Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Jun 2019

Member Reviews

I was sent a copy of Needlemouse by Jane O'Connor to read and review by NetGalley.
I have to admit I didn’t like the protagonist Sylvia Penton very much.  I know she was supposed to be ‘prickly’ but I actually found her very self-centred and sometimes just plain nasty – she didn’t seem to have any redeeming features to her character at all, in the beginning at least.  The story is told in the form of a journal so the only voice you hear is Sylvia’s, moving from the things that are happening in her day to day life to memories conjured up by these events.  This naturally gives a singular view of her life.  There wasn’t quite as much relating to the Needlemouse (hedgehogs) of the title but what was included was informative and interesting.  I can’t say this was the most enjoyable or well written book that I have ever read but it was engaging enough for me to finish it and not regret my time spent on it!
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Quirky, witty, and full of charm.

Sylvia is a 52-year-old PA who has a secret long-term crush on her boss, Professor Lomax. Although we quickly realise that the crush is actually an obsession, bordering on stalking. She will not let anyone get close to Prof, convinced that one day they will be together. Take Prof out of the equation, and Sylvia is a lonely lady who spends her weekends tending hedgehogs. She lives for this man and puts all her energy into her adoration for him. When she witnesses Prof and a student getting closer, she oversteps the boundaries and finds herself in a situation that could ruin everything. Not just with Prof, but with her other big secret too.

As a huge Eleanor Oliphant fan, I'd heard this book had a similar feel and it certainly didn't disappoint. Sylvia was a cantankerous grump that I totally connected with. I sympathised with her completely as I could see how she got into the situation with Prof, being blinded by love and taking his tokens of affection like a lovestruck teenager. She was also battling another secret that left her vulnerable and alone. I feel like it's an unpopular opinion but I honestly loved Sylvia. The book was a breath of fresh air and a fantastic debut.
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This is a charming and consuming tale, it thoroughly enjoyed the range of characters and their quirks and was willing the heroine to get her happy ending. It's a lovely story and I didn't want to put it down, perfect for curling up with x
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The title of this novel intrigued me and I started reading wondering just what a Needlemouse actually was, O’Connor didn’t tell me straight away, she kept me waiting, as she pulled me into the life of Sylvia Penton.

Who was Sylvia Penton? For me she was a woman who seemed rooted in routine, in self control and most importantly she was a woman in love.  It wasn’t the all encompassing, passionate type, it was one sided, blinkered and I found it quite sad and heartbreaking. The subject of Sylvia’s affections was definitely not deserving,  not the man who she thought he was, and it was unsettling to read of Sylvia’s protectiveness towards him, her need to shelter him from those who sought to distract him, to take him away from her. This was where O’Connor cleverly employed her hedgehog analogy,  as we were given a Sylvia with the sharp needle like spikes and only fleeting glimpses of a soft interior.

That soft interior only ever seemed to emerge in her relationship with Jonas and her stints of volunteering at his hedgehog sanctuary. You desperately wanted that soft interior to take over, for Sylvia to wake up, open her eyes, much like a hedgehog awakening from hibernation, and to see the world from a new and differing perspective, a new beginning.

You could feel the frustration her family and so called friends felt and indeed yourself as you read, but that only made you desperately want Sylvia to have her happy ending.  As her story unfolded, so your frustration ebbed away, you felt yourself warming towards Sylvia that little bit more, you inwardly cheered as you watched as a new and better model of a woman slowly began to appear. You could forgive her indiscretions, could see that she wasn’t an unkind person, just lonely, afraid, wrapped up in a life that she didn’t want but didn’t know how to change and let go.

Needlemouse wasn’t one of those novels that plunged you into deep despair, that left you feeling bereft. Yes, it had its serious side, but there was a wonderful lightness, little ripples of humour, of being able to see the goodness in everyone no matter what they had done or said. It was full of hope, of being able to turn life around, and enjoy it even if that meant losing a little bit of self control and opening up just a bit more.

I loved the cover, I enjoyed the novel and I now know what a needlemouse is, so thank you Jane O’Connor for enlightening me.
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It was a refreshing change to read a story with the main character aged over 50. You might think we have life and all its challenges sussed when we get to that point in our lives but I’m bursting the bubble, it’s a myth. 🙂

Sylvia may come across as a self-obsessed bitch at first but as always, there is something driving that behaviour and it becomes clear why she is fixed on the unobtainable and misinterprets actions. Having said that, I did think she either had a personality disorder or maybe she was on the autistic spectrum when you consider how she felt as a child/teen. She did amuse me. But however you look at it, she is vulnerable.

I loved the hedgehog sanctuary and the snippets from Jonas’ ‘The Hedgehog Year.’ Sylvia’s humanity does come through with Jonas and this caused me to waver between disliking her and thinking she was actually ok. This sub-plot in the story brought me tears of sadness.

You’ve got to love a resolution where everyone gets what they deserve. I thought it was the perfect exit for Sylvia.

Needlemouse is a story of secrets, family fracture and redemption. I think it shows us that we should be talking about our experiences in life so that we can get emotional support and not go on to make mistakes with far-reaching consequences. Recommended!
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This book has been on my TBR list for far too long and as I wanted to read something completely different,  I thought this fitted the bill perfectly (and I have a real soft spot for hedgehogs!)

Sylvia is a single mature lady who lives alone and is far too dedicated to her job at a university. Actually, it is more her boss who she is dedicated to, in fact, she is head over heels in love with him. This unrequited love, however, is an obsessive fantasy which her brain has formulated to cloak the deep loneliness which engulfs her. Sylvia is bitter and derogatory towards her friends, colleagues, and family but the reasons behind this become evident as the story unfolds.

I loved the chapters at the hedgehog sanctuary especially Jonas who is quiet, kind and wise beyond words. Sylvia only volunteers to fill her spare time but this place gradually melts her cold exterior.

This is a brave debut with a main character who is distinctly unlikeable. I enjoyed Sylvia’s story and finding out the secrets she carried with her for decades. There are plenty of warm, kind characters who are portrayed brilliantly and really help to give balance to the plot. The end is intensely satisfying and truly heartwarming, I look forward to reading more from Jane O’Connor.
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Sylvia is 52 and on her own. Her life is only filled with work, as a PA to a university professor and volunteering a few hours a week at a hedgehog sanctuary. Hedgehogs are mostly solitary animals, like Sylvia. Her life is empty and uninspiring. She also plays second fiddle to her outgoing, happy go lucky sister. 
The themes of the book are interesting, as women do get older and they haven't married or had children, I think society do paint them in a certain light and I think this book plays up to that image of the lonely old spinster. Insecurity creeping in. Feelings of getting left behind. Friends and family getting married, having babies, doing things "normal" people do.

There's a difference between being a quirky character or an unlikeable character though. And for me Sylvia falls into the unlikeable character. 
I'm all for the sisterhood and women raising each other up. But Sylvia is so nasty and negative, tearing women down for her own benefit. I think as the reader we're supposed to feel sorry for her. But she's the type of person who blames everyone else, nothing is her fault. She's infatuated with her boss, it's unhealthy and is actually her downfall. She also calls him the prof all the time which made me cringe. Prof this, prof that. 

She does soften the longer the book goes on as she begins having a better relationship with her teenage niece. And begins building better relationships with people around her and that's definitely a more enjoyable part of the book. But I didn't love this book as much as I thought I would.
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I had a hard time getting into this book, but once I did I was impressed by the way the author portrayed how damaged the main character was.  You start off with a pretty unlikeable heroine but as the book progresses you come to understand that her behavior is a defense. .The second half of the book is much more uplifting.
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This was another of those books I couldn’t put down.  it describes itself as an uplifting novel perfect for fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (I’ve not read, but feel like I should).  The heroine, Sylvia has a secret, she’s in love with ‘Prof’ the thing is he has no idea, and he’s her boss.  Sylvia lives for work, and ‘Prof’ but also for her volunteering at the hedgehog sanctuary and while you might not warm or even like Sylvia, you can’t fail to like this book, hedgehog fan or not.

And if you’re wondering why Needlemouse, that’s the Japanese translation of the name for hedgehogs, I think I want to call them that now rather than hedgehogs…
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Sylvia is in love with ‘Prof’- she is his personal assistant  & she looks forward to their regular lunches & lives for a kind word. She reads all his academic writings (whether she understands them or not!) & clings to the memory of that kiss under the mistletoe. When an attractive PhD student breezes in & starts taking Prof’s time she is consumed with jealousy & she makes her life as difficult as possible. Sylvia’s outgoing sister , Minnie tries to include her in family events but she prefers her daydreams & helping out at the local hedgehog sanctuary (it gives her something to talk about & makes people think she is nicer than she is!)
For a very large part of this book I felt so irritated by Sylvia. I really felt she was in need of psychiatric help – how was it possible to live like that? However I did persevere & I’m quite glad I did as by the end I was starting to hope for better things for her!
Thanks to Netgalley & the publishers for letting me read & review this slightly unusual book,
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Sylvia volunteers at a hedgehog sanctuary to avoid questions about what she does on a weekend as well as forestalling any requests for charity support at work. She doesn't really like them, she finds the man who runs it with his grown up daughters a bit sad and pathetic and when she says that she does this to make her seem nicer than she is, she is absolutely telling the truth.

MASSIVE kudos to Jane O'Connor for having her debut novel feature a first person protagonist who is not just prickly but damn unlikable. She judges, and finds wanting, every person she meets, including her own family, all that is , except the Prof.

Her boss, the love of her life who actually treats her appallingly. She does everything within her power to make his life easier-including trying to ruin the academic lives of people she sees as a threat-but as a 52 year old woman, she keeps close every single moment he has ever been 'nice' or 'kind' to her as if she is about to go into years of hibernation and these things will nourish her.

But he is not nice, he is dismissive, vain and selfish to her unrequited love. Her birthday meal is when he announces his unfaithful wife has left him. He passes off a secret santa gift to him as her birthday present. He unwittngly gives her hope every time he is nice to her then there is the occasion when he drunkenly kissed her, the lynchpin of her desire and hope that one day something more will happen.

And you peel away the layers, unprickle her if you will, you see an intelligent woman who is in denial, she lives this life of unrequited living in preference of reality. It's almost as if life is hyperreal and she cannot cope with it, she buries herself in leaves made of rules, stolen looks, notes, even the Prof's teabags. And when she does go along with what is expected of her (going on a date arranged by her sister)everything that happens on it reinforces why she stays prickly.

Syliva is a complex character, I found her hard and unwieldly, judgemental and unprofessional in her behaviour at work and wondered if she would ever redeem herself as a good person at the same time challenging my perceived notion of what constitutes a good person. Especially a woman, and this woman in particular who is the wrong side of 50, unmarried, no children i.e of no use to society whatsoever. Her choices in living this life are seen as invalid and selfish and that is when I clicked, on her date , and through thoughts such as these-

''It's part of how I love him,demonstrates my commitment to him.If I ever feel hungry or start to crave sweet things or crisps I think of him and enjoy the deniual. I suppose that's what is meant by 'love is suffering' and I am happy to suffer for him.''

Oh my heart,

She is prickly but then so are we as readers, we judge her self confessed behaviour as not normal, but then she is reflecting what society expects of women and the expectations it has of conforming to a set standard and if we do so, the love we receive will be worth the pain.

It's a frankly wonderful debut , and I am so grateful to have met Sylvia and read about her journey to actualisation. And also learn so much about hedgehogs and what we can do, in our own little ways, to support them.
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I'm not sure I've ever read a character based book with such a dislikeable main character as Sylvia. She i s"in love" with her boss. Infatuated and deluded and you can see why colleagues of all levels see it and mock this sad 52 year old..

It's not until later in the book that we read about the events of the past that led to Sylvia's feelings of worthlessness and why she never really had a personal life, living through her more outgoing younger sister, Millie, when all she's ever wanted is a husband and family of her own. The title comes from Sylvia spending her weekends at the hedgehog sanctuary, run by the elderly Jonas. When Sylvia's life unravels she discovers who her friends are and a has to build a different life for herself, and we see a different side to her. Sometimes an uncomfortable read, but teaches us not to take everyone at face value. #needlemouse #netgalley
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4☆ A Charming and Quirky Novel 

I absolutely ADORE Hedgehogs 🦔 which we call them in the UK and I love everything about them. So as soon as i see this gorgeous book I jumped at the chance to read it. Just by picking it up I learnt that Needlemouse meant Hedgehog! 🦔

Sylvia is a bit of a recluse, she comes across as quiet brash, obnoxious, opinionated, a lil prickly and overly protective of her boss, who she has a major crush on, some might say she was completely infatuated with him! 
If only it was reciprocated! He is married and has no intention of being with Sylvia. Although it doesn't stop her!

Sylvia volunteers at a local Hedgehog Sanctuary, at first it appears that she is there for entirely selfish reasons, but as the story progresses she slowly reveals her softer and nurturing side which was actually pleasantly surprising. 
It's here she makes some pretty big discoveries and decisions about her life and future!

What i loved most about this book was all the facts and information weaved in about the Hedgehogs, some I already knew but was still so nice and really did educate.

Sylvia isn't particularly a likeable character she is deeply flawed but she does have redeeming qualities and a vulnerable side you can't help warm too despite not wanting to like her!

This is a story of unrequited love/ obsession/ infatuation, a need to be loved, Secrets, Drama, its a story of life choices, transformation and discovery and of course adorable Hedgehogs.
It's a character driven story that's a slower paced read which really worked well.

So if you are looking for a charming quirky Novel, that has a storyline thats interesting, engaging, poignant and educational then you will really enjoy Needlemouse.

Thank you to Compulsive Readers Tours for this copy which I reviewed honestly and voluntarily.
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I have a distinct soft spot for hedgehogs (eventually we learn that ‘needlemouse’ is a rough translation of the Japanese name for the prickly critters), and I’m also very familiar with the type of administrative assistant or other holder of a gatekeeper role, who believes it’s their foremost duty to prevent anyone disturbing their employer with trivial matters. By trivial, of course, they mean any matter on which ‘lesser beings’ wish to consult their particular member of the ‘great and good’ – even when part of both party’s jobs. Sylvia takes her position very seriously, and at first it’s hard to like her as she does everything in her power to allow students access to the professor whose job it is to supervise them. However, we gradually learn there’s far more to her than we see at first glance.

Sylvia has been the personal assistant of Professor Lomax for fifteen years, and spent two thirds of that time convinced he is as much in love with her as she is with him – taking every small gift and kind gesture he gives her as proof – and convinced that one day his frequent rows with his wife – based, Sylvia thinks, on his wife’s infidelity and general unsuitability – will lead to a permanent separation followed by a happy ever after for Sylvia and the Prof. Sylvia doesn’t think much to the Prof’s students or to the fellow administrator with whom she shares an office, and her main workplace socialising consists of a regular lunch with the Prof and fleeting visits at rare parties thrown by other academics in the department. When the Prof announces that his wife is leaving him for good this time, Sylvia takes his side of the story for granted and begins planning for the day when he will ask her out romantically. Her plans are thwarted, though, by the appearance of a rival in the form of a new, mature, PhD student named Lola.

Sylvia believes that drastic action is required to prevent the Prof being led astray by this interloper, but her attempts to discredit Lola have disastrous consequences for Sylvia herself. Things go from bad to worse, when Sylvia falls out with her younger sister over a secret she’s kept for nearly two decades – losing the support of their shared social group in the process. Her only respite is the time she spends at a local hedgehog sanctuary, run by a taciturn widower with occasional help from his three adult daughters. Through her voluntary work, Sylvia comes to learn what’s really important, who her true friends are, and how she can make a better future for herself, in which she does not rely on scraps of affection from a very unreliable man.

I loved the structure of this book, with its division into the four seasons representing both time passing and Sylvia’s transformation as she goes into virtual hibernation when depression hits, but then emerges slowly in the spring as she starts to see new possibilities. I liked the unreliability of her narration. The book is in the form of a diary, broken up with excerpts from a pamphlet on hedgehogs – illustrated by this book’s author – even though that style made me unwilling to like her at first. And I cheered at the ending, which wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but seemed to be perfectly what Sylvia needed.
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Oh, what a wonderful and heartwarming debut novel this is! With some reviews it’s difficult to put into words how a book made me feel, but with Needlemouse I don’t have that problem at all. It’s a truly delightful book that left me with a huge smile on my face as I turned the final page, making me feel like I could go out and tackle anything life decided to throw my way that day! It’s such a moving and beautifully written book and, I’m not ashamed to say, it brought a tear to my eye on more than one occasion.

Oh Sylvia Penton, what have you done to me?

Now where do I even start with Sylvia? She was a character I didn’t think I was ever going to like. I mean, how could I? She was prickly, hard to get to know, with a mean streak a mile long. She lives alone, dedicating her life to her job at the local university and to her boss Professor Carl Lomax, who she has secretly been in love with for over a decade. In her spare time she helps out at a local hedgehog sanctuary, not due to her love of hedgehogs, but because it gives her something to talk about and makes her seem nicer than she really is.

But when a new PhD student catches the Prof’s eye, Sylvia finds her life spiralling out of control, with her behaviour becoming more and more desperate, until things finally come to a head, leaving her facing a lonely and uncertain future.

Some of the things Sylvia did in her quest to be with the man she loves made me cringe and, in all honesty, left me not really feeling much sympathy for her at that point in the story. But then, slowly, her prickly outer shell began to be stripped away until we could finally begin to see the real Sylvia underneath her hard and unfeeling exterior. And this was when my feelings for her began to change. Before long, when secrets from her past began to emerge, I could understand why she’d put up the protective walls that she had. And that was when this character who I really didn’t like or understand came to life for me, in ways I never would have expected.

Mostly told in diary form, only bits and pieces of the story are revealed at a time as we get to know Sylvia through her interactions with her work colleagues and family. Her friendship with Jonas, the elderly owner of the hedgehog sanctuary, was particularly endearing and it was this part of the story that made my heart melt and moved me the most.

Needlemouse is a quirky, fun and moving debut that’s full of warmth and heart. I loved it more than I ever thought I could when I started it, with Sylvia becoming a memorable character who I’m unlikely to forget for some time to come.

A gorgeous and uplifting novel that I would highly recommend. Jane O’Connor is a stunning new talent and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
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Thank you for allowing me to review this book.

I absolutely loved this book by Jane O'Connor.
Its about a woman called Sylvia who struggles with her identity and finding love she mistakenly believes she loves her professor however he is an egotistical piece of work and doesn't even notice poor Sylvia is in love with him. 
There are times that Sylvia acts a bit irrational such as when she follows the professor to Rome. 
Sylvia's character I think at least everyone has met someone like her in their lifetime, the spinster who needs to be awakened and we find that towards the end Sylvia has awakened and thrown caution to the wind to start her life. I would really love a second book to find out how her and Neil get on!

I loved every minute, I loved Sylvia she made me laugh and she made me cry. 
I will definitely be looking out for Jane O'Connor books in the future.
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f you're looking for a light and charming read that is totally quirky and unique then I highly recommend Needlemouse to you.

Not only does this novel have one of the most fascinating characters I've ever read in a contemporary novel, it also really recognises that actually people in their post 30s (and then some) still have some of the same issues as their younger counterparts.

At first I wasn't sure about Sylvia's character but it didn't take long before I began to love her devious little ways and her wicked thoughts.  She is quite the little minx and a thoroughly enjoyable character to read about.  It's fairly clear that her narration isn't always the most accurate and this, paired with her non-nonsense attitude gets Sylvia into all sorts of scrapes and situations.   

In the beginning the narrative describes Sylvia as a lonely and bitter old lady who has been in love with her boss for 15 years and seems destined to be miserable - and enjoy it a little.  As the story unravels and more about Sylvia is revealed, the more her actions are explained and the more lovable she becomes.  It's only when her current life crumbles after some stark realisations that we really see Sylvia come into her own. 

Such a brilliant character book with humour and a little sadness.  I cannot recommend Sylvia's journey enough.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book: while the quirky single lady is everywhere at the moment, this book finds a quite different angle, and I thought the writing and characterisation was absolutely excellent. While I might not have done so at first, I grew to love Sylvia – as prickly as the hedgehogs she helps to look after, her blind devotion to her Prof is so well done, and rather than making her a figure of fun I couldn’t help feeling for her as her actions begin to blow her life apart. She’s really the most extreme of unreliable narrators – but unlike the “norm”, where you might be questioning that unreliability, her behaviour becomes so over-th-top that there’s never any question or doubt.

It’s very funny – and you feel almost embarrassed to be laughing, and as a fellow single in later life it sometimes felt rather uncomfortably close to home – and I really enjoyed the way her story then played out. The emotional content and the story telling is quite enchanting, as it becomes clear what has made her as she is, and the hedgehog sanctuary becomes her salvation too. The subsidiary characters are also thoroughly excellent  – I had a particular soft spot (surprisingly…) for Prof’s wife, and (of course) for gentle Jonas and his daughters.

A very different read, and a rather lovely one – highly recommended.
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This was a bit different and I really loved the information about the hedgehogs, what a brilliant way of getting the message out there that we need to be taking care of them.  We all like to save stuff and keep things but sometimes it all gets out of hand and that is what happens here. Loved the story and the characters.
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Who is Sylvia Penton? She is a woman in her fifties and she works as a personal assistant to a professor in a London University. The most exciting thing in her life is her volunteering at the local hedgehog shelter, but Sylvia is far from ordinary and she has a few secrets. She’s keeping a huge secret that could destroy her relationship with her sister and her family (no spoiler!). Additionally, for the last ten years she’s been in love with her boss, Professor Lomax (that’s not much of a secret as it seems that everyone knows about it). She takes care of him and she sees herself as his protector while waiting for him to leave his wife. And when a younger woman threatens her relationship with Professor, Sylvia shows that she is ready to do anything for the man he loves…

At the beginning, Sylvia’s reserved nature and her borderline obsession with Professor Lomax make her an unlikable (and a little insane) character, but the more I read the more I learned about the protagonist of the novel, about her past trauma, and, as she develops, she becomes more interesting and more endearing and I adored her and felt sympathy for her by the end of the book. The other characters are all very interesting and realistic, all with different personalities, some likable, some just detestable. My favourite character was Jonas, the owner of the hedgehog sanctuary where Sylvia volunteers. He is wise and good-natured and I found fascinating all the facts about hedgehogs he described (did you know that needle mouse is Japanese for hedgehogs?).

I liked how the book is written in the form of a diary in which Sylvia pours all her secrets and her feelings. We see her at the lowest and worst time of her life and we see her come out of it stronger and more likable. Her heartbreaking revelations made for a very emotional read, but there were also a few funny moments that made me laugh. NEEDLEMOUSE is a brilliant and refreshing debut that I loved from the first to the last page.
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