The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan

The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan



41589390Publisher: Pan

Publishing Date: 1st November 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 480

Genre: General Fiction (Adult)

 Buy the Book:  Paperback




Set on the scenic fjords of Norway, The Christmas Lights by bestselling author Karen Swan is a moving Christmas tale of love and heartbreak.

December 2018, and free-spirited Influencers Bo Loxley and her partner Zac are living a life of wanderlust, travelling the globe and sharing their adventures with their millions of fans. Booked to spend Christmas in the Norwegian fjords, they set up home in a remote farm owned by enigmatic mountain guide Anders and his fierce 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’ll listen.

June 1936, and fourteen-year old Signy is sent with her sister and village friends to the summer pastures to work as milkmaids, protecting the herd that will sustain the farm through the long, winter months. But miles from home and away from the safety of their families, threat begins to lurk in friendly faces . . .

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.

Rating: five-stars

“The Christmas Lights”, set in the beautiful and raw Norway, introduces us to a bunch of different characters. Bo and Zac are living the dream life, being the Wanderlusters who share their adventures on Instagram with their 9 + million followers. There is also Lenny, their photographer and manager who organizes all the trips and schedules. After their recent trip to Samoa they are travelling to the remote shelf farm in Norway to spend Christmas there. The owner of the farm is Signy – an older woman who’s going to change the lives of the threesome.

As usual, this book also starts with a chapter set in the past that ends with a cliffhanger and the story slowly unfolds, brilliantly and cleverly intertwined with this of Bo and Zac’s. This was the story of Signy, Anders’s grandmother, the owner of the shelf farm where our trio is staying. Back in 1936, Signy has experienced unforgettable summer when she worked with other girls as milkmaids, away from their families, there where the pastures were the greenest. I loved how the author put us up to different kinds of danger with those two subplots, and I must say that both of them had me on my tenterhooks.

I’ve mentioned it thousand times already, and I’ll repeat myself, that Karen Swan is my auto – buy author. What I absolutely adore in her books is the fact that her characters are so diverse, so different to each other, and their jobs are always unusual. This time Bo and Zac turned their lifestyles into job, they’re already a brand with over 9 million followers on Instagram. They walk the earth together with their photographer and their lives look so colourful, inspirational and perfect on photos, as they visit places that you won’t find on the tourist maps, spending at least a month or longer at their chosen place, to get the feeling of it, to turn into locals, as they don’t want to be perceived as the usual tourists. No, they’re Wanderlusters and they want to experience authenticity. But – are their lives really so perfect? Without cracks? The author has so gently hinted that Bo’s life is getting out of her control, and yes, I immediately fell for Bo, I liked her and didn’t want anything bad happen to her. The way she realises there is so much more to life than followers and sponsors makes her character so much more believable. And also, what made me like her even more is the fact that I have a feeling that at the end she’s chosen the right things for her. It hurt to see that she can’t trust anybody, how she tried to be heard by those closest to her and how she was left alone in all of this. That is, alone but for Anders, but it turns out that he also has a terrible secret – is there a single person that Bo can trust, who would understand her?

It was a read with a rather slow pace but there was not a single moment that it felt flat or uninteresting for me. On the other hand, I enjoyed the descriptions of the setting, the harsh nature of Norway, so raw and virginal and beautiful – yes, Karen Swan is the queen of choosing the most beautiful settings for her novels, and what I love is the fact that they’re not fictional places. They’re secluded, solitary but real and simply gorgeous. Another bonus is that she always adds truly interesting facts about those places and I couldn’t help but googled shelf farms – they’re brilliant. The setting is just fantastic and the author eloquently and vividly brings all the places she writes about to life. I’ve read some books set in Norway, and also some describing the Northern Lights but “The Christmas Lights” overdoes them all with its descriptions, the gorgeous, wild and austere nature of Norway.

I, however, immediately guess the “who”. For me it was obvious and there was no other option, even if the author has tried a little to put wool over our eyes at the end, trying to complicate things a little, to point us in other directions, but this is the one thing that she didn’t manage. Was it disappointment? To be honest, no. Not at all.

Of course we can’t forget the big elephant in the room – Karen Swan writes about the problems and dangers of living through social media, and I liked the way she has tackled this issue. We have Zac and Lenny, who live only through the numbers of followers and nothing is impossible for them, no matter how dangerous it is. Then we have Bo, whose eyes start to open and she starts to notice the dangers and issues of being in the centre of attention. And we have Anders, whose idea of living is totally different. Yes, Zac and Lenny come across a little obsessed and shallow, at least for me, as I do realise that the grass is not always greener on the other side and there are limits for what you can do to increase the number of your followers and your sponsors.

“The Christmas Lights” was a story full of action, hiking, gorgeous settings and characters full of personality – characters that are annoying, that have their flaws and secrets which only makes them much more interesting and believable. The author has also brought closer the Norwegian history and its present, traditions, habits, the language, food and drink. There was intrigue, danger and it was festive enough to get in the spirit of Christmas, this all brought to life through Karen Swan’s vivid, alluring and engaging writing style. A novel about relationships, loss, grief, love and adventures, living on the edge, full of heartbreak and hope. It’s much more than about finding your own strength, it shows that everything is possible, and it had me totally and completely hooked. Highly recommended!


The Insider by Mari Hannah / Blog Tour + Extract

Hi guys, and first of all, apologies. My stop on Mari Hannah’s blog tour was yesterday and I can’t express how sorry I am for not being able to post on my destined date – having some health problems I just wasn’t able to do this. But I have a brilliant extract from the book for you today – put your feet high and enjoy!




It was the news they had all been dreading, confi rmation of a

fourth victim. For DS Frankie Oliver, the journey to the crime

scene brought back memories of her father driving her around

Northumberland when she was a rookie cop, pointing out the

places where he’d been called to investigate serious incidents

throughout his own police career, giving her the benefi t of

his advice along the way. He’d been doing this since she was

a kid, only with less detail, leaving out the unspeakable horrors

the locations represented. Back then, they were words.

Just words. Narratives that, if she were being honest, excited

her in ways they should not. And then there was the night

he stopped talking: an experience etched on their collective

memory forever more – a night too close to home.

Flashlight beams bobbed up and down, illuminating sheets of

horizontal rain. The detectives stumbled along the Tyne Valley

track, heading east on the Northern Rail line linking Carlisle

to Newcastle. No light pollution here. Under a dark, forbidding

sky, it was diffi cult terrain, rutted and sodden so close

to the water’s edge. The swollen river thundered by, a course

of water liable to fl ash fl ooding. Red alerts for the area were

a regular occurrence. At midday, Northumberland’s monitoring

stations had warned of a serious threat to those living

nearby. If the Tyne rose quickly, Frankie knew they would be

in trouble. Many a walker had slipped into the water here by


Few had survived.

Lightning forked, exposing the beauty of the surrounding

landscape. A high-voltage electric charge, followed by the

rumble of thunder in the distance, an omen of more rain to

come. The lead investigator, Detective Chief Inspector David

Stone, was a blurred smudge a hundred metres in front of

her, head bowed, shoulders hunched against the relentless


Mud sucked at Frankie’s feet as she fought to keep up, two

steps forward, one back, as she tried to get a purchase on the

slippery surface. Her right foot stuck fast, the momentum of

her stride propelling her forward, minus a wellington boot.

She fell, head fi rst, hands and knees skidding as she tried

to stay upright. Dragging herself up, she swore under her

breath as brown sludge stuck to her clothing, weighing her


Unaware of her plight, David was making headway, sweeping

his torch left and right in a wide arc close to Eels Wood. He

had one agenda and Frankie wasn’t it. With a feeling of dread

eating its way into her gut, she peered into the undergrowth

blocking her passage. Where was a stick when you needed

one? As she parted the brambles, there was an ear-splitting

crack, a terrifying sound. Before she had time to react, a tree

fell, crashing to earth with an excruciating thump, unearthed

by a raging torrent of water fi ltering off higher ground, its

roots unable to sustain the weight of a century of growth,

landing metres in front of her.

Frankie blew out a breath.

Only once before had she come closer to violent death.

Hoping her luck would hold, she vaulted the tree and

ploughed on. From an investigative standpoint, the situation

was grim. Had there been any footprints adjacent to the line,

they were long gone. As crime scenes go, they would be fi ghting

a losing battle to preserve evidence, assuming they ever

found the body spotted by an eyewitness, a passenger on an

eastbound train. Where the fuck was it?

Frankie expected to see the dragon ahead, a wide-eye LED

searchlight used by emergency services, an intense beam of

white light guiding her. As far as the eye could see there was

no light visible, other than the beam of David’s fl ashlight.

Worrying. Exasperating. Frankie couldn’t be arsed with this.

Pulling her radio from her pocket, she pressed the transmit

button hoping her link to Control wouldn’t be affected by the

appalling weather. It would be a heavy night in the control

room, for sure.