Book Review: Ellie and the Harpmaker

Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior

In the rolling hills of beautiful Exmoor, there’s a barn. And in that barn, you’ll find Dan. He’s a maker of exquisite harps – but not a great maker of conversation. He’s content in his own company, quietly working and away from social situations that he doesn’t always get right.

But one day, a cherry-socked woman stumbles across his barn and the conversation flows a little more easily than usual. She says her name’s Ellie, a housewife, alone, out on her daily walk and, though she doesn’t say this, she looks sad. He wants to make her feel better, so he gives her one of his harps, made of cherry wood.

And before they know it, this simple act of kindness puts them on the path to friendship, big secrets, pet pheasants and, most importantly, true love.

Review:
I enjoyed Ellie and the Harpmaker. It was a good, easy read, most of the time.
Ellie is married to overbearing, to the point of being controlling and abusive (in my opinion), Clive. Ellie is a complete doormat and it is hard to like a doormat, though I did want her to get out of her marriage. Ellie thinks she’s happy but clearly isn’t. She has no self esteem, which she blames on her mother, and nothing in her life except for her husband, one friend he doesn’t like, a sister who lives far away, and writing bad poetry. Clive has made sure she has nothing else and must rely on him for everything. I found this part of the book hard to read because I so wanted Ellie to stand up for herself and see what was going on. I wanted her friend and her sister to say something. Everyone knew how horrible Clive was but no one did anything.
But, maybe that’s realistic and why it’s so hard to read about?
Ellie discovers a secluded barn one day where Dan, a (probably) autistic harpmaker lives and works. Ellie is in love with the harps and wants to learn. She feels the music so deeply, but her husband (of course) won’t let her have one. So, she goes to Dan’s while Clive is at work and learns to play the harp.
Dan is an interesting character. It’s not said, but he is clearly on the autism spectrum and is very rountined. He is a brilliant harpmaker and his sister takes care of the business aspect for him. He is observant, clever, and innocently wise. It’s easy to like him and get pulled into his observations about nature, stones, the sky, trees, etc. Some of these descriptions are wonderful.
Another great addition to the book is Phineas, a pheasant who is saved by Dan. The pheasant actually adds quite a bit to the book.
There is great tension in the book about the harp lessons and how/when Clive will find out and how he’ll react. There is also a budding attraction between Ellie and Dan.
Like I said, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it for a light, summer, kind of romance read. The writing is great and the descriptions are fantastic, especially of nature, music, and harpmaking.
Thank you to Netgalley and Bantam Press for the review copy.
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Book Review: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.

1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.

Review:
I really enjoyed this book. Nina is a fun, quirky character, full of flaws and anxiety, but also a passion for books and trivia. It’s a fun book for bookish people to read because it is full of book and pop culture references.
Nina grew up with no family around, raised by her nanny. She loves her structured life, it feels full to her and she’s organized herself to minimize her anxiety. One day, everything gets turned upside down when a lawyer comes into the bookstore and tells her that her (absent) father has died and that she has a whole herd of family. She also realizes that she’s falling for a man on the opposing pub trivia team and the bookstore where she is working is threatening to close.
Nina doesn’t react well to all of these changes to her carefully structured and well thought out life. It was interesting to watch her reactions and thoughts and see her develop and grow. At one point she has a serious panic attack and I thought this was dealt with really well.
Overall, this is a fun, light read. Nina is a quirky character and I was totally invested in her, wanting her to figure out a way to resolve her inner conflicts. I loved the pop culture references, the descriptions of her bookshelves, and how she grows as a person. This is a great book for book lovers looking for a summer read.
Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets

The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets by Molly Fader

What drove their family apart just might bring them back together… It’s been seventeen years since the tragic summer the McAvoy sisters fell apart. Lindy, the wild one, left home, carved out a new life in the city and never looked back. Delia, the sister who stayed, became a mother herself, raising her daughters and running the family shop in their small Pennsylvania hometown on the shores of Lake Erie. But now, with their mother’s ailing health and a rebellious teenager to rein in, Delia has no choice but to welcome Lindy home. As the two sisters try to put their family back in order, they finally have the chance to reclaim what’s been lost over the years: for Delia, professional dreams and a happy marriage, and for Lindy, a sense of home and an old flame–and best of all, each other. But when one turbulent night leads to a shocking revelation, the women must face the past they’ve avoided for a decade. And there’s nothing like an old secret to bring the McAvoy women back together and stronger than ever.With warm affection and wry wit, Molly Fader’s The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets is about the ties that bind family and the power of secrets to hold us back or set us free.
Review:
This was a sweet, light read that I quite enjoyed. The book has alternating points of view and flashbacks to the past, but centres around estranged sisters, Lindy and Delia. Lindy left their small town at an early age, even though she had planned on staying and running the family fish store. Delia stayed though she had wished to leave and go traveling and then university. I liked each woman in her own way and was rooting for them to reconcile through the whole book.
The author did a good job in creating the tension in the family, then slowly dispelling it through understanding and revelations. I like how the generations were brought in, namely their mother and Delia’s daughter.
The mother was a fantastic character, a once sharp woman who’d had a stroke and was now having troubles with her memory. She was both foggy and sharp, but her (now) no nonsense approach was fun and her flashbacks of joys and regrets were authentic sounding.
The romances in the book were nice and not overdone — they added to rather than took away from or overpowered the story of the sisters and the family that was learning to heal.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: Woman 99

Woman 99 by Greer Macallister

A vivid historical thriller about a young woman whose quest to free her sister from an infamous insane asylum risks her sanity, her safety and her life

Charlotte Smith’s future is planned to the last detail, and so was her sister’s – until Phoebe became a disruption. When their parents commit Phoebe to a notorious asylum, Charlotte knows there’s more to the story than madness. Shedding her identity to become an anonymous inmate, “Woman Ninety-Nine,” Charlotte uncovers dangerous secrets. Insanity isn’t the only reason her fellow inmates were put away – and those in power will do anything to keep the truth, or Charlotte, from getting out.

Review:
I found myself drawn into this book right away. Charlotte is a young woman of marriageable age who lives in the 1880s San Francisco and her life laid out for her — her mother is social climbing, her father is always working, she has fallen in love with someone she can’t marry, and her sister, Phoebe, is “difficult”. When Phoebe gets sent to a notorious asylum, Charlotte decides to follow her in order to free her, even if it means breaking the rules and risking her own happiness.
Macallister clearly did her research on asylums of the time as her descriptions of life there feel authentic and not “over the top”. I also loved the relationships that Charlotte developed. It is clear that she loves her sister and that she has a rosy view of her, but she grows and learns at the asylum, meeting and becoming friends with women she never would have even talked to before her experience there.
I also enjoyed the author’s social commentary on “inconvenient” women and how society tries to deal with them — and how many of the women fight back. But she doesn’t shy away from mental illness, either, recognizing that some people do need help because they simply cannot function in society as it is.
Overall, this was a great read that had pretty much everything — sisters, history, loyalty, suspense, romance, rule breaking, risk taking, and some difficult conversations. Woman 99 approaches an interesting time in history, especially as far as mental health is concerned, and does it in an engaging, very readable way.
Thank you to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for the review copy of this book.
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