Sunday, 12 July 2015

Christmas in July: Karen Swan - Christmas in the Snow

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

No secret stays buried forever...

In London, the snow is falling and Christmas is just around the corner - but Allegra Fisher barely has time to notice. She's pitching for the biggest deal of her career and can't afford to fail. And when she meets attractive stranger, Sam Kemp, on the plane to the meeting, she can't afford to lose her focus either. She learned to shut off her emotions long ago and only her sister and best friend Isobel knows why. But when Allegra finds herself up against Sam for the bid, their passion quickly turns sour.

In Zermatt in the Swiss Alps, a long-lost mountain hut is discovered in the snow after sixty years and the last person expecting to become involved is Allegra - she hasn't even heard of the woman they found inside. But it soon becomes clear the two women are linked and, as she and Iz travel out to make sense of the mystery, hearts thaw and dark secrets are uncovered, long buried by the snow.

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I've read quite a few books by Karen Swan and always enjoy her stories. I love how she is now switching it up between summer and Christmas releases. Christmas in the Snow has an absolutely breathtaking cover which draws you straight in. Not being a fan of skiing or the cold in general this cover alone would go some way to changing my opinion. The book is quite lengthy at just under 500 pages and I'd love to say I was gripped the entire time but I wasn't, that's not to say the book was not good, it was but I wasn't as engrossed as I normally am. Usually if gripped enough I would read this type of book in one or two sittings, instead it took me several days and certain parts of the book held my attention more so than others. I found there were two story lines here competing with each other to be told and where the author wanted the two to combine for me at times they didn't merge together that well. Overall there are two good story lines here but the element of the past held my attention more and I suppose that's the historical fiction lover coming out in me.

Christmas in the Snow opens with a promising prologue – a woman is waiting in a hut for someone to arrive. She is growing weary of this wait when she hears noise - an avalanche then silence. Fast forward over sixty years later to the present day and we meet two sisters Allegra and Isobel. Complete opposites to each other in terms of careers and aspirations but yet still the sisterly bond shines through in any chapters the two are together. Allegra is at the top of her game in the business world, obsessed by work and stopping at nothing to become top dog in a male dominated environment. Her mind is always on the job never allowing for any real downtime. Relaxation is not a term featured in her vocabulary and as for men they are mere colleagues and romance has very little room in her life. Yet for all her traits I liked and admired Allegra. OK she was in danger of neglecting her family and Isobel regularly tries to gain her attention but she is a strong woman determined to acquire the partnership she has worked such long hours for to the detriment of most other things in her life. As for Isobel well she is a home bird, married to Lloyd and currently in baby land enjoying every moment of young Ferdy. She offered the element of fun that Allegra was very reluctant to allow to shine through. We saw her two sides - caring mum to Ferdy doing her best as a first time mum but also the party girl who likes a good time when she is set free from the house.

Whist clearing out the family home Allegra and Isobel discover a cuckoo clock and old wooden Advent calendar containing 24 drawers with various gifts. This discovery surprises the two girls. They have lots of questions but cannot get the answers they desire as their mum Julia is an assisted care home for those suffering with dementia. We switch back then with over 100 pages dedicated to Allegra and her job and her encounter with Sam Kemp on a flight to Zurich. For me it was just far too much, there was way too many details about business, investments, buying and stock exchanges etc. Honestly the majority of it went over my head and I skim read some of these pages, I think this aspect would be off putting to many readers. Yes Allegra's job and this big business deal are a huge element of the plot line and it all comes to the fore once they hit the town of Zermatt in Switzerland but it was just too confusing for me.

An intriguing phone call offers the opportunity to mix business with the resolution of something laying hidden for a long time. Secrets and hidden agendas rise to the surface but I was thinking two things - where does this all fit in with the blurb and when we will read more of the family mystery waiting to be uncovered? Eventually we got to that point and I will readily admit I found the story lines really split in two. Could two books have been written here? I for one wanted more of the story concerning the person in the cabin, the advent calendar and how the ski resort connected these objects and the two women. I got that eventually but I found we read of the business aspect for numerous chapters. Then almost like the author had forgotten the reason for the two women flying to Zermatt we transfer back to the family mystery.

The title suggests this is a Christmas novel and yes it is set in and around Christmas time and in the snow filled mountains surrounding Zermatt. Yet this is different. Sometimes I often say a book is at the more serious end of the women's fiction market and the same can be said for Christmas in the Snow. It's not the most festive of books perhaps until the last few pages and is totally different from books in this genre like recent Christmas releases by Jenny Colgan, Carole Matthews or Alexandra Brown. But I can see past that to the story underneath. The descriptions of the village of Zermatt were stunning and well written that I myself would love to travel there. Karen Swan really showed off the beauty yet danger of the mountains and contrasted it well with the wealth on show in the village during the winter months. The later half of the book proved stronger to me as Allegra did her best to reveal the secrets behind the Advent calendar and admittedly there were quite a few twists and turns that I didn't seeing coming and which proved quite shocking. The obligatory romance was mixed in to alongside a small amount of Christmas celebrating towards the end which was necessary to class the book in the festive genre.

Christmas in the Snow has an interesting storyline that can be read any time of year (as is proven by the fact I read this in July). I've said why the book didn't grip me and why some parts were successful and others not. It may not be the strongest book Karen Swan has written but that's only my opinion. I would still suggest you give this a try because the story from the past saved the book for me and I'm sure the business world that Allegra inhabits will catch some readers attention. That said I'll definitely look out for Karen's next release as I wouldn't let one less than strong book define how I view the author overall.

I'd like to thank Emma for reviewing Christmas in the Snow from her own copy.

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