Five Recent Works of Nonfiction and Fiction – #bookreview

These five recent good books deal with a wide spectrum of topics, from artificial reefs to the Wild West to urban search and rescue. 

The Ship That Would Not Die: USS Queens, SS Excambion, and USTS Texas Clipper
By Stephen Curley – with an afterword by J. Dale Shively
(Texas A&M Press, hardback, list price $29.95)

This intriguing, well-illustrated coffe-table book tells the story of a World War II attack transport that became a luxury passenger-cargo liner and then the first Texas Clipper training ship for Texas A&M’s Texas Maritime Academy.

From 1965 to until mothballed in 1994, the Texas Clipper hauled merchant marine cadets and Navy ROTC midshipmen to sea. In 2007, finally worn out, the ship was towed into the Gulf of Mexico and deliberately sunk to help create an artificial reef.

In his afterword, J. Dale Shively notes: “Her fourth existence is now full of marine life growing on her decks and fish swimming in and out of her openings.” The sunken vessel reportedly now generates up to $4 million annually in fishing and diving revenues for Texas businesses.

Texas Task Force 1: Urban Search & Rescue
By Bud Force
(Texas A&M Press, paperback, list price $24.95)

Fort Worth, Texas, writer-photographer Bud Force’s inspiring overview focuses on one of the nation’s finest emergency response teams: Texas Task Force 1 (TX-TF1).

Organized in 1997, TX-TF1 has been called to some of America’s worst disasters, including the World Trade Center terror attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia.

Texas Task Force 1’s 450-plus members include firefighters, medical personnel, canine handlers, heavy equipment operators and others with special skills. Proceeds from the sale of this book help support Texas Task Force 1.

Lone Star Law: A Legal History of Texas
By Michael Ariens
(Texas Tech Press, hardback, list price $49.95)

Give this author credit for (1) biting off a bigger topic than anyone can chew and (2) producing an excellent and important study in the process. The ponderous and massive Texas legal system is built upon a multinational heritage that has included Mexican and Spanish civil law and English common law, as well as laws from the state’s days as a republic, he notes.

Texas’ current homestead and bankruptcy laws, for example, have roots in the days when the Republic of Texas was a haven for people from across the United States fleeing debts. And, “[a] willingness to do justice on the cheap” led to the creation, in 1891, of two supreme courts in the state.

Jade: Outlaw
By Robert Flynn
(JoSara MeDia, paperback, list price $9.99 ; Kindle edition, list price $0.99)

Tension quivers throughout this tightly crafted, well-written Western novel. A hater of Indians who is now a tormented outlaw finds himself falling in love with a woman who was kidnapped as a child and raised as an Indian. The outlaw also is being pressured to become a desperate town’s lawman, and he realizes it is almost the only way to save his life.

Robert Flynn’s previous novel, Echoes of Glory, won a 2010 Western Writers of America Spur Award. His newly published sequel to Jade: Outlaw is titled Jade: The Law.

Details at 10: Behind the Headlines of Texas Television History
By Bert N. Shipp
(The History Press, paperback, list price $19.99)

Bert Shipp’s memoir is drawn from his long career as a Dallas TV newsman, and the book is an entertaining blend of recollections and “true stories about the birth and early childhood…of one of the most pervasive electronic forces in our lives and of the news people who created it.”

Shipp worked at the heart of Dallas-Fort Worth TV news for nearly 50 years, lugging heavy cameras and sound gear to cover local, national and international events before advancing to top editor positions.

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, all available on Kindle. He is a freelance book reviewer and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA tester.

Eight recent books of fiction, nonfiction & poetry – #bookreview

Here are eight recent books to consider, whether you prefer fiction, nonfiction or poetry.  

Midnight Movie
By Tobe Hooper, with Alan Goldsher
(Three Rivers, paperback, list price $14.00 ; Kindle edition $0.99) 

Fans of Tobe Hooper’s horror movies, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, likely will relish this experimental first novel. It is written in a fake documentary style that also blends in some fictional blog postings, fake tweets, fake news articles and fake testimonies.

In the book’s bizarre plot, a movie that Tobe Hooper made as a teenager and lost is somehow rediscovered and shown in Austin, Texas. That event unleashes a killer virus on the world that only the filmmaker himself can stop — if he can just figure out how. (This book is not recommended for readers who faint easily at the sight of blood, zombies…and over-the-top literary excess.)

Rawhide Ranger, Ira Aten: Enforcing Law on the Texas Frontier
By Bob Alexander
(University of North Texas Press, list price $32.95)

After lawmen gunned down the notorious outlaw Sam Bass at Round Rock, Texas, a young man who lived nearby, Austin Ira Aten, decided to change his career aspirations, from cowboy to Texas Ranger.

Aten joined the Rangers in 1883, soon after he turned 20. He then became, over time, “a courageously competent lawman…favorably known statewide…a high-profile Ranger,” according to the author of this well-researched biography.

While performing his Ranger duties, Ira Aten also became “directly linked to several episodes of Texas’ colorful past that scholars and grassroots historians have penned thousands—maybe millions—of words about.” And Aten’s well-regarded law-enforcement career continued long after his Ranger years, Alexander’s excellent book shows. 

Ciento: 100 100-word Love Poems
By Lorna Dee Cervantes
(Wings Press, paperback, list price $16.00) 

This handsome, enjoyable volume from San Antonio, Texas-based Wings Press keeps its subtitle’s promise. A widely published poet has accepted a difficult challenge and penned a hundred 100-word poems focused on love.

The poems deal with love at direct levels. So you’ll find no easy hearts and flowers here. The images include “steamy matinees”, “sensuous leanings” and “exquisite private views,” to mention just a few. 

Battle Surface!: Lawson P. “Red” Ramage and the War Patrols of the USS Parche
By Stephen L. Moore
(Naval Institute Press, hardback, list price $34.95 ; Kindle edition, list price $34.95)

Stephen L. Moore has written several books on submarine warfare. Battle Surface! blends superb research with a writing style that rivals good fiction. Moore recounts the true story of a U.S. Navy commander who defiantly charged his submarine into the midst of a huge Japanese convoy and stayed on the surface, dodging enemy fire and sinking several ships with torpedoes.

One superior decried the action as “dangerous, foolhardy, and of too much risk.” Others higher up, however, thought differently, Moore notes. They awarded Cmdr. “Red” Ramage the Congressional Medal of Honor. 

Elmer Kelton: Essays and Memories
Edited by Judy Alter and James Ward Lee
(TCU Press, paperback, list price $19.95)

 “Walrus hunter.” That was one of the civilian jobs the U.S. Army recommended to Elmer Kelton when he was discharged as a “rifleman, infantry” following World War II. Kelton became a journalist, instead, and a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction books before his death in 2009.

This engaging, warm collection of essays and remembrances celebrates Kelton’s life, his personality, his love for the American West and his “straightforward and clean” writing style. In the words of one of his friends, Felton Cochran: “I tell people Elmer Kelton didn’t write ‘westerns’—he wrote western literature.”

Rudder: From Leader to Legend
By Thomas M. Hatfield
(Texas A&M Press, hardback, list price $30.00 ; Kindle edition, list price $30.00)

Earl Rudder could have kept working in a small-town Texas drugstore after high school. He exhibited little ambition and had no money for college. But this excellent biography shows how a chance encounter soon led him to college athletics, coaching and the Army Reserve, and then to D-day heroics, Texas state politics and, finally, the presidency of Texas A&M University’s statewide system.

This excellent biography shows how Gen. Rudder guided A&M through major upheavals that included desegregation, admitting women, and making the Corps of Cadets voluntary.

Working the Land: The Stories of Ranch and Farm Women in the Modern American West
By Sandra K. Schackel
(University Press of Kansas, hardback, list price $24.95)

Women do not just “keep house” on a ranch or farm in the modern American West. This well-written book shows that they have long been doing virtually anything they can to help keep their rural lifestyles viable and afloat in tough economic times.

Sandra K. Schackel interviewed more than 40 women in New Mexico, Texas and other states and found them actively wrangling animals, running machinery, creating summer camps and bed-and-breakfasts on their land, and even holding jobs in town to help support their spreads and their families.

The Road to Roma
By Dave Kuhne
(Ink Brush, paperback, list price $15.95)

This book’s seven well-written short stories are mostly set in Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, Texas, and they reflect the writer’s strong sense of place and character. The stories previously have been published in a variety of literary journals, and their focus is on the deeper, sometimes transformative moments that occur in ordinary people’s lives.

 Si Dunn‘s latest book is a novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, all available on Kindle.

Courage Beyond the Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story – #football #biography #bookreview

Courage Beyond the Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story
By Jim Dent
(Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99 hardback; $12.99 Kindle)

In my one and only fall semester as a student at the University of Texas at Austin, I went to a couple of football games and watched Freddie Steinmark play safety for the Longhorns. I sat high up in the cheap seats and gazed down upon players who appeared to be about two inches tall. Football has long been a big deal in the Lone Star State.

Steinmark was good, very good, and he had a great reputation for hustling, hitting and knocking down opponents’ passes.

However, several other members of the Longhorns team also were getting good press. And the Horns were striving to recapture a national title. So, like many other fans, I didn’t focus much on one player.  I was more into watching the overall X’s and O’s and trying, mentally, to help drive the pigskin down the field.

Unknown to us all, tragedy would strike down Freddie Steinmark in just a few weeks. And, over the next two years and beyond, he would become a nationwide symbol of personal courage and inspiration.

When Steinmark moved to Austin in 1967, he was fiercely determined to play football for the University of Texas Longhorns. He was fresh out of high school in Wheat Ridge, Colo., and he weighed just 150 pounds. Many observers and coaches initially considered him too small for big-time college football.

But, as author Jim Dent points out in his well-written and poignant new sports biography, Courage Beyond the Game, Steinmark’s small stature had not stopped him from being a standout in every major high school sport. Off the field, he had been an academic leader, as well.

At UT-Austin, his determination and drive quickly convinced many that he might succeed after all, both in the difficult field of chemical engineering and as a player for one of America’s top gridiron teams.

Steinmark was “the golden boy from the moment he walked onto the campus,” writes Dent, whose five previous books include a New York Times best-seller, The Junction Boys.

Dent quotes one of Steinmark’s teammates, wide receiver Cotton Spreyer, as stating: “No one was better than Freddie. He could run like a deer and he was quick.”

Darrell Royal, UT’s head football coach at the time, once praised Steinmark by calling him “as focused a young man as I’ve ever seen in my life.”

But a dark time soon — too soon — was coming, and Dent’s book smoothly moves beyond the traditional paeans of sports biography. It becomes a cautionary tale about placing too much trust and faith in the power of physical toughness.

Dent notes: “In the 1960s, a code existed that said players worth their salt did not complain about pain. You were expected to play through the bleeding, bumps, and bruises even if they did not subside in a reasonable time. Each afternoon, Darrell Royal and his assistants walked through the training room for the purpose of counting heads and identifying the players they considered ‘malingerers.’”

Steinmark had arrived at UT with a physical-toughness reputation that stretched back to early childhood. “In the midget leagues,” Dent reports, “he played an entire quarter with a broken arm. In high school, he played three quarters over two games with a broken leg. As a senior, he decided against seeking medical attention when he broke his right hand.”

The ethos of toughness was well embedded in Freddie Steinmark’s personality and values.

In his first season, Steinmark became a starting safety on UT’s freshman team. By the next fall, he was the Longhorns’ pass defense captain and co-leading the Southwest Conference in pass interceptions. He continued making top grades in his classes, and he continued dating his high school sweetheart, who now was attending UT, as well. 

He was “golden,” indeed. Prominent sportswriters now were labeling him one of America’s best and brightest football players.

His world suddenly spun a different way his junior year, while the 1969 Longhorns fought to regain college football’s top national ranking. He developed a pain that grew to feel “like a hot poker had been stuck into his left thighbone just above the knee.” Steinmark now limped in workouts and games but did his best to hide it. He also refused to tell his trainers and coaches for fear he would be pulled as a starter.

 Dent details how Steinmark continued the excruciating ruse all season until “the Game of the Century,” UT versus Arkansas, in Fayetteville, with President Nixon in the stands and the national championship on the line. The game also celebrated the 100th anniversary of college football.

In the great game’s last quarter, the worsening pain finally left Steinmark unable to cover pass receivers. Coach Darrell Royal sent in a substitute, and Texas held on to win 15-14.

 What happened next to Freddie Steinmark is movingly described in Jim Dent’s bittersweet and engaging book. Bone cancer — osteogenic sarcoma – was dicovered, and it took the young man’s leg but not his spirit. For the next year and a half, Freddie Steinmark was able to bounce around full of life on crutches, becoming Dent says, both an inspiration to other cancer patients and “a national symbol of courage” in the game of life.

Mack Brown, the Texas Longhorns’ current head coach, was a high school football player the last year Steinmark played. He watched “the Game of the Century” and the scrappy junior safety on TV. He never met the junior safety, but he hasn’t forgotten that Steinmark had his leg amputated, then showed up on the UT sidelines just three weeks later, on crutches, to watch Texas play Notre Dame in the Coton Bowl.

“In recognition of that courage,” Brown states in the foreword to Dent’s book, “to this day we have the players touch a picture of Freddie with the Longhorn salute before they go down the ramp to the field. Armed with the pride of the All-Americans, and in honor of the courage of Freddie, we ask them to go out and play as hard as they can.”

Si Dunn

Where the West Begins: Debating Texas Identity – #bookreview

Where the West Begins: Debating Texas Identity
By Glen Sample Ely
(Texas Tech University Press, $34.95, hardback)

Many eyes are on Texas once again now that Gov. Rick Perry is running for President.

Of course, he’s now being slammed even by members of  his own party (including former officials in the George W. Bush Administration) for trying to be too much of a simplistic shoot-first, ask-questions-later Texas “cowboy” on the election trail.

So what is it about Texas and its Wild West reputation that stirs up so many arguments, passions, conceptions, misconceptions and occasional hatreds?

In Where the West Begins, Fort Worth, Texas, writer Glen Sample Ely valiantly grabs and wrestles with the electrified third rail of Texas identity: Is Texas a Southern state, or is it a Western state?

He starts with his own city, Fort Worth, which often bills itself as “Where the West Begins.” He calls Cowtown “representative of Texas as a whole,” and uses it to launch into the bigger topic of how the state’s various and varied geographical regions have contributed to its long-ongoing identity conflicts.

“Texans,” Ely cautions, “may want to consider carefully before augmenting their Lone Star lineage with either a southern or western identity, because both of these regions, like Texas, have confusing and conflicted legacies and plenty of historical baggage.”

For example, cotton, not cattle, used to be king in Texas, and one of the last battles of the Civil War was fought in Texas weeks after that conflict was officially over. Indeed, some parts of  Texas tended to be closely allied with the Confederacy and had sent cavalry units and soldiers to fight Union forces in other states. Yet other areas of the state had Union supporters mixed in — often violently — with supporters of the South. And West Texas had an “astonishingly high” level of disloyalty to the Confederacy, Ely reports, because it had long been heavily dependent on federal funds and U.S. Army forts and outposts for economic survival.

Today, many residents of West Texas identify themselves as living in the West or Southwest, not in the American South, he says. Yet many in East Texas still ally themselves with the Deep South.

Ely’s book is nicely researched and well-written, and it has a thick bibliography and notes collection.

It may possibly help you understand the enigma that is Texas a bit better. And it may possibly give you a few insights into the roots of Rick Perry’s “cowboy” mindset as his campaign gets underway and he tries to find traction with voters in 49 other states — many of whom remain openly suspicious of Texas after Lyndon Baines Johnson, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.

Si Dunn

Always for the Underdog: Leather Britches Smith and the Grabow War – #bookreview

Always for the Underdog: Leather Britches Smith and the Grabow War
By Keagan LeJeune
(University of North Texas Press, $29.95, hardback)

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase doubled America’s size. It also left  one small border area in legal limbo. When the United States and Spain disagreed over who owned it, they pulled back their militias to avoid war and left the area ungoverned. Soon, the tiny Free State of the Sabine was formed in pine forests along the Sabine River that now separates Texas and Louisiana.

Also known as the Louisiana Neutral Strip, the Free State of Sabine became a haven for outlaws, and it remained so for many years after the boundary dispute was settled.

Keagan LeJeune’s informative and entertaining book focuses on one “good” fugitive in the lawless area, Leather Britches Smith.

In 1912, Leather Britches – a man with a murderous reputation and plenty of weapons – sided with union workers against lumber mill operators during a violent, fatal clash that became known  as the Grabow Riot or the Grabow War. It was  part of the bigger Louisiana-Texas Timber War that raged from 1911 to 1912.

The author is a professor of English and folklore at McNeese State University. He lives in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and has served as president of the Louisiana Folklore Society.

Si Dunn

Lucky Me: My Sixty-Five Years in Baseball – #bookreview

Lucky Me: My Sixty-Five Years in Baseball
By Eddie Robinson, with C. Paul Rogers III
(SMU Press, $23.95)

Eddie Robinson has never been one of Major League Baseball’s headline-hungry bad boys.

A four-time American League All-Star and former general manager of the Texas Rangers, Robinson is still considered one of professional baseball’s true good guys, after a lengthy career that began during the Great Depression and lasted until his retirement in 2004.

Born in 1920 in Paris, Texas, Eddie Robinson started attracting team scouts well before he graduated from Paris High School.

In his entertaining and well-written memoir, Lucky Me, Robinson poignantly recounts how the Boston Red Sox offered to pay his tuition at the University of Texas at Austin, if he would join their minor-league system later on. “But,” Robinson writes, “times were still tough because of the Depression, and I was the principal breadwinner in our family because my parents were divorced.”

Rather than accept the Red Sox’s generous offer, he signed with a minor-league team, the Knoxville Smokies, and quickly used his signing bonus, $300, to pay some bills and buy his mother a washing machine.

From there, his fledgling pro baseball career quickly sank, and he soon was traded to a small-town Georgia team that played Class D baseball, “the lowest of the low,” he recalls. His manager told him he would never make it to the majors. But the next year, Robinson got better at hitting and fielding. With grit and determination, as well as some good coaching, he started scrapping his way out of baseball’s basement.

As he continued to improve, Robinson went on to play for several more minor-league teams. Then he made it to the majors and appeared on the rosters of seven American League teams, including the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees.

Robinson appeared in two World Series before his playing days ended in 1957. In his final at-bat, playing for the Baltimore Orioles, he was fanned by famed knuckleball pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm. The next morning, Robinson reported for work as a front-office management rookie.

Many of baseball’s greatest names pop up in Lucky Me, including Babe Ruth, Yogi Berra, Ted Williams, Billy Martin, Satchel Paige, Bob Lemon, Earl Weaver, Dizzy Dean and Paul Richards.

In the book’s foreword, Tom Grieve, a game broadcaster and former Texas Rangers general manager, recalls how Robinson gave him hitting tips when he was a young player attracting major-league scouts in 1966. Grieve later played for the Washington Senators, who became the Texas Rangers.

Ironically, when Robinson became the Rangers’ general manager, he eventually traded Grieve to another team, but he soon signed him back and later gave him his first front-office job as the Rangers’ director of group sales.

Not surprisingly, Grieve terms his friendship and work history with Robinson “a grand slam.”

Big-league baseball enthusiasts likely will view Eddie Robinson’s Lucky Me memoir in the same postive light, both for its fine details and its smooth flow. Robinson’s co-writer, C. Paul Rogers III, has co-written three other baseball books and is a professor of law and former dean of the Southern Methodist University School of Law in Dallas.

Si Dunn

Captain John R. Hughes: Lone Star Ranger

 

Captain John R. Hughes: Lone Star Ranger
Chuck Parsons

(University of North Texas Press, $29.95)

 John R. Hughes is often considered one of the Texas Rangers’ “Four Great Captains,” alongside William Jesse McDonald, James A. Brooks and John H. Rogers. (Chuck Norris, as Walker, Texas Ranger, figures nowhere in this equation.)

Before Hughes became a Ranger in 1887, he tracked down and killed several thieves who had stolen horses from his ranch and and some neighbors’ ranches.

This well-written biography by Western historian Chuck Parsons describes how Hughes intended to be a Texas Ranger for just a few months after he signed up. But he stayed on and eventually served almost 30 years, chasing horse thieves, sheep thieves, fence cutters, train robbers, bank robbers and others.

Hughes also helped provide security for three presidents who visited Texas: William H. Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and Porfirio Diaz of Mexico.

The Ranger tried to keep a low profile, but writers hailed him in newspaper and magazine articles, particularly after he retired. And novelist Zane Grey dedicated a novel, The Lone Star Ranger, to Hughes and other Rangers.

Chuck Parsons has written several other books, including The Sutton-Taylor Feud: The Deadliest Blood Feud in Texas.

Si Dunn