Bad Things in Threes, Thanksgiving, and a New Season to Come

I apologize for too long a period of inactivity here, particular to publishers who made their books available, but I haven’t gotten reviews up as of yet. They are coming.

They say bad things happen in threes. My mother passed away several months back and since then two additional family deaths came, all as I have been writing scientific manuscripts, completing research, starting the search process for a faculty position, and all sorts of other stuff.

But Thanksgiving is now upon us here in the US and I’m looking forward to the start of a new season and soon a new year. I wanted to take the opportunity to say a broad thank you to followers, to the many publishers and authors who have made their work available, and to the connections to material provided by Goodreads, NetGalley, Edelweiss, and Blogging for Books.

By year’s end I’ll have read a little over 200 books, many of those ARCs or newly published works, and in early January I plan on posting my favorite picks from the year.

Reading is far quicker and easier than writing. I’ve managed to keep up on the pile of reading, but have gotten quite backlogged in reviews, which I hope to clear/catch up on in the next weeks. Here is a list of reviews to come from my completed reading. Perhaps to whet your appetite, but also for my own organization!

– The Blood of Angels, by Johanna Sinisalo (to be featured on Skiffy & Fanty)
– Of Bone and Thunder
, by Chris Evans
Cheese and Microbes, Edited by Catherine Donnelly (to be featured on Small Things Considered)
– Solaris Rising 3, Edited by Ian Whates (may be featured on Skiffy & Fanty?)
– The Zone of Interest, by Martin Amis
– California, by Edan Lepucki
– 300,000,000, by Blake Butler
– The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, 2014, Edited by Paula Guran
– Black Swan, White Raven, Edited by Ellen Datlow
– Mr. Wicker, by Maria Alexander
– Confronting Contagion: Our Evolving Understanding of Disease, by Melvin Santer (to be featured on Small Things Considered)
Last Train to Babylon, by Charlee Fam
Gifts for the One Who Comes After, by Helen Marshall
Fire in the Blood (Forgotten Realms), by Erin M. Evans
Crude Carrier, by Rex Burns
They Do the Same Things Different There, by Robert Shearman
The Fifth Vertex, by Kevin Hoffmann
The Genome, by Sergei Lukyanenko (to be featured on Skiffy & Fanty)
– The Galaxy Game, by Karen Lord
Africa39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara, Edited by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey
Near Enemy, by Adam Sternbergh

Phew, well I guess I better get writing. Stay tuned for this all and more still to come from current/future reads. Thank you again, everyone.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra
Publisher: Hogarth Books
ASIN: B00A5MS0Z0
402 pages, ebook
Published 1st January 2013
Sources: Blogging for Books & Edelweiss

 Somehow, this notably well-reviewed novel slipped under my radar even past its release. Only upon perusing the Blogging for Books offerings did I discover it, and I am glad I chose to give it a try. If you haven’t heard about A Constellation of Vital Phenomena yet, or if it has been sitting on your to-read or consideration list, I’d recommend getting a copy ASAP. Then clear some nights for engrossed reading.
For those not familiar with the plot of Anthony Marra’s award-winning novel, it is set in the war-ravaged region of Chechnya and traces the intersecting experiences of a small cast of characters as they struggle for life, a combination of survival and purpose.
When Russian soldiers come for her father, eight-year-old Havaa flees into the surrounding Chechen woods, where her father’s friend Akhmed rescues her and takes her to hide at the nearly deserted hospital. There, the sole doctor left in this war-torn wasteland is Sonja, a European-trained physician who has returned through a sense of responsibility both to home and to a sister that has gone missing. Reluctantly, Sonja agrees to help care for Havaa, and – in testament to dire conditions – accepts the inept medical help of Akhmed, who has failed out of medical school and yearns more for artistic expressions.
Thrown together in awful circumstances, these characters share a stubborn commitment to hope for individuals and a future that fights against the despair surrounding them. With recollections of the past years of the Chechen conflict, and the constant threat that present friends may turn on them for personal gain with the Russians, these characters discover their lives intertwined, past, present and future.
The novel’s title comes from a definition for life given by a medical text/dictionary in the novel. The term is remarkably difficult to biologically define in one sentence. Typically, biologists will talk of characteristics of life, rather than settling on a strict definition. But the one here given title is particularly resonant in capturing the essential sum of those characteristics of life. They form an interlocking constellation of phenomena, individual traits that put together form a picture unique and new with a story. Similarly like stars each of the characters in Marra’s novel interact together to form a constellation in this historical space of humanity.
Metaphorically one could speak of a certain balance between the stars in forming a constellation. Similarly, Marra’s novel succeeds so well because of the careful balance he is able to strike in its construction. The shifts in time from chapter to chapter (or even within chapters) is managed without any sense of rupture or confusion. Each of the characters is an interesting balance of strengths and weaknesses and even the villains are shown with traits of sympathy and compassion.
(The novel does appropriately stay focused on the Chechens. The Russians in the novels are an outside force of the plot and setting more so than characters, and the villains, heroes, or mixtures in the story are each Chechen here.)
The emotional weight of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena could quickly take it into a story that feels utterly bleak. Marra nicely finds balance here as well, with the character’s vital hopes and perseverance working to counter the negative, and the young Havaa in particular offers a bright ray of humor and compassion that symbolizes a certain hope for the lives of a future generation.
The events of the novel’s ‘present-day’ plot consist of a mere five days, but A Constellation of Vital Phenomena takes these points to form a picture over decades of conflict, personal and spiritual. The novel will pass similarly fast while reading, but its power and humanity will echo with the reader far longer.
Five Stars out of Five

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this from the Crown Publishing Group via their Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.