Tag Archives: Central Florida

Ethnic tension, desperate passion drive young adult romance

Before You, by Amber Hart. KTeen/Kensington. 321 pages. Trade Paperback $9.95.

More and more, writers for the young adult marketplace are crafting powerfully engaging books that signal a change in reader expectations. Although I didn’t have high hopes when I opened this book aimed at the older teen market, I was strongly impressed by its evocative style, its insights, and its literary dimension.

Like her characters in Before You, Amber Hart is courageous. Whether her readers’ high school lives were fulfilling or not, they will admire and enjoy what she has accomplished here. BeforeYourevised

When Cuban refugee Diego Alvarez shows up at Oviedo High School, he seems to have a chip on his shoulder. He is totally uncooperative when Faith Watters, the student assigned to welcome and orient him, attempts her task of showing him around. Each wears a mask of manners, and both need to keep their true natures and feelings hidden. In different ways, both are at once tough and vulnerable. Well, this is a romance: though neither intends this to happen, soon sparks are flying.

Diego has managed to escape from an ugly world in which he has worked as an enforcer for a major Cuban drug cartel. His scars and tattoos reflect his experiences. Handsome and athletic, his is lucky to be alive. However, his reputation had preceded him and a local (Orlando area) gang attempts to recruit him with an unsubtle “sign up or die” approach. He refuses. This is not the life he wants – nor did he ever want it. In Cuba, that life was his only means of protecting his family. His gruff exterior is his defense mechanism.

Faith is a fake good-girl. She dresses tastefully but conservatively, is nice to everyone, and pursues excellence at school. Captain of the dance team, she is also a shining representative of her clergyman father’s values and community status. She lives to meet other people’s expectations, but she hates that life. It’s not really her. The public lie that she spent her junior year studying abroad covers the fact that she was in drug rehab and is still vulnerable to temptations. Her size-to-big clothing helps hide her figure and her tattoos.

Amber Hart

Amber Hart

Faith’s autophobia – her fear of being alone growing out of having been abandoned by her mother –eerily complicates her situation.

Both want – in fact, desperately need – to find their true selves and live their lives accordingly. The course of the novel is their journey toward honesty, openness, and trust that can allow their slowly admitted, deeply passionate love to flourish in spite of societal prejudices and expectations. Ms. Hart manages her portrayal of this journey with exquisite skill. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 6, 2014 FortMyers Florida Weekly and the August 7 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here Florida Weekly – Hart 1 and here Florida Weekly – Hart 2.

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Comic mystery blends shady mayor, bondage buddies, and bossy mama

Mama Gets Trashed, by Deborah Sharp. Midnight Ink. 341 pages. $14.99.

With her fifth “Mace Bauer Mystery,” Deborah Sharp has raised the bar for her unique blend of suspense and laughter. When readers find Mace and Mama searching for lost jewelry in the town dump, we know that the sparks are going to fly. It’s Mama’s wedding ring that was accidentally dropped into the garbage back home, and now we get a kind of archeological dig of central Florida culture – including “a week’s worth of leftovers from Jimbob’s Seafood Shack.” Mama Gets Trashed

While Mama does happen to find her diamond, Mace finds something else: the corpse of a suggestively clad young woman whose garb includes a black leather dog collar with silver spikes. This bondage fetish fashion is not the usual get-up in Himmarshee, the fictional but familiar small southern town in which the Mace Bauer mystery stories are set.

Ms. Sharp’s fans know that Mace will have a hard time keeping her nose out of the investigation, and that her talented meddling will outrage her fiancé, Carlos Martinez, the hunky homicide detective who will do everything to keep Mace out of trouble and to protect the professionalism of the investigation.

Inevitably, Mace and Mama will be drawn further and further in. Furthermore, Mace will pursue another, possibly related mystery – the disappearance of her brother-in-law, Kenny. The timing is terrible, as Kenny’s wife Maddie is planning a big birthday party for him.

Deborah Sharp

Deborah Sharp

Has sister Maddie’s vanished husband been fooling around with sexy Camilla, the deceased librarian found dead at the dump? Could he possibly be the murderer? There are plenty of hints that Kenny has been unfaithful.

Conversation about these occurrences – let’s call it gossip – soon occupies the town, especially in social settings like the Hair Today Dyed Tomorrow salon where pastel fashion plate Mama is a hair-coloring specialist.  Revealing discussions and activities also take place at the Himmarshee Links Country Club and its bar, The Nineteenth Hole, where characters like golf pro Jason and bartender Angel (both, of course, immensely attractive and immensely self-absorbed) behave somewhat suspiciously.

So, in fact, does the new mayor of Himmarshee and his bossy wife. Not only is it rumored that they are active in the sexual fetish capers, but the mayor also seems to be encouraging outside investors to tie up land for development adjacent to Himmarshee’s idyllic nature park. Is he on the take? Is the park, where Mace works, in jeopardy? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 16, 2013 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the October 17 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, and the November 7 Palm Beach/West Palm Beach edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Sharp

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“Silencer”: a new Thorn in James W. Hall’s crown

“Silencer,” by James W. Hall. Minotaur Books. 288 pages. $24.99 cloth. $14.99 paper.

Mr. Hall’s recurring character, Thorn, is among my favorite reluctant heroes.  Now in his eleventh outing, Thorn (don’t you love guys with one name?) forsakes his usual association with the Florida Keys and runs into new kinds of trouble as a landholder with the goal of saving an enormous tract in south-central Florida from development.  Well, no, the set-up is not as simple as that. Thorn has inherited an extensive patch of real estate east of Sarasota that he has agreed to sell to a state program called “Forever Florida.” With the money this brings, he hopes to obtain the historic Coquina Ranch holdings from Earl Hammond, Jr. and take them off the development table as well. 

Earl, the aging head of a Florida dynasty, does not see either of his two sons as proper stewards and is favorable to Thorn’s proposal. The younger son, Browning, is already exploiting a corner of the immense property with an ugly business in which the bored and wealthy can hunt-to-kill exotic animals Browning has brought in from around the world. He has associated himself with too many low-lifes, among them Antwan Shelton, a flashy ex-football star who is now a smooth but shady pitchman and dealmaker.

The older son, Frisco, has long ago separated himself from the family enterprise; he is a Miami policeman assigned and devoted to the mounted police command and its steeds.

At a gathering at the ranch, everyone is seemingly surprised when a long-time loyal employee, Gustavo Pinto, points a gun at Earl. Mayhem breaks out as Browning’s wife, the lovely Claire, senses that something is wrong and also grabs a firearm. But she hesitates just long enough before shooting at Gustavo for Earl to be murdered.

What is Gustavo’s motive? Why is Florida’s Governor Sanchez visiting that day? And why is our hero Thorn kidnapped soon after?

As one might expect, behind the bedlam are issues involving the land: its value, its history, its exploitation, is conservation. Forces large and small are at work, each hungry to prevail.

One piece of the action has to do with the Faust brothers, Moses and Jonah. These men, who buy and sell serial killer memorabilia, also do odd jobs for Browning Hammond. They are the ones who have kidnapped Thorn and have him confined in what seems to be a large sink hole within which a prison has been fashioned. The thought processes of these moral cripples are exquisitely realized by their creator.

Clearly, someone thinks Thorn’s plans to take valuable lands off the development table must be stopped or at least delayed. Earl’s death and Thorn’s disappearance are parts of the same case.

The episodes in “Silencer” that describe Thorn’s confinement, escape, and frenzied journey through the Central Florida wilderness are magnificent. Mr. Hall provides perfect-pitch sensory renditions of the unique terrain and of Thorn’s physical, mental, and emotional ordeal.

To read the entire review as it appears in the April 13, 2011 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 14 Naples and Palm Beach Gardens editions of Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – James W. Hall

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