Tag Archives: Florida settings

Florida: at once a real place and a state of mind

“Florida,” by Lauren Groff. Riverhead Books. 288 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

The eleven short stories in this daring, luminous book reveal, in various and complex ways, the truth of the poetic adage in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” We carry our minds with us, wherever we reside. We can’t get away from who we are. Forget about blaming your troubles on your environment.

Lauren Groff photo by Kristin Kozelsky

The narrators in most of these stories, especially the recurring one with two small sons and only the pronoun “she” for a name, suffer from being too self-aware. They have expectations of themselves that sometimes seem imprisoning. They have intellectual and creative tools that are burdensome. They can wear their friends out by being unintentionally demanding.

They are lonely, and they are worthy.

If you are a person who often feeling threatened, imagine how much additional threat you would feel living in a place brimming with snakes and alligators, real and metaphorical sinkholes, and violent storms. A place like Florida.

Through the book, Ms. Groff builds conundrums of inner and outer weather, interweaving landscapes with emotional states. 

Ms. Groff understands North Florida communities like a native. She is alert to neighborhood changes – sometimes gentrification, sometimes something worse. The unnamed judgmental character who narrates the first story, “Ghosts and Empires,” is an evening walker who enjoys scrutinizing those she meets or merely sees or expects to see along the way. She measures her distance from those she knows and those who remain strangers, and she measures how quickly time is passing her by.

In another story, the author focuses on a young man, the son of a herpetologist, who has “learned how to keep a calm heart when touching fanged things.” Also, how to survive the distance between his mother’s and his father’s polar sensibilities.

Ms. Groff can pinpoint the loneliness and sense of isolation that breeds within members of the same families. And she is alert—makes readers alert – to such things as “how the screens at night pulsed with the tender bellies of lizards.” She knows how houses express themselves. Her imagery is consistently fresh, vivid, and unexpected. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 25, 2019 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach editions of Florida Weekly, and the May 1 Fort Myers and May 2 Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Florida 

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Top dog handler and intrepid FBI profiler work to thwart a human trafficking scheme

Lost Creed, by Alex Kava, Prairie Wind Publishing. 346 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

This latest edition (Book 4) in the Ryder Creed series builds splendidly upon the development of Ryder and his meticulously described K9 business, a fifty-acre training operation in the Florida Panhandle. Readers have witnessed a series of plot lines having to do with the breadth of search, rescue, and other tasks that trainers paired with appropriately trained dogs can do. Ryder once again works with FBI agent Maggie O’Dell (the title character in Ms. Kava’s earlier series), this time to bring down a human trafficking operation in Nebraska. 

Maggie is heading up the operation, bringing together local law enforcement professionals from various jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, back in Florida, Ryder’s assistant and trainee, Jason, is developing his skills and aiming at solo responsibility with his dog, Scout. A session under Ryder’s tutelage is interrupted by the shock of a confrontation with a black bear.

Before this trouble is put to rest, Ryder’s business partner, Hannah calls to tell him that there is some possible news about Ryder’s vanished sister, Brodie. Maggie’s case up in Nebraska has injected some tenuous hope into Ryder’s life – hope that might overwhelm him.

Alex Kava

Maggie, noted for her profiling skills, has been playing games with a madman, Elijah Dunn, who has, or has had, some place in a horrifying trafficking scheme. They’ve been making deals with one another, each trying to get the upper hand. Elijah wants to earn his freedom or lesser benefits by revealing information that Maggie needs.

He claims to know where the bodies of the victims are buried and where those innocents still alive might be enslaved.

Another story thread takes us into the world of an abused young woman – abused from childhood and still confined and tortured. She seems a victim of the human trafficking ring. Ms. Kava paints Charlotte’s predicament, both physical and psychological, with great insight and skill. The cruelty of her exploiters is unfathomable, unless we consider them unhinged.

The investigation underscores the fact that big money is at stake in this criminal enterprise. It seems people will do anything to keep the money flowing, which includes murdering the witnesses. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 9, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 10 Naples, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Lost Creed

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A highly original time-shifting thriller rendered in gorgeous prose

The Shimmer, by Carsten Stroud. Mira Books. 304 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Here is a daring, magnetic, and brilliantly constructed novel that takes readers places they’ve never been. Well, you may have traveled to Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and New Orleans – but you will not have encountered the kind of time-travel orchestration of action that Mr. Stroud has managed to portray with such power and authoritative detail. “Authoritative” is the right word. These places and what happens in them – and then unhappens – are so compellingly imagined that you will believe what can’t be true.  

The narrative begins with a high-speed chase episode that is unforgettable – and it gains momentum from there.

In the present, Florida Highway Patrol’s Sergeant Jack Redding pursues a serial killer, a kind of time traveling femme fatale, who back in 1957 was sought by his grandfather, Clete Redding, of the Jacksonville police. The cycles of pursuit and escape follow this evil spirit known as Selena, Diana, and by several other names as well. Her lifetime is extended by time shifts that involve riding a time-bending force called The Shimmer. To catch her, one must follow her. Time markers in the Selena story go back to 1914.

Carsten Stroud photo credit Linda Mair

One aspect of the plot premise is the possibility that the damage Selena has done can be undone by adjustments in – or to – time. However, these adjustments – if made by entering through the wrong temporal portal – can have disastrous unintended consequences. Characters travel into the past to shape (reshape?) the future, but the outcomes of their efforts, even if in pursuit of justice, are unpredictable.

Mr. Stroud builds a fascinating logic of cause and effect that keeps readers hooked while it keeps them guessing. As the characters slide (or shimmer) from the world we share to the world adjusted by time travel, our belief in them is carried over to our belief in what they experience and hold true.

Can a tragedy that occurs on the Matanzas Inlet bridge along Florida’s route A1A be wiped away by a time shift back to before the bride was built? If so, what other time-bound occurrences will be altered? . . .

To enjoy the full review, as it appears in the July 11, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Shimmer

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