Posts Tagged Gwen Florio

book review: Disgraced



Disgraced by Gwen Florio. Midnight Ink | March 2016| 288 pages| ISBN: 9780738747668

RATING: ****/5*

Disgraced is the third Lola Wicks mystery [Montana, Dakota] by Gwen Florio. This time around, Lola’s off on a road trip to Yellowstone with her five-year-old daughter Maggie and stumbles upon quite the interesting story. Her co-worker and friend Jan asked her to drive her friend Pal home from the airport. Pal just returned from Afghanistan. At the airport, she witnesses a soldier’s suicide. No one wants to talk about it. What could possibly be the reason? Pal remains sullen, reserved and takes to heavy drinking. She just won’t discuss anything. While she just returned from war she’s still remarkably closed off. This young woman holds many secrets that will slowly be revealed.

Using her investigative journalism skills she digs into this immediately. It involves a group of friends from a local Native American reservation who just returned home from Afghanistan. Until she moved to Montana, Lola worked as a foreign correspondent. She’s familiar with Afghanistan. There’s not much about the suicide in the local paper although Lola notices some connected stories—another soldier killed while on duty. She notes to herself that in most places this many casualties and ruined lives would spark further questioning—“But this was the rural West, with its staunch and unquestioning patriotism.” Author Gwen Florio always excels with establishing sense of place. She writes: “In fact, she thought, throw in a few flat-roofed mud houses, some flocks of shaggy, fat-bottomed Arabi sheep, and bearded men in pajama-like shalwar qamiz toting AK-47s, and Wyoming would look just like Afghanistan—a fact not inclined to endear the state to her.” You can almost feel the sand in your teeth.

Florio writes from own experience as an international war correspondent and someone who relocated from an Eastern city to a less-inhabited state in the West. She knows the journalism business so when Lola pitches this story to an online publication, Florio writes: “She’d have blown her first and almost certainly her last chance to write for one of the few organizations that paid freelancers real money for serious pieces.” Ah, journalism. Such a fickle but necessary professional field. No one goes into it for the money. It’s about truth, providing information and highlighting the fascinating aspects of our culture.

“The war in Afghanistan wasn’t noted for big body counts. But other things were just as insidious. The constant twanging threat that each new footstep could be the one that tripped a mine, that each madly beeping Toyota pickup could be the one that bore a bomb, that each new face could be that of a potential friend—or killer. And the faces themselves, gaunt with hunger and desperation and resentment.”

Although Disgraced deals with serious subject matter, I chuckled at Lola in her new role as mother—“she never though of herself as anyone’s caretaker.” It was something I wasn’t sure I wanted to happen when I read the two earlier books. I appreciated Lola’s single-woman/ independent status. But the bribing her daughter and inability to answer certain questions and having this smarty pants five-year-old along for the ride provides needed levity. And Lola does as Lola wants, child or not. Lola Wicks is my favorite fictional feminist journalist. She remains unmarried to Charlie, her boyfriend and Maggie’s father. She’s brave, outspoken and extremely independent. That’s why this potential story involving soldiers returning from Afghanistan appeals to Lola.

I will always read this series. One day I will visit Gwen Florio and we will ride horses amid the beautiful landscape. Read my interview with Gwen here.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Midnight Ink.

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purchase at Amazon: Disgraced (A Lola Wicks Mystery)

purchase at Amazon: Montana

purchase at Amazon: Dakota

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IN THE REALM: 13 Book Suggestions for Halloween


Each scary in their own way. some thrillers, some nonfiction, some memoirs and a few classics that totally creep me out. I read Stephen King’s Pet Sematary one summer and was afraid of things jumping out of bushes for a long while after finishing it.

fearful symmetry

1. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

pet sematary

2. Pet Sematary by Stephen King


3. Montana by Gwen Florio


4. Biohazard by Ken Alibek

lost in the forest

5. Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller

old woman

6. There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron

street lawyer

7. The Street Lawyer by John Grisham

lord of the flies

8. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

drivers seat

9. The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

black water

10. Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates


11. Stiff: the curious lives of cadavers by Mary Roach


12. Threats by Amelia Gray

working stiff

13. Working Stiff by Judy Melinek

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Gwen Florio [Dakota]


Former foreign correspondent Lola Wicks is back. The independent, outspoken, brassy reporter took a position at a small-time newspaper in Magpie, Montana. After being downsized from her job in Kabul, she left her post Baltimore to find some bliss with local sheriff Charlie [“When it came to Charlie, Lola considered herself a realist about the temporary nature of most relationships.”]. When a local Blackfeet girl, missing for months, is found dead with a strange brand on her forearm, Wicks uncovers a larger story connecting other missing girls from the reservation. Turns out she’s right but it might be more dangerous than she assumed as sex trafficking, drugs and the big money in the oil fields of North Dakota factor into the disappearance. Another thoughtful page-turner with magnificent sense of place and descriptive scenery by Gwen Florio.

Gwen and I spoke by phone recently.

Amy Steele: How did you make the jump from journalist to fiction writer?

Gwen Florio: I started writing seriously about 20 years ago. I was working for the Philadelphia Inquirer and there was a wonderful writing workshop in Philadelphia. I joined that and started working seriously on writing fiction. I read almost exclusively fiction. Joining this group gave me some guidance.


Amy Steele: What made you write the thrillers that you’ve done?

Gwen Florio: I did not set out to write thrillers. I read a lot of literary fiction and thought that’s what I would write. I wrote some previous novels and they could easily translate to thrillers. One of them was just dreadful and just shouldn’t see the light of day. The second one was better and that one got me an agent. She couldn’t sell it and she just said “write another book.” So I had something intact which was the prologue to Montana. I googled how to write mysteries and read a lot about the genre. I really stumbled into it. I’m really glad I did.

Amy Steele: It sounds like you had to do a lot of research and there’s a particular structure.

Gwen Florio: There is a particular structure and coming across that made it really familiar to me like writing a long newspaper series or big magazine piece. Those are all really structured to keep the reader plodding along. I kinda relaxed once I had those guidelines. I rearranged some of what I’d written. It took some of the fear factor out. I could relate it back to journalism in a way that felt familiar.

Amy Steele: How has your journalism career influenced your novel writing?

Gwen Florio: It demystifies writing. I don’t sit around and wait for inspiration. I’m so used to deadlines that I just sit down and write. That’s the great gift of journalism. Writing is a job. You really tune your ear into how people talk. You’re listening for great quotes. The rhythm in that quote or anything which gives you a sense of who they are. It really helps you with dialogue. I feel like I know how to write believable dialogue. It gets you to a lot of different places and different experiences. It exposes you to things. When I was reporting my newspaper stories there was all this great information that just didn’t belong in the stories that was just so interesting. So now I can put that in my books. It wasn’t wasted.

Amy Steele: There are lots of twists in Dakota. How do you keep track of characters and plot?

Gwen Florio: Badly. I’m working on one right now. I forgot some names and I put in some lines. You’d think I would make a timeline. I’m getting better at that. I tend to go back and forth and see what I’ve written before. I don’t outline. I kind of outline as I go along. I make a little summary of each chapter so I can check back before I go on.

Amy Steele: Where did you come up with the idea for Lola Wicks?

Gwen Florio: I made her a reporter for a couple reasons. It’s the old ‘write what you know.’ Reporters in general tend not to have very exciting lives but I could make hers exciting. Also I feel bad about what’s happening in journalism so writing about her being downsized and dealing with that was my own way of saying “screw you” to the industry and highlighting what’s happening in the industry.

Amy Steele: How would you describe Lola?

Gwen Florio: She’s a person who struggles with being her better self. She’s so impatient and so focused on getting the story. I like putting her in situations where she’s actually forced to stop and pay attention. She does not like to accept help. But she has to. You can’t be a lone wolf in some of these situations especially the one I put her in and I like watching her struggle. She reluctantly accepts Jan, the other reporter, and they have a good partnership. But she’d rather not do that. She’s kind of a pain in the ass but a likeable pain in the ass.

Amy Steele: What do you like about her?

Gwen Florio: I like that she will not be deterred. She’s going to find out what happened no matter what. She does have that capacity for friendship, though she would rather not, she does yield to that. She’s never going to be a softie but some of her hard edges are sanded down.

Amy Steele: You tackle several issues in Dakota: sex trafficking and transient workers. What interests you in writing about these topics?

Gwen Florio: You see an influx of men from all over the country. Louisiana. People who worked in oil jobs that dried up. Anywhere that the housing market went bust people come to North Dakota to work. There’s been a massive change to an impoverished rural area. Flooded with men who don’t have ties to the area and flooded with money. People who live there are making a ton of money but they’re kind of trapped too. Pretty little farm towns. Isolated. Huge trucks are going by all the time or men are living next to you and coming and going at all hours. If you’re a woman there I hear it’s horrendous because you’re constantly harassed because there are so few women. I read that every woman is either packing or carrying pepper spray. I’m fascinated by that kind of social upheaval.

Amy Steele: What’s the Native American population out there?

Gwen Florio:In Montana it’s 7%. They are our largest minority group. The reservations are really isolated. For them to get jobs on the oil fields is huge. That’s why I set it up like that. I’ve done a lot of reporting from the reservations. The problems they face are so intense.

Amy Steele: I drove cross-country in my early twenties after college and my friend and I stayed on an Indian reservation in Utah. Near Bryce canyon and Zion. We felt very white.

Gwen Florio: Montana is very white. I will go for days and days without seeing a black person and it just blows my mind. Not like Philadelphia. It’s good to get in a situation again where you’re in the minority.

by Gwen Florio

purchase at Amazon: Dakota

by Gwen Florio


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STEELE Picks: 20 Best Books of 2013

woman upstairs

1. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud [Knopf]
–a brilliant novel about anything but that typical woman upstairs. It’s about aspirations present and past, realized and forsaken.


2. The Revolution of Every Day by Cari Luna [Tin House Books]
–an intense book about squatting, community and political activism in the 90s

ghana must go

3. Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi [Penguin]
–a beautifully written book. haunting and lyrical. family, race, country, belonging.


4. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward [Bloomsbury]
–this memoir. raw. upsetting. the author mediates on the poverty in Louisiana and the black men she lost in its depths.


5. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat [Knopf]
–another novel in which I’m in awe of the writing style. gorgeous mystical tale about Haiti.


6. FEVER by Mary Beth Keane [Scribner]
-wondrous historical fiction about “Typhoid Mary.” fascinatingly imagined.

inbetween people

7. The Inbetween People by Emma McEvoy [The Permanent Press]
–stunning, powerful novel. Avi Goldberg writes from military prison because he refuses to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF]. He writes about his friend Saleem, an Israeli Arab he met. Their lives intertwine despite cultural differences and past troubles.

in the body of the world

8. In the Body of the World by Eve Ensler [Metropolitan]
–not only a memoir about Ensler’s personal journey with cancer but it’s a call to community, to get involved. so powerful I cried when I finished reading it.

valley of amazement

9. The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan [ECCO]
–sweeping story about mothers and daughters set in turn-of-the-century Shanghai

Harvard Square

10. Harvard Square by Andre Aciman [W.W. Norton]
–melancholic, nostalgic autobiographical novel about belonging and assimilation that focuses on immigrants finding their place in America in the 70s.

sister mother husband dog

11. Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron [Blue Rider]
–the this essay collection, Delia tackles the profound to the superficial with wit, perception and charm. She maintains a steady wisdom-filled tone. She’s a woman who’s experienced plenty and shares mistakes, some secrets and reflects upon life-lessons with those willing to listen.

vampires in lemon grove

12. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell [Knopf]
–This collection of stories transports you to places you never imagined going to. Russell writes stories about variations on monsters. Beautiful, peculiar, unusual and tragic monsters. She creates bizarre, macabre and funny settings. Complete with vivid imagery, creepiness and potent emotions without an excess of verbiage. She writes dark, funny and tender.

freuds mistress

13. Freud’s Mistress by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack [Amy Einhorn]
–long rumored to have had an affair with his wife’s sister, Kaufman and Mack vividly imagine this sister’s character and life with the Freuds.


14. Montana by Gwen Florio [The Permanent Press]
–MONTANA drew me in immediately with its stellar page-turning plot, terrific characters and stunning descriptions of Montana scenery. Also Lola’s an independent feminist journalist determined to uncover the truth at any cost.

dirty love

15. Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III [WW Norton]– author interview
–one of my all-time favorite authors writes vignettes about love, sex, relationships and the gritty, sticky, messy aftermath.


16. Lillian and Dash by Sam Toperoff [Other Press]
–What a charming novel that delves into the long affair between playwright Lillian Hellman [Little Foxes, The Children’s Hour] and noir author and screenwriter Dashiell Hammett [The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man].

big brother

17. Big Brother by Lionel Shriver [Harper Collins]
–Lionel Shriver expresses so many thoughts about obesity epidemic, how we indulge, how food is a treat, a central focus for holidays, outings, dates, meetings etc. Dazzling writing, vocabulary and character creation up until the ending.

together tea

18. Together Tea by Marjan Kamali [ECCO]– author interview
–insight into the immigrant experience. Humor, love, respect and mother-daughter bonding make this a book you’ll long remember after finishing the last page. It’s a love story to Persia as well as an acceptance for the United States.

hypothetical girl

19. The Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen [Other Press]– author interview
–in this astute story collection, Elizabeth Cohen writes about dating in the digital age.

nothing serious

20. Nothing Serious by Daniel Klein [The Permanent Press]
–brilliant meditation on print media and its changing format and relevance.

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MONTANA: book review


MONTANA by Gwen Florio. Publisher: The Permanent Press (October 2013). Suspense/Thriller. cloth. 256 pages. ISBN 978-1-57962-336-4.

“She couldn’t remember the last time she tried to sleep on a plane. She’d spent too many years trying to get to the sorts of places that sane people sought to leave, traveling there on rusting prop planes of questionable pedigree flown by pilots of dodgy backgrounds under conditions that made her wonder why she’d ever fretted over an assignment of window versus aisle; each new trip a gut-liquefying opportunity to wonder when luck would turn on her, demanding payment for past excesses of hubris.”

Foreign correspondent Lola Wicks gets called back to Baltimore for a local reassignment and she’s furious. Her editor insists she take a vacation. When she arrives in Magpie, Montana at her friend’s cabin, she finds her friend, a local reporter, shot dead. Lola stays to discover why someone killed her even when she finds herself in danger.

Dauntless, free-spirited and a truly independent woman, Lola knows what she wants to do professionally and what makes her happy. At this time, that’s being in a war zone covering international conflicts. Author Gwen Florio writes: “She heard her editor yet again, essentially suggesting that it was time for her to be more like other people. Ignoring the fact that the thing that made her different was the reason she’d presumably been hired in the first place.”

Coming back from Afghanistan, Lola Wicks finds herself a bit paranoid— “She cast sidelong glances at her fellow passengers, retrieving an array of towering backpacks and cylindrical cases that looked as though they could contain grenade launchers.” Into this small, seemingly idyllic town in the midst of America, Lola brings her wary foreign correspondent mindset. But does that become a hindrance or help in determining what happened to her friend?

MONTANA drew me in immediately with its stellar page-turning plot, terrific characters and stunning descriptions of Montana scenery: “ahead, bare foothills bunched like fists, knuckled ridges pressing back against the weight of sky. The road arced around the hills in lazy swooping curves, then without warning hair-pinned through cliffs that leaned in above her, slicing the sky in manageable size.”

RATING: *****/5

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from The Permanent Press.

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