Review: ‘Parade of Horribles’ by Rhett DeVane

The people in Rhett DeVane’s new novel Parade of Horribles are the kind of folks, foibles and all, that most of us wish we knew, wish we could call kin, and when danger and hatred intrude into our lives, wish we had looking out for us. Chattahoochee is a real town in the Florida Panhandle and, as the book’s back cover description tells us, it really does have a “state mental institution on the main drag.”

Do Elvina Houston, Hattie Lewis and Jake Witherspoon really live there? Probably not. But they are so real in Parade of Horribles that–in telling their story–DeVane has seemingly conjured them out of the cosmos and placed them there, 37 miles west of Tallahassee as the crow flies, alongside the Apalachicola River. A notable feature in the town, the river is a figurative and literal feature in DeVane’s well-told story. It’s both a haunting reminder of old wounds and a restful escape from the 24/7 preparations for the upcoming harvest festivals and a growing number of signs there may be a dangerous serpent in this Garden of Eden.

DeVane hints at the danger early on the way Hitchcock would show a trace of something wrong near the beginning of his feature films. But the townspeople’s attention and the reader’s attention are drawn to the mix of daily life and harvest festival duties. The horribles, as Jake thinks of them, steep like tea half forgotten on a back burner and, as the story moves toward its unexpected ending, grows all the stronger and more foul tasting for the wait.

Parade of Horribles is the seventh book in the “Hooch Series.” As we saw in earlier novels such as Cathead Crazy and Mama’s Comfort Food, this very Southern author deftly captures the way people in her panhandle world think, talk, work, support each other–and, yes–gossip about what’s in plain sight and what’s not yet apparent to everyone else. Residents of the Florida Panhandle know that in many ways it’s a country unto itself, not like south Georgia and even further and farther removed from the snowbirds and tourist destinations of the peninsula.

Reading DeVane’s Hooch Series is an immersion into this country; Parade of Horribles is wonderful mystery/thriller and a highly recommended addition to a body of work that makes “the other Florida” and “Florida’s forgotten coast” altogether real and impossible to forget.





Remembering a batch of authors

When we use traditional collective nouns for groups of animals, we speak of a congregation of alligators, a colony of ants, a swarm of bees, a herd of buffalo, a clutter of cats, a murder of crows, a pod of dolphins, a flock of geese, a charm of hummingbirds and a pandemonium of parrots.

batchHumorous collective nouns have been suggested for writers, including an absurdity of, an allegory of, a gallery of and scribble of. Some of the funnier suggestions are less than flattering. When I was interviewed for a regional magazine along with other authors from the county, the article was titled “A Truck Load of Authors.” We were all packed into a vintage pickup truck, a picture was taken, and the magazine had a great illustration.

Since I had no viable way of getting all the authors together who have appeared on this blog directly through guests posts and interviews or indirectly through reviews together and posing them on a raft, railcar or a team of wild horses, I’ve settled for the word “batch.”

The Batch at Malcolm’s Round Table

GoldfinchIf this blog has a niche–or a partial niche–it’s books and writers. Since I read a lot, the batch of writers here has included a lot of reviews. Some of those were BIG PUBLISHING BESTSELLERS but most were not.

So yes, I reviewed Dan Brown’s Inferno and talked about Donna Tarrt’s The Goldfinch. I liked The Night Circus, The Tiger’s Wife, and Long Man a lot and you probably heard about those more than once. Of course I talked about my own books but, well, that’s because I can’t help it and I try not to go on and on about them even though I might be going on and on anyway.

But, to move on. . .

However, it was much more fun talking (in reviews or notes) about books by some wonderful authors you weren’t hearing about everywhere else, L. S. Bassen, Seth Mullins and Smoky Zeidel (who has a new edition coming out soon).

Guest Posts and Interviews

Sara Ann grave in PA. Bob Salerni photo.
Sara Ann grave in PA. Bob Salerni photo.

When an author has delved deeply into a subject while researching a book, it’s fun to have them to stop by and do a guest post. The most unusual guest post was author Dianne K. Salerni’s (“We Hear the Dead,” “The Caged Graves”) Mortsafes: Protection FROM the Dead or FOR the Dead? Spooky stuff.

Interviews are something special because even though they are conducted via e-mail, my guests and I try to make they read very much like conversations.

Most recently, Marietta Rodgers stopped by to talk about her debut book The Bill. Laura Cowan has been here twice, most recently to talk about her magical Music of Sacred Lakes. Nora Caron, a Canadian author lured into Mexico and the American southwest has written a wonderful trilogy that includes New Dimensions of Being. Melinda Clayton, a psychologist who’s now focusing her observational skills on fictional characters spoke about her novel Blessed Are the Wholly Broken.  Two audio book narrators, R. Scott Adams and Kelley Hazen stopped by do tell me how they do what they do. Adams brought his talents as a dialects specialist to my novel Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire. Hazen brought her experience as an actress to narrate my three-story set Emily’s Stories.

row1Diane Salerni’s research into Mortsafes made for a wonderful book in Caged Graves. Novelist Robert Hays used his background as a journalist and journalism educator to write the well-received nonfiction book Patton’s Oracle: Gen. Oscar Koch, as I Knew Him. Laura Cowan (“The Little Seer”) contributed a close-to-my-heart guest post Speculative Supernatural Novels and the Growing Fantasy Genre. Novelist Pat Bertram (“Light Bringer,” “Daughter I Am”) also wrote the nonfiction Grief the Great Yearning which brings together her experiences with loss in an guest post called The Messy Spiral of Grief. Beth Sorensen (“Crush at Thomas Hall”) wrote a sparkling thriller/romance in her novel Divorcing a Dead Man.

row2Helen Osterman worked as a nurse for 45 years. During her training, her rotation she witnessed hydrotherapy, Insulin coma therapy and electroshock. Her background served her well when when she turned to fiction writing in  Notes in a Mirror. Vila SpiderHawk’s Forest Song novels are magical. She stopped by to talk about Finding Home. I thoroughly enjoyed Deborah J. Ledford’s Staccato, Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s Dance of the Banished and Rhett DeVane’s Suicide Supper Club.


Memory Lane

As you see, memory lane is a long street. It would be even longer if I kept better records, so I’m sure I didn’t find all of my interviews and guest posts. I’m planning to bring you some more new posts in the coming months. I hope you’ll stay tuned and, from time to time, sample the authors’ stories.


KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat”











Review: ‘Suicide Supper Club’ by Rhett DeVane

suicidesupperclub“Life is crap and the weather is stupid-hot: reasons enough for four small-town Southern women to plan ‘the easy way out,’” the publisher’s description for Suicide Supper Club informs us. Rhett DeVane (“Cathead Crazy”) brings her trademark sparkling prose and deep insights into human nature to this story of the darkness and light in the lives of Abby, Loiscell, Sheila and “Choo-choo.”

Truth be told, the light is in short supply.

The lives of these kindred spirits play out in the Florida Panhandle between Chattahoochee, a small town with a main street dominated by a mental institution, and Tallahassee, the state capital, 44 miles away. Most of the festering family secrets, declining health, estrangement and physical abuse live and breathe in Chattahoochee for Abby, Loiscell, Sheila and Choo-choo. Tallahassee is for shopping, fine dining, cancer treatments and a prospective appointment with a hit man.

Suicide and humor are usually mutually exclusive worlds. But they seamlessly merge through DeVane’s inventive plot, fully realized characters, knowledge of Southern life and customs, and sense of place. Readers cannot help but feel the characters’ reactions to the darkness in their lives and, quite possibly, understand the rationale for a suicide supper club.

The light in Suicide Supper Club comes from the great love and esteem the four women have for each other and the ways they find for coping with the Florida heat and the crap. I grew up in the Florida panhandle, so it was easy for me to see near the beginning of this novel that when it comes to Chattahoochee and Tallahassee and the people who live there, Rhett DeVane gets it right.

You’ll see that, too, long before you reach the last page and learn whether or not Abby, Loiscell, Sheila and Choo-choo are still among the living.


Review: ‘Cathead Crazy’ by Rhett Devane

“All she wanted in this life was a small slice of peace. Maybe add in some attention from her husband. Respect from her kids. A clean house. But she’d settle for peace.” – Rhett DeVane in “Cathead Crazy.”

Hannah Olsen wears multiple hats, and their combined weight is well-known to any woman who has done a portion of her life as a member of the sandwich generation stuck like thin cheese between an aging parent and demanding children. She has a full-time job, a household with a husband and kids to look after, and an ever-changeable mother called Ma-Mae at a nearby nursing home who needs and expects her dutiful daughter to be present around the clock.

In “Cathead Crazy,” Rhett DeVane tells Hannah’s story with grace, sweet-and-sour reality, humor during hard times, and a heaping helping of the down-home Florida Panhandle lifestyle. Immensely readable, this novel is about a family caught in the crosshairs of the difficult choices everyone with aging parents will ultimately face. Even so, there are still good days, laughter and memories that will serve well for a lifetime.

Rhett DeVane knows the territory, and she has made of it a moving story with realistic, multidimensional characters with universal cares and needs who try their best to navigate life without going “cathead crazy.”

The eight recipes, including “Ma-Mae’s Buttermilk Cathead Biscuits,” are a mouthwatering extra treat. Would you like sweet tea with your lunch, hon?


Author of four novels, Malcolm R. Campbell grew up in the Florida Panhandle where this novel is set, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing it again through Rhett DeVane’s wide-angle lens even though he never learned to like sugar in his iced tea. His novel, “Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey” is partially set in Tallahassee, Carrabelle, Tate’s Hell and other areas very close to Hannah Olsen’s neck of the piney woods.

Upcoming book reviews

I’ve got my work cut out for me with Philip Lee Williams’ huge new novel The Divine Comics: A Vaudeville Show in Three Acts. It’s a 1,000+ page, two-inch thick novel from an award-winning Georgia author. However, I’m really looking forward to this one. I’ve previously enjoyed his poetry in Elegies for the Water, his natural history about the ridge he calls home in In the Morning, and his civil war novel  A Distant Flame. Williams, who is also a composer of classical music, recently retired from the  University of Georgia.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Williams several times at our local library when he was on tour.

I’m also looking forward to Rhett DeVane’s new novel Cathead Crazy. She wrote a guest post about the novel’s background here on March 12. I’ve started reading the book—it’s great. I’m not surprised. I liked Rhett’s Evenings on Dark Island, co-written with Larry Rock. What a great vampire spoof that was. While Rhett lives in Tallahassee, Florida, the town where I grew up, I’ve never met her. She needs to do a book tour into the Northeast Georgia region where we also happen to like large biscuits.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading and enjoying Lynne Sears Williams wonderful novel about the long-ago days in the country now known as Wales. I’ll be talking more about The Comrades on this blog very soon.

Meanwhile, I’m busy keeping up with my Book Bits blog (writer’s links) while working on short stories. (I’m not yet ready to tackle another book-length story.) And then, too, the website has undergone a major overhaul lately. That can happen when you switch the domain from one ISP to another.

The weather’s heating up in northeast Georgia, the grass is growing faster than I like, pollen is covering the cars, the cats are constantly miaowing about something, and I’m starting to think I’m ready for a vacation.


The Sandwich Generation

Today’s guest post is by Rhett DeVane, author of “Mama’s Comfort Food,” “Evenings on Dark Island” (with Larry Rock), and “Accidental Ambition” (with  Robert W. McKnight). Her new novel “Cathead Crazy”  is the “story of one woman’s determined journey through love, loss, and the surprises of mid-life.” Rhett’s post gives us a glimpse of the realities and inspiration behind the novel.

The Sandwich Generation

Over 10 million Americans are part of the “sandwich generation,” caring for both children and elderly family members. This group falls between ages 34-54, and are of all cultures and ethnicities. Caretaking brings a crash course in legal and financial matters, difficult medical decisions, and questions about housing. Add to that, finding time for the caretaker to rejuvenate before his or her own health and relationships suffer. Wow.

As the years pass, I realize what a charmed childhood I led— raised in the gentle rolling hills of North Florida with two outstanding parents, fresh air and homegrown vegetables, and always more than enough dogs, cats, chickens, and the occasional rescued tortoise, squirrel, or rabbit. My parents were my my biggest cheerleaders, especially my mom. As she put it, I served as “her caboose,” until her later years when I became “her engine.” After my father’s death at 79, Mom stayed in that big farmhouse on Bonnie Hill until her late 80s, when she decided to move close to my home in Tallahassee.

My brother lived a few towns distant, and my sister in Tennessee, so I became the go-to, go-get, go-crazy girl. The one who gets called at 2 a.m. when the ambulance is on the way. The one who dries tears. The one who occasionally thinks of steering her car one-way out of town and not leaving a bread trail.

Mom and I did the typical “girly” things: we shopped, enjoyed the monthly mani-pedi, tried new local eateries, and gossiped on the front porch. I got caught up in the goings-on at her assisted living facility and never visited that I didn’t end up laughing, or at least in a much better mood. It wasn’t all nirvana; there were times when we stomped all over each other’s last nerve. We kissed and made up, then pressed on.

Cathead Crazy follows one woman’s similar bumpy journey. But it could be anyone’s. The anecdotes are based on truth, either personal or those shared with me. Though Mae has many of my mother’s traits, Hannah’s mother is much more cantankerous. Nor did I have two teenaged kids to add to the mix. Fiction demands drama, so I went all-out to torment Hannah. Poor dear.

In our reality, my family faced the sudden death of my sister Melody, six months before my mother “left for Home.” Both women are reportedly doing well on the Other Side (as my brother and I have been shown in dreams); my mother drives a bakery food truck and my sister sings to those nearing death. They stay busy. No huge surprise.

The draft for Cathead Crazy idled in my computer’s hard drive for over two years before I could bring myself to revisit it. And how grateful I felt that I written it as I rowed my leaky caretaker canoe upstream. The memories flooded back, and I healed as I slugged through the revisions.

I think Mama D would be proud. She’d say, “Sugar, this one’s a keeper.”

Cathead Crazy Launch Party

While paperback and Kindle editions of Cathead Crazy are already available on on Amazon, the party is yet to come. If you’re in Tallahassee, Florida on April 26, stop by the Mockingbird Cafe from 5:30 till 8:00 pm to meet Rhett and enjoy the excitement that’s part of the official launch of a new book.

“This one will make you smile, make your eyes leak, and make you want to rush to the kitchen to bake a batch of fresh ‘catheads.'” – Rhett DeVane