Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

5* Review: Karen Swan – The Christmas Lights – @KarenSwan1 @panmacmillan

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.

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My Thoughts…

An atmospheric story, that is deeper than it first appears, following Bo and Zac, two Instagram social influencers to the beautiful but forbidding Norwegian fjords in wintertime. There they meet Anders their mysterious guide and his fiercely independent grandmother, Signy.

The story is told from Bo’s point of view as she faces up to her demons, and questions whether she really is living the dream with Zac, or just running away. Signy’s story told in flashbacks to 1936 is simple, but devastating, and helps understand her fighting spirit and her willingness to face physical hardship to achieve the solitude she needs.

The contrast between the virtual world Bo lives in and the grounded world Signy inhabits is the lynchpin of this story, which explores relationships, the power of social media and the many secrets the story’s characters’ are keeping.

There is an underlying menace in both timelines, reinforced by the danger ever present in the mountainous region. There is poignant romance brought to life by believable characters and situations.

Out of tragedy comes hope and an understanding of love and the true meaning of sacrifice.

An unusual festive story with many layers to engage the reader and a hopeful ending.

I received a copy of this book from Pan Macmillan – Pan via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

BlogTour: Darcie Boleyn- Love at the Northern Lights – Guest Post – 4*Review

 ‘Climbing out the window in her dress and tiara wasn’t exactly how Frankie imagined her wedding day…’

Runaway bride Frankie Ashford hops a plane to Norway with one goal in mind – find her estranged mother and make peace with the past. But when a slip on the ice in Oslo lands her directly in Jonas Thorsen’s Viking-strong arms, her single-minded focus drifts away in the winter winds.

When it comes to romance Jonas knows that anything he and Frankie share has an expiration date – the British heiress has a life to return to in London that’s a world away from his own. But family is everything to Jonas and, as the one man who can help Frankie find the answers she’s seeking, he’ll do whatever it takes to help her reunite with her mother.

Now, as Christmas draws closer and the northern lights work their magic, Frankie and Jonas will have to make a choice…play it safe or risk heartbreak to take a chance on love.

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Guest Post – Darcie Boleyn – The Inspiration Behind Love at the Northern Lights

Do you ever wonder where you’ll be ten years from now? I certainly do and have done throughout my life.

Growing up, I had many deep conversations with my dad about the future and about what we’d like to do. He wasn’t just my dad; he was one of my best friends. We planned on travelling together – with any (understanding) future partner and children I might have – and we had a bucket list of places to go and things we wanted to see.

Twenty years ago, he was still around, and we took a trip to Orlando, Florida. It was a fabulous week, and we laughed a lot. Sixteen years ago, I had my daughter, and my dad was delighted to be a grandfather. His plans for what we would do grew even more exciting and adventurous, and he was so enthusiastic about where we would take my daughter and how well travelled she would be.

Norway was one of the places we talked about visiting. With its mountains, glaciers and deep coastal fjords, it sounded perfect. There would be the chance to see authentic Viking ships in Oslo’s museum, to take a cruise on the Sognedfjord – Norway’s longest and deepest fjord – and to hike and ski. And, of course, there would be the opportunity to visit Tromsø, to ride on a sleigh through the snow, and hopefully witness the magnificent Aurora borealis.

Sadly, my dad passed away in 2004, when he was just fifty-eight, and my daughter was eighteen months old. My world fell apart, and it seemed that my dreams did too.

However, my dad was a man who seized life, who lived every day and who would have hated for me to give up. As I gradually came to terms with my loss, I grew stronger and began to enjoy life again. Fourteen years on, I still miss him every day, but I have so much to be grateful for and so much to live for. With my loving husband, two beautiful children and three funny dogs, there is much to smile about. I’m also living my childhood dream as an author, something that would have made my dad very proud indeed.

Love at the Northern Lights is dedicated to my dad and to the dreams we shared. The story isn’t about him, or me, but it was inspired by our conversations and our bucket list.

I don’t know where I’ll be ten years from now, but I know where I want to be and what I’d like to do.

One day, I will get to see the northern lights, and when I do, I’ll be holding my dad in my heart.

My Thoughts…

A  story of mothers and daughters, injustice and second chances in scenic Norway and fashionable London and romance that will last longer than the festive season.

A lovely, romantic tale with a festive twist. Frankie runs away from her wedding and her controlling grandmother and decides to find the mother who walked out on her when she was a baby.  Her only clue a postcard her mother sent from Norway.

Norway is full of surprises and possible romance until a call from London means she has to go home. The relationship between Frankie and her mother is poignant and realistic and there is lots of simmering romance amid the snow and the Northern Lights.

An easy to read festive tale which will make you smile.

I received a copy of this book from Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

 

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.    Twitter       Website

Posted in Book Review

Blog Tour: The Distance – Zoe Folbigg – Extract – 4*Review

Under the midnight sun of Arctic Norway, Cecilie Wiig goes online and stumbles across Hector Herrera in a band fan forum. They start chatting and soon realise they might be more than kindred spirits. But there are two big problems: Hector lives 8,909km away in Mexico. And he’s about to get married.

Can Cecilie, who’s anchored to two jobs she loves in the library and a cafe full of colourful characters in the town in which she grew up, overcome the hurdles of having fallen for someone she’s never met? Will Hector escape his turbulent past and the temptations of his hectic hedonistic life and make a leap of faith to change the path he’s on?

 Zoe Folbigg’s latest novel is a story of two people, living two very different lives, and whether they can cross a gulf, ocean, sea and fjord to give their love a chance.

 Buy now links:

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Extract

Cecilie looks up. Ordinarily, she would be pleased to see young tourists walk in; a chance to improve her English, to learn some more modern words and slang. But today she isn’t. She doesn’t see the point. Cecilie no longer feels the desire to learn new ways of saying that something is wicked, ace or sick; or to practise her they’re, there and theirs any more.

Cecilie nods, as she writes down an order she and fellow staff Henrik and Stine know by heart anyway, although today just Cecilie and Henrik work a sleepy afternoon shift.

‘Take a seat, I’ll be right over,’ Cecilie says to the couple at the counter as she tucks her pen behind her ear and it disappears into a cascade of heavy hair. Somehow, Cecilie can tell that these tourists are Canadian, even before she sees the maple leaf sewn onto the North Face daypack on the young man’s back. She wonders what brought them here; where in the world they have been already. Might they have seen his hometown too?

The Hjornekafé manager, Henrik, has already started making the drinks. He exchanges a look with Cecilie, as they usually do when Gjertrud and Ole have their little tussles, only today Cecilie isn’t rolling her eyes and smiling warmly. Today, Cecilie’s face is tense and terse, her eyes dulled, as she makes her way to the cake display cabinet at the end of the counter. The dark and rickety wooden furniture is brightened by the mirrors on the walls in the modest cafe space, and what little is left of the spring daylight streams in through the floor-to-ceiling window façade to the street.

The Canadians marvel at the wrought-iron latticework trimming the ceiling and scrape their chairs back to sit down. The noise of wood dragging on wood tears through Cecilie’s brain but is drowned out by another rotation of So, ro, lilleman.

Cecilie looks at her watch. It is 3.18 p.m. She silently counts backwards as she raises the thumb and four fingers on her left hand and the thumb and index finger on her right hand. Seven. Always counting back seven. She feels a blow to her abdomen and recedes to take it as she bends down to pick up a tray from under the counter. Cecilie’s not sure if she feels hungry, winded or heartsick, but she stands up with the tray, standing to stay strong. She takes out the spiced Arctic cloudberry cake, made by Mette at her home this morning. Bright orange berries burst with pride atop vanilla cream, layered three times on sponge swathed in playful cloudberry-coloured jam. Flecks of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves pepper the pristine pale crumb. Arctic berries shimmer golden and warm surrounded by spices. The orange hues remind Cecilie of photographs she’s seen in books in the library and on the internet, of a place a world away, where buildings are painted ochre and terracotta; where doorways bask in a shade of sunshine, she has never seen for herself. Cecilie carves out a square of cake with a knife and places it on a vintage floral plate that doesn’t go with the black and white cups Henrik is preparing the drinks in. Nothing matches in this hotchpotch corner of the world, but that doesn’t matter. Customers slink in reliably for a quiet slice of cake between hiking to the world’s northernmost cathedral, or summiting the mountain ledge in the Fjellheisen cable car by day, and chasing the Northern Lights at night.

With heavy feet and a heavy heart, Cecilie plods into the cavernous kitchen out the back to the freezer. She takes out a tub of blackcurrant ice cream and thoughtfully curls a cornelle to accompany the cake. The ice cream at the Hjornekafé is made by Mette’s daughter and Cecilie’s best friend, Grethe, who owns the ice cream parlour on the high street. Ice cream sells surprisingly well in these parts, and Grethe churns the best.

Henrik, a bookish man with round glasses and floppy brown hair parted in the centre, places the pot of tea, cup of coffee and two glasses of icy tap water next to the cake plate on the tray. Cecilie collects two forks and clinks them down next to the plate, knowing she will be coming back for another slice in a few minutes anyway. She walks around to the front of the counter, gives the Canadian tourists two menus with the small illustration of the Hjornekafé on the front from her shaky hands, and picks up the tray from the counter to take it to Gjertrud and Ole at their end of the cafe.

As she walks the short distance to the back wall, Cecilie’s mouth dries, her hands shake, and the tray feels like the weight of an iceberg as it releases from her pale grip. She looks down and sees it fall in slow motion beneath her to the floor, smashing onto the ground in hot and cold shards. The vintage cake plate smashes, sending flowers flying, splatted and smeared with varying shades and textures of orange and purple and cream, all over Cecilie’s boots. Hot tea and coffee scold Cecilie’s legs in her pale blue jeans as she lets out a little gasp of pain and embarrassment. The Thing That’s Happening Today, that Cecilie is dreading, is actually happening and there’s nothing she can do about it. At that precise moment, eight thousand nine hundred and nine kilometres away, eyes widen, and pupils shrink.

Hector Herrera has woken with a start, to a crash, on the morning of his wedding day.

My Thoughts…

The writing style and setting for this story show originality, and even though the trope is popular, the story’s quirky content sets it apart.

It took me a while to get into the story and warm to the characters, I have to confess I like Kate better than the two main protagonists, probably because her personality and circumstances are more familiar to me and more comfortable to empathise.

The plot is dynamic, chronologically and geographically and this demands concentration on the reader’s part. It’s not something you can dip into, you need to keep reading, or you’ll forget salient plot points.  Kate’s role in the story is not immediately apparent, although she is pivotal to the ending.

This book is my first by this author, not having read her first bestseller and in many ways, this is probably useful to make an objective assessment of the story. 

Overall I like the story; it’s one for the Chick-lit fans.

I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Zoë Folbigg is a magazine journalist and digital editor, starting at Cosmopolitan in 2001 and since freelancing for titles including Glamour, Fabulous, Daily Mail, Healthy, LOOK, Top Santé, Mother & Baby, ELLE, Sunday Times Style, and Style.com. In 2008 she had a weekly column in Fabulous magazine documenting her year-long round-the-world trip with ‘Train Man’ – a man she had met on her daily commute. She has since married Train Man and lives in Hertfordshire with him and their two young sons. She is the bestselling author of The Note. 

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