There’s a certain sense of smug satisfaction among those of us lucky enough to live at the beach. My husband and I moved to the Gulf coast of Florida four years ago, and my Facebook friends are sick of my constant posting of sunset pictures, tropical drinks, sugar-white sand, and native birds.
Those friends may want to skip reading this review. ;-)
For book lovers, it’s always a bit of a thrill to pick up a book that’s set in the reader’s home town. And when said reader is lucky enough to live in a place as close to paradise as is St. Pete Beach, the thrill is doubled. Wendy Wax’s Sunshine Beach, the latest book in her Ten Beach Road series, takes place primarily in Pass-A-Grille, a secluded beach on the southern tip of St. Pete Beach. Once primarily a campground for fisherman to grill their catches, Pass-A-Grille is a strip of land between the Gulf of Mexico and Boca Ciega Bay. Fishermen still dot the seawall off the bay, attracting hundreds of pelicans. Natives hang out at the Paradise Grille, eating cheeseburgers, drinking beer and watching the sun melt into the Gulf. The area’s most well-known edifice is the five-star Don CeSar hotel, a sprawling pink-and-white structure that opened in 1928 and housed the military during World War II. Resembling a giant birthday cake, locals refer to it as “The Pink Palace.”
It’s a gorgeous setting for a book, and Wax’s plot is a nice match for this historical location. The drama centers around the dilapidated Sunshine Beach hotel where, in 1952, Renee and Annelise’s father was murdered and Annelise’s mother (Renee’s stepmother) disappeared. Raised by their grandparents, the sisters could never agree what to do with the property, allowing it to fall apart. The book kicks off when reality TV renovation team Maddie, Avery, Nikki and Kyra stumble across the property and think it would be the perfect subject for a renovation. But Annelise will only agree if the murder case is re-opened. She never believed the official explanation, that her mother killed her father and then ran off. Luckily, Nikki’s boyfriend Joe is an FBI agent, who uncovers surprising clues that Annelise could be right.
This is a captivating plot, and I was especially intrigued by the descriptions of St. Pete Beach in the 1950s, as the country struggled to move past World War II. (Annelise’s mother was German, and her father got grief for bringing her back to live in a Jewish community.) This plot, however, is only one of several competing narratives. Maddie, who is Kyra’s mother, is dating a rock star and dealing with her ex-husband Steve. Kyra had dated a married movie star and is now raising his toddler. Nikki’s brother is in jail for conducting a Ponzi scheme that cost all the women their savings, and the strain is hurting her relationship with Joe. The network is currently airing episodes of their series that make them look like idiots, and the paparazzi are always around.
Since Sunshine Beach is the fourth book in a series, all these plots – save for the murder mystery – are picked up midstream, and the affect is like turning on a soap opera for the first time without a friend to explain exactly who these people are and what’s going on. But with interesting characters, beautiful settings, and lots of twists and turns, this is an argument to read the entire series in order. The first book is Ten Beach Road. According to the Amazon description, it describes how the women were brought together due to all being victims of the Ponzi scheme. The other two books also incorporate mystery, home renovation, and the beach. They all sound like perfect additions to a Kindle, to be perused as one lies on the sugar-white sands of St. Pete Beach, in the shadow of the gorgeous Pink Palace.
That’s only about two miles from my house. I think I’ll walk there now to enjoy a sunset drink.
Thanks to Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting for the book in exchange for an honest review.
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