“Dance on His Grave” Review & Audiobook Giveaway!

14538706Well butter my buns and call me a biscuit! Oh how I love Southern mysteries set deep in the heart of the hauntingly beautiful East Texas-Louisiana borderlands.  Sylvia Dickey Smith has mastered the art of evoking a sense of dread in her lyrical atmospheric descriptions of the mysterious bayou country.  Moody atmosphere, colorful characters, good food and one heck of a strong-willed protagonist are all key ingredients for a quality Southern fiction novel. This author delivers all of these things in spades in her Sidra Smart mysteries. That’s why I put Sidra Smart on the top of my list of favorite Southern detectives—right next to David Robichauex, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. If you haven’t heard of those other guys, I advise you to Google James Lee Burke and Joe Lansdale immediately!

In this first installment of the Sidra Smart Mystery Series, Sid has emancipated herself from a loveless, sheltered marriage. No longer an obedient preacher’s wife, she’s thrust into a whole new world of independence and opportunity.

She reaches a crossroads when she inherits her dead brother’s PI business. With zero knowledge of how to run a business—let alone solve mysteries—she’s ready to sell it off to the lowest bidder. Yet when her controlling ex-husband tries to push her into doing just that, she decides to slap on her gumshoes out of sheer defiance! And really, that’s what I love about Sidra Smart. She’s bold, brave and ready to take on new adventures, despite the legions of naysayers who will stop at nothing to watch her fail.

Before she’s ready to pick up a  copy of “How to Run a PI Business for Dummies,”  her first client walks in with a cold case that would stump even Sherlock Holmes. Despite her best interest, Sidra agrees to look into the 30-year-old mystery revolving around two innocent girls caught up in an unimaginable world of horrors.  The horror show intensifies as she looks deeper into the case and discovers a tangled web of town secrets, torture and arson. Trust me, once you get to know the villain, you’ll understand the meaning of the book’s title, “Dance on His Grave.”

The plot thickens when Sid finds a connection between the bizarre cold case and her brother’s mysterious car accident. And just with any good thriller, the danger heats up as our heroine gets closer to the truth. Who is sneaking into her home and leaving ominous threats? Is it her ex-husband’s God-fearing disciples, or could it be a demented child-abusing killer? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

With some help from her newfound friend and fellow PI, George Leger, she carries on with the case—even when all hope seems to be lost.  She also gets a little help from her meddlesome Aunt Annie, who is always there to help Sid pick up the pieces when the chips are down. I’m especially fond of the Cajun-speaking George, who’s interesting enough to have his own spinoff story.

This is not your typical amateur sleuth mystery, mainly because there are some really weighty issues at the core of the story. Some of the descriptions of are rather dark and disturbing, so this book is not for the squeamish. Filled with punchy dialogue, cliffhanger chapter endings and unspeakable crimes, this book is somewhat of a mash-up of Karin Slaughter meets Gillian Flynn with a Cajun twist. Hard-boiled mystery fans are sure to enjoy this puzzling whodunit.

Enter to Win a Free Audiobook!

imagesU9JY9PEDI should also mention that the author gave me this book via Audible.  The narrator did a fantastic job unfolding the story in a somber tone. Unlike other narrators who drive me bonkers with their rapid-speed chipmunk-on-crack storytelling, she did a stellar job keeping the pace and capturing Sid’s voice.  I highly recommend listening to this on audio. In fact, the author has offered to give away a free audiobook. All you have to do is post a comment answering the following question and the winner will be picked at random. Don’t fret if you’re not an Audible member.  You can still receive the audiobook without an account.

Who is your favorite thriller author?

Friday Finds (Oct. 18)

fridayfinds_bringontheinkFriday Finds is a weekly meme hosted by Should be Reading that showcases the books you ‘found’ and added to your To Be Read list… whether you found them online, or in a bookstore, or in the library — wherever! (they aren’t necessarily books you purchased).

Happy Friday everybody!!! Don’t you just love this day of the week? It’s almost as awesome as Saturday, a day I reserve for running ungodly amounts of miles and then crashing into my reading nook for endless hours of book-nerdage.

Here’s all the lovely reads that I can’t wait to devour!

 Picked this one up at the airport
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 Scored this audiobook from the author! Post a comment to win a free download of this audiobook!
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 Bought this for only five bucks on Audible
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 Downloaded this on my Nook to retain my sanity
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I really have no business buying any more books, but what can I say? I’m a total book junkie! What are y’all reading this weekend? Post a comment and tell me all about it!  To enter the audiobook giveaway, post your answer to this question in a comment below: Who is your favorite strong female protagonist?  The winner’s name will be drawn at random.  Good Luck!

Texas Book Festival Spotlight: A Q&A with Sylvia Dickey Smith

Every October, all the big names in the publishing world make an annual pilgrimage to Austin for the most awesome book festival in the nation. But what I love most about the Texas Book Festival is meandering through the book signing tents and discovering emerging new authors. A few years ago, I stumbled across Sylvia Dickey Smith’s book-signing booth and took a chance on her Sidra Smart mysteries, Deadly Sins, Deadly Secrets, and Dead Wreckoning (read my reviews here). How could I say no to a Texas crime thriller filled with strong-willed women, ghosts and phantom pirate ships? Needless to say, I’ve been a fan ever since.

Sylvia was kind enough to chat with me about her new book The Swamp Whisperer, a fun little murder mystery set deep in the dark bayous and swamps of Southeast Texas. Read on to learn more about her unique approach to character development, how her background in psychotherapy factors into her writing, and what she’s working on now!

How did the idea for Swamp Whisperer come about?

Gosh, Jessica, who knows! But for lack of any more believable explanation, I’ve come up with this theory.

Are these three pranksters to blame for the creation of The Swamp Whisperer?

Deep in the frigid north of Rochester, Minnesota, there live three mischievous, trouble-making leprechauns named Alfyn Lee, Alfie, and Dr. Alf. Along with them, resides a neat priest named Johnny, who has long since given up responsibility for their behavior. While I slept, I’m guessing these fellows crawled into my dreams and dared me to write a story about an old swamp woman more concerned with the health of the bayous of southeast Texas than she was her own safety.

Why do they care? Because Boo Murphy, who is the swamp whisperer, gets in as much trouble as they do, and everyone knows fun loves company.

What drew you to the swamps and bayous of Southeast Texas as a setting?

My roots there grow deep—like five generations deep. When I searched for a setting for the Sidra Smart mystery series, my hometown kept calling me back. I had moved away shortly after high school, and have not lived there since, but the area carries its own magic and mysticism, likely left over from the indigenous Atakapa-Ishak Indians and the swamp lands they inhabited. The area is different than any other part of Texas. It is said to carry its very own gravity. You either get out early, or you don’t get out at all.

The dark swamps and bayous meander through town carrying whispers of time pasts, of the dreaded feu follet, of tales of sunken pirate ships and Jean Lafitte’s buried treasures. The area offers so much more than setting. It offers mysterious ambience, smells of rotting vegetation, out-of-the-ordinary, colorful and sometimes weird characters. I know. Many of them were my family. Some folks even say it takes one to know one.

So, I ask—wouldn’t you?

What made you decide to go against the norm and revolve your story around a cantankerous old woman?

Be sure to pick up your copy this Saturday at the Texas Capitol grounds!

Cantankerous old women and men have always interested me. They have color, personality, and they call it like they see it. No beating around the bush or pussyfooting around. Years ago, I dabbled in oil painting and one of my favorite subjects was the character and personality of the elderly.

My brother once told me a tale of an old man who went out in the swamps every day to fish and hunt squirrel. Fascinated by the story, I knew I wanted to write a tale with such a character. Not a man, however, but a woman, and a strong woman at that. So Boo Murphy was born in the third mystery of the series, Dead Wreckoning. Readers fell in love with her and demanded she have her own book. So, The Swamp Whisperer came to life in my heart and mind. I hope I did her justice. If I didn’t, as outspoken as she is, I’m sure she will let me know.

As many cantankerous old people do, Boo Murphy likes critters better than people. The critter she loves more than any other is her dog, Dawg. When he gets kidnapped, there’s no stopping Boo. You just don’t mess with a woman’s dog.

I wanted to write in the voice of an elderly woman because we have so much to learn from her. She carries a wealth of knowledge and experience from which we can all benefit.

It’s obvious you really looked into the history and mystery of the Texas-Louisiana borderlands. How did you go about researching this novel?

I researched it by talking to those who have been there and done that. I took boat rides out into the swamps and walked the shores collecting potshards and clamshells left behind by the Atakapa-Ishak people. I climbed atop large shell mounds, also called shell middens, which are piles of empty clam and oyster shells, the remains of their foraging for food along the banks of the bayous and rivers. I imagined what it must smell like to rub your skin with oil from alligators to keep the mosquitoes from eating you alive, to bear children with little shelter from the environment, to withstand hurricanes and floods. And to watch your way of life end with the coming of the Europeans.

As far as cantankerous old people, I’ve known enough of them in my lifetime that it didn’t take a stretch at all. When questions arose I couldn’t answer, I called my brother, Pete, who still lives there. He always had an answer for me, and if he didn’t, he made it up.

You do a wonderful job of establishing the yin-yang relationship with Boo’s cousin, Sasha. How did you construct her as both a friend and foil for Boo?

As a retired psychotherapist, I’ve spent a lot of time working with clients on the issue of balance. Black and white, up and down, right and left, negative and positive, hot and cold, north and south, man and woman, clean and dirty, cantankerous and sickly sweet.

Opposites yes, yet neither end of the continuum either right or wrong, only different. Both are simply opposite ends on a continuum, constantly moving toward the other.  

I knew Boo needed someone to help balance out her personality and challenge her to address her own imbalance. What better way to do that than with a ‘second-cousin once removed.’ In other words, a cousin you’d just as soon not claim if you don’t have to. I wanted Sasha to help Boo discover her softer side, to learn she indeed does care for people, and for Boo to balance Sasha’s goody two-shoes personality.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give to an aspiring novelist?

Sit in the chair and write!

Could you give us a sneak peek into what you’re working on now?

Something totally different. Yes, there will be another Sidra book, but only after I get this novel-in- progress done. It is a contemporary fiction.

Original Cyn is the story is of an outwardly perfect wife of an outwardly perfect pastor in danger of losing her soul. Who would have thought she’d find it by standing up to his congregation after they discover their pastor isn’t so perfect after all.  

Where can I find you at the upcoming Texas Book Festival?

Russ Hall and I share a booth in Tent # 2, Space 212, right across the aisle from Bright Sky Press. I really do hope you and all your readers will come by and say hello! I remember, Jessica, that is where and how we met! You stopped by, eager to read a new author, and we were off! How long ago was that, four years, maybe? I love meeting folks who love to read!

I will also have Rosie the Riveter fridge magnets and key chains on sale in case anyone else is a fan of hers like I am.

Want to know more about this talented Texas author? Go check out her website!

The Swamp Whisperer by Sylvia Dickey Smith

I need another book like a hole in the head, but sometimes I can’t resist a good story in a spooky rural setting with ghosts, feisty female characters and a good old-fashioned whodunit. That’s why I love Sylvia Dickey Smith’s Sidra Smart mysteries. She may not be a household name like Heather Graham or Nora Roberts, but this talented Texan writes like a pro – and I’m just so glad I stumbled upon her books that fateful day at the Texas Book Festival!

I have a theory for why the big publishing houses haven’t signed her on. You see, just like show biz, publishers have to appeal to the masses, and that means gorgeous long-legged protagonists, formulaic plotlines and contrived love triangles. Sure these bestselling authors occasionally include a senior citizen, but the old folks are typically the token “zany granny.”

Never one to follow the lead, Dickey Smith’s books are a welcome departure from the norm.   Boo Murphy, the leading lady in “Swamp Whisperer,” is by far one of the most unique protagonists I’ve come across in crime fiction. She’s cranky, obstinate, and full of piss and vinegar! She’s completely insufferable, but when you peel back the layers, it’s hard not to find a soft spot in your heart for this overgrown tomboy.

The mystery begins when Boo paddles out into the alligator-infested bayou and finds an Atakapa-Ishak brushwood hut. Considering that the Native American tribe of alleged cannibals disappeared from the Texas and Louisiana coastal regions centuries ago, it’s downright impossible for a hut to still remain standing.

All is not well, the cold rain whispered. Boo looked around, expecting to see a ghostly figure floating across the swamp, but no one was there.  This time she knew she hadn’t been imagining things – of that she was most convinced.

To prove she’s not going senile, she grabs her prissy cousin Sasha and heads back out into the murky water in search of the hut. After a boating mishap, they seek refuge in a spooky cabin, where they stumble upon a ghostly apparition and find a frightened woman trapped underneath a dead body.

After a thorough interrogation, the woman reveals that she’s a part of a covert anthropological project. Under the guise of research, an egotistical professor and a group of scholars are recreating the site of an Atakapa-Ishak village. Is this legitimate scientific research, or a self-serving treasure hunt? Good thing Boo was able to pocket that mysterious map from the dead man’s cabin.

Things get complicated when Boo’s beloved hound and cousin go missing. Someone knows she has the map – and Boo needs to piece together the clues to rescue her loved ones and save the sacred silver mine from desecration. With some help from an ethereal spirit within the swamp, she finds the strength and courage to track down the killer…and learns a bit about herself in the process.

The wind’s embrace seeped into her pores and stirred her insides. She sucked in a deep breath, allowing the dampness to fill her lungs with every particle of oxygen available to her. She held that breath as long as she could, hating to let it go, for never before had she felt so strongly that she and the swamp were one entity with one purpose – but what that purpose was, she hadn’t a clue.

Listen, the wind warned. The swamp is at risk, can’t you tell?

I’ll stop right here before I give too much away. If you’re into atmospheric whodunits, I implore you to read this book! What I really love about this author is her knack for character development. Through Boo’s grumbling self-dialogue, readers can feel her strong bond with nature and emphasize with her resistance to love and be loved. Oh how I love Boo! We don’t get many heroines like this one in crime fiction – or any other genre for that matter – but we should. Though this is a Sidra Smart mystery, this is really Boo’s time to shine. But don’t fret; the book sporadically touches on Sidra’s misadventures as she road trips with her eccentric aunt to Santa Fe for a wedding. I won’t give too much away, but I will tell you there’s ghosts involved!

If you’ve never read a Sylvia Dickey Smith book, this one will draw you into the fold. Her love of Southeast Texas comes through in her luscious descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of the swamp. At times I began to wonder if perhaps she might be a swamp whisperer herself!

If you’d like to meet this fabulous author, she’ll be at the Texas Book Festival, which is happening this month. I can’t wait!!!

Let’s Hear it for Strong Women!

My grandma back in her heyday. She’s the mischievous one on the right hiking up her skirt.

If you’re not already a regular follower of Sylvia Dickey Smith’s blog, Writing Strong Women, you’re in for a treat! Visiting her website is like sipping a cup of coffee with a good friend, the kind of friend you turn to for sage advice and encouragement. Sylvia’s blog gives me the kick in the pants I need harness my inner girl-power and face adversity head on! Can I get a Ya Ya!

I couldn’t think of a better place to post a tribute to the strongest woman I’ve ever known, my grandma. As you can see in this picture, she was a real firecracker! I’d like to think we share the same qualities, especially her smile and ability to love unconditionally. For more about this incredibly important woman in my life, stop on over at Writing Strong Women to read my guest post!

Who’s your favorite strong female character (in fiction or real life)?

Listen Up! Ellen Byerumm on Writing Strong Women Blog Talk Radio

Any mystery-loving fashionista worth her salt should know Ellen Byerrum’s Crimes of Fashion mysteries are just as exciting as a Kate Spade sample sale! Her crime-solving protagonist, Lacey Smithsonian, always finds herself entangled in a murder mystery while chasing down leads for stories about toe cleavage and the return of legwarmers. Even though she abhors pink (my signature color!), this girl has a knack for fashion and never hesitates to chase down murderous fiends – even in four-inch Jimmy Choos!

Want to know more about this fabulous vintage couture-clad protagonist? Well tune in to Sylvia Dickey Smith’s Writing Strong Women Blog Talk Radio Show this Monday at 1 p.m.  Who’s your favorite strong female character?

Listen Up! Joni B. Cole on Writing Strong Women Blog Talk Radio

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Joni Cole , author of Another Bad Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love, and Neurotic Human Behavior, will Imagediscuss her book and her approach to writing strong women today at 1 p.m. on Sylvia Dickey Smith’s Writing Strong Women Blog Talk Radio Show!

From Sylvia’s blog: She also taught writing for years, and has a book out for writers (Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive). About writing strong women, Joni says:

“I write strong women because they’re the most interesting! But of course even the strongest women have quirks, flaws, insecurities, and neuroses. Those are the things that often test their strength, sometimes as much as external challenges. In my book of personal essays “Another Bad Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love, and Neurotic Human Behavior” I write about times when I find myself in funny but also heartfelt situations–dealing with issues related to my aging parents, losing a best friend to suicide,  feeling insecure as a writer or parent. But in each essay, I don’t just outline the struggles inherent in these difficult situations, but also the opportunities for insight and triumph and even humor.

For more about this fabulous radio show, visit this website. Read my review for Joni’s memoir, “Another Bad Dog Book” here.