Four stories shine a light on Christmas during the
Napoleonic Wars on land and sea –
In Boxing the Compass, a homesick frigate captain shepherding a convict convoy to Australia wants nothing more than to hold his infant daughter in faraway England. Perhaps he can enlist a prickly pair of convicts with a new baby to help him.
Wait Here for the Present, finds a spinster, chafing with boredom, helping a motherless lad get to Plymouth for Christmas with his surgeon-father. She can help, but love is the farthest thing from her mind.
In Slip #5, Captain McCulloch’s ship HMS Trident must spend a month in dry dock in Devonport. What better time to catch up on his reading? His plans are complicated by a bad cold, a good widow and her children, shy lovers, and dilemmas it seems only he can solve. Whatever happened to peace and quiet?
As a special bonus, The Christmas Angle introduces readers of the acclaimed St. Brendan Series to that unlikely genius, Sailing Master Able Six.
Readers are requested and required to come aboard for a Royal Navy holiday.
Comment: Finally we arrived at the last month of this bothersome and unhappy year. So much loss and worry and changes... Anyway, for December the TBR Challenge theme used to be holidays and now it's "festive", which is a broader word for any kind of situation where festivities are involved, not necessarily Christmas. But, at this time of the year, how to not pick that? That is why I chose an anthology from last year by Carla Kelly, an author I was familiar with and a writing style I tend to appreciate.
In this anthology there are four novellas, all featuring situations happening around Christmas' time and all about naval men. Each story is set on its own universe, although one is a prequel to a series, and can all be read as stand-alones. In all, a main couple takes central stage while several things take place and it is necessary for everyone to do their part in trying to accomplish certain tasks but the Christmas spirit also helps in making some dreams come true...
I should say I liked all stories for what they were: glimpses of ordinary people's lives at a time where rules and behaviors were very different but at the same time, everyone felt the season as something special and not as materialistic as nowadays. All stories have some sort of good deed happening, some sort of giving much more highlighted than any receiving any character could get. After all, it is a cliché to say Christmas is a time to give something to others and not be focused on what we might receive in exchange. I think all stories were able to convey this idea and, for that alone, the overall feeling I had when finished was one of tenderness and warmth.
However, being familiar with the author's style, I knew her characters would be very practical and would just take matters into their own hands if something had to be done. I can appreciate this and in a full length book, the general ideas would seem without pointless content. In shorter stories, though, despite the romantic notions/gestures, it still feels as if the characters act too quickly, take certain things (emotionally speaking) for granted too easily. I felt as if the characters had a role to play, had a task to finish and despite the good elements in all stories, the main couples' relationships felt rather flat. Yes, it«s amazing how easily the author can convey personality and values in such short novellas, the characters feel complete, the plots feel rich, but things weren't original in execution nor in romance.
A summary on each story:
Boxing the Compass - This was a story the author based on her own family's experience. I liked the idea of a captain missing his family while at sea and how it came o happen a mother with a baby child was on board and he was able to hold the child. The story has some interesting content, namely the fact the ship carries prisoners to Australia and the captain is able to make a wrong right while showing his good side and his understanding as a husband and a father. This was sweet enough.
Wait Here for the Present - In this one we meet a spinster woman who is alone since the death of her brother some months before. She does a good deed by helping a young boy who is waiting for a father that doesn't arrive when scheduled. She then travels with her butler and the boy to a different city where the boy's father is a navy surgeon. She finds love, a family and a goal there. This was very sweet, fulfilling, but the main couple seemed to fall in love so easily that I doubted how they found time in such hectic situations they faced. Still, it was my favorite.
Slip #5 - Having need of repairs on his ship, captain McCullogh is staying in Devonport and plans on occupying himself reading. The problem is that he gets sick and it's the widowed daughter-in-law of the repair company who take cares of him. With time he comes to realize there's more to that graceful woman than what he assumed and he falls in love with her and her children and can't help but be in the middle of family dramas. I liked this one too but, again, the romance seemed to come out of nowhere.
The Christmas Angle - Apparently, this one is a prequel to a series featuring a special man. Able Six has the ability to remember everything he reads but he is quite poor despite his abilities. Of course, with the help of friends and of Christmas, he and the young woman who falls in love with him while he is on rest between navy assignments, can dream of a better future. This one was intriguing, had interesting details such as how someone different is seen by others in the 19th century. I also felt the romance was too quick for the circumstances but in the future I might try the series that follows.
Basically, all stories were special, had well defined ideas, heroes that never go past beta status but are amazingly self aware, strong and fair in their actions/decisions, heroines who are loyal, surprisingly able and dedicated, and apart from the lack of pages to develop romances which create more tension before they are admitted, this was a good effort but not as magical as I imagined they could be.