I don’t know how she does it, but Karen Swan has written another amazing book set around Christmas.

Apparently, we Karen Swan fans are lucky this year as we almost didn’t get a Christmas book from this author who writes a book a year, which impresses me.

In her author’s note, she called Together By Christmas the most difficult book she’s written to date.

“Deciding to set a Christmas story in a country for whom Christmas is a footnote to St. Nicholas’ Day – several weeks earlier and actually beginning mid-November – posed logistical challenges that meant my timing and pacing where completely out in the first draft.”

She goes on to write that three weeks before deadline she had half a story written. I can only say again – impressive – and thank you Karen Swan and your team at Pan MacMillan for making deadline.

I can’t really say I have a favourite Karen Swan book, although this one, The Hidden Beach and The Rome Affair certainly are in the Top 3.

Together by Christmas is set in Amsterdam, with a number of other locations mentioned including Friesland, a place in the northern reaches of the Netherlands. I had a co-worker once who called this place home.

“When Lee first came to Amsterdam, it was with a newborn baby and a secret. Five years later, her life is approaching normal: her career as a celebrity photographer is flourishing, her son Jasper is growing up, ad they are enjoying the run-up to Christmas with their tight circle of friends.”

But everything changes when Lee finds a book the basket of her book with a message for help scrawled into it. Lee, who we see has a giant heart and a passion to help people, tries to track down the message writer with the help of Sam, the book’s author, whom she immediately feels a connection with.

“Until the past comes calling…(and) the secret Lee has never told resurfaces. Suddenly everything she holds dear hangs in the balance.”

So much happens in this book, which begins in 2014 at the Turkish-Syrian border with Lee, a war photographer, and her reporter friend, Cunningham. Through the beginning chapter we learn about Lee and the barbarity and horror of the Syrian civil war. Throughout the book we learn more about Lee and that time in Syria. The book also touches on some serious issues, but is still a love story.

Lee is a fabulous character. Despite what she has seen – or perhaps because of it – she is an amazing person with high standards for herself, but a kindness and generosity that one hopes to aspire, too. Her group of friends seem lovely as well and while we learn a bit about them and see them interact with Lee and her son Jasper, we learn more about Sam, who also seems like a fabulous character with his own secrets to share. I loved Lee and Jasper’s relationship and cheered for Lee and Sam. As usual, I loved the ending and didn’t see it coming.

I also loved visiting Amsterdam during the lead-up to St. Nicholas Day. With a Dutch background, it was interested to read about traditions associated to this holiday, and learn how people live.

Together by Christmas retails for $24.99.

I interviewed Swan for Book Time. Read it here.

A copy of this book was provided by Pan MacMillian
for an honest review. The opinions are my own.