Keeping Sam by Joanne Phillips (Mirrorball Books, 2015)


I belong to a great on-line book service called Bookbub, which daily sends a list of very inexpensive and free titles to download on the Kindle. A lot of the books are junk, but some are classics, and a few give an introduction to an author with whom I am unfamiliar, and sometimes very pleased to find. Such is the case with Joanne Phillips and the discovery of Keeping Sam, published in 2015.

Keeping Sam tells the story of a young woman, Kate Steiner, who has awakened from a nine month long coma to discover that her mother and father, with whom she has had a very poor relationship, have taken custody of her small son, Sam. Divorced from her erratic husband, Evan, a low-life drug dealer, Kate begins the long struggle back to physical and emotional well-being, while striving to prove her worth to the social worker who is over-seeing her custody battle.

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Kate was attacked in her Manchester, England apartment one night, struck in the head, and left for dead. During her long recuperation Kate suffers from nightmares in which she is seeing the attack, but in her dreams she cannot bring herself to turn around and identify the perpetrator. She realizes that the identity of her attacker is buried in her subconscious, but she is not ready to face the awful truth and solve the crime that took so much from her.

In order to regain custody of her son, Kate moves back to her hometown, Corrin Cove, by the sea. Her landlady, Marie, is an extraordinarily kind and attentive woman, who helps Kate out of the darkness with patience and emotional support. It doesn't hurt that the tenant on the upstairs floor, a handsome, outdoorsy sort, Patrick, also reaches out to assist Kate in her arduous journey back to health and motherhood.

Engagingly written, what I enjoyed most about Keeping Sam was the simplicity with which the story unfolds. Phillips is a fine writer, who avoids the pitfalls of cliches that could have dragged down this story into sentimentality. We don't feel sorry for Kate; we cheer for her as she creates a new life for herself, faces the demons of her past, including an overbearing mother and an alcoholic, abusive father. She finds a career path that will support her and Sam with a steady income, using her ability to sew and alter clothing for the residents of the area. Nothing comes easily to Kate, but she steadfastly moves forward, ultimately learning the true meaning of family and forgiveness. The prices that she pays are high to get there, and in that Phillips has created a story that is believable and human.

Joanne Phillips, who resides in rural Shropshire, England, is the author of other contemporary fiction including Can't Live Without, The Family Trap, and Cupid's Way. She is also the creator of the Flora Lively mystery series, Murder at the Maples and A Date with Death.