Monthly Archives: July 2010

Deborah Sharp’s “Mama” Marries Mayhem

“Mama Gets Hitched” by Deborah Sharp. Midnight Ink. 328 pages. $14.95.

As the curtain rises on the third installment of the Mace Bauer Mystery series, Mace’s mother, Rosalee, is doing a bridezilla number as she prepares for her fifth trip down the aisle. Along the way, she is driving Mace and her other daughters, scolding schoolmarm Maddie and sweetness Marty, bonkers. Her over-the-top wedding theme of Southern Belle pastel is truly garish, at least to Mace who is a plain clothes, tomboyish kind of gal. All are in a frenzy of preparation for the big day when suddenly Ronnie, the caterer, is found murdered.

Will murder in Himmarshee (Sharp’s version of Okeechobie, Florida) ruin Rosalee’s wedding? That question looms larger to some than that of whether the murderer will be brought to justice.

The crime throws Mace back into contact with her sometimes beau, Carlos Martinez, a Cuban-born Himmarshee policeman. As much as they care for each other, Mace and Carlos have had their misunderstandings, and they continue to annoy each other through much of this novel, providing grand opportunities for making up. However, the pinnacle of bickering is not between Mace and Carlos, but rather among the sisters and Rosalee. A good deal of the fun in Deborah Sharp’s series comes from her uproarious delineation of how family members who truly care about one another cannot avoid finding endless sources of conflict. The author’s dialogue of dispute, humiliation, and payback is high comedy, southern style.

To read the full review, as it appears in the July21-27, 2010 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 22-28 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Deborah Sharp (2)

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Chris Kuzneski Offers Thriller-Lovers’ Bliss

The Prophecy by Chris Kuzneski. Putnam.  384 pages. $25.95

Remember the Bill Cosby / Robert Culp “I Spy” television series? Well, Chris Kuzneski has raised the ante for black/white dynamic duos with his perfectly paired team of David Jones and Jonathan Payne. Friends since they were linked in military service as Special Forces operatives, Payne and Jones have an assortment of combat skills that will amaze readers. They also have complimentary personalities that allow them to engage in endless – and humorous – bickering and bantering. They are competitive, but ultimately they are wedded to one another as loyal comrades in arms.

The case that finds them in “The Prophecy,” available on July 8, brings a young woman to Pittsburg who enlists their aid to unscramble and interpret a coded document that has mysteriously come her way. She finds them at a charity event, where business tycoon Payne is the featured speaker.  Before long, the woman is murdered and Payne and Jones, who runs a detective agency, find themselves hunted by skilled thugs who would seem to be after that document.

Kuzneski skillfully develops the novel’s plot across time and space, beginning with a prologue in which the historical Nostradamus, living at Salon-de-Provence, France, seals a letter and several other documents in a wooden box, which he delivers, with instructions, to his lawyer. He dies soon after. The year is 1566 (a number to be reckoned with later in the novel). Readers learn that this mysterious man set up a trust fund to secure the secrets the box contains for centuries to come. Then it is revealed that in present-day Geneva, a gentleman named Louis Keller is about to be released from responsibilities to a trust fund that had been a family obligation for generations. However, he needs to follow instructions secured in a Credit Suisse safe deposit box.

With these teasers, Mr. Kusneski allows us to assume that the mysterious coded letter is connected, through Keller and his family, back to the legendary Nostradamus. But what are the secrets it holds or leads to? What are those secrets worth? To what end will people go to obtain them? Or is it merely the collectors’ value of antique documents that has made the woman with the letter a target – and then Payne and Jones?

To read this review in its entirely, as it appears in the Fort Myers Florida Weekly for July 14-20, 2010 and the Naples Florida Weekly for July 15-21, click here: Florida Weekly – Chris Kuzneski

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Investigating Jackie Fullerton

Jackie Fullerton, who splits her time between Fort Myers and Westerville, Ohio, is an attorney and business woman who has launched an engaging mystery series featuring Anne Marshall, a young law student working as a court reporter. Circumstances lure Anne into detective work. Readers first met her in Fullerton’s 2009 novel Piercing the Veil. Anne is aided by the members of her law school study team, but some of the study partners, who also happen to be police officers, worry about her either getting into danger or interfering with their cases – or both. 

Her most able and dedicated partner turns out to the ghost of her father, the late James Marshall, who reveals himself only to Anne – suggesting the deep connection the two had when he was alive. This paranormal element gives Fullerton’s stories an unusual twist, and Fullerton exploits it for a kind of comic relief in the novel, often puncturing or punctuating the suspense.

The second novel in the series, Revenge Served Cold, finds Anne drawn to the aid of Kathy Spence, the wife of deceased law professor Elliott Spence from whom Anne had been taking a course. Those who have known the Spences, including Shirley (Anne’s courthouse supervisor) and the ghost-dad, are sure that Kathy could not possibly be guilty of the hit and run murder of her husband. She would seem to have no motive. However, that’s the way the evidence is pointing. At Shirley’s urging, Anne gets involved.

Readers learn that Professor Spence and his wife had each been visited, separately, by a former close friend from their college days. This man, Ross, was smitten by Kathy during college, and he became mightily disturbed when she fell in love with Elliott. We also discover that there is a woman in town who has longed to have Ross for herself, and thus has been extremely resentful of Kathy’s unintended hold over him.

Jackie Fullerton skillfully moves the reader back and forth through the thoughts of these and other characters, keeping the suspense taught as Anne and her father’s ghost put the pieces together. Every now and then, we catch a whiff of James Marshall’s pipe tobacco.

[Interview with Ms. Fullerton follows.]

To read the full article, as it appears in the July-August 2010 Fort Myers Magazine, click here: Ft.Myers magazine – Jackie Fullerton

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Robert Hilliard offers striking Holocaust heroine

“Phillipa,” by Robert Hilliard. Parlance.  425 pages.  $17.95.

“Phillipa” is the best self-published book I’ve read in years. Robert Hilliard, a major force in communications education and Professor Emeritus from Boston’s Emerson College, is the author of over thirty books on radio and television broadcasting. Now, in his retirement on Sanibel Island, he offers a brilliant novel examining the incremental rise of the Third Reich, the nightmare and aftermath of the Holocaust, and the unusual sensibilities of his remarkable and imposing title character.

Phillipa Kohn was born into an upper middle-class Jewish family in 1910. Her father was a Munich stockbroker, and her mother a status-hungry woman who insisted that her daughter think very highly of herself and be given the tools of education and culture to assure her social prominence. Nothing, no one, was too good for Phillipa. This beautiful young woman developed a calculating, prideful personality. She achieved an unusual degree of control over herself and her situation. Phillipa achieved self-sufficiency at the expense of spontaneity and a deeply felt sense of life’s flow.

After marrying the non-Jewish chair of the Philosophy Department at Heidelberg University, Phillipa earns a prominent place in the community’s intellectual and cultural life. As Mrs. Walter Pennman, she continues to hold herself above others while projecting an attractive cordiality. Phillipa is never truly bonded to Walter; rather, she manipulates her infatuated and frustrated husband. Proud of her self-containment; she never sheds a tear. Phillipa seems invulnerable, but emotionally hollow.

Mr. Hilliard uses the university setting to illustrate the effects of Nazi policies on people whose grasp of the situation is far better than their response to it. The author’s convincing delineation of the psychology of denial unfolds as human rights are slowly, then rapidly, stripped from dissenters, outsiders, and those accused or merely suspected of less than total allegiance to the government’s policies. People, including these college professors, become zombies – teaching only approved topics with approved texts handed down from above. Resistance, too long delayed, is meager and quickly – violently – suppressed.

As the wife of a well-regarded faculty member, Phillipa is safe for a while, but she soon is torn from her comfortable life – one of the millions of Jews, other minorities, and alleged dissenters crushed into slavery and potential extinction by the Nazi regime.

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the July 7-13 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Robert Hilliard

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Learning to Find the Upside in Down Times

“Upside: How to Zig When Life Zags,” by Bonnie Michaels and Allison Blankenship. Collage Books. 214 pages. $15.95.

Bonnie Michaels, a Naples part-timer who founded the consulting firm Managing Work & Family in 1987, has put her expertise to work to help people navigate the special challenges of today’s depressed and unstable economy. For this new book, her third, she has partnered with another Naples part-timer, Allison Blankenship, a communications specialist and corporate entrepreneur whose background and skills compliment those of Ms. Michaels. Together, they have fashioned a timely self-help book that is responsive to several new challenges in lifestyle and career dynamics.

One of these challenges is that the conventional notion of career-building, one that includes a vision of two-way loyalties cementing decades of employer-employee bonds, is no longer operative. Old habits of expectation and entitlement in the workplace are mind-set handicaps that have to be eliminated. Imagining that you are owed something (for your skills, your past performance, or your credentials) doesn’t get you anywhere when the future is essentially not known. It is also a path to bitterness and stasis.

Dealing with the “not known” is one concern of “Upside” to which the authors give extended attention. People adjusting to meet new – yet not predictable – financial, personal, and professional conditions need to develop resilience and the ability to transform their patterns of thought and action. They must learn how to flourish in an epoch for which the traditional American Dream is a not a healthy goal.

To view this review in its entirety, as it appears in the June 30-July 6, 2010 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 1-7 issues of the Naples and Charlotte editions of Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Upside.

Blankenship & Michaels

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