Tag Archives: romance

Blood, bullets,brutality abound in latest from Jeffery Hess

Tushhog, by Jefferey Hess. Down & Out Books. 330 pages. Trade paperback $17.95.

Set in 1981 in Fort Myers, Florida and nearby Lehigh Acres, Mr. Hess’s second Scotland Ross novel abounds in blood, bullets, and brutality. Rival crime cadres vie for power, alliances are reshaped, and conditions are such that not taking sides can be an act of courage. Scotland, still mourning the death of his young son, is preoccupied with trying to achieve a life on the right side of the law, but all around him forces are at work to push him over to the wrong side.  

Though he has a sense of right and wrong, Scotland has a history of poor choices. Also, he has difficulty in checking his instinctive reactions to situations that come his way.

Does he have a girlfriend? Well, course. What would a tall, trim, muscular dude be without a beautiful girlfriend? Gorgeous Kyla, his sexy drummer girl, has an independent streak that makes Scotland nervous. He wants to take care of her – to keep her safe. But she has other ideas. Kyla is a fine character, and one can hope that she has a future in the next installment. Like all of us, she keeps secrets. Finding the balance of intimacy and independence is difficult for each of them, and Mr. Hess paints their ups and downs with convincing precision.

Hess

For an action novel, this one has a lot of talk. Ordinarily, I would find dialogue this detailed and prolonged to be out of balance with the other elements of story-telling. However, Jefferey Hess has a flair for orchestrating the various voices (characters) he has created, individualizing them and giving their interplay rhythm and force. The voices project social class, ethnicity, education, and personal style. It’s mostly a southern smorgasbord, with a bit of New York and Cuba thrown in depending upon which part of the novel’s criminal spectrum is being represented. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 19, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly as well as the September 20 Charlotte County edition and the  September 13  Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Tushhog

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A delightful novella about learning to color outside the lines

Her Fake Engagement, by Gigi Garrett. St. Martin’s Paperback. 157 pages. Kindle e-book $3.99.

It is a pleasure to meet a talented writer entering new territory. Naples resident Gwendolyn Heasley made a reputation for her young adult (YA) novels, including the remarkable Don’t Call Me Baby (2014) reviewed in these pages. Now she fathoms the more complicated depths of women who have extended their single lives for one reason or another. 

In Her Fake Engagement, Lotti Langerman is approaching thirty with questions about her unsatisfying love life. A successful New York real estate agent, she is attractive and yet not sure of herself. She has established a list of rules to help her navigate the stormy seas of romance. Lotti hopes to avoid mistakes; she’d rather be a bit boring that be caught off-guard, too easily impressed, or sending misunderstood signals. Her friends make fun of her rule-bound existence, but Lotti is determined to avoid reckless spontaneity and play it safe. This gambit isn’t quite working.

The events in this delightful, breezy book derive from two situations. One of these is Lotti’s career as an upscale real estate agent. It is her good fortune to meet well-to-do young men on whom she can work her considerable sales skills. Lotti is really good at what she does. She is well prepared, persuasive, good at reading her clients’ personalities, and especially good at minimizing their objections to perceived shortcomings about residences and neighborhoods. Readers receive an enjoyable lesson in salesmanship and in the New York real estate scene.

Gigi Garrett

At the same time, they look into the life of an independent woman trying to build a career in the big city. Her clients include two young men, Andrew and Tyler, whom she explores in her imagination as possible boyfriends — and maybe more. However, one of her rules is to avoid mixing business with pleasure. Lotti wonders what attracts her to Tyler, whose interests and traits would seem to be red flags warning her to back off. His work as a jewelry designer is especially intriguing, as is his appraisal of an engagement ring Lotti wears — or doesn’t wear — depending upon how she wants to present herself: available or not. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the November 8, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 9  Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Her Fake Engagement

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 Comedy and compassion fuel a fine new mystery series

Murder on Pea Pike, by Jean Harrington. Camel Press. 264 pages. Trade paperback $15.95.

Jean Harrington’s new “Listed and Lethal” mystery series shares some features with her earlier, five-part “Murders by Design” mystery series (recently reprinted by Harlequin). The main similarity is that the protagonist in each series is a professional woman who is teamed up with a law enforcement officer. That is, teamed up romantically and unable to avoid being involved in his investigations.  

While the earlier character, Deva Dunne, lived and worked the interior design trade in upscale Naples, Florida, Honey Ingersoll is a real estate agent in rural, small town Arkansas. Differences in education and social class also distinguish the two protagonists.

As she pursues a real estate deal on the outskirts of Eureka Falls, chances upon the corpse of an attractive, flashy young woman whom she had seen at Ridley’s Real Estate just recently. Though Tallulah Bixby is dressed to kill, someone got to her first.

Soon after, the owner of property in the same neighborhood as Honey’s corpse discovery is also found murdered. You guessed it – discovered by Honey. Hmm. She might be a suspect, except for the fact that she is the narrator. Speaking of discoveries, Honey finds a couple of uncut diamonds near the crime scene.

The novel’s two main centers of interest are the murders and Honey’s love life. With respect to the murders, there seems to be an orchestrated buying-up of properties in the area surrounding the murders, suggesting the need to keep the purchases secret. Or maybe it’s the rumors concerning the diamonds lying about. Murder is one way of shutting someone up. When readers find out that a major casino project is being planned, they may surmise that some in the town are against it.

Honey’s love life? Up until now, a series of poor choices. But what’s an attention-needy, somewhat insecure girl to do? These days, Honey is idealizing her attractive boss, Sam Ridley, who is among those showing an interest in those rundown properties. Can he possibly be on Honey’s suspect list? She has imagined getting a dazzling kiss from him for a long time. Honey has been an invaluable employee, but he has plenty of cause to worry about her recent strange behavior. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 23, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 24 Naples, Bonita Springs, Collier Count, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Murder on Pea Pike

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Local setting stars in tale of love, loss, forgiveness, and sharks

The Shark Club, by Ann Kidd Taylor. Viking. 288 pages. Hardcover $26.00.

Maeve Donnelly is the thirty-year-old protagonist of this elegantly written first novel. She is part of the shark club triumvirate, the other two being her long-time boyfriend Daniel and Daniel’s daughter, six-year-old Hazel. This informal mutual interest group was put together to help Hazel find stability in a young life that has been – and still is –filled with uncertainty. 

Maeve and Daniel have decided to see if their long-severed relationship, once seen as strong and vibrant, can be restored. Hazel is the unplanned child of a woman with whom Daniel had a quick affair. That misstep cost him Maeve’s trust. Hazel’s mother died. Now the question is whether these three individuals – the only members of the shark club – can form normative family bonds. Maeve and Hazel are bonding in beautifully, but there is still something keeping some distance between Daniel and Maeve.

The matriarch of the family is Maeve’s grandmother, Perri. She is the owner of a famous hotel, the Hotel of the Muses, on an island off the Southwest Florida coast. Nearby landmarks of Naples, Florida help orient readers who know the area. When she is not on a research trip, marine biologist Maeve lives there, as does her twin brother Robin. Daniel, chef at Hotel of the Muses, lives nearby.

Taylor photo by Vanessa A. Rogers

Relationships are complicated on many levels, and with them Maeve’s destiny. Because Robin and Daniel are friends, Robin knows too much about the state of things between Daniel and Maeve. And Robin is something of a wild one, a trouble-maker who lived in the shadows of the bright lights that her steadiness and success had shown on Maeve, who had long ago grown tired of cleaning up Robin’s messes.

Working as the hotel’s manager, Robin has literary ambitions, hates the regimentation of his job, and yearns to capitalize on his one true talent. However, the book he has managed to sell exploits what he knows about the Daniel-Maeve story. Maeve is hurt and bewildered by what she finds when Robin shares his manuscript with her.

On the research journey to Bimini from which she has only just returned, her working partnership with an attractive young man named Nicholas – her dive partner – has turned into something more serious than she had expected. Her imagined future is fluttering back and forth between these two men. . . .

To read the full review, as well as an interview with the author, as they appear in the June 21, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 22 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Shark Club

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An internet-inspired journey into romance, senior foibles, and American small town life

The Boy Is Back, by Meg Cabot. William Morris. 368 pages. Trade paperback $15.99.

This is the fourth book in Ms. Cabot’s “Boy” series, which began in 2002 with “The Boy Next Door.” It is a stand-alone novel. This best-selling author, best known for “The Princess Diaries,” has mastered a clever technique that will be half the fun of the book for most readers. boyisbackpb

The story is told through electronic media. The characters’ interactions and solo meditations are fashioned as emails, text messages, Facebook postings, chat room conversations, online news and reviews, e-journaling, and other such signs of the times. Graphic design distinguishes the mode; that is, what you see on the page mirrors what you’d see on your computer, tablet, or smart phone.

Ms. Cabot provides superb feats of characterization through manipulating how her characters reveal themselves and hide themes through these technological means of expression. Some will find this method engaging; others will be put off by it. I entered this world somewhat skeptical, but after 30-40 pages I found myself enjoying both the technique and what it revealed.

The story involves Reed Stewart’s return to his hometown of Bloomville, Indiana after ten years on the professional golf circuit. He had several years of great success, but his game has crumbled a bit of late. What brings him back to Bloomville is his aging parents’ peculiar and somewhat dangerous behavior as reported (via emails, of course) by Reed’s relatives and even in the town’s newspaper.

The old man tried to pay a restaurant bill with a stamp from his collection that was worth only a small fraction of the bill. Both parents have long been hoarders, overcrowding their house that has fallen in to disrepair. Judge Stewart has a huge collection of gavels and useless stacks of newspapers. His wife Connie is just as zany. They don’t seem able to take care of themselves.

Cabot

Cabot

Who ya gonna call? Becky Flowers. That is if Reed has has the courage to be back in the presence of the young woman he more or less abandoned after their senior prom mishap. Yes, conveniently enough for the Stewart family, Becky has established a successful senior-relocation business. It’s called Moving Up! Consulting LLC.

The plot moves along two rails: can anything save the dysfunctional Stewart family, and can Becky and Reed find their way back into each other’s arms and futures. The answer is “yes” in both cases, but the outcomes are in doubt through most of the novel. There are so many obstacles to be overcome.

Except for Reed, the Stewart children have been users who cannot thrive on their own. Older brother Marshall runs a marginal real estate business with one unpromising listing, and sister Trimble has been exploiting her father’s generosity in making her a partner in the law firm he set up after retiring from his judgeship. In fact, she’s done worse than that. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 4, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 5 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Boy Is Back

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Money laundering, revenge, and romance drive business-savvy novel

Entangled, by Mark Dossey. CreateSpace. 316 pages. Trade paperback $14.99. Kindle Ebook $3.99.

This new title continues the saga of Ally Kendall that debuted in “XC97” (2014). The two titles now comprise the Ally Kendall Series. Set in the corporate world, these titles provide special interest to those readers interested in business issues. In addition, Entangled gives new life to a murder mystery once thought resolved. entangledcover-ebook-2

In the earlier novel, Prestige Pharmaceuticals, headquartered in Zurich, took over the much smaller Newark-based Integra, allowing the Integra-developed cancer drug XC97 to gain wide distribution quickly. A romance between Ally and Stephan Egbert, sole owner of Prestige Pharma, became red hot. Ally is the chief PR officer for the both companies, though originally an Integra executive.

A few years later, what has been going smoothly begins to fall apart on both business and personal levels. Ally questions the depth of her love for Stephan, whose hermitlike commitment to his company signals his lifestyle inflexibility. Sex is great, but Ally wonders if that’s all there is. At thirty-two, she’s contemplating a marriage with children – but this seems unlikely with Stephan. And she’d rather be living full-time in the U. S., not a change that seems possible for Stephan. Planning to cool the relationship, she is frank about this with Stephan, who is crushed by her news.

Stephan is also crushed by an explosion that brings down his huge estate, leaving him seriously injured and suddenly homeless. Shortly before, the dazzling headquarters of Prestige had been demolished by what looked like a terrorist attack.

Dossey

Dossey

One mystery has to do with the cause of the attacks and the person or persons behind them. There is no doubt that they are linked. However, at first it’s more of a mystery for the characters; readers witness the commission of the monstrous deeds.

They seem to be acts of revenge committed by someone alert to the shady history of Prestige, once run by Stephan’s father. The elder Egbert kept its balance sheet impressive by running a massive money laundering operation through it. Now the company is impoverished and disgraced – another blow to Stephan, who was entirely innocent of his father’s criminal behavior.

The game is afoot to settle old scores, and much of the plotting has to do with following the schemes and actions of relatively minor characters. The case of who murdered the Integra founder is reopened, and the events in Newark and Zurich become woven together. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 27, 2016 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 28 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Entangled

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“RECKONING AND RUIN,” BY TINA WHITTLE

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An imaginative paranormal romp with a delightful vampire twist

May Your Heart Be Light: A Christmas Faerie Tale, by Sandy Lender. ArcheBooks Publishing. 225 pages. Paperback $7.95. Kindle e-book $5.95.

Suppose a 200 year old vampire needs to raise some funds. Might he turn his Colorado mansion, his Rose Chateau, into a hotel and go into business? Caleb Odan does just that, assisted by his driver, Roger, and his bartender, Niles. They create an extended vacation package that brings a couple of dozen people to enjoy about four weeks of Christmas season leisure. Most are looking for a quiet, relaxing time – even the four young women who are graduate school classmates finishing up business degrees.

Sandy Lender

Sandy Lender

Well, they are looking for fun, too. But not the excitement that comes from a nearby jailbreak with the prisoner on the loose.

Other vacationers include a young couple with two rambunctious young boys, an elderly couple, and an odd fellow named Graham Smith.

Caleb is an awkward host, just learning the ropes about interacting with his guests. He hasn’t had much social practice in the last 100 years or so. This 200 year old vampire, who has had to live an isolated life for the last century, just can’t keep up with the changing times. Roger, who has been in his service for twenty years, is his bridge to contemporary styles, values, and both material and popular culture. Caleb is a good student, but there’s just too much ground to cover.

At once macabre and humorous, “May Your Heart Be Light” gains some of its light touch from the banter between Roger and Caleb as Roger “translates” Caleb’s new experiences. To Caleb, a handsome fellow who dresses the brooding baron part, it’s the 21st century American humans who are the oddballs. But he needs to fit in with them as well as he can. It’s business.

MYHBLCover

There’s something extra-special about one of these young women. Jenna DeVision is gorgeous, modest, and gets lost easily in Caleb’s cavernous home. She is especially attracted to Caleb’s library, a place jammed with the lore of the non-dead and swirling with threatening spirits.

Caleb is infatuated with her, but hesitant to hurt her. He keeps his vampirish desires under wraps as much as he can, but he does use his special powers to enter Jenna’s mind and plant visions that attract and confuse her. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 10, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 11 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – May Your Heart Be Light

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Hospice movement finds its champion in Shawn McKelvie

Bed 39, by Shawn Maureen McKelvie. CreateSpace. 220 pages. Trade paperback $15.00. Available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Mix features of paranormal fiction with medical history and you get “Bed 39,” where the spirits of the deceased hang out and the story of the hospice movement is revealed. It’s a strange combination, perhaps “unique” is a better descriptor. Somehow it works. At once romantic, upbeat, and weird, Ms. McKelvie’s novel has spiritual grace and a gritty cast of mostly believable characters.

McKelvie

McKelvie

The bed itself, housed when we first enter the author’s world in a decaying St. Louis hospital, is a kind of way-station for the terminally ill. It’s a place with special powers.

Our main narrating character is Tomas Kaminski, a young man whose boyhood in St. Louis (Dogtown neighborhood) is quickly sketched before we find out about the terminal cancer that brings him, as a young man, to Bed 39. He is its first inhabitant. It is a special bed donated by the hospice campaigner Dr. Cicely Saunders, a courageous British woman about whom readers learn much more.

Bed 39 has special properties. It’s a place where spirits hover and may be heard and seen by those recent Bed 39 residents transitioning to the hereafter. Tomas has such a visitor, the spirit of a man named David Tasma who tells him about Cicely Saunders, the woman whose outrage about the suffering and mistreatment of terminal patients led her to do something about it. The first thing she does is obtain the education and credentials she needs to energize the hospice movement.

While there is a good deal of solemnity and sadness in the narrative, there is also much joy and instances of deep, unconditional love.

The stories of those who have passed through the Bed 39 experience are often heart-warming stories of strong family bonds. Tomas’s Polish-Irish family history is delightfully presented, as is his late near-romance with a woman named Mia who becomes a nurse at the hospital. Their corporeal relationship is cut short by Tomas’ death, but their ethereal, eternal togetherness is assured.

Bed39Cover

Weaving in and out of those tales is information about the development of the compassionate care concept and the hospice movement. Readers learn about the special people who were founders or major promotors of this movement. Ms. McKelvie’s authorial mission, in part, is to advocate support for further enhancement of hospice care, even to the point of creating hospices for pets. The author understands that caring for the terminally ill is a true specialty that calls for well-trained medical professionals who can help patients and their families cope with death’s inevitability and ease the journey.

My favorite character in the book is Nurse Libby, whose career of three decades gets detailed attention. Though there are some rough edges in her manner, she is still an exemplary figure whose dedication knows no bounds. She is a problem solver, an astute manager of her subordinates, and a woman whose sometimes brusque manner reveals a heart of gold. She leads by example. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 24, 2015 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – McKelvie 1  and here: Florida Weekly – McKelvie 2

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Undercover vigilantes and undercover lovers yield killer thriller romance

Exit Strategy, by Lena Diaz. Avon Books. 384 pages. Mass market paperback $5.99.

The premise of this romantic thriller is something I’ve come across before. After the U. S. government’s intelligence agencies have pushed up against the legal limits of what that can do, secret and unofficial organizations emerge to do the most heinous dirty work necessary to keep our enemies (internal and external) in check.  ExitStrategymmc

EXIT Inc. has the cover name Extreme International Tours Incorporated. Indeed, the tour company actually functions like others in the high-risk adventure tour business. Under the cover, however, it is a paramilitary force with few restraints and shaky accountability. Worse yet, many of its leaders and highly trained enforcers are in it for their own personal agendas. It is a rogue group that has, paradoxically, used the term “rogue” for those among them who are questioning assignments and methods that seem unjustifiable.

One such questioner is Mason Hunt. Charged with eliminating a target named Sabrina Hightower, supposedly a threat to national security, Mason finds that this woman is entirely innocent and herself a victim. Could Mason’s assignment be a huge mistake, or is EXIT a corrupt organization? Soon enough, given Mason’s enormous attraction to this spunky, attractive young woman, as well as his moral sense of the situation, he becomes her protector.

Lena Diaz

Lena Diaz

The novel develops along these two related lines. Mason and a few others fight to expose and bring down the corrupt EXIT agents. This story line involves detailed plans, combat prowess, and courage. The companion story is the unsteady growth of a loving, trusting, and passionate relationship between Mason and Sabrina.

The stories are bound together, of course, and their combined action moves across the rugged North Carolina landscape near Ashville. Both story lines proceed unsteadily, with forward progress and setbacks in suspenseful tension.

Sabrina, a diminutive, curvy powerhouse, is a force to be reckoned with on many levels. She is out to discover how to bring EXIT to justice for the faulty zip-line that caused her parents’ deaths. Trying to reconnect with her parents, Sabina had purchased their anniversary trip package. Now, as she makes waves, Sabina has become a target of EXIT enforcers. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 8, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly; the July 9 Bonita Springs and Palm Beach/West Palm Beach editions, and the July 16 Naples and Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Exit Strategy

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