With This Child by Sally Carleen
(Silhouette Romance #1281, $3.50, G)
ISBN 0-373-19281-9
***
There were times when I was reading With This Child that I forgot I was reading a romance. This is a very dark, very emotional tale. It left me wrung out when I was finished, and even the requisite happy ending didn't lighten the mood much.

Sam Woodward, high-school football coach and single father to 12-year-old Kyla, is shocked and enraged when Marcie Turner enters his life. Marcie claims that Kyla is her daughter, that she has proof that Kyla and Sam's real daughter were switched at birth, and she now wants to get to know her daughter. Sam isn't buying any of it.

Marcie is a sympathetic figure in her own right. A teenage pregnancy, a domineering mother, and a newborn with an incurable heart defect combined to make her early adult years a living hell. Now approaching her thirties, she has received a letter from the now-deceased doctor who delivered her baby. In it, he reveals a tale of her mother's duplicity and how her own healthy infant was switched for the dying daughter of Sam and his late wife. Marcie is determined to find her daughter and become a mother at last.

Wow. Heavy plot, to say the least. And the author hammers at us with more. DNA tests reveal that Marcie is telling the truth. Sam wants it hidden from Kyla, for now. Marcie wants to know her daughter. Is there room in this story for a romance?

Well, not much. Granted, this is a Silhouette Romance, so readers won't be getting any hot bedroom scenes, anyway. But the budding attraction between Sam and Marcie takes a backseat to all these heavy issues. And the denouement involves even more tension and uncertainty.

Sam and Marcie never really came alive for me. Sam is defiant and determined, Marcie is equally determined, but the thing I most admired about them was their determination not to screw up Kyla if they could possibly avoid it. Laudable.

I wish this novel would have had more humor to lighten it up. Kyla is a sweet kid, but even her adolescent antics can't relieve the tension and bleakness of the central conflict. It's too bad, because this is a well-written book. I'd try another of Sally Carleen's books without hesitation.

If you like your romance delivered with an emotional wallop to the solar plexus, With This Child may well entertain you. Proceed with caution.

--Cathy Sova


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