This is a curious anthology because while two of the stories are Kelly’s usual fare, one is happy-ending fiction rather than a romance, and the other is a reprint of the novella which introduced Able Six, an eidetic genius very unlike Kelly’s general ordinary-folk protagonists.
Boxing the Compass: A (NB: fiction)
Captain Paul Fergusson is on escort duty for an Australian prisoner convoy when he learns that his wife, home in England, has delivered a baby girl. His loyal crew, noting that their captain is saddened to miss this newborn stage, conspires to have a new mother from another ship transferred to theirs. This woman is not a convict, but a wife following the unjustly-sentenced husband she hopes still lives somewhere in the fleet. I truly enjoyed this story, but I think you’ll enjoy it more understanding that there is no central courtship (I kept worrying that someone would die so our protagonists could get together). Instead, it’s a story about trying to make a small difference against an unfair system, and of recognizing humanity in each other.
Wait Here for the Present: B+
When Micah Melville, navy surgeon and father, fails to pick up his son, who is traveling to meet him for the holidays, spinster Asenath Bowers (I do love Kelly’s unusual name choices) steps in to escort the boy to the naval hospital at Plymouth. This is one of Kelly’s classic plot types in which two characters discover a mutual drive to be useful and show love through supporting and caring for each other when the work becomes exhausting. It is another story that clearly shows the author’s background in hospice care, and it does re-tread some of the ground of Kelly’s The Surgeon’s Lady. Asenath and Micah settle so comfortably into a married couple vibe, and it’s a pleasant, if not passionate, story.
Slip Number Five: B+
Captain Andrew McCulloch’s heavily damaged ship is turned over to the Griffyth shipwrights for repair. When her father-in-law was paralyzed in an accident, widow Lorna Griffyth became the true brains behind the work done at Slip Number Five. She discovers the captain violently ill with a virus during an inspection and brings him back to the family home to recover and join their Christmas. I liked this one for the cute secondary characters and talented heroine. Although I wished for an outcome that better used her gifts, I can’t argue that it was unrealistic.
The Christmas Angle: C
Note: this story was previously published in the A Country Christmas anthology.
Sailing master and workhouse orphan Able Six rose through the ranks when a captain noticed his uncannily perfect memory, but with the Peace of Amiens in place, he’s ashore at half-pay like everyone else. He accepts a job tutoring boys in mathematics and discovers both a gift for teaching and love for the boy’s aunt, Meridee Bonfort.
The primary plotline of this short story consists of Able confessing his various superpowers to Meridee, anticipating that she will hate him for them, and being besotted when she likes him anyway. His gifts are, unfortunately, progressively more ridiculous and Gary Stu-ish. He has photographic visual recall of entire books, but also brilliant comprehension of everything he reads. He understands children perfectly, and is able to bond with and teach both brilliant and delayed pupils. He can play a piece on the piano after hearing it once, never mind that playing and memorizing are completely different cognitive skills, and where did a workhouse-bred sailor ever practice playing the piano? And don’t get me started on his ability to perform surgery perfectly because he’s seen surgeries before, an issue I explored in my review of The Unlikely Master Genius, which is this book’s sequel. By the time I got to Able’s perfect recall of HIS OWN BIRTH, it just felt laughable. What I love about Carla Kelly is her ability to make the ordinary seem sigh-inducingly beautiful, and for me, Able Six is a miss. Since he, his genius, and Meridee’s mission to be the ‘keeper’ of it are the entire plot, there just wasn’t anything else here for me to like.
The new works in this anthology are, on average, a DIK. However, once you subtract the laborious and previously-published Able Six tale, the anthology is overpriced: $5.99 for just 200 pages of new content. I recommend it for people like me who just love Kelly at Christmastime, but you will probably feel more satisfied with your purchase if you wait until it goes on sale.
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