Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
“I never thought things would go this far…”
My first read of the year is always a special one, and I’m just thrilled I picked this book to kick off 2023! Sweet Baby Mine isn’t the lovely, feel-good book the title may convince you it is. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s dark, it’s raw, it’s eye-opening, but it’s also written in an incredible way that shows you the horrors that can unfold in a toxic relationship below the surface, and the secrets that lay even deeper. I’m so happy to be sharing my review of this gripping novel by Maria Daversa!
About the book:
Ana will do anything to hold on to Tony. He’s the love of her life–the Heathcliff to her Catherine, the Rivera to her Kahlo, the Sid to her Nancy. Without him, she’s nothing.
But Ana also has a secret–a youthful indiscretion that shouldn’t have happened. So, when her estranged daughter, Chloe, calls in the middle of the night to say she wants to come home, Ana finds herself caught in a web of deceit as mother and daughter share a secret so troubling it could destroy her marriage.
Set in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, Sweet Baby Mine is an adult coming of age tale about the collateral damage left behind when a marriage fails spectacularly. Told in real time and from the perspectives of the two main characters: Ana and Tony, the story documents the toll secrets, lies, betrayals, and mental illness can have on a couple who once believed they’d found in each other true love. The tale is brutal, oftentimes heartbreaking, but always hopeful as it never deviates from its message. On the road to self-discovery, you will eventually learn that no matter what anyone says—no matter what flawed message you believed about yourself growing up, you are a good person and deserving of love.
A failing marriage. A missing, vulnerable daughter. A fiercely determined mother. The opening to this book had my attention instantly; there was no waiting around, no slow introduction. We quickly learn who the main characters are, what their problem is and they’re already on the path to solving it. Ana and Tony clearly have issues and this is perfectly communicated to the reader through their dialogue. But their daughter, Chloe, seems to be the one thing keeping them connected at this point, and she’s in trouble. The author keeps us curious as Ana searches for her daughter, giving brief information about her past and why they can relate to one another. Why her daughter called her that day instead of her father. The questions were building thick and fast, but that’s exactly what I like in an opening chapter. Something to really keep me guessing and draw me in. The book gets top marks for all that! I found myself hoping and praying Ana would find her daughter in good time, and I was really interested in their journey up until this point and beyond!
The main story is told through Ana and Tony’s perspective before Chloe found herself in trouble. Learning more about Chloe through her parents, about her addiction and how she washed her hands of her parents a long time ago was saddening, but I knew there was so much more to this story. It was also so good getting to know more about Ana and Tony’s relationship, how they’d once loved each other unconditionally, but now their marriage is crumbling to the ground. There was so much mystery surrounding a text message sent to Ana from Chloe, a message that Tony is desperate to read. A message that, according to Ana, he can’t read, no matter what, if their marriage stands a chance. Did Chloe need something urgently? Did she need advice from her mother, someone who can relate to what she’s going through? Did she want to come home? Whatever it was, it seemed like we’d be guessing for a while, just like Tony. The suspense was written so well, and I was eager to hear more about the situation Chloe was in.
“I burden her with my troubles. I bombard everyone with my troubles, but my pain is too big to face alone.”
Ana’s life with Borderline Personality Disorder fascinated me; the things she’d done and the reasons why she’d done them had me hooked. I love unravelling a character’s life throughout a bunch of chapters, slowly becoming more attached to a character and understanding their motives, but also discovering shocking truths and regrets. It was written brilliantly and in a way that I just had to keep reading no matter what! The author included some great cliffhangers at the end of chapters which only added to that burning desire to keep reading. There was a lot of bickering and disagreements between Ana and Tony as they try and decide what’s best for their daughter, for their own lives, even though they rarely see eye to eye on anything. But this just emphasised their relationship and how things were between them behind closed doors. Character development was already really good and you can just feel the love and passion that’s been poured into creating these characters.
Even though the arguments between Ana and Tony were frequent, the way they were written had me holding my breath and scanning the words on each page without blinking, desperate to know how things escalated or how they were resolved. It was quite mesmerising in a weird way! It only got better as Tony reads the letter that would change so much, the letter that Chloe read on that day, something that no kid wants to hear about their father. The more we alternate between Ana and Tony’s lives, the more secrets we find out, the deeper into their minds we get. It was becoming a completely different story to what I first thought it would be, but I was really enjoying the drama, the lies and the deceit. I was yet to really like a character though, but I feel like I disliked them for all the right reasons, (if that makes any sense at all) almost like the author kind of wants us to feel this way! I was excited to see what came next and how things could pan out for all these characters though!
The book is filled with conversations between different characters, of complex topics and feelings, but the author always managed to fill me with such intrigue and keep that clarity which really impressed me. Each sentence felt so effortless, but also flawless. I was surprised to like Didi, Tony’s dirty little secret, the way she almost turns into a therapist as well as a secret lover was written so well. I couldn’t help but wonder how Ana would react if she ever found out… However, Ana isn’t the perfect picture of innocence herself. Both Ana and Tony get their needs fulfilled from other places and people which just shows where their marriage is at and how broken their relationship really is. It made me question if they could ever fix things. It’s strange, but whichever character’s perspective I was reading, I found myself rooting for them, sympathising with them and convinced myself they deserved happiness. Then when perspectives switched, I felt the opposite, and wanted all these things for this character instead. Cleverly written!
The arguments, the fighting and the jealousy continues and even though it was written without fault, I started to crave a little bit of light, a bit of happiness. I wasn’t sure I’d get any of it in this book though (and the author did warn me beforehand!) The more we learn about Ana and Tony’s lives, the more I found myself thinking about Chloe, wanting to know more about her and how she’s suffered in her life, what her perspective on all this would be. At this point, I really hoped we would read some of the book from her point of view later on; I thought this would really bring a refreshing twist to the storyline! I could feel things getting darker and crazier (as in, threatening your husband with a knife kinda crazy) and more serious as the tension escalates and the arguments heat to boiling point (if they hadn’t already.) The book becomes quite a stressful, intense read but it was also a very raw insight to what goes on behind closed doors.
“I want to tell him no, I’m not okay. I’m sick from helping myself to too many glasses of sadness and dizzyingly large helpings of regret.”
There was a really interesting chapter where Ana finds a wood-warbler bird trapped inside a parking garage after her and Tony have quite the anger-filled evening. I thought this scene symbolised a lot; her need for freedom. To feel useful and wanted. To feel depended on. To feel like she’s made a difference. As she manages to free the bird, I felt like we could potentially see a change in this character, maybe a side to her that we haven’t seen yet. There are plenty of moments in this part of the book that are saddening; we see the lengths Ana goes to to show she’s in pain, and we really start to understand where all this stems from as she thinks about her childhood and upbringing, about a mother that hurt her and filled her with self-hate. We get closer to the day of Chloe’s rescue and it was shocking finally realising that all this drama played out in the days leading up to it. When/if Ana finds Chloe, would it make things better for their family, or make it worse? Could it potentially save or end Ana and Tony’s marriage?
Ana convinces herself that something isn’t right. Is her husband seeing another woman? Her detective skills both shocked and impressed me as she’s determined to find answers and prove her theory is correct. Of course, we see plenty more arguments and again, I couldn’t really side with any character at this point (as much as I wanted to.) Their lives constantly felt like a stressful back and forth battle. How they’d both convinced themselves to stay in a marriage like this, I don’t think I’ll ever understand. However, saying this, my predictions about seeing a different side to Ana seemed to come to light, but living with BPD meant that it could probably be short lived. I did sympathise with Ana more than I had throughout the whole book at this point (finally!) and it seemed like she had a better approach to the problems she was facing. The ending felt unpredictable at this point and I loved that; I liked that I already knew Chloe would soon be in trouble after reading that starting chapter, but after that? Who knew! I was really looking forward to catching up to that opening scene!
Chloe reaching out to her mother eventually seems to bring Ana and Tony closer than they have been in years, even though that feeling was very short lived. I enjoyed their (one sided) conversation about what went wrong in the early days of their marriage and I felt like applauding Ana for the effort on her part. I was finally (and slowly) beginning to like her for what she was trying to do, and it can’t have been easy for her. After a serious conversation, they let their intimacy rekindle, but only for a short time before the sharp, harsh reality settles in and the phone rings. It’s time! Chloe needs her mother. Something is not right. The suspense and the fast paced nature of the scenes that followed not long after this was truly excellent, something that removed every other thought from my brain. I needed to know Chloe was safe! The friction between Ana and Tony blows up once again, something that genuinely felt terrifying to experience as a reader, but is something that unfortunately happens in some real life relationships.
T.W. Domestic violence. Some scenes were tough to stomach as Ana and Tony’s arguments turn into physical harm. If this wasn’t bad enough, their youngest daughter sees the whole thing. The verbal abuse coming from Tony disgusted me, and I hated him for it! Ana reveals the truth to Tony, about why Chloe left them all those years ago, and as expected, he doesn’t take the news well. Ana is still determined to make things work for all of them, and even though I admired this, I thought she needed to take a long hard look at her life and walk away. Whether she was brave enough to do this though, I wasn’t sure. The way we catch up to the opening scene at this part of the book was seamlessly done, and it was so satisfying to get all those returning feelings of urgency and suspense as Ana looks for Chloe.
“Our eyes met, and we unite in a way that’s more honest and intimate than at any other point in our marriage, and it frightens me.”
The description of the house where Ana looks for Chloe was incredible; I could almost feel the disgust Ana feels, almost smell whatever stench was in there. The author sets the scene so well and I could so easily visualise the dirty, unsafe environment. I was desperate for Ana to find her daughter, but instead, we get another surprise. I had a feeling that Ana’s life would change so much from this point onwards. In fact, I started thinking about the lives of all the characters we’ve met, how a huge change in their family dynamic could help or hinder so many relationships… But was this the right thing to do? Ana buckles under so much pressure from the situation she finds herself in, and Tony’s words worry her further. Could this be it for their marriage? I was constantly in a state of worry for Ana, always scared about how she would respond to the negative things or the unfamiliar. I was so curious about how the book would end!
The ending of the book was overwhelming, emotional and I felt so many things, but one of the most shocking and surprising things about that ending was just how much I admired Ana! After not building the connection I wanted with this character for so long, I felt I was finally there. The decisions she makes and the things she sacrifices, as well as how those last scenes are described to the reader made the whole journey so worth it. So much growth and such satisfying character development in those final scenes! I think I would have personally liked the ending to go on a little longer with the unanswered questions I had and with how abruptly it concluded, but I guess leaving a few details to the imagination would have me thinking about it for a good few days! Still a satisfying ending, with more lightness than dark for one character at least. Will definitely be recommending this!
Sweet Baby Mine is such a deep and thought-provoking read, and maybe a difficult one to stomach in parts, but one which has had such a huge impact on me. The characters, even though they’re not the most likable at the start, are developed so cleverly, their roles so crucial to the plot. The way the author can effortlessly have you loathing a character one moment and sympathising with them the next still blows my mind! The description was flawless in every scene, the author’s powerful words surrounding toxic relationships, mental illness and the lies and deceit in a failing marriage was quite mesmerising at times. If you’re open to a dark read and aren’t triggered by scenes of domestic violence, I’d really recommend this eye-opening book!
Huge thanks to the author, Maria Daversa, for the copy of this book to read and review! You can purchase your own copy of Sweet Baby Mine over on Amazon now, available on Kindle or in paperback. Make sure you’re following the author on Twitter and Instagram for updates!
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