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

This review can also be found in the San Antonio Express News at

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

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 For additional information, log on to Riley's web site at, call Luckenbach at (830) 997-3224, or visit

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 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,

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.