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Lone Star Reviews


Chris Cander

The Weight of a Piano: A Novel

Alfred A. Knopf

Hardcover, 978-0-5256-5467-4 (also available as an e-book), 336 pgs., $26.95; January 22, 2019


Julius Blüthner, a German piano maker in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was a legend in his time. He would take the train from Leipzig to the mountains of Romania to personally choose the spruce trees which would become, after a process involving many steps and many years, a piano. One of the Blüthner factory’s rare instruments, which would “open up and gather into itself a unique history,” is a main character in Chris Cander’s latest novel, The Weight of a Piano.


The story begins with the birth of the piano and then leaps across time and space, first to Bakersfield, California, in 2012, where auto mechanic Clara Lundy is a twenty-six-year-old orphan, trying not to want anything because life has taught her that if she wants it too badly, she cannot keep it; then to Zagorsk, USSR, in 1962, where eight-year-old Ekaterina “Katya” Dmitrievna is kept awake at night by a piano-playing neighbor, an old German man who’d been blinded “by either shrapnel or guilt.”  >>READ MORE



Hugh Asa Fitzsimons III

A Rock Between Two Rivers: Fracturing a Texas Family Ranch

Trinity University Press

Hardcover, 978-1-5953-4840-1 (also available as an e-book), 256 pgs., $24.95

October 16, 2018

Reviewed by Si Dunn


Many Texas ranchers have a special bond with their land: they grew up on it; inherited it from a parent or other relative; earned their livelihood from its huge acreage; and hope to pass it on, after their demise, as a loving legacy for their children or grandchildren.


The hope, as Hugh Asa Fitzsimons III makes clear in his engrossing and important new book, A Rock Between Two Rivers: Fracturing a Texas Family Ranch, is that the inheritors will keep the ranch going and pass it on again—along with their love for ranching—to the next generation.


But a ranch, its money-generating operations, and its land parcels, sometimes can become economic and emotional flashpoints among siblings and others. They can’t agree on how the legacy should be divided, or some want to sell their shares because they don’t want to be ranchers. And others may give in to greed and sue their kin, seeking control or more shares.


In short, a ranch can fracture a family, and the rifts can become even wider if the land has been opened to oil and gas drilling and fracking as an additional way to help keep the ranch profitable.  >>READ MORE


Texas Reads

>> archive



‘Old soldier’ writes letter to his granddaughter


Texas author Michael Lee Lanning’s 25th book is Dear Allyanna, An Old Soldier’s Last Letter to His Granddaughter (John M. Hardy Publishing, $18.95 paperback).


In the book, Lanning, 72, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who was diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer in 2006 and given six to eighteen months to live, offers his observations, experiences, opinions, and advice on a myriad of topics, in alphabetical order from abortion (pro-choice) to Zen.


“This letter,” he writes, “is not about my dying but rather about my living.” His primary purpose in writing the book, he said, was to leave something behind for his grandchildren, but a secondary purpose was to inspire others to leave a written legacy for their families.”


In 225 pages, Lanning covers more than 150 subjects, some in just a paragraph or two and some in several pages.  A few examples, serious and trivial, whether you agree or not:


National service: “At age 18 all Americans, both men and women, should have to register for national service.” He advocates one to two years, either military or civil service, no exemptions.


Capital punishment: He opposes the death penalty, but strongly believes in life sentence without parole. “People who kill or commit heinous crimes should know that they will die in prison.”


Exclamation points: “Be extremely judicial in your use of exclamation points. Have your words show exclamation, not your punctuation.” (Hear, hear!)


Meetings: “In both your professional and personal life, you will find the greatest waste of time is in attending meetings. Mostly they merely offer the venue for the boss to sit at the head of the table and show that he or she is indeed the boss.”


Military: “Whatever its faults and failures, a strong, viable military is the one absolutely essential ingredient to the survival or our country and way of life.”


Bow ties: “Bow ties are not serious. Neither are those who wear them.” (Ouch!)


Theme parks: They’re for small children. “One of the most pitiful things in the world is a grownup wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt proclaiming Disneyland is ‘the happiest place on earth.’”


LGBT: “Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders deserve the same rights, privileges, and protections as any other citizen. No less, no more.”


Hawaiian shirts: “No Hawaiian shirt should be worn more than 12 miles inland from a major sea or ocean.” (Ouch, again.)


Baseball hats: For those who wear their hats backwards, “I strongly suspect there is little in their head under their hat — with the possible exception of baseball catchers.” (Applause.)


Gun control: “Instead of attempting to regulate guns, we should maximize the punishment against those who use them illegally.”


Obesity: “Eat less and exercise more — and the best exercise is pushing oneself away from the table.”


News: “Your generation has turned its back on the printed page, but I encourage you to take a look at your local paper for a week or so. I think you will find it informative as well as interesting — and much more focused than television and digital news.”


You can read more about Lanning’s books — most of them having to do with the Vietnam War and military history —- on his website, michaelleelanning.com.


* * * * *


Glenn Dromgoole’s most recent book is The Book Guy: One Author’s Adventures in Publishing. Contact him at g.dromgoole@suddenlink.net.


>> Check out his previous Texas Reads columns in Lone Star Literary Life






Twig’s Top Ten Regional Bestsellers

January 2019

What are Texans reading these days, you ask? Lone Star Lit has your monthly list of trending regional titles at the Twig Book Shop, a leading independent bookseller in San Antonio. Click on any title for the Buy link.

1  Claudia R. Guerra, 300 Years of San Antonio and Bexar County, 9781595348494

2  Hugh Fitzsimons III, A Rock Between Two Rivers: The Fracturing of a Texas Family Ranch, 9781595348401

(Read Lone Star Lit’s review here)

3  David Martin Davies, San Antonio, Secret History, (no ISBN, in-store only)

4  Jeremy Banas, Pearl: A History of San Antonio’s Iconic Beer, 9781540227942

5  Bronson Dorsey, Lost, Texas: Photographs of Forgotten Buildings (Clayton Wheat Williams Texas Life #17), 9781623496166

6 Sarah Bird, Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, 9781250193162

(Read Lone Star Lit’s review here)

7  E. R. Bills, 100 Things to Do in Texas Before You Die (100 Things to Do Before You Die), 9781681061832

8  Nelson W. Wolff, The Changing Face of San Antonio: An Insider's View of an Emerging International City, 9781595348470

9  Ken Roberts, The Cedar Choppers: Life on the Edge of Nothing (Sam Rayburn Series on Rural Life), 9781623496074

10  (TIE) Lorenzo Gomez III, The Cilantro Diaries: Business Lessons from the Most Unlikely Places, 9781619617650

10  (TIE) Julian Castro, An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up from My American Dream, 9780316252164



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LONE STAR LISTENS interviews   >> archive

1.13.2019 The many hats worn by Progressive Rising Phoenix Press CEO Amanda Thrasher


Amanda Thrasher describes herself as sometimes hyper, a tad ADD, highly self-motivated, and continually thinking. She wrote her first manuscript for no other reason than “it was fun.” I had to put on my (virtual) running shoes to catch up with her and was happy she slowed down enough to chat via email.


LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: You are a mother, a writer, an award-winning author, a philanthropist, and the CEO of Progressive Rising Phoenix Press, which just celebrated a very successful year. Did the story behind one or more of these hats you wear land you where you are today?


AMANDA M. THRASHER: Great question. There’s always a story behind the story, and you’re right: the decisions that I’ve made over the years did merge areas of my life that ended up having a snowball-like effect on each other. My mom, whom I adore and miss, is the person I credit to this day for turning my path from writer to author. Mom was from England and loved fairies and collected them. While she was terminally ill, I wrote her a fairy story, Mischief in the Mushroom Patch. She read the first seven chapters, but I hadn’t finished the book, so I sat and told her the ending. She made me promise to finish and to submit it. When she passed, I finished the MS and put it up — it made me ill to look at it.


I’m so sorry for your loss and know that pain all too well.  I know there is more to this story since you have now published three books in the Mischief Series. What happened next?


Literally a year after Mom died, I woke up in the middle of the night and knew I had to pull the book out. I reworked it and submitted it over and over as writers do, and it was the first book of mine that was picked up and published.  That book has since launched at Barnes & Noble. >>READ MORE


Texas's only statewide, weekly calendar of book events
Bookish Texas event highlights  1.13.2019
>> GO this week   Michelle Newby, Contributing Editor



  • “Say it Loud,” The John Silverstein Collection of African American Social History Sale, Dallas, January 15
  • 2019 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend, Jefferson, January 17-19



  • Finding Sophie Blackall Exhibition, Abilene, October 11-February 1
  • 30 Poems for the Tricentennial: A Poetic Legacy, San Antonio, December 3-April 25, 2019
  • Women of Flatbed: A Retrospective, Austin, January 17-April 28


HOUSTON  Mon., Jan. 14 Stude Concert Hall, Inprint's Margarett Root Brown Reading Series: Claudia Rankine will read from her work and actors from The Ensemble Theatre will perform an excerpt of her play, The White Card, followed by an interview conducted by Houston-based artist and community organizer/MacArthur Fellow/Project Row Houses founder Rick Lowe, plus a book sale and signing, 7:30PM


AUSTIN  Tues. Jan. 15 BookPeople, KIERSTEN WHITE speaking & signing Slayer, 7PM


DALLAS  Tues., Jan. 15 Half Price Books Mother Ship, New York Times bestselling author A.G. Howard and special guests Krissi Dallas, Kimberly Willis Holt, and Samantha Mabry will discuss their books before signing copies, 7PM


DALLAS  Tues., Jan. 15  Interabang Books, Harry Hunsicker release party for TEXAS SICARIO, 7PM


AUSTIN  Wed., Jan. 16  BookPeople, TERRENCE MOORE speaking & signing 66 On 66: A Photographer's Journey, 7PM


DALLAS  Wed., Jan. 16  Deep Vellum Books, All That Is Evident Is Suspect: Readings From The Oulipo with Daniel Levin Becker, in conversation with Deep Vellum founder and publisher, Will Evans, 7PM


SAN ANTONIO  Wed., Jan. 16  Our Lady of the Lake, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: a conversation and book signing with the Lacks family, 6PM


HOUSTON  Thurs., Jan. 17  Murder By the Book, Marie Benedict will sign and discuss The Only Woman In The Room, and Jess Montgomery will sign and discuss The Widows, 6:30PM


SAN ANTONIO  Fri., Jan. 18   The Twig Book Shop, Poetry at The Twig: Natalia Trevino and Steven Kellman, 5:30PM


ALPINE  Sat., Jan. 19 Front Street Books, Book discussion and signing: Ben English, author of Yonderings: Trails and Memories of the Big Bend, and Carl Williams, author of More Than a Badge: Rough Country, the Law and Me, 2PM


EL PASO  Sat., Jan. 19 Literarity Book Shop, award-winning playwright/director Octavio Solis will read, discuss, and sign his new memoir RETABLOS: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border, 5PM


SOUTH PADRE ISLAND Sat., Jan. 19   Paragraphs on Padre, former mayor of Weslaco Joe V. Sánchez signing Odyssey to El Wes, preceded by a presentation by editor Jose Sánchez, 2PM


WESLACO Sat., Jan. 19   The Storybook Garden, Art & Story Workshop: Aztec Warrior with David Bowles, 12PM, followed  by an Author Meet & Greet, 2PM


RICHARDSON  Sun., Jan. 20   The Drawing Board, Writing Workshops Dallas seminar: "Survive Rejection & Forge a Path to Publication" with Blake Kimzey, 3PM


News Briefs 1.13.19

Texas Book Festival raises $675K for literacy, announces 2019 dates


AUSTIN — The 24th annual Texas Book Festival (TBF) will return to the Texas State Capitol and surrounds on October 26 and 27, 2019.


In a press release, the TBF announced that the 2018 festival was the most successful on record, with 50,000 attendees and 300 authors. The annual First Edition Literary Gala raised more than $675,000 in funds for the nonprofit organization and its literary programs.


In 2018, the TBF gave more than $100,000 in grants to Texas public libraries. Through its Reading Rock Stars literacy program, TBF provided 10,635 books to students in Title I schools across Texas. >>READ MORE


Austin Public Library’s Recycled Reads planning citywide expansion


AUSTIN — Recycled Reads opened on Burnet Road near North Loop Boulevard in 2009 and accepts books, CDs, and DVDs and recycles them or sells them for around 50 cents to $1 each.


The city debated in 2016 whether to renew the store’s lease because it was losing money. The city decided to keep it operating to improve the city’s “zero waste” goal.


Recycled Reads’ general manager, Mindy Reed, said the surrounding commercial area has grown significantly since the store opened ten years ago, with trendy restaurants and luxury apartments. This growth has led to rising rents, costing taxpayers more money.  >>READ MORE



Dallas Morning News lays off 43, including books editor and culture critic


DALLAS — The newspaper industry, and books coverage in Texas, took another hit Monday, January 7, 2019, as the Dallas Morning News underwent major job cuts.


The Morning News eliminated forty-three jobs, with nearly half coming in the newsroom. Its leaders say it was necessary to lay the groundwork for aggressive investment in technology to boost the Morning News’ digital products. The move comes as the paper’s owner, A.H. Belo Corporation, was expecting disappointing fourth-quarter financial results from 2018.  >>READ MORE


 ——­——— A D V E R T I S E M E N T —————

Lone Star Listens compilation available spring 2019, for readers, fans, and writers everywhere


The present generation of Texas authors is the most diverse ever in gender, age, and ethnicity, and in subject matter as well.


Week in, week out, Lone Star Literary has interviewed a range of Texas-related authors with a cross-section of genre and geography. To capture this era in Texas letters, we're pleased to bring you


Lone Star Listens:

Texas Authors on Writing and Publishing

edited by Kay Ellington and Barbara Brannon; introduction by Clay Reynolds

Available in trade paper, library hardcover, and ebook Spring 2019

360 pages, with b/w illustrations and index


Featuring novelists, poets, memoirists, editors, and publishers, including:

Rachel  Caine • Chris  Cander • Katherine  Center • Chad S. Conine • Sarah  Cortez • Elizabeth  Crook • Nan  Cuba • Carol  Dawson • Patrick  Dearen • Jim Donovan • Mac Engel • Sanderia  Faye • Carlos Nicolás Flores • Ben Fountain • Jeff  Guinn • Stephen  Harrigan • Cliff  Hudder • Stephen Graham Jones • Kathleen Kent • Joe R. Lansdale • Melissa Lenhardt • Attica Locke • Nikki  Loftin • Thomas  McNeely • Leila  Meacham • John  Pipkin • Joyce Gibson Roach • Antonio  Ruiz-Camacho • Lisa  Sandlin • Donna  Snyder • Mary Helen Specht • Jodi  Thomas • Amanda Eyre Ward • Ann  Weisgarber • Donald Mace Williams


As a collection of insights into the writing and publishing life, the book will be useful in creative writing classes (not just in Texas alone) and other teaching settings, as well as for solo reading and study—and a great Texas reference volume.


  • Examination and review copies will be available spring 2019  in watermarked pdf format.



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