Christmas for Beginners by Carole Matthews

Reviewed by Sophie

Despite not reading the first book ” Happiness for beginners”, Carole does an excellent job of bringing the reader up to speed in the first few chapters without letting too much out of the bag.
I will be making sure I read the first book in due course.

An easy, nice read from start to finish.

I loved the setting for this book. The fact that the farm is used as an outreach program for troubled youths really interested me. The characters were described realistically and I was touched by each of the students’ troubles and situations. I felt like…wanting to rescue them all from their current situations and hug them.

The protagonist, Molly seems older than in her 30’s. Her relationship with actor Shelby is something to be desired. From the beginning, I dislike Shelby and his attitude towards the farm and his son Lucas who is in the care of Molly while he thinks of nothing but his acting career. I do start to feel for him at some points during the book, but my aggravation comes back too many times. I know his relationship with his son is strained but he doesn’t even try. I feel this is where reading the first book would have been helpful.
Love the other supporting characters lovely Bev, stroppy Lucas and loved up Alan.

The whole way through the book I keep thinking how patient Molly is. With her relationship with Shelby, the animals, the children and with Lucas. Especially after Lucas announces his bombshell and her own heartbreaking loss.

I struggled a bit to get into the story at first but quickly became engrossed in the book. The Christmas feeling on the farm definitely helped and I actually wet myself laughing at the fiasco with the alpacas in the nativity. (Just you wait.)

All in all a splendid read; not just for Christmas.


Author: Carole Matthews
Publisher: Sphere
Release Date: 29 October 2020

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

Reviewed by Lotte:

Ok so I should probably say I’m a complete Jodi Picoult fan – like, ride or die fan. I’m pretty sure I’d love anything she writes because up until now I haven’t been disappointed with a single one of her books (and I’ve read them all!). This one certainly didn’t let me down either – it was epic!

Within 16% Jodi had managed to intertwine the physics theory of quantum mechanics, the Ancient Egyptian Book of Two Ways, a love story and a moral dilemma. If that’s not mastery I don’t know what is!

So, let’s rewind slightly. The book opens with Dawn’s near-death experience and the thoughts she had in what she believed would be her last moments. She didn’t see the man she had married though, instead she saw the road she hadn’t taken. This is where the book splits into the Water Path (Boston) and the Land Path (Egypt). I don’t want to give any spoilers away so let’s just say we follow these two timelines as Dawn works through whether she should carry on in the life she was living or pick up the road not taken and finish the work she left behind in Egypt.

I found Dawn a pretty interesting character. For a start she was a Death Doula, not something I’d heard of before, and her history of academia, her mother and her current life were well-developed. This also included her flaws; we saw how human and real she was which made her really relatable. None of us are sunshine, roses and straight forward thoughts so it was refreshing to read.

I always enjoy the structures of Jodi’s books and this one was the same. Having the two paths playing out in parallel until later in the book when they converged was a super clever way of following the theory of multiverses existing. It was also a neat way of writing from different perspectives (although it was still Dawn throughout) which Jodi is well-known for. This structure really helped us understand the real dilemma that Dawn was facing because both ‘timelines’ could be completely feasible. How do you decide which one to choose? 

The other thing I really enjoyed was the level of detail in the plot. There is a lot of Egyptian terminology and names, lots of which I had to google (only because I wanted to attempt the correct pronunciation not because it was necessary, Jodi explains it all really well for us). The book is pitched in a way that combines these academic lives with the complexities of emotions and the different connections we have the people around us. All these different facets made it compelling to read and kept me engaged throughout.

This was yet another cracking novel from Jodi and a well-earned NYT #1 bestseller! But are you Team Wyatt or Team Brian?!

Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release Date: 20 October 2020

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Reviewed by Sophie:

“A bank robbery. A hostage drama. A stairwell full of police officers on their way to storm an apartment. It was easy to get to this point, much easier than you might think. All it took was one single really bad idea. This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots. “

This has to be one of the best openings to a book ever. Thank you Net Galley and Penguin for allowing me the opportunity to read this book.
I have read many books by Fredik Backman, so was excited to be allowed to read his latest addition to the collection.

From the off set the book begins its humorous account of a bank robbery gone wrong. I mean… It’s definitely an opportunity for some hilarious antics and this book doesn’t disappoint with that.

The language is wonderful. There are some moments where I literally laughed aloud and giggled all the way through.
Solely in the first chapter, Fredrik compares the knowledge of sex to a usb leads” wrong way round, wrong way round, wrong way round and there! In” as well as the bank robbers mum “consisted of so much gin and tonic that they didn’t dare cremate her because of risk of explosion”. The book is full of these little gems.

The structure of the book is very disjointed and goes back and forth in time. The writing seems to go off on tangents just as of you were having a conversation with someone who was relaying this tale rather than reading a book, which could make alot of people … Well anxious…. As the flow of the book isn’t smooth transitions and could almost be deemed as frustrating to some.

However, the structure of the book becomes a unique quality. We start to learn more about the individual characters. Again at first all deemed annoying and unlikable in there own rights, but Backman builds on these qualities as and reader sees that first impressions aren’t always correct.
Like all his books Backman looks at the characters in a manor that makes us laugh and cry at the same time. Each character is not an “idiot” as the introduction may lead us to believe but actually a spider web of intricately knitted problems that all of us may have encountered at some point in our lives. The bank robber who messes up everything just to pay the rent; Roger who’s life is the buying and selling of these apartments to fill a granchildless void, Ro who is missing her father’s support and is needing an apartment for her blossoming family with Julie; Zara who’s attends viewings because of addiction and routine, Jack and Jim and many other characters. We realise it’s more than a bank robbery gone wrong; it’s a story about people helping others; chance meetings.

Anxious people was not what I was expecting….it was better.

Author: Fredrik Backman
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: 8 September 2020

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal (Lady Astronaut #3)

Reviewed by Lotte:

This book takes place at the same time as the second book in this series, written from the perspective of Astronaut Nicole Wargin, whilst Elma is off on her Mars mission. I was worried I’d miss Elma, our Lady Astronaut, but I absolutely loved Nicole and loved this approach.

Nicole was such a great character to add to this saga. She was relatable, fallible and just all round really interesting and well-developed. I loved that she didn’t have to be perfect, that she was real and that it didn’t limit her either. She was still strong, independent, capable and reliable. That for me is true strength and the type of thing I want to read! It added so much depth to the plot too.

As for the story itself, all I can say is wow! I keep thinking I can’t enjoy this universe anymore and then Kowal just goes ahead and takes it to the next level. It was a genius idea to shift the focus and write this as a parallel to the previous story. It helped develop the world more, building on the details we already had, making the universe more substantial, and ultimately more intriguing and enjoyable, without it being laborious.

Add in all the mystery, sabotage, drama and ultimately the fight for survival, along with all the sci-fi elements and the complexities of space, and you find yourself with an epic read with so many facets. I was engaged every single moment and often found myself mulling over the pieces of the puzzle between reading sessions!

I’d just like to say how much I appreciated Kowal’s sensitivity in writing the parts that related to eating disorders and recovery. Including it was inspiring without ever being triggering or encouraging. This should be the gold standard for writing!

Thank you Mary Robinette Kowal, Tor and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Rebellion, Solaris
Release Date: 26 November 2020

The Magpie Society: One for Sorrow by Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch

Reviewed by Lotte:

This story is set at the boarding school Illumen Hall, immediately after one of their students was found dead. Her death was ruled as ‘misadventure’ with the police believing it was suicide. But was it? We get to see the story unfold from the perspective of Ivy – one of Illumen Hall’s top students, a prefect and all-round perfectionist, and Audrey – an American that recently had to move to England, attempting to leave her past behind. But it’s not always that straight forward.

I loved that the two authors, Sugg and McCulloch, each wrote from one of the protagonist’s perspective. I didn’t know this until after I’d read the book, but honestly you couldn’t tell there was a switch, their writing was perfectly in sync. I think the very subtle differences probably just enhanced the character definitions.

For me this was a modern day ‘Enid Blyton – The Naughtiest Girl in School’ (if you’re old enough to remember this trilogy!). The story held everything you could want from a boarding school novel: inter-pupil dramas, difficult backstories, a secret society, and even an unsolved mystery. The use of a mystery podcast presenter was a stroke of brilliance and very current. It added to the suspense and generally kept us pondering…is this more than it seems? And if so, who did it???

With a couple of twists and turns along the way, coupled with an unlikely alliance, we were kept guessing right up to the end. I found myself not wanting to put it down, helped by the shorter chapters, switching perspectives and intermittent podcasts. Of course, we also had that ending! I mean really?! Bring on 2021 when I can read the next instalment!

Thanks to the authors, publisher and Netgalley for granting my wish to read this ARC. Apologies, my review is a few days late due to ill-health.

Author: Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Release Date: 29 October 2020