Thursday, February 26, 2015

World Literature Today

Excellent news: World Literature Today published two of my reviews in the new March/April issue! This the link for my review of Who's Afraid of Meryl Streep? (University of Texas Press) by Rashid al-Daif (translated by Paula Haydar & Nadine Sinno). This is the link for my review of The Shipwrecked: Contemporary Stories by Women from Iran (Feminist Press) edited by Fereshteh Nouraie-Simone (translated by Faridoun Farrokh and Sara Khalili). Good day!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Welcome Qatar!

This morning it is my privilege to welcome readers in Qatar to Texas Book Lover. Marhaba!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Review: See How Small

My review of See How Small (Little, Brown & Company) by Scott Blackwood is in the new edition of Lone Star Literary Life! Follow this link to read the review, please and thank you.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday Roundup: February 23 - March 1

Bookish events in Texas for the week of February 23 - March 1, 2015:

Special Events:
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Exhibition, Austin, February 10 - July 6

The Dallas Festival of Ideas, February 27 - 28

Re:write Conference, Austin, February 27 - 28

Houston Authors Bash, Katy, February 28

Teen Bookfest by the Bay, Corpus Christi, February 28

Monday, February 23:
Cheer Up Charlies, Texas Book Festival Hearts Indies with NANO Fiction, A Strange Object/Covered with Fur, American Short Fiction, Fields, Smoking Glue Gun, Write Bloody Now, Bat City, Litragger and The Austin Review, 6:30PM

Rattle Inn, Texas Observer The Rabble Rouser Round-Up and Fat Cat Schmoozefest with Lizz Winstead, 6PM

El Paso
Grynde Bar, Bordersenses Barbed Wire Open Mic Poetry, 8PM

Spider House Cafe & BallroomAustin Poetry Slam, 8PM

Dallas Public Library - Skillman Southwestern Branch, Doug J. Swanson will read from and discuss his latest book, Blood Aces, 6PM

Rosewood Crescent Hotel, Robert L. Grenier presents 88 Days to Kandahar: A CIA Diary, 6:30PM

El Paso
Black Orchid Lounge, Bordersenses Barbed Wire Open Mic poetry, 8PM

Brasil, Glass Mountain monthly reading series, ?

Brazos Bookstore, Minerva Perez reads and signs I GOTTA STORY, 7PM

Murder By the Book, Sophie Jordan will sign and discuss Unleashed and Victoria Scott will sign and discuss Salt & Stone, 6:30PM

Lubbock Public Library, Mahon (Downtown) branch, Caprock Writers' Alliance presents agent and author Sarah Negotevich, 7PM

San Antonio
Gemini Ink, Great Books Series Seminar: Flannery O’Connor, 5:30PM

Wednesday, February 25:
Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline, The Duff with author Kody Keplinger in attendance for a post-screening Q&A and book signing, 7:25PM

BookPeople, Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest Winners Party, 7PM

Malvern Books, Valentin Sandoval reads from his new poetic novel, SOUTH SUN RISES (with Daniel Apodaca), 7PM

Stinson's Bistro, The Austin Review Issue 3 celebration, 8PM

McCord Auditorium, Michael Chwe will discuss James Austen, Game Theorist, 5PM

The Wild Detectives, Author Reading - Ernie Wood & One Red Thread, 7:30PM

B&N, Jennifer Senior reads and signs All Joy and No Fun The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, 7PM

Thursday, February 26:

Horchow Auditorium, DMA Arts & Letters Live: Elliot Ackerman with Ben Fountain: Heroism and Heartbreak, 7:30PM

Brazos Bookstore, Mong-Lan reads and signs ONE THOUSAND MINDS BRIMMING, 7PM

KIPP Liberation, Space City Slam: Mercury preliminary competition, 7PM

San Antonio
Imagine Books & Records, Dali's Mustache readings, 8PM

McNay Art Museum - Leeper Auditorium, Gemini Ink presents an Autograph Series Author Luncheon with Luis Alberto Urrea, 11:30AM

Saturday, February 28:
B&N - Arboretum, Lucile Estell, Steven Gonzales, and Mary Joy Graham sign El Camino Real de los Tejas, Texas (Images of America Series), 2PM

BookPeople, Dual Release Party for Austin Authors: NIKKI LOFTIN presents Wish Girl and JO WHITTEMORE presents Colonial Madness, 3PM

Bullock Museum, Poetry Out Loud, 1PM

Malvern Books, The Lion & The Pirate Unplugged, 7PM

El Paso
Rock House Cafe & Gallery, Bordersenses Barbed Wire open mic poetry, 8PM


B&N, The Weaver Series by Vaun Murphrey book signing, 2PM

B&N - Northcross, Meet Author Minerva Perez signing her newest book "I Gotta Story" My 30 Years in TV News, 1PM

San Antonio

South Padre Island
Paragraphs on Padre Boulevard, Literary Mercado, 1PM

Art Forum of Waco, Nuestra Voz open mic featuring Debra Winegarten and Cindy Huyser, 7PM

The Woodlands
B&N - The Woodlands Mall, Bill King signs Unapologetically Moderate, 2PM

Sunday, March 1:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: What Happened Here by Bonnie ZoBell

What Happened Here 
Bonnie ZoBell
Press 53
ISBN: 978-1-941209-00-4
$17.95, 174 pages

In 1978, a Pacific Southwest Airlines jet and a Cessna collided in the air over the North Park neighborhood of San Diego. It remains the deadliest accident in California aviation history.

“A few neighbors who happened to look up when they heard a loud crunching sound saw the out-of-control jet … fire and smoke shooting out from behind before the plane slammed into the earth at 300 miles per hour… The explosion was instantaneous – an enormous fireball whooshed into the sky, a mushroom of smoke and debris. Scraps of clothing leaped onto telephone poles, body parts fell on roofs, tray tables scattered across driveways. Airplane seats landed on front lawns, arms and legs descended onto patios, and a torso fell through the windshield of a moving vehicle.”

What Happened Here, Bonnie ZoBell’s second book, is comprised of one novella and ten short stories linked by this tragedy. Each of the stories in this volume, with the exception of the eponymous novella, has been previously published in various magazines. “Uncle Rempt” was nominated for the Million Writers Award; “Rocks” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize; and “This Time of Night” earned ZoBell a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.

The North Park neighborhood is not the San Diego of Mission Beach or La Jolla. The characters that people ZoBell’s stories are receptionists, tow-truck drivers, waitresses and shopkeepers – ordinary, average guys and gals in the tradition of Carver, Munro and Dubus. The difference is that the characters in those authors’ stories are (usually) undiagnosed. Almost everyone in ZoBell’s stories suffers from a (usually) diagnosed mental illness of various sorts and to varying degrees—some swallow antidepressants and carry on while others end up in a locked ward. I hadn’t seen the links to this neighborhood as being integral to these stories until I began wondering about the possibility of the neighborhood being haunted by the tragedy that happened there, wondering if bad vibes could infect hearts and minds.

ZoBell’s prose is clear and simple—you won’t find SAT vocab words here—and it suits the characters and the neighborhood. Accordingly, this style offers up metaphors that are uncomplicated but effective. The landscaping includes “Dr. Seussian succulents.” Tiny has “…a smile as long as the highway out of a dry town in Utah.” Tires spin so that “…gravel shot out behind them like ammunition.” A woman in a laundry mat has “…generations of clothes to fold.”

Bonnie ZoBell
Humor is measured, appropriate to the tenor of these tales. John discussing his therapist: “He wants me to get enraged, but not too enraged. Reasonably enraged.” Heather has “…dyed the tips of the rest of it [her hair] mauve in anticipation of switching to the art department.” Sean has “…spent four years getting A’s in classes he didn’t like for a degree he wasn’t sure was his idea and has ended up with a girlfriend who wants to buy matching dinnerware.” Willy, dying from AIDS, tells Annie, “I wish I was going to see you in bifocals and stretch pants and with Kleenex tucked in your watchband.”

What Happened Here is a collection of low-key, slice-of-life stories that are neighbors to each other in the same way that the characters in them are neighbors. They share a common space and are dependent upon each other yet still resonate with the basic human yearning for freedom—freedom from fear; from expectations that are too high and expectations that are too low; from the covenants of HOAs; from the pressure to conform—the shoulds, mustn’ts, and can’ts; from the past; from the limitations of a failing body; from the pain of compromising your talent for the necessity of filthy lucre; from tradition; from hate and, yes, from love. Who among us doesn’t identify with that yearning?

Originally published in Monkeybicycle.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Welcome Morocco!

This afternoon it is my privilege to welcome readers in Morocco to Texas Book Lover. Marhaba!

Monday Roundup: February 16 - 22!

Bookish events in Texas for the week of February 16 - 22, 2015:

Special Events:
Montgomery County Book Festival, Conroe, February 21

Monday, February 16:
Asia Society Texas Center, Savio Chan and Michael Zakkour, present China’s Super Consumers, 6PM

Thursday, February 19:
Allen Public Library, Jordan Sonnenblick discusses and signs Notes from the Midnight Driver, 7:30PM



Precision Camera, Presentation, Q&A, and Signing with J. Griffis Smith, author of On the Road with Texas Highways, 5PM

Stephen Clark Gallery, Beyond The Forest: Jewish Presence in Eastern Europe 2004-2012 by Loli Cantor book launch, 6PM

Highland Park United Methodist Church, Kate Alcott presents A Touch of Stardust, 6PM

The Wild Detectives, Mary Helen Specht reading and signing Migratory Animals, 7PM

Fort Worth
Fort Worth Public Library - Southwest Regional, Restaurantes, Rumba y Más: A Gringo’s Guide to Latino Fort Worth by Peter Szok Reading and Book Signing, 6:30PM


San Antonio

Unity of Houston (Unity Church of Christianity), Lecture: Real Love with Dr. Greg Baer followed by book signing, 7:30PM

South Padre Island
Paragraphs on Padre, Cyrus Persian book signing, discussion and reception with author Holly Simpson, 1PM

Saturday, February 21:
B&N - Vista Ridge Village, Kelly Lavendar signs Beautiful Evil Winter, 1PM

Marfa Book Company, poet Ben Estes & artist/musician Sue Tompkins' LISTENING TOUR, 6PM

San Antonio

Paragraphs on Padre Boulevard, iPoems book signing, discussion and reception with poet Ekrika Said, 1PM

B&N - First Colony Mall, What a Deal ~ a Novel by Addison Terry book signing, 1PM

The Woodlands
B&N - The Woodlands Mall, Jeff Wagoner signs Discover the Unseen In Business, Life and Yourself, 2PM

Sunday, February 22:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

My Review of Oprah's New Book Pick: Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Cynthia Bond

$25, 333 pgs

Ruby Bell was a constant reminder of what could befall a woman whose shoe heels were too high. The people of Liberty Township wove her into cautionary tales of the wages of sin and travel. They called her buck-crazy. Howling, half-naked mad. The fact that she had come back from New York City made this somewhat understandable to the town.

Ruby may be the best book I’ve read so far this year and it’s been a great year for books. I stand in awe of, and humbled by, the talent of Cynthia Bond. She has created a meaty Southern Gothic gumbo of family, friendship, religion, prejudice, history, sex, opportunism and violence set in East Texas, which is apparently a natural theater for a particular brand of backwardness and cruelty endemic to the American South. Think Jasper and Vidor. Shudder. There are too many trees – makes me claustrophobic and you can’t see what the hell is going on a hundred yards away. And you really really need to know what’s going on in East Texas.

In 1963 Ruby Bell returns to the East Texas township of Liberty after having escaped to New York City (wherein she described herself as “…lost and found, all at the same time…”) many years earlier. Ruby had been taught from a small child that her body was, in her words, a “vending machine,” and so she put what she believed her only asset to work. As the consort of a society woman and philanthropist in New York, Ruby met Baldwin, Ellison, Bukowski, and de Kooning, attended the City College of New York, and wore Chanel and Pucci. Racism certainly still existed in the North, just not the drawling in-your-face sort she grew up with. Ruby is called back to Liberty when her childhood friend dies and observes that she “…has not breathed in that particular odor of obeisance for nearly a decade.”

Ephram Jennings has lived in Liberty all his life and fell absolutely in love with Ruby as a child. “…The sweet little girl with long braids. The kind of pretty it hurt to look at, like candy on a sore tooth.” Ephram was raised by his sister Celia after his mother was driven insane and committed by his father, the reverend Jennings (who is best and appropriately described as the dregs left behind when the scum of the earth moves on to greener pastures), and the good reverend was lynched. Ephram has never married, remaining with the regimented Celia, a good Christian woman. She said sarcastically.

Ruby’s poor, battered psyche learned to disassociate as a small child. What began as a self-defense mechanism merges with an unfortunate genetic predisposition that expands over the next decade so that Ruby’s mind spends less and less time in residence. Her descent into madness is excruciating but her reality is worse. It is an agony to watch Ruby and Ephram come so close to healing each other while his sister, convinced of her own righteousness and simultaneously steeped in false Christian humility, attempts to keep them apart. The welcoming committee of good Christian women is eleven years late. They aren’t interested in helping Ruby. They aren’t even really interested in whether Ephram is going to hell. He is an embarrassment in his bid for freedom; he has slipped the reins and some people will punish you for doing what they are too cowardly and/or unimaginative to do themselves.

Ruby benefits from an engrossing story, authentic dialogue that is practically a dialect of its own, and sense of place that is mesmerizing. You can smell the piney woods, feel the humidity on your upper lip, and hear the gospel songs. But the crowning glory of Ruby is its language. I don’t remember when I’ve read anything so beautiful, truly. A couple of examples:

[When Ephram goes a-courting]

About twenty other people found themselves wandering the back road to Bell land that day to see if Ephram would fall down and start foaming the evil out of his mouth. Instead they watched a lone man clean and tote and haul. But it was still more than enough. It wasn’t just the exhibition of sin that Celia Jennings had painted so beautifully during testimony that morning. It was the pure, unadulterated, juicy, unholy spectacle of the thing. The scarecrow crazy whore of Liberty had taken up with the township’s mule of a deacon.

[a description of the woods]
Cynthia Bond
The piney woods were full of sound. Trees cracking and falling to their death; the knell of axes echoing into green; the mewl of baby hawks waiting for Mama’s catch. Bull frogs and barn owls. The call of crows and the purring of doves. The screams of a Black man. The slowing of a heart. All captured, hushed and held under the colossal fur of pine and oak, magnolia, hickory and sweet gum. Needles and capillary branches interlaced to make an enormous net, so that whatever rose, never broke through to sky. The woods held stories too, and emotions and objects: a tear of sleeve, bits of hair, long-buried bones, lost buttons. But mostly, the piney woods hoarded sound.

I took seven pages of notes as I read Ruby and at one point my pen has ripped the paper from anger. Make no mistake: Ruby is not an easy read. But it is necessary. Have courage and you will feel your soul stretching. There is no Disney ending here but there is hope. I am rooting for Ruby and Ephram. 

Finally, she said, “You think I’m crazy.”
“Naw, I don’t.”
“Well, you wrong. I’m crazy, but that don’t make me stupid.”
“Then tell me what you’re watching.”

Without turning her head she took one step onto a bridge named Ephram.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Welcome Azerbaijan!

This morning I am delighted to welcome readers from Azerbaijan to Texas Book Lover. Xoş

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My Review of "Migratory Animals" in Lone Star Literary Life

My review of Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Specht (Harper Perennial) is in the new Lone Star Literary Life! Follow this link to read the review and check out what's new for readers in Texas:

Monday, February 9, 2015

Monday Roundup: February 9 - 15

Bookish events in Texas for the week of February 9 - 15, 2015:

Monday, February 9:

Wyly Studio Theater, Oral Fixation presents "Two Peas in a Pod," 8PM

El Paso
Grynde Bar, Bordersenses Barbed Wired Open Mic, 8PM

Tuesday, February 10:

Murder By the Book, Michael Sears will sign and discuss Long Way Down, 6:30PM

Warehouse Live, Houston Moth StorySLAM: Love Hurts, 7:30PM

Wednesday, February 11:
Taschen library at the Joule Hotel, Dian Hanson book signing, 11AM

Texas Theatre, Oral Fixation presents "Two Peas in a Pod," 8PM

Denton Public Library - North Branch, Merritt Tierce author visit, book reading and Q&A, 6PM
Mabee Library - UIW, Octavio Quintanilla reads from his poetry collection, If I Go Missing, 6PM

Olmos Bharmacy, San Antonio Sun Poets Society, 6PM

Thursday, February 12:
Allen Public Library, readings from the poetry of award-winning author Dr. Flowers Rivera, 7:30PM


B&N - Arboretum, Poetry Open Mic, 7:30PM

Bookpeople, Author of The Introvert's Way SOPHIA DEMBLING speaking & signing Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After, 7PM

Bookwoman, Second Thursday Open Mic featuring AR Rogers & Sarah Hackley, 7PM

Malvern Books, Novel Night February ’15: Ernie Wood will read from his novel One Red Thread  and Howard A. Schwartz will read from his novel Flight of the Crow, 7PM

Mr. Catfish & More, Neo Soul (Open Mic and Slam), 8:30PM

Dozen Street, BedPost Confessions social mixer, 7PM

Belton Public Library, Temple Live Poets (Open Mic), 5:30PM

Highland Park United Methodist Church, M. O. Walsh presents My Sunshine Away, 11:30AM

SMU - DeGolyer Library, Book signing and lecture with Ezra Greenspan: William Wells Brown: An African American Life, 6PM

El Paso
The Little Temple, EPCC Papagayo Project: author readings with M. Miranda Maloney, Robin Scofield, Carolina Monsivais, Celina Villagarcia and poet Nancy Green, 7PM

UTEP's Centennial Museum, Authentic Texas: People of the Big Bend exhibit opens, 6PM

Fort Worth
Fort Worth Public Library - Central Branch, Henry Chappell reads and signs Silent We Stood, 6:30PM

Embassy Suites-Frisco, 3rd Annual ''Join the Fight'' Luncheon: Sugar Ray Leonard presents his memoir The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring, 11:30AM


Sheraton Houston Brookhollow Hotel, Breakfast Connection with Larry Payne as he presents The Heart of Houston, 6:45AM

Sicardi gallery, Gulf Coast Literary Journal Valentine's Day bash & fundraiser, 6PM

San Marcos
Alkek Library TSU, Wittliff Collections presents Heather Christie poetry reading, 3:30PM

Friday, February 13:
Bookpeople, Bestselling Middle Grade Author GORDON KORMON speaking & signing  Masterminds, 7PM

Bookwoman, V-Day Erotica Reading, 7PM

The Institution Theater, LoveFest, 8PM

B&N - Arboretum, Meet & Greet Book Signing With Clark GrayLegendary Life Of Bee Ho Gray, 2PM

Bookpeople, storytime with local author/ illustrator Keith Graves where he'll be reading his latest picture book, Second Banana, 10AM

Farewell Books, 2 Year Anniversary Party, 7PM

The Institution Theater, LoveFest, 8PM

B&N - Parkdale Mall, Andrea' Porter Book Signing Love is All We're After, 1PM

El Paso
The Dojo, performance poet Dick Bakken will present a workshop on “Origin of the Valentine" followed by a reading, 9:30AM


Paragraphs on Padre Boulevard, Literary Mercado, 1PM

B&N, Gulf Coast Poets Monthly Meeting with Featuring , 10:30AM

Sunday, February 15:
Kick Butt Coffee, Spoken and Heard, 7PM

Spider House Ballroom, Swipe To The Right Night II: a special Valentine's Day hangover dinner and story-telling event, 7PM

Brazilian Arts Foundation Cultural Center, The Flamenco Poets Society presents España en el Corazón / Spain in the Heart: Antonio Machado and Pablo Neruda bilingual readings by Ben Lind and Julietta Parra Ducote, 3PM

Half Price Books, local author James Howell signs Countdown to Atomgeddon: The Race to Build the First Atomic Bomb, 1PM

San Antonio
B&N - La Cantera, New Writers Event: Suzanne Bolner signs On Earth, Ambasssador Sichan Siv signs Golden State Love and Conflict in Hostile Lands, J. G. Schwartz signs Inventing Madness, Mark F. Wise signs Conversations with Blanchie, Chance Maree signs Dark Matter Tiding, Paula King-Harper signs Prosperous Living, Ken Miller signs Guanaja - A Caribbean Island and Brian Kenneth Swain signs Sistina: a Novel, 2PM

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Review: The Rise of Islamic State

Patrick Cockburn
Verso Books
$16.95, 172 pgs

On June 10, 2014 the collection of psychopaths known variously as ISIS, ISIL, DAESH and now as Islamic State, captured Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, in only four days of fighting, which is when the western half of the globe looked around and thought, “What the hell?” By the end of June IS declared a caliphate comprising an area larger than Britain that is, in the words of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (aka Head Honcho Psychopath Number 1), “a state where the Arab and non-Arab, the white man and black man, the easterner and westerner are all brothers…Syria is not for the Syrians, and Iraq is not for the Iraqis. The Earth is Allah’s” (xi). Mr. Kumbaya left out of that statement that Earth is apparently not for Shia, Sufis, Sunni-who-are-not-Sunni-enough, “apostates,” “polytheists” (by this he means Christians, among others), women, girls, journalists, aid workers, or anyone-else-we-don’t-like-today. One hundred five days later the United States began bombing Syria. For most of us these developments seemed to happen overnight. Wrong. The Rise of Islamic State by Patrick Cockburn will tell you why.

Western support for the overthrow of Assad didn’t unseat him but it did destabilize Iraq (4). The Iraqi government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was riven with corruption from top to bottom (77). The Iraqi army took off their uniforms and abandoned their posts and equipment because they buy their positions so they will have a job and because their generals board helicopters and flee to safety (15). Turkey is guilty of the willful failure to control their 516-mile border with Iraq and Syria (37). The Gulf monarchies have created a monster that they are now afraid poses an existential threat to them (7).

The adage about politics making for strange bedfellows is proved by the current coalition trying to destroy (degrade? who knows exactly?) IS. The United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE, Iraq and Iran (this is by no means a complete list) are all playing in the same sandbox, as per usual, but this time they have a common goal. Of course, they all still have lots of other goals, too. Vice President Joe Biden gave a speech at Harvard on October 2, 2014 in which he told his audience that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and UAE:

were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war. What did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of Jihadis coming from other parts of the world. (xix)

The Rise of Islamic State is a straight-forward recitation of facts with fairly little analysis. I expected more from a journalist of Cockburn’s stature who has been reporting from the area for more than ten years. The narrative is sometimes difficult to follow as it jumps backward and then forward and then backward again in time; I felt it could have been organized so that it flows better. There are lots and lots of facts and figures; I would have appreciated more anecdotes from individuals living in the region. I got the impression the book was rushed into print to capitalize on current events. It is mostly basic information that any of us could’ve gleaned on our own if we bothered to read news from the rest of the globe instead of watching the vapid talking heads of CNN or Fox. There are long form articles published by American periodicals that are still doing a fine job – see The New Yorker and The Atlantic. The Rise of Islamic State is a great primer for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention.

Patrick Cockburn
I did learn a few things from this book that I didn’t know. Cockburn pins the blame for the surge of fundamentalist Sunni terror organizations squarely on Saudi Arabia, the home of Wahhabism, and Pakistan, the enablers of the Taliban – both of which happen to be the closest allies of the United States in the region. The late Richard C. Holbrooke, US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said: “We may be fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong country” (5). There are signs that Saudi Arabia is trying to pull back from the brink but the damage is done (97).

The “War on Terror” is an abject failure because, among other factors, the countries responsible for the 9/11 attacks in this country were never held responsible (58). Islamic State now holds far greater territory than the al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden ever thought about and they are more violent. It’s time to think outside the box. Maybe it’s time to reconsider the Sykes-Picot Agreement