Review: The Little Christmas Kitchen by Jenny Oliver

Friday, November 14, 2014
Title: The Little Christmas Kitchen
Author: Jenny Oliver 
Genre: Realistic fiction, Women's fiction
Series: None
Pages: N/A
Published: October 20, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5

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.

Ella and Maddy are sisters in their mid-to-late twenties, living opposite lives. Thick as thieves until their parents' divorce fifteen years ago, Ella moved to London with Dad, while Maddy stayed in Greece with their mom. Now Ella is a wealthy ad exec with the perfect trust-fund husband and Maddy is a laid-back mechanic slash waitress at their mother's tavern. That is, until Ella's husband cheats and she runs back to Greece, just in time to find Maddy venturing to London to follow her dreams of singing.

Swapping places for the Christmas season is just what both women need in order to let go of old hurts and move forward with their lives. Of course, that's always easier said than done.

Ella's POV and story comes across as the more important, and the book could have stood just fine on her chapters alone. Maddy's is a little more muddled and she felt a lot younger than 24. It didn't help that Ella had something from the beginning to be overcome, while Maddy's issue doesn't appear until the book is almost over. It could have been better balanced.

In some ways, the book is very fanciful. Ella gets over her husband with nary a second thought. She and her ex are super friendly and there's no drama or issues dividing their huge piles of money. Everyone ends up right where they need to be, there are no coincidences, and famous but disillusioned authors arrive at Christmas with signed first editions of their books. Yet when it comes to confronting the girls’ parents, it's very realistic and hard to read. People holding onto decades old grudges, even after talking them out over cookies and tea, because of fear that letting go means all that time was wasted. People blaming children for bad decisions and adults for not being mind readers. It's at odds with the rest of the book, where a childhood friend flies across the continent to express his true love and you can walk away from your life to cook baklava in paradise.

I did still like The Little Christmas Kitchen. I wish Ella had ever told her mother, the one person most likely to understand, that she was getting a divorce. I kept waiting for the conversation that never came. Likewise, I wish Maddy’s confrontation with her dad was set up a lot sooner. But, as in Ms. Oliver’s first novel, the book works best in the kitchen. Both girls get a stand out scene where they make Christmas dinner, and the description and love of the food creates a great connection between the characters and the reader. In the end, that love carries some overly serious parts into a fun and light Christmas story.

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