Monday, January 30, 2017

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 1/30-2/5

Bookish events in Texas for the week of January 30-February 5, 2017: 

Special Events:
Starving Poets: Poetic House Party (Anniversary & Reunion Weekend), Houston, February 3-4

Writing the City: Freedmen’s Town, Houston, February 4 & 18

Ongoing Exhibits:
The Human Experience: From Texas to the World literacy initiative, Houston, January 18-May 18

The Lost Generation: World War I Poetry, Denton, January 17-May 11

Storyland: A Trip Through Childhood Favorites, Fort Worth, January 21-May 7

Monday, January 30:

Murder By the Book, Brunonia Barry will sign and and discuss The Fifth Petal, 6:30PM

Tuesday, January 31:

The Korova, PuroSlam with DJ Donnie Dee: The Free Speech of Bust Slam!, 10PM

Wednesday, February 1:
Austin Books & Comics, a celebration of 25 years of publisher Image Comics with creators Nick Pitarra and Donny Cates, 9AM

BookPeople, MARY MILLER speaking & signing Always Happy Hour, 7PM

Bullock Museum, High Noon Talk: author and historian Richard McCaslin discusses Galveston's Maceo Family Empire: Bootlegging and the Balinese Room, 12PM

Avant Garden, Write About Now Poetry Slam, 7:30PM

Brazos Bookstore, Sean Stellato discusses and signs NO BACKING DOWN, 7PM

Sam Houston State, Cameron Awkward-Rich Poetry Reading, 5PM

TYKU, Words & Wine Wednesday: Poetry, 8PM

San Antonio
Rebar, Kinyo Poetry Live, 8:30PM

The Twig Book Shop, Jeff Guinn reads and signs Silver City, 6PM

Thursday, February 2:

Highland Park United Methodist Church, Authors Live! presents Will Schwalbe, author of Books For Living, 7PM

South Dallas Cultural Center, "African Diaspora: New Dialogues" series with Nicole Dennis-Benn, author of the award-winning novel Here Comes the Sun, hosted by Sanderia Faye, author of  the award-winning novel The Mourner's Bench, 7:30PM

B&N - Westheimer, NFL Players Present Literacy Matters with guest authors Takeo Spikes, Al Smith, Rennie Curran and Spencer Tillman, 6PM

Blue Willow Bookshop, Ellen Hopkins will discuss and sign THE YOU I'VE NEVER KNOWN, her new novel for young adults, 7PM

Brazos Bookstore, David Parsons reads from and signs FAR OUT, 7PM

McGonigel's Mucky Duck, Minton Sparks will fuse music, poetry, and her gift for storytelling to paint word pictures of the rural South, 7PM

Friday, February 3:

El Paso
Memorial Park Public Library, Tumblewords Project workshop: Inspirational Voices: Rita Dove with Nancy Lorenza Green, 12:45PM

Fort Worth
Fort Worth Writer's Boot Camp, Formatting Your Manuscript into a Book with Rachel Pilcher, 10AM

The Grand 1894 Opera House, An Evening with Sofia Loren, actress and author of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow −My Life, 8PM


B&N, Children of Kyerekrom book discussion with Autumn Young, Dr. Lakia Scott, and Branda Greening, 1PM

Sunday, February 5:
Deep Vellum Bookstore, White Rock Zine Machine offering tiny handmade books by local writers and artists, 1PM

Deep Vellum Books, Bonehouse Poets will launch a new series of twelve zines with a reading, 6PM

Half Price Books Mothership, Local Author Sundays: Meet local Indie authors and pick up their latest release, all day

Half Price Books, Local Author Sundays: Meet local Indie authors and pick up their latest release, all day

San Antonio
B&N - La Cantera, February Sunday Storytime: Guest Author Eartha Powell, 12PM

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Review: INTERFERENCE by Kay Honeyman

I reviewed Interference (Arthur A. Levine Books) by Kay Honeyman for Lone Star Literary Life. This YA fiction coming-of-age-as-a-fish-out-of-water story should be required reading for politicians with teenagers. Slip it in with their briefing books.

Kay Honeyman
Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic
Hardcover, 978-0-5458-1232-0 (also available as an e-book, and on Audible), 352 pgs., $17.99
September 27, 2016

Kate Hamilton and her parents have returned to her father’s roots in the fictional town of Red Dirt, Texas (“the hairy, dry big toe of the earth”), in the aftermath of a political scandal that was kinda sorta Kate’s fault, culminating in her father’s dropping out of a re-election campaign for his congressional seat in the Hamiltons’ adopted North Carolina.

Culture shock ensues as sophisticated, politically savvy, sixteen-year-old Kate works on transitioning from Washington, D.C., to a rural West Texas high school (“You [Kate] took a class called Ethics of Science. I’m not really sure what that is, but since you had credit for biology, physics, and chemistry, I put you in Agricultural Sciences”) in the middle of high school football playoffs (where Kate discovers the joys of Frito pie). When her father decides to challenge his former high-school teammate for Red Dirt’s congressional seat in a special election, all the old stresses return. After several false starts, Kate learns that interference earns you a penalty in life, as well as on the football field, even if you’re trying to help.

Interference is Kay Honeyman’s second young-adult fiction title. Kate’s first-person narrative of a coming-of-age-as-a-fish-out-of-water story should be required reading for politicians with teenagers. Slip it in with their briefing books. There is more to Interference than first meets the eye.

The characters are evenly divided between stereotypical and complex. Kate is particularly interesting. Confident, smart, dedicated, and talented, she’s also frequently a presumptuous busybody, forever practicing political spin on everyone in her path, especially driven to level the field when she uncovers inequity. Kate has a good heart, but she’s convinced she can fix anyone and any situation—a “win-win,” in her family’s political parlance. The character and relationship development afforded Kate and her father are particularly affective.

Interference is equal parts comedy and drama, befitting teenagers. Honeyman excels at dialogue. A conversation between Kate and a friend:
“People change. Not everyone is determined to be a complete jerk their entire life.”
“I think you underestimate Kyle’s commitment.”
Instructions from a campaign manager to her volunteers:
“Stick to the phone script, people,” India said in the living room. “I want to know what they think of the candidates, not what happened at the eye doctor.”
“How is Gladys?” someone called out.
There are clever metaphors in science class (“Ants are more powerful as a group than individually. They create whole empires with collective will”), and Kate’s love of photography (“The darkroom at my old school had been my sanctuary. It was easy to control. You timed every step. There were no politics, no power plays. Everything was black and white, light and dark”). Honeyman has a just-right, light touch when things get heavy.

Interference has a well-constructed plot, moving along quickly and steadily, packing several nice twists. City kid moves to hick town is a familiar, comfortable scenario, but Honeyman’s tale feels fresh thanks to her engaging characters, and timely thanks to the political themes. It’s a win-win.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 1/23-29

Bookish events in Texas for the week of January 23-29, 2017: 

Special Events:
Dallas Public Library Book Sale, January 27-29

Traces of Texas Slavery Symposium, Austin, January 27-28

YAK (Young Adult Keller) Book Festival, January 28

Ongoing Exhibits:
BookPeopleMETTE IVIE HARRISON speaking & signing For Time and All Eternities, 7PM

Dozen Street, Chicon Street Poets featuring Ryan Bender-Murphy, Haiku Challenge, and open mic, 7PM

Parish Episcopal School, Pulitzer Prize finalist Carla Powers discusses and signs A Journey to the Heart of the Quran, 6:30PM

Fort Worth
Fort Worth Writer's Boot Camp, Let's Read Into This series: Voicemail Poems and Word Riot with Logen Cure, 7PM

Archway Gallery, LOVE MACHINE FOR POEMS: A Workshop Experience with Carolyn Hembree, 7PM

Cullen Theater, Inprint's Margarett Root Brown reading series featuring Annie Proulx, author of Barkskins, 7:30PM

University of Houston, UH Ethics in Science Lecture Series presented by Professor Jessica Tracy, author of Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success, 11AM

BookPeople, MysteryPeople presents MELISSA LENHARDT speaking and signing The Fisher King, TERRY SHAMES speaking and signing An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, and JAMES ZISKIN speaking & signing Heart of Stone, 7PM

BookWoman, Borders, Sanctuary and Immigration Poiltics in the Trump Era: A panel discussion with authors and activists: Karma Chávez, Elvia Rosales Arriola, CJ Alvarez, Virginia Raymond and Sulma Catarina Franco-Chamale, 7PM

Malvern Books, Malvern’s Multi-Verse Reading Series with Thom the World Poet, 7PM

Spider House BallroomAustin Poetry Slam, 8PM

Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, Jo Ivester discusses and signs The Outskirts of Hope, 7PM

Half Price Books Mother Ship, educator and manual therapist Sue Hitzmann will discuss, demonstrate, and sign copies of her revised and updated New York Times bestselling-book The MELT Method, 7PM

Horchow Auditorium, Arts & Letters Live presents Emma Donoghue, author of The Wonder, 7:30PM

B&N - Hulen, Jeff Guinn signs Silver City: A Novel of the American West, 7PM

The Dock Bookshop, Fort Worth Poetry Slam and Open Mic, 8PM

The Black Labrador, Houston Writers House meeting featuring author Deborah K. Fronteria, 6:30PM

Brazos Bookstore, Carolyn Hembree reads from and signs her poetry collection RIGGING A CHEVY INTO A TIME MACHINE AND OTHER WAYS TO ESCAPE A PLAGUE, 7PM

Fix Coffeebar, Poetry Fix featuring Gabrielle Langley & John Milkereit, 6:30PM

Houston Maritime Museum, HMM History Lecture presented by Matthew Clavin, Ph.D., author of Aiming for Pensacola: Fugitive Slaves on the Atlantic and the Southern Frontiers, 7PM

Murder By the Book, Mette Ivie Harrison will sign and discuss For Time And All Eternities, 6:30PM

Houston Museum of Natural Science, HMNS Distinguished Lecture Series presented by Dr. Donald Prothero, author of The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals, followed by book signing, 6:30PM

Groves Branch Library, New York Times best-selling author Jodi Thomas discusses and signs Wild Horse Springs, 6:30PM

San Antonio
The Korova, PuroSlam with DJ Donnie Dee: The Free Speech of Bust Slam!, 10PM

Wednesday, January 25:
Avant Garden, Write About Now Poetry Slam, 7:30PM

Brazos Bookstore, E. R. Bills reads from and signs ROAD KILL: TEXAS HORROR BY TEXAS WRITERS, 7PM

San Antonio
One Drop Reggae Shop & Juice Bar, Poetry: Corporateless Kinyo Live: Evolution of Personal Wealth, 8:30PM

Thursday, January 26:
Mr. Catfish & More, NeoSoul Poetry ATX, 8PM

Dallas Institute’s Nancy Cain Marcus Conference Center, An evening with Anna Badkhen, author of Walking with Abel: Journeys with the Nomads of the African Savannah, 6:30PM

The Wild Detectives, Terry Shames will read and sign An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, 7:30PM

Fort Worth
TCU - Moudy North, home-grown LIVE OAK READING SERIES featuring TCU's Dr. Steve Sherwood and Aubrey Fineout, 6:30PM

Asia Society Texas Center, Authors & Asia: Qiu Xiaolong, author of the Inspector Chen series, on “Writing China out of China,” 7PM

Brazos Bookstore, J.A. Davis reads and signs CRISIS: BLUE, and Heidi Barnes reads and signs THE BELLMAN, 7PM

Children's Museum of Houston, Zoo Lady Storytelling with Sheila Starks Phillips, author of The Eggstra-Ordinary Surprise, 6:30PM

Fix Coffeebar, Iconoclast Sessions with featured poets Billie Ducan and Corinna Delgado, 7PM

Garden & Arts Center, Dr. Steven L. Berk discusses and signs Anatomy of a Kidnapping, 5:30PM

South Padre Island
South Padre Island Community Center, local author and historian Steve Hathcock discusses island exploration and treasure hunting, 12PM

University of Houston-Victoria, American Book Review Reading Series presents James Magnuson, director of the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Famous Writers I Have Known, 12PM

Friday, January 27:
Saturday, January 28:
B&N - Preston/Royal, Gary Erwin signs copies of his Carved Knives Series, 1PM

Bishop Arts Theatre Center, The Secrets We Keep: Destigmatizing Mental Illness featuring author and publisher ReShonda Tate Billingsley, 3PM

Dallas Public Library - Lakewood, "Being an Effective Elder Care Advocate" with Suzanne Asaff Blankenship, author of How to Take Care of Old People Without Loosing Your Marbles, 10:30AM

Memorial Park Public Library, Tumblewords Project workshop: Rex Waide presents "Shattering Repression: The Fantastique and Surrealism," 12:45PM

Flower Mound
Flower Mound Public Library, U.S. Women's Champion Alexey Root signs Prepare With Chess Strategy and plays chess with library visitors, 2PM

Fort Worth
The Dock Bookshop, New Year, New You: Empowerment for your Mind, Body & Spirit learn about exciting new books and meet favorite and new authors, 4PM

Friendswood Public Library, Off the Page Poetry Series featuring Choonwha Moon, Eloisa Perez-Lozano, and Varsha Shah, 7PM

Galveston Bookshop, E.R. Bills signs Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers, 2PM


North Lake College - Central, DFW Writers Workshop: The Writers Bloc - Technology for Writers with author James Gaskin, 2PM

B&N, Jodi Thomas signs Wild Horse Springs, 2PM

Centennial Library, 1st Annual Bluebonnet Brunch: celebrate reading and civic engagement as students in grades 3-6 are invited to vote for their favorite 2016-2017 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee, 10:30AM

B&N - Preston/Park, John Gibson signs A Sparrow Has Wings, 1PM

Port Neches
Fleur Fine Books, Stephen Graham Jones signs Mongrels, 4PM

San Antonio
B&N - San Pedro, Tim Price will sign SHOOTING FOR THE RECORD, 2PM

The Twig Book Shop, Ben Longoria reads and signs American Monsters, 11AM

The Twig Book Shop, Bonnie Lyons discusses and signs Wow: Wonderful Old Women - Interviews, 2PM

South Padre Island
Paragraphs on Padre, Meet the Author Series: Helaine Dufoe reads and signs Wordz, Whiskerz and Wrinklez, 1PM

Teague Community Center, Michael Corcoran will discuss and sign Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams, 11AM

Sunday, January 29:
B&N - Preston/Royal, Ginger McKnight-Chavers signs In the Heart of Texas, 1PM

Deep Vellum Bookstore, Other People’s Poetry presents the poetry of Bob Kaufman, one of the original Beat poets, featuring readers Randy E. Aguebor, Brett Ardoin, Gayle Bell, Greg Brownderville, MH Clay, Jolee Davis, Jim Dolan, Sean Enfield, Daniel Evans, Paul Koniecki, Herb Levy, Sebastian Mejia, Joe Milazzo, Misty Amber Moore, Robin Myrick, Mark David Noble, Darryl Ratcliff, Carlos Salas, Opalina Salas, and Victory Gnadia Wolnisty, 4PM

Deep Vellum Bookstore, Dark Moon Poetry Reading Series, 7PM

Half Price Books Mothership, Local Author Sundays: Meet local Indie authors and pick up their latest release, all day

Meyerland Performing Arts Middle School, Inprint presents Cool Brains! featuring Tim Green, author of Left Out and former Atlanta Falcons defensive end, 3PM

San Antonio

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: BLUE TEXAS by Max Krochmal

I reviewed Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era (University of North Carolina Press) by Texas Christian University assistant professor of history Max Krochmal for Lone Star Literary Life. Krochmal tells a fascinating story that belongs in every classroom.

Max Krochmal
Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era
University of North Carolina Press
Hardcover, 978-1-4696-2675-8 (also available as an e-book), 552 pgs., $39.95
November 14, 2016
“This book is about the other Texas … the hidden Lone Star tradition of community organizing, civil rights, trade unionism, and liberal, multiracial coalition building.”
Does this Texas sound familiar to you? It doesn’t sound familiar to most of us, but it should.

In the 1930s, against the backdrop of the Great Depression, and inspired by the New Deal, African Americans, Mexican Americans, and mostly Anglo labor organizers and community activists in Texas began a decades-long journey toward each other. Each group began individually, in their several neighborhoods: the Mexican American pecan shellers striking in San Antonio; Anglo labor striking Ford in Dallas; Smith v. Allright, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the white primary, was born in Houston. Eventually the separate groups reached tentatively across the color line and found they were stronger together. For most it wasn’t about ideology, but about living conditions. This journey culminated in a multiracial coalition able to elect liberal politicians in support of a broad civil rights program.

So, what happened?

Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era by Texas Christian University assistant professor of history Max Krochmal is the latest addition to the University of North Carolina Press’s “Justice, Power, and Politics” series. Employing extensive archival sources and original interviews, Krochmal tells a fascinating story. He is under no illusions about the forces arrayed against further progress, nevertheless his style is infectiously hopeful and inspiring.

Krochmal contends we can use history as a blueprint for moving forward, if only we knew the history. What did he learn? The coalition succeeded because it “both recognized and transcended racial difference … prioritized the needs of its most vulnerable partners. … its most privileged members … plunged headlong into the fight for black and brown civil rights. The whites backed up their words with action … The more liberal, the more explicitly integrationist, the more militant the tactics, the more effective the coalition became.”

The process was not smooth; the Cold War (Fun fact: San Antonio put red stamps on the “subversive volumes” in the public library) threw a wrench into the works and the assassination of JFK almost killed it off. The coalition fought corruption, political machines, bossism, big business, and a toxic white supremacist society which confused privileges and rights. Each step forward was met by the inevitable conservative backlash and breathtaking violence.

Krochmal’s report of “KKK” carved into the stomach of a protester is horrifying; his relation of the desegregation of Crystal City schools is thrilling. As an academic work, Krochmal’s tome is minutely detailed, dense with facts, figures, and acronyms. Blue Texas is not an easy read, but it is a fine accomplishment, and an important addition to our understanding of the struggle for the most basic Civil Rights in this state.

We are not taught this history in our elementary or secondary schools. There are names we never learned, but should revere: Moses and Erma LeRoy, Albert Peña, G.J. Sutton, Hank Brown, Dr. Hector P. Garcia, B. T. Bonner, George and Latane Lambert, and Emma Tenayuca, to name a mere few. That’s not just a shame, it’s education malpractice. A history to be proud of, this information belongs in every school curriculum. Blue Texas is a call to action.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 1/16-22!

Bookish events in Texas for the week of January 16-22, 2017: 

Special Events:
12th Annual MLK Symposium, Dallas, January 16

The Tom Bird Method Retreat: Write Your Book In A Weekend, Houston, January 19-21

Bookworm Festival, Houston, January 21

Ongoing Exhibits:
The Wild Detectives, David Eric Tomlinson reads and signs The Midnight Man, 7:30PM

World Champions Centre, Simone Biles signs COURAGE TO SOAR, 10AM & 5:30PM [TICKET REQUIRED]

Tuesday, January 17:
The Dock Bookshop, Fort Worth Poetry Slam and Open Mic featuring four-time World Poetry Slam Champion Ed Mabrey, 8PM

The Last Word Bookstore, Melinda Massie discusses and signs From Hot Mess to Hot Damn!, 6PM

B&N - Stonebriar, National Book Award-winner Neal Shusterman signs Scythe, 7PM

Blue Willow Bookshop, James Riley will discuss and sign his STORY THIEVES series for kids, 5PM

Brazos Bookstore, Chris Tusa reads and signs IN THE CITY OF FALLING STARS, 7PM

Books-A-Million, Simone Biles signs COURAGE TO SOAR, 7PM [TICKET REQUIRED]

San Antonio
The Korova, PuroSlam with DJ Donnie Dee, 10PM

The Twig Book Shop, Jason Hill reads and signs Social Hill, 5PM

Wednesday, January 18:

Avant Garden, Write About Now Poetry Slam, 7:30PM

B&N - NE Mall, National Book Award-winner Neal Shusterman signs Scythe, 7PM

San Antonio
One Drop Reggae Shop & Juice Bar, Poetry: Crazyless Kinyo Live "What Is Mental Health," 8:30PM

Thursday, January 19:
BookPeople, WRITERS' LEAGUE OF TEXAS presents "BECOME A MORE-INVOLVED LITERARY CITIZEN: How to Create Literary Discussions and Support Journals and Literary Events" with Nora Comstock, Owen Egerton, Rebecca Markovits, and Richard Santos, 7PM

Mr. Catfish & More, NeoSoul Poetry ATX, 8PM

Wordspace Dallas, celebrate the release of Greg Brownderville’s third poetry collection, A Horse with Holes in It (hosted by Sanderia Faye), [private residence, RSVP for location]

Stonebriar Country Club, David Smick discusses and signs The Great Equalizier: How Main Street Capitalism Can Create an Economy for Everyone (a DFW World Affairs Council event), 7:30AM

Brazos Bookstore, Chanelle Benz reads and signs THE MAN WHO SHOT MY EYE OUT IS DEAD, 7PM

Murder By the Book, Gregg Hurwitz will sign and discuss The Nowhere Man, 6:30PM

River Oaks Bookstore, Kathryn Haueisen reads and signs Asunder, 4PM


Saturday, January 21:
B&N - Golden Triangle Mall, local author Jeff Miller signs The Game Changers: Abner Haynes, Leon King, and the Fall of Major College Football's Color Barrier in Texas, 2PM

El Paso
B&N - Sunland Park, Man With the Black Box book signing with Colin P. Cahoon, 2PM

Memorial Park Public Library, Tumblewords Project workshop: Rex Waide presents Streaming Consciousness: Expressionism vs Realist Writing , 12:45PM


The Pilot on Navigation, Space City Poetry Slam Series Kickoff, 7PM

River Oaks Bookstore, Darrell Lee reads and signs The Gravitational Leap, 3PM

Rudyard's Pub, Public Poetry presents The PM Show, 8PM

Mother Neff State Park, Arts in the Parks: Haiku Hike, 2PM

Padre Island
Paragraphs on Padre, Meet the Author Series: Alfonso Ramirez discusses and signs Ranch Life in Hidalgo County After 1850, 1PM

B&N - Creekwalk Village, Lonna Enox signs Striking Blind: A Sorrel Janes Mystery, 2PM

B&N - Preston/Park, Lauren Freeman signs The New Boss, 2PM

San Antonio
B&N - Bandera Pointe, Beverly Shaw signing God's Glory Revealed, 1PM

The Twig Book Shop, Martha Miller discusses and signs Times New Roman: How We Quit Our Jobs, Gave Away Our Stuff & Moved to Italy, 11AM

The Twig Book Shop, Nancy West reads and signs River City Dead: An Aggie Mundeen Mystery, 2PM

The Storybook Garden, Rebecca Luna reads and signs BORN TO BE FAST!, 11AM

The Woodlands
B&N - Woodlands Mall, Kim Parker signs East Meets West: Parenting from the Best of Both Worlds, 2PM

Half Price Books Mothership, Local Author Sundays: Meet local Indie authors and pick up their latest release, all day

Horchow Auditorium, Dallas Museum of Art's Arts & Letters Live presents Levison Wood, author of Walking the Nile and Walking the Himalayas, 4PM

Padre Island
Paragraphs on Padre, Meet the Author Series: Leslie G. Mironuck discusses and signs Irreconcilable Differences, 1PM

Friday, January 13, 2017

Review: STRONG COLD DEAD by Jon Land

I reviewed Strong Cold Dead: A Caitlin Strong Novel (Forge Books) by Jon Land for Lone Star Literary Life. This is the eighth installment in this series, an audaciously spirited mystery/suspense, with a little horror, and a little science fiction, for good measure.

Jon Land
Strong Cold Dead: A Caitlin Strong NovelForge Books
Hardcover, 978-0-7653-3513-5 (also available as an e-book), 352 pgs., $26.99
October 4, 2016

“Nature takes care of its own, Ranger, and we are its own.” —White Eagle, Comanche shaman

Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong is on desk duty after a dustup involving Mexican cartel apprentices in San Antonio, when trouble between a drilling company and Native American protesters sends her into the Texas Hill Country to investigate a mutilated body discovered just off the reservation. History is preparing to repeat itself as Caitlin returns to where the Strong family legend was birthed. The case has strong echoes of similar circumstances investigated in 1874 by Caitlin’s ancestor, the first Ranger Strong.

Strong Cold Dead: A Caitlin Strong Novel is the eighth installment in Jon Land’s mystery-suspense series starring the fifth-generation Texas Ranger. It can be read as a standalone, but I recommend beginning at the beginning. The backstories of the recurring characters, and history of their relationships to each other, will make understanding the underlying currents easier.

A hallmark of this series is Land’s use of Texas Ranger history, skillfully woven into the present-day tale. Land names the prolific Texas historian and author Mike Cox in the acknowledgments, and quotes T. R. Fehrenbach and the Bullock Texas State History Museum’s “The Story of Texas” in epigraphs introducing each part of the narrative.

The action in Strong Cold Dead centers around a fictional Comanche reservation, but ranges near and far, from Houston and Dallas to the Middle East and an Inuit village in Canada. The international cast is vivid and similarly varied. There’s a psychic bingo caller, formerly a member of the Venezuelan secret police; a decorated veteran turned enforcer for the New Orleans mob (now retired), who has philosophical conversations with a root beer–swilling ghost; Homeland Security honchos; Native American shamans; ISIS operatives; denizens of the Deep Web; a Royal Canadian Mountie; and a descendant of Peta Nocona. This is a partial list.

The conflicts are ripped from the headlines: police killings of bystanders, protests turned riots, fracking, leaking coal-ash storage ponds, Standing Rock, WMD, terrorism.

Despite a few odd word choices (“swirling” tunnels) and instances of purple prose (“those who sought their demise”), Land can turn a phrase. When a bad guy disparages the threat Caitlin poses, he’s admonished, “Pistols don’t come in genders.” Of a persistently annoying character, Caitlin muses that he “just like a bottle top, kept sticking to her boot and scratching everything it touched.” Land is also funny. “You find shit to step in, no matter how well the pile is hidden,” Caitlin’s supervisor tells her. A young man attempting to stash a pistol in his waistband ruefully remembers his father’s advice: “I warned you about those skinny jeans, son, didn’t I?”

The third-person narrative is fast paced and steady, the plot featuring multiple subplots, lots of moving parts, and plenty of twists. I detect strains of Lee Child’s antihero Jack Reacher, Taylor Stevens’s heroine Michael Munroe (with a little of Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon), and the antics of James Lee Burke’s Clete Purcel. 

However, Land’s concoction is original.

Strong Cold Dead is a creative hybrid, blending mystery and suspense with elements of horror and science fiction. You’ll have to suspend disbelief, but you’ll be rewarded and appreciate Land’s inventive, audacious spirit.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: CORRESPONDENCE IN D MINOR by James R. Dennis

James R. Dennis
Correspondence in D Minor
Paperback, 978-1-62288-168-0, 72 pgs., $24.00
August 2016

“Correspondence,” according to Merriam-Webster:

late Middle English: via Old French from medieval Latin correspondentia

     1. a close similarity, connection, or equivalence.
     2. communication by exchanging letters with 

D minor is a minor scale based on D, consisting of the pitches D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. Its key signature has one flat.

Bach wrote fugues in D minor; Mozart wrote requiems. Music in minor keys is frequently described as sad, and there is a melancholy in this collection, and a kind of rueful mirth.

Decades in the making, Correspondence in D Minor is James R. Dennis’s debut poetry collection, though a handful of these poems were previously published in journals such as Analecta and Reflections. The subject matter ranges far and wide, including philosophy, history, science, religion, friendship, family, and romantic love. This ranging can be a meditation on witches inspired by a suburban Halloween night (which includes epigraphs quoting William Shakespeare, Ray Bradbury, and Darth Vader), or conjuring Theodore Roosevelt in the Amazon. Many of Dennis’s poems are letters, mostly to historical figures (Gandhi, Cervantes), and his poems incorporate a variety of forms: a villanelle, an elegy (for Elmer Fudd, who has taken a regrettable turn), an ode to an old red coffee can standing vigil.

Currently gracing San Antonio, Dennis is the Renaissance man from Odessa, Texas. He is a retired attorney, a poet, a novelist, co-author of the Miles Arceneaux Gulf Coast noir mystery series, and a Dominican friar. Dennis is sympathetic to the human condition, while simultaneously demanding accountability.

He is grappling with regret and longing, as well as amusing us and himself, frequently with irreverent humor. Dennis’s work accommodates both “skedaddle” and “imprimatur” in the same poem. The cleverness evident in these poems belies a humility, just a guy trying to do no harm, and maybe figure out how to escape the cycles of history along the way. Dennis is skillful and inspired, both the artist and the technician.

Some major themes of Correspondence in D Minor are duality, paradox, and the slippery slope of certitude. Still, Dennis would like to reconcile irreconcilable differences. In “Letter to Trotsky,” the poet feels a certain kinship with the younger revolutionary, before all the blood:

                        “You don’t know me, but we have a good deal in common,
although I never knew Lenin.
Like you, I would never have trusted Stalin.
You and I were both educated in Odessa, and while I was never in prison there,
I did kind of make a mess of


In “The Least Obvious Evil Possible,” Dennis takes a run directly at the amoral nature of science:

“How then do we measure the value of a man;
how do we weigh the balance of a life?
Do we look at the good left behind
or the pain that was caused?
Do we examine the average, the mean,
or is this where all judgment withdraws?
One cannot remove hubris
with a surgical knife.”

A few of these poems are strikingly beautiful, and frequently kind. From “Homage”:

“We will make room, we will make room:
a space for hello and goodbye, and how do you do.
Room enough to work and a place to sit idle,
room enough for sinner and saint,
room enough for god and idol.
Room for yours and room for mine
and for a thousand small-time portrayals
and for a thousand lesser angels and betrayals
before the cheese and before the wine.”

And this from “Letter to a Russian Jew”:

We could sail to Crete or hike in the Alps,
watch the horses in Kentucky or examine the temples in Kathmandu.
I leave this to your discretion. I do not care where we go;
I do not care what we do.

Lest you think Dennis all somber and profound, Galileo’s refrain in “Eppur Si Muove” is “and yet, it moves.” His computer and printer have had a falling-out in “Technology.” A paraphrased line from Sweet Baby James’s “Mexico” shows up in the missive to Trotsky. This makes me smile.

This slim volume is a sumptuous letter-pressed, limited first edition, the font an atmospheric Cloister Light, which traces its lineage to a twelfth-century European typeface, Gutenberg’s choice for the first printed Bibles. A tactile pleasure, it feels good in my hands. Correspondence in D Minor is, in a word, elegant. In closing this review, I will quote from the last page: “Amor enim, sine qua nihil est.”