Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hester Young's debut novel keeps you on edge of seat

             Dreams tell tales, most indecipherable. For Charlotte “Charlie” Cates, a mother aching from the loss of her four-year-old child, dreams have become too close to reality, predicting events that come true or are messages from the dead. These dreams lead Charlie out of her self-imposed exile in Connecticut to a plantation in South Louisiana to research a book involving a 30-year-old kidnapping case in “The Gates of Evangeline” by Hester Young.
            At first, Charlie doesn’t want to take the assignment, but then a young child comes to her in a dream and she fears it is Gabriel Deveau, a child stolen from the Evangeline Plantation in 1982 and never found. Researching the case might help her understand why she is having these premonitions so she travels to Louisiana for answers.
What waits at this swamp-infested plantation are just more questions, from the spoiled heiresses and the tortured son and CEO of the family business to the family matriarch dying of cancer. Charlie receives more than she bargained for in a love interest, plus dreams continually plague her, sometimes taking her in other directions. Everything intersects, however, making this a thrilling story with twists and turns that keep you turning pages.
Young does an expert job in crafting a suspenseful tale and her details of South Louisiana appear as if she’s done her homework well. My only complaint is the dialogue of locals told in that annoying broken English, spattered with an occasional French word to remind readers they are Cajun or African America, both so unnecessary and jarring, especially for those of us who know better.
“ ‘Well, now, Shalit,’” one of the character says. “ ‘Ah’d be real careful ramblin’ ‘round at night when yuh dis close to da bayou. Neva know when a cocodrie’s gone go fo’ a ramble of ‘is own.’”
Seriously? Although in defense Young pops up with a good Cajun expression or two that shows me she did visit and attempt to get it right. 
“The Gates of Evangeline” is hailed as the beginning of a new series and I’m anxious to read more, thoroughly enjoyed this story from cover to finish (with the occasional dialogue exception). I’ll bet, however, that if the next one takes place in another part of the country they will leave the accents out.

Lafayette graphic artist Kody Chamberlain (“Sweets: A New Orleans Crime Story”) and Joshua Hale Fialkov (“I, Vampire”) have teamed up to produce a wild ride in “Punks, the Comic,” a new graphic title from Image Comics. Several characters come together in this collage-style story, all based out of a home that happens to be on Vermilion Street in downtown Lafayette. There’s Abe (Lincoln), Fist, Skull and Dog, the latter three with human bodies and heads reflecting their names. Other people show up as well, from Sean Connery to the authors, and the story occasionally pauses for games and cutouts. It’s crazy fun.

Book events
Phil Bildner will read, sign and discuss his children’s book “Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans” at 2 p.m. today at Octavia Books of New Orleans.

Upcoming events
            The Friends of the Lafayette Library will hold its annual Fall Book Sale Wednesday through Saturday, Sept. 9-12, in the Heymann Convention Center Ballroom. On Wednesday, Sept. 9, Friends members may enjoy a members-only night, followed by the public sale Thursday through Saturday.
            Best-selling romance author Diana Rowland will be the keynote speaker of the 2015 Heart of Louisiana (HeartLA) Readers Luncheon on Saturday, Oct. 31, at Juban’s Restaurant, 3739 Perkins Road in Baton Rouge. Registration will open at 11 a.m., with the luncheon from 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. Book signings with more than 18 participating authors will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $40 per person. Make checks payable to: Heart of LA RWA c/o Readers Luncheon, P.O. Box 85459, Baton Rouge, LA 70884. Includes your name, email and phone number. Participants may also pay online at

Cheré Dastugue 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.” She also writes Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire, “A Cajun Dream” and “The Letter.” Write her at

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cookbook Thursday: 'Good and Cheap' by Leanne Brown helps those eat well on limited budget

Millions of Americans live on SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — what used to be called food stamps — with allocations being about $4 a day for food. That’s a sobering thought. Leanne Brown offers some assistance for people with limited incomes with her cookbook “Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day.”
Even the cookbook is a deal; she offers free downloads (but you’re welcome to tip as well) of the book as a PDF from her web site at So far, the book has been downloaded 800,000 times.
“Eating on a limited budget is not easy, and there are times when a tough week can turn mealtime into a chore,” she writes in the book’s introduction. “As one woman told me, ‘I’m weary of the ‘what’s for dinner?’ game.’ I hope the recipes and techniques in this book can help make those times rare and the tough choices a little more bearable.”
Since the PDF went viral, Brown launched a Kickstarter project to create a print version of the book and ended up raising way more than the original asking price, making it the No. 1 cookbook on Kickstarter. The project offered a “get one, give one” system. For those who purchased a book, Brown gave one to someone in need.
The cookbook is full of recipes — complemented by beautiful photos — that contain tasty ingredients that won’t break the bank, but taste is the key word here. Brown insists that focusing on fruits and vegetables gets you farther in life and certain ingredients make for better eating.
“My intent was to create satisfying food that doesn’t require you to supplement your meals with cheap carbohydrates to stave off hunger,” she writes. “I strove to create recipes that use money carefully, without being purely slavish to the bottom line. For example, many recipes use butter rather than oil. Butter is not cheap, but it creates flavor, crunch, and richness in a way that cheap oils never can.”
Brown also includes tips for shopping, building a pantry and nutrition.
Want to know more about Brown and her book? Here’s an interview she had with National Public Radio.
The following is a recipe Brown loves to create on hot days. “Cold but spicy food is refreshing and delicious in the summer,” she writes.

Cold (and Spicy?) Asian Noodles
From “Good and Cheap”
12 ounces dried spaghetti, soba, or any Asian noodles
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 cucumber, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Directions: Prepare the noodles according to the package instructions. Rinse them under cold water and put them in a colander to drain. Put the noodles in a bowl and add the soy sauce, spice oil if you have it, scallions, and cucumber (and any other additions). Mix it all together with a fork or tongs. Taste it and add salt and pepper or more spice oil as needed. Let the noodles sit in the fridge for about an hour if you can. The flavors will mingle and become more intense. Think of this as a recipe that you can really make your own. Use whatever sauce or dressing you like and whatever vegetables you have around, or just a few scallions.
Brown suggests additions such as spice oil and peanut sauce, many of which are recipes in the book.

Cheré Dastugue 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.” She also writes Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire, “A Cajun Dream” and “The Letter.” Write her at

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Numerous books mark 10th anniversary of Katrina

           Don Brown tells historic stories through illustrations for ages 12 and up much in the style of comic books. His “Great American Dust Bowl” was so successful in telling that slice of American history it won numerous awards, including one of Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of 2012.
He follows up with an explanation of Hurricane Katrina slamming the Gulf Coast in 2005 with “Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans.” Naturally, it’s a grim retelling, with haunting illustrations of the storm’s fury, its devastation and the travails of the people left behind. Brown doesn’t mince facts, either. One photo shows three white men arguing with the caption, “Back in New Orleans, disaster relief stumbles, federal, state, and city officials can’t decide how to share responsibility.” Another shows Pres. George Bush telling FEMA head Michael Brown “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” with the caption reading “The President’s praise confuses many Americans.”
The book details much about the storm, from the brutal realities of people drowning to the heroes who risked all to save lives, concluding with the clean-up and construction efforts that has happened ever since. The construction worker’s final words are emotional as well: “We’re coming back. This is home. This is life.”
Don Brown will discuss and sign “Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans” from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. today at Octavia Books, 513 Octavia St. in New Orleans.
Here are other children’s books out now to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Katrina:
Phil Bildner shares the fictional story of real-life Cornelius Washington, a sanitation worker who sang and danced while working through the French Quarter, in “Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans.” Joyfully illustrated by John Parra, the story shows Cornelius celebrating life as he collects trash in pre-storm New Orleans. When Katrina hits, Cornelius doesn’t know how he will clean his beloved city but he trudges ahead nonetheless, aiding by the residents and volunteers, the latter “a flood of humanity” who descend upon New Orleans to help. Bildner will read, sign and discuss “Marvelous Carnelius” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30, at Octavia Books of New Orleans.
Tamara Ellis Smith’s “Another Kind of Hurricane” (Schwartz & Wade Books, ages 9-12) tells the story of Zavion, who loses his home during the storm and Henry, who loses his best friend during a hiking trip in the mountains of northern Vermont. Zavion ends up with Henry’s blue jeans and the marble, and through a series of coincidences that verge on the miraculous, Henry ends up in Louisiana. The boys meet, bonding over their experiences of trauma and loss.
Allan Zullo spotlights the heroes of the storm, from those who commandeered boats to rescue people to medical staff at area hospitals, in a chapter book titled “10 True Tales: Heroes of Hurricane Katrina.” 

Book news
            Yale University Press has published the paperback version of “The Good Pirates of the Forgotton Bayous: Fighting to Save a Way of Life in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina” by Ken Wells, a Pulitzer Prize finalist who has worked at the Miami Herald, Wall Street Journal and currently Bloomberg News. The book relates how a small group of shrimp boat captains in St. Bernard Parish faced the wrath of Katrina and then its equally  painful aftermath. A native of Bayou Black, Wells is also the author of the Catahoula Bayou trilogy and “Crawfish Mountain.”

Heritage Lecture Series
Author and architectural photographer Robert S. Brantley will discuss his latest book “Henry Howard: Louisiana’s Architect” Thursday at the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, located in the Old Governor’s Mansion in downtown Baton Rouge. There will be a reception from 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. followed by a 6:30 p.m. lecture and booksigning. The event is free and open to the public. The book, which details a prolific yet largely unknown 19th century architect, is co-published by The Historic New Orleans Collection and Princeton Architectural Press, written by Brantley with Victor McGee and features photographs by Brantley and Jan White Brantley. It retails for $60 and will be available for purchase at the event. For more information, visit or or call (225) 387-2464. 

Book events
Ellen Urbani signs “Landfall,” a novel about two women connected through fate after Hurricane Katrina, at 6 p.m. Monday at Octavia Books in New Orleans.
Blaine Lourd has published a gothic coming-of-age memoir set in South Louisiana in the 1970s titled “Born on the Bayou.” Actor Matthew McConaughey says of the book, “As the youngest brother and son of a father whom I respected, feared, and idolized, I know well the rights of passage Blaine writes about: We don’t really become men in our fathers eyes until we buck them and go our own way. Hard, scary and at times unfair, it works. Blaine Lourd tells a personal story that a lot of sons and little brothers know well. A story that a lot of us wouldn't be where we are today without.” Lourd will discuss and sign copies from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday at Books Along the Teche in New Iberia and at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Octavia Books in New Orleans.
Writers’ Guild of Acadiana meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Barnes & Noble Lafayette. The meetings are free and open to the public.
Claire Manes discusses and signs her book “Out of the Shadows of Leprosy” at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Jeanerette Museum in Jeanerette. Manes is an adjunct professor at UL-Lafayette. The event is free and there will be books for sale.
New York Times best-selling young adult novelist Libba Bray visits New Orleans this week to celebrate the release of her “Lair of Dreams,” a supernatural novel that’s a follow-up to “The Diviners.” Bray is the author of “Beauty Queens,” the 2010 Printz Award-winning “Going Bovine” and the “Gemma Doyle” trilogy. She will sign books at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Octavia Books in New Orleans.
            Gary Rivlin signs “Katrina: After the Flood” at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Maple Street Book Shop in New Orleans. The book traces the storm’s immediate damage, the city of New Orleans’s efforts to rebuild itself and the storm’s lasting affects.
The book traces the stories of New Orleanians of all stripes as they confront the storm’s aftermath.
Festival of Words literary organization offers poetry and short story readings beginning at 7 p.m. on the last Wednesday of every month at the Grand Coteau Ballroom in Grand Coteau. The public is invited to bring own work and share via open mic.
Katherine E. Browne reads from, discusses and signs “Standing in the Need: Culture, Comfort, and Coming Home After Katrina” at 6 p.m. Thursday at Octavia Books in New Orleans.

Dr. Cheryl Taylor, the Southern University Baton Rouge Graduate Nursing Program Chair and a Proctor Katrina commissioner will speak on “And We are Still Standing” from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Greenwell Spring Regional Branch Library in Baton Rouge. There will also be an unveiling of the no-sew quilting project and opportunities to journal on the wall of memories and share stories in the “Big Book of Katrina Stories. A reception and music will follow.

Cheré Dastugue 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.” She also writes Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire, “A Cajun Dream” and “The Letter.” Write her at