Category Archives: Florida Authors

Mystery of Lord Byron’s daughter drives fascinating historical novel

A Shadowed Fate, by Marty Ambrose. Severn House. 192 pp. Hardcover $28.99.

Reviewed by Phil Jason  (review accepted by Florida Weekly, but fate  otherwise unknown). Please enjoy.

In this second book in her series, which promises to bring a large and avid readership, Ambrose has retooled a bit, changing the name of the series from The Claire Clairemont Mysteries to the Lord Byron Mystery Series. What’s in a name? Like the earlier “Claire’s Last Secret,” secrets play a large role in the plot and the motives of the character. This one could be called Edward Trelawny’s Secret, as his decade’s long subterfuge is now confessed, explained, and teeters on the edge of being forgiven. 

Claire, the main character, from whose point of view most of the book is narrated, seems to live both in the present time (July 1873) and the much earlier time of her youth and memories (1820-21).

Claire spent much of her life as young woman hanging out with the fashionable Byron-Shelley crowd of writers along with her stepsister Mary Shelley. This young British nobility of the arts lived as expatriates in Italy. Claire had little in the way of financial resources, but as part of this fashionable crowd, which also included Edward Trelawny, she made do.

Trelawny, who wrote a biography of Byron, was her would-be lover; but for Claire, Byron was the real thing. So much so that she gave him a child, Allegra, whose fate is the central question of the story.

Marty Ambrose

In the novel’s present time, Trelawny approaches the aging Claire with a confession of sorts. He breaks promises he had made to the long-deceased Byron that suggest that Allegra, thought to have perished in the near destruction of the convent in which she had been brought up, may have survived.

Byron had placed her there for her protection. A man who had many enemies through his role in the liberation of Greece and for other reasons, he wanted to protect his daughter from those enemies. Those who might be after Allegra would also be after her mother, and, indeed, there are many signs of nefarious doings, including attempts to rob Claire of her handful of papers and artifacts that could be sold for a significant price. These include originals of some of Byron’s writings and a rare drawing. This little horde was Claire’s assurance of some income as she would need it through the remaining years her life.

Along with the fact that Ambrose’s prose captures the nature of Claire and the other characters marvelously, readers are given the opportunity to get into their heads in attractive ways. A series of passages reveal Claire reading or remembering passages from Byron’s diary. Thus. we get to know Byron. In a few strategically placed passages, we are let into Allegra’s thought as the girl living a lonely, parentless life in the convent.  Her father, who she remembers, dares not visit her.

Ambrose shapes the action so that a visit to the convent is inevitable. Claire receives promises from the leader of the institution to check records with the hope of shedding light on Allegra’s fortunes. Is she still alive but hidden and protected in some other way? Did she indeed, perish in the convent catastrophe? Is there anyone else to turn to for information? There is, however all of her traveling to find the sought-for answers seem to be journeys in which she is being watched and shadowed.

Claire’s last hopes are the convent’s superior and the woman whom Byron fell in love with after ending his relationship with Claire. Teresa, equal in age to Claire, invites Claire to visit. She proves to be one of the many finely drawn minor characters that Ambrose weaves into the story. However, the meetings between the two women, pleasant duos of sympathetic hearts and minds, bring no resolution.

Other finely drawn secondary characters include Claire’s niece Paula, whom with her lover Raphael and young daughter Georgiana constitute Claire’s household. But it is Edward Trelawny, on hand through most of the novel, and determined to prove himself to Claire, who is the most fully developed after Claire herself

If you’re a fan of history, romance, and fictional biography, Marty Ambrose will keep you fully engaged with her uniquely orchestrated and poetically cast novel. Moreover, Ambrose provides a remarkable portrait of Italy during the fifty-year stretch in which her plot about Claire’s life and aspirations develops.

 

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An unlikely hero makes the best of his shortcomings

Trouble in Mind, by Michael Wiley. Severn House. 224 pages. Hardcover $28.99.

Mr. Wiley has returned to the Chicago setting to launch the Sam Kelson Mystery Series. His recent books have been set in Jacksonville, where he teaches at the University of North Florida. His Shamus Award-winning Joe Kozmarsky Series was also set in Chicago. The author’s new main character is an unlikely hero battling with handicaps that make his exploits particularly intriguing and sometimes comical. 

Sam’s last assignment on the Chicago Police Force involved a young and highly successful drug peddler nicknamed Bicho (Spanish for Bug). Attempting to lead an undercover narcotics team to make an arrest, Sam exchanged gunfire with Bicho and killed him. Cop and crook had fired at the same time, and the bullet that entered Sam’s brain changed his life.

When Sam is rushed to the hospital, his police buddy, Toselli, breaths enough oxygen into him to save his life.

Two years later, Sam is running a low-end private eye business. He admits to his clients that among his shortcomings is his inability to keep a secret. This is one outcome of the bullet that went into his left frontal lobe. He also is compelled to answer unasked questions and to laugh for no obvious reason. He has trouble navigating doorways. These and other results of his near-fatal wounding are on display throughout the story, provoking sympathy and smirks. His ability to function well enough and his desire to help people makes him a one-of-a-kind hero.

Wiley

When Trina Felbanks become Sam’s client, his situation quickly takes a turn for the worse. Trina asks him to find out if her brother, a pharmacist, had been dealing drugs. When Sam shows up at Christian Felbanks’ home, he at first doesn’t find any sign of it being a place where drugs are being hidden, manufactured, or sold. However, he does make a shocking discovery: someone has put a bullet hole in Mr. Felbanks’ head. Just as Sam makes this discovery, a SWAT team rushes in and arrests Sam for the murder. Clearly, he has been set up, and his client must have played a role in this charade. Arrested on suspicion of murder, he makes an even more startling discovery concerning his client’s identity.

Who is the murderer and why has Sam been chosen as the fall guy? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 25, 2020 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Venice editions, click here:  Trouble in Mind

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Fierce tornadoes complicate the work of well-trained rescue dogs

Review by Phil Jason

Desperate Creed, by Alex Kava. Prairie Wind Publishing. 320 pages. Hardcover $27.99.

The fifth title in the Ryder Creed Series has a bit of everything, including deadly politics, lost and found souls, broken and repaired families, and the uncanny efficiency of well-trained search and rescue dogs. The latter interest is the vital center of the whole series, with the magical coupling of trainer and K-9 presented once again in a moving, dynamic fashion.

The added complication in this installment is the overwhelming power of fierce tornadoes that shows no respect for man, beast, roads, buildings, or anything else in its way. Ms. Kava’s description of this deadly series of tornadoes in Alabama, the damage done, and the human responses is truly magnificent. She scribes a poetry of natural disaster.

Frankie Russo works for a big Chicago advertising firm where she is paired with a young hotshot named Tyler. He and his friend Deacon Kaye plan to do an analysis of cereal and breakfast bars from Carson Foods. Tyler suspects that the glyphosate used in their products is toxic. Tyler has been hacking the company’s emails, discovering problems including the involvement of a U.S. Senator in plans to send Carson’s products worldwide. Having snuck in, electronically, to the corridors of power, Tyler has made himself a possible target, and possibly Frankie as well. Smart phone email exchanges between Frankie and Tyler have made them easy to locate. Two men have tracked Tylor down, and his phone connection to Frankie makes her vulnerable. They know too much. Plot line one is now rolling.

At his Florida Panhandle K-9 training facility, Ryder Creed is keeping an eye on his sister Brodie, recently saved from long term, mind-altering incarceration. Learning to work with Ryder’s dogs is an important part of her therapy, as is a reunification with her real mother, not the woman who had terrorized her for decades. Plot line two: will this work out? What else does Brodie need? . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the March 11, 2020 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Palm Beach, and Venice editions,  click here: Desperate Creed

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Florida Man

Is Tim Dorsey the literary incarnation of Florida Man?

Tim Dorsey’s latest addition to the Serge Storms saga, Naked Came the Florida Man, takes on the challenge of uncovering a Florida that few readers – or writers – know well. He offers a loony look at a momentous hurricane, a tour of unusual cemeteries, as well as some sobering moments at a mass grave in Palm Beach County where the remains of African Americans killed by an earlier hurricane are buried. He pays homage to the that great icon of Florida culture – Flipper the dolphin. He makes us feel the threat and horror of the sugar cane fields and of those buried beneath – victims, perhaps, of the boogeyman who haunted those fields. Was he just a figment of local children’s imagination, or is he with us even today, the fabled Florida Man just waiting to strike?

Tim Dorsey

 

If you like zany mysteries, you’d better latch onto this one and see how Serge investigates a particularly weird case. Seeming like a nutcase is part of Serge’s skill set, and he employs it with unexpected results.

Readers will appreciate the 1960s nostalgia that winds through the book, and they will be imaginatively following that gold ’69 Plymouth Satellite that caries Serge and his buddy Coleman forward and backward in time and space. Along the way he pays homage to Florida writer Zora Neale Hurston and her influence on Georgia writer Alice Walker.

The author, a Tampa resident, starts Serge’s magical mystery tour in Key West and gets his heroes and their imaginary followers up to Pahokee and beyond. He’ll keep you smiling and also scratching your head.

Join the fun. Look out for those sections labeled “Four Years Earlier” and don’t trip over the changes of direction.

The entire article, as it appears in the March – April 2020 Fort Myers Magazine, includes an extended Q & A section and some Dorsey biography.

You can get there by clicking on Florida Man

 

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Disease, exhaustion, and starvation threaten family in wartime Burma

No Long Goodbyes, by Pauline Hayton. PH Publishing. 311 pages. Trade paperback $14.99.

If ever a book gave inspiring testimony to courage, the spirit of adventure, and basic human kindness, Pauline Hayton’s new historical novel is such a book. Her story follows a group of people caught up in the nightmare consequences of Japan’s invasion of Burma, at this time a British colony, in 1942.

This little-known but horrific slice of WWII reveals how armed nationalistic endeavor can conspire with natural forces and hazardous terrain to push those caught in such a maelstrom to – and beyond – their limits.

Pauline Hayton

Ms. Hayton’s story, however, is not rooted in wartime alliances, strategies, or rationales, but in how people, unexpectedly trapped by circumstances beyond control, can find strength, resilience, and an angelic sense of purpose in helping one another. Though it is necessary for them to band together, there is something spiritual going on in their commitment to sacrifice for the common good.

This book, then, is a love story on many levels. It explores broken, repaired, and redesigned families. It shows how people of different backgrounds, races, and cultures can become attached to one another through the strength of their common humanity. It demonstrates that a family does not have to be a bonded by blood. It assures us that second chances can be realized and that the pains of loss and feared loss can be overcome.

The central figure is Kate Cavanagh, a British woman in her late twenties recovering from the death of her late husband who committed suicide after murdering their child – in part because the child was not biologically his.

Deciding to restart her life in Burma, Kate does well socially. She encounters and falls in love with Jack Bellamy, a recent widower with two small children. Jack is the head of a tea plantation. The two marry, but soon find themselves attempting to flee the Japanese forces, the natural forces of endless rain and cold, the scarcity of nourishment and clean water, the extremely dangerous mountain ranges, the threat of hungry wildlife, and the omnipresent risk of deadly disease.

The destination for safety is India, and the newly formed family, along with their Indian nursemaid, could never have imagined what lay ahead. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 27, 2020 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach editions of Florida Weekly, the March 4 Fort Myers and March 5 Charlotte County editions, click here: No Long Goodbyes

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Superb thriller explores the lasting effects of trauma

The Stranger Inside, by Lisa Unger. Park Row Books. 384 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Ms. Unger had done it again. She’s taken her readers to places that no one should have to enter, and she’s made it extremely difficult for them to escape from the spell cast by her soaring skill and fright-filled imagination.

A major question that the book explores is to what degree trauma can shape, perhaps misshape, identity and functionality. The premise involves three friends knocking on the door of their teen years who are engaged by a demonic lost soul (himself a trauma victim) who had been following one of them around. The central character is Rain Winter (who has other names). Her friends are Tess and Hank – who is also her admirer and rescuer.

Tess loses her life in the madman’s attack. Rain and Hank survive, the trauma having reshaped their lives in somewhat different ways. Each must deal with “the stranger within,” a haunted, stunted self that cannot quite be covered over by the more normal self – the self that has built a constructive life but is never completely free.

The abductor-murderer, considered a victim himself, served jail time for his crimes. But he, like several other madmen whose crimes had reached the media, had met a violent death. It seems like vigilante justice is getting these perverts off the streets. Are serial vigilante killers the good guys or just more bad guys?

Lisa Unger

When readers meet Rain, she is on hiatus from her work as a journalist to take care of her young daughter. But the news about possible vigilante justice keeps pulling her back to the memories imbedded in and surrounded by her traumatic experience. She needs to tell that story.

Rain is literally haunted by Hank, whose demons seem more out of control and who has a neediness that only Rain seems likely to understand and alleviate. Though he has established himself as a therapist and does important work, especially with children, he has not yet been able to fully heal himself.

Ms. Unger’s art is amazing in how she handles the special community of the three schoolmates who were attacked so long ago. Chapters begin with the voice or thought stream of one of the three. Readers cannot always be sure which one it is until the scene’s momentum develops. Each seems to need a psychic rendezvous with the others. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 12, 2020 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 13 Naples, Bonita Springs, Palm Beach, Charlotte County, and Venice editions, click here:  The Stranger Inside

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A must-read techno-thriller as fear-filled as the news

Review by Phil Jason

Assassin’s Revenge, by Ward Larsen. Forge Books. 392 pages. Hardcover $29.99.

All techno thriller fans will delight in this 6th installment in the David Slaton series.

David Slaton, a former Mossad agent specializing in assassinations and now a person who is happy to be thought of as deceased, has been admiring the piloting by Dan Rhea. Slaton admires the intricacies of the F/A – 18F Super Hornet, but why are they flying over North Korea? And to what end? Reader, time will tell. But in the short run, meet some North Korean government power brokers who may or may not have the confidence of their supreme leader, Chairman Kwon, who is chasing after a technological threat way beyond his mobile ballistic missiles fitted with nuclear warheads.

Suddenly, the scene shifts back in time to Gibraltar. Slaton has returned to the dock where he had left his wife and son on their sailboat, but they are missing. In order to have any chance of bringing them to safety, Slaton must assassinate a scientist he briefly knew in his Mossad days, a man who is now working at the International Atomic Energy Agency. When they meet up, however, the focus is on the horror of HEU – highly enriched uranium – getting into the wrong hands.

Ward Larsen

Where is their sailboat, the Sirius? How would his wife Christine be reacting to the high-threat situation that includes the safety of their small son Davy? Slaton’s path must now take him to Vienna, the home of the IAEA.

While Slaton explores the situation in Vienna, Mr. Larsen has readers explore the world of Kasim Boutrous, an Iraqi commanding a very special mission. Boutrous heads a small band of suicidal ISIS operatives dedicated to enhancing the reputation and influence of the subdued caliphate. They are planning a tremendous blow to the United States with a scheme that will make 9/11 look like the work of novices. His destination is North Korea. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 22, 2020 Fort Myers Florida Weekly,the January 23 Palm Beach, Venice, and Bonita Springs editions, and the January 30 Naples edition, click here: Assassin’s Revenge

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Abduction, murder, and the bear parts trade spark exposé of television news business.

by Phil Jason

Fatal Ambition, by Don Farmer with Chris Curle. Publisher Page / Headline Books. 315 pages. Trade Paperback $19.95.

This is a novel in which most of the characters have few, if any, redeeming qualities. It has on display the cutthroat competition in the news business; the shallowness of the hangers-on who have no real reason to expect honest success, the extremes to which dishonesty can go, and the vulnerability of women whose low self-esteem makes them easy prey. Well, there are some women waiting to take revenge.

What’s to like? The sense of insider authenticity; the ever-tightening, hypnotic suspense; and the dark humor that keeps readers laughing at screwball situations and characters.

Set in major metropolis Atlanta and boutique, upscale Naples, Florida, the plot keeps the major characters running back and forth while also touching bases through endless communication. Some are trying to pull off a big scam, and others are trying to expose it. Do you think that “tree-hugger,” the disparaging term for naive environmentalists, has had its day? Maybe so, but what about fake tree-huggers – people who raise money ostensibly to protect a threatened species or otherwise cleanse and improve the environment? What if the money just lines the pockets of corrupt, smiling event-planners for whom taking bows at a televised campaign is a way of life?

Nikki Zachos is an attention-grabbing television anchorwoman whose ambition is to be number one in her market. She seems to have a weakness for clothing made from the skins and furs of slain animals.

An enterprising but suspect do-gooder decides to exploit Nikki’s celebrity by kidnapping her and making her the arch-enemy of animal rights activists. The ransom for Nikki might help the cause, or it might just get certain reporters and station managers great airtime to boost their ratings and salaries. Also, the money that comes in might help Rudy Decker cover his addiction to booze and gambling.

Or will his money come from feeding the black marketplace for black bear body parts, a lucrative commodity?

To enjoy the full article/review as it appears titled “News That’s Fit to Fake” in the January-February issue of Ft.MyersMagazine along with bio,  interview, and images. click on the following link: Fatal Ambition 

https://www.ftmyersmagazine.com/FtM-edit.FatalAmbition.html

You might also enjoy this review of their earlier novel. To see Headlines, Deadlines, and Death, click here: Headlines

Note: the link to the Florida Weekly page for this review is no longer operable. 

 

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Naples novelest gives lost soul goals for redemption

Blood Moon Rising, by Richard Conrath. Gulf Shore Press. 414 pages. Trade Paperback $14.99.

This is the second installment in Mr. Conrath’s Cooper Mystery Series, following “Cooper’s Moon.” A third installment is expected. The story line for “Blood Moon Rising” continues to follow the protagonist’s despair over the disappearance of his young son, Maxie, who was abducted or otherwise lost at the age of seven. His eight-year quest to find Maxie has faltered, and his marriage has collapsed. However, he has become dedicated to and skilled in missing persons crime detection.

Indeed, Cooper had resigned his university teaching job, relocated from Ohio to Florida, became a homicide detective for the Miami Police Department, and then a private detective.

The present action opens when a call from his former teaching colleague, Jackson, who asks for help. Jackson tells Cooper that he’s the major suspect in a missing person case involving one of his female students who has vanished – and with whom he had been intimate.

Conrath

Now Cooper is plunged into confronting the human trafficking marketplace, with his lost son always on his mind.  The self-imposed assignment first takes him back to Ohio where he picks up some of the help that he needs. Then back to Florida for more support, featuring former co-workers on the Miami PD.

He is by now well aware of an international market in body parts removed by unscrupulous surgeons. Such enterprises, which have Russian mob involvement, include tricking those desperate for money to be test cases in pharmaceutical experiments that might be deadly.

Aside from his crew of old friends from Ohio and Florida, Cooper’s team includes Leo Federovich, the grandfather of a missing university student, who understands the Russian mob scene through his former role as a KGB agent. . . .

To explore the full review, as it appears in the January 1, 2020 Fort Myers, Charlotte County and Venice Florida Weekly, and the January 2 Palm Beach and  Bonita Springs editions, click here: Blood Moon Rising

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An aspiring physician struggles to resolve professional and ethical issues that plague him

NOTE: Dr. Richard Berjian (1929-2019) With sadness the family of Richard A. Berjian announces his passing while visiting family in California on Monday, December 9, 2019 at the age of 90 vibrant years. 

Givers and Takers, by Dr. Richard A. Berjian. Wings ePress. 418 pages. Trade Paperback $18.95.

This highly engaging novel combines several popular genres and numerous centers of interest. It is part thriller, part romance, part investigation of corruption, part a look inside the medical establishment, part a family saga, and part a remembrance and attempt to assure proper acknowledgment of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Turkey. 

The focal character is Raffi Sarkissian, who was raised by his unmarried mother in New York City. She had left Turkey for a new start in life after her lover vanished, and she obtained a job at the United Nations. The present time is June 2011. Raffi is the chief surgical resident at Manhattan Medical Center. His working life is a series of medical emergencies that continue to test his skills, occupy his thoughts, and deprive him of sleep. Suddenly, two concurrent emergencies over which he has authority threaten the hospital’s resources and reputation. A young black boy dies without even being treated because, simply put, nothing can be done to save him. Meanwhile, Traci Doss, a gorgeous and wealthy addiction-prone socialite, benefits from Raffi’s attention.

This coincidence feeds the cause of black activist Reverend Coleman Sanders, who accuses Raffi and the hospital of racial prejudice in prioritizing patients. The accusation could end Raffi’s career, and a court victory could help the reverend launch a political campaign.

Traci’s combination of beauty, sexuality, neediness and irresponsibility is a dangerous trap for the soft-hearted, sympathetic young doctor. The author skillfully presents the temptations that she offers, as well as her unfortunate lack of self-worth.

Raffi’s mother, Ani, is an attractive, capable, and caring woman. An independent person with a strong streak of common sense, she is a good role model and sounding board for her son.

Dr. Richard A. Berjian

She is the middle-aged echo of Lorig Balian, a young Armenian schoolteacher with whom Raffi has been more and more involved, even as Traci pursues him.

Ani, and the man who fathered Raffi, are surviving descendants of those slaughtered in the Armenian Genocide. She has a large stake in the political war going on between the desires of the Turkish government, technically a U. S. ally, and those who would advance a proclamation in congress that recognized Turkey’s unadmitted responsibility. Officials are being bribed to block the success of that proclamation. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 18, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the December 19 Bonita Springs and Charlotte County editions, and the June 2 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Givers and Takers

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