Coming Home for Christmas / Carla Kelly. 2011
Carla Kelly has put together a wonderful collection of stories here that involve three members of the same family, each from a different generation. Thomas Wilkie is a British Naval surgeon stranded in San Diego in 1812. The second story is about his widowed daughter, Lilian, who is one of Florence Nightengale's nurses in the Crimea in 1855. And the final story is of Lillian's son, Wilkie Wharton, an American army doctor assigned to Fort Laramie in 1877. In each story, Christmas is approaching. In the cases of Thomas and Lilian, they know they will be forced to spend the holiday away from home and both are very homesick. Wilkie is on his way home, but finds himself dealing with unexpected circumstances.
There was, for me, a lot to appreciate about this book. In particular, how effectively Kelly is able to give glimpses at how different and/or difficult life was during each era. These stories are not sugary sweet or overly warm. Between them there is disaster, death, callous behavior, the aftermath of war, and ignorant prejudice. Just as real life is often messy or hard for us today, so it is for the protagonists of her stories. Yet there is a wonderful message of hope in them--love makes it so much easier to bear life's burdens. That's a beautiful message any time of the year.
I have to say how much I loved the structure of the book. The focus is on the 3 members of the Wilkie family. So there is only one POV in each story. I usually enjoy the head hopping that happens in romance novels, and oddly enough I didn't even notice there was none here until I was reading the 3rd story. I made a point of browsing back to make sure I hadn't missed anything and I don't think I did. The family thread that runs through the stories is both engaging and clever as a literary device. Kelly uses a letter from father to child as the prologue to each story, and another letter from Wilkie to his parents as an epilogue at the end of the book. The middle two letters are both epilogue (to the stories that came before) and prologue to the next. At the risk of repeating myself, I was really impressed with the unusual structure and how neatly Kelly tied it all together.
So if you're still looking for some Christmas reading with the big day only a week away, I highly recommend this one.