Beach Hut Surprise
Nothing gives you instant gratification like reading a short story anthology. One hour and – boom! – you’ve already finished a book! No need to tell others it was only sixty-two pages, natch! Beach Hut Surprise Anthology by Louise Allen, Lesley Cookman, Liz Fielding, Joanna Maitland, Sarah Mallory and Sophie Weston is great place to start if you have never read an anthology before. The stories are all tied together by the same British seaside town of Little Piddling, starting during the Edwardian era and leading us through various points in history right up to current day. The stories both borrow from and build on each other in clever ways, and the authors pull of the herculean task of meet cute to HEA in under eighty pages remarkably well. Even if the stories felt a bit rushed, (which is to be expected in such a short page count) they always put a smile on my face.
Grand Designs for Little Piddling by Sarah Mallory
Grade: B Sensuality: Kisses
Our collection begins with an historical romance and an introduction to the seaside town of Little Piddling. LP has become a bit overshadowed (and jealous) of its larger, more metropolitan neighbor, Much Piddling, and Sir Hereward, mayor of the town, takes matters into his own hands. He enlists the help of local town historian Rudolph Spendlove to look in to its history, in the hopes that he will find some glorious story of courage to the make LP stand out from other seaside resorts. A challenge for power ensues, bicycle lessons for one young damsel begin, a hilarious French double entendre makes its appearance, and in the midst of the melée, our hero finds his backbone.
Going Home? by Sophie Weston
Grade: A- Sensuality: Kisses
My favorite story of the bunch has a sci-fi bent to it. In fact, because of the short page count, I had to pay very close attention to realize that the author was actually beginning the story by introducing our heroine Selsis, as an alien. Having just botched her assignment working at a reputed local college, Selsis finds herself dejected and in need of a quiet place with a good view of the moon so she can communicate with those that sent her and try to get home. Luck leads her to Little Piddling and on her first day there, she encounters Anton, a member of the local life-boat crew. Her usual tricks don’t fool him and he seems to see right to the core of her, and even accept her that way. Their encounters and banter are charming and so relatable, alien or not. Selsis’ journey to becoming more human and the deep connection she forms with him are transporting in the best way.
The Body at Satis House by Lesley Cookman
Grade: C- Sensuality: Kisses
Skip right over this murder mystery. It had none of the lightheartedness and spunk of the other stories and seemed very out of place. Not to mention it’s the only story that assumes you have prior knowledge of the author’s work and makes it feel like you’re being dumped into the middle of the story rather than introduced to someone new.
Past Echoes by Liz Fielding
Grade: B+ Sensuality: Kisses
My other favorite in the collection, this story evokes the kind of blurry-toned Technicolor that should always accompany beach outings. Rose Redmayne is reeling after the death of her father, and in going through his things, discovers a postcard from Little Piddling that so enchants her that she decides to go investigate the sender, a person names Jules who Rose has never heard of before. An interior designer by trade, she immediately falls for the dilapidated beach hut in the picture and begins the rough work of restoring it to its original glory. But as she begins working, a woman shows up uninvited and acts like she owns the place, and her next door neighbor swears Rose’s name isn’t Rose but really Katy, just like the little girl who used to come to that beach house years ago and play with him. A touching trip down memory lane and a tribute to all the sacrifices parents make for their kids
I, Vampire by Joanna Maitland
Grade: B+ Sensuality: Kisses
This is a great tongue-in-cheek take on the paranormal. The eponymous vampire in question is one Graf Theobold Victor Heinrich Oberuntermittelbergthal, Theo for short, who spends his nights seeking victims and passes his days at beach hut 23b. But then he meets a precocious nine year old named William and suddenly the bleakness and banality of his eternal routine begin to change. And when William enlists Theo to help him split his sister from her vampire-wannabe boyfriend, he is more than willing to stir up a little trouble. Only he gets much more out of the bargain that he expected.
Grapes and Ale by Louise Allen
Grade: B- Sensuality: Subtle
Clocking in at a scant fifty-five pages, this is the most rushed-feeling and predictable story of the anthology. It is also the most contemporary in tone, and yet the author still manages to capture the old-time feel to the town by inserting a time-traveling brew master. Jacintha Francis – Jac – has just sunk her last penny into buying the local brewery, and she can’t seem to drum up enough business to keep it going or to pay for the remodeling it desperately needs. Then when a trendy wine bar opens across the street, she can’t help but be furious. Especially when the owner is as appealing as his wines. A fun enemies-to-lovers tale, with a bit of magic sprinkled on top.
This anthology is a nice blend of old and new – it appeals to the nostalgia of earlier days as well as our more modern sensibilities. And because you have a variety of authors and genres, there is something here for everyone (even if you skip some of the stories), which is exactly my kind of beach read.