Sunday, July 30, 2017

'The Almost Sisters' almost works well

Leia Birch Briggs may pen best-selling graphic novels and shun relationships but she hails from a long-standing Alabama family that founded the town of Birchville. There’s so much happening in Leia’s world — mainly she’s pregnant from a one-night stand at a comic convention and all she knows of the father is he was costumed as Batman. But when she visits her perfect sister and finds Rachel’s life in disarray, then hears that her beloved grandmother back in Bama may be sliding into dementia, her world turns further upside down. All those plotlines converge in Joshilyn Jackson’s “The Almost Sisters,” a tale that offers as many morals about small-town Southern life as story threads. When Leia arrives to check on Grandma Birchie, she rediscovers some of the grumpy old families and their tiring personalities, those who had always resented the town’s matriarch. On her side are equally long-standing families and friends, plus Grandma Birchie’s companion, an African American named Wattie who has become Birchie’s pillar of strength.

To make matters worse, Birchie is hiding a family secret, with origins into what Leia discovers as the “Second South,” an ugly side to the home as she knew it growing up. This revelation hampers Leia announcing her pregnancy since the father is African American. Meanwhile, as a deadline looms, Leia must also figure out the story of her next comic book. It’s a story much like her own, and how close to reality is what Leia must figure out while dealing with Birchie, her sister, her brother-in-law who broke her heart in high school and the phantom father of her unborn child.

If this sounds complicated, it is. A bit too much. Just reading the book jacket made me wonder what I was getting myself into. In Jackson style, there’s lots of fun Southern antics, personalities and situations but I could have used more action and focus, less long descriptions of backstory. And just what does the sister reference refer to? I won’t spoil it for you, but I was waiting for something dramatic between Leia and her sister Rachel. Instead, I found it elsewhere, at the end of the story.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy “The Almost Sisters,” but I’m much more partial to Jackson’s earlier works, ones with a more focused direction. But don’t take my word for it; the book is an Indie Next List pick for August by the American Booksellers Association.
New releases
Acadian House Publishing has released a new book, “The Day of the Cajundome Mega-Shelter,” detailing when the Cajundome evolved into the nation’s first mega-shelter almost overnight after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Cajundome was also a shelter for those evacuated from Hurricane Rita, which hit Louisiana almost one month later. 

The “Southern Review,” published on the LSU campus, has released its summer edition with vacations and holidays as its theme. The issue also features the paintings of Elise Toups, an LSU-educated contemporary artist working in New Orleans. The summer issue is now available for purchase online at

Hub City Press offers the $10,000 C. Michael Curtis Short Story Book Prize, open to emerging writers in 13 Southern states and includes book publication. Submitters must currently reside in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia or West Virginia, and must have no previously published books. Submissions are judged by Lee K. Abbott, author of seven collections of short stories, and will be accepted Aug. 1 through Jan. 1, 2018. A $25 submission fee must accompany each submission. For more information, visit The first winning book will be published in Spring 2019.

Aspiring writers
The “Battle of the Presses: Traditional vs. Self Publishing” will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at the East Baton Rouge Main Library, 7711 Goodwood Blvd. in Baton Rouge. South Louisiana authors Emily Beck Cogburn and Ashley Michel will discuss the benefits of both avenues of fiction publishing and answer questions from aspiring writers. Cogburn is the author of “Louisiana Saves the Library” and “Ava’s Place,” both published by Kensington Books, and works as a freelance writer and fitness instructor. Michel is a reference librarian at the East Baton Rouge Parish Library who has self-published two novels, “Fugue” and “The Girl in Grey.” The event is free and open to the public.

Book events
John Bicknell discusses and signs his book, “Lincoln’s Pathfinder: John C. Fremont and the Violent Election of 1856,” at 2 p.m. today at Garden District Book Shop of New Orleans. Also this week at the bookstore, Larry Correia discusses and signs his book, “Monster Hunter Siege” (No. 6 in the “Monster Hunter International” series) at 6 p.m. Monday.

Charlie Spillers discusses “Confessions of an Undercover Agent: Adventures, Close Calls, and the Toll of a Double Life” at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Alexandria Rotary Club.

Adley Cormier signs copies of his book “Lost Lake Charles” from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau in Lake Charles.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country.” She writes Louisiana romances and mysteries under the pen name of Cherie Claire. Write her at

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tuesday ebook spotlight: 'This Dark Road to Mercy'

Wiley Cash, who received his PhD from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette has been making waves in the literary world. His debut novel, "A Land More Kind Than Home," was hailed as "a powerfully moving debut that reads as if Cormac McCarthy decided to rewrite Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird" (Richmond Times Dispatch). He followed up the success of that book with "This Dark Road to Mercy," "a resonant novel of love and atonement, blood and vengeance, set in western North Carolina, involving two young sisters, a wayward father, and an enemy determined to see him pay for his sins." 

"This Dark Road to Mercy" (you can read Louisiana Book News' review here) is now available as an ebook download for $1.99.

Here's the book's description:

"After their mother's unexpected death, twelve-year-old Easter and her six-year-old sister Ruby are adjusting to life in foster care when their errant father, Wade, suddenly appears. Since Wade signed away his legal rights, the only way he can get his daughters back is to steal them away in the night. Brady Weller, the girls' court-appointed guardian, begins looking for Wade, and he quickly turns up unsettling information linking Wade to a recent armored car heist, one with a whopping $14.5 million missing. But Brady Weller isn't the only one hunting the desperate father. Robert Pruitt, a shady and mercurial man nursing a years-old vendetta, is also determined to find Wade and claim his due. Narrated by a trio of alternating voices, 'This Dark Road to Mercy' is a story about the indelible power of family and the primal desire to outrun a past that refuses to let go."

Louisiana Book News is written by journalist Chere Dastugue Coen, who writes Louisiana romances and mysteries under the pen name of Cherie Claire. The first books in her award-winning series are FREE as ebooks! For more information and to sign up for her newsletter visit


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Louisiana is choke full of great writers

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the eighth annual Berries, Bridges and Books Writers Conference in Ponchatoula, and it was there I was fortunate to meet several wonderful authors and get the literary lowdown.

Vicky Branton, Teche Life editor at the Daily Iberian in New Iberia, doubles as the town’s literary champion. She informed me that the Dave Robichaux Festival, which honors the main character of the James Lee Burke novels, has been renamed Books Along the Teche Literary Festival and will be held April 6-8 in New Iberia. She explained that some people who had never read Burke’s mysteries shied away from the literary event, even though there was always something for everyone. The festival still celebrates Dave Robicheaux and his home town, Branton insisted.

I got to meet Colleen Mooney and Mary Beth Magee, two authors who will be on the Louisiana Women of Mystery panel, of which I’m moderating, Oct. 28 at the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge. Mooney writes locally-set mysteries such as “New Orleans Go Cup” and “Drive Thru Murder.” Magee writes Christian cozy mysteries and her latest is “Ambush at the Arboretum.”

Linda Thurman spoke on filmmaking in Louisiana, pointing out locations for numerous films shot here, along with some fascinating facts about early cinema. She is the author of “Hollywood South: Glamour, Gumbo, and Greed,” which chronicles the state’s filmmaking industry since 1895. Yes, you heard right. Did you know that brief film clips were shown at West End Park on Lake Pontchartrain and that Vitascope Hall on Canal Street was the first motion picture theater in America? Her book is full of nuggets like these.

Kathleen Schrenk spoke on children’s books. Her middle grade novel, “A Dog Steals Home,” features 11-year-old Zach Stewart of New Orleans who explores the themes of family, friendship and animal welfare. Schrenk is a former middle school teacher, a volunteer reading tutor and Junior Great Books leader. She is also the founding member of Nola City Bark, the first off-leash dog park in New Orleans. You can read more about her books, plus invite her to speak at everything from schools to animal shelters at

In the prolific category is Michael Verret of Morgan City and Bayou Vista, who told me he has authored and illustrated dozens and dozens of books — and all kinds too. He’s a retired homicide detective and currently works in the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security. He gives programs too, ones to inspire young people and keep them out of the system.

Jack Caldwell is no slacker either. Check out his lineup, everything from the historical “The Plains of Chalmette” and “Rosings Park” to the modern “Crescent City” trilogy.  You can read more about this “Cajun in Exile” — he now lives in Florida — at

There’s more to tell but I’ll have to save those authors for a future column.
The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival annual writing contests are now on in several categories, including a new category in flash fiction. Here are the categories and deadlines: short stories of up to 1,000 words, due Nov. 8; one-act plays no longer than an hour, due Nov. 1; two to four poems with a combined length of up to 400 lines, due Nov. 15; and fiction up to 7,000 words, Nov. 30. For information, visit

New releases
Dr. Scharmaine Baker, a nationally recognized and award-winning nurse practitioner in New Orleans, wanted to find books about nursing that were both culturally sensitive and featured African American characters. Finding the pickings sparse, she took it upon herself to fill the gap. The result is the “Nola the Nurse” children’s book series, stories that also encourage children to pursue careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Some of the books in the series are “Nola the Nurse, She’s on the Go” and “Nola the Nurse Remembers Hurricane Katrina.” In addition to her story books, Baker hopes to inspire little girls throughout New Orleans with her dolls, activity books and coloring books. For more information, to book engagements and to purchase books, visit
Carroll Morgan of Crowley, who’s had an impressive 34 years of law enforcement experience, has recently published “The Memoirs of a Small Town Christian Police Officer,” released through Christian Faith Publishing. To watch a trailer for the book, visit

Book news
South Arts, a Regional Arts Organization serving nine states in the Southeast, has announced grants to 24 arts organizations throughout the region, including The Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective in Grand Coteau, which received a $1,730 grant to present writers Allison Joseph and Patricia Smith at this year’s November festival, and the McNeese Foundation in Lake Charles, which received a $2,041 grant to present Alina Fernandez in March 2018. These grants, made possible through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, support organizations presenting out-of-state fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry authors for publicly accessible readings and educational activities.“Literary arts are profoundly important to the cultural identity of the south,” said Susie Surkamer, executive director of South Arts. Amen to that.

Book events
Sunday Salon: Four Poets will feature readings by Bessie Senette, Clare L. Martin, Debra McDonald Bailey and Gina Ferrara from 3-5 p.m. today at Artmosphere in Lafayette. All four women are contributors to MockingHeart Review, a Louisiana-based poetry magazine. 

Julia Glass is the author of five books of fiction, including the best-selling “Three Junes,” winner of the National Book Award, and “I See You Everywhere,” winner of the Binghamton University John Gardner Fiction Book Award. She’ll be discussing and signing “A House Among Trees” at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Octavia Books of New Orleans.

John Bicknell discusses and signs his book, “Lincoln's Pathfinder: John C. Fremont and the Violent Election of 1856,” at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 30, at Garden District Book Shop of New Orleans.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country.” She writes Louisiana romances and mysteries under the pen name of Cherie Claire. Write her at

Friday, July 21, 2017

Upcoming summer, fall 2017 releases

Here are some books coming out in late summer and fall by Louisiana authors, by those who have spent time in Louisiana and books containing Louisiana subjects. Check back for updated lists.

Available now
Emma Flick’s “Snippets of New Orleans”
Megan Braden-Perry’s “Crescent City Snow: The Ultimate Guide to New Orleans Snowball Stands”
Anne Butler and Helen Williams' "Bayou Sara — Used to Be"
Jean Garrigoux's "A Visionary Adventurer: Arsene Lacarriere Latour 1778-1837, the Unusual Travels of A Frenchman in the Americas"

Joanne O’Sullivan’s young adult novel, “Between Two Skies”

Acadian House Publishing’s “The Day of the Cajundome Mega-Shelter”

The Southern Review summer volume

Dr. Scharmaine Baker’s “NOLA the Nurse” series

Eden Butler’s “Fall

Cherie Claire’s paranormal mystery series: “A Ghost of a Chance” and “Ghost Town”

Jean Sorrell's "Shadow of Death"

Em Shotwell’s “Forget Me Not”

Ronlyn Domingue’s “The Plague Diaries,” Book Three in the “Keeper of Tales Trilogy”

Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s “A Kind of Freedom” (She will be signing copies Aug. 26 at Octavia Books in New Orleans)

David Cappello’s “John G. Schwegmann, The People’s Grocer”


Alysson Foti Bourque’s “Alycat and the Monday Blues”

LSU Press: Kathryn K. Fontenot’s “The Louisiana Urban Gardener
Jennifer Atkins' "New Orleans Carnival Balls: The Secret Side of Mardi Gras


Richard Campanella's "Cityscapes of New Orleans"
Terry L. Jones’ “Lee's Tigers Revisited: The Louisiana Infantry in the Army of Northern Virgina”

Wiley’s Cash’s “The Last Ballad”

Jesmyn Ward’s “Sing, Unburied, Sing” (she will sign the book Oct 10 at Octavia Books of New Orleans)

Ellen Byron's "A Cajun Christmas Killing" 

John Magill’s “The Incomparable Magazine Street” (he will sign the book Oct 19 at Octavia Books of New Orleans)


William Joyce's "Snowie Rolie"

Michael Murphy's "All Dat"

MeaganCass’s story collection "ActivAmerica" 


LSU Press: Urmi Engineer Willoughby's "Yellow Fever, Race, and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans"

Coming next year...

January 2018

LSU Press: "Speaking French in Louisiana, 1720-1955, Linguistic Practices of the Catholic Church" by Sylvie DuBoisMalcolm Richardson and Emilie Gagnet Leumas

Louisiana Book News is written by travel writer Cheré Dastugue Coen, who writes novels under the pen name of Cherie Claire. Follow along on Facebook