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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. What's Alafair Burke reading?



    Alafair Burke

    For her latest project, novelist Burke is collaborating with bestselling author Mary Higgins Clark on a new suspense series about Laurie Moran, TV producer of a show that features cold case murders. We caught up with Burke, 45, on Nov. 18, the day of the release of The Cinderella Murder, the first book in the series. Burke, whose father is crime fiction writer James Lee Burke, is a former deputy district attorney in Portland, Ore., and is now a professor of law at Hofstra University on Long Island, N.Y. She is also the author of the Ellie Hatcher series, the most recent of which is All Day and a Night, as well as other books. ...

    Alafair Burke released The Cinderella Murder earlier this month.
  2. Oldsmar sticks with red-light cameras

    Local Government

    OLDSMAR — The City Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to keep its red-light camera program despite the risk of lawsuits stemming from a recent court decision in South Florida involving American Traffic Solutions, the same vendor Oldsmar uses.

    Several weeks ago, the 4th District Court of Appeal, based in West Palm Beach, dismissed a citation against motorist Eric Arem, ruling that Hollywood officials gave too much authority to ATS in issuing the infraction....

  3. Tarpon Springs High band's trip to Macy's parade is subject of documentary


    TARPON SPRINGS — This is a band that's used to the spotlight. After all, Tarpon Springs has been to Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, among other venues.

    And yet, the lights have perhaps never been brighter for the Spongers.

    After all, it's hard to top being the best in the nation. Last week Tarpon Springs won the Bands of America Grand National Championships at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis....

    Journey to the Macy’s Parade features Tarpon’s band, one of 11 high school and college bands invited to last year’s event.
  4. Bike trek by Palm Harbor man helps disabled veterans (w/video)

    Human Interest

    PALM HARBOR — Rick Watson realized he would spend many days alone, away from any help, when he decided to make the 1,700-mile trek on his bicycle from the Lincoln Memorial to Lincoln, Neb.

    However, for Watson, a 61-year-old Palm Harbor real estate agent, the reasons for the trip outweighed any fears he might have had. It was a chance to catch up with family and a chance to fulfill a longtime goal, to honor several veterans in his life by raising money for Homes for Our Troops, a charity for disabled veterans. It was also a chance to honor his niece's husband, Steve Rader, a cyclist who was fatally hit by a truck last year in Wisconsin....

    Rick Watson recently completed a 1,700-mile bicycle ride from the Lincoln Memorial to Lincoln, Neb., to raise money for Homes for Our Troops, a group that builds houses for disabled veterans.
  5. What's Tim Duffy reading?



    Tim Duffy

    It was Guitar Gabriel, a blues musician in Winston-Salem, N.C., who first took Tim Duffy's heart. Others followed, like Willa Mae Buckner, Preston Fulp, Mr. Q and Macavine Hayes. In 1994, Duffy, along with his wife, Denise, created the nonprofit Music Maker Relief Foundation after recognizing that blues men and women across the South were struggling in poverty and needed financial support. In the past two decades, Music Maker has helped 300 blues artists, issued more than 160 CDs and presented concerts in 40 states and 17 countries, all in support of preserving the American blues tradition. To mark its 20-year anniversary, the organization has released We Are the Music Makers, a book and CD set that includes stories and 65 photographs gathered by Duffy, 51, along with two discs showcasing Music Maker musicians. We caught up with Duffy, a guitar player who holds a master's degree in folklore from the University of North Carolina, at his home in Hillsborough, N.C. For information, visit

  6. What's Rick Steves reading?


    Rick Steves

    The PBS host, author of 50-plus travel guides and recipient of the European Union's 2013 Outstanding Friend of Europe Award, will make a stop Wednesday at Ferguson Hall at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa ( We caught up with Steves, who studied European history and business at the University of Washington, by phone recently and asked him about his appearance. "There is a challenge for me going from Seattle to Tampa, which is traveling from one corner of the country to the other,'' he said. "It has to do with packing the lessons I've learned over the years in a very practical, entertaining way, but I bring lots of slides and it's right up to date with four months of travel to Europe this year.''...

    Rick Steves, who tells tourists they need to travel like temporary locals. photo from
  7. What's Deborah Frethem reading?



    Deborah Frethem

    Local author and storyteller Frethem has been busy this Halloween season promoting her newest book, Haunted Ybor. "I actually moved here ten years ago from Minnesota to do ghost tours,'' said Frethem, 65. "But I love history and, with all that is here, one thing led to another and I began writing the book.''

    And what does the author consider the most haunted place in Ybor City? "The Cuban Club,'' she said. "There's all kinds of things going on there. The most prevalent story is of (Albert J. Kolby), who was shot there. People have seen him as an apparition of a man in a suit. He was also known as El Fumador, the Smoker.''...

    Deborah Frethem, author of “Haunted Ybor” and “Haunted Tampa: Spirits of the Bay and Ghost Stories of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Pinellas County”
  8. Cheeseheads keep business booming at Culver's burger chain in Largo


    LARGO — Parrish Sandefur admitted he worried about the success of his restaurant before it opened. Not too long ago, he and his wife, Alicia Sandefur, opened up the first Culver's in Tampa Bay on East Bay Drive. Although the quick service restaurant was a go-to eatery for him and his family for years back in Wisconsin, he wasn't sure if people in Florida would recognize the chain.

    "Culver's is really well-known in the Midwest, but when we first moved here, I was just meeting people who were from, well, Florida,'' he said....

    Jordan Krolak, left, and Melanie Skinner hustle an order out to customers.
  9. Dia de los Muertos Fiesta brings Mexico's traditions to Dunedin



    The city is noted for its Scottish heritage, however, on Saturday, Dunedin's Celtic roots will take a backseat to the community's growing Latin community. For the sixth year in a row, downtown restaurateurs Javier and Tina Avila are holding their Dia de los Muertos Fiesta in Pioneer Park. Dia de los Muertos is Spanish for Day of the Dead. • Although the event is planned close to Halloween, don't think the celebration, which will cost the Avilas $10,000, is about goblins, black cats and zombies....

    Tina Avila works on an altar she built in preparation for Saturday’s Casa Tina Dia de los Muertos Fiesta in Dunedin. This will be the sixth year that she and her husband Javier have helped the community celebrate the Mexican tradition, which honors the deceased.
  10. What's Rick Yancey reading?



    Rick Yancey

    Yancey is a busy guy this fall, dividing time between Atlanta, where his YA novel, The 5th Wave, is being adapted into a movie for Sony Pictures (starring Chloe Grace Moretz), and author events promoting The Infinite Sea, which was released in September and is the second book of the 5th Wave trilogy. We recently spoke by phone to Yancey, a former IRS officer, who described the experience of seeing his novel turned into a major motion picture as "cool and surreal.''...

    Rick Yancey’s most recent release is The Infinite Sea. His YA novel, The 5th Wave, is being made into a movie.
  11. What's Sara Pennypacker reading?


    Sara Pennypacker

    Pennypacker, 63, is widely known by both children and their parents for her Clementine series and the freckle-faced protagonist whose good intentions always take a backseat to getting into trouble. Pennypacker is also the author of Summer of the Gypsy Moths, Pierre in Love, Sparrow Girl and Stuart Goes to School, as well as a contributor to the Flat Stanley series. Pennypacker divides her time between Massachusetts and Florida. She will speak at 10:15 a.m. Saturday (Oct. 25) in USF FPRW 118....

    Sara Pennypacker, the author behind the Clementine series, will speak Saturday (Oct. 25) at the annual Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading.
  12. Beekeeping is on the rise in Pinellas County (w/video)



    Rebecca Conroy, dressed in long sleeves and a veiled hat, worked inside her apiary at the Ochs 4-H Educational Center. Three days had passed since she discovered two of her 21 hives suffered severe damage from what she suspected was pesticide poisoning. She was ready to see if any other hives were hurt, and if at least the queens from the damaged hives had survived.

    She began to pull up frames, the dividers that hold the honeycombs, turning them from one side to the other....

    Rebecca Conroy of St. Petersburg searches for the queen on one of the frames from a brood chamber. She is the director of Pinellas Beekeepers, a group that meets monthly.
  13. Two events to show off Brooker Creek Preserve's natural beauty


    Fall is a busy time for Brooker Creek Preserve. Permanent residents such as gopher tortoises, wild turkeys and deer find themselves sharing space with migratory visitors, including sand hill cranes and hooded warblers.

    For the next two weeks, the preserve will have even more visitors — humans. The Paint and Photo Brooker Creek Preserve, a plein aire competition sponsored by the Tarpon Springs Art Association and the Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve, will be this weekend. Plein aire is French for "open air," and painters and photographers will hike much of the preserve of oak hammocks, pine flatwoods and forested wetlands, seeking to capture the perfect moment....

    Brooker Creek, background, flows through the Brooker Creek Preserve, which will host a wildflower festival on Oct. 18 that will include lectures and activities for children.
  14. What's Suzanne Brockmann reading?



    Suzanne Brockmann

    Brockmann, 54, will be a busy woman on Oct. 25 at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading. She will appear twice, once for Do or Die, the first book in her new romantic suspense trilogy, Reluctant Heroes, and again with her daughter Melanie, a personal trainer and resident of Sarasota, for their YA paranormal romance, Night Sky. Brockmann is arguably most known for her Troubleshooters series, and in the 2004 book of that series, Hot Target, she gained fame for being the first mainstream romance writer to include gay characters in a subplot. She dedicated Hot Target to her openly gay son, Jason, who now lives in Los Angeles. When we caught up with the author by phone, we asked her if she expected her gay story lines to be so well-received by her readers. "I do a lot of signings all around the country, and there were times when I'd be somewhere that I didn't expect everyone to be so open to it, but at those places it seems I'd always get the question, 'Will we be able to read more with the gay characters?' '' Brockmann said. "So it's been wonderful to learn that most of my readers are so very open to diversity.'' Brockmann and her husband, Ed Gaffney, split their time between Sarasota and Massachusetts....

    Suzanne Brockmann
  15. What's Nathan Andersen reading?



    Nathan Andersen

    On Oct. 25, Andersen, 44, will be one of the featured authors at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading, where he'll talk about his book Shadow Philosophy: Plato's Cave and Cinema, which brings Stanley Kubrick's film A Clockwork Orange into philosophical conversation with Plato's Republic. "I compare A Clockwork Orange and what it has to say with ideas from Plato's Republic,'' he said. "So at the book festival, I just want to talk about that idea that we can find philosophy in a context that we might not ordinarily expect.'' Andersen has been teaching philosophy and film at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg for about 15 years. ...

    Nathan Andersen will be at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading on Oct. 25.