by Carla Kelly, historical (2011)
Harlequin Historical, $6.25, ISBN 978-0-373-29668-2
Coming Home For Christmas is a collection of three short stories that are written just for the Christmas holidays. They have not been previously published elsewhere, that's the good news. The bad news is this: if you have read and enjoyed the previous few books from this author, these stories would feel like watered down cases of déjà vu.
A Christmas In Paradise is set in San Diego de Alcalá, in 1812 when that area is controlled by Spain. British surgeon Thomas Wilkie is part of the crew of Splendid that had been stranded here ever since the ship was attacked by the French a few years ago. Thomas misses home, especially when yet another Christmas draws near, but he is also kept busy tending to the sick and the wounded in the neighborhood. He even gets to marry the local ice queen, Laura Ortiz. Laura's stand-offish attitude comes to bite her in the rear end big time when her father is thrown into prison for being a naughty book-fixing accountant and she is left without a home and has no one to turn to. Thomas marries her, partly because he's infatuated with her and also partly because she needs someone to rescue her. Predictably enough, she finds her calling by learning to be the Florence Nightingale to his Albert Schweitzer, and that's before they have to deal with how they will get back to England to meet his family.
This one could have been a sweet story were not for one thing. Okay, two things. One, this story offers very little insight into what makes Laura tick, and therefore, she never comes off as a strong character, especially when paired to the far more well-developed character of Thomas. Even then, Thomas is just a watered down version of Philemon Britton. I don't know why you would want to read this story - go read The Surgeon's Lady instead!
The next story, O Christmas Tree, features the daughter of the above couple, Lillian Nicholls. She is a widow who holds the lamp, so to speak, in a hospital in Soulari. She never regrets her decision to follow the footsteps of Florence Nightingale, but she has to admit that her sojourn amidst the wounded and the sick has taken her from home more than she would have liked. With Christmas around the corner, she can't help feeling homesick a bit. Perhaps making the place feel more festive, maybe by having a Christmas tree, would be the solution to everyone's woes. The chief surgeon is being difficult, but Lily has an ally in Major Trey Wharton, the American hospital administrator. A fire and an unexpected trip to the local harem will soon bring these two together just in time for the Chrismas fireworks.
This is easily the best story of the three, as it is of just the right length and has just enough depths in the characterization to make the romance work like magic. Amusingly enough, this story is shorter than the previous one. However, there are so many things about this story that reminds me of The Surgeon's Lady as well, and once again, I don't know why I should tell people to read this story instead of the more satisfying The Surgeon's Lady.
Finally, we move on to 1877 with No Crib For A Bed, where Lillian's son, Captain Wilkie Wharton, is traveling home from Fort Laramie when he finds himself escorting Nora, a White woman who had been living with the Native Americans and is now being dragged back to her relatives against her will. He's not entirely sure as to how to deal with this woman, who is actually heartbroken at being taken away from her children. Luckily for him, there is fellow passenger Mary Frances Coughlin or Frannie, who taught folks at the hospital where he worked. Can a train ride and Native American affirmative action bring these two together?
Will already has a fiancée, but there is very little suspense in this story. His family is obviously powerful enough to exert just the right amount of influence to give Nora a happy ending, the fiancée thing turns out to be not much of an obstacle to the main characters' happily ever after, and all the good guys are enlightened people who harbors not a shred of prejudice against folks like Nora. The end result is a very sweet romance story that works perhaps a little too well, with everything wrapped up too conveniently in the end. Yes, I know, this story is meant for Christmas, a time when cynicism and logic is supposed to be discarded in abandon for wild sentimentalism and waving-lighters-in-the-air WE ARE THE WORLD! WE ARE THE CHILDREN! melodrama. But still, I can't help feeling that Marrying The Royal Marine offers a far more well-developed and enjoyable take on the whole good people falling in love and righting a few wrongs in the process.
Mind you, I don't think Coming Home For Christmas is a bad book. The stories are on the short and sometimes underdeveloped side, but then again, these are short stories. But Ms Kelly has done everything here before - several times before in the past, in fact - and I can't help thinking that I would have preferred getting something different from the author for a change.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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