Book Review: Salting Roses by Lorelle Marinello

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Whip up a pretty, small-town orphan who grows into a big heart, a sassy mouth and a penchant for pitching a baseball; an aging blues musician and a curmudgeonly plumber for make-do daddies; and a stranger come to town bearing a huge, unclaimed inheritance and a “damn fine” fanny; and what do you have? An Alabama camellia of a goodtime novel called “Salting Roses.”

The debut work of San Diego-based author Lorelle Marinello, “Salting Roses” is a Southern-fried saunter through the backyards of Marinello’s childhood memories and on into a contemporary romance mystery.

Her protagonist, Gracie Lynne Calloway, is just this side of annoying, with her tough, tomboy exterior and her refusal to explore herself beyond her foundling beginnings. But on Gracie’s twenty-fifth birthday, she receives a shock that reveals a vulnerable young woman with very human yearnings and a Yankee parentage that rocks her Podunk world to the verge of shambles.

Marinello does a decent job of plotting a meandering path from Gracie’s kidnapping in her infancy to her assumed uncles’ door to the decision of a lifetime: whether to accept her biological father’s fortune — and, with some luck, avoid the pitfalls of obscene wealth that have tripped up her newfound family — or stick with keeping the books at Draper’s grocery and pitching for the Shady Grove Gators.

Marinello’s gift is in creating a passel of characters that one could as readily bump into at a backwater speakeasy or in Mayberry RFD as one might find adorning the pages of Southern Living or Yankee magazine. Marinello’s characters are fully-fleshed wonders of idiosyncratic fun and folly: from Gracie’s colloquial personality to her emphysemic, doting Uncle Artie to the small-town snobs whose offspring don’t “keep company with dirty bastard children” to Gracie’s persnickety, lock-jawed Connecticut matriarch to her repressed, Machiavellian mogul of a father to his beautiful, conniving leech of a first wife.

And Gracie’s love interest, Sam Fontana, provides Gracie an entertaining partner in some lively Southern repartee, as their tentative pursuit of one another gives the novel the titillating lure of romance — without the more perfunctory sex found in less literate efforts. Oh, not to worry, there’s definitely some sex, but the chase is more fun than any conquest, and more important to the plot.

“Salting Roses” would benefit from a good proofreader, although perhaps only someone as persnickety as Gracie’s grandmother would notice that, and the romance genre isn’t for every reader; but “Salting Roses” offers up something other than formulaic bodice decimation. Despite its inevitable “Cinderella” conclusion, the novel gently leads the reader to a moral lesson that delves deeper than the obvious mischief of the book’s title. And it also delivers a darn good time.

Gracie’s Aunt Alice says of Gracie’s would-be beau, “Mr. Fontana is so handsome and he has a nice smile, don’t you think? … And he has good teeth. You can tell a man by the condition of his teeth. If he smokes too much or drinks, it shows. The Lord won’t hide a man’s vices for him. No siree.”

As with men and horses, it is worth noting that “Salting Roses” is a book with some good teeth.

Author: Lorelle Marinello Reading: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday 26 January Where: Warwick's, 7812 Girard Avenue, La Jolla Information: 858-454-0347 or Publisher: Avon 2010 Binding: Trade paperback Pages: 322 Author website:

Crossposted at the North County Times.