Review: The Little Christmas Kitchen by Jenny Oliver (3.5/5)

Tuesday 11 November 2014
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.

Apart from two of Holly Martin's books this is the only other Carina book I've read despite constantly seeing their books on NetGalley. I was on a bit of a ban and didn't request anything for a while until I got my ratio to 100%. I do judge books by their covers and Carina have some of the best, it's just a shame they are eBooks and not actual books! I was very excited therefore to start my first Carina book from NetGalley and I loved the sound of the plot of The Little Christmas Kitchen and it did not disappoint.

Ella finds out her boyfriend Max has been cheating on her. At 31 she becomes fearful of what her future as a single woman might look like. She heads to Greece for a short holiday hoping to come to a decision about what to do. Meanwhile her sister Maddy, who lives in Greece, and has a fairly enjoyable life on the island, has dreams of becoming a singer and an opportunity in London is too good to pass up, so despite her mother not being that happy about it, Maddy soon finds herself heading to London. Arriving in Greece Ella isn't exactly welcomed with open arms, but with curiosity from her sister and mother, especially as she's alone, and that she's turned up unannounced not looking her usual immaculate self. She usually stays in five star hotels on the island, and it's a massive shock when she finds herself waitressing when it's usually her being waited on.

It was clear in the beginning that both sisters are very different, each having taken a different path in life after their parents split up. It was a very good way to tell a story, taking both sisters completely out of their comfort zones and having them almost swap lives, both learning new things about themselves and eventually each other along the way. I wondered how the story would progress for Ella and Maddy and whether I'd have a preference of which sister I liked more. In the beginning it was definitely Maddy. She became almost like a little girl lost in a big and dangerous world. London at Christmas can be magical. London by yourself can be very intimidating, and walking around it you often see that seedier side to it. Ella meanwhile in the beginning came across as quite weak and spineless. I wanted to scream at her to get a grip and stand up for herself especially in the way she was talking about Max's infidelity.

As a fan of Cyprus I am just in love with the Mediterranean and Greece is similar so I really enjoyed the vivid descriptions of this beautiful Greek island and the mouthwatering descriptions of the most delicious Greek food. The Little Christmas Kitchen just sounds like heaven, and totally believable as gems like this do exist in Greece. The writing is very descriptive and you are just transported to the island. I also really love London, especially at Christmas and Maddy's arrival in the capital reminded me of the first time I went there at Christmas (and, like Maddy, it snowed for me too). She's wide-eyed, excited and nervous with the hope of fulfilling her dreams whilst there. Unfortunately things don't quite go to plan, even before she's left the airport.

I loved reading the thoughts of both sisters. It was like being privy to information that we shouldn't have access to as they size each other up. We learn more about their past and as that starts to happen you really start to understand each character better and realise that for the most part, they are just putting on a front. It's hard to really discuss further but I was almost screaming at my Kindle for both sisters to admit their true feelings and ask for help when they needed it. They have a very believable relationship. They were close growing up, Ella being protective over Maddy however sibling rivalry has stretched into adulthood with the sisters still fighting for the attention of their parents.

Certain aspects of the book are predictable, especially once Ella meets a familiar face on her arrival in Greece. That said though the enjoyment from these books does come from knowing how the story will end, and reading on to come to a satisfying conclusion that leaves you feeling warm and happy inside. It's a real feel good book, and at Christmas that's all you can really ask for. That said though it isn't all plain sailing and there's plenty of shocks along the way. There's also a bit of a Friends moment which I loved. Once again I was ready to shout at my Kindle (it's a good job I didn't read this book in public!) The book makes you want to grab life by the hands and run with it. Fiction often makes some things look easy, the quitting your job, running away, leaving your partner etc when in real life it's difficult if not impossible and I guess we live those fantasies through fiction.

I just couldn't wait to see how the story would end for Ella and Maddy and I couldn't have been happier with how Jenny finished the book. I'd definitely love to read more about these two characters in the future, even if it was in a novella. Their story can definitely be continued and I only hope that it is. This was one of my first Christmas reads of 2014 and it was really good. Highly recommend this one!

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy via NetGalley.

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