Category Archives: Florida Authors

Big girls don’t cry, nor do small girls who think and act big

“Play Big,” by Jen Welter with Stephanie Krikorian. Seal Press. 288 pages. Hardcover $26.00.

At once sports memoir and empowerment handbook, this feisty and engaging “how-to” is bound to attract a lot of attention. The author, a Vero Beach native, broke the glass ceiling in professional football in a variety of ways. She moved from being a championship performer in women’s professional football to playing for a men’s professional team to becoming linebacker coach for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.  

They said such a thing couldn’t be done and that the “boys’ club” would not accept her, but Jen Welter made it happen through a die-hard attitude and relentless self-improvement. Along the way, she became Dr. Jen, with a Ph.D. in psychology.

This book builds upon her work as a coach. It is a master plan for “being limitless.” Though directed at women from all walks of life, it has plenty of powerful advice for men as well.

The bite-sized chapters oscillate between vividly drawn scenes of major challenges in Ms. Welter’s life and the attitudinal and behavioral adjustments necessary for her readers to reach their highest aspirations. At five feet and two inches, Jen Welter would never be big, but she would find the way to play big. In sports and in life. That means taking risks. It means learning how be touch and to enjoy the pains of perseverance. It means never giving up.

There is a recurrent graphic motif from chapter to chapter that puts key concepts into sharp focus. Each chapter begins with something that looks like a gummed label. Here Couch Jen provides a terse thematic overview of the chapter. Another graphic part of the graphic motif is a series of boxed and shaded mini-essays that boil down the chapter’s concerns. Sometimes these shaded areas contain a series of bullet points. 

Chapter titles tend to be essential truisms that have the energy and memorability of mantras for the coach’s students. “What Makes Us Different Makes Us Stronger,” “Once It’s Been Done, It Can’t Be Undone,” and “When It’s Us Against Them, We All Lose” are examples of the kind of readily applicable aphorism with which the coach beats the drum of self-awareness and self-improvement.

The heart of the book, for most readers, will be Ms. Welter’s story-telling. One key narrative is about her small size and her concern about being too small to earn a place on the Mass Mutiny women’s professional football team. She relates how she handled the insecurity and played her way onto the team. She discovered, as well, that one could manifest a presence much larger than one’s physical dimensions. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 18, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 19 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, click here: https://naples.floridaweekly.com/pageview/viewer/2017-10-19#page=61

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Terror thriller balances momentum, restraint

Assassin’s Code, by Ward Larsen. Forge Books. 368 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

The fourth David Slaton novel keeps Mr. Larsen on top of the spy thriller mountain. While it works well as a stand-alone novel, readers who know the series will gain even more from their longer exposure to Slayton’s character, skills, and past. As ever, the precision with which the author details Slaton’s planning and execution of his assignment is totally engaging. However, the handling of brilliant tradecraft is only part of the book’s appeal. Mr. Larsen’s plot develops from a powerful premise that echoes present-day realities – and perhaps anticipates the future. 

Europe, and particularly France, is fighting what seems to be an end-of-days war against ISIS. Retired (except when on call to top level Mossad missions) operative and assassin David Slaton discovers a strange message that that seems to have been left for him alone. A computer memory stick holds a photo of a man named Zavier Baland, the fasted rising Frenchman slated to take over DGSI, his nation’s premier counterterrorist agency.

The photo shocks Slayton, who recognizes the person as Ali Samir, an Islamic terrorist who Slayton murdered fifteen years back. Or did he? Who is responsible for leaving this clue for Slayton? What should he do about it?

If Samir survived to reinvent himself as Baland, is France about to install an ISIS secret agent as its bulwark against terrorism? Could anything be more dangerous for the French Republic? Can Baland be exposed and/or stopped?

The plot is revealed through the alternating perspectives of several key players. Principal among these is Slayton, whose domestic live is portrayed as the antithesis of his murderous, if patriotic, occupation. His concern for his wife and child are consistently as war with his concern for Israel, Israel’s allies, and humanistic values.

Larsen

Mr. Larsen enters Baland’s mind and probes deeper and deeper into Baland’s sense of self: his core identity and values. Like Slayton, he is a compromised family man. Readers are privy to the decisions Baland is formulating as the time of great crisis for France and for the West approach. The increasing frequency and violence of terrorist acts may or may not be his agenda.

Mr. Larsen provides are facts and perspectives through the presentation of two additional characters. One is a rather mysterious young woman, Malika, a terrorist operative of great skill and determination. She is a master of disguises and subterfuge. She is an expert marksman. Like Slaton, she is totally professional in choosing the best vantage points from which to gather information while keeping hidden, the best vantage points for firing her weapons. She is great at mind games. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 11, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: https://fortmyers.floridaweekly.com/pageview/viewer/2017-10-11#page=52

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When farmed tilapia are dying from bleach, it could be big

 


Coastal Corpse, by Marty Ambrose. Five Star. 229 pages. Hardcover $25.95. Ebook $3.99.

Mallie Monroe is at it again in the fifth “Mango Bay Mystery.” She’s juggling two beaux. One is Cole, whose engagement ring she has managed to misplace (Freudian slip). The other is Nick, the chief police detective on Coral Island. Mallie seems to have a commitment problem. 

She has other problems as well. Her job as a reporter for the “Coral Island Observer” has been immensely complicated by the secretary-receptionist’s honeymoon and the editor’s disappearance. Suddenly, she finds herself in charge of just about everything, including getting out the next issue of the paper. There are just too many stories waiting to be researched and written. Which is the feature and which are the fillers? Mallie is not happy about having to enlist the help of people with little or no experience. Things are chaotic.

A local crazy is trying to pin all her problems, including a bad landscaping job, on Mallie and actually attacks her. Aging lothario Pop Pop keeps imagining that he’s Mallie’s boyfriend. Madame Geri, a local psychic, does more harm than good as a fill-in reporter. There is also a character whose violin bears scratches that resemble a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Should Mallie choose this item as the lead story? Probably not.

Ambrose

And there is trouble at the Town Hall meeting where former friends and business associates are at each other’s throats. When one of the ends up dead in a fish tank, the other is an obvious suspect – but there are plenty of other suspects to choose from, including jealous women. Now there’s a story.

Even Mallie’s friend and landlord, Wanda Sue, campaigning for a town council seat, finds trouble.

Many of the characters – and there are perhaps too many of them for a relatively compact novel – are quite colorful. Their excesses are part of the novel’s fun. Several don’t act their age – their relatively advanced age. Others are simply wacky. It’s a community in which a frenzied motormouth like Mallie is the pillar of stability.

More complications. Bad fertilizer made from farm-raised tilapia killed by bleach is ruining gardens and crops. Who’s behind this? Why? Mallie has to help track down the culprit. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the October 4, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the Naples and other local editons for October 5 , click here: https://naples.floridaweekly.com/pageview/viewer/2017-10-05#page=53

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Florida’s soul music heritage comes alive, as do its makers

Florida Soul: From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band, by John Capouya. University Press of Florida. 374 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

For a scholarly enterprise, this book is notable for its high energy and conversational tone. One can feel the author’s obvious excitement over the opportunity to celebrate the dazzling contributions of those in the art and business of soul music. It’s a sizeable group of talented and inventive characters who make longer or shorter appearances in this lively slice of Florida’s cultural history. Interestingly, though soul is thought of as a sturdy branch in the tree of Afro-American music, Mr. Capouya makes it clear that white performers and other white music industry professionals played major roles in the regional and national success of this musical genre. 

Mr. Capouya’s chaptering system links the recording artists and other music professionals with key ciites, large and small, in the history of the genres development and significant presence. His titles add up to a map of the world we are exploring, but without an actual map. Clearly, the state has been saturated with native born or adopted Floridians who build a musical tradition. Of course, Soul did not grow out of nothing. The author explores its roots in gospel music, its intimate connections with R & B (rhythm and blues), and its sometimes unwelcome offspring, disco.

Capouya

Not only does John Capouya provide vivid career biographies of the major players who achieved significant record sales, in many chapters he allows them to speak for themselves by providing the results of extended interviews. Some achieved stellar (bankable) accomplishments in many fields: as lead instrumentalists and singers, as back-up musicians, as songwriters, as nightclub owners, as record producers, as managers and as tour arrangers.

Soon or later during soul’s heydays in the Sixties and Seventies, everybody seems to have worked with or at least appreciated (by imitation) everyone else. It was a vibrant community of music-makers in which a person was a headliner one day and part of a back-up group the next. Although competitive, these men and women fostered a sense of mutual support. Only a few were committed loners. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 27, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and several September 28 local editions, click here:  https://naples.floridaweekly.com/pageview/viewer/2017-09-28#page=49

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Can ISIS outdo the 9/11 day of horror?

Isis in the City, by EE Hunt. Xlibris. 365 pages. Hardcover $29.99, Trade paperback $19.99.

Let me say this up front: I am reviewing this book because of its interesting and timely premise, its well-imagined action, and its fairly well-drawn characters. However, I am fully aware of its shortcomings: awkward sentence constructions, missing words, typos, and a general lack of professional editing. I still think it’s worth the reader’s time. 

Mr. Hunt (I don’t know which of his clerical and academic titles to use) takes readers into the very possible scenario of a small cadre of Islamic extremists planning something like a repeat performance of 9/11. One, named Nadir, seems to be a truly able leader, while another – Assad –  is a compulsive complainer and uncharacteristically tall. The remaining two, Amin and Khalid, are not sharply individualized until one of them is tapped to take on a particularly important role. We eavesdrop on their planning sessions and their attempts to keep a low profile in established Muslim neighborhoods. Mr. Hunt does a fine job of tracing their day to business, their hopes, and their fears.

That is, he gets into their heads so that we sense the degree of their radicalization.

We follow them as they carry out two missions of destruction. One is set at a Times Square area theater. They attack the theater audience and anyone else in the vicinity, including law enforcement officers. They chose the right time for maximum chaos. They are largely successful, even though their attack was anticipated.

Mr. Hunt provides alternating chapters and sections of chapters. Those not focused on the terrorists focus on another team of four. This is the counterterrorist team that includes Lieutenant Sherry Williams, the courageous and shapely team leader; Ted, her husband-to-be and FBI agent; and Charles, CIA representative and love interest to the formidable Fatima – the Muslim voice of peaceful coexistence who hates the hijacking of her religion.

The interactions of the couples and this tightly bonded foursome are carefully and credibly portrayed, especially as the time drawers near for the major terrorist event.

What could be more powerfully symbolic for the terrorists than destroying the National September 11 Memorial & Museum? What could be more disheartening for American patriots – and especially security workers – than such a catastrophe?

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 20, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 21 issues of the Naples and other editions, click on link or copy and paste this URL: https://fortmyers.floridaweekly.com/pageview/viewer/2017-09-20#page=52

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Silents were golden in St. Augustine for two dazzling decades

Silent Films in St. Augustine, by Thomas Graham. University Press of Florida. 198 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

This totally engaging, compact treatment of early U. S. film history is packed with a lot of information and a lot of fun. Before Hollywood was crowned the movie capital, St. Augustine was right up there. Over 120 movies were filmed in whole or part in St. Augustine, revealing the talents of major producers, directors, and actors. The fledging silent film industry made St. Augustine sizzle in the winter, when film makers and performers escaped the unpleasant New York weather to enjoy themselves in a town that seemed to have been created to provide the kind of scenic beauty cameramen feasted on. 

Though the span of St. Augustine’s life as a home to the film industry ran from 1906-1926, its heyday was much briefer. Mr. Graham can survey the first 11 years in a single chapter. The core years were 1912-1919, last few years of this period undermined by World War I.  There was at least one good year with many productions in the early 1920’s, but the fade had begun. New York film industry investors were moving west, as was the talent pool for movie making.

While it lasted, the comings and goings of the film people brought a great deal of excitement to St. Augustine’s residents and visitors. Most of the films needed “extras” for crowd scenes and brief walk-on parts. Even more fun than having the camera look your way would be the follow-up thrill of seeing yourself and your fellow townspeople on the screen when the move was shown. St. Augustinians got a kick from their brush with fame.

Graham

And the brush with fame included being in the company of notable performers and other celebrity movie folks. You might get to open a door, in real life or screen life, for Ethel Barrymore, or Norma Talmadge. You might have to avoid staring too hard at that iconic vamp, Theda Bara. You may have laughed at Oliver Hardy, either on-screen or in person.

You could mix with, or at least hear gossip about, the heads of studios or their senior staffers. People who could write stories, design costumes, or turn St. Augustine into almost anyplace you could imagine. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 6, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly as well as the September 7  Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Silent Films in St. Augustine

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Harper McDaniel a welcome new protagonist from a much-admired writer

When They Come for You, by James W. Hall. Thomas & Mercer 288 pages. Trade Paperback $15.95.

Add James W. Hall to the list of premier mystery/thriller authors who have jumped tracks from a classic series featuring a male protagonist to a new series featuring a female character. Having raved over Michael Connelly’s Renée Ballard and Randy Wayne White’s Hannah Smith, I am now gushing over Mr. Hall’s Harper McDaniel.  

We meet Harper on a pleasant February day in her Coconut Grove home. Her husband Ross, an investigative reporter, is shaving while holding their infant son Leo. Harper must snap a picture of them. That’s part of her nature as a professional photographer who is also the daughter of Deena Roberts, a photographer superstar and a suicide. A few blocks away, Spider Combs performs his electronic surveillance of the home, taking pictures and filming the movements of the gorgeous Harper. He knows a lot about this family, a family he has been contracted to destroy. Only Harper survives the fire.

When local police don’t seem to take the case seriously, Harper takes matters into her own hands.

James W. Hall

Whomever hired Combs and his associates wanted to stop Ross from finishing his expose about the chocolate industry. Harper, a martial arts expert, seeks justice and revenge. She needs to finish Ross’s work. With the help of her adopted financier brother, Nick; her retired mafioso grandfather, Sal; and – much later in the novel – family friend and movie star Ben Westfield, Harper prepares herself for the only task that will give her life meaning and purpose.

Mr. Hall’s skill in capturing Harper’s emotional turmoil, her ultimate resilience, and her courage adds great verisimilitude to a character who comes close to being a candidate for feminine (if not feminist) legend. The author’s superb rendering of Harper’s tradecraft fuels the legend with astonishing combat scenes. Yet we are always aware of Harper’s mortality, the preparation and capabilities of her foes, and her occasional doubts and fleeting fears. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the August 30, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 31 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click hereFlorida Weekly – When They Come for You

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 Comedy and compassion fuel a fine new mystery series

Murder on Pea Pike, by Jean Harrington. Camel Press. 264 pages. Trade paperback $15.95.

Jean Harrington’s new “Listed and Lethal” mystery series shares some features with her earlier, five-part “Murders by Design” mystery series (recently reprinted by Harlequin). The main similarity is that the protagonist in each series is a professional woman who is teamed up with a law enforcement officer. That is, teamed up romantically and unable to avoid being involved in his investigations.  

While the earlier character, Deva Dunne, lived and worked the interior design trade in upscale Naples, Florida, Honey Ingersoll is a real estate agent in rural, small town Arkansas. Differences in education and social class also distinguish the two protagonists.

As she pursues a real estate deal on the outskirts of Eureka Falls, chances upon the corpse of an attractive, flashy young woman whom she had seen at Ridley’s Real Estate just recently. Though Tallulah Bixby is dressed to kill, someone got to her first.

Soon after, the owner of property in the same neighborhood as Honey’s corpse discovery is also found murdered. You guessed it – discovered by Honey. Hmm. She might be a suspect, except for the fact that she is the narrator. Speaking of discoveries, Honey finds a couple of uncut diamonds near the crime scene.

The novel’s two main centers of interest are the murders and Honey’s love life. With respect to the murders, there seems to be an orchestrated buying-up of properties in the area surrounding the murders, suggesting the need to keep the purchases secret. Or maybe it’s the rumors concerning the diamonds lying about. Murder is one way of shutting someone up. When readers find out that a major casino project is being planned, they may surmise that some in the town are against it.

Honey’s love life? Up until now, a series of poor choices. But what’s an attention-needy, somewhat insecure girl to do? These days, Honey is idealizing her attractive boss, Sam Ridley, who is among those showing an interest in those rundown properties. Can he possibly be on Honey’s suspect list? She has imagined getting a dazzling kiss from him for a long time. Honey has been an invaluable employee, but he has plenty of cause to worry about her recent strange behavior. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 23, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 24 Naples, Bonita Springs, Collier Count, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Murder on Pea Pike

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A penetrating look at forgotten horrors of America’s Revolutionary War

The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn, by Robert P. Watson. Da Capo Press. 304 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

Lynn University Professor Robert P. Watson makes reading history a totally engaging experience. He does so by choosing unusual and challenging topics, setting them into contexts rich in detail, and presenting them in a prose style that is clear, vivid, and uncluttered by academic jargon. His latest book is a piece of fine storytelling, accessible to the general reader. Prof. Watson makes historical events shine as if they were today’s news. Readers will care about what happened on HMS Jersey, the major British prison ship during the American Revolution.  

As he must, the author attaches his relatively narrow topic to a few larger concentric circles: prison ships in general; overcrowded British prisons in the colonies and insufficient buildings to repurpose; and the overall Revolutionary War. The book’s spatial focus is New York, particularly Brooklyn waterways, and New England.

The book’s chapters are enticingly compact and action-filled. Each chapter’s opening is graced by a quotation from Philip Freneau’s 1781 poem “The British Prison-Ship,” though while not about the Jersey still gives a powerful contemporary insight into the prison ship horror.

The early chapters provide a detailed overview of the dismal situation for the colonial rebels in the early period of the war. Even under the estimable General Washington, retreat was often the order of the day. Overwhelmed by the much larger British fleet and its professional sailors, colonial forces – even when supplemented by privateers, were not making much headway.

Watson

The hows and whys of the turnabout become clear as the narrative proceeds, but once the focus is on the prison situation and the bright idea of prison boats, Prof. Watson’s voluminous research on this generally unknown element takes over. The Jersey is at once the most extreme example of prisoner conditions and the iconic one. It is hard to imagine that over several years 11,500 prisoners died on that ship alone (around twelve per day by 1783) – more than on all the others put together.

Simply put, conditions went from abominable to worse. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 16, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 17 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Ghost Ship

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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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