Wednesday 25 November 2020

Guest Review: Christmas at the Island Hotel by Jenny Colgan

On the tiny Scottish island of Mure, Christmas preparations are even more hectic than usual . . .

Flora Mackenzie is worried about her brother. Fintan hasn't got over the death of his partner, Coltan, and Flora thinks he needs a project.

The Rock - the rambling, disused hotel on the tip of the island - was Coltan's passion project before he died. With Flora's help, Fintan is going to get the hotel up and running in time for Christmas, transforming it into a festive haven of crackling log fires and delicious food. But running a hotel, they are about to discover, is not that easy. Especially when their motley staff includes a temperamental French chef, a spoilt Norwegian kitchen boy who can't peel a potato without mutilating his own hand and a painfully shy kitchen assistant who blushes when anyone speaks to her.

Can they pull it together in time for the big opening?

And can Flora help her family find happiness this Christmas?

Review: This is the latest in a series of books by Jenny Colgan about the remote Scottish island of Mure, which in fact is closer to Norway than the Scottish mainland. The books have focused mainly on the MacKenzie family who have a farm there, but readers learn lots about other inhabitants as well. Because there are so many characters featured in the books, I would suggest that reading this book before any of the others would be confusing; they make a wonderful set when read together anyway. As the title suggests, this story is set in the run up to Christmas, and has a lovely festive feel about it. As usual with Jenny Colgan’s books, I sat down to read (or in this case listen) and didn’t want to pause until I reached the end. One comment I have about the audiobook is that I was disappointed to find that the narrator was different from the lady who has covered so many of Jenny Colgan’s previous books; I have no complaint about the new narrator, but it changed my perception of the characters I have come to know.

The story this time is set about a year after the end of the last one in the series, which ended really tragically for Fintan MacKenzie. He has now inherited The Rock, a rundown hotel at the end of Mure, and is trying to continue his husband Coltan’s project to open it as a luxury destination for tourists and locals alike. When he is showing little enthusiasm for the job, his sister, Flora, steps in to help. The aim is to have a grand opening on Christmas Day, but there is much to be done and many obstacles along the way. Fintan employs a very temperamental French chef whose ideas are not always suited to what is available on the island. In addition, the kitchen staff includes a Norwegian playboy who has been sent away by his family to learn some sense and has no clue about cooking, and a very shy village girl who lives with an overbearing mother who disapproves of her daughter working at the hotel. With such an assortment of kitchen personnel, can Flora and Fintan pull it off? Meanwhile, there is plenty of other activity on the island as people prepare for the festivities. The islanders we have met before are all present and correct, with developments in the story of the island’s doctor and his sons.

I can highly recommend this book to those who are following the continuing tale of the island of Mure. As I said at the beginning of this review, I’m not sure that it would be an ideal read for someone who has not read at least one of the other books in the series. I very much enjoyed catching up with all the goings on in the island. The staff at the hotel provided a great deal of amusement, the spoilt boy learning to do things he usually had a staff to deal with, and the chef impatiently getting used to island life. It was hard to know whether they would get the hotel up and running on time. In common with small communities everywhere, there was a certain amount of suspicion towards change, and such was the case with the introduction of Christmas lights - another amusing part of the story. As well as enjoying the characters in the book, I was once again struck by the rugged beauty of the island, with its sometimes stormy seas and lovely long beach, all brought to life so well by the author.

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