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 http://thesouthernreview.org.

Contest
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 www.hubcity.org/cmcprize. 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.


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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 cherecoen@gmail.com.