By the Books

Our area abounds with talented authors creating thrilling contemporary romance novels, suspenseful young adult titles, self-help, fiction, history and humor.

So, sit back and learn about these interesting reads awaiting your perusal.

In Search of Felicity: In the Footsteps of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

By Marian Rizzo

Immersing yourself in the pages of this novel, you can almost smell the orange blossoms and hear the chickens scratching in the shaded yard that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings called home in the backwater community of Cross Creek, just a few miles northeast of Ocala.

That’s where the venerated author penned some of her most intriguing works, such as the Pulitzer Prize winning The Yearling, and where travel writer Julie Peters finds herself discovering not only intimate secrets about Rawlings, but parallels between their two lives. Both women want love and affection, but find no fault in withdrawing from the world into pockets of seclusion that leave loved ones wanting.

Rizzo offers an introspective spin on historical facts, bringing the past to light in the shadow of Julie’s romance with Mark Bensen, to whom she is engaged—somewhat reluctantly.

And some of those facts might just be revelations to those of us who thought we knew a lot about the beloved Marjorie—such as that, at age 11, she won a children’s story contest using the pen name Felicity. 

In exploring her own life, through her eyes and those of Mark’s, a sage counselor who quickly discovered Julie’s darkest secret; her best friend, whose mixed-race marriage brings family tensions; and others, Julie finds endless similarities between her story and Marjorie’s.

On assignment in Cross Creek, Julie befriends guide Lucy at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, where visitors can tour Marjorie’s home, kitchen and gardens. She also finds solace, comfort and kinship with Lucy’s aunt Emma, a wizened crone whose entire being oozes southern gentility sheathed in a backwoods patina.

Rizzo credits Florence M. Turcotte, a literary manuscripts archivist at the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries in Gainesville, for her assistance with the novel.

“This engaging novel gives voice to those of us who find inspiration and insight into our own lives through great works of literature,” Turcotte notes. “Rizzo’s work will resonate with Rawlings fans and even those who will take up her books for the first time.” 

Felicity is the second in a series, following In Search of the Beloved, also featuring Julie and Mark, and set on the Greek island of Patmos. Rizzo, an award-winning journalist, also has authored four other novels, one of which is a nuclear war thriller.

To learn more, visit

Summer on the Black Suwannee

By Jennifer Odom

The inky depths of the Suwannee River have long concealed secrets. The blackness of the winding river stems from the tannic acid of decaying vegetation or, as hinted at in this young adult thriller, from evil.

After Emily, a happy-go-lucky 15-year-old is traumatized at the hands of her stepfather, she is forced to leave her friends in Citra and Orange Lake and go to a counseling center with her mother, Charlene.

At the nicely named Earth Mother Acres, Emily and Charlene are lulled into thinking they will receive support and care as they work on multiple issues, including Charlene’s fractured relationship with her own mother.

The “counselors,” however, soon exhibit mysterious behaviors and exert more and more control over Emily and Charlene, such as forcing them to take “vitamins” that lead to ill health and separating them further and further from each other.

What soon becomes apparent is that the facility, which appears on the surface to be a sort of healing commune, is instead one of several that operates on principles of deceit, manipulation and downright cruelty.

One of the bright spots in Emily’s life is a dog who adopts her, and whom she names Beggar. Their relationship gives her comfort in a world as sometimes dark as the snaky river running past the compound.

Behind the scenes is the truly creepy persona of Lucas. Those under his power dance to his commands, like puppets on strings.

As Emily becomes more and more aware of the darkness at hand, she also realizes that her faith might be the thing that saves her and her mother.

Charlene’s mother, and her best friend/neighbor, also wage battle in this tale of spiritual warfare, raising mighty prayers to God for protection of their loved ones.

Odom is a Florida girl, and Master Gardener, and it shows in her powerful descriptions of the flora and fauna of north and central Florida, bringing her readers into a natural world inhabited by both beauty and danger. And she is a mother and former school teacher, who is able to provide insight into the complexities of child/adult relationships. She is an award-winning author, including being named the 2015 Writer of the Year at the Florida Christian Writers Conference.

In her subsequent novel, Stranger With a Black Case, Emily’s story continues as Odom brings mystery and intrigue to the town of Gaskille, Florida, which is “suspiciously like Ocala.”

To learn more, visit

Breaking the Power of Negative Words: How Positive Words Can Heal

By Mary C. Busha

That old adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is so not true!

As anyone who has ever had their feelings hurt by words can attest, they have mighty—and sometimes long-lasting—power.

Busha documents some of those stories, including her own, as she sheds light on how what might seem like a simple phrase or off-hand comment can, indeed, cause great harm. She also illustrates the link between people who have been hurt in turn hurting others through their choice of words.

She uses an example from her own life in exploring how her childhood motto, “If you can’t eat it, don’t buy it,” delivered by her mother, translated into Busha feeling “practically paralyzed entering a department store.” As a child, of course, Busha did not understand that her mother was one of seven children who grew up during the Great Depression, when resources such as food were scarce
and precious.

She also writes about her troubled relationship with her parents and how she had an “Aha moment,” in which she realized that, “When I
began to see that the harsh words spoken to me in my formative years were not about me, I started seeing everything differently.”

Interwoven throughout this text are references to scripture and Busha’s thoughtful insights. At the end of each of chapter are questions posed to the reader to help them look inwardly at such things as how words have impacted their own life, how their words affect others and how he or she feels about forgiveness.

“My intention is not merely to bring to remembrance words from our pasts,” Busha writes. “Rather, my aim is to take us beyond the words and offer steps that can help remove their harmful effects and place us on a pathway to healing and freedom.”

“I daily have the opportunity to see how words have the power to either build up or tear down—and either can have a lasting impact for decades,” writes
Dr. Michelle Bengtson, a board-certified clinical
neuropsychologist. “This is the book for those truly desiring to heal from the power of negative words.”

Busha is a writer’s coach, editor and writer whose work has appeared in periodicals such as Reader’s Digest and Focus on the Family.

To learn more, visit

My F-word is Forgiveness

By Herb Agee

You remember Mama demanding that you not use the infamous “F-word” because it is vulgar, crass and just plain rude. That, in part, is what makes the Reverend Herb Agee quite brave in using the reference in the title of his book.

But, as those who get past the title and delve into the chapters will learn, this former police officer, hospital chaplain and church pastor, still avid motorcycle rider and current Hospice of Marion County chaplain, is not afraid of rattling cages and unsettling the settled, including himself.

And it is through his myriad life experiences, such as being on the front lines inside hospital emergency rooms, working the midnight shift as a cop and guiding the bereaved through their sorrows, that he is able to deliver life lessons in light prose that often is humorous and nearly always gives one insight into their own predicaments.

You will surely giggle—and learn something about acceptance of others—in the multi-chapter entry that shares how he developed a strong friendship with his buddy Boodan, a member of the Warlocks Motorcycle Club, and how his 4’11” wife, Carmel Lee “Candy” Quigley, a member of the Hospice of Marion County medical team, won the heart of the 6’2” biker as a fellow Warlock lay with a head injury in her emergency room.

This easy-reading book offers chapters that could be a primer on relationships: “Cardboard Purgatory”, a self-help guide; “My Wife is Away,”; on how to navigate sometimes dreaded holidays; “Valentine’s Day,” on how to navigate sometimes dreaded holidays; and even a what-not-to-do lesson about waking a sleeping spouse, “Fishing.” And then there is “Groceries, Outhouses and Chewing Tobacco.”

Clearly, Agee is not afraid to saddle up on his 2003 Road King and take to the highways of life, nor is he hesitant to put his heart and soul on the line in ministry to others.

As he notes on the jacket cover, “Real ‘forgiveness’ has amazing power. It has the power to restore broken relationships, the power to lift huge feelings of guilt, the power to change life. Whether we need forgiveness from someone else, from God, or from ourselves (there’s a tough one), forgiveness is profound. It brings acceptance and the chance for another F-word, ‘Freedom.’ Freedom gives us a chance to change and to live life in the everyday giving and receiving of ‘Forgiveness.’ Go ahead, shout it out and shock somebody!”

Find Agee’s book on Amazon. Learn more about his personal ministry at

Remembering Paradise Park: Tourism and Segregation at Silver Springs

By Lu Vickers and Cynthia Wilson-Graham

Historic photographs show people young and old cavorting in the crystal-clear waters of the Silver River, riding on the famed glass-bottomed boats and enjoying a spacious complex that included concessions, a piccolo (jukebox), a dance floor and lawns perfect for lounging on blankets. The images are from the heyday of Paradise Park, the “colored” counterpart of the Silver Springs attraction.

In Remembering Paradise Park, the authors, in addition to the photographic evidence, dig deeply into the formation, challenges, rewards and ultimate end of what was, indisputably, a major local and national tourist attraction and safe haven for Black guests.

An excerpt from the jacket cover notes: “Together, the two parks formed one of the biggest recreational facilities in the country before Disney World. From 1949 to 1969, boats passed each other on the Silver River—Blacks on one side, whites on the other. Though the patrons of both parks shared the same river, they seldom crossed the invisible line in the water.”

Paradise Park was created by Carl Ray and William “Shorty” Davidson, the owners of Silver Springs, in part because Black visitors to Silver Springs were allowed to enter and roam the grounds but were not allowed to ride the boats or enjoy rides and other amenities.

They tapped one of their number of Black boat captains, Eddie Vereen, to manage the new park. It is through historical documents and personal recollections, including from relatives of Vereen and many others, some of whom live in Ocala today, that the story of Paradise Park is told in a rich narrative that matches the undeniable pull of the attraction itself.

This extensively documented work delves deeply into the history of segregation, the history of Seminole Indians and African Americans in Marion County, and explorations of tourism nationwide. In its pages, Vickers and Wilson-Graham offer the definitive history of one of Marion County, and the nation’s, most renowned attractions.

Vickers, of Tallahassee, is the author of a novel and three nonfiction books. Wilson-Graham, who lives and works in Ocala, is an educator and lecturer whose advocacy was instrumental in the installation of a historical marker by the Bureau of Historic Preservation at the former entrance to Paradise Park.

Their book is filled with images taken by renowned photographer Bruce Mozert. The Appleton Museum of Art is temporarily closed to the public but, upon reopening, will feature the exhibition “Mid-Century Tourism on the Silver River: Photographs by Bruce Mozert.” The show will feature photographs of Silver Springs and Paradise Park, as well as other ephemera, that will highlight Mozert’s innovation, creativity and significance to the history of tourism in Marion County.

Find the book on Amazon. Read a blog post by Vickers at

Roaring Reptiles, Bountiful Citrus, and Neon Pies: An Unofficial Guide to Florida’s Official Symbols

By Mark Lane

Mark Lane doesn’t have as much of a bushy hairdo as Mark Twain, but he does have the trademark mustache—along with the quirky wit and journalistic flair.

Lane, a longtime feature writer and metro columnist with the Daytona Beach News-Journal, understands nuances and how to deliver a verbal punch. In this new work (he also is the author of Sandspurs: Notes From a Coastal Columnist), he delves into the murky waters of how the state Legislature signs state symbols into law.

From the opening chapter on Key Lime Pie, the state’s official state pie, in which he waxes poetic on the vagaries of adding food coloring and where the limes actually come from, Lane turns a tart tongue on the why and how these iconic items were chosen.

He tackles the official state slogan, reptile, fruit, fossil, marine mammal, soil, play, song, tree, sport, litter control symbol (huh?), bird, motto, seal and gem. Not to mention Florida Day, subtitled Ponce de Leon Schlepped Here!

Who knew, or would even the most seasoned native recall, that the Sunshine State slogan has been on our license plates since 1949? Before World War II, however, Florida was known as the Peninsula State, the Everglades State and the Alligator State.

But, as Lane expounds, “Highlighting your biggest swamp or scariest reptile is not always the best pitch for moving real estate or attracting tourists.”

The author also takes aim at some unofficial symbols, such as, “The Official State Sport Stalled in the Pits,” meaning NASCAR racing, and the unofficial state fossil, the lowly Eocene heart urchin, which he describes as “found in limestone deposits as well as on eBay.”

Lane himself describes the literary romp as, “Full of the kind of unnecessary commentary that might cause trouble.”

Jeff Klinkenberg, also a newspaperman, at the Tampa Bay Times for four decades, and recipient in 2018 of the Florida Humanities Council’s “Lifetime Achievement for Writing Award,” weighs in on Lane’s book this way: “This old Florida boy has been waiting for such a book for a coon’s age. I learned a lot about the origins of our state’s symbols and laughed a lot while reading. It’s a great combination, like butter and grits.”

As a Florida native myself, I don’t think there’s much higher praise than that.

Learn more at

Beyond Power

By Connie Mann

In the second of her Florida Wildlife Warriors series, author and boat captain Mann delivers a contemporary romantic suspense novel filled with local references.

In the story of fictional Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission bush pilot and officer Josh “Hollywood” Tanner and rhesus macaque monkey researcher Delilah Paige Atwood, who barely escaped her ultra-fundamental militia family years ago and has returned to try to save her nearly 16-year-old sister, Mann draws the reader into locations that will ring true with locals, such as area rivers and the zip line attraction that spans old limestone pits north of Ocala.

Just imagine for a second this scenario from Chapter 13 as Atwood, Tanner and a friend are at the zip line: “He was about to say more when suddenly, they heard a crack, Delilah’s harness broke free, and she plunged toward the water.”

What happens next?

You’ll have to read the book to find out!

“It’s about family, and how far we’ll go to protect those we love,” Mann writes on her website. “It’s about overcoming the past and, for Delilah, it’s about stepping into her own power and becoming who she was always meant to be. And of course, it involves spine-tingling suspense set in Florida’s wilderness, with two fabulous people who are trying to stay alive while also falling in love.”

She’s right about the spine-tingling part, as the reader follows Atwood into deep woods and precarious situations such as encountering a Florida black bear near a dead body, guns, stacks of money, shots fired in her direction and a fire set outside her camper.

The plot includes the truly complicated innerworkings of a fractured family, the formation of militias, selling guns, setting traps for snoopers and a proposed child marriage involving Delilah’s young sister. And, of course, the sweet and sometimes salty romance between the main characters.

Sourcebooks plans to release the e-book on September 1st and the print edition in early January 2021.

The first book of the Florida Wildlife Warriors series is Beyond Risk. Mann also is the author of six other novels and is featured in an anthology.

The multi-talented writer is a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed boat captain who, among other excursions, takes Marion County Public School fifth graders on tours of the Silver River, through a Silver River Museum program. She also is a wife, mom and nature lover, and advocate for women and children in developing countries.

To learn more, visit

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