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.

Sharon Sala’s The Curl Up and Dye

Once upon a time, LilyAnn Bronte was the high school queen of Blessings, Georgia.  But when her almost-fiance was killed in The Curl Up and DyeAfghanistan, Lily retreated into grief and what-might-have-been.  Now, eleven years later, she’s pulling herself out of her funk and getting her life back together.  There’s a new man in town to pique her interest.  Unfortunately, she’s unaware that Mike Dalton, her life-long neighbor and friend, has spent those eleven long years waiting for her to wake up and notice that he loves her.  In fact, Lily is unaware of quite a few things as the story begins.

There’s a lot more going on in Sharon Sala’s The Curl Up and Dye than potential romance.  Ruby Dye’s beauty salon is not just a place where the ladies of Blessing go once a week for a shampoo and style, it’s the gossip hub of the town, and the source of much neighborly help (and not a little meddling).

There’s no lack of plot in Sala’s novel, including some turns that I did not see coming, but the true strength of The Curl Up and Dye is in its characters.  Beside Lily and Mike, we meet the ladies who work at the salon, owner Ruby, twin stylists Vera and Vesta Conklin, and manicurist Mabel Jean Doolittle, along with their customers, including Rachel Goodhope, who is a little too bored with her husband for her own good; Patty June Clymer, back from a recent tour of Italy; and Willa Dean Miller, who runs the local travel agency but does all her own traveling on the Internet.  Even Lily and Mike’s parents, in town for the holidays, can see what Lily doesn’t.  What it takes to wake Lily up and soothe Mike’s wounded ego will surprise you.

When I got to the (completely satisfying) end of the novel, I found a twelve-page teaser for the prequel novella, Color Me Bad, Color Me Badand I couldn’t stop with twelve pages, continuing on my Kindle until I’d found out exactly what caused Patty June to take such a colorful revenge on Bobbette Paulson, what Willa Dean discovered about her own husband (and what she did about it), and how the ladies of Blessing rose in support.

I hope Sharon Sala is planning more stories from Ruby’s Curl Up and Dye salon.  There are surely many more characters with tales to be told.  In the meantime, if you haven’t visited the Curl Up and Dye, what are you waiting for?  Both stories are available for your e-reader, and The Curl Up and Dye is on the shelf at your local bookstore.

 

Book Shopping, Again

To no one’s surprise, I’ve bought a few more books than I’ve managed to read in the last few weeks.  A couple of weeks ago I headed over to the Local Barnes & Noble to pick up a book I’d seen mentioned on a site I enjoy, io9.com.  I was Three Princesresearching an article on alternate history at the time, and Ramona Wheeler’s Three Princes, a tale of 19th century intrigue in a world ruled by the Egyptian Empire sounded like just the sort of book I love.  As long as I was there, with a gift card in my wallet, I also bought Gossamer Wing, a steampunk romance by Delphine Dryden, which I’d seen on another blog I follow (Paranormal Unbound).

Yesterday I stopped at the local Half-Price Books, not looking for anything in particular.  I picked up Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons (because, well, dragons!) from the New BestsellerA Natural History of Dragons rack.  It isn’t new (the hard cover edition was released last year), just new in trade paperback, and the cover grabbed me, as did a quick look at the back blurb and the preface.  Then I wandered back through the science fiction racks and made two (possibly contradictory) decisions.  I bought a paper copy of Hugh Howey’s Wool, which I already have on my Kindle but would prefer to read on paper (the book is highly recommended by my friend Colleen Thompson), and I rejected an older paperback copy of an alternate history novel because the print was small and cramped and I know I can get it in digital format and increase the type size.

Then I went back to Barnes & Noble to look for a new book by another friend, Sharon Sala.  I have been looking forward The Curl Up and Dyeto reading The Curl Up and Dye, and I have a companion novella, Color Me Bad, waiting on my Kindle.

Of course I have also been feeding my Kindle faster than I read the books that pile up on it, too.  In the last month or so I have downloaded three Daily Deals: Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer, Artifact by Gigi Pandian, and Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly.  I try to restrain myself on the Daily Deals, and I think three in the last month is pretty restrained.  I also bought a few by writer friends: Up to the Challenge by Terri Osburn, Archer’s Sin by Amy Raby, and Draw Me In and What’s Yours is Mine by Talia Quinn.

Currently I’m reading three books, in my usual scattered fashion.  Three Princes is proving to be every bit as good as I had hoped.  The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, by Glenn Frankel, is a fascinating work about the background and making of the famous movie.  I bought this book some time ago, after reading a review in the Houston Chronicle, but just opened it to read this weekend.  I’m having trouble putting it down.

Bride of the Rat GodAnd on my Kindle, I’m halfway through Bride of the Rat God.  I’d read several chapters before I realized that I’d read the book before, back in 1994 when it first came out (I could confirm this thanks to a slightly OCD compulsion to keep all those lists of books I’ve read on my computer–the lists actually predate the first computer by several years, and I must have typed them in after the fact).  Clearly the setting, Hollywood in the 1920s, is just as appealing twenty years later (and wonderfully described), but I’m sorry I no longer have the paperback copy, if only for its delightfully pulpy cover.

RWA Conference: Saturday

Saturday was the last day of the conference, with thoughts of the trip home creeping in between the continuing activities.  On the way to my appointment with an agent, I stopped at the concierge desk to ask about airport shuttles, and the helpful young man who made a reservation for me also told me how much the hotel was enjoying our conference.  I suspect we left very little destruction in our wake.

After my appointment, I was once more  drawn as if by a giant magnet through the Goody Room, where I managed to pick up two more free books.  The tables of promotional giveaways adjoined a new feature of the conference, the Connect Lounge, a spread of round tables equipped with WiFi stations, evidently quite a success.  Whenever I went by the room was full of people chatting and using their computers.

On to a workshop presented by Sharon Sala, one of the nicest women I’ve met through RWA.  Her topic, When One Door Closes, was meant for published authors who’ve hit a road block or two, been orphaned when an editor moved on, had an agent retire or a publisher go broke.  I’m still waiting for that first door to open, but Sharon’s advice, starting with “never put all your eggs in one basket,” applies throughout a career.  Sharon writes for Mira Books, but she’s also ventured into indie publishing this year with A Field of Poppies (which I’ve just added to my ever-growing Kindle library).

On to another workshop, SOS for Writers, presented by Erin Quin, who discussed the mechanics of tracking and planning scenes.  By this time my head was positively swimming with good ideas and information, but I have to confess the individual workshops had begun to run together.  I’m looking forward to listening to them again on the conference recordings.

After the rehearsal for the awards ceremony (we all walked across the stage and promounced our names into the microphone), I managed to fit in one last wrokshop, one I had been particularly looking forward to, From Aether to Zeppelin: Writing the Steampunk Romance, presented by Suzanne Lazear, Theresa Meyers, and Cindy Holby, three of the ladies of STEAMED, a blog I have been following for a while now.  I’m not planning to write a Steampunk novel myself, not just now, anyway, but I’m fascinated by the ideas and the alternate world environment.

On the way back to my room with a roast beef sandwich and a bottled frappucino from Starbuck’s, I stopped to print out my boarding pass on the courtesy computer in the lobby.  Then I spent some quiet time reading on the patio between my room and the pool.

About 6:30, dressed for the Big Party, I met the rest of the West Houston delegation in the lobby bar.  Rita nominees Vicky Dreiling, Deeanne Gist, and Linda Warren joined us, along with Karen Burns, Julie Pitzel, Lark Howard, and Sarah Andre.  Sarah, a Golden Heart finalist last year, was my “date” for the awards ceremony, where we sat up front at the VIP tables.  The ceremony was great fun, with clips from all our favorite romance movies, funny presenters and even funnier acceptance speeches, and two standing ovations for Lifetime Achievement honoree Brenda Jackson.

My Golden Heart category, Paranormal Romance, was first on the list, so as soon as that was awarded to my tablemate and friend Lorenda Christensen, I could relax and enjoy the show.  (You can see the complete list HERE.)  No one from West Houston won this year, but we all felt like winners.

After the awards ceremony, the Firebirds gathered one last time at the First Annual AfterParty thrown by Samhain Publishing for all the Rita and Golden Heart finalists and their guests.  Wine, cheese, fruit, desserts, and loud rock music–how better to end the 2012 Romance Writers of America® Conference?

I’m not planning to attend the 2013 Conference next July in Atlanta.  Unless, of course, I have a Really Good Reason to go.