Crown Publishing Group: American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee

Noelle

Over the course of three novels, Greg Kincaid has traced the lives of the McCray family of Crossing Trails, Kan. Beginning with A Dog Named Christmas, Kincaid has focused on the evolution of developmentally disabled Todd McCray. Since childhood, Todd has been a "homing beacon for injured animals." In Noelle, fourth in the series, he is now an adult, working in the local animal shelter training service dogs and successfully pairing them with people. When a puppy with a badly damaged eye arrives at the shelter, Todd instantly takes to the lovable yet willful mixed-breed that, he learns, is a training nightmare. He names the rebellious dog Elle, and her exasperating flair for trouble makes the admonition "No Elle! No Elle!" a regular and fitting refrain for the Christmas season.

The dog poses one of several challenges facing Kincaid's characters. Todd's mother fills in for a local, ailing Santa Claus, but her self-invented role as Mrs. Anna Claus, who teaches children about giving rather than receiving, is met with reluctance. Todd and his girlfriend, who has a physical disability, face uncertainty about their future. And the effects of familial alcoholism beleaguer a young couple and their children. Elle becomes an unexpected force that unites those with personal hardships.

Kincaid's latest deals with contemporary issues and is rendered in a wholesome, heartwarming style that will make readers root for underdogs--in every sense of the word. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines