Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel
This book begins with an 8 year old boy who has lost everything in the flood waters of the Mississippi, including his family who no longer felt they could care for him. The story follows the boy as he grows into a man and how he feels he's been marked by the devil, who follows him every step of the way through his life. Although I've seen some critiques stating that it's obvious that this novel wasn't written by a southerner, I felt those were off-base. I mean, the author is obviously Asian-American and the book jacket states that he's from New York, so clearly he's not from the South, but that didn't make the novel itself less enjoyable. So, he's not Harper Lee--very few are. I still enjoyed that story that was woven of Robert's life, the ways that thematically, we all have our own devils, though some less dramatic than Robert's, but keep trudging through life, one way or another.
The People of Sparks: The Second Book of Ember (Books of Ember)
This book picked up where The City of Ember left off and was a great continuation in terms of YA dystopian lit. Like City of Ember, I felt it would be a good pick for a strong elementary school reader as well as a middle school reader. Much moreso than City of Ember, this book underscored a great lesson about human nature and how quickly as humans, we tend to turn against "outsiders," instead of remembering how we should all band together.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel
This was a book that I wavered on, because I don't know much about Chechnya and I wasn't sure if I really wanted to read a war book. But at the same time, there are very few books on Russia that don't often leave me feeling like my heart is beating outside of my chest, so I went with it. I am so glad I did. This is one of the best books I've read this year. The title refers to the medical definition of life and the novel weaves together the lives of three people in war-torn Chechnya: Akhmed, a doctor so bad he graduated in the bottom 4th percentile of his class; Havaa, his young neighbor whose father was taken to the Landfill (exactly what it sounds) and who is being searched for by the Russian soldiers); and Sonja, a surgeon running a hospital meant to be staffed by 500 by only herself and a long-retired nurse. Inexplicably, their three lives are far more connected than they realized and the story evolves into something really beautiful and sad all at once.
The Wilding: A Novel
As an English teacher, I love the lesser used conflict of man vs. nature, so the premise of this novel, three generations of men on a hunting gone wrong, spoke to me. While not necessarily a horror story, there were definitely parts of this story that set me on edge in that I wasn't sure what was going to happen next. My only complaint is that there was one character, an Iraqi war veteran, who was initially developed then fizzled at the end. He began as a strong character and seemed like he was going to add a component... then fell apart a bit. Aside from that, I really enjoyed this story.
The Woman Upstairs
Apparently, a woman upstairs is the unmarried, woman without children always on the fringes. The one who is a reliable friend and always there for others, but who others aren't always there for first. This is Nora. Nora is an elementary school teacher and from page one, Nora's voice is loud and angry. Nora's anger pulled me in immediately. I wanted to know why she was so angry. Much of the story is spent developing Nora's relationship with the family of one of her elementary school students, the mother a fellow artist. As the novel grows, so does the complexity of her relationship with this family, until the end when you finally learn the root of Nora's anger. This was definitely a page-turner and Nora's voice was strong throughout the novel.
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