Cover Image: Groundskeeping


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Even tho Groundskeeping has gotten such acclaim, I found it slow going. Lee Cole writes so well but the plot just didn't move along for me.

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I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

A graduate student takes a groundskeeping job at a college while contemplating adulthood. He meets a visiting writer and falls in lust/love/something.

Great coming of age story about real life versus the fantasies we have about what our lives will be like.

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For those who drift through life believing there isn't a place for them, take heart. In Groundskeeping, Lee Cole illustrates with words as if painting with a brush that there is a place for everyone if you look with your heart. You are never beyond forgiveness or love.

If there is something you have always wanted to do, it is never too late. When Callahan discovers this when he moves back to the last place on earth he wants to be - his home state of Kentucky. After wandering and living a nomad's life, he discovers that life can be found in the most unlikely of places, but rarely by oneself. In Kentucky, he enrolls in a writer's workshop, meets a young woman he believes he loves, argues and dismisses his family, and finds nothing works unless you put more into it than he has been willing to commit.

Written with heart and tenderness, the beautiful story of Owen coming to age in his twenties is a book that unveils the truth about those who feel lost.

Heartfelt. Honest.

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A solid debut in the vein of Lily King's Writers and Lovers, Groundskeeping follows the story of Owen as he navigates 2016 as a postgrad wannabe writer while workings as a groundskeeper. The sense of place in Kentucky is palpable, and Lee Cole describes several trips around Kentucky throughout the book, adding to the atmosphere.

Not much happens in this not insubstantial novel. It takes several meandering turns as Owen tries to figure out what he wants out of his work and love lives. He is not a likable character, which some will not like, but I did enjoy a flawed character who didn't apologize for his past (though it was harder to excuse present day decisions he made).

Overall I liked this introspective coming of age story, and cannot wait to see what else Cole comes out with in the future!

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This worked for me in a big way. Relatable characters and excellent writing, plus an academia-yet-also-rural-working-class setting is catnip for me. A fave of 2022 (so far), for sure, and I very much look forward to reading more from Lee Cole!

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4/4.5 stars. This book was a slow burn, a quiet character-driven debut, and I loved it. Every word. The author wrote about what he knew, growing up in rural Kentucky and set the time period during the divisive 2016 election. What I loved most was the way he showed the reader the beliefs, worries, and intimate lives of the people of Kentucky with compassion. The main character Owen disagrees with his family and others on fundamental issues, but he managed to do so in a way that wasn’t cruel or mocking. His love for his family was real. His relationship was with Alma was real. I have mixed feelings about the ending, but the last sentence was genius. (Same with the first sentence of the novel) - highly recommend. It is beautifully written.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC. Groundskeeping is available now.

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This book was different than what I thought it would be. I was drawn to the description: "An indelible love story about two very different people navigating the entanglements of class and identity and coming of age in an America coming apart at the seams—."

The book doesn't have chapters or normal punctuation to illustrate dialogue. At first, I found it difficult to read. I have never read a book in this format before.

The main character, Owen, hits a very low point in his life and moves from Colorado back to Kentucky to try and turn his life around. He moves in with his conservative grandpa and uncle and takes a job as a groundskeeper at a local college in exchange for a free writing course. There he meets Alma who is a writer in residence. They fall in love but can't live in their own bubble. They have vastly different backgrounds and they have to figure out families, cultural differences, the political climate, and of course themselves: who they are, and where they are headed in life.

I enjoy a book I can get lost in and this book never really took flight for me. The author is undoubtedly talented and I wish I could have gotten into it more.

I do appreciate the opportunity to read it and would like to thank the publisher and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I rate Groundskeeping 3.5, rounded up to 4 stars

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Groundskeeping is the kind book that will stay with me for a long time. Taking place just before and after the 2016, the book explores the relationship between a struggling, adrift writer Owen and a more established writer-in-residence, Alma, at a Kentucky liberal arts college. The book explores the effects of nature vs nurture on who and what we become. It's beautifully written in a quiet thoughtful way.

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Lee Cole’s debut novel is a winner even though I had to read almost half-way through to come to that conclusion. It starts rather slowly but the characters build. And they are wonderful characters: Owen, the 28-year-old college graduate and aspiring writer from Kentucky who has taken some detours in his life; his girlfriend Alma, the author-in-residence at the college where Own is a groundskeeper and the daughter of Bosnian immigrants; Owens' small-town conservative parents – all 4 of them; Alma’s middle-class educated parents from the suburbs of D.C.; Pops, Owen’s wise and conservative grandfather. The characters are beautifully developed, nuanced and ring true. There are striking differences between the characters but they are not stereotypes, Cole brings some understanding to their foibles but also their humanity. He shows real empathy for his characters and likewise we are able to empathize with the characters, whether or not we agree with them. The writing is beautifully descriptive and often to be savored. At the conclusion (which is great), I’d give the book 5 stars but since I almost put the book down before reaching half-way, I’d rate it a strong 4 star. I look forward to his future works

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This is the story of 20-somethings and their cerebral wonderings about life, the world around them, and more.

Owen is an aspiring writer in rural Kentucky. After a struggle with drugs and homelessness, he’s living in his grandfather’s basement (the grandfather quickly became my favorite character). Owen takes on a groundskeeping job at the local university in exchange for a free writing class.

Owen meets writer in residence Alma and the story follows their relationship. They road trip around the area, they visit each other’s families, they fight and disagree over their similarities and differences. This is a glimpse at life in small town America.

The writing here is impeccable. The comparisons to Sally Rooney are spot on. A Read with Jenna book pick for March, this debut author is one to watch.

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A moderately interesting campus novel with clashing themes that I couldn’t enjoyably reconcile.

I love a campus novel, but a lot of that is driven by atmosphere, and the rural America setting used here is pretty much in direct conflict of the setting most campus novel enthusiasts crave. Points to Cole for genre bending a bit, but for me the clash in themes doesn’t work.

If you’re interested in novels that address the plight of rural America (I am not), you’ll probably like this just fine. But for me it’s a huge swath of the story that takes away from the parts of it that did pique my interest.

Cole writes well, but the story couldn’t quite keep up. The book also misses the mark on the academic aspects of the subgenre, and doesn’t read at all like true literary fiction. Which resulted in my thinking of this as kind of the poor man’s version of Elif Bautman’s The Idiot, both literally and figuratively.

The pacing is good and the plot absolutely has some strong moments, but on the whole, as someone who reads a LOT of campus fiction, this one doesn’t measure up.

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I absolutely loved this book and can understand why it was recommended by several INDY bookstores in our area. This is one of those rare books where I got so lost in the writing that I could almost swear I interacted with the characters in real life. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future!

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Groundskeeping by Lee Cole is a debut novel that follows Owen, a Kentucky native and aspiring writer who grapples with ideas of class, identity, and artistry while working as a groundskeeper at an esteemed college campus near Louisville. The story really takes off when Owen enters a relationship with Alma, a Bosnian immigrant and successful writer from a liberal DC family. If you couldn't guess by now, this story hinges a lot on character and not too much on plot. As corny as it is to say, the setting here plays a huge role, acting as a character itself. Everything in this story is reflected off of the Appalachian landscape it's set in.

The first 20% or so of this book, I thought I was in for a 5-star read. The writing here is wonderful. It definitely makes me excited to continue to read from Lee Cole as he publishes more work. It was engaging without having to do much, just spot on slice of life stuff that was really gripping. I thought the beginning of this book when we're getting to know Owen, his situation, his family, the setting were all really strong bits. I especially loved the scenes at home with his uncle and grandfather. They were so viscerally familiar, comforting and pitiful.

I think this book goes off the rails when it shifts to center on Owen and Alma's relationship, though. I don't feel like we got enough about Alma to really connect with her at all. I know we're reading from Owen's perspective, but I wish we'd been given a little more on her character. I feel like these characters were so bad for each other, which may have been the point, but something about that aspect just felt lackluster. They both turned into really big brats, for lack of a better term, and I just couldn't believe that people in their late 20s were acting the way they were, not only towards each other but everyone else around them.

I found the last quarter or so of this book to be really frustrating. I wouldn't even have minded if they both were just horrible, but something about the way it was written just never fully took me there. I wasn't sure what Cole was trying to do with this story after a while.

Even though this particular book didn't fully work for me, I didn't hate it. The writing was great, and I'm excited to keep an eye on Lee Cole in the years to come. I think this story just needed to be sharpened. It lost its way and ultimately didn't land, but I'm glad to have read it.

Thank you Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and NetGalley for an e-arc.

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A beautifully written novel of two characters in search of love--and of themselves. Lee Cole's GROUNDSKEEPING is a carefully paced and intimate look at the impact place, poverty and politics can have on a relationship. A gifted novelist delivers an intriguing read, rich with promise.

Many thanks to Knopf and to Netgalley for the early look.

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groundskeeping takes place during election year, telling a love story between two people who come from very different backgrounds. the 'no quotation marks' gave it a bit of a sally rooney-esque feel, although the actual story was vastly different.

owen, our protagonist, and alma, the love interest cannot be more different. owen comes from a working class family who are trump supporting evangelicals. alma comes from a wealthy family of bosnian immigrants. their relationship becomes progressively strained as these disparities come to light and they recognize this. this is a love story without it having a typical romance plot, as it centers more around the two characters as individuals rather than them as a couple.

i can see what cole was trying to accomplish with his debut, however, it fell a bit flat for me. the characters often fell flat and the plot was unfulfilling. the writing was beautiful, but it began to feel aimless about a third of the way in. owen's character was not fleshed out enough for me to sympathize with him, which just made me feel very annoyed at him most of the time. additionally, some parts (as this was in owen's perspective) felt very male gaze-y to me, which was a bit disappointing.

a lot of mixed feelings about this book.

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DNF'd this one around 60% of the way in. Can't motivate myself whatsoever to pick it up. I think the author is trying to be like Sally Rooney, but it didn't work.

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This isn’t a book with a lot of action but one that envelopes you into the main characters. Like the male protagonist who wrote what he knew, about his family and his girlfriends family, this book too, feels like the author may have first-hand experience with his subject matters. It strikes so honest, so real. I confess that I saw my family in some of the scenes involving the extended family get together‘s! While I enjoyed this book, I wasn’t thrilled with the last two pages. Thanks to NetGalley for a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

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I thought I was heading into a romance novel, but this is so much more! Owen is an incredible character and I was transported to Kentucky right there with him. I'm also a sucker for grandparents, and Owen's relationship with his was unforgettable. This book deals with complicated emotions with nuance and I highly recommend it!

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Owen and Alma meet in college. Alma has a writing fellowship, and Owen has a work-study job on campus as a groundskeeper with a side benefit of being able to take a class from the university. The relationship develops slowly, and never feels like it has a future. Alma and Owen seem less to be in love, than to want to be in love. Their relationship is bounded on one side by their differences, and on the other by their shared writing vocation. Each is eager to turn their lived experience into a novel, while at the same time being embarrassed by their families and their privilege or poverty. I was actively hoping that they would not choose each other over their next career steps.

Cole has written a sharp-eyed commentary on life in today’s western Kentucky, with poverty and drugs vying to claim lives, and it seems like the path out is very narrow.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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A pretty standard coming of age story -- there's not a lot of new ground being covered here, but it is an enjoyable read nonetheless. Owen winds up in his hometown in Kentucky after drifting post-college, living in his grandfather's basement and taking a writing course while working as a groundskeeper at a local college. He meets up with Alma, a younger writer in residence, and they begin a romance. The most interesting and subtle scenes are where they spend time together with their respective families -- his kind and conservative small town folks; hers educated liberal immigrants. The book mostly resists lazy political tropes, with the exception of Owen's loser uncle. Overall, it was a pleasant read, despite fairly expected plot points.

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