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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 north Pinellas County. 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. Trump, Clinton supporters state their loyalties in cookies


    LARGO — Just west of the cannolies, Donald Trump and HiIllary Clinton can be spotted smiling, side-by-side, at least ontop of the cookies, that is. For the fourth presidential election in a row, Frida's Bakery on Ulmerton Road, is the site of an ongoing political poll. It is unofficial, of course, but tasty. The data: cookies. Customers purchase sugar cookies, $1.99 each, with either Clinton or Trump's photo on edible paper, on top. The cashier logs the vote. "Sales had Donald Trump ahead for a long time, but now it's close. Hillary fans have been worried. You could see it,'' Frida Alipour, the business owner, said. "Everytime we have done this, we seem to have same results as what happens nationally, but of course, we are selling cookies. You never really know.''...

    Clinton and Trump cookies are neck and neck at Frida's Cafe in Largo. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
  2. What's Kristy Woodson Harvey reading?



    Kristy Woodson Harvey

    In her latest novel, Lies and Other Acts of Love, Harvey opens with a hurricane and a grandmother named Lovey who believes there are two types of people, those who flee and those who wait it out, "hovering over their possessions as if their fragile lives offer any protection against a natural mother that can take them out of the world as quickly as she brought them into it.'' Although the characters, members of a tight-knit family in North Carolina, are fictional, the author admitted that her own family has a few women like Lovey, perhaps not stubborn but at the very least "headstrong and self-assured.'' Harvey, whose book Dear Carolina was longlisted for the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, will be a featured author at the Times Festival of Reading on Nov. 12....

    Kristy Woodson Harvey
  3. What's Kelli Stuart reading?



    Kelli Stuart

    Stuart, who lived for a short time in Kiev, wrote her book Like a River From Its Course after meeting Maria Ivanovna, a survivor of a Nazi slave labor camp, while she was on a trip in Ukraine. "I heard her story, and her father's, who survived the massacre at Babi Yar, and I realized I wanted to fictionalize the story,'' she said. For 10 years, Stuart, 38, gathered research, including interviewing more than 100 veterans, and in June, the author saw the release of her historical novel based on the real-life stories. An Odessa resident, Stuart holds a degree in English and a minor in Russian literature from Baylor University. On Nov. 12 she will discuss Like a River From Its Course, and the people who inspired it, at the Times Festival of Reading as a featured author....

    Kelli Stuart
  4. What's Shana Smith reading?



    Shana Smith

    Smith is best known as Florida singer Shana Banana, a guitar-toting, ABC-wielding nature mom, but she is also a marine biologist-yogi who co-directs the Gainesville Retreat Center with her husband, Dan Smith. In the introduction of her new book, Meditation for Moms and Dads: 108 Tips for Mindful Parents and Caregivers, Smith stressed that while mindfulness, achieved through meditation, can help us "fulfill our ultimate job as parents and effect compassion, peace and loving kindness,'' meditation and spiritual focus "just don't synch" at times when you are caught up in what she calls "the householder scenario.'' ...

    Shana Smith is best known as Florida singer Shana Banana. Her new book is “Meditation for Moms and Dads: 108 Tips for Mindful Parents and Caregivers.”
  5. J Balvin, Wisin and Gilberto Santa Rosa headline Sunday's Hispanic Heritage Concert at Coachman Park

    Music & Concerts


    As the scents of mojo and sofrito float through the air and percussions echo over Clearwater Bay, no doubt concertgoers will be dancing to a "threefer."

    Concierto Herencia Hispana 2016, Clearwater's annual Hispanic Heritage Concert, will take place Sunday in Coachman Park. The lineup includes three headliners — reggaeton artists J Balvin of Colombia (Best Urban Song at the 2015 Latin Grammy Awards) and Wisin of Puerto Rico (part of the duo Wisin and Yandel), and Gilberto Santa Rosa (nicknamed Puerto Rico's Gentleman of Salsa)....

    J Balvin
  6. What's Dawn Maslar reading?



    Dawn Maslar

    Maslar, who built her career as "the love scientist,'' is seeing the release of her book Men Chase, Women Choose: The Neuroscience of Meeting, Dating, Losing Your Mind, and Finding True Love this week. The book studies the four phases of love: the norepinephrine-charged meeting phase, the dopamine dating phase, the insane falling-for phase and the safe, long-term phase. Maslar, 51, has been featured in TEDxED talks and on NPR and Daytime TV, and on Nov. 12, she brings her research (and tips) to the Times Festival of Reading at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg as a featured author....

    Dawn Maslar
  7. Family partners restaurants with St. Petersburg College and BayCare

    Human Interest


    On a recent Friday inside the University Partnership Center at St. Petersburg College, Shadi Fackih chatted with breakfast customers while sipping coffee near the front counter of Nature's Table.

    He bragged about his mother, Jackie Fackih.

    "She's a lioness,'' he said. "She believes in the American dream.''

    He shared thoughts on the college's administration. "I think it's progressive.''...

    Ashley San Antonio makes a wrap on the SPC Seminole campus. “We needed a good food choice for our students,’’ said Mark Strickland, the Seminole provost.
  8. What's Melissa De La Cruz reading?



    Melissa de la Cruz

    We last spoke to de la Cruz in 2013, when her Witches of East End book series had just started its two-year run as a TV show on Lifetime. In the last three years, her writing includes two books based on Disney's TV show Descendants (Isle of the Lost and Return to the Isle of the Lost) and Surviving High School, co-written with Vine-famous Lele Pons. She is preparing for a book tour for Something in Between, the launch title for Seventeen magazine's Harlequin Teen imprint. De la Cruz, 45, moved to the United States from Manila, Philippines, when she was 12 and graduated from Columbia University, where she studied art history and English. In her new book, the protagonist is Jasmine, a Filipino immigrant and scholar. Jasmine's world is turned upside down when she learns her parents' visas have long ago expired and the family is living in the country illegally. Although de la Cruz's background and citizenship differ from Jasmine's, the author admits being "emotionally spent'' when she finished the book. "I definitely get that feeling of being somewhere and thinking you belong, but you don't belong,'' she said. "It was an emotional book for me.''...

    Author Melissa de la Cruz is preparing for a book tour for “Something in Between.”
  9. What's William Felice reading?



    William Felice

    In his newest book, The Ethics of Interdependence: Global Human Rights and Duties, Felice takes on the question, "Why should we be concerned about what's going on abroad when there's suffering here at home?" His answer involves four case studies, including gay rights in Africa, women's rights in Saudi Arabia, environmental rights in China and mass incarceration in the United States. "There are many examples of this type of ethical interdependence and how actions in one country negatively impact human rights in another country,'' he explained. Felice, 66, is a professor of international relations and global affairs at Eckerd College. He stressed that as an educator, his aim is to "not create a political person'' but instead to teach students how to "take on responsibility themselves and to be an informed citizen in our democracy."...

    William Felice’s newest book is “The Ethics of Interdependence: Global Human Rights and Duties.”
  10. Longtime Oldsmar residents bring Lincoln memorabilia for a face off with 'Pawn Stars'


    OLDSMAR — Jerry Beverland carefully carried his precious cargo to the car: the molds of a life mask of Abraham Lincoln wrapped in bubble wrap and a 150-year-old mahogany chair that Lincoln just might have used in the White House.

    "We drove straight through to Vegas,'' said Beverland, a longtime Oldsmar City Council member and history buff. "We weren't interested in going anywhere else.''...

    Detailed carving on the back of a rosewood mahogany dining chair, the last of 14 chairs of a set of dining room chairs which Jerry Beverland says he and his wife, Wanda Beverland, purchased in 1976. Beverland said the chairs were made for Mary Todd Lincoln for use in the White House formal dining room in the 1860s.
  11. What's Cecily von Ziegesar reading?



    Cecily von Ziegesar

    Von Ziegesar, 46, hit a zenith with Gossip Girl, her YA book series turned TV series, narrated by Kristen Bell and starring Blake Lively. And now comes Dark Horses, a YA novel with two voices: protagonist Merritt Wenner, who goes on an all-night bender before taking her SATs, and Red, a failed racehorse that steals the wild girl's heart. When von Ziegesar, a lifelong equestrian, decided to write Dark Horses, she reread several horse books from her youth, including Black Beauty. "Actually, Black Beauty was probably read out loud to me,'' she said. "It's funny, I didn't remember that it was told from the horse's point of view, and I thought, 'Oh, this would be such a challenge to write from that point of view.' "...

    Cecily von Ziegesar’s “Gossip Girl” YA book series was turned into the hit TV series. Her newest YA novel is “DarkHorses.”
  12. Lakeema Matthew: A muralist celebrates Oldsmar

    Local Government


    As Lakeema Matthew painted with dark blue for the sky and with black for the birds flying upward, she talked about fallen soldier Army Cpl. Frank R. Gross, whose face will eventually grace the center of her current creation, two murals on the band shell at R.E. Olds Park.

    Although he died before they met, she feels a kinship with Gross.

    "Frankie is my buddy,'' said Matthew, 27, holding a paint brush in one hand while keeping her work hat steady from the wind with the other. "I learned Frankie's story earlier this year. He was an artist like me. He's out here with me every day.''...

    Lakeema Matthew describes Oldsmar as “small and quiet and filled with history.’’
  13. What's Emilie Socash reading?



    Emilie Socash

    Socash is currently the executive director of both the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties and the Tampa Orlando Pinellas Jewish Federation. She previously served as the founding executive director of the Freefall Theatre in St. Petersburg. Socash, an avid reader and writer who pens a regular column for the Jewish Press of Pinellas County, has also, she says, "written, but not published, a children's feminist novel as well as a 'mockumentary' screenplay."...

    Emilie Socash is executive director of both the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties and the Tampa Orlando Pinellas Jewish Federation.
  14. What's Stephen Metcalfe reading?



    Stephen Metcalfe

    On the introductory page of his new novel, The Practical Navigator, Metcalfe writes: "Navigation is the process of charting a course from one place to another.'' It does not take long before the reader understands the importance of navigation to his story. It's about a parent navigating an autistic child, an adult son navigating a mother with dementia and a single dad navigating a rocky love life. Before turning to novels, Metcalfe, 63, wrote for stage and for films, including the production drafts for Pretty Woman, Dangerous Minds and Mr. Holland's Opus. We caught up with the author by phone from his home in La Jolla, Calif., where he lives with his wife, Claudia. They have two children, Wesley, 19, and Olivia, 25....

    Stephen Metcalfe’s new novel is “The Practical Navigator.”
  15. Oldsmar plans to keep tax rate steady


    OLDSMAR — City officials plan to keep the property tax rate flat, but because of increasing property values, the proposed budget of $30 million includes a redesign for Canal Park, raises for city employees as well as putting $2.1 million in reserves.

    With the rate holding steady at $4.05 per $1,000 in assessed, taxable property, the owner of a home valued at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $405 in city taxes. The city's taxable value is estimated at 5.63 percent more than this year....