“Florida Woman” Gets Scary; fantasy fuels mystery in “Dance Among the Flames” – Sun Sentinel

“Florida Woman” by Deb Rogers. Hanover Square, 352 pages, $26.99

One would naturally think that a novel called “Florida Woman” would be a comedic mystery, akin to Carl Hiaasen’s social satire or Tim Dorsey’s slapstick. Instead, St. Augustine author Deb Rogers’ debut is a thoughtful, serious enough story with only a few bits of humor about a young woman seeking belonging, friendship, and animal sanctuaries run with friends. good intentions.

“Florida Woman” quickly evolves into the quintessential Florida romance, utilizing the state’s rural environs far from beaches or theme parks. “Florida Woman” is set in the Atlas Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary for 42 macaque monkeys. It sits on the edge of the Ocala National Forest, about two hours from the Atlantic Ocean, “green and wild instead of sun-washed and salt-dried.” Atlas “holds court over a stretch of primeval land. . .avoided by native farmers and settlers, shunned by thieves and developers, ignored by Flagler and Disney. Relentlessly, with wild tenacity.

For Jamie Hawthorne, the Atlas is akin to Eden, seemingly providing the first home for the friendless 28-year-old who was raised in foster homes and lost contact with her only sibling more than a decade ago. ten years. Jamie became known as ‘Florida Woman’ after a video of her committing a crime involving a fire, autographed dollar bills and a pelican went viral. She is allowed to serve her three-month sentence at Atlas, doing whatever work is assigned to her by the three women who run the shelter.

Jamie finds that she enjoys the hard work needed to maintain the shelter; she adores monkeys and develops a camaraderie with women who make her feel at home and praise her works. The daily vegan feasts are a treat for that “breakfast honey bun-convenience kind of person.” She’s actually considering asking to stay with Atlas, once her legal issues are sorted out.

Jamie’s “raw joy” is sometimes undermined by the women’s strange rituals, their requests not to leave his damp cabin after dark, and the howls of monkeys late into the night. Then there’s the off-limits Sanctuary Medical Lab and the lake with at least one hungry alligator. And his monitoring device seems to hurt his ankle more every day. A chilling current moves throughout the story and only Jamie is surprised when events take a fatal turn.

Rogers moves the story forward with a lively hand while allowing Jamie’s personality to develop as she devotes herself to Atlas and women. Her worries about the shelter devastate her but also give her a strength she never knew she had.

“Florida Woman” ushers in a new talent who knows the eccentricity of the Sunshine State.

“Dancing Among the Flames” by Tori Eldridge. Running wild, 386 pages, $19.

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The key to weaving fantasy into detective fiction is that every aspect should seem believable, no matter how extravagant. Tori Eldridge manages to do just that in “Dance Among the Flames,” which incorporates religion, magic, powerful goddesses, and a contemporary domestic situation.

“Dance Among the Flames” begins in 1650 in France, moves to the mid-1970s in Brazil and contemporary California. The adage “suspend disbelief” – often associated with genre fiction – must be in full effect because the rewards of this unusual story are worth it.

“Dance Among the Flames” is equally well in the wheelhouse of Eldridge, whose action-packed thrillers about Chinese-Norwegian ninja Lily Wong have won her awards and a solid following.

The unconventional reigns in “Dance Among the Flames” beginning with Serafina Olegario, who in 1974 raises her infant son Carlinhos in a Brazilian slum after his married lover rejects them both. Any plans she had for the future were crushed. Now helpless and vulnerable, she is ripe for manipulation and becomes possessed by the goddess Yansã, and follows the Umbanda religion. But she leaves Umbanda, seeking power and revenge against those she believes have betrayed her. Over the decades, Serafina settles in several regions of Brazil as her powers deepen, as does her hatred.

As Serafina’s story continues to evolve, “Dance Among the Flames” also shifts to the present, as Serafina’s granddaughter Adriana is locked in an abusive marriage. Adriana’s future looks bleak when she falls in love with an American artist who may have a connection to 17th century France.

Eldridge never stumbles as she fuses these two storylines, eras and generations into one cohesive story that challenges the reader while delivering a tense thriller filled with Brazilian lore.

Deb Rogers and Tori Eldridge will be among the authors leading panels, presentations and workshops during Sleuthfest, the writers’ conference July 7-10 at the Doubletree Hotel, Interstate 95 and Hillsboro Boulevard, Deerfield Beach. Jeffery Deaver, author of the Lincoln Rhyme novels, is the guest of honour. More than 40 authors are scheduled to speak. Private sessions with editors and agents are offered. Visit sleuthfest.com for more information and to register.

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