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Review: Christmas At Claridges by Karen Swan

Christmas At Claridges 
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan UK
2013, 502p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘This was where her dreams drifted to if she didn’t blot her nights out with drink; this was where her thoughts settled if she didn’t fill her days with chat. She remembered this tiny, remote foreign village on a molecular level and the sight of it soaked into her like water into sand, because this was where her old life had ended and her new one had begun.’

Portobello – home to the world-famous street market, Notting Hill Carnival and Clem Alderton. She’s the queen of the scene, the girl everyone wants to be or be with. But beneath the morning-after makeup, Clem is keeping a secret, and when she goes too far one reckless night she endangers everything – her home, her job and even her adored brother’s love.

Portofino – a place of wild beauty and old-school glamour. Clem has been here once before and vowed never to return. But when a hansome stranger asks Clem to restore a neglected villa, it seems like the answer to her problems – if she can just face up to her past.

Claridge’s – at Christmas. Clem is back in London working on a special commission for London’s grandest hotel. But is this really where her heart lies?

Okay I’ve been working my way steadily through Karen Swan’s backlist this year and I’ve mostly been really enjoying them. There’s been 1-2 that I’ve felt were just okay but this one? This is the first one I’ve quite disliked and it was really a very disappointing read. I’ve read a few reviews of other Christmas books (Swan puts out 2 books a year, a “summer” themed one and then a winter Christmas one) where they state how misleading the titles and covers are. This is one of those books for sure. Claridges is the scene of one meeting and then like, the last few pages of the book. Most of the book takes place over other seasons. It’s a thin stretch of any imagination to call this a Christmas book or even to link it to Claridges.

Clem is almost thirty, living in a trendy suburb of London with her brother Tom. Clem is a quintessential ‘It’ girl – partying, drinking, relationships that don’t last more than 12 weeks. She has little in the way of responsibility – her brother employs her at his company and rents her a room in his flat. Always he’s had her back until a moment of selfishness wrecks something he’s worked so hard on, that his company was relying on. Clem has disappointed the people around her over and over but it isn’t until Tom expresses his contempt for her that she truly feels sorry. Banished to Portofino Italy in order to comply with some stipulation on a big contract for her brother’s company, which she feels as her one chance to make amends, Clem comes face to face with the decisions she made in her past.

This was a hot mess of a story. Clem is really unlikeable – shallow and silly and selfish and just an all round smug pain. She’s been spoiled and cosseted her whole life and her brother is a huge enabler. Not sure why he’s so surprised when she does what she does, to be honest. At least she does feel some remorse but it didn’t seem enough. A mysterious man she keeps crossing paths with offers Tom’s business a huge contact that just might save it after Clem almost blew it up but the clincher has to be that Clem must oversee all aspects of the project personally. When Clem hears where, she doesn’t want to go but for reasons she cannot explain and so Tom won’t hear of it.

Karen Swan books often have a bit of an unusual romance, where sometimes the characters are involved with other people and you don’t get the true end game until well, the end. Quite often this has worked for me, because there’s been some complicated situations which give some real tension and chemistry. Unfortunately, this was not one of these books. I don’t think there was anywhere near enough groundwork done for the end game. There are some twists in the story and while some of these are explained relatively adequately, Clem’s feelings for a certain person are not and it just felt so underdeveloped to me. Especially as her involvement with another character takes up a rather large portion of the latter part of the book and the way it fizzled out was weird and unsatisfactory as well.

This is one of her older books and unfortunately there wasn’t really much about it that worked for me at all, other than, despite its size, it didn’t take me long to read it. I think that towards the end, you start to understand Clem’s truly reckless lifestyle and why she’s lived that zero responsibility, hardcore partying and drinking life but at the same time it’s like, well how long was she going to go on like this? If she hadn’t of been sent back to Portofino and had to face the decisions of her past, would she still have been exactly the same another 10, 20, 30 years down the track? She never confided in anyone, never explained anything, even to her beloved brother or best friend. Maybe a little of that earlier on, might’ve really helped. A lot of what happens is not really tackled in depth, despite the pretty high page count. Especially what happened over a decade ago, before the book begins, the reasoning behind such thing and the fallout of everything being revealed in the current day. And the ending was so lacklustre.

4/10

Book #208 of 2020

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Review: Christmas Under The Stars by Karen Swan

Christmas Under The Stars
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan UK
2016, 486p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Worlds apart. A love without limit.

In the snow-topped mountains of the Canadian Rockies, Meg and Mitch are living their dream. Just weeks away from their wedding, they work and play with Tuck and Lucy, their closest and oldest friends. Meg and Lucy are as close as sisters – much to Meg’s sister’s dismay – and Tuck and Mitch have successfully turned their passion for snowboarding into a booming business.

But when a polar storm hits, tragedy strikes. Alone in the tiny mountain log cabin she shares with Mitch, Meg desperately tries to radio for help – and it comes from the most unexpected quarter, a lone voice across the airwaves that sees what she cannot.

As the snow melts and they try to live with their loss, the friendship Meg thought was forever is buckled by tensions, rivalries and devastating secrets. Nothing is as she thought and only her radio contact understands what it is to be truly alone. As they share confidences in the dark, witnessed only by the stars, Meg feels her future begin to pull away from her past and is forced to consider a strange truth – is it her friends who are the strangers? And a stranger who really knows her best?

After the week I’d had, I felt like a pleasure read, something that didn’t require a lot of concentration – and I don’t meant that in a bad way. But I had some non-fiction and thrillers left on my ARC pile and they weren’t what I was after so I went digging in the pile I’d gotten from my library before they had to suspend local deliveries. I have quite a few Karen Swan books there and this one immediately grabbed me when I read the description. The weather was a bit Armageddonish – some sort of chunk had broken off from Antarctica and had made its way to southern Australia and it was freezing, raining, windy etc. However it was nothing compared to the weather that opens this book, a snow storm of the highest category in Banff, Canada.

Meg and Mitch were teenage sweethearts and now it’s ten years later and they’re about to be married. Mitch is a daredevil and also works search and rescue as well as designing and manufacturing snowboards. When a call comes in that two people are missing just as the storm is about to really hit, he insists on going out there, despite Meg begging him not to. With no WiFi or cell service at their cabin and the landline out in the storm, when Mitch doesn’t return in 5 hours like he said, Meg has only Mitch’s satellite radio to desperately try and call for help, even though she doesn’t know how to work it. The only person that responds is a Commander on the International Space Station, who is in just the right position in its track across the globe to be able to hear her distress call and respond, saying he’ll relay her message to someone who can raise the alarm and get help.

This was such an amazing idea for a story! The idea of Meg being so incredibly isolated during an absolutely awful storm and her only source of solace and help is someone that’s actually not even on Earth. Meg is absolutely beside herself with terror and grief as she imagines the worst and the Commander – Jonas – is a steady, unflappable voice who offers solace and help when no one else can. When the storm passes and everything has settled, Meg is faced with an incredible loss. In her grief, she finds herself reaching out to the only person who was there for her that night, the only one who could see what she experienced and the only one that she feels really understands.

Meg moved to near Banff with her family when she was a teenager and despite the fact that she could’ve gone to art college, she chose to stay behind with Mitch, invest in the business with him. Her younger sister works as a doctor in Toronto and often wants Meg to visit but she seems reluctant to leave the safe, comfortable, unchanged life that she has carved out for herself there, working in a skii/hiking hire shop and still being part of the same foursome she has been in since high school – Mitch, his best friend Tuck, her and her best friend Lucy. Tuck and Lucy are now married and Mitch and Meg were just days away from it before the storm hit. Now, in the aftermath, Meg’s life has changed and is changing in so many ways. She finds herself accepting an invite from her sister to visit her in the city and wondering if maybe there are opportunities that might present themselves to her now that take her beyond this area she’s spent the last decade in.

I really loved this one – the beginning is excellent at making the reader feel like they’re part of the storm and the aftermath is very emotional as Meg, at 26 or 27, has to begin to put her life back together, piece by piece. She also has to deal with the fact that someone she loves, and whom she believes cared about her, may not actually have her best interests at heart and might be hindering her from making any progress outside the life that has been unchanged for a decade. It takes Meg a very long time to realise some of these things and understand how a toxic friendship had influenced her life, had made her think certain things. She has to learn to base her decisions on what she wants, not what others want or need her for and that’s a hard new mindset to get into.

I found Meg’s journey really emotional – it was full of grief and she really did hit the lowest of the low for a while, before you can see her trying to pull herself out of the hole, looking around her, seeing that she’s still young, that there’s still a world out there that she can participate in. Her life isn’t over yet. It’s not an easy journey for her and there are several setbacks along the way. One of the few constants for a while, is the Commander, as they move to exchanging emails and because the relationship is remote, it’s easy to confide things in each other. However when Jonas returns to Earth, it’s like Meg realises that he’s now a real person who occupies the same space she does and that comes with a whole new range of feelings, which I found really interesting. You can see however, the moment that the fog does start to lift for Meg and how she starts to accept that she is able to move on and even though there are still some things that will hurt her, there’s a life waiting for her, if she wants it.

This was so good and it has kickstarted my reading mojo again.

8/10

Book #166 of 2020

 

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Review: The Christmas Party by Karen Swan

The Christmas Party
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan
2019, 480p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When Declan Lorne, the last remaining knight in Ireland, dies suddenly, an ancient title passes with him. But his estate on Ireland’s rugged south-west coast is left to his three daughters. The two eldest, Ottie and Pip, inherit in line with expectations, but to everyone’s surprise – and dismay – it is the errant baby of the family, Willow, who gets the castle.

Why her? Something unknown – something terrible – made her turn her back on her family three years earlier, escaping to Dublin and vowing never to return. So when Willow quickly announces she is selling up, her revenge seems sweet and the once-close sisters are pushed to breaking point: in desperation, Pip risks everything to secure her own future, and Ottie makes a decision that will ruin lives. It’s each woman for herself.

Before moving in, Connor Shaye, the prospective new owner, negotiates throwing a lavish party at the castle just days before Christmas – his hello, their goodbye. But as their secrets begin to catch up with them, Ottie, Willow and Pip are forced to ask themselves which is harder: stepping into the future, or letting go of the past?

This was the last Karen Swan available on my library’s eBook borrowing app that I hadn’t yet read – well actually there’s one more, but I own a print copy of that, so I’ll be reading that version. So after I borrowed this, I went and requested a bunch of others in print form, from my local library, which will be delivered to my home. I’m still enjoying this journey throughout this author’s entire backlist, and this one was close to one of my favourites. It’s also one of the few I’ve read that did not contain a historical component to the story, focusing purely on a present day story in Ireland.

Declan Lorne was the last remaining knight in Ireland, a title that would only pass to a male offspring. He had three daughters, so the title will die with him, however he can leave the vast estate divided up between his children. It’s a crumbling pile, in need of close to a million euros spent on it in order to really restore it to its former glory. To everyone’s surprise, the main house does not go to oldest daughter Ottie, who has managed the estate in recent years. She gets a small slice, with the home she lives in and the land to run her business, as does middle sister Pip. But it’s the youngest daughter Willow, who gets the castle. Willow who left for Dublin years ago and basically hasn’t been back. Everyone is stunned, especially Willow but she quickly reasons that her father assumed she’d be the only one who would do what needed to be done – sell the castle. Rid themselves of the albatross around their neck that it has become. And that is exactly what Willow decides to do, contacting someone who showed interest in the castle previously. And before it’s sold, it’s leased out to host a party.

All of the sisters seem to have secrets, so the title is quite apt. Willow fled the local area years ago and seemingly either doesn’t return, or returns very seldom. She isn’t there for her parent’s lavish wedding anniversary party and it’s obvious that it was something that drove her away however no one seems to have ever sat down and genuinely asked her what it was that made her flee. Ottie is incredibly busy trying to run the estate, trying to get it out of the hole it’s in. She has a glamping business and is also keeping a very significant secret from everyone, including her sisters. And Pip has dreams – at the moment she runs a horse riding business around the local area but her real dream is in breeding. However there’s no cash for that, even though Pip has a small plan she wants to put in place in order to kickstart this dream. A bad judgement leads her to risk her life for it and everything goes wrong.

There’s a distinct lack of communication that runs through this book. Willow inherits the castle and decides to sell it for numerous reasons but it’s the longest time before she even has a conversation with at least one of her sisters that confirms that she will be selling it in a matter of weeks. Ottie has never told her sisters her own big secret, which has been going on for years. Willow hides an even bigger secret that shook her very existence, which she’s never confronted the relevant people with and the truth of it will break her heart again. And the sisters’ mother, it seems like she has a lot of secrets too and is in such a fragile state that she’s barely capable of a conversation, nor is she able to understand precisely why Willow decides to sell the home. Her attitude about moving to the Dower House, which she was left in Declan’s will, got incredibly tiring after a while.

There’s a potential romance, for each of the sister’s and they’re all quite different. I liked all of them, particularly I think, Ottie’s. It was pretty obvious what was going on with Ottie in the beginning of the book and she seemed to be the only person who couldn’t see someone for how they truly were. She had to make that realisation herself though, had to have everything ripped away so that she would see the real person, not the person she thought existed. Ottie had a lot of issues with not being born a male, which honestly, were pretty pointless. It’s not something she could control and her dad learned that the value of a daughter was just the same as the value of a son, even if he couldn’t pass down the title to one of them. I do feel however, that it took a huge portion of the book to get to the titular party and at times it did feel like things were dragging. Also some of the romances could’ve used a bit more time, Pip’s especially I think. But apart from that, I did really enjoy this one and I loved the idea of the crumbling castle, the desperate situation and the fact that they needed a miracle.

8/10

Book #140 of 2020

 

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Review: The Christmas Secret by Karen Swan

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

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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).

7/10

Book #136 of 2020

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Review: The Spanish Promise by Karen Swan

The Spanish Promise
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan UK
2019, 384p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Charlotte, a wealth counsellor who knows from personal experience the complications that a sudden inheritance can bring, helps her clients navigate the emotional side effects of sudden wealth syndrome. When she is asked by Mateo Mendoza, heir to a huge Spanish estate, to fly to Madrid to help resolve an issue in his father’s will, she’s confident it will be straightforward. The timing isn’t great as Charlotte’s due to get married the following week, but once her client signs on the dotted line, Charlotte can return to her life in London and her wedding, and live happily ever after. Marrying Stephen might not fill her with excitement, but she doesn’t want to live in the fast lane anymore – safe and predictable is good.

But Carlos Mendoza’s final bequest opens up a generation of secrets, and Charlotte finds herself compelled to unravel the mystery. As Charlotte digs deeper, she uncovers the story of a family divided by Spain’s Civil War, and of a love affair across the battle lines that ended in tragedy.

And while she is consumed in the drama of the Mendozas, Charlotte’s own tragic past catches up with her, threatening to overturn everything in her life she’s worked so hard to build.

I continued reading my way through Karen Swan’s backlist and had chosen another summer inspired setting, with a lot of this taking place in Madrid and Andalusia. However, this was unfortunately, my least favourite so far and I actually found myself really struggling to stay connected to either of the stories in this one.

In the present day, Charlotte works as a ‘wealth counsellor’, helping people manage the emotional stresses that wealth, especially sudden or unexpected wealth can bring. She often works with a bank helping their clients and is called in when that bank gets word that one of their biggest clients, an ailing man in his 90s in Spain, plans to give away almost all of his fortune, totalling some 750m pounds. This would devastate the bank and his family, especially his son, are none the wiser for why he would be giving his entire fortune away. Whilst the lawyers will try to combat in one way, Charlotte is being brought in to speak directly with the intended recipient, to make her realise the enormity of what could be coming her way and attempt to manage her down.

Charlotte grew up wealthy and seems to have experienced some of the issues that come from never being refused anything, never having anything be a struggle. However the way in which this is imparted is at times, convoluted and vague. I didn’t really enjoy her as a character and for the first time, I didn’t enjoy the romance either. I actually thought Charlotte and the person that was eventual endgame were incredibly toxic to one another and had inflicted numerous amounts of pain and suffering on each other (particularly by Charlotte towards the person) and he’s incredibly resentful of it and seems to want to hurt her in the present day when they are thrown back into each other’s company. I honestly couldn’t see them functioning as a healthy couple and didn’t enjoy any of their interactions together. In the flashbacks, Charlotte is shallow and teasing, in the present day he is snarly and bitter. Charlotte is also engaged to be married as well (actually she’s supposed to be getting married in like a week) but her utter disinterest and disengagement from her wedding was really strange, yet she couldn’t see that her behaviour was a bit unusual. She had no excitement, no real interest in anything to do with the wedding, she was clearly going through the motions and was making a conscious decision to marry this person to potentially avoid the pitfalls that had befallen someone she knew but there’s not enough about her background to really flesh this out in the proper manner. Also some really crucial stuff happens off the page and that’s never a favourite of mine.

The historical section also dragged in places for me. It started off quite interesting – Spain in the 1930s was a very tumultuous time. The country was heading towards a civil war that eventually took place from 1936-39. The first few scenes introducing the Mendoza family from almost 100 years ago were enjoyable but as I got deeper into the book, I got less interested and pretty soon I was just skimming a lot of those sections and getting back to the modern day plot, even though I wasn’t particularly enamoured with that either. I just found that I wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery of why 98 year old Carlos Mendoza was giving away his hundreds of millions of pounds and how it was going to be resolved. I enjoyed the Spanish setting and thought that was rendered well, in both timelines though.

I think it stands to reason that when you read a lot of books by the one author, you will find at least one that isn’t your personal cup of tea. And that’s definitely happened with this book. I normally appreciate the jobs and characters and romances that are a little unusual but in this case, it just seemed like nothing really worked for me. Charlotte was bland in the present, vacuous socialite in the past, her attitude towards her marriage was bizarre and her past was definitely not explored enough for me, particularly the stuff with her father. The romance felt like it had more problems than it would solve, which is the first time I’ve felt this way. And the historical stuff didn’t keep me interested.

5/10

Book #119 of 2020

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Review: The Greek Escape by Karen Swan

The Greek Escape
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan
2018, 432p
Read from my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Running from heartbreak, Chloe Marston leaves her old life in London for a fresh start in New York. Working at a luxury concierge company, she makes other people’s lives run perfectly, even if her own has ground to a halt. But a terrible accident forces her to step into a new role, up close and personal with the company’s most esteemed and powerful clients. Charismatic Joe Lincoln is one of them and his every wish is her command, so when he asks her to find him a secluded holiday home in the Greek Islands, she sets about sourcing the perfect retreat.

But when Tom, her ex, unexpectedly shows up in Manhattan and the stability of her new life is thrown off-balance again, Chloe jumps at the chance to help Joe inspect the holiday house. Escaping to Greece will give her the time and space to decide where her future truly lies. Tom is the man she has loved for so long but he has hurt her before – can she give him another chance? And as she draws closer to Joe, does she even want to? As magnetic as he is mysterious, there’s an undeniable chemistry between them that she can’t resist.

But whatever her heart is telling her, she’s in over her head—another client’s wife has mysteriously disappeared and seriously allegations about Joe threaten more than just her happiness. Who can she trust? And will Chloe uncover the truth in time?

Or, how the other half live.

Chloe works for a company that basically helps rich people source whatever they want, whenever they want. When money is no object, nothing is off limits. If they need penguins for a birthday party happening in two hours? Done. A luxurious holiday retreat in a place that’s booked out for years? No problem. Although Chloe doesn’t usually deal with clients, an injury to one of her colleagues means that she has to take over her five very high profile, very VIP clients. These clients have built up a close rapport with Poppy and Chloe knows that some of them won’t take too kindly to her stepping in. She has to learn everything about them – their private lives, residences, cars, jobs, preferences right down to their favourite drink and what flower they claim to be allergic to. She’s thrown when Joe Lincoln arrives at the offices, saying that Poppy offered him representation. She only keeps her client list very small – five at a time and it’s surprising to Chloe that she’d offer to take another one. However Joe is relatively low maintenance. He only wants Chloe to find him to perfect Greek Island retreat. Must be very secluded, difficult to access. Money is no object, of course.

Chloe is English and originally worked for the London office but after a disastrous heartbreak, she fled across the Atlantic to the New York office. When her personal problems follow her, it seems a good idea to take a more hands on approach with Joe, lining up several properties for the two of them to inspect together. She finds him refreshing at first, different to the other more demanding clients that she’s been dealing with. But the more time she spends with Joe, the more something starts to not add up – and Chloe starts to wonder just precisely who he is.

The last Karen Swan book I read was set in Norway at Christmas time with a beautiful remote, snowy atmosphere. This one is the opposite – it’s summer in New York and Chloe has ideas of weekends in the Hamptons with her friends which are cut short when her colleague Poppy as a terrible accident and Chloe must fill in for her. However she does also get a trip to the Greek Islands as part of her job, sourcing a remote house for the mysterious Joe, staying on a luxury yacht. This one has hot summer vibes that make me envious. It’s winter here now and even though it’s not ‘that cold’ yet, it’s honestly, quite cold enough for me. I’d much rather be jumping off the side of a multi-million dollar yacht into turquoise seas.

There is quite a lot going on in this – as well as Chloe assuming a new role after her colleague is hurt, she’s also dealing with a lot of personal stuff as well. It takes quite a bit for everything in her past to come out and when it does, it adds a lot to the drama of the story. Then there’s also a sinister undertone to Poppy’s accident, which preoccupies Chloe’s thoughts as she struggles to balance a lot of plates spinning in the air with her particularly demanding clients. Poppy’s job sounds like something out of nightmares, to be honest. Some of the clients are well-meaning, just used to money opening whatever doors they want. Some are irritating and self involved but some are also downright sinister. Chloe definitely has to practice the art of discretion as it’s what some of these people value more than anything else.

This went in so many interesting directions, both with Joe and also with Tom and the business and other ways as well. There was a lot of twists and turns in the plot, some of which I had a bit of an inkling about before it was revealed but there were definitely some that surprised me. I enjoyed this and it’s further cemented Karen Swan as someone whose backlist I must continue to work my way through as quickly as possible!

7/10

Book #106 of 2020

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Review: The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan

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

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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!

8/10

Book #103 of 2020

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Review: The Hidden Beach by Karen Swan

The Hidden Beach
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan AUS
2020, 406p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In picturesque Stockholm, Bell Everhurst is working as a nanny for the perfect family: Hanna and Max, nine year old Linus and four year old twins Elise and Tilde. 

One morning as she’s rushing for the school run, Bell answers the phone – and everything changes. A woman from a clinic asks her to pass on the urgent message that Hanna’s husband is awake. Bell is confused. Max left the house just a few minute earlier.

But soon the truth comes tumbling out: Hanna’s first husband fell into a coma seven years earlier, following an accident. Now he’s awake. And he wants his family back.

As the city empties and everyone relocates for the summer to the beautiful tiny islands of the archipelago, they are all in crisis. Old wounds and new loves cannot exist side by side. Someone has to lose.

Caught in the middle, Bell tries to hold them all together but she unwittingly becomes part of the problem. Under the midsummer sun, everything hangs in the balance – until a secret slowly emerges that will decide all their fates. 

What a great hook for a story this was! Bell is from England but a Swedish grandmother means she’s fluent in both languages so when she landed a job for a wealthy Swedish family, it suited her perfectly. She is able to converse with the children in both Swedish and the English they are required to learn and for Bell, it’s an ideal job after her life fell apart. She has responsibilities, but they’re the sort that are handed over at the end of the day. Everything changes when an innocent phone call reveals Hanna’s past and the fact that Hanna and Max are not the couple she thought they were. Linus has to learn and deal with the fact that the man who has raised him for all the life he can remember, is not his biological father. And his biological father now wants him back in his life, but for Linus, the man is a stranger. When Linus’ father demands the boy come spend some time with him or he’ll take Hanna to court, Hanna negotiates that Bell must accompany him as a buffer, protecting Linus’ interests from a man who demands more than a child can offer. And for Bell, that brings a whole bunch of added complications.

I really enjoyed this. The plot was gripping – the idea of someone being in a coma for seven years, not expected to wake up….how long is someone supposed to put their life on hold? Why shouldn’t Hanna move on, make a life for herself and her child? When her husband does wake up, it’s a shock to everyone. He has lost seven years of his life – his son should be a chubby toddler, instead he’s almost ten years old. He’s missed so many milestones, like him starting school, learning to ride a bike, etc. For him, it feels like just yesterday since he saw Linus but Linus has no real memory of him, this man is just a stranger. I think he feels that a lot of things are so far out of his control. His wife has moved on to another man and now has twin daughters with him. His son is almost in double digits, age wise. He acts in callously cruel ways at times, forcing Hanna to make Linus come and spend time with him, not listening to Hanna on how it should be managed and he uses threats of court and his family’s wealth in order to force her hand. However despite the ways in which he acts at times, including the methods he uses to try and win Linus over, I still could actually feel for him. I tried to imagine what it would be like to miss basically, my child’s actual entire childhood. His attempts to connect with Linus can be clumsy and he still feels the effects of his injuries from the accident – which is where Bell comes in. Her job is to protect Linus, including from his father if necessary and she isn’t afraid to stand up to him either, which I feel Linus’ father is intrigued by. Because he’s wealthy, people tend to do whatever he wants and he’s also been in a coma for seven years, so that has probably also gotten him a pass. Bell gives him nothing of the sort.

I had no idea so many people in Sweden headed to the many islands in the Baltic Sea for summer, to cabins and summer homes which seemed like a lot of fun. It makes for an interesting setting because although there are a lot of people on the islands, it’s also quite isolated, because there are so many of them, some bigger than others. Despite the fact that it’s summer break, Bell is busier than ever, especially when she has to accompany Linus. It’s exhausting work for her, for a lot of reasons. I thought Bell’s backstory was really interesting and I wouldn’t have minded hearing a little bit more about it. You get the basics, enough to piece it together yourself but it would’ve been nice to have a flashback or two devoted to her, like there were some flashbacks devoted to Hanna littered throughout the story. I found Hanna a particularly tricky character – she’s in almost an impossible position and I went back and forth on my feelings for her. She seems somewhat scattered, flighty at first, with the news of her husband’s shocking wake and there are times when it seems like she’s making terrible decisions. It’s not until the end though that you realise just how desperate Hanna was and what she was prepared to do in order to protect her family. Her conflicted feelings felt very realistic, as did her panic and strange actions. I felt for Bell, because people put her in the most impossible of situations. She had such a love for the children she was taking care of, especially Linus and her determination to protect him and keep him as emotionally stable as possible was really apparent.

I liked the ending….I wasn’t sure how it could be pulled off, given the events of the novel, but it worked for me. I think Bell definitely has the personality for it and I feel as though she’ll make a very positive impact.

8/10

Book #84 of 2020

 

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Review: The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

Paris SecretThe Paris Secret
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan AUS
2016, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

With stunning locations and page-turning tension, The Paris Secret is an intense and gripping tale from bestselling author Karen Swan.

Somewhere along the cobbled streets of Paris, an apartment lies thick with dust and secrets: full of priceless artworks hidden away for decades.

High-flying fine art agent Flora from London, more comfortable with the tension of a million-pound auction than a cosy candlelit dinner for two, is called in to assess these suddenly discovered treasures. As an expert in her field, she must trace the history of each painting and discover who has concealed them for so long.

Thrown in amongst the glamorous Vermeil family as they move between Paris and Antibes, Flora begins to discover that things aren’t all that they seem, while back at home her own family is recoiling from a seismic shock. The terse and brooding Xavier Vermeil seems intent on forcing Flora out of his family’s affairs – but just what is he hiding?

I picked up this book yesterday afternoon as I’d been struggling with the other book I was reading. I was trying to decide if it was my mindset or the book – given that I ended up burning through this in pretty much one sitting, I think I got my answer.

From the first page, I was hooked. The idea is so fascinating – and not at all fanciful. An apartment, kept locked and left untouched from the time of the second World War. When it is finally opened, it contains hundreds of paintings, sculptures and artifacts. A veritable treasure trove! Art agent Flora is called in to evaluate and organise the collection. She knows that these paintings could be worth exorbitant amounts (especially two or three), should all the paperwork be in order.

It doesn’t take long before she hits a wall. Several of the paintings trace back to a dealer that worked for the Third Reich in the war which means that they were quite possibly acquired by force or worse, tainting the line of ownership. However even Flora is utterly unprepared for what her digging will uncover – not just for the powerful and wealthy Vermeil family, who own the apartment and the paintings found within, but also for herself personally.

This book is quite loosely based on a real discovery of an apartment filled with artwork and the like in Paris and it was such a fun story! I know nothing about art – nothing at all. I can probably name three paintings in the entire world, barely know Monet from Manet and have zero knowledge on styles and times of famous painters but this book make Flora’s job seem like the most fascinating one in the world. She spends a lot of time travelling acquiring pieces for her wealthy clients and the thought of discovering and cataloging such a collection as the one found in the apartment in Paris must’ve been like discovering Aladdin’s cave.

Flora rarely stays long in one place – she doesn’t even have a place to call her own. She lives her life moving around chasing the perfect piece but when she does have some down time she spends it with her parents at their country estate in England or with her friend in Paris. She’s never been in love – never cared when a man walked away, never missed anyone or rued their leaving. She meets Xavier Vermeil, the son of her clients with the apartment in less than flattering circumstances, although she’s already been clued in by her Parisian friend about Xavier and his sister Natascha. They are typically spoiled and rich, causing scandal after scandal, partying their way through exotic locales with their parent’s money making everything slide off them like Teflon. Flora has run ins with both of them, with Xavier and Natascha making it clear they don’t want Flora anywhere near their family and that she isn’t needed. Flora isn’t employed by them though and so she remains to do her job, even when she begins to uncover some very unsettling things.

There’s a simmering….awareness, I suppose, between Flora and Xavier but it doesn’t really ever become a dominant part of the story. In fact you could almost argue that at times it feels as though it could’ve been a bigger part. The focus is always on the artwork, the apartment and the story behind how it came to be that way and why it was left untouched for so long. There are so many twists and turns, some things I really didn’t expect and others I was able to piece together as Flora did.

I absolutely loved this book – I think there are only two real quibbles with it and the first is merely the repetition of brand and designer names. I know Flora runs with a wealthy set and her clients are super wealthy as well and obviously so are the Vermeils. But constant dropping of names like Dior and Valentino and Chanel and whatever got a bit tedious as I don’t really care about what dress that I can’t afford any random character was wearing at any given time in the story. It may have been to set the scene, but I already knew everyone was well off and that there were a lot of rich playgrounds going to be featured. Adding in the brand names to a certain piece of clothing or pair of shoes doesn’t do much except make me stop and google that so I can see what it looks like and I can’t be bothered doing that when I’m reading.

The second thing was the scandal that befalls Flora’s family. This is hinted at very early on but it’s drawn out for the unknowing reader and only revealed towards the end so that it almost coincides with something that Xavier is telling Flora during one of their rare conversations. It seemed to only serve as yet another piece of conflict to keep Xavier and Flora apart a little longer and it did feel a bit clumsy – both the actual story behind Flora’s family member and the reaction to it as well as the way in which it was resolved. It wasn’t enough to change my feelings on the story and how much I enjoyed it, I’m just not sure it was really necessary, especially as Flora spends so much time away from her family in the books. We don’t really get the chance to truly know her brother so I was pretty ambivalent to his problem and like I mentioned, it seemed like it was more about Flora and Xavier than him, which is a bit awkward.

Both of those are minor and didn’t affect at all my enjoyment of the story, the setting and the characters. It’s probably one of my favourite reads of 2016 so far, the atmosphere and the way in which the author teases out secrets and deftly weaves together the past and the present is quite masterful.

9/10

Book #136 of 2016

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 8th December

Hello and welcome back to another Top 10 Tuesday! Hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl, Top 10 Tuesday features a different bookish type theme every week. This week our theme is….

Holiday Freebie!

I’m actually an Australian, so Christmas for me is a summer experience: the beach, BBQ’s, swimming, warm nights etc. However I’ve always wanted to experience just one white Christmas in my life and actually, it’s cold here today (so cold I’ve got my heating on, thanks for the random summer cold snap, Melbourne!) so I’m going to choose….

Top 10 Pretty Snow/Christmas Book Covers!

1. The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan

I love this cover! I would love to see the aurora borealis one day (bucket list) and this book is set in northern, quite remote Norway, which I loved and is not somewhere I’ve really come across much in my reading. This is one of my favourite Karen Swan books (she puts out a Christmas release most years and they nearly always have amazing covers).

2. A Virgin River Christmas by Robyn Carr.

Another pretty cover – those blues/purples go so well with the pristine snow.


3. Christmas Eve At Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas.

I haven’t read this, but I think it’s a beautiful cover! The snowy mountains, the colours, the Christmas lights. It’s made me want to read it.

4. A Christmas Date by Camilla Isley.

This looks like it’d be a fun holiday read. And those are the sorts of reads I like to curl up with during December – even though I’m not in the snow, Australian Christmas books are actually quite few – not a big enough market I guess. We get a lot of northern hemisphere Christmas books, strong with the vibes of snow and eggnog and stuff like that. This sounds like it could be cute. I do love a fauxmance!

5. The Christmas Wish List by Heidi Swain.

There really are so many books with snowy Christmas covers. I’ve fallen down a Goodreads hole and my TBR pile for the holiday period is growing by the second.

6. Dash & Lily’s Book Of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan.

Christmas in New York! A scavenger hunt. YA romance. This is super cute and the Neflix adaptation that was just released is also worth a watch over the holidays, if you’re not caught up already.

7. Christmas In Snowflake Canyon by RaeAnne Thayne.

Here is where I would like to spend my winter Christmas, please and thank you.

8. Christmas In The Snow by Karen Swan. 

Or maybe here! I actually have this book out from my local library at the moment.

9. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

I love this cover – it’s much more simple and stark than the other ones I’ve included here. I’ve actually owned this book for many years now, but I haven’t actually read it yet! Despite the fact that it’s set in Alaska, which is one of my favourite settings (very wintery) and also I have read and loved another book by the author.

10. Winter Wonderland by Belinda Jones.

I don’t know anything about this one, but I do love the cover, the whole winter scene inside a Christmas bauble.

These books are mostly fluffy, cosy, romance style reads – with a couple of exceptions! They’re what I like to read in the holiday season although I’ve only read a few I’ve listed here. I definitely have found a few I would like to read though. And there were loads more covers I wanted to include, but had to stop somewhere!

 

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