Cover Image: Ellie and the Harpmaker

Ellie and the Harpmaker

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Member Reviews

I loved the character, the simple but intriguing plot, and the author's writing style. I believe that this gentle, beautiful novel will find a place in many hearts.

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Chance encounters are so often the only way for unusual friendships to form. A master harpmaker, socially backward and self-isolated in an Exmoor barn creating masterpieces of musical instruments is discovered by a local "housewife" on a bad day gone exploring on a byroad to the harp barn she had heard of. She looked sad, he gave her a harp - mistake or genius? A delicate, unusual friendship forms that shakes the very roots of all other relationships. This is not so much a romance as a story of friendship and where it may, or may not, lead, and that like the harp, there is no more delicate or beautiful instrument than the human heart.

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Unfortunately this is another one of those cases where I loved the concept but not the execution or the writing style. It alternate between the perspectives of Dan, a gifted harpmaker somewhat lacking in social skills (it's never directly said and I don't understand why but I got the impression he's on the autism spectrum) and Ellie, a housewife who finds his barn one day and expresses an interest in learning how to play the harp. When he unexpectedly gifts her one, it's the beginning of an unconventional friendship and I'm sure you can infer where it leads. For the entirety of the book, Ellie came across to me as extremely selfish, whiny and obtuse. At one point she describes herself as being the point of chaos and it's true. On the other hand, I found Dan charming but ultimately underdeveloped, which was a shame. He was the heart of this story and the book would've benefited from delving more into his point-of-view and backstory, rather than Ellie's. Again, this was another disappointing read because I wanted to love it (it was touted as another Eleanor Oliphant) but it unfortunately fell flat.

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On one of many lonely days in her life, Elle stumbles upon the harp maker's barn and Dan, the harp maker. Dan sees the world in his own special way, and when he meets Elle, he gives her one of his hand-made harps. Elle is fascinated with it, but her husband isn't so happy about it. She ends up keeping Dan's gift at the barn, where she gets to play the harp, see Dan daily and basically get involved in his life. Spending time with Dan changes how Elle looks at life, too.

I really loved the voices in this book, so perfectly tuned for Dan and Elle which really makes this book special. While I'm rating this 5 stars because I enjoyed the whole experience so very much because both the characters and story hit all the right notes for me, I did have some issue with things plodding around a bit, but the ending made up for all of that, at least for me.

I loved this sweet romance between two very unique characters. I'd call it more of a love story than a romance, and Dan and Elle's story left me feeling good about love.

An ARC was provided for review.

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As soon as I read the synopsis of this book, I knew I needed to get my hands on it. Who wouldn’t love to stumble across an eccentric harp maker in the beautiful English countryside? Sign me up! Ellie and the Harpmaker didn’t disappoint. It’s a cute romance with quirky characters and some unexpected twists.

The descriptions

Everything from the wood of the harps to the leaves in the trees comes to life through Prior’s descriptions. Whether she’s using Dan’s unique perspective to describe something common in a new way, or showing us how unusual something seems through Ellie’s eyes, I was completely caught up in the writing style. I had a vivid mental image of what the settings looked like, how the music sounded, and, more importantly, how all of it made the characters feel.

Dan’s character

The book is told from two perspectives, alternating between the two protagonists. I quickly fell in love with Dan. He is such a different kind of lead in a romance story, and it was fun to get to know him better throughout the book and see how he reacted to the curveballs thrown his way. It’s never explicitly said, but it’s pretty clear that he’s autistic. While I do have some questions (I’ll get to those later…) I really appreciated having an autistic main character, and as the romantic lead, no less!

Ellie’s character

While I loved Dan, Ellie’s chapters were a struggle at times. She is married to Clive, who is clearly emotionally abusive. This is apparent to the reader from the start, and it quickly gets old to watch Ellie be so oblivious to how horrible he is. I understand that, sadly, this is how many abusive relationships are. The victim is in denial and continues to justify the abuser’s actions, even when it’s clear to everyone else in their life that there’s a problem. But this is a line that has to be dealt with carefully in fiction. I think The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary did an amazing job of showing the problems with a relationship while also keep the reader engaged. The thing that The Flatshare did differently than Ellie and the Harpmaker is that the reader, at first, isn’t aware of how horrible the relationship was. We’re getting the victim’s perspective, and believe along with her that he wasn’t all that bad. It’s only as the character slowly realizes she was in an abusive relationship that the reader sees it too. Compare that to Ellie, when it’s painfully obvious from the get-go. Ellie is also a bit flat, so I struggled to have sympathy for her when I saw Clive treating her poorly. I just got frustrated and bored.

The treatment of women

There are several moments of unnecessary competition between women or Ellie being rude toward women. She describes her best friend, who has dark skin and hair, as “exotic,” which seemed . . . weird. When she and Clive go on a double date with Clive’s friend from work, Ellie is immediately judgmental and dismissive of the other woman. She judges her for being plus size and how she is dressed. Um, excuse me? Am I supposed to hate Ellie’s character, because this is pushing me in that direction. And finally, Ellie is immediately competitive with Roe Deer, Dan’s girlfriend. And sure, Ellie thinks Dan is cute and starts to get feelings for him, so I understand her being a little jealous. But it all spirals out so quickly, and before Ellie even knows Roe Deer is dating Dan, she sees a picture of her and once again makes a snap judgment based on what she’s wearing. Nearly every female relationship in this book left me with a bad taste in my mouth—even Ellie’s best friend, Christina, has a primary plotline of disliking her son’s new girlfriend.

The autism rep

I mentioned above that Dan is portrayed as autistic. What I can’t figure out is what research Prior did for writing an autistic character. Dan’s chapters are written in a very childlike way, and the phrasing feels a little forced, as if trying paint in clear letters to the reader: THIS GUY IS AUTISTIC. I don’t have any close friends or family with autism, so I’m certainly not the best judge of this. But when I compare it to other books with autistic characters written by autistic authors, like Helen Hoang and C.G. Drews, the voice of Dan seems very one-note, almost verging into stereotypical. And maybe he’s just on a different end of the spectrum than other characters I’ve read. Again, I don’t have the experience to say anything definitively, but I do have questions, and would like to hear the thoughts of people with autism on the representation here.

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Dan is a harpmaker, crafting gorgeous Celtic harps in his barn in the English countryside. Ellie is a housewife who stumbles upon Dan’s barn one day. He gives her a harp that matches the color of her socks, giving Ellie’s humdrum life a gentle nudge in a different direction.

I love Celtic harp music, so the description of this book pulled me in. I enjoyed Dan’s character the most. He was a bit quirky with a unique way of seeing the world. On the other hand I struggled with Ellie’s character. She came off as part flighty and part doormat, though I appreciate what she did for Dan as the story progressed. (Not everything though!)

ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER was a light and sweet story with an almost fairy tale quality to it. I was not quite convinced of the romance between the two main characters, but it is a lovely story of friendship, and also finding one’s self identity.

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Ellie is an unhappy housewife looking for a creative outlet. Dan is a talented harpmaker with an aversion to people. When Ellie wanders into Dan's barn/workshop, he decides to gift her a harp to cheer her up. And that gift sets off a surprising series of events and sparks a new friendship that will prove very important to them both.

This book is beautiful and cleverly written. Dan and Ellie both have so much to learn from each other, and their perspectives are very well done. The lyrical descriptions of harp making, harp music, and the Exmoor countryside are delightful. Like Ellie, I was transported to a more peaceful place and encouraged to examine the world around me more thoughtfully. I didn't want this story to end!

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This was a sweet book about an English housewife struggling to find herself. She stumbles into the barn of a harp maker who gives her one of his handmade harps. Her controlling husband won’t allow her to keep such an extra grant gift so she returns it to Dan, the harp maker. Ellie begins to secretly take lessons on the harp and returns to the harp barn frequently to practice. While there she develops a friendship with Dan that will change both of their lives forever.

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I think its best going into Ellie and the Harpmaker without knowing more than the book description. I loved learning about Dan and his world. Some would describe him as being somewhere on the spectrum. He doesn't pick up on most social cues and is quite comfortable counting things and observing nature when he isn't making beautiful harps. He meets people because of his harps and that serves him well or sometimes not so much. Ellie grew up being told by her mother she was never enough. Her husband eventually took over the job of reminding her but Ellie always looks for the best and keeps trying to be a good wife. When she discovers the harp maker's barn Ellie's life begins to change. The novel alternates chapters between the point of view of Ellie and Dan which kept the pace good - I never felt it lag. If you're looking for something a bit different and ultimately uplifting I think Ellie and the Harpmaker is just the right book and I can't wait to see what Hazel Prior dreams up next.

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I was interested in this title from the moment I read the synopsis, as a musician, as a neurodiverse reader, and as a librarian who’s always seeking and providing readers advisory. There were a few moments early on I wasn’t so sure about the parallel storylines/use of present tense/somewhat flat characters, but as the plot moved forward and characters developed I enjoyed it more. In my understanding, a significant turning point in character growth occurred when one of the characters reflected on the damage of having low self-esteem “instilled” by a parent from childhood years and the impact that had on the decisions they made as an adult.

I enjoy relating to various facets of characters when I read fiction, and this book is no exception: Ellie’s socks, yearning for creativity, and sympathy for her smoker friend’s cat; Dan’s single-minded focus and social awkwardness; their innate connection to and yearning for their wild environmental surroundings. I felt like I could fit into their social circle if they had one, but also felt like the connection between solitaries and their music was too insular to want to intrude upon.

For me, this was a quick, enjoyable read, and I’m grateful I have a flute lesson this afternoon. Will recommend.

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I've read stories about people on the autism spectrum and I loved every single one. These characters are often honest to a fault, don't pick up social cues or behave a little awkwardly in their interaction with other people, a little quirky, very smart and utterly sweet in their disposition. And that's Dan in a nutshell although it's nowhere mentioned that he is, indeed, autistic.
The way he talks and processes thoughts, it's so endearing and adorable. He made this story so special and my heart broke a little when he thought he wasn't made for relationships because somebody told him that he didn't have "the right ingredients." Dan had a pure heart, he was made out of light and love.

"I was sad. Sad with a sadness I’d never felt before. The sadness chewed me up and swallowed me bit by bit. I was so sad I wanted to spend the whole day walking and looking at trees and gathering pebbles, but I couldn’t. My leg wouldn’t let me."

Ellie is married to a controlling, overbearing and overly jealous man. Granted, he's had his former girlfriend cheat on him but the way he treated Ellie was absolutely rotten. I wish I could say that I understood Ellie, holding on to her marriage as she did but, no, I didn't, even with her history with her mother who instilled extra-low self esteem in her. She was mousy, trying not to upset her spouse so she let him walk over her for quite some time. Ellie did ultimately grow a backbone and put a lid on it but I have to admit that it took her a little too long. That notwithstanding, I found her lovable, how she cared for Dan and looked out for him, loving him with all his peculiarities and eccentricities.

“However, I had a feeling the heart of Ellie the Exmoor Housewife was completely lacking in stony components. I had a feeling it was made of much softer stuff.”

The magic of this story lies not only in the characters and their interactions but also this authors writing style. It's as quirky as Dan and switches between past tense and present tense and I have to admit that I couldn't figure out why the author changed tenses so often and what the purpose for it was, but I didn't find it jarring or irritating, not at all. I really enjoyed the writing. Ellie and the Harpmaker is a charming tale about the unusual friendship between Ellie and Dan, who both captured my heart. I'm absolutely stunned that this is a debut novel - it doesn't feel like one. Hazel Prior is an author to look out for in the future. I'm expecting big things from her.

"As I watch from the window the landscape becomes wilder and hillier and sheepier. I feel that simultaneously I am becoming Dannier. And I realize that Exmoor is more than my home. Much more. Exmoor, in a way, is me. It is where I can do my harpmaking and where I can be my absolute self, and those two things are very bound up in each other."

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5 / 5 stars

I went into this book expecting it to be quirky and unique, but I did not expect to love it as much as I did. There is just so much jam-packed into these covers. First of all, I absolutely loved the alternating Ellie and Dan chapters. Two people who see the world so differently from each other and, yet, who actually are utterly complementary, like the two halves of an oyster shell. There were some totally outlandish characters (the pheasant!) and plot twists, but somehow they didn't feel all that outlandish after all, and fit in to the world that the author has so richly created for her story. I absolutely fell in love with the atmosphere and weather and seasons and REALNESS of Exmoor and was transported there by the writing. I won't say more because I prefer to keep things spoiler-free, but I highly recommend this book. Thank you so much to the publisher for sharing an ARC with me in exchange for an honest review!

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This story had one of my favorite things, characters that I loved! It was also quirky, beautifully written and a great ending. The story heartfelt and warming and I enjoyed getting to know these characters. Both of them were unique and had a depth to them that I loved. I found that certain aspects of Dan’s personality were pretty relatable for me. The introversion, and dislike of crowds and loud noises are all things I could relate to. I also loved the aspect of harp building and that was a great addition to the story. Overall, I enjoyed the book and would definitely recommend it!

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In ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER author Hazel Prior uses alternating narrators - Ellie Jacobs, Exmoor Housewife and Dan Hollis, Exmoor Harpmaker – to tell a story of friendship and growth. In her mid-thirties, Ellie is out walking, mourning her father's death, and reflecting on her life choices ("My dad once told me it's not helpful pondering what might have been, because you can't change that. You can only change what will be.") She happens upon the Harp Barn and talented craftsman and nature lover Dan Hollis (whose behavior and literal interpretation of events is reminiscent of Don Tillman in Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project). Dan gives her a harp so that she can learn to play a musical instrument, but her controlling husband, Clive, insists that she return it. Ellie does, but she secretly starts taking lessons which furthers her own confusion and Clive's jealousy.

Throughout, Dan and Exmoor itself are steady poetic presences; Dan says, "The beeches cling onto their dry, coppery flakes of leaves and some of the oaks are snuggled in thick, yellow-green sweaters of moss. But all the other trees stand naked, the last grey tatters of leaves drifting about their ankles." This debut novel is beautifully written; Ellie and Dan are appealing characters finding their way, like the rest of us. ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER is a LibraryReads selection for August 2019.

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I got an ARC of this book for an honest review. It’s well written but I just didn’t connect with the characters. I’m sort of over odd characters at this point.....Ellie is so flaky that I found myself often annoyed with her narrative and how much she put up with her husband Clive, and I never understand how the people in the story don’t get that someone is on the spectrum. Could Ellie really not tell that Dan is autistic right from their first meeting? Personally, I think addressing the autism straight on would have made me more open to this book instead of describing him as “different”.

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Ellie is along on her daily walk when she discovers a barn she has never noticed before. Inside she finds Dan and a barn full of beautiful harps that he has made. Ellie appears sad to Dan, so he gives her one of his harps. When she brings it home, though, her husband won’t let her keep it. So when she returns it, Dan keeps it for her in his barn and tells her she can come to play it there. Soon they build an understanding of each other and a friendship both need.

This is another charming book with a quirky, loveable character along the lines of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine or The Rosie Project. Dan lives happily on his own in the barn but appears autistic and not in tune with the rest of the world. He is just a good guy with a heart of gold. Ellie thinks she is in love with her controlling husband, but in fact, is missing the love and connection a good marriage provides, leaving her unfulfilled. I loved the way Hazel Prior developed this heartwarming story where we saw life through the eyes of the main characters. It allowed us to see how each was perceiving his/her world and watching as they grew in their understanding. The way these two grew together was delightful. This book also made me want to take up playing the harp.

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Ellie and the Harpmaker is just the kind of sweet and quirky British novel I adore, highlighting both the beautiful and the grit of real life, airbrushed a bit. Ellie is a closet creative who needs some joy in her life, and one day she meets Dan, who lives in the hills of Exmoor and builds harps. Dan loves to make harps. He names them. Dan is a very noticing and precise sort of person, only not the kind of noticing and precision that most people expect. He's not very interested in money, for instance; his sister manages his business for him. He's interested in wood and pebbles and in making harps. Celtic harps, not orchestra harps. Ellie admires a harp made from cherrywood; learning to play is one of her heart's desires, and Dan gives her the harp as a present, so she can learn to play. He tells Ellie his girlfriend can teach her, she's a professional harpist. But when Ellie gets home, her husband convinces her it's a wacko idea and she should return it. Dan has a problem with the idea of returning a gift; it's her harp, but she can leave it with him and take lessons at the barn, he suggests. Ellie is unsure of herself, but desperate for beauty and light in her life. From this desire, change and consequence fall like dominoes.
The tale is told in chapters that alternate voices, one Dan's and the other Ellie's. This is good, because it helps you understand from different points of view the rest of the motivations and actions that create quite a fine mess, soap opera style, before Ellie earns her happy ending. What is Dan's girlfriend hiding from him (other than the fact that she might not be his girlfriend anymore)?Just how controlling is Ellie's husband, and how much does she contribute to her own unhappiness? Does Ellie eventually learn to play the harp? Can Dan expand his interests to trains? These questions and more are answered in this beautifully written, noticing book. I enjoyed reading about the different resonances of wood, harp construction, and the simplicity of Dan very much. Highly recommended, especially for book clubs—so much to discuss!
Thanks to Netgalley and Berkley for an electronic galley to review.

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Dan lives a happy quiet life carving Celtic harps in his barn. Ellie happens along one day on the anniversary of her father’s death and Dan gives her a harp. Everything changes. A fun read!

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Don't let the simplicity of this one fool you. It's a very sweet story, at times predictable, but still worth reading. And Dan's construction work on harps is really interesting. Thank you, Netgalley, for this arc.

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I tried to like this, but just couldn't. I found Ellie to be super annoying and Dan to be too innocent to be believed. I get that this is supposed to be an awakening story where Ellie discovers she's wasted her life on a no-account husband who has done a number on her self-esteem. I checked out at the first "honey-bun." Not for me.

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