Tag Archives: Florida Authors

Mystery of Lord Byron’s daughter drives fascinating historical novel

A Shadowed Fate, by Marty Ambrose. Severn House. 192 pp. Hardcover $28.99.

Reviewed by Phil Jason  (review accepted by Florida Weekly, but fate  otherwise unknown). Please enjoy.

In this second book in her series, which promises to bring a large and avid readership, Ambrose has retooled a bit, changing the name of the series from The Claire Clairemont Mysteries to the Lord Byron Mystery Series. What’s in a name? Like the earlier “Claire’s Last Secret,” secrets play a large role in the plot and the motives of the character. This one could be called Edward Trelawny’s Secret, as his decade’s long subterfuge is now confessed, explained, and teeters on the edge of being forgiven. 

Claire, the main character, from whose point of view most of the book is narrated, seems to live both in the present time (July 1873) and the much earlier time of her youth and memories (1820-21).

Claire spent much of her life as young woman hanging out with the fashionable Byron-Shelley crowd of writers along with her stepsister Mary Shelley. This young British nobility of the arts lived as expatriates in Italy. Claire had little in the way of financial resources, but as part of this fashionable crowd, which also included Edward Trelawny, she made do.

Trelawny, who wrote a biography of Byron, was her would-be lover; but for Claire, Byron was the real thing. So much so that she gave him a child, Allegra, whose fate is the central question of the story.

Marty Ambrose

In the novel’s present time, Trelawny approaches the aging Claire with a confession of sorts. He breaks promises he had made to the long-deceased Byron that suggest that Allegra, thought to have perished in the near destruction of the convent in which she had been brought up, may have survived.

Byron had placed her there for her protection. A man who had many enemies through his role in the liberation of Greece and for other reasons, he wanted to protect his daughter from those enemies. Those who might be after Allegra would also be after her mother, and, indeed, there are many signs of nefarious doings, including attempts to rob Claire of her handful of papers and artifacts that could be sold for a significant price. These include originals of some of Byron’s writings and a rare drawing. This little horde was Claire’s assurance of some income as she would need it through the remaining years her life.

Along with the fact that Ambrose’s prose captures the nature of Claire and the other characters marvelously, readers are given the opportunity to get into their heads in attractive ways. A series of passages reveal Claire reading or remembering passages from Byron’s diary. Thus. we get to know Byron. In a few strategically placed passages, we are let into Allegra’s thought as the girl living a lonely, parentless life in the convent.  Her father, who she remembers, dares not visit her.

Ambrose shapes the action so that a visit to the convent is inevitable. Claire receives promises from the leader of the institution to check records with the hope of shedding light on Allegra’s fortunes. Is she still alive but hidden and protected in some other way? Did she indeed, perish in the convent catastrophe? Is there anyone else to turn to for information? There is, however all of her traveling to find the sought-for answers seem to be journeys in which she is being watched and shadowed.

Claire’s last hopes are the convent’s superior and the woman whom Byron fell in love with after ending his relationship with Claire. Teresa, equal in age to Claire, invites Claire to visit. She proves to be one of the many finely drawn minor characters that Ambrose weaves into the story. However, the meetings between the two women, pleasant duos of sympathetic hearts and minds, bring no resolution.

Other finely drawn secondary characters include Claire’s niece Paula, whom with her lover Raphael and young daughter Georgiana constitute Claire’s household. But it is Edward Trelawny, on hand through most of the novel, and determined to prove himself to Claire, who is the most fully developed after Claire herself

If you’re a fan of history, romance, and fictional biography, Marty Ambrose will keep you fully engaged with her uniquely orchestrated and poetically cast novel. Moreover, Ambrose provides a remarkable portrait of Italy during the fifty-year stretch in which her plot about Claire’s life and aspirations develops.

 

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An unlikely hero makes the best of his shortcomings

Trouble in Mind, by Michael Wiley. Severn House. 224 pages. Hardcover $28.99.

Mr. Wiley has returned to the Chicago setting to launch the Sam Kelson Mystery Series. His recent books have been set in Jacksonville, where he teaches at the University of North Florida. His Shamus Award-winning Joe Kozmarsky Series was also set in Chicago. The author’s new main character is an unlikely hero battling with handicaps that make his exploits particularly intriguing and sometimes comical. 

Sam’s last assignment on the Chicago Police Force involved a young and highly successful drug peddler nicknamed Bicho (Spanish for Bug). Attempting to lead an undercover narcotics team to make an arrest, Sam exchanged gunfire with Bicho and killed him. Cop and crook had fired at the same time, and the bullet that entered Sam’s brain changed his life.

When Sam is rushed to the hospital, his police buddy, Toselli, breaths enough oxygen into him to save his life.

Two years later, Sam is running a low-end private eye business. He admits to his clients that among his shortcomings is his inability to keep a secret. This is one outcome of the bullet that went into his left frontal lobe. He also is compelled to answer unasked questions and to laugh for no obvious reason. He has trouble navigating doorways. These and other results of his near-fatal wounding are on display throughout the story, provoking sympathy and smirks. His ability to function well enough and his desire to help people makes him a one-of-a-kind hero.

Wiley

When Trina Felbanks become Sam’s client, his situation quickly takes a turn for the worse. Trina asks him to find out if her brother, a pharmacist, had been dealing drugs. When Sam shows up at Christian Felbanks’ home, he at first doesn’t find any sign of it being a place where drugs are being hidden, manufactured, or sold. However, he does make a shocking discovery: someone has put a bullet hole in Mr. Felbanks’ head. Just as Sam makes this discovery, a SWAT team rushes in and arrests Sam for the murder. Clearly, he has been set up, and his client must have played a role in this charade. Arrested on suspicion of murder, he makes an even more startling discovery concerning his client’s identity.

Who is the murderer and why has Sam been chosen as the fall guy? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 25, 2020 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Venice editions, click here:  Trouble in Mind

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Fierce tornadoes complicate the work of well-trained rescue dogs

Review by Phil Jason

Desperate Creed, by Alex Kava. Prairie Wind Publishing. 320 pages. Hardcover $27.99.

The fifth title in the Ryder Creed Series has a bit of everything, including deadly politics, lost and found souls, broken and repaired families, and the uncanny efficiency of well-trained search and rescue dogs. The latter interest is the vital center of the whole series, with the magical coupling of trainer and K-9 presented once again in a moving, dynamic fashion.

The added complication in this installment is the overwhelming power of fierce tornadoes that shows no respect for man, beast, roads, buildings, or anything else in its way. Ms. Kava’s description of this deadly series of tornadoes in Alabama, the damage done, and the human responses is truly magnificent. She scribes a poetry of natural disaster.

Frankie Russo works for a big Chicago advertising firm where she is paired with a young hotshot named Tyler. He and his friend Deacon Kaye plan to do an analysis of cereal and breakfast bars from Carson Foods. Tyler suspects that the glyphosate used in their products is toxic. Tyler has been hacking the company’s emails, discovering problems including the involvement of a U.S. Senator in plans to send Carson’s products worldwide. Having snuck in, electronically, to the corridors of power, Tyler has made himself a possible target, and possibly Frankie as well. Smart phone email exchanges between Frankie and Tyler have made them easy to locate. Two men have tracked Tylor down, and his phone connection to Frankie makes her vulnerable. They know too much. Plot line one is now rolling.

At his Florida Panhandle K-9 training facility, Ryder Creed is keeping an eye on his sister Brodie, recently saved from long term, mind-altering incarceration. Learning to work with Ryder’s dogs is an important part of her therapy, as is a reunification with her real mother, not the woman who had terrorized her for decades. Plot line two: will this work out? What else does Brodie need? . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the March 11, 2020 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Palm Beach, and Venice editions,  click here: Desperate Creed

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Superb thriller explores the lasting effects of trauma

The Stranger Inside, by Lisa Unger. Park Row Books. 384 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Ms. Unger had done it again. She’s taken her readers to places that no one should have to enter, and she’s made it extremely difficult for them to escape from the spell cast by her soaring skill and fright-filled imagination.

A major question that the book explores is to what degree trauma can shape, perhaps misshape, identity and functionality. The premise involves three friends knocking on the door of their teen years who are engaged by a demonic lost soul (himself a trauma victim) who had been following one of them around. The central character is Rain Winter (who has other names). Her friends are Tess and Hank – who is also her admirer and rescuer.

Tess loses her life in the madman’s attack. Rain and Hank survive, the trauma having reshaped their lives in somewhat different ways. Each must deal with “the stranger within,” a haunted, stunted self that cannot quite be covered over by the more normal self – the self that has built a constructive life but is never completely free.

The abductor-murderer, considered a victim himself, served jail time for his crimes. But he, like several other madmen whose crimes had reached the media, had met a violent death. It seems like vigilante justice is getting these perverts off the streets. Are serial vigilante killers the good guys or just more bad guys?

Lisa Unger

When readers meet Rain, she is on hiatus from her work as a journalist to take care of her young daughter. But the news about possible vigilante justice keeps pulling her back to the memories imbedded in and surrounded by her traumatic experience. She needs to tell that story.

Rain is literally haunted by Hank, whose demons seem more out of control and who has a neediness that only Rain seems likely to understand and alleviate. Though he has established himself as a therapist and does important work, especially with children, he has not yet been able to fully heal himself.

Ms. Unger’s art is amazing in how she handles the special community of the three schoolmates who were attacked so long ago. Chapters begin with the voice or thought stream of one of the three. Readers cannot always be sure which one it is until the scene’s momentum develops. Each seems to need a psychic rendezvous with the others. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 12, 2020 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 13 Naples, Bonita Springs, Palm Beach, Charlotte County, and Venice editions, click here:  The Stranger Inside

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A must-read techno-thriller as fear-filled as the news

Review by Phil Jason

Assassin’s Revenge, by Ward Larsen. Forge Books. 392 pages. Hardcover $29.99.

All techno thriller fans will delight in this 6th installment in the David Slaton series.

David Slaton, a former Mossad agent specializing in assassinations and now a person who is happy to be thought of as deceased, has been admiring the piloting by Dan Rhea. Slaton admires the intricacies of the F/A – 18F Super Hornet, but why are they flying over North Korea? And to what end? Reader, time will tell. But in the short run, meet some North Korean government power brokers who may or may not have the confidence of their supreme leader, Chairman Kwon, who is chasing after a technological threat way beyond his mobile ballistic missiles fitted with nuclear warheads.

Suddenly, the scene shifts back in time to Gibraltar. Slaton has returned to the dock where he had left his wife and son on their sailboat, but they are missing. In order to have any chance of bringing them to safety, Slaton must assassinate a scientist he briefly knew in his Mossad days, a man who is now working at the International Atomic Energy Agency. When they meet up, however, the focus is on the horror of HEU – highly enriched uranium – getting into the wrong hands.

Ward Larsen

Where is their sailboat, the Sirius? How would his wife Christine be reacting to the high-threat situation that includes the safety of their small son Davy? Slaton’s path must now take him to Vienna, the home of the IAEA.

While Slaton explores the situation in Vienna, Mr. Larsen has readers explore the world of Kasim Boutrous, an Iraqi commanding a very special mission. Boutrous heads a small band of suicidal ISIS operatives dedicated to enhancing the reputation and influence of the subdued caliphate. They are planning a tremendous blow to the United States with a scheme that will make 9/11 look like the work of novices. His destination is North Korea. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 22, 2020 Fort Myers Florida Weekly,the January 23 Palm Beach, Venice, and Bonita Springs editions, and the January 30 Naples edition, click here: Assassin’s Revenge

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An aspiring physician struggles to resolve professional and ethical issues that plague him

NOTE: Dr. Richard Berjian (1929-2019) With sadness the family of Richard A. Berjian announces his passing while visiting family in California on Monday, December 9, 2019 at the age of 90 vibrant years. 

Givers and Takers, by Dr. Richard A. Berjian. Wings ePress. 418 pages. Trade Paperback $18.95.

This highly engaging novel combines several popular genres and numerous centers of interest. It is part thriller, part romance, part investigation of corruption, part a look inside the medical establishment, part a family saga, and part a remembrance and attempt to assure proper acknowledgment of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Turkey. 

The focal character is Raffi Sarkissian, who was raised by his unmarried mother in New York City. She had left Turkey for a new start in life after her lover vanished, and she obtained a job at the United Nations. The present time is June 2011. Raffi is the chief surgical resident at Manhattan Medical Center. His working life is a series of medical emergencies that continue to test his skills, occupy his thoughts, and deprive him of sleep. Suddenly, two concurrent emergencies over which he has authority threaten the hospital’s resources and reputation. A young black boy dies without even being treated because, simply put, nothing can be done to save him. Meanwhile, Traci Doss, a gorgeous and wealthy addiction-prone socialite, benefits from Raffi’s attention.

This coincidence feeds the cause of black activist Reverend Coleman Sanders, who accuses Raffi and the hospital of racial prejudice in prioritizing patients. The accusation could end Raffi’s career, and a court victory could help the reverend launch a political campaign.

Traci’s combination of beauty, sexuality, neediness and irresponsibility is a dangerous trap for the soft-hearted, sympathetic young doctor. The author skillfully presents the temptations that she offers, as well as her unfortunate lack of self-worth.

Raffi’s mother, Ani, is an attractive, capable, and caring woman. An independent person with a strong streak of common sense, she is a good role model and sounding board for her son.

Dr. Richard A. Berjian

She is the middle-aged echo of Lorig Balian, a young Armenian schoolteacher with whom Raffi has been more and more involved, even as Traci pursues him.

Ani, and the man who fathered Raffi, are surviving descendants of those slaughtered in the Armenian Genocide. She has a large stake in the political war going on between the desires of the Turkish government, technically a U. S. ally, and those who would advance a proclamation in congress that recognized Turkey’s unadmitted responsibility. Officials are being bribed to block the success of that proclamation. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 18, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the December 19 Bonita Springs and Charlotte County editions, and the June 2 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Givers and Takers

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A clever, clear-eyed look at a community driven by wealth and all it can buy

 Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, and the Rise of America’s Xanado, by Les Standiford. Atlantic Monthly Press. 288 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

In the history of the United States, many communities have vied for the top rung on the ladder of exclusivity and attraction. Most cultural historians have declared Palm Beach the winner. Les Standiford’s delightful book tells us why, exploring the lives and contributions of the town’s creators and major residents.

Les Standiford

They are story-book names, people with a kind of royalty (and sometimes married to royalty). The island, sitting as it does been Lake Worth and the Atlantic Ocean, was not an easy place to reach until a major entrepreneur determined to make it so.

That man, Henry Flagler, saw the promise of what wasn’t much more than a swamp. Mr. Standiford gives Flagler the lion’s share of credit for being a visionary a man who put his money and mouth together to promote one notion of an ideal community for the super-rich.

The initial problem was getting there, and as a railroad entrepreneur, Flagler got it done.

It wasn’t easy getting far south from Jacksonville and St. Augustine, but his railway made it happen, later extending access to the bottom of the peninsular – Key West and its sibling keys. Of course, the big picture of how Flagler opened the state’s east coast includes Miami as well.

In leading up to and through Flagler’s genius, the author takes note of the displaced indigenous tribes and reminds us that Flagler was a former partner of John D. Rockefeller. He sketches the rivalry and intermingling of the Gilded Age front runners, knitting together those already mentioned with the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Carnegies, and the rest of the wealth constellation. 

These people, sometimes rivals and sometimes partners, needed southern climes to call their own. Flagler knew where and how to lead them.

As if practicing for his virtual founding of Palm Beach, Flagler built in St. Augustine the 450-room Hotel Ponce de Leon and a nearby home named Kirkside.

As the 1890s turned into the 20th century, Flagler more and more focused on being a developer, eventually acquiring two million acres of Florida land via a land grant act and other means. And he kept pushing south, building several estates and hotels. Standiford names and describes them all, and then the torrent of Flagler wannabes takes hold. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 11, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Venice editions. and the December 19 PalmBeach edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Palm Beach

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By land or by sea, commit to your big adventure before it’s too late

The Adventures of Three Old Geezers: The Bright Idea, by Richard Perron. Amazon CreateSpace. 129 pages. Trade paperback $15.00.

This heartwarming and entertaining book, a fictionalized memoir, is the first of two by a conflicted Naples, Florida resident. Both have the same main title. The extended title for the second book is “Up, Up, and Away.” What’s the conflict? On one page the author tells as what’s wrong with the wealthier classes who enjoy this resort town and what’s silly about those in the gated communities who foolishly think they have purchased security. Elsewhere, readers learn how much Mr. Perron truly enjoys Naples and all the delights that it has to offer. 

He presents himself as a man ready to work through his bucket list, which would mean taking some chances and breaking his routines. Curmudgeon? Maybe, but finally a perceptive and good-humored one. Richard (AKA Captain Richard) has the “bright idea” of “borrowing” a luxury sailboat from a gone-north snowbird and, with his buddies Frank and Bill, going on an adventure trip to the Caribbean. These aging gentlemen want to wake themselves up, and that’s exactly what they do. No more stagnation.

Richard has enough boat savvy, and enough self-confidence, to take the captain’s role, parceling out subordinate tasks to his buddies. He also is willing to risk getting caught by the yacht club’s security – but of course this doesn’t happen.

After gaining some understanding of the boat’s technology and figuring out what provisions they need, the three adventurers are on their way.

They enjoy the beauty of the night skies, and they face the danger of storms. But they find out, if they didn’t know it before, what Jean Paul Sartre pointed out: “Hell is other people.” Yes, they meet some of those hellish people.

First stop, a psychologically necessary one, is Key West. After all, this unconventional “party town” will help them loosen up their lifestyles. Richard notes the contrast between Key West and “the anal-retentive city of Naples.” The three adventurers visit Richard’s friend Harry, a Key West resident who shows them around. They also make a stop at nearby Stock Island where they purchase fuel and other provisions. The Key West section has wonderful, engaging scenes of relatively harmless, hedonistic pleasure. It’s a good starting point for what’s to come.

Richard Perron

Their next destination is the Turks and Caicos Islands, but they are stopped by a government vessel, either Coast Guard or DEA. Richard easily answers a few questions and receives the admonition to “have a good day and stay safe.” They have a great onboard party that night and take turns keeping watch. A near-brush with an oil tanker rattles them a bit.

Now cruising the Atlantic, they put up the sails (saving fuel) and land a huge tuna, which they turn into a feast. Then they head into the Caribbean Sea. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 28, 2019 Bonita Springs and Venice editions of Florida Weekly, as well as the December 4 Fort Myers edition and the December 5 Naples and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Three Old Geezers

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A passionate look at the world of cruising

The Joy of Cruising: Passionate Cruising, Fascinating Stories, by Paul C. Thornton. BookBaby. 363 pages.  Trade paperback $16.99.

Fort Myers resident Thornton has provided a most tasty smorgasbord of information, cruise world personalities, and stories in this high-energy, encyclopedic presentation. Seasoned cruisers will remember their experience and be fire up for more. Newcomers and cruise wannabes will gasp at the variety of cruise possibilities and use the author as their friendly, knowledgeable, and fully addicted guide to decision-making. 

This book is truly a labor of love, but it is also a collection of good sense, acute observations, colorful vignettes about colorful cruisers, cruise entrepreneurs, and widely followed cruise journalists. You can call your travel agent or visit a cruise line website to book a cruise vacation that meets your needs, but you need Thornton’s book to get a more rounded picture of cruise life in all its glory.

 

Many capsule biographies of dedicated cruisers, people who have traveled afloat over and over again for decades and still have news sailings awaiting, demonstrate how large and rewarding a part of one’s life (alone or with friends and family) the cruising dimension can become. These are “ordinary” people who have found a special, rewarding richness in shipboard travel and its access to other parts of the world that they would otherwise not get to know. On a ship, however, getting there is at least half the fun. Today’s ships more and more are destinations in themselves. One can have a fine time with no itinerary to follow.

Paul Thornton’s experiences make it clear that cruising can enlarge your life by enlarging your circle of friends and acquaintances. Cruises provide great opportunities to get extended families in touch without anyone needing to wait on the others. Trips bringing three or more generations together provide deeper bonding and numerous stories for future retelling.

Do you suspect that cruisers are an unacknowledged cult? What puts that gleam in their eyes?

The answer is: sub-cults!

The latter sections of the book clarify this concept. One of these has to do with the burgeoning careers, status, and utility of cruise bloggers. These journalists use the internet to spread cruise news, tips, and visions of the directions that the cruise industry is taking. Many have a large audience, devoted followers, and even ways of making some money for their journalistic enterprise.  . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 13, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 14  Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Joy of Cruising

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New crime thriller offers a dead senator, dirty election politics, and pending environmental disaster

Let Justice Descend, by Lisa Black. Kensington Books. 320 pages. Hardcover $26.00.

Cape Coral resident Lisa Black’s fifth Gardiner and Renner novel only leaves one waiting for the next one. You can’t have too much of a good thing. Do you like mystery plots to start off with a bang? Well, here goes. It’s election time in Ohio and U. S. Senator Diane Cragin has been busy campaigning for re-election, doing whatever else she can to influence the power brokers and the voters. With three days to go, she is about to enter her home when she steps on a device designed to electrocute her. And it works perfectly.

Senator Cragin has plenty of enemies, but could it be that the person running against her would have the most incentive to get her out of the way? Now her party has to choose a substitute candidate immediately. Hmm, a self-created opening for a prepared opportunist? 

Cragin’s chief of staff, the estimable Kelly Henessey, shows the proper degree of sadness at the loss of her mentor, but she seems even more worried about possibly being out of a job. Henessey is a great minor character, with all kinds of psychological quirks.

The investigating team includes not only Maggie Gardiner as crime scene investigator (CSI), but also someone from the medical examiner’s office and two police force detectives. The latter are partners Tom Riley and Jack Renner – whose penchant for vigilante justice is like a chain around Maggie’s neck. She knows about his propensities, and her own career is likely to blow up if anyone finds out what she is hiding from the department. Otherwise, Jack is a darn good detective.

Another motive for knocking off the senator is what’s discovered in her safe: a huge fortune in cash. Was Cragin planning a lavish retirement? How did she accumulate this money? Who knew about it?

Readers soon learn that the senator may have been instrumental, and was no doubt at least an influential force, in a highly competitive game underway in the city: repurposing out of use properties in downtown areas. Author Black gives us a close-up view of the wars that go on among speculative investors, government regulators, and political grifters. Exploring these forces at work leads Black to populate her scenes with well -drawn secondary characters.

These include Joe Green – a powerful, seasoned administrator and politician about to become the Democratic candidate running for the senate position and David Carlyle – a young, dedicated EPA inspector in charge of overseeing plans for a water intake facility (crib) on Lake Erie. In addition, there is investigative reporter Lori Russo, who is not only on top of the political shenanigans in Cleveland, but has also been sniffing for any information about the vigilante murders (Jack Renner’s crimes). She knows that police officer Rick Gardiner, Maggie’s ex, is working on that case. . . .

To read the full review, as well as an interview with the author (photo at left), click on Florida Weekly – Let Justice Descend  The review appears in the October 30, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly; the October 31 Bonita Springs, Palm Beach, and Venice editions; and the November 7 Naples and Charlotte County editions. The interview is on the following page in the Fort Myers edition, after the review.

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