A Family for the Holidays
Growing up I can remember summers spent watching F-Troop, Here Come the Brides and Maverick. These bastions of comedic capers weren’t exactly accurate portrayals of life in the American West but they were fun representations of the Western legends; tales of handsome, brave sheriffs; pretty, plucky maidens and sweet kids. If you miss shows like that and movies like Disney’s Apple Dumpling Gang you’re in for a real treat with Ms. Shackelford’s A Family for the Holidays; it perfectly captures the spirit of Old West cinema.
When Lily Winter first meets Jake Elder, she faints. As chaperone to rich orphans Sam and Peter Tyler, it is Lily’s job to accompany the children until she can connect with their grandfather and ensure they are in good hands. But when she reaches Frozen Oaks, NE,there is no sign of Grandpa Tyler and meeting the local gunfighter has her swooning from exhaustion and hunger.
Jake finds the inert Lily a lovely but unwanted distraction. Helping her get back on her feet and warning that she should take her two charges and leave town is all he can do for her. It’s actually a bit more than he should do. He’s a U.S. Marshall working undercover as a gun for hire so he can trace a faulty shipment of weapons and his desire is to appear dangerous and deplorable. As he puts it helping “an unconscious woman while being trailed by two youngsters was bad for his false reputation.”
Once she revives, Lily turns out to be a lot sharper – and have a lot more grit – than her fainting spell would lead one to suspect. In spite of the fact that she needs to return to St. Joseph, MO to deal with an issue of her own, she stays with the children and begins to methodically hunt for their grandfather. Almost right away she figures out that there is something not quite right in the small town and that some in the community represent an actual threat to her young charges. She also realizes that despite his criminal demeanor Jake is the only person who has actually offered a helping hand. When the local sheriff throws Jake in prison on trumped up charges, Lily feels to blame. She is certain that his current peril has been caused by his willing assistance to her and the children. Feeling guilty for getting Jake into trouble and determined to leave the city, she breaks Jake out of prison. As the four begin a perilous journey to St. Joseph and safety, they are forced to wear the disguise of being a happy family. Naturally, in the manner of all romance novels with this setup, before the end of the novel that fantasy will be a reality.
This tale reminded me of a cup of cocoa: sugary, predictable and able to give a bit of a warm afterglow. The characters and storyline will be familiar to readers of Western stories, and the plot will be familiar to romance fans but in this case that predictability works since the book delivers exactly what the reader wants. As expected, Lily is resilient, kind, pretty and loving. Jake is brave, smart, tough and dependable. The children are adorable and precocious. They work wonderfully together to outwit the bad guys and all of them falling in love with each other is as inevitable as a picturesque Western sunset. Clear, crisp prose and the sweetness of the story make it a quick, easy perusal.
I can’t really rate the historical accuracy since it is a tale of the Old West as we wish it had been, not as it actually was. That doesn’t have anything to do with lack of research so much as it does with presenting the legend of the West over the reality of it. That is why I compared the story to popular T.V. shows depicting that era. While this tale lacks some of the laugh out loud or slap-stick style moments of those series it has a gentle humor and bonhomie underlying everything that was reminiscent of them.
This is labeled as an Inspirational novel but there are no more than one or two lines actually talking about faith, so the book is as far from preachy as one can get and still mention God.
For many, Christmas is all about family, love, celebrations and a Currier and Ives style wintery landscape. A Family for the Holidays does a charming job of delivering just that.