Monday, November 19, 2012

Meat Eater

Adventures From the Life of an American Hunter
By Steven Rinella
The Random House Publishing Group, 231 pgs
Submitted by Random House
Rating: 3.5

Steven Rinella's explanation of why he hunts is, drum roll, he was hungry. He says "there is no time for emotional dawdling," but instead for "unerring judgment...speed, precision and discipline...time to do what millions of years' worth of evolution built us to do. And in the act of doing it, you experience the unconfused purity of being a human predator, stripped of everything that is non-essential. In that moment of impending violence, you are gifted a beautiful glimpse of life." Hmmmm...I thought he was just hungry.

Meat Eater is the story of how Steve Rinella developed into the outdoorsman he is today. It is the story of a boy who began fishing at three, shot his first squirrel at eight and his first deer at thirteen. At the age of ten he aspired to be a mountain man and fur trapper. He tells the story of his ultimate disillusionment with trapping, particularly snare traps. He even chose the colleges he would attend based on their locations in relation to hunting and fishing opportunities. He is now married and a father, living with his family in Brooklyn, New York. Yes, Brooklyn. But he and his brothers own a cabin in Alaska so it's all good.

My favorite chapter is the one about an expedition for Dall sheep in Alaska. The author and his brothers spent several days camping and scouting for the sheep. Rinella goes into detail about the strategy and tactics involved, the habits of the sheep and biological characteristics. This is the only hunt that he describes as "trophy hunting," seeing as how they might not be able to pack the meat out in time before it began to rot. Rinella acknowledges the controversy inherent in trophy hunting: he wanted the skull to decorate his home. So, do with that what you will. I don't usually like the idea of trophy hunting but, as described in this chapter, predator and prey seemed fairly well-matched.

Also, the author holds a special ire for catch-and-release fishing. He seems to regard it as moronic. Rinella only practiced it for approximately a year because: "Just to be clear, catch-and-release fishing amounts to poking a hole into a fish's face and exhausting it, then letting it go because you don't want to hurt it."

There is an essay at the end of each chapter called "Tasting Notes." We found out how to cook, and how not to cook: squirrel (grill after marinating in a Jamie Oliver recipe); beaver (what appears to be a rump roast in a Crock pot - tastes like beef, or you can eat the tail which is all fat and gristle);deer heart (slice like a bell pepper, dredge in flour and fry on the stove top); jerky (dried in a contraption built of stuff laying around the garage that sounds like found art); black bear (bear meat tastes like whatever they've been eating, also render the fat and use it for cooking); salmon (dipped raw in a mixture of soy sauce and tubed wasabi); and mountain lion (barbecue and chip it.)

Author Steven Rinella

I myself have few reservations about hunting. My father's side of the family have always been hunters and fishers. I have spent some of the best times of my life with a cane pole and a box of worms, dissecting minnows lakeside at the age of three. I have, in my time, helped my father gut, clean and skin deer. I drove home from school one afternoon to find a deer carcass hanging in the tree over my parking spot. I have eaten venison, dove, quail, rabbit, buffalo, squirrel, frog legs, and enjoyed many a fish fry. I was taught to eat what you kill. So I have no problem with the hunting of prey animals. I do have a problem with hunting the predators. If you take down too many predators you can upset the balance of predator to prey. The prey animals can become overpopulated, get sick or starve. So it was hard for me to take when Mr. Rinella goes hunting for mountain lions, says he's curious how they would taste.

Meat Eater was a treat to read. I learned a lot about things I did, and did not, want to know. It is written with humor and a healthy dose of awe and appreciation for the animals. I cannot recommend this to everyone due to personal sensibilities but I heartily recommend Meat Eater for hunters and fishers. I wish my Uncle Chad were still with us. He would have loved this.

Mr. Rinella is the author of two other books, American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon and The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine. He is the host of MeatEater on the Sportsman Channel, formerly of The Wild Within on the Travel Channel, which was nominated for a James Beard Award. For more on the author please see For more on the publisher please see

Monday, October 22, 2012

Evel Knievel Days

By Pauls Toutonghi
Crown Publishers (Random House), 293 pgs
Submitted by Random House
Rating: 3.5

"Egyptian cooking is folk magic. Not magic in the sense of dematerializing doves or sawing beautiful ladies in half. But magic in the deeper sense of the thing - in the raw joy of what magic once was, hundreds of years ago, thousands of years ago: a surprise, a shock, an astonishment. A lesson about the invisible. A lesson about belief." So begins chapter one.

Khosi Saqr has lived all of his 23 years in Butte, Montana. He was raised by his intermittently emotionally stable mother after his Egyptian father fled to Egypt with a Las Vegas loan shark at his heels. Khosi is an introvert with a few compulsions of his own. His father reappears after many years of no contact, requesting a divorce and then vanishing as quickly as he appeared, and the love of Khosi's young life announces she will marry someone else, so Khosi decamps for Egypt in search of his father, family, culture and connection; looking for the place where he might belong.

As it turned out, finding his father was the easy part. The more difficult parts include: second wives, aunts, grandmothers, terrorists, polo ponies, theft of antiquities, more loan sharks, yellow fever and the sudden arrival of his mother in the middle of all of this. Somehow all of this mess is sorted through and put in their places. And so is Khosi. He finds what he was looking for: identity. Even if it didn't find it in the way he thought he would or the place where he thought it would be.

Pauls Toutonghi won the Pushcart Prize for the novel Red Weather. He teaches at Lewis & Clark College in  Portland, Oregon. For more please see: PAULSTOUTONGHI.WORDPRESS.COM

For more information on the publisher please see:

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Before Ever After

By Samantha Sotto
Broadway Paperbacks (Random House), 296 pgs
Submitted by Random House
Rating: 2.5

Shelley and Max meet on a tour of very personal and specific alternative European history. Shelley is a recent American transplant to London, trying to escape the death of her father and her mother's consuming grief, and Max is a tour guide from AD 79. Time travel and immortality are trendy in popular culture and this is yet another addition to the cannon, although this seems more like reincarnation than anything else, and as such nothing special to some belief systems.

Shelley and Max fall in love during the course of the tour, beginning in London and wrapping up in Rome. At stops along the way Max takes the group off the beaten path, telling the story of Isabelle and tracing her family history back through time, relating the personal to the historical events of the day, such as the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille to the eruption of Vesuvius and the towns preserved in ash. 

At the end of the tour Shelley and Max marry but she is made a widow before long, at least she thinks she's a widow. A young man named Paolo, Max's grandson, shows up on Shelley's doorstep one morning claiming that Max is alive and he knows where to find him. So Shelley and Paolo set out to confront Max and the truth. And of course the biggest question of all. Can Shelley become immortal? Will she or won't she?

This book bored me to tears. By the end I no longer cared who was immortal, who wasn't, or who might become so. I just wanted to get it over with so I could read something else. I did not find the characters believable, the majority were merely stereotype. The dialogue is choppy and cliched. This book could have done with a touch of sophistication. It doesn't do justice to it's locations.

It makes me very unhappy to pan a book this badly. I feel guilty. But if anyone is actually reading this then I have a responsibility. And you can do much better.

For more on the author:

For more on the publisher:   

Friday, August 24, 2012

Eat the City

a tale of the Fishers, Foragers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Bee Keepers, Wine Makers, and Brewers Who Built New York
By Robin Shulman
Crown Publishers (Random House), 335 pgs
Submitted by Random House
Rating: 4

"Go on bite the big apple..." Richards and Jagger warned us. I always took this to be a metaphor. Who knew one of the world's megalopolises had such agricultural bounty? Turns out New York has a history of growing and producing any number of crops: honey, beef, fish, sugar, beer, etc., etc.

Chapter 2. During the economic catastrophe of the 1970s hundreds of vacant lots appeared where buildings once stood. Today a large percentage of those lots are no longer vacant. Community gardens have sprung up all over the city thanks to passionate local growth advocates and many transplants to the city from the South with rural agricultural backgrounds. Community gardens are producing everything from corn and potatoes to squash and tomatoes, even sugar cane. Okra is itchy to pick, did you know that? I did. I used to pick okra in my aunt and uncle's garden as a little girl in West Texas.

Chapter 3. New York was the largest meat processing center on the East Coast until Work War II. Cattle were herded down the middle of city streets. Millions of immigrants flooded the city and discovered that meat was plentiful and cheap, unlike in their homelands. Eating meat was a measure of success. One man recalled that his grandfather would put a toothpick in his mouth as he left home "to give the impression that he had eaten meat." By 1980 there were only six slaughterhouses left in the city. Then came another wave of immigrants and a slaughterhouse renaissance of sorts. Now there are eighty. Another reason for the growing number of slaughterhouses is the large Jewish population that ensures a healthy kosher slaughter business. How you ever considered there to be anything sexy about butchers? Try this on for size, regarding a butcher named Tom: "He's confident and sure of his touch and his impact on the meat, and if there's something sexy about butchering, it's that - it shows a man who's comfortable with flesh." Think about it.

Chapter 5. Beer has been brewed on the island of Manhattan since before the Dutch bought it in 1626. One might think that the Midwest was the king of beer in this country but this was not always so. New York was the king of beer until refrigeration technology made it possible to get ice-cold beer from Milwaukee and St. Louis to the larger markets on the east coast. Breweries declined precipitously in New York. Then came the local micro-brew movement. Now apparently every hipster has a still in the laundry room. The same can be said of wineries. They are making a comeback. Time was when people bought grapes from upstate and fermented their own wine. Like bell bottoms, it's cool to be a vintner again in Manhattan. Friends of another aunt and uncle tried their hand at homemade wine back in the 80s. Word has it that the wine was terrible but I wouldn't know about that. I was just a kid, certainly never tasted it. Certainly.

Another factor in the decline of breweries was Prohibition. However the New York Telegram claimed in 1929 that you could buy alcohol in the following places: "In open saloons, restaurants, nightclubs, bars behind a peephole, dancing academies, drugstores, delicatessens, cigar stores, confectioneries, soda fountains, behind partitions of shoeshine parlors, back rooms of barber shops, from hotel bellhops, from hotel headwaiters, from hotel day clerks, night clerks, in express offices, motorcycle delivery agencies, paint stores, malt shops, cider stubes, fruit stands, vegetable markets, taxi drivers, groceries, smoke shops, athletic clubs, grillrooms, taverns, chophouses, importing firms, tearooms, moving-van companies, spaghetti houses, boarding houses, Republican clubs, Democratic clubs, laundries, social clubs, newspapermen's associations." Smile.

Eat the City is a great book. I love this sort of thing, sort of esoteric history, learning something in an entertaining, humorous way. It does lag in a few places but I think you'll find it worth it in the end. Not all is good news though. The situation with the water quality is truly atrocious and I hope something can be done so it's safe to eat the fish again. It hadn't occurred to me that this sort of agricultural history existed in a city the size of New York. (Have you been? Wow.) Omaha I would have believed. I am a fan of organic, locally grown, community-based foodstuffs. We even have a community garden here in Colorado City, Texas. I sincerely applaud the residents of New York in their attempts to take back the city's more blighted neighborhoods.

In closing, can you guess why David Selig's Brooklyn bees began making red honey? Have you ever considered that the color and flavor of honey depends upon the diet of the bees making it? This had never occurred to me, though it makes perfect sense. You'll never believe what David's bees had gotten into!

The author, Robin Shulman, is a writer and reporter whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Slate, etc. For more from the author:

For more from the publisher:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Last Camel Charge

Texas Book Lovers we have a special treat today: guest reviewer Doug Baum. I went to high school with Doug a million years ago. He is the proprietor of Texas Camel Corps outside Waco, Texas. He and his family travel with their camels to historical reenactments, Christmas pageants and guided tours of the Middle East every year. Doug is one of the most interesting and genuine people I've had the pleasure to know. Please enjoy his review of The Last Camel Charge.

The Last Camel Charge (2012, Berkley), by Forrest Bryant Johnson, is the most recent book to chronicle the US Army Camel Experiment of the 19th century. This being a topic very dear to my heart, I picked up a copy the minute it was available, hoping to discover something new.
I can’t say I was disappointed. In fact, the book was a page-turner and I didn’t want it to end. Placing the camels’ US military story against the backdrop of the Mormon migration was very creative and helped weave together two different pieces of Western history. The titular “Charge”, too, was riveting and served to teach me, the ol’ camel man, something new (I’ll not spoil that part of the tale). That said, I do have some problems with the book, most of which are borne of my intimate knowledge of this quirky bit of history AND the fact that I make part of my living as a writer. Most of these “flaws”, if you will, are admittedly noticeable by only a few readers and surely this will cement my place in the pantheon of nerds. Still, I consider books to be sacred and authors should set for themselves the highest of standards.

The technical offenses first: The seventeen typographical errors, inconsistent spellings or similar oversights I found were horribly distracting. I addressed these and other concerns with Mr. Johnson, via email, making clear I had no intention of offending him, and he was incredibly gracious in his response. He wrote, “I wish to thank you for your comments on my book and the excellent editorial work.  I am not offended.  I'm impressed.  You should be working for Berkley for they sure made a lot of screw-ups on the proof.  Many you mentioned had already been brought to my attention and I have passed them on to the editors, as I will your corrections. In a way I am at fault.  I did the final proof and can offer only this. I had left the basic editorial work to their people and now I realize, they dropped the ball. Also, I'm an old guy (76) and familiar with hard copy proof reading which they no longer do, I learned with this book.  The MSS was sent to me by some sort of electronically generated editorial system I had never seen before.  The instruction for working with their system was 45 pages long with computer terms I did not know.   I write by long hand and need a typist to put my work on a cd.  Then, they gave me five days to edit their work.  So, I'm not surprised with the number of typo mistakes.”

As for the historical points of contention, one of the biggest myths of the old Army camels is that they were simply released at the end of the Civil War. This didn’t happen and Mr. Johnson doesn’t imply such, but he does help perpetuate the myth by including a photo of camels in Texas with a train in the background captioned, “They are still with us! Wild camels in Texas.” A cursory search on the web would’ve shown this image to be of camels owned by the McNair family in North Texas, near Wichita Falls. If ever there were camels (and there were some) roaming the desert US Southwest, they’d be scientifically classed as “feral”. This is an important distinction. A mountain lion is a wild animal. A coyote is a wild animal. Hogs, much of the southern US is dealing with today, are feral. Feral is a term used scientifically to denote any domesticated animal (or its descendants) that has reverted to a “wild” state. To this point, Mr. Johnson said, “You are correct, but it is difficult to convince folks of that fact.  For example, I drive and sometime walk tours into the desert near Vegas and the Federal Bureau of Land Management has large signs along the highways stating ‘It is illegal to feed wild burros and horses.’   If they used the word feral they would have millions of visitors (Vegas gets 40 million a year) searching the web or dictionary.”

I say seek and ye shall find. If we continue to set the bar low, people will surely meet it every time. As a lover of the written and spoken word, this makes me sad.

Another easy, but flubbed point is the number of stomachs a camel has. Mr. Johnson gives the number four, like a cow, sheep or goat, all of which are ruminants (meaning cud-chewing). Camels, though, are classed as modified ruminants due to their stomachs containing only three chambers. In the camel, the omasum and abomasum are combined. Camel nerds, raise your cups.
There were a couple of other historical points dealing with routes the Army camels took, crossing this creek or that river in a chronologically and geographically reverse order given the fact they were headed west. Mr. Johnson provided me with the military journal excerpts from which he pulled the passages and he’s off the hook. We can agree, though, that nineteenth-century recall wasn’t all it should be or, at the least, place names have changed or disappeared in a hundred and fifty years.

While I’ve spent the majority of this review on the handful of negatives, it’s imperative I restate how much I enjoyed the book and I do recommend it to the ardent historian as well as the casual observer. Mr. Johnson’s responses to my handful of emails lead me to believe he is a warm-hearted individual who wanted only to retell this interesting story. Mission accomplished, sir.

To learn more please see: , , or

Thursday, July 5, 2012


winner of the The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. book giveaway contest!
I will contact Random House and they will send you the book. Congratulations again and thank you for joining the contest and supporting Texas Book Lover!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


By David Klein
Broadway Books, 376 pgs
Submitted by Random House
Rating: 3

The only people who stay in character in Clean Break are a gambling addict (Adam) and a 10-year-old child (Spencer). Now I don't know about you but I would tend to believe that the man with no character left, and the young one just developing character, would be the ones most likely to violate. Instead it's the adults, who have up until now been solid, responsible and dependable citizens. Now they are, variously: murderers, adulterers, liars, accomplices, ethically-challenged (to say the least) and one of them is so underdeveloped, in terms of character, that I cannot understand why she inspires so much passion in the others (Celeste).

Adam and Celeste are divorcing after more than a decade of marriage because Adam is a gambling addict who has become dangerously unpredictable and even physically violent. He has managed to bet and lose his way through the savings, 401(k)s, IRAs, retirement funds, college funds and pretty much everything they owned. Celeste and Spencer have to vacate the family home for a rental in a shabby part of Brookfield, a suburb of New York. They move while Adam is in a treatment facility for 3 months. When he is released and begs Celeste to come back to him, she refuses. It's not long after that he's gambling again. Celeste discovers his relapse and confronts him, for which he assaults her and is choking her when a man happens upon the scene and intervenes (Jake).

Long story short, Celeste and Jake begin a tentative relationship. Adam (who is stalking her by now) sees a kiss, the only kiss up to this point, and goes bananas, threatening everyone in sight. What happens now is either predictable or unpredictable depending on your point of view and understanding of character. The events that take place are predictable in terms of the formula for a suspense novel, but unpredictable in terms of the potentialities of these particular characters. I found the motivations of quite a few of these people to be unbelievable given the arcs of their lives to this point.

You have been a fine upstanding citizen for 42 years but all of a sudden (a matter of weeks) you're offering inside information to a vendor during a confidential contract bid and running around on your husband (Sara)? Or you have been a strictly career-oriented bachelor for 40 years, you move cross-country every few years for a new job, no ties, fancy free and now you are in love and devoted to a woman with all of these problems, so delusional that you are willing to commit the ultimate sin?

In addition, the style of storytelling got on my nerves. You can read a chapter, for instance, and instead of trusting his reader, the author adds a paragraph summing up what happened in the chapter and pointing out the significance of a clue, in case you weren't paying attention. Left me thinking the author felt the need to spoon-feed his audience. Clean Break is an OK book but if I were you I'd choose something else. David Klein has promise and has written a previous book titled Stash which got good reviews, so I'm going to try that one and I'll be back to let you know whether the author is better than Clean Break and deserves a second look.

For more on the author:

For more on the publisher:

Monday, July 2, 2012


Exciting news for all of you who loved the review of THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D. by Nichole Bernier! Crown/Random House has generously provided a copy of this book for a giveaway contest. So here are the criteria to enter the contest:

1. Be a follower of Texas Book Lover. If you're not already a follower sign up - it's easy!
2. Leave a comment about the contest at
3. Share this giveaway on FaceBook.

The winner will be drawn randomly. The contest starts NOW and ends on July 3rd.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Exciting news for all of you who loved the review of THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D. by Nichole Bernier! Crown/Random House has generously provided a copy of this book for a giveaway contest. So here are the criteria to enter the contest:

1. Be a follower of Texas Book Lover. If you're not already a follower sign up - it's easy!
2. Leave a comment about the contest at
3. Share this giveaway on FaceBook.

The winner will be drawn randomly. The contest starts NOW and ends on July 3rd.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.

By Nichole Bernier
Crown/Random House, 309 pgs
Submitted by Random House
Rating: 5

"Kate lowered her nose to Emily's head and breathed in Johnson's baby shampoo, a hormonal cocktail that among women who have children not long out of diapers drew the Pavlovian, Another." There, there. Is that not the most beautiful sentence you have ever read? If not then please leave me a comment with your contender because I have to read that book now. I read this sentence, page 9, and swooned. I knew then that Elizabeth D. would be a 5.

I proceeded to lose myself in questions of marriage, motherhood, profession, individuality and identity.The classic and ever-present question: Can you ever really know another person?

The aforementioned Elizabeth died in a plane crash, leaving a husband and 3 small children. She has been keeping a journal faithfully since she was a child and all of these journals are locked in a trunk. In her will Elizabeth left her journals to her best friend Kate, also married with 2 small children, with the express wish that Kate read them. Summer vacation is coming up, a few weeks in a rented bungalow on Great Rock Island, so Kate brings the trunk with her and begins with the oldest journal.

Kate had thought she knew Elizabeth to be the consumate mother and mate, blessed by the goddess with innate talent for homemaking and compassion for family, a born nurturer, satisfied. But this is not the Elizabeth portrayed in the journals. That Elizabeth kept secrets: she had had a younger sister; she had attended the fine arts program in painting at NYU; she spent a year in Florence as a student; she had had a miscarriage before the birth of her son; she had loved her job in advertising; she suffered with post-partum depression. In the months before her death Elizabeth had met a man named Michael and she was going to meet him in California when she died. But that fact is not as it seems either.

Page 188: "Why is it so hard for me? I'm always tripped up by what I think is expected of me, trying to act the right way. This should not be brain surgery. Feed child, dress child, cook food, pay bills, and don't let in utter strangers when you're home alone." This poor woman, oh Elizabeth! You tried so hard, didn't you? Domesticity didn't come as naturally to you as you assumed it would; as you assumed it did for the other mothers in the play group.  

Page 200: "I cried on the train, face turned to the window. Who am I kidding? You can do all your gymnastics to try and fool Mother Nature, use all your fancy gadgets and pills and pumps and sitters, but biology always wins in the end."

Page 131: "I knew then that it's not true anymore that my choices are open. Unless you want to breach every expectation, live life with no boundaries or limitations. There are repercussions..." I read this and remember how I always thought I wanted to live that way, question everything, ask "Why?" But I no longer have the courage for that sort of thing. Or is it "courage" to accept the strictures? Is the better part of valor to assume the mantle of self-discipline, expectation and tradition? Or maybe not. Two of my three children don't want to marry or have children and I can't help but wonder what bearing my choices have had on them. How can you know?

Page 200: "Standing there with the AAA guy I saw my life as an endless loop of the same scene. No matter how many times I imagined driving away or how many times I packed a bag and really did it, I would never reach the FDR." I recognize this scene. I still get the same urge when I find myself west bound on I-20 late in the afternoon or evening. I have managed to stave off departure to date.

And then this on page 123: "I watched him walk away toward the corner with a rolling gait that bounces on the balls of his feet, solid and heavy like a draft horse, but light like a very contented one. He looks as if he could carry you a thousand miles if he had to." I knew a man years ago who walked like that. And he could have. He chose to carry someone else, alas. The ability to string the perfect words into the perfect order that evokes a memory such as this is rare. And Nichole Bernier is a rare talent. This is her first novel and I can hardly wait, anticipating the delights to come. Write faster Nichole! Write faster!

For more about the author:

The author is also a founder of the literary website

For more about the publisher:

Monday, June 18, 2012


Q&A with Sheila Allee
Writers’ League of Texas Interim Executive Director

Q: What is the Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference?
A: The conference offers writers – whether they are published or just starting out – the chance to meet with agents and editors who are looking for great books and new voices.

Q: Who should attend the conference?
A: Writers and aspiring writers, published and unpublished. This conference is not just for people who are already writing a book. If you’ve ever thought about writing a book and are interested in learning about the publishing industry, this is a good place to gather information.

Q: What are the benefits to attending?
A: We will have 13 agents, four editors, three experts in book publishing and film production, seven
marketing/publicity professionals, and over a dozen distinguished authors on our faculty. You will have opportunities to hear them share their tips about writing and the industry, as well as chat with them informally. You will also have the opportunity to network with other writers and form alliances that will help you in your future writing endeavors.

Q: Who will be speaking at this year’s conference?
A: Our keynote speaker is Alan Rinzler, an editor who has worked with Hunter S. Thompson, Toni Morrison, Clive Cussler, Tom Robbins and Robert Ludlum, among others. His speech will be about “Why This is the Best Time Ever to be an Author.”

Q: Who are some of the agents and editors represented at this year’s conference?
A: We have 13 agents who specialize in a wide variety of markets. Some of the agencies represented are Full Circle Literary, Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Pippin Properties, Folio Literary Management, Wendy Sherman Associates, Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, and Serendipity Literary.

Q: What types of panels will be featured?
A: We have a range of panels for people at any stage of a writing career. Some sessions are craft workshops and are designed to help develop voice, write a memoir, or bring out the writer in you. Other sessions educate attendees on the business end of writing, with panels on how to impress an agent, how to market your projects, and the different avenues of self-publishing.

Q: As a writer, what should I prepare or bring to this year’s conference?
A: If you have a book project and would like to talk with an agent about it, have your “elevator” pitch ready. It’s not necessary to bring your manuscript. If an agent wants to see it, he/she will ask.

Q: How long has this conference been going on?
A: The first conference was held in 1994 and it has been hosted annually since then.

Q: Do writers ever receive book deals while at this conference?
A: Writers very often sign with agents because of the conference and those agents secure book deals. A number of success stories from previous conferences are posted on our website.

Q: How should attendees prepare for their agent one-on-one meeting?
A: If you have a book to pitch to an agent, be sure to have your “pitch” ready when you have your agent consultation. A two to three-minute speech about your project’s basic plot, its genre/market, and what makes it unique is all that is necessary. This is an opportunity to get feedback from an industry professional, so they should also come prepared with any burning questions about publishing or how to make their manuscript more salable. For a separate fee, we are offering a pre-conference workshop on how to perfect your pitch. It is scheduled the afternoon of Friday, June 22.

Q: What advice do you have for writers attending this year’s conference?
A: Come ready to learn about the ever-changing world of publishing and to network with other writers. Even if you don’t have a book that you are working on, you may have one in mind and the knowledge you gain and the connections you make at the conference will be very helpful when you sit down to write.

Q: What’s the difference between the agents conference general ticket and the agents conference YA A to Z ticket?
A: The conference offers two workshop tracks – the general track and the Young Adult track. Attendees who sign up for the general track will be able to attend workshops and panels on a broad range of topics relating to writing, publishing and marketing many book genres. The YA track is for writers who are writing young adult fiction.
Registrants can also purchase a combined ticket and attend any of the sessions.

Q: What are the event dates?
A: June 22-24

Q: What is the cost to attend the conference?
A: If you are a member of the Writers’ League, the cost is $399. For nonmembers, the fee is $459. If you want to attend the Young Adult track only, the fee is $299 for members and $359 for nonmembers. Attendees wanting to attend both the general and Young Adult tracks will be charged $434, with nonmembers paying $494.
We will accept walk-ins, but the registration fee will be higher. A full listing of costs is located on our website

Q: Where is this year’s conference?
A: Austin’s Hyatt Regency Hotel

611 S. Congress Ave. Suite 505, Austin TX 78704 • Phone: 512-499-8914 • Fax: 512-499-0441 •

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


By Steve Sherwood
Texas Review Press, 214 pgs
Submitted by TCU Press
Rating: 3.75

Hardwater has so much going on it can be difficult to keep track. In this case, that's not a bad thing. Peter Hoback is a newspaper editor in Hardwater, Wyoming, a small town that has seen better times, before the uranium mines closed. Pete fled Denver for Hardwater with his son Bart following the violent death of his wife at the hands of a psychopath. And wouldn't you know it: up pops another psychopath.

Hardwater begins as Pete gets an anonymous tip about a multiple murder. He arrives at the site, a vacation cabin in the mountains, and finds 3 bodies arranged in a triangle: scalped, throats cut, clutching a sage branch in one hand and barley in the other, their mouths wedged open with quartz crystals. The torsos have been slit open and sewn shut again. At autopsy the bodies are found to have yellow cake uranium packed into the cavities.

Meanwhile, back at the reservation, the Supreme Court has handed down a decision in favor of upholding water rights of the Shoshone tribe. There are threats and accusations flying as the Anglo ranchers form a posse. Yep, posse. It's not long before blood is shed, irrigation shut off, roads blocked and say howdy to the Wyoming National Guard.

Pete Hoback is friends with the tribal authorities and does his best to remain a neutral reporter while documenting both stories for his newspaper. Then he gets another tip and finds a poem written by the psycho that points to more bodies. Pete puts the clues together and finds three more victims, identical to the first three. Then the killer threatens Bart and the chase is on.

This book reminds me of James Lee Burke and as regular followers of Texas Book Lover know, that is some of the highest praise I can give. Just as JLB evokes southern Louisiana to perfection, Steve Sherwood has brought us Wyoming. I also want to commend Mr. Sherwood on the ending. The story is not tied up with ribbon and bow. The author allows the ending to be messy. I would love to read more from this writer. He has the potential to be great. Steve Sherwood is an instructor at Texas Christian University and director of the William L. Adams Center for Writing. He won the George Garrett Fiction Prize, awarded by the Texas Review Press in 2003.

For more on the author:

For more on the Texas Review Press:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Grievers

By Marc Schuster
The Permanent Press, 176 pgs
Submitted by The Permanent Press
Rating: 3.5

The Grievers by Marc Schuster is a short novel about how a group of friends responds to the suicide of one of their own. And it's much funnier than it sounds. Our protagonist is Charley Schwartz, one of a group of men who attended the same exclusive private high school in Philadelphia. They are a diverse lot. Charley has a master's in English but currently impersonates a dollar sign on a sidewalk fronting a bank. Neil is a lawyer and Charley's best friend and surrogate parental figure. Greg lives with his mother, trolls for women online and is insane. Dwayne is a cop. Sean is a social worker who sells Volkswagens on weekends. Anthony is a producer and director of improbable musicals (Hogan's Heroes.) Billy Chin was a pharmacist and then he jumped off a bridge.

The group gets together and decides to make a donation to their old school's scholarship fund in Billy's name. This is a fantastic idea, yes? Then the marketing department at the school hijacks the idea and turns Billy's death into an excuse to put together a Billy Chin Festival, masquerading as a memorial service.

The Grievers follows Charley as he attempts to come to terms with Billy's suicide and the spectacle of fundraising it has inspired, as well as the questions it poses for Charley's future. He knows it's past time to grow up, to drop the cynical facade, square his shoulders, and take the risks necessary to build a satisfying adult life. This is my favorite line: "Because living and dying walk hand in hand, and the alternative to both is neither - cold as a stone, unchanging and lifeless."

Is it too late for redemption?

For more of Marc Schuster:

For the publisher:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Shop Your Texas Indie Bookstores!

Hello book lovers! I wanted to let y'all know that I have added a stand-alone page to Texas Book Lover. It is a list of Texas independent bookstores. The list is, I am sure, far from complete and this is where y'all come in. Please take a few minutes to review the list (click on the link at the top of this page) and then send me a comment with any independent bookstores you'd like to see added to the list. Thanks so much!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Day the World Ends

By Ethan Coen
Broadway Paperbacks, 121 pgs
Submitted by Random House
Rating: 2

The Day the World Ends (Poems) is a thin (literally and figuratively) collection of poetry brought to us by Ethan Coen, celebrated writer of screenplays for movies such as Fargo, The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona. What most of us don't know is that Mr. Coen has also published volumes of short stories and poems such as Gates of Eden: Stories and The Drunken Driver Has the Right of Way: Poems.

I have been a fan of Ethan Coen's films for years and I wish I could say that I had enjoyed his poetry. I wish I could say that he has broken new ground or made a contribution to the art form or was at the very least reaching for something, even something intangible. But alas, what we got is mediocre at best. I suspect that Mr. Coen's name gets him published when lesser mortals would not be. The Day the World Ends (Poems) has very little to offer. The huge majority of the pieces in this book are scatological, concerned with buttocks, genitalia, various and sundry sex acts and feces. There are pages and pages of limericks that might have been written by a 13-year-old boy, crass and profane.

BUT it wasn't all bad. I'd like to single out a couple of poems for further consideration. On Seeing Venice for the First Time is a spare, fitting tribute to the author's first visit to the city. He is almost speechless and it made me smile to think of him there, a sophisticated artist done in by the romance of Venice. To the English Language bows to the power of words, the power of naming and the comfort taken from knowing that someone else has felt the same as you feel and wrote it down and survived. This poem is a throw-away but has my favorite title: When My Marbles Have Left Me Will You Have?

So, I cannot recommend The Day the World Ends (Poems). Mr. Coen's short stories have garnered better reviews so you may want to try those. In the meantime, make some popcorn and turn on Netflix.
More about the author:

More from the publisher:

Friday, May 18, 2012


By Tomas Eloy Martinez
Translation by Frank Wynne
Bloomsbury USA, 273 pgs
Submitted by Bloomsbury USA
Rating: 3

Everyone in this novel is loco, at least one taco short of a combo plate. Personally, I have a soft spot for Latino cultures, our neighbors to the south, and Mexico is breaking my heart. I would rather vacation in Peru than in Germany so please don't think I'm prejudiced. Still and all, everyone in this book is insane: the general, the doctor, the mapmaker, the mother, the wife and etc.

Emilia Dupuy's husband Simon Cardoso disappeared in Argentina and has been missing and presumed (or known, depending on who you're talking to) dead for 30 years when she spies him in a restaurant in New Jersey. He has not aged or changed in 30 years, exactly the same. They go back to her place and spend the weekend together. Or maybe they spend the rest of their lives together. Or maybe they don't go back to her place. Maybe Simon is a ghost, or maybe he doesn't exist in any form on any plane.

During the seventies and eighties Argentina suffered from a military dictatorship that had lots in common with the Third Reich and Franco's Spain. Thousands of people were "disappeared." Emilia's father was the chief propagandist for the the general and his regime. In the book the dictator general is referred to as "the Eel" and the appellation is pitch perfect. Simon mouths off one night during dinner and this appears to be the catalyst for everything that comes after.

Emilia and Simon are cartographers and are sent to a remote region to map and are captured by the army, suspected of being subversives. They are separated and interrogated. Emilia is released. What happens after that is murky to say the least. Is Simon released? tortured? executed? There are witnesses who say they witnessed Simon's death or saw his body. Emilia gets anonymous messages claiming he is alive and living in Caracas or Mexico. She spends the rest of her life, as far as we can tell (for not much is actually known), searching for him.

I have had a difficult time deciding what the rating for this book  should be. I very much enjoyed the parts in Argentina and the intermittently comedic treatment of the totalitarian regime. I found Emilia's search tedious at times. Mostly this book made me feel impatient. You don't know whether you're coming or going, which way is up? I realize that this is probably what the author intended but geez. It reminded me of the "the big lie" philosophy of the Nazis. Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?

The author of Purgatory was born in Argentina and was forced to live in exile during the military dictatorship. He has written other internationally acclaimed novels such as The Peron Novel and Santa Evita. Senor Martinez was professor of Latin American studies at Rutgers University until his death in 2010. A quote from page 221 about what is lost with death: "If we could recover the unwritten books, the lost music, if we could set out in search of what never existed and find it, then we should have conquered death."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Blue Sabine

By Gerald Duff
moon city press, 315 pgs
Submitted by the author
Rating: 4

Gerald Duff has mad skills. Blue Sabine is lyrical, it reads like poetry but in a good way. This is the story of the Holt family as they relocate from Louisiana to Texas after the Civil War and unto the present day, told by the voices of its women, who have always been the strength of Texas. Everybody knows that, right?

Don't come to Blue Sabine for plot or climax or denouement or any of those usual things, though you'll find plenty of protagonists and antagonists (sometimes the same person is both.) Come for the characters and the stories they tell. Each character is a melody joined by the chorus of stories they tell about themselves and each other. Our stories are how we know who we are, the first lessons we learn about family and how to behave or not in the big wide world.

If you are a Texan you will recognize this family because it is yours. It is certainly mine. I have an Aunt Abigail who likes to hold forth as the authority on all things appropriate and inappropriate. I have a Great Grandfather Amos Holt who has turned to God and become a preacher mostly because he is overwhelmed by the women surrounding him and finds God more comprehensible. I have a Cousin (you must capitalize "cousin") Nola Mae whose faith resides in her beauty and style and worth on the man-market (a time-honored tradition among southern women) and whose children have sometimes taken a backseat to her personal ambitions. I would like to note that we don't have anyone who was blinded by a pimp for insulting his hooker. Not that I am aware of. Not yet. Meanwhile, it is my personal ambition to be more like GrandMaude and you'll just have to read Blue Sabine to know what I mean.

For more on the author:

For more on Moon City Press:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Road to Roma

By Dave Kuhne
Ink Brush Press pgs162
Submitted by the author
Rating: 3.5

The Road to Roma is a slim collection of short stories by Dave Kuhne, Associate Director of the William L. Adams Center for Writing at Texas Christian University. Mr. Kuhne is also the editor of descant, TCU's literary journal. Each story in Roma evokes Texas unerringly, from the Valley to Austin in the 70s and (although never identified) what can only be the flagship Neiman Marcus in downtown Dallas in the 50s. Mexico also looms large, literally and figuratively. This doomed country holds a mythic place in the minds of restless Texans, escape from the law or the mundane or both, second chances and transformation. Indeed, I have run to Mexico (the mundane.)

Mr. Kuhne's characters are almost as strong as his sense of place: the non-nonsense car wash owner of Magic Coins who learns to respect a little voodoo; the man in No Scars Whatsoever terrified of fecund female power; Gary of the eponymous The Road to Roma who learns to assert and trust himself once again.

I enjoyed the majority of these stories. They are my favorite thing: slice-of-life short fiction, my first love. I do have a couple of notes to share. There is such a thing as slice-of-life and then there is such a thing as no actual story here. That is true of a couple of these works. My other quibble is with The Cook's Tale, a nod to Chaucer that sticks out like a sore thumb in  this collection, as if you lined up 6 frogs and then threw a rabbit into the mix. Or maybe I'm just not a fan of Chaucer.

I do hope Dave Kuhne continues to write. I think there could be some good stuff coming down the line. Texans will enjoy these stories, you'll recognize your friends and family in the characters. Just don't tell them that.

For more information:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Innocent

A Vanessa Michael Munroe Novel
By Taylor Stevens
Crown Publishers, 331 pgs
Submitted by Random House
Rating: 2.5

Vanessa Michael Munroe is back in the follow-up to her debut performance in The Informationist, which I reviewed in December of last year. The mission she is hired for this time is to rescue a child from a cult and return her to her parents. Michael, as she is known, travels to Argentina, last known location for the girl, and sets about recon. She is joined by Miles Bradford, also returning from the first book, who's main function is electronics and, infrequently, bodyguard. Most of the time he's the second string. Munroe is also saddled with a small collection of former cult members, each with a different agenda,who's main function seems to be offering the potential for mission catastrophe.

The Innocent begins promisingly. Munroe is a unique heroine, no one else like her in past or current thriller fiction. Taylor Stevens allows her to be larger than life and I am willing to suspend disbelief for the sheer fun of experiencing a woman in charge, physically and mentally. Michael is a chameleon who would be an asset to any intelligence and/or mercenary agency in the world, except the body count tends to climb when she's around. The story idea is a good one. The author was born into the Children of God and presumably knows whereof she speaks; the descriptions of the cult and it's members and practices are detailed and so strange. So to sum up: 1) great story idea, 2) great main character and 3) details to sink your teeth into, and 4) there's a sub-issue that works well throughout the book involving Munroe's violent nightmares and the dangers represented by her sleepwalking, actually more of a fugue state.

So what is wrong with this book?

1) It's slow. Real action doesn't begin until page 261. This is unacceptable. 2) Munroe is a fabulous character who has been allowed no growth, acceptable I suppose, but tedious. In addition, there are two incidents that make no sense: 1) at the beginning of the book Munroe kills a man in New York during one of the previously mentioned fugue states and this has no apparent effect on anything, and 2) not long after arriving in Argentina she rescues two girls from a couple of men who apparently were buying them but this is never alluded to during the entire remainder of the book. It's as if it happens in a vacuum. Disorienting. Finally, The Innocent could have benefited from better editing. The writing frequently comes across as clunky, repetitive and is filled with odd word choices.  

When I reviewed The Informationist, Taylor Stevens' debut, I was impressed. I very much enjoyed that book and gave it a rating of 4.5. Maybe it's the classic sophomore syndrome, suffering in comparison to a widely praised debut. Maybe the debut was a fluke, too early to tell. So while I cannot recommend The Innocent, the author is currently at work on a third book in the series and I am prepared to keep an open mind and read the third installment before making a decision.

To visit the author:

To visit the publisher:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I want to let y'all know that I continue to improve Texas Book Lover.  I've added some features and functionality, such as:
  • Grammar Girl, for all your emergency grammar needs,
  • A list of Texas university literary reviews (this is where you'll find the brand new stuff that may find it's way into a novel or anthology in the future),
  • Synopses of my most popular reviews (a shortcut to the stuff viewers liked best,) and
  • A list of literacy charities, domestic and international, in need of your help. Give until it hurts!
So please take a look at the new stuff, I know you'll find something to appreciate. If you're not a follower of this blog please sign up. There are no emails etc. to annoy you, just support for my blog. Muchas gracias!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wayward Saints

By Suzzy Roche
Hyperion, 259 pgs
Submitted by Hyperion
Rating: 3

(Aside: This book was shipped to me with Wayward Saints as the addressee, causing my stepmother and sister to inquire as to whether I'd joined a cult.)

Saint is the surname of the principle characters in Wayward Saints: Bub, Jean and Mary. Bub and Mary are definitely wayward, while Jean is just painfully inhibited and scared witless. They live in a small town called Swallow which is painted as a stultifying cliche of a hide-bound neo-con backwater. Bub was frequently unemployed and fond of knocking around his wife and daughter. Jean was thoroughly cowed and unable to protect her daughter. Mary, understandably, became a teenager full of rage directed at  everyone and everything, eventually high-tailing it out of Swallow at seventeen. Who could blame her? Not me.

Mary went on to form a very successful "alternative" band called Sliced Ham. She found a socially acceptable way to misbehave: rock star. And she lived up to the reputation, forced into rehab after a tragedy, both professional and personal. Mary leaves rehab to find a disbanded band, her manager drops her, royalties are drying up, so she aimlessly withdraws from the planet. Mary's redemption and resurrection happen, of course, in Swallow, where she agrees to play a concert for the high school. She has not set foot in Swallow since she was seventeen, nor has she seen her mother or father. So we come full circle.

My favorite character was Jean Saint, Mary's mother. She began this tale as a beaten and abused mother and wife, always trying to placate a husband who couldn't be. She was bound by convention, scared of the "shoulds," frankly she got on my nerves. Although some of the titles of Mary's songs, such as "Sewer Flower," are not something I would want to discuss with my grandmother. But never mind. As Mary must journey, methodically re-entering the world, Jean is on her own journey but she's on rollerblades. She transforms herself, becoming a smart, independent, funny woman and is such a joy by the end of the book. I love her.

I wish I loved this book. The characters are well-drawn and the story heartfelt. There are a few too many cliches. The plot sort of meanders around, decorated by specimens as opposed to people. There are no "regular" (cannot for the life of me come up with a better term) people outside Swallow, they are all trying too hard to be strange. I was not invested in this one. It's a nice little book, nothing much really wrong with it. I do want to say that Suzzy Roche has potential. I will gladly take a look at her next work. I expect it will be much improved. However, I cannot recommend a book if it doesn't elicit more enthusiasm than this. What would be the point of reading?

Suzzy Roche is a founding member (with her sisters) of the Roches, a best-selling folk band whose first album was named Album of the Year by the New York Times in 1979.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Congratulations to Autumn Lancaster and Jeri Lee Webb!

They are the winners of the book giveaway contest! They have both won a copy of The Discovery of Jeanne Baret, A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe, by Glynis Ridley. Thanks for participating and supporting TexasBookLover!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hi everybody! I am so excited, this is my first book giveaway! I am offering two copies of The Discovery of Jeanne Baret as a giveaway. To win your copy you must:

1) Be a Follower of TexasBookLover,
2) Leave a comment here, and
3) Share this contest on facebook

The contest will last for one week, January 20-27, and then I will choose the winners at random. 


The Discovery of Jeanne Baret

A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe
By Glynis Ridley
Crown Publishing Group, Random House 291 pgs
Submitted by Random House
Rating: 4 - Read This Book!

Jeanne Baret was an 18th century woman, lover, wife, mother, herb woman, botanist, sailor, adventurer, administrator and sometime cross-dresser. Think about that for a minute. Baret was born a French peasant in 1740, a woman who typically would never travel more than 20 miles from the parish of her birth. A country woman at a time when she would have been chattel, she boarded a ship in 1766 with her lover, the imminent naturalist Philibert de Commerson, and sailed around the world, collecting flora and fauna for the glory of the French Empire. Awesome.

Jeanne Baret was born in the Loire valley in 1740 to an illiterate couple, as 80% of the population at that time were, who rose before the sun and worked hard all day. The average life expectancy was 26. Philibert de Commerson was born near the city of Lyon in 1727 to a prosperous lawyer and estate owner. Much to his father's displeasure Commerson was consumed with a fascination for botany and made it his life's work, traveling across Europe collecting. At some point during the early 1760s Baret and Commerson became acquainted and the naturalist began paying the herb woman to teach him everything she knew. They became lovers during this time and he moved her in as housekeeper. Tongues wagged and soon the couple decamped to an apartment in Paris. Imagine again what this experience must have been like for Jeanne Baret. She had gone from dirt floors, no shoes, no heat in winter and no meat to eat, to a lovely apartment in a beautiful, cosmopolitan city in Enlightenment France, with plenty to eat, no privations. How far she had come!

In 1766 Commerson was charged by the French government to join an expedition to sail around the world in search of lands in which to spread the empire and discover new crops. Luxuries such as coffee and nutmeg would be worth millions if France could grow these commodities domestically. It was to be a trip for a duration of two years and Commerson and Baret would not be separated, besides which she was indispensable to their work. Maritime military regulations prohibited women on board, so our conspirators hatched a plan: Baret would bind up and impersonate a man for the opportunity of a lifetime.

This is such a fascinating story. No one teaches this stuff. Such devotion between Commerson and Baret is rare indeed. Especially on Baret's part. I have two quibbles: 1) things move slowly for the first half of the book, but oh the second half! The second half is well worth waiting for. And 2) I have reservations regarding the author's ascribing mental processes and emotions that might reasonably be inferred but could not possibly be known. However, this is an accepted practice and it enables the facts to become something more than that. They become a human story. I do recommend this book, especially for history buffs and women's studies enthusiasts. Bon voyage!

You can find the author here: