Stocking Fillers: Top 5 (Female) Books

I run an unofficial book lending service at the office. I read a lot, then I decide whether the book I finish will be popular with the rest of the office and try to determine which book would suit whom.

Of all the books Ive put into office circulation this year, these are some of the most popular.

  1. The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart
  2. The Paris Seamstress
  3. Maisie Dobbs
  4. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
  5. Crazy Rich Asians; China Rich Girlfriend; Rich People Problems

Let me give you a brief rundown of my office – its mainly female, aged between 28-55, bright, time-poor, several are mums of young kids. If youre looking to buy a gift for someone who falls into this demographic – here are my research findings.

1. The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, by Holly Ringland

This is a debut novel by an Australian author. Set in Queensland, between the sugar field and the sea, the beachside and central Australia, the novel is a unique blend of Australian geography – much told through the language of native flowers.

The book starts with a family tragedy which results in Alice Hart being raised by her flower farming grandmother. She later travels to central Australia where she learns a new way of life, and love. Alice Hart is underpinned by the bonds of strong women; its empowering and very Australian.

One woman I gave the book to loved it so much she immediately bought another two copies for two of her friends and she lent her copy to at least three other friends. My own copy has also done the rounds.

2. The Paris Seamstress, by Natasha Lester

The Paris Seamstress was a standout favourite for many of the women in my office. Set between WWII and today, the novel spans generations and continents, and focuses on two women who are very tied to their families.

The story begins in 1940 when Paris seamstress Estella Bissette is forced to flee Paris as the Germans advance. She is bound for Manhattan with a few francs, one suitcase, her sewing machine and a dream to one day have her own atelier.  In 2015, Australian curator Fabienne Bissette journeys to the annual Met Gala for an exhibition of her Parisian grandmothers work – one of the worlds leading designers of ready-to-wear. As Fabienne hears more about her grandmothers past she uncovers a story of tragedy, heartache, secrets, and the sacrifices made for love.
This is a love story but much more. It is the blend of high fashion, glamour and love, and thats what makes it such an engaging read.

3. Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear

I was late to the party for this excellent series, which was first published in 2003. I read my first novel in the series out of order – I wouldnt recommend that. Read the first one, Maisie Dobbs. If youre a fan of Kerry Greenwoods Phryne Fisher Murder Mysteries, this is likely to appeal.

Written gently in the old English cosy-style, but with somewhat more gumption for the leading lady, Maisie Dobbs Psychologist and Investigator began her working life age 13 as a servant in a Belgravia mansion, only to be discovered reading in the library by her employer Lady Rowan Compton. Fearing dismissal, she is shocked when she finds her thirst for education is supported and encouraged by her employer and a family friend Dr Maurice Blanche. But the Great War intervenes and soon after beginning her studies, she enlists for nursing services overseas.

The novel is an educational journey through the early twentieth century in England and the conditions of the time, including the impact of the war on lower classes and women, in particular. There is a social conscience in the books, and subsequent novels span the years to WWII.

There are now 15 books in the series and the 16th is due out in April 2019. After Maisie Dobbs are Birds of a Feather and Pardonable Lies, in that order.

4. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

I bought Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine when it was first released. Like most new books I buy, I added it to a lovely pile of other new books to admire before I read, until a woman in the office suggested I get my hands on a copy as she had just read it on her Kindle and loved it. Knowing exactly where it was, I found it on the shelf that night and started it as soon as possible. She was right, it was an excellent read.

A unique character, gentle and slow and surprisingly moving, Eleanor is lonely, painfully lonely, but somehow quite OK with it.  She is an unusual character, one I havent encountered in literature before, but she is someone who you feel you might know, who somewhat resembles certain people you do know. She can be frustrating, exasperating, sweet, and kind. Youll want to help her and by the end youll be rooting for her. The book is something quite special and its pace is undulating and pleasant.

In many ways its an unlikely success but, once again, it was a great hit in the office.

5. Crazy Rich Asians; China Rich Girlfriend; Rich People Problems, by Kevin Kwan

I couldnt really decide between the three of these novels, and theyre a trilogy, so Im including them as one final entry.

Kevin Kwans first novel in the series was published in 2013 and was semi-autobiographical about the authors childhood in Singapore.  It received renewed publicity this year with the release of the movie Crazy Rich Asians, which has also sparked a new release of the two sequels Crazy Rich Girlfriend (2015) and Rich People Problems (2017).

The main protagonists are Rachel Chu (an economics professor from New York) and her boyfriend Nicholas Young, heir to a great fortune in Singapore. Rachel and Nick meet in New York. She has no idea of his family wealth, which is the premise of the first book.

Author Kwan said he wanted to introduce a contemporary Asia to an American audience. From book one it is a page-turning fun read. The next two just continue the story and are must reads. I took my Mum to see the film when it came out in September, and then sent her the first two books to read on her Kindle. She devoured them and called to ask me to send her book three.
They were equally well devoured in the office.