Friday, July 29, 2011

Announcement regarding The Blond Leading the Blond

We interrupt the regularly scheduled Beach Bling blog post with this late-breaking and totally rockin' announcement...

Cover art for The Blond Leading the Blond arrived in my inbasket yesterday.  And <<<drum roll please…>>> here it is!
The scheduled release date is October, 2011.  Only 9 weeks away.  Yikes! 

So now I have to muster up my inner-cheerleader and start promoting myself.  I could use a little advice here.  In the comments section, please tell me what makes you check out the details of a book to see if you’d like to risk your hard earned dollars on a new author.  Do you judge a book by it's cover?  Do you pay attention to tweets?  Blog posts?  Listserve BSPs?  Recommendations from friends?  Or does a tchotchke from a meeting, conference or book signing give you the impetus to Goggle the book?  If so, what tchotchkes work best? Bookmarks?  Pens?  Trading cards? Something else?  I welcome any and all ideas.  And if I sound desperate for a knock-your-socks-off promotional gimmick, it’s because I am! 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Beach Read: Shem Creek by Dorthea Benton Frank

Todays Beach Read Review is posted by Eliza Fleetwood, who writes Historical Romance and Contemporary Romantic Suspense from her home in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Shem Creek by Dorothea Benton Frank is set in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. No place on earth makes me think of the beach more than the South Carolina coast.

Book Title: Shem Creek by Dorthea Benton Frank
Beach Setting: South Carolina Low Country
Format:  Paperback
Pages:  344
Publication date:  August, 2004
Publisher:  Berkley
Favorite Passage:  There are 2. I couldn't decide.

1) How was it that there were so many people who wanted to be with someone and yet there were so many people alone? Never mind how many people were rotting away in lackluster marriages that should have ended when their kids went to college. Or men my age chasing girls who still got pimples. Sure, there were legitimate reasons why people had less than optimal personal lives--extensive business travel, demanding careers, narcissism, momma's boys, daddy's girls, impotence, uncontrollable flatulence, chronic halitosis, neurological disorders such as Tourette's syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, being incarcerated, and heroin addiction, to name a few. And let us not forget--you could have just been born with a face as ugly as a mud fence.
          2)  "Did you ever think about how much of our lives revolve around food? I mean, it is the craziest thing! All we do is talk about it, buy it, cook it, serve it, clean it up and then stress over how much we ate and how much we weigh. It's a little stupid, isn't it?”

Beach Read Rating: 4 (out of 5) Beach Umbrellas

Review:  I enjoyed this book. It is about people in the second stage of adulthood, dealing with loss and finding hope and happiness again. The characters are well written and realistic. A mother who thinks her rebellious child needs a dose of southern living to get her back on track so picks up and moves back to her hometown. A man who's lost everything in a divorce dealing with starting over. The scenery makes me want to hop in my car and drive the six hours to Mount Pleasant, SC   
Not a hearts and flowers romance, this story still warmed my heart and I didn't want it to end.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Beach Tale: "A Thief Amongst Us" a self-sleuthing short story

          Sand soccer.  Summer doesn’t get any better than that, with teams of three field players (no goalies) running and kicking the ball through the rutted sand while parents cheered wildly from the sidelines.  It was a whole different game than that played on the pitch where the ball would roll across the sloping field.  In sand soccer, you had to lift the ball into the air and send it towards the goal, then struggle after it, the soft, rutted sand giving very little purchase.  It was hard work, and not just for players, but spectators too.  Everyone sweated under the hot, midday sun.  But the advantage sand soccer had over traditional was the venue.  The Atlantic Ocean crashed just yards from where the kids played.     
          We had 100 teams from 15 states in attendance, all of them hot and sweaty and whiney and hungry and flocking to the concession stands, where it was my job to keep everyone happy.  Only with three volunteers MIA (word is they couldn’t find parking anywhere within 10 miles), we were short staffed.  With eleven us working in a stifling hot 20x20 tent, we were also short-tempered.
          I had six volunteers taking orders and handling the cash drawers, and four more volunteers manning the food stations, handing up the hot dogs, cold wraps, fresh fruit, water, sports drinks and the ever popular lemon ices as the orders were called back.  The frenetic activity could be described as pandemonium.  As volunteer coordinator (a thankless task, to be sure) there was no other option than for me to roll up the sleeves of my beach cover up and help out. 
          Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that my position as league board member puts me above grilling hotdogs or digging wraps out of the cooler until I’m ready to keel over from heat exhaustion, but I was supposed to be observing today. You see, over the past few months of running concessions at the field, the cash deposit at the end of the day had sometimes been short. Hundreds of dollars short. The sad truth was, someone was stealing from the soccer league concession stand, and I was determined to collar the thief.   I figured someone was stuffing cash into their pockets, and my plan had been to observe the suspects today. 
          By virtue of an intricate spreadsheet prepared by my 4th-grade daughter, I’d been able to cross reference which volunteers had worked on all of the occasions that money had been missing. I had narrowed the pool down to four regular volunteers. Three of them were volunteering this shift. The fourth was enjoying a spur-of-the-moment vacation to the Bahamas.
          “Changing a hundred,” Gemma Anderson called from cash drawer one. It was the policy to announce whenever big bills were coming in so that the supervisor--today that would be me--would know to check the cash drawer for sufficient change. On a slow day, the purchase of a $2 hot dog with a $100 bill could really put the drain on the cash supply. With the lines currently 10 people deep, making change for a Benjamin was the least of my worries.
          “Seven hot dogs and four lemon ices on three,” Kelli Jones called from her position at the table. She’d graduated from Beach High last year but had yet to find a full-time job. She’d recently joined the ranks of the concession volunteers to keep herself busy. It hadn’t escaped my notice the money started disappearing shortly after that. But her outfit of yellow polka dot bikini and crocheted cover up, I don’t see how she’d sneak fistfuls of dollars out of the stand without someone noticing.
           “Two turkey wraps and two apples,” Gemma called again, her voice rising above the cacophony in the concession tent. This boisterous woman was Celia Anderson’s grandmother, a high-energy woman who didn’t look a day over 40. Rumor has it she was actually 72. Her husband had recently passed away and Gemma volunteered for every concession opportunity as a way to keep connected with other people. I couldn’t run the place without her. But I couldn’t rule her out of the suspect’s pool, either. Her husband had let his life insurance policy lapse.
          “We’re out of ketchup,” Dan Meriwether called. I abandoned my post long enough to grab two bottles from the supply cooler, remove their foil liner, and slap them on the table for the customers to use. Dan smiled his thanks, the corners of his eyes showing lines that I hadn’t noticed before. Since he’d been laid off from his management position at a local retail company last year, he’d thrown himself into his children’s lives. Not only was he the soccer league VP, but he also coached two youth sports team per season and volunteered at the food bank every Friday. He was generous with his time, and used to be equally generous with his money. I’d heard he was now a regular customer at the food bank where he volunteered.
          We kept up the frenetic pace until four o’clock that afternoon, at which point I asked all the volunteers to empty their pockets before they left. No hidden wads of cash. So if everything balanced, that would point the guilty finger towards the Bahamas-bound Anna Davidson.
          I took custody of the three cash drawers. Armed with tally sheets of the day’s sales and summary of food stuffs left (not much, it had been a very good day), I snuck off to the league-rented d hotel room just a few steps off the boardwalk.  I wanted to prepare the bank deposit myself. The hotel’s air conditioning was an added bonus.
          I checked, and then double checked then triple checked the deposits.  We were more than $400 dollars short from the calculated $9,500 income.  As I glanced at the stacks of cash spread out on the bed, I realized who the thief amongst us was.   And if you were paying attention, you probably know, too. 
          To see who the thief was, click on the “read more”

Friday, July 22, 2011

Beach Bling: Wine Stakes

Beach bling is all about stuff ya gotta have when you go to the beach.  I’m not just talking about trips to stretch out and absorb those golden rays of sun or to build sand castles with the kiddies or to surf like Gidget.  There exist other opportunities.  Romantic opportunities.  Sunset opportunities.  Picture this:  a hunk of soft havarti cheese, a sleeve of water crackers, a bunch of grapes and a bottle of your favorite wine enjoyed wile you and your true love snuggle in a beach blanket, the surf crashing just a few feet away.  But nothing ruins that special moment more than a glass of merlot spilled on your white bikini.  Good news, though.  This type of catastrophe can be avoided if you equip yourself with the proper Beach Bling.
I’m guessing necessity was the mother of invention when some really smart person came up with the idea of wine stakes.  Check out these nifty ideas from Uncommon Goods <<>>:
I have a set of similar wine stakes that I take along on family trips to the beach because they work equally well with bottled water.  I drag them along not because I need more things to schlep to the shore, but because I got tired of transferring sand from my water bottle to my sandwich every time I took a sip.  (FYI, sandwiches were not so named because beach when enjoyed at the beach they invariably get sand in them, but because in the wee hours of one night in 1762, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich was too busy to stop gambling so ordered the waiter to bring him slices of roast beef slapped between two hunks of bread, enabling him to continue gambling while eating…but I digress...) 
Wine glass stakes are also very useful when attending concerts in the park (they work equally well in grass) or a polo match.  Without fail, they draw a couple dozen comments from people like, “Hey, why didn’t I think of that????”  I do, indeed, wish I’d had the foresight to come up with a simple solution to the age-old problem of wine spilled at the beach.   Then I would be a millionaire and could spend all day at the beach, not just the few hours I can spare when I’m not writing.
In searching for a place to buy the win stakes I also came across these totally ingenious ideas for a wine table…

…and a wine balancer.

I am the first to admit all of these things look easy to make at home, especially if you are the crafty sort.  But the question remains, will you take the time and make the effort to do so?  Or just buy a set to keep handy for your next beach outing?   
I thought so...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Beach Read: "Moonlight Becomes You" by Mary Higgens Clark

Set in Newport, RI, the history of the small New England town is part of the character, and it works nicely.  I consider it a “beach read” because it is relatively short and can be read in one (loooong, uninterrupted) day at the beach. 

Book Title: Moonlight Becomes You by Mary Higgins Clark
Genre: Mystery   
Beach Setting:  Newport, RI
Format:  Hardcover (picked up for $.50 at the Library Book sale!  What a steal!)
Pages:  255
Publication date:  1996
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Favorite Passage:  I hate cocktail parties, Maggie thought wryly, wondering why she always felt like an alien when she attended one.  Actually I’m being too harsh, she thought.  The truth is I hate cocktail parties where the only person I know is my supposed date, and he abandons me the minute we come in the door. 

Beach Read Rating:  4 (out of 5) Beach Umbrellas

Review:  Buried alive!  Is there a more nightmarish idea in the whole world?  And that is exactly how this book begins, with a woman named Maggie waking up in a locked coffin.  The story then backtracks about three weeks so we can see the events leading up to the premature interment.  That is the “ticking time bomb” that makes this a thriller that you don’t want to put down!  When and why did she end up in the coffin?  And more importantly, will she be saved in time?  Ms. Clark does a fabulous job of creating a very sympathetic character in Maggie (she and I could form a lasting friendship because we both hate cocktail parties!) and does an even better job of working the reader into a cold-blooded fear for our new “friend”.  There is a reason I only gave it 4 beach umbrellas though, but only because I would have written the ending differently.  According to a quick Google search, most reviewers enjoyed it as is.  It remains a very enjoyable bit of escapism while you are at the beach.     

Cover blurb:  Set in Newport, Rhode Island, in a world of old money and proud names, Moonlight Becomes You has at its center Maggie Holloway, an independent young woman who has put personal tragedy behind her and become one of the fashion world's most successful photographers. Accompanying her date to a party in Manhattan - a kind of family reunion for the Moore clan of Newport - Maggie is reunited with a woman who had once been her stepmother and who remains one of her fondest childhood memories. Nuala, now widowed, invites Maggie to visit her in Newport, and when Maggie readily accepts, Nuala plans a dinner for a group of friends so they can meet her long-lost stepdaughter. But when Maggie arrives, she finds Nuala dead, the victim of an apparently random break-in and robbery. Maggie is heartbroken at the loss and further stunned when she learns that, only days before her death, Nuala had changed her will and left her charming Victorian house to her stepdaughter, the only proviso being that Maggie occasionally visit an old friend, Greta Shipley, who lives in Latham Manor, an elegant retirement home in Newport. It is when she accompanies Mrs. Shipley to the cemetery to visit Nuala's grave, as well as those of other friends Mrs. Shipley has recently lost, that Maggie discovers that something is wrong. Using her skills as a photographer to aid her in uncovering the secrets hidden on the gravesites, she soon realizes that Nuala's death may not have been a random killing at all but rather part of a diabolical plot conceived by a twisted and unfeeling mind.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beach Tale: “The Starfish” Paraphrased From: The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley

Today’s Beach Tale doubles as a life lesson.  See if it doesn’t make you want to go to the beach.  And maybe, just maybe, it will also make you realize how a small effort can make a big difference. 

Once upon a time there was a wise man that used to go to the ocean to do his writing.  One day he was walking along the shore.  As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer.  He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day.  So he began to walk faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.  As he got closer he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?"

The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish in the ocean."

"I guess I should have asked, why are you throwing starfish in the ocean?"

"The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don't throw them in they'll die."

"But, young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can't possibly make a difference!"

The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said, "It made a difference for that one."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Beach Tale: Home Sweet Home (a romantic short story)

          I’d read Jameson Lee Clemmons’ purchaser profile with interest and painted a mental image of a gracefully aging southern gentleman who resembled Colonel Sanders. No marital status was required when purchasing a house with cash, but if he showed up for our two o’clock appointment with no spouse in tow, I’d fix him up with my Aunt Meg up for dinner tomorrow night.  Maybe someday she’d return the favor.
          I hit the PRINT button on my computer and the laser jet wheezed to life at the same time the bell over the front door jangled. “Just a minute,” I called. Grabbing the stack of printouts of suitable properties, I headed for the reception area. “Can I help...” My words were replaced by the sound of a girlish giggle that bubbled forth. From me! But what red-blooded woman of child-bearing years wouldn’t have a similar reaction upon coming face to face with this sun-bronzed surfer type? Aged mid- to late-thirties, if I were to hazard a guess.  The perfect age for me!
          “I have an appointment with Tara Quinlan.”
          Even his voice had a sun-drenched tinge. “Jameson Lee Clemmons?” I squeaked.
          “Just J.C. please.”
          “I’m Tara.” We shook hands. His grip was strong and firm, his hands no stranger to manual labor. My heart did a little shuffle step. “Let’s start with a tour of the island.”
          We piled into my golf cart and headed west. The large expanse of sandy beach and the crashing surf never failed to put a customer in the buying frame of mind. “Tell me what you’re looking for,” I said.
          “I’ll know it when I see it.”
          “How large?”
          “Nothing too big. It’s just Molly and me.”
          No ring, but no surprise there was a Mrs. Clemmons. Knowing he was off limits allowed me to relax and focus on the job of finding this man and his family the perfect Home Sweet Home. “How many bedrooms?”
          “Maybe three.”
          Kids in his and Molly’s future maybe?
          “I need a workspace and a fenced-in yard.”
          All yards were fenced on the island. That didn’t narrow things down much. “Any style preference? I can offer Tudor, Plantation, Victorian, Contemporary--” He held his hand up and I stopped.
          “Like I said, I’ll know it when I see it. Oh, and I have to head back east tomorrow.”
          There were over 100 houses for sale that would fit his vague parameters. Good thing I liked a challenge. “We’ll find the perfect house for you and Molly.”

Friday, July 8, 2011

Beach Bling: Beach Hats

Remember, while a day at the beach is good for what ails you, too much sun can be bad for your health, so you’ll want to protect yourself from those warm and relaxing--yet deadly--rays.  Yes, there is sunscreen with SPFs as high as 110 (seriously, I have some…) but a floppy hat can add an extra layer of protection as well as make you look like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.  And a wide-brimmed hat can allow you hide if the person you are following turns to see who is following them. (Remember, I write mysteries, so this shopping research has to double as writing research so I can deduct it as a business-related expense!)
If you are a one-stop shopper, then your only stop need be  They have hundreds of styles/colors to choose from, all reasonably priced.  Some are more functional than fashionable, such as this Columbia Bora Bora Cachalot Ball Cap:

But if fashion is more your thing, check out their cute Tilley Hat, which might be a little fancy for a romp in the surf but is the perfect accessory to the cute sundress you have picked out for the beach wedding you’ll be attending (and everyone should attend a beach wedding at some point in their lives.  SOOOOO romantic!) 

While completely impractical for a day lying at the beach (because your arm would get sunburned and tired from holding it on top of your head so it doesn’t blow off in the merest whisper of a breeze, not to mention the risk of becoming airborne a lá The Flying Nun) the Woman’s Shapeable is the perfect hat for divot-stomping should you stop at a Polo Match on your way home from your day at the shore (that’s a Pretty Woman reference for those of you who missed it…).  Check out this one from  Not only is it stylin, it offers a UPF (that’s Ultra Violet Protection Factor offered by fabric) of 50+. 

But if your hat needs tend towards under cover work (be it surreptitiously checking out the guns on the hunky lifeguard or trailing an FTA--that’s Failure to Appear--like bonds agent Stephanie Plum), I gotta go with something from the Fedora files, like this one from Nordstroms (matching trench coat optional):

While I’ll admit the “fascinators” sported during the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Princess Kate were (for lack of a better word) fascinating, they have zero functionality when it comes to beach wear.  After all, it’s about protection from the sun.  So if you take the 110 SPF lotion and add it to the 50+ UPF of a hat, you’re at 160+ protection.  But you’re on your own when it comes to calculating how long that means you can safely lounge on the beach.  (Higher math was never my strong suit.)
Hope to see y’all at the beach soon!  I’ll be the woman wearing this Toucan Collection Poppy Clotch. (It doesn't have much of a UPG rating, but it makes me feel like Nancy Drew--the 1930s version! I LOVE IT!) 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Beach Read "Just Like Heaven" by Julia Quinn

This book was SOOO good I forsook a day at the beach to stay home and read!  It probably would have been even more enjoyable if I took a few breaks to dip my toes in the surf, but I didn’t want to waste one precious second packing my beach bag and hassling with traffic. 

Book Title:  Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn
Setting:  England, 1824
Format:  Kindle ebook
Publication date:  May, 2011
Publisher:  HarperCollins Publishers
Favorite Passage:  “Then you’ll steal me a piece?”  <<Marcus Holroyd>> gave <<Honoria Smythe-Smith>> his best smile.  His best I-almost-died-so-how-can-you-deny-me smile.  Or at least that’s how he hoped it appeared.  The truth was, he wasn’t a very accomplished flirt, and it might very well have come across as an I-am-mildly-deranged-so-it’s-in-all-of-our-best-interests-if-you-pretend-to-agree-with-me smile. 
Second favorite passage:  There was a collective gasp, and Daisy faked a swoon, sliding elegantly into Iris, who promptly stepped aside and let her hit the floor. 

Beach Read Rating:  5 (out of 5) Beach Umbrellas

Review:  There are some books that are just so compelling, that you can’t put them down.  Just Like Heaven is one of those books.  I read it in one day, spending an entire sunny New England summer’s day stretched out in the hammock with my nose pressed to my Kindle.  It’s all in the characters.  Marcus Holroyd is first introduced as a lonely twelve-year--old of English nobility to goes on holiday from Eaton with his friend, Daniel Smythe-Smith.  It is there he meets pesky six-year-old baby sister, Honoria Smythe-Smith, known not-so-affectionately as “Bug”.  But as little girls are wont to do, they grow up to become beautiful young ladies in search of true love.  Such is the case for Honoria.  And the reader can’t help falling in love with the hero and heroine as they fall in love with each other.  IMHO, there’s nothing better than a good Regency Romance on a Sunday afternoon, be it at the beach or in your backyard. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Beach Tales: From the files of “The Things They Didn’t Tell Me When I Signed On for this Navy Spouse Gig”—Flag Etiquette 101 (a short work of non-fiction)

          One day while driving onboard Naval Base San Diego, the car in front of me stopped.  I don’t mean pulled over to the side and slowed down, but stopped, right there in the middle of the street.  No blinkers.  No crosswalk in sight.  Not even a jaywalking sailor in the middle of the road.  The car just stopped.  And I, not expecting this, allowed the front bumper of my car to kinda/sorta “kiss” the back bumper of his car.  No big surprise, the elderly driver got out of his car and gave me a lesson I’ll never ever forget.  But the lesson was not about paying attention while driving, but about the proper way to show respect for the American Flag.
          Here’s the thing:  the reason the elderly gentleman had stopped his car was because it was time for “colors.”  Thankfully, the man also took the time to explain to me what that meant, because I'd only been married to my sailor for a few months and I was utterly clueless. 
“Colors” is the ceremony performed twice a day (at 0800 and at sunset) to raise and lower the American Flags posted throughout the base.  While the flag is hoisted, the National Anthem blares base-wide on the base Public Address system.  While the flag is lowered, a bugler bugles Retreat over the PA system.  During such time, all outdoor activity comes to a complete stop, and that includes a soccer game in progress.  Proper flag etiquette requires that everyone (not just military in uniform, but those out of uniform and those of us who never wore a uniform) stop and turn and face the direction of the flag, even if it is blocks away.   
So for any of you who may ever have cause to drive onboard a military installation, heed this lesson:  if “colors” plays, stop the car.  If driving behind a three-star admiral, stop (and I can’t emphasize this enough) before your car rear-ends his. 
      Another lesson I learned the hard way is the proper way to honor the flag during the hoisting or lowering ceremony.  Perhaps for those of you who paid attention in kindergarten, it’s second nature to face the flag and stand at attention with your right hand (palm open) over your heart (men removing their hats and holding them over their left shoulder so that their hand is over their heart.)  But when you are standing on the dais it’s easy to get flustered.  And one time I, flanked by all kinds of military brass and standing up there with hundreds of people watching, put my left hand over my right shoulder.  The little old lady standing next to me helped me out by reaching out and tugging my left hand down and putting my right one in place.  Needless to say, a lot of people approached me after the ceremony to ask me how many glasses of wine I’d had at the reception earlier.  (Perhaps a more important lessen here is to not drink too many glasses of wine at the reception earlier.)   

Friday, July 1, 2011

Beach Bling: Beach Towels are a MUST HAVE!

Trust me when I tell you it is NO FUN to go to the beach without a towel.  While some people may enjoy the hot, scratchy sand against their skin, most prefer a little bit of cotton between them and the beach.  And you’ll need something to dry off with after a dip in the ocean.  And you’ll need something to wrap around you when you wander up to the Kimo’s Shaved ice stand.  And if the weather turns (which I hope it doesn’t), a good towel does double duty as a jacket. And, if for no other reason, you’ll want something to put between your wet, sandy self and the real Corinthian leather (or hot sticky vinyl) seats of your car 
     Bottom line is, you shouldn’t go to the beach without a really good beach towel.  Preferably one that reflects your personality. 
     You can always pick one up at the souvenir stand on your way to the beach.  Yeah, they allow you to advertise back home that "I Sunned My Buns on Miami Beach”, but these are often expensive and of little substance.  It’s best to remove the “emotion” (and margarita-buzz) from your purchase, so buy one before you leave home.