The best novels with eccentric characters who have something important to say

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by people, especially people who don’t follow the herd, who lurk on the edges of society, who are strongly individual. Their opinions often seem wiser than those of society and the media, and I find it refreshing to climb into their shoes… That’s why my fictional characters might be obsessively making harps, counting everything in sight, or embarking on a mission to save penguins! The books I’ve listed here contain a range of eccentrics. Molly The Maid, Harold Fry, Iona Iverson, Noman Foreman, and Janice are all marvellous characters who made me laugh, cry and ponder. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.


I wrote...

How the Penguins Saved Veronica

By Hazel Prior,

Book cover of How the Penguins Saved Veronica

What is my book about?

Eighty-five-year-old Veronica McCreedy is estranged from her family and wants to find a worthwhile cause to leave her fortune to. When she sees a documentary about penguins being studied in Antarctica, she tells the scientists she’s coming to visit—and won’t take no for an answer. Shortly after arriving, she convinces the reluctant team to rescue an orphaned baby penguin. He becomes part of life at the base, and Veronica's closed heart starts to open. 

Her grandson, Patrick, comes to Antarctica to make one last attempt to get to know his grandmother. Together, Veronica, Patrick, and even the scientists learn what family, love, and connection are all about. The UK title of this book is Away With The Penguins.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Maid

Hazel Prior Why did I love this book?

The Maid is a wonderful, whimsical book about Molly, a maid in a posh hotel who finds a body. Molly is on the spectrum and is treated unfairly by her colleagues, with a few notable exceptions. A natural truster, she takes things—and people—at face value. Molly is so lovable! Endowed with quirks such as calling the family nest-egg money “the Faberge”, she is charming and we can’t help but root for her. One of her strengths is that, despite all that happens, she never loses her faith in human nature.

Here's a thought from Molly, and I think this applies to us all: "My truth is not the same as yours because we don't experience life in the same way."

By Nita Prose,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Maid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*THE NO.1 NEW YORK TIMES & SUNDAY TIMES TOP TEN BESTSELLER
*WINNER OF THE NED KELLY AWARD FOR BEST INTERNATIONAL CRIME FICTION
*A BBC RADIO 4 BOOK AT BEDTIME PICK

'An escapist pleasure' SUNDAY TIMES
'Delightful' GUARDIAN
'An instantly gripping and delightful whodunnit' STYLIST
'Smart, riveting, and deliciously refreshing ' LISA JEWELL

_________________________________________________________________

I am your maid.
I know about your secrets. Your dirty laundry.
But what do you know about me?

Molly the maid is all alone in the world. A nobody. She's used to being invisible in her job at the Regency Grand Hotel, plumping pillows and wiping…


Book cover of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Hazel Prior Why did I love this book?

This is an incredibly poignant story of an old man who goes out to post a letter but then keeps walking… from Devon all the way up England to Berwick-on-Tweed, on a mission… in his yachting shoes. As he meets and listens to people en route, his own tragic past is gradually revealed. Harold made me sob loudly, but there was something so beautiful about his nonsensical pilgrimage; his patience, gentleness, openness, persistence, and, perhaps above all, his hope.

"He saw that people would make the decisions they wished to make, and some of them would hurt both themselves and those who loved them, and some would pass unnoticed, while others would bring joy. He did not know what would follow from Berwick-upon-Tweed, and he was ready for that."

By Rachel Joyce,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Impossible to put down' TIMES
'Life-affirming delight. A comic pleasure' WOMAN AND HOME
'Profoundly moving' RICHARD MADELEY

OVER 4 MILLION COPIES SOLD. SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOVIE STARRING JIM BROADBENT AND PENELOPE WILTON
____________________

When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other.

He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else's life.

Harold…


Book cover of Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting

Hazel Prior Why did I love this book?

This novel made me giggle and made me think, too. It’s written from the perspectives of several very different people whose lives unexpectedly intermingle on a train. The one who steals the show (for me, at least) is Iona Iverson. She’s a middle-aged eccentric, equipped with an ever-ready handbag and French bulldog, and she is magnificent with it! She does not care what others think of her and has her own rules and routines firmly in place, but she has a huge heart. 

Some advice from Iona: "Your past experiences… are the foundations on which to build your future. Build them on pride, not shame."

By Clare Pooley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nobody ever talks to strangers on the train. It’s a rule. But what would happen if they did?

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Authenticity Project comes an escapist read that will transport you, cheer you, and make you smile—and make you, too, wish you had Iona’s gift for bringing out the best in everyone.
 
“A not-to-be-missed read in the mode of Gail Honeyman's Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.” —Booklist, starred review

     Every day Iona, a larger-than-life magazine advice columnist, travels the ten stops from Hampton Court to Waterloo Station by train, accompanied by her dog, Lulu.…


Book cover of The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman

Hazel Prior Why did I love this book?

I loved this book for its characters, especially Norman. Only a twelve-year-old boy, Norman has suffered the loss of his one true friend and now forms brave new plans: to find his birth father and to perform as a stand-up comedian at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival. He is helped by his mother, her older colleague, and others he meets on the road trip to Scotland. Norman has terrible skin psoriasis, a fetish for cheese on toast, and vast quantities of courage and determination.

Some wisdom from Norman: "Never give up. Because no matter if everything goes to hell in a hand basket and you lose your father, your footy career, your baby, your memory, your son, your breath or your best friend, you’ve just got to keep on going."

By Julietta Henderson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The inspiring, feel-good Richard & Judy Book Club pick about a small boy with a big heart - and even bigger dreams.

'One of those gorgeous books that completely lifts your spirits and restores your faith in humanity' - Ruth Jones, co-creator of Gavin and Stacey and bestselling author of Us Three

It was a journey they would always remember . . . for a friend they'd never forget.

Norman and Jax are a legendary comedic duo in waiting, with a five-year plan to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe by the time they're fifteen. But when Jax dies before they…


Book cover of The Keeper of Stories

Hazel Prior Why did I love this book?

Again, here is a fantastic cast of characters: the bold Mrs. B, the swearing Fox terrier, Decius, and the unassuming protagonist, Janice. Quiet, kind, thorough, outwardly unremarkable, Janice is a cleaner. She is also a wonderful listener. What a joy it is when, with a little help from her friends, she finally unlocks her own story and transforms her life.

Here’s the moment when Janice grasps how much hope can be found in stories: "She looks around at the shelves of books, every one of which she has handled, and she begins to think there may be a way. A way of finding that hope. She is, after all, a collector of stories and a storyteller. Maybe she could tell her story as she has told other stories?"

By Sally Page,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Keeper of Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I absolutely loved it! So different, clever, funny and charming' Sunday Times bestseller Katie Fforde

'Funny, wise, moving and full of lovely moments...The characters are endearing and unforgettable' Hazel Prior, author of the Richard & Judy Book Club Pick Away with the Penguins

'Janice is a wonderful woman whose authenticity pulls you along...the breadth and originality of supporting characters makes this debut an immersive delight' Dorset Magazine

'Absolutely spellbinding...a warm-hearted, thoughtful, funny and yet deeply poignant' Celia Anderson, author of 59 Memory Lane

'A treasure of a book. Beautiful, emotional and heartfelt with a cornucopia of characters you'll love spending…


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Conditions are Different After Dark

By Owen W. Knight,

Book cover of Conditions are Different After Dark

Owen W. Knight Author Of The Visitors

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Visionary Compassionate Imaginative Conspiracist Apophenia (or apophenic)

Owen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

In 1662, a man is wrongly executed for signing the death warrant of Charles I. Awaiting execution, he asks to speak with a priest, to whom he declares a curse on the village that betrayed him. The priest responds with a counter-curse, leaving just one option to nullify it.

Over four centuries later, Faith and James move to the country to start a new life and a family. They discover their village lives under the curse uttered by the hanged man. Could their arrival be connected? They fear their choice of new home is no coincidence. Unexplained events hint at threats or warnings to leave. They become convinced the village remains cursed despite their friends’ denials. Who can they trust, and who are potential enemies?

Conditions are Different After Dark

By Owen W. Knight,

What is this book about?

In 1660, a man is wrongly executed for signing the death warrant of Charles I. While awaiting execution, he asks to speak with a priest, to whom he declares a curse on the village that betrayed him. The priest responds with a counter-curse, leaving just one option to nullify it.
Over four centuries later, Faith and James move to the country to start a new life and a family. They learn that their village lives under the curse uttered by the hanged man. Could their arrival be connected?
Faith and James fear that their choice of a new home is…


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