Reading Challenge Book 39 – a book set during Christmas
Christmas in the Snow, by Karen Swan
Amazon link here
I was strongly recommended Christmas in the Snow by my mother, which is why I chose it for this challenge. Our reading tastes don’t always completely coincide, but I really enjoyed this book. Although CitS has romantic elements, I see it as first and foremost being a book for women about women .
I was originally a little sceptical about the overall set-up. Allegra Fisher is a highly successful fund manager who is pitching to close a deal that will win her a highly -oveted place on the board of the company she works for. She’s a proper city girl – a workaholic who regularly stays late enough at work to stay at a local hotel; she has a personal shopper who comes to her office to make sure that she has the right dress for every social event; she has no significant other and rarely spends time with her family; she is a known regular at London City airport where she flies out multiple times a week.
So when Allegra uncharacteristically has a one-night stand, and then finds out that the man she slept with is her competitor for the position on the board? Dot dot dot, insert cut-out romance here, right?
Actually, no. The framework is clichéd, but Christmas in the Snow isn’t a flimsy shell pasted onto a generic romance. Allegra’s work-life felt real to me. I work in a business where a lot of men are driven to push for professional success and make partner, but not so many women choose to take that same path. The hours required don’t permit aggressive career progression and family; when you’re working 100 hour weeks and have an active social life entertaining clients, a personal shopper is a necessity, not a status symbol. The difficulties Allegra faces felt real me : a misogynistic mentor who has stood behind her all the way till her final promotion, but just doesn’t see a woman as being partner material; the scrutiny (particularly at social events) that accompanies being the only senior woman in the business; the horror of gradually developing and nurturing a business relationship with a Chinese contingent, only to find out that the man-in-charge won’t seriously consider negotiating with a woman. I wouldn’t choose to make the choices that Allegra did, but I do understand that to achieve absolute professional success in so challenge an industry, those are choices that you have to make.
But Allegra’s life isn’t just about work. She has a sister, Isobel, who she doesn’t spend a lot of time with but has a very close bond with, going back to childhood. Additionally Allegra’s mother suffers from Alzheimers and both her daughters visit her regularly, despite all the heartache that this brings them.
The main plot of Christmas in the Snow relates to Allegra and Isobel’s family. While packing up their mother’s house, after she has moved to a care home, they find a beautiful cuckoo clock and an antique cuckoo clock in the attic. They have never seen either of these before, giving rise to the question of where they’ve come from. Allegra takes the advent calendar, which helps to frame the book – as the story progresses, each day is indirectly linked to the wooden charm found in that day’s drawer of the advent cabinet.
Meanwhile, the remains of Allegra and Isobel’s grandmother are discovered in the Swiss Alps, decades after she was buried alive in an avalanche. Except that Allegra and Isobel thought they knew their grandmother, having grown up to have a loving relationship with her in England; and yet DNA tests prove that the unknown woman was their grandmother. Allegra and Isobel travel to spend a few days in the ski resort of Zermatt to find out who the mysterious woman buried in the Alps was and how she was connected to their family – and in the meantime, seize the opportunity to take in some skiing and have their first trip away together for years.
What I love about CitS is the relationship between Allegra and Isobel, and how it’s central to the story, much more so than the romantic elements. They each have their areas of strength – despite Allegra’s professional success, she lacks Isobel’s easy charm – but they pull together as a team and as family. Isobel delights in spending a few days having girl-time and living the luxurious lifestyle that’s normal to her sister. Allegra has time to focus on the family life she’s neglected for so many years. They are my OTP.
From reading the book jacket, I thought that the mystery elements of CitS sounded cheesy, but they unfolded at a natural pace and were sufficiently well-described to be shocking to the sisters living through the events without jumping the shark. Also, the progression of Allegra’s relationship with Mr One-Night-Stand was very gradual and wasn’t given centre-prominence.
You could probably class CitS as chick-lit, but it’s definitely intelligent chick-lit. I love books written for women which address the challenges for women of balancing careers, families and other interests, and Christmas in the Snow fulfils that in spades. I’ll definitely be checking out some of Karen Swan’s other books