God Save Texas: My Review

God Save Texas Book CoverPulitzer Prize winning author Lawrence Wright has written what can best be described as a meditation on what it is is about Texas that makes it so unique and influential. His thoughts are presented with a great deal of wit and humor, and contain insightful information on everything from history to culture to politics.

Politically, Texas has always influenced national discourse and policy. Three of its favorite sons –  Lyndon Johnson, George W. Bush, and George H. W. Bush were elected to the presidency of the United States. And today, its leaders in Austin have made it one of the most conservative states in the Union, not only aligning Texas with the nationalistic policies of the Trump administration but leading the fight against illegal immigration and the establishment of sanctuary cities.

Wright voices his misgivings about the direction of this leadership both in Washington and Austin, but does so in an introspective contemplation on why he loves Texas so much. Obviously, when you’re searching for the “soul” of what makes Texas… Texas, you have to look beyond political differences to examine everything that sets it apart from every other state.

Oil magnates, cattle barons, musicians and writers have all shaped our conception of the Lone Star State, and Wright covers them all. He journeys from Austin to Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso (and all places in between from the Rio Grande Valley to the plains of West Texas.) He discusses the oil boom from its beginning at Spindletop to today’s fracking in the Permian Basin and the role oil, cattle and cowboys have played in forging the image of Texans to the rest of the world. He looks at NASA and our place in space exploration, the influence of Texas musicians from Buddy Holly to Willie Nelson, and the contributions of authors like Larry McMurtry with his ode to the great cattle drives (Lonesome Dove) and his description of life in an isolated and dying Texas town (The Last Picture Show.)

Wright also describes the beauty and diversity of the land from the pine forests of East Texas to the deserts of the Trans-Pecos. He finds serenity in Big Bend National Park, and relishes the quirkiness of places like Marfa, Texas that attracts artisans and tourists with its emergence as a cultural center smack in the middle of nowhere, its linkage to one of the most influential films ever made about the state (the 1956 movie “Giant” starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean) and, of course, the eerie phenomenon of the Marfa Lights that fuels speculation about extraterrestrial visitations.

There’s really no way to encapsulate all the ground covered by Wright in this book, nor his ability to truly entertain readers as he does so. I’ve lived in Texas almost fifty years, but wouldn’t know where to even begin to attempt to articulate why Texas is so extraordinary. My hat is off to Lawrence Wright who manages to educate, intellectually stimulate, and delight readers with a thoroughly engaging portrait of a state that I also happen to love.

The Which Way Tree: My Review

The Which Way Tree Book CoverI wasn’t sure how I felt about the book as I read it. The style is unique. It evokes the humor of Mark Twain in both “Tom Sawyer” and the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” while also recalling the work of Charles Portis and his novel “True Grit.”
The story unfolds in a series of letters written by seventeen year old Benjamin Shreve in which he gives testimony to a circuit judge about a chance encounter with a hanging and its perpetrators. It’s the letters and manner in which they’re written that are reminiscent of Twain.
To give his testimony Benjamin also tells the story of his younger half-sister Samantha and her relentless pursuit of a panther that mauled her face and killed her mother. It is her dogged determination for revenge that is at the core of the story and which reminded me so much of the character Mattie Ross and her need to avenge her father’s murder in Portis’ novel.
It wasn’t until the final few chapters that I truly appreciated all the colorful characters that take part in this adventure, the dialogue and locales that capture the Texas Hill Country of the late 1800’s, and a tale that might well have been handed down as legend in Comal County.
Frankly, I’m still mulling over my reaction to the book, which is exactly why “The Which Way Tree” is worth reading!
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COMMENT: Let me know whether you’d like to see “STAR” ratings attached to these reviews. I’ve avoided doing so to date because of their subjectivity and different interpretations dependent upon the social media platform in which they appear. I prefer to simply post my written review and let the reader decide.

The Demise of Billy the Kid: My Review

The Demise of Billy the KidPreston Lewis has once again combined his sense of humor and gift for story telling to give readers the real life history of the Lincoln County War as told by someone who claims to have been involved in most of the momentous events that shaped Western lore, H. H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax.
In the first of a series of books featuring the adventures of this fictional character, the author begins with his purported discovery of Lomax’s memoirs while conducting research at Texas Tech University. While acknowledging that most historians have dismissed their authenticity, he expresses his own tongue in cheek confidence that they were indeed written by H. H. Lomax but he “can’t vouch for their veracity.”
So begins the humorous recollections of Lomax’s association with Billy the Kid, the legendary cattle baron John Chisum, Sheriff Pat Garrett, and the factions that fought over cattle interests and control of the dry goods business in the New Mexico Territory in the late 1800s.
Lewis certainly captures the violence of the period. The Lincoln County War began with the cold blooded murder of John Tunstall by the Jessie Evans Gang. Tunstall, an Englishman, was a newcomer to the territory who challenged the monopoly of the local general store known as “The House.” Billy the Kid was in the employment of Tunstall at the time, so he and his “Regulators” followed up his murder with a revenge killing of their own. The ensuing feud resulted in countless deaths and continued until 1881 when Pat Garrett finally hunted down and killed the famous gunman at Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
Lewis ameliorates the historical accuracy of his narrative with his typical wit and humor. H.H. Lomax rides a mule named Flash, is frequently mistaken for a conman and swindler by the name of Gadrich Lomax who pays in counterfeit money, sells a blind horse, cheats at cards, and peddles bad liquor, and Lomax also has the same love interest as Billy the Kid, the hot-tempered señorita, Rosalita. Of course all of these lead to hilarious circumstances and outcomes, indelibly establishing H.H. Lomax as someone who “had the good or bad luck to be where Western History was made,” and whose subsequent exploits will link him to the Outlaw Jesse James, the Gunfight at the
O.K. Corral, and Custer’s Last Stand.
I’ll definitely be along for the ride!

The Fleecing of Fort Griffin: My Review

The Fleecing of Fort Griffin Book CoverI can’t remember the last time I enjoyed reading a book this much. Preston Lewis has crafted a story chocked full of indelible characters whose antics in pursuit of money will keep you smiling throughout.
The locale is Ft. Griffin, the westernmost Army post and town in Texas. It is the Spring of 1878, and royalty has arrived by stagecoach in the person of English Baron Jerome Manchester Paget, who proposes to buy land upon which he plans to establish a buffalo ranch.
The absurdity of this idea is highlighted even more by the $25,000 equivalent in British currency that he carries about in a satchel and openly flaunts in a frontier town renown for its lawlessness. The expression “a fool and his money are soon parted” becomes the prevailing attitude amongst both residents and visitors in Ft. Griffin, all of whom scheme to swindle the baron out of his money.
There’s Cat Tails, a Tonkawa Indian with an unquenchable thirst for whiskey and the feline appendages from which he derives his name.
There’s Colonel John Paul Jenkins, the commander of the military garrison whose Buffalo soldiers bear no love for their leader.
There’s the widow Flora Belmont, whose five previous husbands have died under suspicious circumstances.
There’s the Reverend G.W. (God Willing) Tuck, whose sermons and apparent miracles serve to line his pockets, not give hope or redemption to sinners.
There’s the gunman One-Eyed Charlie Gatliff, who aims to kill the baron and take his money, and the professional gambler Joe Loper, who won’t let that happen before he can get the baron in a poker game and cheat him at cards.
There’s the husband and wife team Wanda and Wallace Sikes, who use her sexuality to get men into compromising situations so they can be blackmailed.
There’s Lop-Eared Annie Lee, whose disproportionate bosoms keep customers lining up for a peek and a poke. And… so many more!
Baron Paget must use his wits and the services of fourteen-year-old orphan Sammy Collins and a rooster to ward off this colorful cast of characters.
Someone is certainly going to get fleeced, but who and how is at the heart of this humorous western classic that will have readers guessing and howling with laughter.

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COMMENT:  Some followers of this blog are going to notice book reviews that have appeared previously on other literary websites such as Goodreads and Amazon. My purpose in re-posting them here is to reach the widest possible audience.

Memorial Day 2018

 

May 28 (1)

Every year I wonder how many Americans pause on Memorial Day to reflect on the sacrifice made by the men and women who have been killed fighting the nation’s wars. Because society no longer bears a collective responsibility securing our freedoms, it is only military families that truly share and understand the anguish, pain, and pride of losing someone under combat related circumstances.

The cost in human lives has been and is staggering. The following numbers reflect combat related deaths in America’s principal wars and combat operations since World War I. They do not address the number of wounded, missing in action, or the psychological toll of veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

Battle Deaths:

WWI – 53,402   WWII – 291,557   Korea – 33,739   Vietnam – 47,434   Iraq (Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, New Dawn, Inherent Resolve, and Freedom’s Sentinel) – 6,855   Afghanistan (2001-2017) – 942.

Think about those numbers for a moment and let them sink in. Then think about countless other wars from the American Revolution to the present that are not listed. Then think of the ongoing war against terrorism. Freedom is not free!

Today we have men and women stationed in hot spots around the globe protecting America’s interests. The reality is that many of these individuals will also give their “last full measure of devotion” to preserve our democracy.

If you really want these numbers to sink in, visit one of the 147 national cemeteries or 24 permanent American burial grounds on foreign soil. Gaze upon the row upon row upon row of headstones. It is both overwhelming and inspiring. Finally, get on your knees and give thanks for such courage, commitment, and love of country. You may have not known a single one of them, but you owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

God Bless the deceased and God Bless America!

 

 

 

 

Killers of the Flower Moon: My Review

Killers of the Flower Moon Book CoverFrom 1921 to 1926 a series of murders were perpetrated against the Osage Indian Nation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The murders were calculated to cheat the Osage out of their rights to land that had been forced upon them by the United States government. Once large deposits of oil were discovered the Osage became some of the wealthiest people in America, but unscrupulous individuals, including prominent citizens, local law enforcement officers and members of the judiciary all conspired to take their wealth from them.
In his meticulously researched book, “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” author David Grann reveals the corruption, prejudices, and Old West attitudes that resulted in this “Reign of Terror.”
In their day the murders were headline news, but Grann not only sifts through old newspapers, but court records, eyewitness accounts, descendent interviews, and FBI files to get at the truth. In doing so he recounts the early formative days of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, its director J. Edgar Hoover, and the men hand-picked to impartially investigate the murders and establish the FBI as the nation’s premier law enforcement agency.
What may shock readers, however, is the magnitude of the conspiracy and the great many murders that were never investigated.
The book is a window into a very dark period in American history; an account that definitely deserves telling, will have the reader invested in the story that unfolds, and provides yet another chapter in the saga and legacy of poor treatment of Native Americans

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COMMENT:  The content of this blog includes works that I have authored, books that I’ve read of my own volition, and promotions on behalf of Lone Star Literary Life. I wrote of my intent to help promote the Texas literary scene working with LSLL on March 23rd, and I have since used this site for several of their Book Blog Tours. Whenever I write in that capacity it should be evident by the use of their logo.

 

 

East Jesus: My Review

 

East Jesus Book CoverI wasn’t sure where to begin my review of “East Jesus.” Having just read and reviewed the prequel, “Blood And Remembrance,”there are elements within the book that I would not have recognized had I read them in the sequence in which they were written and published. Nonetheless, each book stands on its own and there is no requirement to have read them in any particular order, or for that matter any less enjoyment for having read just one or the other.
Obviously, the setting and most of the characters carry over, as does the the violence and threat of violence that is pervasive in both novels. However, the resignation and desperation that dominate the narrative in “Blood And Remembrance” are tempered in “East Jesus” by the innocence and optimism of children unwilling to just accept their fate and, unlike the adults who simply go about their lives trapped by their circumstances and poor decisions, actually hold out hope of a brighter future.
From the very first chapter the reader knows that a day of reckoning is coming, that there will be a climactic confrontation to end years of mental and physical abuse. Still, the ending you expect is not what Chris Manno delivers. The looming disaster that has been building throughout the entire book plays out, but not in any way that you could have envisioned.
The WOW factor aside, Chris Manno has written a coming of age story the likes of which I have not encountered since reading “The Last Picture Show” by Larry McMurtry. The year is 1969 and seventeen year old Travis Carlisle must first deal with the situation at home – Pop who promises yet more abuse; “unfinished business” that will be settled once and for all when he rolls his big rig back into town, Momma whose daily routine involves endless cigarettes and alcohol to cope with a life of repeated beatings and meaningless sex, his little sister Bean who is traumatized by what she’s seen and at age five hasn’t spoken a single word, and his Uncle Otis recently released from Huntsville State Penitentiary, who frightens almost everyone in the West Texas town of Conroy but is pledged to protect both Travis and Bean.
If that isn’t enough drama for anyone at this age, Travis is also experiencing the angst and exhilaration of being a teenager in a small rural town. There may not be much to Conroy, Texas… nobody new ever settles there and few even pass through because it’s on the road to nowhere, but he and his best friend Buster still chase after the local girls hoping to get past 2nd base, work hard to make the varsity football team to play under those Friday night lights, sneak a cold brew whenever and wherever they can, hang out at the Dixie Dog and Alamo Cafe, participate in pick-up baseball games with their friends, look forward to the annual Fair in Lubbock, marvel at astronauts landing on the moon, and try to comprehend through letters written by Buster’s older brother Bo what it is like to travel halfway around the world to fight on foreign soil in a place called Vietnam.
Once again I found myself totally immersed in a Chris Manno novel. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in Texas, but I was able to project my own experiences onto the tapestry of life, death, pain, sorrow and redemption that is “East Jesus.” If you appreciate flesh and blood characters, their interwoven story lines, and an ending that will blow you away, this book is a must read!