Cover Image: Needlemouse

Needlemouse

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A very good book with an unlikely heroine that grows slowly on you. Sylvia grated on my nerves at the beginning but as the plot evolved I started to find her likable and ended rooting for her. 
It was great to meet a 5o something women instead of the usual  20 something. I loved the empathy of the author toward her character and I loved how the plot resonated with me.
I look forward to reading other books by this author.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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When I started this book, I was put off by what appeared to be a fairly cliche-ridden scenario - a middle-aged woman secretly in love with her boss, who apparently didn't notice the fact. I put it aside, but then re-started it when the hedgehogs in our garden reappeared and reminded me about it!

I'm glad that I persevered with this story.  It turns out that there is far more to Sylvia than meets the eye, and that her life - far from having been totally boring - has included a huge loss that affected everything from then on.  Once we learn what happened, we can understand why Sylvia emulated her spiky hedgehog friends.  After another disaster or two, she begins to cast off her spiny shell and become a warmer, nicer person for whom life takes on a more hopeful aspect.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for an ARC in return for my honest review.
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In Needlemouse we meet Sylvia, 52, single, intolerant, judgemental, bad tempered and deceitful - you won’t like her, I certainly didn’t. But just like the hedgehogs she cares for while volunteering at the local hedgehog sanctuary she has shown nothing but her prickles to the world for many years, as she slowly unfurls throughout the book and her soft underbelly is exposed we see there is much here to love.

A great book about living past your mistakes and forgiving yourself in the process. Highly recommended. Thanks to Netgalley for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Sylvia is PA to University professor Carl Lomax and she is obsessed with him. She reads far more into little things than are actually there and fantasises about a time when he will leave his wife for her. She is single with no children and a strained relationship with her family. Her only hobby is volunteering at a hedgehog sanctuary. When Carl becomes involved with a mature student Sylvia does everything she can to split them up. 
While I understand the inference that Sylvia is like a hedgehog, hiding behind prickly spines to protect herself, I felt she came across as selfish, unlikable and stalkerish so even discovering more about her past didn’t make her a character I could feel any sympathy for. I’m afraid this just wasn’t for me.
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This is an inspired debut novel. Having an introvert as the main protagonist is risky, especially one that is not very likeable given her obsessive nature and the consequences of her actions.  A hedgehog sanctuary is also out of the usual but it equates fantastically with Sylvia's persona. The cycle of the hedgehog mirrors perfectly with Sylvia's changing circumstances and change of heart. Just as the hedgehog comes out of hibernation, so does she wakes to reality of the Pro's true nature and begins to live her life ,free from the chains she willingly submitted to.  
A great quirky read. I eagerly awaiting the author's second novel.
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This is Jane O'Connor's debut, a wonderful story about 52 year old Sylvia Penton, the PA and admin support to the Psychology Education Professor Carl Lomax, a man she guards and protects like a rottweiler. Chances are when you first meet her, you are not going to like her, and why should you? She is spiteful, underhand, going on to display all the signs of being a stalker. For 15 years she has been in love with her boss, coveting and treasuring all signs and gestures from Lomax that she thinks prove that he is in love with her, although any evidence to the contrary, she finds excuses for. The only problem is that he is married to Martha, an immovable obstacle to them getting it together. He provides her with an interior life, an emotional defence to counter those who might find her a pitiable woman. Sylvia volunteers at a local hedgehog sanctuary run by old Jonas, giving her something to do at weekends and make herself appear nicer than she actually is to others.

Interspersed in the narrative are facts and information about hedgehogs, such as the Japanese word for hedgehog translates as needlemouse. Much like a hedgehog, Sylvia has been hibernating for years, she has lost the knack for life. Her social life revolves around her kooky free spirited sister, Millie, who insists on including in her social and family life, even though others are not so keen on Sylvia. Millie is married to the love of her life, Kamal, who runs a local deli, and they have a teenage daughter, Crystal. Lomax is going to get divorced and Sylvia is convinced that her chance has come, but he is having his head turned by 33 year old Irish single mom, the glamorous Lola, the newest PhD student. There is no way that Sylvia is going to let Lola stand in the way of her achieving her dream, and she doesn't care what she has to do to split them apart. Only has Sylvia been deluding herself by seeing only what she wants to see in Lomax? As Sylvia's life crumbles on every front, is she going to be able to put away her prickly exterior, come out of hibernation, handle devastating past traumas and begin to truly live again?

I imagine we have all encountered people who are eminently dislikeable and whom people generally swerve to avoid. Sylvia is definitely one of those characters, but O'Connor in her stellar characterisation, tenderly and compassionately reveals that beneath the prickles, the lonely inner Sylvia and the traumas she has suffered in her life have made her the woman she is today, one who becames so unhinged that her life disintegrates. She has no options but to rediscover who she is and tentatively begin to engage with others, finding the wise Jonas being so supportive, and we discovering just how much our needlemouse has misread Crystal through the years, and that the two have such similar personalities. Before I knew it, I found myself beginning to understand and adore Sylvia. An entertaining and emotionally intense read that I grew to love the more I read of it. Many thanks to Random House Ebury for an ARC.
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A lovely story that unfolds gradually but had some poignant lessons. It took some getting in to initially.
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I'm a little bit conflicted by this, the whole premise works quite well but I just found Sylvia to be so unlikeable. She was so bitter and twisted, and so thoroughly unpleasant to other people. It didn't ring true that Neil would just be able to bypass all of that, it had a hollow feel. It'd have been better if the other positives hasn't been overshadowed by the feeling that finding love fixed everything. The fact that she found purpose and started to make friendships should have been enough. On the plus side I did enjoy the hedgehog references throughout, and the story was well told.
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I am in charge of our Senior School library and am looking for a diverse array of new books to furnish their shelves with and inspire our young people to read a wider and more diverse range of books as they move through the senior school. It is hard sometimes to find books that will grab the attention of young people as their time is short and we are competing against technology and online entertainments.
This was a thought-provoking and well-written read that will appeal to young readers across the board. It had a really strong voice and a compelling narrative that I think would capture their attention and draw them in. It kept me engrossed and I think that it's so important that the books that we purchase for both our young people and our staff are appealing to as broad a range of readers as possible - as well as providing them with something a little 'different' that they might not have come across in school libraries before.
This was a really enjoyable read and I will definitely be purchasing a copy for school so that our young people can enjoy it for themselves. A satisfying and well-crafted read that I keep thinking about long after closing its final page - and that definitely makes it a must-buy for me!
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What a delightful Book all set around one of our most endearing & endangered Creatures The Hedgehog or translated from their Japanese name the quaint Needlemouse.
I was totally captivated from the very start of this delightful book , even with all the quite complex relationships real & imagined that were going on through out  it's pages all held together by the wonderful & gentle character Jonas & the Hedgehogs & Hoglets at his Sanctuary. It is a Book that will be enjoyed across many age groups & I highly recommend friends & family to get between it's pages.
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Sylvia has been in waiting for some time. Waiting for Prof to notice her, waiting for something to happen, waiting for her life to begin. She takes small pleasures at his touch, his attentions, but when his new and attractive PhD student arrives, Sylvia realises she will have to take matters into her own hands if she is going to keep Prof safe. Not to mention that she has a few secrets of her own, that are eating her up inside ...

Needlemouse is the perfect title for this story and the character of Sylvia (not to mention being a super-cute translation of 'hedgehog' from Japanese). The whole 'hedgehog personality' became a bit laboured in places - the title is there, you don't need to refer to her as prickly again! - but it still worked well overall. I thought the regular volunteering at a hedgehog sanctuary might also quickly become tiresome, but O'Connor managed to ensure that this wasn't the focus of the whole novel.

Overall, this was a light and easy read - with some really cringey and uncomfortable moments. Thankfully, these continue to help the main character grow and, also thankfully, Sylvia's voice gradually develops across the story. Her own voice may put some readers off to start with, but it does change and grow. She is initially vindictive, silly and uncomfortably anxious, but learns to find her own self.

Without spoiling it, I'm also satisfied with the ending - I was worried it might go one way (and meet the stereotype for this kind of novel) but I was pleasantly surprised instead.
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This is an enjoyable book that I read very quickly. Sylvia was bizarre and so insecure initially, all prickly and really not so nice a person. It was interesting to see her character almost wake up and develop into the end result.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the ARC in return for an honest and unbiased opinion.
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This is a book of two halves, as the blurb suggests.  The dreadful secret of Sylvia's love-obsession with 'Prof', takes most of the first half.  For any introverts around, it can be uncomfortable reading.  Here's someone they might recognise, keeping all her secrets to herself, and agonising over the behaviour of her more extrovert companions.  I recognised several people, both friends and myself.

It is a testament to Jane O'Connor's writing that Sylvia and her friends are so aptly captured on paper.  The writing flows well, and the plot descends into a quagmire of Sylvia's making with an inevitability born of human failings.

But then.... she wakes up, as the blurb says.  Part of the awakening is brought upon herself, and part is imposed upon her.  After that, she reassesses her life and we find out all about Sylvia's past.

This is where I felt betrayed.  The author has chosen to make Sylvia a product of severe trauma, making out that her introversion is caused by her troubled past, her family and her relationships.  If readers believe Ms O'Connor, every introvert will now be poked and prodded by his or her extravert friends to find what horrors lurk in their past to make them turn out this way.

I take violent exception to this. Just let introverts alone, let them be themselves. You might as well write a novel about a person of colour turning out not to be of colour after all. They just fell in a vat of something when they were a baby.  Seriously. This is the best comparison I can make with what Ms O'Connor is alleging.

It may be a cause of Sylvia's behaviour, but don't paint her like thousands of other people, people we know well in our day to day lives, and then say it was the events of their past that made her that way, and that eventually she'll find happiness.

In fact, the hedgehog sanctuary, and many other animal sanctuaries are also sanctuaries for us. Traumatised or natural-born introverts.

It may be quirky and charming, but it's also irritating, uncomfortable and patronises the perfectly reasonable trait of introversion. Extroverts will love it. Hedgehogs should play a much larger part in it, to my mind.
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Poor old Sylvia, dedicating her life to one man, her boss, who she dreams will one day love her. The reader longs for this to happen & is carried along her journey hoping for a happy ending for Sylvia. I thoroughly enjoyed following Sylvia's journey with her
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I love hedgehogs and that is what initially attracted me to this book. I usually struggle to maintain an interest in a story if I can't warm to the main character but Sylvias behaviour was just so bizarre that I had to keep reading to find out what on earth she would do next! Bless her!

Very enjoyable - 4 stars
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Needlemouse is an unusual novel absorbing and carefully structured. Its anti-heroine, Sylvia, must come to terms with both obsession and a life that often feels empty to her. Her journey is surprisingly gripping. Sylvia is fixated about the professor who's PA she is. It is destructive and hopeless because she misreads his flirtations for true love and is forever waiting for him to declare himself. Her obsession leads to disaster. She comes to terms with what is 'all possessive' later in the novel. Along the way we are given snapshots of Sylvia's past and gradually we begin to understand her. She was always overshadowed by her sister, Millie, whom she adores though she does make one terrible mistake that is totally destructive to this relationship. When this mistake is revealed it's a turning point for Sylvia and she begins to put her life into perspective. She loses everything dear to her but gains self realisation. I thoroughly enjoyed the gallery of characters thrown up in this book. I liked Millie better than Kamal for whom I have little sympathy. I enjoyed the office staff and loved Crystal the petulant teenager who has a heart of gold. I was entertained by Martha , the professor's arty wife and by his somewhat outrageous and strident student, and ,for a time, his muse. All these characters are vivid and engaging. Most of all I liked Jonas whose hedgehog sanctuary is a wonderful retreat , an anchor and Sylvia's safe place where she truly finds herself. The hedgehog sanctuary snapshots are a beautiful inclusion. This is a novel about relationships and one to be savoured. It is a very complete story and it's highs and lows are subtly executed. There is writing at its best in this book and I highly reccomend Needlemouse to any reader who enjoys domestic tensions and believable, ultimately loveable characters.
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I started off really disliking the main character in this book, Sylvia. She was a middle aged spinster who was secretly in love with her boss (Prof). She was very spiteful and disillusioned and would do anything to protect him in the hope that her feelings were reciprocated. As the story unfolded, it very cleverly unravelled and other characters in the book were pivotal in helping Syliva change her perspective on life, when she felt she had lost everything. Definitely recommend this book.

My thanks to NetGalley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
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I thought this book was okay but annoying. The major concept is that of a socially awkward character with an uncomfortable adoration of someone utterly oblivious and undeserving of them. It felt like a very human book because what's most interesting about Sylvia's character is that she encompasses quite a lot of character traits which a host of people can probably relate to on some level, and she's a really great example of all of them. Jane O'Connor somehow manages to convincingly capture the avoiding, awkward, dismissive and slightly frosty nature of a reclusive personality and the jealous and bitter nature of someone with an unhealthy outlook on love.

The majority of the story has us following Sylvia through her life, which frankly couldn't be more monotonous if it tried as she works as an assistant to a University professor she adores and does very little else. As you can imagine, he couldn't care less about her although he does manage to buy her lunch or expensive gifts from time to time so as to lead her on and toy with her emotions. I couldn't stand either character, and I'm still unsure if that was actually the point of the whole thing!

Sylvia is without question one of the most irritating women I've read about. She constantly complains about people, particularly other women, has this insane need to validate herself by belittling any relationships anyone has and she is insufferable in her devotion to the professor. It isn't even that she speaks about him often, or that she is blinkered to his poor behaviour towards her which she frequently excuses (although those things are admittedly annoying enough in themselves), but rather it is that she is supposed to be a 52 year old woman and she behaves like an immature little girl conniving against other girls in the playground for being supposedly prettier than her! It's ridiculous.

Whilst I can appreciate that the author has tried to create an honest and quite funny representation of a number of typical and familiar scenarios and behaviours, I just can't bear to read about them if they're incessantly moaning and being petulant. At first I felt quite sorry for Sylvia, finding some connection with her in her blind and unrequited adoration, but even her eventual realisation of the fact she deserved better from her life wasn't enough to forgive her awful personality.
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There seem to be an influx of books lately with slightly off-the-wall lead characters, from lonely Eleanor Oliphant to The Colour of Bee Larkham's Murder's lead Jasper, who is on the autistic spectrum. It's a much-needed departure from the run-of-the-mill, everyday characters we're usually served up.

In Needlemouse, this character is the wonderfully spikey middle-aged Sylvia. Serving as the PA to a man she's deeply in love with, Sylvia is fiercely protective of his time. Dreaming of a happy ever with him, she's happy to wait it out while he leaves his wife for her. However, as the book progresses, it becomes clear this is an reciprocated love affair. It would easy to images feeling little sympathy for Sylvia, as she's presented as a tough cookie, often bordering on unpleasant. However, she's a complex creature and as her character unfolds throughout the novel you find yourself relating to her more and more.

It's a beautiful blend of Ruth Hogan's sentimental writing with Gail Honeyman's touch of eccentricity in character development and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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I chose this book as the protagonist helped to look after hedgehogs.  I rather disliked her, though. She wasn't a nice character, even if she did like hedgehogs.
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