Because it’s been such a busy season of book releases, we grabbed a handful that had an Orlando connection and set to reading. Lo and behold, there was promise and perfection to be found among the titles. The latter especially was found in the nonfiction section of the project, in the form of artful underwater stills taken by Bruce Mozert starring the mermaids of Silver Springs. DBCC photography teacher and well-published photo documentarian Gary Monroe (The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters) researched, wrote and curated the homage. Also, world-traveled adventure writer Johnny Molloy released the journal of his hike on the Florida Trail; sweat along with him as he traverses more than a thousand miles in almost 80 days.
In the fiction department, several compelling novels are fit for vacation reading. After Hours at the Almost Home by Tara Yellen was devoured in the time it took to fly from Orlando to L.A. and takes place on one busy night in a Denver sports bar. Yellen is at home here in Orlando, too, where her father and stepmother (Elizabeth “Sentinel Theater Critic” Maupin) live. If your personal tastes pull to the gothic side, Susan Hubbard’s debut vampire novel, Society of S, has a fresh sibling that picks up where the first left off. And for a happy ending, there’s the latest from local erotica writer Lara Dien (a nom de plume), who makes us sweat even more than Molloy with The Fortuneteller’s Lay.
Without further ado, here’s the feedback from our summer book club.
Babes in Bathing Suits
Silver Springs: The Underwater
Photography of Bruce Mozert
By Gary Monroe
(University Press of Florida; 144 pages;
From the pages: Mozert’s job was to promote Silver Springs. He did this by using his “angels.” The girls “were so beautiful, and I treated them as works of art,” he recalls.
Those who lament the new Florida’s disrespect for history are going to love Gary Monroe. You want to go back? He’ll take you back thousands of years. Monroe’s focus in Silver Springs: The Underwater Photography of Bruce Mozert, is naturally the early mid-20th century, but his devotedly thorough research reminds us that we live in what was once the home of mastodons, Native American tribes and crystal-clear water. Somewhere between dinosaurs and drive-throughs was the heyday of Silver Springs, and Monroe pays gratifying homage to this remarkable place and Mozert, a unique documentarian.
Thanks to Mozert’s brilliance, Silver Springs became famous for more than one kind of natural splendor. His sister Zoe was a famous pinup artist. Between what he may have picked up from her, the aesthetic of the time and his own genius for staging playful underwater scenes at the springs, we now have a collection of photographs of a unique moment in the history of Florida, America, tourism, pop culture and feminine iconography.
The photos are sweet and silly, involving submerged setups like a girl hula-dancing, riding a magic carpet through the water with her genie boyfriend or gesturing at a sign that reads “School’s Out!” as fish scurry past. They are alluring without aggression, just happy and natural, with an innocent sexuality almost beyond comprehension in a culture whose golden ages constantly threaten to turn into jaded ones.
Monroe’s introduction gives us a glimpse of Mozert’s technique, a lot of Florida history and an appreciation for the natural beauty we can still glimpse between the condos. It’s a lovely look at a bright past that will make you appreciate the wild bits that are left of it when you see them in the present.
— Liz Langley
Alone in the Wilds With a Journal
Hiking the Florida Trail: 1,100 Miles,
78 Days, Two Pairs of Boots,
and One Heck of an Adventure
By Johnny Molloy
(University Press of Florida; 214 pages;
From the pages: We came upon a barbed wire fence, a relic from who knows when, strung by who knows whom, herding who knows what. It was very out of place in this middle-of-nowhere. Before us stretched a vast tri-chrome world – winter blue sky, the white pond cypress domes of varied elevation and the tannish green of the waters from which the cypress grew and through which we walked.
If you’ve lived in Central Florida, or anywhere in the Sunshine State, for any length of time, you may find it difficult to imagine that there are places left where you can go for days without hearing the hum of a highway or seeing another human being. And that’s probably the best part about outdoor adventurer Johnny Molloy’s latest book, Hiking the Florida Trail; it leaves you with the idea that even if you’ve been here awhile, you probably haven’t seen the best parts of the state.
Unknown to most of us, Florida is home to one of only eight National Scenic Trails in the country. And ours is a long one; 1,400 unbroken miles from the Big Cypress National Preserve to the very western tip of the Panhandle. Molloy’s hike started with a slog through the swamp, followed the contours of Lake Okeechobee, detoured around the urban sprawl of Orlando, skirted the high banks of the Suwannee River and led him through the lonesome pine stands of the Apalachicola National Forest. Along the way he slept out under the stars every night, drank the water from rivers and ditches, stocked up on food at convenience stores and marveled at how pristine parts of Florida still are despite our best efforts to pave every square foot.
The prose is workmanlike. A more introspective writer might have broken up the repetition of 78 days and nights on the trail with insight into Florida’s land-use policies and local history. But Molloy’s book makes you want to get off the couch and take a look around, if not hike the trail yourself, and for that reason it’s a success.
— Bob Whitby
There’s a Great Future in Plastics
Tupperware Unsealed: Brownie Wise,
Earl Tupper, and the Home Party
By Bob Kealing
(University Press of Florida; 264 pages;
From the pages: “If you are roosting instead of boosting you ARE our problem! This business is not for those who loiter by the way and ‘wish.’ It’s for those who hit the road and work!”
— Brownie Wise
Tupperware home parties: the clam dip, the corny games, the genteelly masked hard sell – they’re a brick in the edifice of the American dream. Tupperware wasn’t the first to turn out housewives by training them to treat their friends as sales leads, but when Earl Tupper hired Brownie Wise, his little plastics company became the widest proponent of the home sales model and the one most deeply seared into American cultural history. (Only Mary Kay cosmetics could be said to have the same omnipresent yet innocuous hold on American home sellers.) Tupperware Unsealed peels back the lid on the explosion of sales following the meeting of the minds of Tupper and Wise, and the explosive events to follow – the meteoric success and the bitter repudiation.
Bob Kealing, Emmy Award–winning journalist and author of Kerouac in Florida, chronicles another piece of Central Florida history here with his usual dogged research. Both Tupper, an eccentric inventor in the Howard Hughes mold, and businesswoman Wise, a trailblazing model for future Martha Stewart–types, jump off the page. Wise’s powerful energy, in particular, snaps sparks from the sometimes dry narrative. Kealing is to be commended for his exhaustive digging; he examined heretofore sealed court documents and personal letters; pored over old maps; investigated old buildings in a boat; and interviewed several now-elderly Tupperware employees, sellers and even Wise’s son.
This account does succumb to the primary downfall of nonfiction; cascades of details take the place of tight plotting. After all, real life is harder to corral into creativity than fantasy. (Also, the book would have benefited from a little more time with a copy editor.) But the story of Brownie Wise is, as Kealing says, “like a hidden gem that had sunk way down in the marshy central Florida soil,” and Kealing is our most dedicated miner of local history.
— Jessica Bryce Young
Fangs in Florida
The Year of Disappearances
By Susan Hubbard
(Simon & Schuster; 304 pages; $22.95;
From the pages: Here was one thing Saratoga Springs had in common with Florida: storage units. The repositories of cast-off lives. Our unit smelled of dust and memories. It was lined with neatly stacked boxes and furniture shrouded in plastic covers.
Late to the vampire series by Susan Hubbard, the jump into book two, The Year of Disappearances, didn’t suffer from the skip of the preceding Society of S. The new page-turning tale by the UCF professor spins around the same troubled teen who has had to move to Homosassa Springs, Fla., where she processes the hellish traumas suffered in Saratoga Springs in book one.
Ariella Montero, an old soul experiencing life as an isolated 13-year-old, now lives with Mom and Mom’s also ageless friend/priestess from Jamaica; together they work a farm of sorts, while beloved Dad lies low in the Old Country until the fiery situation in New York cools. Ari’s parents are immortal, but their kid is a half-breed because Mom was human at the time of conception, only later taken into the dark life by the dashing Malcolm, who also indoctrinated Dad. (Happens every day.) Self-acceptance, twisting family ties, friends on drugs, budding supernatural abilities and confrontations with evil are a few of the issues that plague the poor girl – as well as boy trouble, of course, and the spawn of Satan, when the under-legal-age prodigy heads off to an environmental college near the Okefenokee Swamp.
Hubbard’s horror-lite is teen-centered, but the storytelling is intricate in its invention of a three-party hierarchy of blood-suckers from around the world. The Montero family practices with the Sanguinists, who no longer harvest humans, instead nourishing themselves with ethical substitutes, particularly Picardo. The precious, bright-red, nonalcoholic elixir just happens to be on the menu at the hangout in Sassa, proof positive of the town’s reputation as a haven for blood-craving types.
Honest descriptions about the natural workings of the west Florida coastal town and the Georgia swamp convince us to connect with Hubbard’s imaginative hypothesis that there’s a battle being waged at this very moment against monstrous agents of an otherworldly kind. And that at least one tribe of vampires wants to help humankind.
— Lindy T. Shepherd
Home away from home
After Hours at the Almost Home
By Tara Yellen
(Unbridled Books; 272 pages; $14.95;
From the pages: The sky above was dark and silent, though off in the distance, beyond her old neighborhood, Lily could see faraway fireworks, little bright blooms against the horizon. Red, yellow, blue, barely there. It was as though the celebration had struck, like a storm, and had now moved on, drifted elsewhere. It was like her father: getting farther and farther away.
A clever conceit, backed up by creative writing and genuine character studies, makes the components of Tara Yellen’s debut novel, After Hours at the Almost Home, fit together like a puzzle. First we meet a free-spirited young woman living in Denver, heading off to work her first night at the neighborhood sports bar. And when the shift is over, so is the book. All the rest is told in backstory, as Yellen colors her cast of restaurant regulars – customers and staff. There’s a masculinity to the whole environment – a blue-collar hangout in a rugged city where sports and beer are considered exercise. Yet the book so finely captures the complicated dynamics that occur between women – family, co-workers and friends – without making the men stereotypes. Yellen doesn’t force her conclusion to be a happy one, but ends on a note that opens the door to another day at the Almost Home.
That funny feeling
The Fortuneteller’s Lay
by Lara Dien
(Wild Rose Press; 78 pages; $3;
From the pages: “Let’s finish you first,” he said before beginning the most erotic assault Miranda had ever endured.
“Print is dead,” intoned Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters, and 24 years later that end may be closer than we book nerds would like. We love our books, but frankly, I’d rather read something of quality on a screen than some of the tinny, insufferable caca wasting ink out there. Online or on paper, good is good. The Fortuneteller’s Lay, by Orlando author Lara Dien, is an e-book that should come with a downloadable microfiber cloth to clean the steam off your monitor as you read.
Miranda Merrill is a part-time fortuneteller; into her tent stumbles detective Devon Cole, not looking for his fortune, much less his future. The chemistry that explodes between them isn’t so much boy-meets-girl as fire-meets-kerosene. The sex scenes are juicy and numerous, paced deliciously and placed so there’s enough real life between them to make the story a story and not a series of quickies (or longies).
Since they’re forced to part as fast as they came together, finding each other again is going to be a problem, but luck has a way of aiding destiny. The wrap-up is a bit more romantic than the hot, lurid, crazily luscious, very graphic sex that precedes it (which I could have used more of; shut up), but you’re on solid ground when the worst you can say is you wanted more.
This is an erotic romance – no human depths are plumbed but the obvious ones. But it is a gem in its genre, and Dien pulls off writing’s neatest trick, which is to make you forget that you’re reading. Anyone who has ever attempted to talk dirty and failed has glimpsed the toughness of the sex writer’s task. Fortuneteller predicts good things in Lara Dien’s future.