Category Archives: Florida Authors

A first-rate crafting of a tale about a series of heinous crimes

No Good Deed, by James Swain. Thomas & Mercer. 336 pages. Trade Paperback $15.95.

The second installment of the Jon Lancaster & Beth Daniels Series, following “The King Tides,” is a blessing for crime thriller fans. It continues to build the shaky relationship between the highly engaging and original lead characters while exploring a heinous series of crimes in human trafficking. What’s happening is terrible, but the crafting of the tale is first rate.

What begins as a missing person case turns into a horror story involving the disappearance of twelve young women within the state of Florida. Who is preying on them? Why? How can this serial abduction nightmare be terminated? 

Jon, retired from police work, has long been associated with Team Adam, part of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The missing person he is tracking is young Skye Tanner, whose grandmother was murdered by the felons during her attempt to protect her. When he discovers that Skye’s abduction is part of a pattern, Jon puts himself on the case.

Of course, for a crime spree like this one, not only local authorities but also the FBI will be involved. Thus, Agent Beth Daniels will re-enter Jon’s life. Sparks will fly, a consequence of their mutual attraction and their contrasting understanding of the value of rules. Beth is a by-the-book person, Jon can justify breaking rules – and does.

The emotional dimension of the novel is deepened by the fact that Jon’s long estranged and often imprisoned brother, Logan, turns out to be working for the organization doing the human trafficking.

Swain

The mood of No Good Deed is lightened by such touches as Jon’s employment of teenage students, Beth’s niece and some of her classmates, to do computer search work that helps answer some questions about the perpetrators and their location. . . .

To  enjoy the full review, as it appears in the September 11, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 12 Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Palm Beach, and Venice editions, click here:  No Good Deed

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Failure to protect a witness rocks self-esteem of protagonist

A Beautiful Voice, by Robert Lane. Mason Alley Publishing. 404 pages. Trade Paperback $14.95.

Lane

It’s difficult, and not terribly important, to summarize the plot of Robert Lane’s latest novel, the sixth in his “Jake Travis” series. The attraction of this crime thriller is less in the plot line than in the high quality of characterization, physical setting, and moral ambiance. Meeting Jake and his friends, his girlfriend Kathleen, and several other well-drawn characters who are newly developed for this novel is the real pleasure.

 

Here’s the set-up: When a government agency assigns Jake to safeguard a witness who is brought into the U. S. to testify about the head of a major drug syndicate, the idea is that the witness will keep a low profile. Without warning, this man, an accountant with priceless information, arrives with a family – a wife, two young daughters, and an even younger boy. When the family disappears just a few days later, Jake gathers that he has been misinformed, but why? What has happened to Alejandro Vizcarro and his young family?

Lots of surprises follow, including the fact that the gorgeous wife, Martina, is actually the accountant’s first daughter, much older that her siblings. And it’s possible that one of the children is not a sibling to the others.

The Mexican drug cartel leader, Sergio Flores, has a thriving business. His tainted drugs kill thousands of Americans. No wonder the U. S. government wants him brought to justice. In addition, he has murdered two DEA agents. Some of his books are kept by an American, Richard Bannon, and it’s the hope of Jake’s associates that Mr. Vizcarro’s testimony will tumble Bannon and, in turn, Flores.

Well things just don’t work out. Vizcarro’s protection, set in place by Jake, is just not sufficient. A remaining part of the mystery is the to discover and protect Vizcarro’s children. Assuming they are still alive.

As readers follow the plans that Jake puts in place for himself and his comrades, they enter Jake’s world more fully. This is a world of weapons that Jake’s team knows how to use. It is a world of waterways along the western edge of the Florida peninsula (the St. Petersburg area) that is at once the setting for Jake’s home and the action center of the novel. It is a world of magnificent boats and crime-busting accessories that Jake has long mastered. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 4, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the September 5 Bonita Springs and Charlotte County editions, and the September 12 Naples and Key West editions, click here: A Beautiful Voice

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A life of ballet

Ballet dancer/teacher/businesswoman tells the inside story in a captivating memoir

Chasing Castles: Nineteen Years Living & Teaching Ballet in Italy, by Barbara File Marangon. Ogham Books International. 286 pages. Trade Paperback $15.95.

This marvelous story of nearly two decades of perseverance is filled with colorful vignettes and valuable life lessons. The author takes her readers through a highly creative period of her life running from her early thirties through her early fifties. As a young woman, Ms. Marangon (hereafter Barbara), had prepared for a career in ballet. We meet her during a time when the ex-New Yorker is dancing and training others in Los Angeles.

But something is luring her in another geographic and cultural direction. She has fond memories of friendships made in Europe, of refinement of her skills there, and of European performances in which she participated. Ready to live in a kind of exile, and hardly speaking any Italian, she is determined to live and work there. Another motive is the need to withdraw from her doomed, painful relationship with her father.

Venice is the first stop.

Marangon

What she didn’t realize was that she would be a victim of a deeply-rooted European prejudice against foreigners. This affected where she could live, what amenities she could obtain, work opportunities, and many other areas of life. Her Venice experience of feeling like an outsider was offset someone by the romance that ended in a marriage to her first husband and her gradual, hard-won successes in developing a career as a ballet teacher. Unfortunately, she discovered that her husband was a very childish person. Their unhealthy relationship lingered on for a long time.

More opportunities arose outside of Venice – in small towns in which ballet education was well established and in which she was able to make her mark even while dealing with the resentment of others about making room for an outsider to flourish. Barbara made at least two of those small towns her home.

What is success as a ballet teacher? How does one manage to turn craft and teaching skills into a successful business? Most of the book details Barbara’s struggle to answer these questions. . . .

The full review, along with an interview, was originally published in the September-October 2019 issue of Ft. Myers Magazine. To read the full review, click here:  Chasing Castles

 

For her earlier Detour on an Elephant, click here:   Detour

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A fun-packed mystery with food for thought and thought for food

A Deadly Feast, by Lucy Burdette. Crooked Lane. 228 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

It may be that calling a book and its main character “delightful” does not seem like a term of high praise. However, how much in our lives is delightful? How often might we wish to be delighted? Like its eight predecessors, this latest title in the “Key West Food Critic Mystery” series will put a smile on your face while keeping you engaged with suspenseful plot details and the charms of idiosyncratic Key West.

Exuberant, curious, and good-natured Hayley Snow is the restaurant columnist for Key Zest magazine, and as readers now expect, doing her job is likely to lead her into trouble. She is covering a seafood tasting tour orchestrated by her friend Analise, an event meant to show off Key West cuisine, when things go wrong. One of the customers mysteriously dies while feasting at the tour’s last stop. Analise enlists Hayley’s help, and the game is on.

It’s not that Hayley has nothing else to do but go sleuthing. On the schedule is a special Thanksgiving celebration tied to Hayley’s marriage to her handsome, protective beau Nathan – a police detective stressed out by a dangerous case he’s working on, the impending marriage, and the need to meet many of Hayley’s relatives for the first time.

Lucy Burdette / photo credit Carol Tedesco

So, we have a recipe for stress and mayhem.

Oh, one more thing: Hayley and Nathan are hoping to have a houseboat restored in time to move into soon after the wedding. As is so often the case with such endeavors, things are not going well and contractors are not showing up to meet the schedule.

Was the victim killed by something she ate at that last tour stop? Did something go wrong with chef Marsha Hubbard’s Key Lime pie – her virtuoso signature item? Is Marsha’s career doomed? Was the event – and the pie – sabotaged? Will the restaurant’s reputation collapse?

And then there’s a second death!

The police, including Nathan, are on the case, and the lovers have their usual conflict over Hayley’s need to get involved and Nathan’s need to keep her safe and perform like the professional that he is.

It’s all about friends, relatives, food, excitement, and danger. Readers will enjoy the spunky Miss Gloria, who has shared her houseboat with Kayley and is a “poster girl” for active, insightful octogenarians. Lorenzo the Tarot Card guru is another loveable Key Wester. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 21, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the August 22  Charlotte County and Venice editions, and the August 29 Naples  edition, click here: DeadlyFeast

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The moral element shines brightly in this heart-pounding tale of historical nautical adventure

Jacket blurb by Phil Jason blurbing as U.S. Naval Academy Professor Emeritus Philip K. Jason: “Macomber is today’s foremost practitioner of a fascinating subgenre: historical fiction of the nautical variety. Building his series on the imagined autobiography of Peter Wake, he’s given readers a vivid, multi-dimensional hero. Macomber makes the remarkable times he portrays glow. This latest title is no exception. History comes alive.”

Honoring the Enemy, by Robert N. Macomber. Naval Institute Press. 368 pages. Hardcover $29.95.

This is the 14th installment of Mr. Macomber’s classic “Captain Peter Wake Novel” series. It is the first with his new publisher, and what a wonderful pairing it is to have such a fascinating series under the imprint of the Naval Institute Press. The series is also known as the “Honor” series, as that word appears in each of the titles. Old and new Macomber readers will appreciate the useful “Timeline of Peter Wake’s Life” that sets the protagonist in his historical context and in the parameters of his unique values, skills, and personality.

The author blends international politics, seamanship, strategic planning, and technology into a succulent stew. However, little else is succulent in this wartime drama notable for undependable supply lines and a scarcity of nourishment.

What we’ve got here, folks, is the Spanish-American War as adversaries battle for dominance in Cuba during June and July of 1898.

Wake is a proud patriot, always motivated to serve his country, but these days he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. After long years working up the responsibility ladder, he thought he had proven himself worthy of being given command of his own ship. But that didn’t happen. He had made too many enemies and – as a man who doesn’t mince words – there was little support for this former espionage specialist. No politician, he just didn’t have the right connections. After all, he was one of the few Navy officers who had not graduated from the Naval Academy.

Rather than driving a ship, he heads a small Navy team that is a liaison to the U. S. Army’s effort to free Cuba from Spanish rule. He reports to generals who are orchestrating a joint U. S. and Cuban liberation force. In this effort, he is finding the Spanish forces estimable and discovering that the U. S. effort mixes clever initiatives with large measures of incompetence.

The story Wake tells us involves not only his perspectives and actions, but his remembrance of how effectively his old friend Theodore Roosevelt comported himself during this campaign. Indeed, Mr. Macomber’s portrait of the president-to-be, filtered through Wake’s observations and judgments, is among the book’s many engaging threads, with unexpected comic elements to leaven the blood-soaked, storm-tossed, death-inviting narrative. . . .

To see the entire review, as it appears in the August 8, 2019 issue of the Naples, Palm Beach, and Venice editions of  Florida Weekly, as well as the August 14 Fort Myers  and August 15 Charlotte County editions, click here:  Honoring the Enemy

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Selfless, caring healer is found to be too good for this world

Jordan, by Victoria Landis. BookPainter Press. 355 pages. Trade paperback $16.99.

Do you believe that certain exceptional people have supernatural powers? Healing powers? This novel might just convince you. It will certainly convince you that people who manifest such a gift are likely to be idolized, looked upon with suspicion, considered agents of the devil, exploited, and otherwise tormented. 

Petra Simmons and her younger brother Andy help an attractive young woman who seems disoriented and down on her luck; they try to be of assistance. The woman, they discover, has recently returned to her family after having been missing for three years. She does not feel comfortable with her family, and she has no memory. What she does have is the ability to heal by touching the ill, the crippled or the wounded. The speed of recover for these individuals seems to be influenced by their ethical dimensions. Good folks are more susceptible to her healing power that more mean-spirited ones.

The woman, who is named Jordan, is befriended by Petra, who provides Jordan with shelter and friendship. They form a strong bond. Before long, Andy falls in love with her.

Landis

Jordan has a special relationship with birds and other animals. They are sensitive to her special nature and, quite literally, flock to be near her.

Jordan’s memory stays blank for a long time, but her sense of her individuality is strong on many levels. She is driven to use her gift. She is also, at first, something of an innocent – but the ways in which she is perceived and treated test her good nature.

Her presence in Boca Raton, along with bits of fact and tons of rumor, go viral on the social media. People fight for a chance to see Jordan or, better yet, be healed by her. Others would rather denigrate her gift and her motives. Still others, often those already powerful and wealthy, would like to find ways to control her and take advantage of her for their own purposes. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 24, 2019 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 25 issues of the Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Palm Beach, and Venice editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Jordan

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Racial tension threatens aircraft carrier, commander

No Salvation, by Jeffery Hess. Down & Out Books. 312 pages. Trade paperback $18.95.

The USS Salvation is a huge aircraft carrier that is part of a fleet patrolling in the South China Sea during the final months of the Vietnam War. It is a perfect microcosm setting, a floating island of tedium, outrage, hostility, pain, fear, and overworked bravado. It is 1972, and racial tension is high: perhaps nowhere higher than on a pressure-cooker at sea where the sailors are virtually imprisoned by the nature of the wartime situation. 

It’s been a long time since anyone has left the carrier.

That racial tension and its accompanying violence have become a major problem is no secret to the ship’s captain. He has decided to make his new Executive Office (XO) an up-and-coming commander named Robert Porter, who is one of the most carefully drawn major characters in the book and perhaps the one most likely to receive the reader’s sympathy, the linchpin for tamping down hostilities.

Perhaps chosen less for his illustrious record than for the fact that he is Afro-American, Porter immediately finds himself in a difficult position. His very success as an officer who has pleased his white superiors has pegged him as an “Uncle Tom,” with all the baggage that such a label conveys.

Black sailors, including those with some rank, have been sabotaging the ship’s overall effectiveness. They seem to be ready for an internal war with their white shipmates – and, indeed, they mount a most unpeaceful demonstration to demand equal treatment equal to that of the whites.

Hess

The ship has other problems. Drug use is rampant and the source of an unofficial economy among the abusers and the dealers. The ship’s cobbler runs the narcotic business and related ventures.

Mr. Hess has given himself a complex challenge, that of bringing readers close to the reality of this enormous vessel and the huge number of individuals who keep it functioning, both technically and as a complex amalgam of duties, skills, backgrounds, and personalities. He has done a marvelous job, though readers will find their memories tested by the large number of characters, their stake in the enterprise, and the astounding size of their temporary home in a physical structure that contains so many levels, so much task-specific work space, living spaces for four thousand men, and dangers. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 10, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 11 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Venice, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – No Salvation

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Memoir offers lost souls a viable path to self-respect and renewal

The Burn Zone: A Memoir, by Renee Linnell. She Writes Press. 305 pages. Trade Paperback $16.95.

Heartbreaking as it is, this is a most important book. It is the harrowing journey of an accomplished, multi-talented woman whose need for spiritual enhancement leads her into a trap. Though it took too many years for her to admit it to herself, and even more years for her to extricate herself, the author had become the prey of a cult. In the name of bringing her gift of enlightenment and true peace of mind, her teachers turned her into a psychological slave.

Ms. Linnell, who grew up in Florida, was a vibrant, adventurous seeker who became an abused woman. Sometimes she knew it, sometimes she didn’t. In a way, being the target of abuse gave her some degree of definition, but of course such an identity is not much to build upon.

Renee (will keep it in the first person from now on) was physically slight, but nonetheless she had trained her body as a surfer and a processional dancer. She had the kind of looks that made her a successful surf model.

Renee Linnell

And beside body, she had brains and she put them to good use. She earned an MBA for NYU and she was a successful entrepreneur. Some of these accomplishments took place under the influence of the teachers whose brand of Buddhism denied her worth and attacked what they called her oversized ego; Renee accomplished more once she had freed herself from their destructive, perhaps psychotic, influence.

Though the narrative is mostly chronological, there are times when segments of Renee’s life are set against one another without temporal continuity. Vignettes become linked by thematic overlap or in the simple way that one memory triggers another. Changes of mood can be abrupt. Success and failure, however judged and by whom, knock against one another, sometimes rapid-fire.

It takes a long time for Renee to define herself in a healthy way, to offer herself the respect FROM herself that she deserves.

Readers will find themselves sympathetic to Renee, but they will also find themselves silently foretelling disasters she has set herself up for by trusting her mentors and rewarding their exploitation. “Renee,” one might think, “why didn’t you see this coming?”

To read the entire review, as it appears in the June 26, 2019 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 27 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Venice editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – The Burn Zone 

Renee Linnell is a serial entrepreneur who has founded or co-founded five companies. Currently she serves on the board of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and is also working on starting a publishing company to give people from diverse walks of life an opportunity to tell their stories. Ms. Linnell has an Executive Masters in Business Administration from New York University. She grew up in Florida and visits there frequently while otherwise dividing her time between Colorado and Southern California.

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Storms of the heart bring violence, catharsis

Mine, by Courtney Cole. Gallery Books. 304 pages. Original Trade Paperback $16.00.

This scorching-hot novel of infidelity, its causes, and its consequences is structured as a two-narrator duet in which harmony is unlikely. Accomplished and confident Tessa is taken by surprise when she discovers that there is a rival for her husband’s favor. At forty, and with three children and a booming career, she felt she and Ethan were on a steady path.

Twenty-six-year-old Lindsey, gorgeous but insecure about everything except her good looks, has set her sights on Ethan, whom she met online. She offers him literally everything, using her neediness as a weapon. 

Ms. Cole has clearly distinguished her two combatants. She has pitched their voices perfectly to capture the many contrasts in their personalities.

As a coastal Florida storm intensifies into a hurricane, blocking Ethan’s return home from a business trip. A glance at Ethan’s iPad turns Tessa’s world upside down. Ethan has been having a sex-tinged flirtation with a beautiful younger woman whose seductive photos are a challenge and a threat to his wife.

Courtney Cole photo by Christine Arnold

Alternating chapters reveal the two women’s thoughts, emotions, and words. Readers get to know them, and a clever plot device forces them to get to know one another.

Throughout the novel, the hurricane is effectively used as a metaphor for the darkness and danger of the women’s emotional situation.

There are interesting ironies that affect the relationship between Tessa and Lindsey. Not the least of these is that Lindsey, a nursing student, saves Colt, Tessa and Ethan’s oldest child, when he has what could have been a terminal bout with his serious disease. Not only must Tessa thank Lindsey for saving the young man’s life, but she begins to see Lindsey as a person with more dimensions than husband-snatcher.

Seeing the two women in the context of their families provides for engaging contrasts. Tessa’s accomplished brood of two sons and a daughter (her other children are Connor and Ava) reflects Tessa’s care and expectations. Ethan has been in the picture, but Tessa is the driving force. Reader’s learn little about the older generation – Tessa or Ethan’s parents.

On the other hand, there is a well-turned portrait of Lindsey’s mother, who has become the caretaker for Lindsey’s eight-year-old son, Logan, since Lindsey’s situation does not leave her with the resources or confidence to be raising him. Lindsey’s mother, a practical person, perceives and announces the many flaws that she finds with Lindsey’s decisions and expectations. She scolds her regularly.

There are several large-scale flareups between Tessa and Lindsey . . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the June 19, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 20 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Mine

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Moving ahead requires inventorying ugly truths from the past

Moral Inventory, by Tara Johnson. Austin Macauley. 154 pages. Trade paperback $10.95.

An intervention program named Helping Hands has, with her alcoholic mother’s connivance and permission, yanked young Elizabeth out of her downward spiraling life and provided a structure of rewards, punishments, and self-evaluation that might save her. At seventeen, she had found herself flattered by the attentions, muscles, and rebelliousness of Marcus, an unemployed predator several years too old for her. His controlling nature had become intolerable, though he had ways of making her feel important as well.

Not seeing him is part of her path to staying off drugs and making a meaningful, respectable life for herself.

Ms. Johnson’s portrait of about a half year in Elizabeth’s life is extremely vivid. It is a harrowing emotional ride in which the young woman’s intelligence is at war with her bad habits, including dangerous dependencies.

Elizabeth wavers between taking the lessons and regimen of Helping Hands to heart and merely playing the game of going along while looking for an out. Her life is on hold until she finishes the program – or runs away from it. She meets other young adults working their way through the program and in some cases assisting the director, Mrs. Stein. There is a well -constructed hierarchy of relationships and responsibilities that offers hope.

Readers will grasp the importance of such a “tough love” program, yet also understand Elizabeth’s ambivalent attitude and inconsistent behavior.

While the focus of the novel is Elizabeth’s struggles and successes within the confines of the Helping Hands structure, Ms. Johnson paints Elizabeth’s life and personality with a broader brush through flashbacks. The author clarifies the effects of Elizabeth’s father’s disappearance and her mother’s alcohol problem on Elizabeth’s early years.

Tara Johnson

The flashbacks include Elizabeth’s friendships with other girls and with temporary boyfriends. Her home environment places her in a low socio-economic class without the tools to transcend it. Though Elizabeth has a strong love for her mother, she also feels bitter about the unsought responsibility of dealing with a desperate drunk. At times, she is forced to take over the parent role. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the May 15, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 16 Naples, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here and see lower half of page: Florida Weekly – Moral Inventory

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