The Hidden Beach by Karen Swan

Bell is a nanny in Stockholm who takes on too much from the family she works for. Their lives are all disrupted forever when she answers the phone one day to hear am odd message. Apparently, Hanna has a husband who has been in a coma for 7 years, and he just woke up. To make things more complex, the eldest child Linus is actually the first husband’s son and he has no idea that Max, the man he has called Dad for as long as he can remember, is not his biological father. And that biological father, Emil, wants his wife and son back. Bell finds herself caught in the middle as she tries to help everyone, but she has things she wants too. The family is full of secrets, and Bell has a past, all of which will come to light and change everything.

As you can probably tell from the cover, this is a total beach read. It moves swiftly, and there’s plenty of drama, revelations and romance to keep you entertained. It’s a nice length too. It’s not a doorstop, but also isn’t really short either.

It is kind of a light read. While there is interesting ideas about comas and how they work, there’s also exotic island locations, hidden mansions and a will-they-won’t-they romance. In other words, this book isn’t going to depress you or bog you down in facts, but it’s also not so light that an island breeze will blow it away.

The characters are quite interesting. I liked Bell, our lead, who has a past that is full of sadness, but we have to read on to find out what it is. She felt relatable, kind, sometimes funny. Hanna, Bell’s boss, was pretty great too. She takes advantage, she’s got an agenda and she’s pretty selfish, so I really didn’t like her, which made the story more interesting. I felt drawn to the way the story dropped hints that there was more going on with her. I felt like the children in the book were written really well, which is important in this story where they, especially Linus, are an important part of the plot and of Bell’s life. Emil was interesting too, coming out of a coma and all that this recovery entails. There’s also some sweet and light hearted friends for Bell, who added a comic touch, and plenty of handsome rivals for Bell’s affection, which seems like a staple of the beach read. Those sparks flying all over the place.

Karen Swan knows how to find an exotic or romantic location and bring it to life a little for the reader. I liked that this book is set in Sweden mostly in the Summer. I guess a lot of us think of Stockholm as being cold, but it’s also very pretty in the warmer seasons. It’s a great place to read about, with it’s slightly different way of life, enough to take us away somewhere, but not to different that we don’t also feel kind of at home. I know Nordic countries are great settings for crime thrillers, but here we see they make great locations for romance and family dramas too.

I did feel like the ending was a little too easy. I won’t spoil anything here, but I think it’s safe to say with this kind of book that we aren’t buying it for a downer ending. That’s not to say that we might not get tragedy as well as happy endings for some characters, it’s just that I felt a bit like it was contrived… maybe some people got over things too quickly or someone got away with too much, and maybe there’s not enough to Emil for me to really believe that he’s so lovable and such a perfect guy.

I haven’t read many books like this lately, but I think now is a great time to pick one up, especially this one. It’s escapism, it’s got drama, intrigue, a man waking from a coma, people with secrets and tragedies in their past, romance…. There’s plenty going on and it’s not really predictable. I think right now, it’s nice to slip into a book set somewhere else and know that there will be plenty of twists and turns, but also that you’re in safe hands, you’re not going to read something scary or horrifying, and things will probably work out in the end… even if you can’t see how as you’re reading. It’s good fun,

Read It If: not too heavy, not too light, this is a nicely paced read that takes you away and keeps you wondering about everyone’s real motivations and secrets. Perfect to get you through lockdown.

Thank you Pan Macmillan and PGC Books Canada for sending me a copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own honest thoughts.

The Hidden Beach is out now.

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