Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Authors' Guild President Roy Blount urges "Let's mount a book-buying splurge"

"We don't want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let's mount a book buying splurge. Get your friends together, go to your local bookstore and have a book-buying party. Clear out the mysteries, wrap up the histories, beam up the science fiction! Round up the westerns, go crazy for self-help, say yes to the university press books! Get a load of those coffee-table books, fatten up on slim volumes of verse, and take a chance on romance! " --Roy Blount, Jr.

Texas Hill Country authors were busy this year creating dazzling cookbooks, knuckle-biting fiction, memorable memoir, gruesome true crime, and some delightful non-fiction books about Texas and the Hill Country. Books are thoughtful, inexpensive, and lasting Christmas gifts that can be matched to the receivers’ likings.

Coleen Grissom’s memoir, A Novel Approach to Life, is an uplifting, humorous, and delightful glimpse of one of Kendall County’s most interesting residents. Her collection of speeches reveals her passion for life, her devotion to Trinity University, her unbridled enthusiasm for teaching English, and her faith in “humankind.” As dean of students, Vice President for Student Affairs, and English professor at Trinity University for over fifty years, Grissom witnessed the birth of the feminist movement, dealt with campus social upheaval, and adroitly handled the special challenges of each decade with aplomb and vigor. Grissom has enjoyed the company of some of the great writers of our time – Margaret Atwood, John Updike, John Irving, Toni Morison and others too numerous to mention. She has shared in the joys and successes of her students and has endured heartache along the way, as well. Grissom’s book is available through most book stores.

My pick in the cookbook category this year, especially for friends who like to cook and travel in the Hill Country, is Terry Thompson-Anderson’s The Texas Hill Country: A Food and Wine Lover’s Paradise. Thompson-Anderson chose some of the most interesting “foodie” destinations and included information about the locale as well as recipes. The book’s photography is spectacular. Copies can be acquired through most bookstores and the publisher’s web site http://www.shearerpub.com/.

New Braunfels writer Diane Fanning was busy this year with her psycho-thriller The Trophy Exchange and her true crime book The Pastor’s Wife.

In The Trophy Exchange, investigator Lieutenant Lucinda Pierce must overcome not only emotional scars of her childhood but severe facial disfigurement from a shotgun blast. Pierce has allowed her work to overcome her life, blurring the distinctions between private and public. When two innocent little girls, Ruby and Charley, discover their mother’s brutally bludgeoned body in the basement of their home, Pierce finds herself drawn into the middle of a chilling investigation of a series of serial murders with the childrens’ own father as the prime suspect. The Trophy Exchange is a fast moving, knuckle-biting thriller, perfect for curling up with on a cold winter night.

Fanning’s true crime account of Pastor Matthew Winkler’s murder at the hands of his wife Mary in The Pastor’s Wife is a shocking chronicle of a family divided by violence and tragedy. Within a seemingly “perfect” marriage grew a kernel of domestic violence fueled by deceit, misplaced values, and duplicity. With great skill Fanning guides the reader through the bizarre destructive events of a dysfunctional family culminating with Mary Winkler’s murder trial.

Fanning’s books are available through national and independent booksellers. For more information about this prolific author check out her website at http://www.dianefanning.com./m./

On a humorous note, Ben Rehder’s Holy Moly, his sixth Blanco County mystery, takes on prosperity theology with a vengeance. His confluence of motley characters in this comedy of errors manages to disassemble an entire Dallas mega-church, strewing chunks of theological waste, murder, and mayhem in its wake. Rehder’s characters are always memorable, as are his satirical plots. His Hiasenesque style is entertaining and fun to read. Rehder’s books are widely available through major booksellers and his website http://www.benrehder.com./

Another memorable novel this year is A Tale Out of Luck, collaboratively written by Mike Blakely and Willie Nelson. Nelson and Blakely deliver an action-packed who-done-it that provides far more substance than the average western novel. Added to the mix of intrigue and suspense, the enduring qualities of the characters make this book a good read. Blakely and Nelson are currently busy adapting their novel to the big screen. The book is widely available through booksellers and through Blakely’s web site http://mikeblakely.com/

Rounding out fiction for the year is Jo-Ann Power’s political romance, Baring Arms: A Me and Mr. Jones Mystery. Touted by Janet Evanovich with “My vote for the fastest, funniest and sexiest mystery series ever to hit Washington, D.C.,” Baring Arms is a delightful mix of Washing politics, murder, chick-lit, and romance. Power previously worked as a lobbyist in Washington D.C. and is the author of seventeen novels. Power’s books are available in most bookstores. Check out her web site at http://www.jo-annpower.com/

In the non-fiction category, Candice DuCoin chronicles the lives of her ancestors, the Jones family, in her book Lawmen on the Texas Frontier: Rangers and Sheriffs. In her epic account, there are numerous references to the lure of the Texas Hill Country followed by hardship and strife. DuCoin’s epic saga of her Texian ancestors is meticulously researched. She includes end notes with each chapter as well as several appendices of the Jones’ lineage, letters, and other interesting additions. She also provides a full bibliography and index. Her academic approach does not detract from the general readability of the book and the inclusion of photographs and old documents greatly enhance the enjoyment of the story. Ducoin’s book is available through Riata Publishing at http://www.riatabooks.com/

Laurie Jasinski’s Dinosaur Highway: A History of Dinosaur Valley State Park captures her readers’ imaginations with her descriptions of Texas dinosaurs that existed 144 to 65 million years ago. Dinosaur Valley State Park is situated on both sides of the Paluxy River in Somervell County, just four miles west of Glen Rose, Texas where dinosaur tracks are abundant and visible on the river bottom. The Glen Rose tracks probably belong to Acrocanthosaurus, a large intimidating carnivorous creature that left footprints up to two feet long. Four-legged herbivore sauropods co-existed with the Acrocanthosaurus and were given the name Paluxysaurus in 2007 after the Paluxy River where its tracks are found. As of this year, Dinosaur Valley State Park encompasses a total of 1,588 acres. It boasts two hundred thousand visitors annually and ranks among the top ten of the most-visited parks in the Texas State Parks System. Camp sites are available with forty-six water and electrical sites and forty picnic areas. Dinosaur Highway is available through major book sellers and the TCU Press at http://www.tamu.edu/upress/TCU/tcugen.html.

For Kendall County history buffs, Tommy Titsworth’s Early Comfort, Texas Cabinet Makers: A History of Hill Country Furniture provides a wealth of historical information about the early cabinetmakers in Comfort. He spent five years photographing these hand crafted pieces of furniture in homes of Comfort residents and has included 154 color photos in his book, from large armoires, tables of every description, chairs, cradles, desks, and the even the tools used by these early craftsmen. The book is organized by artisan and includes photos of furniture made by Edward Steves, Emil Serger, The Brinkmans, Christian Lindemann, Andres Voigt, Charles De Ney’s, Max Lange, Paul Dryden, Paul Karger, Herman Wille, and William Wiedenfeld. Titsworth also included some of the pieces that he has created from old long-leaf pine. You can obtain a copy of Early Comfort, Texas Cabinet Makers: A History of Hill Country Furniture, by emailing Titsworth at mailto:hsiltom@hctc.net.

No matter what happens in our economy, no matter which electronic book-reading gadgets flood the market, books are irreplaceable. Roy Blount, President of the Authors’ Guild, said it best in his holiday message.

“I've been talking to booksellers lately who report that times are hard. And local booksellers aren't known for vast reserves of capital, so a serious dip in sales can be devastating. Booksellers don't lose enough money, however, to receive congressional attention. A government bailout isn't in the cards. We don't want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let's mount a book-buying splurge. Get your friends together, go to your local bookstore and have a book-buying party. Clear out the mysteries, wrap up the histories, beam up the science fiction! Round up the westerns, go crazy for self-help, say yes to the university press books! Get a load of those coffee-table books, fatten up on slim volumes of verse, and take a chance on romance!

There will be birthdays in the next twelve months; books keep well; they're easy to wrap: buy those books now. Buy replacements for any books looking raggedy on your shelves. Stockpile children's books as gifts for friends who look like they may eventually give birth. Hold off on the flat-screen TV and the GPS (they'll be cheaper after Christmas) and buy many, many books. Then tell the grateful booksellers, who by this time will be hanging onto your legs begging you to stay and live with their cat in the stockroom: Got to move on, folks. Got some books to write now. You see...we're the Authors Guild."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cookbook author captures the essence of the Texas Hill Country

“Who needs Europe? The Texas Hill Country, west of Austin and north of San Antonio, might be the next best thing to crossing the Atlantic. The region is lush, colorful and, unlike much of the pancake-flat state, dotted with beautiful green hills that are evocative of Tuscany or the south of France,” states the New York Times in a recent article describing that newspaper’s 31 favorite tourist destinations. The Texas Hill Country is the Times’ number one pick mostly because of our diverse multicultural heritage—a heritage rich in culinary traditions.

Terry Thompson-Anderson captures the essence of the cuisine of our eighteen-county region in her book The Texas Hill Country: A Food and Wine Lover’s Paradise.

According to Todd Staples, Commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture and author of the book’s Foreword, “Within the pages of this book you will see firsthand the true heart and soul of the region and all the resources it has to offer. You’ll come face to face with the proud pioneering spirit for which hardworking Texans are known.”
Thompson-Anderson begins her alphabetical tour in Bandera at the Diamond H. Ranch, home of the “finest tasting quail available” and The Grotto Grill and Coffee Bar. Then it’s on to Blanco, then Boerne where she highlights Leslie Horn’s “Aurelia’s Chorizo,” Bear Moon Bakery, and the Cypress Grill. From the Camp Verde General Store to the Blue Bonnet Café in Marble Falls and Poodie’s in Spicewood, Thompson delights the reader in a mouth-watering journey rich in history and food. She includes recipes from many of these landmarks, such as Shrimp and Crawfish Bisque from the Huisache Grill and Wine Bar in New Braunfels, Sausage and Cheese Kolaches from the Sandstone Cellars Winery in Mason, and our very own Bear Moon Bakery’s apple cake.

Complementing the culinary odyssey through the Texas Hill Country are stunning color photographs by Sandy Wilson “which capture the diversity of the Hill Country eating experience, with its berry patches and orchards, roadside stands, artisan bakeries, boutique wineries, and vast array of restaurants serving both traditional and haute cuisine.”

Thompson-Anderson is a professional chef, cookbook author, culinary instructor, and restaurant consultant. She will be signing copies of her book The Texas Hill Country: A Food and Wine Lover’s Paradise on Thursday evening at Read-All-About-It Bookstore, 305 South Main in Boerne, at 6:30 pm. Thompson-Anderson will have samples of many of the recipes in her book for tasting.

The Texas Hill Country: A Food and Wine Lover’s Paradise (ISBN# 9780940672796, 156 pages, paperback with flaps, $19.95) is available through Read-All-About-It Bookstore in Boerne, major booksellers, and through the publisher’s web site at http://www.shearerpub.com/.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Coleen Grissom ‘keeps on keeping on’ with "A Novel Approach to Life"

I have looked forward for over a year to the release of Dr. Coleen Grissom’s book, A Novel Approach to Life, a collection of five decades of her speeches. When I finally got my hands on a copy I settled in with a cup of tea and a pint of Crème Caramel frozen yogurt and dove into the life of one of Kendall County’s preeminent residents. If you have not had the pleasure of attending an event with Dr. Grissom slated as a speaker, you have most certainly missed out on one of life’s special treats. Her collection of speeches reveals her passion for life, her devotion to Trinity University, her unbridled enthusiasm for teaching English, and her faith in “humankind.”

As dean of students, Vice President for Student Affairs, and English professor at Trinity University for over fifty years, Grissom has witnessed the birth of the feminist movement, dealt with campus social upheaval, and, with an even hand and with some humor, handled the inception of the sexual revolution played out in the Trinity dormitories. She has enjoyed the company of some of the great writers of our time – Margaret Atwood, John Updike, John Irving, Toni Morison and others too numerous to mention. She has shared in the joys and successes of her students and has endured heartache along the way, as well.

In a section of speeches to Trinity faculty, staff, students, and alumni, Grissom writes “. . . it still disturbs me to recall even having to write remarks about the AIDS Quilt Collection, the acknowledgment of date or acquaintance rape on our lovely campus, [and] the death of a first-year man from hazing by a fraternity . . . “

While Dr. Grissom is revered and treasured for her oratory skills, her prose flows as smoothly and as naturally as her spoken words. I was shocked when I read in her introduction that she’s never really liked public speaking. Words seem to flow effortlessly from Grissom, gliding through the air with authority and proficiency without a hint of pomposity or pretension. Grissom is down-to-earth and accessible with a quirky wit.

“Although I found the delivering of my remarks onerous, what I did and do love is the process of composing, of writing . . . thinking of what I might say, organizing my ideas . . .”

Grissom’s speeches in A Novel Approach to Life are organized by “occasion” or “purpose.” The book is not all-inclusive, but rather a sampling of presentations delivered primarily during her tenure at Trinity University as an administrator, 1958 to 2000. It also includes examples of talks to other organizations such as the McNay Art Museum Docents, The Graham Ladensohn Memorial Lecture, the Texas Sod Association, and some gripping “Tributes, Toasts, Farewells.”

Although the speeches cover an array of topics, they all share a common thread. Grissom approaches each of them with a great deal of quirky humor and prodigious insight. She implores her audience to think rationally, to view and appreciate life in all of its glory, and always “figure out what you care about and live a life that shows it. Do attempt brave and important things, and, for heaven’s sake, make time in your hectic, sometimes frenetic lives to read and then make time to read some more.”

A Novel Approach to Life is more than a collection of speeches. It is also a memoir of an extraordinary human being and is as multi-faceted as its author. In her speech “Opening Pajama Party, Class of 1970,” Grissom includes a letter written by a freshman student to her parents after her first three months at Trinity. The letter is priceless and one of the funniest passages that I have ever read in any book.

Over the years Grissom has reached beyond Trinity University and has shared her time and talent with various community organizations. In addition to teaching three courses per semester at Trinity, she also participates in various programs sponsored by Gemini Ink, a San Antonio non-profit organization that promotes the arts, and she serves as Master of Ceremonies for the annual Cancer and Research Therapy Center’s “Book and Author Luncheon.” She’s been known on occasion to auction herself off for charity with the winner receiving lunch and literary discussion.

A Novel Approach to Life is filled with astute observations of life, heartwarming stories of students and teachers, references to literary influences, and glimpses of Grissom’s unselfish devotion to all that she holds dear. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

A Novel Approach to Life (Trinity University Press, September 2008, ISBN-13: 9781595340559, 256pp, $25.00) is available through all major booksellers and directly from the Trinity University Press.
This review appeared in the Friday, October 3, 2008 edition of the Boerne Star.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Superman holds the truth in Brad Meltzer's "The Book of Lies"

Book of Lies
By Brad Meltzer

Grand Central, $25.99

This review appeared in the San Antonio Express News on Sunday, September 7, 2008

According to the fourth chapter of Genesis, Cain and Abel were the first children born of Adam and Eve. Cain killed his brother Abel and in doing so unleashed murder upon the world. God forgave Cain and marked him with a sign that protected him from enduring the same fate as his brother Abel, and Cain was left to wander the earth for all of time. The Bible does not reveal the weapon used by Cain to kill Abel, and it has been speculated that the armament could have been a rock or a jaw bone or horn of an animal.

In 1932, Mitchell Siegel was murdered with a hand gun. Consumed with grief, his son Jerry created an immortal, bullet-proof superhero, "Superman." To this day, the murder of Mitchell Siegel has never been solved.

So how could the murders of Abel and Mitchell Siegel possibly be related? This is the mystery at the core of Brad Meltzer's new thriller, The Book of Lies.

Nineteen years ago, Lloyd Harper accidently killed his wife as his 9-year-old son Cal watched, losing both his mother and his innocence. Harper served eight years in prison and Cal never laid eyes upon him again — until one extraordinary night when Cal, a rescuer of the homeless, and his co-worker Roosevelt, a defrocked Methodist pastor, discover Lloyd Harper bleeding from a gunshot wound in a public park.

In their excitement of stumbling upon Cal's father and transporting him to a hospital, the two good Samaritans fail to notice the evil zealot Ellis and his Caanan dog Benoni closely observing them from the security of his phony police car.

While his long-lost father is receiving treatment in the emergency room, Cal rifles through his bloody, discarded clothing and finds a commercial driver's license and a bill of lading for an unspecified shipment to be picked up at the Port of Miami. Cal, an ex-agent for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, calls a former buddy from ICE and they plot to intercept the shipment. Little do they realize that this particular cargo is destined to change the course of history.

Meltzer deftly weaves a story of suspense and intrigue as he connects the dots between the biblical murder of Abel by Cain and the unsolved homicide of Mitchell Siegel, father of the creator of "Superman." The relationship between these two seemingly unrelated events is presumed to be revealed in the shipment that Lloyd Harper is to pick up at the Miami Port, a shipment that holds the world's greatest secret, The Book of Lies.

The only real truth would come from ripping open Lloyd's shipment. It was no different a century ago with Mitchell Siegel. No different than with Adam and Cain. It was the first truth in the Book of Lies: In the chosen families, the son was always far more dangerous than the father."
Thus begins the race for the world's most glorious treasure — a pursuit cleverly orchestrated by an anonymous prophet for a prize speculated to be hidden in the Book of Lies, a cache reputed to hold the weapon used by Cain to kill Abel and to also harbor the secret of immortality.
As characters pop out of the woodwork, Meltzer seamlessly weaves them into the plot. And all the while the evil Ellis is one step behind them, strewing debris from murder and mayhem in his relentless attempts to hijack the Book of Lies.

In their pursuit of treasure, all of the players rush to Cleveland to the modest former home of Jerry Siegel, creator of the ultimate superhero, Superman. But the journey doesn't end there. The quest becomes a personal odyssey for Cal, a search not only for the Book of Lies, but an examination of the truth upon which he has based his life.

Meltzer writes in the foreward of his novel, "Every writer has a story they've been waiting their whole life to tell. This is mine. The book is fiction, but it is based on fact. Most important, ‘The Book of Lies' isn't just a thriller about hero and villain. It's a story about us — the idea that all of us, in all our ordinariness, can change the world. The best stories are the ones we believe in. This is one I hope will challenge your beliefs."

Meltzer does challenge his readers’ beliefs and he never lets his audience down in this clever, intriguing new thriller, The Book of Lies. . .or should it be called The Book of Truth?

Meltzer’s book tour will take him to Austin on September12, Dallas on September 15, and Houston on September 16. Details are on his web site, bradmeltzer.com. A companion soundtrack to The Book of Lies is available for download at iTunes and Amazon.com.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Review: "A Tale Out of Luck: A Novel"

By Willie Nelson with Mike Blakely
Center Street, $21.99
reprinted from the San Antonio Express News, Sunday, August 31, 2008

No one disputes that Willie Nelson is a Texas icon, a rugged individualist and master of his own fate. So there should be little surprise that this music legend is blazing another trail, this time in the literary world.

Nelson enlisted acclaimed Texas singer/songwriter and novelist Mike Blakely to co-author his debut novel, a tale of the Old West
And yes, a movie is in the works.

In A Tale Out of Luck, the disappearance of retired Texas Ranger Hank Tomlinson’s prized thoroughbred mare in the middle of the night sets off a chain of events central to the plot of any good Western, involving murder, rustling, Indian fighting, saloons and saloon women. There are plenty of shootouts and cowboy music.

But the similarities to the standard Western novel stop there because Nelson and Blakely introduce us to a kaleidoscope of eccentric characters who keep the story moving at a fast clip.

Tomlinson’s sons, Jay Blue and Skeeter, must prove to their father that they are capable of finding the missing mare. They enlist the help of an albino escaped slave, Jubal Hayes, who has a reputation as an accomplished mustanger and horse tamer. Hayes’ bizarre appearance makes him a pariah around Luck, Texas. The Indians are terrified of him, believing that he is a ghost.
While Jay Blue, Skeeter and Jubal search for the missing mare, gunslingers from a rival ranch, the Double Horn, massacre an innocent band of Comanches.

A surviving warrior, Wolf, vows to avenge the murders:
"The warriors had donned headdresses made from the horns of bison, the heads of wolves or lions, the antlers of deer. Most wove eagle feathers into their black braids. The feathers, like those affixed to their shields, would flutter with the speed of their horses, spoiling the aim of their enemies’ weapons."

While Tomlinson is distracted by the search for his missing mare — and with fighting Indians — Max Cooper, a reporter with an ax to grind from the Austin Daily Statesman, rides into Luck bent on exposing a torrid secret from Tomlinson’s past.

In the frenzy of fighting the outraged Comanches, Tomlinson is forced to struggle with his personal demons.

Nelson and Blakely deliver an action-packed page-turner with far more substance than the average Western novel. While the mix of intrigue and suspense will keep readers on the trail, the enduring qualities of the characters are what set this novel apart.

Of course, A Tale Out of Luck was written with an eye for the big screen. After all, Nelson has the false-front Wild West town, also named Luck, that he built just outside of Austin. The set has been used for a variety of productions, including an array of television commercials and for the music video Beer for My Horses. With aspirations for adapting A Tale Out of Luck as a motion picture, Nelson and Blakely are working on a screenplay.

Copies of A Tale Out of Luck signed by Mike Blakely will be available at TexAmericana Fandango, Mike Blakely’s book and music festival set for Sept. 12-14 in Luckenbach.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Stories from Berkeley" chronicles 1960's and 1970's counter culture

According to my Social Studies-teacher-daughter, very little about the counter-culture of the 1960’s and 1970’s is taught in secondary schools in Texas. Nathan Spooner’s new release, Stories from Berkeley: Adventures in the Slow Lane, preserves a part of our history which, unfortunately, is becoming lost.

Spooner chronicles his life as a philosophy student at Berkeley and a street performer in the Bay area including his relationships with Joadie Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie; renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz; various house-mates in the communal house in which he lived; and fellow musicians. Although Spooner does not emphasize the turbulent political tenor of the times, he does put the anti-Viet Nam war effort in perspective.

After Berkeley, Spooner moved to Alaska for ten years where he and his wife raised their children. Upon returning to Berkeley the Spooners no longer felt at home there and moved to the Central Coast of California. Nathan Spooner is now a special education teacher with grown children and grandchildren.

Spooner successfully captures an era of American life that should be preserved. Stories from Berkeley has a nice rhythm to it and is an interesting read. This book is appropriate for high school students and would make a wonderful adjunct to Social Studies programs in both secondary schools and in college curriculums.

Stories from Berkeley (ISBN 978-0-9701698-1-5, US $16.95) can be ordered from Barnes and Noble online and is also available from the author at http://www.nbspublish.com/pages/ordering.html.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Rick Riordan's 'Battle of the Labyrinth' a must read for summer

Imagine a vast maze underneath the earth, a labyrinth created by the mythological Greek architect and inventor Daedalus who is rumored to reside in the center of the great maze. This formidable labyrinth, seemingly without beginning or end, constantly shifts its shape and is so tricky to maneuver that is it credited with driving its explorers insane. Now imagine that within this underground web is an infestation of all sorts of nefarious evil-doers such as demons and monsters. The truth is that the vicious Titan Lord Kronos and his wicked army are sequestered in the underground labyrinth and are planning to attack and destroy Camp Half-Blood and all of the half-breed children who reside there during summer vacation.

The Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordan’s fourth installment in his “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series, finds demi-god Percy, son of Poseidon (Greek god of the sea) en route to Camp Half-Blood after a major fiasco at freshman high school orientation.

Percy succinctly puts it this way. “The last thing I wanted to do on my summer break was blow up another school.”

Percy arrives at Camp Half-Blood with his half-breed friend Annabeth in tow only to discover that the camp is in imminent danger of attack and destruction by the evil Kronos. Fearing that the diabolical Titans will make a deal with Daedalus to manufacture an army of automatons, Percy and his friends set out on a quest to find Daedalus before Kronos does and stop the evil-doer before he destroys Camp Half-Blood.

Riordan has once again created an action-packed masterpiece by re-introducing Greek mythology and making it relevant to young adult readers Children and adults alike have embraced the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series because all of these books are full of action, endearing characters, and humor. Riordan infuses his characters with all kinds of magic: Percy’s ball point pen, Riptide, morphs into a three foot long sword and his friend Annabeth’s baseball cap provides a cloak of invisibility to the wearer. Half-breed children must avoid cell phones as they let monsters know where they are.

Riordan plans to release only one more book in the Percy Jackson series. Battle of the Labyrinth, his fourth in the collection, is a must for summer reading for children and adults alike.

You can find out more about Rick Riordan and his books at his web site rickriordan.com.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Nod to Odd

Odd Hours, the fourth novel in Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series, finds Odd living in the small California coastal town of Magic Beach. After spending several months in a monastery after he thwarted an attack of massive violence upon his home town of Pico Mundo, Odd is drawn to this ocean-front town for reasons unclear to him. As the story begins, Odd is working as a cook, chauffeur, and companion to the 88 year-old faded film star Lawrence Hutchison.

Don’t let Odd’s name fool you. Odd is his real birth name. Despite being “the only child of a mad mother and a narcissistic father,” Odd has a sunny disposition and is level-headed and quite normal, both in appearance and lifestyle, except for the fact that he possesses a peculiar gift. Odd is able to communicate with spirits of the dead and has been endowed with paranormal perception that acts as a magnet to his psyche. Like most super heroes, he is drawn to situations in which a person or persons are in danger. But Odd Thomas does not view himself as a hero or a celebrity.

“I have kept the nonsupernatural part of my life simple,” writes Odd. “[I have] as few possessions as possible. I have no plans for the future. I make up my life as I go along.”

One night Odd awakens twice from apocalyptic dreams—prophetic visions in which “the tide flowed red and the sea throbbed with a terrible light” These dreams embody images of a pregnant young woman.

The next day, fueled by his “irrestible intuition,” Odd heads for the beach. Accompanied by his ghost dog, Boo, he finds the pregnant young woman of whom he dreamt the previous night. Her name is Annamaria and Odd’s intuition tells him that she is in grave danger. Annamaria asks Odd if he is willing to die for her. Although the young woman is a stranger to him, Odd feels a visceral trust in her and agrees that if necessary, he will, indeed, die for her.

From this point the novel takes off at breakneck speed as Odd struggles to foil a ruthless terrorist plot bent on annihilating several United States cities and murdering millions of innocent people. It is up to Odd to single-handedly disassemble this doomsday scenario.

All four of Koontz’s "Odd Thomas" novels are written in first person from Odd’s point of view, as though Odd were crafting a memoir. A brilliant technique, it allows the reader access to Odd’s thoughts and emotions without the burden of unnecessary dialogue. Odd is a contemporary Everyman, acting in a modern morality play in which we all are characters and with which we can identify. Odd is a simple, humble, self-effacing young man. He holds no illusions of greatness or grandeur. His needs and desires are few and his purpose in life is to use his paranormal gifts to rescue persons in eminent danger.

As in most of his novels, Koontz uses humor to temper Odd Hours’ somewhat dark plot. Odd puts it this way: “Ozzie Boone, my novelist friend and mentor in Pico Mundo, had instructed me, on the writing of the first of these accounts, that I keep the tone light. He says that only the emotionally immature and the intellectually depraved enjoy stories that are unrelentingly grim and nihilistic.”

There is additional comic relief with the ghost of Frank Sinatra as Odd’s companion. Spirits of the dead cannot speak, nor are they capable of inflicting pain or injury directly upon a living person. But some disgruntled spirits have the ability to become poltergeists and wreck havoc upon non-living objects. This is exactly what happens when Odd is taken into custody by a malevolent police chief. Odd goads the ghost of Ole Blue Eyes until he becomes enraged and destroys the interrogation room, allowing Odd to escape.

Odd Hours can be appreciated on several levels. The novel can be read straight through as a great mystery/thriller. With Koontz’s skillful use of symbolism and allegory, the book should also be acknowledged as a contemporary literary work. And given Koontz’s use of comic relief which tempers the non-graphic violence and infrequent expletives, the novel is appropriate for the young adult market.

One would be hard pressed to find a more satisfying read for your summer list. Not since Watchers has Dean Koontz created such an endearing and enduring character as Odd Thomas. Odd Hours is a superb story from one of our greatest master storytellers.

If Odd Hours doesn’t satisfy your Odd Thomas cravings, stay tuned for the next installment, In Odd We Trust, a comic, to be released on June 24 and visit Odd’s website at http://oddthomas.deankoontz.com/.

This review can also be found in the San Antonio Express News at http://www.mysanantonio.com/entertainment/books/stories/MYSA052508.2H.book.odd.2b26539.html

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Thomas Michael Riley will host music festival

Mark your calendars for Friday, May 30 through Sunday, June 1. Boerne’s own Thomas Michael Riley promises a great time at his first-ever “Back to the Basics” Music Festival at Luckenbach.

Music starts Friday night, May 30th, at 7:00 pm with Mike Blakely, T & C Miller, Tommy Alverson, Billy Joe Shaver headlining, and, of course Thomas Michael Riley.

On Saturday, the festivities begin again at noon and include Monte Montgomery, Susan Gibson, Tommy Alverson and his band, Quincy Harper, and Pauline Reese. Riley will close out the evening with what is sure to be another of his signature, high energy shows.

The festival wraps up on Sunday at noon with a special Luckenbach version of Cowboy Church with music by Riley and Mike Blakely.

Riley has twice been named ‘Hill Country Entertainer of the Year’ and is broadening his horizons through quarterly junkets to Nashville where he is collaborating with other songwriters and showcasing Texas music. He has released seven CD’s and has had eight songs covered by other Texas artists, including Gary P. Nunn, who took three of Riley’s tunes to the top of the Texas charts--‘Perfectly Normal,’ ‘Redneck Riviera’, and ‘Cow Pasture Pool.’

Riley will release his new CD “Tommy” at the festival. He says about his new release, “This is probably my best one… so far. I’ve written over five hundred songs and I try to raise the bar with my writing each time. Hopefully that’s what I’ve done here.”

“If you find a constant theme through my music, I think it would have to be life is a gift . . .so get out there and live it,” asserts Riley. “I write a lot of songs telling how we need to get our priorities right. Follow your heart; don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Help somebody. Sing, dance, love, cry, and laugh a little more. And, by all means, laugh at yourself.”

Advance ticket prices are $15.00 daily or $25.00 for the whole weekend. Kids twelve and under are free. Bring your RV or camp in your tent right on the Luckenbach Festival grounds. For tickets and camping reservations contact Luckenbach Texas at (888) 311-8990 or (830) 997-3224 or check out luckenbachtexas.com.

Sponsors for Riley’s ‘Back to the Basics’ festival will be treated to a special party and private concert Thursday evening. Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor for the festival can contact Linda Worley at lindaworley55@aol.com. For additional information, log on to Riley's web site at thomasmichaelriley.com, call Luckenbach at (830) 997-3224, or visit luckenbachtexas.com.

Monday, May 19, 2008

‘Western Writers of America’ honors Mike Blakely

The Western Writers of America, a guild of 600 professional writers of Western literature, has announced a new category, Best Western Song, and has awarded Hill Country writer and musician Mike Blakely a Spur Award for his song The Last Wild White Buffalo.

“When one thinks of the great American West, one naturally hears great music,” says WWA President Cotton Smith. “Memorable words and music that tell us of this special place in America’s heart. That is an important part of the Western experience and WWA wanted to honor it with the creation of the Songwriting Spur Award.”

Blakely’s winning song, The Last Wild White Buffalo, was created from his short story “The Rarest of the Breed.”

According to Melody Groves, WWA Publicity Chair, “To qualify for Best Western Song, the song had to be released for the first time in 2007 and available to the public with the lyrics dependent in whole or in part on setting, characters, or customs indigenous to the American West or early frontier.”

Blakely recorded The Last Wild White Buffalo as a single in 2007 and almost immediately sold out. His new CD, Rarest of the Breed, will be released June 6 and will include his winning song.

Blakely’s short story, The Rarest of the Breed, upon which the song was modeled is available through Amazon.com as a download for $0.49.

Blakely also won a Spur award in 2001 for his novel Summer of Pearls.

Blakely and Willie Nelson have co-written a novel, A Tale Out of Luck, which is scheduled for release in September. Also in September is Blakely’s “Fandango” book and music festival at Luckenbach in September. Details can be found on Blakely’s web site, http://mikeblakely.com/.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Prosperity Gospel falls on hard times

Note: Ben Rehder's much awaited novel, Holy Moly was released this week. My review was published in both the San Antonio Express News and the Boerne Star.

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Texas Hill Country author Ben Rehder is well-recognized for his satirical and irreverent approach to social issues. Holy Moly, Rehder’s sixth installment of his Blanco County murder mysteries, takes on prosperity theology with a vengeance. His confluence of motley characters in this comedy of errors manages to disassemble an entire Dallas mega-church, strewing chunks of theological waste, murder, and mayhem in its wake.

“Four days before he died, a thirty-year-old backhoe operator named Hollis Farley drove thirty miles to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Marble Falls, Texas, and purchased a four-thousand-dollar sixty-inch plasma television,” writes Rehder in his opening paragraph.

Thus begins a tale of lust, power, avarice and greed that unravels at breakneck speed, littering the Texas Hill Country with remnants of false doctrine.

When Dallas “Pastorpreneur” Peter Boothe begins construction of a massive religious complex on a 16 acre ranch in Blanco County, Hollis Farley signs on as operator of a large backhoe to clear the parcel of land for construction. Unbeknownst to the major players at the time, Farley unearths a valuable sauropod dinosaur fossil. With the realization that his find could be very valuable, he takes pictures of the extinct reptile, drives to the University of Texas in Austin, and seeks out the opinion of a Professor of Paleontology. After determining that the fossil could be worth as much as one million dollars, Farley makes use of the internet on the public library’s computer to find a buyer.

In short order the Hill Country yokel is discovered crushed underneath his eight ton wrecked back hoe. When Blanco County Sheriff Bobby Garza spots something suspicious about the corpse he calls in his buddy Game Warden John Marlin to examine the photos of the body. Garza and Marlin agree that this was no accidental death. Entry and exit wounds were clearly visible in the pictures. But Farley’s mortal wounds were not the result of a fatal gunshot. The shapes of the wounds were distinctly carved by an arrow.

So what righteous Texas citizen would stoop to murder a bumpkin backhoe operator for a dinosaur fossil? Could it be the eccentric geology professor? A rich, outlandish multi-millionaire fossil collector with a peculiar dinosaur fetish? What about the good Reverend Peter Boothe, his greedy assistant Alex Pringle, or maybe even Vanessa, the Reverend’s statuesque trophy wife? The rabid geriatric environmentalist also had motive to kill. Or perhaps it was the avaricious trophy buck breeder, Perry Grange. All of these misguided misfits race through the pages of this hilarious whodunit until the puzzle is solved.

Rehder’s characters are always memorable, as are his satirical plots. His Hiasenesque style is entertaining and fun to read. With Holy Moly, however, the author has tightened up his dialogue and has woven his multiple sub-plots into even more readable scenarios. Rehder successfully entwines greed, avarice, and lust for power with love, romance, and human beneficence. Holy Moly is a story with which the reader can easily identify. The characters are real and recognizable. The plot, no matter how outrageous is, nonetheless, believable. And under the surface of theological cupidity flows redemption and an assurance that no matter how irascible a situation may be, ultimately all will undoubtedly end well.