An Island Christmas by Helena Halme – a festive tale of love, life and complex relationships

 

Christmas in a very cold place with guaranteed snow sounds interesting, and a convoluted family and community story makes it absolutely fascinating. This is evidently the second book in the “Love on the Island Series”, but I found that it works well as a standalone book which is how I read it. Set in Scandinavia in the days before Christmas, this is a contemporary look at life, love and much else in a small place where everyone knows everyone else, or at least of everyone. Alicia’s family are well established as a relatively wealthy farming family with links across the town and surrounding community. This makes it more difficult when Alicia experiences difficulty with her husband and returns from London. There are complications in her life and that of those around her as she tries to make a new life in the place where she grew up. Her schoolfriend Brit is also back on the islands, trying to rebuild her life after an unhappy affair. As the interconnections between families, friends and new loves become more complex, feelings run high. Festive preparations, food and other traditions contrast sharply with contemporary expectations throughout this well constructed book where behaviour and conflict is not highly dramatic but still compelling. I was fascinated by this book and happy to have had the opportunity to read and review it. 

 

The book opens with Alicia in her mother’s kitchen, considering the beauty of the fall of heavy snow in the landscape view. She is looking forward to spending her first Christmas back on the island in many years. While appreciating the tradition of lighting real candles on the tree, the remembrance comes with a pang of pain as she recalls her late son Stefan’s fascination with them as a baby, and she remembers his death in a tragic road accident. She is somewhat comforted by the thought of her granddaughter, Anne Sofie, a surprise baby who had been conceived  by her mother Frida with Stefan. To complicate matters, Alicia’s own relationship with her husband Liam has disintegrated for various reasons, and she is preparing for his expected visit to the island after several mothers of separation. Hilda and Uffe, Alicia’s parents, have their own secrets, but Hilda in particular has every intention of putting on a full festival spread for her family and friends. 

 

Meanwhile, Brit is a young woman who is embarking on a new role on the ferries than run between the islands. As she meets her colleagues she encounters the attractive and seemingly single Jukka, and the mutual attraction is immediate and powerful. It seems that there is an outside influence on the island which is not entirely benign, and Alicia finds herself dealing with an investigation. Brit also establishes a connection with the ex wife of the attractive Patrick, who cannot forget his recent past involvement with Alicia. The stage is set for tricky Christmas encounters as the snow settles.

 

This is a book which combines entertainment with cultural insight and a great depth of human nature. I found it engaging, enjoyable and fascinating, with a character driven plot of some sophistication and a hint of farce in a good way. I recommend it as a good festive read which can be enjoyed at any time of the year.       


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