Year 8, Book 105

105. Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Kate is a high-powered lawyer and a single mom to a teenage girl named Amelia. Even though she hasn’t always had a lot of time for her daughter because of her job she is sure that they have a good relationship and that her daughter is for the most part a good kid. That is all called into question the morning she receives a phone call from her daughter’s school telling her that her daughter has been suspended and needs to be picked up from school immediately. She can’t imagine what her daughter might have done and thinks there must be a mistake. When she arrives at the school she is horrified to discover that the police are blocking off access and that the body lying under the sheet in front of it belongs to her daughter Amelia. Her death is labeled a suicide, which Kate cannot believe and she begins to investigate and try to piece together what was actually happening in her daughter’s life to prove that she didn’t actually jump. The story is told alternately through Kate’s investigation occurring in the presence and from Amelia’s perspective in the past until the two stories come together and reveal what actually happened up on the roof of the school.

I really like this book a lot. There was probably a bit too much going on at the end trying to tie everything together, but for the most part this was an excellent book. It was written in such a way that even though I knew Amelia was dead from the beginning I wanted everything to come together for her and to be all right in the end. Obviously the answers Kate receives have to be enough, but I really connected with the characters in this book and would highly recommend it. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 104

104. Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater by Michael Sokolove

One of my friends saw this book reviewed somewhere and told me about it because she thought it seemed like something I would enjoy. She was right. I loved this book. Michael Sokolove takes a look at the 40 year career of his high school drama teacher, Lou Volpe. Volpe has elevated the drama program at Harry S. Truman High School in hard-scrabble Levittown, Pennsylvania to its highest heights. Their productions consistently win national awards, and it is Volpe’s program to whom Music Theatre International turns when it wants to adapt a successful but challenging Broadway show into a production for the high school stage. Volpe has adapted productions of such shows as Les Miserables, Rent, and Spring Awakening for the high school stage.

The book covers the entirety of his 40 year career while concentrating specifically on his last two years and the students he teaches during that time while putting on productions of Good Boys and True and the aforementioned Spring Awakening. It is an absolute joy to be a part of the process as Volpe works with his students to tackle two very difficult shows. I admit that I cried towards the end when his final class of students presented him with the retirement gift they had arranged for him. I won’t tell you what it was, but it made my heart melt.

If you have any interest in the theatre at all or maybe even if you don’t you should read this book. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 103

103. The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

Set in a small town in the Ozarks The Weight of Blood tells the story of 16 year old Lucy Dane, whose friend Cheri was recently discovered murdered. It brings back memories of the disappearance of her own mother when she was a baby. Her story is interwoven with that of her mother Lilah’s who arrived in the town as a young woman and quickly learned that her life there was not to be what she expected. The characters and the setting are rich and create a great level of suspense as you edge closer and closer to finding out what happened to both Lilah and Cheri. Ultimately it was a bit too much of a grand conspiracy at the end, but it is a great debut from a first novelist and I look forward to what she has to offer in the future.  I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 102

102. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Hosseini weaves a story over many years drawing in a multitude of characters whose lives sometimes but not always connect in some way. The book seemed to start and stop for me as he would begin to tell the story of some of the characters than move away from them to tell the story of other characters. I’m not sure it was entirely effective as it kept pulling me out of what was happening. I also had greater anticipation of some of the stories being intertwined at the end expecting there had to be some reason all these characters were being introduced, but that was not always the case. I think the book would have been better served by eliminating some of the side stories he chose to add in and concentrating on the more central characters.  I do like Hosseini’s writing though and did enjoy this book for the most part. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 101

101. The  Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Subhash and Udayan may be brothers who are close in age, but not in lifestyle. Subhash pursues the intellectual moving from India to Rhode Island to pursue a degree in marine biology while his brother remains in India and joins the Naxalite movement fighting against the ruling government. When Udayan’s activities result in his death and him leaving behind a pregnant wife, Subhash tries to step in and care for what his brother has left behind, but in doing so has he made life better or worse for himself, his sister-in-law, and his parents? The novel follows the rest of their lives to examine the effects that his decision has caused.

I enjoyed this book, though not as much as I liked The Namesake. If you are a fan of Lahiri’s other works though I would recommend it. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 100

100. Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

In the midst of World War I, Stella Bain is found wandering shell shocked around a square in London. She is taken in by a physician and his wife who work to restore her to health and to help her to remember who she is and how she came to be serving as a nurse with the French army. The parts of the story about the war and Stella’s time serving were pretty interesting, but then the book turned into a stupid romance novel at the end which pretty much ruined it for me.  I give it a 4 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 99

99. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem and Other Things that Happened by Allie Brosh

Drawn (literally) from her crudely drawn webcomic Hyperbole and Half Brosh pulls together a collection of stories about her life from her childhood to present day. I am not a regular reader of Hyperbole and Half. I generally just read it when one of the comics gets heavily passed around such as the ones she wrote about her depression. Obviously if you are a fan of the web comic you’ll like this book. Though I’m not sure how much if any of it is original material not previously featured online. For the most part I enjoyed the book though I’m not sure I generally share the same humor sensibilities that Brosh does, so I wasn’t over the moon about it like so many other people I follow on social media are. I guess that’s why I don’t read the comic on a regular basis either. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 98

98. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Bernadette Fox is a reknowned architect who essentially disappeared after the completion of her first and only building. Her husband is high up in Microsoft heading up a new and important project. They have a 15-year old daughter Bee, who convinces them to take her on a trip to Antarctica, which Bernadette who has become almost agoraphobic over the years begins to panic about setting off a series of absurd events that eventually lead to her disappearance. The story is told mostly from Bernadette’s perspective, but sometimes from other characters’ as well intermixed with correspondance such as emails and letters as Bee tries to piece together what happened and tries to find out where her mother has gone.

It’s an absurd, but fun novel told in a creative way. I especially enjoyed how the changes in perspective flipped some things on their head. When Bernadette is sharing many of the things she’s doing based on her thoughts and feelings they seem normal, but when looked at from the viewpoint of others they come across as entirely insane. Who is to say what is normal and what is not? I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 97

97. Kinder than Solitude by Yiyun Li

This book follows the lives of the three characters brought together by their shared history in China. The story alternates between the characters and the past and present. It is now over 20 years since the tragic poisoning of one of their friends, who has finally died. What really happened has been a secret that has been kept between them and something that has haunted each of them throughout their lives in China and the United States.

I enjoyed this book at the very beginning, but quickly grew tired of it. I found the story to be rather boring and didn’t ever really care about the characters. I was curious enough about what actually happened with the poisoning that I finished the book, but I’m not really sure I would recommend it to anyone. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 96

96. Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse

Hannah and Mark are a seemingly happy newlywed couple living in London. Then one night Mark doesn’t return from his business trip to the United States. At first Hannah thinks he just missed his flight, but when she can’t get a hold of him she starts to worry. When she starts to try and figure out what happened things start unraveling. Even after he gets in touch with her things don’t make sense. Why isn’t he staying where she thought he was? Why do his colleagues seem to think he’s somewhere else? Who is the mysterious woman he has been getting phone calls from in recent weeks? As Hannah starts to figure things out she begins to wonder if she knows the man she married after all.

The build up in this story is great. I’m not sure I was in love with how the whole thing eventually played out, but it wasn’t awful either. The suspense in the first half of the book worked so well for me though that the ending was a little bit of a let down. It’s still a good book though, and I would recommend it if you’re looking for a good suspense novel to read. I give it a 7 out of 10.