The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

I rarely print the publisher's description of a book in my reviews, but in this case, I just don't think I could summarize it any better:

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired.  He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast.  Little differentiates one day from the next.  Then, one morning, the mail arrives and there is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn't seen or heard from in twenty years.  Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.  Thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce's remarkable debut.  Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick upon Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

If this sounds like a quiet, quirky British novel....well, that's exactly what it is.  Harold and Maureen are quiet, unassuming people who hardly even talk to one another.   Much of Harold's walk is solitary, although he meets a few interesting characters along the way.  Still, as the story goes on, both characters delve into their pasts and reveal the heartaches, regrets, and secrets they kept hidden.

Much like Harold's walk itself, The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a meandering journey, with details revealed like new landmarks along the way.  My initial thought was that this book was a little slow for summer, when my taste tends to lean more toward the lighter "beach read" sort of material.  But the more I read and the more I came to know Harold and Maureen (especially Maureen, she is a gem!), the more I liked the story, and especially the author's understated style of writing.  The ending was especially beautiful, I thought, and not in a way I very much expected.

I received a copy of this book from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for review.  All opinions expressed are entirely my own.  For more reviews and information about this title, check out the full tour post here.

I am giving away one copy of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, compliments of the publisher, Random House.   To enter, just leave a comment on this post.  I will select a random winner on Wednesday, August 1, at 10:00 p.m.  (Requires a U.S. mailing address to win.)

The winner of the giveaway for The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is Jessica R.  Congrats, and I hope you love it as much as I did!  (Jessica, I will pass your address to the publisher to mail the book.)



Monday and I have love-hate relationship.  On the one hand, it's Monday and ughhh, five long days until the weekend.  On the other hand, every Monday is a kind of a little gift in itself--a new week and a fresh slate.  Each Monday is a chance to make this week different from the last.  This week I will be productive, and finally catch up on at least one of the perpetual projects hanging over my head.

I started off with a very optimistic attitude this morning.  After rushing around non-stop last week, this one promises to be much calmer.  Vacation Bible School is over and Thursday was the last of the MDO summer session.  So basically, we have nothing at all going on this week, and I'm looking forward to it.  (Plus A & M are spending the night with Jeremy's parents on Tuesday night, giving me a glorious evening in a totally empty house!)

I have a few things in mind I would like to accomplish this week:
--Catch up on work early in the week and eradicate the stacks of files on my desk
--Get back on track with eating at home/eating more balanced meals after indulging a little too much this weekend; make another batch of crockpot black beans
--Catch up on laundry and perhaps find the bottom of our overstuffed clothes basket
--Get a little exercise, either yoga or jogging, at least once or twice this week
--Make at least a small dent in the clutter taking over this house

Sounds do-able, right?

Fast forward to 6:00 this evening when Addison & Mackenzie were bouncing off the walls, despite not having a nap today, and completely ignoring everything I said.  I was yelling way too much and still being totally ignored and my zen-like attitude was long gone.  Nothing I did or said (yelled) was having any effect on the girls and when I spanked Mackenzie's leg (for playing in the liquid soap after she got out of the bath), she laughed at me.  LAUGHED. 

I really, truly love age three, but some days the glimpses of the attitude and strong will in these girls terrifies me.  I feel like all I have done lately is yell, discipline, and explain how important it is that they learn to listen to Jeremy and me.  I've even pulled out the Jesus card--as in, "It makes Jesus really happy to see you respecting mama & daddy and doing what we ask you to do."  All to practically no avail.

Ah well, such is this parenting thing, I guess?  I imagine I will continue to yell and be ignored on a regular basis for at least the next seventeen years or so. 

We ended on a much calmer note, and the girls passed out cold on the couch at 7:55.  There is an upside to days without naps.  : )

My to-do list for the night has been reduced to the following:
--Publish this blog
--Fold one basket of laundry
--Watch Friday Night Lights and/or read in bed until I pass out myself

Sometimes adjustments have to be made for the sake of a mama's sanity!

How was your Monday?


Cars and Books

My beloved Expedition bit the dust a couple of weeks ago.  Well, it didn't actually die, but it was close.  The check engine light came on and when Jeremy took it to the shop, the mechanic advised us to get rid of it, pronto.  Apparently there had been an underlying problem we didn't know about and it had done major damage to the engine....blah, blah, blah, mechanical talk. 

Jeremy might have felt a tad vindicated, as he never really liked my vehicle.  When we found it a couple of years ago, I loved it immediately, and I have loved driving it ever since.  We had a friend check it out before we purchased it (it was a few years old when we got it), but he didn't find the problem that was likely there back then. 

Anyway, to make a long story short, we either needed to get rid of the Expedition or sink several thousand dollars into it....which was not going to happen.  We weren't sure what we were going to be looking at in trading it, but of course we weren't going to sell it to an individual, knowing the problems that were present.  I began praying we would find an affordable, dependable vehicle that would suit our family, and that we would get the money we needed from the trade.  (We didn't get nearly what we needed, which was hard to swallow, but thankfully, it all worked out.)

After a very long and stressful day at two neighboring car dealerships (an hour and a half from home, where I had found a couple of SUVs we were interested in), we came away with a new-to-us Nissan Pathfinder.  The longer we looked at it, the more we felt like it was just what we were meant to find (I hadn't seen it on the internet...we actually pulled in to look at it while test-driving a car from the rival dealership!).  It has low miles, looks brand-new, has the space we need, and has more amenities than we were counting on.  We have been very happy with it so far--in fact, Jeremy commented that he liked it better than the Expedition and felt like it was much more "us".  I just pray this one lasts a good, LONG time.

I heard about a website the other day that had never come to my attention before.  If you love good quality, inexpensive used books, I highly recommend checking out Thriftbooks.  I have had a hard time finding the later books in a series of YA fiction I started a couple of years ago, and I really didn't want to pay full price for a copy from Amazon.  For whatever reason, they are hard to find in our local libraries also.  I found them on thriftbooks and paid $7.40 total for two paperbacks...not bad!  And even better, shipping is free in the U.S.  

(By the way, I was NOT asked to promote this website, and I get no referral credit or anything like that.  Just passing it along!)

Another bookish happening this week that was exciting (to me):  I discovered the library at the college where I teach part-time has an excellent fiction section.  I don't know why it never occurred to me before, but I just never checked out the fiction and literature section there.  I am particularly impressed by the selection of YA fiction they offer, which is one of my only complaints about my city's library--a small YA section.  I'm on the board at my local library, so I'm certainly not overlooking  it by any means...just glad to have new options.  AND the college library has several ebook titles to lend, which we haven't bought into yet at the city library.

Do you use your local library?  As a lifelong library lover and now a board member, I feel compelled to encourage you to check it out if you haven't been in awhile.  It's hard to beat free books, right?


The Homecoming of Samuel Lake: Review & Giveaway

Over the past couple of years, I have come to appreciate the type of book that I like to say represents "good storytelling".  These are the books that can transport me to a different time and place and leave me thinking about the characters long after I've finished reading.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is good storytelling, plain and simple.  I shouldn't be surprised; the author Jenny Wingfield is also credited with writing The Man in the Moon, one of my favorite movies as a young teenager.

Surprisingly, the book is less about Samuel Lake himself (a recently-displaced Methodist minister) than it is about his wife and children.  He comes through with a bang at the end, but contrary to its title, this is not Samuel's story.  The real star of the show is Samuel's young daughter Swan (yes, Swan Lake!).  She is precocious and spunky, genuine and endearing. Really, though, the story is much bigger than any one character.  It's a complex story of family, faith, redemption, and the battle between good and evil.

There are so many things to love about this novel:  the rural Louisiana setting, the hilarious and captivating Lake children, strong, resilient female characters, unshakable family bonds, and the subtle exploration of the adult characters' relationships to one another.  In fact, the quiet, understated glimpses into Samuel and Willadee's marriage were some of my favorite scenes of the entire book.  Take this passage, for example:
Samuel didn't argue.  When he and Willadee had gotten married, and the preacher had asked her whether she would love, honor, and obey, she had answered like a Moses.  "Yes, yes, and that all depends," she had said with a grin.  The Moses family had laughed, and the Lake family had winced, and Sam Lake had taken his bride with the conditions laid out.  Up until now, those conditions had never caused any real problems.
I am not exaggerating when I say this will likely be my favorite book of the year.  I am not liberal with the five-star reviews on Goodreads, but The Homecoming of Samuel Lake earned it, fair and square.
 **I received a digital edition of this book from the publisher through TLC Book Tours.  For more reviews and giveaways, check out the full tour schedule here.

Want to read this awesome book for yourself?  I am glad to report that the publisher, Random House, is offering to give away a copy of The Homecoming of Samuel Lake to one reader!
  • To enter, just leave a comment on this post and make sure your email is linked, or to leave a way for me to contact you.
  • I will select a winner at random on Sunday, July 22 at 10:00 p.m. central time.
  • U.S./Canada residents only
If you want, tell me in your comment if you've seen the movie The Man in the Moon!


Potty Talk: The Public Restroom Sagas

Quite awhile ago, I noticed that Addison & Mackenzie seemed to have a preference for doing their potty business at home.  Even back in the diaper days, they rarely needed a change if we were out in public.

Neither Jeremy nor I are fans of public restrooms, so the fact that our children seemed to inherently dislike them may have secretly delighted us.  We enjoyed so many fewer trips to germ-infested, perpetually-smelly bathrooms and changing stations during the girls' first couple of years.

Enter: potty training.

I have mentioned several times that A & M have unbelievably good control over their bodily functions.  These were never the children who got too caught up in their play and forgot to use the bathroom...they just had no problem holding it until they remembered they had to go.  We also didn't waste our time asking if they needed to go every thirty minutes; they go every few hours, at a maximum.

When the girls were potty trained, we realized their abhorrence of public restrooms was going to continue.  Great, I thought, less time hovering in a bathroom stall, trying to keep little hands from touching any surface!  Eventually, though, we realized that being out and about without diapers and with kids who would not or could not do their business in a public place could cause a few glitches in our on-the-go lifestyle.

We quickly learned to recognize the signs of a child needing to go potty.  Sitting in a restaurant, just after our food was served, Mackenzie might say, "I'm ready to go home."  We would explain that we just got our food, everyone was still eating, blah, blah, blah....until it finally dawned on someone to say, "OH, do you need to use the bathroom?"  Now, I don't know about you, but I don't enjoy being rushed through my meal by a three-year old who just wants to go home so she can use her OWN potty.  I'm sympathetic to that tendency--really, I am--but I have my limits. 

We realized we couldn't drop what we were doing and run home every time someone needed to go potty.  And what about the times we were out all day long?  What about car trips and vacation?  At times when we were out for extended periods of time, the girls were pushing even their limits to "hold it", which I knew could not be healthy.  It was time to get over the public restroom hurdle.

I started encouraging the girls to try to go when we were out somewhere.  From the time they were potty trained, they would usually agree to go try, but it was usually a short-lived and fruitless effort.  They were scared of the loud flush, or the hand dryer, or any number of other little things that couldn't be helped.  I don't really know what I did differently--maybe I display more enthusiasm and less disdain for the bathrooms?  I do remember encouraging the girls to flush the potties themselves, even when they were loud (and despite those germy handles!) and to laugh over the roar to show that they weren't afraid.  I remember one day specifically, in a Target bathroom, where it really seemed to click for them and they started showing much less fear of the flush and even used the hand dryer.  Major goal achieved!

Since that day, the girls have used many, many restrooms.  They are no longer timid and afraid, and like most curious three-year olds, they now probably request to potty more when we are out somewhere than they do at home.  As my mom says, it's the stage of checking out every bathroom in the tri-state area. 

But you know what?  I'll take it.  We aren't having to stress about making sure the girls go before leaving home, knowing it will be hours before we return.  We don't have to rush through meals to get home to our bathroom.  I might have to trek across the restaurant once or twice, but I can handle that.  Conquering this fear of public restrooms has made our lives so much easier, and for that, I will brave the germs.

Pass the hand soap, please!


State of Affairs, June Edition

Addison & Mackenzie (and Jeremy!) took their first trip to Lake Winnepesaukah.  The day will go down as one of the highlights of the entire summer, I believe.  Just today, on the way home from church, Mackenzie was asking when we could go again.  (Definitely not until the temperature drops below 100 degrees!)


We have made several visits to the local pool and the splash park.  A & M are still pretty timid around water, but each visit gets better, so we will keep on going.  Throw in the farmer's market/downtown arts fair in Huntsville and the minor-league baseball game, and we had a pretty busy month.

Books read: 3.5
Brand New Human Being--Reviewed here.

Shadow of Night--This is the sequel to last year's A Discovery of Witches, which I lovedShadow of Night is nearly as long as it's predecessor, but doesn't move quite as quickly.  Lots of history, but I would have liked a little more action in the first half. 

Never Tell--Good book, especially if you like the mystery/crime genre.  Reviewed here.

The book I read half of in June was The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, which was really, really good--maybe my favorite of the year so far.

I don't know how I left the "tv" category off this when I started doing these recaps back in January.  Actually, it fits my life much better than the music category...music is roughly the same most months, while I can talk about tv almost endlessly.

Jeremy and I started watching Veronica Mars back in the spring when it debuted on SoapNet.  (I had previously started the series, fell in instant love, only to find it removed from Netflix a few days later.  It was traumatic.)  Anyway, we have been powering through the three (ONLY three...there should have been so many more) seasons together on the weekends and loving every second of it.  Sadly, we finished the series this month...but we'll always have those Veronica Mars memories.  : )

Ehh, not much exciting to report here.  I did a little bit of sewing and finally hemmed some dresses I had been meaning to get to for several weeks.  I'm in the sewing mood again, so maybe I will have more to talk about in July.

I turned 30...that's pretty notable, right?  It's just another number, so no major freakouts or anything like that.  Some days I feel 20; others I feel 60.  It is what it is!  I did feel a little old while watching an early episode of Friends last night...an episode in which the characters are TWENTY FIVE.  I am now five years older than Joey Tribbiani at the start of that series.  How did that happen??

Although I still struggle most days, Jeremy and I are both doing much better with our diets and fitness.  (Mostly the diet part for me, but Jeremy is doing Insanity and is making great progress.)  We are eating better than ever before, and the more whole, good food we eat, the more I want to stick to it.  I need to get back on the exercise bandwagon--yet again--but it's better than nothing.

Budget will be a focus in this next month, thanks to recent events beyond our control.  Not fun, but necessary.  Man, this adult stuff can be a drag sometimes, am i right?

How was your June?


Never Tell by Alafair Burke

It was sometime during college that I first discovered Law & Order: SVU.  I got sucked into one of those marathons that used to be on all the time.  My unadulterated love for L&O (the SVU version in particular, but I also like the originals) continues to this day. 

Much like a good episode of L&O, my favorite crime/legal thrillers will pull me in and leave me thinking about the intricacies and twisty plotlines long after I finish the book.  I am pretty picky about my crime fiction...  I want the plot to have some good twists, but not just for the sake of surprise; I want the twists to make sense and to be believable for the characters.  I want the details to be pretty realistic, especially regarding legal issues. 

I was excited to see that the author of Never Tell, Alafair Burke, is a former prosecutor and a current law professor.  I went into this book expecting a pretty realistic crime thriller, and that's pretty much exactly what it is.

Never Tell follows NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher as she (somewhat reluctantly) investigates the death of 16-year old Julia, a girl who seemed to have it all.  Ellie is convinced Julia's death is nothing more than the suicide it seems to be, but Julia's guilt-ridden parents insist on an investigation.  As more and more secrets come to light, Ellie is forced to acknowledge Julia's death may be more than the suicide of a depressed teenager. 

I was impressed with the amount of issues Burke managed to touch on in this single novel.  There are themes of privilege vs. societal outcasts, teen drug abuse, gender identity, repressed sexual abuse, cyberbullying, and even corruption in the pharmaceutical industry.  Still, it all fits together in a way that seems to make sense. 

Ellie Hatcher is a genuine, likable character who I think I would like to visit more often.  Apparently, she is the main character in a series of books by this author.  (No need to read them in order, which I appreciate immensely.)  This is my first Alafair Burke book, but I will definitely be on the lookout for others!  Burke also hosted the 2nd Annual Duffer Awards last month, which gave me a lot of ideas on other books to check out.

(Oooh, and actually, I just noticed that one of Burke's previous books, 212, is available for only 0.99.  I just downloaded to my Kindle!)

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours.  All opinions expressed are my own.


The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker--Review & Giveaway!

The Age of Miracles, with its eleven-year-old protagonist, does not fit my normal preference in some ways--I don't always care for young adolescent narrators--but I loved it, beginning to end. 

One ordinary morning, eleven-year-old Julia and her family wake to find that the Earth's rotation has begun to slow.  Julia is not too worried at first, even experiencing a bit of a thrill at the upheaval of all the normal routines, but soon even she can see undeniable evidence of the slowing in her world.  The days and nights increase by hours or minutes each day, showing no signs of stopping.  Before long, animals are dying, food is becoming more difficult to grow, and even gravity is affected.  Amidst all these changes, Julia must continue to navigate the winding path of daily life--school, friends, parents, and boys.

In her excellent debut novel, Karen Thompson Walker delves into the intricacies of everyday life in the midst of what is quickly becoming a global crisis.  Though Julia is recounting memories from an unspecified later time and there are moments of omniscient foreshadowing, the bulk of the narration is in her eleven-year-old voice.  Using Julia's perspective to tell the story, Walker does an outstanding job of explaining and showing just enough about "the slowing" to keep the reader's interest, without getting bogged down in the minute scientific details--the "how, why, when" particulars that would have been too overwhelming for this book.  I read somewhere that Karen Thompson Walker is a former editor, and her experience shows.  It's hard to believe this is her first novel, and I will definitely be on the lookout for more from her in the future.

I have seen The Age of Miracles described as science fiction, dystopian, and a coming-of-age story, and I'm not quite sure how I would classify it myself.  A science fiction label would have deterred me from reading this book, so I won't call it that.  How about an insightful coming-of-age story with a unique and thought-provoking backdrop?  Close enough!

Put it in whichever genre you would like, just READ it. 

**I received an ARC of this book from the publisher through TLC Book Tours.  For more reviews and giveaways, check out the full tour schedule here.


I am excited that the publisher, Random House, is offering to give away a copy of The Age of Miracles to one reader!!
  • To enter, just leave a comment on this post and make sure your email is linked, or to leave a way for me to contact you.
  • I will select a winner at random on Sunday, July 8 at 10:00 p.m. central time.
  • U.S./Canada residents only