Tag Archives: Florida

Cats on the Cover

Fool’s Moon: A Tarot Cats Mystery by Diane A.S. Stuckart (Midnight Ink, 323 pages, $15.99)

fool's moon

Attention cat mystery lovers – we’ve been gifted with a new series!  Brother and sister cats are the featured characters in this mystical, tarot card-centered tale.  Brandon Bobtail and Ophelia are one-year-old kitties that have lived a pampered life in Palm Beach, Florida up until they are dropped by the side of the road in a less desirable neighborhood.  Moreover, they are trapped inside of a taped up box.  (Sigh.)

This jarring experience begins their quest to find food, shelter and the means to return home.  The perilous events of the following days provide the young cats with ample opportunities to learn lessons in patience and avoid making snap judgments.

Ruby Sparks, a tarot card reader who has been tasked with minding her half-sister’s New Age shop, is kind hearted as well an animal lover.  She takes in the abandoned kitties and discovers that they possess some very useful powers.  The shop cat, Brandon Bobtail, Ophelia and a street-savvy pit bull join forces to thwart evil and enrich Ruby’s life.

Ms. Stuckart wisely sets up a smooth segue to the next adventures in the Tarot Cats Mysteries.  She is also the author of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series, which this reviewer intends to peruse soon.

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The book is well recommended for cat lovers and mystery fans, especially those who love the Joe Gray books written by Shirley Rousseau Murphy.  Wonderful tales such as these can be found on both the Florida and California coasts.

Bloodstains with Bronte: A Crime with the Classics Mystery by Katherine Bolger Hyde (Minotaur Books, 278 pages, $24.99)

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This second in a series of mysteries that draw upon Emily Cavanaugh’s knowledge of classic literature is once again set on the Oregon coast.  In the first book, Arsenic with Austen, Emily has inherited an estate called Windy Corner from her great aunt.  The estate includes a Victorian mansion and the rest of her inheritance is property in the  nearby town of Stony Beach.

This time around Cavanaugh is busy with the conversion of her mansion into a writer’s retreat.  A widowed professor, she has no family of her own.  Katie Parker and her baby girl Lizzie have become Emily’s “little family.”  Katie works as Emily’s housekeeper.  All is not sweetness and bliss for them.  A murder in Stony Beach puts a wrench in most everyone’s relationships.  Sheriff Luke Richards wants his rekindled romance with Emily to become permanent but the murder makes them wary of each other.

Author Katherine Bolger Hyde weaves a fascinating tale of small town intrigue.  Each chapter of Bloodstains with Bronte is prefaced with a quote from either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.   These quotes provide clues for Emily to use in solving the murder.  Fans of Charlotte Bronte will enjoy the parallels.  Readers not familiar with Ms. Bronte’s works may be enticed to step back in time to discover her thrilling tales.

We can look forward to the next installment based on a novel by an author whose name begins with C.

Well recommended to fans of cozy novels set in small towns, basically English-style novels set in the USA.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by a publicist (Fools’ Moon; released on November 8, 2018) and the publisher (Bloodstains with Bronte; first released as a hardcover book in December of 2017 and soon to be released in trade paper form).

 

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All Summer Long – and longer

Beach Books – Good All Year Around

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Cocoa Beach: A Novel by Beatriz Williams (William Morrow, $27.99, 384 pages)

Ms. Williams is the author of six previous novels.  If they are anywhere as well-crafted as Cocoa Beach, readers may have an entire vacation’s worth of adventures from this author alone.  The U.S. Prohibition Era brings the Florida coastal town of Cocoa Beach more than just exciting parties and illicit drinking.

The central character, Virginia Firzwilliam, has endured years of abandonment by her secretive husband only to be called to Florida after his death in a house fire.  Virginia learns the hard way that she and her little daughter are at the center of a deadly deception.

Highly recommended.

all summer long cover

All Summer Long: A Novel by Dorothea Benton Frank (William Morrow, $15.99, 374 pages)

Get ready for a study in contrasts.  A popular and successful interior designer finds herself held to the promise she made 14 years prior when she married a college professor.  Nick, the professor, has has long-awaited retirement dream fulfilled – a move back to Charlestown, South Carolina.  Olivia, who is a fourth-generation New Yorker, has quite a task ahead.  She must adapt to the cultural differences of her new home and keep her design business alive.

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Ms. Benton Frank has a beguiling way with words, especially when she’s describing her beloved Low Country.  Readers who enjoy this novel will be happy to know that there are 16 published works by this prolific author.

Well recommended.

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The Beach at Painter’s Cove: A Novel by Shelley Noble (William Morrow, $15.99, 432 pages)

Way up north in Connecticut, family estrangement is the theme of this novel set at the run-down mansion known as Muses by the Sea.  The interplay among four generations of a most dysfunctional family can be confusing as there are proper names, nicknames and strange last names.  The original family name is Whitaker.  Long ago, Wesley and his wife Leonore hosted an artist’s colony on the property of their rambling home situated on Painter’s Cove.

The drama of four generations coming together to decide the fate of the house and property is at best hard to follow.  Author Noble uses breathless dialogue and much scurrying about to tell her tale of jealousy and misunderstanding.  A family tree at the front of the book would have been a useful addition.

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Despite the drawbacks, readers will connect with the message of enduring love that unites the family.

Recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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Mystery Train Wreck

time-of-departure

Time of Departure: A Novel by Douglas Schofield (Minotaur Books, $16.99, 323 pages)

This debut novel began as an excellent criminal investigation story. It’s about a Florida state prosecutor, Clair Talbot, who is promoted to head the Felony Division Unit. But just as soon as she starts her new job a retired police investigator drops a cold case on her lap. Several women were killed decades earlier and he wants her to solve the crime.

On the front cover blurb, author James Renner (True Crime Addict) calls this, “A hard-boiled detective story with a dash of fantasy… a clever read. Daring, even.” Unfortunately, it’s more than a dash of fantasy. A huge load of fantasy and science fiction is unceremoniously dumped on the reader about 75% of the way through the tale. Not to reveal any spoilers, but it involves time travel. Oh, yes.

The story moves from 2011 back to 1978. Why? I have no idea but it turns an “A”-level read into something that might have been written by a middle school student. In fact, the excellent writing style of Schofield turns into nearly unintelligible mush once he detours onto the time travel lane:

“Maybe the whole point of my life is to change the future! But if that’s true, and if we decide today to change history, logic says I will no longer exist. At least I will no longer exist here and now with you. Maybe another version of me will be born next year and live a life entirely different from the one I remember. Maybe I’ll disappear into some parallel existence. I don’t know. But your memories of me will surely disappear. How could they not! You’d have no reason to have them.”

Yes, it’s that painful to read. Schofield’s strange venture into Back to the Future territory – and, naturally, our protagonist meets her mother back in the past, made me wish I could disappear into a parallel existence. I have no concept of why this author threw his story away, except that there’s a train wreck that sets off the time travel; which results in an otherwise promising work devolving into a train wreck.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

The trade paperback version of Time of Departure was released on November 1, 2016.

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Ebony and Ivory

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He’s taught in his school/From the start by the rule/That the laws are with him/To protect his white skin… Bob Dylan, “Only a Pawn in Their Game”

Under One Roof: The Yankees, the Cardinals, and a Doctor’s Battle to Integrate Spring Training by Adam Henig (Wise Ink, $9.95, 146 pages)

Much has been written and passed on about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in major league baseball and the history of the Negro Leagues. However, that single act was only the beginning of a long struggle for equality in major league baseball and society. Those that followed suffered significant abuse and hardship all to often. Hank Aaron was the target of vile, despicable hatred when he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. That, too, has been chronicled in great detail. The travails of African American baseball players during spring training received far less scrutiny, as has their journey through minor league cities in the south during the 50s, 60s, and beyond.

Adam Henig shines a light on the subject in Under One Roof. It is more of a flashlight than a spotlight, as had he chosen he could have expanded his tale to include a more substantial account of the travails of these athletes and the social mores of the time. As it stands, he confined his story to the efforts of civil rights activist, Dr. Ralph Wimbish and his work to integrate the community of St. Petersburg, Florida.

In the early 60s, St. Petersburg was the spring training home of both the Cardinals and the Yankees. Pitcher Bob Gibson of the Cardinals and catcher Elston Howard of the Yankees were among the prominent black players on those teams. At that time they and their other black teammates were not allowed to stay at the same hotel as their white counterparts. Instead, separate housing arrangements were made in segregated parts of town. Special transportation and other provisions were secured to accommodate these players.

Henig seems to be interested in telling a story more than creating an historical record which, in the end, likely serves the same purpose. Although it is a good read, and while there is research, interviews, and other supporting documentation, this is a very important topic and – had he chosen to do so, he could have gone into greater depth. The actual text runs 100 pages and the book is accessible to younger readers, which is a good thing, and would make excellent reading for middle school students and/or other classes.

My former high school coach, Ron Herr, was a phenomenal pitcher who came within a sliver of making the big leagues. He later briefly served as a coach with the Atlanta Braves. He often told us stories of the inhuman treatment that Rico Carty, Aaron, and other were subject to – buses pulling over when players needed to use a restroom and the inevitable conflict to follow, as well as predictable stories involving restaurants, housing, and fan behavior.

Gladly, my children live in (and to their credit espouse) a more tolerant and accepting society than previous generations. We are certainly not there yet, as is evidenced by recent tragedies in Ferguson, MO, Charleston, SC, and daily chaos in the south and west sides of Chicago that will likely break records for shootings and fatalities. I applaud Henig for keeping these stories alive for younger generations, who were not around to know just how tumultuous a time this was in our country’s history. If there is any criticism of the book, it would be that he only scratched the surface.

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Here’s hoping for a better tomorrow.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was received from the author. Adam Henig is also the author of Alex Haley’s Roots: An Author’s Odyssey.

This book was released on April 25, 2016.

Dave Moyer is an educator, former baseball player and coach, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Who Let the Dogs Out

Three Guys to Take Along on Vacation

Who let

Who Let the Dog Out?: An Andy Carpenter Mystery by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 336 pages)

And they’re off… Andy, Laurie, Rick and the two dogs are back with a strange dilemma at the Tara Foundation Shelter. Cheyenne, a lost dog, took up residence at Andy’s shelter only to be spirited away by a professional burglar.

David Rosenfelt is back to his funny and wise cracking self as he spins the tale of a murder and a missing pooch. This, the 13th Andy Carpenter mystery, is every bit as fresh and engaging as the ones that preceded it. Rosenfelt makes his characters vulnerable in a writing style that is easy to enjoy.

This is a book that’s an excellent read over a lazy weekend or during a week away on vacation.

Well recommended.

World gone by

World Gone: A Novel by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow, $27.99, 320 pages)

Indeed, the world of his third book in a trilogy by Dennis Lehane has gone by. The time is World War II and the settings include Cuba and Tampa, Florida. The fact that a war is raging affects both the good and evil people who move through this tale. The notion that war takes the best men for duty thus leaving the less competent behind at home is applicable to gangs of criminals. This is an aspect of war that has never occurred to this reviewer before.

The location during Lehane’s chosen time frame is not one this reader considered particularly compelling or relevant for today. Perhaps with U.S.-Cuban relations resuming the connection between the main character, Joe Coughlin, and Cuba has some merit. Coughlin has business challenges not unlike his counterparts in the legitimate business world.

Dennis Lehane is a very well known author (12 books, four of which have been made into movies). He seasons this tale, World Gone By, with abundant background and biographical information about his characters – thieves, murderers, and extortionists. The pace is slow and a bit plodding. As the plot develops, the reader becomes aware of the human foibles and quirks of these “bad guys.” They should be despicable but Lehane sympathetically portrays the people behind their life situations.

Recommended for Lehane fans.

dead simple

Dead Simple: The First Thriller in the Acclaimed Roy Grace Series by Peter James (Minotaur Books, $9.99, 457 pages)

Claustrophobia warning! Author Peter James casts his story lines one by one to set up a race against the suffocation death of Mike Harrison, a bridegroom and prankster, who is being dealt some serious playback by his buddies just days prior to his wedding.

Crisp dialogue with the right balance of details and description keep the action going. A third person narrator leads the reader through the crash of the bachelor party van and the deadly aftermath. Readers will settle in with Detective Superintendent Roy Grace while he addresses the disappearance of Mike Harrison.

Dead Simple is the first in a nine volume series by James featuring Roy Grace. Clearly, this thriller has piqued this reviewer’s interest. Here’s hoping the rest of the series matches up with this splendid beginning.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky

Live by Night: A Novel by Dennis Lehane (HarperCollins, $16.99, 401 pages)

Well, I’ve walked two hundred miles, look me over / It’s the end of the chase and the moon is high / It won’t matter who loves who / You’ll love me or I’ll love you / When the moon comes falling / When the moon comes falling / When the moon comes falling from the sky…. Bob Dylan

Lehane Live By Night (nook book)

Joe Caughlin, son of a Boston cop, is a bad guy with heart and a conscience. The complex creation of this man’s thoughts, feelings and actions is a true work of art.

The recent death of James Gondolfini might make this assertion seem cliché. The media coverage of his passing makes it appear as if this reviewer is the only person alive who’s never seen an episode of The Sopranos. So, that being said, the following commentary on Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night is based solely on the merits of the book with no bias toward the gangster genre.

One can look to the Book of Genesis for the age-old theme of male judgment being compromised by the affinity for a woman. From the opening paragraph of the book: “And it occurred to him (Joe) that almost everything of note that had ever happened in his life — good or bad — had been set in motion that morning he first crossed paths with Emma Gould.”

Indeed, Joe is taken by Emma, and she takes him for what she can, eventually leading to a heist gone bad, a lifelong feud with rival Albert White, incarceration, and the subsequent fight for survival that sets into motion a rum-running dynasty in Tampa with its own set of decisions and moral dilemmas that lead to additional near-misses, relationships, and death — lots of it.

During Joe’s stint in prison, Lehane creates a magical telling of the love between a father and son. When Joe decides not to execute the daughter of Tampa police chief Irv Figgens, Lehane masterfully depicts the inner workings of Joe’s conscience. When Joe and Graciela fall in love, create a life, and conceive of a child, the longing for a connection to a world larger than self even in the midst of chaos becomes simplistically self-evident.

And, oh yes, there is Emma. The Emma’s of the world do haunt forever. She will have a say in the outcome of the story, you can be sure of that.

When Joe crosses the imagined boundary from outlaw to gangster, the reader gets a glimpse of the notion that morality exists even where evil is pervasive. There are lines of acceptability drawn in the deep recesses of everyone’s mind. When one chooses to live by the rules of night, the gray area of love, loyalty and human empathy are interpreted individually and on a moment-by-moment basis. Perhaps this is no different that those who accept convention and live by day. But, Joe cannot resist the urge to live in the realm of night, and he is simply too good a bad guy to conquer it.

Any person interested in the difference between a crime novel and literature need only to pick up Live by Night to learn the answer.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Live by Night was released as a trade paper book on May 14, 2013.

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Can’t Buy Me Love

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The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life by Natalie P. McNeal (Harlequin, $14.95, 179 pages)

Natalie McNeal was in her eighth year of working as a reporter for the Miami Herald newspaper when she woke up to find that she was $21,021.24 in debt. The debut was divided among what she owed on her credit card ($9,785.24), car loan ($8,600.00), and student loan ($2,636.00). This is the story of how, over 2 years and 4 months, she worked her way into a debt-free existence.

This might sound like a rather dreary topic to read about, but McNeal makes it an awful lot of fun.

“For the first time in my life, I can honestly say I need nothing. I have everything.”

“I am clothes coasting. My closet has me cruising.”

This is a true account of how McNeal learned to love what she already owned (including learning how to shop inside of her own closet), and place her self-worth above other person’s opinions of her lifestyle or achievements. In a sense, she created a real-life game out of saving money and she wound up a clear winner at the end. McNeal was to gain such self-esteem and self-reliance from this experience that she decided to quit her job at the Herald and work for herself as a featured blogger (K Mart’s smart shopper suite) and freelance writer.

“Frugalista tip: Before you shell out the cash (for such things as hair styling or new clothes), ask yourself if this is something you really need or just something you want. You’d be surprised!”

Living in Miami, McNeal was used to a young professional’s party lifestyle, something she had to put aside in order to begin spending less – and actually saving money, each month. She began to cook – thank goodness for the George Foreman grill, and stay with relatives when she traveled. She also started to file her work-related travel claims right after a business trip, and adopted a “same day deposit” policy for any checks she received. (The old McNeal often misplaced personal checks, and thus forgot to deposit them.)

Yes, the self-titled Frugalista became a serious person who finally applied the lessons learned in her high school Home Economics class.

As one might expect, McNeal offers some real-world advice on how to save money in very practical ways. She explains, for example, what make-up items must be purchased at top-notch prices and which items can be bought at a discount. You might think this would be boring for a male to read, but it was not thanks to McNeal’s positive attitude and ingrained sense of modesty and humor.

This reminds me to share two frugal tips of my own learned by living life. First, when you buy those expensive dryer sheets (what I call “fluffies”), feel free to cut them in half, or even into thirds or quarters. They’ll still get the job done for virtually all wash loads. And, second – as I learned from my dentist – don’t be afraid to buy the cheaper versions of mouthwash that you find at the larger pharmacies and supermarkets. They’re less expensive because they contain more water, which can actually be a benefit to those with sensitive teeth and gums (i.e., you’ll feel less of a burn). Stronger is not always better.

Less is often more – that’s the lesson of The Frugalista Files, a fun read and fun journey through life’s simpler, basic lessons with Natalie McNeal.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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