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Book Review

A fun beach novel with moments of depth

Claire Cook of Scituate penned 'Life's a Beach,' a novel about a 41-year-old woman living with her parents. Claire Cook of Scituate penned "Life's a Beach," a novel about a 41-year-old woman living with her parents. (Diane Dillon)

What better title for a chick-lit beach read than Claire Cook's "Life's a Beach "? The irreverent play on words sets up a delightful and surprisingly compelling page turner that wins over that little voice inside that chides, "Come on -- isn't this just a little beneath you?" Yes, at times "Life's a Beach" is a little too cute, a little too warm and fuzzy, even given the genre. But as with Cook's popular "Must Love Dogs," it's an easy, feel - good charmer that is seductively engaging and ultimately downright fun. Go ahead -- give in.

The story revolves around 41-year-old, relationship-challenged Ginger Walsh, a single woman with a cat named Boyfriend and an on-again, off-again relationship with a glassblower that keeps her in constant limbo. She is trying to eke out a living making jewelry from sea glass, but in the meantime is reluctantly resigned to living back home in her family's South Shore FROG (finished room over garage). She's an offbeat character surrounded by an extended family of offbeat characters, some unbelievably obtuse and more flat-out exasperating than charmingly quirky, especially her trash-picking father. He wears shorts and wildly mismatched socks and continuously tries to fill her living space with "treasures" he has rescued from the dump. Her mother, meanwhile, wears T-shirts proclaiming slogans like "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and "So many positions, so little time" while burying statues of St. Joseph in the backyard.

And that's where the story begins. The St. Joseph statue is supposed to ensure a quick sale of the family homestead. Much to Ginger's dismay, her mother is determined to downsize and simplify, selling the house and effectively taking away Ginger's free digs. Ginger's BlackBerry-addicted sister Geri is generally unsympathetic. She's having her own mid life crisis as she prepares to celebrate (or deny) her 50th birthday. But she does offer Ginger an opportunity to make some extra money. When Geri's young son Riley is picked from a casting call to star in a B-grade horror movie called "Shark Sense" being filmed at the local beach, Ginger becomes Riley's chaperone.

Between the behind-the-scenes antics of the movie-making process and Ginger's confrontations with some of the people she meets on the set, including an obnoxious set of twins and a handsome, flirtatious gaffer, "Life's a Beach" takes on a whirlwind quality, bounding from adventure to adventure, calamity to calamity. It's as diverting and entertaining as it is contrived, peppered with a healthy dose of very clever laugh-out-loud one-liners, especially from the adorably precocious Riley. The pages fly by.

But on rare occasions, Cook drops the facade and whips out tart little zingers, giving her characters brief moments of self-revelation and insight that actually show surprising depth and heart. Some of the most realistic scenarios involve Ginger and Geri, playing off the fraught, complicated dynamics between two sisters at very different stations in life. One of the best chapters involves some serious drinking and convoluted soul-searching on a motel balcony, in which the two ruminate on the men in their lives. Those moments transform "Life's a Beach" from mere fluff to something you can actually sink your teeth into. It's a little like finding the juicy pulp of a real cherry at the center of a cone of cotton candy.

Karen Campbell is a freelance writer based in Brookline.

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