Publication Date: 1995 - 2000
Publisher Pocket Books
I came across Mariah Stewart when I received my copy of DEAD WRONG for review and decided this was one of the authors for which I had to read the entire back list. While I am not a fan of women’s fiction, Ms. Stewart did not disappoint and the covers of her earlier books lend themselves to transporting readers to a simpler time. Each is lovelier than the last. I wouldn’t mind having some of those gardens for my own.
Her first book, A DIFFERENT LIGHT (ISBN 9780671868550 Pocket Books) was released in 1995 and in light of the political foibles committed by a number of our 21st century politicians was a timely read. Following the death of her police officer husband, Athena Moran is convinced to run for mayor of her small town. While at first she relies on her mentor’s advice, she soon learns he is not all he seems. A DIFFERENT LIGHT was an easy read and in light of today’s revelations about what goes on behind closed doors, I felt it could have been a stronger book. I could easily see the romantic suspense potential in the story if Athena’s life had been threatened. For its time it was a right on read. .
MOMENTS IN TIME (ISBN 9780671868543 Pocket Books) was released about the same time as A DIFFERENT LIGHT and follows the story of rock musician J.D. Borders and his wife. For me it read more like someone talking about their personal life than a story to delve deep into. I found it a boring read, but then that is how I generally feel about women’s fiction. It’s a story of a woman who survived a nasty incident.
CAROLINA MIST (ISBN 9780671527877 Pocket Books) debuted in 1996 and is the story of Abby McKenna and the one who got away, Alex Kane. Despite it being written 13 years ago, this book is so pertinent for our current times. With the loss of her job and what appears to be the demise of her entire career Abby is about out of options when she receives a letter informing her she has inherited her aunt’s estate. Packing her bags she heads back to the house and home that she has held dear since childhood. Bit by bit she comes to see that the life she constructed for herself in the big city may not really be the life for her. Torn between caring for her aunt’s dear friend, Belle and the life she thinks she wants Abby finds sometimes the right decision can be the best one. There were a few details that went awry, such as one time her cousin is entitled to one set of jewels and later in the book she is to receive another, entirely different stone. Abby claims a ring for herself and suddenly it is the cousin’s choice. The change in the stones involved does in no way detract from a heartwarming story.
DEVLIN’S LIGHT (ISBN 978-0671004156 Pocket Books 1997) begins what I think of as the Enright Family series. One of many things I liked about this series is the first book starts with the brother, Nick and tells his story first. The plot is fairly straight forward, again, women’s fiction, and there were a few places where more suspense could have been built up to make it a more dramatic read. It was pretty clear who was behind what fairly early on as well as who the murderer was. Rather than make the story dull and less interesting, it made it easy to settle in to read about the Enright and Devlin families. I’m not a cook or baker, but some of the recipes included in the book sound downright tempting.
WONDERFUL YOU (ISBN 9780671004163 Pocket Books 1998) is the second book in the Enright Family series and tells Zoey’s story. I wanted Zoey’s shop! What a wonderful, magical place with things that would have been my favorite, Ms. Stewart created. Her idea of the home shopping network was sheer genius and Zoey’s role was fantastic. Mildly reminiscent of Abby and Alex from CAROLINA MIST in terms of the childhood sweethearts being reunited, WONDERFUL YOU is the kind of story that stays with you long after the last words are read. Long time readers are also treated to an insider’s connection when Zoey and Ben go to England. It is a short paragraph, made in passing that you read, stop a moment and go back and read again to be sure you saw it and then you smile because you are part of the story with that one small bit.
MOONDANCE (ISBN 978-0671026240 Pocket Books 1998) is the third book of the Enright Family series and by far the best of Ms. Stewart’s books so far. It is with MOONDANCE Ms. Stewart moves from women’s fiction to romantic suspense and tells Georgia and Matt’s story along with catching readers up a bit on Zoey and Ben and India and Nick. Once again readers are transported to a fabulous domicile that opens the door for them to explore what really matters. There is the continuing thread of a garden in need of clearing out and rebuilding. Rather than being boring the idea of an untended garden once again being tended is a marvelous metaphore for our own lives. What have we neglected that needs being looked after. There could have been a bit more tension in the threat to Laura’s life. A few bits and pieces that are dropped didn't really give me the kind of chills I enjoy in a romantic suspense and when the action happens it is over a bit too quickly. I’m not entirely sure the scenes around the burning building would have played out quite that way in the real world but that is why we enjoy fiction, the improbables forming around us.
PRICELESS (ISBN 978-0671026257 Pocket Book 1999) departs from the Enrights, but doesn’t leave all the characters behind. There are a few cameo apperances made by several characters I’ve enjoyed so far. Rachel Chandler has spent her life trying to prove to her dad, Gordon, she can make the grade in the family salvaging business. Lest readers think salvaging is just a bunch of old junk, don’t be fooled—it’s gems and golden goblets and other marvelous treasure. When she loses a bet with her brother, instead of achieving her life long dream to work beside her father, she is sent off to the Melrose, an old Civil War gun runner. She finds much more than guns on the Melrose. This was a great story. The diving scenes made me want to take lessons and find an old treasure ship to explore. The intricacies of such a project are wonderfully told. There were two points in the story that left me scratching my head. There was such a build up regarding one character’s eyes and I suspected what it was early on. When it happened it passed by without more than a blip. There was also one family relationship I suspected early on and it wasn’t even acknowledged. Even black sheep can be an interesting aspect to any family.
Ms. Stewart really hit her stride in BROWN EYED GIRL (ISBN 978-0671785888 Pocket Books 2000). In one major leap she moved from women’s fiction and some decent romantic suspense to a white knuckle thriller. The story starts off dark and gripping and the emotional roller coaster runs non-stop until the end. Despite figuring out who the killer was within the first 50-60 pages, I found the book entertaining. While the action is non-stop, there are a few areas, i.e., around the FBI’s process and procedures, that are questionable. If you can suspend reality and what really happens it’s a solid read.
This is an objective review and not an endorsement of the books.