Book Review & Giveaway: “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce

Jul 26, 2012 by

He didn’t mean to do it.  He certainly didn’t plan it.  I mean, he didn’t even have his mobile phone on him.  He didn’t say good bye to his wife, Maureen.  But Harold did it anyway.  You see, that morning he had received a letter out of the blue from a woman he used to work with.  Queenie Hennessy had written him to say good bye, explaining that she is dying of cancer and living in a hospice.  Harold is moved by his sudden memories of a kindness Queenie provided him twenty years earlier, and writes her a letter in response.  He isn’t really happy with how he has written his letter; he is having trouble saying all the things that he needs to say to her, but he feels as though he must post the letter right away.  The first post box he walks to has already been collected, so he walks to the next one.  And then the next one after that.  By the afternoon, he has resolved to walk the entire length of England to see Queenie…  and he has sent message that she must live until he gets there.  He has faith that his walk will save Queenie.  But she’s not the only one who could use some saving…

I really liked Harold.  He is recently retired, though not really sure what to do with himself all day.  He and his wife have a truly strained relationship…. and there is just so many times a week that you can mow the lawn.  His walk becomes so much more meaningful, and it is a wonderful experience to travel along with him.    He is forced to remember terrible memories of his childhood, of the harder parts of his marriage and fatherhood but also of the happier times throughout his life.  He questions everything, and becomes quite philosophical about the meaning of his life and the legacy he will eventually leave behind.  He encounters some unique individuals along his journey, and even some followers.  There has been much sadness in Harold’s life, and you really feel his despair and depression…. and makes you feel like his biggest cheerleader when the journey becomes harder.

Maureen is also in incredible character.  She is hard, cold, and has certainly endured her share of heartache. But being left behind by Harold, being alone like this is nothing she ever anticipated and I really liked watching her transformation in response to this new situation.  Harold walks to save Queenie in a very literal sense…  but the end result is so much more.  It is meditative, emotional, surprising, humorous and a wonderful experience to read.  Rachel Joyce deserves all the wonderful buzz she’s getting for this impressive debut!

Special thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for review.  Good News!  They are also providing a copy for one of my US readers as well!!  Please complete this FORM to enter.  Please enter only once; duplicate entries will be deleted.  US mailing address only (no PO Boxes please).   Giveaway ends at midnight EST on July 29th, 2012.

*****
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
by Rachel Joyce
Random House, 2012
336 pages
Source:  TLC Book Tours
*****
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Book Review: “The Shining” by Stephen King

Jun 26, 2012 by

Winter is coming to the Rocky Mountains.  The Outlook Hotel, a luxurious resort will soon be cut off from the rest of the world by the heavy snowfall.  Jack Torrance has been hired as caretaker of the hotel and will live there through the winter with his wife Wendy and their 5 year old son Danny.  Jack is going through a rough patch – he was fired from his teaching job, has given up drinking, and is trying to salvage his marriage after it was nearly destroyed due to his alcoholism.  Wendy is trying to make things work with Jack, trying to support his new sobriety but is constantly suspicious of her husband’s activities.  She is also very concerned about Danny, who goes into trances and just seems to know things… like what she is thinking or when his father is in trouble.

At first, moving into the hotel seems to have been the right move for the Torrance family.  They are spending quality time together and Jack is writing again.  But Danny’s nightmares worsen.  He is seeing horrible things within the hotel.  Jack starts to see them too, but refuses to admit it.  Then they all start to hear voices…. and the ghosts.  Danny’s nightmares are starting to come to life…..

movie versionI had seen the 1980 film by Stanley Kubrick and starring Jack Nicholson a few times, but I’ll admit that while it was scary…  I didn’t really like it.  I mostly remember it as being really long, but I thought I would have given me a basic outline of what to expect when reading the book.  Sure, I guess it did on some level, but not really even a little bit.  This is so SO much better!  The creepy scary levels are off the charts in this book.  I literally had to pause between chapters toward the end, just to catch my breath.  My heart felt squeezed with terror.

Stephen King is just the master of suspense and horror.  I’ve read him before, and loved it all, but I was still somehow caught off guard with how precisely he builds and creates his frightful tales.  The way he showcases Jack’s loosening grip on reality really keeps the reader on edge.  The violence is gruesome.  Within the dreams, he uses such vulgar and repulsive images and language to keep the feeling of disgust always present.  He just doesn’t miss a trick.

I can’t tell you how glad I am to have read this book.  Yes, I will be reliving key parts for weeks to come in my dreams, but I will gladly endure it.  This book was written in 1977, and superfluous details may feel dated to the reader, but the sheer horror and creepiness of the tale is timeless.

******
The Shining
by Stephen King
Signet, 1978.  First Published 1977.
464 pages
Source:  Purchased Used
*****
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Book Review: “The Red House” by Mark Haddon

Jun 26, 2012 by

Book Review: "The Red House" by Mark HaddonNot long after their mother’s funeral, Richard invites his sister Angela and her family to vacation with him and his family in the English countryside.   This doesn’t seem terribly interesting at first, but you must take into consideration that Richard and Angela have barely spoken nor seen each other in fifteen years.  Angela’s children don’t know their Uncle Richard, his second wife Louisa or his step-daughter.  This may make for an awkward holiday in and of itself… but the close quarters in the wide open space of the countryside exposes the insecurities and personal demons that each person is battling.

My first experience with Mark Haddon was with his well-known novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.  I instantly loved that book and its main character, and expected the same here.  That didn’t quite happen.  It took me much longer to get into this one, and now that I’m finished – I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it.  Haddon adopts a very unusual voice, a very simple narration that disguises the complex themes he is discussing here.  It takes some getting used to; one character may hold the focus for a paragraph or two, and then the focus shifts without warning.  There were times that I wasn’t sure who was speaking (or thinking) for an entire page, and then I’d have to go back and read it again once I’d figured it out.  Then there would be passages from a book a character was reading or lyrics from a song one was listening to… just to keep you on your toes.   It took me far longer than I’d like to admit before I could clearly distinguish between characters within a few sentences.  It doesn’t help that there are eight characters either.

Once I was able to get past that though, this is really one very thorough examination of a dysfunctional family.  Each person is dealing with their own problems, unable to fully communicate with their family members.  We are then more accurately looking at a family of individuals.  The weeks’ vacation then is much more for each of them, and becomes more of a week of either self-discovery or of discovering each other as the case may be.  The reader really gets to know the character as the character is realizing him or herself.  The manner in which this happens, and the issues at hand, would make this book a hit with book clubs and discussion groups.  I’m not saying that this is a book that everyone will love, but that it has plenty to talk about (you know, when you’re not worried about divulging spoilers!).

*****

The Red House

by Mark Haddon

Knopf Doubleday, 2012

272 pages

Source: Publisher for honest review

*****

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Top Ten Tuesday: Non-Bookish Sites

May 26, 2012 by

Top Ten Tuesday: Non-Bookish Sites

This week on Top Ten Tuesday, The Broke and The Bookish ask us to share our favorite non-book related websites.  I think this is a great topic, because as I love all things bookish – it is kind of important to keep some semblance of balance in our lives.  That said, I’ve been having trouble naming ten websites I visit regularly that don’t have anything to do with books!  So I clearly need to visit some of the other Top Ten lists this week for some ideas!!  Here is what I’ve come up with though, in no particular order:

Suburban Snapshots:  This blog is written by my very funny friend Brenna.  I just love her, and her blog.  I think her post a couple years ago entitled “Why Having a Toddler is Like Being at a Frat Party” is what put her on the “map”, and she’s only gotten better.

Pintrest:  Oh my, do I waste a lot of time find a lot of great ideas here.  I especially love finding funny or poignant quotes and delicious recipes.  I have actually made several meals from Pintrest (my favorite being root beer pulled pork) but absolutely no crafts.  Someday….

Twitter:  I am typically very active on Twitter, and love how easy it is to connect with others, or to find out the latest news.  Granted, most of my connections there are with other bloggers or authors, publishers and publicists…  but not completely, so it counts for this Top Ten List.  Right?

The Bloggess:  I started reading Jenny Lawson’s hysterical blog long before I read her hysterical book, and I think you should read her blog too.  She’s too much and I often cry from laughing.

Least Helpful:  A compilation of the worst and not helpful reviews from the interwebs.  This is fun to just check every once in a while and find something funny.

Private Group:  Can’t post a link to this, but it has been a big part of my life for the past 8+ years.  It started through a wedding planning social site, and developed into so much more.  There are over 30 women involved in this group, and we live mainly in the north east, but not in the same city or state.  We have been there for each other though just about everything – weddings and marriages, divorce, remarriage, births of our children, miscarriages and all the troubles trying to have children.  Family illness and the deaths of our parents, changing or losing jobs, and crazy family members.  We communicate mostly online, but have had many picnics, parties, happy hours, and other such get togethers.

Funny or Die:  I love this site.  My current favorite is “Republicans, Get in my Vagina” , although just going to get that link shows me a few new ones I’m going to have to check out!

Facebook: Yes, I use it for the blog, but I also use it to communicate on behalf of my son’s PTO….  and like billions of others in the world – to keep in touch with family and friends.  I know, not very original…

I think that is pretty much it.  There are other sites that I look at once in a while, but not enough to really list them here.  OK – I’m off to check some lists…  please let me know of any sites you think I’d enjoy!
—-

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Book Review: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer

May 26, 2012 by

Book Review: "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran FoerIt has been two years since 9/11.  Oskar Schell is ten years old, and lost his father Thomas in the tragedy, and he is obviously still dealing with his loss.  Who wouldn’t be?  But one day, Oskar finds a key among his father’s belongings and believes it is one last mystery his father had left for him to solve.  As Oskar searches for the lock that will fit the key all over New York City, he slowly heals and allows himself to feel his grief.

I think this is the first novel I’ve read that deals specifically with the aftermath of 9/11.  I can’t believe that it has been almost 11 years since that terrible day when thinking about it, remembering still hurts so much. My heart just aches.  Oskar puts a face to just one of the stories of those directly affected – sure he is a fictionalized character, but it isn’t a tough stretch to believe in a kid who lost his father; his father who just happened to have a meeting in that building that morning.  The way that Oskar’s grief manifests itself in his personality is heartbreaking.  He is carrying so much inside of him.  His mother, his grandmother, his therapist all so their best to help…  but it is this challenge that is metaphorically and literally the key to Oskar’s grief.

A secondary story line is uncovered that involves Oskar’s Grandmother, her husband, her sister, and the thousands of lives lost in the bombing of Dresden at the time of her youth.   There is also an elderly mute man who factors into the story, and with Oskar’s as well.  I’ll admit that this subplot was confusing to me at first, then made me feel sad, and finally all out depressed.  Balancing the bombing of Dresden against the bombing of the World Trade Center (with a tangent concerning the horrors seen at the atomic bombing of Nagasaki) pushed me right past my emotional threshold.  I began to feel so much, that I finally felt hollow and spent.

For this reason, I did not enjoy reading this book at all.  Each time I went to pick the book up to continue, I did so with trepidation.  What horribly sad thing was to happen now??  The writing is awesome, the characters are more than you could hope for… and it is all so great that reading was not a likable experience for me.  I should also mention, in the interests of full disclosure, that while I was reading this book, there was a sudden death of a beloved family member.  That upended my state of emotional well-being, and I think that my opinion of this book has been affected by that as well.   In fact, I do remember finding humor in some of Oskar’s conversations and thoughts when I had first started the book…  but I lost them, after.

*****
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer
Mariner Books, 2006.  First published 2005.
326 pages
Source:  Borrowed from my cousin
*****
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Challenge Link-Up Post: Reread a Classic

Jan 26, 2012 by

Announcing.... The Back To The Classics Challenge 2012!

Please link your reviews for your Reread a Classic here.  This post is only for the ReRead category.  If you do not have a blog, or anywhere you post reviews publicly on the internet, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comment section.

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Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction

Jan 26, 2012 by

Announcing.... The Back To The Classics Challenge 2012!

Please link your reviews for Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction here.  This post is only for the Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction category.  If you do not have a blog, or anywhere you post reviews publicly on the internet, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.

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