PositiveHouston ChronicleHeaberlin...keeps her plotting tight, and introduces just enough red herrings to keep readers guessing. Even with no shortage of suspects...the solution makes perfect sense but still comes as something of a surprise. Her flinty prose and first-person narration lend the novel an appropriately urgent tone. Both heroines are plucky and resourceful, but fallible and insecure, each laser-focused on bringing the truth to light despite some pretty steep consequences ... This author has a definite feel for the stifling atmosphere of many small Texas towns, where toxic secrets can fester for years and dreams can scatter like so many dandelion seeds.
James Lee Burke
PositivePreviewBurke uses his usual splendid accounts of the lush Louisiana landscape to bring the dark forces at play into sharp relief ... Man’s inhumanity to his fellow man is familiar territory for Burke, who has an uncanny knack for explaining how easily otherwise decent people can be seduced into serving sinister forces.
RaveThe Houston ChronicleBig Wonderful Thing is a gift ... The book is nosed out in sheer heft only by Texas itself, it seems. But it doesn’t read that way. Harrigan...outlines Texas’ particulars from prehistory to just after 9/11 in granular detail, with an intimate, conversational style ... Make no mistake, Big Wonderful Thing is a warts-and-all history — and Texas history has a lot of warts. Consequently, this book is full of bloodshed, corruption, naked power grabs, and pervasive racism, both of the raw and institutional varieties. But Harrigan writes sentences to savor even when his subject matter turns unsavory ... Big Wonderful Thing is as fast-paced as a book the size and approximate weight of a large brick can be. It takes that many pages to fully explore the events and people that, for better or worse, helped shape Texas into the kind of place where the commander of the Osama bin Laden raid and the creator of Beavis and Butt-head can be next-door neighbors.
PositiveThe Houston ChronicleThe Last Job combines old-age melodrama—a gang of geezers dead-set on proving they’ve still got what it takes—with an enticing overview of the post-World War II London underworld and a dash of classic Blake Edwards farce ... To his credit, Bilefsky never buys into the \'harmless geezers\' narrative. Although their frequent whinging can be hilarious, the portrait he paints of these men is hardly sympathetic. He’s kinder toward the safe-deposit boxes’ owners, most of whom were diamond merchants from the neighborhood and other small-business owners.
James Lee Burke
PositiveSan Francisco Chronicle\"... alternately lyrical and hard-boiled prose, colorfully drawn characters with lived-in names like Lucinda Arceneaux and Frenchie Lautrec, and topical themes that don’t obstruct the simmering suspense. This time Burke tosses in liberal doses of Hollywood-bashing and the occult for extra seasoning ... Cormier and his unsavory producer-type associates (one of whom, to Dave’s everlasting disgust, begins spending time with Alafair) allow Burke to score some salient points about Louisiana’s political and moral corruption ... And Clete — louchely eloquent and unerringly righteous — makes a pitch-perfect Doc Holliday to Dave’s stoic, brooding Wyatt Earp. The New Iberia Blues may be set in bayou country, but otherwise it’s a Western all the way.\
Tammy Lynne Stoner
PositiveHouston Chronicle\"... Sugar Land is not so much fixated on factual accuracy as emotional resonance anyhow. The story Stoner wants to tell is about improbable kindnesses stubbornly taking root in harsh environments; the resourcefulness of people who feel they’ve been cursed not just by society but their own desires; and how the toughest prisons are often the ones we create for ourselves ... Stoner can turn a clever phrase... and her characters have unforeseen depths even they’re not always aware of.\
James Patterson and Andrew Bourelle
MixedThe Houston ChronicleIt’s possible to imagine Patterson and Bourelle checking off pretty much every stereotypical-Texan box they can think of, one by one. That said, the Texas Ranger version of the Lone Star State still isn’t terribly far divorced from reality ... As a purely disposable mystery, Texas Ranger isn’t half bad. Patterson and Bourelle’s rapid-fire chapters squeeze in plenty of dishy small-town drama on top of the murder case ... Cheesy, yes. Patterson and Bourelle do get off a good line every once in a while ... but other sentences land with a thud ... when Anne’s killer is revealed, it makes complete sense but still comes as something of a surprise. Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have been. But that’s the mark of an effective mystery.
PositiveHouston Chronicle\"With the right person at the wheel, some of the best road trips go nowhere in particular. Those winding up at a dead end can be most entertaining of all. Count Randy Kennedy’s striking debut novel, Presidio, in that number ... As a sort of bonus to the kidnapping drama, Kennedy sprinkles Presidio with bizarre episodes that are too morally ambiguous to be biblical parables, but whose larger message is clear enough.\
PositiveHouston ChronicleMost of us probably know somebody whose relationship with music borders on the obsessive. Band T-shirts outnumber, by far, any other type of garment in their wardrobe. Even in this age of Flash Seats, a shoebox full of old concert stubs lurks at the back of a closet. Come moving day, their collection of LPs, CDs or even cassettes takes up an inordinate amount of space in the van ... Coviello enjoys making mixes for other people and does so, meticulously and faithfully, throughout his new book, Long Players ... Technically, Long Players is nonfiction, but it reads more like a novel. Coviello’s story cycles through about a decade of his life, roughly his 30s, spent teaching English at a small college about 20 miles from Portland, Maine. Some of the things that happen to him are merely poignant or amusing, others hilarious or catastrophic. His tone ranges from bemused to mordant to shell-shocked; the literary allusions fly fast and furious...He borrows chapter titles from songs by Bob Dylan, Steely Dan, Katy Perry and Gillian Welch, among others ... Besides the book’s more explicit themes — infidelity, grief, friendship, therapeutic travel, step-parenting, ex-step-parenting - Long Players considers the many ways music permeates our relationships with other people. It’s basically one long argument that pop songs can be more than just, to quote Henry James, \'cheap raptures.\'
RaveHouston Chronicle\"Robert Hilburn doesn’t approach his biographies lightly. For his acclaimed 2013 book on Johnny Cash and now the new Paul Simon: The Life he says he sought the same tone and depth of A-list historians such as David McCulloch and Doris Kearns Goodwin ... The informal style of Hilburn’s prose in The Life masks the author’s exacting eye for detail ... Hilburn says he intentionally avoided ranking Simon among his peers in the rock-era songwriter firmament of Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney and Randy Newman and the like, so reviewers who disagreed with him would give the book a fair shake. Still, by the end of The Life, it’s pretty clear the high esteem he holds for his subject’s work.\
RaveThe Houston ChronicleGraham’s book, one of several the University of Texas at Austin professor has written about the intersection of pop culture and Texana, is a compelling behind-the-camera look at one of the 1950s’ most unusual — and successful — mainstream Hollywood productions, a film that celebrates Texas’ most enduring virtues even as it criticizes some of its most tragic shortcomings ... Graham doesn’t skimp on the small-town West Texas weirdness, movie-biz trickery (fake tumbleweeds, fake cattle) or on-set shenanigans ... Some of the details Graham digs up about the leading actors’ personal lives are juicy enough for Confidential magazine, the Hollywood scandal sheet that had Hudson’s agent cutting deals to keep his client out of its pages.
RaveThe Houston ChronicleIn King Zeno, Nathaniel Rich's third novel, the fates of a musician, a cop and a Mafia widow collide with consequences that stretch far beyond their individual lives, threatening to shape the destiny of this undeniably corrupt, but never boring, port city ... Rich smears his lively prose with enough mud, blood, sweat and Oysters Vizzini grease that readers should keep a stack of napkins handy ... Rich pushes the story ahead at a ragtime pace, alternating passages of florid description - particularly when Izzy is in one of his musical reveries - and bare-knuckle action ... King Zeno, a novel of underground forests, towns within towns and recurring nightmares suddenly come to life, is a page-turning reminder that in this venerable city, some buried secrets aren't meant to stay that way.
PositiveThe Houston ChronicleFrankel, who won a Pulitzer Prize at the Washington Post and went on to teach journalism at Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin, draws on a plethora of sources to craft a tale that, as a thriller, rivals High Noon itself.