Category Archives: Florida Authors

A highly original time-shifting thriller rendered in gorgeous prose

The Shimmer, by Carsten Stroud. Mira Books. 304 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Here is a daring, magnetic, and brilliantly constructed novel that takes readers places they’ve never been. Well, you may have traveled to Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and New Orleans – but you will not have encountered the kind of time-travel orchestration of action that Mr. Stroud has managed to portray with such power and authoritative detail. “Authoritative” is the right word. These places and what happens in them – and then unhappens – are so compellingly imagined that you will believe what can’t be true.  

The narrative begins with a high-speed chase episode that is unforgettable – and it gains momentum from there.

In the present, Florida Highway Patrol’s Sergeant Jack Redding pursues a serial killer, a kind of time traveling femme fatale, who back in 1957 was sought by his grandfather, Clete Redding, of the Jacksonville police. The cycles of pursuit and escape follow this evil spirit known as Selena, Diana, and by several other names as well. Her lifetime is extended by time shifts that involve riding a time-bending force called The Shimmer. To catch her, one must follow her. Time markers in the Selena story go back to 1914.

Carsten Stroud photo credit Linda Mair

One aspect of the plot premise is the possibility that the damage Selena has done can be undone by adjustments in – or to – time. However, these adjustments – if made by entering through the wrong temporal portal – can have disastrous unintended consequences. Characters travel into the past to shape (reshape?) the future, but the outcomes of their efforts, even if in pursuit of justice, are unpredictable.

Mr. Stroud builds a fascinating logic of cause and effect that keeps readers hooked while it keeps them guessing. As the characters slide (or shimmer) from the world we share to the world adjusted by time travel, our belief in them is carried over to our belief in what they experience and hold true.

Can a tragedy that occurs on the Matanzas Inlet bridge along Florida’s route A1A be wiped away by a time shift back to before the bride was built? If so, what other time-bound occurrences will be altered? . . .

To enjoy the full review, as it appears in the July 11, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Shimmer

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The surprisingly influential Jewish community at the southernmost corner of the United States

The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar Makers, and Revolutionaries (1823-1969), by Arlo Haskell. Sand Paper Press. 208 pages. Deluxe Trade Paperback $24.00.

In seven well-shaped chapters, Haskell packs an enjoyable and frequently astonishing history of Key West’s Jewish community. Hearing of the topic, some people will assume that this is a slender thread to spin into a book. However, they would be wrong. Haskell’s research has turned up a considerable amount of information that brings to life 144 years of Jewish involvement in this most idiosyncratic town.

Young Men’s Hebrew Association

The chapters bite off chronological slices of history, each focusing on the economic and cultural aspects of Jewish life. Thus, the journey begins with a discussion of sailors and merchants in an era of military events,stressing the importance of Key West as a port town, a multilingual place that had an international flair. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Jewish community was tiny, hardly a real community. Early Jewish settlers included Mordecai White and Samuel Cline, who were tailors and clothes merchants. The naval presence brought them customers.

During a twenty-year span that followed the initial attraction of Jews to Key West, opportunities in a growth industry took hold and swelled the population, including the Cuban and the Jewish population. Samuel Seidenberg “was the first manufacturer to capitalize on the fact that a cigar as good as the Cuban ones could be made in Key West at significantly lower cost.” He constructed a huge factory. His Jewish rivals included M. Myerson, Max Marx, the Pohalski brothers, and Julius Ellinger. Haskell’s narrative of the Key West tobacco boom shows how it promoted the town’s economy, attracting investment with its hundreds of employees. The Pohalski brothers built a company corner of town with homes for their workers. Their section of Key West gave rise to dry good and grocery stores, as well as a drug store and a saloon. These leaders were primarily secular Jews.

Arlo Haskell photo Nick Doll

As he traces the growth of the Jewish presence in Key West, Haskell keeps us in touch with larger issues of the time, including the Civil War and the Ten Years’ War fought to liberate Cuba from the Spanish Empire. He points out parallels in the age-old Jewish and nineteen century Cuban struggles for autonomy and independence. Haskell points out the need for Key West’s Jews to form alliances with exiled Cubans who, under the leadership of José Martí, had made Key West their command center.

The latter decades of the nineteenth century mark the beginning of a true Jewish community. New Jewish settlers in Key West often continued their European enterprises as peddlers and shopkeepers. Though Key West was ravaged by a fire in 1886, the rebuilding of the town brought new opportunities. Abram Wolkowsky and other Eastern European Jews shared religious customs, the experience of exile, and the Yiddish language. Slowly, Jewish institutions begin to take hold. Congregation B’nai Zion, still functioning, gives 1887 as its date of origin.

The Jewish Alliance’s Key West chapter emerged in 1891. Its primary concern was to establish a Jewish cemetery, and it did so. As the century wound down, “Jews had become an important and highly visible component of Key West business life.” One of the community leaders, Louis Fine, was not only a successful business man, but also served as lay leader for religious matters until Key West had its first rabbi.

Fine’s grocery store had a lower level used “to store weapons for the [Cuban] rebel army.” Haskell devotes a chapter to exploring the phenomenon of “Jewish Revolutionaries” in the 1890s.

The first two decades of the twentieth century witness a strong, thriving Key West Jewish community. The Jewish congregation held services and other activities on the second floor of the Fine family’s hardware store. When Fine was not available, itinerant Rabbi Herman Horowitz handled the community’s religious needs. All kinds of Jewish businesses were set up along and near Duval Street.

Marks, Rosenthal & Wall Family

Jewish shoe merchants

On top of the Honest Profit House, a clothing store run by the Wolkowsky family, sat the office of the U. S Immigration Inspector, and through that office many hundreds of Jews took their first steps toward citizenship.

Key West rode the wave of nationwide improvements in communication and other technologies. The growing Jewish population was serviced by efforts of the Jewish Alliance to find jobs for Jewish immigrants. This initiative included relocating immigrants from overcrowded New York to various other places around the country, Key West included. By 1905, the Jewish community reported having 158 members. Its members joined efforts to reunite Jewish families that had been separated. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 4, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 5 Naples and  Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Key West’s Jews 1  and Florida Weekly – Key West’s Jews 2

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Musical genius helped others reach success while fighting his inner demons

Phil Gernhard, Record Man, by Bill DeYoung. University Press of Florida. 208 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

The University Press of Florida has published an unofficial series of books about the state’s role in American’s popular music. These include “Florida Soul: From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band,” “Music Everywhere: The Rock and Roll Roots of a Southern Town” (about the Gainesville scene), and “Elvis Ignited: The Rise of an Icon in Florida” (all reviewed in these pages). Mr. DeYoung’s effort is essentially a biography of a relatively unknown giant in the popular music world. Following along the trail Phil Gernhard’s life, the author paints a vivid picture of the U. S. music industry in the second half of the twentieth century.  

Trained neither as a musician nor a businessman, Gernhard picked up what he needed to know through hustle and hard work. He began early, and by the time he was nineteen he had produced a million-copy recording: “Stay,” a monstrous hit performed by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs. It was 1960, and Gernhard had already recorded a few other songs by his group.

Gernhard’s career was hardly a straight or unbroken line. He had many ups and downs. Still, he managed to produce an amazing amount of recorded music, and a high percentage of those releases become hits, bringing money into the pockets of the musicians, songwriters, studio technicians, and owners of record labels. He succeeded through changing times and changing tastes.

DeYoung

Mr. DeYoung makes it only too clear that Gernhard was an accomplished and somewhat greedy dealmaker, negotiating contracts that gave him many slices of the pie. Sometimes songwriter credit for doctoring a needy lyric, sometimes a percentage for enhancing production quality, and sometimes simply by writing himself into the contract for being able to put all the pieces together. He was labeled as a producer, and he produced.

He worked to get studio time, rehearsal time, radio play, engagements for live performances, and whatever else might make a record a success. When the industry changed from one in which singles lost out to albums in the economics of the industry, Gernhard learned how to adapt and how to help others adapt.

Originally based in his home state of Florida, Gernhard also rose the ladder of influence in such music capitals as Los Angeles and Nashville.

Now it’s time to name names: Dion DiMucci’s career was resurrected by Gernhard with the improbably successful ballad “Abraham, Martin and John.” He produced hits for Lobo, Jim Stafford, the Bellamy Brothers, Rodney Atkins, and Tim McGraw. It wasn’t just hustling. Gernhard was credited with having “magic ears.” He could tell that a song (or a singer) had a lucrative future. He knew how to match a song and a singer for maximum effect. . . .

 

To read the full review, as it appears in the June 27, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 28 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Record Man  

See also: Skyway

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Portraits of shakers and makers whose efforts shaped today’s Florida

Florida Made, by George S. LeMieux and Laura E. Mize. The History Press. 284 pages. Trade paperback $21.99.

Made elegant being printed on glossy paper, which makes the illustrations stand out, this is a must-have book for Floridians who love their state and want to brag about it. It will also bring pleasure to readers who love history and enjoy seeing how the present attributes of an area grow out of the creative genius and hard work of far-sighted individuals. Written in an attractive, engaging prose style, it will make a fine addition to any Florida library. It’s also a good choice for gift-giving.  

The essays touch some common themes, but they are essentially independent. Readers can choose their own pace regarding whether to read a chapter at a time or move along through four or five before taking a break.

Many of the names will be familiar and thus expected. Yet even when reviewing the profiles of Walt Disney and Margery Stoneman Douglass, most readers will encounter information they didn’t have before. Florida Made is a user-friendly way of absorbing Florida history and learning how especially talented and dedicated individuals make game-changing contributions.

Mize and LeMieux

Some of the individuals are important because they launched something that gave the state an important new dimension. Ted Arison’s contributions to building the cruise ship industry allowed Florida’s ports to blossom and to make Florida not only a destination but also a gateway to countless other destinations. Now, it’s hard to think about Florida without thinking about the opportunities for pleasurable travel abroad.

Wayne Huizenga succeeded in many businesses (Waste Management, for example), before becoming involved with sports franchises, boosting Florida’s number of professional sporting teams and sporting events and helping brand Florida as a major sports capital. . . .

To enjoy the entire review, as it appears in the June 13, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 14 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Florida Made

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Almost down for the count, Kirk McGarvey rebounds to outdo the bad guys

Flash Points, by David Hagberg. Forge. 320 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

This electrifying thriller continues the battle between his continuing hero, Kirk McGarvey, and the shrewd, highly skilled freelance assassin introduced in Tower Down (reviewed in these pages). Let’s call that man, who has several identities, Kamal. He has roots in Saudi Arabia, but easily blends into Western environments. For sale to the highest bidder, he has his own agenda.  

At the top of Kamal’s list is the murder of “Mac,” his nemesis. Not only must he cleanse the world of this CIA operative and former director, Kamal needs to see Mac suffer, and maybe Mac’s girlfriend as well. Mac had foiled Kamal’s plan to bring down a second Manhattan skyscraper in “Tower Down.”

However, what’s making Kamal a very wealthy man is his agreement to put Mac out of the way for other reasons. Groups with opposing attitudes toward the new U. S. president want Mac out of the way because he is the person most likely to detect and foil their plans.

The group wishing to discredit the new president is bankrolling a series of terrorist catastrophes meant to undermine the stature of the inexperienced, ill equipped president. He will, so goes the scheme, inevitably blunder in ways that will make his replacement inevitable. This group’s leaders have put Kamal on their payroll.

The cadre that supports the new president wishes to use similar schemes to opposite ends. They will be manipulating events to make him look good; not only will the outcome assure solidifying his base, but also expanding it.

Hagberg

The novel opens with an explosion meant to destroy Mac’s car and him with it. Planned by Kamal, misplacement of the explosive material by a hireling lessens the impact. Nonetheless, Mac loses a leg. The CIA leadership thinks it best for him to recuperate in secret and for the word to get out that he has been killed.

While Mac gets used to his peg leg and recovers from other wounds, he participates in the planning that will draw out the crafty Kamal.

Mr. Hagberg alternates the center of consciousness so that readers switch back and forth between following Kamal’s thoughts, emotions, and actions and following Mac’s. The tradecraft and courage of each is well displayed, as is their sharp contrast in values. Suspense builds higher and higher as the inevitable confrontation draws closer and closer. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 23, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 24 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Flash Points

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A haunting serial killer novel with spirited pacing and surprising twists

The Bricklayer of Albany Park, by Terry John Malik. Blank Slate Press. 342 pages. Trade paperback $16.99.

A psychological thriller with a strong dose procedural detail, Mr. Malik’s debut novel is the surprisingly solid achievement of a man who had never before attempted fiction writing. Its success is largely dependent on an impressive amount of well-integrated research, a masterful understanding of Chicago, and an equally keen grasp of extreme mental illness. The author provides plenty of surprises for his readers, as well as a torrent of suspense. 

Most of the novel is presented through two alternating perspectives. One narrative voice is that of Detective Francis (Frank) Vincenti, a once-aimless young man who has become a stellar investigator for the Chicago Police Department. In this way he was unlike his childhood friend, Tony Protettore, who was constantly preoccupied with thoughts of joining the police thoughts.

Readers learn of Frank’s odd friendship with and training by ex-cop Thomas Aquinas Foster, his CPD partnership with Sean Kelly, and his disastrous marriage to Beth – an aspiring lawyer.

Malik

The other narrator is simply known, through much of the novel, as Anthony. A serial killer who hunts down, punishes, and eradicates child molesters, Anthony is a meticulous planner (though sometimes his plans go wrong). Mr. Malik provides the gory details of Anthony’s crimes and stresses the killer’s interest in being celebrated for his work in cleansing Chicago of those who exploit children. Anthony stages his murders and the places where the mutilated corpses will be discovered. He thrives on publicity, and he bates the police officers, who efforts to protect children are insufficient. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 9, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 10 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Bricklayer

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Jeff Klinkenberg’s fourth collection is another Florida treasure

Son of Real Florida: Stories from My Life, by Jeff Klinkenberg. University Press of Florida. 248 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

You’re not likely to find a book that can top this one for love of its topic, wisdom, curious information, and a quiet, self-deprecating humor. If Florida has a soul, then Mr. Klinkenberg is its singer. If you enjoy unforgettable characters, nature, history, or intriguing places, this author has plenty of well-turned vignettes to hold your attention and bring a smile to your face. 

However, it’s not all smiles. There’s a sadness here too: Much of what he calls “real Florida” is gone, and much more is fading. Jeff Klinkenberg respectfully memorializes what’s gone. He makes his peace with what has replaced it. He is somewhat comforted by what’s left.

Mr. Klinkenberg has divided the book into ten chapters, each of which has several smaller sections – on average five or six to a chapter. This design makes for easy reading. While the book has various kinds of flow and continuity, there are plenty of resting places to enjoy before moving on.

Klinkenberg

After looking back to his relationship with his father, Mr. Klinkenberg (hereafter “Klink”) ruminates on what kind of lifestyles define Florida: beach bums, a taxi-driving woman from a small town making endless round trips to and from its tiny airport, a swampland wedding, or living among rattlesnakes.

Representative special Florida people include Miss Martha the oyster shucker, Sheepshead George the fisherman, and that rare phenomenon: an Afro-American Florida cowboy. The profiles are vivid, affection, and likely to stay with you. They deserve rereading.

What is real key lime pie? This author has the answer. What happened to the citrus shops that used to dot the highways? Klink knows what and why. Then there is the problem of designing and growing the perfect, yet affordable and transportable, tomato. . . .

 

To see the entire review, as it appears in the April 25, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Son of Real Florida

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Florida series premier focuses on predators who kidnap and sell children

Cooper’s Moon, by Richard Conrath. Gulf Shore Press. 400 pages. Trade Paperback $14.99.

This gripping debut novel is the first in a projected Cooper series. Timely issues, elaborately painted South Florida settings, a strong protagonist, and haunting horrors will keep readers engaged and on edge.  

Cooper is a driven man. Seven years before the story’s point of attack, Cooper and his wife Jillie suffered a marriage-destroying tragedy. Their young son Maxie was inexplicably gone from their lives, probably kidnapped from the neighborhood of their rural Ohio home. Their local searches go nowhere. The marriage collapses under the weight of mutual recriminations.

Seeking a fresh angle on finding his son, Cooper leaves his college teaching job and moves to Miami, where he has connections. He becomes a homicide detective in the Miami Police Department, and he lives in a community called Oceanside.

Readers meet him seven years into his second career, working a case involving the shooting of a twelve- year-old boy. Soon after, he gets involved in a case about a teenage girl, Tamara Thompson, whose corpse was found in a cemetery. It’s easy for Cooper to be sympathetic with Tamara’s parents.

Cooper’s lack of progress on the hunt for his son’s fate and his frustration with police bureaucracy leads him to leave the police department and become a private investigator. He manages to hold onto some of his police friends, including his former partner Detective Tony DeFelice, but they never let him forget that he “copped out” on them.

Conrath

Soon enough, Cooper learns that there are several unsolved child murders in or near his Oceanside community. And other children are missing. Even though leads are scarce, the road to information leads to a seminary whose candidates for priesthood are also trying to save area youths from lives of crime or from other kinds of danger. Cooper’s first case as a PI leads him there. Cooper finds the leaders to be either closed-mouthed or speaking with false, forced sincerity.

Mr. Conrath has taken us into the hideous world of human trafficking. These innocent kids are for sale via an international marketplace where their abductors compete for goods for which there is an insatiable demand. Is the seminary a cover operation? Who’s ultimately pulling the strings?

. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the April 11, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Cooper’s Moon

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Shedding a Bright New Light on Old Age

The End of Old Age: Living a Longer, More Purposeful Life, by Dr. Marc E. Agronin.  Da Capo Press. 227 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

This book should be on the desk of every geriatric specialist, senior living facility staff member, and senior citizen caretaker. Most senior citizens will also benefit from its wisdom, compassion, and sensible guidelines for successful living at an advanced age. Carefully organized into four easily digested parts each containing two complementary chapters, Dr. Argonin’s book is nothing less than a manual for moving beyond the negative connotations of aging.  

“We must learn,” he writes, “how to age in a creative manner that is both the antidote to feeling old and the elixir of aging well.” It is a philosophy aimed not at recapturing youth, but rather exploiting the gifts of advanced age. Dr. Agronin is an accomplished writer whose experience and empathy generate positive vibes as well as practical planning advice.

One of Dr. Agronin’s key points concerns the accumulated wisdom of the elderly. He offers many examples, stories of patients and others, of how this wisdom has value not only for others, but as a resource for the person going through the aging process. He articulates five categories of behavior, vividly defined and exemplified, to explore the growth and use of an individual’s wisdom in old age. These are savant, sage, curator, creator, and seer. They are presented as five jewels in a crown.

Agronin

Though the categories overlap somewhat, they are useful concepts. They are not meant to pigeonhole people, but to find the ways in which aging is useful, to counter the customary “dread and denigration” of aging, and to build new habits of identity. Dr. Agronin calls these categories the five jewels in the crown of wisdom.

In a later chapter, Dr. Agronin defines a concept he calls “age points,” which are periods of adversity, struggle, or despondency along the aging journey. Age points threaten our ability to cope. The author guides readers through a series of stages to work through the trauma of an age point. First is recognizing the precipitating event, after which comes a sense of “suspension” – of not being able to respond to a crisis productively. Next comes a multi-faceted evaluation of how to “reconcile the gap between what we have and what we need.” Finally, comes the action of resolution and forward movement, usually attached to an altered perspective and sense of positivism. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 28, 2018 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the March 29  Palm Beach edition, and the April 5 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Agronin

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Experiment produces a new kind of technologically-augmented human

Cutting Edge, by Ward Larsen. Forge Books. 332 pages. Hardcover $25.99. 

This futuristic thriller has everything going for it: a great premise, suspenseful plotting, vivid sensory detail, fine characters, and a highly engaging narrative style. The possible future it explores seems just over the horizon of today’s digital and medical technologies. Young, handsome Trey DeBolt works as Coast Guard rescue swimmer in Alaska. He survives a helicopter crash only to find out he has been declared dead. And he is not the man he used to be.

He is much, much more.

Once recovering consciousness, Trey finds himself in a remote cabin along the Maine cost under the supervision of a nurse. Slowly, as he recovers physically, he discovers that he has special abilities that will take him a while to understand and control. It will take him even longer to discover why he has them and what his reincarnation means.

In the meantime, the nurse is assassinated, and her cabin is blown up.

Trey has been part of a clandestine, perhaps illegal, government experiment that wasn’t even supposed to succeed. He has been rewired by a mad genius doctor and put under the direction of a renegade army general. He is now an important component in the wired and wireless world through which data flows. If the title hadn’t been taken some years back for a Michael Crichton novel and the movie based on it, he could be Terminal Man. Indeed, the two novels have more than a little in common regarding new technologies and the battle for control over them.

It’s enough that Trey is Data-man. He can tap into any source of digital information, finding what he needs to solve any problem. He sends out a question, and – sometimes with a bit of delay – he will receive answers. The receiving instrument for Trey’s digital processing is a tiny screen imbedded in his eye that allows him to scan images and text from almost any source. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 14, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 15 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly- Cutting Edge

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