Tag Archives: Florida Authors

A first-rate crafting of a tale about a series of heinous crimes

No Good Deed, by James Swain. Thomas & Mercer. 336 pages. Trade Paperback $15.95.

The second installment of the Jon Lancaster & Beth Daniels Series, following “The King Tides,” is a blessing for crime thriller fans. It continues to build the shaky relationship between the highly engaging and original lead characters while exploring a heinous series of crimes in human trafficking. What’s happening is terrible, but the crafting of the tale is first rate.

What begins as a missing person case turns into a horror story involving the disappearance of twelve young women within the state of Florida. Who is preying on them? Why? How can this serial abduction nightmare be terminated? 

Jon, retired from police work, has long been associated with Team Adam, part of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The missing person he is tracking is young Skye Tanner, whose grandmother was murdered by the felons during her attempt to protect her. When he discovers that Skye’s abduction is part of a pattern, Jon puts himself on the case.

Of course, for a crime spree like this one, not only local authorities but also the FBI will be involved. Thus, Agent Beth Daniels will re-enter Jon’s life. Sparks will fly, a consequence of their mutual attraction and their contrasting understanding of the value of rules. Beth is a by-the-book person, Jon can justify breaking rules – and does.

The emotional dimension of the novel is deepened by the fact that Jon’s long estranged and often imprisoned brother, Logan, turns out to be working for the organization doing the human trafficking.

Swain

The mood of No Good Deed is lightened by such touches as Jon’s employment of teenage students, Beth’s niece and some of her classmates, to do computer search work that helps answer some questions about the perpetrators and their location. . . .

To  enjoy the full review, as it appears in the September 11, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 12 Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Palm Beach, and Venice editions, click here:  No Good Deed

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Failure to protect a witness rocks self-esteem of protagonist

A Beautiful Voice, by Robert Lane. Mason Alley Publishing. 404 pages. Trade Paperback $14.95.

Lane

It’s difficult, and not terribly important, to summarize the plot of Robert Lane’s latest novel, the sixth in his “Jake Travis” series. The attraction of this crime thriller is less in the plot line than in the high quality of characterization, physical setting, and moral ambiance. Meeting Jake and his friends, his girlfriend Kathleen, and several other well-drawn characters who are newly developed for this novel is the real pleasure.

 

Here’s the set-up: When a government agency assigns Jake to safeguard a witness who is brought into the U. S. to testify about the head of a major drug syndicate, the idea is that the witness will keep a low profile. Without warning, this man, an accountant with priceless information, arrives with a family – a wife, two young daughters, and an even younger boy. When the family disappears just a few days later, Jake gathers that he has been misinformed, but why? What has happened to Alejandro Vizcarro and his young family?

Lots of surprises follow, including the fact that the gorgeous wife, Martina, is actually the accountant’s first daughter, much older that her siblings. And it’s possible that one of the children is not a sibling to the others.

The Mexican drug cartel leader, Sergio Flores, has a thriving business. His tainted drugs kill thousands of Americans. No wonder the U. S. government wants him brought to justice. In addition, he has murdered two DEA agents. Some of his books are kept by an American, Richard Bannon, and it’s the hope of Jake’s associates that Mr. Vizcarro’s testimony will tumble Bannon and, in turn, Flores.

Well things just don’t work out. Vizcarro’s protection, set in place by Jake, is just not sufficient. A remaining part of the mystery is the to discover and protect Vizcarro’s children. Assuming they are still alive.

As readers follow the plans that Jake puts in place for himself and his comrades, they enter Jake’s world more fully. This is a world of weapons that Jake’s team knows how to use. It is a world of waterways along the western edge of the Florida peninsula (the St. Petersburg area) that is at once the setting for Jake’s home and the action center of the novel. It is a world of magnificent boats and crime-busting accessories that Jake has long mastered. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 4, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the September 5 Bonita Springs and Charlotte County editions, and the September 12 Naples and Key West editions, click here: A Beautiful Voice

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A life of ballet

Ballet dancer/teacher/businesswoman tells the inside story in a captivating memoir

Chasing Castles: Nineteen Years Living & Teaching Ballet in Italy, by Barbara File Marangon. Ogham Books International. 286 pages. Trade Paperback $15.95.

This marvelous story of nearly two decades of perseverance is filled with colorful vignettes and valuable life lessons. The author takes her readers through a highly creative period of her life running from her early thirties through her early fifties. As a young woman, Ms. Marangon (hereafter Barbara), had prepared for a career in ballet. We meet her during a time when the ex-New Yorker is dancing and training others in Los Angeles.

But something is luring her in another geographic and cultural direction. She has fond memories of friendships made in Europe, of refinement of her skills there, and of European performances in which she participated. Ready to live in a kind of exile, and hardly speaking any Italian, she is determined to live and work there. Another motive is the need to withdraw from her doomed, painful relationship with her father.

Venice is the first stop.

Marangon

What she didn’t realize was that she would be a victim of a deeply-rooted European prejudice against foreigners. This affected where she could live, what amenities she could obtain, work opportunities, and many other areas of life. Her Venice experience of feeling like an outsider was offset someone by the romance that ended in a marriage to her first husband and her gradual, hard-won successes in developing a career as a ballet teacher. Unfortunately, she discovered that her husband was a very childish person. Their unhealthy relationship lingered on for a long time.

More opportunities arose outside of Venice – in small towns in which ballet education was well established and in which she was able to make her mark even while dealing with the resentment of others about making room for an outsider to flourish. Barbara made at least two of those small towns her home.

What is success as a ballet teacher? How does one manage to turn craft and teaching skills into a successful business? Most of the book details Barbara’s struggle to answer these questions. . . .

The full review, along with an interview, was originally published in the September-October 2019 issue of Ft. Myers Magazine. To read the full review, click here:  Chasing Castles

 

For her earlier Detour on an Elephant, click here:   Detour

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A fun-packed mystery with food for thought and thought for food

A Deadly Feast, by Lucy Burdette. Crooked Lane. 228 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

It may be that calling a book and its main character “delightful” does not seem like a term of high praise. However, how much in our lives is delightful? How often might we wish to be delighted? Like its eight predecessors, this latest title in the “Key West Food Critic Mystery” series will put a smile on your face while keeping you engaged with suspenseful plot details and the charms of idiosyncratic Key West.

Exuberant, curious, and good-natured Hayley Snow is the restaurant columnist for Key Zest magazine, and as readers now expect, doing her job is likely to lead her into trouble. She is covering a seafood tasting tour orchestrated by her friend Analise, an event meant to show off Key West cuisine, when things go wrong. One of the customers mysteriously dies while feasting at the tour’s last stop. Analise enlists Hayley’s help, and the game is on.

It’s not that Hayley has nothing else to do but go sleuthing. On the schedule is a special Thanksgiving celebration tied to Hayley’s marriage to her handsome, protective beau Nathan – a police detective stressed out by a dangerous case he’s working on, the impending marriage, and the need to meet many of Hayley’s relatives for the first time.

Lucy Burdette / photo credit Carol Tedesco

So, we have a recipe for stress and mayhem.

Oh, one more thing: Hayley and Nathan are hoping to have a houseboat restored in time to move into soon after the wedding. As is so often the case with such endeavors, things are not going well and contractors are not showing up to meet the schedule.

Was the victim killed by something she ate at that last tour stop? Did something go wrong with chef Marsha Hubbard’s Key Lime pie – her virtuoso signature item? Is Marsha’s career doomed? Was the event – and the pie – sabotaged? Will the restaurant’s reputation collapse?

And then there’s a second death!

The police, including Nathan, are on the case, and the lovers have their usual conflict over Hayley’s need to get involved and Nathan’s need to keep her safe and perform like the professional that he is.

It’s all about friends, relatives, food, excitement, and danger. Readers will enjoy the spunky Miss Gloria, who has shared her houseboat with Kayley and is a “poster girl” for active, insightful octogenarians. Lorenzo the Tarot Card guru is another loveable Key Wester. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 21, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the August 22  Charlotte County and Venice editions, and the August 29 Naples  edition, click here: DeadlyFeast

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The moral element shines brightly in this heart-pounding tale of historical nautical adventure

Jacket blurb by Phil Jason blurbing as U.S. Naval Academy Professor Emeritus Philip K. Jason: “Macomber is today’s foremost practitioner of a fascinating subgenre: historical fiction of the nautical variety. Building his series on the imagined autobiography of Peter Wake, he’s given readers a vivid, multi-dimensional hero. Macomber makes the remarkable times he portrays glow. This latest title is no exception. History comes alive.”

Honoring the Enemy, by Robert N. Macomber. Naval Institute Press. 368 pages. Hardcover $29.95.

This is the 14th installment of Mr. Macomber’s classic “Captain Peter Wake Novel” series. It is the first with his new publisher, and what a wonderful pairing it is to have such a fascinating series under the imprint of the Naval Institute Press. The series is also known as the “Honor” series, as that word appears in each of the titles. Old and new Macomber readers will appreciate the useful “Timeline of Peter Wake’s Life” that sets the protagonist in his historical context and in the parameters of his unique values, skills, and personality.

The author blends international politics, seamanship, strategic planning, and technology into a succulent stew. However, little else is succulent in this wartime drama notable for undependable supply lines and a scarcity of nourishment.

What we’ve got here, folks, is the Spanish-American War as adversaries battle for dominance in Cuba during June and July of 1898.

Wake is a proud patriot, always motivated to serve his country, but these days he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. After long years working up the responsibility ladder, he thought he had proven himself worthy of being given command of his own ship. But that didn’t happen. He had made too many enemies and – as a man who doesn’t mince words – there was little support for this former espionage specialist. No politician, he just didn’t have the right connections. After all, he was one of the few Navy officers who had not graduated from the Naval Academy.

Rather than driving a ship, he heads a small Navy team that is a liaison to the U. S. Army’s effort to free Cuba from Spanish rule. He reports to generals who are orchestrating a joint U. S. and Cuban liberation force. In this effort, he is finding the Spanish forces estimable and discovering that the U. S. effort mixes clever initiatives with large measures of incompetence.

The story Wake tells us involves not only his perspectives and actions, but his remembrance of how effectively his old friend Theodore Roosevelt comported himself during this campaign. Indeed, Mr. Macomber’s portrait of the president-to-be, filtered through Wake’s observations and judgments, is among the book’s many engaging threads, with unexpected comic elements to leaven the blood-soaked, storm-tossed, death-inviting narrative. . . .

To see the entire review, as it appears in the August 8, 2019 issue of the Naples, Palm Beach, and Venice editions of  Florida Weekly, as well as the August 14 Fort Myers  and August 15 Charlotte County editions, click here:  Honoring the Enemy

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Storms of the heart bring violence, catharsis

Mine, by Courtney Cole. Gallery Books. 304 pages. Original Trade Paperback $16.00.

This scorching-hot novel of infidelity, its causes, and its consequences is structured as a two-narrator duet in which harmony is unlikely. Accomplished and confident Tessa is taken by surprise when she discovers that there is a rival for her husband’s favor. At forty, and with three children and a booming career, she felt she and Ethan were on a steady path.

Twenty-six-year-old Lindsey, gorgeous but insecure about everything except her good looks, has set her sights on Ethan, whom she met online. She offers him literally everything, using her neediness as a weapon. 

Ms. Cole has clearly distinguished her two combatants. She has pitched their voices perfectly to capture the many contrasts in their personalities.

As a coastal Florida storm intensifies into a hurricane, blocking Ethan’s return home from a business trip. A glance at Ethan’s iPad turns Tessa’s world upside down. Ethan has been having a sex-tinged flirtation with a beautiful younger woman whose seductive photos are a challenge and a threat to his wife.

Courtney Cole photo by Christine Arnold

Alternating chapters reveal the two women’s thoughts, emotions, and words. Readers get to know them, and a clever plot device forces them to get to know one another.

Throughout the novel, the hurricane is effectively used as a metaphor for the darkness and danger of the women’s emotional situation.

There are interesting ironies that affect the relationship between Tessa and Lindsey. Not the least of these is that Lindsey, a nursing student, saves Colt, Tessa and Ethan’s oldest child, when he has what could have been a terminal bout with his serious disease. Not only must Tessa thank Lindsey for saving the young man’s life, but she begins to see Lindsey as a person with more dimensions than husband-snatcher.

Seeing the two women in the context of their families provides for engaging contrasts. Tessa’s accomplished brood of two sons and a daughter (her other children are Connor and Ava) reflects Tessa’s care and expectations. Ethan has been in the picture, but Tessa is the driving force. Reader’s learn little about the older generation – Tessa or Ethan’s parents.

On the other hand, there is a well-turned portrait of Lindsey’s mother, who has become the caretaker for Lindsey’s eight-year-old son, Logan, since Lindsey’s situation does not leave her with the resources or confidence to be raising him. Lindsey’s mother, a practical person, perceives and announces the many flaws that she finds with Lindsey’s decisions and expectations. She scolds her regularly.

There are several large-scale flareups between Tessa and Lindsey . . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the June 19, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 20 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Mine

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Moving ahead requires inventorying ugly truths from the past

Moral Inventory, by Tara Johnson. Austin Macauley. 154 pages. Trade paperback $10.95.

An intervention program named Helping Hands has, with her alcoholic mother’s connivance and permission, yanked young Elizabeth out of her downward spiraling life and provided a structure of rewards, punishments, and self-evaluation that might save her. At seventeen, she had found herself flattered by the attentions, muscles, and rebelliousness of Marcus, an unemployed predator several years too old for her. His controlling nature had become intolerable, though he had ways of making her feel important as well.

Not seeing him is part of her path to staying off drugs and making a meaningful, respectable life for herself.

Ms. Johnson’s portrait of about a half year in Elizabeth’s life is extremely vivid. It is a harrowing emotional ride in which the young woman’s intelligence is at war with her bad habits, including dangerous dependencies.

Elizabeth wavers between taking the lessons and regimen of Helping Hands to heart and merely playing the game of going along while looking for an out. Her life is on hold until she finishes the program – or runs away from it. She meets other young adults working their way through the program and in some cases assisting the director, Mrs. Stein. There is a well -constructed hierarchy of relationships and responsibilities that offers hope.

Readers will grasp the importance of such a “tough love” program, yet also understand Elizabeth’s ambivalent attitude and inconsistent behavior.

While the focus of the novel is Elizabeth’s struggles and successes within the confines of the Helping Hands structure, Ms. Johnson paints Elizabeth’s life and personality with a broader brush through flashbacks. The author clarifies the effects of Elizabeth’s father’s disappearance and her mother’s alcohol problem on Elizabeth’s early years.

Tara Johnson

The flashbacks include Elizabeth’s friendships with other girls and with temporary boyfriends. Her home environment places her in a low socio-economic class without the tools to transcend it. Though Elizabeth has a strong love for her mother, she also feels bitter about the unsought responsibility of dealing with a desperate drunk. At times, she is forced to take over the parent role. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the May 15, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 16 Naples, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here and see lower half of page: Florida Weekly – Moral Inventory

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A lesson in Florida’s fresh water crisis worth reading and understanding

“Drying Up: The Fresh Water Crisis in Florida,” by John M. Dunn. University Press of Florida. 272 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

Mr. Dunn, an experienced journalist, educator, and water advocate, puts the Florida particulars of the world-wide fresh water crisis before readers in an accessible, well-researched, and well-balanced study. The information is, in fact, horrifying. The warnings have been around for so long, people of good will have worked so diligently, and yet for a host of reasons the steps taken have often been misguided or insufficient. 

There is a war going on between those who use and abuse fresh water selfishly and those who truly recognize that the clock is ticking. While local jurisdictions issue building permits nonstop and new communities spring up overnight fed by new roads and hooked to the water infrastructure, their inevitable paved over appeal threatens the water supply by blocking drainage into the soil, while the sheer number of new users threatens it even further.

This battle rages almost everywhere. In Florida, the issues are complicated by the invasions of stupidity and greed that have crippled irreplaceable ecological wonders, most notably the Everglades. “Big Sugar,” dependent on the astronomical use of fertilizers that pollute the waters and overcharge plant growth while harming wildlife, threatens whatever is in its way. Lawyers and lobbyists prevail.

John Dunn – Credit SusanDunn

Reading through this book is a pleasure because of its carefully structured chapters and subchapters. Though the material is abundant and often complex, the packaging is extremely reader-friendly. Readers can set their own pace, and there is just enough repetition of key concepts and issues to create emphasis with the downside of tedium.

Here’s an example of concept clarification:

When one washes a car, most of the water eventually rejoins the aquifer. So that water is used, but not consumed. Some of the water evaporates, and some is relocated through the stormwater system. That water is used and consumed. Such distinctions run through the book, building a lexicon of critical terminology.

Running through the many chapters, more prominent in some than in others, is a well-turned geological history of Florida. This history, voiced eloquently and vividly by Mr. Dunn, is essential background for his detailed treatment of our recent centuries: Florida from the Industrial Revolution to the present time. Many of the most consequential chapters involve attempts to re-engineer the flow of water through the state, from Lake Okeechobee downward: attempts that have had questionable intended consequences and dangerous – indeed calamitous – unintended consequences. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in May 8, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the May 9 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach editions, and the May 16 Venice edition, click here:  Florida Weekly – Drying Up

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ISIS vs the Catholic Church: a Thriller

The Canonical Order, by T. R. Kurtz. 318 pages. Trade paperback $9.99. Kindle E-book $4.99.

This supercharged techno-spy thriller has it all. First of all, it has an intriguing premise. Kurtz imagines that the Catholic Church has developed a first-class intelligence operation with resources comparable to those of the superpowers. The Canonical Order is that impressive force, and it is presented as a late incarnation of the ancient Knights of Malta. Kurtz’s protagonist, Chad Stryker, is a highly experienced and outlandishly skilled former CIA agent who now works with the Canonical Order and has mastered its amazing resources. He is a leader of Black Swan, its covert action arm.

Why would the Vatican need such a warlike entity? Because a radical Islamist supergroup, led by a pair of Chechen brothers loyal to the Islamic State, has plans to destroy the Catholic Church and, by extension, all of Christianity.

Indeed, the Pope has been shot and is severely wounded.

What is amazing is the author’s ability to make his premise seem plausible. He has crafted a dynamic, suspenseful tale in which all of the many and often unexpected details fit together.

Stryker’s mission seems motivated in part by his need to redeem himself for any missteps he might have taken during the later stages of his wife’s death from a rare form of cancer. The portrait of the lovers’ relationship is powerfully drawn, and though Jennifer must always be offstage, she is as well-developed as any of the book’s many important characters.

Kurtz

Novices in the field of espionage and security countermeasures won’t know if Kurtz’s descriptions of the Order’s tools are accurate or not. However, they sure are appetizing. Devices are programmed to guide, respond to, and refine the parameters of the task at hand. Artificial intelligence seems to be blended with human assessments. Stryker is assisted by something called the “e-Mission Manager” that is as important as his Canonical Order human associates: namely, D’Orio, Moldovan, and the brains-and-beauty-blessed Sonia Navarre.  Another resource is curiously named MILEAGE.

However, as the mission progresses, it becomes clear that the outcomes are not what was hoped for or expected. Some tools have been improperly calibrated or otherwise compromised.

Dedicated readers will find out by whom and why.

Chad Stryker’s action tools include weaponized gear of all kinds. He has outfits that disguise and protect him, while hiding an array of immediately accessible, personal armaments. One imagines a world at techno-war in which new kinds of haberdashery adorn the compatible, superbly-trained agent.

Well-chosen bible passages connect chapter titles with the moral and “end-of-world” motifs of the action.

Kurtz is adept at describing intriguing settings and putting readers on the spot of the action. A long sequence set in Dubai engagingly establishes the interplay of character and place. Scenes in Kurdistan and elsewhere are similarly effective.

T. R Kurtz’s first novel has the makings of a best-seller, and its inventive imagery could inspire a movie.

Where did all this potentially history-changing imagining come from? . . . .

The full article, with  capsule profile and interview in the May-June 2019 Ft. Myers Magazine, has the answers.  You can read them by clicking here: CanonicalOrder

 

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Miami a major setting in spellbinding thriller with gruesome killings

Verses for the Dead, by Douglas Prescott and Lincoln Child. Grand Central Publishing. 352 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

Billed as “A Pendergast Novel,” this latest entry in the thriller series about a legendary, iconoclastic FBI superstar is brimming with suspense, surprise, and imagination. Fabled rulebreaker A. X. L. Pendergast, always at odds with FBI standard procedure, must take an assignment that keeps him on the payroll by agreeing to accept a partner. What a restraining humiliation! However, this premise allows the authors to build a new, unique character, Special Agent Coldmoon, whose Native American heritage brings a special flavor to the table. 

The assignment has the men prowling around every kind of Miami neighborhood to find out facts and discover the psychopath behind a series of outrageously gruesome killings. The killer skillfully excises the hearts of his victims and places them against gravestones in Miami cemeteries.

He also leaves behind strange letters filled with literary allusions and quotations. The perpetrator has taken for himself the name Mr. Brokenhearts

Want more? Each of the grave holds the remains of a woman who, years ago, committed suicide.

The perpetrator seems to be conducting a ritual of his own crazed making that is in some ways a form of expiation.

Centers of interest include the interaction between Pendergast and this somewhat resentful FBI superiors, the FBI’s interaction with local police departments, the growing relationship between Pendergast and Coldmoon, and the dogged if often irregular investigatory process.

Preston and Child

The large cast of intriguing characters provides many who are in themselves centers of interest. These include a modestly successful journalist, Roger Smithback, who makes a big, if short-lived, splash through his coverage of the case. Dr. Charlotte Fauchet, of the medical examiner’s office, puts in the beyond-the-call-of-duty hours that change the direction of the inquiry.

Another fascinating character, once discovered and confronted by the FBI duo, is the killer – a fellow who for all of his murderous deeds qualifies as someone to pity for the miserable life that had been handed to him. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 10, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 11 Bonita Springs, Charlotte County,  and Venice editions, and the April 18 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Verses for the Dead

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