And another wonderful Christmas read? I’m really delighted to share my review of Christmas for Beginners by Carole Matthews: published by Sphere on 29th October, it’s now available as an ebook (and just 99p for kindle at the moment, but move quickly!), in hardcover, and as an audiobook. My thanks to the publishers for my reading e-copy, provided via netgalley.
I’ve neglected Carole’s books quite shamefully over the last few years – but I’ve been a big fan of her writing ever since I picked up Let’s Meet on Platform 8 so many years ago (1997 – can you believe that?!). But although I lost sight of her books for a little while – she was doing just fine without me! – it was an absolute joy to rediscover my love for her books when I read Happiness for Beginners last year (you’ll find my review here). So when I heard about this one – a sequel, and set at my favourite time of year – there was absolutely no way I was going to let it pass me by…
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
Christmas is fast approaching at the new Hope Farm. Owner Molly Baker has been convinced to organise an open day to raise some much-needed funds ahead of the New Year, but the nativity tableau is proving challenging. With anti-social sheep, awkward alpacas and a seriously sequined Santa Claus to assemble, Molly is feeling overwhelmed, and in desperate need of some Christmas spirit…
Despite the chaos of the farm getting in the way of her event planning, Molly is looking forward to spending the holidays with boyfriend Shelby and his son, Lucas, hopeful that a happy family Christmas is exactly what they need to draw them all together. But while she is busy making plans on the farm, Shelby, it seems, has ideas of his own.
As the nativity draws near, the team are working hard to pull off a spectacular festive fete – and make sure the animals and humans remain on their best behaviour.
Will this Christmas be merry and bright… or is there more than one surprise in store for Molly and Hope Farm?
A must-read festive tale from the queen of fun-filled and life-affirming fiction, Christmas for Beginners is the PERFECT winter treat!
I already loved Molly, having met her in Happiness for Beginners – but if you’ve never experienced the joy of a visit to Hope Farm, don’t worry about it for an instant. One of the lovely things for me was rediscovering all my favourite characters, however many legs they may have – but the author does an superb job of telling you everything important you need to know within the first few chapters, a welcome reminder if it’s a while since you read the earlier book but also a perfect introduction if you’re a beginner.
Life has changed a little for Molly – the farm’s moved to its new location, and she’s living in a snazzy mobile home rather than her ramshackle caravan, with Shelby’s son Lucas ensconced in her spare room. Their relationship is one of the loveliest things about this book – both loners, their love and care for each other really warms the heart, even though he’s not the easiest of teenagers to cuddle. Cuddling her partner Shelby isn’t proving too easy either – his visits are fleeting as he tries to establish his acting future, and his aversion to the farm’s animal residents doesn’t make their time together any easier. But Molly’s generally happy and content – surrounded by her beloved animals, every one of them a distinct character so superbly drawn, running the many activities for the groups of troubled young people she welcomes to share life at the farm.
If only Molly didn’t have to interact with other grown-ups, all would be fine – but Christmas is approaching, the farm is in need of funds, and her wonderful sidekick Bev is enthusiastically organising a big Christmas event, complete with a visit from the mayor to turn on the lights. But what a lovely surprise he turns out to be – Matt is a mayor who turns out to be distinctly hot, doesn’t mind getting his wellies muddy or turning his hand to tasks others might a bit less than easy, and a really supportive friend to both Molly and Lucas.
I don’t want to tell you the whole story, but let me share just a few of the things I loved about this book. Molly’s voice throughout is a sheer joy, and tremendously engaging – you share her moments of satisfaction and enjoyment with a wide smile on your face, but she makes your heart really ache at times when things aren’t going as well and the challenges start to mount up. The emotional content to this book is wonderfully handled – there are plenty of laughs, a lovely lightness about the whole book, but I loved the way it dipped at times into more serious issues and the challenges that human relationships can bring.
The animals are absolutely enchanting, but also a real handful at times and provide many of the laughs – the atrociously behaved alpacas, Anthony the Anti-social Sheep conducting his vendetta against the world, the shire horses regularly bringing down their fences, the guard-geese creating their usual havoc, while Little Dog always has a wide smile on his face. If you read the first book too, you’ll remember the elusive Shadow the barn cat – and he provides such a lovely moment in this book, although his impact is perhaps eclipsed by the sheer mayhem caused by those out-of-control alpacas. The children are equally wonderful, if also challenging sometimes – I already loved angry poet Lucas (just wait for that Christmas performance… you’ll be in floods too), but I also developed a really soft spot for Jack (who has his problems with “joining in”), and the story of Poppy and her mum is simply heartbreaking (and so very well handled).
The whole book – as is befitting when it begins with the devouring of the baby Jesus – is gloriously Christmassy in every way, but I really do think this is a book you couldn’t fail to enjoy whenever you chose to read it. Every single character, whether at the story’s centre or at its periphery, entirely won my heart – and as I raced through it (did I mention it’s quite a page-turner too at times?), I laughed (a lot), cried at times, and was entirely drawn in by them all. I haven’t mentioned the romance either – but it was just what I hoped for, and I entirely loved it. Quite wonderful, and a book no-one should miss – and I’m sure you must have room for just one more Christmas read, haven’t you?
About the author
Carole Matthews is the Sunday Times bestselling author of thirty-four novels, including her latest Christmas for Beginners. Her numerous Top Ten Sunday Times books are A Million Love Songs, Paper Hearts & Summer Kisses, Sunny Days & Sea Breezes. She’s also an Amazon number one bestseller, and has been awarded the RNA Outstanding Achievement Award. Her novels dazzle and delight readers all over the world.