Awarded the 2015 Jesse H. Jones Award for fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters
Named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Fiction Books of 2014
"The Austin campus is... the locale for the precise and harrowing beginning of Elizabeth Crook’s “Monday Monday.” An ordinary coed named Shelly Maddox has just left class on an August day in 1966 and is deciding whether to have a Coke or a Sego diet drink when Charles Whitman targets her from the top of the UT tower. The rest of the novel tracks the next 40 years of Shelly’s life, matching the action of that unforgettable opening chapter with equally compelling scenes of emotional turmoil and insight."
—The Wall Street Journal
"How could he put into words what it was like to hold someone who was
bleeding to death?" wonders a character in Crook's intensely imagined novel…The
story unfurls simply and smoothly, with a quiet insistence much like the path
the characters will take. Crook renders Shelly's life delicately and fully, and
artfully conveys her many moments of panic and anguish."
"Framing a story in the context of calamity—in this instance, mass murder—invites both sensationalism and sentimentality; there have been few memorable successes, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed among them. Add Crook’s latest to the plus side of the list….confident and lyrical as it smartly engages terror and its aftermath."
—Kirkus, Starred review | Read full review
"....a vivid portrayal of resolve in the face
of great tragedy."
"Love, loss, redemption, forgiveness—all are expertly drawn in a narrative that is so very authentic and generous. Crook skillfully weaves together several compelling stories through her close attention to the Texas setting. VERDICT The sensitively explored themes of adoption and coping with violence should create interest in this rich and satisfying tale."
—Library Journal | Read full review
"Crook puts a microscope up to the most intimate moments, then pulls back to give beautiful and heartbreaking broad strokes to the lives of all three main characters and the families. [She] examines big questions: What makes a hero? What makes a family? How do you make peace with a traumatic past? Each character has their own journey to search for answers to those questions, and Crook leaves room for readers to wrestle with the questions as well. The story is heartbreaking at moments, but Crook does weave in some comic relief by the end to offset the emotional intensity."
—CBC News | Read full review
“This rapturous novel starts with one of the most heinous shootings in history, yet every page shines with life. Crook follows three students who endured the tragedy as they grapple with the past, struggle to navigate their futures, and discover that who and what saves us is nothing like what you imagine. Brilliantly realized and so vivid the novel seems to virtually breathe, Monday, Monday is a stunning achievement.’
—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow and Pictures of You
“Elizabeth Crook has written an extraordinary novel—an eloquent love story born from an act of random violence, a tale of destruction and redemption. It’s about making a whole life out of a damaged one, and about holding on and letting go. The characters are as real as people you know; their story is subtle, startling, and wise.”
—Sarah Bird, author of The Yokota Officers Club and Above the East China Sea
“Monday, Monday begins by throwing us into the midst of one of the worst mass murders in American history, a scene painted with such harrowing exactitude that it leaves you wondering how the characters can possibly survive and how the author can possibly sustain such a high level of narrative momentum and emotional insight. And yet Elizabeth Crook pulls it off. This is a brilliant and beautiful book.”
—Stephen Harrigan, author of The Gates of the Alamo and Remember Ben Clayton
"In Monday, Monday, Elizabeth Crook uses vivid, gripping prose and in-depth historical research to shed light on one of the darkest moments in Texas history—that sadly still has relevance today—by detailing the fictional lives of three survivors caught in the crosshairs….The feeling of longing—to delve deeper, to answer unanswerable questions and to know what might have been had their lives not been forever altered—is a constant presence throughout the book…"
—Tommie Ethington, The Rivard Report | Read full review & interview
"Acclaimed historical novelist Elizabeth Crook — who’s written novels about Sam Houston and early Texas — takes three fictional people who were there that hot day in Austin and creates a picture of the era and relationships that will enthrall even the most jaded observer of the 1960s…"
—David Kinchen, HuntingtonNews.net | Read full review
"My journey through the pages of MONDAY, MONDAY was not what I expected. But it was a journey I’m glad to have taken. It’s a vivid reminder of how one brief moment in time can impact lives for decades and generations, making Elizabeth Crook’s latest a brilliant, beautiful and vividly told novel."
—Stuart Shiffman, BookReporter.com | Read full review
"An ambitious tale that explores the bond among survivors and the ways that seminal events in our lives continue to shape us long after they’re over… Crook's exploration of Whitman's massacre and its lingering effects will have relevance for years to come."
—Dallas Morning News
"The tale unwinds like an examination of the ripple effect… As readers, we have the benefit of sitting in the sand and watching them break on the shoreline….This story is the antithesis to the diagram published in the pages of Time magazine shortly after the shooting. Crook forsakes the aerial view and brings your cheek right on down to the scalding pavement."
—Austin Chronicle | Read full review
"…[E]loquent...“Monday Monday” opens with a random, hideous act, but thankfully the novel isn't about that moment or the gunman. The shooting sets in motion an entire lifetime of relationships; from an act of violence springs love, friendship, loss, forgiveness and survival.
Crook's writing shimmers with life... [The story] explores the complex messiness of being human and the ways in which even the best intentions can create consequences both hurtful and beautiful. It's intense and emotional, but never maudlin….The scenery looms large, but this is story painted on a canvas much larger than the state. Crook has created a gorgeous, worthy and entirely believable read."
—San Antonio Express-News | Read full review
"Beautifully written...The book is a complex tale about overcoming fear and the risks and power of love...And it is the story of the compromises we all make to get by in this imperfect world. Part of what makes this book so compelling is the open and tender way each character is honestly but lovingly portrayed. ...A wonderful book that will make you cry, but also uplift you."
—BookPage | Read full review
"Monday, Monday explores the lives of characters who act—or don’t—in the face of tragedy, and it implicitly asks readers to ponder how their own lives might have been different if they’d just left home for work a few seconds earlier, or later; if they’d stopped for coffee on the way; if they’d said yes to that date, or no to that other one; if they’d picked up the phone, or answered that email. How much of our lives are choice, and how much chance? With Monday, Monday, Crook taps into the truth that the answer is some of both.
—The Texas Observer | Read full review
"...a multi-generational story about what it means to go on after tragedy, and about the ways in which tragedy can bind people together, for better or worse. The novel is rich in detail and grand in scope, and examines an often forgotten chapter in American history: the first-ever campus mass shooting. It’s sure to satisfy historical fiction buffs everywhere, and provide a unique perspective on an event that, sadly, is no longer unique...Monday, Monday is a look at a tragedy that is rarely mentioned anymore, but in today’s world full of mass shootings, it remains more relevant than ever, showing how chance can alter a person’s destiny forever, and how tragedy can reverberate not just through one life, but through generations."
—Bustle.com | Read full review
"Crook paints strong and appealing characters just as vividly as she describes the Texas landscapes that they travel through. Monday, Monday is immediately gripping and wholly compelling — and it’s fiction at its finest. Crook takes a real event and zooms in, creating an imaginative space to explore the hard questions tragedies like the UT tower shootings beg: what are the less obvious wounds a tragedy inflicts on those involved? How does it alter the course of their lives? How do we move forward in the face of tragedy, or are we forever bound by it?"
—Culturemap | Read full review
"Far more people remember the Mamas and Papas than Charles Whitman. But this was a singular event in the troubled ’60s, described by some as America’s first modern-day, peacetime, mass shooting on public soil.
Elizabeth Crook has woven a novel, of all things, out of that day’s tragedy, and before you scoff at that notion, consider that this is an extremely effective way to get into the minds of random victims of mass shootings.…
The University of Texas shootings, of course, came long before CNN and the Internet. If a tragedy of that magnitude occurred today, we’d be subjected to thousands of interviews and essays and psychological profiles about the victims and what they went through.
But all that coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, even the most artful and inspiring stories about the Boston Strong victims, provide no more insights than this book does about the inner thoughts and bonds created when madmen reach out to destroy others.
So this book, recast as a novel about a mass murder 48 years ago this summer, may help explain the mindsets of surviving victims from Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and the like."
—The Buffalo News | Read full review
"Crook gets at what makes people act–and what makes them stall, and the ramifications of choice versus chance. Love, infidelity, heartbreak and unabashed joy trickle down through four generations...The emotional insights are like fireworks, and the story feels lived rather than written. Go read it."
—Great New Books | Read full review
MONDAY, MONDAY, the latest novel by Austin’s Elizabeth Crook and winner of the Texas Institute of Letters’s Jesse H. Jones fiction award for 2014, is only nominally about Charles Whitman’s sniper attack from the tower on the University of Texas Austin campus in 1966; it could’ve been any horrific act of violence. This novel is actually about the butterfly effect (in the shape of a bullet), the long-term effects of violence on survivors, bonds forged during the aftermath, balancing conflicting responsibilities, atonement, and redemption….
The juxtaposition between the innocence of the young students – daydreaming in math class, taking lecture notes in history class – and the monstrosity of what is happening outside their classrooms (told from multiple perspectives) is remarkably powerful….
Crook peoples her story with likeable characters, ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. She is equally at home with stunning action sequences and the small comedic despairs that make up daily life.
—Lone Star Literary Life | Read full review
". . . warmly drawn . . . delightful reading . . . A multilayered narrative of impressive historical perspicacity, enriched by the author's loving attention to character."
". . . You'll whisper the traditional reader's self-promise of "only one more chapter" again and again, past bedtime, past midnight, on into the early morning hours . . . Crook treats her characters and her readers with a great deal of respect, and the result is greatly satisfying."
—Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
"Sumptuous, surprise-filled . . . The Night Journal is near perfect, a beautifully restrained epic with nary a wasted word."
—M.S., Texas Monthly
"I must compliment Ms. Crook because this book totally absorbed my interest from start to finish . . . This novel featuring four generations of women mesmerized me, and I'm rarely mesmerized by anything these days. I loved this book, every word of it. The past lives through Hannah's journals and melds itself inextricably with the present. If The Night Journal is an example of Elizabeth Crook's work, I want to read more."
—Laurel Johnson, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
"The Night Journal is an extraordinary book . . . [Crook] kept me hooked on the mystery until the last page. Highly recommended."
"In the recent film Notes on a Scandal, one of the characters remarks that "we are bound by the secrets that we keep." That sentiment is tailor-made for the women of Elizabeth Crook's The Night Journal....Elizabeth Crook, author of The Raven's Bride and Promised Lands, deftly blends historical fiction and mystery as she tells the story of four generations of women in the American Southwest. The passages from Hannah's journals illuminate the experience of a young woman in untamed country, trying to carve out a new life for herself and feeling conflicted over two important men in her life. The modern-day story of Meg, her indomitable grandmother and their "push-me, pull-you" relationship, as well as Meg's flirtation with the married but troubled Jim, is endearing and realistic....Add to this potent brew the element of mystery.... With rich characters, a lush landscape, an intriguing mystery and a possible romance, The Night Journal grips the reader from the start. As the story alternates from the 1800s to the modern day, it paints an accurate and entertaining picture of life as the Bass women lived it."
—Bronwyn Miller, Bookreporter.com
"The setting for this tale of three generations of complicated and dynamic women is so well evoked and inviting that I thought about planning my next vacation in New Mexico. Readers who enjoyed Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose will likely enjoy Crook's novel as well."
—Nancy Pearl, Pearl's Picks
"Fascinating and addictive are two words I would use to describe this novel . . . I didn't want the book to end."
—Patricia Reid, Bestsellersworld.com
"The Night Journal, recently released in paperback, follows four generations of strong-willed women whose struggles with balancing respect for the past with their own independence will resonate with any reader who has a family history to grapple with. The action of the complicated yet briskly paced novel takes place mostly in small-town New Mexico, which, like the characters, evolves over time. Texas author Crook has clearly done her historical research, but she never allows the details to overwhelm the drama."
—Audrey Van Buskirk, Portland Tribune
"Elizabeth Crook blends past and present to create a magical imaginative tale of Western history, mystery, and a troubled relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter . . . This is an elegantly written novel
— winner of the Spur Award for Long Western Novel . . . One might keep a manicure kit close at hand to file those fingernails the reader is sure to have bitten ragged long before the last satisfying page is turned."
—Doris Meredith, Western Writers of America Roundup Magazine
"If you enjoy mystery and history of the old west and/or railroading, this is a tale you will definitely enjoy. A book you will want to keep and read again. Talented author Elizabeth Crook has woven several stories of lifelike characters into a single tale that will hold your attention, beginning to end. . . . The story is so finely written, you'll feel as if you've read about people who really lived. Romance, railroading, the life of a Harvey Girl, daily hopes and worries all blended to create a great story. I am pleased to recommend this book very highly. Enjoy."
—Anne K. Edwards, newmysteryreader.com
"It's probably going to tax my editor's considerable patience — because after all, The Night Journal doesn't fit a genre definition by any stretch of the imagination — but I found this to be a riveting novel, and you might, too.
"First let me mention an odd bit of synchronicity that was at play when Elizabeth Crook was writing her book: at the same time, Jane Lindskold's Child of a Rainless Year was in production at Tor, and it just proves that when it's time for something to happen, it will. Even if two people will be doing it at the same time . . . Lindskold's book was set in the New Mexico town of Las Vegas (which is not the same as the Nevada city of the same name), and featured two storylines. One was of a woman returning to the small desert town of her past, the other was found in the journal of her ancestor that she was reading.
"The details are completely different, of course, in terms of character and motive and all, but that brief description also fits Crook's book. How often does it happen that a small town sees two novels published about it in the space of two years? As I was reading The Night Journal, I found that I quickly grew familiar with streets and landmarks, both in the past and the present, and happily recognized them when they came up in the narrative. Crook's novel is mainstream and much darker than Lindskold's, but they both deliver a loving portrait of the area and address the importance of history in our lives — the personal, and that spread out on the larger canvas of the world around us.
"I highly recommend both titles to you, and I know one thing for certain: the next time I'm in the American Southwest, I'm going to make a point of visiting Las Vegas, New Mexico, for myself. As it is, I already feel at home in the place."
—Charles de Lint, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
"Suspenseful, touching and very readable, I couldn't put it down!"
—Toni S., bookreporter.com
"Part mystery, part romance, and part family saga, this is an intriguing novel with an expansive viewpoint . . .
"The characters are beautifully created, the story absorbing with just the right hint of mystery mixed with conflict. With its intricate detail, I had to remind myself this is fiction and not true history. Deftly written and compelling, it's a wonderful read and kept me enthralled until the very end. I'll be looking for more of Elizabeth Crook in the future."
—Sheila Leitzel, Book Fetish
"Crossing the genre border between historical fiction, mystery, and railroad literature, Elizabeth Crook's book tells the story of the political conflicts of pre-statehood New Mexico, the ever-expanding Santa Fe, and the life of Hannah Bass, a former Harvey girl and the wife of a man patterned after Santa Fe engineer William Raymond Morley . . . Containing one of the best portrayals of a steam-era train derailment, the novel should be a pleasure for anyone to read."
—Alexander B. Craghead, Trains Magazine
"Elizabeth Crook weaves an intriguing tale of mystery, conflict, romance and history. . . [She] has written a fascinating novel. Within the layering of past and present, ancestors and history, readers can enjoy a great read that also reveals a complex interweaving of what the characters want to believe about the past and what secrets are hidden between the lines of this revered set of journals."
—Kathleen Raphael, New Mexico Magazine
"Elizabeth Crook has written a magnificent story . . . All I can say is, if you want to know how some people became the way they are, you should read The Night Journal. It was an absolutely wonderful book . . . I was totally engrossed and very saddened when the story ended, because it was joy, pain, love, tears, and heartache as life really is . . . Read The Night Journal. It is poignant, seamless, and will make you feel you are a part of the family. You will know these people."
—The Reviewer, Claudia VanLydegraf, Myshelf.com
". . . beautifully and meticulously drawn, vast as the New Mexico sky. [Crook's] narrators' voices are distinct
— Meg's bitter, rebellious rootlessness, Bassie's militant intellectualism, Hannah's naivete and adventurous spirit, her husband Elliot's longing for a home and family he can hardly force himself to visit
— and they all come through the story in subtle and authentic ways. Ultimately, The Night Journal is both a mystery and a story of mothers and daughters, that classic conflict as unique as it is universal. Crook shows us that only by making peace with the past can a woman move confidently into the future."
—Lessa J. Scherrer, The Historical Novels Review
"The Night Journal is a brilliantly woven story of how lives are impacted for generations by decisions made by ancestors. [Crook's] choice of words is impeccable, along with the dialogue that keeps the reader turning the pages . . ."
—Kathy Bruins, FictionAddicton.net
"In this absorbing novel, Elizabeth Crook manages to bring to life the grand schemes of hope that defined the American West at the dawn of the 20th century."
—The Brown Bookloft
"From the first sentence of this book I was enthralled, hardly able to put the book down. This was the book that led me to discover that you can indeed read and power walk on the treadmill at the same time . . . This is the first of [Elizabeth Crook's] books that I’ve read but I’ve got a feeling it won’t be the last. If you only read a few books this year, Night Journal should be on that list."
"With something for romantics, cynics, history buffs, or anyone who just likes a good story, The Night Journal is engaging from beginning to end."
—Kim Lumpkin, ToxicUniverse.com
"Elizabeth Crook . . . does a wonderful job of combining the then and now into a very smooth story and quick page-turner. In addition, the book includes a great cast of interesting characters. Be sure to read this book. It is mesmerizing."
—Nancy Eaton, bestsellersworld.com
". . . The Night Journal is the author's third book and a must read. The amount of research that made this tale as fine as it is remains awe inspiring. I am impressed that Crook could weave all that reality around the lives of her protagonists and produce such a fine novel, one that is hard to put down."
—Mary Ann Smyth, Bookloons.com
"The Night Journal is an intimate story you will not want to put down and one you will remember long after you read it. Very highly recommended.
—Nancy Flinn Ludwin, TCM Reviews
". . . an interesting romantic mystery supported by fictional historical journal entries . . . delightful . . ."
—Harriet Klausner , Reviewcenter.com
"The culture contrasts and scenic descriptions of the rugged southwest provide a vivid backdrop to this story, while the excerpts from Hannah's journals make for riveting reading. At times emotionally wrenching, The Night Journal is a heady combination of mystery, romance, and historical facts that I highly recommend."
—Nancy Davis, RomanceReaderAtHeart.com
"This is a wonderful book of families, secrets and hidden truths."
—The Daily American, Somerset, PA
"The Night Journal is a meticulously researched, richly rendered historical novel set in 1890s Las Vegas, N.M., and Pecos Pueblo. It's also a page-turning, late 20th-century mystery, complete with clues, exhumed bones and a possible murder, and set in locations that exactly overlay those of the earlier period. And it's a difficult love story, or two, whose characters in some ways inhabit both worlds, almost a century apart. Author Elizabeth Crook lives in Austin, Texas, but it's clear she's spent plenty of time in New Mexico, both in the present and through historical documents of the state's past.
"One could quibble with her description of the Sangre de Cristos as snow-capped "almost all year," but it's true that as recently as the early 1980s — when this story takes place — traces of white tended to linger longer on the high peaks. The novel's contemporary layer involves 37-year-old Meg, a self-employed dialysis water-system engineer in Austin, and her domineering, irritable, openly undiplomatic grandmother, Claudia Bass, known as Bassie. Bassie raised Meg, and the two have butted heads since Meg was a teen. One central area of contention is a set of journals written by Bassie's mother, Hannah, who worked as a Harvey Girl at the Montezuma Hotel outside Las Vegas and then lived next to the ruins of Pecos Pueblo at the end of the 19th century. Bassie, a highly respected historian, has become regionally famous for editing, notating and publishing her mother's journals, which have made their way even into high-school history courses in Santa Fe. Meg, on the other hand, has stubbornly refused to read them. But that changes when she agrees to accompany her grandmother on a trip to Pecos National Historical Monument. Bassie is determined to bring home the bones of two dogs her mother buried on the site, which is being excavated for the construction of a new visitor's center. On a whim, Meg buys a paperback set of the journals at the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas and starts to read her great-grandmother's words. What follows is an intriguingly intertwined tale in which the impact of the past is intimately felt in the present, and long-held beliefs about the Bass family's history are turned upside down. As a diligent, almost-daily chronicler, Hannah recounts her personal experiences, including a horrible train wreck, her marriage to a railroad engineer and life with her young daughter (Bassie), all within the context of her times. Her journals reveal absorbing details of life at the grand Montezuma, and of politics, medicine, technology and society in the New Mexico Territory and the larger world. Hannah has a habit, in fact, of noting wonderfully odd details, such as her description of one of the other young women employed at the hotel: "Marjory Peters, two doors down, suffers digestive and sexual neurasthenia. She has been treated with electrization of various hideous types, electrodes being introduced into her private parts and the entire region of interest, though this apparently did no good. At night she employs a pocket battery with cables to administer vibrations to her skull." Hannah's manner of writing, and her voice as it emerges through her journals, feels as true to her times as the gas lights and local political tensions she describes. Likewise, Meg is purely late 20th century as a slightly jaded, self-reliant woman whose entire life has unfolded under her grandmother's shadow. But unexpected circumstances, both for Hannah and Meg, change everything. Meg's window into the past opens wider than even the journals have revealed. A mystery emerges and eventually is solved, unveiling an even more surprising and complex situation as it does. And the abiding power of our personal and collective past is underscored in the lives of each of the central characters. Crook presents all this with exactly the satisfying level of clarity, imagination and historical authenticity such a story demands."
—Gussie Fauntleroy, The Santa Fe New Mexican
"Family history and mysteries nudge woman into her own life
"Raised by her domineering, exacting, and academically well-known grandmother, Meg Mabry has carved out her own identity by almost choosing to not have one.
"At 37, she has a demanding career servicing water systems for hospitals and businesses. She has not married, has no children, and her relationships tend to be with men more involved with themselves than with her.
"The one stand she has made is to never read the books that her grandmother Claudia Bass — known to all as Bassie — published, books that made her into a virtual cult hero among followers of Southwestern history.
"The books are based on journals written in the 1890s by Bassie's mother, Hannah Bass, who died when Bassie was very young, as did Bassie's father, Elliot, a brilliant rail engineer. Hannah's journals are the quite-candid-for-the-time account of a young woman who travels West alone to work in a hotel and falls in love with a man and a landscape as untamed as her own spirit.
"Meg has refused even to open those books. To her grandmother's frustration and dismay, she has turned her back on the family past.
"But then Bassie needs her. The New Mexico property where she lived as a small child is being dug up for a construction project. One of her few memories of her beloved mother is Hannah in the moonlight, digging up part of a hill to bury her dead dogs with the help of a man named Vicente Morales. Bassie, now old and physically fragile, demands that Meg accompany her to find and claim the bones.
"Thus begins Elizabeth Crook's The Night Journal. What starts for Meg as a favor owed to the admittedly cantankerous woman who raised her turns into a journey into the past and the self. In the landscape of her ancestors, Meg gives in and starts reading Hannah's journals — without telling Bassie. Despite the years of resistance and the feeling that she would pale in comparison with the adventurous Hannah, she finds herself drawn in by the words and the world of her great-grandmother.
"Crook shifts back and forth between Hannah's journal entries and the present. Meg's life back home in Austin, Texas, is somewhat lackluster, but in New Mexico it includes Jim Layton, an archaeologist involved in the excavation. He is one of the many people whom Bassie took under her wing at some point in their lives. He's a good man, married — though not really at peace — and a definite chemistry develops between him and Meg.
"Both tales — Hannah's and Meg's — pull you in more and more as they unfold. When the stories have really picked up steam, you may feel as Meg does reading Hannah's journals, and be tempted to flip forward to see what happens.
"Crook has a clear gift for detail and dialogue that gives the reader real people to hold onto and follow on their journeys. (Bassie is a classic.)
"The Night Journal is no soap opera, but it's full of plot twists and turns, mysteries, and unexpected developments. There's a lot more to Hannah's story than Bassie knew when she published her famous books. The bones of the dogs she insists on claiming aren't all that is buried in Hannah's past . . .
"This is a book about history, land and people. It's at least three love stories. It's also about how finding oneself is often a work in progress and better done late than never."
—Rita Giordano, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"The Night Journal is Austin novelist Elizabeth Crook's first book in more than a decade, but the epic tale spanning a century of family history is worth the wait.
"The novel is set in the early 1990s and begins with elderly Claudia "Bassie" Bass, a well-known former professor of southwestern history at the University of Texas. Bassie established her reputation by meticulously editing and annotating six volumes of her mother's journals, which supply invaluable background on life in early New Mexico.
"Hearing that a building is to be erected on a site near the Pecos pueblo where she recalls watching her mother bury her two beloved dogs, Bassie decides that she must reclaim the dogs' bones. She orders her granddaughter, Meg Mabry, to accompany her to New Mexico.
"Meg, the 37-year-old single-viewpoint character, is a biomedical technician in Austin, and over the years she has pointedly refused to read the journals. But as the narrative progresses, she begins to read. The journals relate the story of Bassie's mother, Hannah, who comes west in 1891 as a "Harvey girl," working at a Fred Harvey hotel outside Las Vegas, N.M.
"Hannah marries a survey engineer for a railroad and settles in a house near Pecos, guiding bored tourists through the ruins of the abandoned pueblo. She is uncommonly observant, about herself as well as others. She dies of tuberculosis in 1902, when Bassie is 4, having kept her diary for nearly a decade.
"In New Mexico, Meg and Bassie uncover not dog bones but a mystery from the past that shakes Bassie to her core. Meg falls in love, but complications abound. In any event, Meg begins to understand that, as Faulkner famously said, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past."
"If the preceding summary seems to emit a faint whiff of chick-lit formula, all I can say is that the story held this reader's interest throughout. Part of the novel's appeal springs from Ms. Crook's skill in evoking New Mexico's unique landscape and culture.
"Ms. Crook, author of the 1991 novel The Raven's Bride, which explores Sam Houston's mysterious first marriage, obviously did enormous research to authenticate the details of The Night Journal. Take, for example, the regimen that consumptive patients in the early 20th century were subjected to. It was torture, and then most of them died anyway.
"The real source of the novel's power, however, is the author's insight into the secrets of the human heart. It is entirely credible that Meg would have steadfastly declined to read the journals, the focus of Bassie's professional life. Bassie, relentlessly judgmental and controlling, is such a dominant personality that Meg senses the danger of her own personality being engulfed. She rebels in whatever way she can.
"Ms. Crook's prose is elegant, and her novel is a page-turner. The Night Journal more than meets my personal standard for quality fiction: When I finished, I wished there were more."
—Tom Pilkington, The Dallas Morning News
"The mother-daughter relationship, that reliable source of literary inspiration, is the framework on which Elizabeth Crook has built her ambitious, interesting novel ''The Night Journal." Like so many other mother-daughter stories, this one is a lot more complicated than it first appears, encompassing historical fiction, mystery, and romance . . .
"Bassie has made a distinguished career as a historian by editing, publishing, and promoting the journals written by her mother, Hannah . . . Excerpts from the diaries are interspersed throughout
— lively, frank, personal observations . . ."
—The Boston Globe
"While Hannah has once thought, 'I hope there is no afterlife. I hope it is over,' what The Night Journal proves is that a story well-told will endure."
"Maybe you don't care when it was that Conestoga wagons were all the rage, but Elizabeth Crook sure does. The Houston author of the historical novel The Night Journal is a fastidious fact-checker. 'There's never a Conestoga wagon where there couldn't have been a Conestoga wagon,' she explains. 'There are some authors that take great liberties with facts, and they seem to sleep just fine at night. I can't do that.' She's not kidding: The 400-page tome, Crook's third, was ten years in the making. 'I mistakenly believed that if I only placed part of it in the past I would only have to do half as much research,' she says. 'This book, in fact, has been more than doubly hard to write.'
"Night tells a chronologically fractured narrative in two distinct yet equally compelling voices. The first is a contemporary tale of emotional abandonment and rebellion between Meg, the narrator, and her domineering crone of a grandmother, Bassie. The other story unfolds in the diaries of Hannah, Bassie's mother, who begins a new life in New Mexico during a time when train wrecks and tuberculosis, missions and massacres landscaped life in the territory.
"When, during the contemporary tale, human remains surface during an excavation, the revered journals are called into question. The threads of the present unravel, then elegantly converge into a new history. Beware: With its gorgeous and often wry prose, Night could keep you up all night."
"Hannah Bass is a terrifically well-rendered character. First hired on by the western tourism baron Frank Harvey to work as a 'Harvey Girl' at the Montezuma Resort in Las Vegas, N.M., she meets and eventually marries Elliot Bass, a railway engineer with ambitions that keep him away from home too often. Hannah weaves together a beautiful, intimate document, chronicling her fondness for the solitary New Mexican landscape, the slow evolution of her love for another man, the political climate of the day and the changing western frontier.
"Crook has researched her subjects meticulously and, with a subtle tact, laces the journals with references to actual historical events. Yet it's her pitch-perfect execution of Hannah's voice, adorned with the distinct formality common to journal-writing, that makes for such pleasurable reading . . ."
"Using consistently fresh and detailed imagery and a strong sense of pacing, Crook has written an engrossing novel."
"As bracing as desert night air, Elizabeth Crook's novel is a vividly imagined and emotionally unsparing account of lives both damaged and redeemed by love. The relationship between Meg and her controlling, acid-tongued grandmother is beautifully described. Through it, Crook poses questions about what the present owes to the past that resonate long after the book's final pages. "
— Geraldine Brooks, author Year of Wonders and March
"Rich and serious yet also wonderfully beguiling, Elizabeth Crook's novel shows just how strong a hold our ancestors have on our destiny. I loved the characters and settings, both present and past, but the gradual revelation of their dreams and fears is what makes this story so gripping and so unique."
—Julia Glass, author of Three Junes
"Secrets and passions, survivors of the violence of the west, family legacies fulfilled and betrayed make for a saga spanning generations. This will be a great novel for a winter night."
— Sarah Bagby, Watermark Books & Café, Wichita, KS
“A close personal look at the Texas Rebellion . . . At a time when war is sanitized, televised and intellectualized, Crook’s most important contribution may be her reminder of the insanity and sheer wast of it all. Her description of women and children fleeing before Santa Anna’s troops in the Runaway Scrape will break your heart. And though she probably did not intend it that way, her account of the slaughter at Goliad is one of the most powerful anti-war statements I’ve read.”
—Joyce Slater, The Houston Post
“A vivid and unsparing portrait of the physical and psychological horrors of the conflict. Crook conveys an almost tactile sense of life in a different time.”
“Promised Lands may easily be one of the very best novels published in 1994.”
—Jeff Guinn, Fort Worth Star Telegram
“’Remember the Alamo.’ ‘Remember Goliad.’ After reading Promised Lands, no one could forget. The savagery generating those battle cries smashes readers right in the solar plexus . . . [Crook] narrates with the sustained power of a drumbeat.”
—Eleanor Rettig Mitchell, Houston Chronicle
“. . . a vivid, engaging book . . .”
“. . .deftly deflates myths about the Texas fight (1835-36) for independence from Mexico . . . convincing characters and vivid description bring a fascinating period to life.”
“Crook never minimizes the personal pain in her novel. Indeed it is that intimate, individual suffering that stimulates the novel. All of it is played out against a curtain of impressive research. Promised Lands might never be used as a textbook of Texas history, but it could be.”
—Art Chapman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“. . . depicts war in all its horror and intense cruelty, and the reader comes away emotionally drenched. “Promised Lands” is an outstanding novel . . . If you love literature and a good story, this one is for you.”
—Peggy Pollock, Corpus Christi Caller-Times
"Promised Lands centers on the massacre of 342 Texan soldiers at the hands of Santa Anna's troops in or near the presidio at Goliad in 1836. The event is one of the most engrossing and heart-wrenching moments in Texas history, and Crook recounts it with skill and telling detail: the jangling of the horses' gear, the powder smoke in the chapel yard, the wolves feeding on the dead. Yet in applauding Crook's historical accuracy, it would be remiss to ignore her writing, which is deftly rhythmic, often wry, and impeccably crafted."
—R.D., Texas Monthly
"The juxtaposition of events is a chilling example of the realism portrayed in this book . . . Detailed scenes fill the pages, whether describing a whipping or a scalping, or preparations to build a campfire or commence battle. All of the unglamorous aspects of war are delineated: overburdened, creaking carts; dying oxen; men arguing among themselves; and extreme thirst and hunger. Rich historical fiction."
—Pam Spencer, School Library Journal
"From the first horrifying pages, when a Comanche raiding party brutally murders most of the Scottish immigrant Mackay family, Crook sweeps a large cast of characters along on the tide of events that was the Texas rebellion of 1836 . . . Crook manages her large canvas well, engaging our interest throughout."
—Mary Ellen Quinn, Booklist
The Raven's Bride
2006 Texas Reads: One Book One Texas selection
“This is Crook’s highly colored, ambitious attempt to penetrate the lifelong silences of both parties [Sam Houston and Eliza Allen] concerning what Crook views as a doomed marriage of an irresistible force and an immovable spirit . . . Crook sets her tale of battling Titans in Olympic chiaroscuro . . . In all, a rousing first novel, fired by theatrical flashes and clever, soundly research-based speculation.”
“Elizabeth Crook hits the ground running with her imaginative first novel about the Houston marriage . . . it all had something to do with those eternally problematic issues trust, pride and sex . . . [Crook’s] words are as carefully chosen as pearls on a matched necklace, her narrative as clear as spring water. If this particular Eliza Allen, who chose her own mystery, never actually lived in the flesh, she should have.”
—Joyce R. Slater, USA Today
“I never thought a first novel could capture me as much as this one did….From start to finish she had me.”
“It is my hope that America enters the new century on the brunt of talented and robust storytelling such as we find in The Raven’s Bride.”
“. . . a touching psychological Portrait of a Marriage.”
“The Raven’s Bride is far more than just another historical romance . . . It is an absorbing novel of character . . . A highly readable tale. Its personalities stir the reader’s curiosity and imagination, and while it does not conclusively solve the mystery, it sheds light on one of the most puzzling episodes in American history.”
—Tom Pilkington, Dallas Morning News
“Crook’s intricate first novel engagingly details the abrupt dissolution of Sam Houston’s 11-week marriage to Eliza Allen . . . the couple’s emotional turmoil is maintained at high pitch by the interaction of a rich cast of characters…this well-researched historical romance manages to capture some towering personalities at a pivotal moment in history.”
“A skillful and provocative first novel . . . The Raven’s Bride is a study of the way daughters relate to their fathers, the way seduction can fail to segue into long-term commitment, and the way ambition may or may not fit into the context of marriage. Crook’s novel reads like a parable of those immemorial preoccupations that just happens to have a nineteenth-century setting . . . The final melancholy enticement of The Raven’s Bride is that it transcends its historical trappings.”
—Suzanne Winckler, Texas Monthly
“. . .what Crook has done is dream up her own version of what happened between these star-crossed lovers. It’s a splendid idea for a novel
— so good you wonder why nobody ever thought of it before.”
—Elizabeth Bennett, Houston Post
“I’m paying Ms. Crook a compliment when I say this is fiction that is as interesting as fact.”
—Perre Magness, Memphis Commercial Appeal
“This is a first rate piece of historical fiction as well as a frequently moving love story.”
—Jay Freeman, Booklist
“[Crook’s] power of imagination, creativity and sensitivity is thunderous in her first novel, The Raven’s Bride.”
—Richard L. Connor, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“She writes not as a novice but as an adroit and often brilliant storyteller, mixing the requirements of history, the call of romance and its tragic conclusion with narrative ease.”
—Billy Porterfield, Austin American-Statesman