A Country Christmas (Review of The Christmas Angle)

A Country Christmas - Josi S. Kilpack, Jennifer Moore-Mallinos, Carla Kelly

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It’s been a while since I read a Carla Kelly book so gathered it’s time to read something new. I bought her latest back in May 2018, which is book 1 of the new St. Brendan series. Then I found out that the H and h of the story were introduced in a novella in the anthology A Country Christmas. This review and rating (4.5 stars) is solely based on Carla Kelly’s “The Christmas Angle”.

Sailing Master Able Six maybe only 26 years old but he’d already climbed the ladder of success when it comes to HRM Navy. At least as far as success is concerned for a total nobody, a bastard (and an orphan) like him. No one ever heard a person becoming a sailing master at the age of 22 (I don’t know a whole lot about this bit of HRM Navy so I’m solely relying on the author’s knowledge) but Able had become what no one has been before. Hell, he’s someone so unique that no one probably had seen anyone like him in the past decades, maybe more, and likely won’t see another for a long time to come. Able Six, what you can describe in the simplest terms possible, is a genius. A prodigy if you’d like that word too. Someone with photographic memory. He’d read/see/hear, basically experience anything, and he’d remember every single crisp detail. His memory is like sponge; it takes everything and can reproduce when the need arrives. Detail by detail.

Born to a woman who’d died right after his birth, after leaving him on a church step to be taken care of, Able had grown up in a dank and miserable workhouse for little boys in Dumfries. He obviously had no idea who his father was or any background on his mother either. He was from Scotland though he looked nothing like them with olive skin and a head full of dark curls, which he can only assume came from his unknown father. If you’re wondering why Able was not spelled Abel (like Meridee did), there’s a heartwrenching story behind that too. Able was the sixth infant to have survived and so he was named Durable Six, the way unknown babies were numbered in those workhouses. Since Durable is such a silly name, he’d shortened it to Able later in life. I didn’t even know how to react to that bit of the information except that it simply broke my heart for him. :(

Able had known he’s a bit of a genius from a very young age. But he didn’t know that he was exceptional cause there was no one to guide him about these things. He’d been beaten mercilessly in that workhouse. He’d fought hunger, among other things. He’d basically fought to survive, yet he had somehow emerged intact enough to have joined the Navy. From there though, his odd talent (if you can say so) had been quickly found out by not only his mates but also the captains of the ships he’d worked on. And the rest, they say, is history. He’d climbed the rank where he never thought he’d ever be—that too in such a young age—had it not been for his brilliant memory and the help from a few good captains who’d taken him under their wings.

Though Able had a job, he wasn’t greatly financially stable. With the Treaty of Amiens in place, now he was on half pay and scraping by somehow, waiting for the day he’d be back to work again. He had no other plans for life but to wait this out, however long it took him... until one of his mates invited him to his country home with the lure of a temporary position where Able can earn a bit of side cash that will greatly enhance the view of his now sad purse. Able heard he was to be a teacher to the sons of the vicar of that parish. Teach them a bit of math and geometry for the month of December until Christmas passed, and that was all. Vicar, who usually takes care of this business, is too busy around Christmas so he wanted help. And though he’d never been a teacher before, Able would try it, in turn he’d discover that teaching simply comes naturally to him. It was more like second nature than being on the deck of a ship or the other. Then again, Able was a genius and he was pretty much good in everything, even the amputation of limbs when the occasion called for it; namely in the heat of the war when there was no other help available. Yes Able had done surgeries too.

When Able arrived in that small village to see whether he can acquire this too-good-to-be-true position, he had no idea of how fate would play a hand on him. Able had no one, had no plans to marry anytime soon, IF EVER that is. His job was such that marriage could prove to be more of a heartbreak than anything else when he eventually returns to the sea. But then he saw Meridee Bonfort and everything changed. Every single thing he’d thought or assumed could be his future. He was so very smitten on spot that it was simply adorable. Able himself was SO effin adorable that I couldn’t help grinning. He wanted Meridee and his already crowded brain was now fevered with his yearning for Meridee.

Meridee, a self-proclaimed spinster at 24, who’d given up on marriage a long time ago, also had no plans to go down that path. Not because she didn’t want to but because she had no other options. She’d planned to live out as the ‘fun aunt’ to her rapidly growing line of nieces and nephews. Her father wasn’t financially all that successful and with 6 daughters, dowry was going to ran out sooner or later. Meridee being the youngest, she knew there won’t a marriage for her. She’s beautiful in her own way and Able was duly smitten because of that. But she was also smart and kind, someone who showed so much genuine interest in him that Able was simply awestruck by it. No decent woman had ever given him that much attention (except if you think of the superficial since he was quite handsome himself). But whatever it was it always ended when they knew of his background.

I’ll tell you here that I always find Carla Kelly’s heroes refreshing. They seem just enough worldly to be a good and gentle man, but nothing too much that you’d want to kick their collective asses. Able had seen quite a bit of the world, experienced wars and wasn’t a virgin by any means but he still had an aura of inherent innocence around him that I found wonderfully attractive. He was never boastful of his super brain, nor did he preen though he obviously had an idea he was good-looking (okay he only preened when it was Meridee who gave him the compliments :P). He was so down-to-earth, with the type of self-deprecating humor I adore from Carla Kelly’s heroes, that, at times, it seemed unbelievable. And this is a novella we’re talking about.

Able and Meri fell for one-another very fast and there was no saving either of them, for the connection they formed instantly was just crazy. I didn’t even feel it was too rushed or anything cause their meeting and eventual courtship felt like destiny. They were destined to meet and fall in love, just like that.

The short story itself is very heartwarming. I won’t discuss it but it does give you a glimpse of how they met. If you’re going to read The Unlikely Master Genius, book 1 of St. Brendan, I’d suggest leaving off the last chapter of the novella. You’ll soon figure out why I said so when you begin reading book 1. :) But  “The Christmas Angle” is definitely recommended before reading the series.

Did I mention how glad I am that this is going be a series? :D Now I’m off to read book 1.