I get all nostalgic when I read historical holiday themed novels, so I was very interested when I saw A Quilt for Christmas by bestselling and award-winning author Sandra Dallas. If you’ve read Ms. Dallas’ novel, The Persian Pickle Club, you might recognize some of the characters in this novel as their ancestors. If not, no worries because this is a stand-alone novel.
I’m in awe of people who, when the country was still new, were brave enough to set off into the vast unknown prairie to find what they hoped would be a better life. That’s a strength it’s hard for me to imagine in the 21st century. Just moving across country now is hard enough. I can’t imagine what it must have been like two hundred years ago. A Quilt for Christmas takes us back to the mid-1800’s, when war tore this country apart, back to people with that very pioneer spirit. It’s a tale about family, sacrifice, struggle, remembering what matters, and doing what’s right. I think it’s a great read for the holidays and we’ve been given a copy to use in a giveaway one of you will win!
The year is 1864. Eliza and Will Spooner have a small farm in Wabaunsee County, Kansas which they and their two children work to ensure their survival. It’s a good life and they love it. They may be far removed from the East Coast but they are troubled by the news of the great unrest there. When war is declared, Will feels he must fight for the Union Army to help keep the country united against secessionists. Neither of them believes any human being should be held as a slave, and he has grown to hate what he calls the Secesh, and has passed that hatred down to his son Davy. But Will’s primary motivation in fighting is to ensure the country is not torn completely apart.
“Eliza had always known she would marry him. They had grown up together, had both attended the little school at the bottom of the hill of his grandparents’ farm in Ohio. It was assumed by their families, too, that they would marry. What no one assumed was that the couple would leave Ohio for Kansas. But Will was restless among so much family. Although Eliza was content to stay with her people, Will had wanted to try for Oregon…the two had headed for Kansas. If Kansas didn’t suit, they could go to Oregon later on…Will had loved the rolling hills and golden prairie [of Kansas] and announced they were home.”
Eliza wants to do something to help her husband while he’s away fighting, although her resources are scarce and dwindling. After much thought, she decides the best thing she can do is to make him a quilt from fabric scraps to help keep him warm during the bitter winter. Instead of batting, she does something unprecedented – she fills it with feathers for extra warmth. The outside pattern is similar enough to a flag to help show her support for him. As she sends it off to him with a fellow soldier in late November, she’s happy to know he’ll stay warm and think of her at night. At the same time, she prays the war will be over soon so he can come home. Surely he’ll be home in time for the spring planting.
When a neighbor’s husband is killed in the war, Eliza takes her and her small daughter into their home to save her from her husband’s abusive family – a family that doesn’t take kindly to that act of mercy. Missouri Ann insists that her husband wasn’t at all like the rest of his family but Eliza knows the Starks too well to completely believe her. Taking in Missouri Ann turns into a blessing for Eliza as well since she’s a hard worker and the two of them can get much more accomplished than Eliza and her children could have done.
“’The idea!’ Eliza gasped. Then she asked. ‘You quilt then?’
‘Of course I do. I’d rather quilt than eat cake on Sunday,’ Missouri Ann replied.
‘Then we will make quite a pair. I’ve got enough scrapes for both of us. We’ll spend the winter piecing. It’ll be like I was young and sat with my mother and sisters over the quilt frame after the supper dishes were done and the bread set. There’s nothing I’d rather do than quilt with another woman. I’ve got quilts in the house you can use until we’ve made some for you, although what I have is a poor offering.’
‘Oh, I don’t think so,’ Missouri Ann said. ‘You have the reputation for being the best quilter for miles around. Ain’t nobody can quilt like you – except maybe me on my best day.’ She gave a sly grin that was almost a challenge.”
And it becomes a different kind of blessing that Missouri Ann is there when Eliza gets the letter no wife ever wants to get, the letter saying Will is not coming home after all. That is a possibility she never imagined in her wildest dreams. There is a second letter, one from Will, but Eliza can’t bear to read it. How could he be dead? Eliza goes into a horrible depression and her little family probably would not survive if Missouri Ann weren’t there to take care of them and to eventually coax her back into some semblance of life. Davy seems the hardest hit, causing his anger and hatred to boil just below the surface, looking for anything to set it off. God help any Secesh who comes near their farm for any reason. Eliza worries that such extreme anger will ruin him if he can’t let go of it.
And then one day, the local preacher comes calling with the local butcher in tow. Mr. Ritter, the butcher, has been a regular visitor since Missouri Ann moved in and Eliza loves that he has quite an obvious crush on her. Missouri Ann deserves something good in her life. The preacher though is not someone she expected to see. It is rumored he has been working on the underground railroad since before the war, and now Eliza discovers that’s true. He wants Eliza to harbor a runaway female slave – and not just any runaway but one who murdered her mistress. Eliza doesn’t believe in slavery but she fears putting her family and her farm at risk, and she certainly won’t do it for a criminal. If a fugitive from justice like this slave was discovered and Eliza’s home burned or worse, she could never recover. She still isn’t over Will’s death and could not bear it if anything happened to her children or her home.
But then he tells her the horrific things that happened, causing this slave’s mistress to be killed accidentally – not intentionally. Eliza knew slavery was awful but she had no idea anyone, or more importantly anyone’s children, could be treated like that. She had no idea that a slave would be hung first, or worse, and no questions ever asked about whether it was justice or not.
Will Eliza do her part like Will did? Will she risk everything and everyone she loves, given what bounty hunters and slave catchers might do to her and hers, just to help an accused slave get closer to freedom? If she does decide to help, can she do it alone or will she need help from her friends? If so, which friends is it safe to ask and which might betray them for the money offered?
I liked Eliza and her little family immediately. Missouri Ann and her small daughter make a nice complement to the household. I also liked the quite opinionated ladies of their quilting bee. I’m not going to say more about the other characters to avoid spoilers.
If A Quilt for Christmas is any indication then Sandra Dallas writes incredibly heartwarming and wonderful novels. I read it in one sitting because I got so wrapped up in these people’s lives that I couldn’t put it down. The location, the relationships, the conflicts, and the personal as well as physical struggles all combine into a microcosm of what defined that period – and I loved it! One of the reasons I love to read holiday novels is that they have a way of helping us regain perspective about what’s really important in life instead of all the shallow things we tend to get bombarded with in this century. It’s nice to be reminded of values that make a difference and make the world a better place.
Can’t wait to read it?
A Quilt for Christmas was published on October 14, 2014, so it’s available from your favorite online bookseller. Just click the button/link below (or in the right column for iBooks) and get it to read now!
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One lucky reader will win an ARC (advance readers copy) of A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas!
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