Carla Kelly is one of my very favourite writers. As a Regency novel devotee (and not especially enamoured of short stories), I must admit I wondered what this volume would bring for it is often the case that romance writers have a special niche and crossing genres is not always successful. "Here's to the Ladies" was, for me, one of the best books I have read this year.
This is a delightful collection of stories of men, and their women and families, serving in the Army, Cavalry and Army Medical Corps during the period of the Indian Wars. Living and working in remote, isolated and difficult circumstances in frontier forts in the Dakotas, Nevada, Arizona and Wyoming, the people in these stories come to brilliant life in Kelly's hands. She writes with economy and brevity yet breathes life into her characters so that the reader feels they know each one intimately, their foibles, their fears and their deepest emotions.
Some of the stories are told from the masculine POV and Kelly is a past master at creating male characters of great sympathy and humour. My personal favourite is Capt Jesse MacGregor, a surgeon in Arizona whose story reads like a thrilling dime novel. In "Kathleen Flaherty's Long Winter" we have a shy hero and a heroine who turns tragedy into triumph. "Casually at Post" is the story of a man named God and is written with wit and charm. "A Season for Heros" tells of courage and heroism amongst the famous Buffalo Soldiers and is touching and poignant.
I don't usually read the "western" genre but feel this collection is as good as Nancy Turner's much applauded "These is My Words" or Penelope Williamson's "Hearts of the West". I expect to read this volume again and again and have passed it to the man in my life to read for the themes Kelly writes about are those which are central to all meaningful fiction: honour, courage, pathos, tenderness, humour and meaningful, satisfying personal relationships.
A keeper; please read it and relish the sterling quality of Carla Kelly's beautifully wrought prose.