Sunday, April 22, 2018

Circumvent by S. K. Derban

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 233 pages
Published: November 2017

In reading the back cover synopsis of Circumvent by S. K. Derban, the reader learns that the story is set in Hawaii and France. Yes, Hawaii and France. Reading really can take you to the most beautiful places! The mystery genre is one of my favorites, so I was excited to jump right in. 

The protagonist, French-born journalist, Nikki, is recently married to Swiss pastry chef, Ruggiero DelĂ©mont. On her way to Lyon, France for a work writing assignment, she meets a dangerous fate. When she doesn't check-in as planned with her husband, who is back at home in Hawaii working at his up and coming restaurant, he fears the worst and contacts the police. With the help of unlikely friends at home and abroad, Ruggiero engages in a cat-and-mouse chase as he desperately seeks to learn what has happened to his beloved wife.  

The story includes strong Christian themes with the main characters demonstrating an active prayer life, which I appreciated. The author is very well traveled and versed in a variety of cultures. With her strong use of imagery, Derban takes the reader on an international trip. I enjoyed reading the different languages (with translations), the descriptions of the delectable cuisines, and learning about the structure and architecture of France. Derban gives us a view that goes beyond what a tourist might see. 

My criticisms are few. I did not like how the author focused so much on the physical appearance of both Nikki and Ruggiero. She went into great detail on multiple occasions throughout the book explaining how beautifully tan Nikki was and how her gorgeous, long, and dark brown hair complemented her. She also touched on Ruggiero's athletic physique. Sometimes I got the feeling that if they weren't as beautiful they wouldn't have been as deserving of the search for a happy ending. Additionally, this quick-read is nicely tied with a bow in the end. I felt like the reconciliation between Nikki and Ruggiero was a little forced. However, if you accept the story for what it is - a fun, escape from reality, I think it is an enjoyable read for most. 

Recommendation: If you're looking for a fast-paced, weekend and/or beach read with a hint of romance, a Christian focus, and some beautiful people, be sure to check out this suspense-filled mystery. 

Please note: I received a complimentary signed paperback copy of Circumvent in exchange for my honest review. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Covey Jencks by Shelton L. Williams

Genre: Mystery / Social Thriller
Publisher: Southern Owl Publications, LLC
Date of Publication: February 10, 2018
Pages: 229

Covey Jencks is a murder mystery with a social conscience. Set in West Texas with a cast of colorful and humorous characters, it follows a young lawyer from Washington, D.C. back to his hometown of Odessa, Texas. He wants and needs to solve a murder case from 1979 in 1993. The problem is that the Odessa Police Department has already found its man, and no one wants to re-visit the case of a black prostitute whose life was seemingly of no consequence to anyone. But Freddie Mae Johnson’s death matters to Covey and eventually he discovers an old flame, JayJay Qualls, who also knew and loved Freddie. Together they undertake an investigation that uncovers not only the truth about Freddie but also the secrets of Odessa’s south side, Mexican gangs, a Boston mobster, and the fallacy of unexamined assumptions. Finding out who killed Freddie is one thing, but preventing their own demise is quite another! 

Rating: 4 of 5 stars 

I fell in love with this book before I started reading the actual story. The foreword by author Shelton "Shelly" Williams warmed my heart. I knew I was about to partake in the creative genius of one who was not only a talented writer but also socially-aware and compassionate. 

I will start here: Covey Jencks is the title of the book and also the protagonist. I read a paperback copy, and, as per usual, I read everywhere I can: on solo lunch and dinner breaks, in the grocery story line, at Starbucks. Everywhere I read this book, strangers were drawn in by the cover and wanted to know what Covey Jencks meant. (You're welcome, Shelly, I've been selling this book for weeks for you!)    

Covey Jencks is about an attorney who leaves Washington D.C. to return to his hometown of Odessa in west Texas to help correctly solve the murder of Freddie, a working girl, from the late 70s. The story takes place in the mid-90s. This might seem odd because the story could have easily been set in present-day; however, I appreciated the return to that time period. The AOL references made me chuckle. (Come on, if you were born before the mid-80s, you know you had an aol email address at one time. No judgment here if you still have one. Ha!) Anyhow, Freddie's husband had confessed to her murder and served time due to the inequities of the legal (read: not justice system). This created years of dissonance for Covey, so he returns on a quest to set things right. The book opens with his return to Texas and from there we meet a myriad of diverse characters who help and hinder his path to the truth. Most memorably is his love interest, JayJay. I'd have to say her quick wit and spunk made her my favorite character of the book. Some might argue that she is just as much the protagonist of the novel as Covey. 

At a little over 200 pages and with very generous margins in the print copy, this book is a quick read. The content and storyline propels the reader a few decades into the past and encourages one to continue turning the pages until the mystery is solved. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much. The large cast of characters made it a little confusing at times, but thankfully, the author smartly added a listing of each character with short description at the beginning. I found myself referring to this dog-earred (Yes, I'm one of those readers!) page often. Additionally, the unexpected perspective changes and dialogue without speaker identifiers (e.g., Covey said, JayJay questioned, etc.) added to my confusion. However, with careful reading and some re-reading, I was very pleased with the pace and final outcome. 

Recommendation: Treat yourself to a fast-paced murder mystery set deep in the heart of Texas. But don't jump right into the story, be sure to read that foreword as well as the Williams' ending afterword notes. I can't wait for his next work of fiction to be published! 

Until next time ... Read on!

I just love Covey Jencks and JayJay Qualls! They are a modern couple who remind me of Nick and Nora in West Texas. Characters, crimes, and social commentary leap off the page. Shelly can tell a story! ~Deborah Crombie, author of the award-winning mysteries of Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid

I loved the story, the writing, and the prospects for future Covey Jencks adventures, but what I love the most, as an African- American author and documenter of human experience, is the proof that this work presents of the inextricability of Black and White lives in America. ~Sharon T. Freeman, CEO of Gems of Wisdom Consulting, author of 24 books, and global development expert

A dead body and a miscarriage of justice? What is a West Texas boy to do? Well, Covey Jencks, an Odessa native who knows some secrets, spurns his job with a Washington, DC law firm, and heads back to his hometown to solve the crime. ~Prudence Mackintosh, Contributing Editor, Texas Monthly, author of Thundering Sneakers and more

"I have unfinished business in Odessa, by God, Texas." And with that, we are off on a wild ride with Covey Jencks as he tries to find out who killed Freddie Mae Johnson, a black prostitute, when Covey was a junior in high school. If you like your detectives to be misfits who chafe at the social rules, idealists who try to find the order behind apparent chaos, attractors of a cast of characters as contradictory as the detective is, you will grab hold of Covey and hang on until the end of the ride. When you get there, you'll know for sure that you've been somewhere. ~Carol Daeley, Professor Emerita of English, Austin College

Shelton L. Williams (Shelly) is founder and president of the Osgood Center for International Studies in Washington, DC. He holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and he taught for nearly 40 years at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He has served in the US Government on 4 occasions and he has written books and articles on nuclear proliferation. In 2004 he began a new career of writing books on crime and society. Those books are Washed in the Blood, Summer of 66, and now Covey Jencks. All firmly prove that he is still a Texan at heart.
Connect with Shelly: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Length: 337 pages
Published: June 2017

I consider myself a bookish person, so somewhere at some point of time between June 2017 and April 2018 I read good things about Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan. As a result, I put a hold on the ebook at my local library. (Support your local libraries, people. Please!) By the time it became available, I honestly had forgotten what I heard or even what the story was about. I had some time to spare, and I just jumped in and started reading. And once I started, I could. not. stop. I finished this book in three week days, which is a record for me! 

I would consider this work of adult fiction a fast-paced thriller that begins with the suicide of a young man, Joey, in a bookstore. In death, he leaves his meager belongs to the main character, Lydia, as well as cryptic clues about his life in the books he'd purchased from the bookstore at which she worked. From there Lydia's past meets Joey's death, and we're taken on a wild ride to solve the mystery with her.  

I found this book to be entertaining, moving, and suspenseful. I enjoy a good mystery, and it was really fun that this one had a bookstore as its central setting. I was not able to figure it out till nearly the end, which always makes this mystery genre enjoyable to me. 

Recommendation: This was a great, quick read to supplement my April reading choices. I'm glad I put the book on hold and very glad that it became available at a time in which I was able to thoroughly enjoy it! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Downfall of Galveston's May Walker Burleson by T. Felder Dorn

The Downfall of Galveston's May Walker Burleson: Texas Society Marriage Carolina Murder Scandal
Genre: True Crime
Date of Publication: April 2, 2018
Pages: 192 with black & white images

Jennie May Walker Burleson was envied for having everything a woman of her time could want—the privileged upbringing, the dazzling good looks, the dashing war hero husband. She was admired for demonstrating that a woman could want more, from the front of the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession to the bottom of a Mesoamerican archaeological dig. But as she stood over the body of her husband’s second wife, gun in hand, society’s envy and admiration quickly hardened into pity and scorn. T. Felder Dorn examines the complicated trajectory of her life as socialite, suffragist and shooter.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars 

The Downfall of Galveston's May Walker Burleson: Texas Society Marriage Carolina Murder Scandal is the re-telling of the very tragic life of May Walker Burleson including her high profile marriage to U.S. Army Colonel Richard Burleson, their resulting divorce, and her murder of the Colonel's second wife, Isabel Knowlton Burleson. 

In the opening of the book we learn about May, who is quite an intriguing woman. Considering she lived during a time when women did not have careers or equal rights to men, she was very active in politics. She also traveled quite a bit including participating in archaeological digs in Mexico. May advocated for women's rights, even participating in a march for women's suffrage in 1913. Her life began with such promise, but as the title of the book indicates, quickly dissipated.   

Any reader can easily discern that the author, T. Felder Dorn, put quite a bit of research in the compilation of this book. It is written academically with many citations expressing the veracity of the accounts that are shared in chronological order. The book is in the 200-page range, but can be a little slow at times, especially the scenes that describe the Burleson's divorce proceedings as they included much legalese. However, I do find this to be an asset and testament to the work that Dorn put into the research and writing of this book. The result is, essentially, a very detailed biography of May Walker Burleson. It also includes several photos that enhance the story. All of the images are black and white, although, that's all the reader can expect from this time period. Even so, they are engaging thus illustrating May's very colorful life story. 

My only (and very minor) complaint about this thoroughly-researched book is that it took a little more than half the book to get to the actual murder. I think this is probably because Dorn was trying to paint a clear picture of how May got to the point of murder as well as put the reader in her mindset. Dorn takes us through the murder, trial, and what May's life was like post-trial. The next bit may include what some would deem a spoiler, so I've hidden it here

Recommendation: While the events of May's life happened many decades ago, I think many women can relate to her, even today. These events could quite easily occur today. Readers of this book will also learn about the divorce process and how it was conducted in the early 1900s compared to today. I would definitely recommend this book for history and drama buffs. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Arcadia Publishing / The History Press
| Also available locally wherever books are sold |

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T. Felder Dorn graduated from Duke University in 1954 with a BS in chemistry and was awarded a PhD in that discipline in 1958 by the University of Washington. He was a member of the chemistry faculty at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1958–69 and then served four years on the program staff of the College Board in New York. From 1973 to 1991, he held administrative positions at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, serving as associate dean, dean and vice-president for academic affairs. His last ten years at Kean were spent as professor of chemistry. He retired in 2001. Felder Dorn and his wife, Sara Ruth, have resided in Millburn, New Jersey, since 1973. They have three children and three grandchildren. Dorn has previously published four books: Challenges on the Emmaus Road: Episcopal Bishops Confront Slavery, Civil War, and Emancipation (University of South Carolina Press, 2013); Death of a Policeman, Birth of a Baby: A Crime and Its Aftermath (Xlibris, 2012); The Guns of Meeting Street: A Southern Tragedy (University of South Carolina Press, 2001); and The Tompkins School, 1925–1953: A Community Institution (Attic Press, 1994).

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Length: 8:21:00
Published: April 2013
Read by: Emily Woo Zeller

If you follow my blog, you may know that I've been trying to listen to more audiobooks. I had hoped to visually read this book, but only the audiobook was available at the time I started*. While the topic of this book was the stomach, it literally gave me a headache. 

In my book club (check us out!), we read a different genre each month, and April's genre was popular science. I've decided that maybe this just isn't my genre. I don't think the book is poorly written or lacks depth, it's just not something that is of genuine interest to me.  

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach is a comical yet informative non-fiction, popular science book about all things having to do with the alimentary canal. I work in the arts, so I had to look this up. According to, alimentary is concerned with the function of nutrition; pertaining to food. A quick perusal of offered that Ms. Roach is one of the leading authorities in presenting this type of material in an easily digestible (pun intended) manner. So, I nominated it for book club and was pleased when it won by popular vote. (We don't deal with that messy electoral college.) 

Roach is clearly well-read and studied in this topic. She is also quite hilarious, so much so that she probably could choose a career in stand-up comedy if the science writing thing doesn't work out. (Although, I think the science writing bit is working out for her. She's pretty prolific.) In Gulp, the author offers various historical vignettes delivered with a humorous punch to illustrate the fascinating characteristics of the body. While some parts are funny, the book is very detailed and scholarly. It got a little cumbersome at times for me as I typically read to escape reality. However, there were nuggets of information I found interesting. For example, Roach tells us that her research has shown that we eat with our ears. We consume crunch/crispy foods to alleviate stress. These type of foods also signal freshness and healthiness to us. On the contrary, I found the chapter on flatulence to be the most dull chapter. I have never understood why boys (and some men) are so amused by this topic. 

Recommendation: Overall, the book was an informative read but not one that I would pick up again nor recommend to a friend with similar reading tastes. Albeit educational, I wouldn't recommend it to my elementary school-aged niece either as there is some pretty colorful language. I think readers who appreciate math and science might find this book intriguing. 

Until next time ... Read on!

*As an aside, my awesome Librarian was able to secure a license for the eBook when I was about halfway through, and I read the second half of the book while listening.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Fleecing of Fort Griffin by Preston Lewis

Genre: Western Humor
Publisher: Wild Horse Press
Date of Publication: May 19, 2016
Pages: 234

When the young Englishman Baron Jerome Manchester Paget arrives in 1878 Fort Griffin with a satchel full of money to start a buffalo ranch and find a bride, a horde of colorful swindlers from throughout Texas arrive to help themselves to a rich serving of his naiveté to frontier ways.

With a passel of oddball characters and more twists and turns than a stagecoach trail, The Fleecing of Fort Griffin pits the baron against crooked gamblers, a one-eyed gunfighter, a savvy marshal, conniving females, a duplicitous cavalry officer and a worldly stump preacher.

To stay rich, the baron must stay alive! And to stay alive, the baron must rely on a fourteen-year-old orphan and a rooster that serves as his guard animal. Even so, the odds and the cards are stacked against the Englishman and his bold vision of becoming the baron of bison in West Texas.

Written by Spur Award-winning author Preston Lewis, a master of western plot twists and humor, The Fleecing of Fort Griffin takes readers on an unconventional and uproarious journey through the Old West and some of its unsavory characters.

“… a work of colorful and humorous fiction,” ~Albany Review

The Fleecing of Fort Griffin by Preston Lewis of San Angelo is one of the funniest westerns I’ve ever read.” ~Glenn Dromgoole, Texas Reads

“If you're looking for a delightful tale, check out The Fleecing of Fort Griffin.” ~Bryan Eagle

Scrapbook Page 

A Guide to Preston Lewis’s 
Fort Griffin Scrapbook
-1- A reconstructed mess hall on the site of the military post.
-2- The jail is one of the few remaining structures from the town of Fort Griffin.
-3- Reconstructed barracks at the military post on the plateau overlooking the town of the same name below.
-4- This state historic marker provides a brief history of the town of Fort Griffin.
-5- A stone sentinel from the military post stands guard over the region’s historic past.
-6- Fort Griffin State Historic Site is the original home of the State Longhorn Herd.
-7- Though Fort Griffin long ago disappeared, the history of the town is brought to life each June when the citizens of Shackelford County produce the Fort Griffin Fandangle, an annual outdoor musical drama in Albany.

Preston Lewis is the Spur Award-winning author of 30 western, juvenile and historical novels, including The Fleecing of Fort Griffin, a western caper published by Wild Horse Press. Fleecing won the 2017 Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association (WTHA) for best creative work on West Texas.

Lewis is best known for his comic novels in The Memoirs of H.H. Lomax series.

Bluster’s Last Stand, a novel about Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn, is the latest volume in the well-received series that began with The Demise of Billy the Kid. Subsequent books in the series—The Redemption of Jesse James and Mix-Up at the O.K. Corral—were both Spur Finalists from Western Writers of America (WWA).

Blood of Texas, Lewis’s historical novel on the Texas Revolution, received WWA’s Spur Award for Best Western Novel. His True West article on the Battle of Yellowhouse Canyon won a Spur Award for Best Nonfiction Article. In addition to his two Spurs from WWA, Lewis has earned three Elmer Kelton Awards from WTHA.

Lewis’s novels have appeared under the imprint of national publishing houses such as Bantam, Zebra and HarperCollins and of regional publishing companies like Eakin Press and Wild Horse Press. His short works have appeared in publications as varied as Louis L’Amour Western Magazine, Persimmon Hill, Dallas Morning News, True West, The Roundup, Journal of the Wild West History Association and San Angelo Standard-Times.

A native West Texan and current San Angelo resident, Lewis holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Baylor and Ohio State universities. He earned a second master’s degree in history from Angelo State University. He is a past president of WWA and WTHA. Lewis is a longstanding member of the Authors Guild and an associate member of the Dramatists Guild of America. 

Connect with Preston: Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon Author Page

First Prize: Signed Copy of The Fleecing of Fort Griffin
Choice of Any One Book from the H.H. Lomax Series
Second Prize: Signed Copy of The Fleecing of Fort Griffin
March 20-29, 2018
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Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Target on My Back by Erleigh N. Wiley

A Target on My Back: A Prosecutor's Terrifying Tale of Life on a Hit List
Genre: True Crime
Date of Publication: October 3, 2017
Pages: 176 with color photos

Murders don’t happen in Kaufman County, Texas, a sleepy community where people raise their kids quietly and drive into Dallas for work and entertainment. In 2013, murder came to town when two professional prosecutors were slain in cold blood, simply for doing their jobs: one in broad daylight in plain view of the courthouse, and one in his home, along with his wife. Eric Williams is responsible for all the bloodshed—and he has a list of who to kill next.

A Target on My Back is the first-person true story of Erleigh Wiley, an accomplished lawyer who accepted the job as the new district attorney—after the death of her predecessors—which turned her into the next target on the killer's hit list. This is her story of how she and her family endured the storm of the press, the array of Homeland Security agents assigned to protect them 24/7, and the weight of knowing she was someone’s prey. Though fearing for her life, she served as the prosecution's final witness against the murderer, sealing his fate on death row. This chilling account of how she survived the hit list is a terrifying cat and mouse tale.

“A legal thriller with a twist: a crazed lawyer and his wife, believing they have been wronged, become a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde and go on a terrifying murder spree. Next on their kill list is the new DA, and her courage in confronting the killers makes this a fascinating read.” ~​Dennis L. Breo, coauthor of The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murders That Shocked a Nation 

“John Grisham and Scott Turow had better start looking over their shoulders. . . Wiley’s engaging, nimble style immediately draws you into the action and proves that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. It’s a good thing for us all that she lived to tell about it!” ~David Dean, Dallas attorney, former Texas secretary of state and chair of the North Texas Crime Commission

“When murder comes to her town, Erleigh Wiley steps into the shoes of the slain district attorney and finds herself on the killer’s hit list. In A Target on My Back, Wiley tells her personal story of overcoming fear in order to carry out her duty to hold Kaufman County, Texas, together while the killer is brought to justice. Don’t miss it!” ~​Mike Farris, author of A Death in the Islands: The Unwritten Law and the Last Trial of Clarence Darrow

“A Target on my Back is a unique first-person look into the world of crime-fighting in which the tables have been turned. The author takes the reader on an all-too-real journey into what it means to stand for justice when your very life is in danger. A must-read.
Robert Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 

A Target on My Back: A Prosecutor's Terrifying Tale of Life on a Hit List is the true account of the murders of two district attorneys (D.A.) and the wife of one of those attorneys that occurred in Kaufman County, Texas. The story specifically focuses on how those murders affected the personal and professional life of the author, Erleigh N. Wiley, who was a judge at the time of the murders. 

The book is rather engaging in how Wiley retells the 2013 murders and subsequent events that happened over the course of about two years. As a result of the killings Judge Wiley acted boldly and applied for and assumed the position of district attorney in Kaufman County. She later testified in the trial of the killer. Living in north Texas during the time these events happened, I found the story to be very relatable. I remember this playing out in the media, and it was nice to get an inside, behind-the-scenes perspective. Judge Wiley is definitely a consummate professional and smart as a whip. I also enjoyed the relationship she shares with her husband, Aaron, who is also an attorney. 

The hardback copy of the book includes an insert of four pages with color photos that feature Judge Wiley, her family, as well as the victims, the convicted killer and his accomplice. A Target on My Back is rather short and is a fairly quick read. However, I did get a little bogged down with the back and forth in the timeline at the beginning of the story. I didn't understand why the author opened chapter one with the murders of D.A. Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia McLelland when they were murdered two months after the first victim, D.A. Mark Hasse. 

While I understand the story is about Judge Wiley and how her life (and the life of her husband and children) was turned upside-down, I think the title of the book is a bit over-dramatized. There wasn't a physical "hit list" so to speak, and she didn't find out about who the killer was targeting until after he was in custody. Additionally, I felt that sometimes she, as the author, exacerbated the negative professional and personal effects of her being an African-American, a woman, and a Republican. As a female African American professional myself, I choose to accept these labels as strength rather than stumbling blocks, and I would have appreciated seeing more of that in Judge Wiley's story. 

Finally, the book was fraught with errors due to what appears to be lax editing. There are also some stylistic inconsistencies, such as the author referring to a "Court Coordinator" on one page and the same "court coordinator" on the very next page. 

Recommendation: A Target on My Back is a legal thriller that fans of Law & Order might enjoy. The gem is that it's not ripped from the headlines. This story was the headline for residents in Kaufman County for many months!  

(Note: I intentionally did not name the convicted murderer in my review.) 

Until next time ... Read on!

Erleigh Norville Wiley was born and raised in Kaufman County. She is a graduate of Texas Tech University, Rawls College of Business; where she received a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree with a degree in Finance. She attended law school at Texas Law at The University of Texas in Austin receiving her Doctor of Jurisprudence.

In 1990, Judge Wiley joined the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. Her goal was to prosecute the criminals and protect innocent children and victims who have no voice. She was promoted to supervising attorney-training other new attorneys and managing fourteen different courts

Wiley takes an active role in her community by volunteering. Some of her board work includes Chairman of the Kaufman County Juvenile Board, Trustee of Texas Health Resources- Kaufman, Kaufman County Children’s Advocacy Center and Kaufman County Children’s Shelter Board member.

Wiley has been lauded by various organizations for her work in the legal community as a Judge and as the Criminal District Attorney in Kaufman County. Some of the most notable were in 2013, from the State Bar of Texas, Outstanding Leadership-Profiles of Courage Award and Texas District & County Attorney’s Association, Lone Star Prosecutor Award; as well as the Dallas Black Police Officer’s Association with the Paved the Way Award in 2015.

Five readers each win a print copy of A Target on My Back, plus a signed book plate, and bookmark!
March 16-25, 2018
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