Monday, November 23, 2015

Body Image Book List

Do you have negative thoughts about your body? Do you feel like you are alone? You are not. Check out this book list...

1) "Food, Girls, And Other Things I Can't Have" by Allen Zadoff

Warm, witty prose chronicles a fat teenager finding himself while the text sacrifices other demographic groups. Fifteen-year-old Andy, at 306 pounds, justifiably resents that people “don’t see Andrew. They see big.” Upset by the divorce of his cold dad and smothering mom, Andy glumly pursues Model UN with geek pal Eytan. Then a school football star rescues Andy from a beating and brings him to football tryouts. Andy’s trajectory from social nobody to popular football player is fast and deceptive. The first-person, present-tense narration capably conveys Andy’s pattern of thinking only in the present. The funniest moments are the quirkiest, as when Andy and an opposing player find themselves “talking postwar poets” on the field during the game. Unfortunately, Zadoff bizarrely dehumanizes Asian girls. Classmate Nancy Yee is “not really a girl. More of a stick figure with an accent,” Andy calls April, his Korean-American crush, “The Girl of My Dreams: Asian Edition,” and Eytan categorizes that crush as “yellow fever,” with no textual questioning of the term. Is it worth humanizing one oft-slammed group—fat teens—at another group’s expense? (Fiction. YA)

2) "Pretty Face" by Mary Hogan

Stuck in body-conscious southern California, hanging out with a perfectly proportioned best friend and living with a mom obsessed with slimming down, the overweight Hayley’s chances at happiness are as slim as she wants to be. However, when her concerned parents generously offer to send her to Italy for the summer to live with her mom’s college roommate, Hayley’s luck seems to be changing. Determined to shed pounds, Haley arrives in Umbria prepared to count calories; however, she almost immediately falls into the slow-paced rhythm of her host family that relies heavily on Italy’s rich food culture. At first guiltily giving into chewy breads and salty cheeses, Hayley soon learns that food isn’t the enemy and with determination naturally and healthily balances her weight. Beautifully written descriptions of the Italian countryside contrast with gritty details of California, highlighting Hayley’s transformation and adding depth to her character to make her much more than a pretty face. (Fiction. YA)

3) "Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture" by Peggy Orenstein

New York Times Magazine contributor Orenstein (Waiting for Daisy, 2007, etc.) investigates the impact of early sexualization on girls.

In this witty, well-documented study, the author of Schoolgirls (1994) examines the not-so-innocent side of princess culture represented by Cinderella and her sister Disney royals. Orenstein looks at the way race-based images of idealized female beauty and behavior, themselves the product of aggressive and manipulative marketing campaigns, influence preteen girls. Before they reach kindergarten, female children have already been indoctrinated in the idea that how they look is more important than who they are. Foundations have been laid for the idea that prettiness—and a narcissistic concern with the external self—is the true path to empowerment. The main issue Orenstein addresses, however, is whether Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel and Belle (and their less popular, darker-skinned counterparts, Mulan and Pocahontas) protect young girls from early sexualization or prepare them to be consumers of clothes, grooming aids, toys, music and other forms of media that seem to celebrate underage sexuality. During the course of her research, Orenstein visited the Toy Fair (“the industry’s largest trade show”), specialty “girl” stores such as American Girl Palace, the Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant for preteen girls, a Miley Cyrus concert and social-networking sites such as Webkinz and Facebook. The author discovered that while girls have more role models than ever before to show them that they can become anything they wish, they are also under much greater pressure from an extraordinarily young age to prove their femininity. That Orenstein is the mother of a young, biracial daughter makes the narrative even more readable than her bestselling earlier writings on girlhood and self-esteem. Rather than writing as a concerned but detached observer, she approaches her subject as a parent seeking practical ways to negotiate a complex cultural landscape that has been as confusing for her as a mother and woman as it has been potentially damaging for the girl she is raising.

Intelligent and richly insightful.

4) "Stranger Here: How Weight-Loss Surgery Transformed My Body and Messed with My Head" by Jen Larsen

An arresting memoir about the author's experience with weight-loss surgery.

Larsen initially lied to her mother about the nature of her surgery and didn’t tell her the truth until well after the procedure. She admits that her librarian co-workers “probably knew more than I did” about the risks and potential complications, and she spread the first payment across three credit cards. When a doctor reprimanded her for gaining, rather than losing, weight before the surgery date, Larsen asked, "If I don't lose the weight, can you still operate?" She smoked and drank heavily. After her painful recovery, she "ate whatever I could fit inside me, and suffered for it, and lost weight anyway." In the hands of a lesser writer, all of these facts could lead readers to feel judgment or disgust. Instead, Larsen's honesty and insight make for a searing account of precisely what it feels like to be fat and to have complicated relationships with food, family and friends. We understand exactly why one would look to surgery as a solution to not only excess weight, but also fear, loneliness and unhappiness. Larsen eventually lost the weight, and she also moved on from her dead-end job and her bad relationship. But though her life is measurably better, she still reels from the shock that self-acceptance did not come automatically: "You lose weight without having to develop self-awareness, self-control, a sense of self. In fact, you go ahead and you lose your sense of self.”

Raw vulnerability and rigorous emotional honesty make this weight-loss memoir compelling and memorable.

5) "Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting, and Live Large" by Kim Brittingham

Get rid of the bathroom scales and start living.

Body acceptance is not a new idea, but Brittingham's memoir has a unique voice. With engaging, well-written prose, the author encourages readers to live full and healthy lives, regardless of their weight. The book begins with Brittingham’s memories of a fat picture of herself as a teenager. In reality, she was not fat at all, and her mother’s many diets were also a product of a culture obsessed with thinness. Often compared to her "fat Aunt Phyllis," the author spent years feeling ugly and unworthy. The more she dieted, the more weight she gained. Then came her job as a counselor for the Edie JeJeune weight-loss program and her introduction to the hypocrisies of the diet industry. Brittingham's style is lively, and her message is powerful. She isn't afraid of confronting issues head-on, as evidenced when she made a fake book cover called Fat Is Contagious and took it on a bus to gauge other passengers' reactions. They weren't pretty. The author does not allow herself to become a victim. When she starred in an NBC Universal video pilot that was turned into an offensive fat stereotype, she created her own video series, Kim Weighs In.

This story doesn’t end with a skinny woman. It ends with a large, beautiful woman who revels in the joy of life.

6) "Big Fat Disaster" by Beth Fehlbaum

Colby’s life as the heavy daughter of a disapproving former Miss Texas beauty queen is difficult enough, but it gets worse very quickly once she discovers a photo of her politician father kissing another woman.

She and her mother and little sister move to a trailer in a tiny Texas community. She has an agonizing first day of school crammed into blue jeans so tight that she needs a coat hanger to pull the zipper up—and then she discovers that her cousin made a video of her trying to get into her jeans, which gets posted to Facebook. Colby copes with each terrible event the way she always has, with huge amounts of sweets followed by shame, and spirals ever deeper into depression. Readers experience the events through Colby’s present-tense narration, hearing her perceptive take on people: “Mom does that: She nods and smiles even when she thinks the person speaking is full of shit….” Fehlbaum draws a razor-sharp picture of Colby’s judgmental grandparents, her quirky teachers and, most of all, Colby herself and her terrifying mother, who can’t empathize at all. When Colby finally gets help at the end from a therapist and others, Fehlbaum makes it clear that her road ahead will be long and hard.

Colby’s experiences, while extreme, ring true, and the fast pace, lively and profane dialogue, and timely topic make it a quick and enjoyable read. (Fiction. 12-16)

7) "None of the Above" by I.W. Gregorio

Cross-country runner Kristin Lattimer is devastated when an OB-GYN diagnoses her with androgen insensitivity syndrome, an intersex condition.

Exuberant after being voted queen at the homecoming dance, Kristin decides she's finally ready to have sex with her boyfriend, Sam. Their attempt at intercourse, however, turns out to be prohibitively painful, and Kristin promptly schedules an appointment with her best friend's gynecologist. Her pelvic exam and a series of follow-ups reveal that Kristin has AIS. After she confides in two friends at a party, rumors about Kristin's condition spread, and she is ostracized. The particulars of AIS are explained in matter-of-fact detail and filtered effectively through Kristin's point of view. Kristin and her bullies use the word “hermaphrodite,” but the author is careful to note that the term is widely considered derogatory and that “intersex” and “disorder of sex development,” or DSD, are preferred. Discussions of Kristin's gender strike an equally appropriate balance: Kristin worries that her diagnosis means she's "not exactly a girl," and Sam rejects her as a "faggot," but other voices express kinder views. A supportive and warmly drawn group of side characters rounds out the story, and the figure of Caster Semenya, a runner speculated to have AIS herself, serves as a role model and figure of hope.

Sensitive, informative and a valuable resource for teens in Kristin's shoes. (Fiction. 14-18)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Science Fiction Book List

Are you in need of something different? Are you craving some science fiction? Check out this book list...

1) "Red Rising" by Pierce Brown

Set in the future and reminiscent of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, this novel dramatizes a story of vengeance, warfare and the quest for power.

In the beginning, Darrow, the narrator, works in the mines on Mars, a life of drudgery and subservience. He’s a member of the Reds, an “inferior” class, though he’s happily married to Eo, an incipient rebel who wants to overthrow the existing social order, especially the Golds, who treat the lower-ranking orders cruelly. When Eo leads him to a mildly rebellious act, she’s caught and executed, and Darrow decides to exact vengeance on the perpetrators of this outrage. He’s recruited by a rebel cell and “becomes” a Gold by having painful surgery—he has golden wings grafted on his back—and taking an exam to launch himself into the academy that educates the ruling elite. Although he successfully infiltrates the Golds, he finds the social order is a cruel and confusing mash-up of deception and intrigue. Eventually, he leads one of the “houses” in war games that are all too real and becomes a guerrilla warrior leading a ragtag band of rebelliously minded men and women. Although it takes a while, the reader eventually gets used to the specialized vocabulary of this world, where warriors shoot “pulseFists” and are protected by “recoilArmor.” As with many similar worlds, the warrior culture depicted here has a primitive, even classical, feel to it, especially since the warriors sport names such as Augustus, Cassius, Apollo and Mercury.

A fine novel for those who like to immerse themselves in alternative worlds.

Book One of Two: Golden Son

2) "Birthmarked" by Caragh M. O'Brien

A gated community on the banks of a dried-up Great Lake. A disfigured teen midwife. A baby quota. And, in grand dystopic tradition, the story of the moment the idyllic dream shatters and the ugly truth is revealed. Within the walls life is easy, but those outside live in poverty (although the descriptions are rather bucolic) and must trade their infants for food, water and privilege. When the Enclave arrests her mother, Gaia must penetrate the walls and foment a revolution even as she falls for the Protectorat’s son. Despite the occasionally formulaic plot points, this offers some original elements: Genetics and medical knowledge play a large role. Serious science-fiction fans will find the world confusing (what is the source of raw resources? where do they manufacture things? how exactly are the films that opiate the masses being produced?), but most will enjoy the engaging heroine and the struggle against a corrupt government. In the end, Gaia must flee to fight another day in the sequels; most readers will contentedly follow. (Science fiction. 12 & up)

Book One of Three: Prized and Promised

3) "Eve & Adam" by Michael Grant

The husband-wife team behind the Animorphs series returns with the first installment of an entertaining saga that pits smart teens against high-tech evildoers and bionic skullduggery.

A run-in with a streetcar left Evening Spiker’s body seriously mangled. Against medical advice, her widowed mother, Terra, insists on moving her from the hospital to Spiker Biopharmaceuticals, the cutting-edge biotech company she owns, renowned for its worldwide medical good works. Assisting Terra—though with an agenda of his own—is Solo Plissken, who takes more than a passing interest in Eve. Both teens feel a deep ambivalence toward Terra and Spiker Biopharm, though for different reasons, and beyond their mutual attraction, share a troubling, mysterious connection from the past. Eve’s healing is strangely swift but leaves her bored and restless until Terra drops a project, billed as genetics education, in her lap: Design a virtual human being from scratch. With help from her feisty, reckless friend Aislin, Eve takes up the challenge. While she becomes increasingly mesmerized by her creation, Adam, Solo edges closer to achieving his own goals. The straightforward narration by Eve, Solo and Adam in compact, swift-moving prose, makes this a first-rate choice for reluctant readers while raising provocative questions about the nature of creation and perfection.

An auspicious, thought-provoking series opener. (Science fiction/romance. 12 & up)

4) "Origin" by Jessica Khoury

A surprising first novel set deep in the Amazonian rainforest.

Inside the electric fence surrounding the secret compound known as Little Cam, scientists have labored for years to create one immortal person. Pia, now 16, has lightning-fast reflexes, inexhaustible stamina, and a body impervious to sickness or injury. She is the perfect creation of the current lead scientist, whom she calls Uncle Paolo, but she is also his pawn, and her still-human soul has begun to chafe at the restrictions and isolation that surround her. When a storm causes a break in the fence, Pia ventures into the jungle, meeting and becoming intrigued by Eio, a boy her age belonging to a nearby tribe, the Ai'oans. Eio speaks English and knows more about Little Cam than Pia does about the outside world. Then a female scientist comes to Little Cam and bolsters Pia's growing sense of rebellion. Gradually she uncovers the secrets and tragedies that led to her immortality. Khoury's debut captures the lush rhythms of the rainforest. Her characters, dialogue and pacing are clean and accomplished, and the plot moves at breakneck speed. As the book progresses toward its emotionally satisfying but logically puzzling ending, cracks start to show in the science of her dystopian world, but by then readers will hardly notice—and will certainly easily forgive.

A teen thriller/romance without werewolves, wizards or vampires—utterly refreshing. (Science fiction. 13 & up)

5) "What's Left Of Me" by Kat Zhang

An unsettling dystopian adventure of two souls trapped in a single body.

Like all children, Addie and Eva were born as two souls in the same body. As young children, the two personalities were both loved and indulged by their parents, but, unlike all the other children, Addie and Eva didn't “settle.” In settling, the dominant soul takes over the single body and the recessive soul fades away. Children who don't settle are labeled hybrids and institutionalized. At age 6, Addie and Eva started seeing specialists to hasten the settling process, but the years of treatments have been unsuccessful. To hide their shame, Addie takes the dominant role and Eva becomes invisible to the outside world, thereby convincing society that they are not a hybrid. However, when an experiment with their classmates goes wrong, Addie/Eva find themselves institutionalized and wrestling with what it means to have a voice. Brackets within the text differentiate Addie’s external communication and Eva’s internal dialogue with Addie, helping to clarify who is speaking when. Worldbuilding is a little on the thin side, but Addie and Eva's emotions are more than enough to carry readers along.

A thought-provoking first installment in a series that unflinchingly takes on ethically challenging topics. (Dystopia. 13 & up)

6) "Insignia" by S.J. Kincaid

An unlikely teen is selected to attend Hogwarts-at-the-Pentagon.

Tom has spent most of his life casino-hopping with his ne'er-do-well father. His only real pleasure is virtual-reality gaming, and his mad skillz bring him to the attention of the U.S. Intrasolar Forces. In short order he is off to the Pentagonal Spire to train to become a Camelot Company Combatant: one of the elite teen "warriors" who pilot the remote spacecraft that wage World War III bloodlessly in space. The Indo-Americans and the Russo-Chinese are propped up by multinationals that fund the enterprise; the neural processors implanted in the kids’ brains—not to mention war itself—aren't cheap. Tom quickly makes friends (warm and funny boy, Asperger's-like girl, goofy boy) and enemies (vicious boy, borderline-crazy professor). He also comes to the attention of his mother's horrible boyfriend, an executive in a multinational that wants a pawn on the inside of CamCo. In addition to obvious echoes of Ender's Game and Harry Potter, debut novelist Kincaid weaves in hefty helpings of Cory Doctorow–like philosophy: "What, you think the American sheeple are going to question the corporatocracy?" Tom's father says memorably. With action, real humor and a likable, complex protagonist, this fast-moving, satisfying adventure also provides some food for thought.

Derivative and sometimes a little silly, but good fun nevertheless. (Science fiction. 13-16)

Book One of Three: Vortex and Catalyst

7) "Variant" by Robison Wells

Wells introduces Benson Fisher, a teen in search of a “real” life instead of a long series of unwanted foster homes—but instead of the utopia he’s searching for, he finds the direct opposite.

Benson thinks he’s found the perfect school in Maxfield Academy, a private school in the wilds of New Mexico. Winning a scholarship with unexpected ease, he looks forward to establishing real friendships and getting a good education at last. What he finds, however, is far from normal. Within minutes of the front doors closing—and locking—behind him, he finds himself in a fight for his life. He joins a gang, the Variants, just to survive. With no adults on campus, classes are taught by fellow students, punishments are passed on by computer and nothing seems to follow a logical path. Benson decides it’s time to make a run for it, until he finds out that no one makes it out of Maxfield…not alive, at any rate. Benson's account unfolds in a speedy, unadorned first person, doling information out to readers as he learns it himself.

Hard to put down from the very first page, this fast-paced novel with Stepford overtones answers only some of the questions it poses, holding some of the most tantalizing open for the next installment in a series that is anything but ordinary. (Thriller. 12 & up)

8) "A Long, Long Sleep" by Anna Sheehan

Sleeping Beauty wakes up to a future world where everyone she ever knew is gone.

Dramatic disasters, diseases and technological advancements have passed during Rosalinda Fitzroy's decades of sleep. In her new role as long-lost heiress to the interplanetary business empire UniCorp, she faces a new world without her family or boyfriend. History lessons hit too close to home at school, and she fails to connect with anyone but Bren, the son of top UniCorp officials and discoverer of her stasis tube, and Otto, the result an unethical UniCorp experiment. The science-fiction elements here are tantalizing but under-explored and under-utilized. Before Rose can fix the mistakes of her parents' company, she needs to fix their parenting mistakes. Rose's first-person narration paints the picture of a girl too accommodating and self-deprecating for her social position. Gradually, her quirks are explained through the mystery of her placement into stasis. Futuristic slang words jar, and the passages don't always mesh well—the all-too-possible descriptions of what went wrong while Rose slept are chilling but not always well-integrated into the story, and the breaks from Rose's point-of-view into that of a mysterious second character are forced. Assassination attempts against Rose feel tacked on to bump up the tension, though they are eventually tied into her emotional story arc.

Thoughtful but uneven. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Male Heroes Unite Book List!

Need a book to motivate your teen to read? Check out this book list...

1) "Beastly" by Alex Flinn

Cavalier and cruel, Kyle Kingsbury rules as prince of an upper-crust school until he angers the wrong Goth girl, who casts a spell that makes him look as ugly as his inner self. When claws, fur and fangs appear, Kyle is confined to a Brooklyn brownstone, where he grows roses, paws through The Hunchback of Notre Dame and IMs other transformed kids. Flinn’s contemporary adaptation of Beauty and the Beast pulls fairy tales and classics like Phantom of the Opera into the context of modern teen life. Kyle’s hilarious chat-room sessions most effectively exploit clever convergences of old and new. Chris Anderson moderates (sans Hans), while BeastNYC (Kyle), Froggie (a webbed prince) and SilentMaid (a little mermaid) offer support using the virtual vernacular. Teens will LOL. They will also find their preoccupations with looks, status and pride explored thoroughly. When Lindy, Kyle’s Beauty, moves in, much of the interesting adaptive play recedes, but teens will still race to see if the beast gets his kiss, lifts the curse and lives happily ever after. (Fiction. YA)

2) "Invisible City" by M.G. Harris

British-Mexican 13-year-old Josh Garcia has always been a fan of UFOs and conspiracy theories, but he never thought he’d find himself actually mixed up with both. He returns home from a boring day at school, however, to the news that his archeologist father has died in a plane crash over Mexico. Josh can’t believe the conclusions of the authorities: His father was killed by his mistress’s jealous husband. When that idea sends Josh’s mother to the psychiatric ward, Josh jets off to Central America with his best friend, Tyler, and Olivia, a 16-year-old blogging buddy. Unknown relatives, shady American intelligence agents and a living Mayan city all play a part in what turns out to be Josh’s destiny. The first of three already out in the United Kingdom, Harris’s American debut is a great idea in need of some good old-fashioned editing. Glacial pacing, characters without character and a blog that couldn’t be more fifth-wheel conspire against this tale of the impending Mayan-predicted apocalypse. A gee-whiz website, secret (crackable) alphabet and vigorous hand-selling might help this find an audience among patient thriller seekers. (Adventure. 12-14)

3) "The Knife Of Never Letting Go" by Patrick Ness

Todd Hewitt has never known quiet. Growing up on an alien planet where thoughts are broadcast and animals speak, 12-year-old Todd is the last boy in a town of men. He quickly goes from outcast to target after finding two surprises in Prentisstown’s swamp: a wrecked colony spaceship and Viola, the first girl he has ever seen. In fleeing Prentisstown, Todd and Viola discover its ugly history and terrifying plans. Uneven pacing and an unbelievable premise hobble this work, Ness’s first attempt at YA fiction. Events pile up and then freeze while Todd addresses an emotional crisis. Viola’s page presence is so weak as to be forgettable, though Manchee, Todd’s loyal dog, will grow on readers as the narrative progresses. Ness’s attempt to develop Todd’s character by including colloquialisms in nearly every aspect of the narrative only succeeds in driving readers out of the tale. Attempting to address adolescent angst, information overload and war, Ness ends up delivering merely noise. (Science fiction. YA)

Book One of Three: The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men

4) "Death Comes to Pemberley" by P.D. James

Yes, that’s right: Now that she’s made her farewells to Adam Dalgliesh (The Private Patient, 2008, etc.), Baroness James has turned to a Jane Austen sequel.

Six years after the marriage that ended Pride and Prejudice, Fitzwilliam Darcy and his wife, the former Elizabeth Bennet, are on the eve of giving their annual Lady Anne’s Ball when their preparations are complicated first by intimations that Darcy’s sister Georgiana is being courted by both her cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam and rising young lawyer Henry Alveston, then by the Colonel’s sudden decision to take his horse for a solitary late-night ride and finally and most disastrously by the unexpected, unwanted arrival of Lizzy’s sister Lydia. Bursting from her coach, Lydia shrieks her fears that her husband, Lt. George Wickham, has been murdered by his friend Capt. Martin Denny, whom he followed into the wood when Denny abruptly insisted on abandoning the coach carrying them to Pemberley. In fact it looks very much the other way around: Denny is the one who’s dead, and Wickham, bending over his body, blurts out that he killed him. Readers of Pride and Prejudice know that Wickham is a thorough scoundrel, but can he really have murdered his only friend? His averrals that he meant only that his quarrel with Denny sent him out into the wood, where he met his death at unknown hands, don’t impress the jurors at the coroner’s inquest or the trial that follows. Most of these developments, cloaked in a pitch-perfect likeness of Austen’s prose, are ceremonious but pedestrian. The final working-out, however, shows all James’ customary ingenuity.

The murder story allows only flashes of Austenian wit, and Lizzy is sadly eclipsed by Darcy. But the stylistic pastiche is remarkably accomplished, and it’s nice to get brief updates on certain cast members of Persuasion and Emma as a bonus.

5) "Ashfall" by Mike Mullin

"The pre-Friday world of school, cell phones, and refrigerators dissolved into this post-Friday world of ash, darkness, and hunger."

Left home alone for a weekend in Cedar Falls, Iowa, while his family visits relatives in Warren, Ill., 15-year-old Alex Halprin ends up fighting for survival trying to get to them through an America ravaged by the sudden eruption of the supervolcano under Yellowstone Park. Alex is characterized by the decisions he makes when confronted with moral dilemmas—dilemmas that have no straightforward, correct answers—resulting in a realistically thoughtful protagonist dealing with complex and horrifying situations. Before he's even left his hometown, Alex encounters looting and other behaviors born from realization of just how finite resources are in emergencies. Traveling to Warren, he's even more vulnerable, both to the elements and to the mercies of the people he encounters. Among the best people that Alex encounters are a girl named Darla and her mother, Mrs. Edmunds, both self-sufficient farmers. But any relief is temporary—threats both environmental and human are ever present. While the pain and suffering Alex witnesses and experiences is visceral, so are the moments of hope and glimpses of human goodness.

In this chilling debut, Mullin seamlessly weaves meticulous details about science, geography, agriculture and slaughter into his prose, creating a fully immersive and internally consistent world scarily close to reality. (author's note) (Speculative fiction. 14 & up)

6) "The House of  the Scorpion" by Nancy Farmer

Matt Alacrán has spent his youth secreted away in a secluded hut, his only knowledge of the world provided by his caregiver Celia and his view out the window on the white ocean of poppies growing all around. Matt is a clone, an outcast hated and feared as a beast by human society. When he uses an iron cooking pot to smash his window and goes out into the world, Matt sets into motion a fantastic adventure in a land called Opium, a strip of land between the US and a place once called Mexico. Opium is ruled by El Patrón, a 142-year-old drug lord, inhabited by “eejits”—docile farm workers controlled by brain implants—and overseen by an army of bodyguards. Farmer’s tale is a wild, futuristic coming-of-age story with a science-fiction twist: How do you find out who you are when what you are is a clone—a photograph—of a human being. How have you come to exist, and for what purpose? Can you ever expect to be more than what you were designed to be? As demonstrated in The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (1994), Farmer has a talent for creating exciting tales in beautifully realized, unusual worlds. With undertones of vampires, Frankenstein, dragons’ hoards, and killing fields, Matt’s story turns out to be an inspiring tale of friendship, survival, hope, and transcendence. A must-read for SF fans. (Fiction. 11+)

7) "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman

An ex-convict is the wandering knight-errant who traverses the wasteland of Middle America, in this ambitious, gloriously funny, and oddly heartwarming latest from the popular fantasist (Stardust, 1999, etc.).

Released from prison after serving a three-year term, Shadow is immediately rocked by the news that his beloved wife Laura has been killed in an automobile accident. While en route to Indiana for her funeral, Shadow meets an eccentric businessman who calls himself Wednesday (a dead giveaway if you’re up to speed on your Norse mythology), and passively accepts the latter’s offer of an imprecisely defined job. The story skillfully glides onto and off the plane of reality, as a series of mysterious encounters suggest to Shadow that he may not be in Indiana anymore—or indeed anywhere on Earth he recognizes. In dreams, he’s visited by a grotesque figure with the head of a buffalo and the voice of a prophet—as well as by Laura’s rather alarmingly corporeal ghost. Gaiman layers in a horde of other stories whose relationships to Shadow’s adventures are only gradually made clear, while putting his sturdy protagonist through a succession of tests that echo those of Arthurian hero Sir Gawain bound by honor to surrender his life to the malevolent Green Knight, Orpheus braving the terrors of Hades to find and rescue the woman he loves, and numerous other archetypal figures out of folklore and legend. Only an ogre would reveal much more about this big novel’s agreeably intricate plot. Suffice it to say that this is the book that answers the question: When people emigrate to America, what happens to the gods they leave behind?

A magical mystery tour through the mythologies of all cultures, a unique and moving love story—and another winner for the phenomenally gifted, consummately reader-friendly Gaiman.

8) "Gregor the Overlander" by Suzanne Collins

Gregor’s luminous, supremely absorbing quest takes place in a strange underground land of giant cockroaches, rideable bats, and violet-eyed humans. When his two-year-old sister Boots tumbles into an air duct in his building’s laundry room, Gregor leaps after her and they fall, à la Alice, into another world. Gregor wants desperately to get home—until he hears that his father, who left Gregor heavy-hearted by disappearing two years ago, may be in Underland himself, kept prisoner by enormous, war-hungry rats. A coalition of creatures and royal humans is formed to rescue him, modeled after an ancient prophetic poem that has foretold Gregor’s arrival and calls him the Overland Warrior. The abiding ache of Gregor’s sadness is matched by his tender care for Boots. Creature depictions are soulful and the plot is riveting; Underland’s dark, cavernous atmosphere is palpable. Explanation and subtlety balance perfectly. Wonderful. (Fiction. 8-12)

Book One of Five: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, and Gregor and the Cod of Claw

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sherlock Holmes Fiction Book List

Are you bored waiting for the new season of Sherlock to start? Need a fix of the mad, genius detective? Check out this book list...

1) "The Angel of the Opera" by Sam Siciliano

Hot on the heels of Nicholas Meyer's indifferent The Canary Trainer (1993) comes another meeting between Sherlock Holmes and the Phantom of the Opera. This time Holmes wears a bowler, speaks like an imposter (at one point he ``roars,'' at another he says, ``I'm fine''), loses his amanuensis, Dr. Watson, for his own colorless, presumptuous cousin Dr. Henry Vernet, and shines only feebly as a detective. The result is less Conan Doyle than Gaston Leroux. All the principals of Leroux's Phantom--the hopeless love, soprano Christine DaaÇ; the rival, Vicomte Raoul de Chagny; even the late Joseph Buquet and the disappearing horse CÇsar--are trotted out yet again, but they don't seem to have any more to do than actors taking their curtain calls, and by the time they come together for the obligatory group portrait in the cellars deep beneath the Opera, you'll be hoping they all get blown up together. Sorry, Sherlock--no joy in these lukewarm leftovers.

2) "The Dark Water" by David Pirie

The creator of Sherlock Holmes does battle with his own Moriarty and unravels an eerie village legend.

Neophyte physician Arthur Conan Doyle awakens to find himself trapped in a dark room, with no memory of recent events and no means of escape. At length, he learns that his captor is Thomas Neill Cream, a dashing real-life figure of unmitigated evil. To facilitate his plot, Cream has insinuated himself into the lives of Doyle’s friends, the Morland family. Daring and painful physical effort gain Doyle his freedom. Half-dead, he treks the countryside until he’s eventually reunited with his mentor, Dr. Joseph Bell of Edinburgh University. After initially questioning the frenzied Doyle’s sanity, Bell nurses his old student back to health. The duo tracks Cream to the remote town of Dunwich and the eerie legend of its heath, haunted by a centuries-old witch. In the late-17th century, Dunwich outsider Mary Goddard was visited by angry neighbors who accused her of witchcraft. She escaped into the dense woodland of the heath, repeatedly eluding her would-be executioners. A catalogue of local atrocities followed, all attributed to her. Recently, wealthy eccentric Oliver Jefford, a newcomer to Dunwich Heath, has disappeared. Doyle and Bell hope and fear that tracking this mystery will lead them to the villainous Cream.

Pirie’s third Doyle homage (The Night Calls, 2003, etc.) again boasts deft period yarn-spinning and terrific writing.

3) "The Crack in the Lens" by Steve Hockensmith

The cowboy Sherlocks ride again (The Black Dove, 2008, etc.).

Otto and Gustav Amlingmeyer, disciples of the Gospel According to Holmes, are once more on the prowl. With a bit of cash in their pokes, they are temporarily freed from cow-punching and can focus on an even meatier case of murder. Dour, doleful Gustav was once passionately in love with Gertie, a gold-hearted lady of the night. Five years earlier, under circumstances shrouded in mystery, Gertie got herself done in, resulting in an anguished, distraught Gus. Why he has taken five years to decide to investigate those circumstances is also somewhat mysterious, but he informs Otto, “We’re goin’ to Texas,” in a tone that brooks no argument from his younger but not smarter brother. Predictably, their arrival in San Marcos finds them greeted not by open arms but by sidearms. The boys are roughed up, shot at and nearly lynched several times over. Do Holmes’ methods come to their rescue? Sure do, partner, though Watson might have been hard put to recognize them.

The Holmes on the Range series has seen better days: The boys still charm, but not enough to redeem some dreary plotting and tired prose.

4) "The Sherlockian" by Graham Moore

Another resurrection of Sherlockiana, the conceit here being the story of tracking down Arthur Conan Doyle’s missing journal from 1900—and solving a murder associated with the journal.

Owing to a couple of scholarly articles on Sherlock Holmes, Harold White has just been inducted into the famous but secretive Sherlockian society; at 29 he’s one of the youngest members ever invited to join. A game’s afoot, however, for Alex Cale, perhaps the most prominent Sherlockian of all, has recently announced that he’s found Conan Doyle’s famous missing journal. His plan is to reveal the contents at the annual meeting of the Sherlockians at the Algonquin Hotel in New York, but Cale is found murdered, with the word “Elementary” written on the wall near his body. White decides to solve both the case of the missing journal and Cale’s murder. In his investigation he’s abetted by Sebastian Conan Doyle, the great-grandson of the author himself (who feels he’s the rightful owner of the journal), and Sarah, a reporter bent on following White because she’s sure he has the best chance of finding the journal and solving the mystery of Cale’s death. Throughout the narrative White’s mantra is “What would Sherlock Holmes do?” and his answers to this question lead him from New York to London to Cambridge and finally to the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, the site of Holmes’s putative death. Moore cleverly alternates his chapters between White’s story in the present and Conan Doyle’s activities in the fall of 1900, so the reader can better understand the reasons why Conan Doyle—or more likely his friend Bram Stoker—would want to suppress the journal. Along the way, Stoker winds up playing Watson to Conan Doyle, much as Sarah becomes a Watson figure to White.

While occasionally heavy-handed and coincidental, Moore’s fiction provides a shrewd take on the noted author and his legendary scion.

5) "Shadows Over Baker Street" by Michael Reaves

Conan Doyle’s immortal creations Holmes and Watson battle enigmatic forces of darkness in this smartly conceived collection of 18 new tales of intrigue, detection, and horror.

Each story proceeds from the premise that the dauntless duo are engaged to solve crimes whose perpetrators are eerily reminiscent of phenomena described in H.P. Lovecraft’s grisly Ctulhu Mythos stories. The manual of black arts studied by such creatures is the dreaded Necronomicon, conveniently described (in editor Reaves’s “The Adventure of the Arab’s Manuscript”) as “a compendium of ancient lore and forbidden knowledge concerning various pre-Adamite beings and creations, some of extraterrestrial origin, who once ruled the earth and who anticipate doing so again”). Several stories do too little with the core idea of overreaching antiquaries who unwisely summon slumbering supernatural entities. But there are several noteworthy exceptions. The volume is neatly bracketed by ever-dependable Neil Gaiman’s witty imagining of Holmes’s first encounter with his archenemy Professor Moriarty (“A Study in Emerald”) and Simon Clark’s “Nightmare in Wax,” in which Moriarty gains possession of the Necronomicon, with amusingly ghastly and surprising consequences. The best of the remainder: a delicious battle of wits between Holmes and a Balinese beauty who pits herself against a man-eating demon (Steve Perry’s “The Case of the Wavy Black Dagger”); the combined efforts of Holmes and his sedentary, brilliant sibling Mycroft to rescue a sea captain cursed by an exotic stone carving (Brian Stableford’s “Art in the Blood”); John P. Vourlis’s nicely plotted tale of an entire village overcome by an unnatural sleeplessness (“A Case of Insomnia”); and F. Gwynplaine McIntyre’s stunning “The Adventure of Exham Priory,” an ingenious reworking of the familiar incident of Holmes’s misadventure at the Reichenbach Falls. Other notable contributions are by genre veterans Barbara Hambly and Tim Lebbon and less familiar authors Steven Elliott-Altman and James Lowder.

A few clunkers aside: a very entertaining volume.

6) "The Whitechapel Horrors" by Edward B. Hanna

Sherlock Holmes goes still another 15 rounds with Jack the Ripper without getting a clear decision--though dedicated fans will have no trouble piercing the great detective's seemly reserve to identify the latest contender for Jack's identity. This final revelation, inventive and original--though offered without supporting evidence--is the best thing about TV journalist Hanna's first novel, which is remote from Conan Doyle's crisp, vivid writing in its third-person voice, its blurry diction, and its lumbering pace. Despite cameos by Wilde and Shaw and more substantial turns by Lord Spencer Churchill and the fashionably requisite members of the royal family--especially feebleminded Prince Eddy and his Teutonic father--nothing seems to happen (except to the half-dozen prostitutes whose deaths Hanna rehearses with grisly relish) until the final expectant tableau. True-crime Sherlockians can expect a ripping good time right down to the 25 pages of footnotes. Others need not apply.

7) "Good Night, Mr. Holmes" by Carole Nelson Douglas

The centenary of the first Sherlock Holmes short story, ""A Scandal in Bohemia,"" finds Irene Adler, Sherlock Holmes's most formidable opponent, speaking for herself in this 350-page prologue to Conan Doyle's story. Not that Irene actually speaks for herself; she has her own Watson, demure parson's daughter Penelope Huxleigh, who's just as worshipful as her male counterpart. In prose whose Watsonian rhythms soon fade away, Penelope tells how the first cab she and Irene shared was driven by one Jefferson Hope; how Irene avenged Penelope's dismissal from Whiteley's emporium after an unjust accusation of theft; how she and Holmes both accepted a commission from Charles Tiffany to recover Marie Antoinette's Zone of Diamonds; how her search for clues brought her to a tea party Brain Stoker gave for the likes of James Whistler and Oscar Wilde; how she traced the Zone to the dying father of barrister Godfrey Norton and eventually deciphered the clues to its location Norton Senior left behind; and how, in the meantime, she became embroiled with the Crown Prince of Bohemia, solving the mystery of his father's murder only to be discarded and pursued on his accession to the throne--before concluding the tale at Irene's immortal London home at Briony Lodge. Irene's adventures are offered as an anti-Victorian romp, and the tone throughout is smug with hindsight: Irene could have stepped from the pages of Ms., and Holmes's conceit is played for the maximum irony. Sequel-minded Douglas (Probe, Counterprobe, etc.) hints in a poker-faced ""Scholarly Afterword"" that more revelations may be on the horizon. This installment is mainly for confirmed Baker Streeters--though anti-Holmesians will probably enjoy it more.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Best Police Mystery Book List

Do you like a book with suspense and thrill? Do you like it when it is from the police view point? Check out this book list...

1) "The Black Echo" by Michael Connelly

Big, brooding debut police thriller by Los Angeles Times crime-reporter Connelly, whose labyrinthine tale of a cop tracking vicious bank-robbers sparks and smolders but never quite catches fire. Connelly shows off his deep knowledge of cop procedure right away, expertly detailing the painstaking examination by LAPD homicide detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch of the death-scene of sometime junkie Billy Meadows, whom Bosch knew as a fellow "tunnel rat" in Vietnam and who's now o.d.'d in an abandoned water tunnel. Pushing Meadows's death as murder while his colleagues see it as accidental, Bosch, already a black sheep for his vigilante-like ways, further alienates police brass and is soon shadowed by two nastily clownish Internal Affairs cops wherever he goes--even to FBI headquarters, which Bosch storms after he learns that the Bureau had investigated him for a tunnel-engineered bank robbery that Meadows is implicated in. Assigned to work with beautiful, blond FBI agent Eleanor Wish, who soon shares his bed in an edgy alliance, Bosch comes to suspect that the robbers killed Meadows because the vet pawned some of the loot, and that their subsequent killing of the only witness to the Meadows slaying points to a turned cop. But who? Before Bosch can find out, a trace on the bank-robbery victims points him toward a fortune in smuggled diamonds and the likelihood of a second heist--leading to the blundering death of the IAD cops, the unveiling of one bad cop, an anticipated but too-brief climax in the L.A. sewer tunnels, and, in a twisty anticlimax, the revelation of a second rotten law officer. Swift and sure, with sharp characterizations, but at heart really a tightly wrapped package of cop-thriller cliches, from the hero's Dirty Harry persona to the venal brass, the mad-dog IAD cops, and the not-so-surprising villains. Still, Connelly knows his turf and perhaps he'll map it more freshly next time out.

2) "The Bone Collector" by Jeffery Deaver

A quadriplegic criminalist hunts the most elusive quarry of his career: a serial killer who leaves clues at each crime scene allowing the cops to head off the next murder--if they can decode them in time. With nothing left to live for since an accident ended his forensic career and his marriage, bearish Lincoln Rhyme has made an appointment with Dr. William Berger, of the suicide-friendly Lethe Society. But Rhyme's old NYPD colleague, Det. Lon Sellitto, just happens to breeze in, uninvited and unwelcome, minutes before Berger does, and talks Rhyme out of suicide and into spearheading the hunt for Unsub 823, the demonic cabbie whose fares often face nightmarish scenarios of torture and death. Though he shows no mercy to his victims, Unsub 823 obligingly salts each crime scene with cryptic clues to his next, clues that whet Rhyme's jaundiced appetite and give him the hope of saving currency trader T.J. Colfax, German emigrÇe Monelle Gerger, elderly William Everett, and widowed Carole Ganz and her daughter. It's not long before Rhyme's blood is pumping again, and he's persuaded beautiful Amelia Sachs, the Major Crimes officer who preserved the first crime scene long enough to gather a few precious scraps of evidence, to put off her medical transfer to Public Affairs and become his eyes, ears, and nose at each gory scene. Working feverishly against a series of impossible deadlines, Sachs and Rhyme piece together a profile of the perp's appearance, his lodgings, his car, his habits, and the idÇe fixe that drives him: He believes he's the Bone Collector, a demented ghoul who preyed on New York's dead and near-dead at the turn of the century, determined to free his victims from this mortal coil by stripping them to ageless bone. Deaver (A Maiden's Grave, 1995, etc.) marries forensic work that would do Patricia Cornwell proud to a turbocharged plot that puts Benzedrine to shame.

3) "Knots and Crosses" by Ian Rankin

A compelling first novel sent in Edinburgh, where a series of killings of young girls has the city in a panic. Ex-army police detective John Rebus is in the thick of the investigation. Scarred by his elite-corps army training, a nervous breakdown and a divorce, father of teen-age Samantha, Rebus is a dogged but not too sharp investigator. The anonymous letters he starts to receive after the first murder are shrugged off as the work of a crank; he never questions the affluence of his rarely seen hypnotist brother Michael; and he never figures out the one factor common to all the victims. In the meantime, his girlfriend Gill Templet, a press liason policewoman, and hard-bitten, hard-drinking reporter Jim Stevens are smarter. It slowly becomes clear that the killer's focus is Rebus himself, who must finally confront an implacable enemy and hie own long-repressed traumatic memories. Solidly drawn characters, keen psychological insights and an intriguing, well-knit plot--along with a rather florid but individual writing style--make Rankin a newcomer to watch.

4) "Faceless Killers" by Henning Mankell

Who would so savagely kill an elderly farming couple in the Swedish town of Lenarp--the husband gruesomely tortured, the wife slowly strangled with a noose tied in an unusual knot--and then step out to the couple's barn to feed their horse? Inspector Kurt Wallander, battling midlife crisis--his estranged daughter has rarely called him since she lit out from home; his estranged wife greets him by telling him how much weight he's put on--would love to have the leisure to speculate about the identity of the killers, described only by the dying Maria Lîvgren as "foreign." As acting chief of the Ystad police, though, he's got more urgent business on his hands: a series of xenophobic phone calls ("You now have three days to make up for shielding foreign criminals. . . . Or else we'll take over") from somebody who's willing to set fire to a refugee camp barracks and gun down a visiting Somali to show how serious he is. Surprised by the news that Johannes Lîvgren was not exactly the colorless chap he appeared, Wallander despairs of finding enough time or energy to kindle a romance with deputy D.A. Anette Brolin, who's married to boot. But how long will it take his plunge into ethnic hatred to give him the answers he needs? Though "the last thing Kurt Wallander felt like was a laughing policeman," fans of Maj Sjîwall and Per Wahlîî will feel right at home in this first (1991) of Mankell's five Wallander novels, right down to the laconic paragraphing. Readers who think of Sweden as snow-white are in for a surprise.

5) "The Black Dahlia" by James Ellroy

Tim real-life unsolved "Black Dahlia" case (L.A., 1947), source material for several novels and films, get another go. round from hard boiler Ellroy (Blood on the Moon, Because the Night), in a long, earnest, overwrought novel that concentrates on the dark psychosexual hangups of two L.A.P.D. cops. The narrator is "Bucky" Bleichert, who, together with partner Lee Blanchard (his one-time pro-boxing rival), is assigned to work with Homicide when the mutilated body of trampy, pathetic, would-be actress Betty Short is found in a vacant L.A. lot. Blanchard is instantly obsessed with the Dahlia (as the papers soon dub Betty), because of guilt over his kid sister's bygone murder. Bucky becomes obsessed, too, especially once he starts sleeping with Dahlia lookalike Madeleine, a decadent rich girl who once had a lesbian fling with the Dahlia. Blanchard goes berserk, disappears, and later turns up dead in Mexico. Despite much triangular sturm, Bucky marries Blanchard's gift. And eventually, after the primary clues in the Dahlia case run dry (boyfriends, porno flicks), Bucky starts uncovering one nasty secret after another--corruption, perversion, coverups, family skeletons--until he finds the place where the Dahlia was tortured and butchered. . .and confronts the killer. Ellroy writes with undeniable energy, striving for down and-dirty textures and a raw emotional edge. But while some individual vignettes deliver the intended impact, the overall effect is unconvincing and shrill--with too many psychos per square chapter and too many lapses into stagily lurid narration. (". . .My voice came back in racking fits, 'I'll get him for you, he won't hurt you anymore, I'll make it up to you, oh Betty Jesus fuck I will.'")

6) "The Blessing Way" by Tony Hillerman

Bergen McKee, a professor and "monster slayer" of Navajo witches and wolves, finds he has more real ores to contend with in the deaths of "no good for anything" Luis Horseman and of a colleague. . . . Authentic anthropological details; the self-effacing courage of McKee; and a particularly exciting entrapment in the canyons of this no white man's land make this an unqualified success.

7) "The Cold Dish" by Craig Johnson

Revenge killings disrupt the serenity of a small western community and greatly complicate life for a sheriff nearing retirement.

Kent Haruf’s readers will feel immediately comfortable in newcomer Johnson’s Absaroka County. Everybody in the beautiful, isolated Wyoming area knows each other. Conversations are spare and, if not always irony-free, certainly lacking coastal self-pity, analysis, or politics. And the inhabitants are smart enough to handle their own business, even when that business is murder and the clues are few. Responsibility for solutions rests in the broad hands of Sheriff Walt Longmire, Vietnam Marine veteran and widower, overweight, and excessively fond of beer. The victims are two of the four local high-school boys who got off way too lightly for the rape of and assault on Melissa Little Bird, a mentally disabled Cheyenne girl. Longmire realizes after the first murder that if his plan to name his successor is to succeed—tricky enough even before the murders, since his fondest wish is to pass the badge to Deputy Victoria Moretti, a foul-mouthed but extremely capable Philadelphian—he’s going to have to solve things before the state police muscle in. Considerable assistance with the police work comes to Walt from Cheyenne publican Henry Standing Bear, the sheriff’s best friend and also a Vietnam vet. Henry is Walt’s Virgil as the sheriff steps onto the local reservation. Melissa had many friends and a large family, and feelings ran high after the rape. Bullets at the crime scene seem to have come from an elegant 19th-century rifle like the one owned by Melissa’s father. Moving carefully (the pace is exceptionally deliberate), Walt reconstructs crime scenes and picks through lab analyses, but the sparse clues are slow to yield their truths. Indian spirits step in to help, but they don’t solve the puzzle. Walt does.

The police work comes slow and the solution comes out of nowhere, but Johnson’s gorgeous Wyoming and agreeable characters make the trip very, very pleasant.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Zombies are Every Where! Book List

Do you enjoy zombies all year round? Need to get away from the traditional holiday stuff? Check out this book list...

1) "Patient Zero" by Jonathan Maberry

A dark, chilling and funny thriller about zombies from Maberry (Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead, 2008, etc.).

Joe Ledger, a Baltimore cop on leave after killing a suspected terrorist during a raid on a warehouse, just wanted to spend a day girl-watching at the beach. So when four FBI agents corner him as he’s getting into his car and take him on a mandatory ride in their black SUV, he’s a little miffed, especially since he’s about to leave the department and join their ranks at Quantico. But any negative emotion he feels about being snatched up is soon dwarfed by what goes through his head when Mr. Church, head of the top secret Department of Military Sciences, locks him in a room a short time later and forces him to kill the very same terrorist he shot to death less than a week before. The whole thing is a recruiting test, and after Joe, an Army veteran and martial-arts expert, dispatches the terrorist—again—without hesitation, Church invites him to join the DMS, a government organization created to battle threats that fall outside the purview of other government organizations. Threats from zombie terrorists, for instance. Soon, Joe is leading a tactical team, as he and the rest of the DMS try to stop terrorist El Mujahid, his mad-scientist bride Amirah and Sebastian Gualt, their wealthy Western backer, from unleashing a plague that turns regular people, soldiers and terrorists alike into bloodthirsty, infectious zombies. The book is as fun and funny as it is chilling and thrill-packed. Joe is a fantastic character, full of compassion, real vulnerabilities and a deliciously dark sense of humor.

An immensely entertaining package.

2) "Allison Hewitt Is Trapped" by Madeleine Roux

A fierce young bookseller blogs the zombie apocalypse in this debut novel from Wisconsin resident Roux.

The author brings a neat concept to her tale about the end of the world—but ironically fails to land the ending. The book’s heroine, Allison Hewitt, is involved in a terrifying scenario. “They are coming and I don’t think we will ever get out,” she blogs. “If you’re reading this, please call the police. Call them now; call the cops if there are any cops left to call. Tell them to come find me.” We soon learn that Allison and her crew are trapped in the back room of a Wisconsin bookstore, while the undead roam the aisles outside. It’s not worth introducing her compatriots because, like in all good stories of the damned, most of them aren’t long for the world. What are worth mentioning are the comments left by other survivors around the world on Allison’s blog. They run the gamut from terror (“I can only hope that someone else will save my boy”) to snark (“Go easy on the crazy pills?”) to courage in the face of jeopardy (“Allison knows a thing or two about hopelessness. Listen to her and me, don’t give up man. Fight the good fight”). There are some early moments of unnerving humor—during a run for supplies at the bookstore’s entrance, Allison can’t resist grabbing a little light reading—but things soon turn much darker, and her lighter side rarely surfaces during her long, circuitous journey. Between axe-wielding skirmishes, she follows the trail of her mother and flirts with a romance with a married survivor. But along the way, she also discovers the horrible capabilities of men without law.

A treat for lovers of groaners and roamers with neither enough gore nor pathos to keep casual readers engaged.

3) "This Is Not A Test" by Courtney Summers

A girl wants to commit suicide, but she’s caught in the zombie apocalypse with a group that’s trying to survive in this intriguing psychological thriller.

It takes some artistic guts to set a portrayal of a suicidal teenager amid attacking zombies, but Summers has a history of risky choices (Fall for Anything, 2010, etc.). Sloane was left trapped in her severely abusive home when her older sister, Lily, escaped. When the zombies attack, Sloane joins a group of her fellow students who take refuge in their high school, a building built almost like a prison. They barricade the doors and live off food from the cafeteria and water stored on the roof. Yet, although the zombie threat keeps tension high, Summers' focus remains on Sloane and the group of teens hiding in the school. The teen suffers from the betrayal she feels from Lily, while the others jockey for dominance and squabble over perceived ills done to them by others in the group. As events proceed, the teens make real decisions about life and death, while Sloane looks toward a possible reunion with Lily. Readers never learn why zombies attacked; they are kept in the moment by Sloane's first-person, present-tense account. The focus stays on the personalities and on Sloane’s struggle with her emotions and her own decision to live or to die.

Unusual and absorbing. (Paranormal suspense. 12 & up)

4) "The Forest of Hands and Teeth" by Carrie Ryan

It’s been generations since the zombie apocalypse, and the people of Mary’s village know they are the only living people left. In this overly introspective zombie tale, Mary despises her circumscribed life. Penned in by fences keeping out most of the flesh-eating Unconsecrated, destined to marry the brother of her beloved Travis, Mary dreams of the ocean her mother’s told her of. Her miserable village life won’t last much longer, though. When a visitor arrives from another village, the ascetic Sisterhood who control every aspect of village life secretly imprison the visitor, then (inexplicably) turn her into a super-fast Unconsecrated and set her loose among the rest. Fences fall before the onslaught of this super-powered zombie and Mary finds herself one of only six survivors, desperately searching for safe haven. Mary’s an unlikable heroine, obsessed with Travis (with whom she spends an oddly sexless interlude in a barricaded house) even as everything she knows is destroyed. But despite plot holes, more angst than action and an excess of philosophical meanderings, Mary’s story delivers what’s important: zombie apocalypse. (Science fiction. 12-14)

Book One of Three: The Dead-Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hallow Places

5) "Warm Bodies" by Isaac Marion

A jubilant story about two star-crossed lovers, one of them dead and hungry for more than love.

Debut novelist Marion hits the pulse of the Twilight crowd with this morbidly romantic look at how affection really feels when your heart beats no more. “I am dead, but it’s not so bad,” says our zombie narrator, by way of introduction. “I’ve learned to live with it. This is “R,” so named because it’s all he can remember. But this is no Team Edward sob story. R really is a zombie, carrying the pink brains of his victims back to his communal lair for a snack. But one day, R chomps down on Perry Kelvin, a teenager whose sole affection is for his girlfriend, Julie. R begins absorbing Perry’s memories, which in turn inspire him not to treat Julie like a bucket of KFC. And so the weirdest courting in the history of literature begins, as R and Julie spend time together prowling food courts and half-destroyed 747s. Julie, who could have been a simplistic mechanism to drive the book’s plot, turns out to be its most inspired character, inhabiting that odd space between fear and curiosity. “Maybe you’re not such a monster, Mr. Zombie,” she admits at one point. “I mean, anyone who appreciates a good beer is halfway okay in my book.” R begins to change, redeveloping his ability to communicate, and noticing a physical transformation to accompany his emotional awakening. But the path of true love never runs smooth, and the unlikely duo soon find themselves caught between R’s ravenous companions and Julie’s soldier father.

Originally self-published, this DIY success story is already slated for a film adaptation, making these quixotic lovers the grateful dead indeed.

6) "Rot & Ruin" by Jonathan Maberry

It’s been 14 years since First Night, when a zombie apocalypse turned America into the Rot and Ruin wasteland and war-torn survivors formed a new community behind a protective fence and away from “Godless behaviors.” Rescued at the age of two on First Night by his older stepbrother Tom, Benny Imura, a reticent bounty hunter, must now take a job. The teen begrudgingly accompanies his seemingly cowardly brother into the Rot and Ruin, where he discovers an Old West lawlessness, a gang of renegade bounty hunters kidnapping children to pit against zoms for sport, a mysterious Lost Girl who’s lived in the Ruin all her life and Tom’s true character. In his first YA novel, prolific zombie writer Maberry (Patient Zero, 2009, etc.) blends a community structure and terrifying zombie chase scenes reminiscent of Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth (2009) with the ethical dilemmas (e.g., the power of fear and the nature of evil) of Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series. The result is an action-packed, thought-provoking look at life—and death—as readers determine the true enemy. (Science fiction. 13 & up)

Book One of Five: Dust & Decay, Flesh & Bone, Fire & Ash, and Bits & Pieces

7) "World War Z" by Max Brooks

An “oral history” of the global war the evil brain-chewers came within a hair of winning.

Zombies are among us—turn on your television if you don’t believe it. But, Brooks reassures us in this all-too-realistic novel, even today, human fighters are hunting down the leftovers, and we’re winning. Brooks (The Zombie Survival Guide, not reviewed) seeds his mockumentary with smart nods to the chains of cause and effect that spring from today’s headlines. Like the avian flu, one CIA agent tells the interviewer, the zombie plague began in China, whose government embarked on a campaign of “health and safety” sweeps (“Instead of lying about the sweeps themselves, they just lied about what they were sweeping for”) to contain the endless armies of the moaning, walking dead. It didn’t work. Ear to the ground, Israel quarantined itself—it helped that it had that tall new wall. Greece, Japan, England: Every center of world civilization was overrun, with notable pockets of resistance. In England, for example, the queen stayed in Windsor Castle, the most easily defended bastion in the realm, to steel the hearts of her subjects. Who says the royal family is a relic? Finally, the zombies come to North America, where, after the disastrous Battle of Yonkers, the humans regroup and take their pound of extremely icky flesh in vengeance; even Michael Stipe, the antiwar rock singer, signs up to kick zombie butt. Brooks’s iron-jaw narrative is studded with practical advice on what to do when the zombies come, as they surely will. For one thing, check to see who doesn’t blink (“Maybe because they don’t have as much bodily fluid they can’t keep using it to coat the eyes”), aim for the head and blast away.

A literate, ironic, strangely tasty treat for fans of 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, The Last Man on Earth and other treasures of the zombie/counterzombie genre.