Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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.

I’d heard a lot about this book before my book club decided to read it, not the least of which is that they’re making a movie out of it. So with all the buzz, I went into this book with pretty high expectations.

It did take me a few chapters at the beginning to get used to Eleanor. I didn’t immediately fall in love with her as other readers did…but I did eventually. And the book had just enough well-placed sentences hinting at a a mystery in Eleanor’s past to keep me turning the pages until I got over my initial hesitation with the character.

This book, like others in a similar vein before it, thrives from its ability to put the main character in situations where they are bewildered by the actions of others…yet are painted so clearly we as the reader know exactly why the other characters reacted as they did. A Man Called Ove and The Rosie Project come to mind.

What I liked about this story in particular though is that it isn’t afraid to take us to dark places both in the main character’s history and in their psyche. No spoilers, but Eleanor’s history is painful and her low moment in the story is about as low as you can go. And then we get to watch her to try to claw her way back from that.

If you’re looking for a page-turning read to tote along on your next vacation, give this one a try. For fans of The Rosie Project, A Man Called Ove, Where’d You Go Bernadette, Something Missing, and The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb…

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

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I’ve almost bought this book so many times because I thought the premise sounded good, but I always stopped when I saw it was a WWII book. I almost bought it again when I saw the trailer for the Netflix movie. But I didn’t pull the trigger until my book club decided to read it this fall.

To me this is a funny book because I’m honestly surprised I liked it as much as I did. It has elements I normally don’t really like in books, but somehow in this instance it worked for me.

I didn’t care for the main character though I liked the actions she took and her behavior. But I loved all of the Guernsey inhabitants and some of the other characters she writes to like Sidney.

To me, this book is a good bookclub read because it contains a multitude of things that could appeal to a group. The style and subject matter are unique. It’s easy to read. And the large cast of characters means that there are a lot of subplots going on that you can follow.

This letter (epistolary) format made it easy to keep turning the pages and the book is not too long. And for the most part, it is pretty lighthearted. Certainly the most lighthearted WWII book I think I’ve ever read.

But it did have its moments of levity. This book did a good job educating the reader about an overlooked piece of history. I had no idea that any of the British Isles were ever occupied during WWII. And I didn’t know much about Guernsey in general, but even with the letter style, I feel like I could really picture the island and its people. Now I want to go visit (of course). I should plan a Europe trip to visit the various book settings I’ve read about. Maybe someday…

The experience of this book is honestly like sitting down for a cup of tea with a couple of good friends to exchange news and stories. The time passes quickly, you leave happy and warm, but you can’t quite remember the main thrust of the conversation or everything you talked about. But you leave thoroughly satisfied just the same.

The Book That Matters Most

The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood

Ava’s twenty-five-year marriage has fallen apart, and her two grown children are pursuing their own lives outside of the country. Ava joins a book group, not only for her love of reading but also out of sheer desperation for companionship. The group’s goal throughout the year is for each member to present the book that matters most to them. Ava rediscovers a mysterious book from her childhood—one that helped her through the traumas of the untimely deaths of her sister and mother. Alternating with Ava’s story is that of her troubled daughter Maggie, who, living in Paris, descends into a destructive relationship with an older man. Ava’s mission to find that book and its enigmatic author takes her on a quest that unravels the secrets of her past and offers her and Maggie the chance to remake their lives.

Because my life was so chaotic this spring, I missed my book club for only the second time ever since it started 3.5 years ago. So I didn’t have a hand in choosing this book and when I saw the selection, I took one look at the cover and went, this looks like a book I’m not going to like very much.

In general, I don’t really like women’s fiction. Anything that starts with so-and-so’s marriage has fallen apart and I’m out of there. I don’t really like books that primarily focus on relationships. It’s fine if there’s a romance in a book I’m reading, but I almost never enjoy books where the romantic relationship is the central focus. Weird, right?

So this book had two strikes against it: the cover, which immediately made me think this was one of those chick lit books and the back cover description, which confirmed it for me.

But. Surprise! I actually liked this one. Don’t judge a book by its cover, right?

I liked the concept going in of the book club and the books that matter most and I was happy to see how it played out over the course of the book. It got me thinking (of course) about the book(s) that matters most to me.

And I’m not sure I have an answer for that. Not yet. I mentioned before that I’m closing in on 1,000 books logged on Goodreads. So, I’ll probably save my judgment about what book actually mattered (or matters) most to me until then.

I really liked the writing style of this one. Really liked it. So much so that I think I may check out some other books by Ann Hood. Has anyone read anything by her? What do you recommend? Anything you think I’d like?

Though I did enjoy it, I still would put this book into the category of a beach read or vacation book. It entertained me. It didn’t move me to tears or break my heart or anything like that. But I enjoyed the story and can confirm that I definitely misjudged this one.

And, if you are a person who actually likes women’s fiction and chick lit, I’m sure you will love this one!