their defiant political incorrectness”), forming a dysfunctional threesome. As Leda and Harry compete for influence over Jason, we come to understand Leda is a predator who preys mostly upon herself.

The Lights: A Novel is the second novel from Brian McGreevy. Himself a Michener fellow, McGreevy is also cocreator of The Son, a recent television adaptation of Philipp Meyer’s novel of the same title for AMC, starring Pierce Brosnan. The Lights is highly entertaining literary fiction, excelling at sleight of hand with arch humor and misdirection.

The Lights is structurally inventive and creatively designed, written in the form of a letter (“It is at this point that this epistle must make an unforgivable turn for the Dickensian”), the kind you write for “the benevolent cult” of Alcoholic Anonymous to make amends to those you’ve wronged, complete with italics, ALL CAPS, and a stray footnote. The kitschy cover has a kind of Valley of the Dolls–meets-1930s private-eye-pulp-fiction vibe going on.

Austin, where the cicadas create a “wall of sound,” and “a high degree of intelligence and planlessness were virtually prerequisites for residence,” is a character unto itself in McGreevy’s novel. He pays homage to the city and writing center he loves, while simultaneously poking good-humored fun at cultural pretensions; “Well, Terry” is a running joke throughout.

McGreevy’s other characters are hard to like, except for poor Mark, who doesn’t have enough personality to qualify as a character. Just as impatience with Leda’s superficial first-person narrative sets in, and you begin to wonder why anyone desires this woman’s company, much less loves her, McGreevy dives into her backstory, creating a complex, sympathetic psychological portrait of a damaged daughter who learned by example: a mother’s betrayal and a childhood gone badly wrong have created a “manipulator addict by-product of a manipulator addict.” You’d drink, too.

The jealousy and paranoid competition between the grad students are redolent of junior high, the dialogue reminiscent of Gilmore Girls, if they were mean.
“Part of me is still trying to win a philosophical argument,” says Jason the screenwriter, lamenting Hollywood’s lowest common denominator. “Fuck philosophy, what am I, a playwright?”
This combination dangerously approaches caricature early in the novel, but then the almost-farce turns itself inside-out, clichés become people who earn a reluctant affection, and The Lights approaches Merritt Tierce’s Love Me Back, and becomes something approaching profound.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 7/10-16

Bookish events in Texas for the week of July 10-16, 2017: 

Special Events:
Texas Shakespeare Festival, Kilgore, June 29-July 30

The LaNana Creek Press Summer Letterpress and Book Art Intensive, Nacogdoches, July 8-August 5

Barrio Writers Summer Workshop, Austin, July 10-15

10th Annual Wild West History Association Roundup, Fort Worth, July 12-15

Archer City Story Center Weekend Workshop: Writing the Nonfiction Book Proposal, July 14-16

ArlingCon: Arlington Public Library's Comic, SciFi & Fantasy Convention, Arlington, July 15

East Texas Writers Guild's 14th Annual Writer's Conference, Tyler, July 15

Texas Sports Hall of Fame 1st Annual Book Festival, Waco, July 15

2017 North Texas Comic Book Show, Irving, July 15-16

Ongoing Exhibits:

Of Texas Rivers and Texas Art, Austin, June 5-August 13

Illustrator of the Century Garth Williams, Abilene, June 8-September 1

George Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio, San Antonio, June 23-September 4

Monday, July 10:

BookPeople, ROXANE GAY speaking & signing Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, 7PM [ticket required for signing line]

Spider House Ballroom, Austin Poetry Slam featuring Professor J, 7PM

Cedar Hill
Zula Bryant Wylie Library, Dallas Area Writers Group meeting with guest speaker Russell C. Connor, author of Good Neighbors, 7PM

El Paso
The Black Orchid, Barbed Wire Open Mic Series featuring Phobia the Prophet, 8PM

Harker Heights
B&N, The Confusion of Languages book signing with Siobhan Fallon, 7PM

Fix Coffeebar, Poetry Fix featuring Loueva Smith and Elina Petrova, 6:30PM

Houston Museum of Natural Science, Kathy Reichs reads and signs Two Nights (in partnership with Murder By the Book), 6:30PM

Warehouse Live, Houston Moth StorySLAM: Beauty, 7:30PM

Indigo at Midtown, 1st Annual Bayou City Group Slam (fundraiser), 7:30PM

San Antonio
The Plaza Club, World Affairs Council of San Antonio hosts Ali Noorani discussing There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration, 11:30AM

The Twig Book Shop, David Tomlinson reads and signs The Midnight Man, 5PM

Harris County Public Library - Evelyn Meador, Storyteller Jean Donatto presents “This Train is Bound for Story,” 2:30PM

Sugar Land
Chase Tower, Texas High Plains Writers meeting: Ryan McSwain, author of Four Color Bleed, discusses self-publishing, 9:30AM


El Paso Public Library - Memorial Park, Tumblewords Project Workshop: "No Direction Home" with Sandy Torrez, 12:45PM

Galveston Bookshop, Kimber Fountain signing Galveston Seawall Chronicles, 3PM

B&N - Westheimer Crossing, Diana J. Noble discusses and signs Evangelina Takes Flight, 1PM

Brazos Bookstore, Story time: Local writer Erin Nelsen Parekh reading from BEHOWL THE MOON, 10:30AM

Half Price Books - Clear Lake, Local Author Saturdays: Meet local Indie authors and pick up their latest release!, while supplies last

Murder By the Book, Rachel Caine will sign and discuss Ash and Quill and Stillhouse Lake; Martha Wells will sign and discuss All Systems Red and The Harbors of the Sun, 4:30PM

River Oaks Bookstore, Laura Lyles Reagan discusses and signs How to Raise Respectful Parents, 3PM

B&N - Fairway Market, E. Paige Burks signs Return to Royalty, 1PM

San Antonio
The Twig Book Shop, Amelinda Casias signs Into the Light of Jesus, 11AM

South Padre Island
Paragraphs on Padre, Meet the Author Series: J.T. Lozano, 1PM

B&N - Town Square, Lucille Williams signing From Me to We, 1PM

Sunday, July 16:

Friday, July 7, 2017

Review: SHAME THE STARS by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

I reviewed Shame the Stars (Tu Books) by Guadalupe Garcia McCall for Lone Star Literary Life! This is fine YA historical fiction set in South Texas in 1915 when the Mexican Revolution spilled over the border and civil rights were hard to come by.

Guadalupe García McCall
Shame the Stars
Hardcover, 978-1-6201-4278-3, (also available as an e-book), 320 pgs., $19.95
September 15, 2016

Joaquín and Dulceña are teenagers in love. Joaquín is the privileged, sensitive, traditional son of a distinguished ranching family in South Texas, Tejanos who have owned Las Moras since 1775. Dulceña, daughter of the local printer, is a spirited, smart, modern, independent young woman who wants to be a journalist and travel the world. Due to a political falling-out between their parents, the childhood sweethearts keep their relationship on the down-low.

In 1915 the Mexican Revolution spills across the border and into the couple’s plans. Existing racial tensions, and abuses and vigilante actions of the Texas Rangers, are stoked by the Plan de San Diego and accusations of treason, sedition, and insurrection. When Joaquín’s father’s relationship (“It’s good to know where the snake likes to lay in the brush. It’s the only way to survive”) with Captain Munro of the Texas Rangers (“Munro has no friends, only allies and pawns”) is exposed for the sham it always was, Las Moras, lives, and freedom are threatened.

Shame the Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall is fine YA historical fiction. Think West Side Story, think Romeo and Juliet, complete with quinceañera masquerade party and a balcony scene. Inspired by her son’s history lessons, McCall set out to learn a part of our history not frequently taught in Texas classrooms. The result is Shame the Stars, a way for the novelist to contribute to our understanding of our shared past, and, hopefully, informing a brighter future.

McCall affords her complex characters further development, especially Joaquín. The eighteen-year-old’s first-person narrative begins in the conservative, naïve voice of a child, but develops into the nuanced voice of an adult over the course of the novel as he discovers the world, including his parents, no longer fits childhood conceptions.

Joaquín fills his journal with the overwrought poetry of a teenager in love in historical times, as is appropriate. The dialogue sometimes seems stilted and formal, partly reflecting the era, and revolutionary jargon can seem melodramatic. In this example, as Munro’s company of Rangers are approaching the ranch, McCall evidences a gift for the lyrical: “Then, as the minutes ticked off, the devil grew bigger and bigger, gorging itself on dirt and debris, gaining momentum as it galloped toward us, until there was more than dust in its midst and there appeared before us a group of pale riders.”

Shame the Stars tackles big themes: justice (particularly the difference between the fickle goodwill of individuals versus the law and civil rights); issues of identity; factions and betrayal; the power of the written word and the vital importance of a free press. The action proceeds quickly and steadily, the plot developing organically but packing staggering plot twists. A couple of subplots involving land dispossession further illumine the period.

A beautifully designed volume, Shame the Stars is a treat for the eyes with poems from Joaquín’s journal and actual newspaper articles from the time. McCall provides a necessary cast of characters, along with additional reading recommendations, and sources for the articles reproduced as artwork in the book.

Dividing friends and families no less than the U.S. Civil War did, the struggle for civil rights in South Texas confronts Joaquín and Dulceña with the first adult decisions of their lives, as they decide, individually and together, who they want to be.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.