Christmas Under the Stars by Karen Swan
Publishing Date: 3rd November 2016
Source: Copy provided by the publisher in return for an honest review, thank you!
Number of pages: 512
Genre: Literature/Fiction (Adult), Women’s Literature
A gripping, festive novel, Christmas Under the Stars by Karen Swan reveals the devastating power of secrets.
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?
“Christmas Under the Stars” is the winter offer from Karen Swan, as she’s now writing two books a year. Having incredibly enjoyed “The Paris’ Secret” I was impatiently waiting for the new release, as the author is a very talented story – teller, and her books are so different to each other, so you can never tell where the Karen is going to take you this time.
“Christmas Under the Stars” is set in Canada, in Bannf in Alberta, and I couldn’t imagine a better setting for this book. Personally I am fascinated by this country, and I would do anything to be able to go and visit it some time, and after reading the book even more so. Karen Swan’s writing makes is crystal clear that she also loves Canada – the descriptions are very detailed, minutiae, and they don’t leave a lot to be imagined, as the author covers every aspect. While sometimes it doesn’t work, this time I was absolutely stunned with all the views and could easily see them in my mind – they were so vivid and the author has so easily brought all the places to life. I can’t say that I had my favourite place as I myself am kind of an outdoor girl and love to spend my time in the nature, so really, all the places in the story were as if they were created especially for me and I truly appreciated the beauty of the wilderness. But! Karen Swan has also mentioned how much risk and danger such a wilderness can bring, and believe me, even the encounter with the bear sounded so realistic that I kept looking over my shoulder when I went for a walk in the wood later on, after reading the scene. The gorgeous and cosy mountain log cabin that Meg and Mitch were living in was my idea of heaven, though there were moments that it felt particularly remote and off the beaten track, so am not sure if I could live there constantly, alone.
The book was so complex and it touched upon so many issues! I admit, at the beginning, and it was a relatively long beginning, I was starting to feel panic, as it took a lot of time before the story gained some speed and focused on the significant things. Significant for the plot! I was like, oh man, what’s happening? Why is it so dragging on? Where is the story? It was probably also because I had some problems with the characters. While I warmed to Meg immediately, I wasn’t so sure about her fiancé Mitch. From this little what we were able to get about him he came across as a cold, somehow indifferent and always irritated guy, who put everything over Meg, even though they were supposed to get married in a week. Yes, throughout the story there came a picture of a passionate, talented young man and it was eventually explained why he behaved this way but I still couldn’t shake off my initial feelings to him. Then we had Lucy and Tuck, best friends of Meg and Mitch. Tuck was an absolutely unlikeable character for me, and I really, truly felt for Lucy – however Lucy had her moments as well. Tuck seemed so very childish to me, and I hated that when he spoke with people that the second word he said was “man” – no idea why but it irritated me incredibly. In my eyes he was a guy who was interested in anything but his own family, a guy who always tried to keep up with his best friend and almost always failed. As I don’t want to spoil the read to you I won’t say a word more but, as the story is full of surprises, twists and turns, keep your eyes peeled and let me know what your final thought about Tuck were. Back to Lucy – as I have already mentioned she had her moments when I truly despised her and didn’t understand where she was coming from – her jealousy, her determination to belittle Meg, the way she was sure she can judge her best friend – I just couldn’t get this girl, to be honest, and as it turned out, I was right not to trust her. While Meg… Well, I loved Meg. She had such a complicated past and she had to fight for herself, and yet she felt so normal and down – to – earth and I totally fell for her. Sure, she made mistakes, she was stubborn sometimes, but she was loyal, which you couldn’t say about Lucy foe example, she had her heart in the right place and I so wanted that life will stop throwing obstacles at her all the time.
The only male character that I loved from the very beginning was Jonas. He had so much distance to himself and all the things, he’s seen things just like they really were and he was just so, so clever, but not too patronizing. And his job was so, so cool, I don’t want to spoil it for you so not going to tell you what it was he was doing, but it was the first hero in my books doing this! I loved the conversations and then email exchange between him and Meg, and their jokes were really bad, but they made me laugh so much nonetheless. Jonas was so genuine in what he did and said and I so wanted him to stay significant in this story – he so deserved it!
But likes and dislikes away, the characters were perfectly drawn. They were complex and full of emotions and feelings personalities. They all felt so solid, you know, like real people. They made mistakes, they lied, they had secrets, they drunk too much, they behaved unreasonably, they jumped to conclusions, they loved and all of this, and much, much more, was so brilliantly captured by the author in their personalities. I felt like I knew all of them, to be honest, like I was together with them on the pages of this book, going with them on this very curvy journey.
The first half of the story – at least this is my feeling – focused more on Canada itself, on the landscape and yes, it worried me a little, but the second part, and especially the last quarter of the book were bloody brilliant. When the action unwound, it didn’t stop for a single second and I found the book unputdownable. Yes, we can say that the end, in comparison to the rest of this rather long story, was too rushed and too quick, but to be totally honest, I didn’t care about it – it was so fantastic and brilliant ending to the story that I won’t say a single bad word about it.
And guys, how gorgeous, clever and unique the idea of introducing us to a character that doesn’t even is on the Earth, was! The whole universe, NASA, rockets was never my thing, but together with Meg and Ronnie I hold my breath when the space ship (or is it something different???) was entering the Earth again, and even the details about life out of space, about gravity and how it is to be on the firm ground again had me totally hooked. Stars I always loved to watch, and I can’t help but admire the Milky Way over my own roof when I only have a chance.
So yes, it was a slow burner but as soon as it gained speed, it was like the avalanche in the story – fast, twisty and taking you with it on the journey. One of the secrets I guessed relatively quickly but the outcome has totally surprised me, and the other twists were absolutely unexpected for me – it is really something that Karen Swan is a champion of doing in her books: she’s a specialist of dropping a totally unexpected bomb on your totally unexpecting head, and I love this feeling of surprise, but also of the pieces of the puzzle falling into a place, and always in these moments I just want to punch the air and shout Yessssss! “Christmas Under the Stars” is a gorgeous, beautiful story about love and hate, secrets, lies, friendship, sisterhood, new beginnings and second chances. It’s a story that kept me awake long after the bed time, and it’s a story that won’t leave my head for long. Complex, cleverly plotted, with unforgettable characters, beautiful setting in Canadian Rockies, with views that were taking your breath away, adventures, twists and turns, it is a must read this winter! Another winner from Karen Swan, this author always delivers and never disappoints! Highly, highly recommended!