St Martin’s Griffin, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-250-04595-9
Historical Fiction, 2015 (Reissue)
The TBR Challenge theme for December is a holiday read, so there’s no better time to read about women losing their husbands and having to stay tough as America rebuilds after the Civil War. Sandra Dallas’s A Quilt for Christmas may seem like a generic title for a small town romance, but it’s not a romance. The heroine finds love in the end in a rather romance novel-y way, but it’s confined to the late third or so of the story, hence it may not meet the quota of someone who seeks a romance novel first and foremost. Still, this one has an optimistic happy ending despite all the gloom and doom at some places, so in the end, it’s still a feel-good read.
Eliza Spooner is keeping the home fires burning along with her two children – a teenage boy and a younger girl – as her husband Will has joined the Kansas Volunteers to do his part in fighting the Confederates and ending slavery. But this isn’t just her story. She takes in Missouri Ann, who is married to a man from a family of brutally nasty males, and her kid when that woman receives news that her husband was killed in the war. Eventually, Eliza learns that her husband too is never coming home, and the two women reach out to one another as, for the first time, Eliza is truly alone and she has to take over the running of the responsibilities typically carried out by Will. There are other developments too, such as Eliza and her friends sheltering an escaped slave, before she finally meets a man who may, after all the time has passed since Will’s death, make her heart feel whole again. Only, even after the Civil War has ended, that man is still an enemy as he fought for the Confederates, and our heroine is soon caught between her son’s enmity of the man who was part of those who killed his father and the desires of her own heart.
There isn’t any overall plot arc in here other than “survive” and “sisterhood”, but the author is clearly relying on these themes to carry the story. The feels can come hard and gloriously so here, especially when Eliza realizes that her husband is never coming home as well as when she recalls some cherished moments she shared with him. Our heroine’s grief can be cathartic to read – her emotions feel so raw and painful that I find myself feeling a bit choked up during those scenes. I also find myself captivated by the romantic developments in the late third – the romance is on the generic side, but the author creates these small scenes of simple gestures and quiet, tender moments that somehow still manage to brim with unspoken, aching loneliness and longing.
Unfortunately, A Quilt for Christmas isn’t a 100%-feels bringer, more like 30%, and the rest of the story is on the blah and predictable side. Characters all fit defined archetypes – the heroine is of course nice, noble, wise to a frighteningly one-dimensional degree at times, and her good friend is of course the one who has experienced the hard knocks in life. I am grateful that the author doesn’t kill off the good friend like they usually do in these stories, though! Everyone gets a happy ending here.
The formulaic feel of the story won’t be so bad if the author hadn’t also been so averse to long-drawn conflicts. Every problem in this story is resolved within the space of a few pages, sometimes with a quick conversation or a hug. For example, Eliza manages to sway the reluctance of a neighbor to help her with the escaped slave by simply offering some sage word of wisdom about the worth of a human being, et cetera, and this neighbor immediately changes her mind and nods at Eliza – our heroine is right, so of course she will help. This “conflict” is resolved in the space of two short paragraphs. As a result of these “conflicts”, the hardships faced by Eliza and the other women never feel like genuine problems, and there is never any suspense that these women may stumble or fall as a result of these “conflicts”.
In the end, A Quilt for Christmas is a little too much on the superficial, Pollyanna side for me to become emotionally invested in the story. It’s a quick and easy read with some “Ooh, that’s so sad!” moments, but I would probably forget about most of it by the time the new year comes along.