MEMBERS REVIEW – Come and Take it By Landon Wallace


by Landon Wallace

Published in 2015 by Trinity River Press


Reviewed by K.L. Romo

“Come and Take It!” is the war-cry shouted by the defenders of the Alamo, but also the title of the new book by Landon Wallace. What makes this book unique among other historical tales surrounding the battle at the Alamo is that its focus is not on the heroes that we’ve all studied, but about the only man to escape death at the battle – Joe the Slave.

Joe is William Barrett Travis’s slave and helps Travis defend the fort until the fight is over. Just as the Mexican army storms the compound, Texas legend Jim Bowie gives Joe a piece of paper to guard with his life.  After the battle ends, Joe is released by Santa Anna a free man, and told to spread the word about the mightiness of the Mexican army.  Joe assumes the surname of Travis, and ventures out to start a new life. What happens to Joe after his release is both ironic and tragic, all the while trying to safeguard Jim Bowie’s secret.

The novel is told from the perspective of Joe Travis’ descendants, and as they uncover the pieces of little-known history, we learn not only about the impending Alamo massacre, but about what happened after the battle as well.

Joe Travis’ great-great-great-grandson, Nat Travis, becomes enmeshed in the search for Jim Bowie’s secret, carried away from the Alamo 180 years earlier. But someone else wants the secret as well, and will stop at nothing to get it – even murder.  Nat Travis and his brother’s former wife reunite at the funeral of Nat’s grandfather, after many years, and investigate the mystery together, putting themselves in harm’s way to solve the puzzle.  But is it worth it?

Come and Take It is replete with history, mystery, and romance. I learned about the unsung hero of the Alamo fight and joined in the search for buried secrets. Wallace drew me into the drama that was the Battle of the Alamo and allowed me to recognize that there are many unlikely heroes in life with whom we cross paths every day – we just don’t realize it.

I recommend Come and Take It for an enjoyable and entertaining read. Get your Texas history on! Come and take it!

K.L. Romo is a member of the Writers’ Leagues of Texas who lives with her family in Duncanville, Texas. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her novel From Grace I Fall – about a modern woman who’s suddenly transported back to 1907 Dallas, seeing the world through the eyes of a reformed prostitute who’s determined to seek justice for victims of human trafficking, and other women forced to sell their bodies. Visit her website.

MEMBERS REVIEW – Forever Family by Deanna Roy


by Deanna Roy

Published in 2016 by Casey Shay Press

forever family

Reviewed by K.L. Romo

Forever Family is the last book of the Forever series by Deanna Roy. The series explores the lives of three twenty-something friends – Corabelle, Jenny, and Tina – as they navigate the turbulence of becoming adults.

In Forever Family, Roy revisits the devastating loss of Corabelle and Tina – their infants died shortly after birth. Have their lives been damaged beyond repair? Corabelle has reconnected with her baby’s father, Gavin, and Tina now is now dating a wonderful young doctor. But when their best friend, Jenny, deals with an unexpected pregnancy, will they be able to handle her happiness at being a new young mother?

Deanna Roy’s own experience of losing an infant is entwined in Forever Family. The heartbreak suffered by Corabelle and Tina is a palpable thing; the reader feels the pain of losing what is most precious in life and not knowing if your world will ever be the same again.

The Forever series explores young love and loss, and the struggle to repair the gaping hole left by losing a baby. In Forever Family, Roy takes us through the friends’ journeys to overcome their grief, each woman learning that life goes on, and there is always hope for a better tomorrow.

I enjoyed reading Forever Family and recommend it to readers of new adult fiction who may have experienced loss, but believe the wounds will eventually heal, especially when close friends are there to hold your hand and pull you from darkness into the sunshine.

K.L. Romo is a member of the Writers’ Leagues of Texas who lives with her family in Duncanville, Texas. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her novel From Grace I Fall – about a modern woman who’s suddenly transported back to 1907 Dallas, seeing the world through the eyes of a reformed prostitute who’s determined to seek justice for victims of human trafficking, and other women forced to sell their bodies. Visit her website.



by Manning Wolfe

Published in 2016 by Starpath Books.

Manning Wolfe

Reviewed by Tony Burnett.

From the first paragraph of Manning Wolfe‘s new novel ignites with white-hot intensity seasoned with social humor. The narrative rushes headlong to the end, only occasionally allowing the reader to catch his breath. It’s a clear-cut tale of good versus evil where evil holds all the cards.

In Dollar Signs: Texas Lady Lawyer VS Boots King, we encounter Merit Bridges, a widowed attorney with an autistic son, who’s small but successful law firm represents the downtrodden and marginalized members of Austin Texas’ business community. Merit surrounds herself with a quirky but competent staff that magnifies the eccentricities prevalent in the culture of the “live music capital of the world”. While holding her own against the machinations of large developers our precariously balanced protagonist has casual sex with younger men, drinks too much wine, and probably cares too much about those around her. Her opponents in this incendiary caper meanwhile hire a dastardly demonic ne’er-do-well who enjoys his job more than he should.

The inherently deranged Boots King is a man without a moral anchor. His egocentric quest for the almighty dollar seems secondary to his enjoyment in causing other people grief and pain. Born into the oil business and raised in real estate, he is now employed by one of the nation’s premier outdoor advertising firms who use the small print on the back of a standard fill in the blank contract to land grab parcels of prime real estate. When Merit uncovers his scam he has no qualms about going after her, her firm and her family. Meanwhile the legal ramifications of these transactions end up in the leather upholstered boardrooms of the state’s top law firms.

Though some of the secondary characters in this novel leave room for development, the stakes, the plot and the emotional intensity of Merit’s trying life make this an entertaining read. Since this is the first installment in the Texas Lady Lawyer series it leaves room to expound on these individual’s quirks and eccentricities in later episodes. Fortunately, Wolfe has the literary integrity to construct this so it can be read as a standalone novel. You will not be left holding a lot of baggage, only a burning desire to read the next book in the series.

If you’re a fan of legal thrillers or if you like to see the underdog prevail, I recommend this story. If you live in or love Central Texas this is a must-read just for the setting and the related commentary.

Tony Burnett has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2010 and currently serves on the Board of Directors. His recent story collection, Southern Gentlemen, has been receiving positive reviews. He resides with his trophy bride, Robin, deep in the heart of Texas.



By Christina Soontornvat

Published in 2016 by Jabberwocky/Sourcebooks.

the changelings

Reviewed by Bradley P. Wilson. 

I highly recommend Christina Soontornvat’s debut middle grade novel to all lovers of high fantasy, regardless of their age. The Changelings reads like an old favorite even as it keeps surprising the reader with its plot twists and character revelations. This is due in large part to the adept way the author weaves familiar fairy tale settings and characters into the fabric of her book. Most of the book is set in a parallel world called Faerie, a world that is tenuously, but necessarily, connected to our own.

It opens on eleven year old Izzy Doyle “in the school supply section of the Jiggly Goat, coming to terms with her fate.” Izzy and her little sister Hen have just moved to the small town of Everton and the endearingly world weary Izzy misses city life. Until the clerk at the Jiggly Goat tells her about the witch who lives next door to Izzy and Hen’s new home, perking Izzy’s interest. Of course the clerk has to be wrong about the next door neighbor. Or is he?

Either way, Izzy’s new home gets more interesting when she starts spying on her new neighbor. But little sisters can be problematic. They like to tag along. And sometimes they irritate big sisters until big sisters snap and say things that they regret. Worse than that, sometimes little sisters follow mysterious flute music into the woods where they stumble into the land of Faerie.

The Changelings is a classic fantasy quest: Izzy must find and rescue her sister. Then she has to get them both back home again. It’s the story of girl learning to fight for what she wants and come to grips with who she is. And, on a thematic level, it’s about different groups of people learning to live with each other. None of which stops it from being frequently funny. Plus it’s filled with complex and fascinating characters, many of whom can shapeshift. In fact, it’s Soontornvat’s cast that really elevates this book. While it’s definitely aimed at the middle grade market with its clearly drawn villain and hero, there is a depth to its characters – even the minor ones – that should draw in readers of all ages.

So buy a copy of Christina Soontornvat’s The Changelings when it comes out in September. Read it for yourself and then pass it on to a younger reader. You’ll be glad you did.

Bradley P. Wilson is much better at reading and editing other people’s novels than he is at writing his own. But he keeps trying. He’s a freelance fiction editor and ghost writer with Yellow Bird Editors and Greenleaf Book Group in Austin, TX. He’s also a stagehand. You can read his blog at



By Tom Wright

Published in 2015 by Europa Editions.


Reviewed by K.L. Romo.

Jim Bonham is a police detective living in a small Texas town on the Arkansas-Louisiana-Texas border.  His life takes a strange twist when Dr. Deborah Gold, a local psychologist, is found crucified on a tree on the outskirts of town. Bonham must uncover the details of the crime and find those responsible for Dr. Gold’s death.

Blackbird is filled with old skeletons – both Bonham’s and Deborah Gold’s. Bonham’s teenaged life had been ripped apart when his girlfriend Kat disappeared without a trace. Raised by his Grandmother, aunt and uncle on the Flying S Horse Ranch, his cousin LA, was the closest person he had to family.  Although Bonham was orphaned, his young life had been filled with friends, fame on the football field, and Kat. Years later, ghosts from Bonham’s past resurface as the strange mystery of Dr. Gold’s crucifixion unfolds, and Bonham is faced with choosing between those closest to him, and bringing justice that is long overdue.

Tom Wright takes the reader on a journey through his characters’ psyches, showing us not only their motivations, but their weaknesses as well. Bonham has dealt with the loss of the people closest to him, and has sometimes lost himself to his anger and pain. Will his emotions get the better of him before the killer is caught?

Blackbird was an enjoyable read, and I recommend it to people who like murder mysteries.

K. L. Romo is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas who lives with her family in Duncanville, Texas. Her new novel – Life Before – about a modern woman who’s suddenly transported back to 1907 Dallas, seeing the world through the eyes of a reformed prostitute who’s determined to seek justice for victims of human trafficking – is scheduled for release in February 2016. You can visit her website here.



By Sandra Scofield

Published in 2015 by Texas Tech University Press.

mysteries of love and grief

Reviewed by Karen S. Swensson.

The most significant adult in Sandra Scofield’s troubled life was her maternal grandmother, Frieda Harms. Shortly after Frieda’s death Scofield received boxes of memorabilia collected by her Aunt Eula Mae from Frieda’s house. Knowing that one day she would write a story about her grandmother, she tucked the boxes away in her pantry, occasionally skimming their contents over the years, never dreaming that she would be an “old woman” herself before finding the will to bring her grandmother’s story to life.

“Pictures go through my mind like a slide show.” Scofield delivers her reflections in small, random pieces, grouped together in sections, as if putting together a large puzzle without benefit of the photo on the box. Growing up in a family physically and emotionally divided by her mother’s recurring illness and failed romantic relationships, she sensed an undercurrent of tension, always present, never discussed, between her mother and grandmother. Although she never doubted her grandmother’s love, she was unable to penetrate Frieda’s wall of privacy to get answers to her questions about the past—her father’s identity, what her mother was like as a child, and the source of the tension between her mother and Frieda.

The memorabilia from Frieda’s house provide clues to the life she saw no need to discuss with her granddaughter. They document love and loss, hardship and sacrifice, anger and grief, and attest to the remarkable stoicism of a woman, born in Indian Territory, who was widowed and raised three children during the Great Depression.

In attempting to piece together the puzzle of her grandmother’s life, Scofield also searches for understanding of the unresolved issues in her own life. But, while the random arrangement of Scofield’s reflections requires frequent reviews of her abbreviated family tree in order to keep the cast of characters straight, the unfolding of Frieda’s story is well worth the effort.

Karen S. Swensson was born and raised in the Midwest, and has lived on both coasts, in Zaire, in Germany, and currently lives in the Texas Hill Country. Three of her short stories have been published in anthologies. A descendant of Norwegian immigrant pioneers, her fictionalized family history, Conversations Loosely Translated: A Story of Koshkonong Prairie Pioneers, is now available on



By Stephen Romano

Published in 2015 by Pocket Star.










Reviewed by K.L. Romo.

Metro, by Austin, Texas native Stephen Romano, is an electrifying thriller – just think Pulp Fiction and Three Days of the Condor sucked up by a Texas hill-country tornado and slammed into each other on the way down–but on steroids.

…cultures that break their waves on the dazzled face of the new America in the mid-1980’s are radical and colorful, unlike anything that’s come before, overhyped, hair-sprayed and full of shit, flashy and flaky and shimmering in gaudy imperfection, like half-formed illusions masking the most significant changes that modern civilization has ever experienced…

And FYI – the book has nothing to do with subways.

Jollie, Andy, and Mark are three friends living in a house together in Austin, Texas – The Kingdom – where parties are non-stop. Mark is a small-time drug dealer who keeps the high-times going strong with an endless supply of … well, anything. Andy and Mark are both in love with Jollie.  Life is good for the threesome.  That is, until it’s put to an abrupt halt when a drug deal goes bad, a close friend is killed, and the local drug cartel show up at The Kingdom to reclaim what was stolen from them.

Trying to stay alive, what the friends discover turns their world upside down.  People are not who they seem to be.  Exactly who is the trained assassin? Are the bad guys trying to kill them? Or are they trying to kill each other?

He is six years old and he doesn’t understand anything but Muppets and playtime. He is a blank slate, waiting to be filled. He is led by the hand to his destiny. And his destiny smells like open air and flowers in the dark.

Romano’s style of writing not only secures our attention, but throws us right into the action; we’re almost a part of it, not just watching from the sidelines. On the first page, we are thrust into the prelude to a drug deal. Early on, the assassin is even dubbed our boy, including us in the quickly unfolding events. The book was also written in countdown style, most of the story taking place within two days of the event that would change The Kingdom forever.

Metro is written in a fast-paced, thoughts-straight-from-the-head prose that keeps you on your toes. The novel demanded that I read only this book until I was done. Written in an unusual, frenetic style, I was sucked into the story, trying to figure out who were the bad guys, who were the good guys, and who would survive the bone-crunching vice-grip.

If you want a far-out read that speeds through your brain like a bullet-train, read Metro.

K.L. Romo is a member of the Writers’ Leagues of Texas who lives with her family in Duncanville, Texas. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her novel From Grace I Fall – about a modern woman who’s suddenly transported back to 1907 Dallas, seeing the world through the eyes of a reformed prostitute who’s determined to seek justice for victims of human trafficking, and other women forced to sell their bodies. Visit her website.



By Benjamin Johncock

Published in 2015 by Picador.

 The Last Pilot









Reviewed by David Eric Tomlinson.

In English musician David Gray’s song “Ain’t No Love,” the narrator’s insistence against the existence of God is belied by the double negative: “This ain’t no love that’s guiding me.” There is a higher intelligence behind the lyrics, arguing against the singer’s despair, ready to help when he’s ready to receive it. English author Benjamin Johncock has pulled off a similar trick with his debut novel The Last Pilot, a lean heartfelt story about the psychological demands of the U.S. space program.

We begin in 1947, in Muroc, California, “the largest slab of uninterrupted flatness on Earth,” as the Americans are gunning to break the sound barrier. In this high-stakes world, the simplest mistake gets you killed. Hanging on the walls of the Happy Bottom Riding Club, where pilots blow off steam after a day pushing their aircraft – and themselves – to the limits, are the portraits of dead test pilots who have “augured in,” or crashed and burned: “The screen door clattered shut, rattling the dead men hanging inside.”

In Muroc, the secret to staying alive is not getting rattled in the first place. For fear of damaging the almost inhuman level of confidence required to perform such dangerous duties, wives are afraid to share nightmares with their pilot husbands. Bravely, in an environment where communication can be deadly, Johncock decides to give us the story of a marriage. Main character Jim Harrison is a stoic, dispassionate Air Force test pilot, the best of the best, rubbing elbows with the likes Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton and Chuck Yeager. Frustratingly disconnected from his emotions, Harrison nevertheless manages, in the occasional unguarded moment, to nurture his sad, lonely, beautiful wife Grace.

Fearing she was infertile, Grace had essentially given up on starting a family. “Live your life,” a doctor advises. “Don’t waste it lamenting what you think is required to complete it.” But then the impossible happens: Grace becomes pregnant with a daughter, Florence, breathing much-needed life into what begins – though necessarily, stick with it, Johncock knows what he’s doing – as an airless, oppressive novel. Readers of Hemingway will recognize the strong silent types and the fatalistic descriptions peppering the first act: “First light was a diesel spill across the sky … The sky was cyanide blue.”

Miraculously, though, everything changes when the Harrison’s daughter shows up. Johncock’s ear for dialogue is at its best when writing Florence: “Mommy’s gonna take me to the beach soon and we’re gonna go cause we have to play in the sand, cause we’re going to the beach.” Reading this child’s simple, innocent nuggets of wisdom, I found myself laughing out loud. And in the second act, when Jim Harrison’s heart starts to thaw, and then crack, and then shatter altogether, the novel becomes impossible to put down.

With the exception of one or two unnecessary allusions, Johncock juxtaposes mostly relevant historical references alongside the emotional struggles of his characters. As Harrison becomes the fastest man alive, we see Sputnik streak bleeping across the heavens; we watch the space race kick into high gear, just as Florence is diagnosed with a dangerous illness; and when the Harrisons’ hearts are broken by grief, Jim flees to Houston, recruited by NASA’s Gemini program. Against the cathartic confrontation of the Cuban missile crisis, we get the long-overdue dissolution of the Harrisons’ marriage. And finally, during the near disaster of the Gemini VIII mission, when Dave Scott and Neil Armstrong roll into a life-threatening spin and are forced to abort, Harrison’s world spins completely out of control.

Johncock executes this third act perfectly. Because Harrison has been such a cool, composed character, logical to a fault, his breakdown is a genuinely sad and terrifying thing to behold. This stunted, tough-talking novel about invincible men and the desperate women who love them – or try to – flowers into a hopeful, touching story about friendship, human frailty, and faith. Like the lyrics in David Gray’s song, Johncock performs a bit of literary jiu-jitsu here, expanding our perspective from one man to the entire human race, and suggesting that all of us might benefit from recognizing a power higher than the self.

Gray sings: “Pulling back you see it all / Down here so laughable and small / Hardly a quiver in the dirt / This ain’t no love that’s guiding me.”

The author begs to differ.

David Eric Tomlinson has been a member of the Writers’ League since 2013. He was born and raised in Oklahoma, educated in California, and now lives in Texas. You can learn more about him by visiting his website

MEMBERS REVIEW: 2014 Book Award Winners

As we open submissions for the 2015 Writers’ League of Texas Book Awards, we’re still celebrating our 2014 honorees. This year, in addition to our toast at the Texas Book Festival, we’re honoring this year’s winners with a special review written by a Writers’ League member.

Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin was this year’s winner in the Middle Grade/Young Adult category.


By Nikki Loftin

Published in 2014 by Razorbill.












Reviewed by K.L. Romo.

A twelve-year-old boy who is barely surviving the emotional trauma caused by his little sister’s death. A mistreated ten-year-old foster girl who optimistically waits for the return of her parents. In Nightingale’s Nest, Nikki Loftin tells an enchanting story about tragedy, purpose, and the hopeful belief of a better life to come.

Little John Fischer hates trees – all trees. As he sees it, they were the source of his family’s misfortune. His father’s business specializes in tree-cutting, and Little John is more than happy to help him chain-saw every single one. During summer break, Little John helps his Dad with the tree-trimming at the town “rich-man’s” property, and is lured next door by a beautiful melody riding the breeze. He’s surprised to find a girl in the big sycamore tree next door, hidden in a nest she’s made from her treasures. She calls herself Gayle, and insists she is a Nightingale, and her parents are birds who flew away, but will one day return for her.

Gayle’s singing is more beautiful that anything Little John has ever heard. And she insists that she has a special gift – she can sing things better. But how is that possible? Little John wonders.

“Even if it wasn’t true, I wanted to believe it for a while. The idea of it felt like a sunbeam had found its way into my usual dark thoughts and was splashing light all over the walls of my memories.”

In this beautifully written tale filled with both harsh reality and entrancing magic, Nikki Loftin captures what it’s like to be a young teen trying to cope with a world that hasn’t been kind. Loftin’s first-person prose skillfully portrays the voice of a boy traveling between childhood and manhood, trying valiantly to cope with tragedy, and take care of those he loves.

Little John’s guilt from not doing more to take care of his family compels him to protect Gayle, even at the cost of the family’s rent money. But his efforts take a toll.

“…I didn’t have any fight left. I felt like I’d already been beaten, over and over, with a stick the size of the whole world.”

In Nightingale’s Nest, Little John Fischer knows what it means to become an adult in an unfair world.  But in the end, he learns that hopeful belief in a better life, with maybe a little magic along the way, will see you through.

I highly recommend this book to readers who want to be transported to the life of a twelve-year-old boy, to wrap themselves in his struggles and fears, and to relish the simple, yet lyrical prose written with artistry and grace.

Beautiful, like a nightingale’s song.

K.L. Romo is a member of the Writers’ Leagues of Texas who lives with her family in Duncanville, Texas. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her novel – From Grace I Fall – about a modern woman who’s suddenly transported back to 1907 Dallas, seeing the world through the eyes of a reformed prostitute who’s determined to seek justice for victims of human trafficking, and other women forced to sell their bodies. You can visit her website for more information.


As we open submissions for the 2015 Writers’ League of Texas Book Awards, we’re still celebrating our 2014 honorees. This year, in addition to our toast at the Texas Book Festival, we’re honoring this year’s winners with a special review written by a Writers’ League member.

Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace by Michael Morton was this year’s winner in the Nonfiction category.

Don’t forget to join us at the Texas Book Festival on Saturday, October 17, to toast our honorees at the Writers’ League of Texas booth (#420-421) at noon!

GETTING LIFE: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace

By Michael Morton

Published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster.

Getting Life











Reviewed by Michael Sirois.

The plight of the innocent in prison has been given a great deal of press lately, but I have to confess it wasn’t something I thought much about until I had a personal connection when my younger brother, Steve, was unjustly incarcerated in 2006. In the years since, I’ve read quite a few books about the incarceration of the innocent. Some were marginally interesting, while others were extremely compelling and well-written. Michael Morton’s memoir, Getting Life is among the best I’ve read.

On an August afternoon in 1986, Michael Morton returned from work to find his suburban home north of Austin surrounded by crime scene tape. His wife, Christine, had been brutally murdered that morning. A neighbor had found their three-year-old son, Eric, wandering around outside by himself. She entered the Morton’s house and found Christine’s bludgeoned body piled under debris in the bedroom. Five weeks later, although there was no direct evidence to link Michael to Christine’s death, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department arrested him for her murder. He was convicted the following year, and sentenced to life in prison.

After nearly twenty-five years he was released, thanks to Texas lawyers and the Innocence Project, who believed in him and worked pro bono for years to uncover evidence and marshal his case through the courts. As is the case with the vast majority of innocent inmates who are finally released, DNA evidence provided the link to Christine’s murderer and set Michael free, but the search for the truth about Christine’s murder also uncovered massive evidence of collusion between the Williamson County sheriff and prosecutor, all of which is detailed in Morton’s book in an interesting, sometimes humorous, compelling writing style.

The book, aside from a prologue and epilogue, is divided into three parts: Pain, Prison, and Peace, each segment revealing the personal struggles of a man who (in Pain) felt he had lost everything, including the son who was growing farther apart from as the years passed; who (in Prison) learned to cope and thrive in a new, strange existence, finally coming to terms with it, and utilizing the system to expand his knowledge and gain a formal education, but still continuing to push for a resolution to his situation; and (in Peace) after his release, dealing with a strange, vastly changed world, successfully navigating his way toward happiness.

If you care about justice, this book will make you angry. If you care about humanity, you will feel hopeful as Morton’s story plays out through his eloquent words. His efforts and those of like-minded members of the legal community led to a new law, named the Michael Morton Act, which will keep over-zealous, power-hungry police and prosecutors from hiding evidence from defense attorneys, something which has happened too often in the past.

I highly recommend this book.

Michael Sirois has been a member of WLT since 2010. He has temporarily put his novel-writing on hold to work on a nonfiction book about his brother’s trial and incarceration for a crime he didn’t commit. Details here.