Life in Matlock's nostalgic Valentine, Okla., is a Bradburyesque vision with drugstore soda fountains, old-timey radio shows filling the airwaves and a cast of characters who wouldn't be out of place in Lake Wobegon. Her latest charmer, the seventh installment of the smalltown series (after Cold Tea on a Hot Day), finds Valentine preparing for the wedding of Johnny Ray Berry, popular son of Emma Lou and John Cole (scion of the local Quick Start convenience store empire), to Gracie Louise Kinney, daughter of Sylvia, the snooty owner of several upmarket fashion boutiques. Sylvia is none too pleased with the "red-neck white boy" her daughter has chosen to marry and tries to sabotage the affair by finally revealing the identity of Gracie's father, a black Creole. As the union is thrown into question, the main attraction is the hilarious love dance between Johnny's estranged parents, who've put their divorce on hold for Johnny's sake. Matlock conjures a sweet spell accented by tart drama, as refreshing and delightful as a lemony sweet tea. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Chin Up, Honeyby Curtiss Ann Matlock
It takes a lot of work to plan a weddingand even more to save a marriagebut in Valentine, Oklahoma, there's always someone to help you keep your chin up
Emma Cole's son is getting married, and she's determined to make everything perfecteven if that means asking her estranged husband to come home and pretend they're still/p>/strong>
It takes a lot of work to plan a weddingand even more to save a marriagebut in Valentine, Oklahoma, there's always someone to help you keep your chin up
Emma Cole's son is getting married, and she's determined to make everything perfecteven if that means asking her estranged husband to come home and pretend they're still together. John may be an imperfect husband, but he's a devoted dad. He's happy to oblige Emmaespecially since he didn't really much like living apart from her anyway. Now he wants a second chance.
As Emma sorts through the mess of her own marriage, she puts her heart into planning Valentine's wedding of the century. But there's one big problem: the bride's ambitious mother wants more for her daughter than marriage to a small-town boy.
As the wedding approaches, the many meanings of love, commitment and happiness capture the hearts of folks in town. And surrounded by the warmth and spirit of her neighbors, Emma starts to see new beginnings instead of endings.
Read an Excerpt
1550 AM on the Radio Dial The Home Folks Show
He put his mouth close to the microphone. "Goood mornnin', Valentine-ites! It's ten-O-five once again in southwest Oklahoma, and time to take a break with Brother Winston and the home folks. That was the legendary Mis-ter Bill Monroe singin' us in with 'Bluegrass Stomp.'
"I played that tune for my neighbor Everett Northrupt. His wife, Doris, told me last night that she wants him to get some juice flowin'. So that one's for you, Everett. If you can keep your feet still to that, you're dead."
In his tenth decadehis final decade, as he saw itWinston Valentine found himself smack in a new career as a radio personality. He was happy as a dog with two tails.
"School's finally out for the summer, and my little buddy is here with me again. Say hi to the folks, Mr. Willie Lee." He swung the microphone lower for Willie Lee, who was a little short for his twelve years of age.
"Hel-lo, ev-er-y-bod-y This is Wil-lie Lee and Mun-ro," he said in his careful speech that did not come easy.
Munro, paws up on the desk, barked once, then hopped down and followed after the boy, who returned to sit in a nearby chair. Munro laid his chin on the boy's untied tennis shoe.
Winston continued. "We are brought to you by uh, Tinsley's, your hometown IGA grocer, where they're offerin' a spectacular special of $3.95 a pound on top-choice Kansas City strip steaks. Great price, but seems a long ways to go just to get a steak.
"Oh, the boy here didn't appreciate that one. He's shakin' his head."
The boy was twenty-five-year-old Jim Rainwater, who worked the electronics across the room.
"Just so you out there can get the picture, this young man is as full-blood Chickasaw as they come nowadays, with long hair in a ponytail. Girls, he's handsome and single. But he has a tongue ring, and I don't know how that works out with kissin'."
Winston grinned at the blush stealing over the young man's high cheekbones.
"Let's see the weather well, we got some. Sunny skies and headin' for a high of ninety-five. Whoo-eee, that's pretty hot for the end of May. There's a chance of storms on Friday to cool things off.
"Now, our topic of discussion today is 'Signs Around Town.' I'm startin' off with the sign at the railroad crossing on the north highway. Hasn't anyone but me ever wondered about it? It says: No Stoppin' on Tracks Due to Trains."
He paused a moment. "I ask youdue to what else on a train track?"
Jim Rainwater cast him a grin. Winston was off and running.
"Who would think you are not supposed to stop on the tracks because a dog or a chicken or any-thing other than a train might come along? In fact, why would anyone stop on the track, if he could help it? Just to hang out while dead lice fall off'im?
"The phone line is open to take your comments. And don't forget, this is birthday celebration day. We'll take calls while we listen to some musicbig John Cash with the answer for the blues: 'Get Rhythm!'"
The music started as Winston pushed aside the microphone and mopped his face with a handkerchief. Jim Rainwater gave him a worried eye.
"I'm not expirin' yet, so relax," Winston said and winked.
Willie Lee, who had disappeared around the corner, returned with a cold bottle of water and handed it to him.
"Thank you, Little Buddy." He unscrewed the bottle cap with gnarled hands that he often felt surprised to see as being so aged and upturned the bottle in his mouth. His eye noted a missing tile in the old ceiling.
The low-wattage AM station was located in a small block building at the end of the dirt road behind the car wash. It had long sat abandoned until Tate Holloway, publisher of the Valentine Voice, had bought it last winter and put it back on the air from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. This endeavor had been financed by Holloway, hitting big bucks when his semi-autobiographical novel about a poor boy growing up in East Texas stayed in the top ten of the NewYork Times best-seller list for eight weeks. At one point the book reached number two, topped only by the ever-popular author Nora Roberts. The station was run by Jim Rainwater, the only paid employee, who oversaw a staff of volunteer disc jockeys putting forth an eclectic format, everything from classic jazz to automotive discussion to French lessons on Fridays.
Each mid-morning, all over town and within a twenty-five-mile radius, radios in kitchens and barns, shops and vehicles were tuned to Brother Winston's Home Folks Show at 1550 AM on the radio dial. People loved Winston Valentine, and he loved them back.
Over at Blaine's Drugstore, Vella Blaine was working behind the soda-fountain counter. She called to her niece's boy, Arlo, who was entertaining three teenage-girl admirers by flexing his immense muscles as he served up ice-cream cones. "Break loose from those girls and turn up the radio," Vella told him.
She wanted to hear the birthday announcements. Specifically, she wanted to see if Winston remembered that today was her birthday. He was her best friend, mostly by being her oldest friend. They had what could be called tenure, which she felt gave her every right to certain expectations.
It was silly at her age to want to hear a happy birthday on the radio. Sillier still not to tell anyone it was her birthday if she wanted birthday wishes. She thought of all this as she halved lemons for the fresh lemonadethe Wednesday summer specialand kept an ear tuned to the radio, unconsciously swaying her hips to the good old country-western music.
Her sultry hip movements were noticed by Jaydee Mayhall, who sat at the counter and happened to look up from his cup of latte. He blinked in surprise at the sight, and also at feeling a stirring of manly response. As he sipped from his cup, he did some calculating. He had to be younger than Vella by what ? Ten or twelve years, at least.
This thought brought Jaydee's eyes to his image reflected in the mirrored wall behind the sundae dishes. Jaydee was fifty-six, but he didn't look it. Everyone said so. He had used that Just For Men on his hair until the past few months, when he couldn't seem to keep up with it. He wondered if he might be letting himself go.
He removed his glasses and dropped them inside his coat pocket.
Vella looked into the mirror, too. It was right in front of her face, as it had been for the better part of her life. Mature? Old. She closed her eyes. Her husband of nearly forty-eight years had finally died, and her boyfriend, who had seemed so promising, had gone off with another, younger, woman, something she was sad or glad about, depending on the moment. Right then, she experienced a slice of fury at the desertion and sent the knife in a swift chop through a lemon.
The next instant she had the clear imagination of Winston's voice, announcing her true age out over the air waves.
She grabbed a towel and, wiping her hands, found the telephone number for the radio station on the card beneath the phone. It's my birthday, Winston just say happy birthday. I will never speak to you again if you say my age.
Buzz, buzz, buzz, came the busy signal.
Over the radio, Winston started in with the birthday announcements. Vella tried the phone number again.
Buzz, buzz, buzz.
Plunking down the phone, she returned to making the lemonade. With each of Winston's celebratory announcements, she threw a half a lemon into the manual juicer and brought the handle down, hard.
At the very last, when she had thought Winston was finished and without mentioning her, and she was both disappointed and relieved, here he came out with, "There's one more birthday that wasn't called in, but I happen to know it. Ever'-body go by and wish my good friend and neighbor Miss Vella Blaine a happy birthday."
Vella paused with her hand on the thick handle of the juicer.
"I have known Miss Vella all of her life, and I happen to know that she is sixty-five today. Happy birthday, Miss Vella!"
Oh, Winston, you dear old friend!
Vella, heart full and eyes misty, smiled while happy birthday wishes rang out all around the soda fountain. Vella found herself near tears. Jaydee Mayhall even lifted his cup and said gallantly that she was a fine-looking woman, for her age. He was a pompous ass, but she appreciated the backhanded compliment.
"I didn't know today was your birthday, Aunt Vella," Arlo said. "I woulda' baked you a cake."
"Oh, sugar, that's sweet, but I don't need any cake." Vella was again rapidly punching numbers for the radio station into the phone. This time the call went right through, and when she got Winston on the line, she said in her most sultry voice, "Thank you for my birthday present."
"You're more than welcome, darlin'."
When she hung up, she turned to see little old Minnie Oakes approaching from over at the pharmacy, her purse swinging on one arm, while her opposite hand swung a bottle of Milk of Magnesia. Minnie was a childhood girlfriend who was actually two years younger than Vella but had always seemed twenty years older.
Minnie came up to Vella and shook the blue bottle at her. "You are not no sixty-five years old!"
And Vella replied, "I know it's hard to believe, sugar, but I am. You heard it on the radio."
"That was Randy Travis, singin' 'Satisfied Mind' right here at 1550." Winston pressed the left earphone tight against his ear. His hearing, like other parts of his body, let him down on occasion. "We got Wynona Yardell on the line, to tell us about a right absurd sign. Go ahead, Miss Wynona."
"Hi, ever'body I'm callin' about the sign on the highway goin' east. It says " She started giggling. " well, you may not think it is funny, but it seems funny to me. It says Caution, Wet Pavement When It Rains."
She went into gales of laughter, and everyone listening to the radio laughed as much at her laughter as at what she'd said.
Out on the highway heading into town, Belinda Blaine turned up the volume of the radio in her champagne-colored Cadillac, saying, "My word, one thing about Winston's show it is a never-ending source of entertainment."
Receiving no comment from her passenger, Belinda glanced over at the woman. Emma had seemed distracted all morning. A little pale, actually, when usually Emma Berry was one of the most bright and shining women in town.
Then Winston drew Belinda's attention again, with an advertisement for the Merry Male Maid Service, which was offering a special all month.
Belinda's thoughts went from musing about hiring the Merry Males to the fact of her mother having six years shaved off her life right on the radio, which put Belinda back in her early thirties, and because it was on the radio, everyone was going to believe it.
"We can get you interviewed on Winston's show," Belinda said, the idea coming suddenly. "He loves to do that, and then we'll be gettin' advertising for free."
Belinda and Emma Berry were on their way back from a gift shop up in Lawton, where Belinda had placed Emma's greeting cards and framed calligraphy on consignment. Emma's cards had sold so well at the drugstore that Belinda had decided to branch out. She was having energetic fantasies of a line of cards, calendars and framed prints, then on to tea towels and teacups and T-shirts. Marketing was the key, and that, Belinda knew, was her own specific and golden talent.
Her rapid thoughts caused her foot to press on the accelerator. She whipped around vehicles as she came to them. Basically, Belinda drove with the attitude that no one would dare challenge her.
"And there's the Fire Department Auxiliary's summer craft fair comin' up. I'll check the dates on that. We'll have to stock up for it."
Realizing Emma had still not said a word, Belinda glanced over to see her looking out the side window.
"Sugar, did you hear me?"
Emma's head nodded. "I "
Belinda glanced over again and saw that her friend had pressed a tissue to her face.
Crying? Was Emma crying?
As if in answer to the unasked question, the woman burst into sobs.
The next instant a siren sounded from behind.
"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Belinda knew even as she glanced in the rearview mirror that it was her husband, Deputy Lyle Midgett, flashing his patrol car's lights.
She might have ignored him, but he tended to get into such a sulk when she did that. He drove up right up beside her, indicating she needed to pull over. She shot him a warning look. He knew that she did not like to take her Cadillac off the pavement and expose it to more dust and dirt than absolutely necessary. She went on another quarter mile and turned onto a small paved road.
"Now, honey how do you think it looks for you to always be speedin', and me the first-deputy?" Lyle said right off, bending down to her window. He was tall. "I really, really wish you wouldn't speed, darlin'. Oh, hello, Emma. How are you today?"
"I don't speed on purpose, Lyle. I don't think, I'm gonna speed and make Lyle look bad. And no one thinks a thing when I speed, 'cause I have been drivin' this way my whole lifeevery bit of those years we lived togetherand you never felt it reflected on you. Now I'm stopped, and in fact, Emma and I are gonna sit here a minute and discuss some things, so you can go on. I want to put the window up. This wind is messin' up my hair."
"Okay, darlin'," he said in his gentle tone. "But please don't speed anymore. At least not anywhere near town."
"I won't, sugar," she said, blowing him a kiss as the window slid up. "Until next time," she whispered. Belinda knew herself well and without apology.
In her side-view mirror, she watched Lyle as he walked back to his patrol car, running her eyes from his broad shoulders downward over his lean hips. She had not married Lyle Midgett for his brains. It was for everything below his neck, all of which was quite large and strong, and that included his heart.
Then she turned her attention to Emma. In Belinda's estimation, blue-eyed pale blondes were generally really high-strung, even if they were not natural blondes, which Belinda knew that Emma was not. Every six weeks, Emma came into the drugstore and bought L'Oreal No. 9.
"I'm all right. It's nothin' I was just " Emma gave her a wan smile, then broke off, her gaze going to the radio. Her eyes widened, and then her face crumpled.
Belinda looked at the radio, which seemed innocent. Don William's voice was singing out, " another place, another time "
She reached over and punched the Off button, then pulled tissues from a box in the backseat and shoved them at Emma, who was bent over and just boo-hooing her heart out.
A practical woman, Belinda checked her watch and waited. After a minute and a half, Emma was coming back to herself.
"You have mascara smears, sugar," Belinda said. "Here's some lotion. There's a mirror over the sun visor."
Emma repaired herself. "I'm sorry it was hearin' Don Williams. You see John Cole and I went to see him in concert once for our anniversary."
Oh, dear, she might go again. Belinda handed over more tissues, and Emma took them but managed self-control, which Belinda both admired and appreciated. Displays of emotion wore on her nerves.
"John Cole and I have separated," Emma said. "We're gettin' divorced."
Belinda, who was rarely surprised about anything, was stunned. "Oh, honey I'm so sorry to hear that."
She shut up, not wanting to say anything to get Emma started again, and to calm her own emotions. Good Lord, if this could happen to Emma and John Cole, two simply lovely people who seemed like the perfect couple, what did that say about her own chances as a fairly new and somewhat reluctant married woman?
"Thirty-two years. We've been married thirty-two years."
Emma's voice was a hoarse whisper filled with so much sadness that Belinda felt struck to the core.
Meet the Author
Curtiss Ann Matlock loves to share her experience of Southern living, so she fills her stories with rich local color, basic values and Southern country wisdom. Her books have earned rave reviews, been optioned for film and received numerous awards, among them three nominations for the Romance Writers of America's prestigious RITA Award and two Readers' Choice Awards, given by readers from all over the nation. She currently lives in Alabama.
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When I am down from very real concerns, this writer brings back the light to my days. Great chararacterizations, milieu, and progression of story.
Have you ever sat down with a book, and it felt like you were sitting on a porch swing, chatting with good friends and catching up on their lives? That's exactly the feeling you get when you pick up a book by Curtiss Ann Matlock. Her stories about the folks in Valentine, Oklahoma make the reader feel like they've come home for a family reunion. And everybody's there - the sweet old uncle who has the delightful radio show everyone loves, the aunts who cluck about making sure everyone is fed, and the kids running in and out between everyone's feet. In the latest in the Valentine series, "Chin Up, Honey," the story focuses on Emma and John Cole Berry. Emma and John Cole have been having some marital problems, to the point that John Cole has not been home in a while. But when their son, Johnny, announces that he and his sweet girlfriend Gracie are getting married, Emma knows that she has to put aside her disagreements with her husband in order to plan the wedding of the year. After all, there are parties to plan, invitations to design, a pool to be installed - you know, important things. But when Emma finds out that Gracie's mother, the elegant businesswoman Sylvia from up North, doesn't approve of Johnny - well, let's just say the mother lioness instinct kicks in and Emma goes into overdrive trying to prove to Sylvia that their family is just fine and dandy. But her anxiety may prove to be unnecessary. All it takes is getting the stuck-up lady down to experience the loving ways of the folks in Valentine to get her to loosen up a bit. A day at the Glorious Women's retreat, a few glasses of sweet tea and Sylvia's good to go! (If only it were that easy.) Meanwhile Brother Winston's radio show is getting noticed by the folks at the "Today Show," there is a pack of kids running around town stealing things, and down at the drugstore there is a raging debate on whether you are supposed to wear panties underneath your pantyhose or not. Yep, it's always exciting in Valentine, Oklahoma. Never a dull day passes. Curtiss Ann Matlock has a unique gift of bringing her readers right into her stories, making them comfortable and wanting to stay a while. With just the right touch of Southern hospitality, a heaping helping of love and a generous dash of humor, her novels are instant classics. "Chin Up, Honey" is one of the best of the series, which is saying a lot since the others are delightful as well. I can't wait until it's time to visit Valentine again.
John Cole comes home ostensibly only to attend the wedding of his son Jonny. However, he also has returned hoping to persuade his wife Emma Berry to give them a second chance. Emma has doubts, but agrees to try again with the stipulation that together they see a marriage counselor. Reluctantly John, who hates discussing issues with loved ones let alone strangers, agrees.------------ As the day of the marriage ceremony comes closer, Emma realizes her in-law disapprove of her son. She wants to help Johnny with his future relations so she makes an effort to change the mind of her son's mother-in-law and show she, her husband and Johnny are good people who will be there for her daughter.----------------- The quirky secondary cast makes for a fun lighthearted frolic. The story line lacks action and the one of the two prime premises not significant as Johnny will have to prove his worth to his in-laws with deeds not his mom's interference. The second chance romance aspects are also somewhat muted as the differences between John and Emma are minor. Still fans will enjoy watching the antics of the groom's mother, making two fronts worse.------------------------- Harriet Klausner