Friday, March 30, 2018

Review: WHAT WE RECKON by Eryk Pruitt

Y'all, every word of this review is true, I swear it.

I reviewed What We Reckon (Polis Books) by Eryk Pruitt for Lone Star Literary Life. "What We Reckon is East Texas noir with elements of farce, a wild ride both disturbing and disturbed, as if Larry Brown climbed into that contraption in The Fly, but instead of an insect getting spliced with Brown, it was Carl Hiaasen."

Eryk Pruitt
What We Reckon
Polis Books
Paperback, 978-1-9438-1864-8, (also available as an e-book), 320 pgs., $15.95
October 10, 2017
reckon: 1. to settle accounts; 2. to make a calculation 3. a. judge, b. chiefly dialectal: suppose, think; 4. to accept something as certain: place reliance—Merriam-Webster Online
Jack Jordan (aka Grant, Keith, Hux, Andrew, ?) and Summer Ashton (aka Jasmine, Stormy, Christy, Autumn, Katrina, ?) are on the run from South Carolina to East Texas with a stolen kilo of cocaine hidden in a hollowed-out King James Bible. Lifelong grifters, they wash up in Lufkin, Texas, with new identities and old habits. Jack and Summer soon establish their trade, picking up product in Houston and selling it to university students in Nacogdoches. All is well (more or less) until Jack falls for a co-ed, declaring that he’s going straight (and he means it this time), leaving Summer to her abandonment issues and psychedelic therapy.
Rules of the road: “Never contact anyone from the past. Let sleeping dogs lie.”
But Summer, in desperation and an altered state, wakes a South Carolina pit bull, and someone is gonna die, someone is gonna have a near-death experience, someone is gonna check into a sober camp, and someone is gonna rise from the dead, all “due to [an] avalanche of psychological hoodoo.”

What We Reckon is the third novel from award-winning screenwriter, author, and filmmaker Eryk Pruitt, whose short story “Knockout” was a finalist for the Derringer Award. What We Reckon is East Texas noir with elements of farce, a wild ride both disturbing and disturbed, as if Larry Brown climbed into that contraption in The Fly, but instead of an insect getting spliced with Brown, it was Carl Hiaasen.

Pruitt’s codependent antihero and -heroine are indiscriminate junkies, hard to like but easy to appreciate. Jack, who appears to suffer neurological damage and anxiety attacks from too many (or not enough, depending) substances, is pure con man with no redeeming qualities. Summer remains a child at heart—proud and confident one moment, vaguely suicidal the next—a restless chameleon with a gift for reading people, longing for a home, fearing Jack will shed her unceremoniously one day without warning. Summer’s the smarter of the two, but she’s got voices in her head that aren’t always her own. They are each equally dangerous, to each other and anyone who gets too close, exerting gravity like a charismatic black hole.

What We Reckon is fast-paced and twisty, sometimes archly humorous (as when a friend “commenced a melee upon their counterpart”), frequently laugh-aloud funny (as when they heard knocking at the front door “where only came cops and pizza delivery guys and hey, didn’t nobody order a pizza, but before Jack could say a word, the population increased by five and one giant German shepherd”), with smart, sharp dialogue which makes me imagine “The West Wing” with Charlie Sheen instead of Martin:
Donnie called, “Did none of you try CPR?”
“We prayed and prayed,” said Suzie
“That’s all you can do,” Barney assured them.
“It literally isn’t,” said Donnie.
Pruitt is also capable of curiously moving pathos, as when Summer recites the things only Jack knows about her. Pruitt possesses a distinctive style, playing with cadence and word order (as when Summer decides to “focus her attention on fields of greener pasture”).

What We Reckon is by turns horrifying and bemusing, but always entertaining. The resolution is unexpected, strangely elegant and comforting. And somehow the whole package puts me in mind of O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

FOREWORD REVIEWS announces 2017 INDIES Awards Finalists

Foreword Reviews announced the 2017 INDIES finalists, and Texas is all over the place! Many of the finalists appeared on Lone Star Literary Life's Lone Star Book Blog Tours, and I reviewed four of the finalists. Click through for the entire list, and go here for my reviews:

Nominated in Adult Fiction - Religious: FOY, ON THE ROAD TO LOST (Material Media) by Gordon Atkinson

Nominated in Adult Nonfiction - Autobiography & Memoir: HOUSE BUILT ON ASHES: A MEMOIR (OU Press) by José Antonio Rodríguez

Nominated in Adult Nonfiction - Autobiography & Memoir: OF BULLETINS AND BOOZE: A NEWSMAN'S STORY OF RECOVERY (Texas Tech University Press) by Bob Horton

Nominated in Adult Nonfiction - LGBT: ACCIDENTAL ACTIVISTS: MARK PHARISS, VIC HOLMES, AND THE FIGHT FOR MARRIAGE EQUALITY IN TEXAS (University of North Texas Press) by David Collins 

Congratulations and good luck to all of the finalists!

[Full disclosure: this blogger is a former book reviewer for Foreword Reviews, for which I was compensated.] 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 3/26-4/1

Bookish goings-on in Texas for the week of March 26-April 1, 2018: 

Special Events:
Anime Matsuri Convention, Houston, March 29-April 1

3rd Annual Books2Eat Celebration, Houston, March 31

16th Annual Austin Edible Book Festival, April 1

Ongoing Exhibits:

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

Monday, March 26:
Cleburne Public Library, Women's History Month: program with award-winning author Carmen Goldthwaite, 6:30PM

Interabang Books, Michael Noll discussing and signing THE WRITER’S FIELD GUIDE TO THE CRAFT OF FICTION, 7PM

San Antonio
The Twig Book Shop, Donna Bryson discussing and signing Home of the Brave: A Small Town, Its Veterans and the Community They Built Together, 5PM

Tuesday, March 27:

Half Price Books - The Mother Ship, New York Times bestselling-author Lisa Wingate will discuss and sign her bestselling novel Before We Were Yours, 7PM [numbered-pass event]

San Antonio

Interabang Books, Elle Luna discussing and signing YOUR STORY IS YOUR POWER, 7PM

South Dallas Cultural Center, African Diaspora - New Dialogues: Patrick Oliver, founder of "Say It Loud! Readers and Writers," talks with award-winning novelist and publisher Tina McElroy Ansa, 7:30PM

El Paso
UTEP Library, Book Presentation: Mexican Border: Nodes of the Global System of Illicit Drugs by César M. Fuentes Flores in collaboration with Sergio Peña Medina (Book discussion by Dr. Jeremy Slack), 3:30PM
River Oaks Bookstore, Dr. Gail Gross discussing and signing The Only Way Out Is Through: A Ten-Step Journey from Grief to Wholeness, 4PM

Rudyard's Pub, Public Poetry presents: The PM Show, 6:30PM

Sugar Land
Imagine Books & Records, Dali's Mustache: a night of poetry and music, 8PM

Saturday, March 31:
Black Labrador, Plant The Seed: A Generative Workshop Hosted by Fuente Collective, 3PM

Black Labrador, Failure to Identify Reading Series & Open Mic, 7PM

Murder By the Book, C.S. Humble will sign and discuss The Massacre at Yellow Hill, 4:30PM

Dead Tree Books, Nicholas Paschall signing Father of Flesh, 2PM

San Antonio Public Library - Central, Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros and Erasmo Cisneros present "El Camino: An Afternoon of Poetry and Hope" featuring new and established poets + open mic, 2PM

B&N - Town Square, Celestina Blok signing Lost Restaurants of Fort Worth, 12PM

B&N - Town Square, Jim West signing Genocide by GMO and The Making of an Assassin Atlanta, 2PM

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Book Release Blitz for BONNIE & CLYDE: DAM NATION

Bonnie and Clyde #2
Genre: Historical / Alternative History / Romance 
Publisher: Pumpjack Press
Date of Publication: March 24, 2018
Number of Pages: 266


Bonnie and Clyde: Defending the working class from a river of greed.

The year is 1935 and the Great Depression has America in a death grip of poverty, unemployment and starvation. But the New Deal is rekindling hope, with federally funded infrastructure projects, like Hoover Dam, putting folks back to work. So, why is someone trying to blow it up? That’s what Bonnie and Clyde set out to uncover in the novel Dam Nation by Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall, the second book in a provocative speculative fiction series that re-imagines the outlaws’ lives.

"A rollicking good read!" -- Midwest Book Review 


The Texas Ranger looked up at Sal, a mixture of fear, respect and revulsion in his eyes. “Let’s pretend for a minute it wasn’t Bonnie and Clyde in that ambush,” he said. “Why? Why would it be different people in that car?”

“How would I know?” Sal asked. “I work for the government. I trust that the government has my best interests at heart. I follow orders. You didn’t.”

“I won’t be quiet about this unless you can tell me why anyone would try to save them outlaws.”

“If they were still alive, I would tell you that everyone has a purpose in life, and perhaps they are fulfilling theirs. And if they were still alive, I would tell you that you don’t use good dogs to guard the junkyard, you use the meanest goddamn dogs you can get a collar around.”


ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Clark and Kathleen wrote their first book together in 1999 as a test for marriage. They passed. Dam Nation is their sixth co-authored book. 


MAY 17-26, 2018

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: HIGH WHITE SUN by J. Todd Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 3/19-25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teen Book Con, League City, March 24

Galveston Island Book Festival, March 24

WORDfest, Hurst, March 24

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

Ongoing Exhibits:

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

Monday, March 19:

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

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


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

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

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

San Antonio

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 24:

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

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

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


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

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

Argos Brewhouse & Bookseller, Open Mic Night, 7PM

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

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

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

Scroll down for the giveaway!

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

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


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

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

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

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

┃  Amazon  ┃  Barnes & Noble  ┃ IndieBound

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

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

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

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

MARCH 16-25, 2018



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