Ballantine Books, July 2005
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding
Hallie Palmer returns to her Ohio home after her first year of college at the Cleveland Art Institute. Her former guardian, Bernard Stockton, came to Cleveland to plead with her to come back to work for him. Bernard is depressed and grieving over a break-up with his lover Gil and wants Hallie to help him figure out a way to win him back. Hallie has returned for her own reasons. She is broke and needs to raise enough cash for her next semester of school. Soon after she settles in the Stockton's guest house, she discovers her family and friends are struggling too and looking to her for help.
Hallie is dealing with issues of her own. Besides her financial pressures, Ray, her sort-of boyfriend from Cleveland, wants Hallie to have sex with him. Hallie isn't sure about love or if she is ready to give up her virginity. She is the oldest of eight kids and came home to find her mother is pregnant again, this time with twins. Her harried mother asks Hallie to do something to help her sister Louise who has turned into a reckless party girl. Hallie is caught between juggling her own troubles, Bernard's decline and her sister's rebellious streak.
Last year, before college, she used her racetrack gambling and poker skills as an outlet, but that just led her into a world of trouble. Now that she is struggling again she hopes to find another way to solve her financial problems. However, she soon finds herself at the secret poker game in the church basement. Cappy, the bookie who manages the poker game, has a handsome new assistant, his grandson Auggie. In spite of her troubles, the summer at home may hold unexpected changes for Hallie.
Bernard Stockton, Hallie's former employer/guardian is in the middle of a romantic crisis. His longtime lover has left him to date a woman. Bernard comforts himself by cooking extraordinary dishes for everyone in the household to the accompaniment of his collection of Broadway musicals. The Broadway tunes are driving the household completely mad, but Hallie's return has a stabilizing effect on Bernard. He is focusing on his antique business again and restoring the lawns to their former manicured state. It's all in line with his latest plans to adopt a baby girl from China.
Hallie Palmer and Bernard Stockton are an unlikely pair and their relationship produces a highly entertaining friendship. Living in the Stockton household is a zany experience with Bernard's sixty year-old, free-spirited mother, Olivia there and her Italian lover, Ottavio. There is also an alcoholic chimpanzee named Rocky. HEART'S DESIRE is filled with dozens of delightfully eccentric characters and a mixture of stories and issues that seem to run off in many different directions all at once.
In the center of it all is Hallie, a reformed miscreant with a gift for playing the odds. Her coming of age saga is enjoyable. Pedersen has an easy going writing style and a comedic twist that makes this story sparkle. HEART'S DESIRE is the second book in a series. Hallie's debut is found in BEGINNER'S LUCK (2003) and the third title in this series, FULL HOUSE (2006) is due out next year.
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