A deft, engaging novel in the form of a series of vignettes, depicting the trials and joys of extended family life, from the author of Heart Conditions (1994), etc. The narrator, 40-year-old Mimi, a once-divorced, once-widowed mother of two lively, quirky kids—Melanie, 12, and Daniel, 10- -lives on a shoestring in suburban San Diego and is beset by troubles. First, her dippy sister, Eve, marries a suspiciously carefree guy named John, whom she met in a smarmy self-help workshop—an unemployed but oddly cash-rich ex-restaurant manager believed by Mimi to be a thief and a con-man, just as Mimi's and Eve's charming, long-vanished father was. Mimi hates him on sight. Also, the photocopy-and-parcel store that she and Eve run together is being seriously threatened by the opening of a fancy new chain store in a mall just down the freeway. And, finally, Mimi finds herself struggling not to fall in love with Henry, a too-young, too-short, ``nice'' but unemployed guy she meets on a blind date; Mimi's decided never to replace Bill, her second husband who died of cancer. At first, Henry's allure is that his marketing background and ideas promise to help save the store; but Mimi falls for his persistent devotion, even as her own unconventional ideas- -building a drive-through window for the convenience of harried customers with kids; installing a cafe serving Eve's husband's fabulous coffee and cookies—begin to turn a profit. Meantime, money starts disappearing from the till. Who's the thief—John, a part-time employee, or Henry? Though the vignettes are at first somewhat slow-moving and awkward, the story soon enough gains direction and suspense—and ends with convincing lessons satisfyingly learned by all major players.
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