Two sisters…two very different lives.

Alison’s American dream is in tatters. Her highflying career is on the skids in the financial meltdown. Her Upper East Side apartment is now way beyond her means . But pride prevents her from telling her family back home just how bad things are. Olivia is fraught trying to juggle family, career, preparations for Christmas and organize a surprise party for their mother’s seventieth birthday. How she envies, and sometimes resents, her sister Alison and her life of excitement and affluence in New York.

Coming home is the last thing Alison wants to do, especially now that she’s met a rather attractive, sexy, down to earth neighbour who doesn’t believe in ‘non exclusive dating’ unlike her wealthy boyfriend, Jonathan. But family ties are strong. Alison and Olivia sort their differences, the party throws up a few surprises and Christmas brings changes for Alison that she could never have imagined before coming home.

‘Coming Home For Christmas’ begins with recently jobless Alison leaving her fancy two bedroom apartment and moving into a more reasonably priced studio. She’s finding this and the loss of her extremely well-paid job hard enough to deal with, without having to fly back to her family home in Ireland for her mother’s seventieth birthday celebrations –  where everyone will want to know all about her fancy New York life and her high powered career. About the only thing lifting her out of her slump is her sexy new neighbour, JJ.

Meanwhile in Ireland, Alison’s sister, Olivia, is resenting her role looking after everyone. Why should she be stuck caring for their aging parents and uncle whilst Alison swans around living her glamorous, worry-free life in New York? Running around after her own three children and working is more than enough. Add to this the pressure of organising a surprise party for her mother’s birthday and Olivia is close to boiling point.

When Alison arrives home the family element of the book really kicks in as she finds herself surrounded by love and enjoying the familiarities of a proper Christmas, something which she hasn’t experienced for a very long time. Maybe this is just the place that Alison needs to be whilst she works out what, and where, to go next in her life, and even rebuild her relationship with her sister.

The story was very sweet and had a warm, family feel to it, although I have to admit that the religious element of the novel came as quite as surprise to me; especially as it seemed to come out of nowhere in the middle of the book, but as it’s a book set around Christmas time I suppose it shouldn’t have been entirely unexpected.  The Christmas theme led to some beautifully written scenes of the family preparing for the festive season, with the relationship between the grandparents and grandchildren depicted particularly well: the perfect combination of the children’s excitement, and the grandparents’ pride and happiness in sharing the family traditions.

Alison was probably my favourite character in the book: I loved reading about her life in America and I felt that her lethargy and sadness after losing her job was particularly well described. It’s probably because I’d enjoyed the New York section of the book so much that I felt that a little something was missing when Alison arrives in Ireland – possibly it was because JJ was no longer playing much of a role so the romance element was diminished. I really wanted their relationship to move forward and thoroughly enjoyed JJ’s character – and can more than understand why Alison likes him: he’s funny, manly, and, unlike her last boyfriend, isn’t bothered about how much money Alison makes.

I didn’t, however, feel as warmly towards the other male characters in the story: Alison and Olivia’s father, Liam, and Olivia’s husband, Michael. Liam is supposed to find it hard to tell his wife that he loves her and dislikes ‘mushy’ stuff, yet happily joins in with the baking – which didn’t really seem to fit his character. As for Michael, he’s barely in the book despite the fact that he’s so important to Olivia’s life and happiness.

I must be a very annoying reader for writers to try to cater for because I always have a very clear idea of how I want the ending of a book to go – and I can get quite irate if the characters don’t do what I want! This was very definitely the case with this book; I don’t want to give too much away, but the book is supposed to be about two sisters and I felt that one was very definitely left out at the end.

All in all, I did find this a pleasant read, and very suitable for the festive season, although it certainly isn’t the best, or the most memorable, book I’ve ever read and I did feel let down by the ending. I’d be interested in reading more of Scanlan’s work, particularly her longer novels (this was only about 250 pages long) in which, I imagine, the secondary characters would be written in greater depth.

3 stars

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