All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Christmas Secret by Karen Swan

on July 31, 2020

The Christmas Secret 
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan
2017, 478p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

They say that behind every great man, there’s a great woman, and behind London’s most powerful leaders, there stands only one—Alex Hyde, business coach par excellence. She’s the woman they turn to for advice and strategy when the pressure gets too much. So when Alex gets a call offering an unbelievable sum to discreetly manage a family member on the board of an esteemed Scottish whisky company, it’s business as usual. She can do this in her sleep.

Only, she’s never met anyone like Lochlan Farqhuar before. CEO of Kentallen Distilleries, he’s also the son and heir of the company’s founder, and a man for whom there is no “no.” He’s a maverick, and Alex needs to get inside his head before he brings the company to its knees. But as she tasks herself with finding a way in, she finds that for once, she’s not the one in control. And when she stumbles across a chance discovery that changes everything, she’s suddenly not so sure she should be.

My next book in the reading Karen Swan’s backlist project and I chose a winter title. The last couple were summer titles so thought I’d head back to something that felt a bit more in step with what I’m experiencing right now….although this is a more extreme version. The Christmas Secret is set on the Isle of Islay, an island off the coast of Scotland, well known for whiskey distilleries.

Alex is a business coach, which means she helps manage people in high pressure jobs through strategies to make them more efficient and less stressed. She can also be called in to manage situations where working relationships are breaking down and smooth the way back to formality and civility. In this circumstance, she has been approached to ‘manage’ a difficult CEO of a whiskey distillery, a family company where it’s the CEO on one side and several other family members and perhaps the rest of the board on the other.

For Alex, Lochlan Farqhuar is the most difficult person she’s ever worked with. For a start, she was called in by someone else, so he’s completely against even working with her at all. He’s belligerent, combative, obstructive and everything else that hinders progress. He won’t even listen to Alex, who is armed with information like Lochlan punching another board member, punching walls, throwing computer monitors, the list goes on. Alex has been briefed that his actions are causing the company harm and he needs to be reined in so that decisions might be made. As the highest shareholder and direct descendant of the founder, Lachlan holds a majority vote that basically can overrule pretty much everyone else.

Alex’s job is interesting and her adventure to Islay is a bit of a shock for her. She’s used to designer brand names, luxury and the high life, having built her business up to be one of the most prestigious and sought after of its type. But accomodations on Islay are not what she’s used to – she’s staying in like a family-run B&B with shared bathroom facilities, no wi-fi and basically no cell service. Also her luggage didn’t make the ferry so for the first few days, she must ‘make do’ with what her 80yo landlady rustles up from her daughter’s long-forgotten clothes. It’s a far cry from the carefully curated businesswoman Alex presents to the world!

Despite Lochlan’s obvious disdain of her and her job, Alex does manage to surprise him several times with skills and knowledge that she has about other things. She always does her homework before arriving for a new job and she has educated herself thoroughly on whiskey production and is also already well versed in other activities that people on boards and CEOs of companies might like to do or talk about in their spare time. Alex’s job is about people – reading them, understanding them, relating to them. At first Lochlan is difficult but Alex does learn how to provoke him into responding. However it does seem that Alex is oblivious to the thing that might make Lochlan respond most of all….

I enjoyed this a lot more than I enjoyed the previous Karen Swan book I read, which made me feel that the main characters were basically toxic toward each other. At first glance Lochlan doesn’t seem a good prospect – he has that brooding nature going on but he also seems like he might be a bit dangerous. Alex goes in only armed with part of the information and it’s quite a while before she finds out what Lochlan has been facing and how he’s been provoked from many corners. Lochlan really shot himself in the foot by being so difficult because if Alex had been given a full picture earlier, there are certain things that would’ve been a lot different….but then it wouldn’t have been such a rollercoaster ride!

I loved the setting here – the island has a personality all of its own and is described wonderfully. I also appreciated the information about making whiskey as well as the twists and turns in the plot, especially centred around Alex and her job. There are some things that make the reader wonder about her, about her decisions and career path and it takes a long time for a full picture of her, her life and why these choices were made, to be formed. I also ended up liking Lochlan – I am a sucker for a brooding man, and even though I found him frustrating in the beginning there was a lot that came to light later on that made everything make much more sense. I also really liked how the two were brought together at the end.

(Just realised I forgot to mention the historical component of the story – it seemed to take up much less page time in this one than the last one I read and it laid some groundwork nicely without being distracting).


Book #136 of 2020

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

  1. Marg says:

    How many do you have left?

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