It’s far too long since I read a book from Carole Matthews, but today I’m delighted to share my review of her latest, Happiness for Beginners, published on 21st February by Sphere, available in all formats except for paperback, which will follow on 30th May. When I check my blog posts, I see that the last time I reviewed one of Carole’s books was The Cake Shop in the Garden back in 2015 (goodness, I hadn’t realised it was that long ago – you’ll find my review here), and I can’t believe I’ve missed out on so many great books – but, in my defence, I think she’s probably been doing just fine without me.
I can still remember my excitement at meeting Carole for the first time at an event in Oswestry (that was in 2014, and it was such a thrill – you’ll find my post here): I was slightly more coherent when our paths crossed again at the Belmont Belles’ Christmas party last December, where she gave a really fascinating talk about the world of publishing (while wearing a very fetching tiara). But she also spoke with such enthusiasm about her forthcoming book that I knew it was one I just had to try, and my thanks to the publishers and netgalley for my reading e-copy. And Carole, I’m delighted to report that despite losing sight of your books for a little while, I still love you – this book was just wonderful.
Molly Baker is living her best life.
Thirty-eight years old, she lives on the twenty-five-acre Hope Farm in Buckinghamshire, surrounded by (mostly) four-legged friends and rolling hills. There’s Anthony the anti-social sheep, Tina Turner the alpaca with attitude, and the definitely-not-miniature pig, Teacup.
Molly runs the farm as an alternative school for kids who haven’t thrived in mainstream education. It’s full on, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. So when the well-groomed Shelby Dacre turns up at Hope Farm asking to enrol his son Lucas, Molly isn’t fazed.
But Lucas is distant and soon Molly realises he might be more of a handful than she anticipated. And then there’s the added problem that his dad is distractingly handsome. Molly has her beloved farm to think of – could letting Lucas and Shelby in be a terrible mistake, or the start of something wonderful?
Feel-good, funny and an absolute must-read from the queen of romance Carole Matthews, Molly’s story will make your heart sing. New starts and second chances abound in Happiness for Beginners.
Reading this book made me remember why I’ve always loved Carole Matthews’ writing – she can be very, very funny (combine that with a clutch of animals with distinct personalities and wills of their own and you have a definite winning combination), but also handles a range of emotions and a number of serious issues with absolute ease. The characters in this book – human and otherwise – are just superb. Carole’s books do tend to have a charismatic heroine at their centre, and I loved Molly from the very first encounter – she has such a passion for the animals and children in her care, still feeling sad after the loss of her aunt, crippled by awkwardness and shyness, living a solitary life in her ramshackle caravan and really well overdue to find some happiness of her own.
Hope Farm is a wonderful setting, vividly described, providing a home for the farm animals – the damaged, difficult and demanding – that no-one else wants: and it also provides an alternative for young people who’ve had problems in mainstream education, introducing them to the whole concept of caring for others while having fun, with the less popular conventional lessons in the afternoons. When difficult and misunderstood teen Lucas joins them, and Molly slowly breaks down his barriers and defences, it’s just the start of a brush with a very different world – TV sets and stardom, charity events and mansions with extensive estates larger than the farm itself – that brings about so many changes to all their lives. I’m sure you’ll have guessed that Lucas’ father Shelby is the potential, if unlikely, love interest – I just loved the fact that he’s the star of a TV soap set in a farming community, but severely allergic to animals and more comfortable in fashionable loafers than a pair of wellies. He has a badly fractured relationship with his son – and can be an unsympathetic character at times, which is rather brave – but I really enjoyed the way this was worked through as the story unfolded.
I want to talk about other characters too – the wonderful Bev who is Molly’s rock but also much of the source of human-based humour, hardworking and enigmatic Alan hidden behind his facial hair, and the flamboyant celebrity hairdresser who… but no, you’ll really need to read the book. But I really have to talk about the animals – because although I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book with its relationship issues, moments of real drama and the developing romance, they probably made the book for me. My personal favourite was Little Dog with his permanent smile and close attachment to Molly, but whether it’s shetland ponies, alpacas, pigs, one-legged chickens, orphaned lambs, shire horses or Shadow the barn cat that might make this the book for you, you’ll find this book an absolute joy.
There really is a perfect balance with the drama around human relationships and fears for the future, the day-to-day activities of caring for life’s neglected ones, but with the next laugh never too far away – I raced through this book in one glorious sitting, and found it absolutely enchanting. And it was good to be reminded why the author has so many devoted fans – although it’s sometimes not all it takes to climb to the top of the rom com tree, she’s a very fine writer indeed. Highly recommended.
Hope Farm was inspired by Animal Antiks, the wonderful Buckinghamshire farm where they help children and young adults with mental health issues, behavioural and learning difficulties and autism through interaction with animals. To find out about their work, do take a look at this page on Carole’s website.
About the author
Carole Matthews is the Sunday Times bestselling author of over thirty novels, including the Top Ten bestsellers Let’s Meet on Platform 8, A Whiff of Scandal, For Better, For Worse, A Minor Indiscretion, With or Without You, The Cake Shop in the Garden, Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses, A Cottage by the Sea, The Chocolate Lovers’ Club, The Chocolate Lovers’ Christmas, The Chocolate Lovers’ Wedding, Million Love Songs and Christmas Cakes & Mistletoe Nights. Carole has also been awarded the RNA Outstanding Achievement Award. Her novels dazzle and delight readers all over the world.