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REVIEW: Coming Home for Christmas (Anthology) by Carla Kelly

Dear Mrs. Kelly,

I know that when I start a Carla Kelly book, I’ll get a certain number of things. An honorable hero, an unflappable heroine, some idiot secondary characters who may bluster and threaten to cause the hero and heroine some problems but who usually are mainly all hot air and dismissed as the pompous stuffed shirts they are and a gentle love story of two people finding each other – often where they least expected. As this is a linked anthology, here I get this in triplicate which makes sense since all three stories involve the military and we know how much the military, the world over and throughout time, loves its paperwork.

Coming Home for Christmas (anthology) by Carla Kelly1812 Alta California and stranded Navy surgeon Thomas Wilkie wishes he were home in Scotland rather than in the Spanish held San Diego. Here by the fortunes of war and left here as a bargaining chip when his remaining shipmates finally head north to where they hope to eventually find passage home to England via the Americans in Oregon, he tends the people of the Presideo and surrounding area since he’s the only medical man between there and Tucson. When lovely Laura Maria Ortize de la Garza finds herself ostracized due to her father’s embezzling, Thomas also finds himself in the unlikely position of savior and new husband. Can this unlikely pair discover lasting love from such a beginning?

In 1855 Crimea, widowed Lillian Wilkie Nicholls trusted what she was told – namely that this war would be over in 6 weeks. Two years later she’s still Doing Good in a hospital in Anatolia as she and wards full of wounded soldiers await their return to England. With her is American military observer Major Trey Wharton who has somehow ended up as the administrator of the hospital and who, along with Lily, doesn’t suffer fools or nitwit English surgeons gladly. Their year long friendship will be ending soon – as quickly as the wheels can turn in a military environment. Or will they find the courage to speak up before it’s too late?

1877 Fort Laramie finds Army surgeon Wilkie Nicholls Wharton far from his parents in Philadelphia but finally headed home for Christmas and his long delayed marriage to a fellow Main Line Philadelphian. His hopes for a quiet journey are dashed when he’s asked to keep an eye on lovely Frannie Coughlin who’s also headed East and then has to take responsibility for transporting Nora Powell home from her 13 years of Indian captivity to whatever relatives she still has left in Iowa. Then, just as he thinks he might still get some of his medical journals read, yet another female joins them on the train and precipitates Wilkie and Frannie’s discovery of what they really want this Christmas season.

Paying homage to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegone denizens, in your novels the women are strong, the men are honorable, and the children are usually cute without being annoying. The “villains” are generally just thickheads and idiots who might have a higher rank but who are usually dismissible from the main action by the hero and heroine who are as incapable of intentionally hurting anyone as they are unable to turn their backs on anyone in need. It’s more fantasy than reality but it’s a lovely fantasy to sit down to and drift into for a while as I forget just how awful the latest blaring news headline is. These are people as I would love us all to be.

I enjoyed the way the stories are varied in time and location with a mix of ages, nationalities and – let’s hear it for – experience. Lily Nicholls, who misses the comforts of marriage, and Frannie Coughlin, who earlier anticipated a marriage that never happened, are frank about their wants which delights their heroes no end. One thing I wish had been expanded was the substory of the young woman being returned to white society despite her wishes. There could be a whole book in this. The delightfully devious Sultan was a fun character and Father Hilario an example of pure compassion.

When I finish reading one of your books, I might feel as if I’d had one too many pieces of sugar sweet sheet cake but I also feel happy. These are people I’d like to meet in real life – real salt of the earth sorts.The time just flew while I read about them. And thank you so much for picking varied backgrounds for the characters and locations in which to set your stories here. I still enjoy reading Regency set anthologies but something different every now and then is a real treat. B for each novella.


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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Annette
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 15:46:36

    Sounds good!

    I’m almost finished with my first Carla Kelly ever – The Surgeon’s Lady. I’ve enjoyed it very much and expect to be reading many more of her books. The only thing that bothered me was how “forward” Philemon was with Laura from quite early on – putting arms around her shoulder or waist, entering her room while she was in bed, etc. It was sweet, but it struck me as possibly not consistent with the etiquette of the day? I don’t know, however, since that is not an area of history I’m familiar with. Perhaps I’m used to the more restrained Regency upper class in my romances? But the emotions and sentiments were very well done, and you’re absolutely right in the gist of what you said above – it’s very nice to escape for a while and read about people who would make the world a better place if they really existed.

  2. Jayne
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 15:51:48

    @Annette: Based on what you’ve said above, I don’t think you’d have a problem with improprieties in the first two novellas. Very proper and just so.

    The last one, with the more experienced heroine who’s still unmarried, moved a little quickly but then there’s a lot of stuff packed in that story and space might have been an issue.

  3. Annette
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 16:31:33


    Ah. Excellent. I think I’ll be buying this. Between this and Balogh’s A Christmas Promise which just came in the mail yesterday, I’ll be set for the holidays. Thanks!

  4. Kate R
    Dec 08, 2011 @ 12:14:19

    At last, a christmas anthology I want. Thank you.

  5. Susan/DC
    Dec 08, 2011 @ 20:52:38

    Finished this just last night and also recommend it. Kelly definitely knows how to balance the sugar with the tart. I love how Kelly’s characters talk and think to themselves. For example, there is this when Lily first kisses Trey: “but she kissed him first, her lips soft on his, then firmer as he kissed her back with enough fervor and skill to suggest she might be on to a good thing.” That thought is such a lovely combination of the colloquial and the romantic, and Kelly’s writing is full of such examples.

    Her heroes are also wonderfully beta, yet they also make the alpha/beta distinction somewhat meaningless. In this book, for example, they are all military men, willing to defend their heroines and others who need them. No chest-thumping, but these men get the job done with intelligence,humor, and compassion — to my mind, she writes some of the best heroes around.

  6. Jayne
    Dec 09, 2011 @ 07:08:45


    No chest-thumping, but these men get the job done with intelligence,humor, and compassion — to my mind, she writes some of the best heroes around.

    Yes to this. In fact, I wish I’d written this in my review!

  7. Rebecca Cogdell
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 15:37:37

    To my knowledge I’ve never read a book by Carla Kelly before. Just finished reading the ss Let Nothing You Dismay. It’s tops. Never looked up an author on the internet before either. For the first time I wanted to tell the author that the way she mixed historical fiction, love, humor, hurts, integrity of characters, truth between the characters, and referrenced belief in God and the atonement of Jesus in the character to impart hope in the other character is something I’ve never encountered in historical fiction before. Completely believable story. Leaves one with a smile and a very good feeling making you glad you read the story. I’m an avid reader. Have been since the age of 12. I am now 66. Began with Emile Loring, Georgette Heyer, Grace Livingston Hill, Victoria Holt ; but I have never read a book then reread it at once because it was so pleasurable. Nor have I then turned to see who the author was and then sought out something about the author right then. You can be sure I will be buying more of her books for myself. This ss came in a book I just absently picked up at the Library. Because it was about Christmas, and was historical fiction. My review grade definitely A+ Sincerely, Fay Cogdell

  8. If You Like Holiday Stories…Recommended by the Dear Author crew
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 07:25:17

    […] Coming Home for Christmas by Carla Kelly – Christmas across the nineteenth century which loosely follows the members of one family finding that perfect someone during wartime and decking the halls.  Reviewed here. […]

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