Book Review: Lilac Girls

If you liked The Alice Network, you’ll love this beautifully written, multi-perspective view into an event that crossed continents.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

I celebrated my birthday during the state-wide stay-at-home order for coronavirus precautions, but a friend surprised me by dropping a package on my doorstep and singing “Happy Birthday” from my driveway. Knowing I couldn’t get enough WWII books, she gave me this one. It made my whole week.

Cover Description

“Caroline Ferriday is a former Broadway actress and liaison to the French consulate whose life is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France. An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, sinks deeper into her role as a courier for the underground resistance movement. In Germany, Herta Oberheuser, a young doctor, answers an ad for a government medical positions—only to find herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories across continents, as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.”

Characters

Caroline is not your typical New York socialite. She works tirelessly, for no pay, to help those in need, and her stubbornness accomplishes the impossible. Kasia begins the story as an innocent teen, pining for her first love, wishing for life to be normal again after the Nazis and Russians invade. The strength which helps her survive Ravensbrück later makes it difficult to let go of the rage she harbors within. Herta is a woman in a man’s world, striving to pursue her passion of surgery, forbidden to women, when she is swept up in the horrors of the Nazis concentration camp. This trifecta of perspectives provides a global, yet personal, view of a forgotten part of history.

For me, the most interesting perspective was Herta’s. I haven’t read too many books that include the perspective of the Nazis themselves. Despite having been indoctrinated into the Nazi mindset, her initial attitude toward the war is one of cold ambivalence. She only wants to become a surgeon, and when she first witnesses life at Ravensbrück, she plans to take the next train home. Circumstances “force” her to stay.

Her descent into the wickedness of that place kept me turning pages long after bedtime. She even found the Nazis’ new religion “convenient,” as it helped soothe her rioting conscience. No matter how much Herta rationalized her “patriotic” experiments, her “only chance” to become a surgeon, her body knew the truth. Plagued by sleepless nights, Anxiety, Depression, and engaging in self-harm, she is proof that evil takes its toll not only on the victims, but the perpetrators.

Plot

I love that this story does not end with the end of the war. It continues to describe Kasia’s—everybody’s—difficulty in readjusting to “normal” life. Kasia does not rejoice at the end of the war, for Poland trades Nazis for Soviets, an “even trade,” as she calls it. She wrestles with her guilt and her hate until the last page, unable to relate to her loved ones because of it.

Overall, the plot moves slow enough to make the horrors of WWII sink in, but fast enough to make you check the clock and think “When did it get that late?” It is a story of justice, reconciliation, and moving on.

Writing Style

I have been reading a lot of sparse prose in YA lately, so Kelly’s detail-rich writing a refreshing change. Her descriptions made me feel like I could paint each scene, but were not so thick as to slow the plot. Beautiful work.

Conclusion

I never tire of WWII stories. There is always something new to learn, an angle unseen until I crack open another book. If you liked The Alice Network, you’ll love this beautifully written, multi-perspective view into an event that crossed continents.


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This Tender Land

My Grandmother likes to support local authors, which for her means Minnesotan. Krueger is one of her favorites. He envisioned this book as an update of Huckleberry Finn, and he achieved that goal.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

My Grandmother likes to support local authors, which for her means Minnesotan. Krueger is one of her favorites. This is the second one I’ve checked out from her library.

Cover Description

“In the summer of 1932, on the banks of Minnesota’s Gilead River, Odie O’Banion is an orphan confined to the Lincoln Indian Training School, a pitiless place where his lively nature earns him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee after committing a terrible crime, he and his brother, Albert, their best friend, Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own. Over the course of one summer, these four orphans journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds.”

Characters

Odie is a classic rebel whose longing for a home and family makes him endearing. His spunk and ingenuity provide a great contrast to his strict brother and easy-going best friend, but what is most remarkable is how the characters change throughout the story. The Great Depression provides the fiery furnace to refine young boys into men, and each character’s unique skills play a part in their survival. Their struggles are at once heartbreaking and inspiring, and their loyalty to each other as family is a poignant reminder that love is stronger than blood.

Plot

The plot follows Odie and his friends as they flee the training school’s superintendent and head down the Mississippi River toward their aunt’s home in St. Louis. Along the way, they meet other down-and-out drifters, some alleys, some enemies, some a mixture of both. Overall, the story moves at a good pace and is engaging the entire length.

Writing Style

Krueger’s vivid descriptions capture the feel and struggle of The Great Depression. His prose moves smoothly across the page—neither overly descriptive nor sparse. Of the two of his books I’ve read, I liked this one best.

One thing I admire about Krueger’s writing is that he does not hesitate to portray history’s horrors, especially with the treatment of Native Americans. He sensitively portrays Mose coming to terms with his identity, his people’s history, and his friendship with three white kids.

Krueger also includes elements of mysticism in his writing, in this case with the faith healer and Emmy’s gift. I am not as big a fan of this, but I didn’t find it bothersome.

Conclusion

The author said he envisioned this book as an update of Huckleberry Finn, and he achieved that goal. His spunky protagonists and their harrowing journey capture the spirit of adventure endemic to that tale. Setting their adventure during The Great Depression immerses the reader in time and space much like Where the Crawdads Sing. Overall, their journey of hardship and friendship make for a brilliant read.

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Book Review: The Book of Lost Names

The Book of Lost Names has everything a reader could want—intrigue, heroism, romance, and of course, a special book.

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

I have my book club to thank for this one, though I’ll admit I read it the month after we discussed it. Better late than never, right?

Cover Description

Eva Traube Abrams, a librarian near retirement, is shelving books when a magazine photograph catches her eye. It’s a book she hasn’t seen since the Nazis looted library in a small French town sixty-five years ago, one she dubbed The Book of Lost Names. Now, German researchers are trying to find the rightful owner, as well as crack the code inside it. Only Eva holds the answer.

In 1942, Eva fled Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Upon finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she forges documents to help smuggle Jewish children into Switzerland. Erasing people, and hiding her own faith, comes with a price, one confounded by her attraction to the Catholic forger named Rémy. To help make sense of her competing feelings, she insists on keeping a record of the children’s real names in The Book of Lost Names. The book becomes even more important when their resistance cell is betrayed and Rémy disappears.

Characters

Eva begins the story with clear plans for her English degree, but the war throws her life into chaos, creating immense emotional insecurity. Much of the story takes place inside Eva’s conflicted thoughts. Her guilt, her attraction to Rémy, her tense relationship with her mother, and her concern about the war all feature prominently—too much at first. I had trouble connecting with Eva because it felt like she did nothing but deliberate and worry. Perhaps I saw too much of myself in her. By the end, however, I was rooting for her, and I found the ending to the book emotionally moving.

Rémy is the generic gallant hero found so often in women’s fiction it’s almost cliché—but I liked him anyway. The Catholic priest is similarly standard, but again, I liked him anyway. To use another cliché: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Eva’s mother was underdeveloped. Though her reactions to the circumstances were realistic, her behavior lacked cohesion, feeling…stringy. I can’t think of a better word. Toward the end, I wished the author had spent more time demonstrating the mother’s true feelings directly, instead of Eva hearing them by second-hand report.

Plot

The plot begins with the Nazi’s arrests, slows briefly while Eva establishes herself as a forger, but speeds up again toward the end when the conflict and drama intensify. I will admit I didn’t see the twist coming, but the author should have included more hints. I suspected someone else, and there wasn’t any reason to suspect the real betrayer. The personality change in the betrayer was too dramatic, too quick. Overall, the plot was well-rounded with enough ups and downs to keep me reading.

Writing Style

Harmel’s prose is simplistic but clear. Nothing to swoon over, but it gets the job done.

Miscellaneous

I never tire of reading WWII fiction. The conflict is a treasure trove of stories, and I’m sure we’ve barely scratched the surface. The heroism and self-sacrifice of that age inspire me. Sometimes wonder how my own generation would handle a similar situation. Not well, I fear, but perhaps I am too cynical.

Conclusion

The Book of Lost Names has everything a reader could want—intrigue, heroism, romance, and of course, a special book. Eva’s emotional turmoil is authentic, and her heroism inspiring. In simple but clear prose, Kristin Harmel adds another perspective to our understanding of one of the most defining conflicts of the twentieth century.


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Book Review: Another Kingdom

Hunted in two worlds, Austin Lively must discover truth behind his random teleportation. Another Kingdom’s quick-paced, danger-filled plot and unique concept is the perfect escapism book. While the prose lacks artistry, it is easy to read.

Another Kingdom by Andrew Klavan

A gal from my book club recommended this book, and I enjoyed the escapism it offered. This book began as a podcast and has an episodic feel to it. The author also makes political satire videos, and those undertones are present in the book.

Cover Description

“Austin Lively is a struggling, disillusioned screenwriter whose life is suddenly changed forever when he opens a door and is unwittingly transported to a fantastical medieval realm. Austin finds himself wielding a bloody dagger while standing over a very beautiful and very dead woman. Bewildered and confused, he is seized by castle guards and thrown in a dungeon. Just when he beings to fear the worst, he is suddenly transported back to reality in LA.

Stuck between dual realities—charged for a murder he doesn’t recall in one and running from a maniacal billionaire who’s determined to kill him in another—Austin’s monotonous life has become and epic adventure of magic, murder, and political intrigue in both the New Republic of Galiana and the streets of Los Angeles, California.”

Character

Austin Lively is a standard Hollywood never-was living in his successful brother’s shadow and trying to keep his conspiracy-obsessed sister out of trouble. Too burned out to strive for career success but not seeing other options, his monotonous life devolves into chaos when he is launched to another world. Through his cynical, average-Joe eyes, the epic adventure is at first ridiculous, but as he grows into the hero he needs to be, it becomes more meaningful.

Plot

Another Kingdom falls squarely into the category of plot-driven novel. Klavan cuts between high-action plotlines in each “kingdom,” keeping the reader engaged throughout. Danger and intrigue fill even the spaces between the lines. Quick-paced and exciting, this book is easily digested.

Writing Style

The narrating voice is the novel’s main strength. From page one, readers are immersed in Austin Lively’s perspective. His cynical view colors his descriptions of even mundane aspects of life, and within a paragraph I felt as if I’d known Austin for years and could predict his reactions.

In keeping with the tight-pacing, the author’s writing style consists of short, simple sentences, most of which begin with “I.” An overabundance of “suddenly” is peppered throughout. While you don’t have to think hard to read the prose, it lacks aesthetic appeal.

Miscellaneous

Extreme feminists may find his descriptions of women offensive—he often praises their beauty, “softness,” and femininity. I found it quaint, so much so I checked the publication date to see whether this book was written fifty years ago. Nope. 2018. Guess Klavan is just a traditionalist.

Conclusion

Another Kingdom’s quick-paced, danger-filled plot and unique concept is the perfect escapism book. While the prose lacks artistry, it is easy to read.


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Book Review: January Black

Many thanks to my book club for selecting this one. A great read!

January Black by Wendy Russo

Bookclub is a fantastic source of new books, ones I might not otherwise pick up on my own. January Black was never on my radar, but it was a delightful read.

Cover Description

“Sixteen-year-old genius Matty Ducayn is the son of The Hill’s commandant. As such, he’s expected to conform to a strict, unspoken code of conduct. Small acts of defiance over years—such as walking on the grass—have earned him a reputation for being unruly. When sarcastic test answers finally get Matty expelled from school, King Hadrian offers him a diploma if he can answer a deceptively simple question, and then dismisses the only answer.

To prove his worth to society, Matty wrestles with the king’s word games, the kingdom’s historical record, and laws that don’t make sense. He meets Iris Locke, a street smart gardener, along the way. After enchanting him at a glance, Iris helps his research, keeps him out of trouble, and finally breaks his heart.

Alone again, Matty finds himself on collision course with a deadly law, one he will have to break to answer the king’s question. Was Hadrian challenging him, or teaching him a lesson? Without Iris, it won’t matter, because Matty won’t stand down for anyone else.”

Characters

I’m a sucker for smart guys (I married one, after all), so Matty is a winner protagonist for me. He writes programs to predict people’s locations, analyzes pictures in terms of their geometric components, and recites the digits of pi to keep himself from getting too distracted by pretty girls. His rebellious nature takes him far from the stereotypical four-eyed weakling puffing on his inhaler that most intelligent teen characters end up being. Rather than feeling forced, his smarts are a natural part of his character which weave through the narrative. His character reads as a guy who is smart, not “the smart guy.”

The leading lady, Iris, has a past that plays to the intrigue of the plot. For much of the story, I suspected she was a double agent because she was just too perfect. I dislike romantic subplots where the primary love interest has so few flaws, but Iris’s past and the trouble they get into help. The chemistry between them is natural enough to pass.

Plot

The story takes place in the future, which is interesting, but the chief strength is the plot. King Hadrian’s puzzle and the political intrigue it involves kept me turning pages. I predicted most of the twists, including the ending, but that didn’t spoil it. I enjoyed watching everything unfold, and the author did an excellent job tying up all the loose ends.

Writing Style

This isn’t a book you read for its flowing prose and sparkling metaphors like say, Where the Crawdad’s Sing. The prose was simple, and the author explicitly named each character’s emotions, which I found patronizing. She wrote in multiple perspectives, which if you’ve read my own book, The Lies She Wore, you know I usually enjoy. However, this book didn’t need any perspective but Matty’s. The author could have maintained the dramatic tension and tied up the loose ends with only one perspective. I am also not a fan of flash-forwards, which is how the book begins. Matty’s expulsion was dramatic enough to begin the story. Russo didn’t need to jump to the climax to grab my attention.

Miscellaneous

I have mixed feelings about the cover. For me, the most interesting part of the book was the political intrigue, not the romance, but I will agree it is an upgrade from the original cover.

Conclusion

This book was perfect for those times my brain sought entertainment, but no stress. It had enough drama to keep me turning pages, but was light and romantic enough to classify as a feel-good book. Many thanks to my book club for selecting it!


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Book Review: The Four Winds

Though Hannah describes life in the Depression with beautiful-but-heart-breaking detail, I was unsatisfied with the ending. This is my least favorite of Kristin Hannah’s books, and I’ve read a lot of them.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

I looked forward to reading this book so much that I almost bought a copy instead of waiting to borrow it from my grandmother, but it ended up being my least favorite of Kristin Hannah’s books.

Description

Texas, 1921. Too tall and too old to marry, Elsa Wolcott can’t resist Rafe Martinelli’s attention, but when their unsanctioned relationship ruins her reputation, she has only one respectable option: marriage to Rafe, a man she barely knows.

She grows to love the Martinelli’s farm, and gradually earns the respect of her in-laws, but the Great Depression changes everything. With millions out of work, the drought’s constant barrage of dust storms jeopardize both the farm and Elsa’s marriage. Elsa must make an impossible choice: leave the land she loves or head west in search of a better life for her children.

Characters

Elsa begins the story insecure about her appearance and value, and much of the story revolves around her trying to earn love. She proves herself a hard-working woman who perseveres through trials the modern millennial couldn’t comprehend. After facing numerous rejections, she strives to hold on to her daughter’s affection, but Loreda’s teenage years have pushed them farther apart.

Loreda is a typical small-town girl who dreams of more. Like most teenaged girls, she blames her mother for everything from her father’s unhappiness to the drought. When the family’s dire circumstances push her past bitterness into desperation, she finds she and her mother have more in common than she’d thought.

Plot

The plot centers on the family’s struggle to farm during the drought, descent into poverty, and eventual migration to California in search of a better life. Unfortunately, instead of a land flowing with milk and honey, California offers them only poverty and discrimination.

Mostly, I enjoyed the plot. However, I hated the ending. I’ll describe my thoughts on it below, but if you don’t want spoilers, skip to the next section.


SPOILERS


The book’s main storylines are Elsa learning that she is loveable and Loreda learning to value her mother. However, Elsa doesn’t feel valuable until Jack falls in love with her. In a book that intentionally emphasizes the role of women in the Depression, I hate that Elsa needs a man to show her love. A better ending would have been shown her learning to value herself as she fought for her children’s well-being, especially since the conflict revolves around her relationship with her daughter. Finding satisfaction in her daughter’s love would have been much more satisfying than some man’s sexual attraction.

Loreda’s storyline is better completed. After seeing her mother lead the workers’ strike, she finally learns to respect her mother’s strength and realizes she possesses that same fortitude within herself. However, the ending rings hollow. Loreda goes to college, like her mother wanted, but I feel like she would have done that anyway. Her newfound respect for her mother, if not her mother’s lifestyle, didn’t change her behavior. If Hannah had made Loreda more resistant to schooling throughout the book, this transformation would have been more effective.


SPOILERS END


Writing Style

In her typical brilliance, Hannah describes life in the Depression with heart-wrenching detail, almost too much detail. Reading her prose is like experiencing the hardships of the Depression first hand—not pleasant. I could almost taste the dust in my mouth. Reading it during a road trip through the desert probably didn’t help.

Miscellaneous

I never figured out why the novel is titled The Four Winds, other than the dust storms’ prominence. Still, it left me wondering, which four?

Conclusion

Though Hannah describes life in the Depression with beautiful-but-heart-breaking detail, I was unsatisfied with the ending. Such well-rounded characters deserved more thematically consistent endings to their emotional journeys. If you are curious about life during the 1930s, this book will bring those difficult years to life, but don’t count on the ending being worthy of a standing ovation.


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Book Review: Far from the Tree

I’m a sucker for stories that feature adoption, so Far from the Tree had been on my wish list for a while.

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

“Let’s go to Barnes & Noble and get you a book,” my grandmother said after visiting her and her sister. In my head I think I’m way too old for that, but FREE BOOKS so YES PLEASE.

I’m a sucker for stories that feature adoption, so Far from the Tree had been on my wish list for a while. My relatives, being who they are, responded to my choice with, “That’s a paperback; go grab some more.” Thus, I will review the five books they bought me that day as soon as I can get through them all.

I love my family.

Back Cover Description

“Grace, Maya, & Joaquin are siblings who are unaware of one another’s existence, until Grace gives up her own child for adoption—and feels compelled to seek out her biological family.

Maya, Grace’s loudmouthed younger sister, is quick to search for traces of herself among her bio siblings. But she’s not quite sure where it is that she belongs. And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, never found a family. In Joaquin’s life, there are no heroes, and secrets are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him. Can these strangers conquer their fears, share their hearts, and trust in each other enough to become a family?”

Characters

Each of the siblings has their own well-developed personality—the goodie-two-shoes, the loudmouth, the stoic protector. Despite these differences, they discover random ways they are similar to each other. For example, they all like mayo on their French fries. I liked that the author included a lesbian character whose plotline did not focus on her identity or on people’s acceptance of her identity. It is a part of her character, woven naturally in, but Maya has her own story.

Plot

The cover’s description doesn’t do this story justice. The plot is far more complex and beautiful than it implies. I particularly liked Grace’s story. Grace is a pregnant teen, but the story didn’t revolve around her discovering her pregnancy, panicking, and deciding what to do about it. Instead, the story begins with her reminiscing about the decision she already took and explores how it affects her afterward.

Even while “Peach” is in her womb, Grace’s love for her is clear. She eats healthful foods and hunts for the perfect adoptive parents. After she gives her child up for adoption, she misses her in a physical way that her own parents can’t understand. This prompts her to search for her own biological mother. She wants to know she isn’t alone in feeling this way. She wants to know she made the right choice.

Benway treats each of the sibling’s plotlines with the same respect for the complexity and beauty of the messy thing we call family. The story is one of hope, healing, and love, and I enjoyed every word.

Writing Style

Benway writes a lot of reflective thinking into her prose, which usually annoys me, but she gets away with it because that panicked overthinking fit well with her teenage protagonists. I like that she sometimes describes feelings with colors.

Other

I love the title of this book, and, though hard to look at, I like the cover too.

Conclusion

Book I cannot praise this book enough for its portrayal of what it means to be a family—unconditional support, forgiveness, and love. It takes an unflinching look into life’s greatest complexities, and instead of trying to simplifying them with platitudes and easy answers, appreciates the beauty of a mess.


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Shadows in the Water

Filled with intrigue driven by heart-pounding suspense, Shadows in the Water weaves a net of competing motives. Cynical India navigates a town full of hypocrites, determined to discover the truth—no matter who gets hurt.

Shadows in the Water by Jo-Anne Tomlinson

I don’t normally read a ton of suspense, but after beta reading more of it recently, I’m developing a taste for it. This is my favorite of the ones I’ve read.

Description

Someone tried to murder India Peters, but that’s not even the biggest news in the beachside community of Army Bay. Brandy Hamilton, desired and despised queen bee, disappeared the same night.


When India wakes up, her memories are missing along with her childhood-friend-turned-hated-nemesis. Somewhere in her foggy brain lies the answer to how India went from social pariah to member of Brandy’s elite circle: Brandy’s sister Sadie, the good twin. Rory, the track star. Ben, the hot boyfriend. Avery, the rich douche. Elton, the cocky loner.


But things in Army Bay are only getting stranger. Her parents, her frenemies, the girl she likes, even the police—they all know more than they’re willing to share. To uncover the truth, India will have to expose the town’s dark secrets no matter who gets hurt.

Characters

Biracial and bisexual India Peters is a cynical teen who learned the hard way that high school can be hell, but she wakes up to discover she’d become someone else. A popular someone who cares about things like free-range chickens. India’s investigation into the past helps her define her present—which India is she? The pariah and stoner or the popular progressive?

Her quest for the truth leads her to interact with the town’s characters. Each person has plenty of motive to harm Brandy, but not everyone is what India expected. The large cast kept me guessing throughout the story, but each character is so unique and well-rounded that I didn’t struggle to keep them straight as I have in similar books.

Plot

With every clue India uncovers come at least a dozen more questions. The more she uncovers about the towns people and their competing motives, the more dangerous her investigation becomes. Even the police are suspect. The plot twists and turns as it careens toward the finish at a pace fast enough to give the reader whiplash, but not so fast as to neglect character development and tension building.

Writing Style

With sharp wit, sarcasm, and an unapologetic use of the f-word, Tomlinson captures an edgy teen voice that fits perfectly with the tension in the story. The prose is clear with creative descriptions that set the tone, a pleasure to read.

Conclusion

Filled with intrigue driven by heart-pounding suspense, Shadows in the Water weaves a net of competing motives. Cynical India navigates a town full of hypocrites, determined to discover the truth—even when her investigation leads her way too close to home. With a large cast of shady characters and enough twists to keep the reader guessing, Shadows in the Water is an excellent addition to teen suspense. I couldn’t put it down.


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Anxious People

The last page arrives far too soon. Anxious People is a fine addition to the rest of his collection.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Honestly, you should skip this review and buy the book, but in case you need a little encouragement first, read on.

Cover Description

“Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix up their own marriage. There’s a wealthy banker who has been too busy making money to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-read-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.

“Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue.”

Characters

As usual, Bachman’s characters are the perfect blend of quirky and deep. With wry humor, he captures humanity in all its messiness. I love that he doesn’t write about single characters, but entire communities. Each person has their own odd behaviors that are only understood when they reveal who they truly are. Each person impacts the person next to them. These characters don’t jump off the page, they tear the pages right from the binding. Peculiar as they are, everyone can say they know someone like them.

Plot

The plot alternates timelines and perspectives to reveal both the police investigation and the hostage’s situation. He weaves various small threads into a complete narrative, with every minor detail having a significant impact and no loose threads left at the end. The mystery of what happened to the bank robber is compelling, but the characters themselves are so entertaining, I would have finished this book even if the plot were a bunch of strangers watching paint dry.

Writing Style

Fredrik Backman is one of my favorite authors. Clichés flee the room when he enters it. His descriptions are unique and on-point. I’m not ashamed to admit that I paused my reading several times just to admire a sentence or phrase. He effortlessly captures the deep hurts people carry, the small ways they show their feelings even when they can’t say, “I love you” out loud. Every quirk has a reason, and even the vainest of characters is more than superficial.

Conclusion

I rarely review Fredrik Backman’s books because he is one of those authors whose books I will read without even scanning the description first. The last page arrives far too soon. His work has an addictive quality that leaves a lasting emotional impression. Anxious People is a fine addition to the rest of his collection.

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Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

This one has languished on my to-read list for too long, so I was thrilled when the library had a copy available. I can see why this debut novel received so much attention, and why it is soon to be a motion picture.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

This one languished on my to-read list for too long, so I was thrilled when the library had a copy available.

Cover Description

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.


“Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.


“But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.”

Character

Eleanor Oliphant is a social sore thumb reminiscent of Ove in one of my favorite novels, A Man Called Ove. Honeyman brings her protagonist’s voice to life vividly, and she doesn’t shy away from poking fun at the conventions we consider “normal.” Spending time with Eleanor and her new misfit friends is delightful, a refreshing look at friendship.

Eleanor’s backstory is much darker than the description implies, but it adds to Eleanor’s humanity and leaves her with plenty of room to grow.

Plot

The plot follows Eleanor as she becomes infatuated with a musician she’s never met and tries to change herself so he will fall in love with her. Along the way, she and Raymond save an elderly man’s life, and Eleanor finds herself straddling two new worlds: the musician’s—which she longs to enter—and Raymond’s, into which she is thrust unawares. Having spent most of her life lonely, the choice is overwhelming. Along the way, she learns about herself, her past, and her capacity for friendship.

Overall, the plot moves at a glacial pace with the author sprinkling tidbits of Eleanor’s backstory throughout mundane scenes—most often, a lunch date. If you are the type of reader who needs quick-paced action sequences, this book is not for you, but I enjoyed Eleanor’s lengthy descriptions of her surroundings and circumstances. The joy of reading this story is being immersed in Eleanor’s unique perspective.

Writing Style

Honeyman’s great strength is capturing Eleanor’s quirks on the page and immersing the reader in her perspective. The prose overflowed with details and sophisticated vocabulary, and was a little superior in tone, just like Eleanor. The description is so thorough that I didn’t care about the plot. I just enjoyed experiencing the world through Eleanor’s eyes.

Theme

In contemporary fiction, I enjoy books with strong themes, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine did not disappoint. Themes of loneliness, friendship, and healing from past trauma permeated the prose. I like that the author thought to include these struggles in a relatively young protagonist—Eleanor is only thirty—and that none of her coworkers suspected. We often think of the elderly when we discuss loneliness, but even in the age of social media—and sometimes because of it—young people also experience a dearth of human contact and affection. Eleanor’s story shines a non-judgmental light on mental illness and provides a hopeful portrayal of treatment.

Conclusion

I can see why this debut novel received so much attention, and why it is soon to be a motion picture. Eleanor’s quirky personality colliding with Raymond’s gentle nature provides everything necessary for an entertaining story. Their unconventional friendship demonstrates the power of simple kindness and gives hope for a world in which loneliness is a bigger problem than ever.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

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No review needed. A Man Called Ove is one of my all-time favorite books.

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