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Block off an afternoon for Karen Swan’s latest Midnight in the Snow

I had a whole list of things to do today. Instead, I picked up Karen Swan’s latest book – Midnight in the Snow – around 11 a.m. and about four hours later, I put it down again. The book was finished, but my to-do list hadn’t yet started. Oh well.

I am a fan of Karen Swan and her amazing ability to write a book a year, set around Christmas. Her latest releases usually kick off my Christmas reading, although her books aren’t what I would consider Christmas reads: Christmas plays a small part in the narrative and it’s more for timing than anything else.

This year’s book was a bit hard to get into. I was at about 173 pages before I was pulled in and then couldn’t get out, reading one more chapter until I figure I was almost a three quarters of the way through and why bother stopping then (oh yes, my list!). I usually give up on books that don’t hold my attention way sooner than that, but Swan so rarely disappoints, I thought I should keep going.

I am pleased I did because the story got exciting!

In this book we meet Clover Phillips, whose film about Cory Allbright and the accident that ended his surfing career is winning awards around the globe, until Cory is found dead.

“His widow needs answers and Clover promises to find out the truth about the day of the accident, turning her attention to the man responsible. Kit Foley. Now starting over as a snowboarder in the Austrian Alps, Kits wants nothing to do with Clover’s new film, but his sponsor has other ideas: soon Clover and her team are shadowing him on the slopes and in the chalet.”

Kit was a hard character to like, but you knew there was something more than what he was letting on. While I understand Clover’s desire to seek answers – when you write/film stories, the key players become part of your life – I found her relentless pursuit of Kit rather frustrating: she made up her mind about Kit and was looking for ways to prove her theory. To me, that is poor journalism and morally offensive – how about keeping an open mind and giving people the benefit of the doubt?

The tension between Kit and Clover is also hard to read. They hate each other and it drips off the page with neither one trusting each other. I couldn’t imagine living in that chalet and the battle of wills Clover had to deal with daily.

“When a revelation blow (Kit’s) secretive past wide open, Clover finally has her answers. Kit Foley is everything she ever said he was. Isn’t he?”

I guessed some parts, although not certainly all of them. It was interesting to see Clover think and puzzle through things and I really did enjoy the ending.

Midnight in the Snow is from PGC Books and retails for $24.99.

Midnight in the Snow was provided by PGC Books for an honest review. The opinions are my own.

The Secret Path – another great book by Karen Swan

Do you know what I love most about Karen Swan’s books? You know they are always going to be great. You know that when you pick them up, you’ll find these wonderful characters, who always have a secret – sometimes you know it, sometimes you don’t – but it will have changed them in some way, and you get to discover how and why. You will also know the location will be amazing and knowing how much research Swan does for each of her books (you can read about it in my interview with the author here), you know it will be like you are also traveling to these places. And for 400 or so pages, you’ll be offered an escape. And those are the reasons I eagerly await Swan’s books. She rarely disappoints.

And Swan does it again in The Secret Path, her latest book by PGC Books and Pan MacMillan.

In this book, we get to meet Tara Tremain, a 20-year-old doctor trainee who is engaged to the man of her dreams, American biology student Alex Carter. Life is perfect, until Alex betrays her. Fast forward 10 years and she has moved on – a successful career and a man who loves her.

“But when she’s pulled back into her wealthy family’s orbit for an unmissable party in Costa Rica, she finds herself flung into a crisis: a child is desperately ill and the only remedy is several days’ trek away, right in the heart of the jungle. There’s only one person who can hep, but it’s the man who shattered her heart a decade before. And how can she trust him, of all people.”

Often Swan’s books start with a before and then switch into the present where we eventually meet the person from the past and the stories collide. In this case, the past went longer than I was expecting leaving me with a feeling of dread. I obviously knew Alex was going to do something awful and I was just waiting for it to happen. Until it did, I couldn’t feel settled in the story. I just wanted “it” to happen so I could move on to the now. It also took longer in the present to figure out fully happened.

The other great thing about Swan’s books is there always multiple things going on, a deeper issue that she dives into her stories, and, again, The Secret Path is no exception. I liked what this book showed me.

It also showed me while Costa Rica sounds glorious, heading deep into the jungle – guide or no guide – is not for me.

A copy of The Secret Path was provided by PGC Books for an honest review. My opinions are my own.

Together By Christmas – another excellent read from the prolific writer Karen Swan

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.

Escape from your living room into Karen Swan’s latest The Hidden Beach

If you are looking for a book to escape into The Hidden Beach, the latest book by Karen Swan, is a great one.

I like Swan’s work. First, she impresses me. She puts out about book a year, which is impressive, and it’s always set in a place she has spent a lot of time in so it’s scenery rich. This is particularly important now as the furthest I have gotten in a while is however far a bike or my feet can take me (and six feet away from everyone else).

The Hidden Beach is set in Sweden, and I have to agree with Swan. I, too, wish summering the Swedish way was put of my upbringing.

The book begins in Stockholm where we meet Bell Everhurst, who is working as a nanny for Hanna and Max and their children, Linus, 9, and twins Elise and Tilde, 4. As Bell is attempting to get the children to school, the phone rings changing everything – Hanna’s husband has woken up from a coma he has been in for seven years, and wants his family back.

Bell helps Max and Hanna prepare for their annual summer on their tiny island in the archipelago, but soon realizes they are in a crisis that won’t go away.

“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.”

The book was a super fast read with great main and secondary characters who are flawed, but also wonderful. I loved the ending, which I have read a couple times since. I have read a number of Swan’s book, including some of her older ones, and while I have enjoyed them all, this is one of my favourites.

I interviewed Karen Swan for Book Time. Read her Q&A here .

For reviews of Karen Swan’s other books, click here or type Karen Swan in the search bar.

The Hidden Beach by Karen Swan is $24.99 (PGC Books, Pan Macmillan)

A copy of The Hidden Beach was provided by PGC Books for an honest review.
The opinions are my own.

Beautiful read in Karen Swan’s latest book The Spanish Promise

I read Karen Swan‘s latest release – The Spanish Promise ($24.99, PGCBooks, PanMacMillan)– in a day.

I quite like Swan’s books. They always bounce between two stories – something from the past and present – with a connection between the two.

In this case, we are transported to 1930s Madrid, Spain, a time when the wealthy remained wealthy – and above the law – the poor, remained poor with no protection.

Each chapter switches between the story of the past to present day, where one of Spain’s wealthiest man is dying and his family learns he has plans to give all his wealth to a young women they have never heard of.

Charlotte Fairfax is asked to travel to Spain, a week before her wedding, to get to the bottom of the bequest and find out what power this young woman has over the dying man.

The beautiful book was a quick read – if you clear off your schedule and sit in the sun and just read – with some really great characters who are forced to make choices I hope I don’t have to ever make. All the characters are amazing, flawed, but kind, trying to make the world better for others.

I didn’t see the ending coming and the final ending, heart breaking.

“As long-buried secrets start to reach into the present, Charlotte begins to wonder if love does not need to forgive or forget in order to endure – but just needs two hearts to keep beating.”

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

So much going on in Karen Swan’s The Christmas Lights

It took me a while to get into The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan.

I kept reading the book when I may have given up on others because I like Karen Swan’s work and because the back cover intrigued me.

I now realize that the book became enjoyable once Zac, one of the main characters, wasn’t in the picture as much. And then I couldn’t put it down.

The Christmas Lights (which has Christmas in the title, but is not Christmas book, $24.99, Publishers Group Canada) follows the story of Bo Boxley and her fiance Zac, free-spirited influencers who travel the globe and post pictures of their adventures to their millions of followers on Instagram. They leave a topic island where the book begins to go to Norway in December, staying on an off-the-grid shelf farm owned by mountain guide Anders and his grandmother, Signy.

“Surrounded by snowy peaks and frozen falls,everything should be perfect. But the camera can lie, and with every new post the ‘perfect’ life Zac and Bo are portraying is diverging from the truth. Something Bo can’t explain is wrong at the very heart of their lives and Anders is the only person who will listen.”

Because the couple like to do things other travellers can’t – or won’t – the couple, their ever present photographer Lenny, a representative from a Norwegian outdoor wear company and Anders go on one adventure where Bo falls into the freezing waters. She gets really sick and moves off of the farm, where this is no electricity or running water, and stays at Anders’ home until she is better.

While Zac and the rest still make an appearance, we get to know the real Bo without the noise of the others. I like Bo. I obviously do not like Zac or the others. I also like Anders, who is gruff, but who shows kindness and compassion, and Signy, who shows there is so much more to then her outward appearance.

The book also flips between the present to 1936, when Signy (the grandmother) is 14 and she, her sister and the village girls are sent to the summer pastures to work as milkmaids. This story is also really interesting, particularly as the entire book comes together at the end.

“The mountains keep secrets – Signy knows this better than anyone – and as Bo’s life begins to spiral she is forced, like the old woman before her, to question who is friend and who is foe.”

In addition to offering all these neat plots and subplots, the book is beautiful. Swan does an amazing job of describing Norway and its beauty.

Read a Q&A with Karen Swan about The Christmas Secret.

Read my review of Karen Swan’s The Rome Affair.

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

Q&A with author Karen Swan about The Christmas Secret, writing and travel

The Christmas Secret by Karen Swan ($24.99, PGC Books) came out Nov. 2 and I interviewed the author about Christmas, writing and how she researches her books. You can read my review of The Christmas Secret here.

Hi Karen,

Q. Thank you so much for speaking with me about your latest book The Christmas Secret.

The Christmas Secret by Karen Swan (PGC Books) hit Canadian shelves Nov. 2. Swan will be in the GTA Nov. 14 to 16.
The Christmas Secret by Karen Swan (PGC Books) hit Canadian shelves Nov. 2. Swan will be in the GTA Nov. 14 to 16.

I noticed on the Pan MacMillan website, you have written a number of books set around Christmas. What do you love about writing books set at this time of year?

A. Unlike the summer, where everyone takes their holidays at different times, Christmas is almost an enforced stop upon much of the world; even those who don’t celebrate Christmas can’t really work through it. Everyday life is paused and people scatter from their offices, gyms and apartments back to family homes, spending time with relatives and old friends they haven’t seen in too long…For me, that sense of suspension is perfect for a time of reflection, relaxation and escape and I know that my readers want all of those things from my books. They’ve got the time for it, and the headspace. Christmas is the ultimate ‘me time’.

Q. While your books are set at Christmas, they really aren’t Christmas books in that you want to re-read them every Christmas or only at Christmastime. Why is Christmas not a more central part of your books?

A. The plot and characters must always come first for me; Christmas is very much a backdrop. I think it would become very tired, very quickly, if I only ever wrote stories in which there was snow on the ground and a tree in the corner of the room. All the Christmas clichés – mulled wine and mistletoe, parties and wintry walks – are wonderful for creating atmosphere but also very limiting.

I try to take an entirely new approach to every book I write, be it in terms of location or structure (sometimes I write through the prism of multiple characters, other times through a past / present narrative thread) and whilst I want to tap into those feelings of cozy seclusion and retreat, I don’t want the action of the novel to be constrained by them.

Q. Is Christmas your favourite time of year? Why? What do you love about the holiday season?

A. I do love Christmas and the sanctity it places on family. There’s no other time when I get to be with my husband, children, parents, all together. It’s sad that that should be such a rarity or luxury, but the demands of modern life mean it’s both those things. It’s not the actual day itself that I love most, but the anticipation building up to it – wrapping the presents, decorating the house, having carols on loop, all the parties.

It’s almost a shame to get to Christmas Day itself, although I’m invariably on my knees by the time we do!

Q. Do you have a list of Christmas books you re-read each festive season?

A. I never re-read books as my view is there are far too many to still get through, but if I were to go back to one, it would be Jane Austen’s Emma; her father is one of my all-time favourite literary characters.

Q. I have read two of your books so far – The Christmas Secret and The Rome Affair. While I found they were different from each, they were similar in style – secrets, intrigue and strong characters. How would you label your style and what do you enjoy about writing this way?

A. I would say I’m a fairly evocative writer. Sense of place comes through strongly in all my stories – in fact, I get quite a lot of readers using my books as sorts of travel guides when they visit somewhere I’ve written about – and I sometimes feel more like a film director than a writer as the worlds I build in my head become so real, it’s like looking at them through a camera. I’m also definitely not a minimalist; clearly there’s beauty in spare form too, but I love the richness of language, to me it’s like a song or a painting – it has texture, colour, form and flow. When I write, I am aiming for my words to wrap around the reader and carry them away; I hope reading one of my books is an immersive experience.

Q. What is your writing process?

A. I have three children so I have no choice but to work around school schedules and term times, but I find this is actually great for focusing the mind and keeping me off social media. I usually spend three to four months researching a book and then two to three months writing it. I like to write fast and really immerse myself in my fictional world; I’ve found that having months and months in which to write doesn’t work for me – I wander off, make tea, get on the phone…a compressed amount of time in which to live and breathe the story makes it come alive more vividly and I’ve learnt over the years that I need to subsume my own life to my characters’ when I’m writing. During the school holidays, my own life feels enormous and pressured and overwhelming; but when the kids are out and I can write, I withdraw socially and ‘go under’. It takes me about three weeks after finishing a book to feel ‘normal’ again.

Q. What do you like about the writing/publishing process? Don’t like?

A. I love the excitement of publication, and seeing all the marketing plans coming together. It’s always a thrill to see a giant billboard of your book in a train station. And working on the covers is always nail-biting, but hugely satisfying as it becomes the ‘face’ of the story and gives – what till then, is just a very long Word document – a physical presence. Sometimes, we get it right first time, other times, we have to go back to it with completely new ideas three or four times.

Editing is my least favourite part of the process – it’s exhausting emotionally as you jump around the text; you have to be able to ‘hold’ the framework of the story in your head at this point and not become too rigid about what you’ve already put down. Even if all the ends tie up, you still need to be open to changing parts and rewriting, sometimes quite extensively; One small change on Page 30, for example, can ripple through the book and create a significant change by Page 330.

I can’t be too precious or possessive about it either – if three other people are telling me something doesn’t work, I know it’s better to trust them than to dig my heels in. Sometimes, you can be too close to the text and need the benefit of others’ space and perspective. The absolute worst part of the process though is hitting on the title and the strapline; they’re killers. We can be brainstorming for weeks sometimes but we always seem to get there in the end and it’s worth it when we hit on the right thing. Seeing the cover, title and strapline (a short, easily remembered phrase used by an organization so people will recognize it or its products) come together is when I really feel like my Word document has become a book.

Q. Are your characters based on people who you know?

A. No, never, although I do tend to use as a framework people I’ve met only fleetingly, but who have somehow made an impression on me – it might be a phrase of theirs, a physical mannerism, how they dress, their name, their physicality. I’ve just written next summer’s book looking at a torn-out magazine photograph of an actress modelling a jumper. I have no idea who she is and don’t wish to know either; the less I know about her the better. Bizarrely, in the other shots for the article, I had no reaction to her at all, but in this one image, she chimed completely with the new heroine I was trying to conjure and it was incredibly helpful to be able to glance at her as I wrote.

Q. In a blog post on the Pan MacMillan website about The Paris Secret, you mention as a writer:

“It’s not the headline images that ignite the imagination but the grainy snapshots of lives lived below the radar. They can be small and easy to miss, just like that apartment hidden in plain sight where no one ever thought to question why the curtains were never drawn”.

I found that idea interesting. Have all your story ideas come from “grainy snapshots?” Where else do you draw your ideas from?

A. I am such a big believer in seeing past the flash, the brash and the loud. If there’s a party, it’s not the disco queen I’m interested in, but the wallflower; if I see someone elderly, I don’t see their walking stick but wonder about the adventures of their youth. I always want to know what’s beneath the covers of people’s lives – who they once were or who they might have been. I’m endlessly fascinated by the effect of our environments upon us; every new place I go to, I ask myself ‘what would my life be like if I lived here? How would I be different?’ I think we all have the capacity to live numerous different lives, depending upon where we are and when; We are products of our environments and I think there’s something so liberating about knowing you could move somewhere new and ‘put on’ a fresh, new life. I’m currently living with my family in the English countryside, but as my children get older, I sometimes think I’d like to live next in a palazzo in Venice or a loft in Berlin. Why not?

Q. You have written stories set in Paris and in Rome, The Christmas Secret is set in Scotland. What is the research that goes into these books?

A. It’s become a bit of a virtuous circle really – I used to set my books in places I had already visited, as I could then ‘see’ them in my mind’s eye when I wrote; but with delivering two books a year, I fast ran out of locations and now have to actively think about where I’d like the next book to be set and then travel there for research. I don’t do tours or touristy things. I just pack my trainers and a bottle of water and walk and walk and walk. Getting lost is the best way to get to know somewhere in my opinion and I stop frequently to take photographs of local details – the colour of the letterboxes, car registration plates, front doors, trees and flowers, the birds…That kind of local flavour can’t be captured without having been there yourself and it stamps an authenticity on the story.

Q. What is your favourite place to visit?

A. Rome, without doubt. I love feeling the weight of history in places and I prefer all things in life to be a little faded and crumbling.

I’m not a fan of the new and shiny, so I’m a complete sucker for the tiny, winding streets, zippy Vespas, rickety bar tables set on cobbles…I go back any chance I get, looking up at the shuttered windows, balconies and roof terraces and wondering about the millions of lives – and love stories – that have been played out there, so many of them unnoticed or seemingly unremarkable. Yet I bet they weren’t.

Q. According to the profile on the Pan MacMillan website, you live in a forest in Sussex. What does that mean? Have you ever set or will you set a story from your home base?

A. I live in the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex and my house is only a mile away from AA Milne’s, where The Adventures of Pooh Bear was written. I spent my children’s childhoods telling them they were walking through the real and actual Hundred Acre Wood, but they didn’t believe me until they saw it in the film ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’! It’s such a stunning pocket of England and it attracts huge numbers of tourists – many of whom build Eeyore’s house of sticks in the woods. However, much as I love it, I think I would find it quite intimidating to take on the burden of representing somewhere that is so famously immortalized elsewhere in literature. I often use London as a setting though; my previous home, I know it so well and love the different vibes of the various districts. I think I will always return to writing books set in London.

Q. You mentioned in your acknowledgements of The Christmas Secret that a friend told an anecdote that provided the idea for this story. What was this anecdote? Why did you set the story on this Scottish island?

A. A good friend of mine runs a large company and was telling me about her business coach and how she helped her deal with the stress of such a big job. In passing, she mentioned that this coach had been employed by a household name company to ‘deal’ (I’m trying not to put any spoilers in here, for those who haven’t yet read the book) with a board member. My jaw dropped as she gave me the details because I knew it was an excellent hook for a book. In spite of my friend’s offer to meet her coach, I didn’t want to get any closer to the truth of that specific tale – I had to make the story my own and spin off in my own direction with it. Incidentally, I had been wanting to set a book in Scotland for a while and decided this was the right plot for it. And because the nature of my heroine’s job meant I would be setting the book in the business world, I researched the big Scottish industries and naturally, whisky was right up there. Deciding to set it on Islay came down to practicality more than anything else – there are several other big distillery centres across Scotland, but this was the only one clustered on an island and I immediately liked the sense of seclusion and community that implied. It also tapped into those feelings of coziness and retreat I mentioned earlier – snow storms, being cut off from the mainland, log fires…With all those different components in place, the bones of the story came together pretty quickly.

Q. What was the most enjoyable thing about writing The Christmas Secret? What was the hardest?

A. My father is Scottish and I spent much of my childhood in the Highlands so it really was a joy to let my mind fall back into those landscapes that I know and love so well. I think I’ve got several more Highland books in me yet.

This was a tricky book to write, however. I had to do a huge amount of research into what business coaches actually do and I interviewed my friend several times to get an insight into their sessions together. The practice is highly specialized and I’d never heard of some of the components – constellations, Socratic thinking and the like. It took me a while to really get to grips with the mindsets and language used by these professionals, which was crucial because so much of the action between the principal characters is played out during their sessions together.

At the same time, I was also intensively researching the 1918 SS Tuscania tragedy, which is a true event and forms the backstory to the book. There’s a scene where the stricken soldiers are thrown onto the rocks in a storm and I had to know what undergarments American soldiers in the First World War were supplied with (knitted vests and long johns). It was incredibly specific and much of what I read was so sad but I felt compelled to do my very best to remember and honour those men as we come up to the centenary anniversary.

Q. You had to become a “near expert” on whiskey and the distillery industry as well as non-verbal body language. What was harder to research? What was most or least enjoyable?

A. I found the psychology of non-verbal body language absolutely fascinating; it’s definitely something I‘d like to look into in even more detail and perhaps come back to in another book. I’m fascinated by anything that reveals hidden emotions and the heart, as in this age of social media and it’s portrayal of ‘perfection’, we’re all so clued-up on how to deflect from our vulnerabilities.

As for researching the whiskey industry, well, my father is a true single malt snob so I was able to benefit from his wisdom – and enjoy a dram or three with him, along the way.

Note: This story has been edited to remove events that have past.

Read my review of The Secret Path here.

Read my review of Swan’s, The Hidden Beach here.

Read my reviews of her other books by clicking here and searching Karen Swan on the search bar.

Karen Swan’s The Rome Affair keeps you guessing until the book ends

I suspect when it comes to biographies and autobiographies, the memories we end up reading in books are similar to those of the stories Viscontessa Elena dei Damiani Pignatelli della Mirandola, or simply Elena, tells to her memoir writer, Cesca – not the whole truth with the parts that are damaging or embarrassing simply painted over or left out all together.

The pair are the main characters in Karen Swan’s The Rome Affair (PGC Books, Pan Macmillan), which released May 2.

We meet Cesca, a former barrister turned The Rome Affair blogger, who returns a stolen handbag to the viscontessa that contained nothing but an unopened letter from her long-dead husband. Elena asks Cesca to be her autobiographer, insisting she not read anything about her online.

We learn about Elena and her life through the meetings she has with Cesca, but then we learn the real stories through Elena herself as each chapter switches between the present, including a growing relationship between Cesca and a family friend of Elena’s as well as tension between the two women as Cesca tries to find the truth, and Elena blocks her way, and the past where we get to meet the real Elena and learn about some of the true horrors she has faced in her life.

The book is also a reminder to us all that just because you were born rich, doesn’t mean life was always easy, or even good.

The Rome Affair was a fabulous book that kept me reading until I finished it. I thought I knew what was going on, but turned out I was completely wrong. What an ending.

Christmas reads new and old

Readers of Book Time know I am a fan of Christmas and once December comes I start read the same books each year. I have already read two Richard Paul Evans‘ titles (Promise Me and Mistletoe Promise) and have several more to go from that author and various others. For the last couple of years, thanks to PGC Books, I have read a Karen Swan title.

Recently, I picked up one of her older titles and I quite enjoyed it.

The Christmas Present is about a woman named Laura who has a past that haunts her. She says she just wants to lead a quiet life with her boyfriend, Jack, their dog, Arthur, and her best friend, Fee, creating custom-made jewellery. As that business takes off, she is approached by Rob Blake, who wants commission her to make a necklace for his wife, Cat, made in charms – one representing each of the important people in her life.

Laura interviews each of the people in Cat’s glamorous life, spending a weekend in Verbier with the friends.

“By the time she has to identify the final charm, Laura’s metamorphosis is almost complete. But the last story left to tell has the power to change all their lives forever, and Laura is forced to choose between who she really is and who it is she wants to be.”

The Christmas Present was an interesting read. I never guessed Laura’s secret until the author told me at the end and then, suddenly it made sense, although I hope to never have to find out if it would have been the choice I made. Saying that, some of the choices Laura makes along the way wouldn’t have been the ones I have made.

The characters were great and while you really got to know Laura, the secondary characters – and in this case there were a lot of them – were fully developed as well. I didn’t really like Cat, but thought Kitty, a friend, was great.

And of course, there is a happy ending. Perfect for a Christmas read.

Front cover image of The Girl Who Saved Christmas, with a skinny girl holding a chimney sweeping tool with an elf and a black cat in her legs set on a red background with snow falling
The Girl Who Saved Christmas is the second book in the series by author Matt Haig

The Girl Who Saved Christmas

I read The Boy Called Christmas – twice – when it came out in November 2016. I try to find a new Christmas read each year and picked up The Girl Who Saved Christmas as both my son and I liked the first story.

Both are by Matt Haig. I would say you need to read the first one before you read this one as not everything is explained. I would also suggest re-reading the first one before the second one as details, at least for me, were lost.

Otherwise, it was an enjoyable read about the girl, Amelia, who first gave Santa and the reindeer the magic to fly around the world to deliver presents to boys and girls. But when her mother dies and she is forced into Mr. Creeper’s workhouse, Amelia begins to loose hope and Santa realizes in order to save Christmas, he has to find Amelia and restore her hope.

I enjoyed this book. I liked that we got to meet author Charles Dickens, and perhaps learn the inspiration for Ebeneezer Scrooge, Queen Victoria and Prince Edward (and their relationship and learn more about Santa and his magic. Then there is the message of hope and the importance of it in the lives of children every where.

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