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