Backlist vs New Release: Peter Heller

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Welcome to Backlist vs New Release, a new feature on The Shelf.ish Life blog where I will be deep diving into one author’s most recent work and one of their backlist titles.

Today I will be taking a look at two releases by Peter Heller. I heard of Peter Heller through Anne Bogel’s podcast What Should I Read Next? when she recommended The River. She praised the book and called it her favorite book she read in 2019.

I also read Heller’s previous release, Celine, because of Anne, as it was the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club pick for November 2019. Released in 2017, Celine is Peter Heller’s most recent backlist title.

I have very differing opinions about these two novels. One is significantly better than the other, in my opinion. Read on to learn more.


New Release

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The River

Published: 2019

Thoughts: Peter Heller is a beautiful writer, there’s no question about that.

But, wow, was I bored by this book.

Now look, if you like camping and canoeing, and any of that outdoorsy-woodsy stuff, and you like to read about it, then this book is for you.

Let’s start with the positives of this book. Heller writes of nature so beautifully, that it makes you feel like you are actually in Northern Canada, where the story takes place, and canoeing the river with Jack and Wynn, our two main characters. The atmosphere seems to be the main focal point in this story, which would be all fine and good if the characters were just as developed as the place they are visting. Sadly, this is not the case.

Jack and Wynn are not likable. Heller dives a little into their pasts while moving the story forward, but these storylines feel stilted and thrown in. I didn’t care about these characters at all. And when they come across a couple other people on their journey, I liked those characters even less.

Seeing how these characters cope with their natural environment, especially when a wildfire threatens their trip, is something that should seem exciting, and there was a sense of urgency during these moments, but there’s just so much exposition and words that I couldn’t get ramped up for what was happening.

A big thing I realized after reading this book is that I prefer stories with a good amount of dialogue. This story did not have that. And while it is a short book at just 253 pages, it feels like it is twice that long because of all the words.

I was utterly disappointed after reading this book and didn’t anticipate reading another Peter Heller any time soon.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️


Backlist

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Celine 

Published: 2017

Thoughts: A couple months after reading The River, I picked up Celine as part of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. I was not excited about, because I was determined that I wasn’t going to like anything else of Heller’s.

I’m so glad I read this book, because where I was bored by The River, I was completely captivated with Celine.

This book still has the environmental description elements to it, but Heller also focuses more on character development.

By the time you’re done reading, you really feel like you know Celine and can empathize with the choices she’s made in her life. It was refreshing to read a story with a mature character, and by mature I mean someone who has lived a longer life than the majority of the narrators I’ve been reading (Celine is in her late sixties).

Celine is a private detective on a mission to solve one last missing person case. We weave in and out of Celine’s life from present day to her past in an attempt to understand how she got to where she is at this point in her life. Sometimes when I read dual storylines like this, I find myself liking one better than the other, but I was equally intrigued between Celine’s past and present day. It was a hard book to put down.

Celine’s just a kick-ass woman, and I loved reading about her.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


Winner:

Celine

The characters in Celine are better developed, the story is more interesting, and you won’t be bored reading it.

Peter Heller VS


Let me know how you like this new feature and if there are any authors you would like to see covered!

 

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January 2020 Books Read

Monthly Book Round-Up-3

January was a loooong month.

Circumstances being what they were this month, I didn’t get to finish as many books as I was hoping to read (as Goodreads so eloquently reminds me – I’m one book behind pace to my yearly goal). But the ones I did read were fantastic.

I’m adding a new feature to my reviews, and that is the format in which I read the book. I feel that format can make or break whether or not I will like a book. I started The Nickel Boys on audio and was not captivated by it. I happened to see it at the library and decided I would try to read it in print, and I enjoyed it so much better in this format.

I’m also going to briefly mention the books I DNF’d (did not finish) this month. I’m trying to read at a higher quality, so if I’m not enjoying a book, I will not force myself to finish. And that doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t go back to a DNF book, it just wasn’t right for me at this point in time.

Focusing on quality is really working for me, and I implore everyone to do the same. Life is too short to not be reading something you enjoy!


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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Genre: YA

Format: Audiobook

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

What a powerful way to start off the new year. I know this book has been around for awhile, and I’m kind of late to the game, but wow. Now I know why this book was so popular when it came out in 2017. It tells the tale of Starr who sees her friend get shot to death by a cop in a traffic stop gone wrong. This book is extremely poignant for the time we’re living in. The audiobook is excellent, one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. Bahni Turpin is an awesome narrator. This truly is a YA novel, however, as it pauses here and there to remind us of that when Starr is hanging out with her friends from school. But overall, this is an important novel that everyone should read.


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Today We Go Home by Kelli Estes

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Paperback

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was the first book I received after joining the Once Upon a Book Club subscription service. You get to open gifts related to the corresponding page numbers along the way, which makes it feel like you are a part of the story. I loved the experience, and the book was great too. Told in two timelines between an Iraq veteran and a soldier in the Civil War, both of whom are women, was a delightful surprise. I haven’t read a historical fiction novel set during the Civil War, and it was a refreshing break from reading a WWII-set novel. And learning that women posing as men to fight in the war was a common occurrence made the story that much more interesting. The present day storyline wasn’t as strong, in my opinion, but it was overall an enjoyable read.


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The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

This was my first foray into Colson Whitehead’s work, and I wasn’t disappointed. Based on a true story of a reformatory boys school in 1950s Florida, this novel tackles some heavy topics such as abuse and race, yet it’s told in a way that is readable. The writing is beautiful, but I had to switch from audio to hardcover to truly comprehend the story. The novel interweaves quotes and aspirations from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as it was set during the Civil Rights movement, which really opened my eyes to that era and how it still resonants today. This is a great “makes you think” book.


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Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Genre: Classic / Adventure

Format: Ebook (Serial App)

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

I did it. I finished my first classic of the year. Yes, it was a children’s novel, and yes, it’s a story that everyone has heard of, but I’m proud that I actually stuck with it and didn’t give up 20 pages in and never return back to it like I do with most classics. That’s a win, in my book. I had decided to read Peter Pan because my daughter had recently been in our community theater’s production of it. I was surprised at how the story of the play followed so closely with the story of the book, that is to say, it’s nothing like the Disney version. I enjoyed reading it overall, but, man, Peter annoyed the ever living crap out of me. Whiny. Arrogant. Narcissistic. I now know why they had to make him more likable for the Disney movie, because he is not likable here. But it’s a fun adventure novel that can be read with your kiddos.


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Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Genre: Historical Fiction / Literary

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I picked this up on a whim from the library. I had heard about it through bookish word of mouth, and I saw that it was short (only 196 pages), so I thought I’d give it a try. The jacket cover proclaimed it as very poetic, which scared me as I am not a poetry fan, but as soon as I dug in I couldn’t put it down. It’s not told in a conventional way; it goes back in forth in time from the early 2000s to the 1970s and is told from multiple characters’ perspectives. It might be confusing to some, but I thought it helped elevate the story. I love a good book about relationships, and that’s ultimately what this story is. It’s a great, super-quick read.


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Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark

Genre: Memoir

Format: Audiobook

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I don’t listen to Kilgariff and Hardstark’s popular My Favorite Murder podcast, but I had heard that you don’t have to be a fan of the show to enjoy this book. While the authors mention the show and the topic of true crime occasionally, this was more like a book of essays about the women’s lives growing up. They are both gifted writers, and funny to boot. I’m still not planning on listening to their podcast, but I’m very glad I read their book. If you need a good laugh, this book is for you.


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The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

I did not mean to read so many historical fiction novels this month, but every single one I read was excellent. The Stationery Shop was no different. Another Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club pick, this novel tells the story of Roya from the time she was a lovestruck teenager in 1950s Tehran to how she got to where she is in present day Boston. I loved learning about the history of the political turmoil surrounding Iran while reading a fictional account of characters during that time. While it’s a love story at its core, it also tackles topical issues such as undiagnosed mental illness, abortion, social class status, and death. That may sound like a downer, but it was beautifully written and didn’t drag at all. It was a great book to round out my month of reading.


Books I DNF’d this month:

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory – I love Jasmine Guillory as a person, but I’ve come to realize I’m not a fan of her subpar writing.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal – I could not stand the audio narrator’s voice on this one. I might pick it up in paper or digital format in the future.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo – I was so excited to pick this one up, but sadly could not get into it. Maybe it will capture my interest at a later time.


What were some of your favorite books you read this month? Let me know in the comments!

January 2020 Reads

 

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Books I Read in December

Monthly Book Round-Up-2

December was a super busy month for me, full of work-commitments, Christmas shopping/wrapping/festivities, and our whole family getting the stomach flu (not a fun way to spend a week, let me tell ya). Along with getting sucked back into The Office reruns (in order to listen to the new Office Ladies podcast – highly recommend), there was not a lot of time to dedicate to reading.

The books I did get to read were good ones, at least. It was a good way to close out 2019, my best year for reading ever. Here’s to more quality reading in 2020!


91TscA6252LThe Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Genre: Literary Fiction

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Tom Hanks is the narrator of the audio version of this story about the relationship between two siblings. I love Tom Hanks, the actor. Not so sure I love Tom Hanks, the audiobook narrator. I had trouble getting into this story because of the nuanced way Hanks told it, and I have a feeling if I’d read it in print, I would have enjoyed it way more. I love a good relationship story, and this novel definitely has it. Learning about the lives of siblings Maeve and Danny and their unusual upbringing was definitely my cup of tea. It is very well-written, and one that I think I would have benefitted from by actually reading the words with my eyes instead of my ears. It might even be worth a reread in print, an extreme rarity for me. I’m looking forward to reading the back catalog of Patchett’s.


41jgSAIDkvLCeline by Peter Heller

Genre: Thriller

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

I hated Peter Heller’s newest novel The River, which came out earlier this year. I was very hesitant about reading his novel from a couple years ago, Celine, which was the book club pick of Modern Mrs. Darcy in November. I’m so glad I did, though. My opinion of this book could not be more different than that of The River. Both books are very atmospheric, and Heller is a master of writing descriptive nature. The huge difference is in the stories. Celine focuses on the private detective of the title name, a mature (aka older) woman who takes on a mysterious case. We follow her and her husband through the journey, while also diving into Celine’s past, which touches on why she became a private detective in the first place. The characters were likable, the story was a page-turner, and overall I thought this was a great piece of literary fiction. It’s definitely changed how I view Peter Heller, to the point where I just may pick up more of his novels (a notion I would have never thought of earlier this year!).


81iiD9gp4ALThe Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

Genre: Literary Fiction

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book had a ton of hype. I’d heard that you don’t have to be religious to appreciate the divinity of this story. While this might be true, I still didn’t completely love this novel. The characters were well-developed, but that doesn’t mean any of them were likable. I enjoyed the later half of the book more than the beginning, but at the same time, it felt like I was reading two different novels. While the topic of faith is consistent throughout, the topic of relationships were often forced and a little contrived. I have heard nothing but love from the people who have read this book, so I’m sure I’m in the minority here. But this book wasn’t for me.


71j+tAU0zsLThe Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff

Genre: Nonfiction

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is a book that every American needs to read. It’s the story of the events of 9/11 like they’ve never been told before. This oral history is told by the people who lived it – World Trade Center workers, family members of the hijacked airplanes, firefighters, pedestrians, politicians, newscasters, air controllers, kids in school. It’s told from these perspectives chronologically, beginning with the night before 9/11 up to weeks after the tragic event.  It’s totally worth a listen on audio, where we get to hear some of the recordings of the phone calls and speeches of that day. The full cast of narrators do a great job of conveying the emotions of the people they’re portraying. It is unbelievably heart-wrenching. I dare you not to cry when reading it.


71W-UqjDtfLHow Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen

Genre: Nonfiction/Books about Books

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is a fun, short read for any book lover. Though it was written in the early 90s, the topics are still relevant and will probably always withstand the test of time. Quindlen talks about what reading has meant to her since she was a child, and it was hard not to get swept up in the nostalgia of the adventures of reading, past and present. It’s a quick read for anyone who needs a reminder of the magic that books can bring.


What are some good books you read this month? Let me know in the comments!

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December Reads

Books I Read in November

Monthly Book Round-Up

Another month has gone by in a flash. This month I tried to stick to reading more nonfiction for Nonfiction November, but I had to throw a couple fiction books in there to lighten the mood.

It was a decent reading month. I read a lot of good books with only one dud, but there were no five stars in the bunch (though a couple came close). Now that the year is winding down and the holidays are ramping up, I have a feeling my reading will be minimal for the last few weeks of 2019. But for now, here are my ratings and reviews for the books I read in November.


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The Whisper Man by Alex North

Genre: Thriller

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I read this book at the tail-end of October to get into the Halloween spirit; and boy, did this really get the spooky job done. I could only read this book with plenty of lights on, and at one point, I had to leave this book downstairs instead of taking it up to the bedroom with me because I didn’t want it anywhere near me. It’s spooky, but not super scary, which is why I was able to handle it. Recently widowed Tom and his son Jake move to a new town, unaware that the city has a murderous past that is coming back, even though the alleged “Whisper Man” is behind bars. This story had many twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, and it kept me hooked until the end.


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David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

Genre: Nonfiction

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was my first foray into Malcolm Gladwell’s books. His newest book was so hyped, that I decided to read a backlist while I had the newest one on hold. This book was intriguing and extremely well-researched. Gladwell dives into stories of the so-called “little man”; the underdogs of our society. The overall arching theme was apparent throughout the different stories. (Which was not the case in his newest book. See my review below.) This is definitely a “makes you think” book, but in the best possible way.


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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Genre: Memoir

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book was recommended to me by a coworker (the first at my new job!), so I picked it up on audio from my library. While the story is interesting -a young woman suddenly finds her mental health declining at a rapid pace- it didn’t keep me hooked throughout. I often found myself losing interest. There’s a lot of medical talk, which is something I often find myself struggling with. I appreciate the lengths Cahalan went to in order to fill in the gaps of her story while she wasn’t in her right state of mind. It’s apparent why she is a successful journalist. This is one of those books I wished I had liked better than I did.


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The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

Genre: Magical Realism

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️.5

The premise of this book was so promising. A girl whose books talk to her? Sign me up. But the premise was not what this book was primarily about, and I found myself extremely disappointed by it. The book revolves around a financially-struggling town called Dove Pond and the ways in which the townspeople, including new-to-the-area Grace, work to save it. If the book had been marketed to this true premise, I don’t know that anyone would read it. It’s quite boring. The magical realism, which would make this book so much more interesting, was put on the back burner in favor of the relationships and hardships of the town’s patrons. It felt like there were two separate story elements, and they did not jive together. Whomp whomp.


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The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

Genre: Time Travel/Historical Fiction

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

This book was a book club pick for the Currently Reading podcast, and I decided to pick it up from my library on a whim. Boy, am I glad I did. I listened to this on audio, and it was one of those books that I could not stop reading because I had to know what happened. I didn’t know much of anything about the premise before reading it, which made the twists and turns of the story that much better. Time travel is a major plot point of this story, but more than that, it’s about the relationship between a mother and her child, and the lengths that mother will go to in order to protect her offspring. It kind of lagged here and there, but I absolutely loved this story.


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Calypso by David Sedaris

Genre: Memoir/Essays

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was my first time reading David Sedaris, and he did not disappoint. I really admire his writing, the way he can weave in and out of a topic and then back in again is a masterful skill. His subject matters in these essays vary from the light and funny to the heavy and funny. He knows how to add humor, even if it’s just in snippets here and there. This is Sedaris’s latest publication, and from what I’ve heard, his best. I don’t know if that will keep me from reading his backlist or not. What I do know is this would be best consumed on audio. Sedaris narrates it himself, and some of the essays are live recordings from his tour. Hearing how he plays it up to the audience’s delight is super fun and makes you wish you were there in person too.


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Educated by Tara Westover

Genre: Memoir

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

I must confess, I started this book earlier in the year, and it’s one of those books that I let sit on my Kindle until my library loan expired. Then I would borrow it again and get through a couple chapters before it was returned again. This cycle went on for a couple months. There were other books I was more into, and the timing never seemed to be right for me while reading this one. I finally committed myself to finishing it, and I ended up enjoying it overall. I have to say though, this was another book that I felt like the premise had little to do what the overall reach of the book was. Westover’s experience with her Mormon family was the forefront of her story, more so than her education ended up being. It’s fascinating what she went through to get to where she is now, which makes this book worth the read. It just might take awhile to really get into.


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Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover and Me by Adrienne Brodeur

Genre: Memoir

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is a short book that can be read in no time. The events of Brodeur’s life with her mother makes this memoir a total page-turner. Growing up with a narcissistic mother who ropes her daughter into her affair with her husband’s married best friend, Brodeur’s account of the story makes it feel like you’re reading a soap opera. The ending feels a bit rushed, but overall this is an intriguing read for anyone interested in real-life family drama.


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Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

Genre: Nonfiction

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

My library hold on this book came through faster than I was expecting. I borrowed the audio version, and Gladwell makes a disclaimer at the beginning of the book to let listeners know that this was produced more like a podcast, with actual audio from his interviews and musical interludes between chapters. It was a unique audiobook listening experience, and something I can see happening even more in future publications. That’s the good news. The not so good news is that this book lacked a clear focus. While the research and stories Gladwell tells are interesting and relevant for our time period, I didn’t feel the overall theme of talking to strangers was cohesive. Besides that misstep, I did enjoy hearing Gladwell’s accounts of some modern scandals that have plagued our history, such as the Larry Nassar, Jerry Sandusky, and Bernie Madoff cases, just to name a few. Despite its issues, it’s still worth a read.


What are some books you read this past month? Let me know in the comments!


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