I don’t want to give anyone the impression that all Scandinavian novels are dark mysteries with horrible crimes and brooding protagonists, though obviously I’m a fan of that particular genre of Scandinavian novel (hello, Jo Nesbo!).  It’s not true, of course; Scandinavian authors write every kind of book, and many different kinds get translated into English. Case in point: the charming new book, Hotel Silence, by Audur Ava Olafsdottir.

Our protagonist, Jonas Ebeneser, is a man who feels he’s reached the end of his rope. He’s living in Iceland, he and his wife have just gotten divorced, and his now ex wife tells him that the person he thought was his biological daughter isn’t his. Not wanting his daughter to find his body, he decides that he will commit suicide, but in another country.  With that in mind, he heads out to an (unnamed) foreign country dealing with the aftermath of war, and checks himself, and his box of tools, into the Hotel Silence, a somewhat dilapidated place run by a brother and sister, with two other guests.  

Slowly he begins to fix things around the hotel, which is in desperate need of all kinds of TLC, and as he does, the people of the area, who have been suffering from the aftereffects of the war and who are trying to rebuild their own lives, learn about his skills with tools.  They begin coming to him for help, for repairs to their own broken objects. Jonas becomes involved, more or less voluntarily, in fixing what needs to be fixed, and begins to appreciate the dangers and traumas these people have been facing and their will to live and to make things better after the war.  As you can imagine (what would be the point of writing a book like this where this doesn’t happen?), Jonas is changed for the better by his experiences and ends up fixing himself as much as he’s fixing the things in his new neighbors’ lives.

If you’re a fan of A Man Called Ove (another Scandinavian non-thriller), you will enjoy Hotel Silence, so give yourself a chance at renewal and read it.




If you’re a fan of books where a character starts out isolated from the world and from him or herself and then, gradually over the course of the book, comes closer to the rest of the world and becomes more of a social human being (like The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, which the book group read and loved last year, not that I’m trying to prejudice you one way or the other), then you’re going to love the debut novel by Gail Honeyman*, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

eleanor oliphant

At the start of the book, you would be hard-pressed to describe Eleanor’s life as anything close to “fine.” She’s in her thirties, single, living alone and doing her best to avoid human contact as much as she can.  She’s working as a clerk in a firm in Glasgow, Scotland, and is aware that her co-workers make fun of her for her appearance and her behavior.  She doesn’t have any friends, and her one social interaction other than at work is a weekly call with Mummy, which are sufficiently damaging to her that she’d probably be better without them. She’s very particular and very dependent on her routines, which include crossword puzzles on her lunch hour and drinking too much vodka every weekend.  She’s clearly suffering from depression, and her limited social skills lead her to believe this is one of those things she needs to keep from everybody else.


But life finds Eleanor despite her best efforts.  She develops a crush on a popular singer, in an effort to please Mummy about her future, and she changes her appearance to attract him, which of course doesn’t work the way she intends.  She reluctantly joins Raymond, a work colleague, in helping Sammy, an elderly stranger who’s fallen and hurt himself badly, and as the three of them spend more time together, their lives intertwine, and Eleanor begins to open up to the gentle and caring Raymond about her past, her present, and why she is the way she is.  Raymond helps her to get therapy, and over the course of the book Eleanor comes to blossom, not into someone “normal”, but into the best Eleanor she can be.


The book has been compared not only to The Rosie Project (which would be enough of a recommendation for me), but also to bestsellers like A Man Called Ove.  Give Eleanor a chance and she’ll charm you as she’s charmed other critics and readers.


*Yes, this does qualify as a debut novel for those of us doing the 2017 Reading Challenge.


Some authors just have a knack for writing the kinds of books people love. Maybe they’re the kinds of books that win awards, or maybe they’re the kinds of books that touch people’s hearts and turn into bestsellers.  Both Elizabeth Strout and Fredrik Backman fall into that category, and both of them have new books out that you want to check out if you’re a fan of their work.

anything is possible

Elizabeth Strout won a Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge, a collection of interconnected short stories that was later made into a television series starring Frances McDormand.  Her books focus on small town people and the connections between them, and her gift is to make those people come alive so you feel you know them better than people you know in real life, and she makes connections between one book and another that deepen the significance of both books.  Her newest book, Anything Is Possible, follows on the heels of her last book, My Name Is Lucy Barton, and takes place in the same town where Lucy was born and raised, which both Lucy and her mother discussed in the previous book.  Like other books by Strout, this book is in the form of interlinked stories, baring the souls of people bound together by shared pasts and shared presents, focusing on relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, siblings, and illuminating them all with Strout’s characteristic grace and beautiful writing.


Fredrik Backman’s breakout book was A Man Called Ove, which came out in America in 2014 and is still a favorite of book groups, the sort of book you have to put on hold to have a hope of being able to read from the library.  That book, about a seemingly curmudgeonly man who is gradually revealed to be a man in mourning who’s better than his outward appearance would suggest, has been an international bestseller and was followed up by Britt Marie Was Here and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, both of which have also been bestsellers about isolated people becoming part of the larger world.  His newest book, Beartown, is a little different, though some of his themes shine through here as well. Beartown is a small town slowly dying, the forests encroaching on its periphery, but the people in the town still have hope: their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals and might even win.  Unlike the classic sports movie about the underdogs who go on to win it all, in Beartown the critical match turns into something violent, traumatizing one young girl and spreading pain and trouble throughout the town.  Can the people pull together and find hope even in the aftermath of such a damaging event?  Don’t expect a sentimental happy ending, but rest assured that Backman will bring you a satisfying one.


By the way, for those doing the 2017 Reading Challenge, Beartown counts as a book about sports.  Just saying.



britt marie cover

There is something inherently heartwarming about a story of a hard-hearted person learning to be more human and loving.  Think of A Christmas Carol for a classic example. Britt-Marie Was Here, by Fredrik Backman, the author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, bestsellers in their native land, is another example.  Britt-Marie starts out the book as something of a pain in the neck: stuck in her ways, not very fond of her fellow human beings, always willing to tell other people what they’re doing wrong. At age 63, she makes a big change in her life: leaving her husband of 43 years and moving to the only place she can afford, a down-on-its-luck town called Borg.  Fastidious Britt-Marie is now living in a place full of noisy children, muddy floors and a rat for a roommate, but that’s not even the worst of it.  The worst of it is that the town needs a soccer coach for the children, and there’s no one else available but — you guessed it — Britt-Marie.  She is a most unlikely coach (for one thing, she hates sports), but she takes on the job and to her surprise, she begins to develop relationships with the children, and becomes more and more a part of the community.  There’s even a man, a handsome and friendly local policeman, who’s attracted to her in her new role.  Can Britt-Marie change?  Can she find happiness?  Of course she can.  Read and enjoy!

happy people cover

Another classic and appealing story is the one where a person moves to a completely different environment and is charmed and changed by the locals there.  If this is your cup of tea (and why not?  Everybody needs a dream!), then by all means check out Happy People Read and Drink Coffee by Agnes Martin-Lugard.  Pause for a moment and just consider the title.  Wouldn’t you read a book like that just based on the title alone?  I certainly would!  This book is described as “Under the Tuscan Sun set in Ireland,” which gives you the whole concept (if you’ve read Under the Tuscan Sun, of course).  Our protagonist, Diane, had a happy life in Paris: married, mother of a daughter she loved, owner of a bookstore, nice home, everything you could ask for. Then one accident killed both her husband and her daughter and Diane, reeling from the shock, leaves Paris and France and heads for Ireland.  There she licks her wounds in Mulranny, a small town on the coast, where she’d always wanted to go with her family but never quite made it.  And there she begins to heal, with the help of a number of Irish characters including a handsome but rather abrasive man who lives next door.  Will she return to Paris and her old life or will she put down roots in this new home?  Read the book and find out.