Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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The best perk of writing a book blog is that I’ve gotten some fantastic recommendations from fellow book lovers.  This may be one of my favorites — thank you, Larry and Jim!

Eleanor Oliphant starts out in this story actually believing herself to be completely fine.  She is very much self-sufficient – she has a job, she has keeps herself clean and nourished and has her very practical routine which gets her through each week.  When she suddenly sees the man of her dreams at a party, a rock singer who is very handsome and would likely satisfy her Mummy’s vision of who would be sophisticated enough for her, she decides to go on a mission to spruce herself up a bit so that when she actually meets this man, she’ll convince him that they are meant for each other.  In the course of her doing this, a sudden incident with a co-worker, becomes a distracting adventure that opens up Eleanor’s world and enables her to see how she can truly heal toward becoming completely “fine.”

The writing in this book is magical.  The author writes of pain with humor and raw honesty all at the same time.  There is no over-dramatization, there is no explosiveness.  It’s quiet and understated and because it is subtle, even awkward because it is from Eleanor’s voice, it sneaks straight into your heart.  It made me laugh out loud but it also revealed darkness and sadness that almost choked me.  Few authors can do this with such grace and tenderness.

Eleanor develops her first real friendship with a coworker, Raymond, whom she finds initially almost irritating, with his smoking, his unkempt scruffiness, and his difficulty with being punctual.  But she learns that what really matters is that he is also kind and generous, and loyal – and that he is there for her when she really needs someone to be there for her.  That this is actually what friends do.  She’s just never had this before.

This is a beautiful book from beginning to end – the kind that you don’t want to put down but that you don’t want to end either.  I am reluctant to start the next book because I just want to live with these characters for a bit.

You will too – I promise!

This is truly a MUST READ!

 

 

The 100 Year Old Man Who Jumped Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

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This delightful story is a sort of Swedish Forrest Gump for world history.  Allan Karlsson, on the morning of his 100th birthday, decides that he needs to take back control of his life and leave the Old Folks Home – via the window.  Little does he know that he’d be starting out on a madcap adventure.  But then again, madcap adventures are not exactly new to Allan, as we learn in the flashbacks that tell of his amusingly political, apolitical life.

I loved this book!  The writing is so understated and subtle that it makes the crazy events in the story that much more outrageous and entertaining.  I could not help laughing out loud at some of the dialogue – it is brilliant.  And the way in which the tale winds around historical events is playful and so imaginative.

I haven’t recommended a “must-read” in a long time – but here’s a most definite!  You are bound to love this one.

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan

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When Libby receives a series of 2 horrible pieces of news all in the same day, she feels her life is exploding.  While she tries to go to work and resume a sense of normality, she finds she just can’t  continue to deal with her impossible boss and the usual things she normally  has tolerated.  Suddenly, she is off on an adventure and ends up discovering how coping with her past traumas can enable her to face her current ones.

While this story is a little cliche and not entirely plausible, it is sweet and entertaining and actually a delightful read.  The writing is sarcastic and interspersed with sharp vocabulary and compassionately wise insights.

A good find on Bookbub – which I highly recomnend!

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

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Ove has lost the one person in his life who understood him (his wife) as well as the purpose for him to get up each morning (his job) and he’s now trying to take matters into his own hands.  All he wants is to be reunited with his only love, his wife, Sonja.  Unfortunately, each attempt he makes on his own life gets interrupted by his prying, needy neighbors.  Even the cat seems to need him.  Is everybody helpless?  In spite of his grumpy-old-man exterior, Ove endears himself to everyone around him who recognize that he is in fact the kindest of hearts and the truest of souls.

Because of the tone of the story, which is written through the prism of Ove’s cynical and rigid perspective, I found it, at first, hard to get engaged in this story.  But gradually, there grew moments of subtle tenderness that were so utterly sweet that I was reeled in.  By the end, I was just mush.  Teary mush, actually.

The writing in this story is really very beautiful.  I so admire a writer who can create such colorful and deeply genuine characters as these and who can create such subtly charming moments between them.  Even when Ove is ranting at another – and he does so at almost every  other character – you feel the affection that is exuding between them.  You cannot help either smiling or tearing up through much of the story.

I highly recommend this book.  Just stick with it – it’s worth it!

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks

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Caroline Jacobs was generally a quiet, reserved, almost meek person in her community.  So when she suddenly uttered a fairly obscene outburst at the PTA meeting, insulting the queen bee of the moms, it was unclear what was going on.  When her daughter Polly was brought to the principal’s office the next day, it just seemed to be the right thing to steal Polly away and take her on a journey – a journey to correct the mistake she’d made years ago in high school that had overshadowed her entire life from then on.

While at first this story is somewhat entertaining and a little suspenseful (you are curious what this incident was that she needs to correct) and how she “killed” her younger sister, which is foreshadowed early in the book, but it sort of melts down into a quagmire of ridiculous details and unlikely and unrealistic scenes.

I think this is a possibly good idea, but not very well executed.  Quite forgetable…

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell are on the cusp of graduation from Brown University.  They seem to have it all, graduating from an elite university, each with their own talents and accomplishments, with their whole lives ahead of them.  But dig a little deeper, and you learn that Mitchell has been in (probably unrequited) love with Madeleine since freshman year, Madeleine is despondent after a breakup with Leonard, and Leonard is having a breakdown.  The story follows each of the characters just prior to and after their graduation, as Mitchell searches for his faith as he travels the world and Madeleine and Mitchell confront the pain and the swing of Leonard’s mental illness.

The author does an extraordinary job of painting Leonard’s bipolar disorder with tenderness, sensitivity and honesty, showing the various shades of the illness, with its extreme highs and devastating lows.  Leonard truly loves Madeleine but sometimes cannot make room for her in his world that is crowded with thoughts and emotions that overtake him.  And Madeleine tries to support him but there are many times when he is not “supportable.”  Leonard is particularly winsome, with a charm and intellect that endear the reader to him and his plight, and when he falls, the reader is right there with him.  But the reader is also privy to the effects of Leonard’s illness on many of those around him, and this is a sad portrayal of how this disease can affect so many.

Mitchell provides the lighter side of the story, with his almost comical travels and experiences.  As he searches for meaning through good works and volunteering, he learns about his own limitations.  He is not, as it happens, Mother Teresa.  His journey also helps him to come to terms with his love for Madeleine and gives him the courage to figure it all out.

I also have to confess…  I loved the locations of the scenes in this book.  The mention of places particularly in Providence in the early 80’s brought me back to my teen years and was so pleasantly nostalgic for me.  An extra bonus!

 

 

Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer

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Harry Clifton begins his life as the son of a poor widow, having to lick the bowl of his uncle’s oatmeal just to have a taste of breakfast.  Thought to be destined to work on the docks, as his uncle does, he avoids school as much as he can.  Fortunately, he discovers a mentor in Old Jack, who is thought to be crazy but who is actually very wise and kind.  It is Old Jack who actually instructs Harry and prepares him for the entrance exams to the prep school he ultimately becomes eligible for and this opens doors that Harry never knew could exist.  As Harry enters this world, he also eventually learns more about his own beginnings, including how his own father actually died and how complicated his beginnings actually were.

While this book was a fun read, it was not at all realistic.  Characters were too good or too bad.  They had connections that were beyond what might be coincidence.  And the plot twists and turns, while suspenseful and amusing, were not ones that were likely to ever have occurred.  I guess, though, that’s why they call it fiction?

The most frustrating part of this book, though, is the crazy, cliffhanger ending that is not an ending.  I hadn’t expected that I HAD to read the next book – and because of that, I’m not sure I will!  So beware -this is more of a commitment than you might think!