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The Perfect Present
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on 16 May 2016
I've given this two stars, rather than one, as there was a mystery involved, so I kept skim-reading (three or four words from each page) until I found the answer. I don't waste time on poor literature - why do people insist on finishing awful novels 'because they never leave a book unfinished'? - but one way or another I did make it to the end, hence two stars.

Most of it was dire. The characters were unlikeable, save perhaps for the handsome, gay guy called Orlando, who only played a very small role. I mean really unlikeable, people you wouldn't want in your life. The characterization was so poor that you couldn't know anyone. There was someone called Sam. I kept forgetting if it was a man or a woman. She was particularly unpleasant and I couldn't tell you why she was there at all.

So the story basically runs like this: Laura earns a poor living hand-making gold charms; she lives with Jack, and has one friend, who tries, unpaid, to help her with her business. Laura appears to want to be invisible, wearing only Jack's cast off clothes and is even described somewhere as having grey hair. One day Rob Blake, handsome but objectionable, walks into her studio and demands that she stops making all commissions and concentrates on making a charm necklace for the wife he adores. Laura refuses, but later changes her mind for financial reasons, and agrees to make charms representing seven relationships with people from his wife's past or present, including a previous love interest(?!). So, although she has no time to spare to get everything made by the deadline, she has to drive around interviewing people and then agrees to go on a short skiing trip where she can meet the others. She goes ostensibly as Orlando's plus one, which no-one seems to find strange.

Always in the background is this hint of a former life. There is even some sort of unexplained fit or seizure. On the skiing trip, it transpires that this grey, dull woman is something of a skiing ace, and is happy to jump from helicopters and go snowboarding or whatever, doing everything exceptionally well, and punching the air in excitement. One of the men makes a beeline for her, despite his fiancee being present. She is lent an evening dress, has her hair and make-up done and, voila! Cinderella moment!

The author appears to be trying to insert humour, and there is a lot of giggling (yes, giggling!) amongst the ladies, but it isn't funny. At times it's cringe-worthy. Laura has a habit of not locking bedroom or bathroom doors, so obviously people walk in at inconvenient moments. In one scene, she is taking a bath in someone else's house, a small child walks in declaring she needs "a pooh" (direct quote) and proceeds to perform, with mother coming in and wiping bottom, etc. Seriously! I'm embarrassed simply commenting on it.

And it was boring. So much stuff irrelevant to the story! And people paying thousands of pounds for charms? Really? I thought the fad with charms had died out in the sixties and seventies, and they were boring even then.

The book seems to go on and on, and would have been much improved if it had been literally half its length. Or a third. The mystery, when it's finally solved, was actually quite interesting, Laura's former life is explained and what you expect by this time to happen does happen.

I would only recommend this if you have time to waste and can't find anything else to read.
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on 6 December 2016
This was a wonderfully written story that had me reading until I finished it - even through a pounding, stuffy head - well into the wee hours of the morning (which did nothing for the pounding head!!).

To be honest there was only one thing that really annoyed me, and it had to do with the naming of so many stores (WH Smith, Costa Coffee, Accessorize, Dorothy Perkins amongst other things) mentioned all in the space of a few paragraphs in chapter Five. I don't mind reading a few names thrown in here and there, but when an entire paragraph (or two) is taken up by it, it can get rather tedious and more to the point, it can throw you off. Luckily, it was only that one small part otherwise I would have had to dock a star!

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone. The absolute human-ness of the characters is something that you simply don't encounter in many books.
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on 30 July 2017
This a book that will not disappoint anyone. I am careful when recommending books to friends as everyone tastes are different but this book is just a great storyline. It has the romance, surprise, tension of all sorts, intrigue etc. Karen swan is a great author and her descriptions allow you to feel you are right there. This is a must for anyone who wants to get lost in a fab world where you will not stop reading until you finish it and then be sad that the book has come to an end. Get it👍👍👍
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on 26 March 2013
I have enjoyed nearly all of Karen Swan's books so far. I bought this a few weeks ago and read it, not quite picking up all the social undercurrents (there is a large cast!) and so read it again this week.
The book opens with a heartbreaking letter from a mother to her twin daughters and moves on to follow Laura Cunningham's commission to make a piece of jewellery for a rich man's wife. The rich man is astoundingly handsome, as expected and Laura's job is to interview his wife's friends and make charms reflecting their relationship with Cat, the wife.
It's an interesting progression, that whilst Laura is an enigmatic stranger, with a commission to fulfil, she becomes an enigma to herself as well. As for Cat's friends, they welcome her into the group and Laura shows that not everyone is what they appear to be - especially Laura herself.
It could have been so easy to depict Cat as a spoilt and shallow person, but Karen Swan has managed to make Cat and her friends as realistic as possible. No one is flawless in this world.
I would have liked to know more about Laura's sister and what her life was really like - I don't want to give the plot away.
Karen Swan writes great action sequences. She's growing as an author, each book has been better than the last and I'll definitely buy her next as soon as it's released.
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on 16 December 2012
LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this!!

I liked the idea of the book. The heroine Laura Cunningham is a jewellery designer who lives a quiet life by the sea with her boyfriend and dog. She makes jewellery that really means something to the person and works only to commission. Rich businessman Rob Blake approaches her to make a necklace for his wife's birthday that tells her life story in 7 charms. Laura has to interview the most significant people in Cat's life and come up with a charm that encapsulates their relationship. Initially not keen Laura finds herself taking on the task and stepping into the Blakes' life - so very different from her own.

I have never read anything by Karen Swan before but it is high praise indeed when I say this is definitely the best book I have read since anything by JoJo Moyes. The story reveals itself gradually like a pass the parcel removing a layer at a time and becoming all the more intriguing as it does. Not only Cat's life is revealed but little by little Laura's life also. The last few chapters I found very moving indeed. The ending also surprised me from where I thought it was going as I neared the end.

Will definitely look for more by this author.
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on 4 February 2013
This is a wonderful chic lit book. Not normally a book that I would go for but from page one I was hooked as I entered the world of Laura Cunningham with her passion for red shoes and her bespoke jewellery business where she worked overlooking the sea in a tumble down building.

Who would have known the effect that the charming, handsome and very sexy Rob Blake would have on her life when he asked her to make a charm bracelet for his wife's birthday. His request being that it held seven charms to signify the relationship held with the seven most important people in his wife's life.

Of course, to find out their relationships meant being flown to Verbier for a weekends skiing trip in the Blake's chalet to meet all the people in question. Did I mention he was gloriously rich and the bracelet was to cost £20k. Meeting Cat, his wife. A woman we all love to hate. With the perfect husband, her perfect looks, designer wardrobe and jet-set lifestyle. She has everything her heart could desire but not everything is as it seems.

Laura, out of her depth with these rich, upper class group of friends enters an alien world. She's shy, reclusive and hides from the world but her past has not been easy and now is the time to face her demons, and accept what's happened and move on.

This book was a pure escape from reality and as the story progresses and we learn all about Laura the plot twists and weaves and throws us some very unexpected twists. Where exactly does the love of red shoes come from is a question I asked myself throughout the book? I can't wait to read more this author.
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on 20 January 2013
I really enjoyed this book.

When I started it, I was a little unsympathetic towards the main character. She felt a bit one dimensional and I struggled to relate or empathise with her in any way. I knew she had a story to tell, but it wasn't until her skiing "lesson" that I felt I could begin to start liking her. Once she had some depth and experience, I felt like I wanted to know more about her. Before that point, I wasn't really bothered about her.

It's a really easy book to read. Not too predictable, with lots of interesting characters, some of which could have been developed a little more. I never got bored of the story and I thought it was a very enjoyable read. I was itching to know what charms she would make for each person, just as much as the big build up about what went on with her and her sister.
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on 30 December 2012
After really enjoying "Christmas at Tiffany's", last year, I was really looking forward to this book and it didn't disappoint.

I really like Karen Swan's writing style. It's not your average wishy-washy chick-lit, and really kept me gripped.

This book centres around Laura, a jeweller who is commissioned to design a charm necklace for a wealthy client's wife. Whilst designing each of the seven charms, Laura has to interview seven different important people in Cat's life, and Cat's seemingly perfect life unravels.

I liked the relationship that Laura builds with Kitty. I was also desperate to know what Laura's "issue" was with her past, and what had happened to leave her so traumatised.

Just when I think it's coming to a disappointing end, the story twists and pleases me. Fab, I really enjoyed it.
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on 15 January 2013
I buy a lot of chick lit type books and can read around 2 per week. I bought this book 3 weeks ago and have raed it twice already!

It is the best book I have read in a long time and I have read a lot of them. The characters are believable and complex - I loved the way Cat developed particularly towards the end of the book. It was great to get a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Verbier ski set too although this only made up a small part of the book so it wasn't overwhelming.

Fabulous book, I loved Breakfast at Tiffanys too but this one is the best by far. It was one of those books that when I finished it I felt a little bereft that I wouldn't learn anymore about the characters or spend any more time with them. Note to self: must get out more!

Strongly recommended.
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on 3 April 2016
This should come with a warning - don't start reading if you have anything else that needs to be done - I couldn't put it down.
It's sharp, witty, fun, detailed, subtle,mysterious, sad, heartening and I loved it.
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