If you enjoy giving books as holiday gifts and want to shop locally, you’re in luck. The Tampa Bay area teems with local authors who write books of just about every kind.
And to double up on your local shopping focus, you can buy their books at one of our great independent bookstores.
Here are three new books that are not only written by local authors but focus on the Tampa Bay area.
Grounds for Murder
By Tara Lush
Crooked Lane, 295 pages, $26.99
Not long ago, Lana Lewis’ life seemed right on track. She was a hard-charging investigative reporter at a Miami newspaper, married to a guy with the “carefully cultivated beauty of a TV news anchor.” Then the paper laid her off and the husband left her for a younger woman, and now she’s trying to put her life back together while running Perkatory, the comfy coffeehouse started by her late mother.
The coffeehouse is in Devil’s Beach, a fictional island town that will sound familiar to anyone who knows the barrier islands along Florida’s central gulf coast. Lana is getting back into the groove in her hometown. As a business owner and coffee fanatic, she’s excited about the upcoming Sunshine State Barista Championship, especially because she has a clear advantage: Perkatory’s Instagram-famous barista Fabrizio Belluci, as well known for his abs as for his espresso drinks.
Then Fab suddenly quits and takes a job with the competition. Lana gives him hell in public — and early the next morning, she discovers his body in the alley behind Perkatory.
Soon almost everyone, even Noah Garcia, the swoony island police chief, thinks Lana might have had something to do with Fab’s demise. Her reporter’s instincts kick in as she tries to figure out what happened — the list of possible suspects is uncomfortably long — all while running the business, keeping an eye on her hippie dad and looking after Fab’s adorable puppy, Stanley.
Tara Lush is the pen name of Tamara Lush, a former Tampa Bay Times reporter who now works for the Associated Press. She’s published several contemporary romance novels, and there’s a sexy buzz to this book, the first in her Coffee Lover’s Mystery series. There’s also, despite the gallons of coffee prepared and consumed, a laid-back Florida vibe that’s as local as can be.
Tombolo Books presents a virtual book launch of Grounds for Murder, with Tara Lush in conversation with Craig Pittman (Cat Tale), at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 8. Register to receive a link to the event at tombolobooks.com.
Vintage St. Pete: The Golden Age of Tourism — and More
By Bill DeYoung
St. Petersburg Press, 193 pages, $25
Journalist and author Bill DeYoung dishes up a warm serving of nostalgia for his hometown in this collection of essays about the St. Petersburg area in the mid-20th century. With a trove of fascinating facts and more than 100 photos, many glowing with the pastels of hand-tinting, the book is a fun time capsule.
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I’m a boomer who grew up in Tampa, so many of DeYoung’s essays evoke my childhood: visiting the massive Webb’s City that covered seven blocks in downtown St. Petersburg for ice cream cones and chats with mermaids, taking elementary school field trips to the creepy London Wax Museum on St. Pete Beach, going to Bayfront Center for concerts by performers like the Beach Boys, when they were barely out of their teens.
DeYoung writes about entertainment venues like the Manhattan Casino, the St. Petersburg Operetta and the Treasure Island Music Circus, and about celebrities associated with St. Petersburg: Al Capone, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. In 1961, Monroe and her then ex-husband DiMaggio vacationed on North Redington Beach, staying at the Tides Hotel, dining at the Wine Cellar and trying to fend off hordes of fans.
DeYoung covers long-gone tourist attractions like Tiki Gardens, the Aquatarium and Earl Gresh Wood Parade, as well as a few that have survived, such as Sunken Gardens. Opened to tourists in the 1930s, it was purchased and renovated by the city a couple of decades ago after a developer announced plans to convert it to a nudist resort. Vintage St. Pete is a real trip.
From Saloons to Steak Houses: A History of Tampa
By Andrew T. Huse
University Press of Florida, 321 pages, $28
Andrew Huse, a historian and special collections librarian at the University of South Florida, takes a different route to local history: through restaurants, bars and clubs.
His deeply researched book covers a century of Tampa’s history, starting with the founding of Ybor City in the 1880s and the numerous immigrant social clubs that were the center of daily life for people who lived there: Circulo Cubano, Centro Espanol, L’Unione Italiana, Centro Asturiano. The clubs, some still in existence, provided clinics and theaters for their members, and they also housed bustling restaurants and bars.
The book covers the temperance campaigns in Tampa, which began long before Prohibition and divided sharply along class and race lines. Bars remained controversial through the World War II era, when Tampa tried to manage huge numbers of military personnel in training by clamping down on “jook joints.”
Huse looks at other social issues that became tied to restaurants, such as sit-ins at local lunch counters by civil rights activists. He tracks the conversion of the beloved Las Novedades restaurant in Ybor City to a short-lived steak house and then into the second-largest gay nightclub in Florida, El Goya, legendary for its drag shows and eventually the victim of arson.
There’s plenty of fascinating Tampa history on the menu in From Saloons to Steak Houses.
Want to know more?
If you’d like to know about more local authors, hop over to the Tampa Bay Times Virtual Festival of Reading website at festivalofreading.com. Click on “view all authors,” then choose an interview with a Tampa Bay area writer. You’ll find talks by Raymond Arsenault and Roy Peter Clark, Michael Connelly, Tim Dorsey, Sarah Gerard, Cheryl Hollon, Gary Mormino, Craig Pittman, Katherine Snow Smith, James Swain, Sterling Watson and Lisa Unger, and panel discussions by the 15 contributors to Tampa Bay Noir.