Love Walked In ... and Stayed 

Marisa De Los Santos' debut novel gives readers a glimpse into one small life

When tall, gorgeous Martin Grace walks in to the Philadelphia coffee shop Cafe Dora, the life of petite shop manager Cornelia Brown is changed forever. As Cornelia and Martin draw close, it is 11-year-old Clare Hobbs—who has more right to, but much less pull on Martin's heart than anyone—who truly steals Cornelia's heart.

Love Walked In, the debut novel from author Marisa De Los Santos, is a story of how love comes in as many forms as there are people to share it with. It's a story of how when you want love, it's elusive and impossible, and when you least want it, love bangs at your rib cage with a tire iron, forcing its way into your heart.

Supporting characters, such as patrons of the coffee shop and Cornelia's best friend Linny, are introduced gently but make enough of an impression so as not to be forgotten. But both Cornelia and Clare are wholly developed, giving a reader no other choice than to become emotionally invested in their story.

One drawback of the book is Cornelia's near obsession with old films and her belief that love and romance should happen in real life the same way they do on the silver screen. But, as the story unfolds, the film analogies peter out as though De Los Santos became so wrapped up in the lives of her characters that she forgot to continue her own plot device. One plot device she didn't forget and which works beautifully is that all of the 33 chapters in the book are titled either "Cornelia" or "Clare" and alternate between the two. Clare's story is told in third person while Cornelia's is in first. When Clare's mother, Viviana, exhibits symptoms of what is probably manic-depression and eventually abandons her young daughter, Clare's struggle to keep the outside world from discovering her situation and her undesirable reliance on a heretofore absent father, is heartbreaking. Though Clare is quite bright, competent and sympathetic, she's still just a child. Because the story unfolds through the narrator, it maintains an adult's view of Clare's unfortunately adult circumstances, and the reader maintains an adult relationship with the characters. Ultimately, the story is Cornelia's.

The first chapter, "Cornelia," opens with "My life—my real life—started when a man walked into it, a handsome stranger in a perfectly cut suit, and, yes, I know how that sounds." It is Cornelia, speaking directly to the reader, who drives this story of passion, loss, death and true love—which she finds not only once but twice—and does so with the reader right alongside her in the passenger seat.

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