All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan

on June 11, 2020

The Christmas Lights 
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan UK
2018, 480p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Bo lives a life most people can only dream of. She and her boyfriend Zac are paid to travel the globe, sharing their adventures with their online followers. And when Zac proposes, Bo’s happiness is complete.

With Christmas coming up, Bo can’t wait to head to the snow-fringed fjords of Norway. Arriving at the picturesque and remote hillside farmhouse that will be their home for the next few weeks, Bo’s determined to enjoy a romantic Christmas under the Northern Lights. Everything should be perfect.

But the mountains hold secrets from the past and as temperatures plunge and tensions rise, Bo must face up to the fact that a life which looks perfect to the outside world may not be the life she should be living…

As I’ve been mentioning a bit on this blog lately, I’ve been looking for a certain type of read. I was browsing Borrow Box, one of the apps my local library uses for eBook lending and came across a Karen Swan book. Recently I read The Hidden Beach and loved it. And prior to that I read The Paris Secret and really loved that too. And the cover of this one really drew my attention. It’s set in Norway in the winter which sounds absolutely stunning. It’s coming into winter here and it’s definitely not the same as winter in Norway but it’s a good time to snuggle up under a blanket and read a book set in a place filled with snow and crisp air. Add in the northern lights……beautiful!

There’s another reason I chose this one to read too and that’s the occupation of the main character Bo and her boyfriend Zac. They are social media influencers who are paid to travel the world on what is basically a never-ending holiday, promoting locations and immersing themselves in the life and cultures of the places they visit. The reason that was relevant is recently I’ve been watching some people doing similar things on YouTube, albeit on a much smaller scale. Not paid as such, to promote places, but people who have jacked in their 9-5 jobs and are travelling the world mostly in camper/cargo vans they’ve converted themselves. I’ve watched a couple travel from mid-western USA down to the very southern tip of South America and I’ve found it really interesting. So I was keen to get a look ‘behind the scenes’ of such a lifestyle, although this one was in the top echelon of that sort of job. Bo and Zac have over 9 million subscribers and are aiming for 10 million by Christmas. They were both popular on social media separately before they met and became a couple and it’s since then that their popularity has really exploded. A lot of people are invested in them and their romance.

After a whirlwind trip in Samoa, it’s off to Norway to spend Christmas there on a remote farm with no vehicle accessibility. It’s usually only let in the summer months but Zac wants an “authentic” isolated winter experience so he’s convinced the proprietor, a woman in her 90s, to agree to rent them the farm. It’s truly rustic, without even an inside bathroom. Probably only a minor inconvenience during a Norwegian summer but truly testing in a Norwegian winter. Bo is aware of how glamorous their lives look to their followers – travelling the world, visiting incredible destinations and getting to experience incredible things. Zac’s preference is for ‘non-touristy’ things, going places locals go and finding hidden gems that there aren’t already a million photos of on Instagram. For this trip, they are also being paid by a clothing company to endorse their winter apparel and have someone from that company along for the ride, as well as Lenny, their photographer/manager who takes all their photos, makes their travel bookings and provides anything else they need.

For Bo, she’s beginning to struggle with it all. She’s tired of private moments with her boyfriend being spied on by Lenny and posted for the world to see. They don’t have a home – and Bo hasn’t been back to her family home in over four years, for reasons that will be revealed over the course of the book. When she meets Anders (the grandson of the woman who let them the farm) he doesn’t know who they are or what they do. And he’s not really interested either and Bo begins to see how being settled might not be the worst thing in the world. She and Zac are also struggling – he is very gung ho about the content and doesn’t back her up about things she wants kept private. He is already planning the next adventure whereas Bo is slowly becoming exhausted. She finds it relaxing to just be able to be still and breathe in Norway and when she falls ill, the pressure to not be constantly posting and checking in on her socials, is lifted.

This was just what I was looking for. I adored the setting – Norway in the winter sounds truly beautiful, and I say that from the safety and security of my heated house under a blanket in the southern hemisphere where it’s “never even that cold”. I would not be brave enough to stay on the farm in winter (no outhouses for me, thanks) but I think the idea of experiencing a snowed in season would be lovely! Just because it’s so different to what I know. I actually really liked Bo and the time taken to set up how she fell into the influencer life….and why she kept up with the whirlwind of constant travel, always switching hemispheres and seasons. She’s a bit of a passive person but she’s starting to find her voice, to speak up when she doesn’t want a picture put on social media or when she wants something kept private. The ever constant presence of Lenny, turning her relationship into something that contains a third person is very trying for her. She’s also dealing with the resurgence of an over zealous fan, someone who terrorised her some time ago and the went dormant, but is back with a vengeance, making her very nervous. She’s always careful never to post her location while she’s still there but others in her party don’t always have the same consideration and Bo is starting to feel a net closing in. Anders is a soothing presence for her, he’s very different to Zac and he seems…..settled within himself, even though she discovers a terrible incident from his past. Zac is an overgrown manchild who got more tedious as the book went on.

Woven in is also the story of Signe, Anders’ grandmother who owns the farm. There’s flashbacks to the summer of 1936 and Signe, her sister Margit and several of their friends tending her family’s herds in the hills on the summer farm, where they also cut grass to make hay for the winter months. I enjoyed these as well and how the events of that summer shaped Signe and the person she became. She and Bo developed quite a connection.

This is 3/3 books I’ve really enjoyed by Karen Swan now and I just want to binge her entire backlist. They seem divided into summer and winter books, so whatever I feel like, there’ll be something that fits the bill. And the best thing is….there’s still about 13 or so to read!


Book #103 of 2020

2 responses to “Review: The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan

  1. Marg says:

    I intend to try one of these in due course!

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