Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human. -- from The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Harold Fry, a sixty-five year old British retiree receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy, a long lost friend and former coworker who once did Harold a big favor. The letter reveals that Queenie is in a hospice center, dying.  

Shaken by the news, Harold pens a response. But when he sets off to mail his reply at the corner post box, he is suddenly inspired to deliver the letter in person - 500 miles away. Leaving behind his stale, stagnant life, including a wife, Maureen, who is bothered by practically everything Harold says and does, he impulsively leaves his small English village--on foot, without a map or his mobile phone; he's wearing shoddy sneakers--and begins the journey to reach his dying friend. He comes to believe that as long as he keeps walking, Queenie will wait for him and continue to live.
Harold isn't the only pilgrim in this story. Queenie is taking her own solitary pilgrimage through a fatal illness. In Harold's absence, Maureen begins to sort through the past in order to discover the real reason why she and Harold have grown apart. And the people Harold meets along the way, those with stories of their own hardships and struggles, encourage Harold to reflect and delve deeper into the meaning of his existence and as a result, reconcile the deeply repressed regrets of his own life. 
Pretty soon, Harold is no longer walking the length of England alone. When the press gets wind of his quest, other people join the pilgrimage and Harold begins to feel crowded out by all the fuss. Can Harold maintain his focus on what he originally set out to do? Does he have the physical stamina? And can his walking, an act of faith, save Queenie Hennessy?
Rachel Joyce has written a moving, compulsively readable novel infused with a well-balanced combination of humor and pathos. By exposing the emotional wounds of a host of ordinary people who are all trying to navigate through the challenges of life, Joyce taps into universal themes about the moral and spiritual ways in which we atone and seek to save ourselves...insights that stretch far beyond the ultimate 87 days and 627 miles of Harold's journey.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Random House, $25, Hardcover, 978081299395, 336 pp
Publication Date: July 24, 2012
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Gift for My Sister

Take two, fatherless half-sisters. Make one sister, Sky, an obedient, play-it-safe type. Portray the other, Tara, as a reckless, no-holds-barred younger sister rebel. Reinforce their differences by designating different typeface fonts that reflect the distinct voice of each sister as they narrate this story via alternating, first person points of view and what emerges is A Gift for My Sister by Ann Pearlman (The Christmas Cookie Club), a moving, deeply resonant novel.

The story begins with Sky, a happily married lawyer with a young daughter who resides in a California beachfront condo. Beyond her seemingly idyllic life, 30-something Sky is riddled with bitterness and worry incurred from a past marred by challenges and loss--the death of her father when she was a teenager, miscarriages and the passing of her best friend. Tara, on the other hand, is a free spirit whose father abandoned her. In high school, she entered into an interracial romance with an ex-juvenile prison inmate and became pregnant. With beau and baby in tow, Troy took off to pursue her dreams of becoming a musician and is now on the verge rap music superstardom.

When tragedy strikes, Sky and Tara are forced to reunite. By rendering shared experiences via their opposing personalities and viewpoints, Pearlman skillfully evokes empathy on both sides. Resentment, rivalry, fear of love and loss and the idea of forgiveness infuse what ultimately becomes a road-trip novel--from California to Michigan--where the sisters try to understand each other, the complications of their own lives and the larger ramifications of family.

Atria/Emily Bestler Books, $24.99, Hardcover, 9781439159491, 288 pp
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Please note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (5/29/12), click HERE.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Heading Out to Wonderful

Secrets are buried in a small town in 1948. In Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick (A Reliable Wife), Charlie Beale, an attractive, athletic 39 year-old loner and veteran of WWII wanders into a quiet community in the Shenandoah Valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Charlie is in search of a new life when he arrives in Brownsburg, Virginia carrying only two suitcases - one is packed with all of his worldly possessions, including a set of butcher knives; the other is stuffed with money. Offered a job by the local butcher, Charlie is befriended by the shop owner's family, including his precocious five year-old son, Sam. Charlie and the boy instantly bond, but when Charlie's path intersects with Sylvan Glass, a hillbilly turned stunning teenaged bride of the richest man in town, life for the three main characters will be forever changed by the ache and storm of love.

Goolrick is masterful in ratcheting up the tension in this unforgettable story of lost and displaced souls in search of identity, acceptance and belonging. Charlie longs to put down roots. Sylvan, in a loveless marriage, tries to carve out a persona for herself via images of captivating Hollywood starlets from the Silver Screen. While Sam, drawn away from his safe and secure familial environment, bears witness, many years later, to the all-consuming relationship of the star-crossed lovers. Evocative sensory detail and spiritual overtones infuse the emotional landscape of this powerful, climactic narrative that seeks to define and explore the meaning of love and goodness.

Algonquin Books, $24.95, Hardcover, 978156129238, 296 pp
Publication Date: June 12, 2012
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Please note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (6/15/12), click HERE.