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Wonderful You by Mariah Stewart
(Pocket, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-671-00416-6
***
Mariah Stewart writes pleasant novels about nice people finding love and happiness. There is no great conflict between hero and heroine and nary a villain in sight. If you like a light, breezy read and eschew anything too intense over the summer, then Wonderful You could be right up your alley.

Zoey Enright is a middle child who has never quite found her place in the world, in contrast to her older brother Nick (the hero of Stewart's previous novel, Devlin's Light) and younger sister, Georgia (who, I suspect, is next in line to get her own novel). Her most recent attempt at success, opening a unique boutique in upscale Chester County, Pennsylvania, has been a dismal failure, despite her mother Delia's willingness to invest heavily in the venture. Then Zoey notices that a new home shopping channel is setting up operations nearby. It seems like a dream job for a woman who loves shopping, selling and talking. Before long, Zoey is the hottest host on the Home MarketPlace network.

Delaney O'Connor, an older wealthy businessman takes notice of Zoey and her channel. He has a personal interest in this unusual young woman; many years ago, his daughter Maureen and her son Ben lived with the Enright family. When Maureen died of cancer, Delaney took his grandson home. Ben never against saw the family he once considered his own. In fact, he now lives a continent away in England, pursuing his love of automobile racing. Delaney decides it's high time for Ben to come back where he belongs and confront the past that was too painful to remember.

Ben and Zoey come face to face when Delaney buys Home MarketPlace and convinces Ben to work there temporarily while he recovers from a racing injury. Ben was the only boy who was kind to Zoey during her awkward gangly phase, and she has secretly dreamed of him for years. Ben takes a little longer to realize that Zoey is meant for him, but not that much longer. As Zoey and Ben move closer, Delia suddenly reveals a family secret that causes all of the Enright children to take a new look at their seemingly unflappable mom.

The novel, most of which takes place in Pennsylvania Dutch country, is filled with descriptive passages that keep the pace leisurely. It is sprinkled with amusing episodes, mostly involving Zoey's home shopping profession. The love story between Ben and Zoey is sweet and not terribly rocky other than a few tough choices about the future of Ben's and Zoey's respective careers.

A major theme of the novel seems to be the benign influence of meddling older relatives and friends. Delia Enright, Delaney O'Connor and Zoey's next-door-neighbor Wally all have a hand in bringing the lovers together. At the same time, Zoey manages to assert her independence - of course in a nice way with no hard feelings - from her overbearing but well-meaning mother.

Zoey's search for her own niche is at the heart of Wonderful You, and the romance is just one part of that journey. Mariah Stewart is a skilled writer who creates delightful characters you can really root for. Personally I appreciate a little more spice in my romance novels, but if you like yours on the light and cheerful side then you will not be disappointed.

--Susan Scribner


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