The mince pies are cooling, the lights are twinkling, and just when you think you’re a roasted chestnut away from the perfect Christmas….along comes the new gift-wrapped treat of a book from Jenny Oliver. Enjoy!
Christmas at the Davenports’ house was always about one thing: food. But when sisters Ella and Maddy were split up, Ella to live in London with their Dad, and Maddy staying in Greece with their Mum, mince pies lost their magic.
Now, a cheating husband has thrown Ella a curved snowball…and for the first time in years, all she wants is her mum. So she heads back to Greece, where her family’s taverna holds all the promise of home. Meanwhile, waitress Maddy’s dreams of a white Christmas lead her back to London… and her Dad.
But a big fat festive life-swap isn’t as easy as it sounds! And as the sisters trade one kitchen for another, it suddenly seems that among the cinnamon, cranberries and icing sugar, their recipes for a perfect Christmas might be missing a crucial ingredient: each other. (Goodreads)
This book was a refreshing surprise, mainly due to the fact that I was expecting to find a book about a woman getting over her two timing, ratbag of a husband by going to Greece and finding a new love there. Though this does happen, it isn’t the focus of the book. It is true that the book is a Love story, but this is more about that unequivocal, unbreakable family bond that still exists even after a large amount of time has passed.
The main characters of this book are sisters Ella and Maddy, who have been living with their dad and mum, respectively. Through numerous misunderstandings and the fact that Ella was a teenager who was going through that hormonal stage at the time of the divorce and Maddy being the younger sibling who is seen as needing more support and affection of her mother, they are now feel a resentment to the others relationship with the their parents
Oliver could have easily constructed the story so that you would feel more sympathy for Ella than Maddy due to the fact that she had just found out her husband was cheating on her and the fact that she feels like an outsider when she spends time with her sister and mother in Greece. You can see the envy she has at the clearly close relationship between Maddy and their mum. This is cemented by the fact that Ella has only spent holidays and Christmas with them. Even then, it seemed to be only for the minimal time. As the story progresses we find out the reasons that Ella spent the minimal time with her mum and sister. It all really stemmed from how Ella experienced and saw things surrounding her parent’s divorce. Around that time, she was at that awkward teenage stage. This is a difficult time for anyone, but coupled with her parents separating, it just magnifies everything to the point where she felt abandoned by her mum.
This has resulted in her feeling that a wide chasm has been created between Ella and her mum. Also when she is in Greece, she feels as though she is still competing with her sister. So, in an effort to try and get some alone time with her mum, Ella offers to fund Maddy’s trip to London so that she can take up a job singing in a club. This gives Ella an opportunity to try to get know her mum and to try to salvage their mother/daughter relationship, though this is not a clear sailing
Meanwhile, Maddy tries to make her dream of making a go of singing in London. This rose-tinted dream quickly loses its lustre, especially after her job offer is no longer there, since it looked as though she couldn’t make it as she had to pay for damage she did to a boat she was repairing.
Maddy ends up taking a job in a seedy club in the red-light district. Yes, it isn’t what she dreamed but rather than admit defeat, she decides to stick it out. The city isn’t all she expected it to be and she finds that she misses the close knit community of island life. However, she manages to bring together the fellow residents in Ella’s building and in a way replicates island life by holding a New Year’s Eve Party.
This was a nice fluffy side to the book, but Maddy’s story isn’t all sweetness and light. Like Ella, she also holds some resentment surrounding her parents divorce. Maddy still hasn’t gotten over the fact that her father left their mother for another woman. They are clearly distant and there is no love lost between Maddy and her step-mother, Veronica. Again, there is the opertunity to paint the step-mother in a bad light, but Oliver again takes this sterotype and gives it a new spin.
Through the interaction between Maddy and Veronica, we do see how childish Maddy is. Yes, it could be construed as just, but Veronica make a very valid point on the fact that she is no longer a child but a young woman. She also warns Maddy not to hurt their father, especially over the fact that she had not contacted her father since she arrived in London.
Overall, Oliver has created characters that are very well rounded. Ella and Maddy have their flaws and Oliver is not scared at exploring the concept of there being many sides to the story. You have Ella’s, Maddy’s, their parents and the truth. Not one party is truly innocent or guilty, as it is in real life.
However, out of both Maddy and Ella, I found myself being drawn to Ella more than Maddy. I’m not sure if this is because she is the elder sibling like me or if her story just seemed to be explored more deeply. My only real criticism of Ella is the ease that she seemed to just accept her husband’s infidelity, even to the point that she called him up to ask his opinion about something. For me, it just seemed a bit off; though this could be down to how thinly drawn her husband was drawn. This was just a small niggle that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I loved how it was more focused on a family love, rather than the heroine seeking out a man to help her get over the infidelity of her husband. By the time I finished the book, I got this real “Frozen” vibe to it.
Oliver is clearly very talented at creating complex characters, that one minute you’re are rooting for and the next you want to shake some sense into them for being so silly. This is my first book by Oliver, but it is by no means my last book and I have The Parisian Christmas Bake Off and The Vintage Summer Wedding lined up.