Six days before Christmas, Stella is called home to Scotland. Her beloved grandmother, Alice, has had a serious accident, and Maddie, her sister, has disappeared off to Australia.
Not only is Stella trying to work out whatâ€™s really going on in the present, sheâ€™s also forced to confront her past â€“ including why she effectively ran away from her family and friends â€“ and finally admit what she wants for her future.
In this, her debut novel, veteran short story and magazine writer, Kate Blackadder, has penned an engaging Christmas-themed romance. Itâ€™s not difficult to work out that Stella has unfinished business with a local man â€“ complicated further in that heâ€™s a close friend of her family â€“ and, as you might expect, thereâ€™s a traditional will they/wonâ€™t they theme running throughout the story.
However, there are several other dimensions to this tale that raise it above being â€˜justâ€™ another decent bit of chick-lit.
Iâ€™ve said it many times, but the fiction world needs more strong and engaging older characters! AndÂ itâ€™s here that Kate Blackadder delivers that something extra. Stella and her ex, Ross, may be young, but other characters are not – Alice, Gray, Lilias – and rather than these being consigned to the realm of supporting cast, they are main players with their own stories, both developed and resolved.
In addition, Maddie’s disappearance Down Under isn’t a useful plot device to get her out of the way, it’s integral to the novel. Thereâ€™s a very real and poignant reason as to why she made the trip, which all comes back to Stellaâ€™s grandmother. That Maddie doesnâ€™tÂ appear in-person in the story even though sheâ€™s vital to it â€“ sheâ€™s a voice off â€“ is an extra quirk I enjoyed.
The only thing I found slightly contrived was the reason her grandmother didnâ€™t ask Stella to go to Australia was because of Stella’s fear of flying, that seemed just to pop up in passing a bit too conveniently, too glibly done, but thatâ€™s a minor quibble!
Thereâ€™s a strong sense of place in the novel. It moved easily from the manner in which the city of Edinburgh does Christmas to the depiction of the family home in Melrose â€“ Stella obviously loves both, which adds nicely to the conundrum of why, then, did she end up in London?
Will there be a happy ending in time for Christmas? You can probably guess the answer to that, but suffice it to say that happy endings come in many guisesâ€¦
Kate Blackadder has produced a light but not light-weight read, perfect for the festive season â€“ or actually any other time of year.
Published by Black & White.