Report from Louisiana: Unfocused

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – We are now three weeks into this quarantine business, so how’s it going for you? I thought I would be so productive and get some projects done, make some progress on my book, do some inspired writing…nah. Not happening. My creativity is dry as a bone. Gone.

I did a little blog post about that on SIGIS, and got a lot of unexpected feedback with people feeling the same way, which was reassuring in a way. It’s not just me.

It feels a little like the days and weeks following 9/11, to me. An overwhelming powerlessness and anxiety. Turns out there are a lot of people feeling this same way.

I’m incredibly frustrated with the inability of people to follow simple directions and stay home. Once again, this church in Central, Louisiana held services yesterday with 500 people in attendance this week, which thankfully is about half of what he had last week.

Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church says, “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated, …We hold our religious rights dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

He’s not alone in his commitment to disregard the stay at home order issued by Governor Edwards. In New Orleans, a growing epicenter of COVID-19, authorities had to break up a large gathering this weekend where people gathered for a Second Line event. Video on social media shows revelers in the neighborhood drinking, dancing, and playing music. Now, warrants have been issued.

In an attempt to slow down the spread of COVID-19 in Texas, Governor Greg Abbot has put a travel ban of sorts in place. If you travel to Texas from Louisiana, you have to fill out paperwork indicating where you will self-quarantine for the next fourteen days. This does not apply to commercial traffic and the like, obviously.

The grocery stores are beginning to level out however there is still no toilet paper, Clorox wipes, or hand sanitizer anywhere and there has not been for three weeks. My grocery store, apparently depressed by the long empty shelf, now is stocking laundry baskets on that aisle.

The big-box stores in our area, Sam’s Club, sometimes gets those items in; Saturday morning the line to get into Sam’s wrapped around the building as they let in twenty-five people at a time. Hundreds of people in line, much closer to each other than six feet, mind you, and VERY close to each other the closer to the front of the line they got. Insanity.

I’ve mad a couple of quick grocery store runs and have found that some people are keeping their distance but there are others who completely disregard your personal space. I was looking at the eggs yesterday when a man leaned right in front of me and grabbed a carton.

I’m looking at grocery delivery services now or curbside pickup; the turnaround on curbside pickup is days out however. If you need something quickly, too bad.

At any rate, this is our new normal. With Trump’s federal distancing extended to the end of April, I expect that our school year is effectively done, which saddens me somewhat.

Now, if I could just get my creative spark back.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Stay at Home

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Finally, yesterday afternoon, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards issued a “stay at home” order across the state. All “non-essential” businesses are shut down; restaurants are still open for curbside pickup and delivery, you can still take your dog to the vet, and liquor stores are open.

So, not much has changed under this order from what has been happening all week.

Via The Advocate:

Louisiana has the fastest growth rate of confirmed cases in the world, Edwards said, citing a University of Louisiana at Lafayette study. Louisiana ranks third in the nation — behind New York and Washington State — in per capita cases of people infected with the deadly novel coronavirus. The growth trajectory shows Louisiana increasing its confirmed cases on the same steep angle as Italy and Spain, where the virus has become exceptionally widespread.

Most of the cases in Louisiana are in Orleans parish with a known cluster of cases in an assisted living facility in New Orleans, but like everywhere, COVID-19 is spread throughout the state.

It is not likely to improve for a while as there are still far too many people that don’t appear to comprehend the gravity of what is happening.

Sunday, in East Baton Rouge parish, The Life Tabernacle Church hosted over 1,800 people at their Sunday morning service. Pastor Tony Spell said “if anyone in his congregation contracts covid-19 he will heal them through God.”

If anyone still doubts the severity of this virus, take a look at a viral Facebook post by Chicago resident Michael Bane.  He describes the progression of COVID-19 as it has attacked him after a “brief encounter” with someone who later tested positive for the virus. Bane wanted to put “a human face” on the virus and stress to people the importance of staying home.

The numbers in Louisiana continue to climb and as I write this, there is plenty of traffic I can still see outside my window. Our shut-down order doesn’t take effect until 5:00 p.m., and grocery stores (which will remain open) are packed with people clearing the shelves of whatever staples remain. As with much of the country, there has been no toilet paper, hand sanitizer, rice, dried beans, or bread for at least two weeks. If you catch it right, you can get milk or meat as stockers work frantically to keep shelves stocked.

On the plus side, random acts of kindness are on the uptick. One of my neighbors left a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread on my porch yesterday. Neighborhoods are pulling together to support one another, and people are getting creative in keeping the little ones entertained. One activity I saw yesterday was a “bear hunt,” where neighbors put a stuffed bear in their windows for kids to spot, or find, on walks with their parents.

I’m counting my blessings right now and staying inside.

Stay safe wherever you are, stay home, and wash your hands!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: COVID-19 and online teaching

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – What a difference a day makes.  Wednesday, last week, I was cutting across the Atchafalaya Basin on an airboat enjoying Spring Break, and within twenty-four hours of that Governor John Bel Edwards closed down K-12 schools, universities were shuttered, and everyone is practicing social distancing. Well, except New Orleans; they do their own thing there.

As an educator, I can tell you that my students are full of anxiety. Fortunately, I’m in a better position than a lot of people in that my kids have already been using Google Classroom. I immediately posted a sort of “check-in” assignment and on Sunday, still technically on Spring Break, most of my kids responded. Since then, most have filled in.

By Friday, my husband and I had returned to Shreveport and decided we needed a few groceries after being out of town for a week.

Big mistake.

The store was chaos.

You’ve seen images from all over the country, or seen it yourself, I’m sure. Even today, days later, there are zero paper products in the stores. Zero dried beans, no rice, canned goods are sparse. Things are restocking, but good grief – what chaos.

In Louisiana, our schools are closed until mid-April; I’ve got friends in other states who have said they won’t return to school at all this year. So far there are no directives from the Louisiana State Department of Education on graduation or testing, which has filled my students with anxiety.

As of today, all casinos in Louisiana are closed for two weeks, except those on Indian reservation. The economic loss to the state is estimated at $22 million.

With bars and restaurants closing, people staying home from work, schools closed…I don’t even want to think about the long-term economic effects of this.  It’s mind blowing, to me.

So, meanwhile, I’m teaching school from home, trying to reassure my students and still be sure they are learning. We are staying in as much as possible. Louisiana currently has 114 positive cases and two deaths. Most are in the Orleans parish area – no surprise given that Mardi Gras just happened.

Stay safe where you are. Be smart. Don’t panic or overreact.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

The Paris Library: A Book Review

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Add The Paris Library to your summer reading list. Any fan of historical fiction, or any book lover in general, will love this book! 

Coming out in June of 2020, The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles is an engaging tale that is narrated on dual timelines and is sure to become a best seller. A book lover’s delight, I could not help but think about Susan Orlean’s The Library Book as I was reading.  I was provided an ARC via NetGalley and Atria Books in exchange for a fair and honest review, and I am strongly recommending this book.

Navigating dual timelines, the author weaves an engaging plot between two characters, Odile and Lily. Set in both WWII Paris and 1980s Froid, Montana, we are drawn into both their stories knowing they will soon combine, and they do in a beautiful way.

As the book opens, a young Odile begins a new job as a librarian at The American Library in Paris at the onset of WWII, and her narrative is peppered with Dewey Decimal references which could have been very odd and distracting but is in fact absolutely charming. As the employees of the library work to protect their books, and themselves, during the Nazi occupation of Paris, it is interesting to note that many of the characters in this novel are real people and many of the events also all too real.

The author has drawn from the papers of Dorothy Reeder who served as the director of The American Library in Paris during World War II. At the end of the novel, Ms. Charles brings us up to date with what happened to the characters in real life after the war.

Perhaps because of the fact that many of the characters were real people, their story line in the novel is the more engaging and developed one, but the contemporary story line of Odile is still deftly drawn and merges beautifully with Lily’s in 1980s Froid, Montana, where Odile is considered “the war bride,” and an eccentric, odd sort of person. I won’t give any spoilers here, but the ending of the book is absolutely perfect and a very satisfying ending.

This is the kind of book you can get lost in for a few hours, or wade leisurely through over a couple of days. Either way I highly recommend The Paris Library. Mark your calendar for June 2020.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Tragedy at Mardi Gras

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  Mardi Gras season this year has brought both raucous, bacchanalian festivities true to our “laissez les bon temps rouler” mantra, as well as terrible tragedy.

In New Orleans another terrible accident claimed the life of a man attending the Endymion parade Saturday night. As with the accident the previous week in which a woman was killed during the Nyx parade, this accident also involved a tandem float. For the unfamiliar, tandem floats usually belong to large super krewes and are multiple floats joined together by some kind of hitch. Some can be several sections and be as long as 300 feet.

In the accident Saturday night, Joseph Sampson, 58, jumped up to catch a throw, landed on some beads, slipped and fell, and somehow ended up under a float. His friends tried to grab him and pull him out while another tried to alert the driver to stop, an impossible task over the noise. As with the accident the previous week, the parade was terminated.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has now issued a directive that no more tandem floats will be allowed, thus causing krewes with tandem floats to scramble and make adjustments so they can roll in these last few days of Mardi Gras season.

Of course, some people agree and others disagree with the order. Everyone recognizes the tragedy of the deaths but contend that accidents are bound to happen and perhaps error in judgement should be considered. The woman the previous week was supposedly attempting to cross over between the two floats, got tangled and tripped over the hitch, and went under the float. No safety studies have been done or formal reports on either accident and tandem floats have been in use for many years. The disgruntled are calling Cantrell’s order a “knee jerk” reaction in an attempt to bolster her low popularity rate.

Here in Shreveport, in northwest Louisiana, we have three large parades over two weeks. Some portions of the parades have barricades but it would be almost impossible to place barricades along an entire parade route and it is unclear whether that would have averted the situation in NOLA. Many of these parades wind through neighborhoods. At some point you can’t legislate complete and total safety.

Mardi Gras is a major money maker for NOLA and Louisiana tourism. It is unlikely, as tragic as these events are, that any significant changes will take place; tandem floats may be back next year after safety studies, or whenever there is a new mayor.

In the meantime, roll on.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Governor Edwards breaks promise to teachers

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Really, who is shocked by this?

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is giving pay raises to his staff appointees but not to teachers. During his recent campaign, Edwards promised teachers he would bring their pay up to the Southern regional average; he even gave teachers a $1,000 per year raise, the first in over a decade, to show good faith. But when his new budget proposal came out, nada. Nothing. Except for his political appointees.

From The Advocate:

The Democratic governor’s chief financial adviser, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, mentioned the raises in his presentation of Edwards’ budget recommendations for the upcoming 2020-21 year, describing it to lawmakers as a “small increase.” The AP received the list after asking Dardenne’s office for specific details.

Dardenne said the “unclassified employees” across Louisiana state government hadn’t received pay raises over the governor’s first term, even as other rank-and-file civil service workers did. He said most of the increases are 4%.

So, for example, Edwards’ attorney’s salary will bump from $180,000 to $187,200 and his deputy chief of progams and planning goes from $125,000 to $150,000. 

If I, as a teacher, got a 25K pay raise, I’d be pretty satisfied.

Edwards spokeswoman Christina Stephens said the pay hikes represent a “tiny fraction of the overall state budget.” She said they “were included as part of the governor’s budget proposal only after two years of budget stability and an improved economic outlook for the state.”

Teachers across Louisiana are livid. 

Teachers turned out for Edwards across the state, well, some of them did. Not all of us were fooled.

Instead, Governor Edwards is sending more money to local districts and telling them to fund their own pay raises from that, however, the amount for local districts is not nearly enough to fund pay raises.

The Advocate:

 A Louisiana teacher makes an average is $50,359 per year compared with $52,178 in the 16-state region, according to 2017-18 tabulations, the latest available. That’s about what a manager at McDonald’s makes. But managers also get cash bonuses, profit-sharing and stock options. Plus, teachers need a college degree. And the average college student graduates with a debt of $29,800.

Relying on public school math, it cost Louisiana taxpayers about $101 million for last year’s raise, meaning another $200 million is needed to bring this state’s teachers up to the regional average of 2018. But that’s a moving target. Texas boosted salaries by up to $9,000. Teacher pay rose by $3,000 in Georgia and $2,000 in Florida, according to the Southern Regional Education Board.

Louisiana radio host Moon Griffon pointed out last week that teachers are 10-month employees, and that a family of two teachers makes 100k a year, if they both make the average 50k. “That’s not bad,” Griffon said.  In Caddo Parish, one of the larger parishes in Louisiana, beginning teachers make $44k and don’t approach that $50k figure until about year ten. It isn’t that different in neighboring Bossier Parish, where a teacher with a BA degree with thirty years experience will max out at $59k.  In DeSoto parish, a beginning teacher makes $49k – zero years experience. By year ten, that teacher is up to $54k and by thirty, $61k.

None of these salaries are anywhere near what a staffer for John Bel Edwards is making, yet Edwards loves to point out how valuable teachers are.

Apparently only as long as he needs our votes. Then our value goes down.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Book Report

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I’m an avid reader and am often reading at least two, sometimes three, books at one time. We do independent choice reading in my secondary ELA classroom, and so I am often reading along with my students; that’s usually some kind of YA novel that I might be reading so I can discuss it with my students, or recommend it to someone. At home I usually have two books going: one on the Kindle which I read right before bed, and often another physical book that I might read when sitting outside, or when I’m ignoring the Law and Order reruns on television. 

I recently joined NetGalley which is one source of my reading fodder. In return for a fair and honest review I can get advance reading copies of books. This is right up my alley! I joined NetGalley because I discovered a new author that I enjoyed a great deal: Kelly Harms. It’s “chick lit” primarily, but she’s always got some kind of twist that I wasn’t expecting and her characters are usually engaging; I dislike a lot of chick lit characters because they are often insipid and silly, but with this author I don’t really see that. At any rate, I was so anxious of her next novel that I joined NetGalley for the sole purpose of getting my hands on an advance copy.

Harms is the author of The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, which is a fun read. After I finished that book I went back and read her previous novels, and thoroughly enjoyed them. The new book, coming out in May, is called The Bright Side of Going Dark and explores the world of social media influencers from both in front of and behind the lens. It gets a little vapid at times, I mean, we spend a lot of time focusing on a woman who makes her living as an Influencer, staging perfect pictures of her perfect life, and of course most of it is not real. But, overall, it was a fun, light read.

I’ve just finished reading Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown, which came out in January. This book disturbs me a little bit, in part because I see missed opportunities with the story. It was a good book and the initial premise is engaging.  Alice and Nate leave New York and purchase a 1950s era home in the suburbs The house is sold “as is” and includes the previous occupants belongings, old floral wallpaper, Formica kitchen table, and overgrown garden.  Then we meet the previous owner in a dual storyline: Nellie and Richard lived in the home in a stereotypical 1950s marriage with Nellie in pearls and June Cleaver skirts preparing dinner before the successful Richard gets home from work. Nellie spends her days gardening, baking, and attending Tupperware parties.

When Alice discovers a box in the basement containing Nellie’s favorite cookbook, complete with annotated margins, and boxes of 1950s Ladies Home Journal magazines, she begins to learn a great deal about the life Nellie and Ricard led, which of course was not necessarily as perfect as it seemed.

I found myself much more engaged in the Nellie and Richard storyline and wanted to throat-punch Alice most of the time. She made many self-destructive and irrational decisions which often made no sense. The ending of the book left me with the impression that it was rushed and just needed to end. Alice needed one more chapter, for example.

I’m glad I read the book, and I ended up giving it four stars in my review, only because I couldn’t give it 3.5 

I’m enjoying my NetGalley experience so far, as I think it will expose me to new authors and force me into some genres I may not normally explore. And hey, I’m always open to recommendations so if you’ve got one, drop it in the comments!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: on Reading and Education

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – With the resignation of Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White, effective in March, many Louisiana educators are closely watching the process and the candidates for the post.

Personally, I shed no tears over John White’s exit. Under his tenure we have moved into Louisiana’s version of Common Core of which I have been a vocal opponent.

I am on year twenty-four right now, in my career, and plan to do one more and then leave the profession.  I have no desire to teach from a canned, scripted curriculum that assumes one size fits all in the classroom. The education profession has become something I no longer recognize; it might be better, it might not, but it’s left me behind.

As a secondary ELA teacher, it hurts my soul that my students no longer read novels. In tenth grade, only the PreAP, or honors kids, are assigned an entire novel and that is a summer reading assignment. In the classroom, my curriculum is based around two “anchor texts,” Macbeth, and then The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. We do actually read all of Macbeth but with Lacks, we only read the Prologue. We are required to read many, many scientific articles about ethics. We read a couple of short stories. We do a whole lot of graphic organizers.

So, it is my hope that the new Superintendent of Education will put an end to this nonsense and bring back actual textbooks rather than copied articles. But, it is also true that the new superintendent could double down and make this all worse.

The one thing that has made all of this bearable to me is that I am still fighting for my students. A couple of years ago I started a classroom library and in my classroom every child reads for fifteen minutes at the beginning of ever class period. Their reading is from a book of their choice and I’ve built a nice collection of both fiction and non-fiction.

My school is a high-poverty school and is Title 1. Most of my kids are not on grade level and many don’t have books at home. And you know what? The buy-in for my reading initiative has been awesome! It is pure joy to me to look out at my kids during that fifteen minutes and see every kid buried in a book, reading.  I hold them accountable only by their Friday reading response journals: every Friday each student writes a letter to me about what they’ve been reading all week. I often respond back, with a couple of sentences, and we have a sort of dialogue about their books.

Whenever a student finishes a book they’ve really enjoyed, they tell their friends and through word of mouth, interest spreads.

I now have students that have left my class and moved on come back to my room asking to check out a book. We have a school library as well, and some go there. But many of these kids now trust me to recommend a book they will like, or they know that I will order the next book in a series they’re reading. We’ve built a relationship around books. It’s pure joy!

I started out building this classroom library by going to thrift shops and pillaging every Little Free Library near me. I went to garage sales and estate sales. I ordered a lot of books with my own money, I wrote a grant and a local television station gave me money to buy books. I used my own blog and social media accounts to beg for donations and I set up an Amazon Wish List. Books flooded in. I was amazed! People I didn’t even know were sending me books. Many came from readers of this blog!  I still have my Amazon Wish List and I currently have a Donor’s Choose project running to add current titles to my shelves that kids have been asking for.

When I retire I’ve promised to donate my library to two other teachers in my department.

I will be closely watching the search for our next Superintendent of Education. It is my sincere hope that he/she also believes in independent reading, student choice, and teacher autonomy. Teachers know their students and know what they need. And what we don’t need is a one size fits all scripted curriculum implemented with an iron fist.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Why no tort reform?

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – You can not drive down any highway in Louisiana without being inundated with billboards encouraging you to sue someone. On I-20 heading into Texas you see a lot of “Truck Wreck?” billboards and as you go down south, along I-49 you see the same but also oil field accident billboards and maritime accident billboards.

Trial lawyers are in high cotton in Louisiana.

We need tort reform in the worst way. We pay the second highest auto insurance rates in the nation and trust me, it is crippling.

The litigation-happy environment in Louisiana is also crippling business and growth.

One series of billboards is particularly offensive to me in that they quote Bible verses (Matthew 5:5-9, for example), again, encouraging one to sue.

Even still, tort reform doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s agenda in the state legislature. Why is that? One answer: John Bel Edwards, himself a trial lawyer and with many cronies who are trial lawyers who have donated heavily to his war chest.

Attempts to introduce tort reform have gone nowhere. One example:

Last year, State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican, introduced a bill ridding the state of the seat belt gag law. Her bill would allow as evidence the role not wearing a seat belt played in the litigant’s injuries. The bill never made it to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk. Then Senate President and Republican in name only John Alario stacked the Senate Judiciary Committee with trial lawyers guaranteeing tort reform legislation died in committee. This saved Edwards the embarrassment of having to veto a bill that would have lowered insurance premiums for so many.

Good old John Alario who has been in control of the legislature for longer than some of you have been alive is retiring now, so will things change?

Dan Fagan from The Advocate:

It’s clear personal injury lawyers have more clout than the rest of us with those running our state. But it’s unfair to put this all on Edwards. The governor could very well bend to public pressure to lower insurance premiums and sign a tort reform bill if one were ever to make it to his desk. Favoring his big-money attorney donors over Louisiana motorists doesn’t go well with his campaign slogan, “people over politics.” But the Republican-controlled legislature hasn’t sent Edwards any tort reform legislation. Alario is gone. Republicans are running out of excuses…. In the House, Republican Clay Schexnayder has cut a deal with Edwards and Democrats to win his speakership. Did he promise to keep tort reform legislation off the governor’s desk? If tort reform doesn’t make it to the governor this year, we’ll know why. Enough Republicans like things just the way they are. High insurance premiums and all.

The regular legislative session convenes in March.

Meanwhile, we will have to put up with these absurd billboards for a while longer.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Reading List

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It seems like January lasts forever, but one thing these long, cold months are good for is to catch up on some reading. My reading tastes range far and wide, and I tend to binge read when I discover an author new to me that I enjoy. I’ll generally read almost anything, from chick-lit to serious non-fiction. I’m not a big fan of fantasy.

I did read, and loved, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus a while back, and now that her long awaited second book is out, The Starless Sea, I picked it up, but I couldn’t get into it. I’m going to try again, maybe in the spring. It’s getting nice reviews, but just was not resonating with me at the time.

I’ve been on an Elizabeth Strout binge; I loved Olive Kitteridge, so when Olive, Again came out, I snapped it up and loved it. I relate to Olive. The older I get, I seem to get crankier. Cantankerous. I’m not as bristly as Olive, but I can relate. And now that I’ve seen the HBO adaptation of Olive Kittridge, I can’t help but see Frances McDormand as I read. Such fun! Now I’m on to My Name is Lucy Barton, also by Strout, and am enjoying that. Strout is sort of like a female version of Fredrik Backman, to me. Both authors are so adept at character development and in creating characters we become sympathetic to even though we may not want to.

In that same way, consider Steph Post’s final book in her Judah Cannon series, Holding Smoke. Post is an author who should be on your radar and who is not as well known right now as she will be.  Her Judah Cannon series has been referred to as “grit-lit” as a nod to its gritty, Florida noir setting and characters, some of whom are truly inspirational in their evil deeds. I received an ARC of Smoke a few weeks ago – its release date is next week, and I immediately jumped in and could not put it down. I would recommend reading the first two books in the series so that you are more invested in this one, plus, the story arc is fabulous. Post is a versatile writer and her last novel, Miraculum, might be my favorite of her works; that’s hard to say because I dearly love the Judah Cannon series.  Miraculum can hold its own with Night Circus any day, all day long.

In the non-fiction realm, I’ve recently finished Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House, which is a memoir about growing up in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, and the aftermath. It is more than a story about her family and Katrina, however. It reminds you that so many people around us are living lives that are ignored and unseen, forgotten, misunderstood. Broom’s skill in wrapping complicated themes around her family’s little yellow house is what makes her the gifted writer she is.

I just finished reading The Silent Patient, the much acclaimed new book by Alex Michaelides. It was a page-turner, and I couldn’t put it down, but in the end, I felt manipulated. I’m not sure how to explain that without spoilers, but let me just say the book was a good read, I enjoyed it, but the ending left me irritated. I’m not sorry I read it, and I’ll read this author again, but ….  I guess the last time I felt irritated by the conclusion of a book was Stephen King’s Elevation. I don’t want to give spoilers on that either, but at the end of Elevation, let’s just say there was a lot of profanity involved on my part and a huge reluctance to contribute to King’s bank account any further.

Next on my reading list is American Dirt. What are you reading? Give me some recommendations!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.