Author: Carla Kelly
Published: See bottom of post
Category: Regency Romance
I went mad ordering all the Christmas anthologies I could find that had Carla Kelly stories in them -- and then I only read the Kelly stories. I am usually very wary of romance short stories, because I can rarely find a good love story that can be told well in such a limited format. But these are just fabulous. They're remarkable because not only was I completely sold on the romance (no mean feat), but they also have lovely, meaningful plots and lots of character development. It's amazing how much Kelly was able to squeeze into these little tales.
"The Christmas Ornament" begins with two old friends visiting. One has a bluestocking of a daughter (Olivia) just coming of age and the other has an Oxford scholar of a son (James) who is nearing the age when he should be settling down and getting married. They plan to throw them together over Christmas and see what comes of it. For a while it seems like nothing will, as James is "mortally shy" and is constantly putting his foot in his mouth, and Olivia has another suitor in the dashing Lord D'Urst, a fact that robs James of all his self-confidence.
This is probably the lightest, most playful story of the lot. Lord D'Urst calls Olivia his "Christmas ornament," and we can only hope that James will get his act together enough to make her a better offer: a partnership of equals.
"No Room at the Inn" sees Mary McIntyre traveling with acquaintances just before Christmas. They are caught in a storm and are forced to stop and stay with Joseph Shepard, a tradesman who is also the son of Mary's aristocratic family's steward. We soon find out, however, that Mary has just been told that she was adopted at birth by her high-born parents, who have now decided to tell the world that she's actually the illegitimate daughter of a servant (or actress or something, I can't quite remember). Joe welcomes them all into his home with cheerful warmth, and he and Mary work together to make the holiday fun and cozy.
Besides the love story here, we get some very interesting class conflict – Mary's just gone way down the ladder, Joe's a tradesman who's made his own fortune.
"Let Nothing You Dismay" is about Lord Trevor Chase, a London solicitor called "the patron saint of lost causes." He's made it his life's work to represent children and keep the poor things from being transported to Australia. Lord Trevor's niece is accompanied home for the Christmas holiday by one of her schoolteachers, Cecilia Ambrose. As Cecilia and Trevor get to know each other, Cecilia discovers that something in Trevor's past is haunting him; he's carrying around feelings of guilt over something he did years ago and is losing hope of ever atoning for it. Cecilia must try to snap him out of it, and help him move forward with his life.
Lots of interesting stuff here – poor Trevor is so admirable, but the crushing guilt was maybe a little gloomy for me. Not the easiest story to read.
And I saved the best for last – "An Object of Charity" was my favorite story. Captain Michael Lynch's ship has been damaged in a fight with the French, so he's come home to England. There he meets Sally Partlow and her brother, who have come from Scotland to live with their uncle. Michael is forced to tell them that their uncle, his first mate, has just been killed in action. Not realizing that they have no money and no where else to go, he sends them on their way. Once he discovers his mistake he feels that it's his duty to help them, but doesn't know what to do with them except to take them home for the holiday. The trouble is that he's been estranged from his family for twenty years.
Captain Lynch reminded me a lot of Horatio Hornblower, which can only be a good thing. Very responsible and a bit too serious, he's sort of forgotten how to live a life on land and at peace. And I thought his reunion with his family was so well done and realistic.
And I must quote the final paragraph of this one, because it's so nice (and it's not like I'm giving away the ending – it is a romance).
"Happy Christmas, Sally," he whispered in her ear, as goodwill settled around him like a benediction, and peace became his second dearest companion.And I just found one more anthology on PaperBackSwap with a Kelly story in it. I really hope it comes before Christmas.
"No Room at the Inn" in A Regency Christmas, Signet, 2002
"The Christmas Ornament" in A Regency Christmas, Signet, 1998
"An Object of Charity" in A Regency Christmas Present, Signet, 1999
"Let Nothing You Dismay" in Regency Christmas Wishes, Signet 2003