Tag Archives: Austin

Review: Riverside by Brett Burlison

RIVERSIDE

 

by

Brett Burlison

Genre: Thriller / Suspense / Action Romance
Publisher: Barton Creek Press
Date of Publication: January 4, 2016
Number of Pages: 348

 

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It’s summer 1993 in Austin. Two young lovers decide to move in together and open a cafe only to be hindered by their own pasts, drugs, and bad guys from New Orleans. Set in Austin, Texas in the early nineties.
Bobby Patrick, abandoned by his mother as a child and by his alcoholic father during high school, wants a better life for himself and his true love, Katie. The couple decides to open a café and chase their dreams under the radiant Austin sunsets. There, the long, hot days of summer in inspire their passion–but complications arise when Katie’s former love interest returns, bringing with him a whirlwind of trouble.
As Katie’s dark past reveals itself, Bobby fears it could threaten all they have been striving for. Along with Katie’s best friend, Sara, with whom Bobby has his own secret history, the couple becomes tangled up in a drug deal and falls under close watch by Austin police and New Orleans mobsters. 
Bobby must find a way to protect Katie, help Sara, and help himself to thousands of dollars from the ill-fated deal. If he can’t, his future with Katie could be shattered forever. 

Part romance and part suspense story, Riverside is a tell-your-friends-about-it, good old-fashioned crime novel about a young couple struggling for the American dream, and the lengths to which they will go to protect it.

 

“A steamy tale and beguiling thriller, with plenty of local color and some provocative twists.” – Kirkus Reviews
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I didn’t even read the synopsis before signing up to review this one. To me, there is only one Riverside in Texas. And just as I figured it would be, that Riverside is Burlison’s Riverside as well.
My Riverside was cheap, somewhat ghetto (really depended what complex you lived in), but had great eats and epic college parties. In fact, most apartments on east Riverside wouldn’t let you live there unless you were a college student.
Burlison’s Riverside houses college dropouts with a similar backdrop, despite the 20-year time difference. (By the way, I didn’t notice the year it was set in until they talked about the Clinton administration.) These young 20-something-year olds seem to drink beer, smoke weed, and have sex around the clock when they’re not working shifts or eating at iconic restaurants such as Kerbey Lane and Trudy’s.
As soon as Paul shows up leading a parade of coke heads to back bedrooms, you know that something bad is going to go down. Especially when you find out that he’s responsible for the stitches on our protagonist’s noggin. The ape chest thumping of young males throughout the book can be annoying, but I found myself worried about Bobby’s well being.
As juvenile as Bobby and Katie’s romance is, I still wanted them to make it out of this thing unscathed. A tall order when Katie’s best friend is the increasingly erratic Sara, who is obviously jealous of the two’s relationship (you find out later why). Not to mention, Sara is willing to do anything to help her boyfriend Paul. And Katie wants to look out for her friend. Of course, Bobby is a standup guy who won’t let anything bad happen to his girlfriend Katie. You see where this is all going?
Throw in an older lesbian couple who grows hydroponic weed and a cop buddy willing to help with messy matters for a cut of the money, and you’ve got quite the colorful cast. I didn’t know what to expect but I found myself hoping that the two lovebirds didn’t end up in jail or dead.
Riverside was an entertaining read and I recommend it especially to anyone who has lived or partied in Austin. I will be on the look out for more of Burlison’s work.

 

Brett Burlison is a writer, lawyer, and Texan living in Northern California. He grew up in the piney woods of East Texas and went to school in Austin.

He practices law in San Francisco, and writes romantic suspense stories about young couples up against difficult odds.

 

 

  
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Review: What Matters Most by Kellie Coates Gilbert

WHAT MATTERS MOST 
(TEXAS GOLD COLLECTION BOOK #4)
 

 

by

 

 

 

Kellie Coates Gilbert
Genre: Contemporary Inspirational Romance / Christian
Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: July 5, 2016
Number of Pages: 320
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Love and Politics Collide in This Emotion-Packed 
Fourth Texas Gold Novel

 

 

Kellie Coates Gilbert strikes gold once again in the latest book in the Texas Gold Collection. Readers will be drawn into the story through Gilbert’s deeply emotional writing that highlights the complexities of human relationships.

 

 

Out of her desire to care for her mother who is suffering from dementia, Leta Breckenridge drops out of college. Her next step means leaving her comfort zone. After learning that a delinquent account may force her mother into a less desirable facility, Leta takes a leap and lands a high-paying job at an Austin public relations firm. But her dream job soon turns into a nightmare when she learns that the firm she is working for is a front for a political opposition organization—and that the research she has been collecting will be used against Nathan Emerson, the handsome senator she’s swiftly falling in love with.

 

 

Nathan is a rising political star being pressured to run a bid to unseat the current governor of Texas. He’s already in a relationship with a woman much better suited to be a politician’s wife, but he’s never met anyone like Leta. Could this feisty woman hold the key to his heart—and his future?

 

Praise for the Texas Gold Collection
“This tale of family and faith brings to light what truly matters in life.”—RT Book Reviews, 4 stars
Kellie Coates Gilbert delivers emotionally gripping plots and authentic characters.LifeIsStory.com

“Well-drawn, sympathetic characters and graceful language make this an engaging choice for readers.”Library Journal

 
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Kellie Coates Gilbert is a former legal investigator and trial paralegal, as well as the author of A Woman of Fortune, Where Rivers Part, and A Reason to Stay. Gilbert crafts her emotionally charged stories about women in life-changing circumstances in Dallas, Texas, where she lives with her husband.

 

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From the beginning, you feel compassion toward Leta without pitying her. Although her college aspirations were interrupted in the 11th hour, she didn’t waste time moping. She juggles two jobs (at one point, three!) to support a mother who doesn’t even recognize her most days. You have to respect someone who sacrifices so much to care for another person who doesn’t even realize what’s being done for them. I think that many people in Leta’s predicament would have chosen a cheap facility to put their parent in if it meant less financial strain in already dire circumstances.
Gilbert doesn’t dwell on Leta’s looks, but I’m guessing that they’re striking enough for some man (who turns out to be a senator potentially running for governor) to notice her while she arranges flowers at Central Market. And while her distress might have been enough for him to forgive her damaging his car without seeking any sort of compensation (or insurance information for that matter), you get the feeling that her attractiveness might have played a role as well. Of course, as their relationship goes from casual to personal, his appreciation of her looks become more evident. However, Gilbert makes it clear that the good senator is mostly infatuated with Leta’s heart, not her outward appearance.
While the circumstances of Leta being hired by a PR firm out to slam the senator’s reputation seemed too good to be true, I suspended my disbelief because I wanted to see where things were headed. Gilbert builds some great suspense as you see both Leta and Nate having to choose between their head and their heart. You don’t ever doubt for a moment that the heart will prevail, but it’s exciting to see how everything unfolds anyway. Throw in some dirty tactics (hey, this is politics we’re talking about, right?) and some chilly, reluctant assistance from the ex-girlfriend and you’ve got a wonderful recipe for complicated. Throw in some misunderstanding with a heaping dose of jumping to the wrong conclusions, and the recipe gets 5 stars.
While I like how things are revealed and how the end turns out, it all felt rather rushed. The novel has a great pace throughout – no meandering sweet nothings in this one – but then you get to the last chapter and BAM! The battle was won after a single volley of arrows. There was no grand rush of bodies slamming into each other and clanging of metal. I wish Gilbert didn’t speed through the satisfying takedown. And I especially wish she hadn’t rushed something else as well. But I’m not telling you about that. Just read the book. You’ll be glad you did.
 
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Review: The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

DoorToTheHeart

I had to read this with my mind set 6 months ago, when gay marriage was not yet legal in Texas. But I had to remind myself that the views of some people now are still what they were back then. I grew up in a home where gay jokes (and racist ones, too) weren’t a big deal. I think it might be a culture thing; Filipino films and media are notorious for casting a token gay man and making fun of dark skinned people. I don’t think my family has changed even though the world has. And while many of my beliefs are directly opposite of what I was brought up with, it didn’t stop me from marrying someone who disagrees with me on the issue of gay marriage. We didn’t talk about it before we were married, but knowing he was a devout Christian with traditional values, I had an inkling.

Farrar’s characters resonated with me because of this. The circumstances were different, Tammy wasn’t particularly a supporter of gay rights and Ed goes as far as trying to bully her into submission, but I could relate all the same. I know what it is to question the practices of traditional Christians who act cruelly or think callously about the oppressed in the name of Jesus. The dialogue in this book is very real to me and I will probably research more about the idea that “homosexual” is used in the Bible but it was a word that did not exist at the time of writing. Some may cry, “Semantics!” but my curiosity has been awakened.

I love that this book brings up PFLAG (formerly known as Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and gives a behind the scenes look of how they help the community. The chat sessions with 15 year old Seth are particularly heart wrenching.

My only criticism is that I think the author overreaches on how many scenarios Ed faces at one time: his son bullies a gay boy in school, he’s fighting against gay rights in his political position, his trustworthy assistant comes out that she’s in a gay marriage, someone close to him passes away and the organs go to a gay recipient, his other close friend recently finds out his son is gay… It was a little overkill for plot’s sake. It made it a little less believable. But otherwise, a wonderful and eye opening read.

Check out my previous post for the excerpt and author information.

 

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Dr. Mutter’s Marvels by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

 

DR. MUTTER’S MARVELS
by
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz


In celebration of the paperback release of Dr. Mutter’s Marvels, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz will be in-conversation with Mellick T. Sykes, MD, MA (Anat) FACS, the Archivist from the Texas Surgical Society and a Clinical Professor of Surgery, to discuss the life and times of Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter, founder of the (in)famous Mutter Museum of medical oddities in Philadelphia. Their conversation at BookPeople in Austin, Texas on October 12th at 7 pmwill feature surgical instruments from the oftentimes treacherous (and fascinating) world of medicine and surgery during the early 19th century. The talk will be followed by a brief Q&A and signing. 

 


A mesmerizing biography of the brilliant and eccentric medical innovator who revolutionized American surgery and founded the country’s most famous museum of medical oddities Imagine undergoing an operation without anesthesia, performed by a surgeon who refuses to sterilize his tools—or even wash his hands. This was the world of medicine when Thomas Dent Mütter began his trailblazing career as a plastic surgeon in Philadelphia during the mid-nineteenth century.
Although he died at just forty-eight, Mütter was an audacious medical innovator who pioneered the use of ether as anesthesia, the sterilization of surgical tools, and a compassion-based vision for helping the severely deformed, which clashed spectacularly with the sentiments of his time. Brilliant, outspoken, and brazenly handsome, Mütter was flamboyant in every aspect of his life. He wore pink silk suits to perform surgery, added an umlaut to his last name just because he could, and amassed an immense collection of medical oddities that would later form the basis of Philadelphia’s renowned Mütter Museum.
Award-winning writer Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz vividly chronicles how Mütter’s efforts helped establish Philadelphia as a global mecca for medical innovation—despite intense resistance from his numerous rivals. (Foremost among them: Charles D. Meigs, an influential obstetrician who loathed Mütter’s “overly modern” medical opinions.) In the narrative spirit of The Devil in the White City, Dr. Mütter’s Marvels interweaves an eye-opening portrait of nineteenth-century medicine with the riveting biography of a man once described as the “[P. T.] Barnum of the surgery room.”
 
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Even in the middle of the ocean, Mütter could not get her out of his mind. He excused himself early from dinner, stopped well- meaning conversationalists mid- sentence, and rushed down to his sleeping
quarters just to hold her face in his hands.
 
To an American like him, she appeared unquestionably French: high cheekbones, full upturned lips, glittering deep- set eyes. For an older woman, she was impressively well preserved, her temples kissed with only the slightest crush of wrinkles. When she was young, Mütter imagined, she must have been very beautiful, though perhaps girlishly sensitive about the long thin hook of her nose, or the pale mole resting on her lower left cheek. But that would have been decades ago.
 
Now well past her childbearing years, the woman answered only to “Madame Dimanche”—the Widow Sunday— and all anyone saw when they looked at her was the thick brown horn that sprouted from her pale forehead, continuing down the entire length of her face and stopping bluntly just below her pointy, perfect French chin.
 
The young Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter had arrived in Paris less than a year earlier, in the fall of 1831. Even for Mutter, who had always relied heavily on his ability to charm a situation to his favor, it had not been an easy trip to arrange. He was just twenty years old when he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s storied medical college. To an outsider, he may not have seemed that different from the other students in his class: fresh- faced, eager, hardworking. But he knew he was different— in some ways that were deliberate and in other ways that were utterly out of his control.
 
Perhaps the most obvious of these was Mutter’s appearance. He was, as anyone could plainly see, extraordinarily handsome. Having studied his parents’ portraits as a child— One of the few things of theirs he still possessed— he knew that he inherited his good looks. He had his father’s strong nose, impishly arched eyebrows, and rare bright blue eyes. He favored his mother’s bright complexion, her round lips, and sweet, open oval face. His chin, like hers, jutted out playfully.
 
Mutter made sure to keep his thick brown hair cut to a fashionable length, brushed back and swept off his cleanly shaven, charismatic face. His clothing was always clean, current, and fastidiously tailored. From a young age, he understood how important looks were, how vital appearance was to acceptance, especially among certain circles of society. He worked hard to create an aura of ease around him. No one needed to know how much he had struggled, or how much he struggled still. No, rather he made it a habit to stand straight, to make his smile easy and his laugh warm. He was, as a contemporary once described him, the absolute pink of neatness.
 
The truth was that, financially, he had always been forced to walk a tightrope. Both his parents had died when he was very young. The money they left him was modest, and thanks to complicated legal issues, his access to it was severely limited. Over the years, he grew practiced in the art of finessing opportunities so that he could live something approximate to the life he desired. At boarding school, he was known to charge his clothing bills to the institution and then earn scholarships to pay off the resulting debts. When he wanted to travel, he secured just enough money to get him to his destination and then relied on his wits to get him back home.
 
And now that Mutter had achieved his long time goal of graduating from one of the country’s best medical schools, he focused on his next goal: Paris.
 
Paris was the epicenter of medical achievement: the medical mecca. Hundreds of American doctors swarmed to the city every year, knowing that in order to be great, to be truly great, you must study medicine in Paris.

 

And that had always been Mutter’s plan: to be great. More than that: to be the greatest.
Getting to Paris, however, was not an easy endeavor. He knew— as all gentlemen of limited means did— that sailing as a surgeon’s mate with a U. S. naval ship in exchange for free passage to Europe was an option open to him, but competition was always considerable and fierce. Mutter spent months submitting letters and applications to the secretary of the Navy, trying to use charm, logic, and bravado to secure a position. He even implored his guardian, Colonel Robert W. Carter, to ask prominent men close to President Jackson to write letters on his behalf, explaining, “[I] am afraid that I shall not be able to obtain an order unless I can get my friends to make some exertions for the furtherance of my plan.” Despite all the effort he expended, no position ever materialized.
 
Mutter could only watch as the wealthier members of his graduating class departed for Europe with financial ease. Others returned to their hometowns with their new degrees, bought houses with their fathers’ money, and started their practices using their families’ connections. Mutter remained in Philadelphia, and his hopes remained fixed on Paris.
 
Mutter felt his luck about to change when he read about the Kensington in a local Philadelphia paper. For months, the Cramp shipyard had been building a massive warship. The rumor was that it was being built for the Mexican Navy, and that upon seeing its immense size— and cost— they opted to back out of purchasing it. However, the most recent update was that the giant ship had sold after all, to the Imperial Russian Navy.
 
Mutter saw an opportunity. He went to the Cramp shipyard and asked if the American crew in charge of sailing the Kensington to Russia was in need of a surgeon’s mate. That he was just twenty and only a few months out of medical school was a minor detail. He hoped that being present, able, and willing would be enough. Luckily for Mutter, it was. A few weeks later, he boarded the ship (later to be renamed the Prince of Warsaw by Tsar Nicholas himself ), and left America for the first time.
 
The ocean was like nothing Mutter had ever experienced: vast and wild and so incredibly loud. He had hoped the enormity of the newly built warship— with its four towering masts and immense spiderweb of rigging— as well as its extensively trained crew would offer him comfort during the weeks at sea, but the experience was more taxing than any book or anecdote portended.
 
He did not anticipate that whether he was holed up in the bowels of the ship or clinging to the aft railing, his body would be trapped in a relentless cycle of emptying itself. That his stomach would never become accustomed to the rolling blue- black swells of the sea. Nor did he realize how intimate he would become with the ship’s beastly stowaways— bedbugs and fleas,
and rats. He would wake to bugs crawling in his hair and mouth, and fall asleep to sounds of the rats chewing through his clothes, attempting to suss out even the smallest morsel of food. And then there were the storms, the nights when he felt certain the vessel would break in two as mountainous waves crashed over it, the ship itself painfully groaning with each hit. The ocean seemed nothing but a frothing black maw, hungry to devour him.
 
When the sea was calm and the sky bright and blue, he forced himself to stand on the ship’s deck and look toward what he hoped was Europe. He tried to enjoy these moments, but he didn’t know true relief until the crew pointed out birds appearing in the sky, a sign that they were approaching land, after more than a month at sea.
 
When Mutter finally arrived in Paris, it immediately reminded him of the ocean; it too was vast and wild and incredibly loud. Unlike at sea, however, in Paris he felt perfectly at home.
 
Its streets were packed, people and buildings in every direction. His world was suddenly and delightfully filled  with new sounds, new scents, new music. There were colorfully dressed women sweeping the streets, and strapping men carrying enormous bundles on their heads. There were strange- looking carriages that seemed like relics of a barbarous age, which were in turn being pulled by enormous and brash horses. Even the food being eaten at street- side cafes seemed strange and exotic to Mutter. The city avenue was a vast museum of wonderful new sights to gawk at, and it seemed that the French wanted it that way. They loved to look, and to be looked at. It was true what Mutter had heard: Those French who could spare the time would flamboyantly promenade every day. And on Sundays, absolutely everyone did.

 

 
Once Mutter had secured modest student housing, he set out to promenade himself. He’d been sure to pack his finest clothes for the journey: suits cut close to his slim frame (his natural thinness being perhaps one of the only benefits he’d gained from the illnesses that had plagued him since childhood) and made from the most expensive fabrics he could afford in the brightest colors in stock. Years earlier, a schoolmaster once wrote to Colonel Carter, Mutter’s guardian, that his pupil’s “principal error is rather too much fondness for a style of dress not altogether proper for a boy his age.” Clearly, that schoolmaster had never been to Paris.
 
Mutter enjoyed the moment, peacocking on Parisian streets for the first time, a master of his fate. The lines between Mutter’s starting points and his destination were not often straight, but he took pride and comfort in knowing that he always got there. And the next morning, he would begin the next phase of his mission, his true goal in Paris: to learn everything he could about modern medicine until his money, or his luck, ran out.
 
In 1831, over a half million people called Paris their home, and by royal decree, each French citizen was entitled to free medical treatment from any of the dozens of hospitals within the city limits. The hospitals were typically open to any visiting doctors, provided one could show them a medical degree and, when necessary, place the right amount of coins into the right hands.
 
Studying medicine in Paris became so popular that guidebooks were written just for the visiting American doctors. Nowhere else in the world, one wrote, could “experience be acquired by the attentive student as in the
French capital . . . where exists such a vast and inexhaustible field for observation. . .”
 
And it was true. Where else but Paris would there be not one but two hospitals devoted entirely to the treatment of syphilis? Afflicted women were sent to the Hôpital Lourcine, a hospital filled with the most frightful instances of venereal ravages. The men were sent to the Hôpital du Midi, which required that all patients be publicly whipped as punishment for contracting the disease, both before and after treatment.
 
Hôpital des EnfantsMalades was a hospital for ill children, and was nearly always filled to capacity. It had a grim mortality rate— one in every four children who came for treatment died there— but the doctors on staff assured visiting scholars that this was because most of the patients came from the lowest classes of society and thus were frequently brought to the hospital already in a hopeless or dying condition.
 
Doctors specializing in obstetrics could visit Hôpital de la Maternité. It served laboring women only, and averaged eleven births a day. Some days, however, the numbers rose to twenty- five or thirty women, each wailing in her own bed, as the doctors and midwives (called sages-femmes) rushed among them. New mothers were allowed to stay nine days after giving birth, and the hospital even supplied them with clothing and a small allowance, provided they were willing to take the child with them. Not all of the women were.
 
So the Hôpital des EnfantsTrouvés for abandoned children was founded. Newborns arrived daily from Hôpital de la Maternité from women unable or unwilling to keep their children, as well as those infants whose mothers died while giving birth, as one in every fifty women who entered Hôpital de la Maternité did.
 
The Hôpital des EnfantsTrouvés also allowed Parisian citizens to come directly to the hospital and hand over a child of any age. The hospital encouraged families to register and mark the children they were leaving so

 

they might reclaim them at a later date, but the families who chose to do so were few. In fact, the vast majority of the children there had arrived via le tour.
Le tour d’abandon (“the desertion tower”) was merely a box attached to the hospital, constructed with two sliding doors and a small, loud bell. An infant was unceremoniously placed in the box, the door firmly closed behind it, and the bell was rung. Upon hearing the bell, the nurses on duty would go to le tour to remove the infant, replace the box to its original position, and wait. Every night, a dozen or so infants were received in precisely this way.
 
For a while, it had been in vogue for wealthy, childless individuals to adopt children from the Hôpital des EnfantsTrouvés to bring up as their own, but the practice had long since fallen out of fashion. At the time of 
Mutter’s visit, more than sixteen thousand children were considered wards of the Hôpital des EnfantsTrouvés, and of those, only twelve thousand would live to adulthood.
 
There were hospitals for lunatic women and for idiot men, hospitals for the incurable, for the blind, for the deaf and dumb, and even for ailing elderly married couples who wished to die together— they could stay in the same large room provided that the furniture they used to furnish their room became the property of the hospice upon their deaths.
 
And perhaps most astonishing to the visiting American doctors, Paris had the École Pratique d’Anatomie, which provided any doctor, for six dollars, access to his own cadaver for dissection. In America, cadaver dissection was largely illegal. Many doctors resorted to grave robbing to have the opportunity to examine the human body fully. In Paris, twenty doctors at a time would whittle a human body down to its bones— provided they could stand the smell and the ultimate method of disposal of the dissected corpses: At day’s end, the decimated remains were fed to a pack of snarling dogs kept tied up in the back.
 
However, more than any single hospital, what most attracted Mutter to Paris were the surgeons: brilliant and daring men who were to him living gods, redefining medicine and at the zenith of their renown.
 
Review

You know what biographies I actually enjoy reading? The ones that don’t read like the typical sources you used in grade school to do a book report on some famous person in history. Aptowicz does a masterful job of pulling you into the gruesome 19th century world of medicine with her fiction-like narrative, while providing you with loads of facts (just in case you actually are writing a book report). Each chapter opens with an excerpt written by the great Dr. Mutter, and you can tell right away that you are dealing with a sound intellectual. The diagrams of some of his procedures included in the work coupled with Aptowicz’s vivid descriptions are grotesque yet fascinating. As I read a few choice paragraphs aloud to my husband, he asked, “How are you still reading that?!?” I answered that it was so amazing that I wished they had videos of his work online. I probably couldn’t sleep much afterward, but I think it would be worth seeing the magic.
 
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is an award-winning non-fiction writer, poet, and touring author. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she first visited the Mütter Museum in the fourth grade. She lives in Austin, Texas.
 
 

 

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Fate’s Betrayal by Beth Ann Stifflemire with Diana Schalk

Desire and despise. Two insanely contradicting emotions that the dark haired, well-built, irrefutably handsome musician Riley evokes in simple but attractive, fashion savvy, Austinite Brooke. Initially unequivocally turned-off by the brash but striking Riley she develops a fascination for his seductive charms as Riley reels Brooke into a world of ravenous love she never knew existed. What they create together is oh-so-much more than beautiful music. It’s a roller coaster ride of awe-inspiring and heartbreaking emotion, passion, hidden secrets and an ending that will leave you utterly breathless. The way they become eternally bound sets the heart afire when fate unleashes the ultimate betrayal.







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Beth Ann is a wife, mother, blogger and book lover from Texas. Her passion is writing stories that draw a reader into a world where they can become the characters and experience a gamut of emotions. When she’s not writing, she love’s to be home with my family and two yellow labs. In addition she’s a sucker for super sappy romance movies, loves trying out Texas wines, is an avid hot tea drinker and enjoys checking items off of her ever-growing bucket list.












 
 
 
 
 
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Hail of Fire by Randy Fritz

Lone Star Literary Life Blog Tours

 

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HAIL OF FIRE

by 

Randy Fritz

 

 

 

Hail of Fire: A Man and His Family Face Natural Disaster is an intimate account of the third worst wildfire in modern U.S. history, and the most destructive in the history of Texas. It is a memoir of what happened to Randy Fritz, an artist turned politician turned public policy leader, and his family during and after the Bastrop County Complex fire in September 2011. Combining a searing account of the fire as it grew to apocalyptic strength with universal themes of loss and grief, Fritz gives a first-person account of the emotional turmoil that comes with rebuilding one’s life after a calamitous event.

The wildfire itself was traumatic to those who witnessed it and suffered its immediate aftermath. But the most significant impact came in the months and years following, as families grieved, struggling to adapt to a new world and accept the destruction of an iconic forest of internationally acclaimed great natural beauty—the Lost Pines. Neighbors once close worried for each other, while others discovered new friendships that transcended the boundaries of race, class, and family lineage. Fritz struggled as his wife and daughter tried to make sense of their losses. He never imagined the impact this disaster would have on them individually and as a family, as well as the visceral toll he would pay in the journey to make sense of it all.

Hail of Fire is an unflinching story of how a man and his tight-knit family found grace after losing everything. Fritz’s hard-won insights provide inspiration to anyone on the search for what truly matters, particularly those who have undergone an unexpected and life-changing event and those who love and care for them.

 

 

HARDCOVER BOOK DETAILS

Price: $24.95

Pages: 256

Size: 6 x 9

Published: Jun 2015

ISBN: 9781595342591

 

EBOOK DETAILS

Price: $24.95

Published: Jun 2015

ISBN: 9781595342607

 

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Praise for HAIL OF FIRE

 

“If you’ve ever loved a tree—or a person—do yourself a favor: read this book, because at its core love in all its splendor and sadness is what it’s about.” — Jan Jarboe Russell, author of The Train To Crystal City

 

“The power of the book is in the recovery…. [Fritz] finds “mindfulness and acceptance” and the strength to make a fresh start in a place with haunted memories.”  Kirkus Reviews

“Randy Fritz has written a mesmerizing account of the Bastrop fire, the worst in Texas history and one of the worst ever nationally. The heart of Hail of Fire is how an everyday citizen survives the angst and awfulness of a natural disaster. Highly recommended!” — Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast

 

“A roller coaster ride…. brutally honest, intimate and affecting.”  Austin American-Statesman

 

“In this painstakingly written story of ruin and renewal, Fritz eloquently reflects on how the events of the Bastrop fire of September 2011 and their aftermath transformed him, his family and the lives of their closest friends and neighbors.”  San Antonio Express-News

 

“As Fritz and his family deal with shock, instability, and the stress involved in trying to move forward, their perseverance and strength, and that of those around them, demonstrate that life definitely can rise from the ashes.” — Booklist

 

“Though the title of his memoir of the 2011 Bastrop wildfire might suggest that readers will be placed right in the middle of one of the worst conflagrations in Texas history, this Lost Pines resident is more interested in what followed: the displacement of his family after the loss of their house, and the fraught debate over whether to rebuild or walk away from their longtime home.”  Texas Monthly

 

“Every time a fire destroys a family’s home, the media shows up right away to cover the disaster and report what’s happened. But not very often does the media ever tell you what happens after the fire because most victims don’t have the emotional strength to speak out while the smoke is still in the air. This story is told through the eyes of Randy Fritz who experienced the third worst wildfire in modern U.S. history. He tells the story of grief, loss and how his family rebuilt their lives after the calamitous event.” — San Francisco Book Review

 

Fritz is at his best when he recounts the impact the fire had on his own psyche, with raw reflections on the difficult time he had coping and how his depression became difficult for his family. Foreword Reviews

 

 

 

 

My business was urgent. But I stopped at an overlook several hundred feet above the highway. I needed to know if I was about to drive into the fire’s maw.

 

The last time I was here—early afternoon the previous day—cars and pickups were parked at cockeyed angles. The conversations I joined or overheard over the wind’s moan were a mixture of resignation and threadbare hope. Nobody knew for sure what was happening on the ground, but there were a lot of theories.

 


I was certain some of my overlook companions were already wiped out, like my friends at the motel, or about to be. Others would be fine by the time it was all over. I couldn’t imagine how the lucky, including me, would fight back their guilt, or the unlucky their anger and bitterness.


 

From our vantage point, the fire took on two forms. The main one was a vast and heaving cloud of smoke towering many thousands of feet above us. It filled our entire western and southern visual horizon. While it was mainly white, there were dark streaks and blotches in it and lighter spots where the blue sky behind it was almost visible.

 

The other form was a yellow curtain of flame hanging and writhing over the ground. Within it, sharp bursts of light appeared and almost immediately vanished. Each one was like a tweet from the fire informing us that another home had been claimed and the secure future of another family forfeited.

 

While we were a small community of collective ignorance, there was one thing we knew: this fire was vastly more dangerous and destructive than the one two and a half years earlier that took three helicopters, two airplanes, and twenty-two fire departments to contain.

 

That one worried us. This one terrified us.

 

That one threatened dozens of families. This one was a predator of hundreds, if not thousands.

 

That one surrendered in a week. This one looked like it might never give up until its gluttony expired for lack of food.

 

Labor Day 2011 was the first day of a new era in Bastrop County, one in which its most prominent and beloved feature—the Lost Pines—would be ugly and desolate for many years. For those of us in middle age or beyond, our deaths would precede the rejuvenation of the forest into the bounty of life it was when we built our homes and started our families.

 

TRINITY UNIVERSITY PRESS LINKS

 

Review

Let me begin by saying that this man’s prose is beautiful. Once you get past the newspaper-like report of weather conditions leading up to the wildfire, the writing is so fluid and natural. As I got to know Fritz through the multiple flashbacks (sometimes confusing but provided great backstory), I felt a little jealous of the guy. Hippie potter builds his own home and garden with his own two hands, becomes a great pianist late in life, goes to college a little late as well and later becomes a judge, and goes on to occupy a few local government positions of importance. But he overcame a lot of obstacles to get where he was: artisans don’t often make a lot of money and early on one of his daughters develops a cognitive disability. And then of course, there’s the huge obstacle of the wildfire.

While I braced myself for a harrowing tale of this family of five (plus 3 dogs) running through flames and smoke to escape, it never came. While one daughter, grown and living on her own, almost meets calamity, we never hear about it. Fritz puts himself in danger (not obvious at first, but still quite serious you later learn) to try to save some items, and beats himself up on his choices through a big part of the book. There were some times that I found myself chanting, “First world problems,” in my head over and over.

I felt less guilty about not feeling so terrible about their situation since Fritz himself even acknowledges that their family was fortunate that they had good insurance and never went hungry or homeless. (Some might even say that their accommodations during the disaster were better than their original home.) What I do appreciate about this book is his candidness about seeking professional help for his guilt, depression, and anger from the experience, and the resources and tips he provides for people who are caught in or recovering from a natural disaster.

 

 

 

Randy Fritz is the former chief operating officer of the Texas Department of State Health Services, the state’s public and mental health agency. He helped coordinate the state’s response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and led the team that implemented the Children’s Health Insurance Program in Texas. Fritz lives in Bastrop, Texas, with his wife, Holly, and their youngest daughter, Miranda.

 

 

 

 

 

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