Monthly Archives: November 2017

A powerfully imagined novel explores the causes and consequences of an unjust murder conviction

Monument Road, by Michael Wiley. Severn House. 256 pages. Hardcover $28.99.

When we first meet Franky Dast, he is just out of prison. Falsely convicted of a double murder eight years ago, Franky, in is mid-twenties is entering a world he has not yet begun to figure out. Largely due to his own efforts, his has been given his freedom. He was betrayed by Higby, a demonic arresting officer who put him on death row, by his ill-equipped public defender, and by a system that had no interest in raising questions about the past. Bitter over the lost years and the taint on his name, Franky gains employment with the Justice Now Initiative, a small organization that aids people facing the same problem of having been unjustly imprisoned.  

A haunted man, Franky is not an ideal employee, but his supervisors nurture him as best they can.

In order to more fully establish his innocence, Franky feels the need to discover who was really guilty of murdering those two brothers, young teenagers, with whom Franky had an innocent encounter that doomed him.

Just as he had done much of the investigative work that set him free, Franky is back at it again, trying to to follow up on the death of those boys and to others whose lives and deaths seem to have linked circumstances and details.

With no bars hemming him in, often confused, and determined to be in charge of his own life, Franky is taking chances that might get him in trouble.

Michael Wiley

This gorgeously crafted, shudderingly dark novel blends the genres of psychological thriller and murder mystery. Many will find the author’s probing of Franky’s tormented psyche to have primary appeal. However, the young man is also an adept reasoner and a bulldog at getting close to people who may have secrets that he needs to draw out.

The version of Jacksonville that Mr. Wiley takes us through is a stretch of the urban and suburban American South blighted by corruption and contamination of all kinds. Autopsies reveal unusually high mercury levels; a powerful judge holds sway over how and whether law –  as actualized in the sheriff’s department and the courtroom – is administered; and the low-end rooming house where Franky rents a room is a sordid, grimy place (although its owner/manager seems to be a competent and caring person). . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 29, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 30 Naples, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Monument Road

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“Barren Island: A Novel,” by Carol Zoref

New Issues Poetry & Prose. 408 Pages. Hardcover  $26
Review by Philip K. Jason

Can you imagine making a life in the shadow of a rendering plant, a place where the stench of rotting horse carcasses and related animal decay is ever present—a place isolated from the Brooklyn shore, though regularly visited by barges bringing an unending supply of disintegrating remains for the glue factory? Such is Barren Shoals, which, like the neighboring Barren Island, is a last resort for poor immigrant families. 

Zoref’s narrator, eighty-year-old Marta Eisenstein Lane, was born and raised in this repugnant place. Through Marta, the author traces the life of a neglected, impoverished community that is distanced in every way from the American Dream. Indeed, a critique of that dream is one level at which this exceptional and surprising novel operates.

There are many other levels. Zoref’s book is truly an historical novel, taking us through the aftermath of World War I, the brief epoch of good times for many that followed, and the crushing Depression eventually to be relieved by the dawning of World War II. She explores how people outside of the mainstream receive news and process it: news about government programs, about the unionization of labor, and about the various utopian “isms” for redistributing power and wealth.

Carol Zoref

The heart of the novel covers Marta’s life from the age of about seven through her high school graduation and her refusal to pursue an opportunity to enter Hunter College. It focuses on the Eisenstein family and other immigrant families (Greeks, Italians, etc.), revealing the hardships of their lives and the power of their passions. Its large cast of memorable characters includes Marta’s mother and brother, her best friend Sophia, and her teacher—the wise, talented, and effective Miss Finn. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council web site, click here: Barren Island by Carol Zoref | Jewish Book Council

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Showing kids how ordinary people can have enormous effects on our world

I Am Gandhi and I Am Sacagawea, by Brad Meltzer. Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. Dial Books for Young Readers. 40 pages. Hardcover $14.99.


These two recent titles add scope and impact to the already substantial “Ordinary People Change the World” series. The series of picture books, which has 2 million copies in print, provides young readers (as well as their parents and grandparents), with laudable heroes. The hook is that as children they were no so exceptional. Another attraction is that Mr. Meltzer has these historical characters tell their own stories. He invents friendly voices for each of them, voices inviting to the children being addressed. 

“I Am Gandhi,” the narrator announces his inauspicious beginnings. Small of stature, the socially backward boy was a poor soccer player and a mediocre student. Early on, he became attracted to the lives of those who had helped others. He was sensitive to the fact many people were desperately poor and consistently treated as unworthy beings. Laws prevented them from improving their lives.

He reveals how his life in South Africa, where Indians were suppressed, led him to be politically active but never violent. He would break laws that were prejudicial, accept the punishment, and exercise his mind to find new paths for successful protest. His paved the way for the Indian Relief act of 1914 and set the pattern for his later activities back India through the Indian National Congress. This political force slowly broke down the shackles of British rule of India. Gandhi’ commitment to nonviolent but unshakeable protest influenced future leaders throughout the world.

“I Am Sacagawea” repeats the formula while providing insights into a very different slice of history. The young Shoshoni Indian tells about her tribe being attacked by another tribe. Captured, she was given to a French Canadian man. At that time, she received her name. She also became pregnant and had a child named Pomp.

This teenager proved her worth as a translator, as someone who understood the terrain that the Lewis and Clark expedition first encountered, and as someone capable of finding food and of rescuing supplies that had fallen off a boat. . . .


To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 22, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 23 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Meltzer’s books for kids

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Arab Spring the driving force in taut international thriller

Come Home, by Patricia Gussin. Oceanview Publishing. 368 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

Remember 2011 – the year of the Arab Spring? The turmoil in the Middle East provides a backdrop for Ms. Gussin’s fast-paced thriller. Ahmed Masud, middle son in a wealthy Egyptian family, is called back to Cairo to help prepare for his family’s future after the Mubarak regime collapses. Their wealth derives being favored by Mubarak’s son, who handed them an Egyptian cotton empire. Also, Ahmed’s parents wish to see his five-year-old son, Alex. Succumbing to their pressure, and unsettled by medical malpractice lawsuits, Ahmed steals his son away to Cairo, rashly jeopardizing his marriage and the American dream lifestyle he and his wife, also a plastic surgeon, have shared.  

Readers will be puzzled by Ahmed’s sudden sense of family duty, as was his wife, Dr. Nicole Nelson, who is outraged and crushed by his behavior. She wants her son back! Nicole rallies the support of her twin sister Natalie and their accomplished, successful brothers.

A second crisis hits Natalie, who is in charge of a major program at a large pharmaceutical company. Its cancer drug has tested well and is saving lives with the promise of saving many more. However, people are dying – of constipation. The FDA insists that this serious problem be cleared up. The drug itself is not deadly; rather, the painkillers prescribed to lessen the patients’ suffering are causing the problem. Her career in the balance, Natalie has a difficult time balancing the needs of her company and her desire to aide her sister, reeling from Ahmed’s behavior. Natalie, however, is up to the task.

The Nelson family hires a major security agency to work on rescuing Alex. The chief of the security team has extensive connections and immediately puts them to use.


The plot runs back and forth among happenings in Egypt, Philadelphia, Uruguay, Belgium, and Liberia. The Masud family is under great stress, and Ahmed’s older and younger brothers are power-crazed psychopaths driven to extremes by the threats to the elite Mubarak establishment and by their own greed. There is a race to solve the pharma problem, another to control and relocate the Masud family, and through it all the chase after Nicole’s missing son. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 15, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 16 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly -Come Home

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A delightful novella about learning to color outside the lines

Her Fake Engagement, by Gigi Garrett. St. Martin’s Paperback. 157 pages. Kindle e-book $3.99.

It is a pleasure to meet a talented writer entering new territory. Naples resident Gwendolyn Heasley made a reputation for her young adult (YA) novels, including the remarkable Don’t Call Me Baby (2014) reviewed in these pages. Now she fathoms the more complicated depths of women who have extended their single lives for one reason or another. 

In Her Fake Engagement, Lotti Langerman is approaching thirty with questions about her unsatisfying love life. A successful New York real estate agent, she is attractive and yet not sure of herself. She has established a list of rules to help her navigate the stormy seas of romance. Lotti hopes to avoid mistakes; she’d rather be a bit boring that be caught off-guard, too easily impressed, or sending misunderstood signals. Her friends make fun of her rule-bound existence, but Lotti is determined to avoid reckless spontaneity and play it safe. This gambit isn’t quite working.

The events in this delightful, breezy book derive from two situations. One of these is Lotti’s career as an upscale real estate agent. It is her good fortune to meet well-to-do young men on whom she can work her considerable sales skills. Lotti is really good at what she does. She is well prepared, persuasive, good at reading her clients’ personalities, and especially good at minimizing their objections to perceived shortcomings about residences and neighborhoods. Readers receive an enjoyable lesson in salesmanship and in the New York real estate scene.

Gigi Garrett

At the same time, they look into the life of an independent woman trying to build a career in the big city. Her clients include two young men, Andrew and Tyler, whom she explores in her imagination as possible boyfriends — and maybe more. However, one of her rules is to avoid mixing business with pleasure. Lotti wonders what attracts her to Tyler, whose interests and traits would seem to be red flags warning her to back off. His work as a jewelry designer is especially intriguing, as is his appraisal of an engagement ring Lotti wears — or doesn’t wear — depending upon how she wants to present herself: available or not. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the November 8, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 9  Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Her Fake Engagement

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Politics and power block the truth about mysterious disappearance

Naked We Came, by Robert Lane. Mason Alley Publishing. 355 pages. Trade paperback $14.95, Kindle e-book, $4.99.

This fifth Jake Travis Novel has plenty of Mr. Lane’s familiar mix of grit and literary style plus a more personal premise than the earlier titles. When a man who was the primary suspect in his missing sister’s disappearance is found dead on the beach near Jake’s home, the floodgates of emotions long held in check open and threaten to overwhelm him.

Why now, thirty years after her abduction, has this man Hawkins been left to be discovered? Is the confession he wrote just before his body washed ashore genuine or coerced? Jake feels that latter is likely, and that the identifying DNA evidence has been manipulated.

The discovery of the corpse raises hundreds of questions, but three are central. What happened to Jake’s slightly older sister, whom Jake had last seen when she was seven? Is there any chance that she is alive? Was Jake in any way responsible for leaving her vulnerable?

Riddled with long-suppressed despair and guilt, Jake commits himself to find the answers and mete out personal justice to whomever is responsible for her disappearance and possibly her death.

Robert Lane

All of Jake’s investigative and martial skills, along with those of his loyal friends and the understanding of his devoted girlfriend, will be needed to sustain Jake in this time of raging personal need.

Before long, Jake discovers that people in private and governmental corridors of power are determined to thwart his quest. The truth about what happened to Brittany includes secrets that they need to keep hidden. Following up on the long-terminated official investigation of her disappearance does not get Jake far, but it does bring the forces arrayed against him to attention.

Searching for a starting point to pursue the thirty-year-old crime, Jake retraces events at the southwest Florida Vanderbilt Reef Motel where he and his family were vacationing. His efforts lead to three linked figures who would have been young men spending time in the area back then. Well-connected attorney Bernard Carlsberg is one of them. Carlsberg has a connection to a shady Russian wheeler-dealer named Peter Omarov. And Omarov has connections to U.S. government agents who protect Omarov because he is a valuable source: a conduit to what’s going on in Russia and Ukraine. The third man, David LeClair, is clearly a key – but Jake learns that LeClair has been dead for thirty years. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 1, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 2 issues of the Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Naked We Came  

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