What We’re Reading Now:

Becka Oliver, Executive Director  

This Is My Body by Cameron Dezen Hammon

This Is My Body is an honest and compelling memoir, an exploration of the author’s evolving faith coupled with a candid look at her marriage as she and her husband find themselves growing apart. Cameron is an accomplished musician and songwriter and it shows in her lyrical prose. I was lucky enough to meet her at last month’s Texas Book Festival and can confirm that she’s the real deal: open and thoughtful with some great insights – on faith, on feminism, on love – to share.

 


Michael Noll, Program Director  

Watershed by Mark Barr

As a first-time congressman, a young LBJ made rural electrification his top priority. He’d grown up without electricity and knew that going from electrified Austin to the dark Hill Country was like traveling to another country and another time. In his debut novel Watershed, Mark Barr plays up the drama caused by the changes that electricity brought. If your house had lights, if your kitchen had an electric stove and refrigerator–if, in other words, your entire world order was upended by a transformation nearly as drastic as moving from The Flintstones to The Jetsons–what would you do? In this passage, one of the main characters, a young mother named Claire whose husband has given her a venereal disease, begins to get a taste for what other transformations might be possible.

Her anger ran like a strong, black current. It puzzled her how easily love rolled over to become something darker, colder. And beyond the sting was the surprise at how easily it all fell away. Everything that she’d worked toward since she was a girl, finding a man to marry, starting a family, making a home, Travis had soiled with his betrayal, leaving her life split open along the seam that had joined her to him. Her sudden freedom was bewildering and a shock, but pleasing as well, though she couldn’t quite put a name to the sensation. She knew she’d have to go back to him, for the children’s sake, if not her own. But not yet. Let him stew a while more. Let him drive that car around alone for all the town to see. She knew there’d be gossip, but she was beyond caring about that now.


Samantha Babiak, Member Services Manager 

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

This memoir is a must-read for absolutely everyone. Its visceral, lyrical prose grabs you from the first sentence to the last. Jones weaves his coming (out) of age story with short vignettes that paint a vivid and honest portrait of what it is like to grow up as a gay, Black man in the South.

Jones is a master storyteller. There is so much to learn about craft in terms of narrative structure, language and the possibilities of memoir, but also about trauma, childhood, and family dynamics. I cried, laughed, gasped, and ached reading this. At once healing and heartbreaking, How We Fight For Our Lives is one of my favorite books of the year and I can guarantee, it will be one of yours too.


What We’re Reading Now:

Becka Oliver, Executive Director 

Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke

I was lucky enough to read Attica Locke’s debut novel, Black Water Rising, in manuscript form more than ten years ago. Scenes from that wonderful book – which was set in Houston and went on to be shortlisted for the Orange Prize, not to mention nominated for several other awards – have stayed with me to this day. (Seriously, everyone, read Black Water Rising). And now, all these years later, Heaven, My Home (September 2019, Mulholland Books) reminds me once again why we should all consider ourselves lucky to have Attica Locke writing about Texas. This time, as she did in the Edgar Award winning Bluebird, Bluebird, she takes us to small town East Texas where Texas Ranger Darren Matthews searches for a young boy who’s gone missing on Caddo Lake. Before long, he’s entangled in a web of false accusations and unreliable witnesses, set against the backdrop of a town still grappling with its past and willing to make any sacrifice for its future. I couldn’t put this one down.

Michael Noll, Program Director

Zarzamora by Vincent Cooper

While reading this new poetry collection about the inhabitants of a street named after a fruit, it’s impossible not to think of Sandra Cisneros’ most famous work. But this San Antonio street is captured in a voice and tone all of Cooper’s own. The book weaves together an older narrator and his younger self in dreamlike lines.
Cooper will read from Zarzamora on October 24, 7 p.m., at Malvern Books along with Claudia Delfina Cardona and Laura Villareal. More info here.

Neena Husid, Leadership Austin Fellow

Writing to Persuade by Trish Hall

Style books exist in plenitude. But not many invite you into the frenzy of an iconic editorial department while doling out their do’s and don’t’s. Through advice, examples and personal stories-some thrilling and gossip-filled (remember the NYT’s Putin op-ed?)-Trish Hall’s, Writing to Persuade is a style book with both gravitas and grins. The former editor of the New York Times op-ed page underscores familiar writing rules while pulling some intriguing new rabbits out of her journalistic hat. “Facts aren’t magic,” Hall warns op-ed writers and no matter how many convincing sentences you craft, people will believe what they believe. Regardless of that frustration, she’s firm in her assertion that getting into fights on the page won’t win you converts. Writing to Persuade is a fun and telling read: a book authors of any genre can learn from and enjoy.

What We’re Reading Now: THE WHICH WAY TREE

The Which Way Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Elizabeth Crook

Published in February 2018 by Little, Brown and Company

Reviewed by Amanda Moore

In the middle of the night on a small farm in rural Texas, a young girl is attacked by a panther outside of her home. Her mother runs to her aid and is tragically killed by the panther in a brutal and vicious manner. Traumatized by the events of that night, Samantha Shreve develops a deep-seated obsession for revenge and uses every opportunity to hunt and kill the wild animal.

The Which Way Tree is a fascinating and captivating tale told primarily from the perspective of Samantha’s half-brother, Benjamin Shreve. As a young boy living in the late 1800’s, he witnesses the panther attack and other questionable incidents that occur close to his home. Years later and now seventeen years old, Benjamin is asked by a local county judge to give a written account of these incidents.

Benjamin’s descriptions of his experiences and the actions of other characters are surprisingly mature and insightful. He demonstrates honesty and integrity in his caretaker role as a brother, but he also experiences the normal fears and concerns of an adolescent.  Throughout the novel, he recalls his constant state of distress as he tries to prevent his sister from engaging or provoking the animal that freely roams the countryside. Samantha’s obsession overshadows her concerns for her personal safety and that of her family. Readers will undoubtedly recall other literary tales of revenge and obsession including that of an infamous white whale and the captain who pursued it in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Through the eyes of the narrator, readers will observe the challenges and hardships of living on the Texas frontier and the unique relationship between a brother and a sister. Benjamin not only tries to protect his sister from a violent individual who crosses their path, but he also tries to care for her well-being even when he disagrees with her choices. It is a well-told story that explores the different emotions of the human experience – fear, compassion, courage and hope.

Amanda Moore is an attorney and writer living in Austin, Texas.  She won first place in the Texas Bar Journal 2015 Short Story Contest and was asked to return as a judge in the annual competition for two consecutive years. She has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2014.  Amanda is an avid reader and book aficionado.

Interested in writing reviews? Current WLT members are eligible to write reviews and can send an email to kelsey@writersleague.org.

Have a book you’d like us to review? We review books by Texas authors, as well as books that are set in or about Texas. Email kelsey@writersleague.org for instructions on sending a review copy.

What We’re Reading Now: THE MIDNIGHT MAN

The Midnight Man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by David Eric Tomlinson

Published in January 2017 by Gallery Books

Reviewed by K.L. Romo

In his debut novel, The Midnight Man, David Eric Tomlinson weaves basketball, law enforcement, self-realization, and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building into a tapestry of Oklahoma culture and attitudes. The unexpected intersection of such diverse lives gives us a glimpse of what we can learn from each other if we keep ourselves open to possibilities.

Brothers Cecil and Ben Porter survived a long-ago tragedy that left one paralyzed from the waist down, and the other infected with guilt. Now little brother Ben is a successful real estate developer who can schmooze a meal from a starving man. He’s never admitted to anyone that his fortune is the result of some not-so-legal business deals – and Ben’s hidden an even bigger secret for most of his life: the truth about his older brother Cecil, who’s been his hero ever since he can remember and is never far from his mind.

Becca Porter is in a rut now that her children are grown and gone, and her husband, Ben, is never home. She decides to fill her days as a volunteer at a local social services center, forming a bond with a young Native American boy who’s been placed in foster care. As her love for the boy grows stronger, so does her understanding of what she must do. But will Ben be able to accept her decision?

Dean Goodnight is an investigator with the Oklahoma City Public Defender’s office, assisting with the defense of an addict who’s been accused of the torturous murder of a drug dealer when things went south. Because Dean is Choctaw, like the defendant, he hopes he’ll be able to get enough background information from the Choctaw community to save his client’s life.

Aura Jefferson is a former collegiate basketball player whose basketball-superstar brother has just been killed. Although she’s a nurse and physical therapist, she still plays in the midnight basketball league she founded years earlier to keep kids off the street. Playing basketball helps release her fury.

“It’s come undone,” is a sentiment often felt by these seemingly unconnected Oklahoma residents, their lives unraveling in ways they aren’t sure how to stop until their paths ironically become tangled in a strange synthesis of strength, forgiveness, and devotion.

With a voice and perspective befitting the Southwest, Tomlinson tells the story of very different people growing up in middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma. But their stories soon intersect and merge into a tale of accountability, alternate perspectives, forgiveness, and the need to care for one another. In the end, these diverse individuals learn that their differences of White, Black and Native American only play second fiddle to all they have in common, the individual pieces finally fitting together like a complicated jigsaw puzzle.

K.L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues, loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets, but HATES the word normal. Her historical novel, Life Before, is about two women separated by a century who discover they’ve shared a soul. Web: KLRomo.com or @klromo.

Interested in writing reviews? Current WLT members are eligible to write reviews and can send an email to kelsey@writersleague.org.

Have a book you’d like us to review? We review books by Texas authors, as well as books that are set in or about Texas. Email kelsey@writersleague.org for instructions on sending a review copy.

What We’re Reading Now: BLOODLINES

Bloodlines

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Melissa del Bosque

Published in September 2017 by Ecco

Reviewed by Mary Pritchard

In this suspenseful nonfiction book, Melissa del Bosque details the true story of a Mexican drug cartel and the FBI’s pursuit.

In December 2009, a young Special FBI Agent, Scott Lawson, arrived at his assigned post in Laredo, Texas, far from his home in Tennessee. He was already trained at the FBI’s academy in Quantico, Virginia, for his new job on the Texas/Mexico border. In Laredo, Lawson soon discovered that the FBI competed with other arms of federal law: the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) at the top of the ladder, and Homeland Security Investigations. The FBI fell in the middle of the pecking order.

Lawson’s Laredo FBI supervisor, David Villarreal, briefed him on the focus of their team: the Mexican drug smuggling cartel known as the Zetas, especially the Treviño brothers, Miguel and Omar. Miguel had a “reputation as a sadistic, cold-blooded killer whose appetite for violence verged on the psychotic.” Another brother, Jose Treviño, was also involved.

As an up and coming member of the Zetas, Miguel Trevino had already been investing in quarter horse racing, a sign of his status in the drug cartel world. His horse, Tempting Dash, had been winning races in Mexico and was now about to be entered in the Dash for Cash Futurity at the Lone Star Park racetrack in Grand Prairie, Texas, which had a $450,000 purse. Horse racing in the United States seemed an excellent way to launder the huge amounts of cash the drug trade brought in.  Miguel’s horse agent, Ramiro Villareal, would take Tempting Dash to the Grand Prairie race, and if he won, pose as the horse’s owner.

Even though political changes in Mexico tried to end government corruption and bribery, cartels were already firmly entrenched. “The Zetas were a multibillion dollar, transnational business;” the Treviños needed investments other than casinos, bars and coal mines. Their love of horse racing was the ideal way to put money in U.S. banks “where it would be safe from …enemies.”

In order to infiltrate the Treviños’ horse racing enterprise in the U.S., Lawson was put in touch with a legitimate quarter horse breeder outside Austin, Texas who boarded, bred and trained some of the Treviños’ horses, including Tempting Dash. His name was Tyler Graham, and because he had inadvertently taken on the Treviños’ horses, he was drawn into helping the FBI in exchange for their protection.

Del Bosque chronicles the rapid expansion of the Treviño brothers horse racing from Texas to New Mexico and even into California where through bribery, horse doping, intimidation and murder, their racing wins ballooned until it all started falling apart in 2013 and 2015 with the arrests of Jose Treviño, who was operating a horse ranch in Oklahoma, and other principals in the case. Miguel and Omar Treviño are currently being held in a maximum security prison outside Mexico City.

This thoroughly documented book is important reading because it shows how the Mexican cartels started and how they multiply and grow more savage in their thirst for money and power.


Mary Pritchard is currently an adjunct instructor at Tarrant County College SE.  She has written poetry all her life, and is now working on a memoir that is based on her mother’s letters to her from the last half of the 1950s.  She also enjoys watercolor painting and photography.  She was raised in the Panhandle of Texas, and that landscape is part of her soul.

Interested in writing reviews? Current WLT members are eligible to write reviews and can send an email to kelsey@writersleague.org.

Have a book you’d like us to review? We review books by Texas authors, as well as books that are set in or about Texas. Email kelsey@writersleague.org for instructions on sending a review copy.

What We’re Reading Now: THE BLINDS

The Blinds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Adam Sternbergh

Published in August 2017 by Kensington Books

Reviewed by Amanda Moore

In The Blinds, Adam Sternbergh tells an intriguing story about the residents of a town called Caesura, Texas. Caesura is an extremely small community of individuals who try to live normal and relatively peaceful lives. However, Caesura is not like other towns — it is isolated and located in a remote part of Texas, where communications with the outside world are virtually non-existent.

As the story progresses, the reader is introduced to residents in the town whose personalities range from friendly and sociable, to odd and reclusive. With the exception of the mysterious presence of a sheriff and two deputies, the residents of Caesura have some memories of their past lives, but they do not remember the circumstances that led them there. They do not know their real names, and they are told to choose new names and identities. All of their food and supplies are shipped to them in a delivery truck. In a community of strangers where everyone has a questionable past, the town is a refuge from the outside world. They are free to leave Caesura, but they can never return.

In this novel, the knowledge of their past actions is something that the residents both seek and fear. As one character states, “It’s hard enough to live with what you’ve done. It’s immeasurably harder to live with knowing you’ve done something, but not knowing what exactly it is you did.” The reader learns about the backgrounds of characters whose pasts are as varied and diverse as their new names. Sternbergh explores the emotional struggles of these characters, but he also allows the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.

As the tale unfolds, horrible incidents occur in the town. A man is found murdered in a bar. A shop is vandalized for no apparent reason. Residents of the town begin to fear the worst as the town becomes as unsafe as the world beyond it. When the reader least expects it, secrets are revealed and more crimes are committed. The story morphs into the ultimate page-turner that forces the reader to reach a shocking but familiar conclusion: people can leave the world they know, but they may never truly escape their past.


Amanda Moore is an attorney and writer living in Austin, Texas.  She won first place in the Texas Bar Journal 2015 Short Story Contest and was asked to return as a judge in the annual competition for two consecutive years. She has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2014.  Amanda is an avid reader and book aficionado.

Interested in writing reviews? Current WLT members are eligible to write reviews and can send an email to kelsey@writersleague.org.

Have a book you’d like us to review? We review books by Texas authors, as well as books that are set in or about Texas. Email kelsey@writersleague.org for instructions on sending a review copy.