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Piper Castillo, Times Staff Writer

Piper Castillo

Piper Castillo grew up in Ft. Lauderdale and received her English degree from Florida Atlantic University. As a community news reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, she covers Oldsmar and Palm Harbor. She also writes the "Nightstand" column for the Sunday book pages and thinks the only thing better than a good read is a day in the sun with her family.

Phone: (727) 445-4163


  1. Oldsmar tax rate to remain flat

    Local Government

    OLDSMAR — The city expects to hold the line on its property tax rate, according to City Manager Bruce Haddock.

    The proposed budget calls for a rate of $4.05 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property. At that rate, the owner of a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $405 in city property taxes. Although the rate cannot be raised, it could be lowered before the final budget is approved....

  2. What's Barton Swaim reading?



    Barton Swaim

    In his witty — albeit dark — memoir, The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics, Swaim shares his work experiences as a communications staffer for a top U.S. politician. Although he never names him in the book, from 2007 to 2010 Swaim was the speechwriter for Mark Sanford, the then-governor of South Carolina who found himself in hot water after lying about being on the Appalachian Trail when he was actually in Buenos Aires with his mistress....

    Barton Swaim is author of The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics.
  3. What's Ashley Rhodes-Courter reading?



    Ashley Rhodes-Courter

    In 2003, Rhodes-Courter submitted an essay about growing up in the Florida foster care system for the New York Times Magazine writing contest for high school students. Her entry came out on top and eventually became a memoir, Three Little Words. The book detailed how, after she was taken from her mom at the age of 3, she was shuttled among 14 homes and 44 caseworkers, often suffering at the hands of abusers. Rhodes-Courter, 29, is now known around the world as an advocate for child welfare. In 2012, she unsuccessfully took on Jack Latvala in the District 20 state Senate race, making foster care central in her campaign....

    Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s new book is “Three More Words.”
  4. Airport Variety Store: Longtime sandwich shop closes its doors

    Human Interest

    LARGO — Frank Doyle, a roofer who was ready for lunch, squinted to read the sign on the front door of the Airport Variety Store on a recent Friday. "Closed. No way. I don't believe it,'' he said.

    Margaret Anderson, a home health care nurse from Largo, also stood at the door. "Yep. After all these years, they are closed," she said. "I don't know what I'm going to do when I need a Cuban sandwich fix.''...

    Cuban sandwiches at the Airport Variety Store in Clearwater.
  5. East Lake library will stay crowded after governor's veto

    Local Government

    EAST LAKE — When it was time for the seven pups to perform in the Tricky Dog Show, a standing room only crowd huddled inside the conference room at the East Lake Community Library. Lois Eannel, the library director, was not among them.

    She was in the overflowing parking lot directing traffic. All 30 parking spaces were filled.

    It was just another successful event at the library....

  6. What's Gwendolyn Knapp reading?



    Gwendolyn Knapp

    Knapp is the author of a new memoir, After a While You Just Get Used to It: A Tale of Family Clutter. The book details her childhood growing up among hoarders in Holiday, and it's not a holiday, but "a halfway point between mermaids and Scientologists.'' She also examines her struggles as a young adult in New Orleans. Just when she seems capable of navigating odd jobs, like the one at the world's largest booze conference, and tackling day-to-day living with irritable bowel syndrome, who should move to the Big Easy but her mother, Margie. We caught up with Knapp, who holds a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, by phone from her home in Louisiana....

    Gwendolyn Knapp recently released the memoir After a While You Just Get Used to It: A Tale of Family Clutter.
  7. What's Jonathan Sanchez reading?



    Jonathan Sanchez

    Sanchez and his wife, Lauren, have owned Blue Bicycle Books in downtown Charleston, S.C., since 2007. Sanchez, who holds an English degree from Yale University, is the author of Bandit, a short story collection, and the founder of Write of Summer Camp for Kids, the Poets in the Schools program at Burke High School and YALLFest, Charleston's Young Adult Book Festival. Blue Bicycle Books is less than a mile from Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where nine African-Americans were shot and killed on June 17. "I did know one of the victims, the librarian (Cynthia Hurd) who was killed, personally,'' said Sanchez, 42. "She was a supporter for me in my work and for many others. I do a lot with young people, and I did some work at the library she was managing. She helped a lot of people, and I was one of them.''...

    Author Jonathan Sanchez and his wife, Lauren, own Blue Bicycle Books in downtown Charleston, S.C.
  8. Midnight run starts holiday events in Pinellas

    Human Interest

    While many patriotic revelers will wait until daylight tomorrow, there are some who choose an early start to their celebration. About 2,500 runners will kick off their Fourth of July by kicking up their heels at the 36th annual Kiwanis-Virginia Street Dermatology Midnight Run. The featured event is a 10K race with participants following a path lit by hundreds of glow-sticks along Causeway Boulevard. They'll get a rare glimpse of Honeymoon Island State Park at night as they make the turn-around about one-half mile inside the park....

    Go ahead and “ooh” and “aah,” it’s the Fourth!
  9. What's Meg Heimstead reading?



    Meg Heimstead

    Heimstead is the director of education at American Stage Theatre in St. Petersburg, where more than 500 young people will venture onto its stage during this year's summer camp program. Heimstead, 38, has a bachelor of fine arts degree from University of Evansville in Indiana. An avid reader, she stresses that reading "... increases the performer's ability to become empathetic. You might be quick to judge on the outside, but reading the novel (the play is based on) takes you into their thought process.''...

    Meg Heimstead is director of education at American Stage Theatre in St. Petersburg.
  10. Famous people, famous places: Reflecting on the best parts of Florida

    Human Interest

    Ernest Hemingway once described Key West as "the best place I've ever been anytime anywhere, flowers, tamarind trees, guava trees, coconut palms. ... Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks." That is a real, unedited quote. Although we might never know the result of that night of absinthe-induced debauchery, we do know why our home state inspired such fawning praise.

    Hemingway so admired Florida's unparalleled natural beauty because, like many great people, he was a resident. Since the author's death in 1961, the state has continued to touch the lives of actors, athletes, musicians, judges and presidential candidates. This story is a celebration of Florida products, human and inanimate, with meditations on its greatest natural scenes by some of the state's most noteworthy people....

    This photo by acclaimed Florida nature photographer Clyde Butcher is "Loxahatchee River State Park - 1991" will be included in the exhibit opening Jan. 8-29 at the Pasco-Hernando State art gallery. The exhibit Visions of Florida: The Photographic Art of Clyde Butcher is part of the Museum of Florida History's Traveling Exhibit (TREX) program. Butcher will will discuss his work in a special presentation, followed by a Q&A and book signing, on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 6 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center on the college's West Campus in New Port Richey.
  11. What's Shary Hauer reading?



    Shary Hauer

    Although Shary Hauer, owner of the Hauer Group, a strategic consulting and coaching firm, thrived at work, for years she found herself in a constant state of despair when it came to relationships. Until, that is, she recognized she had a bona fide disorder: love addiction. "Love addiction is not gender specific, and it doesn't have to do with a certain age,'' said Hauer, 57. "It's the same thing with any addiction. There are cravings. There's a needing and it is with those who don't feel content in their life without someone by their side — constantly by their side." In her memoir, Insatiable, Hauer chronicles her experiences tackling her affliction. We recently caught up with the author from her home office on Clearwater Beach....

    Shary Hauer wrote about love addition in her memoir, Insatiable.
  12. Five questions on Pinellas Habitat CEO's visit with Jimmy Carter


    Michael Sutton, the chief executive officer for Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas, was standing next to a country road when he met the 39th president of the United States.

    "We watched two (vehicles) at high speed coming towards us, a pickup truck and a black SUV,'' Sutton recalled. "First the pickup truck pulled up, and we see Jimmy Carter in the back seat, and then the SUV, with Secret Service inside, pulled up. Jimmy got out of the truck and said, 'Hey, everybody.' ''...

    Michael Sutton met former President Jimmy Carter during a Habitat for Humanity trip.
  13. What's Jamaal Wilkes reading?



    Jamaal Wilkes

    On Tuesday, the Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship. Jamaal Wilkes has strong ties with this winning team. He was a Warrior and NBA Rookie of the Year back in 1975, when Golden State won its only other NBA title. Groomed in college by legendary UCLA Bruins coach John Wooden and known for his "slingshot'' shooting style, Wilkes also helped the Los Angeles Lakers win three championships. He recently released his memoir written with journalist Edward Reynolds Davis: Jamaal Wilkes: Memoirs of the Original Smooth as Silk. Wilkes, 62, lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife, Valerie. They have three adult children.....

    Jamaal Wilkes recently released his memoir written with journalist Edward Reynolds Davis: Jamaal Wilkes: Memoirs of the Original Smooth as Silk.
  14. What's Elise Juska reading?



    Elise Juska

    Juska, 42, is the director of the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Her stories have appeared in Ploughshares (which awarded her the Alice Hoffman Prize for Fiction), Gettysburg Review, Missouri Review and Good Housekeeping. Her most recent work, The Blessings, centers around a large Irish-Catholic clan and how they maneuver through life's triumphs and tragedies....

    Elise Juska, 42, is the director of the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
  15. Three Rooker Island is all about the baby birds



    Near the high-water mark, close to shore, three American oystercatcher chicks follow close behind their mother. Nearby, hordes of laughing gulls sit on their eggs, snuggled in the grass. Across the island, hundreds of ibis sway in the branches while guarding over their nests. On Three Rooker Island, it's all about the baby birds. • The island is surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of St. Joseph Sound and is part of the Anclote Key Preserve State Park. Known by old-timers as Three Rooker Bar because of its origins as a sand bar, it has been a popular destination for boaters for decades. It's also one of the top nesting colonies for shorebirds in the state. This means human visitors must be considerate of the avian day care. • As it has done since 2012, the Florida Park Service, with help from Clearwater Audubon and the American Bird Conservancy, has closed about a quarter-mile of beach on the horseshoe-shaped island from May 1 through Aug. 1....

    A laughing gull, part of a horde that occupies Three Rooker Island, improves its nest among the tall grasses.