A few months ago, my friend Sherry was telling me that she'd seen one of her favorite authors on one of our favorite shows, Central Texas Gardener. Although Susan Wittig Albert is a resident of our own nearby Hill Country just outside of Austin, I'd never met her and hadn't yet read any of her best-selling books. For those who love a good mystery and are avid gardeners, Susan is well known for her China Bayles mystery series, with a feature character who is an herbalist continually finding herself in the middle of murder and mayhem. My friend Sherry has read them all. Through connections on Facebook, I found out that Susan was giving a book signing at The Book Spot in Round Rock, and I couldn't wait to call Sherry and let her know! We decided to meet there, and I arrived a few minutes late to a full house with Susan already rocking it! I found a seat towards the back and settled in. Susan enthralled her readers with tales from her books, how she develops characters, how she got started writing and some of the pitfalls she's encountered along the way. I think the crowd could have easily asked questions for hours. She told us about her China Bayles character, as well as her Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter books and her new series, The Darling Dahlias. She looks a little ticked off here, doesn't she? She wasn't --just totally into her talk. This woman not only can write, but speaks and connects with her audience so well--she was funny, straight-shooting, sharp and a bit irreverent--my favorite combination! Somewhere around this time, Sherry and our other friend Jacque slipped in. Now on to the book signing part of the program! Sherry (left) waited in line with the others--she looks like she's calm and patient, but I knew how excited she was to meet Susan and get her book signed. She'd recommended which books I should start with, too--and I wound up buying three! Sherry's got her chance! I would call Sherry Susan's #1 fan, but that sounds a little Misery-ish, doesn't it? I can vouch for her character--she's not a stalker. Not much. Anyway, I was excited to get my three books signed, too, although I forgot to ask Sherry to take a picture of it. I do that all the time--I go to some big deal thing and meet someone people know and I spend my time taking pics of them with other people. I'll learn one of these days. So what did I buy? Mourning Gloria: The newest installation in the China Bayles series, where our heroine tries to solve a murder, find a missing reporter and learns about pychoactive plants that make us drowsy or high. Yep, Susan rolls like that. Thyme of Death: I thought I should get the first China Bayles book, too, to see where it all started. In this one, the herbalist tries to figure out a good friend's death with her sidekick Ruby, uncovers steamy love letters and tries to avoid getting hauled in by the suspicious local cop. The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree: This is Susan's newest series, and it's kind of like a Depression-era "Desperate Housewives" with characters like Ophelia, Verna and Lizzy. The ladies of the garden club try to solve Bunny Scott's murder while investigating some shenanigans at the local bank and evading an escaped convict. I'm an avid reader, but I'm also a picky one. I don't have a lot of patience for poor character development, stupid dialogue or thin story lines. I am happy to report that Susan's books grabbed me from the first pages, made me laugh, and had me actively trying to figure out who'd done what. (By the way, I totally had some of The Darling Dahlia's mystery solved. I'm good.) Avid readers who love to garden will be drawn in by how Susan weaves plants and gardens into her stories--and while I'm at it, I want to put a plug in for our independent book stores. The Book Spot is a newish book store feature new and used titles, some interesting merchandise crafted by locals and a shop dog that jumped up on everyone's laps. Great place! I hope you get some of Susan's books for yourselves! Stop by your local indie book shop and pick up a few titles...and if you see Sherry lurking in the corner, don't say I didn't warn you.