STEALING HOME by Sherryl Woods
There's nothing like a little serenity . . .
Maddie Townsend might live in a town called Serenity, but there's been nothing calm or peaceful about her life since her marriage broke up. This stay-at-home mom has no job skills, an out-of-control sixteen-year-old son, a talkative fourteen-year-old who's suddenly gone silent, a six-year-old daughter whose heart is broken, an ex-husband whose younger girlfriend is expecting their baby and two best friends who think she's somehow qualified to help them open a fitness spa for women.
But if Maddie is a tad on edge with all that on her plate, it's nothing compared to the chaos that ensues when she discovers that her son's baseball coach has feelings for her and the whole town disapproves. Maddie's faced a lot of challenges lately with strength and resolve, but Cal Maddox may turn out to be more than she can handle.
Then again, he could just be the one man in all of South Carolina who can help her find serenity.
A SLICE OF HEAVEN
The perfect recipe for beginnings . . .
Dana Sue might run the best little restaurant in Serenity, but when you're feeding a small town of neighbors, busybodies and best friends, things can get a bit hot in the kitchen. Never mind that she's putting on too many pounds (an occasional occupational hazard for a chef)—she's worried about her too-skinny teenage daughter, Annie, who has been slowly starving herself since the loud, suitcase-tossing, name-calling fit on her front lawn that left Dana Sue minus one cheating husband.
But sometimes life picks strange ways to mend fences. When Annie lands in the hospital, Dana Sue reaches out to the man she loves to hate: Ron, the husband who took her heart when she tossed him out. Ron is still Annie's white knight, even if she's decidedly more tarnished in Dana Sue's eyes. But he still looks good enough to eat, and maybe, just maybe, to forgive. Once, Ron made the mistake of letting go without a proper fight. But now Dana Sue is about to get another taste of sweet devotion from a man tired of feeling like a fool, hungry for that slice of heaven he found with her . . .
The Sweet Magnolias, aka - Maddie Townsend, Dana Sue Sullivan, and Helen Decatur have been friends living in small town Serenity for as long as they can remember. In the first book, STEALING HOME, Maddie finds herself with a cheating pediatrician husband, who leaves her for his new young nurse that is pregnant. Although Helen, Maddie's friend and divorce lawyer, has assured that Maddie will receive a good sum in child support and alimony (I know, it isn't called that anymore, maintenance, spousal support, whatever) Maddie still knows she needs to get a job to help support herself and the kids. The problem is, Maddie has spent the last 20 years married to Bill Townsend, raising their children and helping Bill get his practice off the ground and thriving. What does she possibly have that any future employer would want in an employee?
So when Helen and Dana Sue tell her that they want to open up a new spa and health club for women in small Serenity, and they want Maddie to be their partner and run the place, Maddie is suspicious. She doesn't want her friends opening something just so she has a job, especially something as risky as a new business in such a small town. And she finds it hard to believe they only want to do it because they both need to get control of their health (Helen for her blood pressure and Dana Sue so she won't get diabetes like her mother). Telling her friends that she'll run some numbers, continue to see what else was in the market, and get back to them, thinking that she just doesn't have the skill and know-how to do what they expect. Disappointing her friends with letting their business fail just doesn't sound like something Maddie can deal with on top of everything else.
When Ty, Maddie's oldest son, starts to act out against his father, he doesn't just do it at home. Once the star on the school baseball team, Ty has been playing poorly, skipping school, his grades are slipping, and he's being disrespectful to his teachers, his coach and his teammates. And even though Maddie sees some of it, she is still surprised to get the call from Cal Maddox, Ty's ball coach asking for a meeting to discuss Ty's behavior.
When Maddie walks into Cal's office, he is once again amazed at how beautiful she is. And once he discovers what's been going on at the Townsend home, he is even more amazed at how strong Maddie is. Deciding to be there for Ty and help Maddie as a friend, Cal soon falls in love with Maddie. So what if she's 10 years his senior? She's beautiful. A great mother. A wonderful friend. And hopefully she'll soon be his.
As Maddie and Cal's relationship starts to deepen, and she agrees to go into business with her friends, the small town of Serenity decides they don't like the fact that their baseball coach and teacher is falling for a mother of one of his students, let alone one who isn't even officially divorced. With the entire town against them, Cal's job is threatened and the Spa may never even have a chance to get off the ground. Can Cal and Maddie find a way to save Cal's job, help her oldest son come to grips with his anger, her middle son find his sense of humor again, and her daughter stop crying for the man who left them all? Maddie just doesn't know. Especially when Bill (Maddie's soon-to-be ex) announces that he and his girlfriend will be getting married as soon as the divorce is final. It all just seems too much. But with the Sweet Magnolia's and Cal in her corner, Maddie soon finds out just how powerful good friendships and true love can be.In the second book, A SLICE OF HEAVEN, Magnolia Dana Sue Sullivan gets her turn. When Ronnie Sullivan cheated on Dana Sue two years ago, she kicked him out with such a loud display of clothes throwing and cussin', the whole town of Serenity knew about it within seconds. Consoling herself with food, keeping busy raising her daughter and opening a new restaurant, that soon becomes the hottest place to eat in the area, Dana Sue knows her health is suffering. Her mother died of diabetes, but it's so hard to take care of herself when she's so busy owning a thriving restaurant and taking care of her daughter Annie.
As Dana Sue watches, she sees her once lively, beautiful and happy daughter Annie start to literally wither away. Worried she may be anorexic, but wishing it not to be true, Dana Sue tries her best to make sure Annie has healthy meals and eats them. But when during a planned sleep over the Magnolia's helped her organize so she could see if Annie is eating, Annie collapses and is rushed to the hospital unable to breathe on her own.
With Maddie's encouragement, Dana Sue does what she knows she must, calls her ex-husband about their daughter. Although she doesn't want to because he left and didn't come back, if he were still there, he would know what was going on. What's more, Dana Sue's not so sure her heart and mind are on the same page as far as that man is concerned.
When Ronnie Sullivan made the mistake of his life by cheating on his wife with a one night stand, he let Helen Decatur convince him it was the best thing to do, in that not nice I will eat you for dinner way she has. But he's tired of working every construction job he can get, and his daughter is just now starting to talk to him again. He wants to go home to Serenity and find a way back into the best thing that ever happened to him - Dana Sue and Annie. If fate doesn't step in soon, Ronnie's going back anyway, he just can't live without them any more. But fate does step in, only Ronnie wasn't expecting Fate to be so cruel. How did his once vibrant daughter get to this point? He isn't leaving Serenity ever again, and he doesn't care how Dana Sue feels about that. Though, he hopes that with a little work, she'll be every bit as happy about it as he is.
While STEALING HOME is a wonderful book and I immediately fell in love with the Sweet Magnolias and Serenity, A SLICE OF HEAVEN made me love them even more. I'm not sure if that reason is because I got to know the Magnolias even better or because Woods tackles some heavy issues with wit, humor and warmth, and I'm not sure I even care, I just know that as excited as I am to read Helen's story, I'm going to miss not having any more books from Serenity.
In ASOH, Dana Sue's daughter, Annie has anorexia, and I can't tell you what a scary thing for a mother to contemplate. Woods wrote such powerfully real scenes, made the characters so flawed they were actually human to me. I knew these women and men, I knew this child and her friends. We see Annie's POV, Dana Sue's POV, and Ronnie's POV, in Heaven, and they worked together so well to understand each character and what they were dealing with.
I'll admit, there were times I really disliked Dana Sue, but as I read I realized I was disliking her because she was making mistakes that any mother ,including myself, would make. No one wants to believe that their daughter has a life threatening disorder. No one wants to believe that their own issues have caused their child pain and suffering. And forgiving and forgetting are not traits that I posses easily either. When I realized this, I wanted to hug Dana Sue, because if I ever had to deal with what she does, I honestly don't think I could be as strong.
So, when your done reading this dish, grab your girlfriends, some chips and guacamole and margaritas, and these two books. Get ready to laugh, cry, cheer, love and triumph with the Sweet Magnolias, you'll never take for granted the true power of friendship again. Woods has managed to capture the true feelings of the South, small towns, friendship and women's health and merge them together in a great new series, that will have you begging to be a Magnolia. And once you've finished these two, look for Helen's story next month. I'll dish all about it as soon as I have my hot little hands on it.