Category Archives: Florida Authors

Startling tales of America’s Cold War sailors revealed

Cold Water Canoe Club, by Jeffery Hess. Down & Out Books. 292 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

I can’t think of another short story collection that I’ve read in recent years that has given me such a jolt of vicarious experience and insight. Original, fraught with every kind of pain, clearsighted and despairing, Mr. Hess’s book takes us to external and internal places that most of us have been able to avoid. And that avoidance has distanced us from people, whole swaths of society, who we have unwittingly depended on to keep us safe – and even prosperous. 

Given today’s concerns about American’s conflicts and rivalries with Putin’s Russia, a group of 15 stories focused on the lives of Navy seamen during the Cold War has an added dimension of relevance. In addition, the stories are amazingly well-written, filled with an abundance of explosive imagery, and presented through unmistakably authentic first or third person voices. Well, perhaps there is a bit of literary overlay on and around these voices.

The lives of shipboard sailors on patrol in potentially dangerous parts of the world are lives of confinement and compression. Their tasks as communications experts or engineers or electricians are tedious and tense. They perform maintenance, make repairs when necessary, and prepare to meet emergencies. A ship is a dangerous place even when not under fire. So many things can go disastrously wrong. Such things happen in Jeffery Hess’s stories.

These sailors are confined spatially, socially, and often spiritually. They depend on one another and yet can learn to both love and hate their workmates. The compression demands release: port days with a bit of time off, prostitutes, and all the drugs and alcohol one can manage or mismanage.

Hess

Mr. Hess begins with an early marker of the background history, a story set in 1949 near the outset of the Cold War. He moves us forward through the following decades, beyond the Cuban Missile Crisis, and up to the Reagan presidency’s achievement. He takes us to Lebanon, Turkey, Manila, Naples, Guam, and other places where a U. S. fighting ship might go – or stop.

Through flashbacks and other devices, the author sets these mostly young men into their larger lives: the kind of towns and families they come from, the marriages they have entered and exited, their relationships with the officer class that they serve under, race relationships, the ambitions they’ve put on hold, the children they hardly know, the injuries and other physical hardships that have aged them, and the inertia – or is it momentum? – that keeps them going. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 9, 2017 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 10 issue of the Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Cold Water Canoe Club

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To enhance your reading pleasure, let a Copperfish into your life

Recently, I raced up to Punta Gorda to meet the owners of Copperfish Books. I’m a man who loves bookstores, and I’d never had the opportunity to fish there. My visit was most delightful and informative. Cathy Graham and Serena Wyckoff have created a well-planned, well-stocked, and most comfortable space to browse, peruse, contemplate, and ask for advice. You can even sit down.  

They keep track of and stock the potential and actual best-sellers as well as a wide variety of other new books. Like most independents, they combine new books with used – and they also have an antiquarian section. They stock a deep assortment of Florida writers, particularly Charlotte County scribes, and they offer stimulating selections on Florida yesterday and today.

They will handle special orders, including searches for out of print titles. They have introduced a 20% discount on most newly released adult hardcover books. They insist, “If we don’t have it in stock, we can order it for you.”

Cathy and Serena

If you, your organization, or your book club need multiple copies of the same title, Cathy and Serena offer 25% off most new books with a minimum purchase of 20 copies. They also have a trading/credit program that can save book addicts a good deal of money. Also, they support local authors by offering to stock their books through a consignment program.

At Copperfish Books, you can enjoy range of literary events. Readings and signings by local authors are scheduled regularly. There is a book club that meets on a website-posted schedule with two sessions on meeting days: 9am and 6pm. New copies of the book club selections are discounted 10%. RSVPs are requested.  

Because the owners planned for Copperfish to be a lively cultural meeting space, they made it possible to rearrange some of the display furniture and seat up to 80 attendees comfortably. . . .

To read the entire article, including an interview with the proprietors, as it appears in the August 3, 2017 Charlotte County edition of Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Copperfish Books

This article may appear in other editions of Florida Weekly. Let’s hope so! So many books, so little time.

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A new, shining star in the firmament of fictional female detectives

The Late Show, by Michael Connelly. Little, Brown. 416 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

Several years ago, I fell in love with Randy Wayne White’s new Hannah Smith series. The Hannah Smith character provided a fresh focus for Mr. White’s considerable skills, while the Doc Ford series continued to satisfy his devoted following. Now we have Mr. Connelly, masterful creator of both the Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller (Lincoln Lawyer) series, launching a new venture centered on a distinctive and totally engaging female character. Detective Renée Ballard is a winner. I swooned over Hannah, and now I’ve fallen for Renée as well. 

Mr. Connelly mastery of the police procedural, honed throughout the Bosch series, is put to good use here. Ballard is a credible mixture of impulse and orderliness, and the latter trait usually allows her to follow the steps – regulations and protocols – that underpin effective police work.

The night shift, which Ballard works, is in her punishment for her run-in with a superior wishing to send her a signal. Filing a sexual harassment complaint against Lieutenant Olivas pushed her career into this dark place. Called “The Late Show,” this shift runs through the dark hours. Ballard is often the first to begin an investigation, but come daylight she must turn it over to another detective. This routine provides little satisfaction, and Ballard needs a way out.

She finds it, in part, by following up on these cases using her own time. She takes two cases to heart and can’t let go of them. One involves a prostitute almost beaten to death and the other a young woman shot in a nightclub. Her partner, Jenkins, is a rather passive individual – a competent officer who warns Ballard against pushing too hard and taking too many chances.

When a case leads to the death of Ballard’s former partner, a man she was close to and yet who hadn’t stood up for her following her abusive treatment by Olivas, Ballard is – curiously – all in, though warned away on several occasions.

Michael Connelly

On her various cases, Ballard drives herself to exhaustion. She takes every step with deliberateness and professionalism, and yet all her actions are informed by her essential nature – the interplay of step-by-step investigatory process and her seeming obligation to taking risks. Though she struggles to avoid being seen as a loser or a victim, victimhood is what her behavior often courts. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 26, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 27 Naples and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Late Show

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Nut case serial killer keeps trying to make it to the prom

The Prom Dress Killer, by George A. Bernstein. GnD Publishing LLC. 322 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.

This stunning, hyper-suspenseful mystery thriller, the third title in Mr. Bernstein’s Detective Al Warner Suspense series, offers a psychotic serial killer and an intrepid Miami police detective. For much of the novel, there is no name pinned on the killer because he has not yet been identified. However, what he’s up to is become clearer and clearer. He is leaving behind corpses of stunning young women, in their late teens or early twenties, each of whom has beautiful red or auburn hair. He leaves then gently posed, wearing attractive prom dresses.  

These bodies are turning up in the Miami area, but it soon becomes clear that the killer has been at this work before he ever came to Miami. He has been hunting down the elusive girl of his dream, whom he calls Camille, to complete the prom date of eight years back that had been aborted. He has a careful and clever method of operation that has so far left no clues. Why does he keep doing this? Because, as he sees it, the redheads he has tortured and killed had turned out to be imposters – even though he sought them out. They were never putting on an act, but his madness construes their behavior that way. Disappointed each time at their resistance to is desires, he gets rid of each and moves on.

This pattern has to end, and it takes his capture of his next Camille, fledgling real estate agent Rochelle (“Shelly”) Weitz to turn things in a new direction.

Bernstein

The police team assigned to this case, headed by Al Warner, is frustrated by the lack of clues. Even after networking with other departments and with the FBI, even after search databases for identifying patterns, they don’t have a clue. Several young women have died because Warner and his associates have just not found the clues that could direct their pursuit of this monster.

The reader’s interest is focused alternately on Mr. X, Al, and Shelly. When the police learn of Shelly’s disappearance, of her broken real estate appointments, they decide to work on the suspicion that she might be the killer’s next victim. Finding her soon enough may put an end to this plague of murders.

Mr. Bernstein does a fine job of describing Al’s dedication and frustration. He portrays Al in part by exploring his relationship with Dr. Eva Guttenberg, a psychiatrist who is the love of his life. Al’s leadership characteristics are demonstrated in his scenes with his police associations, and his caring nature is revealed by his work with the Dade Boot Camp for Teens, a last ditch rescue effort to save troubled adolescents. Al is a rounded character indeed, but not too good to be true. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 19, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 20 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Prom Dress Killer

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Bold young adult novel probes deeply into the psyche of troubled teen

Rosie Girl, by Julie Shepard. Putnam. 384 pages. Trade paperback $17.99.

Once again, I’m shaken by a young adult novel. It’s filled with cruelty, suffering, determination, and decisions that shouldn’t have to be made by someone just emerging from childhood. Rosie is seventeen as we meet her. She turns eighteen about the same time she graduates from high school. She seems isolated, left to fend for herself in a household in which her abusive stepmother displays no parenting skills – only an interest in hurting and manipulating Rosie. 

It’s clear that the responsibility she took on many years back – to care for Rosie – has been in the way of Lucy’s needs. Lucy doesn’t want to deal with her boyfriend Judd’s crude advances toward Rosie. When she married Rosie’s father, Lucy made a deal that would have a substantial payoff. She doesn’t want to rock the boat that is sailing to that payoff, perfectly timed for Lucy’s freedom from “parenting” Rosie.

Rosie is also fighting the humiliation of ex-boyfriend Ray’s unwillingness to respect her wishes. She is not ready to have sex with him, and this stance has sent him looking elsewhere.

Rosie leans on her best – and pretty much her only – friend: Mary. Mary is extremely supportive and understanding, perhaps because she too is striving to survive a dysfunctional family. Both girls want to get away from their dismal home situations, save up some money, get out of town, and move on with their lives. Rosie is considering studying fashion design, but how can she pay for it?

Julie Shepard

The girls have worked out a plan in which Rosie is essentially Mary’s pimp; Mary puts out for the sex-hungry schoolboys, and the money is set aside for their futures – which are just around the corner. When Rosie receives clues that her real mother is alive, the money is directed at tracking her down and visiting her. She hires a private detective who takes this as a pro bono case and turns most of the scut work over to his nephew, a straight arrow college student who pays attention to Rosie in a respectful way. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 12, 2017 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, and the July 13 Naples, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Rosie Girl

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A handy, compact guide for the would-be true crimes sleuth

The New York Crimes, Volume 1: The Fifties & Sixties, by Stephanie Hughes. Stephanie Hughs/Sunshine Sally. 90 pages. Paperback $7.99.

With this title, Fort Myers resident Stephanie Hughes begins a series that will please both “true crime” addicts and more retrained followers of crimes that have become markers of our crime-riddled times. For the most part, Ms. Hughes selects crimes that had already received the attention of authors and film makers. Such endeavors have amped up the celebrity of crimes – even if the criminals or victims were not celebrities to begin with. 

Ms. Hughes offers a multipart primer to help readers remember and understand – and  possibly further explore – major New York crimes over two decades. She writes for the “armchair sleuth” who, if in New York, can of course visit the crimes scenes and other important locations just by googling the provided addresses. For the rest of us, the author provides photographs, not just of the key locations, but in the context of the immediate neighborhood. Many of these photos were taken by the author.

But you should take your own! Don’t investigate without a camera. And some mace.

Of course, photos of the victims, criminals, and others important to the case are also provided.

Aside from the visuals, Stephanie Hughes offers: an overview of the crime story; thumbnail biographies of the key players, including law enforcement officers and witnesses; and complete addresses and histories of the locations that housed or were otherwise connected with the crime.

Precise dates and times? They are provided as well.

Eleven chapters, each covering a major New York crime (or possible crime), provide a spectrum of possibilities.

Stephanie Hughes

One examines the fate of Frank Olson, a CIA scientist who became involved as a test subject in experiments with psychedelic drugs being conducted at the U. S. Army’s Fort Detrick in Maryland. In November of 1953, he suffered terrible effects and was sent by his superiors to a meeting in New York’s Hotel Statler. He crashed through a 13th floor window to his death on 7th Avenue. Suicide? Accidental fall brought on by the narcotics? Or a murder to shut him up about what the government was up to? Vicariously, you can find out for yourself.

Did best-selling author Norman Mailer get off too easily for the stabbing of his wife at a party in the couple’s Manhattan condo? Look over the information Ms. Hughes presents, and see what you think. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the July 5, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 6 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly — New York Crimes

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A towering achievement in the techno-thriller genre with a grim political vision

Tower Down, by David Hagberg. Forge. 320 pages.  Hardcover $25.99.

Book 21 in the Kirk McGarvey novel series is, among other things, a story about super-luxury real estate, the investment strategies of the super-rich, and the enormous vanity and sense of privilege that infects those who have virtually unlimited wealth. These are people whose goal is to invest their money in whatever will bring them more money. They interact with one another in a closed world, vying for seats at the parties where you meet those who can get you on the lists for the upcoming super-deals. 

Mr. Hagberg brings us a post 9/11 world in which the same American longing for the monumental that motivated radical Islam’s destruction of U.S.  symbols of superiority (exceptionalism?) is about to be repeated.

Manhattan is dotted with “pencil towers,” enormously high, narrow buildings whose huge residential compartments demand enormous prices and whose owners are literally and figuratively on top of the world. Vulnerable to winds, the towers are kept in balance by colossal counterweights – “tuned mass dampers” – that adjust to the force of the winds that would otherwise lead to the towers’ collapse.

The main developer of these towers, like his engineers and buyers, is susceptible to the technological vanity that has proven misguided in the past.

A freelance madman, code-named Al-Nassr, “the Eagle,” masterminds the collapse of one of these towers at 87th Street. Fortunately, few of the units had been sold and occupied. Still, hundreds of people are killed both inside and outside of the building. It was 9/11 revisited without the need for airplanes.

Hagberg

Or it would be if a twin tower were to be brought down. And that second step is in the works.  The target tower would collapse onto the United Nations complex. Great symbolism, eh?

Series hero Kirk McGarvey, a former CIA director (and assassin), is once again engaged to discover the details of the plot and undermine it. His theory, shared by just about no one, is that the Saudis (or perhaps one Saudi) is behind it. The purpose of the destruction is to have another attack on the U.S.  that can readily be blamed on ISIS, the main threat to Saudi Arabia’s stability. By this ruse, the Saudi schemers hope to motivate the U.S. to vastly increase its military operations against ISIS.

McGarvey’s (“Mac’s”) view is shared only by two people: his beautiful CIA operative love interest – Pete Boylan –  and Otto Rencke, a good friend who is an unusual techno-genius. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the June 28, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 29 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Tower Down

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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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