Saturday, December 16, 2017

Driven to Survive

October 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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I recently read two books that, on first consideration, were completely distinct. Yet once the initial reviews reached the page, I realized that there was a similar steely determination running through both about staying afloat following tragic situations suffered on the water.

jack6.000x9.000.inddWaterski Girl Wonder is Shellie Blum’s autobiography. She describes herself as “the first female freestyle waterski ramp jumper in the world,” but to the reader, she’s someone who leaps and soars forward no matter what comes her way. Her ascending show and competitive waterskiing career is suddenly derailed by a devastating accident (doctors were amazed she survived) and Blum is grounded without funds or profession. In great pain from a broken neck and shattered right jaw, she must fight for compensation by trying to prove the new waterskiing equipment she used was faulty and that her co-worker in the speedboat was negligent. Calling on her tenacious nature and athletic training, she jumps and dodges the hurdles thwarting her at every turn.

shellie-blumBlum writes in a straightforward manner that speaks to the reader. You root for her to succeed in a sport where women were expected to serve lunch and then enthrall crowds with spectacular waterskiing feats. You cringe and ache for her when things go horribly wrong, yet resume cheerleading as she refuses to be silenced and impoverished. It’s clear that Waterski Girl Wonder is the story Blum needed to tell, inspiring readers on her quest for justice with the skills she honed on the water.

the-drift-book-cover-thrallAs The Drift (A Hans Larsson Novel Book 1) by Chris Thrall begins, the main characters are seemingly already on the other side of tragedy after the murder of Han’s wife and Jessie’s brother. Father and daughter sail off on an adventure (once planned for the family) as well skilled for the ocean as possible and equipped to the max. But how do you plan for ill-fated negligence in a foreign land at the hands of an ocean with its own agenda?

 The Drift is quite a compelling read. While he never sits the reader down and acquaints us with Hans’ full story, Thrall presents a picture of a loving family man who’s also driven to live on the edge. Though Hans shares some of his fascinating history and insight in conversations with a career sailor and a drug dealer, two of the novel’s other compelling characters, this super sailor/diver never sees what’s heading his way. Following the catastrophic sinking of their sailboat, Jessie needs her dad to survive. Can Hans reach deep enough to keep them both afloat?

Both books are absorbing reads. In Waterski Girl Wonder, it’s gripping to see Blum’s life unravel and then hope for it to knit together again. In The Drift, Thrall launches the reader into a mesmerizing tale of a voyage sunk by far-flung characters and a man’s primal instinct to endure.

Book reviews by Lita Smith-Mines

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Excerpts from Waterski Girl Wonder and The Drift

Waterski Girl Wonder by Shellie Blum

There were two water-ski shows a day. We had to be at the ski show at noon to set up and do pre-performance jobs for the show at 1:30. The ski show lasted about 2 hours, and then we cleaned up afterwards, and by 4:00 p.m. the skiers who could drive went home or out for a bite to eat. Then everyone had to be back at the show by 7:00 p.m. for the same routine. The night ski show started at 8:30 and ended around 10:30. That meant that after clean up we might get home around 11:00 p.m., which is pretty late for a 13-year-old to be riding a mini-bike through the woods. But I did it. My little hillbilly redneck mind had me duct taping a flashlight to the handlebars of my little Honda MR 50 dirt bike.

Because I didn’t drive yet, most days I would stay at the ski site between shows and practice or play around on the jet skis, or gave water-ski lessons, or—my favorite—take one of the big Rally Sports or Glastron-Carlson boats, up the channel to “The Clown.” The Clown was a floating restaurant on the water near the Grand Glaize Bridge. And just below the popular nightclub, The Top Sider. It always caused quite a stir when people saw this tiny girl driving up in a big beautiful sparkly boat with not one but two 175 hp Evinrude engines on the back. Tourists were probably expecting me to crash the dock or something, by then driving a boat felt as natural as walking to me. I would pull up to the dock, split the throttles, and turn the boat on a dime to back in or maneuver any way I needed to. I just loved the twin engines because you could do so much with them. In later years we started using Ski Nautiques. They were great, but I miss the old days and the Rally Sports and the Glastron-Carlsons. Now those were ski boats!

 

The Drift (A Hans Larsson Novel Book 1) by Chris Thrall

The man stirred, believing he was aboard the yacht. As he opened his eyes, orange gloom brought reality crashing home.

No!

What happened to his little girl? He lifted his head.

Thank God . . .

She lay at rest, an arm outside the sleeping bag, a damp lock stuck to her brow.

The trip had seemed a good idea after what happened, a chance to bond and rebuild life after loss. Now, seeing her infant face, acquiescent and trusting, he felt guilty they ever set sail.

The raft was awash, but it did not matter. The yacht sat on the bottom of the Atlantic, but he did not care so long as he had her.

He fumbled with the zipper in the canopy’s thin fabric, needing light to check the ditch kit for the emergency radio and beacon. He’d searched for them last night, until shock and exhaustion overcame him.

The seascape should have been something to behold. Ruffled by the breeze, the aqua-green plane spilled lazily to the horizon under a deep-blue sky touched with delicate sprays of white. A lone gull circled in the salt air, mewing in anticipation of any bounty this orange dot might bequeath. Something to behold from the safety of a yacht perhaps, but from the flimsy cocoon, not a sight any sailor wished to see.

“Can we go back now?” she asked, rubbing sleep from her eyes.

“Huh?”

“Can we go back on Future?”

“No. Not now.”

“When?”

“Not ever.”

The man stared out across nature’s glassy face. They truly were adrift.

Leaning out, he half expected to see the upturned hull of Future floating nearby. Perhaps he could lash the life raft to it, making a bigger target for search and rescue. Maybe he could dive below, holding his breath long enough to swim into the cabin and locate the lost equipment and other vital survival stores.

Then there she was! Their beautiful yacht!

Bursting to the surface like a submarine, looking as splendid as the day he bought her, sleek lines and powerful rigging, buoyant as a cork atop the shimmering ocean.

Salvation!

Then she vanished, a wet wilderness replacing her.The man stirred, believing he was aboard the yacht. As he opened his eyes, orange gloom brought reality crashing home.

No!

What happened to his little girl? He lifted his head.

Thank God . . .

She lay at rest, an arm outside the sleeping bag, a damp lock stuck to her brow.

The trip had seemed a good idea after what happened, a chance to bond and rebuild life after loss. Now, seeing her infant face, acquiescent and trusting, he felt guilty they ever set sail.

The raft was awash, but it did not matter. The yacht sat on the bottom of the Atlantic, but he did not care so long as he had her.

He fumbled with the zipper in the canopy’s thin fabric, needing light to check the ditch kit for the emergency radio and beacon. He’d searched for them last night, until shock and exhaustion overcame him.

The seascape should have been something to behold. Ruffled by the breeze, the aqua-green plane spilled lazily to the horizon under a deep-blue sky touched with delicate sprays of white. A lone gull circled in the salt air, mewing in anticipation of any bounty this orange dot might bequeath. Something to behold from the safety of a yacht perhaps, but from the flimsy cocoon, not a sight any sailor wished to see.

“Can we go back now?” she asked, rubbing sleep from her eyes.

“Huh?”

“Can we go back on Future?”

“No. Not now.”

“When?”

“Not ever.”

The man stared out across nature’s glassy face. They truly were adrift.

Leaning out, he half expected to see the upturned hull of Future floating nearby. Perhaps he could lash the life raft to it, making a bigger target for search and rescue. Maybe he could dive below, holding his breath long enough to swim into the cabin and locate the lost equipment and other vital survival stores.

Then there she was! Their beautiful yacht!

Bursting to the surface like a submarine, looking as splendid as the day he bought her, sleek lines and powerful rigging, buoyant as a cork atop the shimmering ocean.

Salvation!

Then she vanished, a wet wilderness replacing her.

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