Thursday, January 01, 2015

Review: A Quilt for Christmas

Sandra Dallas

A Quilt for Christmas

By Sandra Dallas
St. Martin’s Press, October 2014

About the Book

In Sandra Dallas’ novel A Quilt for Christmas, it is 1864 and Eliza Spooner’s husband Will has joined the Kansas volunteers to fight the Confederates, leaving her with their two children and in charge of their home and land. Eliza is confident that he will return home, and she helps pass the months making a special quilt to keep Will warm during his winter in the army.

When the unthinkable happens, Eliza takes in a woman and child who have been left alone and made vulnerable by the war, and she finds solace and camaraderie amongst the women of her quilting group. And when she is asked to help hide an escaped slave, she must decide for herself what is right and who she can count on to help her.

My Review

For readers who love to read about quilters or quilts, this book may prove satisfying. It would also be a good match for those who like to read about the Civil War. The story is set in Kansas during the last year of the Civil War. I liked Sandra Dallas’ A Quilt for Christmas even though I don’t consider myself fitting into the ideal audience. I don’t particularly seek out books about quilts, and I don’t seek out historical fiction set during the Civil War.

Eliza Spooner is the heroine. She loves to quilt and to get together with other women in the community. The war has had an effect on the community. Many husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons are gone, away fighting for one side or the other. Eliza’s husband, Will, is fighting for the Union.

The novel opens with Eliza finishing a quilt she’s made for her husband. She’ll be sending the quilt along with a soldier who is returning to her husband’s unit from leave. Her love for her husband is obvious and not just because she’s spent all this time making him a quilt. There are dozens of flashbacks that give readers a chance to get to know the couple. However, I must admit that these flashbacks are confusing at times. They are not really set apart in the text, and the transition from the present day to the past is sloppy at times.

Readers meet Eliza and her son and daughter, as well as men and women of the small community. Mainly readers get to know Missouri Ann and her daughter. When Missouri Ann’s husband dies, she takes the opportunity to flee from her abusive in-laws. Eliza opens her home to the pair, and this isn’t without some risk. Missouri Ann’s in-laws are probably without a doubt the meanest and cruelest in the county—if not the state. But not everyone in the community is as immediately open to including Missouri Ann in their group. Her in-laws have tainted her; no one wants to get close to someone who would marry into that family.

At one point, at a quilting party of sorts, the discussion of slavery and runaway slaves comes up. Opinions are mixed. Prejudices are voiced. Even though most of the women are for the Union, most, if not all, have very strong views about blacks. Eliza’s own views will be tested when she’s asked to hide a runaway slave: a woman who murdered her mistress. Will she welcome this slave into her home and put her own life and the lives of her children at risk?

A Quilt for Christmas is an odd book at times. It seems to have a handful of plots and stories. Any one could be the main one, but really not one seems to stand out as being the one it’s all about. It’s definitely not a plot-driven book. It’s mainly about the lives of women in a particular community during the fall of 1864 and throughout 1865.

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