The Christmas Secret by Karen Swan
Publishing Date: 2nd November 2017
Source: Received from the publisher in return for an honest review, thank you!
Number of pages: 496
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Set on the beautiful island of Islay, The Christmas Secret is a gripping story filled with emotion from Karen Swan, author of Christmas Under the Stars
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.
I love Karen Swan’s books, and I can’t imagine Christmas without this author’s new novel, and here it is – “The Christmas Secret”, and it’s another winner! It is actually really hard to put into words how much I adore Ms Swan’s books, this one included, they are always so complex, full of secrets, twists and turns, filled with multi – faceted brilliant characters and you can always be sure that the author is going to deliver an utterly compelling story that is only getting better with every page turned.
There is not a single thing that I didn’t like about this book, guys, so probably I should just finish my review right here, right now telling you that it was a brilliant read, go and buy it and you don’t even have to thank me for the recommendation. But I wouldn’t be myself if I did this, so be prepared for some gushing. Let’s start with the characters. They were my favourite kind of characters. They felt like real people and I didn’t always agree with their choices and decisions but it didn’t mean that they were wrong. Sure, sometimes they were but it only made them more human in their eyes. Both our main characters, Alex Hyde and Lochlan Farqhuar, had better and worse days, had tempers, made mistakes and I adored it in them – it seemed so realistic and also it didn’t leave me indifferent about them and their futures. I wanted to slap them sometimes, to shake them or to pat them on their shoulder. I love how Karen Swan creates her characters, they are not immediately likeable, you must sometimes get used to some of them but it’s great that they’re not straightforward, that they have complex and complicated personalities. She gives us time to get to know Alex and Lochie, and when we think we know all about them, she starts then to introduce us to their past and it is like, oh wow, there is so much more to them than I thought! The motions of those two were so brilliantly captured, they were full of secrets and surprises and I loved following them on their journey. We of course can’t forget the background characters, which – no matter if they entered one or two or three scenes – were created with a lot of love to details, had their own personalities and added tons to the whole story.
Setting. Karen Swan is a queen of setting her novels in the most beautiful locations. I wouldn’t say that they are the most unusual ones because she also takes us to Paris or Rome for example, but no matter where we find ourselves, and this time on small and remote island of Islay, west coast of Scotland, she brings all the settings to life and offers us the most gorgeous views and descriptions. The scenery of this Scottish island is breathtakingly beautiful, and I loved how realistic the descriptions were, how they highlighted how dependent the islanders were on the weather, how harsh could it be for them. But also the distillery was a part of the setting, and well, you could ask how much can you write about whisky, but believe me, you can, or Karen Swan can – it was incredibly interesting to find out about the steps of making whisky. The way the distillery was the heart of the community, how much depended on it was brilliantly brought to life.
Plot. Absolutely brilliant! I know that when I read Karen Swan’s book I am for surprises, twists and turns that can change everything dramatically. I love how her books, and also “The Christmas Secret”, are like puzzles, with the missing elements slowly, in the right pace, falling into places. This time one of the background subplots was a sinking of one of the liners transporting American troops to Europe during the First World War, that was torpedoed by the Germans, and so Alex’s story intertwined with chapters full of retrospections. At first glance those stories has nothing in common, but slowly you start to see the whole picture, and you see in what way the stories are connected.
Writing style. Karen Swan knows her way with the words and her writing style is simply gorgeous, guys. She knows perfectly well how to write a complex, deep book. She touches upon so many issues in “The Christmas Secret” but no matter what it is she writes about it’s not only brilliantly researched but it’s also brought to us in the most beautiful, rich descriptions and you immediately feel like part of the story.
“The Christmas Secret” was a gorgeous story about life on a small island and its community, about love, friendship, forgiveness, family bonds and – let’s not forget it – whisky. It was an impressive piece of fiction. It was filled with emotions and feelings, hot and cold, it was honest and genuine and it was also a great love story, both in the present and the past. I really loved every single page of this book, and I loved how Karen Swan made me think (as usual!) that I knew what’s going to happen and then dropping a surprise or two on my not expecting it self – I love this, when the plot is unpredictable, you can’t see through it, when there are moments that you don’t expect, and this is this kind of plot – you know, the one with the “BAM” or “Yesss!” moments. This is another winner from this author and I highly recommend this book to you – Karen Swan at her best, and there really wouldn’t be Christmas without a new Karen Swan!