Anthologies are not easy to review. In a sense, the reviewer has to
take them on their own terms. Do the included stories fit together? Do
they all truly illuminate the theme uniting the anthology? Are all the
stories well written and entertaining? By this measure, A Mother's
Gift is a successful anthology.
The theme of A Mother's Gift is a special kind of motherhood,
motherhood of the heart. All three authors write about women who open
their hearts and their lives to children not their own. In doing so,
all three heroines find someone to share the rewards and challenges of
Kathleen Eagle's novella, "Waiting for Mom" relates the story of an
older child who has been bumped around the foster care system for a
number of years. Now her latest foster parents are heading for
California and the agency wants to make Laurel their "Child of the Week"
in order to find her a permanent home. But Laurel doesn't want the
notoriety and when the social worker comes to take her picture, heads
out to her sanctuary, the local Pet Palace.
It is "pet adoption day" at Pet Palace, and Nora Cassidy, the director
of Nora's Ark, a local animal shelter, is seeking homes for her
charges. Tom Tallman, the manager of the store, doesn't much like
adoption day: it raises memories of his own unhappy past. Tom himself
has been emotionally frozen since his wife and young son were killed in
an auto accident four years earlier. Pert, caring Nora catches his eye,
and Laurel catches both their hearts. Eagle has crafted her usual fine
story, with fine characterizations, moments of welcome humor mostly
involving the pets and the pet store, and that realistic aura that
characterizes her work. Tugged on my heartstrings.
"Nobody's Child" by Emilie Richards begins with policeman Farrell Riley
and his partner participating in a failed drug raid. In a closet in the
garbage strewn, rat infested apartment, Farrell finds a tiny child.
After her first fears are overcome, this little girl clings to Farrell
for dear life. Since the child welfare people have another emergency,
Farrell is instructed to take the child to one of the towns foster
parents. And so Farrell meets Gemma Hancock.
Gemma is a widow who has decided to spend her life taking care of
homeless children. Farrell is drawn ineluctably to her warmth, but
his unhappy childhood spent longing for what he could not have
has led him to conclude that family and love and warmth are not for
him. How his love first for Mary and then for Gemma reawakens his
dreams and how he finds that he has to fight hard to achieve them are
the substance of this tale. Brought a few tears to my eyes (a
relatively rare occurrence, I must confess.)
Joan Elliot's Pickart's story of a single woman adopting a baby in China
– "Mother's Day Baby" was, somewhat surprisingly, the weakest of the
three. I say surprisingly, because Pickart herself has an adopted
Chinese baby. Perhaps her very involvement in the subject weakened her
story. At times, I felt like I was reading a fictionalized version of a
diary of her own trip to China. The heroine, Christina Richards, was
likewise a writer, although of children's books and the baby had the
same name as Pickart's adopted daughter, Autumn.
Pickart captures brilliantly the feelings of parents who have waited
so long and filled out so many forms and dreamed such dreams of the
moment when they finally see their new children. Less
satisfactory was the romance. Christina meets consular official Daniel
Shay at the hotel where both are staying. For his own reasons, he
accompanies the group when they first meet their children. He is
entranced both by Autumn and by Christina.
But Daniel, who lost his beloved wife to an accident twelve years
earlier, has avoided loving anyone else. And how can two people with
such different lives make any kind of relationship work? But what to do
about the intense attraction they feel for each other? I know that
"instant attraction" is a common plot device and I know that in many
cases, it works well. It didn't seem to work all that well here, and I
don't think my response was primarily based on my personal preference of
watching relationships grow and develop.
All three stories in A Mother's Gift were well told; all fit the
theme; all were entertaining. If the authors glossed over the
difficulties that we know are inherent in adoption, if they made it seem
easy and problem-free, if they ignored the all too frequent obtuseness
of judges and the inefficiencies and failures of the system, well, after
all, these are romances. And all three mothers, their new husbands and
their children deserve their happily ever after.
If your preferences in romance runs to the sweet, if you enjoy stories
centering on babies and children as well as the hero and heroine, if you
like stories with little or no real conflict – then this is the book for you.