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.
Author: Paulette Jiles
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: September 12, 2023
I have read and enjoyed several of Paulette Jiles previous books (The Colour of Lightning, News of the World, Simon the Fiddler), so I was eager to read an ARC copy of her forthcoming novel, Chenneville, to be published in early September.
Chenneville follows the titular character on a journey in pursuit of a murderer through post-Civil War Texas as he wrestles with his extreme grief . . . for all that was lost in the war, generally, for the loss of his beloved family members, and for the loss of his own future. With vengeance as his driving force, John Chenneville faces all the challenges of life in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.
Chenneville lacks the charm of Jiles’ News of the World and the poetry of The Colour of Lightning. Like Simon the Fiddler, the pace of Chenneville is slow and methodical, bringing a good sense of the discomforts of post-Civil War life. The writing is spare and withdrawn, and I felt little connection to the characters.
I recommend this book for readers interested in learning more about post-Civil War life, particularly in Texas, but not for those looking for the charm of News of the World.
Thank you to William Morrow and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on September 12, 2023.
Title: The Memory of Animals
Author: Claire Fuller
Publisher: Tin House Books
Publication Date: May 31, 2023
I was thrilled to receive an advance copy of Claire Fuller’s newest novel, The Memory of Animals, as I so enjoyed her earlier Uncommon Ground. I had high hopes for another great read from this author, but . . . it didn’t quite work out that way.
The Memory of Animals is immediately compelling; Claire Fuller writes magnificently. But after an intriguing beginning, things stalled and the whole thing felt . . . unsteady.
There are three strands to the storyline: there is the ongoing drama around a deadly pandemic just outside the door, there are letters written from the main character to “dearest H,” and there are the main character’s flashback memories (most of them from the quite recent past). Unfortunately, these strands don’t really come together in a satisfying way, muddling whatever the intended message was for readers. The flashback/memory storyline, in particular, felt contrived and far too detailed. (I forgot to even mention the introduction of The Revisitor, a memory “re-living” device, that felt cumbersome and superfluous.)
It was a lot.
Too much for me.
When the ending came, it came very quickly and resolved mostly off stage.
All in all, this was a disappointing read.
The Memory of Animals was entertaining enough, but I fear it will disappoint fans of both sci-fi/dystopian fiction and literary fiction.
Thank you to Tin House Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 31, 2023.
Title: The Librarianist
Author: Patrick deWitt
Publication Date: July 4, 2023
Patrick deWitt’s newest novel, The Librarianist, offers an intimate look at a quiet man’s life through 3 lenses (rather like unpeeling the layers of an onion). We first meet our main character, Bob Comet, in the present day, as a 71-year-old retired librarian. We then “peel” back to Bob in the late 1950s as a young man just starting his career and finding friendship and love. Finally, we “peel” back yet again to Bob at age 11 in 1945 on his running-away-from-home adventure (which is alluded to several times in the earlier sections as a particularly significant event in his life). Through it all, Bob engages with colorful, risk-taking characters, while remaining quietly steadfast in his own stable and predictable life.
As with all Patrick deWitt novels, The Librarianist is highly character-driven, and features sharp, witty dialogue between quirky characters engaging in unusual life situations.
I was fully enjoying the book until . . . I hit Part 3 (the childhood sequence). Unfortunately, this part dragged for me, and felt disconnected to the rest of the book. I can’t quite put my finger on the “why” here, but I feel like I missed an important piece of Bob’s puzzle.
Bottom line: The Librarianist is a book worth reading – especially for fans of Patrick deWitt and those readers who enjoy character-driven novels that also adeptly combine poignancy and humor. Pacing problems with Part 3 brought down my star-rating from 4 to 3.
Thank you to Ecco and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on July 4, 2023.
Title: Big Two-Hearted River: The Centennial Edition
Author: Ernest Hemingway, with foreward by John N. Maclean
Publisher: Mariner Books Classics
Publication Date: May 9, 2023
I have long had a love-hate relationship with Ernest Hemingway’s writing. Since I was first introduced to Hemingway in my high school American Lit class (long, long ago), I have been intrigued with the power of his sparse – yet pitch-perfect – writing. The subject matter? Not so much. But I do – very much – appreciate his writing style.
As a Michigander myself, and as the wife of a trout fishing enthusiast (I don’t fish myself, but I am well acquainted with the passion), I was eager to read an advance copy of the centennial edition of Hemingway’s Big Two-Hearted River. I thoroughly enjoyed this short story. The well-researched introduction by John Mclean (nearly as long as the short story itself) provided helpful context and added to my enjoyment. The engravings by Chris Wormell are wonderful, and certainly enhance this new edition.
I will look forward to purchasing a hard copy of the book after publication. (It deserves a place in any trout fisherman’s library.)
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 on May 9th, 2023.
Author: Alice McDermott
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Publication Date: November 7, 2023
Alice McDermott is one of my favorite authors, so I was eager to have the opportunity to read an advance copy of her newest novel, Absolution. As usual, McDermott hits it out of the park! Absolution is quietly compelling with exquisite writing and characters that leap from the page – all in a completely unexpected and surprising setting. Told in a backward-looking format, the story unfolds in two long, letter-writing sequences – an often unnecessary gimmick that works so well here, in the hands of McDermott. The pacing is excellent.
While it is easy to condense the “helping” in this novel to just that of one, specific character, it’s really much broader than that. Absolution is, at its heart, a story of altruism, of “doing good” – in all its many and varied forms. So often, acts of altruism are performed to assuage the “guilt” or obligation of the giver, rather than to match the true needs and desires of the recipient – and Absolution demonstrates that . . . masterfully.
Thank you to Farrar, Straus, and Giroux and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on August 8th, 2023.
Title: The Half Moon
Author: Mary Beth Keane
Publication Date: May 2, 2023
I knew right away that this was not going to be a book for me, but I did continue on and read until the end given that I was reading an ARC edition in exchange for my honest review. While the topics covered in the novel (infertility, small business ownership, economic stresses) in relation to marriage are valid and important, they alone cannot lift a storyline. The Half Moon is plagued by too much exposition and flat characterization. There is altogether too much telling and not enough showing. Although I did enjoy the author’s previous novel (Ask Again, Yes), this new release does not come close, and was a disappointing read.
Thank you to Scribner and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 2, 2023.
Title: Tom Lake
Author: Ann Patchett
Publication Date: August 8, 2023
I have long been a fan of Ann Patchett’s writing (in fact, in my wild daydreams, she is my neighbor and good friend), so I was thrilled to receive a pre-publication copy of Tom Lake, her newest novel, from NetGalley. Tom Lake is a gentle, engaging story that unfolds slowly in dual timelines that jump back and forth easily and seamlessly – without missing a beat. Ann Patchett has always been a master at family and relationship dynamics, and Tom Lake is no exception. The characters here are beautifully crafted, and their relationships with each other are natural and believable. In Tom Lake, Ann Patchett creates a wonderful sense of time and place. I was easily drawn into the scenes she creates, feeling like I could take a seat at the kitchen table, climb a ladder in the cherry orchard, or gather on the dock of the lake. As a Michigander, I can attest to the summer-in-northern-lower-Michigan feeling Patchett creates in Tom Lake (although there is one teensy little glitch with a “drive time” between locations that would be impossible; but that’s just a niggling little thing). It was a pleasure to read a book set practically in my backyard.
I enjoyed reading a book featuring a woman looking back on her personal “decision tree” of life with satisfaction and peace. Lara’s story – the details she shared with her daughters and the details she kept for herself – rang very true for me.
This is another winner from Ann Patchett – and it just makes me wish all the harder that we really were neighbors, and that I truly was her friend.
Thank you to Harper and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on August 8th, 2023.
Title: The Covenant of Water
Author: Abraham Verghese
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
Publication Date: Expected May 2, 2023
As a big fan of Abraham Verghese’s earlier novel Cutting for Stone, I was eager to dive into his newest offering, and jumped at the chance to receive a pre-publication copy of The Covenant of Water from NetGalley. Many of the very same things I loved about Cutting for Stone were present in the The Covenant of Water: a highly nuanced family saga crossing multiple generations and timelines; well-developed, memorable characters sharing believable relationships; lyrical, evocative language that absolutely brings the setting to life; social issues you can really sink your teeth into; and interesting medical situations made relevant even for non-medical readers. Yet . . . the newer novel didn’t quite hit the same high notes for me. I found the first 350 (or so) pages to be a smooth and interesting ride (yes, there were many characters to keep track of, but a simple list helped me manage that), but there were some pacing issues for me after that. If a book is going to be as long as this one (over 700 pages), it really shouldn’t bog down in the middle. I’m sad to say, The Covenant of Water did just that. Strong editing – to keep it more in the 500 page range (like Cutting For Stone) – would have helped to tighten things up while keeping this involved story moving forward. As it is, it becomes a bit of a free-for-all of issues, characters, and near-misses in the middle section of the novel. Things do come together nicely in the end, so if readers are patient enough to slog through those middle portions, there is a nice pay-off in a satisfying – and fitting – ending.
I am happy to have read The Covenant of Water. I found it to be interesting, informative, and quite enjoyable. I think it was just a little . . . too long.
Thank you to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for providing me with a pre-publication copy of this book.