Sunday, December 19, 2010

Love & Adventure in the Old West: The Christmas Brides by Linda Lael Miller

This delightful anthology of two previously released Christmas tales has just been re-released by Harlequin. A McKettrick Christmas was first released in 2008 and A Creed Family Christmas was released in 2009. Now they have been put together in this delightful Christmas book and for those of us who did not previously encounter this offering it is a genuine Christmas "gift." Both tales are extensions of the series involving the McKettricks of Arizona and the Creeds of Montana. Set in the early days of the 20th century, they bring the simple life of those times alive even as they detail two stories of romance under unlikely circumstances.

A McKettrick Christmas is the story of Lillie McKettrick who has recently completed Normal School in San Francisco and is now traveling home by train. Traveling with her is Whitley Carson, a man who has been courting her and who is now journeying to meet her family. He is from a wealthy and socially prominent family and is not taking well to the inconveniences of train travel--no dining car, no sleepers, no private compartment. Their journey is abruptly halted by a massive avalanche which derails some of the cars and nearly pushes the passenger car where Lillie and Whitley are seated over the cliff. Also present is Dr. Morgan Shane, a Mr. Christian, John Brennan--a PFC in the Army, a mother and children traveling to join their dad who is the new foreman on the McKettrick ranch, and an elderly couple with their parrot. What may seem like a temporary circumstance--rescue must surely be on the way--eventually turns out to be a life-threatening situation as the days and nights move forward without the arrival of help.

This novella has, at its core, a truth that could be summed up thus: circumstances don't make character, they reveal it. And so it was in this situation. Each of these people is stretched to the capacity for absorbing shock, difficulty, personal emotional and psychological challenges, physical hardships, and the willingness to extend themselves for the welfare of others and the greater good of all. It is a heart-warming story in so many ways that also brings to bear the reality of what family really can be--strength, loyalty, trust, setting aside individual differences, and the love which forms an indestructable link, one to another. I give this novella a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

A Creed Family Christmas tells the story of Lincoln Creed, a widower, who has been seeking a governess/housekeeper for over a year because of his 7 year old daughter Gracie. He is a Harvard-trained lawyer who has taken up the responsibility of the Creed Ranch in order to save his family's legacy--his brother Wes was not really cut out to be a rancher--and now that his wife has died, must find a way to move one and care for their daughter. As a last resort he is even willing to marry a qualified woman who would be wife to him and mother to Gracie. he was not, however, willing to give his heart. Juliana Mitchell is an aristocratic lady from Denver who has chosen to leave her family behind in order to teach and care for Native American children at the local Indian School. However, that school has been closed and she is destitute, out of a paying job, receiving no funds from her inheritance because her brother thinks she is wasting her life. Lincoln finds Miss Mitchell and four Indian children huddled in the General Store, trying to figure out what to do and where to go, with no money for food or shelter. Being the good person he is, he brings Miss Mitchell and the children home to his ranch just a few days before Christmas. Juliana stands to be in trouble with the Bureau of Indian Affairs for not sending the children on to the Indian School in Missoula, but she knows what they would face, and her heart tells her she must find another solution for them.

This is a lovely story that brings so many lives together. There is Lincoln's best friend who lives at the ranch and serves as his foreman, a Native American who immediately bonds with the oldest boy and who is willing to help them return to their families in the Dakotas. There is Wes Creed, who owns and publishes the local newspaper (when he is sober) and who lives with the owner of the saloon. There is Gracie who is 7, going on 40, and who opens her heart to Julliana and the Indian children in a way that is so touching. (She wants them all to be her brother and sisters.) And, of course, there is Lincoln and Juliana and their attraction to one another. It is a gentle story of the realities of living in those times, life in a simpler time in so many ways, but life that is brutal in its lack of safety nets for women and children. The prejudice against Native peoples was so open and harsh. And there was the reality that Juliana faced: returning to her brother's home and facing a life as a poor relation and probably a spinster sister/aunt. There weren't many options for women in those days.

I loved this story and like the first tale in this book, I hated to see it come to an end. But this story is especially about redemption--redeeming lives that face such hardship, renewing family ties, regaining personhood and a sense of place, returning to one's roots and finding joy in being accepted for who one is rather than social position or wealth. This is definitely a 4.5 out of 5 rating story!

Both these stories bear the stamp of Ms Miller's considerable talent and writing expertise. They bring the essence of what we believe Christmas to be, and tell these historical tales with that goal in mind. For readers who have not encountered these families previously, these novellas introduce these characters so beautifully. Yes, The Christmas Brides is one truly great read!

Released in November 2010 by Harlequin Books.

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