A Mother's Gift
by Kathleen Eagle, Emilie Richards & Joan Elliott Pickart
(Silhouette, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-48358-9
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 adoptive parenthood.

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.

--Jean Mason

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