Monthly Archives: July 2015

Latest Key West Food Critic mystery has all the right ingredients

Fatal Reservations, by Lucy Burdette. Obsidian/NAL. 320 pages. Mass market paperback $7.99.

This is the sixth title in the Key West Food Critic Mystery series. Throughout the series, Ms. Burdette has built a silken web to catch fans of food, food journalism, Key West, and . . . oh yeah, murder mysteries. The particular coupling of foodies and mystery fans has caught on, with other writers as well as cable television producers racing to exploit reader and viewer interest in this combination. Lucy Burdette, for this reviewer, tops the field.  FatalReservations

In large part, this is because Haley Snow, her protagonist, is just so darn appealing. Not glamorous, not super smart, not highly confident, Haley is cute and cuddly (which means a bit overweight) and determined to prove herself a responsible independent young woman. Her missteps are as much fun as her successes.

By now, the young “Key Zest” restaurant critic is fairly well-known in this unique community. She has developed a network of friends and an acquaintance with a few police officials who wish she’d stay out of their way. As with many other amateur sleuths, trouble finds her.

Several problems are facing Key West residents and business people. There is a burglar at work in the cemetery neighborhood. There is a new restaurant somehow able to avoid regulations, upsetting the other restauranteurs. Because the new restaurant floats, its plans can bypass the approval of the Historical Architectural Review Commission.

The main problem has to do with the daily Sunset Celebration in the Mallory Square neighborhood. This is a street festival with arts and crafts exhibitors, street performers, food carts, psychics, and so forth. It’s a very popular tourist attraction. However, members of the exhibitor/performer group have begun fighting over their performance space. Their squabbling threatens the event.

Burdette photo by Carol Tedesco

Burdette photo by Carol Tedesco

In particular, Hayley’s good friend, Tarot card psychic Lorenzo, is at odds with Bart Frontgate. Bart is a juggler whose specialty is juggling custom made wood-handled forks skewered into flaming hunks of meat.

Before the city administrators can settle the Mallory Square Pier chaos, Bart is found dead. The evidence points to Lorenzo, who is acting guilty while pleading innocence.

Hayley, who knows that quirky, kind-hearted Lorenzo couldn’t possibly commit murder, makes her feelings known to the police. More than that, she begins her own investigation. Yes, dear readers, she has done such things before. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 29, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 30 Naples, Bonita Springs, Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter and Palm Beach/West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Fatal Reservations

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A novel full of laughs carries a theme that’s no joke

Fly Unzipped, by Mike Hirsh. Vigstein Books. 252 pages. Paperback $12.99, Kindle e-book $4.99.

The boys are back. Paul “Fly” Moscone and Bill “Mr. Jinx” Shiffman, two bantering buddies leading the life of retirement in Punta Gorda, Florida, team up in another adventure at once hilarious and dead serious. One would think Mr. Hirsh would have trouble living up to the mixture of fun, local color, and serious issues that he mastered in “Fly on the Wall” (2012), which featured the insurance scandal aftermath of Hurricane Charley, but he has managed. FlyUnzipped300dpicover

He is up to the challenge.

Jinx, “a recovering journalist,” spices his retirement with freelance features in a local paper suspiciously named “Florida Weekly.” Fly, who once sold mainframe computers, is fulfilling his dream of being a law enforcement officer by having a volunteer “reserve” deputy sheriff position. It’s Chicago and New Jersey, Italian and Jew, in a wonderful dance of being “decidedly ethnic in a land of milk and white bread.”

Strange behavior at a massage parlor finds Fly brushing the hand of a young masseuse away from his private parts (thus the title). After telling his wife about the incident, and being surprised by her encouragement to try to do something about the problem, he gets himself assigned to go undercover in order to collect evidence on sex traffickers. He joins a special Southwest Florida task force headquartered in Fort Myers.

Mr. Hirsh provides a detailed portrait of the insidiousness and enormity of this kind of criminal enterprise, as well as the vulnerability of its victims. Part of the information that reaches the reader comes from Fly’s discussion with Marisol Sotolongo, a tough and beautiful mental health counselor with valuable experience in treating these young victims of sexual trafficking.



Fly’s undercover stint is successful, but more evidence is needed to catch the pimps who are taking advantage of these young girls. So Fly gets to take part in a stakeout.

Along the way, he runs into moral issues connected with the fate of these abused women – and their possible children. A session with his priest helps Fly sort matters out and deeps the reader’s understanding about what’s at stake.

Especially riveting is the scene in which Fly gets to witness Marisol’s interview with the girl caught (actually, rescued) during his undercover effort. Watching and hearing Marisol conduct the interview, and listening to law enforcement professionals comment on the process, reveals the delicacy and skill needed to illicit anything useful for a future arrest and prosecution. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 22, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 23 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Fly Unzipped

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Good news for stroke survivors on the path to recovery

Stroke Victor: How to Go from Stroke Victim to Stroke Victor, by Bob Mandell. Creative Projects International. 256 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

This marvelous self-help book is likely to save or extend a lot of lives. However, its central focus is enhancing the quality of life for those who have undergone life-changing illnesses or injuries. While the information and advice is primarily for stroke victims, Bob Mandell’s guidance can be applied to many different situations in which recovery from a disability is sought. cover-Stroke_Victor_cover_New3

The author’s personal story is the engaging and inspiring trunk and branches of the book. On these branches Bob Mandell has hung the fruits of what he has learned.

For me, his most widely applicable piece of advice is the need to take responsibility, to question, to be an aggressive patient who challenges medical personal and especially conventional wisdom. Passive people are likely to be buried by their insecurities, by medical care bureaucracy, and by accepting what’s immediately available or convenient rather than what is best for their recovery and rehabilitation.

You have to fight to discover the best information, the best hospital, rehab facility, and medical expertise for your needs. You must be willing to take educated risks.

However, Bob Mandell also knows that you can’t let an aggressive stance turn into adversarial relationships with those whose help and experience you are seeking. Make friends on this journey to well-being. Don’t turn people off.

Another crucial piece of advice is the mantra “one step at a time.” People whose expectations are too ambitious (unrealistic?) are likely to be disappointed and fall into despair. They will lose heart and may never make progress. Set attainable goals and work hard to achieve each. With others, develop a plan that is consistent with your condition at the starting line so that you can reach the finish line of restored vitality and functionality.



Forty-four brief, zesty and often humorous chapters (plus four appendixes) help create the feeling of “step-by-step” conquest over the stroke or other debilitating condition from which you need to rebound. You need to make and keep your commitment to practical interim goal-setting.

Bob Mandell writes in an almost breathless style, underscoring his points via strong section headings, outline technique, boldface emphasis, and a kind of question and answer dialogue. Most important is his use of italicized passages that reveal what Bob was thinking at different stages of his own recovery and rehabilitation. He admits to and shares his doubts and dilemmas along the way. No one should think that anything less than tough-mindedness and hard work will bring the results you desire. No one should think there won’t be setbacks. . . .

To read this book in its entirety, as it appears in the July 15, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and in the July 16 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Port Charlotte/Punta Gorda editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Stroke Victor

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Maimonides and the Book That Changed Judaism: Secrets of “The Guide for the Perplexed”

by Micah Goodman; Yedidya Sinclair, trans.

University of Nebraska Press / Jewish Publication Society
296 Pages. Hardcover $34.95

Review by Philip K. Jason

Micah Goodman has taken up the challenge of rendering this classic of Jewish philosophy more accessible, but it will never be totally accessible. By design, Maimonides left his guide filled with leaps and contradictions and cloaked revelations, daring his readers to make connections, resolve or at least meditate on the contradictions, and expose what means and beliefs has been disguised.

Goodman’s way is to regroup the guide’s scattered arguments and propositions and proofs into a kind of coherence that will release more of its power and bring out the relationships between the Rambam’s main concerns and 21st century life.

Also, by injecting copious references to the Rambam’s other major work, Mishneh Torah, Goodman widens our understandings of the great thinker’s intentions, range, wisdom, and boundless curiosity.

Those familiar with the tenants and methods of Jacque Derrida’s deconstruction movement in twentieth century literary criticism will find some affinities between it and Goodman’s achievement—and the achievement of Maimonides as well.

Maimonides abhorred the infantilism of literal readings of the biblical text that maintained anthropomorphic understandings of God. Bringing the unknowable and unfathomable perfection down to human scale robs the human seeker of true glimpses of the divine. . . .

To read the entire review as it appears on the Jewish Book Council website, click here: Maimonides and the Book That Changed Judaism | Jewish Book Council

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Undercover vigilantes and undercover lovers yield killer thriller romance

Exit Strategy, by Lena Diaz. Avon Books. 384 pages. Mass market paperback $5.99.

The premise of this romantic thriller is something I’ve come across before. After the U. S. government’s intelligence agencies have pushed up against the legal limits of what that can do, secret and unofficial organizations emerge to do the most heinous dirty work necessary to keep our enemies (internal and external) in check.  ExitStrategymmc

EXIT Inc. has the cover name Extreme International Tours Incorporated. Indeed, the tour company actually functions like others in the high-risk adventure tour business. Under the cover, however, it is a paramilitary force with few restraints and shaky accountability. Worse yet, many of its leaders and highly trained enforcers are in it for their own personal agendas. It is a rogue group that has, paradoxically, used the term “rogue” for those among them who are questioning assignments and methods that seem unjustifiable.

One such questioner is Mason Hunt. Charged with eliminating a target named Sabrina Hightower, supposedly a threat to national security, Mason finds that this woman is entirely innocent and herself a victim. Could Mason’s assignment be a huge mistake, or is EXIT a corrupt organization? Soon enough, given Mason’s enormous attraction to this spunky, attractive young woman, as well as his moral sense of the situation, he becomes her protector.

Lena Diaz

Lena Diaz

The novel develops along these two related lines. Mason and a few others fight to expose and bring down the corrupt EXIT agents. This story line involves detailed plans, combat prowess, and courage. The companion story is the unsteady growth of a loving, trusting, and passionate relationship between Mason and Sabrina.

The stories are bound together, of course, and their combined action moves across the rugged North Carolina landscape near Ashville. Both story lines proceed unsteadily, with forward progress and setbacks in suspenseful tension.

Sabrina, a diminutive, curvy powerhouse, is a force to be reckoned with on many levels. She is out to discover how to bring EXIT to justice for the faulty zip-line that caused her parents’ deaths. Trying to reconnect with her parents, Sabina had purchased their anniversary trip package. Now, as she makes waves, Sabina has become a target of EXIT enforcers. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 8, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly; the July 9 Bonita Springs and Palm Beach/West Palm Beach editions, and the July 16 Naples and Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Exit Strategy

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“Goebbels: A Biography” by Peter Longerich

Translated by Alan Bance, Jeremy Noakes, and Lesley Sharpe. Random House. 992 pages. Hardcover $40.00.

A stunning, encyclopedic study of Hitler’s propaganda minister

Joseph Goebbels’ life was certainly history-making, but it’s a piece of history noted for its grotesque notions of nationalism, democracy, and leadership. For many years the Nazi regime’s Minister of Propaganda, Goebbels refined the art of mass psychological manipulation, over and over again rallying a despondent and pride-hungry people into becoming more and more the fervent worshippers of a mad genius and a mad vision of national and racial destiny.

Peter Longerich, who first published this book in Germany in 2010, conceives of three major phases in his subject’s life.

First, he portrays an insecure fellow whose compensatory delusions predict greatness of some sort. This young man needed large doses of positive feedback, beginning with mother love which eventually developed into an addiction to Führer love. His doctorate in German letters did not open doors for his aspirations as a literary and cultural shaper. Once Goebbels turned his attention to political action, he made the right moves to advance quickly through party ranks.  Goebbels cover

The second phase concerns his activities as pre-war propaganda minister, hammering an imaginary political and cultural consensus into place through skillful manipulation of news and entertainment media and through staged demonstrations. He was adept at building Hitler’s image as a demi-god (demagogue?) and in building a strong personal relationship with his mentor and hero.

Finally, he beat the drums for war, wartime sacrifices, and the ever-out-of-reach peace that would arrive with the continental dominance of a never-realized superstate.

For all this, Longerich insists that Goebbels was not a true insider but was often surprised by actions set in motion by Hitler during meetings to which Goebbels was not invited.

Of particular interest is Goebbels’ role in developing the political uses of anti-Semitism. Even as any remaining Jewish civil rights were demolished, even as mass executions began, even as Jews were fleeing or being relocated out of headquarters Berlin, Goebbels found ways of making the Jews responsible for all of Germany’s problems. It’s hard to say what he truly believed about Jews, so overwhelming was his commitment to using anti-Semitism as a political instrument.

Longerich’s primary source is his subject’s diaries. Indeed, they are important historical documents that give unparalleled coverage of hundreds of events. They also provide unintentional clues to Goebbels’ anxieties and nonstop posturing. Longerich points out instance after instance in which narcissistic Goebbels interprets an event’s outcome to his advantage. In the author’s capable hands, we discover how the diaries reveal just what Goebbels would not want them to reveal. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here:  Goebbels: A Biography | Washington Independent Review of Books

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Tenth Annual Sanibel Island Writers Conference

November 5-8, 2015
BIG ARTS & the Sanibel Island Public Library, Sanibel Island, FL

Edwidge Danticat--Keynote Speaker
Photo by Carl Juste

Keynote Speaker: Edwidge Danticat

Presenter lineup:

Steve Almond / Andrea Askowitz / Lynne Barrett / Dan Bern / Charles Bock / John Darnielle / Erica Dawson / John Dufresne / Wayne Falbey / Beth Ann Fennelly / Nick Flynn / Gina Frangello / Tom Franklin / William Giraldi / Jim Gustafson / Shane Hinton / Jay Hopler / Leslie Jamison / Kimberly Johnson / Steve Kistulentz / Christina Baker Kline / Kimberly Lojewski / Lyn Millner / Dito Montiel / Alan Michael Parker / Tom Piazza / Mark Powell / Margo Rabb / Deborah Reed / Ryan Rivas / Jim Shepard / Karen Shepard / Christopher Schelling / Darin Strauss / Johnny Temple / Jay Wexler.

November 5-8, 2015 / REGISTRATION WILL OPEN SOON.  

For more information. contact Tom DeMarchi at or call 239-590-7421.

 Or see

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Levine’s legal hotshots team up for scintillating adventure

Bum Rap, by Paul Levine. Thomas & Mercer. 350 pages. Trade paperback $15.95.

Paul Levine has done the inevitable, bringing together the lead players from his two popular series into a slick legal thriller. Steve Solomon, partner of Victoria Lord through four previous “Solomon vs. Lord” novels, is arrested for murder. Given the nature of the case, the partners feel that Jake Lassiter (whose series boasts ten previous titles) is the man for the job as chief counsel for Steve. The interplay among the three throws off plenty of sparks, as does their frantic striving to combat the prosecution’s case.  BumRapCover

What’s going on? Steve had been hired by a gorgeous B-Girl, illegal Russian immigrant Nadia Delova, to help her obtain money she is owed by her employer, mobster Nicolai Gorev, who has also locked away Nadia’s passport. During a meeting in Gorev’s office, weapons are drawn and Gorev ends up shot to death. Steve’s fingerprints are found on the murder weapon, and gun powder traces are found on him.

In a confused panic, Steve confessed to the murder. From various perspectives, the narrative rehearses the facts as alleged by Steve and Nadia (not quite identical) and the facts as used, abused, and refused in various iterations of Jake’s proposed trial strategy. Though Jake is a stickler for the truth, he is also bent on winning every case and doing all he can for a client.

Did Steve pull the trigger accidentally? Did he pull it at all, or did the weapon simply misfire? Do these details make any difference with regard to murder charges if Steve is viewed as Nadia’s accomplice in a robbery? Can Steve change his story during the trial with any credibility?

Slowly, deliberately, and with uncanny humor, Mr. Levine uses this case to expose many slippery aspects of the legal system, including laws regarding criminal charges and sentences that seem to contradict one another.



The reader is blessed with a device that the author uses to add contextualizing background to the case: the piecemeal presentation of Nadia’s testimony in an interview with Deborah Scolino, an assistant U. S. district attorney. Scolino is investigating the Russian mafia-like enterprise that has Gorev as its front man and Benny the Jeweler as the ultimate boss.

Nadia’s testimony reveals the operations of Club Anastasia, run by the Gorev brothers, and the Q & A underscores how Nadia’s future is governed by how many charges against her will be dropped or reduced in exchange for her testimony against others, including Steve.

Illegal immigration, scamming customers who expect sexual favors while running up enormous bar bills with beautiful women, money laundering, and smuggling diamonds all figure in the enterprises under investigation. However, for Jake the case is all about proving Steve innocent. He will somehow use Nadia if he has to – she certainly has a much stronger motive than Steve Solomon – but he’d rather find another way. . . .

To enjoy the full review, as it appears in the July 1, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 2 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Bum Rap

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