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: Mrs. Everything

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

From Jennifer Weiner, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Who Do You Love and In Her Shoes, comes a smart, thoughtful, and timely exploration of two sisters’ lives from the 1950s to the present as they struggle to find their places—and be true to themselves—in a rapidly evolving world. Mrs. Everything is an ambitious, richly textured journey through history—and herstory—as these two sisters navigate a changing America over the course of their lives.

Do we change or does the world change us?

Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise.

Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.

But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?

In her most ambitious novel yet, Jennifer Weiner tells a story of two sisters who, with their different dreams and different paths, offer answers to the question: How should a woman be in the world?

Review:
Wow, this is quite a book. It is hard to know where to begin! This is the story of 2 sisters, Jo and Bethie, spanning from their childhood until their old age. I enjoyed reading about these sisters and getting to know them. I didn’t always like them or their choices, but that was OK — I could definitely feel their ups and downs, successes and failures, joys and sorrows and was invested the whole time.
This book was really well written and spanned a huge, tumultuous time in history, exploring women’s roles and civil rights. This book deals with so many issues that women can relate to, hence the title, Mrs. Everything. There’s class and race, lesbianism, interracial marriage, women’s choices, abuse, motherhood, sisterhood, daughterhood, expectations, women’s roles in the paid working world, women’s roles at home, happiness and contentment, …
Weiner shows herself to be a wonderful storyteller as I was engaged the whole time. Parts of the book were necessarily heavy, but still very readable. This is a book that certainly got me thinking and questioning and is timely with the #metoo movement. Going back through the history of these women really shows us the underlying tensions of what women are fighting for, how far we’ve come, and how much there is to lose.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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