ByThe Happy Hour Choir made me a fan and Bittersweet Creek put Sally Kilpatrick on my “must read” list. With her third novel Better Get to Livin’, Kilpatrick has ensured that her books join the likes of Stephen King, Elizabeth George, Laura Lippman and Peter David on my list of “authors I will read their latest offering first no matter what other books are on the to-be-read pile.”
Presley Cline left her small hometown in Tennessee for the bright lights of Hollywood. But just as her fortunes are about to take a turn toward that goal, she’s caught up in a Hollywood scandal that has her not only embarrassed but headed home to try and hide out with her mother for a while. Those plans quickly go awry when her mother’s trailer is destroyed by a tornado and Presley and her mother take refuge at the local funeral home, run by Declan Anderson.
Like Presley, Declan has his own “big dreams in a small town.” He’s been holding down the fort on the family business for a couple of years now while his brother is off in Atlanta, going to school. The two had an understanding that once school was over, the brother would come back to town, take over the day-to-day funeral home operations and let Declan pursue his own dreams.
The instant chemistry between Declan and Presley leaps off the page. There’s been a simmering attraction between the two since high school but it never came to a full boil — well, at least until now.
Better Get to Livin’ adds in another interesting, supernatural layer to this romance. And no, there are no sparkly vampires to be seen. Instead, Presley is able to see and communicate with ghosts who are in limbo — something that is especially aggravated by living and working in a funeral home (Presley takes over doing the hair and make-up for the deceased to try and fill her steadily empty bank account. And that whole speaking to the deceased comes in handy when she can find out exactly how the recently deceased prefers their hair styled and make-up applied).
With alternating chapters giving us the viewpoints of Declan and Presley, we’re treated to not only the quirks of this small town and these characters but also to seeing how our heroes are reacting to each other. Sometimes it will make you laugh, sometimes it will frustrate you and sometimes it will make you cry — in other words, it’s just like life and any relationship. As with her previous two novels, what makes Kilpatrick’s work stand out are her realistic characters and the realistic hurdles to their romance. Both Delcan and Presley have wounds and foibles — many of which throw a monkey wrench into their potential romance. But these things never feel forced or as if Kilpatrick is coming up with reasons to keep the romance simmering.
Throw in some big homages to It’s a Wonderful Life and you’ve got another winner from Kilpatrick. And she even rewards long-time readers with references to her other novels that will please fans (like this one) who’ve read the previous installments but won’t serve as a gate to keep out new readers.
In short, this one is pretty much as close to perfect as a reading experience can get.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was after I received birthday wishes from Kilpatrick (we’re old friends) on Facebook and asked her if I could read a copy of her next book as my birthday present. She and her publisher graciously sent me a copy of the novel and I couldn’t be more delighted.