Cherish by Crystal Wilson-Harris
(Arabesque, $4.99, PG) ISBN: 0-7860-0503-3
***
Cori Justice is the sole survivor of a tragic automobile accident that took the lives of her husband and their young daughter five years ago. For three of those five years, she sought consolation in a bottle. But Cori is now on the road to recovery. She has left some of the bitter memories in Chicago and moved to Charlotte where she and her brother now run their grandparents' restaurant.

Cori's North Carolina universe is smaller and well-ordered. Church and the restaurant - the center of her existence - are both within walking distance to the home she shares with her family.

When Cherish begins, Cori's brother Michael has unveiled a promotional scheme to attract more patrons to the restaurant. Auto car racing is big in the area and Michael has committed the restaurant to sponsor two professional races hoping to convince Cori into a more permanent sponsorship deal.

For both personal and business reasons, Cori is understandably appalled at the idea. "Racing is such a stupid, dangerous sport . . . grown men driving as fast as they can in a circle..."

Meanwhile, the race car team is trying to get the restaurant to extend its commitment so that their participation in the racing season can be assured. But the driver, Brad Marshall, has to be convinced of "sponsor schmoozing as an opportunity, not a hassle." Cori and Michael's uninterrupted support will help Brad prove himself in smaller races and move up to the next level, NASCAR races.

While Michael makes it clear that full sponsorship depends on Cori's support, he does not tell the team about her history. Brad puts his plan to get her approval into overdrive and the sponsor schmoozing he resisted becomes less and less of a hassle. Cori and Brad are immediately attracted to each other. They spend quality time together touring Charlotte. What began as Brad's drive to win her over has become a campaign to win her.

"Wholesome" is the best word to describe Crystal Wilson-Harris' characters in Cherish. Both main and secondary characters are good, solid, salt-of-the-earth people.

The relationship between Brad and Cori is touching. He is a patient, sensitive and honest man. Brad doesn't know the extent of the demons Cori is fighting, but he is attuned to what will make her comfortable. Brad is genuinely concerned that his sincere interest in Cori could be misconstrued as a ploy to retain her considerable financial support and the reader is able to feel his internal conflict. One can also feel Cori's angst as she attempts to move ahead with her life at a pace and manner only she can determine.

Brad and Cori are surrounded by genuinely good people upon whom they can rely for good solid advice. Not only are they unashamed to ask for advice, they actually take it when it's given. At its best, Cherish is a story about love, family and faith - what it is and it isn't.

Although Crystal Wilson-Harris gives her readers a peek at the business of auto racing, Cherish is still a clichéd montage of every race car movie I've ever seen. The track bimbo, the shot at the big race, the obligatory life-and-death crash and can-win/must-win race are all here. And Brad's recuperative powers and drive to win are unbelievable. He survives a crash that put him into cardiac arrest and a coma. On the Saturday after he is released from the hospital, he's off to the races again.

Cherish is an acceptable love story with solid characters in a predictable plot.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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