Reading is an important part of writing. Reading instructs, and reading inspires. I’m rarely without a book. I love reading at home. I also love reading on the road, where I spend a lot of time. If you ever feel a bit of writer’s block, reading a good book will always get the creative energy flowing again. Just like the tennis player who gets better by playing with stronger players, I like reading writers who challenge me to be a better writer.
Need a reason to read a romance? Check out my thoughts about why romances make us happy.
I’m excited to share this new series, What I’m Reading, with you. I hope you’ll find that some of my picks will open up new reading avenues for you.
What are you reading these days?
I got on a Florida kick – to be precise a comic crime-novel spree with stories featuring mobsters, murderers, and mental cases pulling off scummy capers in the midst of semi-corrupt public officials, wholly-corrupt land developers and clueless tourists, all set against the backdrop of Florida’s pink-and-aqua beauty, described in one story as “a thin but functional veneer, like fake-wood contact paper stuck to flimsy particle board.”
It’s the flip side of noir and deserving of a name. Let’s call it sun-drenched.
Three creators/masters of the genre are:
Skinny Dip (Skink Book 5) by Carl Hiaasen (2004)
Synopsis from Amazon
Chaz Perrone might be the only marine scientist in the world who doesn’t know which way the Gulf Stream runs. He might also be the only one who went into biology just to make a killing, and now he’s found a way–doctoring water samples so that a ruthless agribusiness tycoon can continue illegally dumping fertilizer into the endangered Everglades. When Chaz suspects that his wife, Joey, has figured out his scam, he pushes her overboard from a cruise liner into the night-dark Atlantic. Unfortunately for Chaz, his wife doesn’t die in the fall.<br><br> Clinging blindly to a bale of Jamaican pot, Joey Perrone is plucked from the ocean by former cop and current loner Mick Stranahan. Instead of rushing to the police and reporting her husband’s crime, Joey decides to stay dead and (with Mick’s help) screw with Chaz until he screws himself.<br><br> As Joey haunts and taunts her homicidal husband, as Chaz’s cold-blooded cohorts in pollution grow uneasy about his ineptitude and increasingly erratic behavior, as Mick Stranahan discovers that six failed marriages and years of island solitude haven’t killed the reckless romantic in him, we’re taken on a hilarious, full-throttle, pure Hiaasen ride through the warped politics and mayhem of the human environment, and the human heart.<br><br>BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from Carl Hiaasen’s <i>Bad Monkey</i>.
So … it all starts when Chaz, a feckless marine biologist, pushes his wife, Joey, off the luxury deck of a cruise liner in the Caribbean on their second anniversary. Turns out, Joey was a swimming champ back in the day at UCLA, but his wife’s one-time prowess does not make him imagine she can survive a swim to any shore, much less make it past all the sharks. But Joey inadvertently catches a ride on a bale of pot and washes up on a key inhabited by Mike, a former policeman who once had an appetite for marriage. However since all six failed, he’s pretty much over women.
And the fun begins.
First Joey has to figure out why her husband wanted to kill her then she sets about, with Mike’s help, to haunt him and thereby drive him crazy. Joey and Mike do figure it all out and nab the bad guys who are polluting the Everglades. Joey and Mike simultaneously fall in love or, at least, in lust with the hope of future together. So a Happy End, which was satisfying for me.
Shining through this story is Hiassen’s love for the natural Florida environment and his hatred of what is being done it.
Florida Straits (Key West Capers Book I) by Laurence Shames
Synopsis from Amazon
“People go to Key West for lots of different reasons. Joey Goldman went there to become a gangster…”
So begins this classic Key West caper, the hilarious and touching book that launched a much-loved series and introduced the world to Bert the Shirt and his chihuahua Don Giovanni, two of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary fiction.
Joey, the illegitimate son of a major NY mafioso, decides to break away from a decidedly unpromising future in the old neighborhood of Queens. But will the old neighborhood and the Family let him go in peace? Not if knucklehead half-brother Gino has anything to say about it. As Joey is finally establishing his new life in sunny Florida, Gino involves him in a disastrous scam featuring a boatload of stolen emeralds and several squads of very nasty thugs. Finding within himself resources of smarts and courage he never knew he had, Joey beats long odds and muddles through to a brilliant solution to the problems dumped on him by Gino.
Cleverly plotted, enlivened by pitch-perfect dialogue, FLORIDA STRAITS is a completely satisfying mystery, but it’s more than that as well. Think of it as a fish-out-of-water coming-of-age novel, a comedy of very bad manners with an unlikely hero you will root for from page one.
Joey is the dimmest wannabe gangster you can imagine. At first I wondered why I was reading about this guy and, more importantly, why his girlfriend stuck by him, but as I followed him through his bumbling attempts at getting some racket going in the Keys, I came to like the guy and then even to admire him.
The characters, which include an ex-mobster nicknamed Bert the Shirt and a landlord who spends his days naked in the pool, are colorful. Joey gets himself into a load of trouble involving three million dollars worth of Colombian emeralds, and the plot is gleefully wacky. The resolution is as nifty as can be imagined, and the whole thing ends on a tender note.
The writing is vivid, and the story has a lot of heart. A winner.
Hammerhead Ranch Motel (Serge Storms Series 2) by Tim Dorsey (2009)
Synopsis from Amazon
There’s a different schemer or slimeball behind every door: cocaine duckpins who have survived only by the dumbest fortune, hard-luck gigolos desperate to score, undercover cops busting undercover cops who are running sting operations on undercover cops. And just down the row, local historian and spree killer Serge A. Storms — who has stopped keeping up with his meds — is still looking for a briefcase stuffed with five million dollars…and is now capable of wreaking more havoc than hurricane Rolando-berto, the big wind gathering force offshore, just waiting for the opportunity to blow everything straight to hell.
Pack up your bags and head south to sunny Florida. Leave your rational mind at home and come well armed. There’s a room with your number on it at the Hammerhead Ranch Motel.
Dorsey ups the ante on both the schlock and the sleaze balls. Even the mental cases are more mental, with the series title character, Serge Storms, diagnosed by the psychiatrists in the Florida correctional system as “a mixture of schizophrenia and attention-deficit, with a dash of dissociative.” In addition, Storms happens to be an expert on Florida history. He’s also a bit of a serial killer whose dead bodies end up in such a way to slam the genre straight into the grotesque.
It’s a picaresque story (minus any remotely appealing hero) of the theft of a briefcase with five million dollars, which is stitched together by vignettes of all the characters through whose hands the briefcase passes, who are somehow involved with it or who otherwise end up at the Hammerhead Ranch Motel.
One of the more memorable scenes is set in Room Ten where three Anglo drug dealers are in the midst of a deal with three Latinos. In burst four federal agents. This is the moment when both the Anglos and the Latinos reveal they’re working undercover, causing all three teams to wonder whether anyone deals cocaine anymore, because it seems to have gone out of fashion. Next door in Room Eleven, of course, the owner of the motel is dealing cocaine.
If you want your dose of sun-drenched with wildly inventive zanies, a touch of gore and a hearty helping of All Things Florida, this series is for you.