Tidewater Review - July 2008

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You...


Anne Stinson

   Three books that belong in the family’s beach bag along with the suntan lotion, sunglasses and big towels are winners that will unwind those stressed nerves, fill the head with fantasies and give readers bragging rights to familiarity with stories before they hit the big screens.
    Best of all, there’s one for Mama, one for Papa and one for Baby. One is definitely set for the big screen (Mama’s chick-lit book, which is being touted as a vehicle for Heather Locklear), and Papa’s buddy flick pairs two cowboy types, ramblin’ musicians. The book for Baby, definitely not for Hollywood, is a sweet semi-adventure about an adorable bug who has to get safely across a broad lawn.
    Ladies first is the rule, so the classic romance novel for the tote bag is Flirting With Forty by Jane Porter. 5 Spot Hachette Book Group. 334 pages, paperback. $6.99.
    No way should you feel too sorry for Jackie, a fairly recent divorcee who’s (gasp) nearly 40 years old. So she’s 39, no husband, but she got the beautiful house in Seattle (he got the fun house in Palm Springs), and she has a great set of women friends and two adorable children ages nine and almost six, so they’re in school and she has time and money to shop, work out and - well, obsess about being almost 40. Oh yes, one other thing: she’s drop-dead gorgeous.
    All the same. Sniff. There’s this really awful birthday coming up. Most of her women friends just don’t understand how hurtful it is to have a girls’ night out with them and she feels so out of it, like they have husbands to complain about and what’s she supposed to do - just sit there and quietly drink her wine?
    One girlfriend manages to nudge Jackie into doing something big to celebrate her birthday, something FUN! She talks Jackie into going to Hawaii for a long weekend, just the two of them to lie in the sun, loll in the spa and drowse in a hammock under a palm tree. Jackie reluctantly agrees but nearly backs out when her friend has to stay home with a sick child.
    Jackie goes alone and worries about her children while she’s away. She also dodges the advances of lecherous older men on the beach and, mainly to avoid them, signs up for a surfing lesson.
Her instructor is a young Adonis, age 29, tall, tan, eyes blue enough to dive into a swim across, washboard abs, the whole package. Oh my! They are reckless. Jackie is sick with remorse. She’s sure that flirting with older women is part of his job, but she can’t get him out of her mind.
    Back in Seattle, she gets phone calls from him. Can it be that he’s interested? She has to go back to Hawaii to find out. More thrills. Back on the mainland, her girlfriends begin to quiz her. She’s different, they say. She’s glowing.
One last trip to Hawaii, she decides, and then she’ll give him up, try to forget him, sob, sob. On this trip they can’t bear to be out of each other’s sight and suddenly the phone rings. Jackie’s little girl has been in an automobile accident. She hightails it across the ocean to her child’s side, certain that she’s being punished for having an affair with a very young man.
    When her child is recovering, Jackie feels she ought to call him to let him know her little girl is better, her children need her, it’s been magical, but so long, sweetie. Guess what? A young woman answers his phone.
    We know the formula for these whole-box-of-tissues stories, and the sinner has shown remorse, so it’s possible that a happy ending just might be in the offing.
   The nice thing about reading it at the beach is that the reader is free to ogle the lifeguards and act as casting director for the boy-toy surfer.
    Meanwhile, under an umbrella near you might be a man feeding a fantasy of his own with a marvelously funny and lusty buddy meander. Two good ol’ boys cup up in The Adventures of Slim & Howdy by Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn with Bill Fitzhugh. Center Street Publishers. 257 pages. $22.99.
    Fans of country music may be familiar with Brooks & Dunn. They’ve won two Grammy awards, 25 Academy of Country Music awards and a raft of other kudos. Their bona fides are on a CD of their music attached to the back of the book. They called in Fitzhugh for his expertise and assistance on shaping up the story. He’s a veteran writer of novels and television scripts, including work for NBC, Fox and the BBC.
    The escapades are probably, to a more or lesser degree, based on the two real-life musicians’ travels and experiences with card sharks, guitar thieves, jealous boyfriends of the latest one-night groupies, big-hearted honky-tonk owners and misfits in general. Fitzhugh is undoubtedly the prose doctor who whipped them into shape for publication.
    The cowboys are amiable and easy-going until they get their spurs jangled, at which time they don’t mind a dust up here and there. The action is fast and funny, outrageous and hair-raising, but they prove that you can’t keep a good man down, especially if he has a good guitar and can write his own songs. Dang! That’s talent.
    The heroes are best at taking life as it comes, with their main goal, the recipe for the perfect margarita, always just beyond the horizon.
    And judging from the photograph of Brooks and Dunn on the back of the book jacket, no casting director is needed to find actors who can portray Slim and Howdy, the book’s main characters. Brooks and Dunn are ringers for the roles on screen.
    It is definitely a book men will identify with. It’s also one that women will fantasize over.
    And last, for the small fry who’s cranky from too much sun and too much sand inside his bathing suit, a stretch of quiet time on someone’s lap is called for. The antidote to crankiness is this charming tale, Beetle Boddiker, by Priscilla Cummings, illustrated by Marcy Dunn Ramsey. Tidewater Publishers. 28 pages. $13.95.
    The hero of this bit of fey whimsey is a rather old beetle who is very timid. He lives alone in a house under the backyard steps. He’s certain that the backyard is a jungle, a very dangerous place. One day he gets an invitation to a party. It’s from his brother, whom he loves very much, so in spite of his fears, he sets out on the journey.
    For a tiny beetle no bigger than a pea, it takes a lot of courage to walk all the way across the lawn and across an alley to his brother’s house. There are hazards all along the way, just as he feared. There are spiders and grasshoppers of fearful size. A garden hose leads to a confrontation with a GREAT BIG FAT TOAD! and a narrow escape. A rocky driveway and a rush of storm water are final hazards, but a happy ending is waiting for Beetle Boddiker at his reunion with his brother.
    It’s a gentle and soothing tale with all sorts of sweet touches as lessons are cleverly inserted into Cummings’ rhyming couplets. Family love and comfort, good manners (Beetle tips his derby to ladybugs in his path) and perseverance set a good example for children’s ears. Beetle is an admirably brave little bug.
    Ramsey’s illustrations are full of visual treats tucked in for discovery. Beetle’s mailbox is fashioned from an acorn. The text is often inserted as a piece of parchment in the scene of lush foliage and garden bugs. On one page, caterpillars are munching on the edges of the story. Even little kids will get the joke Ramsey plays by painting light bulbs for lightning bugs’ bodies.
   Because it’s eventually a book about a birthday party, kids will relate to Beetle Boddiker’s adventures on the way to his own party.
    This one’s a treasure.