Monthly Archives: December 2010

Two Tomes about Florida Tarpon

This review appears in the December 16-22, 2010 issue of Naples Florida Weekly, and the Fort Myers edition published a day earlier. The Palm Beach Gardens edition used it the following week. Click here: Florida Weekly – Tarpon Tomes pdf

“A Passion for Tarpon,” by Andy Mill. Wild River Press. 510 pages. $100.00

“Randy Wayne White’s Ultimate Tarpon Book,” edited by Randy Wayne White and Carlene Fredericka Brennen. University Press of Florida. 480 pages. $34.95

Fishing for a holiday gift? These two lavishly produced volumes will satisfy the knowledge hunger of any fly-fishing aficionado. However, the audience for these gloriously illustrated books on the silvery tarpon should be wider than that of sports fishermen. Tarpon fishing has long been part of the Florida way of life. To learn about its methods, its challenges, its heroes, and its domain is to learn, through a special lens, about a special state. While the two books overlap in many ways, each has its own distinction. 

Andy Mill

Andy Mill’s “A Passion for Tarpon” is first of all an elaborate “how-to” book on catching the giant tarpon with a fly rod. Through new interviews with legendary guides and stellar fishermen, as well as through contributions commissioned for the book by experts on technical matters, Mr. Mill presents an encyclopedic volume of information in an easy, assessable, and entertaining manner. His competitive passion, first brought to world renown as an Olympic downhill skier, continues as a multi-time tarpon tournament champion in the Florida Keys and as an advocate for this challenging sport and the way of life that surrounds it.

The oversized book is generously illustrated, sometimes with old advertisements and magazine covers, sometimes with photographs from the collections of various contributors, but primarily and most notably with glorious original photographs by Pat Ford. The dazzling double-page spreads of Ford’s work that will make readers gasp with astonishment and understand why the book needs to carry such a high price.

Publisher Thomas Pero’s interview with author and tarpon fanatic Thomas McGuane is a literary high point in the book, which also contains a substantial bibliography and an index.

Randy Wayne White

“Randy Wayne White’s Ultimate Tarpon Book” takes a somewhat different approach. Mr. White and Ms. Brennan have organized and introduced a selection of previously published writings by a wide range of authors. Mr. White, once a fishing guide himself before becoming a best-selling suspense novelist, has over the years amassed an exception library of writings about tarpon and tarpon fishing history, and this collection is drawn upon for the book. Each selection is effectively contextualized by a brief introduction. 

The most fascinating materials are those first published in local newspapers and periodicals during the last two decades of the nineteenth century and in the early decades of the twentieth. These are primary materials for an understanding of the sport and especially of its place in the history of Southwest Florida – more specifically greater Fort Myers and that special body of living water called Tarpon Bay. Rather than looking back on history, these selections put us inside of it and justify the book’s subtitle: “The Birth of Big Game Fishing.”

Carlene Brennen

Several of the selections develop the history of tarpon game fishing as an important industry that contributes significantly to the tourist economy.

Most of the great names of the sport, whether as participants or historian-narrators, are represented here. So also are the celebrities connected with tarpon fishing, such as Ernest Hemingway, Zane Grey, Thomas Edison, Nick Lyons – master angler and story-teller – and A. W. Dimock, the Wall Street tycoon who became a pioneer in the sport and a trailblazer in documenting its early history.  

This volume, a pleasing prose mosaic and tribute to a life-shaping sport, is also copiously illustrated, with well over 200 black and white photos. Many of these are from the same sources as the articles, while others are from private and public collections.

Follow your budget and take your pick. You can’t go wrong with either one.

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Myra Sklarew’s “Harmless”

from Jewish Book World, Winter 2010-11

 HARMLESS, by Myra Sklarew. Mayapple Press, 2010. 92pp. $15.95.

ISBN: 978-0-932412-898

 Reviewed by Philip K. Jason

The question of Jewishness in poetry is too often answered by writing that seems like a forced demonstration of identity or an overly rehearsed, mocking self-hatred. Or it’s pretentiously learned. Or it lives entirely in nostalgia. Over several decades, Myra Sklarew has carefully avoided these stances. Her art is most profoundly Jewish even when it is not topically Jewish. Her identity as a Jewish woman and artist, a time-traveler who breathes and re-imagines Jewish experience across the ages, is secure. Her modesty in stance and style rests on certainties that remain unnamed while releasing the power of acute perceptions.

 Sklarew is at home with Torah as myth and history, and also with modern and contemporary history, particularly its themes of violence and separation. She cherishes equally the creative urge and courageous failures of the artist and of the scientist. She is at home with the constant flux of loss, disorientation, and balance restored. At home with mystery, she is wise enough not to unravel it.

As Myra Sklarew meditates on the consequences of war (“Sleeping in Lithuania”), the evergreen meanings of sacred story (“Crossing Over” and “Moses”), the richness of Jewish poetic achievement (“Keeping Silent: for Stanley Kunitz” and “The Journey,” honoring Yehuda Halevi), or the unfathomable resilience of grieving mothers and abandoned children, she awakens us to the magic of dvarim – words, words polished and fitted together into an ascending staircase.

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Flowers, Oranges, Water-Skiers and Southern Belles

Cypress Gardens, America’s Tropical Wonderland, by Lu Vickers. University Press of Florida. 375 pages. $34.95.

Cypress Gardens, in our still-young century about to become the site of the latest Legoland, was for many decades one of Florida’s – and the nation’s – premier tourist attractions. In telling its story, Lu Vickers steers us through a series of interwoven narratives. There is the story of the growth of Florida’s tourist economy, there is the story of the growth of new water sports in America, there is the story of high-powered entrepreneurial wizardry, and there is the story of media savvy. They are all inevitably the story of Dick Pope’s vision and drive, thus the subtitle “How Dick Pope Invented Florida.”

Dick Pope’s family was already part of the selling of Florida before the idea of draining swampland near Winter Haven and putting up a flower-based theme park dawned. The Popes were real estate developers, and young Dick caught on early to the endless possibilities inherent in the climate and natural beauty of the thinly populated state. Launching Cypress Gardens in 1936 on about 30 acres of drained swamp near Lake Eloise, Pope recognized that selling Florida would sell Cypress Gardens. Thus, he built Cypress Gardens into a celebration of what, in his mind, Florida was all about.

Lu Vickers

Florida means “flowery,” and Cypress Gardens was first of all a botanical garden. However, Pope pushed to improve upon the indigenous array of flowering plants by bringing in an ever-growing assortment of exotic, non-native blooms. He gowned attractive young women as flower-like Southern Belles and adorned the drained swampland with these beauties. In time, Cypress Gardens became a headquarters for crowning beauty queens, many of their titles named for flowers.

Because Florida was already famous for oranges, Dick Pope made sure that the orange theme also had a prominent place in the elaboration of Cypress Gardens. And because Pope was a born showman and water related activities were part of his Florida vision, he was instrumental in developing the attraction, sport, and industry of water-skiing. Many champions of the growing sport were in the employ of Cypress Gardens, and Pope would export their talents to other venues to grow the sport while strengthening his brand.

To read the rest of this review in its entirety, as it appears in the December 2-8, 2010 issue of the Palm Beach Gardens and other editions of Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Lu Vickers or here: Florida Weekly – Lu Vickers pdf

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“Strangers” blueprints a mansion of evil

“Strangers,” by Mary Anna Evans. Poisoned Pen Press. 322 pages. $24.95 Hardcover, $14.95 Trade Pbk.

“Strangers” is the sixth novel in Ms. Evans’ Faye Longchamp mystery series. But now the fortyish protagonist is Dr. Faye Longchamp-Mantooth, eight months pregnant and finally possessing her doctorate in archeology. With her husband, Joe, she has founded an archeological consulting firm. Their first significant job brings them to St. Augustine, Florida to work for Daniel and Suzanne Wrather. 

Suzanne has inherited an important historical house, Dunkirk Manor, part of which is now a bed and breakfast . The Wrathers are considering additional changes, including installing a swimming pool. Faye will advise them about excavating the rear gardens in compliance with local preservation ordinances.  Not only does this lavish estate capture the atmosphere of the decades between its establishment in 1889 and its heyday in the roaring twenties, it also woven into St. Augustine’s longer history, which began in 1565.

Before long, Faye and Joe are involved in mysteries of the distant and recent past as well as a new mystery that opens up almost upon their arrival.

As Faye’s staffers sift through the garden areas, they discover tiles that edged a buried swimming pool. Under some of those tiles are belongings of the manor’s former owners – Raymond and Allyce Dunkirk. In the attic, Faye finds interesting curios of the past, along with the journal of a Spanish priest who had been among the explorer-settlers of the 16th century.  Old weapons, tools, toys, coins, and other items accumulate to give clues about the heyday of Dunkirk Manor and the centuries-old history of St. Augustine.

Also working for the present owners is a beautiful, intelligent young woman named Glynis Smithson. This ardent preservationist and conservationist is the daughter of a major local real estate developer, and her concerns are in direct conflict with her father’s. Manipulative Alan finds a new boyfriend for Glynis, a man whose values echo his own. However, the relationship between Glynis and Lex is a disaster. When both are discovered to be missing, “Strangers” shifts into high gear.

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the Palm Beach Gardens edition and other editions of Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Mary Anna Evans

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Passion packed into hunt for kidnapped children

 “And Then There Was One,” by Patricia Gussin. Oceanview Publishing. 312 pages. $25.95.

Katie and Scott Monroe, a most loving couple, are well established in their professions. Katie is a forensic pediatric psychiatrist, often called upon to offer expert testimony in child abuse cases. Scott is a former catcher for the New York Yankees. A very popular figure in the Yankee hierarchy, he now runs spring training operations in Tampa and also works as a television sports personality. They are visiting with Katie’s mother, Lucy, who lives in the Detroit area. A special reason for the trip from Florida is to attend a concert by Scott’s sister, Monica, a famous singer. The Monroes have a trio of 9-year old girls: identical triplets.  

After a visit to a movie theater in a suburban mall with their older cousin, Danielle, two of the girls are suddenly missing. Alex and Sammie went to see one movie, while Danielle had taken Jackie to another – and now, with the theaters empty, Alex and Sammie are nowhere to be found. Soon enough, the security officer for the mall is hard at work, and before long an FBI team is involved headed by agent Tony Streeter.

Various theories regarding a motive for the abduction are posed and explored as the plot unfolds. Perhaps someone whom Katie’s testimony had put in jail is acting out of vengeance. Perhaps Maxwell Cutty, a man she is to testify against, is trying to make sure that she doesn’t. Perhaps a former boyfriend of Katie’s has gone off the deep end. Perhaps a bitter baseball player whose career Scott had stalled has it in for Scott. Perhaps it’s simply a kidnap for ransom. After all, the Monroes are fairly well-to-do and Monica Monroe is a millionaire many times over. Or, since these triplets are the children of an interracial marriage, perhaps this is a hate crime. (Perhaps there is one too many perhaps.)

As Streeter and others investigate, Ms. Gussin takes us into the minds of possible perpetrators. She does a convincing job of producing their thought patterns, including their whacky self-justifications for perverse behavior. Just as convincing – and even more harrowing – is the author’s presentation of the emotional turmoil that the parents go through. Readers can’t be sure if Katie and Scott will survive the ordeal. How will the abduction of her sisters affect young Jackie, who is already suffering something akin to survivor guilt?

To read the entire review as it appears in the November 18-24, 2010 issue of the Naples Florida Weeklyand other local editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Patricia Gussin pdf.

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