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!

 

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases*

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!

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.*

December Reads