Thursday, December 5, 2019

Execution in E by Alexia Gordon ~ Cover Reveal!

Lone Star Literary Life EXCLUSIVE!
Lone Star Literary Life is honored to present the cover
of the fifth book in the Gethsemane Brown Mysteries
by Alexia Gordon & Henery Press.
To be released March, 2020
ABOUT THE BOOK:   Romance is in the air. Or on the ‘gram, anyway. When an influencer-turned-bridezilla shows up at the lighthouse to capture Insta-perfect wedding photos designed to entice sponsors to fund her lavish wedding, Gethsemane has her hands full trying to keep Eamon from blasting the entire wedding party over the edge of the cliff. Wedding bells become funeral bells when members of the bride’s entourage start turning up dead. Frankie’s girlfriend, Verna, is pegged as maid-of-honor on the suspect list when the Garda discover the not-so-dearly departed groom was her ex and Gethsemane catches her standing over a body. Gethsemane uncovers devilish dealings as she fights to clear Verna, for Frankie’s sake. Will she find the killer in time to save Frankie from another heartbreak? Or will the photos in her social media feed be post-mortem?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A writer since childhood, Alexia Gordon won her first writing prize in the 6th grade. She continued writing through college but put literary endeavors on hold to finish medical school and Family Medicine residency training. She established her medical career then returned to writing fiction. Raised in the southeast, schooled in the northeast, she relocated to the west where she completed Southern Methodist University’s Writer’s Path program. She admits Texas brisket is as good as Carolina pulled pork. She practices medicine in North Chicago, IL. She enjoys the symphony, art collecting, embroidery, and ghost stories.
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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sarah Jane by James Sallis

Sarah Jane by [Sallis, James]
Sallis, James. 2019. Sarah Jane. New York, NY: Soho Press. ISBN 978-1641290807. $23.95 USD.

I read another librarian's review of this short novel and was intrigued, especially when I learned it was around 200 pages and I knew I could finish it without too much effort. What started as a "let's see what it's all about," led to a deep dive into an incisive and profound character study the likes of which I rarely encounter.

Sarah Jane is a mysterious character, and the reader knows they are in for some surprises when she says, "...I didn't do all those things they say I did. Well, not all of them anyway." Sarah Jane grew up with her father and a mother who kept disappearing; so it's not too much of a surprise that she has trouble staying in one place herself for long. She floats around in her youth, gets in some trouble, and ends up in the military rather than jail, those being the only options granted her at the time.

After her military tour, Sarah Jane supports herself as a cook, and ends up a bit on the run later in life after realizing someone she's married to is not who she thought he was. She changes locations and names like changing clothes, just keeps moving forward, almost instinctively. Ultimately, she finds herself working in law enforcement and filling in for a sheriff in a small town when he goes missing. This is where the mystery story begins. Because it IS classified as a mystery, and there are mysteries that do get solved. Some more definitively than others.

What surprised me, kept me intrigued, and also challenged me so much about this novel was the author's construction of his chapters. He starts a paragraph almost in the middle of the story, and the reader doesn't really understand what's happening right away. But, by sticking with it, we gradually fall into the narrative: the characters and action and clues - it all starts to make sense. Well, most of it, anyway. There is plenty of ambiguity here, but it works in this story. The novel also is not straight forward chronologically, but slips back and forth in time in a way that can be a bit jarring, but it all comes together eventually. Well, most of it anyway :/

It's really incredible what the author has done here in a little more than 200 pages. We are given a snapshot of various stages of the main character's life: click, Sarah's a child keeping a journal and scratching her arm open because she heard the phrase, "beauty is only skin deep," and went looking; click, Sarah is in a far away country in an unnamed war, lying in hot sand after an explosion, having killed an enemy so young, she has to imagine something different to live with it. And she does; click. And on the story goes, through interactions, connections, incomplete beginnings and leavings. We get a glimpse of some of the things Sarah did do, and wonder what she did not.

The writing is really something, and I found myself taking screenshots of sentences and paragraphs I wanted to re-read. Since I had checked this book out from the library, I couldn't write in it or turn down pages. But I wanted to. And will buy my own copy to re-read someday. Because it deserves to be read more than once.

I saw on Amazon some one star reviews, and a five star review that said, "people who slam this book just didn't get it." Reading is subjective, of course, but I think I understand what the author was attempting to accomplish: an unusual character study in which we learn many things about the main character, but in such a removed way, that we barely get a chance to know her before it's over. And she's worth knowing. There are glimpses of violence, but also touches of redemption that provide the payoff I needed to be satisfied as a reader.

I don't think this book is probably for everyone. The narrative is bit chaotic, and the confusing way the chapters begin could be off-putting. But it worked for me. I tend to be drawn to books with unusual structure for some reason - maybe I just like the challenge. But this book reminded me why I love reading, fiction especially. Other books that I ended up loving due to an interesting narrative structure were Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong, The Current by Tim Johnston, A Key to Treehouse Living by Elliot Reed, and Costalegre by Courtney Maum.

The critical reviews of the book, from sources such as The Wall Street Journal, The Toronto Star, Bookpage, Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly, and Booklist, among others, are incredibly good. And I don't always agree with critical reviews. This time around, I concur. And I'm just sitting here, right now, imagining whom I will recommend it to next at the library.

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate. I hope you enjoy some down time, and perhaps a good book. Like this one.⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Maggsie McNaughton's Second Chance ~ Frances Maynard

Maynard, Frances. 2019. Maggsie McNaughton's Second Chance. London, England: Mantle Publishing, a division of Pan Macmillan. ISBN 978-1529014013.
Amazon link:

I first discovered author Frances Maynard in a Guardian article last Spring when I was researching the genre of books called "UpLit." I had noticed that my library customers were asking for this kind of story, which seemed to gain popularity after Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was published. There is not a specific definition for UpLit; however in most of the books in this category the main characters struggle with complex issues, but ultimately seem to find redemption and hope in the end.

I noticed that Ms. Maynard's novel The 7 Rules of Elvira Carr was mentioned in the article, so I bought it, read it, and reviewed it here: I was pleased to get to know Evvie Carr, who is quite a unique character. There are also more UpLit titles mentioned in the above book review, as well as a more thorough explanation of the genre.

When I read the summary of Maggsie McNaughton's Second Chance, the new novel by this author, I purchased it from Book Depository, as it was not available in the US. at the time. I did notice that it can be purchased on Amazon now, and I've included the link above.

About the book:

Maggsie McNaughton is not your typical heroine of a novel. She's a 4' 10" uneducated, dyslexic ex-con with anger management issues, a drinking problem, and really bad teeth. But I fell in love with Maggsie, and rooted for her the entire time I was reading this book.

Marguerite McNaughton grew up in a very dysfunctional home, and due to her dyslexia had a difficult time in school - unsympathetic teachers and teasing by her classmates. She had two early tragedies in her life as a teenager, which let to acting out and going down a road of repeated incarcerations and lashing out at anyone who tried to make her feel "small" - and not due to her size alone.

As the book opens, Maggsie has just been released from another prison term. She is working at low-level job with a company known for giving ex-cons a second chance, and she's sharing a home with some other women who are also on probation. We experience some flashbacks into the life Maggsie led "inside," including the relationship she formed with one woman in particular who began teaching her to read.

Maggsie is tough and a hard worker, but she doesn't make friends easily, and often alienates those who try to get close to her. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book is the wonderful cast of characters that surround Maggsie as she comes to experience the titular "second chance." Maggsie grows and learns, makes mistake, and changes little by little into the person that ultimately she can be proud of.

This book reminded me how important literacy is, and as a librarian I am privileged to be part of a profession that advocates and provides resources for those learning to read, no matter what the age. The reality of what living life in this world is like for those who cannot read is readily on display in this novel, and I was impressed to learn that the author teaches English to adults with learning disabilities, including dyslexia.

There are quite a few British slang words used in this novel that I needed to look up, like "ruddy" and "poxy" and something about soldiers! But once I got used to it, I could hear Maggsie's voice so distinctly in the narrative. One part at the end of the book required a bit of suspension of belief; but I was so invested in the lives of the characters and the outcome by that point that I really didn't mind at all.

I'm so glad I got to know Maggsie. You will want to meet her, too.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Dog on the Acropolis by Mark Tedesco

Tedesco, Mark. 2019. The Dog on the Acropolis. Academia Publications. 

Indie author Mark Tedesco has taken a interesting true-to-life situation - the stray dogs in Athens, Greece - and turned it into a dual-timeline fictional novel set in ancient and present-day Greece that explores the lives of two families and communities and the dogs that bind them together.

I didn't know about these stray dogs until I saw an article on Twitter about them, then went on the hunt to research them further. Apparently, due to the financial crisis in Greece, many people could not afford to care for their pets; but the communities and the government have stepped in to care for them. You can read  more about the issue here:

About the book:

In present day Athens, a dog named Draco, who begins as a narrator of the story, sees as his job and work to lead tourists up the steps to the Parthenon. He is fed, watered, and bathed by the shop owners of the "plaka," and in this part of the book he becomes very attached to a baker named Akil, his wife, Maria, and their son, Jason, who are experiencing some dysfunction as a family. Through this family's interactions with Draco, the entire community is changed.

But when Draco sleeps at the top of the steps each night, he dreams of Daria, his first canine ancestor on the Acropolis, and through those dreams we come to know stone cutter Adelino, his wife, Diana, and their son, Tiro, whose lives revolve around the building of the Parthenon and the statue of Athena designed by architect, Pheidias. 

The author does a great job of giving voices to the various characters in the book, both canine and human. I enjoyed getting to know them all and learning more about a culture and time different from my own.

Draco and Daria have many adventures through their stories, and the author reveals themes of community, family, faith, and loss - and what a gift a single life, be it human or canine, can be.

If you love dogs and books that explore other locales, cultures, and times in history, you would probably enjoy The Dog on the Acropolis.

Happy Reading!

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Middle Sister by Jesse Miles, Book 3 in the Jack Salvo Series

Miles, Jesse. 2019. The Middle Sister. ISBN 978-0-9904740-4-3 $8.99 USD 
Amazon Link: The Middle Sister

I have been a fan of the Jack Salvo series by Jesse Miles for quite some time. I read the second book, Church of Spilled Blood, a few years ago when it was a "read now" title on NetGalley, and was completely impressed that it was self-published since I had not read many indie authors up until then. I immediately bought and read the first book in the series, Dead Drop. They can each be read as stand-alones, as I didn't even realize I had read them out of order. You can read my reviews of both those books here:

I heard from the author a couple months ago that his third novel was close to being published and he graciously sent me a print copy to review. I was not disappointed in this addition to the series, though it was a slower read for me this time around. That may be because I have so many other reading commitments and had to put it aside briefly for a while. In any event, the main character, Jack Salvo, is just as entertaining as he was in the previous two books: a tenacious private eye who also teaches philosophy one night a week at a community college. His internal and external voice are always a pleasure to read, and he develops the other characters in this novel very well. 

Jack is hired by a wealthy family to locate one of three sisters who has gone missing (the titular "Middle Sister"), and finds himself on the trail of series of disreputable characters in his efforts to find out what happened to her. The author has done an amazing job, once again, in his description of the Los Angeles setting, and creates quite visual pictures in his writing. The plot unfolds gradually as Jack follows the clues, and the characters he meets, to solve this mystery; and the ending was completely unexpected, always a plus in my book (so to speak). I do feel the very end of the book was not quite as tightly resolved as I might have wanted to see, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story as a whole.

I would recommend this entire series from indie author Jesse Miles, and am still surprised that it hasn't been picked up by a major publisher. I could see it doing very well with those who enjoy the Nils Shapiro series by Matt Goldman (Gone to Dust) and the Elvis Cole series by Robert Crais.

Pieces for the Left Hand ~ J. Robert Lennon

Lennon, J. Robert. 2005. Pieces for the Left Hand. St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press.
ISBN 978-1-55597-523-4  $14.00

I've been buried in books lately, as usual. As a librarian in charge of selecting all of the Fiction and Romance titles for my library system, I have to read a lot of book reviews from professional journals, as well as galleys of forthcoming books (a joy)! But I end up reading quickly for work, rather than slowly, for pleasure; and lately it has felt somewhat like a chore.

When I saw an article online from Publisher's Weekly a while back titled, "The Best Book You've Never Read is Pieces for the Left Hand by J. Robert Lennon," of course I was intrigued.
Described as "micro essays," what the author has actually done is create a series of vignettes which are told as the narrator is taking long walks around the town where he lives in upstate New York. Written in a conversational style, with a pace that feels almost ambulatory, the author enchants and surprises on almost every page - for the first half of the book.

I rarely dog-ear pages of books, but in this case I have many pages folded down that contain sentences or phrases that I knew I wanted to go back and read again. One of them I even used as my #SundaySentence on Twitter, and the longer version is this, in the essay titled "Leaves:"

"The one saving grace of all this is the spring, when the new leaves arrive. They've never failed to do so. They start out green, like mint candies, and for a short time they are ours alone. And then in summer, even when wind and sun and hail tear through them, even then they stay right on the trees and make a sound like applause, all summer long."

The essay is about when the tourists come to see the leaves change and sort of take over the town. But when I read the end of it which I quoted above, I was absolutely filled with hope about the changing of the seasons and new growth and the eternal nature of it all.

There are many other wonderful one to two page essays (rarely longer) that I just adored, some with surprising twists at the end, in an O. Henry-like fashion. And the beginning of most of the essays/vignettes just pulls you right along on the walk the narrator is taking, using phrases such as, "When I was young;" "A small town not far away;" "Our local university; "One [night, day, morning, year, week]" and the reader just comes alongside and listens to the story. It was such a pleasure to read the first half of this book.

The second half became something quite different, as the tone of the stories changed from a positive, mostly pleasurable experience to something darker, more depressing and hopeless, and even nihilistic at the very end. I struggled to finish it, and almost gave up a few times, but the writing was still incredible, and I'm glad I did finish it.

I would highly recommend the first part of this book, as I've never had a reading experience quite like it. I am sure the author had a reason for changing the tone of his essays, but for this reader the second half was a disappointment. It will not prevent me from reading further works by this author, and I actually read not long ago a story he wrote for The New Yorker called, "The Loop." which reminded me of a cross between The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and the existentialism of Albert Camus.

J. Robert Lennon is an immensely talented author, and I felt I had been in the hands of a master when I read this unique work.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Review: The Bird Boys by Lisa Sandlin ~ Lone Star Literary Book Blog Tour

A Delpha Wade and
Tom Phelan Mystery
  Genre: Gentle Noir / Mystery / Women Sleuths
Date of Publication: August 20, 2019
Number of Pages: 306

Scroll down for giveaway!

The new novel from award-winning author Lisa Sandlin catches up with the almost-murdered secretary Delpha Wade (The Do-Right, 2015, set in 1973) as she’s released from a hospital in order to be tucked into the back seat of a police cruiser. Her boss, P. I. Tom Phelan, sets out to spring her. He needs her back in his investigation business, where he’ll soon be chasing a skulking grand larcenist and plotting how to keep a ganjapreneur out of the grabby hands of a brand new agency, the D.E.A. Delpha digs through old records and knocks on strange doors to unravel the dangerous case of two brothers with beaucoup aliases—verifying that sometimes truth is not true, but murder is always murder.


Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“What makes this crime novel soar is the humanity and humility of its main characters. It is by turns exciting, tender, suspenseful, observant, and gently funny. Readers will eagerly await the next installment.” 

Booklist, Starred Review
“Sandlin’s sequel soars on the wings of its spot-on evocation of a time and place and its utterly compelling central characters... A first-rate series crying for word-of-mouth support.”

Kirkus, Starred Review
“Proving that anything old can be new in the right, talented hands, Sandlin has crafted an outstanding series that readers will want to follow and savor.”

Robert Faires, Austin Chronicle
"I confess that as a Beaumonster who remembers that city in the early seventies, the book has a special appeal; Sandlin gets so many details just right. But you don't have to have lived there to be captivated by The Bird Boys. Its characters, wit, exquisite prose, and sense of redemption are so richly crafted that they'll stick to most anyone like, well, a shirt to your skin on an August afternoon in Beaumont."

I was a big fan of the first book in this series, The Do-Right, so I was thrilled to get an opportunity to read and review the follow-up novel. It is not necessary to have read the first book to enjoy this one, but if you do, The Bird Boys begins right after the other one ends, with the main characters, Delpha Wade and Tom Phelan, dealing both physically and emotionally with the fall-out of a crime. 

Delpha Wade is a wonderfully well-drawn character, and her personality shines through in both novels. She has been recently released from a long prison term after killing a man in self-defense who was assaulting her when she was 18 years old. But the prison experience has shaped the person she is today: strong, organized, determined; someone who doesn't suffer fools gladly. 

Tom Phelan is a Vietnam vet and is struggling to get his P.I. business off the ground. He feels a growing attachment to Delpha, but is very aware of how badly she has suffered in the past and is gentle with her, which I admired. The two cases the main characters investigate are interesting, and you really see the reality of what it must be like working as a private investigator.

The novel's setting is in Beaumont, Texas in 1973, and the author has done an excellent job of characterizing this town, which is located not far from Houston. The era of the book is interesting to read about since there were no computers, cell phones, or other technology that we are used to seeing in contemporary mysteries. This means that the work done by a private investigator is a lot more complicated and slow. The author also was careful, and successful, in getting the historical references right, including, for example, the mentions of Watergate, Hurricane Celia, the use of a Selectric typewriter, the Bobby Riggs/Bill Jean King tennis exhibition, and the $1.60 cent minimum wage.

The writing is something special. The author's sentence structure, which is short, and not always complete, really drives the narrative and gives a unique cadence to the reading experience, as in this paragraph toward the end of the book:

"....he hoped the phone was still in working order. He got out and tried it. Dial tone, all right. Hung it up and leaned against the wall, waited. The breeze mild, pleasant. Clouds on the moon. The station's orange security lamp stained the leafy underside of the nearest tree an orangey-brown. Weird effect."

For me, the pace really slowed down in the middle of the book as Tom and Delpha each investigate the two mysteries they are trying to solve. The description of the process of uncovering the clues says a lot about how tedious most P.I. work probably is, but this is not so great for a narrative that you want to keep moving. That being said, I never wanted to stop reading this noirish tale at any point, and was hungry to find out the solution to the mysteries.

One of my favorite things about the book, hands-down, is that the author has dedicated her novel to "librarians everywhere," and she incorporates libraries and librarians into the novel in a very positive way. Overall, I enjoyed The Bird Boys and would recommend this series to those who like mysteries with intriguing characters, a slower pace, and an unusual setting of time and place. 

Lisa Sandlin is the author of The Do-Right, winner of the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America and the Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers. Her new mystery thriller The Bird Boys is set in 1973 in the same town she was born, Beaumont, Texas. Her previous books are The Famous Thing About Death and Message to the Nurse of Dreams, Cinco Puntos Press; In the River Province, SMU Press; and You Who Make the Sky Bend, Pinyon Publishing.

THREE WINNERS: Choice of eBook or Print Copies of THE BIRD BOYS
August 20-30, 2019
(International - eBooks only)
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