Published by Howard Books
Available June 5
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes
Do you ever read a book in which you find yourself hating just about every character? I do. Maybe it's just me, but sometimes I really loathe those people. For instance, in The Replacement Wife, I HATED Camille. HATED. HER. I hated every character in that Fifty Shades nonsense (GOOD GRIEF, not that again), other than my main man Christian Grey. In Bared to You, I hated them all except - le sigh - Gideon Cross.
And in Five Miles South of Peculiar, I hated every character except Nolie and Erik.
Nolie is the youngest - by ten years, making her an "oops" baby - of three sisters, the older two of whom, Darlene and Carlene, are twins. Carlene, she of the beautiful voice and beauty pageant good looks, takes her talents to Julliard, eventually winding up on Broadway. Before she goes, however, she has to say goodbye to her high school boyfriend, Griffith.
Darlene, meanwhile, has become the proverbial hearth in the home of Peculiar. She hosts book clubs, she organizes pot luck suppers, she volunteers here and there. After her husband's sudden death, she begins dating Henry Hooper, the town's mayor.
Then there is Nolie, who makes aprons for townspeople and dreams of raising Leonberger dogs. Of the characters mentioned heretofore, Nolie is the only one with a truly pure heart, albeit a terribly broken one. She was supposed to have married her teenage sweetheart, but she didn't. You'll have to read to find out why.
With Carly in New York, Darly and Nolie have run The Sycamores, their family estate, for years. Then one day, Erik Payne, a minister recently let go from his parish because he and his wife divorced. Erik can't find a new ministry, so he comes to Sycamores to work as a handyman until he secures a position. Nolie finds herself drawn to Erik, and their relationship deepens into a close friendship.
But Carly comes home, ostensibly to celebrate her and Darly's 50th birthdays, but really because, due to an operation, she no longer can sing. She has nowhere else to go. But she and her twin have a fractured, combustible relationship. How can they learn to get along?
This is a sweet, ambling story about a family learning to love each other, in spite of past hurts. Carly and Darly do some truly nasty, mean-spirited things to each other, each seemingly oblivious to how their actions will affect the other. Even when they do realize it, they keep doing what they're doing. There is no one to root for when it comes to Darly and Carly, not to mention the men in their lives.
But Nolie. Sweet, kind, selfless Nolie. Oh, you want her to find happiness. You want her to get over her broken heart. When she stands up for herself to someone who done her wrong, you cheer. She inspires affection in you, as does Erik. They have no hidden agendas; these are two people who want to see if God's plan for them includes personal happiness and contentment.
Ah, yes, God. He's very present in this book, but not in a way that people who find Christianity off-putting will be off-put. Angela Hunt's message is soft and unintrusive: trust God, and see where He takes you. For instance, when Carly is in church, she finds herself questioning her relationship with God:
During the benediction, she gripped the back of the pew in front of her and wondered how long it had been since she turned her attention toward God. Sometimes she thought of him as a habit she'd left behind in Peculiar, but occasionally she'd been keenly aware of him in New York. She glimpsed him in the faces of caring strangers, heard him in the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, and inhaled him in the crisp breath of autumn. She tasted is goodness in sparkling sunsets and felt his presence in the quiet night ... but why did she so rarely stop to notice him?
That's the way Hunt uses God in this story. Pages and chapters will go by with nary a reference, and then just a mention. Yet we know that these characters, especially Nolie and Erik, are waiting for God to answer their prayers, to send them a message.
There is a lot of family history and anxiety between the twins, and it is mined here. We certainly understand why the two don't trust each other or, for that matter, much like each other. Not that I can blame them, because I didn't like them, either.
Five Miles South of Peculiar is one of those books that feels peaceful, yet melancholy. There is an underlying sadness that you hope goes away, but you know probably won't. Too much has happened for it to evaporate.
Yet if anyone deserves to be happy, it's Nolie and Erik.