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

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 Garden of Forgotten Wishes by Trisha Ashley

Reviewed by Sophie:

A charming, heartwarming story of unlikely love that stems from two people who find it hard to trust again.

I am a huge Trisha Ashley fan so a massive thank you Netgalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for the opportunity of reading this book.

Trisha always manages to make me feel nostalgia when reading her books. Jericho’s end has the familiar and comforting sights and smells of my local Welsh villages. She states that she often seeks inspiration from Portmeirion, but this novel specifically speaks about ‘Fairy falls’ which reminds me of a combination of Aberfalls and the Fairy Glenn.

Trisha introduces the new character of Marnie and weaves her into the already established characters of Jericho place. Fans of Trisha Ashley know that this is something she does often with her books, introducing new characters to the stories of town. However, the beauty of Trisha’s tales is that you don’t need to have read the other books to know about these characters. This book is no exception. A beautiful stand alone novel or can link with past books to add hidden detail to the reader.

I really felt for the protagonist. Trisha writes carefully about a woman who has been mentally and emotionally abused by an ex partner. She writes about this truthfully yet sensitively, allowing the reader to become protective over her future.

I was kept guessing all the way through. I enjoyed the “budding” romance formed (excuse the pun), but I had a feeling of trepidation throughout and I knew Marnie’s possessive ex husband was going to come back into the picture but was kept waiting for the moment it would happen and I didn’t see the way Trisha wrote it happening. Trisha spends more time writing about Marnie’s secret family connections and how she is reluctant to tell her new boss.

The story itself is based of Marnie helping to restore Grace gardens and Lavender cottage and the antics surrounding the restoration. I’m no gardener myself and found myself lost sometimes with some of the “green fingered” conversations that occurred throughout the book but it didn’t take away from the imagery that were formed of the stunning gardens the characters all helped to create.

I enjoyed the book. Another lovely read from Trisha Ashley. She never fails to write stories that make me smile. Always enjoy the end of the book recipes too.

Author: Trisha Ashley
Publisher: Random House UK, Transworld Digital
Release date: 23rd July 2020

The Friendship List by Susan Mallery


Reviewed by Sophie:

Quirky and funny. Thank you Netgalley and Mills & Boon for allowing me the opportunity to read this new novel.

The story explores the lives of a group of friends and how their lack of love life and commitment have effected each of their lives, individually.

This is the first time for me reading anything by this author and they write beautifully. Easy to read story with some laugh out loud moments. The story is set in America so at times the overall feel became difficult for me to feel involved in as a British reader. I felt it almost transported me into a sit-com rather than me feeling sympathy and empathy for the characters.

The story missed notes for me regarding characters ages. I myself, like the protagonists, am 34 however, I felt they were written much older and felt, mostly, no empathy for them. I’m aware that this is how their stories take them. Ellen, pregnant at 17, single parent who had to grow up before her time and Unity’s loss of her husband makes her seek solitude amongst a retirement community, but I just didn’t relate to either of them.

I enjoyed how Susan writes in a number of supporting characters , so it allows for a wider audience. It was refreshing to read as these smaller characters really helped support the main protagonists.

The character’s goals that they set themselves show some funny and lovely outcomes and the plot did keep me reading wanting to know how their stories ended. There is definitely opportunity for another book with these characters.

A genuinely nice story; a quick read and one for you to pick up with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Overall, a light-hearted read which I enjoyed.

You can find this book on Amazon.

Author: Susan Mallery
Publisher: HQN Books
Release date: 4 August 2020

The Hungry Ghost by H.S. Norup

Reviewed by Sophie:

Firstly, thank you to Pushkin Press for allowing me a chance to read this book.

I was intrigued by the description of the book having not heard of the author previously.

This book is actually the second by this author and although it has the same characters as the first story, I was able to read it as a stand-alone novel.

Having lived in the Far East and visited Singapore, I was transported back to this fantastic part of the globe. The humidity, beautiful gardens and shrubbery and the genuinely amazing sights that this gorgeous city had to offer.
I enjoyed hearing the language being used in the dialogue between the characters and the culture of the country.

The author’s descriptions are a sense overload. They mention in one part the “musty smell of decaying wood”, “raindrops on the greenery glitter” and the “birds call out over the high-pitched background song of cicadas”. They state “It’s as if I’ve crossed the boundary to a magical, prehistoric world”. It’s just glorious.

I became engrossed with the story of Freja and Ling. I wanted to know who Ling was? Why everyone was telling Freja not to follow her? Why she was bad? What was Freja trying to remember?

This book itself is a mixture of the real world and a magical realm. Both as gripping as the other.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. It was something different to what I normally would read but I now want to read more by H.S Norup.

Author: H. S. Norup
Publisher: Pushkin Press
Release date: 24 September 2020

Sunny Days and Sea Breezes by Carole Matthews

Reviewed by Sophie:

Just like an ice lolly on a hot day, this book was just what I needed and moreish from the first bite.

It has the recipe of a gorgeous chiclit, girl moves to a new place, girl makes friends, girl meets boy etc. But there is more to the book. I totally felt for Jodie. Carole Matthews doesn’t throw the reader in to Jodie’s story, she weaves it in slowing. Giving her little bits of information gradually.
Being a recent first time mum, who also had news in my pregnancy that made me feel fear that I had never felt before, I completely felt for Jodie’s horrific tragedy. I felt her loss and pain. Her need to grieve and the space needed.

I loved the setting. It made me recall a holiday I took to Jersey…I know it’s not the Isle of Wight but I felt the same when reading about the place. It made me smile and feel the memories of the holiday flooding back.

Matthews’ vocabulary is scrumptious. With the use of some beautiful adjectives throughout the book. I especially love her use of description of the various elements especially the imagery created about ‘Sunshine ‘ and ‘seabreeze’. Her use of specific detail made me melt into the pages and felt like I was being given a virtual tour of the houseboats.

She always manages to make you feel cosy and happy through her writing and the characters she creates. This story has the same delicious ingredients of a heart warming book.

Author: Carole Matthews
Publisher: Sphere
Release date: 25 June 2020

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Reviewed by Sophie:

Wow! What a hidden gem. I actually got this book thinking it was another eBook entirely. However, I am so glad I got it.

Evelyn is a star but has never spoken to a journalist about her life until now…

Through Taylor’s masterful storytelling we hear about the ups and downs of Evelyn’s life and her 7 husbands.

I loved every single moment of this book. The characters and the story. I didn’t want this book to end. Evelyn’s life is full of hardship that the reader can’t stop reading as well as some other bits, that I never saw coming! Each husband has his own personality and influence on Evelyn.

This book had me engrossed from beginning to end, I devoured it all. I was upset to finish. I loved the way it was written; the descriptions, the pace and would recommend this book to everyone.

I am so happy to have discovered this gorgeous book and a new author. It’s one that will stay with me for a while.

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Release date: 13 June 2017

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

Reviewed by Sophie:

Well… I’ll be honest and upfront. This was a difficult one to get in to. I was truly perplexed until about 40 % into the book.

I then started to see that there was some plot.

I was confused by the characters. See no real need for the character of Silas at all until about 60% in.
I liked his obsession and how the author shows the instability of his mental state through him looking for signs that Iris is making contact with him. However, I feel that he has been made to be the typical strange stalker by his hobby and feel that this takes away from what happens.

The characters themselves I had no connection with and felt all of them to be very one dimensional and stereotypes of themselves; Albie the tough, scruffy urchin who has a soft heart; Louis the flamboyant artist who loves but wants to be free; Iris the model who wants to be loved but can’t and Silas the strange stalker. There are other secondary characters but to me there was no need for them.

The plot …… Well as I said I found it very difficult to find one until about halfway through and even then it didn’t pick up until 70% in and then it got going but unfortunately felt incredibly rushed.
I also felt the ending was poor and abrupt. After the build up throughout the book the actual action of the book was wrapped up quickly and with no explanation.

I still have no idea why the title is the dolls factory. There are many references to dolls and the fact that Silas could also be seen to make his own type of doll but I really don’t understand.

Overall, I think I missed why everyone has enjoyed this book.
Of the last 30% of this book was the whole book I would change my rating but it all just felt disjointed, as if it should behave been many different stories pushed into one

Author: Elizabeth Macneal
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Release date: 5 March 2020

A Wedding at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry

Reviewed by Sophie:
(Contains Spoilers)

A book that made me smile and cry.

Firstly, I would like to thank NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.

I have read a few of Veronica Henry’s books from this series and loved the feel of them. At first I was worried that the book would link to others from the series I hadn’t read, but it was a stand alone novel.

This book itself is a beautiful heartfelt piece of writing which was lovely from start to finish.
The characters felt real and I related to all in some way; each have their own stories to tell. Robyn and Jake, Shelia and Mick, Rocky, Tina and of course Gwen. The story mainly revolves around Robyn and Jake and their journey into their new lives getting married and becoming parents but then turns quite suddenly into Robyn’s story of getting in touch with her adoptive parents. Continue reading “A Wedding at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry”

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

Reviewed by Sophie:
(Contains spoilers)

I’ve heard so many different opinions about this book so when a friend suggested it for our #lockdown read I was ready to form my own opinion.

This book frustrated me from start to finish… But I couldn’t put it down. I even read on after I had put my baby girl to sleep and should have been sleeping myself, just to know what was happening. Continue reading “Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce”