Sally Kilpatrick’s Bless Her Heart

I’m not a Southerner by birth, but I’ve lived down South long enough to know just what a double-edged sword the phrase “bless your/her/his heart” can be. If you don’t already understand this Southernism, here’s a novel that will tell you all you need to know.

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Bless Her HeartSally Kilpatrick’s delightful Bless Her Heart begins with its protagonist, Posey Love, stuck in a ten-year train wreck of a bad marriage to a man who embodies everything wrong with the man as head of household, woman as submissive and obedient wife branch of conservative religion. In fact, Chad Love started his own ministry largely to take advantage of others.

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Posey, who wants a baby more than anything, has put up with her domineering husband for years, at least partly in reaction to her own mother, who has raised three children by three men to whom she was never married at all. But when Posey discovers in quick succession that Chad has been cheating (adultery and hitting are deal breakers even for Posey), run off with another woman, failed to make the car payment, and sold the house, she begins to take back her own life and finds out that hard as that is, she’s up to the challenge.

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As Posey grows into the person she was always meant to be, she takes some adventurous steps. Encouraged by her free-spirited younger half-sister, she sets out to not only give up something important for Lent (church!), but also to sample the Seven Deadly Sins, with generally hilarious results. Along the way she finds out that wishes can come true in very surprising ways.

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Bless Her Heart handles some very serious issues, ranging from emotional abuse to Alzheimer’s, with sympathy, understanding, and humor. Especially humor. The characters, from Posey’s rediscovered best friend Liza to her unconventional but wise mother Lark, are well developed and supportive, and Chad is a man the reader will indeed love to hate. It’s a joy to watch Posey climb out of her self-imposed shell and blossom.

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This is the fourth of Kilpatrick’s loosely related novels set in and around the town of Ellery, Tennessee. Don’t miss The Happy Hour Choir (with its heroine, Beulah Land), Bittersweet Creek (”Romeo and Juliet with cows”), and Better Get to Livin’ (the funniest love story ever set in a funeral home).

 

Sally Kilpatrick’s Better Get To Livin’

Sally Kilpatrick returns to the small town of Ellery, Tennessee, in her third novel, Better Get To Livin’, the story of two people who have more in common than might appear at first glance. Presley Ann Cline (who is grateful that her train wreck of a mother didn’t name her Elvis) has had a very modest success in Hollywood (bit parts and commercials), so modest that she used her spare time to go to cosmetology school. But after a very embarrassing photo of her hits the papers (and the Internet), she’s come home to Ellery for a break, ending up with a job at the Holy Roller beauty salon.

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better-get-to-livinWhen the owner of the Holy Roller (who seems to hate her for no discernible reason) sends Presley to do the cosmetic work for a recently deceased lady at the Anderson Funeral Home, Presley runs into Declan Anderson, her crush when she was a high school student and he was her tutor. She also runs into a lot of ghosts, whom she can see, hear, and talk to.

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Declan wanted to be an architect, but he left his university studies to go to mortuary school and honor his promise to his father to keep the funeral home in the family. Now he runs it with his stepmother Caroline, and dreams about buying and rehabbing an old house when his brother Sean comes back to run the funeral home.

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Declan is aware that he’s living his father’s dream, while Presley takes a bit longer to realize that her mother cares more about her Hollywood career than she does. That doesn’t make it any easier for either of them to change their path—or even to decide if they really want to.

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This is a wonderful book about two good-hearted people trying to find their destinies, and wondering if that destiny could possibly include each other. Between a tornado, a fire, family promises, meddling ghosts, and that recent widow with her sights set on Declan, their paths seem littered with obstacles, but there just might be a way.

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Sweet, touching, and very funny. Full of quirky characters and unexpected turns. Presley and Declan tell their stories in alternating chapters, and each has a distinct and thoroughly likable outlook. Highly recommended, along with Kilpatrick’s previous books, The Happy Hour Choir and Bittersweet Creek.

Books: Small Town Romance

In I’ll Stand By You, Sharon Sala returns to Blessings, Georgia, the locale of her novel The Curl Up And Dye and e-novella Color Me Bad, stand-alone stories tied together by the town and its often quirky inhabitants, and especially by Ruby Dye and her gossip-central beauty salon.

In this latest installment, Dori Grant, a determined seventeen year old with a six-month-old baby and I'll Stand By YouJohnny Pine, a twenty year old raising his two younger brothers, are brought together by tragedy. Both of them are viewed with suspicion by most of the townsfolk, Dori because she has never reveled the name of her baby’s father and Johnny because his father is in prison, his mother dead of a drug overdose.

Dori and Johnny, who knew each other only slightly back in the day when they were in school, soon find that with teamwork they may be able to care for the three little boys in their charge. But as the obstacles grow, so do the challenges: just how far will they go to keep things together? And how far will some of their neighbors go to tear them apart?

I’ll Stand by You is a sweet, warm novel of small town life, both the good and the bad. Its real strength lies in its characters: Dori, Johnny, and especially the two younger Pine boys, twelve-year-old Marshall and seven-year-old Beep. Reading it kept me up late, and that doesn’t happen often.

Sally Kilpatrick’s second novel, Bittersweet Creek, recasts Romeo and Juliet in small-town Tennessee. A decade ago, Romy Satterfield and Julian McElroy fell in love despite the long-standing feud between their families. In fact, they were secretly married, but on the night of their high school graduation, when they planned to leave town and start their new life together, Julian stood Romy up.

Crushed but never defeated, Romy went off to college and made her own new life in Nashville. Now Bittersweet Creekshe’s come back to Ellery (the setting of Kilpatrick’s terrific debut, The Happy Hour Choir) to help her injured father run the farm and her best friend run the class reunion, but most of all to get a divorce from Julian so she can marry Richard Paris, her wealthy fiance.

No one but Romy and Julian (and the justice of the peace) ever knew about the marriage, and Romy would just as soon keep it that way, but her dealings with Julian seem to get more complicated every time they meet. And somehow her view of Richard seems to change more and more the longer Romy stays on the farm.

Written in first person chapters alternating between Romy and Julian, with sections of Romy’s late mother’s “History of the Satterfield-McElroy Feud” here and there, Bittersweet Creek has humor, suspense, Shakespearean references, and family secrets. Highly recommended.

Culls and Keepers

Last weekend I did a fairly ruthless culling of the bookshelves in my bedroom and living room. Romance, mystery, and science fiction, mostly. I’m a bookaholic and always have been. Always will be, I’m sure. But from time to time I have to deal with reality, and overflowing shelves.

I’ve been meaning to do this for quite a while, but I think the tipping point came when I wandered into the local Half-Price Books looking for something they didn’t have. Came out with three books anyway, two historical romances and Steve Berry’s latest thriller. I’ve downloaded a few books to my Kindle lately, too. And then there’s Amazon Prime, encouraging me to preorder books, pay no shipping, and find them in my mailbox on Tuesday. Yep, it’s been nearly every Tuesday lately, and I’ve got two more coming in August.

So I spent a good chunk of last Saturday and Sunday going through books, pulling out ones I have enjoyed but will probably never read again, and books I really thought I’d read, but haven’t. Let’s face it, there has to be a limit to how long a book sits on the To Be Read shelf. Sooner or later you have to admit that it’s just not gonna happen. When you realize you’ve fallen six books behind on a series you once read eagerly, it may be time to put those books back in circulation.

I didn’t touch the shelves of non-fiction and research books. Occasionally I have to hit those, too, but perhaps not as often. I look things up. I sort of, vaguely, know what’s there. Last week I went to a meeting of the Houston Bay Area RWA chapter. The speaker mentioned two books in her talk on gender differences in writing (referring to characters, not writers, but the audience that night was all women): You Just Don’t Undertand, by Deborah Tannen, and Fiction Is Folks by Robert Newton Peck. I’ve read those, I said to myself on the way home, but not recently. Searching the non-fiction shelves (in the hall and the unused office), I found Tannen’s book (must reread) but not Peck’s. Not yet anyway, although I did turn up two copies (two different editions on two different shelves) of Dwight Swain’s Creating Characters.

Don’t worry: I still have a lifetime supply of books on my shelves (and my Kindle) and no intention of boycotting the booksellers in the future. (Probably just as well I didn’t make it to the RWA National Conference this week—all those free books are impossible to resist.)

Here’s one that’s earned a place on my keeper shelf: Sally Kilpatrick’s debut novel, The Happy Hour The Happy Hour ChoirChoir, is a pleasure to read, treating some serious subjects with humor, well-developed characters, and a warm small town setting. Beulah Land is content playing piano at a honky tonk, with a jazzed-up version of her namesake hymn as her signature piece, until she’s maneuvered into playing piano for County Line Methodist Church—and its attractive but stubborn new minister. This is a wonderful story about what family really means—you may not be able to pick your relatives, but if you’re lucky you can build a family from scratch. Beulah has a lot to deal with in her estrangement from her family, grief for her past, the deteriorating health of a dear friend, and an unexpected bond with a new friend, but she handles it all realistically, touching the reader’s heart as she does. I really loved this book.