I recently read the book, “How the Penguins Saved Veronica” and liked it so much I immediately read “Ellie and the Harpmaker” by the same author. I love discovering new (to me) authors and Hazel Prior is a gem.
“How the Penguins Saved Veronica” is a wonderful, lighthearted story about a curmudgeonly 85 year old woman who suddenly decides to give her fortune for penguin research. Before writing her will, however, she wants to visit the research station whether they want her or not. As part of her journey, she discovers a grandson she never knew she had. Veronica also learns to relate to, and have compassion for, others after a lifetime centered on herself.
“Ellie and the Harpmaker” centers on two very damaged people who meet by chance. Ellie is a housewife who decides that learning to play the harp will give her a chance at a new life. The harpmaker, Dan, is autistic. He is happy making exquisite harps and being by himself. Gradually, Dan and Ellie challenge each other to grow and develop as people.
One of the things I really like about Hazel Prior’s books is the way she switches back and forth between characters. Sometimes it can be a little confusing, but the narrative switch allows the reader to understand events from different points of view. All of Hazel’s characters are flawed, quirky, and consequently, interesting. A sister who thinks she has to protect her brother a little too much. A grandson with a drug problem. An overarching theme in both books is how we each need other people in order to change and grow.
In many ways the characters are ordinary. There are no murders or stalkers or lots of action. The books are not long or difficult to read. Instead, Hazel Prior does a great job of fleshing out the characters so you see the world through their eyes. I cared about the people in her books. What more can you ask of a writer?
If you have not read either of Hazel Prior’s books yet, I encourage you to do so. “Ellie and the Harpmaker” is her first novel. With “How the Penguins Saved Veronica” Hazel develops her narrative voice. Both books are worth reading and enjoying.