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.
Title: To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul
Author: Tracy K. Smith
Publisher: Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor
Publication Date: November 7, 2023
As a fan of Tracy K. Smith’s writing, I was eager to read an ARC copy of her just-released memoir, To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul, published on November 7, 2023.
I found To Free the Captives to be a poignant and beautifully written personal manifesto. I was moved by Tracy K. Smith’s vulnerable discoveries, and grateful to have the opportunity to learn from them. I will be forever changed by her concepts of “free” and “freed.”
Highly recommended, and especially for those interested in acknowledging our shared past and seeking a healing way forward .
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 was published on November 7, 2023.
Title: The Paris Novel
Author: Ruth Reichl
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: April 20, 2024
I have read and enjoyed all of Ruth Reichl’s memoirs, so I was eager to read an advance copy of her upcoming novel, The Paris Novel, due to be published in April 2024. In truth, though, this little novel . . . was just not for me. It is written with Ruth Reichl’s signature “jaunty” voice, but while that voice lends itself beautifully to her memoirs, it didn’t work as well in this novel. I found the story to be rather simplistic, contrived, and predictable. I enjoyed the descriptions of meals and food preparation, as well as the beautiful Paris setting, but there were just too many convenient coincidences for me to take the book seriously. There is also a lot of famous-people-name-dropping, which seemed especially contrived to me in this context.
The most interesting part of the book for me was actually the Afterward, when Ruth Reichl talks about how her novel came to be, and how many of the characters, places, and restaurants in the book were based on her own life experiences in Paris. Based on the Afterward, I think these stories would have made a much better memoir than the resulting novel!
I am quite sure there will be a huge audience for this book when it is released. It definitely provides charm and escapism – but not a lot of bite.
[I do feel I need to mention the child molestation/sexual assault which occurs in the early chapters of the book. It was surprising and disturbing – and seems not to really belong with the rest of the story. I understand the purpose – to set up Stella’s horrific childhood – but it just seemed to be overdone/excessively dramatic given the lighter nature of the rest of the story. It was . . . odd and jarring.]
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 on April 30, 2024.
Title: My Friends
Author: Hisham Matar
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: January 9, 2024
My Friends, by Hisham Matar, is a thoughtful, deeply personal character study illuminating the inner life of an exiled Libyan man living in London. The book is fictional, although it reads like a memoir, and is based on historical events. The writing is exquisite, with the author masterfully revealing what it means to live a life in exile, poignantly describing the resilience necessary to exchange the comfort of a life in the arms of family, homeland, and history for a future filled with uncertainty, loss, and a constant fear of betrayal.
I found the first third of the book compelling, reading compulsively to learn what would befall young Khaled and his friend Mustafa, forcing them into exile in London. The pace of the book slowed dramatically for the remaining two-thirds, however. Perhaps this was intentional on the author’s part, as Khaled experienced the emotional struggles of settling into a life in exile for the long term.
While the book isn’t directly about the politics of Libya and the Arab Spring revolution, some basic knowledge would be helpful for readers. I didn’t have the requisite background knowledge, so I spent some time Googling to “catch up.”
Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on January 9 2024.
Title: Prophet Song
Author: Paul Lynch
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
Publication Date: December 12, 2023 (US publication)
Never one to shy away from the more “chewy” books, I was eager to receive an ARC copy of this recently-shortlisted Booker nominee (to be published in the US in December 2023). And “chewy?” Oh, yeah. This one was so “chewy” I could barely swallow.
I found Prophet Song to be terrifying and absolutely chilling. Compelling, sure. But not a book I enjoyed reading. For me, it hit all my terror-triggers, and I actually had a hard time sleeping for a few nights after finishing the book. So I guess you could say . . . it delivered an emotional gut-punch. (Kind of in the same way Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale did when I read it in 1985.)
That said, the reason I had such a strong reaction to the book (aside from the terrifying plot, of course) was . . . the brilliant writing. The paragraph structure, the dialog, the very flow of the book was dark and frantic and claustrophobic. The language created that feeling of chaos, of nowhere to turn, of the walls literally closing in. It was . . . amazingly disturbing.
So how to rate a book that I hated reading . . . but at the same time, could understand and appreciate the absolute Art (with a capital A) that created my discomfort? (Again, the same feeling I had back in 1985 when I read The Handmaid’s Tale.)
4 stars . . . for brilliant writing, incredible emotional impact, and a storyline that will stick with me. It probably deserves 5 stars. But those sleepless nights have gotta count for something. (I will be rooting for this one to win the Booker, but I won’t be reading it again.)
Thank you to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published in the US on December 12, 2023.
Title: The Morningside
Author: Téa Obreht
Publisher: Random House Publishing
Publication Date: March 19, 2024
I have read and enjoyed Téa Obreht’s previous books (The Tiger’s Wife and Inland), so I was eager to read an ARC copy of her forthcoming novel, The Morningside, to be published in March 2024.
The Morningside is a difficult book to characterize. It’s sort of dystopian, but a not-very-far-off and completely believable kind of dystopia. It’s sort of fantasy, but really more a meld of Old World myth and New Age magic. At its heart, though, The Morningside is a coming-of-age tale about a young girl trying to find the “world underneath the world.” However characterized, it’s a delightful ride! It’s an inventive and engaging tale from beginning to end, jam-packed with Téa Obreht’s always refreshing turns of phrase and gorgeous writing.
The Morningside . . . is about secrets, discovery, and keeping the people we love safe in a world that is suddenly unfamiliar and fraught with danger. Téa Obreht creates a beautiful, otherworldly experience . . . so just jump in and enjoy the ride!
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 on March 19, 2024.
4.5 stars, rounded up. Highly recommended.
[book cover not available at this time]
Title: Followed by the Lark
Author: Helen Humphreys
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: February 13, 2024
As a fan of Helen Humphreys’ writing, I was eager to read an ARC copy of her forthcoming novel, Followed by the Lark, to be published in February 2024.
Followed by the Lark reveals the imagined interior life of American naturalist, essayist, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. Humphreys’ beautiful interpretation seems perfectly suited to the gentle, thoughtful man most associated with Walden Pond. The overall narrative has a poetic feel with beautiful language, a lyrical setting, and a gentle cadence and pace. Humphreys blends fact and fiction brilliantly as she brings Henry David Thoreau to life.
I recommend this book for readers interested in learning more about Henry David Thoreau and his lifetime devotion to the natural world.
Thank you to Farrar, Strauss and Giroux and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on February 13, 2024.
Author: Catherine Chidgey
Publisher: Europa Editions
Publication Date: August 8, 2023
Last year, I read and enjoyed Catherine Chidgey’s Remote Symphony, so I was eager to read an ARC copy of her newest novel, Pet, to be published in paperback by Europa Editions in early August.
Pet is a delicious little psychological thriller told from the viewpoint of 12-year-old Justine, an altogether unreliable narrator. Well-written and well-paced, the story has enough twists and turns to keep you turning the pages. (Once begun, I couldn’t put it down!) There are a couple of quite odd sub-plots that didn’t seem to fit the narrative, but they weren’t enough to detract from the overall storyline. Compelling and satisfying, this is a quick read sure to delight readers who don’t mind an ambiguous ending.
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 August 8, 2023.
Author: Michael Cunningham
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication Date: November 14, 2023
I consider The Hours, arguably Michael Cunningham’s most well-known novel, to be a nearly perfect novel – and one of my personal favorites – so I was eager to read an ARC copy of his forthcoming novel, Day, to be published in November 2023.
Day is a beautifully written and exquisitely crafted novel revealing an intimate slice of life for the members of a tight-knit family on one particular day (April 5) for three consecutive years (2019, 2020, and 2021). Cunningham is simply a master when it comes to character development – and especially given the tight constraints he set up for himself with the book’s structure. I was captivated by this short, tight novel of relationships, self-discovery, loss, and love.
Highly recommended, and especially for fans of The Hours.
Thank you to Random House Publishing Group and to NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on November 14, 2023.
Title: So Late In the Day: Stories of Women and Men
Author: Claire Keegan
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
Publication Date: November 14, 2023
I have so enjoyed reading Claire Keegan’s previous work that I requested this advance copy of So Late in the Day: Stories of Women and Men from NetGalley without even reading the description. (So to say I was eager to dive in is an understatement, indeed.) Although I enjoy reading nearly all literary fiction, I have a special place in my heart for well-written short stories. And of this genre, Claire Keegan is a master! Her writing is crisp, spare, and full of emotional punch. This collection of three dark short stories shows off Keegan’s skills with precise, insightful, and unforgettable glimpses into the lives of three “couples.” The three stories, taken together, create an unsettling commentary on relationships between women and men. Evocative and emotional, this collection will give fans of Claire Keegan something to savor.
Thank you to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on November 14, 2023.
Title: All Tomorrow’s Parties: The Velvet Underground Story
Author: Koren Shadmi
Publisher: Humanoids, Inc.
Publication Date: August 21, 2023
I have long been a fan of The Velvet Underground, so I thought it would be fun to read an ARC copy of Koren Shadmi’s forthcoming graphic novel about the band, All Tomorrow’s Parties: The Velvet Underground Story, to be published in late August.
Graphic novels are one of my “guilty pleasures” (although I really don’t feel guilty about reading them at all), and this one by Koren Shadmi is very good – it presents factual information in an engaging format, it’s artistically pleasing (I especially love the color palette he chose), and it has emotional depth. Overall, it’s a quick, enjoyable way to learn all about The Velvet Underground.
My recommendation? Tee up a Velvet Underground playlist for yourself – and then dive into this thoroughly enjoyable graphic novel and read all about ‘em!
Thank you to Humanoids, Inc. and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on August 21, 2023.
Title: The Ocean and the Stars
Author: Mark Helprin
Publisher: Abrams: The Overlook Press
Publication Date: October 3, 2023
I have read and enjoyed several of Mark Helprin’s previous books (Winter’s Tale, Paris in the Present Tense, In Sunlight and In Shadow), so I was eager to read an ARC copy of his forthcoming novel, The Oceans and the Stars, to be published in early October.
The Oceans and the Stars follows our hero, Captain Stephen Rensselaer, on a modern-day “Odyssey” as the commanding officer of The Athena, a Patrol Coastal warship doomed to be the last of its line. Rensselaer is an experienced, highly skilled naval officer, who consistently demonstrates the highest levels of integrity, morality, and decency – despite being sent on this designed-to-fail mission on the whim of a vindictive US President.
The subtitle of the novel reads “A Sea Story, a War Story, A Love Story” and, indeed, the book is all of those things – with heavy emphasis on the sea and war stories. The love story portion of The Oceans and the Stars is quite comparable – in both scope and purpose – to the love story portion of The Odyssey. There really isn’t much “there there,” and it could have been left out altogether and still told the same tale. A disappointment. I have always found Helprin’s female characters to be less-developed and more stereotypical than his male characters.
Although Helprin is a wonderful storyteller, and The Oceans and the Stars is well-written and well-researched, this was just . . . not my book. Too much “sea story” and “war story” for my taste, with very little “love story” to temper the overall effect. That said, I think it will prove to be an exciting read for those interested in the perils of the sea and naval combat.
Thank you to Abrams, Overlook Press and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on October 3, 2023.
3.5 stars, rounded up to 4
Title: Happiness Falls
Author: Angie Kim
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication Date: August 29, 2023
Angie Kim’s second novel, Happiness Falls, is propulsive, riveting, and utterly fascinating. This family drama features everything you could want in a novel: strong characters with believable voices, a fascinating storyline, and a pace that keeps you turning the pages. (I’m in awe of the way Kim . . . unspooled . . . her story, revealing tantalizing little “tidbits” in nearly every chapter). This well-researched story about family dynamics delves into the way we live/the things we do to protect the people we love. Ultimately, this novel may challenge your assumptions, test your beliefs, and teach you a thing or two. I was fascinated. I couldn’t put it down. I’ll be recommending this one on repeat.
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 on August 29, 2023.
Title: Return to Valetto
Author: Dominic Smith
Publisher: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Publication Date: June 13, 2023
A delightful read! I enjoyed this beautifully written novel set in the fictional Italian town of Valetto. The Umbrian setting is lovely, the characters are rich and fully developed, the pacing is good. This is a story filled with nostalgia, memory, secrets and grief. While abandonment is a prominent theme of the novel, there is also a strong sense of community and connection that root the entire story beautifully. Everything ties up a bit neatly in the end, but it works – and it makes for a very satisfying finish. A perfect summer novel.
Thank you to Farrar, Strauss and Giroux and to NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on June 13, 2023.
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.