Occasionaly, I read pre-publication/ARC copies of soon-to-be-published books that I receive in exchange for my fair and honest reviews. I write reviews for every book I read, and publish them on Goodreads (you can find me here on Goodreads). In addition to Goodreads, I’ll also be posting my ARC book reviews here in the Field Notes section of my blog.

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Title: The Wedding People

Author: Alison Espach

Publisher: Henry Hold & Company

Publication date: July 30, 2024

My review:

I’ll begin with this disclaimer: Romantic comedies are not my usual, preferred reading genre. That said, I do enjoy reading a well-done rom-com now and then. When a trusted reading friend (whose reading opinions often mirror mine) raved about The Wedding People, Alison Espach’s upcoming release (late July 2024), I was eager to read an advance copy of the novel myself.

The Wedding People is definitely a rom-com – and a delightful, well-done, surprisingly thoughtful one at that. Like any rom-com, The Wedding People features implausible coincidences, a certain level of predictability, situations that would never occur in real life, and – naturally – a charming meet-cute. But The Wedding People is so much more than that. The characters are a bit unexpected and interesting, the dialog is fresh and funny, the pacing is good, and while, yes, the predictability factor is high, there is also more depth and thoughtfulness than you might expect in a romantic comedy.

I very much enjoyed this novel, and will look forward to reading more of Alison Espach’s writing. The Wedding People will be a delightful addition to your summer reading list.

Thank you to Henry Holt and Company and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published in the United States on July 30, 2024.

4 stars.

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Title: Tell Me Everything

Author: Elizabeth Strout

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Publication date: October 12, 2024

My review:

Elizabeth Strout is one of my all-time favorite authors. I will immediately drop-everything-and-read whatever she releases. (Multiple times.) (She’s really got my number.) So I was especially thrilled to receive an advance copy of her newest novel, Tell Me Everything, due to be published in October 2024.

It is amazing to me that Elizabeth Strout can write books about the same characters in the same couple of settings over and over while deepening those same characters – and our understanding of them – with each new entry. You thought you knew Olive Kitteridge? Well. Wait until she starts sharing stories with Lucy Barton. You thought you’d heard all of Lucy’s stories already? Not quite; not yet. You thought Bob Burgess was a frumpy guy who was unlucky at love? Oh, just wait until you see the size of his heart.

No one writes about ordinary people living their ordinary days in ordinary locations better than Elizabeth Strout. She is simply a master when it comes to . . . Connection. Heart. Grief. Loneliness. Aging. Marriage. Reconciliation. Love. Tell Me Everything is a gentle unfolding of real life – and a highly readable, compelling, marvelous addition to the Elizabeth Strout universe.

5 stars.

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Title: There Are Rivers in the Sky

Author: Elif Shafak

Publisher: Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor

Publication date: August 20, 2024

My review:

I very much enjoyed two previous Elif Shafak novels (10 MInutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World and The Island of Missing Trees) so I was eager to read an ARC copy of her forthcoming novel, There Are Rivers in the Sky, to be published in late August 2024.

While there are certainly positives, this latest novel doesn’t quite work for me as well as the others I have read. The writing is lovely and there are many beautiful passages, the setting and history of Mesopotamia is fascinating, and the story’s connection to water is unique and laudable. However, the story structure is rather clunky and serves to hold the reader at a distance throughout. Three main characters (in very different times/places) trade narration through the novel, which could work well but Shafak has chosen to use a round-robin approach to their narration, with short chapters. It is difficult to connect with the characters or their unique storylines with such choppy story segments. There is also just too much exposition, and the flow of the story suffers. The characters’ backstories and the historical background feel like barriers, making the novel tedious to read. And that is really a shame. The story has such potential, but the structure gets in the way.

Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on August 20, 2024.

2.5 stars, rounding up to 3 because the writing is (for the most part) quite beautiful.

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Title: Death at the Sign of the Rook

Author: Kate Atkinson

Publisher: Doubleday Books

Publication date: September 10, 2024

My review:

I’m a big fan of Kate Atkinson and a huge fan of her Jackson Brodie character, so I was eager to read an ARC copy of her upcoming novel (#6 in the Jackson Brodie series) Death At the Sign of the Rook, to be published in early September 2024.

I enjoyed reading this newest entry in the Jackson Brodie canon. I always love spending time with Jackson as he sleuths his way into explanations for all those coincidences (!), and all the supporting characters were interesting, quirky, and quite funny. (Lots of laughs in this one.) That said, I found this to be the weakest entry in the Jackson Brodie series. There was just . . . too little Jackson! And a rather convoluted storyline that did quite a bit of (maybe too much?) meandering. It did, of course, come together in the end of course (we are talking about Kate Atkinson, after all).

I recommend this novel for fans of the author – and for all the Jackson Brodie fans out there. (Even a “weaker” entry in the series is a blessing for Jackson’s fans). For readers who aren’t familiar with Jackson Brodie, I recommend starting back at the beginning (with Case Histories) and reading each installment before picking up this one, as it will help you understand Jackson’s character and operational style. While Death At the Sign of the Rook can certainly stand on its own, Atkinson is really depending on her earlier work for Jackson’s character development and backstory.

Thank you to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on September 10, 2024.

3.5 stars, rounding up to 4.

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Title: There Was Nothing You Could Do: Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” and the End of the Heartland

Author: Steven Hyden

Publisher: Hachette Books

Publication date: May 28, 2024

My review:

First, I’m a music fan. Second, I’m a Bruce Springsteen fan. And third, when I understood that this book would address the intersection of American culture and Bruce Springsteen’s Born In the USA album, I was ALL IN – and very eager to read an ARC copy of rock critic Steven Hyden’s There Was Nothing You Could Do, to be released in late May 2024.

This book is very well written, completely accessible, and utterly absorbing. It was also much more than I bargained for in terms of an analysis of not just the Born In the USAalbum, but also Bruce’s career “story arc,” rock music of the 1980s and its cultural significance – and how Born In the USAas a phenomena really did portend . . . where we are now.

My only critique is that . . . sometimes there was too much detail about the making of some albums (Nebraska comes to mind). But I think that may be because I am not as familiar with that album in the first place, so it felt like too much?????

An enjoyable read overall. Just have Spotify (or your album collection) nearby so you can create your own soundtrack while you read.

Thank you to Hachette and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 28, 2024.

4 stars.

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Title: Real Americans

Author: Rachel Khong

Publisher: Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage and Anchor

Publication date: April 30, 2024

My review:

I have mixed reactions to this novel, Real Americans, by Rachel Khong. The storyline is interesting and compelling, and it surfaces fascinating issues that would make for an engaging book group discussion. That said, I found the execution to be uneven and rather clunky.

The story is told in three parts, each with a different narrator/point of view. The first part sets the tone for the rest of the book, but the characters are rather flat and difficult to connect with. The second part goes further in terms of character development, but suffers from pacing issues. And the third part starts strongly, but is awkward in the storytelling transitions from relaying past events to unfolding action in current time. There are also a few too many “convenient coincidences” for the plot to be plausible, too many loose ends for the story to feel complete, and there is the whole using-your-child-as-scientific-test-subject . . . which is just plain dodgy in a professional scientific setting.

In the end, it’s a strong story concept . . . but suffers in the execution.

Thank you to Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage and Anchor and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on April 30, 2024.

3 stars.

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Title: Forgotten on Sunday

Author: Valérie Perrin

Publisher: Europa Editions

Publication date: June 4, 2024

My review:

I loved reading Valérie Perrin’s Fresh Water for Flowers early last year, so I was eager to read an ARC copy of her soon-to-be-released and freshly translated debut novel, Forgotten on Sunday, to be published in the US early June 2024. (Originally published in 2015, this novel hasn’t previously been translated into English or released in the US.)

Like Fresh Water for Flowers, Perrin’s debut novel is a gentle, delicate story, beautifully written and translated. While Forgotten on Sunday follows a much simpler storyline (and coming in at about half the length), it does share themes with Fresh Water for Flowers: love, loss, grief, and resurrection. I very much enjoyed reading this debut effort. That said, I didn’t engage with the story right away; it took a little bit of time for me to pick up the rhythm of the back-and-forth narration. (Part of it may have been the format of the digital proof I received, which was somewhat visually awkward. I imagine this will be taken care of in the final published copy of the book.) Once I did find my way into the flow of the book, I found it immersive and captivating.

I love Valérie Perrin’s style of writing – and will read everything she writes. Absolutely charming!

Thank you to Europa Editions and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on June 4, 2024.

4 stars.

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Title: After Annie

Author: Anna Quindlan

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Publication date: February 27, 2024

My review:

I have read and enjoyed several of Anna Quindlen’s earlier novels, so I was eager to read an advance copy of her newest novel, After Annie, due to be published in late February 2024.

Anna Quindlen’s new novel shares the heartfelt and touching story of a young family’s grief after the sudden, tragic death of the titular character, Annie. As always, Quindlen’s writing flows easily and naturally, and her characters are well-drawn and easy to “know.” The pacing is consistent in this compelling, highly readable story. After Annie is a moving exploration of love and grief – and their power to bring about change and growth in even the darkest times.

Thank you to Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published in the United States on February 27, 2024.

4 stars

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Title: Enlightenment

Author: Sarah Perry

Publisher: Mariner Books

Publication date: June 4, 2024

My review:

Several years ago, I read and enjoyed Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, so I was eager to read an advance copy of her newest novel, Enlightenment, due to be published in early June 2024.

Sarah Perry writes beautifully, but this is one dense piece of fiction! I would call it . . . an effort-ful read. The characters are not fully “visible” over the course of the novel. I don’t think I’m describing that adequately. It’s not like they’re undeveloped, exactly. It’s more that as a reader, you never “see” them – or get to know them – fully, and they appear to just fade in and out of the narrative. Maybe that’s intentional, and part of the ghost-like quality of the story. But for me as a reader, I had a hard time connecting with the story because I wasn’t connecting with the characters.

The pacing is uneven, which also contributes to the effort-fulness of the novel. It took me a long time (well over 50 pages) to find my initial way into the story. And then once I did engage, I found the story either completely compelling OR a total slog.

That said, I’m glad I did put in the effort. I appreciate the author’s genre-defying story structure, as well as the effective way she combined the themes of science, religion, and mysticism. The ending is beautifully written and helped to pull loose ends together. But . . . it was a LOT to wade through to get there! In the end, I think it was an interesting story told in an interesting way. There is much to like. Just be aware . . . it is an effort-ful read, and you will want to have your wits about you, especially in the opening pages.

Thank you to Mariner Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published in the United States on June 4, 2024.

4 stars

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Title: Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv

Author: Andrey Kurkov, translated by Reuben Wooley

Publisher: Harper Via

Publication date:  August 13, 2024

My review:

There were so many factors converging at once, compelling me to request Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv from NetGalley and HarperVia: First, there was the title – which is charming, even though I was well aware that Jimi Hendrix would play a VERY minimal role going into my reading. Second, I love reading translations, generally, and try to read from the Booker International list each year. (This book was included on the 2023 Booker International longlist.) Third, I’ve never read anything by Andrey Kurkov but have always wanted to. So. There you have it – I was eager to jump into this ARC edition.

Alas, it was not entirely the book for me. I loved the characters and the humor. I just didn’t quite connect with the storyline, and I found the pacing uneven. Maybe it was the translation? Or maybe it was my own lack of contextual background for a book set in Lviv. Regardless, I’m not at all disappointed that I read it, and appreciate the opportunity to have done so.

Thank you to HarperVia and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published in the United States on August 13, 2024.

3 stars

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Title: Wandering Stars

Author: Tommy Orange

Publisher: Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor

Publication date: February 27, 2024

My review:

I very much enjoyed Tommy Orange’s 2018 novel, There There, so I was eager to read an ARC copy of his forthcoming novel, Wandering Stars, to be published in late February 2024.

While Wandering Stars is a follow-up (actually, I’d call it more a “deep-dive” into one of the families featured in There There), you don’t need to have read the first book recently – or at all – to enjoy and appreciate this newer one.

For me, Wandering Stars packed a bigger emotional punch than There There (which is saying a lot). I found that I needed to take brief breaks in my reading now and then, just to settle myself before I could continue on. It is an intense read, with a heartbreakingly raw – and very, very Real – storyline. As in There There, the language in Wandering Stars is beautiful – honest and fresh, and a pleasure to read. Orange employs shifting points of view/narrative voices brilliantly, which deepens the understanding of the individual characters while still tying them together as a whole.

Wandering Stars is packed with the brutal truth of addiction, generational trauma, and cultural identity. It’s lovely, honest, heartbreaking . . . and, in the end, also full of hope.

Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on February 27, 2024.

5 stars.