Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lafayette picks 'Long Walk to Water' for big read

            The Lafayette Public Library System is teaming up with area public schools and other local partners to encourage Lafayette to read and discuss the same book in a program called Lafayette Reads Together.
            The inaugural program will focus on the New York Times bestseller “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park, a survivor’s tale inspired by the real story of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, who not only saved himself, but improved the quality of life for many. Every public school seventh grader in Lafayette Parish will read the book and discuss it in class. School curricula will also include lessons surrounding the themes of the book, as well as the history and culture of South Sudan.
            Library programs include a documentary screening and book talk at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at North Regional Library and 6 p.m. Feb. 10 at South Regional Library and a presentation by photojournalist Eli Reed about his experiences documenting the Lost Boys of Sudan at 2 p.m. Saturday at South Regional. Check out Reed's discussion about his photography in this video.
            Other events include a Skype conversation with author Linda Sue Park at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 24 at South Regional and a book discussion led by City-Parish President Joey Durel, City-Parish Council member Brandon Shelvin and Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Jason El Koubi on March 2. There will also be a display of artwork by Lafayette Public School System children, inspired by South Sudanese culture, from March 9–20 at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, with a special presentation during ArtWalk on March 14.
            For a list of events, visit
            In other library news, the second year of the Lafayette Public Library System’s 100 Book Club concluded with 176 people successfully completing the challenge of reading 100 books or more in 2014. These readers will be recognized for their accomplishments at the library’s reception at 6 p.m. Thursday at South Regional Library.
            In 2014, more than 900 people signed up for the program and read more than 26,000 books. The program is continuing in 2015 and readers may register at  any library branch or at

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “ExploringCajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Upcoming writing events

            The Writers and Readers Symposium: A Celebration of Literature and Art will be Saturday, Feb. 21, in St. Francisville and feature writers Abigail Padgett, Moira Crone, Louisiana Poet Laureate Ava Hayman and photographer/writer Richard Sexton with Carolyn Thornton. For information, visit
            The 29th annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival will be March 25-29 at various venues in New Orleans. There will be five days of literary discussions, theater, music and food events. For more information, visit
            The 12th annual Jambalaya Writers’ Conference will be Saturday, April 11, at the Terrebonne Parish Library in Houma and will feature New York Times best-selling author Wally Lamb as the keynote speaker. Lamb is the author of “The Hour I First Believed,” “I Know This Much is True” and “She’s Come Undone.” He was twice selected for Oprah’s Book Club and his latest book is “We Are Water.” The cost of the conference is $35 before March 20. There will also be fiction and poetry contests writers can enter. For more information, visit

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “ExploringCajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Barry Gifford concludes cycle with 'Up-Down,' 'Dollbaby' author McNeal speaking in Monroe

            Barry Gifford began a series of novels in 1990 titled “Wild at Heart,” based on the fictional couple, Sailor and Lula. His latest, “The Up-Down,” is the eighth novel in the cycle and the conclusion of the couple’s story.
            The novel’s subtitle “The almost lost, last Sailor and Lula story, in which their son, Pace Roscoe Ripley, finds his way” summarizes the book. At 58 and following Hurricane Katrina, Ripley decides to leave New Orleans and move in a new direction. He had read that several cultures believed in the “Up-Down,” a place more centralized than the compass points. He decides to seek out this “fifth, mysterious direction” and embarks on a journey that will take him many places — including a sojourn back to New Orleans — and experiencing many people and events, some brutal and tragic. What he seeks the most, however, is an unchartable destination, one that’s located within.
            Along the way, Ripley writes the story of his parents, Sailor and Lula.
            It’s an intriguing novel with keen insight discovered by a fascinating character.
            Gifford has been the recipient of many awards, including from PEN, the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Library Association, the Writers Guild of America and the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. His books “Sailor’s Holiday” and “The Phantom Father” were each named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times and his book “Wyoming” was named a Novel of the Year by the Los Angeles Times. His film credits include “Wild at Heart,” “Perdita Durango,” “Lost Highway,” “City of Ghosts,” “Ball Lightning” and “The Phantom Father.”
          Gifford will sign copies of his books from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans.

            Eleven-year-old Liberty Alice Bell, otherwise known as Ibby, is dropped off at her grandmother’s rundown Victorian in New Orleans after the death of her father in 1964. Ibby has never met her eccentric grandmother Fannie, nor does she know anything of her father’s Southern family and life. Her grandmother’s cook, Queenie, and her outspoken, Civil Rights activist daughter, Dollbaby,” teach Ibby about both in Laura Lane McNeal’s coming-of-age novel, “Dollbaby.”
            The book was a Top Ten finalist for Best Historical Novel, Goodreads Choice Awards and a LibraryReads and Okra Pick in 2014. Walter Isaacson, author of “Steve Jobs,” calls “Dollbaby” a “deeply personal tale about growing up and searching for family as well as a provocative exploration of race and kinship.”
            McNeal is a New Orleans native and a graduate of Tulane and she will discuss her book at 6 p.m. Monday at the Louise Williams Branch Library. Refreshments will be served. For more information on events, visit the Ouachita Parish Public Library.

Book events
            The Writers’ Guild of Acadiana will hold its monthly meeting at 7 pm Tuesday at Barnes & Nobles in Lafayette. Gary Stewart, author of “The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father and Finding The Zodiac Killer,” will speak. To read my review of Stewart’s book, visit the June 1, 2014 post on this blog.
            Teacher and librarian Dan Gutman will read and sign his latest in the New York Times best-selling series, “Genius Files #5: License to Thrill” at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Octavia Books in New Orleans.
            Morgan McCall Molthrop and Ronald Drez will read from and sign their respective books, “Andrew Jackson’s Playbook: 15 Strategies for Success” and “The War of 1812,” at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Maple Street Book Shop in New Orleans.
            Judith Fradin, co-author of the middle grade book “Stolen Into Slavery: The True Story of Solomon Northup, Free Black Man,” will sign and discuss the book from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Octavia Books in New Orleans. Fradin and her late husband Dennis have published more than 150 books for children, nearly all of them nonfiction. They are the recipients of many awards, most recently the 2004 SCBWI Golden Kite Honor book Award for “The Power of One: Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine.” In 2005 they published “5,000 Miles to Freedom with The National Geographic Society,” named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults among many other honors. Judith Fradin is a professor of children’s literature and multicultural literature at National Louis University in Chicago.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “ExploringCajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book events this week

            Lee A. Farrow will sign “Alexis in America: A Russian Grand Duke's Tour, 1871-1872” by LSU Press at 6 p.m. tonight at Octavia Books in New Orleans.
            Maple Street Bookstore in New Orleans will offer a night of poetry and prose with Lavender Ink and Dialogos Books beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21. Authors Ralph Adamo (“Ever”), Andy Young (“All Night It is Morning”), and Jonathan Kline (“The Wisdom of Ashes”) will read.
            Arthur Hardy will discuss “Mardi Gras in New Orleans: An Illustrated History” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 22, at Maple Street Book Shop in New Orleans. The book is a pictorial account of the celebration with 325 vintage and contemporary illustrations. This updated fourth edition features an expanded reference section that provides details on nearly 600 Carnival organizations, including the identities of 5,000 kings and queens.
            LSU Forensic anthropologist Mary Manhein will be the featured speaker at HeartLa, the Baton Rouge Chapter of Romance Writers of America, from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Jan. 24 at the Bluebonnet Branch Library, 9200 Bluebonnet Blvd. in Baton Rouge. Membership is comprised of local authors, published and unpublished, and is open to writers of all genres. Guests may attend two meetings before joining.
            Friends of Hilltop Arboretum’s symposium “Louisiana Garden Heritage: A Lavish Hodgepodge of Design and Plants” will be 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, at the LSU Hilltop Arboretum in Baton Rouge. One of the speakers, G. Mike Shoup, owner of The Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Texas, is author of “Empress of the Garden.”

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A peek inside the life of Nelle Harper Lee

            Nelle Harper Lee left her hometown of Monroeville, Ala., to pursue a career in writing in New York City, eventually acquiring time to write a novel beginning on Christmas Day 1956, when friends gave her money in order to take a year off from her job. Lee wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird” in both New York and Monroeville and the book was published in 1960 under the name of Harper Lee.
             Nelle, as she is known to family and friends, would never be the same.
            The critical acclaim of the book, the enormous publicity after the book’s publishing and the release of the movie starring Gregory Peck, the invasion of Lee’s privacy and the dissection of her life turned Lee away from public life. She has since spent most of her life living quietly with her sister, Alice Finch Lee, refusing publicity and public appearances except in very few cases.
            Lee was reluctant to speak with Marja Mills of the Chicago Tribune in 2001, but somehow the reporter made friends with the Lee sisters and managed an article. In 2004, with the Lee’s blessing, Mills moved in next door to the sisters’ home in Monroeville and began a rare friendship.
            Mills shares her experiences in Monroeville with the Lees, their friends and other residents of the south Alabama town in “The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee.” The book includes family history — including setting things straight from tales told by Truman Capote, Harper Lee’s childhood friend, — insight into the characters of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, aspects of which were based on family members including Lee herself, and why Lee never wrote another book. More than anything, the biography showcases the deep relationship between Harper and Alice Lee, which lasted years until Alice’s death last year at age 103.

The Left Behinds
            American history can be a tricky subject for young readers, unless you spin an adventurous tale in a modern fashion, preferably in a quirky way. On a Christmas day, author David Potter throws three adolescents back to 1776 where they find Gen. George Washington dead in a horse stable in “The Left Behinds and the iPhone That Saved George Washington.”
            The threesome — known as the Left Behinds because their families couldn’t bring them home from their fancy boarding school for the holidays — first try to understand why they are being chased by Hessians in a land without toilets and smart phones. Then they try to figure out a way back to the 21st century, with help from their teacher who is texting Mel, the narrator of the story, through his iPhone. There’s the question of how texts are being received across centuries and what happened in that dark basement at the re-enactment they were attending back in modern times?
            In the end the unlikely group enlists the help of Benjamin Franklin to recharge their phones and then work to change history to keep Washington alive and crossing the Delaware River, a decisive victory on Christmas Day 1776 that leads to the establishment of the United States.
            Potter’s first book in what looks like a series will entertain readers through the antics of history geek Mel and his sidekicks, Beverly and Brandon, all the while teaching readers a lot about history. It’s a tough challenge but Potter delivers beautifully.

New releases
            Brian Boyles compiles what happened during those 100 days leading up to the 2013 Super Bowl, including the now famous moment when the lights went out in the Superdome, in “New Orleans Boom and Blackout: One Hundred Days in America’s Coolest Hot Spot,” published by The History Press.
            The first edition of UNO Press’s "Death by Pastrami," a collection of 17 stories by Leonard S. Bernstein that take place in New York’s Garment District, has sold out, thanks to Maureen Corrigan raving about it on National Public Radio. Check out the review and get a copy when the next edition hits the streets:
            Southern University coach Roger Cador has published an autobiography titled “Against All Odds” that spans his childhood in Pointe Coupee Parish through his 30 years coaching Jaguar baseball. The book is available on
            Sylvia Rochester just released book three of the “Bawdy Boutique Mysteries” through Whiskey Creek Press, titled “Mellow Yellow Dead Red.” The cozy mystery is set in a small fictitious town south of Hammond where the two main characters, who are into fashion and know nothing about solving murders, somehow wind up in the thick of things.
            Lyn LeJeune writes about the Sonnier family and Abbeville in a Kindle book titled “Each In Its Ordered Place: Cajun Gothic Tales.” 

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at

Thursday, January 15, 2015

National Readathon Day is Jan. 24

            The National Book Foundation, GoodReads, Mashable and Penguin Random House are creating National Readathon Day from noon to 4 p.m. (in each respective time zone) Saturday, Jan. 24. Readers are asked to read a book for four straight hours and to raise funds to support the National Book Foundation, which brings books to needy communities and promotes a lifelong love of reading.

            Some bookstores and libraries will host “reading parties” during these four hours on Jan. 24 with readers gathering and reading silently together.  
            National Readathon Day is asking participants to share their experiences using the hashtag #timetoread.
            Check out this video of authors explaining the power of books and their passion for reading. My favorite is Norman Lear saying, "I read when I should be looking at television."

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at

Sunday, January 11, 2015

'Hagridden' innovative tale of historic fiction

            As the Civil War concludes, two women — a mother and her daughter-in-law — living in poverty near the Cameron coastline of Louisiana do anything possible to survive, including murdering soldiers on both sides in order to trade their wares for food. But when an old friend named Buford, a deserter of the Confederacy arrives, a thorn is thrown into the mix. Lust brings the younger woman and Buford together, much to the chagrin of the older woman.
            This unlikely threesome makes up the story of “Hagridden,” featuring the fascinating new voice of Samuel Snoek-Brown. Buford is the best friend of the older woman’s son and when he brings news of the son’s death, he also casts his eyes upon the son’s widow. The younger woman finds solace in Buford’s bed but the older woman will have none of it.
            Meanwhile, a battle-happy Confederate lieutenant is determined to bring Buford to justice, despite the war’s ending. Embracing the lure of the wolf he performs battle with an animalistic bent and chases Buford dressed in wolf clothing.
            Throughout the tale, the older woman insists the rougarou will hunt down those who lust, trying to scare the younger woman into staying.
            “What we do we do to survive and they ain’t no sin in that,” the older woman tells her. “But lust? Whoo girl, you got to look out for that they lust.  Worst sin they is. Sinners what lusted after the flesh in this world, they turn to animals in the next. Crawl around on all fours rutting like dogs and the brimstone burning off they knees, the skin of they palms. Some say the rougarous is lusters coughed up from Hell to walk the earth.”
            The book mirrors war’s effects that turn humans into animals, either on the battlefield and through starvation and want, and showcases what people will do in order to survive.
            “Samuel Snoek-Brown writes the kind of prose I like best — muscular but spare, lovely but harsh,” wrote Tom Franklin, New York Times bestselling author of “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.” “This is a novel to read, a writer to watch. Highly, highly recommended.”
            Snoek-Brown grew up in Texas and now lives in Portland, Ore., but visited relatives in southwest Louisiana, according to his bio. This book resulted in his receiving a 2013 Oregon Literary Fellowship.

Haiku as teacher
            Vic Hummert has spent his life as a chaplain, starting with Maryknoll, a Catholic missionary society, and most recently as chaplain of the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center. Throughout his lifetime he has advocated for peace and environmental justice.
            Hummert is also a lover of haiku, a three-line form of poetry that originated in Japan that honors the natural world. It’s the ideal form of expression for a man concerned over the fate of the earth. In that vein, Hummert has published numerous books of haiku, complemented by his political beliefs and photographs.
            His last book was “Earth is Our Teacher,” a softly spoken but powerful voice against fossil fuels, which Hummert believes is adding to global warming. It’s not the most popular stance for a state built on oil and gas, he explained.
            “A good friend recently told me, ‘Vic, you have enemies in this city,’” Hummert related about living in Lafayette. “I responded, ‘The hatred is in their hearts; I do not have one enemy in the world.’”
            Hummert has just published “Our Sacred Ocean,” combining scientific data with anecdotes about how plastics are killing the oceans.
            Hummert’s books are available at For more information, visit

Book events
            Louisiana author and historian Carola Lillie Hartley has published two books on historic Opelousas, “Opelousas Firsts” and “Opelousas Tales.” Opelousas is the third oldest town in Louisiana and both books feature history and stories. Hartley is a Louisiana native and has worked in community and tourism development. She will be signing books from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday at the book’s printer, Bodemuller’s, at 123 S. Main St. in downtown Opelousas. For more information, contact Bodemuller’s at 942-5712, 234-5002 or email or visit the author’s website at
            Tim Federle will discuss and sign two cocktail books, “Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twists” and “Hickory Daiquiri Dock: Cocktails with a Nursery Rhyme Twist,” at 6 p.m. Saturday at Octavia Books in New Orleans.

What’s at the Library?
            The New Year starts new programming at the Lafayette Public Library. Pick up a copy of “Book Talk” at any library branch or visit for details.
            Here are two events to whet your appetite.
            Local health enthusiast Elle Veg with offer an introduction to vegetarian cooking, eating and meal planning with “Eat Vegetarian with Elle Veg!” at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at South Regional Library. Registration required.
            For those looking to read and talk about books, join the organizational meetings at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday for the North Regional Library Organizational Book Club at the North Regional Library.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “ExploringCajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at

Sunday, January 4, 2015

UL-Lafayette Professor of Architecture Geoff Gjertson offers lessons learned in new book on solar home

            UL-Lafayette Professor of Architecture Geoff Gjertson will present lessons learned from the BeauSoleil Home — which won First Place in Market Viability and People’s Choice in the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2009 Solar Decathlon — at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at South Regional Library.
            Gjertson is the author of “Generating Hope: Stories of the BeauSoleil Louisiana Solar Home” and the talk is part of the Bayou State Book Talk series, a collaboration of the Center for Louisiana Studies at UL Lafayette and the South Regional Library. It is sponsored by UL Press, which published the book.
            “Generating Hope” celebrates the BeauSoleil Louisiana Solar Home, discusses its significance for the future of sustainable design and affordable, energy-efficient, and hurricane-resistant housing in the Gulf Coast region and around the world. The book spotlights BeauSoleil Home’s technical innovations, experiments and professional collaborations accented by more than 180 photographs and drawings. The sidebars provide a do-it-yourself guide to implementing solar and sustainable practices for your own home.
            But the book is much more than that.
            “The book is really about the human stories,” Gjertson said in an interview for the UL College of the Arts web page. “That’s why it’s called ‘Generating Hope’ because hope was really the motivation, I think, for people to participate. Hope was generated for the community because it really got this kind of grassroots effort in our community. It got a discussion going about sustainability that maybe had started but wasn’t really tangible that the university had going that people could get behind. So, we had people supporting it almost like our football team.”
            To read the full interview, visit

Simon says
            Award-winning teacher Margaret Simon teaches gifted writing to lucky students in New Iberia and shares poetry, teaching advice, her kids’ work and inspiration in her blog “Reflections on the Teche.” In a recent blog post, Simon — who’s also a young adult author —turned me on to Stephanie Fournet of Lafayette, a high school English teacher who self-published her first romance novel titled “Fall Semester” with the help of a Kickstarter campaign.
            Margaret is the daughter-in-law of Anne L. Simon, who is also following her passion by self-publishing her first crime novel set in South Louisiana, “Blood in the Cane Field.” Anne Simon attended Wellesley and Yale and has a law degree from LSU. She has served as judge, taught at LSU law school and was an ad-hoc judge for the Louisiana Supreme Court. The novel is available at Champagne’s Grocery in the Oil Center of Lafayette, at Books Along the Teche in New Iberia, Fad’s New in Franklin and online.
            You can read more about Fournet, Anne Simon’s new book plus Margaret Simon’s musings and poetry at

New releases
            I wrote about novelist Joe Reese in a past Louisiana Book News column and he recently informed me that his wife, Pam, has a series of cozy mysteries written under the name of T’Gracie Reese. The couple lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Pam Reese is teaching after finishing her dissertation at UL-Lafayette.
            “We’ve been busy writers,” Joe Reese wrote. “The sixth in our ‘cozy’ series of mysteries, ‘The Nina Bannister Mysteries,’ has just been published by Cozy Cat Press, a small independent publisher based in Chicago. The books are, in order, ‘Sea Change,’ ‘Set Change,’ ‘Game Change,’ ‘Oil Change,’ ‘Frame Change’ and ‘Sex Change,’” although the last title, he insisted, is “not what you think.”
            The main character, Nina Bannister, is a retired teacher and principal living in a seacoast town in Mississippi. She putters around in the curio shop of her good friend Margot, she walks on the beach, she feeds her cat Furl and, of course solves murder mysteries. One book leads her to Lafayette, and several to New Orleans, Reese said.
            All titles are available in hard copy or Kindle versions from Amazon. For information, visit

Book events
            Stuart Smith signs “Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know about the Environmental Attack on America” at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Garden District Book Store in New Orleans.
            The Louisiana Center for the Book in the State Library of Louisiana is hosting Morgan Molthrop to commemorate the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial with a free program at noon Wednesday in the State Library’s Seminar Center. Molthrop’s new book “Andrew Jackson’s Playbook: 15 Strategies for Success” juxtaposes the cultural responses of New Orleans during the most important battle in early American history against the responses of Louisiana’s population after Hurricane Katrina. For more information, visit

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “ExploringCajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at