This is my fifth and last review for
The 2012 Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge,
which runs from
November 19, 2012, to Jan. 6, 2013!
Author: Linda Lael Miller
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 377 pages
Publisher: HQN Books
Published: October 26, 2010
Genres: Christmas Romance, Historical Romance
This book is actually an omnibus edition, since it combines two novellas, both written by Miller, in one volume. The first one, "A McKettrick Christmas", was first published in 2008, while the second, "A Creed Country Christmas", was published in 2009.
Both of these stories are totally delightful, each in its own way! The first one features the indomitable Lizzie McKettrick, future schoolteacher, who is bringing her boyfriend home to meet her family. It's December 22, 1896, and they're both on a train bound for Indian Rock, a town near The Triple M Ranch, where the McKettrick clan lives. Also on the train are several interesting characters -- Mrs. Halifax, with her three children, one of which is an infant, the Thaddingses, with their talking bird, Woodrow, John Brennan, a soldier, going home to be reunited with his family, a peddler named Nicholas Christian, and....the very handsome Dr. Morgan Shane, who feels an immediate attraction to Lizzie.
A sudden avalanche brings all of these characters into close contact with each other, as they are unexpectedly confronted with the need to survive. During the next three days, they pull together, and their true personalities are revealed. Lizzie realizes that she really didn't know her boyfriend, Whitley Carson, as well as she thought she did. Instead of trying to make the best of the situation, and help his fellow travelers, he does nothing but complain, thinking only of himself. The author contrasts him with Dr. Shane, who does his best to make the other train passengers more comfortable, with Lizzie's help.
It's wonderful to see how these people still try to have some sort of Christmas, in spite of the circumstances. Christian even manages to find a small tree, and shares from his own belongings so that the children can have presents.
Once rescued by the McKettrick men, all of the passengers arrive in Indian Rock, and it's there that the romance between Lizzie and Morgan begins to bloom, after she has had a talk with Whitley. He had been planning to propose, but Lizzie tells him that she cannot marry him.
Both of these novellas are definitely character-driven, and what wonderful characters Miller has created! Each is unique, and very real. The love between Lizzie's father and stepmother is very touching. So is the love between her grandparents. There's such a strong sense of family ties in the McKettrick clan, a feeling that, if one of them is in need, the others will make sure to help out, no matter what the need is. As for the train passengers, all are welcomed and helped to settle in Indian Rock, by the McKettricks themselves.
There's an extra ingredient that makes this a very special story -- it seems that there was an angel on that train...
I enjoyed this novella so much, I'd love to read it again, perhaps during this year's Christmas season. It has all the warmth and joy associated with Christmas, the beauty of love in romantic as well as family relationships. While reading it, I felt that I was somehow part of it all, that I really knew these people. I know it's a cliché, but I have to use it, anyway: I was sorry to see the story come to an end, because I wanted more...
The second novella tells the tale of another schoolteacher, Juliana Mitchell. The date is December 20, 1910, and the place is Stillwater Springs, Montana. Miss Mitchell is standing at the counter of Milland's Mercantile, having opened a letter from her brother, Clay. She had requested money from him, to pay for train tickets for herself and four of her students from the Indian School, which is no longer government property. Juliana's brother, who disapproves of her choice of a teaching career, is also her guardian. He has denied her request. She and the children have nowhere to go, since Juliana herself has no money.
As she debates what to do, a stranger enters the store. His name is Lincoln Creed, and he has a ranch near town. On being informed of her predicament, he immediately offers to take her and the children to his ranch. Although this was just too coincidental and predictable for my liking, I went along with the story, out of pure curiosity, since I was already interested in the characters. I'm so glad I did, too, because the rest of the story was beautiful and touching.
Juliana, it turns out, is an orphan. Lincoln is a widower still mourning his wife, whom he greatly loved. He has a wonderful little girl, Gracie, who is a great character. The four Indian kids are adorable, especially the two little ones, Daisy and Billy-Moses. Joseph, the older Indian boy, immediately finds a hero in Tom Dancingstar, one of Lincoln's ranch hands, and a very engaging character in his own right, since he serves as Lincoln's advisor and "conscience", as well.
Lincoln had been looking for a housekeeper, as well as a governess for his daughter. Failing those, he was willing to "settle" for a wife. He was sure that, if he found one, he would never come to care for her as much as he did for his first wife. Of course, he offers marriage to Juliana, who is hesitant to accept because they don't love each other. So this is not an "instant love" type of romance. Instead, it portrays a more realistic type of relationship, as both protagonists slowly come to appreciate just how wonderful the other is...
As compared to the first novella, this one is a deeper, more melancholy tale, yet one that nevertheless is full of the beauty and joy of the Christmas season. Miller takes a very simple plot and weaves psychological insights into it, crafting a tale that, although at first sight a bit contrived, is rich with spiritual meaning.
This wonderful holiday collection is sure to delight and inspire those who are fans of Christmas romances! This fan highly recommends it!!