Coming Home for Christmas by Carla Kelly is slightly different from the other TBR books I’ve read this year; I actually started it at some point, in either 2020 or 2021, and then just…didn’t finish it, possibly because it’s a print book and I tend to read mostly e-books these days. Anyway! My original choice for this month was not interesting me, so I decided to get myself together and finish this one.
This review contains spoilers.
Warning for a secondary character’s death in childbirth, in the third story.
This book is a collection of three stories, following a family through three different wars. The first story takes place in 1812 California, featuring a British naval surgeon, Thomas Wilkie, and a Spanish noblewoman, Laura Ortiz, fallen on hard times. In the second story their daughter Lily, widowed and with a young son, becomes a nurse during the Crimean War, where she meets a sweet and shy American engineer, Trey Wharton, who’s assigned as a hospital observer (and who, interestingly for romance heroes, aspires to be a career administrator). The third story is set in the United States in 1877 during the American Frontier Wars and features Lily’s son, who’s traveling east from Fort Laramie by train; he’s been adopted by her husband and takes his surname. The single point of view for each story follows the Wilkies: first Thomas, then Lily, then Wilkie Wharton.
As with most Carla Kelly, these stories had a very old-fashioned feel. The first story is a classic Marriage of Convenience and reminded me a lot of Kelly’s novel The Wedding Journey, though set in a different country.
The second story had good parts and less-good parts. While the Turkish sultan in the second story plays a slightly comedic matchmaker role with the couple, his servants are portrayed as crawling in and out of his presence, and his motives are suspect to the heroine until the very end, in a way that was probably realistic but felt uncomfortable to me, and a bit dated. I did love the hero’s grand gesture at the end of the story, which was perfectly in character.
The third story had more depth; its heroine is Frannie Coughlin, the daughter of an Irish hospital steward, and its hero is Wilkie Wharton, a surgeon from a wealthier class who is realizing he does not want to marry the wealthy woman he’s currently engaged to but has not seen for two years (she’s also fallen in love with someone else). The secondary characters display Kelly’s interest in frontier history. Wilkie has been ordered to escort a grieving white woman whose Sioux husband was killed by the Army; she’s being forcibly returned to her birth family, without her two children. Happily, she has a supportive family member awaiting her, and they are able to recover her children legally. Another section focuses on the plight of immigrants on the train, one of whom dies in childbirth, though the baby is saved via Caesarean and adopted by Wilkie and Frannie.
Overall, it was a fairly solid Carla Kelly outing.