How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper (Fiction)

Writing: 4.5/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 5/5

Loved this book!

Andrew Smith works in Death Administration. His unenviable (and often malodorous) job: property inspections of the recently deceased to find funds or friends to help the local council escape paying for the obligatory “Public Health Funeral.” He feels compassion for those dying in such lonely ways — possibly because he is heading that way himself. His own social connections consist of a distant sister, an anonymous group of online train enthusiasts, and a very comforting, but completely imaginary, wife and children. When he has a chance to make a real friend, he struggles with how to extricate himself from this long-lived and thoroughly detailed fabrication.

This is a feel-good book about friendship, connection, and how people get lost … and found again. Effortlessly great writing (at least it appears effortless). I particularly enjoyed the ambient social commentary and the interactions between good characters.

One of the few books compared to Eleanor Oliphant that actually deserves the comparison.
A few writing samples:
“He’d thought having only just turned forty-two he’d have a few more years before he began accompanying minor physical tasks by making odd noises, but it seemed to be the universe’s gentle way of telling him that he was now officially heading toward middle age.”

“Andrew could think of many things he’d rather be doing that evening — most of them involving his testicles, some jam and some aggrieved hornets — but he suddenly felt a rather strong urge not to disappoint Peggy.”

“When it came to model trains, one of the most satisfying simple things Andrew had learned was that the more you ran a locomotive, the better it performed. With repeated use, an engine starts to glide around the track, seeming to grow in efficiency with every circuit. When it came to making connections with people, however, he was less of a smoothly running locomotive and more a rail replacement bus rusting in a rest stop.”

“After said shunt finally materialized, Andrew and Peggy hauled their bags off the train along with a few hundred other passengers traveling back that Saturday whose phasers were all set to “grumble,” only to be elevated to “strongly worded letter” when they were told it would be forty minutes before a replacement train could get there.”

“His shoes were well-polished but starting to look worn. Too many nicks from churchyard gravel, too many times the leather had strained where he’d curled his toes at a vicar’s verbal stumble.”

Little Big Love by Katy Regan

Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for an early review copy of Little Big Love by Katy Regan, which will publish June 12, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.

Writing: 4 Plot: 4 Characters: 4.5

A big story — simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming — about a family that fell apart after a tragedy that occurred ten years in the past and the young boy who now desperately wants to know his missing father. Part coming-of-age for 10-year old Zac and part coming-to-terms-with-the-past for Juliet (his mother) and Mick (his grandfather), the story alternates between their three voices.

Zac is a wonderful kid – sweet, funny, and with a great capacity for love. He is also overweight and subject to a lot of bullying. He traipses around the Harlequin Estates in Grimsby (Southeast of York) working on his Find Dad Mission with his best friend Teagan. I absolutely fell in love with Zac and with several of the other characters as well. Oddly enough, I had the least sympathy for Juliet, though this possibly says more about my “take charge” personality than it does about her :-))

Well-written (though it could be shortened by perhaps 50 pages in the middle which drags a bit), the novel deals with issues of alcoholism, body shaming, childhood obesity and single parenting. I like the fact that each character recognizes and seeks to address their issues not because of external pressure, but because they recognize that both they and the people they love will be much happier if they do.

I had not heard of Katy Regan before but she appears to be a well-known novelist and journalist in the UK. This is her American debut, and it is quite captivating. I’ll keep her on my “look for more” list.