REVIEW: THE SWALLOW’S NEST, BY EMILIE RICHARDS

Three women fight for the chance to raise the child they’ve all come to love…

When Lilia Swallow’s husband, Graham, goes into remission after a challenging year of treatment for lymphoma, the home and lifestyle blogger throws a party. Their best friends and colleagues attend to celebrate his recovery, but just as the party is in full swing, a new guest arrives. She presents Lilia with a beautiful baby boy, and vanishes.

Toby is Graham’s darkest secret—his son, conceived in a moment of despair. Lilia is utterly unprepared for the betrayal the baby represents, and perhaps more so for the love she begins to feel once her shock subsides. Now this unasked-for precious gift becomes a life changer for three women: Lilia, who takes him into her home and heart; Marina, who bore and abandoned him until circumstance and grief changed her mind; and Ellen, who sees in him a chance to correct the mistakes she made with her own son, Toby’s father.

A custody battle begins, and each would-be mother must examine her heart, confront her choices and weigh her dreams against the fate of one vulnerable little boy. Each woman will redefine family, belonging and love—and the results will alter the course of not only their lives, but also the lives of everyone they care for.

My Thoughts: Lilia, Graham’s wife, and the woman who has been raising little Toby since he was three months old, was the narrator I came to root for. I liked the excerpts from her blogging posts, including her opening lines: “Feathering your nest with imagination and love.” I enjoyed her thoughts about family and growing up in Hawaii, and the feeling of betrayal she felt when she learned of Graham’s infidelity. Then I rooted for her as she came to love the little boy and eventually forgive Graham. She always seemed to put the little boy first, even when the challenges of the custody case sometimes made her struggle.

Despite the annoying characteristics we first see in Marina, the birth mother, eventually I started to feel a bit of compassion for her, especially after we were granted an up close look at her mother and how she grew up. But then she would do something that would make me wonder about her judgment and her ability to put the child’s needs first…and I would revert to disliking her, worried about what would happen to the child if she grew bored or frustrated with him.

The least sympathetic character, in my opinion, was Ellen, the paternal grandmother, whose coldness and judgmental attitude put me off. But then we caught a glimpse of moments from her past as she spent time in the home she lived in when Graham was a baby. The house she bought after they moved and which she hung onto for sentimental reasons, although she maintained that it was an investment. Despite the evidence that she regretted the mistakes of the past, however, I felt insufficient hope that she could make the child’s needs a priority.

I wasn’t sure how the custody battle would turn out…I had my wishes, and then I thought about how courts usually rule with regard to biological connections. Would The Swallow’s Nest end in a way that would serve the child best? Would the characters come to accept the decision? I couldn’t stop turning the pages, so this one earned 5 stars from me.

***
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FRICTION, BY SANDRA BROWN

 

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Ranger Crawford Hunt is one of those legendary heroes who jumps into whatever fray he faces, saving the day. But some consider his behavior dangerous and even risky. Which is why, after his wife’s death four years before, his daughter Georgia ended up in the custody of her maternal grandparents, Joe and Grace Gilroy. Now Ranger is about to begin the fight of his life as he seeks custody of his daughter. A hearing that will bring out all the bad feelings between him and the Gilroys.

Judge Holly Spencer was appointed to her judicial role after the death of the previous judge, and now faces an election to make her job permanent. Her role to decide custody in the matter of little Georgia had brought her to the court room that day—a day that would change everything in her life.

Before the hearing is scarcely underway, a masked man in a strange uniform bursts into the courtroom, shoots the bailiff, and seems about to shoot the judge. Crawford jumps in, just as he tends to do, and saves Holly, and also, at the same time, kicks the man’s knee out from under him. But the man escapes, and later is cornered on the roof and killed.

Or so they thought.

The case becomes complicated when the shooter of the bailiff and the man on the roof turn out to be two different people. Who is the shooter? Why was he targeting Holly Spencer? Or was someone else the target?

Friction kept me turning the pages eagerly, hoping to find out more about the motivations for the crimes, and staving off my angst at the annoying characters that seemed hell-bent on focusing on Crawford as the one behind the events of that day.

Detective Neal Lester seemed to have a particular blind spot when it came to Crawford, to the point that his investigation continued down very strange pathways.

Joe Gilroy, the grandfather, was combative with Crawford, denying him visits, and taking out a restraining order based on something the inept Neal Lester had said.

I like a story that gets my ire up, though, as it keeps me going even when I’ve been reading far too long. I had some concerns about how things might work out in the end, especially between Crawford and Holly, for whom a romantic relationship seemed to be developing. In the end, things were wrapped up almost too quickly, after the mystery was solved and the criminals were dealt with. But I enjoyed this 4.5 read.

A MOTHER’S HEART-WRENCHING & GUTSY TALE — A REVIEW

From the first frank opening lines, I knew that Cadence’s story would be heart-wrenching, gutsy, and totally honest.

Her beginning confession of her greatest “sin,” being drunk in front of her child, told me that we were about to commence a journey that could only get more painful, but would also yield the unique wisdom that comes from coping with something horrendous, and yet living to tell about it.

We can see that being an alcoholic is difficult and challenging enough, but being an alcoholic mother can often result in the whispers, condemnation, and exclusion of other mothers. Almost as if the woman suffers from leprosy, or some other contemptible disease. Perhaps such a mother is at the wrong end of that continuum society often places women along—from Madonna to Whore—and there is no coming back from such a label.

Or is there? Perhaps in telling the story, other women who experience the same pain and the same journey will not feel quite so alone.

The author brings us Cadence’s story from her first-person point of view, which allows the reader to truly experience the journey along with the narrator. It begins as a love story, when Cadence and her husband Martin meet: it leads us to the birth of Charlie, along with those early difficulties in parenting. And we see Martin, as he turns almost totally toward his career and away from Charlie and Cadence. Until finally the marriage falls apart.

It is in the second year after the divorce that Cadence turns more and more to the bottle to help her cope. A struggling freelance writer, she has to manage parenting and writing at home, with all the distractions inherent in those roles.

As I read about how Cadence “bottoms out,” with Martin taking her child away and suing for custody; and then as I watch her struggle to address her disease and begin recovery, even as she faces the outcome of the courts deciding whether or not she will be the primary custodial parent, I could not help but rapidly turn those pages. I immediately connected with Cadence, and felt an almost appalling enmity for Martin and his judgmental mother Alice. I knew I was “taking sides,” but sometimes that happens in stories that really grab me.

Waiting for the final outcome would be excruciatingly painful. I knew it. But I kept going. I loved this excerpt toward the end of Best Kept Secret: A Novel, when Cadence “does battle” with an array of unopened wine bottles, trying to decide her next step:

“When the wine is gone and my tears are finally spent, I look through the kitchen window into my backyard. The sky is the royal hazy blue of impending day. The storm clouds have passed, leaving a faint netting of stars to adorn the sky. I swallow to calm the nerves that jiggle in my throat. I will find a way to get on with things. I’ll gather up my black, fluttering scraps of guilt and resentment and pain and somehow knit them together into a way to survive. And though I’m afraid, though shame claws at the gates of my mind, I walk over to the table and I reach for the phone.”

Moments like these throughout this story had me clutching my throat with empathy, while other lines brought laughter, joy, and even a gasp of recognition. A powerful and emotional read, I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever struggled with anything challenging. And survived.

Five stars.

***

I won this book from Great Thoughts.