Forever at Conwenna Cove by Darcie Boleyn #bookreview (@DarcieBoleyn) @canelo_co #ForeverAtConwennaCove #NetGalley

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“Following heartbreak, Zoe Russell found a haven in Conwenna Cove. As the owner of the village diner and a volunteer for the local greyhound sanctuary, she’s happy with her peaceful life.

Local surfer Nate Bryson plans to leave Conwenna and see the world. He wants to shake off his reputation as a ladies man and start again somewhere new. Before departing, Nate decides to raise funds for the dog rescue home as a way of giving back to the community.

When Nate approaches Zoe to help with the charity event she sees there’s more to him than meets the eye. Nate can’t believe he’s failed to notice the kind and beautiful woman right before him. But can two such different people ever be together, especially if one of them is determined to leave?”

Today is publication day for this book so, Happy Publication Day, Darcie, look like I am just going to sneak my review in under the wire to celebrate this day with you!

I have only just finished reading this book and I am still basking in its lovely, warm, uplifting glow. Despite the fact that the tentative improvement in the weather seems to be over here for now, I’m feeling a summery optimism.

This book tells the story of vulnerable Zoe, rebuilding her life after being badly let down by people she trusted and determined not to let anyone hurt her that way again, and Nate, equally determined to live life to the full and not end up with any regrets at not chasing his dreams. Despite their reservations, Zoe and Nate are pulled together over the course of a summer in Conwenna Cove, and must decide if they will give in to their mutual attraction, or let their pasts and their fears keep them apart. The story is set in the chocolate box village of Conwenna Cove on the Cornish coast.

So far, so predictable, I hear you say, but you would be quite wrong. This book is very different from anything I have read recently and that is entirely down to the very clever writing and character development by Darcie. I’m not sure exactly how to convey what makes this book feel different, except to say that the author has a very light and sympathetic touch. I fell in love with the characters immediately, they are well-rounded and believable, complete with flaws and insecurities, but totally likeable. The plot is gripping – I was desperate to keep reading and know how it was going to end – but it was also very gentle without any of the twists and huge issues that often get shoehorned into modern novels just because that seems to be how it done. This is a very down-to-earth, every day, personal drama that could be played out in any household across the country on a daily basis, but done in a way that is extremely compelling and rich.

The setting is beautiful – I for one can’t get enough of books set by the coast – with just enough description to make it come to life but not so much that it drags. It is very well-balanced.

The novel is narrow, and I mean this in a very positive way. It doesn’t have a cast of thousands. It is focused and tight, homing in on the relationship between two people that really pulls out the intensity of those personal feelings we all recognise and can sympathise with. It is refreshing and made it stand out for me exactly for the gentle nature of the drama that might seem small to the outside world but is of vital importance to the central characters. It is totally authentic and, for that reason, very relatable to everyone.

I hadn’t realised that this was actually the third book that the author has set in Conwenna Cove when I began to read it and I have not read the previous two. However, although there was some mention of characters that were obviously central to the previous novels, this works perfectly as a standalone and not having read them did not detract from my enjoyment of this one bit. What it did do was make me want to read the previous two immediately, and I have now downloaded them to my Kindle. I really look forward to reading more by this author.

This is a wonderful book, as warm and sweet as a dairy ice-cream on a Cornish summer day but not at all sickly. Go on, treat yourself to this book, you deserve it.

Forever at Conwenna Cove is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Thank you to Canelo and NetGalley for the copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

About the Author

Darcie Boleyn has a huge heart and is a real softy. She never fails to cry at books and movies, whether the ending is happy or not. Darcie is in possession of an overactive imagination that often keeps her awake at night.

Her childhood dream was to become a Jedi but she hasn’t yet found suitable transport to take her to a galaxy far, far away. She also has reservations about how she’d look in a gold bikini, as she rather enjoys red wine, cheese and loves anything with ginger or cherries in it – especially chocolate.

Darcie fell in love in New York, got married in the snow, rescues uncoordinated greyhounds and can usually be found reading or typing away on her laptop.

The House of Birds and Butterflies: The Lovebirds by Cressida McLaughlin #bookreview (@CressMcLaughlin) @HarperCollins #TheLovebirds #NetGalley

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“It’s winter at Meadowsweet nature reserve. Wildlife-lover Abby is busy trying to lure in the crowds, and although her event planning is a little on the whacky side, her creative efforts are helping to keep Meadowsweet afloat. She’s not having quite the same luck, however, in getting to know the elusive village newcomer, disgraced celebrity author Jack. It’s clear that Jack has mysterious reasons for staying out of the limelight, and the village rumour mill is in overdrive.

Abby’s passion for the great outdoors is nothing short of infectious and when Jack joins her on a special nature walk, sparks unexpectedly start to fly.
As their relationship thaws, should Abby be on high alert? Or would a new romance be the most natural thing in the world…”

Okay, where did the time go? I swear, no sooner had I started this book than I had finished, so engrossed was I in the story. Forgetting where you are and what time it is is a sure sign of a good read.

This book is part two of the serialisation of Cressida’s latest book, The House of Birds and Butterflies which started with The Dawn Chorus which I reviewed previously. We pick up right where we left off with Abby spending New Year with her mother. Her mother is despairing of Abby’s seeming lack of romance although, of course, she doesn’t know about the mysterious novelist Jack Westcoat and I can understand Abby’s reluctance in telling her pushy mother about her tentative feelings.

To be honest, Abby doesn’t really know where she stands with Jack, she hasn’t heard from him since the winter nature walk so she is throwing herself back into her job promoting the Meadowsweet Nature Reserve with some wacky and creative events, including a fabulous evening set around a swallow murmuration (who even knew what that was before they read this book – not me!) It’s apparent from the owner, Penelope’s cryptic remarks that the Reserve is going to be in trouble if Abby can’t get the visitor numbers up. The secret about Penelope’s past and her abandonment of the beautiful Swallowtail House deepens and I am desperate to get to the bottom of that, especially after the clandestine visit that Abby pays to the building.

This instalment reveals a few more details about the brooding Jack and his bad boy escapades and we are given tantalising glimpses of the spark that could develop between Jack and Abby, if they only get the chance, whilst the local characters seem to be hell bent on getting in their way! Cressida’s writing manages to balance tension, sweetness and a subtle comedy in a way that is very seductive to the reader – it leads you gently and unconsciously on through the story until – surprise surprise – you find yourself at the end and wanting more.

I am sure there is more excitement to come, as there are a few threads that have been started but not developed yet, including the rivalry with the nearby Reston Marsh Nature Reserve, the Wild Wonders TV show and the attractive Flick Hunter. I love the descriptions of the reserve and the wildlife which continued through this book and are another of the things I am looking forward to reading more of in the next instalment.

So come on, Cress, where is Part 3? I, for one, can’t wait to find out what happens next.

The House of Birds and Butterflies: The Lovebirds is out now and you can buy a copy here. All four parts of The House of Birds and Butterflies will be released as a single paperback on 9 August 2018 and you can pre-order a copy here.

Thank you to Harper Collins and NetGalley for the copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

About the Author

Cressy was born in South East London surrounded by books and with a cat named after Lawrence of Arabia. She studied English at the University of East Anglia and now lives in Norwich with her husband David.

When she isn’t writing, Cressy spends her spare time reading, returning to London or exploring the beautiful Norfolk coastline.

The Music of the Deep by Elizabeth Hall #bookreview @AmazonPub #TheMusicOfTheDeep #NetGalley

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The Music of the Deep


“Fleeing an abusive marriage and tormented by her past, Alexandra Turner finds solace in a small coastal town on Puget Sound and a job with a local marine biologist studying orcas.

After befriending a group of locals, Alex learns that she has moved to a place that has a reputation of being the “most haunted town in Washington.” Such superstitions would be easy to dismiss…if Alex wasn’t already on edge.

Haunted by shreds of memories of her days with her husband, Alex can’t keep from looking over her shoulder. As unexplained sounds and scents accumulate and unnerving forces seem to take hold, Alex is beginning to believe that she’s not escaping her ghosts, after all. In fact, she might finally be inviting them in.”

Today is publication day for this book, so I am happy to be sharing my review of it with you all as it launches to the wider world, and it is definitely worth picking up. I’m not sure why this title caught my eye on NetGalley as it is not by an author I know – serendipity or more supernatural forces at work? Whatever it was, am I glad it did, as I raced through it in 24 hours and enjoyed every minute.

It is a very hard book to categorise – part ghost story, part nature tale, part women’s fiction – an unusual blend that had the potential to be a jarring mashup but the writer has woven the different elements together very skilfully to make a compelling narrative that had me gripped to the last page.

It follows the stories of three different women. We meet the central character, Alex, as she arrives in the tiny town of Copper Cove on a small island in the Puget Sound on a dark day in December. She is ostensibly there to assist a local woman, Maggie, catalogue the years of research she has done into the local population of orcas, but we soon find out that her story is more about what she is running from than where she is running to. To add to Alex’s tension, Maggie is hiding her own secrets, and her neighbour, Emmie Porter (rumoured to be the local witch due to her amazing powers with animals) is somehow involved. To further add to the tension, Alex is staying alone in a large old house on a hill on the outskirts of a town rumoured to be the most haunted town in Washington State…

The author sets up the story in its location very well. The tiny town, distant from land and civilisation, in the dark days of winter, is suitably claustrophobic and menacing enough to compound Alex’s already well-honed sense of dread and the secrets she gradually unveils grow increasingly creepy. During the last fifth of the book, I was sat up in bed, my heart thumping, ripping through the pages to find out what was going to happen – it really is a page turner.

The story gradually unveils the back story of the three women in a series of flashbacks which work very effectively, gradually pulling in to a point where they start to interweave and finally explode as one at the culmination of the book; it is very skilfully done and the characters are thoroughly drawn and believable, even as parts of the plot are asking you to suspend your disbelief beyond the every day.

One of the main reasons I picked up this book in the first place, and where it did not disappoint was to do with the setting. The Pacific Northwest is an area that holds a particular fascination for me and this book has only increased my longing to visit. The setting lends itself perfectly to the storyline, and the author does an amazing job of placing us firmly in the centre of the landscape. You don’t need to flex your imagination too hard to be able to picture the island, the town, the water and the natural phenomena she describes. I have a particular fondness for members of the oceanic dolphin family and this books blends a lot of interesting information about them into the plot seamlessly.

The book isn’t perfect. I would have liked a little more description about the town itself. To a degree the ending felt a little rushed and there was a flurry of ‘coincidences’ and happenings in the denouement which stretched credibility to the very furthest point of acceptability within the confines of what I believe the book was trying to be. However, all in all this was a great read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I would recommend it without reservation. I doubt anyone who picks it up will regret the time they invest in it.

The Music of the Deep is out now and you can buy a copy The Music of the Deep: A Novel“>here.

Thank you to Lake Union Publishing and NetGalley for the copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

About the Author

Born in San Jose, California, Elizabeth Hall has spent most of her life in the mountains of Colorado. She has worked as a teacher and communications consultant, including hosting, writing, and producing the radio show Heart of the West. She has two grown children. She is the bestselling author of Miramont’s Ghost and In the Blue Hour and now resides on an island in the Pacific Northwest, where she indulges in the fiber arts and keeps an eye out for whales.

The Songs of Us by Emma Cooper #bookreview (@ItsEmmacooper) @headlinepg #NetGalley #TheSongsofUs

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“If Melody hadn’t run out of de-icer that day, she would never have slipped and banged her head. She wouldn’t be left with a condition that makes her sing when she’s nervous. And she definitely wouldn’t have belted out the Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ in assembly at her son’s school.

If Dev hadn’t taken the kids to the zoo that day, then the accident wouldn’t have happened. He wouldn’t have left Flynn and Rose without a dad. Or shattered the love of his life’s heart.

But if they hadn’t seen the missing person report that day, they might never have taken the trip to Cornwall. And, in the last place they expected, discovered what it really means to be ‘Us’.”

So, I have just got off a seven-and-a-half hour trans-Atlantic flight where I had planned on watching ‘Darkest Hour’ and grabbing a few hours sleep. Instead, I sat up all night and devoured Emma Cooper’s new novel from cover to cover in one sitting and I don’t regret a single second of lost sleep.

This book is, quite frankly, astonishing. It manages to be funny and heart-wrenching at the same time, and explores some huge themes of love, loss, personal struggle and family, deeply but without being the least bit heavy-going or preachy.

It starts off with a hilarious scene in a supermarket which launches us straight into the complicated and mad world of the main character of Melody King who, following an unfortunate accident, has the embarrassing habit of launching into song at times of stress and anxiety, which leads to some extremely toe-curling but funny moments. Her two children, Flynn and Rose, both in those awkward teenage years and struggling with complicated issues of their own, tend to find this less amusing. I absolutely love the way Emma has chosen the perfect appropriately inappropriate song for Melody to sing at any given moment.

The book is written in the first person from the points of view of four main characters, Melody, Flynn, Rose and Dev, Melody’s missing husband. Each has a distinct voice, totally fitting their character and the personal stresses they are under and Emma has done this so well that we are right inside each of their individual heads, seeing the situation from four totally different points of view with the tint that their specific outlooks gives to the situation. It is so cleverly and perfectly done that we have a complete emotional insight into the whole perspective of the situation they are in, you can’t help getting sucked right into the drama.

And, oh, how much did I love these characters. Emabattled, troubled, sullen but warm-hearted Flynn. My heart broke for him and I was willing him to conquer his demons and become the amazing person you can see under the surface. Brilliant but confused Rose, fragile but not, having to grow up faster than she perhaps can cope with and trying to take control in dangerous ways. I just wanted to fold her in my arms and take care of her. And Melody. I don’t really know what to say about Melody except she is so perfectly imperfect, so valiant. She has stolen into my heart and taken firm root.

This book is a rollercoaster that takes you to unexpected places emotionally and has left me bruised, battered but ultimately uplifted. It is such a brilliant portrayal of how flawed and struggling people can be, but how love and family will hold us up and help us overcome if we have each other. I know I will go back and re-read this book soon, and I will feel exactly the same way about it again. It made me laugh and cry and I didn’t want it to end, to let go of these characters that took such firm hold of me in such a short space of time. This book is something really special, I might even venture to say, perfect.

Just don’t finish it on a jumbo jet full of hundreds of curious people as it comes in to land whilst wearing non-waterproof mascara.

The Songs of Us is out on Kindle on 31 May and in paperback on 20 September and is available for pre-order here..

Thank you to Headline and NetGalley for the copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

About the Author

Emma Cooper is a former teaching assistant, who lives in Shropshire with her partner and four children. She spends her spare time writing novels, drinking wine and watching box-sets with her partner of twenty-four years, who still makes her smile every day.

Emma has always wanted to be a writer – ever since childhood, she’s been inventing characters (her favourite being her imaginary friend ‘Boot’) and is thrilled that she now gets to use this imagination to bring to life all of her creations.

The Songs of Us was inspired by Emma’s love of music and her ability to almost always embarrass herself, and her children, in the most mundane situations. She was so fascinated by the idea of combining the two that she began to write Melody’s story. The majority of her novel was written during her lunchtime in a tiny school office.

 

The Boardwalk Trust by Avery Duff #bookreview (@AveryDuffAuthor) @AmazonPub #TheBoardWalkTrust #NetGalley

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“With the flawless sky above and the boardwalk below, Robert Worth has set up shop on Venice Beach with an eye on Delfina Famosa, his unexpected first client. A whip-smart homeless kid, Delfina reaches out to Robert to keep her father, Teo, out of trouble. The pair claim to be beneficiaries of the seven-figure Famosa trust, and Delfina wants him to have their backs in court. But in a city of illusions, nothing is what it first appears to be.

Robert should be taking his own advice—always keep his professional distance. Yet every sharp turn and revealed secret draws him closer to his clients. And the closer he gets, the greater the danger.

All he wants now is for everyone to get what they deserve. For some, he hopes it’s not too late. For others—they won’t even see him coming.”

This novel is the second in the author’s Beach Lawyer series. Regular readers of my blog will recall that I was quite critical of the first novel in the series, Beach Lawyer which was also the author’s debut. I am really pleased to say that I enjoyed this latest book much more. The majority of the issues I had with the first book do not recur in this one, and you can see how much the authors has developed in his writing.

The second novel still focuses on Robert Worth, who has left his slick law firm and set up practice on a table on the Venice Beach boardwalk, helping the needy of the neighbourhood. Not the most lucrative of business, but after his big success at the end of the previous novel, he is currently solvent and able to take on the seemingly simple case of a query into a family trust for a troubled dad and his daughter currently living in their van. Obviously, things turn out to be more complicated than they first seem, and this is the meat of the story.

There were a few things for me which made this a better story this time around. Firstly, there was none of the minutiae of legal practice discussed in this book, which dragged the first book to a crawl in the early chapters. Duff has managed to fold the legal explanation necessary for the plot much more smoothly and succinctly into the narrative this time around, so it doesn’t interrupt the momentum and flow of the story.

Secondly, the plot itself is a lot more straightforward, easier to follow and far less convoluted than the last time. I wasn’t lost in the twists of turns of who was who and was was what and having to go back and try and catch up on the constant switching as in the last book, which again broke up the momentum and stopped me getting engrossed in the last book.

The third, and most major improvement, was in the warmth of the characters in this book. Last time, none of the characters had my sympathy and I just really did not care what happened. This is a major failing in any novel. This time, both the main characters of Robert and Gina were much more likeable and just, human, in a way they weren’t before and I was far more invested in their success this time around. In addition, his new clients, Delfina and Teo Famaosa were appealing from the start and I was immediately rooting for them in a way that was impossible with the characters from the last instalment, who were mostly unpleasant. I really wanted things to turn out well for all the main players here, and their plight kept me turning the pages until the end.

There is plenty of action and devilment to liven up the plot throughout and keep you on the edge of your seat, much more so than in the first book where it was all shoe-horned in at the end, a vast improvement.

This novel still has its issues. The first chapter could have done with some serious editing. It contained too many cliches and practically the whole list of ‘Things You Should Never Do When Writing’. I feared that I was going to be disappointed again, but once I pushed on through the opening pages, it improved quickly and hugely, so this was obviously an anomaly. The other main problem comes at the end, where I fear the main plot twist comes too late, and then there is a mad rush to get everything explained before he runs out of chapters. It is a pacing problem that still needs looking at. However, these problems did not hugely detract from my enjoyment of the book and I would recommend it to friends who enjoy legal thrillers. Plus, I will definitely read the next in the series, and there cannot be a better endorsement than that.

The Boardwalk Trust is out on 17 April 2018 and you can pre-order a copy  here

Thank you to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for the copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

About the Author

Avery Duff was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he attended Baylor School and graduated summa cum laude. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he earned a JD from Georgetown University Law Center and joined a prestigious Tennessee law firm, where he became a partner in five years. Duff’s screenwriting credits include the 2010 heist drama Takers, starring Matt Dillon, Idris Elba, Paul Walker, T.I., Jay Hernandez, Zoe Saldana, Michael Ealy, and Hayden Christensen. Avery Duff lives at the beach in Los Angeles and spends his time writing fiction. His first novel, Beach Lawyer, was an Amazon Charts Most Read and Most Sold book.

 

The House of Birds and Butterflies: The Dawn Chorus by Cressida McLaughlin #bookreview #NetGalley #TheDawnChorus (@CressMcLaughlin) @HarperCollinsUK

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“Abby Field is living the dream. As events coordinator at the Meadowsweet nature reserve on the idyllic Suffolk coast, every day is an adventure with the birds and the butterflies, and she couldn’t feel more at home. When another local nature reserve is chosen as the hot location for a new television series, however, Meadowsweet looks set for seasonal hibernation unless Abby can whip up a creative plan to keep the visitors flocking.

With the help of the Meadowgreen villagers, and her cute rescue huskie, Raffle, can Abby rescue the nature reserve from oblivion? Or will she be distracted by the arrival of a brooding and annoyingly handsome new neighbour”

This is the first part of the four part serialisation of Cressy’s new book, and it is absolutely delightful. Now anyone who has read my blog will know I am a big fan of Cressida’s books. Her last novel, The Once in a Blue Moon Guesthouse, was my favourite so far and I can already feel this new one worming its way under my skin in the same way.

The main character is Abby Field, who works as a kind of ‘park ranger’ and events co-ordinator at the Meadowsweet Nature Reserve. Abby loves the reserve, and is passionate about the wildlife it protects – the book is filled with little descriptions of the wildlife she encounters day by day which is quirky and interesting – and when it is threatened with falling visitor numbers and competition from a local rival, Abby is charged with reviving its fortunes by her mysterious and slightly cold boss, Penelope, who obviously has a story going on. Throw in a attractive new neighbour with his own demons, and there is plenty of meat to the story.

Like all of Cressida’s characters, Abby is easy to warm to. She is enthusiastic and engaging – I love the way she interacts with the children in the story – but feisty too. I was drawn in to wondering what Penelope’s story was and hope that we find out more about the grand but neglected Swallowtail House that is in someway linked to her past. The first part left lots of questions in the reader’s mind, but also managed to end at a point that was as satisfactory as a partial story is ever going to be. (There is a reason I usually wait for the complete paperback – I am so impatient and would normally devour one of these books in a day or two!)

This author is very adept at including a lot of detail about the location so we can see it clearly in our minds’ eye, but not so much that it drags the story to a crawl and this book is no exception. There is also a rounded cast of local characters, but the main draw if the nature reserve itself. I have never read another book in this genre set in a nature reserve and it makes a refreshing change from all the cafes, stately homes and hotels. I am looking forward to seeing where the story goes in the next three instalments.

Cressida’s books are as light and sweet and cleverly layered as a lemon meringue pie, and I defy you to take a bite and come away without a smile on your face. Roll on part two.

The House of Birds and Butterflies: The Dawn Chorus is out now and you can buy a copy <a href=”http://The Dawn Chorus (The House of Birds and Butterflies, Book 1)“>here. Part two, The Lovebirds, will be released on 6 April and can be pre-ordered <a href=”http://The Lovebirds (The House of Birds and Butterflies, Book 2)“>here.

Thank you to HarperCollins and NetGalley for the copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

About the Author

Cressy was born in South East London surrounded by books and with a cat named after Lawrence of Arabia. She studied English at the University of East Anglia and now lives in Norwich with her husband David.
Cressy’s favourite things include terrifying ghost stories, lava lamps and romantic heroes, though not necessarily at the same time. She doesn’t (yet) have a dog of her own, but feeds her love vicariously through friends’ pets, and was once chased around a field by a soaking wet, very mischievous Border Collie called Wags.
When she isn’t writing, Cressy spends her spare time reading, returning to London or exploring the beautiful Norfolk coastline.

The Christmas Secret by Karen Swan #bookreview (@KarenSwan1) @panmacmillan

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Alex Hyde is the leaders’ leader. An executive coach par excellence, she’s the person the Great and the Good turn to when the pressure gets too much; she can change the way they think, how they operate, she can turn around the very fortunes of their companies.

Her waiting list is months’ long, but even she can’t turn down the unorthodox but highly lucrative crisis call that comes her way a few weeks before Christmas, regarding the troublesome – and troubled – head of an esteemed whisky company in Scotland: Lochlan Farquhar, CEO of Kentallen Distilleries, is a maverick, an enigma and a renegade, and Alex needs to get inside his head before he brings the company to its knees.

It should be business as usual. She can do this in her sleep. Only, when she gets to the remote island of Islay, with the winter snows falling, Alex finds herself out of her comfort zone. For once, she’s not in control – Lochlan, though darkly charismatic, is unpredictable and destructive, her usual methods gaining no traction with him – and with Christmas and her deadline fast approaching, she must win his trust and find a way to close on this deal.

But as she pulls ever closer to him, boundaries become blurred, loyalties loosen and Alex finds herself faced with an impossible choice as she realizes nothing and no-one is as they first seemed.

This is the latest book by Karen Swan, and the second of her titles I have read, following The Rome Affair which I read last summer. Following the first book, I had high expectations for this novel and I was not remotely disappointed.

Firstly, Karen Swan’s books are hefty tomes. This one comes in at just under 500 pages but, despite its length, I was gripped from start to finish and there was not a superfluous word in the whole book. It starts out a few weeks before Christmas when business coach Alex is called to an emergency job to save the fortunes of a Scottish whisky distillery on the island of Islay. This puts Alex outside of her urban comfort zone, but this is only the start of her troubles. The CEO of the company does not want her there, making her job practically impossible, and internal tensions within the business add further complications. Alex is also tussling with personal issues of her own, and throw in an unprofessional attraction between Alex and her client and you have the basis of a book it is impossible to put down. On top of this, we have a thread of island history running through the book linking current events to the true story of the sinking of a US naval troopship off the coast of Islay during World War 2 which was a fascinating dimension and made me eager to read more about it outside of the novel.

There are so many reasons I loved this book. The setting was sublime – a remote Scottish island in the depths of winter – and the author brings it to life beautifully. The landscape, the history, the sense of community, the way the residents’ lives are inextricably linked with the success of the local industry and the responsibility that places on the shoulders of the management in a way it doesn’t in less close-knit communities. Karen Swan brings this vividly to life, I felt like I was there and could feel the warmth, and simultaneously the claustrophobia, of the situation. It was also a fabulous contrast to the background of the main character and how being catapulted into this alien environment helps to throw her off kilter and is partially responsible for the way events unfold.

The amount of detail that Karen goes in to regarding the setting, the history, the process of whisky distillery. Every aspect of the novel is perfect and it must have taken her months to research it all so carefully and precisely. At the same time, every bit of it she uses is essential to the story and she isn’t shoehorning anything in for the sake of it. This can be a difficult line to walk but she does it wonderfully.

The characters are a delightful array, from her local elderly hosts to the Lochlan’s friends and the staff and workers at the distillery. Alex and Lochlan were both complicated, spiky characters that made them interesting but not so awkward that you can’t warm to them. I cared enough about them to be wishing for a happy ending without being sure they were going to get it, you can’t really ask for more in a romance novel. At one point I started to get a little annoyed at the way the main character was acting, thinking she was taking her stance in refusing to get involved with Lochlan beyond what I thought was realistic but, a little further on, it became clear that I had misjudged the situation and there were more factors in play than had been revealed to that point and, when they came to light, her behaviour made perfect sense. It was cleverly done.

If I had a small niggle, it was that at the beginning I was a little confused about where Alex was based and thought she was American but this was the smallest of small quibbles and it may read differently if I went over it again. It did not detract one iota from my enjoyment of the book.

This is a gorgeous story, beautifully written, absorbing, enchanting, beautiful in scope and detail. I can’t wait to go through Karen Swan’s back catalogue.

The Christmas Secret is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

Karen Swan began her career in fashion journalism before giving it all up to raise her three children and a puppy, and to pursue her ambition of becoming a writer. She lives in the forest in Sussex, writing her books in a treehouse overlooking the Downs. Her books include Christmas at Tiffany’s,Summer at Tiffany’s, The Perfect Present, Christmas in the Snow, Christmas on Primrose Hill and The Paris Secret.