Mike Shea

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Articles by Mike Shea

The Diezmo

Apr 30, 2005 By Mike Shea

With his historical novel The Diezmo (Houghton Mifflin), Rick Bass graphically conveys the intense sights, sounds, and emotions of the ill-fated Mier expedition through the person of James Alexander, his fictional narrator. Sixteen-year-old James seeks glory when he rides out of La Grange with a Texas militia seeking unspecified…

Book Review
Dishing

Apr 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

“We ate our way through the Eisenhower recession, the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam,” and a smorgasbord of other tragedies, says New York Post gossip maven LIZ SMITH of her ready-for-prime- rib social circle in DISHING (Simon & Schuster). This sassy memoir-with-occasional-recipe is the Fort Worth native’s lip-smacking tribute to her…

Book Review
Towelhead

Apr 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

Thirteen-year-old Jasira’s sexual explorations are the truest gauge of her emotional state in ALICIA ERIAN’S brassy novel TOWELHEAD (Simon & Schuster). She is variously transported when she discovers the Big O, confused and hurt by a predatory neighbor, and finally satisfied by her first real boyfriend in this no-holds-barred fiction…

A Slight Trick of the Mind

Apr 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

Texas-raised MITCH CULLIN has taken a lion-in-winter approach to the Sherlock Holmes myth, portraying the legendary sleuth as a beekeeping retiree drifting into the mists of forgetfulness on his Sussex Downs estate in A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday). And he’s done so in an elegantly entertaining…

Book Review
Honky Tonk Hero

Mar 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

When your memoir begins, “I was not even born yet when my father first tried to kill me,” you had better be prepared to deliver the goods, and indeed, BILLY JOE SHAVER recounts enough tales of hell-raising, songwriting, tragedy, and near-brushes with stardom to fill several lifetimes in HONKY TONK…

Book Review
Ten Little New Yorkers

Mar 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

Chances are good that TEN LITTLE NEW YORKERS (Simon & Schuster) is the last print appearance of KINKY FRIEDMAN’s fictional alter ego (see “Killing Me Softly,”). Which perhaps explains why the Kinksters, scribe and sleuth both, appear uncommonly morose in writing and partaking of their usual ration of Cuban…

Book Review
The White League

Feb 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

In THOMAS ZIGAL’s sophisticated thriller THE WHITE LEAGUE (Toby Press), New Orleans coffee magnate Paul Blanchard peeks beneath the Mardi Gras masks of his fellow captains of industry and discovers a secret society still fighting for segregation long after its antecedent—the real-life White League—was believed disbanded in 1877. Blanchard, cut…

Book Review
As Hot As It Was You Ought To Thank Me

Feb 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

Secrets are hard to keep in a small town like Pinetta, Florida, and a devastating hurricane further lays bare the private lives of Pinetta’s families in AS HOT AS IT WAS YOU OUGHT TO THANK ME (Back Bay Books), a jewel of a novel by Austinite NANCI KINCAID. Blossoming…

Book Review
One Ranger

Feb 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

As a memoir, ONE RANGER (UT Press) is all over the map, but, oh, the places you’ll go in this collection of anecdotes from retired Texas Ranger H. JOAQUIN JACKSON, with DAVID MARION WILKINSON. Jackson serves as a folksy but savvy tour guide to a career that stretched from 1966…

Book Review
The Language of the Sycamores

Jan 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

There is nothing subtle about THE LANGUAGE OF SYCAMORES (New American Library), the latest novel from LISA WINGATE, a Central Texas writer who moonlights as an inspirational speaker (or vice versa). Wingate delivers a relentlessly uplifting message in the voice of narrator Karen Sommerfield, who is struggling to weather a…

Book Review
Judgement Days

Jan 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

Lyndon Johnson cited passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as the proudest moment of his presidency, and in JUDGMENT DAYS (Houghton Mifflin), Pulitzer prize—winning journalist NICK KOTZ puzzles together the complex alliance between LBJ and Martin Luther King Jr. that resulted in the landmark civil rights accomplishments of…

Book Review
Bloodlines

Jan 1, 2005 By Mike Shea

Houston native JAN BURKE has reprised salty-tongued reporter Irene Kelly for the first time since 1999 in BLOODLINES (Simon & Schuster), an ambitious thriller that spans decades to deliver a sprawling tale of murder, missing persons, and mistaken identity. The elaborate plot kicks off on one eventful night in 1958,…

Book Review
Freaks & Fire: The Underground Reinvention Of Circus

Dec 1, 2004 By Mike Shea

What’s in a name? Irony, humor, and nostalgia for the seedy traveling shows of old in the cases of Circus Contraption, Zamora the Torture King, and the Yard Dogs Road Show—just three of the ten or so alternative circuses masterfully profiled in FREAKS & FIRE: THE UNDERGROUND REINVENTION OF…

Book Review
Loop Group

Dec 1, 2004 By Mike Shea

Maggie Clary misses her womb. After 58 whole-bodied and even-keeled years living in the Hollywood bungalow where she was raised, a hysterectomy has dumped her into a state of quiet despair. None of life’s usual pleasures—shopping with her best girlfriend, Connie, Bloody Marys at Musso & Franks, or looping…

Book Review
zesch

Nov 1, 2004 By Mike Shea

It was relatively easy for SCOTT ZESCH to find his great-great-great uncle Adolph Korn’s gravestone in their family’s hometown of Mason. It was considerably more difficult to uncover the facts of his ancestor’s abduction as a child by an Apache raiding party in 1870 and understand why, by most…

Book Review
hicks

Nov 1, 2004 By Mike Shea

In 1994 caustic stand-up comic BILL HICKS was knocking on stardom’s door when he died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 32. Ten years later, those who missed the Houston-bred Hicks on his first go-round get fresh exposure to his scathing and profane social commentary with the simultaneous release…

Vernon God Little

Nov 1, 2003 By Mike Shea

Before the curtain rises on DBC Pierre‘s coal-black comedy Vernon God Little (Canongate), fifteen-year-old Vernon Little is just another potty-mouthed high school loser trapped in the fictional Texas town of Martirio. After his much-abused friend Jesus shoots sixteen classmates and then himself, Vernon is branded a probable psychokiller (or at…

The King Is Dead

Nov 1, 2003 By Mike Shea

The King Is Dead (Knopf), Austinite Jim Lewis‘s sterling novel of politics, race, fidelity, and regret, is a model of literary economy. In an epicworthy tale packed into a brisk 260 pages, Walter Selby, a top aide to Tennessee’s governor, wrestles with the dodgy ethics of political life and the…

By Sorrow’s River

Nov 1, 2003 By Mike Shea

How much Larry McMurtry is too much? Ready or not, here he comes again with the third installment of his seriocomic Berrybender Narratives a scant six months after book two. By Sorrow’s River (Simon & Schuster) won’t win him another Pulitzer, but the pages blow by like a prairie wind…

Killing Time

Jul 31, 2003 By Mike Shea

Stephen Graham Jones's All the Beautiful Sinners is a wild-eyed thriller; Amanda Eyre Ward's Sleep Toward Heaven is a tale of grief, forgiveness, and the death penalty.

Days of Their Lives

Sep 30, 2002 By Mike Shea

Novels about college classmates reconnecting and rekindling at reunion time are nothing new, but Tim O'Brien's July, July succeeds with honors.

The Buzz

Jul 31, 2002 By Mike Shea

Kathy Hepinstall is one of four underappreciated Texas writers you should be reading this summer.

Hooked

Mar 1, 2002 By Mike Shea

When Matt Clark succumbed to cancer in 1998, the young writer left behind an inventive unpublished novel called Hook Man Speaks. Then his friends stepped in-and brought the book back from the dead.

The Plot Sickens

Nov 1, 2001 By Mike Shea

Sandra Brown's latest novel-and her umpteenth best-seller-is called Envy. Funny, that's the last feeling I get when I read her work.

Jan Burke

Mar 1, 2001 By Mike Shea

Flash back to a grisly double-homicide—father and daughter slain aboard a yacht in California. Freeze the image of the teenage son who survived, only to be murdered in his hospital bed. Fast-forward ten years to detective Frank Harriman as he faces the awful possibility that the case might have wrongly…

James Hynes

Feb 1, 2001 By Mike Shea

The ivy-covered halls of higher learning are neither hallowed nor hushed in The Lecturer’s Tale, Austinite James Hynes’s wicked satire of high and low professorial ambitions at a fictitiously renowned university in Minnesota. Rather this tale of underachiever Nelson Humboldt—newly cashiered from his lecturer’s position—noisily flays the school’s oddball faculty…

Robert Justin Goldstein

Jan 1, 2001 By Mike Shea

When Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag while demonstrating outside the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, the police hauled him in for violating a 1973 flag protection law. Big surprise. But no one anticipated that Johnson’s insurgency would lead to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1989 ruling that torching…

Dan McGraw

Dec 1, 2000 By Mike Shea

IN 1999 Dan McGraw took leave from his post as a Fort Worth-based senior editor at U.S. News and World Report and headed for his football-crazy hometown of Cleveland—ostensibly to write about the return of the Browns to the NFL but ultimately to escort his cancer-stricken father to a graceful…

Larry McMurtry

Nov 1, 2000 By Mike Shea

Mere mortals might consider taking a breather after publishing four titles in twelve months, but Larry McMurtry is made of sterner stuff. Title number four, Boone’s Lick (Simon and Schuster), is the first novel in a new series about the American West in the late nineteenth century. And a killer…

Bruce Sterling

Nov 1, 2000 By Mike Shea

Austinite Bruce Sterling’s keen eye for global Sturm und Drang has served him well in futuristic novels such as Holy Fire and Distraction, which present darkly comic visions of a new world disorder. In a surprising twist for the science fiction writer, Zeitgeist: A Novel of Metamorphosis is set in…

Bill Crawford

Sep 30, 2000 By Mike Shea

Compiling the mug shots, last meals, and criminal vitae of 222 inmates executed by the State of Texas is not great literature. As high concept, social commentary, and true crime, though, Austinite Bill Crawford’s Texas Death Row: Executions in the Modern Era (Longstreet Press) is surprisingly fluent. The institutional portraits…

Doug Swanson

Aug 31, 2000 By Mike Shea

Fort Worth’s Doug Swanson is pulling the plug on his Jack Flippo series, which makes House of Corrections (Putnam) your last chance to dance with the charming wild man. Flippo is all the more endearing for his faults (e.g., a propensity for sharing wives not his own). And this is…

Purple Cane Road

Aug 31, 2000 By Mike Shea

“Years ago, in state documents, Vachel Carmouche was always referred to as the electrician, never as the executioner.” This stately but ominous opening line kick-starts Purple Cane Road (Doubleday), the crown jewel of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series. The Houston native wrings enough nuance, danger, and humor out of…

Royal and Ancient: Blood, Sweat, and Fear at the British Open

Jul 31, 2000 By Mike Shea

A nodding acquaintance with golf is sufficient to enjoy Royal and Ancient: Blood, Sweat, and Fear at the British Open (Villard), by Bristol’s Curt Sampson. The book retraces Jean Van De Velde’s inglorious loss at the 1999 Open, but its heart is the historical (and sometimes hysterical) evolution of the…

Dead Man’s Bay: A Case for Barrett Raines

Jul 31, 2000 By Mike Shea

It is, perhaps, damning with faint praise, but for a great summer read you can’t do much better than Austinite Darryl Wimberley’s Dead Man’s Bay: A Case for Barrett Raines (Thomas Dunne Books). When we find the detective wrapping himself around a cold beer at 7:45 of a workday morning,…

The Special Prisoner

Jun 30, 2000 By Mike Shea

In Japanese POW camps in World War II, American airmen were designated as “special prisoners,” but the title of Jim Lehrer’s novel The Special Prisoner (Random House) refers to septuagenarian Bishop John Quincy Watson of San Antonio. Fifty years after he endured a horrific imprisonment in Camp Sengei 4, Watson…

It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life

Jun 30, 2000 By Mike Shea

Two Lance Armstrongs can be found in the Austinite’s self-reflection, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life (G. P. Putnam’s Sons). There’s Fairy Tale Lance—the cyclist who survives cancer to win bike racing’s greatest prize, the Tour de France. And there’s Lance the Id—the still-young man struggling…

Shutdown

May 31, 2000 By Mike Shea

As a novelist, Austin’s R. J. Pineiro is a great computer engineer—but that’s not necessarily bad since his thriller Shutdown (Forge) relies on his knowledge of chip manufacturing. You wonder, though, if Texas Instruments expected its chip to be blamed for a fictional train crash that tosses 164…

Galveston

May 31, 2000 By Mike Shea

“It doesn’t get any better than this” is the motto that graces the entrance to Stewart Beach Amusement Park in Lubbock native Sean Stewart’s phantasmagorical Galveston (Ace Fantasy). But during Mardi Gras 2004, those words acquire droll irony after a tidal wave of magic inundates the Island and wreaks insidious…

Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin

Apr 30, 2000 By Mike Shea

A mere eleven years after Holly’s fatal plane crash, another Texas rock icon went to the great beyond — but the cultural landscape had changed beyond recognition as evidenced by Alice Echols’ revisionist bio. Echols peels away Joplin’s tough-mama caricature to reveal a desperate brilliance. The posthumous psychoanalysis is buttressed…

Rave On: The Biography of Buddy Holly

Apr 30, 2000 By Mike Shea

The world cried out, “Who capped Holly’s teeth?” and noted biographer Philip Norman came to the rescue with this painstakingly researched book that glows with the warmth of a fan’s enthusiasm but betrays a singular intelligence.

The Life and Legend of Leadbelly

Apr 30, 2000 By Mike Shea

Folk-song collector John A. Lomax discovered Leadbelly in Louisiana’s Angola prison and masterminded the singer-guitarist’s 1935 introduction to the world (via New York), and their names have been linked ever since. This biographical tour de force by Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell pulsates with the confident energy that characterized the…

Texas Music

Apr 30, 2000 By Mike Shea

How big is Texas’ contribution to the world of music? Big enough to overwhelm Dallasite Rick Koster’s attempt to contain the sprawl between two covers; his Texas Music (St. Martin’s, 1998) falls short of its ambition. Which raises the question: Can any one book possibly hope to encompass Lefty Frizzell,…

Texan Jazz

Apr 30, 2000 By Mike Shea

Dave Oliphant claims the definitive (well, the only) treatise on the pervasive influence of Texas’ sons and daughters on the jazz world. His crisp, near-scholarly style wisely avoids simple-headed romanticism of his subject. And the interchange of jazz players from project to project seems downright . . . promiscuous.

God’s Favorite: A Novel

Apr 1, 2000 By Mike Shea

Panama’s deposed dictator Manuel Noriega has disappeared from the world’s radar screen, but Austin’s Lawrence Wright shines a klieg light on the despot’s bizarre tenure in God’s Favorite: A Novel (Simon and Schuster). The former Texas Monthly contributing editor brilliantly fictionalizes Noriega’s fall from grace, complete with chilling depictions of…