Count Your Blessings
(Novella released May 5, 2015)
I’ll Stand By You
By Sharon Sala
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
A beauty shop might seem like a strange site for launching a revolution, but the first shot in the campaign that destroyed the status quo in Blessings, Georgia, started in the Curl Up and Dye, the beauty shop owned by Ruby Dye, when Patty June Clymer, wife of the Rev. Conrad Clymer, pastor of the Freewill Baptist Church, spotted Bobette Paulson. When the skirmish ended, Bobette had a three-inch swathe from widow’s peak to neckline, a bloodied lip, and a broken nose, all courtesy of Patty June, and everyone in the beauty shop knew the identity of the slut who had been having an affair with Conrad. Before that preacher heard the latest news, he was homeless, jobless, and soon to be wifeless, with everything he owned in garbage bags and his bank account considerably depleted.
When Patty June laughed at the church delegation who urged her to forgive and forget, the men of Blessings feared her rebellion would spread. They persuaded their wives that Patty June was a radical feminist rather than the good, Christian woman they had supposed. But the erosion of her support system just motivated Patty June to alter her good-girl image further with an edgy new hairstyle and color and plans to leave her hometown for a month in Italy. However, first, she suggested the women of Blessings should pay more attention to their own households, advice that led to rearranged bedrooms, a run on jewelry stores and new car lots, and an apology for Patty June. Blessings would never be the same.
The novella that introduced Blessings, Georgia, to readers, originally entitled Color Me Bad when it was issued as a prequel to The Curl Up and Dye, has been reissued under a new title before the release of the second novel in the series. A story filled with quirky characters and a plot that is a mix of the humorous and the poignant, Count Your Blessings is a quick read and an unforgettable introduction to Sala’s fictional Georgia town. It is currently free for Kindle users.
I’ll Stand By You is a contemporary romance that features two have-nots as the hero and heroine and reveals the heart--and the heartlessness--of Blessings. Brought up by her grandfather after the deaths of her parents, Dori Grant is an unmarried mother with a six-month-old son, Luther Joe. Only seventeen, Dori has steadily refused to name the father of her child, but with her grandfather’s love and support, she is doing her best to build a life for herself and Luther. She and Luther live with her grandfather, and he cares for Luther during Dori’s shifts as a waitress at Granny’s Country Kitchen. Dori, who has earned her GED, is also taking college-level courses in web design online and doing her best to ignore the town gossips who continue to give her a hard time.
Johnny Pine is the eldest son of a mother who died two years ago from a meth overdose and a father who is serving a lifetime prison sentence. The citizens of Blessings have written Johnny and his brothers off as trash, but twenty-year-old Johnny is doing his best to see that the current generation of Pines changes the family reputation. He works hard driving a bulldozer for a construction company, and he works even harder to see that his two younger brothers, Marshall, ten, and seven-year-old Brooks, better known as Beep, eat three meals, have clean clothes, and complete their homework. When Beep is mocked and viciously beaten by four older, bigger boys and left with two black eyes, a broken nose, broken ribs, and heavy bruising, Johnny hopes the families of Beep’s attackers will be forced to pay medical bills, but he is skeptical that the four offenders, all boys from “good” families, will be held accountable for their actions. Sure enough, the school principal does her best to make light of the problem, and many of the townspeople are up in arms when boys from the right side of town are questioned by the police for a fight that must have been the fault of that bad Pine boy. But Beep has his supporters too, the ER physician, the investigating police officer, and a lawyer who takes the case pro bono among them.
Dori and Johnny know each other only slightly, but when Dori faces a tragedy that leaves her homeless and alone, Johnny is the one who offers her help. Her church-going neighbors, some of whom have known her all her life, offer Dori condolences and prayers and then hurry back inside their homes, leaving Dori and her baby alone in the night. It is Johnny from the other side of the tracks who steps up and offers Dori safety and shelter. Dori and Johnny haven’t even left when speculation that he is the father of her child begins. When Dori and Luther make their home with the Pine brothers over the next week, the gossip intensifies, fueled by a hypocritical neighbor eager to protect her own righteous reputation. Marriage seems the answer when Johnny’s guardianship of his brothers is jeopardized, but wedding publicity brings new problems. The good citizens of Blessings have a chance to take care of their own in memorable style on the way to an HEA for Dori, Johnny, boys, baby and all.
Multi-RITA winner and RWA Lifetime Achievement honoree Sala is a gifted writer who has authored more than seventy books. Readers who know her best as a writer of romantic suspense will discover a different voice in this contemporary romance, one that evokes laughter, tugs at the heartstrings, and fosters an examination of what is meant by “small-town values.” The characterization is rich and varied. Dori and Johnny are far from typical romance leads, but they are endearing characters who will engage the affections and attention of readers. Marshall and Beep are funny, vulnerable, and real. A large cast of additional characters--ordinary and quirky, big-hearted and hard-hearted, familiar to some readers and new to all readers,--adds to the novel’s appeal.
Blessings is no idealized small town. It is home to narrow-minded, selfish people who defend their prejudices and are capable of pettiness and cruelty; it is also home to people who care for their neighbors, speak out when they need to, and prove to be generous and compassionate. In other words, it is the kind of small town with which many readers are familiar.
If you read only fast-paced romance steeped in adventure, with or without explosions, these stories are not for you, but if you like small-town romance with humor and heart and a heaping pinch of reality, I give both the novella and the novel a high recommendation. I’m hoping to see more of some of the characters in other Blessings stories.
Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/BNSala
Sharon Sala, who has also written under the name Dinah McCall, has 85-plus books in print, published in four different genres-Romance, Young Adult, Western, and Women's Fiction, and her Young Adult books have been optioned for film. She has been named a RITA finalist seven times by Romance Writers of America, and in 2011 they named her the recipient of the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Her books are New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly bestsellers and published in many different languages. She lives in Oklahoma, the state where she was born.
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