Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: HIGH WHITE SUN by J. Todd Scott

I reviewed J. Todd Scott's second border-noir novel, High White Sun (Putnam Books), for Lone Star Literary Life. It's a good book, like the first (The Far Empty), and he's a versatile, talented writer, but he still needs a good editor to tighten the focus. Scott could be great, but not yet.

J. Todd Scott
High White Sun: A Novel
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Hardcover, 978-0-3991-7635-7, (also available as an e-book and as an audio-book), 480 pgs., $26.00
March 20, 2018

The trouble begins with a traffic stop gone wrong, then the driver running down a sheriff’s deputy and leading most of the department on a high-speed chase across the desert on US90, just north of Big Bend National Park. The mystery begins when spike strips end the chase, and the out-of-state driver recognizes Sheriff Chris Cherry’s newest deputy, America Reynosa, calling her “La chica con la pistola.”

Meanwhile, when the body of a local river guide turns up beaten to death in Terlingua, the local law learns the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) has arrived in the county, awaiting the arrival of a white-supremacist “preacher” bent on race war, with plans to build an all-Anglo town. What the ABT doesn’t know is they not only have a mole in their midst, but one of them is a federal witness, an informer.

Clues, oblique references, and foreshadowing eventually coalesce into a frightening picture as multiple, seemingly unrelated subplots lock into place in High White Sun: A Novel by former DEA agent J. Todd Scott, his second border noir and a sequel to The Far Empty (G.P Putnam’s Sons, 2016). Scott pulls me in immediately, excelling at the quick, hard hook. He conjures an atmosphere of pervasive menace among the ocotillo and creosote of the Chihuahuan desert, which, despite the drought, is fertile ground for literary suspense, where “summer lightning … chas[es] its own bright tail” on “the outer edge of empty.”

Scott is a versatile writer. His cast of characters is large, the narrative shifting perspective constantly moving between points of view, slipping between third and first person. Chris Cherry is now the sheriff, attempting “kinder, gentler policing” because they’re “not bounty hunters, and … not in the revenge business.” But, as Chief Deputy Ben Harper reminds him, “Hope is not a strategy.” The relationship between Chris and his girlfriend, Melissa, is sweetly rendered. Scott creates an entertaining mix of personalities in Sheriff Cherry’s department, and the interactions between those personalities feel authentic, as does his depiction of the “casually dangerous” game of family dysfunction among the terrorists of the ABT. Dark, sardonic humor lends levity (“Being this close to the border should give [the ABT] hives—it was practically enemy territory”).

I reviewed The Far Empty favorably in these pages in June 2016, while noting that Scott allows the tension to lapse during extended flashbacks conveying backstories meant to illuminate his many characters’ competing agendas and motivations, and that more rigorous editing would tighten the focus. Unfortunately, High White Sun also suffers from these flaws. Though more evenly paced, it lags sporadically during those elaborate backstories. Scott whips up the pace leading into the final showdown, but the climax unfolds over more than one hundred pages, again allowing tension to dissipate and the reader to relax.

High White Sun is suffused with violence (and innumerable ellipses), and most people have gone a touch crazy from the heat, but it’s got soul. Scott confronts tough questions about the nature of duty, the price of peace, the possibility of redemption, the elastic definition of justice, and the cleansing properties of fire and rain.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 3/19-25

Bookish goings-on in Texas for the week of March 19-25, 2018: 

Special Events:
The Beall Poetry Festival, Waco, March 21-23

Houston Public Library Foundation 2nd Annual Beyond the Page Benefit Luncheon, March 22

New Visions, New Voices: Spring Playwriting Festival, Dallas, March 22-25

A Conference on the Tricentennial, San Antonio, March 23-24

Kidlit Marches for Kids: Austin March for Our Lives, March 24

Kidlit Marches for Kids: Houston March for Our Lives, March 24

Teen Book Con, League City, March 24

Galveston Island Book Festival, March 24

WORDfest, Hurst, March 24

2nd Annual "Write This Way" Indie Author Fest, Dallas, March 24

Ongoing Exhibits:

In His Own Words: The Life and Work of César Chávez (Humanities Texas), Del Rio, March 24-May 4

Monday, March 19:

Richardson Public Library, Writers Guild of Texas workshop: "Realities of Self-Publishing" with Barbara Wilson, 7PM

Tuesday, March 20:
National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature, Presentation by award-winning artist Javaka Steptoe, 6PM


El Paso
The Black Orchid Lounge, Barbed Wire Open Mic (a BorderSenses event), 8PM

Blue Willow Bookshop, Joelle Charbonneau will discuss and sign her novel for teens, TIME BOMB, 7PM

Brazos Bookstore, Robert Locander, Richard Shaw, and Kevin Bailey discussing and signing HOW TEXAS POLITICS REALLY WORKS, 7PM

San Antonio

Thursday, March 22:
UTA - Central Library, Brief Histories Story Challenge, 12PM


UT, Joynes Reading Room Literary Speaker Series presents a "Beyond Borders Talk" with translator Kareem Abdulrahman, 6PM

Dallas Heritage Village, E.R. Bills will present his research and his book, Texas Far and Wide: The Tornado with Eyes, Gettysburg’s Last Casualty, The Celestial Skipping Stone, and Other Tales (book signing will follow), 6:30PM

Maggiano’s NorthPark Center, Luncheon: Half Price Books hosts Steve Berry discussing and signing The Bishop's Pawn, 11:30AM [ticketed event]


Katy Budget Books, discussion and signing with YA authors CC Hunter (This Heart of Mine) and Farrah Penn (Twelve Steps to Normal), moderated by author Aminah Mae Safi (Not the Girls You’re Looking For), 6PM

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

University of Houston-Victoria, American Book Review Reading Series presents Debra Di Blasi, 12PM

Friday, March 23:
BookPeople, Greg Boyle speaking & signing Barking to the Choir, 7PM

Malvern Books, I Scream Social reading series featuring women-identified writers, 7PM

B&N - River Oaks, The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women book signing with Kate Moore, 7PM

Brazos Bookstore, Houston debut of Music & Literature, the international magazine dedicated to publishing and celebrating outstanding artists from around the world, 7PM 

Murder By the Book, Simone St. James will sign and discuss The Broken Girls, 6:30PM

Rudyard's Pub, Gulf Coast Reading Series featuring Allegra Hyde, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, Josie Mitchell, and Annie Shepherd, 7PM

Irving Public Library - Valley Ranch, One Romantic Evening and Salon: award-winning Texas romance authors Lorraine Heath, Cindy Dees and Angi Morgan will read selections from their works and discuss them with the audience (moderated by author Elizabeth Essex, president of Dallas Area Romance Authors), 6:30PM

Saturday, March 24:

Half Price Books - South Lamar, local author Kevin Perizzolo will sell and sign his book As I See It, and local author A.J. Jaafari will sell and sign his fantasy book First Empress of Mortar, 1PM

St. Edward's University, Writers' League of Texas workshop: "The Self-Publishing Go Bag: What You Need to Know to Get Started" with Lori Ryan, 10AM

Fort Worth
The Dock Bookshop, Women's Herstory Month Celebration with the authors of Power Moms, 4PM


MECA Cultural Center, Space City Semifinal Slam, 10:30AM

Murder By the Book, Elizabeth George will sign and discuss the newest Inspector Lynley book, The Punishment She Deserves, 4:30PM
Dead Tree Books, Poetry Day: Dead Tree Books is celebrating poetry month by inviting all local poets, young and old, published and not yet published, to share their work, 2PM

Argos Brewhouse & Bookseller, Open Mic Night, 7PM

B&N - Baybrook, Meet the Author: Astronaut Clayton Anderson takes readers on an A to Z flight through the alphabet, 1PM

Sunday, March 25:
B&N - Arboretum, Kathy Mursch signing The Secret Language of Angels, 2PM
BookPeople, GALEN STRAWSON speaking & signing Things That Bother Me: Death, Freedom, The Self, Etc., 2PM

Half Price Books Mothership, local author Amy Winfield will sell and sign her children's book Cautious Fred, and local author English Minter will sell and sign her children's book Filly's Day on the Farm, 1PM

The Wild Detectives, Backyard Story Night: Dallas edition, 7PM


The Twig Book Shop, Barbara Nye reading and signing Somewhere a Bell is Ringing, 12PM [children's event]

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Interview & Giveaway: A TARGET ON MY BACK by Erleigh Wiley

A Prosecutor's Terrifying Tale of Life on a Hit List
Erleigh Wiley
Genre: True Crime
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
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Date of Publication: October 3, 2017
Number of Pages: 176 with b&w photos

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Murders don’t happen in Kaufman County, Texas, a sleepy community where people raise their kids quietly and drive into Dallas for work and entertainment. In 2013, murder came to town when two professional prosecutors were slain in cold blood, simply for doing their jobs: one in broad daylight in plain view of the courthouse, and one in his home, along with his wife. Eric Williams is responsible for all the bloodshed—and he has a list of who to kill next.

A Target on My Back is the first-person true story of Erleigh Wiley, an accomplished lawyer who accepted the job as the new district attorney—after the death of her predecessors—which turned her into the next target on the killer's hit list. This is her story of how she and her family endured the storm of the press, the array of Homeland Security agents assigned to protect them 24/7, and the weight of knowing she was someone’s prey. Though fearing for her life, she served as the prosecution's final witness against the murderer, sealing his fate on death row. This chilling account of how she survived the hit list is a terrifying cat and mouse tale.


“A legal thriller with a twist: a crazed lawyer and his wife, believing they have been wronged, become a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde and go on a terrifying murder spree. Next on their kill list is the new DA, and her courage in confronting the killers makes this a fascinating read.”
―Dennis L. Breo, coauthor of The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murders That Shocked a Nation 

“John Grisham and Scott Turow had better start looking over their shoulders. . . Wiley’s engaging, nimble style immediately draws you into the action and proves that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. It’s a good thing for us all that she lived to tell about it!”
―David Dean, Dallas attorney, former Texas secretary of state and chair of the North Texas Crime Commission

“When murder comes to her town, Erleigh Wiley steps into the shoes of the slain district attorney and finds herself on the killer’s hit list. In A Target on My Back, Wiley tells her personal story of overcoming fear in order to carry out her duty to hold Kaufman County, Texas, together while the killer is brought to justice. Don’t miss it!”
―Mike Farris, author of A Death in the Islands: The Unwritten Law and the Last Trial of Clarence Darrow

A Target on my Back is a unique first-person look into the world of crime-fighting in which the tables have been turned. The author takes the reader on an all-too-real journey into what it means to stand for justice when your very life is in danger. A must-read."
―Robert Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association

┃  Amazon  ┃  Barnes & Noble  ┃ IndieBound

Author Interview  -- Erleigh Wiley 
Where did your love of books come from?
When I was a young girl, I loved to read. I played a lot outside with my brothers, but when I wanted to escape -- I would read. When I read all the books I was interested in at school, I started going to our community library. I had library friends: older women who gave me book suggestions...what we think of as a reading list.  By the time, I got to middle school, I started writing plays. Plays about criminal cases. I liked Perry Mason. Go figure?
Reading was never boring for me. I liked reading history, romance, and suspense.
What kind of writing do you do? Any future projects?
This is my first writing endeavor- so true crime genre. I’m interested in writing another true crime book, but I’ve also got another story floating around in my head about my dad. It would be a biographical piece about his success as a small town high school coach in segregated 1950s Texas. My dad’s team was successful despite hardships. They were football state finalists. Dad will be 92 years old in a few months.
What do you think most characterizes your book?
Most people think the book is about the horrific crime, my appointment to the position, and then ultimately finding out I was also a target; but it’s not just that. The book is really a story of survival and being a woman -- that in spite of all the horrible things that were affecting our community and my family,  I still had to grocery shop, make dinner, get kids to school, and do all the other things that women do. This story is about being a woman and getting it done -- like we all do -- every day.
What cultural value do you see in books?
Books are better than any other medium because reading engages more of your senses -- if not all of them.  You touch, feel, and see. When you are really involved in a book, you can hear the characters’ voices and smell what they smell and taste what they are eating...and all of this happens within you by allowing your mind to take you there. No movie can match that!
What gal wouldn’t want to be Wonder Woman (the new movie)? And if I could look like Gal Gadot, I would wear her outfit. I also liked her safari wear.
A quote I like.
“Fear is a Reaction. Courage is a decision.” - Winston Churchill
The lioness. She is powerful, a nurturer, and the hunter in the family. Isn’t that all women?

Erleigh Norville Wiley was born and raised in Kaufman County. She is a graduate of Texas Tech University, Rawls College of Business; where she received a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree with a degree in Finance. She attended law school at Texas Law at The University of Texas in Austin receiving her Doctorate of Jurisprudence.
In 1990, Judge Wiley joined the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. Her goal was to prosecute the criminals and protect innocent children and victims who have no voice. She was promoted to supervising attorney-training other new attorneys and managing fourteen different courts.

Wiley takes an active role in her community by volunteering. Some of her board work includes Chairman of the Kaufman County Juvenile Board, Trustee of Texas Health Resources- Kaufman, Kaufman County Children’s Advocacy Center and Kaufman County Children’s Shelter Board member.

Wiley has been lauded by various organizations for her work in the legal community as a Judge and as the Criminal District Attorney in Kaufman County. Some of the most notable were in 2013, from the State Bar of Texas, Outstanding Leadership-Profiles of Courage Award and Texas District & County Attorney’s Association, Lone Star Prosecutor Award; as well as the Dallas Black Police Officer’s Association with the Paved the Way Award in 2015.

MARCH 16-25, 2018



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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Review: DOUBLE VISION by William Middleton

I reviewed Double Vision: the Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil (Alfred A. Knopf) by William Middleton for Lone Star Literary Life. It is impossible to overstate the contributions of the de Menils to Houston and modern art, and now it's impossible to overstate the importance of Middleton's superb biography, encyclopedic yet profoundly personal.

William Middleton
Double Vision: The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil
Alfred A. Knopf
Hardcover, 978-0-3754-1543-2, (also available as an e-book), 784 pgs., $40.00
March 27, 2018
“I’m after the excitement not the object per se—after the light, not the bulbs. I’d like to provide for people plenty of bulbs to switch on.” —Dominique de Menil
Y’all know that old question asking who you’d invite to your dinner party if you could invite anyone you wanted? I’d invite Dominique and John de Menil.

Born in France at the beginning of the twentieth century, they came to Houston, Texas, in the early 1940s with the family oilfield services multinational that would become Schlumberger Limited. John de Menil was a baron; Dominique the heir to Schlumberger, descended from a distinguished line of French intellectuals, important to the governments of kings and emperors. Over the decades, the de Menils built the Menil Collection, the Rothko Chapel, the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, and the Cy Twombly Gallery, and underwrote the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Their personal collection exceeded 20,000 works of art, including paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, rare books, and decorative objects. They were not only the vanguard of art collectors and advocates, but thought leaders in civil rights, human rights, and ecumenicism, often still a dicey proposition, not to say dangerous, in Texas.

How in heck did these two wash up in Houston, you ask? It’s a fascinating story well told. Dominique and John de Menil come alive again in these pages.

Double Vision: The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil is the new biography of the first family of Houston’s arts community by William Middleton. Middleton, a journalist and editor who has worked with Harper’s Bazaar, the New York Times, and Texas Monthly, among other outlets, has written an encyclopedic yet profoundly personal account of not only the extraordinary lives of Dominique and John de Menil, but a history of the flowering of modern art in the United States post–World War II.

Middleton begins in the New World, with the opening in 1987 of the Menil Collection. Part Two takes a deep dive into the Old World, Normandy in the eighteenth century, leisurely making his way back to Houston and the death of Dominique de Menil in 1999. Along the way we get an education—European history, American history, art history, and how to view art with a good eye and proper attitude, tracing their developing aesthetic from Alsace to Paris, then New York to Houston. Obviously a labor of love, Middleton’s book doesn’t shy from more difficult aspects of the de Menils, notably the controversy involving art thieves, cultural appropriation, and those Cypriot Byzantine frescoes. While it’s dense with minute detail and overly long—I suggest sitting with your knees drawn up so as to prop up the book and rest your wrists—it’s impossible to overstate the importance of Middleton’s superb work.

Middleton conducted ten years of research and writing in Paris, New York, and Houston. He had the cooperation of the five de Menil children, as well as extended family, friends, artists, and colleagues. He was granted interviews, provided with candid family photographs, and given use of the family archives. Double Vision is an intimate work that includes not only sixteen pages of photographs, but also 135 illustrations throughout the text, representing an impressive feat of curation itself.

Dominique and John de Menil are household names in Houston, and now, thanks to this supreme effort of research — indeed, immersion —the rest of Texas, and the world, will understand why the de Menils are considered “the Medici of modern art.”
”[Great artists] can be difficult, dissolute, but they are never base and in their quest for perfection they come closer to eternal truths than pious goody-goodies. So we are collectors without remorse.” —John de Menil
Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Giveaway: KILLING IN C SHARP by Alexia Gordon

A Gethsemane Brown Mystery, Volume 3 
Alexia Gordon
Genre: Paranormal Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press
Date of Publication: March 6, 2018
Number of Pages: 288

Scroll down for the giveaway!

She saved Carraigfaire—but can she save her friends? Gethsemane Brown fought off an attack by a sleazy hotel developer who wanted to turn her Irish cottage into a tourist trap. Now she must face a vengeful ghost determined to exact revenge for her murder centuries ago. This ghost’s wrath spares no one—not Gethsemane’s students, Inspector Niall O’Reilly, fellow teacher Frankie Grennan, or a group of ghost hunters descended on Dunmullach to capture proof ghosts exist. Proof Gethsemane has to quash to keep Eamon, her resident ghost and friend, from becoming an internet sensation. As if a spiteful specter wasn’t bad enough, a crooked music reviewer turns up dead in the opera house orchestra pit, a famous composer is arrested for the crime, and Gethsemane must team up with a notorious true-crime author to clear his name. If she doesn’t, friends will die, a ghost she cares about will never know peace, and she’ll star in a final act gruesome enough for any opera.


Book 1, Murder in G Major
Winner of the 2017 Lefty Award for Best Debut Novel
2016 Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel
Suspense magazine "Best of 2016" selection in Debut Novel category

Book 2, Death in D Minor
Runner-Up, 2017 Lone Star Bloggers' Choice Awards, Best Mystery/Suspense
Short List, 2017 Lone Star Bloggers' Choice Awards, Best Series

Book 3, Killing in C Sharp
Starred review, Publisher's Weekly, January 29, 2018

┃  Amazon  ┃  Barnes & Noble  ┃  iBooks  ┃  Kobo  ┃

A writer since childhood, I put literary endeavors on hold to finish medical school and Family Medicine residency training. Medical career established, I returned to writing fiction. I completed SMU's Writer’s Path program in Dallas, Texas. Henery Press published my first novel, Murder in G Major, book one of the Gethsemane Brown mysteries, in September 2016. Book two, Death in D Minor, released July 11, 2017. Book three, Killing in C Sharp, comes out March 6, 2018. Murder in G Major won the Lefty Award for Best Debut Novel, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best New Novel and was selected one of Suspense Magazine's Best Debuts.

I listen to classical music, drink whiskey, and blog at Miss Demeanors, voted one of Writers' Digest magazine's 101 best websites for writers, and Femmes Fatales
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One winner receives a signed copy of Killing in C Sharp and
a bottle of Koval Bourbon Whiskey

Winner must be at least 21 and shipping of alcohol permitted by laws of the state where prize is being delivered. In the event above conditions not met, an alternate prize will be awarded.

MARCH 13-22, 2018

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