Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Beach Read: MISS QUINN'S QUANDARY

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when it comes to reading preferences, I am a genre slut.  Give me a regency romance, chick lit or cozy mystery and I’ll tuck myself into a beach chair and loose myself for hours, at great risk for serious sunburn, I might add.  So imagine my degree of lobster redness I cooked myself to when I found a story that skillfully melded all three of my favorite genres into one!    

Book Title:  Miss Quinn’s Quandary, by Shirley Marks
Genre: Regency Romance    
Setting:  London and surrounding countryside
Format:  Hardcover
Pages: 265
Publication date:  2008
Publisher:  Avalon Books
Favorite Passage:  That morning she <<Miss Quinn>> had left Miss Simmons’ Seminary for Young Ladies.  It was the first time in all of her eighteen years she had ever been on her own.  At the seminary, there was always someone to tell you what to do, how to behave, or when to speak, and she was so very tired of it.
          It was that morning, while traveling up the Severn, when she had decided to do something about her wasted lift.  Something bold, something exciting, something memorable. 
          Now she shared a room with a perfect stranger. 

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


Review: What makes this book so delightful is the premise of a perfectly proper young woman telling a little white lie that snowballs into a whole heapin’ lot of trouble.  I relate to the lovely Miss Quinn because I, too, would be tempted to fib if it meant I could enjoy the comforts of a warm and cozy feather tick for my overnight stay vice bedding down on a pallet of straw in the barn.  Imagine the creepy crawlies in that straw!  <<shudder shudder!!!>> So our heroine claims to be married to a perfect stranger in order they may get the last room at the inn.  With no plans of ever seeing the man again, then, well, no harm no foul, right?  Wrong!    Author Shirley Marks brings the two back together and that’s when the fun really starts.  And if that wasn’t enough of a delightful regency/chick lit romp, the story is basted with a hint of a crime that the hero and heroine must solve before the HEA (that’s happily ever after for those of you no current with romance acronyms) ending.  What more can this reader ask for?  Nothing!   Miss Quinn’s Quandary is a totally satisfying read.    

Larissa Quinn travels directly from Miss Simmons' Seminary to the wilds of Westmoreland to care for her elderly aunt. After the day long journey, the only place for the weary travelers to sleep is the barn of an over-booked inn with only a single vacancy.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Beach Bling: The Basic Necessities of a Hurricane Beach Bag

Does anyone see the irony of my last post being a review of a book that chronicles the horrific events of the greatest storm of the 20th century to hit New England, and now, Irene, the greatest storm of this century, is knocking on our door?  To say that I’m a little freaked out is an understatement.


For those of you who may not have read my bio yet, I write from Newport, RI.  As of the 8 a.m. projected track of Irene, we are due to catch the nasty east-side of the storm.  Probably a mere category 1 (winds of 74-95 mph) but a storm surge of 25 feet!  I was a girl scout, so I have assembled the items for my emergency kit as recommended by FEMA, so survival is not an issue.  What is at issue is the things I need to tuck into my beach bag to make the post-storm trials and tribulations a little more enjoyable.

First and foremost is my itty bitty book light!  I expect to get a lot of reading done in the darkness that is part of the “fun” of a week—or longer--without electricity.  It is near impossible to sleep on those hot humid nights without benefit of a/c, let alone a fan to offer a slight breeze.  (And don’t believe the advertisements, those little battery-powered “personal” fans do not offer a dang bit of relief!)  So I will spend the nights escaping into a fictional world, preferably one set in the middle of a blizzard.

Next in my Hurricane Beach Bag I will need liquid refreshments.  Not water (that’s part of the survival kit tucked away in the basement) but something refreshing to tickle my tastebuds and relax the stress.  To that end, I have tucked away a few cases of my daily caffeine staple, Diet Coke (which isn’t quite as refreshing without ice but is still a daily requirement).  I've also set aside another basic necessity of life, Cabernet Sauvignon.  A case of it, selected because it best enjoyed at room temperature.


And of course with the red wine there will be chocolate.  Dark, creamy chocolate that is perfect food for after a hurricane because it does not require cooking or refrigeration and is ooohhhhh, so tasty!  


So while the rest of the world remains plugged into their social media worlds, I’ll be curled up, nibbling chocolate while enjoying a glass of wine and reading a book by a meager light.  Kind of cozy, if you think about it. 

So if there isn’t a blog post on Monday, it’s probably because I don’t have electricity or any communciaton to the outside world.  But don’t worry about me.  I have my Hurricane Necessities packed in my beach bag and we’ll survivie just fine. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beach Read: SUDDEN SEA, THE GREAT HURRICANE OF 1938

I usually shy away from books about an historical event because, well, frankly, they read like history textbooks.  But this one was a delightful departure from that and was a truly amazing account of the greatest hurricane to ever blow ashore along the coast of New England.  Ms. Scott has a terrific voice and was gentle in her telling of the horrors of the hurricane that caught the New England coast by surprise. 

Book Title: Sudden Sea, The Great Hurricane of 1938, by R. A. Scott
Genre:   Non-fiction
Beach Setting: New England coast, 1938
Format:  Trade paperback
Pages:  237
Publication date:  2003
Publisher:  Back Bay Books, Little Brown and Company
Favorite Passage:  The morning began softly on Narragansett Bay – just the flat, steady slap of the sea against the wooden hulls of the fishing boats easing out of the harbors of Rhode Island at first light.  Through a thin morning fog, the sun was a silver-white dollar, promising a bright day. 

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


Review:  I knew there wouldn’t be a happy ending here, as even 60 years later locals still talk about this terrible storm (they didn’t name hurricanes in 1938; that practice didn't start in the U.S until 1950 to avoid confusion when more than one storm was churning in the Atlantic).  The United States weather system (which was positively archaic by today’s standard) tracked the storm as merely a Tropical Storm (sustained wind speeds of 74 mph) when it was in actually a Category 5 Hurricane (sustained wind speeds of 155 mph).  Without adequate warning, people didn’t flee the storm, which resulted in an estimated eight-hundred deaths.  Entire beach villages were washed out in a single afternoon. People watched in horror as their neighbors homes floated right by.   Forests (which fed the local timber trade) still suffered 30 years later.  The author really brought the people—both those who survived and those who perished—to life once again.  Katherine Hepburn’s story showed that even the rich and famous were not immune to the hurricane’s wrath.  The book was heartbreaking and tragic yet peppered with stories of survival and told with almost poetic beauty. 

Cover blurb:  In the tradition of "The Perfect Storm, Sudden Sea" harkens back to a natural disaster that struck terror in the hearts of many. In this narrative, readers experience The Great Hurricane of 1938, the most financially destructive storm on record.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Beach Tale: "Show Me the Money", a self-sleuthing short story

            I’d taken the introductory class in Forensic Accounting at the local university, not because I was looking for a career switch, but because I thought it would help me add an element of expertise to the suspense novel I was secretly writing.  When Uncle Bud had problems at The Beach Buggy, his gas station/convenience store, he called me for professional advice and I jumped at the chance to put my new skills to work. 
            “Dory, honey,” Uncle Bud said. “I can’t figure it out.  Just about every day, the cash in the drawer is about a hundred dollars less than it should be, according to the daily sales reports.  Someone is stealing from me.  I’ve added an extra person to the shift to keep an eye on things, and have even made employees lock their purses and wallets in their cars then I made them empty their pockets at the end of their shift.  Nobody is carrying cash out of the station. I hope you can help me figure out not only who is stealing, but how they manage to do it.”
            I hoped I could figure it out, too.  Uncle Bud and Aunt Lucy were good people who were struggling financially after a bad car accident left Aunt Lucy unable to work.  They couldn’t afford to lose $3,000 a month.           
            That night I went to their house and we went over the books, looking at them from every angle, creating spreadsheets to analyze the data to see if we could spot trends, maybe isolate an employee who worked every day the drawer came up short.  Then we watched security tapes until our vision blurred.  Guess what we came up with?  A great big fat nothing.
            “I have an idea,” I offered.  “How about I take your inventory next week and I’ll watch what’s going on and see if I can figure out how somebody is stealing from you.” 
            Uncle Bud agreed. 
            First thing Monday morning I set myself up to count the inventory of The Beach Buggy’s beach necessitates, which gave me a clear view of the raised platform where the cashiers stood.  I sorted through suntan lotions and beach towles while customers clad in little more than beach cover ups and flip flops came and went in a steady stream. Needless to say, there were a lot of distractions, but I did my best to keep an eagle eye on the employees and the gas pumps. 
            “Give me five dolla’s worth,” an elderly man with stained yellow teeth asked, sliding a dog-eared five-dollar bill across the counter.
            “That won’t get you more than a gallon,” Timmy, the cashier, said.
            “Ain’t that the truth!  But I only need to get to the dialysis place and back.  I don’t run all over creation like I used to.”
            The man went out to pump his gas and Timmy logged the sale in the computer terminal, tucked the money in the cash drawer and set the pump to cut off when it reached the sales limit.
            As the day went on, I concluded most people paid for their gas at the pump with a credit card.  Only a few came in to pay cash, mostly elderly people.  And when they paid cash, it was often only $5 worth, a sad reflection on the tough economy. 
            By the end of the day, my back ached, my feet hurt and my eyes were tired from staring at the tiny print on the inventory sheet.  I was no closer to figuring out how someone could steal from Uncle Bud.  Prepared to admit defeat, I gathered my things.  As I stood on the platform next to Timmy, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the elderly woman toddling back to her large, gas-guzzling vehicle.  She, too, had only purchased $5 worth, just enough to get her to visit her husband’s grave, since today was his birthday.  He would have been eighty-three. 
            I continued to watch her while until she got in the car and drove off.   It took me a moment to process what I’d seen, and as I did, I realized how Timmy was taking Uncle Bud for a ride. 
           Can you figure it out?  Click read more to see the solution. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Beach Bling: What Wine is in My Beach Bag?

Today I am pleased to welcome paranormal romance writer Christine Ashworth as a guest blogger.  I met Christine through a self-promotion class taught by WANA guru, Kristen Lamb, last May.  I immediately became a faithful follower of Christine's Blog , Christine Ashworth--Wicked with a Side of Saucy, which is listed and linked to on My Blog list to the right of this post Christine blogs about a topic near and dear to my heart, inexpensive (as oppposed to "cheap") wines.   Today she entertains and enlightens us with recommendations of adult beverages for a day at the beach. 

Hi everyone! Jayne’s asked me to share what wine I’d sneak into my beach bag (not that I’ve ever actually done that...*hak* *koff*).  But if, say, you’re allowed to take alcoholic beverages onto the beach with you, and you’ve got some sort of designated driver… I think I can help you out from the tipples I have enjoyed at the beach throughout my life….




In the early 80s, as a young couple in the Los Angeles area, my hubby and I liked to watch the sunset out at Free Zuma. We’d pack our beach bag with some yummy cheese, crackers, and a nice bottle of chilled champagne, and watch, breathless and snuggling together, as the sun sank into the waves. Often we’d be there in winter, which meant no lifeguards and little policing of the beach. The champagne was, of course, on the cheap side, but the romance of it still lingers after thirty-plus years.

When the boys were of a rambunctious age and loved to boogie board, a friend of mine and I would merge our kids in the summer and take them to Rincon, where the sand is flat out into the ocean for what seems to be half a mile. She’d spent time in Japan when her husband, who works for Disney, was sent there for a year. I did the driving and she was in charge of snacks…and let me tell you, I had the better deal. She provided us with two small bottles of Saki – to be drunk cold – and I don’t remember who manufactured it. But that plus some easy sushi and spiced edamame, and we were happy under our umbrella, watching our boys, as they turned brown tumbling in the surf.

The boys, of course, grew older, as did my beloved and I. We switched out snacks for a hibachi, and grilled burgers out at Rincon, sipping at tequila from a plastic flask. Our beach days got further and further between, and half the time when we did go, we were there to kayak. Kayaking and alcohol just don’t mix, I’m afraid.


Then the boys hit college age and we were mostly on our own again for beach outings. We spent our thirtieth anniversary up in Cambria, where we rented a house for a week in February. Yes, it was chilly, but there was a balcony and we could see the waves crash up on the rocks, where earlier I’d found dozens of abalone shells.  We’d also visited the Harmony Winery, and I’d fallen in love with the 2007 Zinfandel, which had a peppery taste that I adored. We sat on the balcony, and sipped the Zinfandel, and watched the sun set into the waves. There’s romance for you.

I’m assuming that, as time and nature has their way with us, we’ll eventually go back to champagne in our beach bag, or perhaps the non-drinker’s champagne, sparkling apple juice. But whatever drink you bring, be safe, be careful, remember your book/e-reader and glasses – and don’t forget your sunscreen.

~   ~   ~

About me: I’m old enough to know better and young enough to enjoy breaking some rules. I love cats, demons, witches, vampires and some angels. And gardening. Oh, and cooking, and wine. And I totally adore teenagers.

For some reason, I’m constantly drawn into conversations that start with protecting ourselves from a zombie apocalypse, and spiral out from there. So you can see why I’m a writer.

Twitter: @CCAshworth

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beach Read: CHRISTMAS EVE AT FRIDAY HARBOR by Lisa Kleypas

Guest Reviewer:  Eliza Fleetwood writes romantic suspense and historical romance novels. She lives in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
 
Set on San Juan Island off the coast of Washington State, this quick, easy read makes a perfect choice for a beach read.
 
Book Title:   Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas
Format:   Ebook-Kindle
Pages:   224
Publication date:   Nov 2010
Publisher:   Pietkus Books
Favorite Passage:   << This is said by Maggie, a young widow who has sworn off love.>> 
"I can't picture you running out of things to talk about," Mark said.
 "Oh, it happens. Especially when the person I'm talking to is too nice. A good conversation always involves a certain amount of complaining. I like to bond over mutual hatreds and petty grievances."
There was another scene I liked better, but relating it might spoil it. Let me just say--three brothers trying to make a Thanksgiving meal. I think that is enough.        

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

Review:   This was a fun, sweet story filled with tenderness and humor. I loved the relationship between the characters. Mark and his brother are raising their young niece, Holly, who has been traumatized into mutism by her mother's death. Maggie is the owner of the local toy store. She has a way with kids and soon pulls Holly out of her shell. Maggie isn't ready to date again, but she can't resist Mark and Holly. On the negative side, some may feel that the shortness of the story may limit the depth of the plot.             

Monday, August 15, 2011

Beach Tale: A Day in the Life of an Aspiring Mystery Writer

          4:00 a.m. – My husband kisses me goodbye before heading off to work.  I stretch like a calico coming out of a catnip-induced coma and plot--literally--the day.  Bailey, the quirky amateur sleuth in my current work-in-progress, keeps trying to jump into bed with Dante, my hunky, reluctant-sidekick cop.  He’s yummier than Godiva white chocolate domes with raspberry truffle filling.  Were I single--and fictional--I’d probably be romancing the pants off him myself.  But, we’re only in chapter two, and steamy sex without emotional commitment makes a girl look sleazy.  How can I convince Bailey to wait until chapter five at least?      
          6:00 a.m. – The alarm yanks me awake.  I must have dozed off while lecturing my characters.  I reach for my ipad, kept handy to record wispy snippets of dreams that will become the stepping stones of the next Great American Mystery Novel.  With a few keystrokes, I rearrange my day to make up for the lost hours.  Jobbing out the day’s errands is not in the budget, but I rationalize it as an investment in my career.  Someday I’ll be a rich and famous author and will hire a butler to take care of all life’s details...  I’m jerked out of my fantasy by the sound of children fighting over the use of the bathroom.  I’ll use the  royalties to hire a nanny, too.                  
          7:15 a.m. – The school bus driver stops and waits for my daughters to race down the driveway.  A trip across town would have wasted precious writing time.  Back on schedule, I pop Ritz Bits like they’re M&M’s as I commute to work, two flights up to the attic of our Victorian home.  Legend has it that in the late 19th century an insane Aunt Lizzie had been locked up here.  I can’t explain it, but I think there’s a little Aunt Lizzie in my heroine.  It certainly isn’t me driving all those lascivious thoughts. 
         
7:25 a.m. – First item on today’s agenda is Social Networking.  The bane of my existence.  Not because I don’t enjoy interacting with potential readers (I do, really!), but because it is a Time Hoover, sucking up precious hours that could better be spent writing my mystery novel.  But it’s a blog-eat-blog world out there.  There are thousands—if not millions of—of writer wannabes that share the details of their lives in order to build a readership for a book they haven’t written yet.  And I am one of them, so I dutifully invest a little (sometimes a lot) of my time to build my platform.  First up, Blog reading (32 of ’em) which require thoughtful or witty comments, then click over to Facebook to share with my “friends” what’s on my mind: Diet Coke IV hooked up and I’m ready to write! Then I spend a few minutes (or today it’s hours) reading a bit about what’s on other’s minds (OMG—my friend Sandra Brown Rarey posted “Scene by my driveway.  They’re putting up crime scene tape.  No idea what happened.”  What a great opening scene for my book!  I’m inspired!) Finally I sign on to Twitter.  Like a shotgun blast to the face, thousands of Tweets and Re-Tweets blast me, all clamoring for my attention.  I log off before my brain literally explodes.  Phew.  That was close.    
          Three hours later--Fingers warmed up and all synapses firing, I open my novel and check the progress calendar at the top of my document.  The plan is to write five pages a day, putting me on a pace of four-point-six novels per calendar year.  I should be on page 95.  I scroll to the end of my document--page 30.  Sixty-five pages behind schedule.  I up my daily writing goals to ten pages a day for the next three weeks.  Doable, if I forsake laundry and housework.  One must make sacrifices for one’s craft, I remind myself.     
          10:45 a.m. - Thalia, the muse of humor, has chosen to sleep in this morning.  Without her influence, my writing is flat.  Experience has shown the best way to wake her up is with a bowl of Heavenly Hash ice cream.  Quick trip to the kitchen is in order, then right back to work.    
          10:55 a.m. - The phone rings. My sister’s voice squeals through the answering machine, “Dalton left his science project on the front seat of my car and I’ve got a meeting with the boss in ten minutes--I think I might be getting that promotion to senior VP and then we can afford that new house on South Cleveland Street--and since you’re not doing anything right now I need you to pick it up from my house and run it over to the school or he’s going to fail science, and you know that failure is not acceptable in our family.  Thanks, you’re a sweetie, and I owe you.  Bye.”  Beep.  I delete the message.  She’s right--failure is not an option.  For me.  I sigh heavily and go back to work.         
          11:00 a.m. - I remember a brilliant scene I’d written in a short story workshop a year ago.  With a little tweaking, it will fit in this book, enabling me to exceed my daily writing goals before lunch!  I scroll through work-in-process folder.  Not there.  I conduct hard drive search using every keyword that might have been in the filename.  The little dog icon on the screen wags his tale expectantly, but turns up nothing.  I wade through the thousands of files in my recycle bin.  Still no luck.  Hard copy?  Not to be found.  Those brilliant passages are lost forever.      
          12:35 p.m. – My stomach rumbles, reminding me I haven’t sent anything even remotely nutritional its way since last night’s dinner.  I needed sustenance.  And my brain needed a break.  I grab a mystery novel to “study” during while I eat a PBandJ, because reading is a critical component to becoming a better writer. 
          2:00 p.m. – YIKES!  Janet Evanovich sure knows how to pull a reader into the story!  I could learn a few things from her!  But no more time to study, I need to get back to work.  Back in my office, I pop a Relaxing Escape CD into the boom box, light a gardenia-scented candle, twist the blinds to cut the afternoon sun’s glare on the computer screen, settle back in my leather chair and start playing Spider Solitaire.  Thalia is still on her lunch break but should be back momentarily.    
          3:15 p.m. – The sound of school bus rumbling through the neighborhood yanks me back to reality.  Not only haven’t I typed a single page, I haven’t even dressed for the day.  But, I’ve logged in my eight hours of BITCh (Butt In The Chair) time, so that validates my day of work as a professional writer.  Time to escape from my imaginary world and reenter the real one.     
          4:45 p.m. – While daughters chase soccer balls and butterflies around the field, I sneak off to the grocery store in search of something to cook for dinner.  While surveying the canned soup display for potential quick meal ideas, I try to tune out the voices in my head.  Why now?  Why not two hours ago when I was sitting in front of the computer?  I let Bailey speak, so-to-speak.  She’s trying, as tactfully as possible, to find out what Dante knows about the dead body found in her living room.  So, Dante, have you heard the results of the autopsy report yet?”  What could he respond?  Hmmmm.  A line from an old movie pops into my head. “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”  I glance around to see a mother grabbing her daughter’s hand and tugging the girl away from me.  The frightened look in the woman’s eyes tells me I’d said that out loud.  I start to explain that I’m a writer and writers are allowed to talk to themselves, but they are racing towards the frozen food section.  I grab a family-sized box of macaroni and cheese and a package of hot dogs and head to the checkout stand before I have to explain myself to the police.
          9:00 p.m. – With my dearly beloved snoring in the recliner, I tune in the voices in my head.  Bailey is being witty and Dante is being oh, so charming and an idea for a red herring pops into my head.  I race upstairs to my computer.  The muses work faster than my fingers can type.  Bailey goes chasing after the killer with Dante in hot pursuit.  Pure literary gold. 
          1:59 a.m. – My muses retire for the night.  So do I, slipping quietly between the sheets, I snuggle against wonderful husband who is supportive of my dream to be a mystery writer.  Had somebody told me the work would be hard and the hours crazy, or that the occupation lonely, sometimes frustrating and often fattening (especially when my muses require constant feeding of ice cream and peanut butter), or that the chances of landing a lucrative publishing contract were equal to that of being eaten by a bear, I probably would have continued my career as a CIA (that’s not a sexy spy-thing, but a Certified Internal Auditor.)   But then no CIA (agent or auditor) I know has a book with their name on it shelved in the National Library of Congress. 

  

Friday, August 12, 2011

Beach Bling: Beach Toys!

As nice as the idea sounds after a really grueling week of work, it is not physically possible for one to just lie on the beach and do nothing but sleep and read for eight hours at a stretch.  At some point one must get some physical activity, be it dip one’s toes in the surf or wander to the outhouse or play a game of toss with one’s human--or canine--companion.  So today our Beach Bling post is going to talk about great tossing toys to throw into your beach bag when heading off for a relaxing day at the shore.  And we’re not just talking just beach balls, here.    

A really easy thing to tuck in your bag to toss at the beach is a good, old-fashioned flying disc.  They are more commonly known by their trade name, Frisbee.  Pardon me for a brief historical interruption here, but it’s kind of interesting.  The game of Flying Disc was developed when Walter Fredrick Morrison and his fiancée Lucille were tossing an upside down pie plate to each other while enjoying time together on the beaches of Santa Monica.  That was in 1938.  He improved on the design over the years until 1957, when he sold his patent to Wham-O, who then named the toy the Pluto Platter.  The game became very popular on the rolling green campuses of higher education (college kids will do just about anything to avoid studying!)  and, as college kids are wont to do, they called the toy by a name they coined themselves.  So the Pluto Platter became a Frisbee, so named as a reference to the pie plates they got from the Frisbee Pie Company.  Well, the name stuck and Wham-O capitalized on it to great financial success. 

(Whew…got totally off track there.  What were we talking about again?  Oh yeah, things to toss at the beach.)

Another great thing to toss at the beach is a football.  A soft Nerf one is best, because the balmy beach breezes tend to blow them off course, which can result in them landing someplace they shouldn’t.  Like in someone’s head.  While this can be a very coy way of meeting an attractive member of the opposite sex, it is annoying to others who are just trying to enjoy a day at the beach.




Another very popular game to play at the beach is Hackey Sack.  Its generic term is footbag, but Wham-O (yes, the very same people that popularized the Frisbee), trademarked the idea and made a lot of money from it.  A Hackey Sack is nothing more than a small crocheted bag filled with plastic pellets (gee, why didn’t I think of that and make a million dollars?)  But you do not toss the bag like you would a baseball, but instead try to control it solely (no pun intended) with your feet.  The appeal of this beach game is that it enables you to keep your hands free and wrapped around an ice-cold Corona (or other cooling beverage of choice.) Again, a misdirected footbag can be a great way to meet people, or a great way to irritate people, especially if you knock over their opened Corona. Often in beach lingo this is considered to be “alcohol abuse.” 

But the latest craze, as I discovered on our last seaside sojourn, is Ladder Golf, which is kind of like a beach version of horseshoes.  This tossing game involves throwing two hackey sack-like balls connected by a cord across an open space and hook the balls on one of three horizontal bars that look resemble rungs on a ladder (hence the name, I'm thinking...).   According to Wikipedia, this game was developed at a campground in 1990, when apparently boredom had set in.  (They should have gone to the beach!)  Alternative names for the game include (for obvious reasons): dandy golf, dingle balls, horse balls, slapnuts, hillbilly golf, scrotum, and testicle toss.  Sounds like some crazy college kids have been playing Ladder Golf instead of studying. Hmmmm, I wondeer which on one of those monikers Wham-O will build upon? 

Have a great day playing at the beach!      

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beach Read: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

This is not a book I would have ever picked up on my own, on account of 1) it’s found in the “literary” section of the bookstore (I’m a “genre” girl), and b) it’s about history.  World War II history, to be specific, which is so horrific that I prefer to keep my head in the sand about the atrocities committed in 1940s Europe.  But this book was a gift, and the giver kept asking me if I’d read it, so I was pestered into cracking it open, and once in, I was drawn in by the character’s stories.  Now I pester other people to read it. 

Book Title:  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
Genre:  Historical novel   
Beach Setting: The Guernsey Islands (part of the Channel Islands)
Format:  Trade paperback
Pages: 274
Publication date:  2009
Publisher:  Dial Press Trade Paperbacks
Favorite Passage:  Dear Sidney, Don’t believe the newspaper reports.  Juliet was not arrested and taken away in handcuffs.  She was merely reproved by one of Bradford’s constables, and he could barely keep a straight face.  She did throw a teapot at Gilly Gilbert’s head, but don’t believe his claim that she scalded him; the tea was cold.  Besides, it was more of a skim-by than a direct hit.  Even the hotel manager refused to let us compensate him for the teapot—it was only dented.  He was, however, forced by Gilly’s scrams to call in the constabulary. 

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


Review:  Rarely do I find a book that is so rich in language, so fleshed out in characters, and so soft yet powerful in its presentation that I do not want to put it down.  I read the entire novel in two days, and only stopped because the kiddies were demanding a meal (the quickest thing I could find in the cupboards…Fruit Loops for dinner!) and then some life things that had to be addressed that evening.  But first thing the next morning my nose was back tucked between the pages and I was transported to a little island in the English Channel.  BTW, Guernsey is a real island.  I Googled it because I’d never heard of it, let alone its story. 
The entire novel is presented through an exchange of letters, offering us peeks into people’s lives at their most basic and personal level.  Without wanting to (and believe me, I didn’t want to…I just planned to read enough to tell the person who gave it to me that I’d tried…) I was sucked into the story, laughing and crying and rooting for people and hating the circumstances of war.  It was a book I never wanted to end.  But it did, leaving me sad and happy at the same time.  It is a most fulfilling read.     

Cover blurb:  January 1946: writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.


Anyone have a book they didn’t want to read but did anyway (for whatever reason), but then thoroughly enjoyed it and were glad they did? 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Beach Tale: "Surprise Surprise" (a romantic short story)

         I’ve swum with sharks in the Caribbean, jumped out of a plane from 4,000 feet above ground level and shot a basketball from half-court in an attempt to win a million dollars. If I combined the nervousness of all three of these events, it wouldn’t amount to more than one snowflake in the blizzard of anxiety I felt right now. What had I been thinking?
          Standing on a crowded pier at Naval Station Norfolk, I waited to meet the man of my dreams. Literally meet, as our relationship consisted of six months and eleven days of emails. We’d swapped pictures, and the sight of him in his dress blue uniform with all those colorful ribbons had sent my heart ka-thumping like a steel drum solo. But photos could be doctored, emails ghost-written, and marital statuses falsified. For all I knew, one of these wives and papoosed infants were waiting for him, too. What had I been thinking?
          I’d lied to my parents, telling them I was going on a camping trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains with my sorority sisters. I’d also deceived them about my cyber relationship with my naval officer. They had no idea Lieutenant Jake Porter existed, let alone that I had accepted his very romantic cyber-proposal of marriage. What had I been thinking?
          And if that wasn’t enough, I’d bribed a workman to sneak me onto the base. What was a poor girl to do? I’d driven 529.9 miles only to discover that security around the navy base was designed to keep terrorists out and was no match for a naïve fiancé, regardless of how hard I batted my baby greens at the young MP. So not only was I going to hell for lying to my parents, I could also be going to jail for slipping an electritian a hundred bucks to let me ride with him in his truck when he drove through the gates.
          “Guess you didn’t get the memo on pantyhose,” said a woman standing next to me.
          I compared her cute sailor shorts and midriff-baring sailor top, bare legs and matching sneakers against my mint green linen dress, taupe hose and three-inch strappy sandals. She was cool and sexy, I was hot and frumpy. I hadn’t planned on standing for three hours in the heat and humidity that defined a southeastern Virginia summer. “This is my first homecoming.”
          “I remember my first. Isn’t it exciting?”
          “Yes,” I lied. Terrifying would be a more accurate adjective.
          I licked my lips and felt the effects of too much sun and not enough sunscreen. Jake’s and my first kiss would be like satin scraping sandpaper. How unromantic was that? One more tick on the “Stupid” side of the scorecard keeping track of my romantic folly. “Can you tell me how this works? I mean, how do you find your sailor?”
          “Don’t worry, he’ll find you.”
          A cheer erupted from the crowd at the emergence of a great grey ghost on the horizon. The USS MACDONALD inched closer to the pier after her nine-month deployment to the Persian Gulf. A gigantic red, white and blue lei hung from the bow until it just skimmed the water.  Sailors dressed in Cracker Jack uniforms stood “at ease” around the perimeter of the deck. The sight sparked a surge of patriotic pride I didn’t know I had.
          Tugs pushed the ship into her berth as deckhands scrambled to toss lines and secure her to the pier. The band struck up “God Bless the USA” as the crowd tightened its ranks until deep, nerve-calming breaths were no longer an option for me. Finally, when I thought my heart would explode from my chest from all the excitement, the gangplank was lowered to connect the ship to land and the Captain called liberty.
          Sailors rushed forward to meet their newborn babies for the first time. Men swooped women into their arms and spun them in dizzying circles. Female sailors grabbed children they hadn’t seen in almost a year and held them tight. A melee of kissing, hugging, crying and shouting surrounded me. Joy filled my heart as I searched every smiling face for Lieutenant Jake Porter.
          An hour later, I stood alone on the pier. My romantic dreams felt like the discarded rose petals that littered the ground.
          “Can I help you?” a sailor shouldering a seabag asked.
          “Is everyone off the ship?”
          “The duty section has to stay onboard. Usually the bachelors volunteer so the married ones can spend time with their families.”
          “How would I find out if someone has duty? I’m, ah, kind of surprising him.”
          The young sailor smiled. “The Duty Officer on the quarterdeck can help you. Just go up those stairs and across the brow.” With a tip of his Dixie cup hat, he turned and walked down the pier.
          “Thank you,” I called after him and flew towards the ship.
          With every step I took up the steep metal staircase and across the gangplank, my emotions flipped between hope and despair. Ensign Singleton approached me when I stepped onto the quarterdeck. “I’m here to see Lieutenant Porter,” I said with more confidence than I felt.
          A puzzled look crossed his face. “Your name?”
          “Kara Stevens. I’m a friend of Jake’s.”
          He nodded. Then silence. Cold stone silence. He seemed to be weighing his words carefully. I prepared myself for the worst.
          “Lieutenant Porter is not aboard, Ma’am,” he said.
          “Oh.” He must have left without me seeing him. But then I didn’t really know what he looked like, did I? The idiocy of my engagement hit me like a jumping roundhouse kick to my solar plexus. What a fool I’d been to believe in a relationship that was as intangible as the cyber world in which it had been created. This had probably been a game to him, a diversion to help pass the time of the long, lonely days at sea.       
          I kicked off my shamefully expensive strapy sandals and tossed them into the oily waters of the Elizabeth River before racing across the gangplank and down to the pier.  The scorching asphalt against my stockinged feet gave me something to cry about. I’d just allowed myself my first long, mournful wail when the refrain of “Hey There Delilah” sang from my pocket. Last Sunday, Jake and I had declared that as “our” song and I’d changed my incoming ring tone immediately. I reached for my cell phone with the intention of tossing it to be with my shoes, when the caller ID caught my eye. Mom. I’d better answer, but I couldn’t let her hear me crying. Deep breath. Nose wipe against the shoulder of my mint green dress. Sniffle. Throat clear. “Hi, Mom.”
          “Kara?” asked a deep male voice. “This is Jake.”
          “Oh,” was all I could choke out against the tide of tears that rushed out despite my best efforts to control myself.
          “I pulled a few strings," he said, "and flew off the ship a day early so I could get to Cleveland to surprise you.  Your mom tells me you’re camping.”
          “No, I’m standing beside your ship. I wanted to surprise you.”
* * *
          I spotted Jake first as he rode the escalator down to the baggage claim area. The sight of him, standing tall in his crisp white uniform and shiny gold buttons, took my breath away. Our first kiss, where lips met lips and souls met souls, turned my legs to spaghetti. When he dropped to one knee and, amidst the cheers of hundreds of other travelers, presented me with an antique diamond engagement ring, I nearly went into cardiac arrest. I’d doubted this man’s love for me? What had I been thinking?