Book Review: Old Buildings in North Texas by Jen Waldo

I’m back with another book on a Lone Star Book Blog Tour, and this one is delightfully different. Old Buildings In North Texas by Jen Waldo is a blend of drama and humor, and introduces a truly unique character who will captivate you as she might frustrate you.  It’s a story that flows with Waldo’s exceptional prose, so read on for my review and then scroll down to enter in our giveaway.
Sub-genre: Literary Fiction / Dramedy
Publisher: Arcadia Books
Date of Publication: April 1, 2018
Number of Pages: 213
Scroll down for the giveaway! 
After rehab, Olivia, a 32-year-old cocaine addict, is required to move back in with her mother and pregnant sister. Having left a promising career in journalism in New York, she’s now working as a sales assistant for a family friend in her home town in North Texas.

Under pressure from her court-mandated counselor – an old high school friend – to take up a hobby, Olivia decides on “urbexing.” Soon she’s breaking into derelict homes, ex-prisons, and old drive-ins across North Texas, and it’s not long before she’s looting state property and making money off the possessions, fixtures, and fittings that have been left behind.

Old Buildings in North Texas is about a modern woman’s search for personal equilibrium and wild adventure — the attempt to find stability in existence without losing sight of what makes life worth living. Jen Waldo’s style modulates effortlessly from domestic nuance to taut adventure, tackling social and moral transgressions with incisive observation and vivid humor.


“A lot of Jen Waldo’s debut novel takes place out on the porch of Olivia’s mother’s house. […] With its casual, confidential tone, Old Buildings in North Texas puts the reader in one of those porch chairs, reclining on a warm evening with a cool drink.” — The Skinny
Old Buildings in North Texas is an amusingly written and well worked book” — Trip Fiction
“This novel is an absolute blast. There are serious moments of course, but Jen Waldo looks for the comedy in everything to create a memorable scenario that reminded me very much of the style of Six Feet Under.” — Shiny New Books

Jen Waldo’s novel Old Buildings In North Texas packs a LOT into a 200-page novel – wry humor, self-deprecation, a protagonist that borders on unlikable at times – and yet you want to root for her, even as you question her choices.  This is a book without a neatly tied-up ending, and yet I didn’t feel cheated.

If you’ve ever had to endure moving home again, you can understand Olivia’s misery in being forced to move back in with her mother, who has been named her legal guardian. To compound the suffering, her mother rules her with a bit of an iron fist, monitoring her every move in suffocating fashion, and letting her disapproval flow freely.

That said, Olivia is no innocent. A cocaine-induced heart attack landed her in rehab, and she is an addict – and brutally honest about it. Actually, she tends to be brutally honest (unless she needs to hide her own actions, and then she has no hesitation in hiding the truth.)  With her therapist, a former high school friend (talk about adding insult to injury) she speaks bluntly:

“Some people can wear white,” I tell her, “but you’re not one of them. With your coloring you should stick to jewel tones – blues, reds, greens. You’d look good in black, but there’ll come a time when it’ll make you look old, so watch out for that.”

Encouraged to find a hobby to replace her cravings for cocaine, she stumbles upon urban exploration, something that likely would not be considered an acceptable active by either her mother or her therapist. The would likely be right as she breaks the urbex code of disturbing nothing by stealing from the places she explores in an effort to rebuild her funds so that she can one day live on her own again.

She is self-absorbed, but self-aware enough to admit it to herself. She’s replaced one addiction with another, and one that would be considered illegal. She shows her selfishness in her lack of desire to share the profits in what she is pilfering, even as she acknowledges that she owes money to friends and that her sister could also use money.  Somehow, though, Waldo makes me want to root for Olivia – perhaps because what she writes feels real.

Perhaps it is also that, while Olivia is deeply flawed, so is every other character in the book, and that seems to create a bit of needed sympathy.

For me, it was Waldo’s voice that made this book resonate with me. Her prose is descriptive and honest and vivid:

“But while the rich soil nourishes the magnolia trees, clinging honeysuckle, and Spanish moss, the hard hostile dirt of northern Texas supports only mesquite, a gnarled shrub that offers no beauty or grace. And so the grand plantation home stands alone with no chlorophyll to frame it, no festooned branches to enhance its lines.”

Old Buildings In North Texas was a book that kept me turning pages, and I will admit, did not have the wrapped up ending I was anticipating, but it was honest and left me with a sense of hope.  Jen Waldo has written an unforgettable character that you will enjoy even as she frustrates you.


Jen Waldo lived in seven countries over a thirty-year period and has now settled, along with her husband, in Marble Falls, Texas. She first started writing over twenty years ago when, while living in Cairo, she had difficulty locating reading material and realized she’d have to make her own fun. She has since earned an MFA and written a number of novels. Her work has been published in The European and was shortlisted in a competition by Traveler magazine. Old Buildings in North Texas and Why Stuff Matters have been published in the UK by Arcadia Books. Jen’s fiction is set in Northwest Texas and she’s grateful to her hometown of Amarillo for providing colorful characters and a background of relentless whistling wind.

1st Prize:
Signed Copy of OBiNT + $10 Amazon Gift Card
2nd Prize:Signed Copy + $5 Amazon Gift Card
3rd Prize: eBook Copy of OBiNT
October 2-11, 2018
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  1. Fantastic review. Truly, Waldo did an amazing job with this book. We shouldn’t love it — or Olivia — but we do!

    • Right? Her character is written so honestly, even when you don’t want to like her, you can completely sympathize with her.

  2. Hi Jenn, nice blog! You have given a fantastic review. I also like to read books like this. Thanks for the review, keep sharing!

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