Category Archives: Florida Authors

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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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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Serial killer mystery features a wise guy PI and a deranged yet crafty villain

Shadow of the Black Womb, By Lawrence J. De Maria. St. Austin’s Press.  204 pages. E-book $2.99.

This is Alton Rhode Mysteries #8, one of three exciting series penned by Mr. De Maria. The title, drawn from the Delmore Schwartz poem “The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me,” sets a minor key note of literary erudition that plays quietly through the novel. It reminds us of how the bodily self undermines the aspirations of our more noble and –  intangible – sense of identity. Alton observes the distance between who he is and who he might be. This awareness flitters through his perceptions. He senses an inescapable twinship between two sides of one person.  

Dark doubles and duality play out in other ways in the course of the novel, one that involves a serial killer addicted to his pleasure of murdering young children. The depraved addict has a score to settle. It is Halloween, and the masked killer has a pistol hidden in his plastic pumpkin. Cormac Levine is his target.

The mystery plot –- who is this murderous madman and what are his motives –- is interrupted so that we can drop in on Alton Rhode, the main narrator. We meet his tomcat, his dog, and his gorgeous, brainy girlfriend Alice Watts –  a philosophy professor at Barnard. The two enjoy New York’s cultural offerings. Their evening is interrupted by a call from Alton’s police force buddies, using a crime family figure as an intermediary because this enforcer would know how to get in touch with Alton quickly. Already we know that Alton is well connected on both sides of the law.

De Maria

A private investigator can handle some issues more readily than the police department or the district attorney’s office can. Alton rushes over to the Richmond Memorial Hospital (Staten Island) where Cormac Levine (“Mac”) is in a coma. We discover that Mac and Alton are old friends. Alton reveals that “I was a rookie cop when he cornered a child molester.” We might wonder if the child molester, now a child killer, is settling the score with someone who sent him to jail. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the May 24,2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 25 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Shadow of the Black Womb

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US Congresswoman kidnapped by Shining Path guerillas held for ransom high in the Peruvian Andes

Shining Path, by William Schnorbach. Aristos Press. 295-page hardcover $29.95. 346-page trade paperback $17.00.

Billed as “A Lone Wolf Thriller – Book One,” book is a piece of novelistic history that sets several fascinating characters against the turmoil in Peru born of corrupt government and a brutal revolutionary force named “Shining Path” by its founder, Manuel Ruben Abimael Guzman Reynosa (usually reduced to Abimael Guzman). He considered himself to be the fourth sword of Marxism, inspired by the Maoist third sword (following Marx and Lenin). Mr. Schnorbach focuses his narrative on four months toward the end of a twelve-year nightmare of violence for the Peruvian people. 

The principal characters are U. S. Congresswoman Marta Stone, who plans to grab a Senate seat in a forthcoming election; a Native American undercover CIA operative and “sky walker” who uses the moniker Lone Wolf, super-skilled and dangerous; and Antonio Navarro, co-founder of Shining Path who knows the movement has lost its moral compass. The three form an alliance of necessity in a world in which loyalty is bought and sold.

After Marta is abducted in Lima and held as a prisoner of war, Lone Wolf (whose legal name is Josh Barnes) is assigned to rescue her. Antonio (hereafter “Tony”), also imprisoned, is protecting her.

The novel proceeds by rolling out an unhappy mix of action and exposition. The action scenes are stunning whirlwinds of sensory experience. Over and over, Lone Wolf’s special martial skills, offensive and defensive, are on display along with other brands of physical prowess and mental acumen. He is a great planner as well as a great improvisor. He knows how to beat the odds when his team is overmatched.

Schnorbach

He, along with Marta and Tony, must make their way through difficult terrain with insufficient nourishment and a determined, well-trained enemy. They deal with injuries and exhaustion.

Mr. Schnorbach handles this action scenes with great skill, offering vivid descriptions of the rugged environment and building pulse-racing tension from episode to episode. . . .

To read the review in its entirely, as it appears in the May 17, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 18 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Shining Path

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Game warden adventures reveal an important side of Florida’s nature

Bad Guys, Bullets, and Boat Chases: True Stories of Florida Game Wardens, by Bob H. Lee. University Press of Florida. 272 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

Though its main purpose lies elsewhere, this vivid treatment of the life of game wardens underscores the fact that Florida has been impressively dedicated to the stewardship of natural resources. Across the state, smaller and larger preserves – some quite enormous – protect the habitat of wildlife. Mr. Lee’s book enables us to visit stunning (and sometimes scraggly) locations. 

The author’s focus is on the people who work for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), a combination of two previous agencies. FWC has over eight hundred conservation law enforcement officers and another thirteen hundred additional employees. The conservation officers and investigators (“game wardens”) “have full police powers and statewide jurisdiction.” From the tales Mr. Lee has collected, readers will learn that this is no job for the timid.

There are bad guys out there illegally killing or capturing wildlife for profit. They are often skilled, sometimes organized into gangs, and always ready take enormous risks to satisfy their greed or their addiction to the thrill of violence.

The seventeen chapters offer a variety of stories illustrating the skills and courage of these wardens. Although sometimes the main business is to wait in hiding while anticipating the actions of lawbreakers, most often the stories are brimming with confrontations and high-stakes action.

Bob H. Lee

Among the earlier narratives is the fascinating story of Eastern Airlines flight #401 as it streaked downwards into the Florida Everglades marshlands. Bob Lee tracks the ensuing discovery of the wrecked plane by an airboat-driving young warden, along with his role in the compromised rescue operation. His was Gray Leonhard’s first experience of such a disaster. His long game warden career included hundreds of search-and-rescue operations in which the FWC assisted other law enforcement and rescue agencies.

There are more airboat chases in the book than airboat rescue missions. Whatever the vehicle, game wardens need to foil criminal actions such as deer and turkey poaching, gill-netting operations, and other illegal activities. Confrontations with alligators, snakes, and other dangerous species are also part of a game warden’s work. Alligator and snake skins are profitable commodities, and there are laws governing the harvesting of these money-makers that wardens must enforce. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 10, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 11 Naples and  Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Bob Lee

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Characters bedeviled by trauma and loss explored in bestselling author’s latest effort

The Red Hunter, by Lisa Unger. Touchstone. 368 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

This delicately constructed thriller explores the distance and proximity between two women whose paths cross in strikingly unusual ways. The younger of the two, Zoey Drake, has lived through a lengthy and ongoing recovery from a devastating childhood trauma. Her parents were murdered before eyes in their rural home outside of New York City. Zoey, who barely survived, has lived with a rage she must control to function effectively. Rigorous martial arts training has been her coping mechanism and her security against being victimized in her adulthood as she was in her childhood. 

She has been reared and put through college by the man she calls Uncle Paul, and she assists him as he struggles with poor health. She supports herself through cat-sitting jobs and by helping her martial arts mentor teach self-defense to young girls. Nightmares haunt her, but she has gained a healthy self-confidence.

The place she was raised in is now occupied by a mother and teenage daughter. For Claudia Bishop, renovating this home is part of an extended recovery from a horrible assault and rape that occurred many years ago. Seventeen year old Raven, herself a troubled young woman, feels the need to follow up on the possibility that she is not the child of the loving man from who Claudia has been long divorced. Perhaps she is the daughter of the rapist. Her quest regarding her identity is one plot driver in this brilliant, complex novel.

Lisa Unger – photo by Jay Nolan

Signs of intruders lead to the revelation that somewhere between the house and the barn might be the buried fruits of a robbery gone haywire. There’s a possibility that individuals connected with the robbery are committed to recovering a million dollars. The theft involved corrupt police. It looks like the handyman Claudia has hired for the renovation was somehow involved, as was his brother – a desperate, soulless character recently released from prison.

Through shifting narrators and points of view, Ms. Unger orchestrates the series of revelations that lead to the final outcome. The suspense is almost unbearable in this fast-paced psychological thriller.

I don’t know of another writer working today who brings us characters with such precisely rendered emotional complications. Of course, they are put in situations – or can’t stop remembering situations – that give them a lot to process. Sometimes they are presented from a third person perspective, and sometimes they are briefly narrators. It’s not easy to make such (unrecommended) shifts work, but Lisa Unger makes it a compelling feature of her art. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 26, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and in the April 27 Naples, Palm Beach, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Red Hunter

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Putting one’s life on the line . . . of ruled paper

Look Beyond the Mirror: A Creative and Simple Approach to Discover and Write the Story of Your Life, by Penny Lauer. Privately published via the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform . 156 pages. Trade paperback $15.00.

The seeds for this highly effective guide to memoir writing, at once practical and motivational, is a course the author gave at the Renaissance Academy (continuing education division) of Florida Gulf Coast University. She approaches the project as first of all an exercise in self-discovery, a process without which the finished product would be of little use to readers – even if they are primarily family and friends. 

Ms. Lauer breaks the seemingly overwhelming task into a series of manageable steps, explaining the necessity of each step and offering, with examples, a preferred way of managing that step. Anticipating the inexperience and insecurity of her reader-students, she reaches out in a sympathetic, supportive voice.

The author provides detailed advice on how to develop a flow of memories unblocked by self-censorship. Memoir writers have to seek the emotional truths in the experiences they recall, then explore and fashion those experiences for their readers. Penny Lauer insists on the necessity of pushing ahead, generating as much material as possible, before grouping the material and editing.

Lauer

The steps in the book organize the novice writer’s working life. Ms. Lauer insists on handwritten manuscripts (pardon the redundancy) on ruled paper in notebooks from which the pages can be removed and rearranged. And she explains how and why this method works. She also explains the need for a protected place for the writing to get done.

I agree that her system can work and produce exceptional results. I also feel that as people mature as writers, they need to explore a variety of processes. Changing your habits is a good way of waking up your perceptions and your writing. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 19, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 20 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Look Beyond the Mirror

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Applauding the discovered truths of successful people from many walks of life

Show Me, by Randall Kenneth Jones. Smart Business Books. 376 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

This thoroughly entertaining and highly unusual self-help book is not embarrassed to carry the subtitle “Celebrities, Business Tycoons, Rock Stars, Journalists, Humanitarians, Attack Bunnies & More!” That’s truth in packaging from a marketing and public relations guru turned business practices columnist. SW Florida readers will know him from his “Business Class” column in the Naples Daily News and from his local stage appearances. The profiles and life lessons (business and otherwise) in this book grow out of that column – or, more accurately – the relationships built with the people Mr. Jones interviewed.  

Be prepared. A manic joy is in the air.

With so much material from which to choose, Randy Jones has organized his chapters by putting together delightful commentary on people whose natures or accomplishments just seem to make them good company. Some groupings are obvious – sports figures, professional communicators, and entertainers. Others are more intuitive: people with shared or overlapping visions of how to conduct one’s self effectively, honestly, and ethically in a complex world.  The many resting places the plan provides are welcome, as there is abundant wisdom in each vignette that needs to be absorbed.

The author simplifies the task in two ways. He begins each major section with material from his own life, especially the lessons of his early years in the Show-Me State. These memories thrum like a tuning fork, its vibrations setting in motion the mini-profiles of his admired interviewees.

 

Jones

The second way Mr. Jones focuses a theme is by offering quotations from his subjects that underscore that theme. Some are indeed pithy. From columnist Heloise we learn that “Housework is genderless,” a bit of wisdom with powerful social implications. From Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen we learn to “Make sure everyone on your team is given the chance to play to their strengths.” The sports metaphor rings true in life’s many arenas. Carly Fiorina asserts that “one woman can change the world because one woman changes the lives of everyone around her.”

Throughout the book, Randy Jones treats serious issues like a man on a tightrope hovering between extreme delicacy and laugh-out-loud astonishment. He positions himself as a fellow who can’t quite believe he has managed to find himself in the company – and with the friendship – of the many leaders whose contributions to the “can do” part of our culture he celebrates. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 12, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 13 Naples, Palm Beach, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Show Me

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