Tuesday, May 28, 2013

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: A Far Piece to Canaan by Sam Halpern


A warm and nostalgic debut novel from an unexpected source: Sam Halpern, whose salty paternal wisdom made Justin Halpern's Sh*t My Dad Says a phenomenal bestseller.

Inspired by Sam Halpern's childhood in rural Kentucky, A Far Piece to Canaan tells the story of Samuel Zelinsky, a celebrated but troubled retired professor who reluctantly returns after his wife's death to visit a farm in the Kentucky hills where he lived as a child. The son of sharecroppers, Samuel has long since left that life behind-yet now must reconnect with long-buried memories in order to achieve peace.

Delving into the events of 1945, Sam recalls Fred Mulligan, the hired hand's bright and spirited ten-year-old son. Together with two neighbor boys, Samuel and Fred visit the Blue Hole, a legendary pool on the Kentucky River where the hill people believe an evil force lurks. The boys find the body of a dog, surrounded by twisted human footprints, and later discover a cave that offers other evidence that something terrible has transpired. Fearing that they'll be punished for their trespasses, the boys initiate a series of cover-ups and lies that eventually lead to a community disaster.

When the Zelinskys move from the farm, the two boys promise each other that if either of them ever needs help, the other will come to his aid, but after he moves to Indiana and is ridiculed because of his "hillbilly" background, Sam rejects his past.

Now, decades later, Sam is devastated to learn from a fellow classmate about Fred's tragic life story in the years that followed-and manages to make contact with his troubled granddaughter, Lisa June. Though at first she rejects his attempts to reach out to her, through persistence and patience Samuel finally manages to establish a connection, becoming a kind of surrogate grandfather to Lisa June-and finally achieving peace through his late return to Canaan land.

A tale of superstition, secrets, and heroism in the postwar South, A Far Piece to Canaan is the surprising and moving debut of a gifted storyteller.

Paperback, 400 pages
Expected publication: May 28th 2013 by Harper Perennial
ISBN 0062233165 (ISBN13: 9780062233165)

About the Author

I was unable to locate much info on him, other than the back of the book:

Sam Halpern is the legendary father of Justin Halpern, author of the phenomenal #1 New York Times bestseller Sh*t My Dad Says. A professor of nuclear medicine, he lives in southern California.

Friend the author on Facebook

My Thoughts
I was exhausted, and the monotonous sound of the commuter plane's engines irritated my already frayed nerves. My subconscious had been tracking the time and I knew I was nearing my destination.

This story takes place outside of Lexington on the Kentucky River, in bluegrass country.

Samuel, now a retired professor and widower, returns to the home of his youth in search of redemption and the best friend he's ever had. Raised the son of a sharecropper in Kentucky, this story follows Samuel's time in Harper's Corner, Kentucky. As a young boy, Samuel finds himself entrenched in a dangerous mystery that threatens the entire village, while he and his friends wonder whether they may be able to stop it. As a man, Samuel must come to terms with having abandoned his best friend, and with whether or not he could have made a difference.

I found this book to be a surprisingly sentimental read. Considering the author is also the originator of such hysterically crass and brutally honest statements as those shared by his son via Sh*t My Dad Says, I am amazed at how sweet and touching this story was, especially when being written by a self-described curmudgeon. If you are unfamiliar with the author, he is known for saying things like this to his son...
Engagement rings are pointless. Indians gave cows...Oh sorry, congrats on proposing. We good now? Can I finish my indian story?
I didn't say you were ugly. I said your girlfriend is better looking than you, and standing next to her, you look ugly.
A parent's only as good as their dumbest kid. If one wins a Nobel Prize but the other gets robbed by a hooker, you failed.
...only these are the cleanest quotes that I could find, since he is known for being pretty vulgar and crass (but hysterical and astute)!

The author created a cast of very likable characters. The main character, Samuel Zelinsky, is a sweet boy-- conscientious, respectful and thoughtful. His best friend Fred is likewise a good boy, but shoulders the weight of the world and often has a difficult time managing his depression. But he's a very brave and spirited boy. Likewise I became very fond of their friend Lonnie, who comes from an abusive home and therefore has become tough as nails on the surface (although underneath it all, he is just as sweet as Samuel and Fred).

The speech pattern used among the boys can be difficult to adjust to. The characters speak in the dialect of the Kentucky hills, saying things like "wudn't" (wasn't), "hit's" (it is), and "bob warr'll cut ye" (barbed wire will cut you), which I was able to sort out. But I found myself at a loss with "hun'ney". It looks like "honey", but the one boy Fred would use it often with Samuel, and it seems odd that young Kentucky boys would refer to one another as "Honey". So that one has me stumped!

I have discovered over the last year that I am quite fond of southern literature. There is a richness and depth to the characters that is captivating, and having grown up in the south, a certain familiarity. This book did not disappoint!

I absolutely love the cover! It was what first caught my eye, and then the title, and then the author’s name and claim to fame was the final clincher that sold me. The cover is a little reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Unfortunately my ARC copy began to fall apart within the first 10 pages, shedding pages like a winter coat, but stopped after 40-50 pages in. I’m hoping that this was just the binding used for the ARC, and not the binding used for the actual released edition. I’m sure they’ll figure out the issue before the paperback is released.

My final word: This story continually reminded me of Stephen King's Stand By Me. The friendships that exist amongst a group of boys, the setting, the sense of innocence lost. I love Stand By Me, so I mean the comparison in the best way possible. Samuel, Fred and Lonnie all became characters that I truly cared about. The storyline kept me guessing, there were lots of other colorful characters on the periphery, and ultimately the story was just plain charming.

My thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be part of this book tour.
Check out the master schedule on their website:

Tuesday, May 28th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Wednesday, May 29th: A Patchwork of Books
Thursday, May 30th: SusieBookworm
Monday, June 3rd: bookchickdi
Tuesday, June 4th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Wednesday, June 5th: A Bookworm’s World
Thursday, June 6th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, June 11th: BookNAround
Monday, June 17th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Friday, June 28th: As I turn the pages

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble

Cover: A+
Writing Style:

My Rating:


I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.


Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Ooh, I love STAND BY ME as well - sounds like this book will be right up my alley!

Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

Becky LeJeune said...

Haha! I had the same thought with regards to "hun'ney!" The first time I came across it, I thought it was being used sarcastically but then it was there more and more. Honey is the only thing I can figure, too, odd as it seems.

Heather said...

Becky: I had asked the author the about the use of "hun'ney", and his response was the following: Nick names, pet names, friend names, abound in the South. The kid (Fred), simply used that name without a thought and Samuel accepted it without a thought. Names in the South often confuse non-Southerners, for example, LD. That may be Logan Daniel on his birth certificate, or it could actually read LD. That's the honest truth. In the case of hun'ney it was pronounced as two syllables.

Robbins said...

To be honest I wasn’t aware he had a book out till I saw his son's book in the weekends line up on The Book Report radio’s website last night, and on following it up, discovered this one. I laughed so at his son's book, your mention of this one being sentimental makes me wonder if Justin's book really was about things his dad said, or just "poetic license"? Perhaps mention will be made on the radio show? The website has become a regular for me now that I have twins and so much less time on my hands-it keeps me in touch with new books, that I would otherwise totally miss, and gives me the opportunity to become more picky about what I spend my time reading. If you have a busy lifestyle, you might find it helpful too, and the shows are archived too, so not a train smash if you miss the show. By the sounds of your review, it’s a beauty of a book and one I’ll make a point of getting, thanks. Pleased I found my way here!
P.S. if you’re interested, the website I spoke of is bookreportradio{dot}com