Some Advanced 2017 Reads

I haven’t had much chance to explore 2017’s offerings yet. Although I technically have access to loads of pre-release titles through NetGalley and Edelweiss, the books in front of me and, of course, the ones I’m reading on assignment tend to take priority. Much as I’d like to be ahead of the trend, I’ve only read five 2017 titles, three of which I can recommend. Two of these happen to be poetry books; the third is a wonderful bereavement-themed memoir.

Whereas by Stephen Dunn

whereas“A Card from Me to Me,” the prefatory poem, sets the tone, as the poet wishes himself a happy 75th birthday and marvels at “the strangeness, the immensity, of what I have / and have had and every small thing that against the odds continues to be.” Much of what follows is about life and death, success and failure, and what we learn from it all. For example, writing about a funeral: “at such moments / everyone is an amateur of feelings.”

I especially liked “Unnatural,” with its meditation on nature vs. artifice, “Let’s Say,” and “Nothing Personal,” about an author killing off a character (or is that God killing off the narrator?). These are very lucid poems, reading like complete sentences and thorough trains of thought, with memorable alliteration and vocabulary. I’d read more from Dunn.

Releases February 21st.

My rating: 3-5-star-rating


The Analyst by Molly Peacock

analystPeacock wrote this in tribute to her longtime psychoanalyst, Joan Workman Stein, who practiced in New York City until she suffered a stroke in 2012. This collection contains a rich mixture of autobiographical reflection and translations. The form and style vary from poem to poem, but I was always struck by the imagery, often drawn from the culinary and art worlds – everything from marinara sauce and a skinned rabbit to paper dolls and methods of expressing gratitude in French. I presumed the entire book would be about Stein, but instead the poems about her pre- and post-stroke life share space with ones about Peacock’s own life, from childhood onward. Having enjoyed The Paper Garden, the author’s biography of eighteenth-century artist Mary Delany, I was especially tickled to see several poems that mention collage and other paper arts, such as “Authors.”

“Mandala in the Making,” the final poem, meditates on the contrast between the drive to make art and the essential impermanence of life: “When they’re done, // they’ll brush it all away. You can’t believe it. / Nothing stays (including the memory you’ve lost). / What lasts?”

I was really impressed with this collection and will be searching out Peacock’s previous poetry books as well.

Releases January 3rd.

My rating: 4-star-rating


Traveling with Ghosts: A Memoir by Shannon Leone Fowler

“This is a story about finding love and learning to live with loss. But mostly, it’s a story about all the places in between.” In August 2002, Fowler was traveling in Thailand with her fiancé Sean. They were embracing in shallow water outside their cabana when Fowler felt something brush past her thigh. The highly toxic box jellyfish stung Sean on his leg, and by the time she brought help he was already dead, though clinic staff went through the motions of trying to resuscitate him.

traveling-with-ghostsThis memoir concentrates on the four and a half months that followed Sean’s death, a time that Fowler filled with constant travel through Eastern Europe – “a place where the endings [in folk tales as well as in real life] were rarely happy, but the stories were told just the same.” She had a compulsion to keep moving, as if Sean’s death was something she could outrun; she sought out risky places, going to Bosnia and then to Tel Aviv to visit the Israeli girls who helped her deal with the practicalities of Sean’s death.

Fowler toggles between her blithe trips with Sean in the few years they had together, her somber travels after his death, and the immediate aftermath of his death. Each short section is headed by the date and place, but the constant time shifts are meant to be disorienting and reflect how traumatic memories linger. Your average memoir might have brought things up to the present day by showing how the author learned and grew from the experience. This is not your average memoir. It delves into the thick of the grief and stays there. It doesn’t give easy answers about how to get over things or suggest life will later be perfect, just in a different way. It’s honest and unusual and has stayed with me. Highly recommended.

(Note: The author is the daughter of novelist Karen Joy Fowler.)

Releases February 21st.

My rating: 4-star-rating

Two more 2017 books are on my reading stack:

  • I’m halfway through Bleaker House by Nell Stevens, a memoir about her failed attempt to write her debut novel during several months of isolation on Bleaker Island in the Falklands. It’s weird but funny, and I think any writer will relate to the feelings of loneliness and a lack of confidence. I’ll be reviewing it for Nudge. (Releases March 14th.)
  • I’ll be reviewing The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti for The Bookbag sometime before its March 28th release.


Have you sampled any 2017 books yet?

16 responses

  1. I haven’t read any 2017 releases yet, but I have four books coming out in January crouching balefully on my shelf! I’m trying to get through my outstanding TBR books before tackling those… Not sure if I’ll have the time! Bleaker House looks ace, though, and so does Fowler’s memoir – what you say about how it resists finality and sententiousness is impressive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the image of your books giving you baleful looks. I have definitely thought of you while reading Bleaker House — happy to send you my ARC when I’m done!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You star! That would be amazing! (Can I offer you anything in return?!)


    2. Mebbe so! But only if you have an ARC lying around that you don’t want. And don’t worry about it too much. I’ll get in touch after I’ve finished the book and written a review to get your address.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. (I know, it is not as though either of us *need* extraneous books in our lives…)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. do you find there are different options on the net galley and edelweiss sites? I have only briefly flirted with Edelweiss but found the site rather difficult to navigate and find anything


    1. There is quite a bit of overlap. If you’re mainly interested in mainstream fiction releases, sticking with NetGalley would be fine. Edelweiss is how I get books that are more off the beaten path, mostly memoirs, poetry and nature books, a lot of them from university presses. They are beta testing a new site that is a lot nicer to use.


  3. I loved Molly Peacock’s Alphabetique. Which actually made me want to check out her poetry – The Analyst sounds like a good place to start!


    1. Ah yes, I forgot she was Canadian 🙂 Alphabetique does sound very interesting. I would recommend The Paper Garden to you: a biography of a remarkable artist who only embarked on her career at age 72.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That one has been on my list for a long time. I’m glad to know you recommend it!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. These sound really interesting and I’m definitely adding Bleaker House to my list! I’m looking forward to reading Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar and The Nix by Nathan Hill.


    1. I have Spaceman from NetGalley but have been put off The Nix so far by its sheer heft. Maybe I’ll come around to it if enough readers I trust say it’s worth the time investment. Glad I could tempt you with Bleaker House 🙂


  5. I fancy Bleaker House, must look out for that. I have two 2017 books from NetGalley on the Kindle that it’s now time to read – they embargoed reviews although I do see reviews posted on NetGalley already, so I have saved them up (um, forgotten about them) till now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I often see that reviews go up on Goodreads or NetGalley despite publisher embargoes. You are very good to be conscientious about upcoming dates. I have 160 NetGalley titles, some of which have languished on my Kindle for 2+ years!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well the notes I got from the publishers were pretty stern about it and I’m a good, obedient lady, so …

        Liked by 1 person

  6. […] Traveling with Ghosts by Shannon Leone Fowler (short sections and time shifts) […]


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