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Reading Ahead: Highlights from the Texas Book Festival

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Get a peek at our favorite up-and-coming authors.

By Lydia Gregovic, Photos courtesy of the Texas Book Festival

Austin transforms into a book-lover’s paradise each November with the arrival of the Texas Book Festival. With the event expected to draw more than 50,000 bibliophiles this year, all who attend hope to get the chance to meet one of the festival’s featured authors. From award-winning young-adult novelist Sarah Dessen to acclaimed actor and short-story author Tom Hanks, the Texas Book Festival celebrates writers from all genres. And since collecting all of this year’s selections may be a little overwhelming for even the most avid reader, Austin Woman is sharing our top festival picks penned by some of our favorite female authors.

It’s News to Me

Olga Campos Benz

This may be her debut novel, but when it comes to the newsroom, no one knows her way around like former Austin Woman cover woman Olga Campos Benz. Following her graduation from the University of Texas, Campos Benz spent more than 30 years covering some of the state’s biggest news stories as a broadcast journalist. She brings these experiences to her writing, allowing readers to take an inside look at the Austin news industry through the eyes of Latina reporter Marissa Cavelo. Cavelo, Campos Benz’s witty and capable protagonist struggling to move beyond the fluff pieces her station manager consistently assigns her, gains the opportunity of a lifetime when she stumbles upon a monumental scandal at work in the city. Not everyone wants her news out there, however, and Cavelo suddenly finds herself up against ruthless criminals who will do anything to keep their activities from being uncovered. Combine that with a strained relationship with Cavelo’s twin sister, Carissa, and a passionate affair with her cameraman, and it’s easy to see Campos Benz has crafted a thriller as full of twists and turns as the 5 o’clock news.

The Talented Ribkins

Ladee Hubbard

W.E.B. Du Bois’ famous essay “The Talented Tenth” gets a complete makeover in Ladee Hubbard’s debut novel, and we must admit, the final product is absolutely magical. Winner of the William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, the novel centers on the misadventures of an unlikely protagonist, 72-year-old Johnny Ribkins. Johnny, who’s gotten in more than a little trouble for failing to pay back the money he stole from his mobster boss, is on a race for his life through Florida with nothing to help him except the Ribkins family’s unusual gifts. The African-American family, including Johnny himself, have historically been gifted with superpowers that are best be described as, well, unique. Johnny’s brother, for instance, can scale perfectly flat walls. And Johnny himself can draw a flawless map of any space you name, no matter whether he’s been there. Relying on his off-beat powers, and with a little help from his niece, Eloise, Johnny takes the reader on a statewide treasure hunt to recover his stolen loot and evade angry mobsters. The result is a narrative that uses its own brand of quirky humor to shed light on a range of complex issues, including race, class and what it means to be a family.  

Once and for All

Sarah Dessen

Although she originally rose to fame as a young-adult author, Sarah Dessen’s romance novels have found a home on the bookshelves of women of every age. A New York Times best-selling author of more than a dozen novels, Dessen recently added yet another book to her collection. Inspired by watching two of her babysitters plan their weddings, Dessen’s latest work, Once and for All, tells the story of Louna, a young woman whose latest summer job is to help brides plan their perfect day. But no matter how many dream weddings she creates, in Louna’s mind, her own fairytale ending has already come and gone. After her first romance ended tragically, Louna believes she’s already had her perfect moment—and lost it. When she meets charming girl magnet Ambrose, however, her beliefs are challenged by his confidence in what the two of them could become. With its assertion that sometimes the best things in life are the moments that don’t go as planned, Dessen’s latest novel is sure to capture the hearts of long-time fans and new readers alike.

Manhattan Beach

Jennifer Egan

Renowned author Jennifer Egan is no stranger to the world of publishing. Her 2011 novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, won both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Books Critics Circle Award. But her first attempt at historical fiction, Manhattan Beach, finds her continuing to exceed expectations. Set during the chaotic years of World War II, Egan’s novel directs the reader away from the front lines and focuses instead on the action occurring beneath the surface—literally. The story follows Brooklyn, N.Y. native Anna Kerrigan, who drops out of Brooklyn College in order to contribute to the American war effort. Although she begins by working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Anna quickly realizes she is capable of much more than measuring machine parts, and instead, attempts to enter the men-only world of deep-sea diving. Her daring decision sees her plunged into the midst of a world filled with gangsters, sailors and divers, some of whom may be able to shed light on the unexplained disappearance of her father many years before. Half historical fiction, half thriller and all adventure, Manhattan Beach shows the reader a different side to beach living, one torn between the mysteries that lie beneath the sea and the dangers that stalk the waterfront above it.

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