Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gwen Roland's novel 'Postmark Bayou Chene' a delightful, heartfelt debut

            An empty skiff arrives at the Bayou Chene post office with a nearly drowned dog tied to its side. At the same time, an old letter arrives from Hautes-Pyrénées, France, marked undeliverable. Both events will change the small hamlet located in the Atchafalaya Basin and the lives of its residents.
            So starts Gwen Roland’s debut novel, “Postmark Bayou Chene,” a delightful tale set in 1907 that follows the lives of young blind Loyce Snellgrove, her cousin Lafayette “Fate” Landry and their friend Valzine Broussard, plus a host of other colorful characters. It’s a story of love, loss and the power of community, no matter its size.
Everything revolves around the isolated town’s post office, run by Loyce’s father, Adam. It’s the heart of the small town, even though it’s a complicated mess since Adam lost his wife years prior. Despite her blindness, Loyce functions well in her home with the aid of education from a Baton Rouge school and her attentive cousin Fate. Valzine, meanwhile, works the bayous and rivers, playing music with Loyce on occasion.
When the skiff arrives, the trio brings the dog back to life and Fate insists he will be a helpful companion to Loyce. The empty skiff also brings an unusual couple to the area, and an abandoned newlywed arrives not long afterwards, bringing order to the post office but chaos to the couple. But it’s the letter, arriving many years later, that changes the folks of Bayou Chene, particularly the trio of young people who must choose how to make their way in the world, whether on the bayou or away.
            Roland is the author of the autobiography, “Atchafalaya Houseboat: My Years in the Louisiana Swamp,” also published by LSU Press, so her attention to detail about the Atchafalaya town, both historical and environmental, adds sweet richness to the tale. In the end, however, it’s the characters who steal your heart. I felt my own loss when I reached the last page.

New releases
            Award-winning singer-songwriter and cultural activist in Cajun and Acadian affairs Zachary Richard continues his stories of a turtle named Hopewell who finds a one-clawed crawfish after a hurricane in “The Legend of L’il Red” (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press). Richard had published other tales of the duo in French but this publication tells the tale in English, with illustrations by his stepdaughter Sarah Lattès. It’s a sweet story of two unlikely creatures who help one another after a storm, meeting up with other adventurous sorts along the way. Their aim is to find a magical spider who will heal the crawfish and allow him to grow another claw. As the team travels through bayous and prairies, they pick up frogs, crickets and a toad, meeting alligators and snakes. Their lesson, however, goes beyond finding someone to help L’il Red. Book one in what will be a series is appropriate for young readers or parents who wish to read the story out loud.

Holiday Gift Ideas
Svetland Petrova incorporated her 22-pound ginger cat Zarathustra into great works of art that will bring a smile to cat lovers in “Fat Cat Art: Famous Masterpieces Improved by a Ginger Cat with Attitude.” Each masterpiece incorporating a fat orange cat is complemented by notes from the author.
            Everything you wanted to know about Bill Murray from A to Z is included in “The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray: A Critical Appreciation of the World’s Finest Actor” by Robert Schnakenberg. It’s an encyclopedia of his films, costars, friends and family and quirky things Murray loves such as Mexican coke and In-N-Out burgers, complemented by the author’s commentary and research and photography.
Likewise, lovers of Sherlock — not the literary character but the popular PBS series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman — will adore “Sherlock Chronicles: The ultimate behind-the-scenes look at the making of the hit series Sherlock” by Steve Tribe. There’s everything to learn about the series, modernized and reshaped from the literary works of Sir Conan Doyle by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. The book includes scripts, photos, costumes and set designs and interviews, to say the least. And it appears on shelves in time for the “Sherlock” special that airs Jan. 1, 2016.