Texas Book Festival Reading Roundup!

WP_20141025_008When fall rolls around most people get excited about football, pumpkin-spice goodies and turkey feasts. For me, it’s all about books, books, books! Every October I get giddy just thinking about all author meet-and-greets, book tent shopping, live music and junk food galore at the annual Texas Book Festival.

Normally I make a beeline for the big-time author signing events and panel discussions, but this year I decided to spend more time roaming the rows upon rows of book tents with my ginormous book bag in tow. There’s free candy,  magazines, cheap books and oodles of swag. It’s like trick-or-treating for grownups! You never know who you’re going to bump into in these tents. In the past, I’ve stumbled upon talented new indie writers like Sylvia Dickey Smith and Russ Hall (two of my top Texas mystery authors), and bestselling young adult paranormal romance authors like Richelle Meade and Meg Cabot.

What I love about this festival is that I don’t even have to bother reading the dustcover for a synopsis. The authors are more than happy to walk me through the book in person! How cool is that!? Of course not all of them sing to me, which can be rather awkward when the author is doing a hard sell, but there were dozens this year that really caught my eye. Here are just a few of the titles that I added to my mountainous to-be-read stack:

WP_20141025_002Éire’s Captive Moon (Éire’s Viking #1)  by Sandi Layne

Éire’s Captive Moon, the first book of Sandi Layne’s Éire’s Viking Trilogy, brings you to the unsettled era of the early Viking raids along the coast of Éire – today’s Ireland. A wounded refugee from the violent Viking raids on Éire’s coast is healed so well by Charis of Ragor that Agnarr captures the moon-pale woman for his own and takes her home to Nordweg to be his slave. Read more here…

WP_20141025_001 Hunted (The Gates Legacy #1) by Lorenz Font

Deep in the heart of New York City’s netherworld, a horrible disease is ravaging the vampire community. The Vampire Council is on a crusade to obliterate those infected, and Harrow Gates is target Number One. The unwitting source of the plague, he suffers from the same nightmarish symptoms as his victims. The world he’d been thrust into was cold, cruel, and intent on eradicating him, and the legions of afflicted vampires he created with his bite. Read more here…

WP_20141025_006To Hell and Gone in Texas by Russ Hall

Retired sheriff’s detective Al Quinn hasn’t spoken to his brother, Maury, in twenty years. When Maury lands in the hospital under suspicious circumstances, though, Al reluctantly abandons his quiet country seclusion to look into the matter. A second attempt to take Maury out drives the brothers back to Al’s lakeside home, where Al knows the territory, but they’re not alone for long.

ICE agents demand that Maury rat on his silent partner, city cop Fergie Jergens comes investigating the murders of Maury’s lady friends, and someone takes a match to Al’s house. Read more here…

When You Make it Home by Claire Ashby

Meg Michaels, a bookstore owner, has already walked away from two cheating exes. She’s learned her lesson and has her mind set on success—until she gets knocked up. Embarrassed and unwilling to discuss her situation with friends and family, she wears layers to hide the pregnancy. Read more here…

(Notable Mention) Lay Death at Her Door by Elizabeth Buhmann
Twenty years ago, Kate Cranbrook’s eyewitness testimony sent the wrong man to prison for rape and murder. When new evidence exonerates him, Kate says that in the darkness and confusion, she must have mistaken her attacker’s identity. She is lying. Kate would like nothing better than to turn her back on the past, but she is trapped in a stand-off with the real killer. Read my review here…

WP_20141025_003RIP (Rest In Peace) by Bob Kat

Once again Kelly, Scott, Austin and Zoey are listening to the Spirit Radio when they hear a cry for help from a mother whose four-year-old daughter, Emma went missing in the middle of a busy lobby at the infamous Stanley Hotel. But time traveling back to 1911 is a lot more complicated than the three trips they had taken earlier in the summer. They have to find appropriate clothes and figure out a way to pay for their stay. When they hear about a tragic fire that hurt several hotel employees, the teens take advantage of the hotel’s desperation and get jobs working as lady’s maids and houseboys so they can keep an eye on Emma and her family. Read more here…

Texas Book Fest Roundup

Like a little kid on Christmas Eve, I’m going to toss and turn tonight thinking about author signings and fried things on sticks!  Tomorrow is the Texas Book Fest and boy do I have a full day ahead of me! I’ve got a pretty tight schedule, but hopefully I’ll get to meet these authors.

Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale by Lynda Rutledge

From the publisher: On the last day of the millennium, sassy Faith Bass Darling, the richest old lady in Bass, Texas, decides to have a garage sale. With help from a couple of neighborhood boys, Faith lugs her priceless Louis XV elephant clock, countless Tiffany lamps, and everything else from her nineteenth-century mansion out onto her long, sloping lawn. More…

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened ( a mostly true memoir) by Jenny Lawson

From the publisher: Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives—the ones we’d like to pretend never happened—are in fact the ones that define us. In the #1 New York Times bestseller, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. More…

The Boots My Mother Gave Me by Brooklyn James

From the publisher: Strong-willed tomboy Harley LeBeau puts you in the boots her mother gave her, as she takes you along her journey of escape from an abusive childhood and the desire to find herself as she comes of age. Made to feel a burden to her father simply by her gender, Harley is determined to prove her worth and independence, leaving the small town she grew up in and the one boy who gave her a soft place to fall, Jeremiah Johnson. More…

The Swamp Whisperer by Sylvia Dickey Smith

From the publisher: In this latest Sidra Smart mystery, Sid takes a bumpy road trip with her Aunt Annie. In the meantime, Boo Murphy – a cranky old swamp-rat who prefers to spend time in her pirogue, hunting and fishing, to spending time with people – is pulled into a strange world when she discovers a deserted brush-hut deep in the bayou. Read the post below for more details!

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!!!