Tag Archives: Florida Authors

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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Balancing the thrill of adventure with level-headed caution

Ten Elephants Ten Memories, by Ellen Gordon. Mascot Books. 304 pages. Hardcover $19.95.

This is one of those books that takes the reader – even the reviewer – by surprise. At first glance, it seems too quirky to gain an audience, what with its elephant toys and statuary, the saga of the iconoclastic great aunt, and the heroine’s adventures in Australia. However, it has a addictive charm and generates a highly pleasurable experience, despite the hardships of its protagonist.

Ellen Gordon

We meet small town Ohio girl Cate Kingston when she is quite young, spending highly pleasurable time in the company of her eccentric Aunt B, whose spacious and dazzling nearby home is named Chartres. Cate grows up, in part, on her great aunt’s fabulous stories, many of them ending with an experience that is memorialized by a gift Aunt B has received – a fabricated elephant that takes its place in a lifelong collection. There is a great deal of variety in the collection, as there is in the memories that Aunt B recalls.

Cate’s story gains momentum as she grows into young womanhood. Her senior year in high school and her college years are marvelously rendered, especially Cate’s problems making friends and her very close relationship with her father, a veterinarian who also has a small farm. Cate’s identity is connected to the father and daughter riding horses together whenever they have the time. It’s a powerful bonding experience for her that ends with a powerful loss. Cate is also close to her mother, but in a very different way.

Cate’s own story takes the shape of a regularly disappointed search for the perfect mate, the disappointments perhaps predicated by her idealization of her father. One fellow seems too much like a big brother; another is too possessive. Other relationships seem to lose their passion and sense of fulfillment. Cate questions herself about these seemingly doomed relationships, but perhaps they serve to make her the complex, accomplished, and productive woman she becomes over time.

The author sets Cate into memorable historical events, notably the impact of the Vietnam War on Cate’s generation of college students and the related crisis of the Kent State shootings.

Ms. Gordon’s novel moves into a higher gear once Cate determines to shake up her frustrating life path by moving to Australia. Having credentials as a physical education teacher, she participates in a program that challenges and rewards her. However, as much as she loves many features of her new physical and cultural environment, many of her familiar habits reassert themselves. As the saying goes, “the mind is its own place,” and a person can’t get away from what’s inside of her simply by relocating. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 28, 2019 Naples,  Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, and also in the April 3 Fort Myers and  the April 4 Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Ten Elephants Ten Memories

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A delightfully complex Mediterranean adventure rooted in the past.

The Malta Escape, by Chris Kuzneski. Self-published. 390 pages. Hardback $27.99, Trade paperback $14.99.

It’s hard to understand why Mr. Kuzneski, whose earlier titles rang the cash register of a major trade publisher (the Berkley imprint of Penguin), is now his own publisher. One thing is sure: he’s not alone. Many best-selling authors have in one way or another been separated from high-profile publishers while continuing to satisfy readers. The Malta Escape should make his old fans happy and attract new readers as well. 

This is book 9 in his Payne and Jones series, the continuing tale of too brilliant buddies from different backgrounds with contrasting skill sets and a unique relationship. Jonathan Payne, a successful high-tech entrepreneur, is shifting gears, he is retiring from Payne Industries, the company built by his grandfather that has made him (and will keep him) rich.

As Jon thinks about the future, he also thinks back to his days in an elite special operations military unit, MANIAC. His buddy David Jones, who was second in command, has worked for Jon, but in most essential ways they are equals. They kid a lot about how the Caucasian Payne and the Afro-American Jones compete with and complement one another, each one always trying to outdo the other.

Now they join up for the latest in a series of globe-hopping adventures. Having come to Malta for a vacation, they are soon engaged in a quest to uncover – if it really exists – an unmatchable hoard of antique treasure hidden somewhere in or under the island nation.

Chris Kuzneski

At the outset, the narrative takes us to Estonia where a Russian named Bobrinksy working on his somewhat shady business in various kinds of rarities while hoping for a new and better life in the magic capital city of Tallinn. He is preyed upon by Ivan Volkov, to whom he owes money. Eventually, Volkov’s hunger for controlling others and amassing wealth will lead to a rivalry with Payne and Jones. Though our heroes would wish to simply recover the Malta treasure trove and make it a public resource, diabolical Volkov wants to control it for his own purposes.

The search requires extensive historical research, extremely detailed and complicated. Our team needs allies, and they find them. Among the team members are Marissa, a beautiful young woman who is an expert on Maltese history, and her idiosyncratic mentor. Readers will enjoy, as well, the eccentric Finn named Jarkko who has a good nose for clues and a magnificent yacht that plays an important part in the story.

So, of course, readers will need to spend some time in Finland. The story also has scenes in Switzerland, France, and Russia. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 21, 2019 Naples Florida Weekly, as well that dates Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Palm Beach, and Venice  editions and March 27 Fort Myers edition, click  Florida Weekly – The Malta Escape

 

 

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Follow the beat of off-beat short stories that surprise

Melanie to the Rescue and Other Unlikely Tales, by Carol June Stover. Book-broker Publishers of Florida. 121 pages. Kindle ebook $4.99.

Carol June Stover shows a miniaturist’s fine touch in this collection of intriguing, gem-like stories. The world of each story is tightly circumscribed, and most are focused on a single character. The various settings are handled with economy: just enough detail to conjure a neighborhood and a prevailing atmosphere. Additional characters have walk-on parts, but they often signal change – or the hope for change – in the central character’s life.

In the title story, readers discover that the author of the popular Melanie Marche novels, Lorraine Woodruff, is not at all like the savvy, confident, and gorgeous fashion model she has invented. Indeed, Lorraine aspires to be like Melanie, but can’t quite figure how to have the kind of success that her creation enjoys. Finally, Lorraine decides to let Melanie, who is something of a tease, be her guide. She takes tentative steps toward creating a new, edgier Lorraine.

In another tale, Dr. Shepard, a highly acclaimed physician nearing retirement, is hoping that his wife will not insist on holding the big retirement party she has been planning. A follow-up appointment from his most recent, perhaps final, patient reminds the doctor of her near-catastrophe because of a failure with the resuscitator pump. He learns that the patient had an out-of-body or near-death experience. Shepard is silently dismissive of his patient’s story. What happens on his way to meet his wife at an expensive hotel restaurant will leave readers’ heads spinning.

Stover

Many of the stories explore relationships – or the lack thereof. Several lead characters suffer from loneliness; others from a sense of unworthiness. When companionship is sought, it may or may not be achieved. One narrating character has a lazy sister. The women’s mother is always making excuses for Wanda’s seeming reluctance to help out or to interact in any normal way. When the roots of Wanda’s self-isolation and selfishness are revealed, older sister Mary Ann is in for a big surprise. . ..

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 27, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 28 edition of the Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Melanie to the Rescue

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“True Crime” writer makes exposing miscarriages of justice his mission

Justice on Fire: The Kansas City Firefighters Case and the Railroading of the Marlborough Five,”by J. Patrick O’Connor. University Press of Kansas. 352 pages. Hardcover $34.95.

Long-time Naples resident Pat O’Connor presents “true crime” addicts with a treasure trove of juicy information in this case study of the judicial system operating at its worst. What’s criminal in this story is not those who have been convicted and sentenced. Rather, what’s criminal is the systemic failure itself and those whose indifference, ineptitude, or careerist blinders corrupted the process and the outcome. 

Thirty years ago, on a construction project near Kansas City Missouri’s once promising, but then and now impoverished Marlborough neighborhood, disaster struck. A guard on the construction site reported that a pick-up truck was on fire. Then came the news of fierce explosions and more fire. When the bodies were counted, six firefighters were found dead and the charge of arson was in the smoke-filled air.

Mr. O’Connor pays a great deal of attention to the Marlborough neighborhood and the five residents who were indicted and convicted of the crime. The bad reputation of the neighborhood, in the author’s view provides a prejudicial force from the beginning of the investigation, a force that never ceases to be part of the cause and effect links to the miscarriage of justice.

O'Connor

O’Connor

The author’s sketches of those soon known at the Marlborough Five reveal backgrounds that would also prejudice juries or judges. Arrest records, often for minor crimes, are not evidence – but they can affect attitudes toward the defendants. Somehow, this quintet of characters found trouble of various kinds, and sometimes arrests for other crimes (outside of the arson charge) were used as leverage by the prosecutors.

How does it happen that that “by the time the indictments came down . . . only Richard was not in prison on other chargers?”

That’s how the testimony of jailhouse snitches comes into play, an overused weapon in a rush to judgement that ironically took way too much time. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the the February 14, 2019 Naples, Bonita Springs, and  Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Justice on Fire

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Enchanting historical mystery features intrigues of the Byron-Shelley group

Claire’s Last Secret, by Marty Ambrose. Severn House. 192 pages. Hardcover $28.99.

Set primarily in Florence and Geneva, this highly atmospheric historical novel honors a period of European high culture with a portrait gallery of a tightly knit group. One is Mary Shelley, formerly Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who had recently eloped with the poet. She is the author of the forever popular novel “Frankenstein” and the stepsister of Claire Clairmont. At the time the novel opens, 1816, they are both attractive, precocious women in their later teens.  

The Shelley Circle is also the Byron Circle, and Claire is carrying Lord Byron’s child, though it takes a while for her to let him know. The group is summering together in Geneva. Claire is something of a hanger-on, as she is the most financially needy.

In Claire’s mind, Polidori, Byron’s personal physician and traveling companion, seems to be antagonistic to her desire to rekindle Byron’s passion for her. She would settle for the passion, since marriage is unlikely, as long as their love-child is somehow supported.

When not practitioners, the friends are devotees of the arts. Claire’s narrative, from the perspective of 1873, offers memories of the impressive architecture of homes and public spaces that the group, or a subset thereof, visited. The actual quarters they occupied were usually modest.

Ambrose

The greatest art that they shared amongst themselves was the art of conversation, with the upbeat Percy Shelley leading the way, and the frequently morose Byron contributing dramatic verbal gestures. His life is clouded by his self-created tarnished reputation.

There is a strong attraction, in all four of these friends, for rebellion against convention social behavior. Claire expresses the wish to follow her heart unencumbered by what others will think. She and Mary are aware of the stricter judgement that women receive for what may be considered immoral behavior.

One of Professor Ambrose’s gifts is capturing the individuality of these sometimes frivolous, sometimes insightful, and always enchanting voices. They speak a brand of English that seems authentic to the time, the personalities, and the social milieu. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the January 30, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 31 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Venice, and  Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Claire’s Last Secret

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