A Nest of Sparrows
by Deborah Raney
(WaterBrook, $12.99, G) ISBN 1-57856-578-2
Generally speaking, I have been pretty disappointed with the so-called inspirational romances. Most mainstream romances avoid any mention of religion; inspirational romances have an important thread of faith throughout the narrative. My experience has been that most are so religion-saturated that they come off as unrealistic. While the rest of us are dealing with the day-to-day business of life – where’d we leave the car keys? are the kids’ gym clothes washed? is there time to fix dinner before the PTA meeting or is it drive-thru again? – these characters do almost nothing but talk about religion, think about religion, read about religion, and pray pray pray. Then there are the inspirational romances where the focus on the divine must be intended to compensate for the egregious errors both factual and editorial.

I am relieved to say that A Nest of Sparrows does not fall into either of these traps. This is without doubt the best inspirational romance I’ve ever read. I strongly recommend it.

Starr Parnell and Wade Sullivan are engaged to marry shortly. The divorced mother of three young children, Starr fled her abusive husband after a beating had put her into the hospital and he demanded that she have abortion when she became pregnant with her youngest. Now working as a nurses’ aide in Kansas, she can’t believe her good fortune. Not only is Wade a wonderful man, he truly loves her children. Her sister Sophie is less optimistic; she was opposed to Starr’s marrying her first husband and fears Starr may be making a mistake.

Wade owns an old house in the country; they are working to fix it up prior to their wedding. Starr is in the house alone painting while the children are at school and Wade is at work as a carpenter. She collapses and dies.

Wade is distraught. Not only has he lost the love of his life, he fears his hope of a family may be finished, too. He tries to contact Starr’s ex-husband but cannot locate him. The three children, a boy Beau and two younger sisters Lacey and Danica, move in with Wade. Still deeply grief-stricken, he learns first-hand the problems of being a single parent and an inexperienced one at that. Expenses are tight; the children’s hours don’t coordinate well with his work schedule; his housekeeping and cooking skills are minimal. When one of the girls is injured accidentally, he takes her to the hospital, and their situation comes to the attention of the county social services.

It seems that the children will be allowed to remain with him in spite of Wade’s not being the children’s legal guardian. Until Darrin Parnell, Starr’s ex-husband and the children’s father, shows up. He wants his children ... and the proceeds of Starr’s life insurance policy.

Dee Thackery is the social worker who is assigned the Parnell children case. Personal experience with her stepfather led her to the profession; she hopes to protect other children in similar situations. Her initial distrust of Wade slowly dissolves. She recognizes the deep loving ties that binds this irregular family, but she knows that the law usually prefers biological parents.

Wade is definitely the hero – in all respects – of A Nest of Sparrows. His actions are prompted by the deep love he bore for Starr and his loving devotion to the children. His difficulties in juggling his new responsibilities are most realistic. This is no superhero who is a gourmet chef on the side. His intentions are admirable; his skills are in need of work. He’s out of his depth, and he knows it. In a realistic twist but still surprising in an inspirational romance, he fails to take the children to church because he doesn’t have time!

What particularly makes Wade such a sympathetic character is the portrayal of his grief over Starr’s death. He has a hard time coming to terms with his loss. His sorrow is so vividly depicted that I shed a few tears along with him. (His financial situation, however, may not be as dire as he believes. Someone, certainly his lawyer or a social worker, ought to tell him to check into Social Security benefits for the children.) The romance between him and Dee is sweet ... and tepid. Paternal love generates more passion throughout the book than his developing feelings for Dee.

Besides Wade, other characters are well developed. In spite of his role as the villain of the piece, Darrin is not without some redeeming qualities. Sophie makes some poor choices – her speaking out could potentially help Wade’s chances for custody – but her reasons are solid, and she comes across as conflicted not uncaring. Dee also carries her burden of doubt. She faces betraying her professional ethics because she has personal feelings for Wade and the Parnell children.

It’s a pleasure to find an inspirational romance at last that doesn’t treat faith as treacle and characters with strong belief as oblivious to the realities of life. If you’ve been as dissatisfied in the past with inspirational romances as I have, take heart! A Nest of Sparrows will restore your faith in the genre.

--Lesley Dunlap

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