Monthly Archives: June 2017

Local setting stars in tale of love, loss, forgiveness, and sharks

The Shark Club, by Ann Kidd Taylor. Viking. 288 pages. Hardcover $26.00.

Maeve Donnelly is the thirty-year-old protagonist of this elegantly written first novel. She is part of the shark club triumvirate, the other two being her long-time boyfriend Daniel and Daniel’s daughter, six-year-old Hazel. This informal mutual interest group was put together to help Hazel find stability in a young life that has been – and still is –filled with uncertainty. 

Maeve and Daniel have decided to see if their long-severed relationship, once seen as strong and vibrant, can be restored. Hazel is the unplanned child of a woman with whom Daniel had a quick affair. That misstep cost him Maeve’s trust. Hazel’s mother died. Now the question is whether these three individuals – the only members of the shark club – can form normative family bonds. Maeve and Hazel are bonding in beautifully, but there is still something keeping some distance between Daniel and Maeve.

The matriarch of the family is Maeve’s grandmother, Perri. She is the owner of a famous hotel, the Hotel of the Muses, on an island off the Southwest Florida coast. Nearby landmarks of Naples, Florida help orient readers who know the area. When she is not on a research trip, marine biologist Maeve lives there, as does her twin brother Robin. Daniel, chef at Hotel of the Muses, lives nearby.

Taylor photo by Vanessa A. Rogers

Relationships are complicated on many levels, and with them Maeve’s destiny. Because Robin and Daniel are friends, Robin knows too much about the state of things between Daniel and Maeve. And Robin is something of a wild one, a trouble-maker who lived in the shadows of the bright lights that her steadiness and success had shown on Maeve, who had long ago grown tired of cleaning up Robin’s messes.

Working as the hotel’s manager, Robin has literary ambitions, hates the regimentation of his job, and yearns to capitalize on his one true talent. However, the book he has managed to sell exploits what he knows about the Daniel-Maeve story. Maeve is hurt and bewildered by what she finds when Robin shares his manuscript with her.

On the research journey to Bimini from which she has only just returned, her working partnership with an attractive young man named Nicholas – her dive partner – has turned into something more serious than she had expected. Her imagined future is fluttering back and forth between these two men. . . .

To read the full review, as well as an interview with the author, as they appear in the June 21, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 22 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Shark Club

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Teacher turned sleuth stirs up suspects in feel-good murder mystery

Murder is Chartered, by Diane Weiner. Cozy Cat Press. 180 pages. Trade paperback $14.95. E-book $2.99.

This Coral Springs writer has at least one thing in common with her protagonist in the Susan Wiles Schoolhouse Mystery series. They are both veteran public school teachers who keep busy. Susan, now retired, keeps occupied by volunteering in a new charter school. She also has a nose for mysteries, much to the chagrin of her daughter Lynette, who is a bona fide police detective. Driving home after a long stint at the Westbrook Charter School’s open house, she slams into a woman’s body, snaps to full wakefulness, and calls Lynette.  

Diane, who teaches at Millennium Middle School in Tamarac,  keeps extra busy by writing novels about Susan. This is #8.

Susan thinks she is guilty of vehicular homicide, but it turns out that the deceased was strangled to death and then dropped off a bridge onto the road below. The victim is neighbor Melissa Chadwick, the how has been determined, the why and the identity of the murderer are the mysteries that Susan will not be able to leave alone.

The fall – winter holiday season is moving into rural New York, but the town of Westbrook is not yet ready to be jolly. Mr. Weiner uses settings involving holiday preparation on both the family and community level to introduce a surprising large cast of characters (given the brevity of the novel) and to establish a normal atmosphere of good will against which this exceptional crime looms large.

Weiner

Visiting relatives, desired and not, complicates the lives of Susan and her husband Mike.

The town has been unsettled of late in other ways. There are suspicions about the business practices of Agrowmex, an important company headed by the murdered woman’s husband, Matthew. Matthew has pushed into Westbrook in a big way. He managed to get Melissa appointed as assistant principal in the charter school, which he largely funds. Her credentials are shaky. Matthew is bringing in outsider employees to work the factory farming plant. These workers, to some minds, are not the right kind of residents for their town. . . .

To enjoy the entire review, as it appears in the June 14, 2017 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 15 issues of the Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Murder Is Chartered

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Dahl’s CONVICTION a gripping, worthy addition to her Rebekah Roberts series

 Conviction, by Julia Dahl. Minotaur Books. 320 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

The latest entry in Julia Dahl’s Rebekah Roberts series is a powerful exploration of how unjustifiable convictions occur and what the consequences are. It also evokes the spiritual overtone of the title word. The storytelling mode is particularly effective, mixing sections told in the main character’s voice with other sections that enter the minds and emotions of other important characters.

It’s all about perspective.

Something horrible happens in Brooklyn during the summer of 1992. A black mother and father, along with one of their foster children, are murdered in their Crown Heights home. Another foster child is convicted of the crime, a false confession wrung from him via despicable police interrogation.

The narrative moves back and forth, alternating between two timelines. One describes the sequence of events as they happened in 1992. The other reveals events of 2014, especially those that follow journalist Rebekah Roberts, who is sparked into action by a letter from fortyish prison inmate DeShawn Perkins. He claims that he has been in jail for 22 years for a crime he didn’t commit.

To explore the background and consequences of this claim, Dahl designs a layered plotline that includes the relationships between the African-American and Jewish communities; the abusive and often criminal practices of city landlords; the unwillingness of police and district attorneys to reopen closed cases; the decline of U.S. newspapers; and the shoddy journalism that arises from the tension between getting the facts straight and being first to break the story.

And that’s not all. Conviction probes the texture and dynamics of parent-child relationships in a remarkably rich way. It’s not all good news. The relationship between Rebekah and her mother, Aviva, for instance, is very rocky. . . .

To read the entire review, click hereConviction: A Novel | Washington Independent Review of Books

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A hot-headed villain puts Barrington to the test, as does a fascinating woman

Fast & Loose, by Stuart Woods. Putnam. 368 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

This is the 41st Stone Barrington novel, but who’s counting? Mr. Woods is a nonstop thriller writer whose titles spend a lot of time on the best seller lists. This one will probably join the previous 50 best sellers. He has a great formula and a great leading character. He fascinates us with the lifestyle of the wealthy, sometimes beautiful, people. 

When Stone’s exotic cruising yawl is hit by another boat during a fogbound return to his dock in Maine, he ends up in a coming to consciousness on the yacht of the Carlsson family. He is entranced by the stunning Dr. Marisa Carlsson and impressed by her father, Dr. Paul Carlsson, head of the prestigious Carlsson Clinic. This accident springs into a series of opportunities and confrontations that wind through the novel while holding it together.

The romance between Stone and Marisa is one satisfying part of it. Another is Stone’s inevitable involvement in helping the Carlssons overcome an unfriendly takeover that became even less friendly when the man who was orchestrating the takeover died and his authority in St. Clair Enterprises was taken over, illegally, by a ruthless schemer named Erik Macher. Macher, ex-CIA, had bribed the company’s lawyer to create a fraudulent will naming Macher as Christian St. Claire’s successor. And Macher wants to control the Carlsson family’s medical business.

Stuart Woods photo by Jeanmarie Woods

 

The battle of wits and resources makes for a suspenseful series of high-flying episodes filled with action – much of it violent. It takes us to the upper stratosphere of money and influence, a world in which connections are everything and Stone Barrington has all anyone would need. Stone, a retired veteran of the police force, hangs his private law shingle within a larger “big law” firm in which he is partnered, so he controls plenty of legal clout. He is best friends with the always available head of the NYC police force, Dino Bacchetti, which helps to no end. Such connections give Stone instant access to background searches that reveal Macher’s tainted history.

Stone is also a principal in a high-powered security firm, which plays an important part in protecting the Carlssons, among other duties.

Stone has connections everywhere, even the White House. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the June 7, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlott, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Fast & Loose 

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Searching the Florida past for the beginnings of human life

An Ice Age Mystery: Unearthing the Secrets of the Old Vero Site, by Rody Johnson. University Press of Florida. 224 pages.  Hardcover $24.95.

For 100 years, the human and other remains of Vero, Florida have engaged the skills and imagination of professional and amateur archaeologists. Just what was the region like during the Ice Age? What grew there? What were the geological features? Did animals thrive? Did humans leave their marks — and their bones – somewhere in the layers of sediment washed by intruding waters? Why are these questions important? 

The history of archaeological investigations of “the Old Vero site” is characterized by sporadic periods of accelerated interest and action separated by longer periods of general neglect. Rody Johnson tells the story in a highly accessible style, even making the forays into science understandable and engaging. It’s a story of diehard fanatics, professional rivalries, home town boosters, and local kids with nothing better to do than search for Ice Age tools, fossils, bones, and other evidentiary signs of life – individual and communal.

Yes, before there was today’s Vero Beach, perhaps 10,000 years before, there was Vero Man – or, more likely, Vero Woman.

Johnson

Mr. Johnson’s book is divided into two parts. The first part begins with the 1916 discovery by geologist Elias Sellards of Ice Age human and animal remains. His interpretation, originally challenged by leading authorities, was eventually supported by radiocarbon dating technology. This justification came long after the dismissal of Sellards’s claims had crushed his career and spirit.

The author traces the ebbs and flows of interest in the Old Vero site, sets this pattern in the context of other Ice Age research sites, and ends this section with reference to a long period of research dormancy.  Along the way, we meet the important players in the field, generation by generation, and major findings nearby and far away that rival the Old Vero Site’s claim for attention. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 31, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 1 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Rody Johnson

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