Carl Hiaasen’s Squeeze Me

I have long delighted in Carl Hiaasen’s wild and wacky tales of life and death in Florida , particularly since I lived there for a good many years. I put off reading (or even buying) Squeeze Me until after the election as part of my general avoidance of all things Trump. (As I write this, 48 hours remain until Biden’s inauguration.) Warning: browsing reviews on GoodReads, and probably anywhere else, shows a sharp divide on appreciation of the book clearly based on political opinion.

I loved Squeeze Me.

The title, while reminiscent of an erotic romance novel, actually refers to the Burmese python whose presence on the grounds of a ritzy Palm Beach estate during the Irritable Bowel Syndrome fund raising gala causes chaos. Enter Angie Armstrong, a new inhabitant in Hiaasen’s universe (and I hope we see more of her in future books), proprietor (and sole employee) of Discreet Captures, prepared to remove any pest from mice in the kitchen to—you guessed it—stray pythons. Angie is suspicious of the very large bulge in the belly of the very large python, especially after hearing of the disappearance of the very small socialite during the gala, but somehow the body of the snake is stolen from Angie’s storage unit before she can deliver it to the state wildlife folks.

And from there Hiaasen introduces us to as wide and weird a cast as he ever imagined (or pulled from the headlines of Florida newspapers). There are burglars, cops, secret service agents, a group of elderly, wealthy, and frequently tipsy socialites who call themselves the Potussies, a poacher who has been stalking Angie for years, and even Skink, the one-time Florida governor who has hidden in the swamps, living off road kill and booze, for decades (and eight Hiaasen novels).

At the center of it all sits the POTUS, at his winter White House, Casa Bellicosa. Known as Mastodon to the Secret Service (he likes the name so much he wants to see a real one; the agents tell him it’s on loan to a zoo in Christchurch, New Zealand), he manages to turn the disappearance of the socialite into yet another attack on immigrants. Meanwhile, the FLOTUS rather likes her code name, Mockingbird, almost as much as she likes her lead Secret Service agent. And there’s a tanning machine lurking in the background, surely a disaster in the making.

Through it all we see Hiaasen’s love of Florida, his distress at the ecological damage piling up, and his amazement at the antics of all too many real life “Florida Men.”

Two New Books

Well, I didn’t catch up by the end of the year, but I’m working on it. Here are two 2020 releases (if nothing else, the year did produce some good books!) I’ve enjoyed in the last couple of months.

In Lowcountry Boughs of Holly, number ten in Susan M. Boyer’s Liz Talbot series, Liz and her partner (and husband) find themselves investigating the death of a Santa Claus murdered during the annual Christmas celebration on their island home of Stella Maris. Since the tiny Stella Maris police force has no detective bureau, Liz and Nate are on call to fill in, in the unlikely case that their services are needed.

There’s no doubt as to the identity of Santa Claus, despite the fact that his wallet, watch, cell phone and red Santa gift bag are missing when the body is discovered in a rowboat washed up on the shore. Liz and Nate know C.C. Bounetheau—they’ve worked for him before, and the experience left them no desire to work with his wealthy and prominent (but decidedly unpleasant) Charleston family. What on earth was C.C. doing on Stella Maris in the first place? It might have been a robbery gone wrong, but a whole list of possible motives—and suspects—quickly turn up.

Meanwhile, Nate is planning a blow-out Christmas trip for the whole family—Liz’s parents, her sister and brother, and their spouses—but he won’t tell anyone where they’re going. Or, Liz worries, how he’s going to pay for a trip for eight over Christmas.

Lowcountry Boughs of Holly involves old family secrets, a few more recent puzzles, and a wandering reindeer named Claude. It’s another excellent entry in a series I have enjoyed very much.

Natalie Meg Evans’ The Paris Girl is the sequel to The Secret Vow. The books follow the lives and loves of Katya and Tatiana Vytenis, born Russian princesses, refugees from the Russian revolution, now deeply involved in the fashion industry in Paris. When The Paris Girl opens, it’s 1923, Tatiana is engaged to a marquis and working as a mannequin for Maison Javier, in which Katya is a partner. But some terrible truths about her fiance’s family send Tatiana’s life spinning in an unexpected and frightening direction. Spoiled and self-obsessed as the novel begins, Tatiana grows up at last, but it’s not easy.

I’ve enjoyed several of Evans’ novels, but my favorites are set in Paris and in the fashion industry. The Dress Thief is set in the late 1930s, as the characters wait for the beginning of war, and The Milliner’s Secret in the early years of World War II. A few supporting characters tie the books together, although only The Secret Vow and The Paris Girl are closely related.

If you enjoy deeply emotional historical fiction and an amazing sense of time and place, pick up anything by Natalie Meg Evans. You won’t be disappointed.

Offbeat Romance

Melinda Metz’s Talk to the Paw is a purrfectly charming romance featuring an (actual feline) cat burglar named MacGyver and a not-overly-bright dog named Diogee. Mac’s human, Jamie, is taking a year off from teaching high school history (thanks to an inheritance from her mother) and hoping to discover what she really wants to do with the rest of her life. She’s moved across the country and landed in a small LA neighborhood called Storybook Court, where all the houses look like settings for some Disney movie. Mac knows she is lonely—he can smell it. She needs a human pack mate.

Diogee’s human, David, is a baker, happy enough with his job, but tired of his best friend pushing him to get on with his life. A widower of three years, he’s not so sure he’s ready for that. He’s pretty much forgotten how to talk to a woman about anything but cupcakes.

When Mac decides that David is lonely, too (despite that big, stupid dog), he begins to steal things from David to leave on Jamie’s doorstep, and vice versa. Pretty soon he’s playing matchmaker, and causing chaos, all over Storybook Court.

I very much enjoyed Jamie and David, Mac and Diogee, and the variety of amusing supporting characters, all the TV and movie references, and the LA landmarks. Even more, I enjoyed a romance that follows two people getting to know one another and gradually building a relationship.

Till Demon Do Us Part is the final installment in AE Jones’ Paranormal Wedding Planner series, following the tale of the last two series characters in need of a mate (whether they’ll admit that or not): Darcinda the fairly healer, and McHenry, the cranky demon metal worker.

When McHenry and his nephew, Andrew, are the victims of a magical attack in McHenry’s workshop, the team of paranormal investigators jumps into action, with Darcinda there to tend to McHenry’s very serious (and magic-infused) injuries. Darcinda and McHenry have never gotten along well (Darcinda shies away from relationships; McHenry shies away from nearly everyone, fairies most of all), but suddenly they’re having trouble keeping one another at arms’ length.

When Roderick, the Demon King, appears to be the main suspect in the attack on McHenry, the leaders of the paranormal species gather to pass judgment. But the real mystery goes back three generations, to a conflict the two demons “remember” quite differently.

I’m sorry to see the series end, but this is a fine wrap up, with all the familiar series characters receiving the rewards they have earned.

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