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The Book Frog

Books. Book reviews. Bookish thoughts. Living a bookish life. Life in the bookstore.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy

Jedi Academy - Jeffrey Brown Roan Novachez wants nothing more than to get into Pilot Academy Middle School so that he can follow in his father's and older brother's footsteps. His friends get their letters of acceptance...and Roan's still waiting. His letter, when it finally comes, tells him that his application has been denied. "Although nearly all of the applicants are accepted to the Academy," it says, "a small number of students are rejected for various reasons." Psych! Roan is devastated, particularly since this means instead of the Pilot Academy offworld he'll have to stay on Tatooine...and go to the Tatooine Agriculture Academy. Yuck! It's hot, dirty, and Roan's terrible at making things grow--not to mention he'll get sand in his underwear all the time. And then he gets a really weird letter, from a place he's never heard of, the Coruscant Campus of the Jedi Academy. The what? No matter--it will take Roan offworld and he won't have to kneel in the dirt under the suns of Tatooine all day long. He's in! When he gets to middle school he meets new kids; some will be friends, a couple are bullies, and there are even some girls. He meets teachers, most of whom are pretty weird (what middle school teacher isn't at least a little weird, hm?). There's Mr. Garfield, who teaches Light Sabers and Home Economics and who's always saying things like, "A Jedi needs to be serious. Seriously. You do." And Kitmum, the Phys Ed teacher, who's a Wookie and says things like, "Raowrr!" and "Rawr." And of course, Master Yoda, who teaches Using the Force. "Young like you , I once was," and "Late for class, a Jedi is not, hmmm?" are some memorable Yoda bon mots from Roan's first week of school. He's so not sure how this is going to turn out. But as the school year progresses Roan gets involved with the school newspaper, helps plan the school dance, and qualifies for the Lightsaber Fencing Tournament. He gets better in most of his classes, and even learns how to use the Force a little. And when he has the opportunity to reapply for the Pilot Academy Middle School at the end of the year, he thinks he'd rather stick it out at the Jedi Academy. Jeffrey Brown is a cartoonist (Darth Vader and Son, Vader's Little Princess), graphic novelist, and memoirist. His first first venture into middle grade fiction is a winner. Jedi Academy falls nicely into the genre of diary fiction popularized by Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid series, alternating first person journal entries, letters from home, third person cartoon panels in graphic novel format, lists, and Roan's own cartoons for the school newspaper (The Padawan Observer). A perfect read for the eight- to ten-year-old set, who will find it hilarious, and who will learn--without even realizing they're learning--methods for coping with tough classes, bullies, and new situations in general. Brown even ends the book with some great tips for keeping a journal--write at least ten words a day, include drawings, clippings, photos...and don't hesitate to record the embarrassing stuff, because it'll seem way less embarrassing and maybe even funnier that way. Advice to live by!

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

Good Omens: The Nice & Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch - Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman It's been said before--and by writers far more talented and infinitely better known than I--but, after reading Good Omens (yes, for the first time, how is it possible?) I have to repeat it: the apocalypse has never been--and I'll hazard a guess never will be again--more fun. From the Omen-esque opening sequence, in which a gaggle of well--er, ill-meaning satanic nuns bumble a baby switch involving two newborn human boys and the anti-Christ, on through the good-natured rivalry between the two angels (one of God, one fallen) who have the job of ushering in the apocalypse for their respective sides, and up to and including the actual event, the fun never stops. No synopsis, no analysis, just this: if you haven't read Good Omens yet, you should. You won't be disappointed. And if you have read it, well, don't you think it's time for a reread?


Wonder - R.J. Palacio Childhood should be carefree. Sure, there are some stressful things that happen in the birth to tween years: potty training, learning to share, learning to read, getting the word about Santa and the Easter Bunny. Still, by and large it should be all about playing and learning and effortless growing. Adolescence is trying enough without the lead-up to it being painful as well. August Pullman--Auggie--is ten. He's about to enter the fifth grade but will be attending school for the first time, since his mom has always home-schooled him. Auggie...well, here's what he has to say about himself: I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things...And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go. Born with a double whammy of genetic malfunction, Auggie's face is severely disfigured, so much so he's had nearly thirty major surgeries in his few short years. Once again, his words. "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse." Wonder--which is, by the way, a wonder of a debut novel--takes the reader through Auggie's fifth grade year, from his learning from his mom and dad he'll be going to school (he's, ah, less than happy about the prospect) through his commencement to sixth grade. Told from the varying points of view of Auggie himself, his sister Via, new to high school with issues of her own, and several of his new friends, the story beautifully portrays what it's like to be a kid who wants to be just another kid. Auggie's a bit heroic--I mean, how could he manage to get through his days without some heroic qualities?--but hardly perfect. He has tantrums. He's mean to his mom. He shuts out his best friend after a misunderstanding. But the beauty of this story--always moving but never maudlin--is the perseverance of the players. Yes, it's hardest of all to be Auggie, but it's not always easy to be the kid who hangs out with the "freak" at school, or the sister who tells us "August is the Sun. Me and Mom and Dad are planets orbiting the Sun." In the end, the not-at-all preachy lesson that most--though sadly not all--of the kids and parents learn is that true beauty really does lie within, and that kindness may very well be the most important quality a person should strive for. Although I teared up or outright cried at least half a dozen times while reading Wonder, and although most grown-ups who read it will likely have a similar reaction, the middle-grade kids for whom the book is intended will probably just enjoy a good, well-written story they can relate to. They'll nod knowingly when the popular kids tell Auggie that all the seats are taken at the lunchroom table, and they'll cheer when other kids step up to the challenge and become his friend. There are references to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the Star Wars Trilogy, and other touchpoints of popular culture, that will make them feel in on the jokes. Best of all, since the lessons aren't at all heavy-handed they'll be morally uplifted without even realizing it.

Cinder: Book One in the Lunar Chronicles

Cinder - Marissa Meyer When Linh Cinder first meets Prince Charming, I mean the prince (who is indeed charming), she is covered with the grease of her trade. They are equally suprised to meet. Cinder is barely able to believe the prince and heir to the imperial throne is in her tiny stall in the crowded marketplace; when she recovers from her shock and remembers what etiquette and protocol dictate, she finds herself unable to rise, as she has removed her too-small prosthetic foot in anticipation of the slightly-used but better-fitting foot her android assistant is bringing her. Cinder is sixteen and a cyborg, but that's not what surprises the prince (since he doesn't actually know about her extensive non-human parts, both internal and external). No, what surprises Prince Kaito is that the mechanic who has been recommended to him as the best in the imperial city of New Beijing is a girl. She's a girl, we soon learn, who lives with a foster mother who resents her and makes Cinder work as a mechanic, turn all her earnings over, and won't even let her buy new parts as her body grows. She's a girl with two foster sisters, Peony and Pearl, who are eagerly preparing for New Beijing's annual ball. She's also kind of a bad-ass, who thinks for herself and plots an escape from her intolerable situation, since no fairy godmother or charming prince is going to do it for her. Marissa Meyer's futuristic fairy tale is set far enough in the future for it to be 126 years after the end of World War IV. The Earthen people have realigned themselves into just six large countries or republics, and there has been a colony on the moon long enough for the Lunars to have evolved into a people possessing mind-bending magical powers. A simmering resentment exists between the people of Earth and those of the Moon, and war is imminent. This is not your mother's Cinderella. Cinder, the first in a projected tetralogy called "The Lunar Chronicles" is a fairy tale for the Hunger Games set. Our heroine is no passive Bella, eager to be consumed by her wan lover's world. No, she's a fighter, a scrappy computerized Katniss, a doer who will not be anybody's victim and who will fight for what's right. Marissa Meyer's Cinder is richly realized, using contrast--the lushness of the imperial palace and its gleaming, sterile scientific wing versus the dust and grease and mud of the marketplace where Cinder works, the glittering gowns of the wannabe princesses at the ball versus Cinder's dirty, tattered hand-me-downs--to great effect. Some of the characters are subtly drawn and deeply conceived: Cinder, Iko the android, Dr. Erland, and some are deliciously caricaturish: Adri, the evil stepmother, Queen Levana of the Moon and her minions. The action ramps up steadily throughout the novel, and by its end, after secrets have been exposed and hidden powers revealed, the excitement has built up to a nearly intolerable level, leaving this reader, at least, eagerly awaiting Scarlet, the next installment.

It's Classified

It's Classified - Nicolle Wallace Charlotte Kramer, President of the United States, Republican, first woman to hold the office, has just won a second term. Kramer's popularity ratings at the end of her first term, which was plagued by scandals both personal and political, were weak. Her administration, however, came up with a brilliant plan to gain votes, blue as well as red: they would run a Democrat as the candidate for Vice President. A brilliant idea but too quickly executed. Despite her ability to connect with the public, it seems the new VP, Tara Meyers has some issues. She calls in sick a lot. She's gaining weight, her face is breaking out, and sometimes she can't even get out of bed, all classic signs of depression. Seems the vetting process was superficial at best. The administration's collective efforts, from the shadowy Chief of Staff to the Press Secretary and beyond, to keep POTUS in a state of plausible deniability only serve to allow the problem to spin utterly out of control, calling into question the validity of Meyers's performance even when she's instrumental in the apprehension of a major terrorist. It's Classified opens with the Vice President's resignation and the grand jury investigation into the whole kerfuffle and then flashes back to tell the whole story. Nicole Wallace, a former Washington insider, loads her narrative with enough truly juicy tidbits and those-who-know type insights to make the often clunky writing worth wading through, and her depiction of an administration many of which's most key players--President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense--are women is fascinating. Though not one for the ages, It's Classified is a terrific quick read for the airplane or beach.

There Is No Dog

There is No Dog - Meg Rosoff Bob's existence, like that of most teens, is a simmering stew of hormones, mood swings, mad lust and equally mad love. He is gainfully employed, as the creator and deity of our planet, so that's something. But he only got the job because his mother (Mona, kind of a party girl) won it in a celestial poker game. Having a steady job and some responsibility was supposed to help him to mature. Unfortunately, Bob is eternally a teen--hence the hormones and mood swings--and after the initial days of creation, during which he grooved on making weird things like the platypus and ended by creating man in his own image, Bob kind of sat back, rested on his laurels, then lapsed into a typical teenage funk. He'd fall in love with a mortal woman, there'd be floods and drought and famine, he'd have her with her consent or without it (remember Leda's swan? Europa's bull? yeah, that was Bob), and for a time things would go swimmingly. Mr. B.--a quiet, competent bureaucrat--is Bob's assistant. Mr. B. is in charge of getting Bob back on track when he's gone too far off. Usually he takes care of the prayer detail, as well. He answers them when he can, doesn't when to do so would have too many repercussions. Mr. B. is responsible, and Bob really can't be bothered. But on a beautiful spring day, just as Bob has once again sworn off love, he overhears a prayer. "'Dear God,'" Lucy prays, "'I should like to fall in love.'" And, "transported by her loveliness" Bob decides to answer her prayer himself. No good can come of this decision, and no good does come of it. There's rain enough to float the zoo where Lucy works as an assistant keeper. There are ice storms in England in July, drought in Africa, and any manner of other meteorological disasters at home and abroad. When Bob and Lucy get together, the sun shines, the ice melts, flowers burst into bloom. When he's not with her, there are tsunamis and earthquakes. There Is No Dog by Meg Rosoff is a lovely, funny, clever novel. The characters, though drawn, for the most part, with just a few strokes, are yet believable. Lucy is a beautiful young woman unaware of her charms. Mr. B. is just the right mix of efficient and wry. Rosoff's descriptions of the natural world (including Bob's many disasters) are rich and tasty. And the ending is a delight, with comeuppances distributed among those deserving and love to the rest.

Divine Misfortune

Divine Misfortune - A. Lee Martinez Although the Robinsons--Teri and Phil, a nice young couple--have never before felt the need to hook up with a personal god, as Divine Misfortune opens they've recently been rethinking that stance. Phil's once again been passed up for a promotion, and this time it's patently clear that if he'd been paying obeisance to even a minor deity he would have been on more equal footing with the guy who got it. And so, after going back and forth on it--Phil wants one, Teri doesn't, then he changes his mind, then she does--they settle in to watch videos on Pantheon.com. Since any deity who has to resort to personals is by definition not a deity much in demand, the videos tend toward the cheesy. "Hello. My name is Anubis. I like long walks on the beach, carrying departed souls into the underworld, and the cinema of Mr. Woody Allen." Eventually they find one they can agree on. Luka, god of prosperity and good fortune, who's got a racoon head and a fresh, open attitude. "Let's be honest here. You don't care about what I like or don't. You just want to know what I can give you and what I want in return. I've seen better days. Kind of ironic, considering I'm a god of luck...All I really need is a fresh start, and maybe that's all you need, too. I don't need your blood. None of that animal sacfice nonsense. You won't have to mutilate yourself or promise to wear your shoes backward or leave the lid off your trash can." They click the proper button (which does require a bit of blood from each of them), and as they're wondering whether Luka's idol will be delivered to them or if they'll have to pick it up, the doorbell rings. It's not an idol, it's Luka ("Call me Lucky") himself, and he's moving in. Hilarity ensues. As the Robinsons learn, even when a god of prosperity and good fortune is living with you, you still have to take the occasional bad hair day along with all the change you find in the sofa cushions. And when that god has a millennia-long feud with another ancient deity, and is being stalked by yet another, it begins to seem that their karmic wheel is continuing to tilt in the wrong direction despite the tribute they're paying by having Lucky (and his buddy Quetzalcoatl--just call him Quick--laying low for a few centuries after the debacle of having let his worshipper base fall to the conquistadores) live with them. I mean, sure, Teri's car miraculously avoids being crushed by the giant truck that rolls over it in a multi-car pileup she's involved in...but would the pileup even have happened if Lucky hadn't come to stay? A. Lee Martinez is a master of the light and antic, action-packed but still intelligent science fiction romp. His novels are populated with gods and monsters and demons and other supernatural beings, all just trying to make their way in the modern world alongside their mundane planet-mates, people. If you want a full course meal, go ahead and settle in with Neil Gaiman's American Gods. But if you want a delicious puff pastry appetizer or a sweet and wonderful dessert, then pick up one of Martinez's books. You'll certainly want more, but you just as certainly won't be unsatisfied.

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch (paperback)

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch - Eileen Spinelli, Paul Yalowitz Mr. Hatch is a quiet little man who works in a factory. Every day he eats the same lonely lunch. Every evening he makes two stops on his way home from work, buying a newspaper and a turkey wing for his dinner. He doesn't ever visit with anybody, or even talk to them beyond the basics necessary for conducting his daily business. "Mr. Hatch keeps to himself," is what everybody says. Then one day something happens. On Valentine's Day, in fact, the postman delivers a giant heart-shaped box of candy to Mr. Hatch. Enclosed is a note that says, "Somebody loves you." Mr. Hatch is energized. He changes his routine, he talks to people, he even makes brownies for the whole neighborhood. But then--oh, why does there have to be a but?--Mr. Hatch learns the candy wasn't meant for him. Eileen Spinelli's simply-told story gently demonstrates the power of love to transform not only an individual but those around him as well. The colored pencil illustrations by Paul Yalowitz subtly reflect the mood of the story, going from browns and grays to pinks, yellows, and purples, back to the original browns and grays...but don't worry, both text and illustrations end with beautiful, brilliant color!

Higglety Pigglety Pop!: Or There Must Be More to Life

Higglety Pigglety Pop!: Or There Must Be More to Life - Maurice Sendak Jennie is a Sealyham terrier who has everything. "...a round pillow upstairs and a square pillow downstairs...her own comb and brush, two different bottles of pills, eyedrops, eardrops, a thermometer, and for cold weather a red wool sweater. There were two windows for her to look out of and two bowls to eat from. She even had a master who loved her." But as is so often the case--in real life almost as often as in fairy tales--everything just isn't enough for Jennie. And so, clutching her black leather bag with gold buckles, she sets off one morning in search of that elusive something more. Along the way Jennie meets a pig offering free sandwiches and the chance to become the leading lady for the World Mother Goose Theater..if she gains some experience before the full moon. Leading lady being a title that appeals to a little dog as bossy and spoiled as Jennie, she now has a goal. Kind of a quest, actually. Along the way Jennie meets all sorts of interesting people who help propel her onward, and in the end she proves herself to be a very brave little dog and gets the job. Like all the best fairy tales Higglety Pigglety Pop! has a certain surreal quality to it. In addition to the talking animals (and plants!), there's Baby, who won't eat, whose name nobody remembers. Jennie's story also has in common with classic fairy tales a layer of foreboding that sits just beneath the surface; Baby's parents left for the Castle Yonder and never returned and there's a Lion in the cellar who eats the Nurses who can't get Baby to eat. But the ending is joyous and the foreboding is forestalled. Maurice Sendak's humor and the sly lessons he sneaks in are in abundance, and his obvious adoration of his subject shines through in every one of his exquisite illustrations. As with all of the best children's literature this one will be savored as much by adults as by the children in their lives.

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (The Underland Chronicles, Book 2)

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (The Underland Chronicles, Book 2) - Suzanne  Collins As Gregor & the Prophecy of Bane opens our hero, Gregor, has returned to life as usual. That life should be better than it was before his last adventure began--his dad is, after all, back with the family, and both Gregor and baby Boots are safe and sound after their journey through the Underland. However, Gregor's dad is still ill and terribly weak from his imprisonment, and Gregor's mom is still working multiple jobs to keep the family fed and clothed and housed. But Gregor is a trouper, and he's doing his best to help keep his family together. He maintains an upbeat demeanor in front of his little sisters and quietly sacrifices his share at meals when there's not enough for everybody. He's even found a part time job helping out a neighbor lady (who, each time Gregor comes over to help her out, has always conveniently made far too much lasagna or spaghetti, which she then sends home for Gregor's family). On the day the story begins Gregor, in an attempt to maintain a facade of cheerful normality for his sisters, has taken Boots sledding in Central Park. He loses sight of her for just a second and she goes missing. It's not long before Gregor discovers a passage to the Underland and finds himself once again on a quest based on his appearance in an ancient prophecy. The "Bane" of the prophecy is a rare, pure white rat, whose very existence is a threat to the continued well-being of the Underland (not to mention Gregor and Boots). Suzanne Collins has once again crafted a winner. Gregor's quest is satisfyingly scary, and the obstacles he must overcome to reach its end daunting. But Gregor is blessed with a sticktoitiveness and dogged devotion to doing the right thing whatever the cost that help him bring the quest to a conclusion which is both right and just. Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane will please both kids and moms.

A Trick of the Light: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Chief Inspector Gamache Novels)

A Trick of the Light - Louise Penny Artist Clara Morrow is a resident of Three Pines, Quebec. Clara's had more than her share of career heartbreak, but has finally made it. She's got a show at the Musee d'Art Contemporain in Montreal, and husband Peter has organized a party--catered, of course, by B & B owners Gabri and Olivier--back in Three Pines to celebrate. Everyone is invited, from fellow denizens of the village to high-flying figures in the Montreal art scene. The one person who was not invited is the dead one who turns up in Clara's garden the next morning. It's bad enough that the body turns out to belong to art critic Lillian Dyson, known and feared for her cutting reviews which are filled with brutal turns of phrase such as "He's a natural, producing art like a bodily function." And it's even worse that Clara and Lillian had once been best friends, for many years, in fact, until a terrible falling-out in college. But worst of all, the falling-out was the result of a scathing, backstabbing review of Clara's own work by Lillian. Add gentle, sweet Clara Morrow to the list of potential suspects. It's in the nature of murder mysteries set in small, out-of-the-way villages that they suffer from a murder rate that is disproportionate to their size. Louise Penny is self-aware enough to have one of her characters gently tweak this convention in her latest Chief Inspector Gamache novel, A Trick of the Light. "Not for the first time Three Pines struck Myrna as the equivalent of the Humane Society. Taking in the wounded, the unwanted. The mad, the sore. This was a shelter. Though, clearly, not a no-kill shelter." Chief Inspector Gamache and his team, several of whom are conveniently in town for Clara's party, are once again drawn into an investigation in Three Pines. And, once again, Gamache will have to call upon his not insignificant powers of empathy, keen insight, and objectivity. Both Gamache and Jean Guy Beauvoir, his second in command, are suffering--in stoic silence--the effects of the raid gone terribly wrong a number of months earlier, in which both were injured and lost several comrades as well. This investigation will take the homicide detectives into the surprisingly sordid underbelly of the art world, as well as the world of recovering addicts. Louise Penny has created a series which gets better with each successive novel. She adds depth to the characters and continues to mine the richness of the setting without yet coming up dry. And please, if you haven't read Louise Penny's work, don't let that small village filled with loveable, prickly, often oh-so-quirky characters fool you into thinking that the Three Pines mysteries are cute and cozy, for that they most assuredly are not.

The Magician King: A Novel

The Magician King (The Magicians #2) - Lev Grossman The Magician King in Lev Grossman's novel of the same name, his follow up to 2009's The Magicians, is Quentin Coldwater. Quentin, along with Eliot and Janet, fellow alumni of Brakesbill College for Magical Pedagogy, as well as hedge-witch and old crush Julia, are now kings and queens of Fillory. They're living the life. A castle, a magical world full of talking beasts, good food and drink (lots of drink), big bedrooms with soft beds and tapestries. They're content with their lives as benevolent rulers, happy to go on doing the same thing day in and day out, nothing ever really happening. And then something happens. During a hunt for the Seeing Hare, one of Fillory's dozen Unique Beasts, the marvelously named Jollyby, beloved master of the hunt, is killed, just after the Seeing Hare delivers a dire prophecy. In the midst of the swirling action Quentin realizes he's energized for the first time in the three years he's been king. He's tired of peace and contentment; he actually wants something to happen. He wants action. He craves a quest, and he gets one. The quest takes King Quentin and Queen Julia across the Fillorian sea and to the end of the world. It also takes them to Earth, where they range from the suburbs of Boston to Brakesbills and then to Venice via an underground series of magical portals. In Venice they find their old schoolchum Josh, and Quentin learns--after a plunge into the icy river at midnight to consult with an ancient dragon--his quest is bigger than he thought. The narrative of The Magician King alternates between Quentin and Julia's travels and Julia's backstory. The latter is dark, disturbing, and details an education far more vital and interesting than that provided at the rather effete Brakesbill's. The fate of the world, we learn, hangs in the balance, and the fault, it seems, is largely Julia's. The Magician King ends with the action tied up neatly and most satisfyingly. At the same time it ends with Quentin moving on to what will, one hopes, be an adventure worthy of a third book.

The Leftovers

The Leftovers - Tom Perrotta So, the Rapture. It's been predicted a bunch of times throughout Christian history, most recently--and very spectacularly, with radio spots and billboards in Spanish and English all over the country--by California radio evangelist Harold Camping, who predicted that most of us would be left behind on May 21, 2011 and then, when that date came and went, on October 21 of the same year. Needless to say, that hasn't happened. But it's a fascinating concept that has captivated religious and irreligious alike for hundreds of years. There's even a long-running series of supernatural thrillers by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins which is set among those not taken up. The Left Behind books scare the bejesus, if you'll pardon the expression, out of people, and are wildly popular. Tom Perrotta's latest book The Leftovers tackles the Rapture--or, to be more accurate, the sociological and psychological effects of a "Rapture-like phenomenon"--with both mordant wit and generosity of spirit. As the book opens the world is still reeling from what is being called the "Sudden Departure," which saw millions of people around the world disappear from dinner tables and airplanes, classrooms and bedrooms and offices, all at the same moment. The world is still reeling, and people are still scratching their heads at the meaning of the event, which doesn't appear to have come from a religious place of reward and punishment, as those taken came from all faiths, and even included unbelievers. Society as a whole has coped as well as can be expected. Leaders secular and religious have sought a cause or a reason for the event. Many have lost their faith. Cults have arisen, and two, the Guilty Remnant and the Healing Hug Movement, will play an important role in the lives of the Garveys, the family at the center of The Leftovers. The Guilty Remnant, or GR, is a group the mission of which is to remind those who remain that the end really is nigh, and that the way to reserve a place on the next elevator up is to take a vow of silence and mortify the flesh to assure one's readiness and purity. The GR dress in white and are never seen in public without a cigarette (a visible reminder that the physical self is the least important aspect of the person). The Healing Huggers follow a charismatic who calls himself Holy Wayne and who can take on an individual's spiritual pain, if only temporarily, through his hugs. Each member of the Garvey family has dealt with the Sudden Departure differently. Father Kevin, who was elected mayor of the small town of Mapleton not long after the event, strives for normality. Kevin is relentlessly cheerful. He makes omelets for daughter Jill and her friend Aimee, arranges for an anniversary parade remembering those who were taken, waits for wife Laurie to come to her senses and return to him. Laurie has joined the Guilty Remnant, and can be seen around town dressed in white, smoking, and staring relentlessly at those targeted by her group for...censure? recruitment? judgement? It's never entirely clear. Elder child Tom left college to join Holy Wayne's entourage, and is now on the run from the scandal that has brought the cult down. And Jill, the younger child, just runs wild. She's shaved her head, smokes dope in the morning, cuts classes. As in his previous novels (most recently Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher), Tom Perrotta manages both to skewer contemporary suburban sensibilities and to treat them with an achingly beautiful sensitivity. His characters, while as bristly, self-centered, and annoying as they come, are at the same time real and rich, and so well-rounded I identified with each in turn. I frequently found myself wondering as I read what form my dealing would take, were I to be in the position of the left behind. Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'd join a cult. But a fun one.

Working Stiff (Revivalist, Book 1)

Working Stiff - Rachel Caine It kind of sucks to be Bryn Davis. Discovering a rough job market upon her discharge from the military, she attended mortuary school. She'd been around enough death, she figured, to understand the importance of a professional, soothing presence in the lives of grieving survivors making arrangements for their loved ones. Now she's found a great job as a funeral director at a swanky private funeral home in La Jolla, California, and on her first day at work her only slightly smarmy boss takes her to lunch at a fancy French restaurant. Hey, wait a minute, all that doesn't sound sucky. She's got a great job, an okay boss, and she lives in La Jolla. What's not to envy? Well, on day one she's accosted by a creepy co-worker, she finds the daughter of a client dead of a very bloody suicide in the funeral home's restroom, and oh, later that night she's killed. Bryn is revivified by the security team of Pharmadene, the big pharma company that accidentally developed a revivification drug, aptly enough named Returne. These two hotties are there surveilling her boss, who may be running a nasty little drug ring out of the office. Now, Bryn is an unwilling employee of Pharmadene, which won't supply the daily dose of Returne she needs to maintain her gorgeous undead self unless she plays ball. So yeah, it sucks to be Bryn. Rachel Caine is the author of, among other things, the popular--and fun!--Weather Warden urban fantasy series. That series, which started out literally with a bang and followed that up with a high speed car chase, features Joanne Baldwin, a wise-cracking clothes horse with supernatural powers. It's had its dark moments, but the pace and the fun has never let up. Zombies being as hot as they now are, and as much fun as diverse sorts of writers are having with them, zombies and Rachel Caine would seem to be a natural fit. And, possibly in book two of the Revivalist series that will be the case. But Working Stiff, clever as it is and attractive and charming as the three main characters are, never really gets off the ground. There are brief glimpses of the characters's potential to be as interesting as Joanne Baldwin and her friends, and the interplay among the three is often diverting, but it never truly gels, though the action is good. It's just not very much fun. And, on a side note, I kept marveling at Ms. Caine's missed opportunity to take advantage of the unbelievably beautiful and interesting La Jolla setting. Zombies and Southern California--what could be more perfect together? But except for a stray reference or two early on this novel could have been set anywhere in the States. Here's hoping the next installment in the Revivalist series finds the fun.

Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies - Isaac Marion R is a zombie. Like most of his, um, people he doesn't remember more than vague snatches of his time as one of the Living. He thinks his name began with "R." He thinks he may have been a businessman, perhaps a middle executive, because of the nature of the tattered clothing on his rotting frame. He's pretty sure that he hasn't been dead for long, because his state of putrefaction is less extreme than that of many of his fellows. Like all of the Dead, R is unable to speak in more than two or three word grunts. Unlike most of them, however--at least, as far as he can tell--R has a rich, eloquent interior life. He also likes to listen to Frank Sinatra records and ride the escalator at the airport where the Dead make their home. The Dead huddle together in the abandoned airport, cobbling together a society to suit their needs. They can't build things, can't even summon the manual dexterity to hold tools. Despite the obvious intellect that both R and his friend M demonstrate, by and large the Dead are not a deep thinking bunch. And their dietary needs are very, very particular. Much like the giant panda, whose diet consists overwhelmingly of bamboo and so must live near large stands of their staple foodstuff, so, too, must the Dead live in proximity to the nimbler, quicker thinking and moving Living. The Living, too, gather together with their own kind, in an abandoned stadium where they construct tall, rickety structures to house as many survivors as possible in a relatively small, but highly defensible, space. The stadium is rarely breached by the Dead, but the Living have to venture out regularly to forage for supplies. One day when the Dead are out on a raid to cull some food from among the Living R kills a young man, Perry, and as he consumes Perry's flesh R is flooded with all of his memories--all of his desires, his fears, his joys, and his anxieties. His eye falls upon a woman whom he knows instantly as Julie, and whom he just as instantly loves. And then R does something even more unimaginable than falling in love with his sworn enemy. He smears his own fluids on Julie to mask her living scent and takes her back to his home. Julie is smart and sassy, and though she's at first horrified, soon enough she begins to see R's underlying humanity. This humanity becomes easier to discern as it begins to manifest itself in more obvious ways, such as slowly increasing facility with the spoken word, which gives him a means to express his intelligence and sly sense of humor. Warm Bodies is a strange and wonderful love story. It is, of course, disgusting (as any good zombie novel should be), full of decaying bodies shambling around and losing limbs at inopportune moments and people (for the Dead know themselves to be people just as much as the Living do) pulling choice bits of brain out their pockets to munch on much as we would a power bar. It's beautifully written, and the dichotomy between the self that R knows he presents to the world and the inner self that we see through his narrative is heartbreaking. But ultimately Warm Bodies is about the power of love to exact change on a scale far bigger than that of the merely individual. And that's what makes it so powerful.


Flashback - Dan Simmons Nick Bottom, once a detective with the Denver Police Department, once a family man with a wife and young son and a beautiful little house set among greenery and mountain views, has been, for the last half decade, an addict. He, like 85 percent of the rest of the population of what's left of the United States, is addicted to flashback, a drug that allows the user to relive memories exactly, in real time. After his wife died in a fiery car crash Bottom sent his son to live in L.A. with his father-in-law and has spent as much time as he could afford to buy reliving the time he had with his wife. As wretched a piece of humanity as Nick Bottom is, why would powerful Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Nakamura want to hire him to solve the murder, now a cold case six years gone, of his son? In particular, why would Nakamura want to hire him to solve the case which was Bottom's last case as a detective, a case which he was unable to solve with all the resources of the Denver PD behind him? Whatever the reason (and we won't discover it until far into this 550 page novel), hire him he does, and for a very good price. After using a large portion of the money he's been paid up front to buy a massive quantity of flashback, Bottom intends to spend as much of the rest of his life as he can immersed in memory, coming up only once every few hours to walk around so that his muscles don't atrophy. He's quickly disabused of this notion by Nakamura's chief of security, Hideki Sato, who's been assigned to accompany Bottom for the duration of the investigation. The world that Flashback is set in, a future a mere twenty-one years out from our present, is bleak. A large portion of the world--including pockets of the United States--is ruled by the Caliphate, a well-organized group of Islamic extremists from across the Muslim world. The Japanese own much of the rest of the world, and, having shed the restrictions placed upon them after the second World War, are working to rebuild Japanese society according to the ideals of medieval Japan. The remains of the United States (there are 44 states, several having either seceded or been absorbed by other countries), reeling in the twenty-third year of the jobless recovery, hires its armed forces out to other countries to bring in much-needed revenue, but still its cities crumble and fall. Flashback is set in a dystopian future which reads very much like an ultra-conservative I-told-you-so wet dream. It is unfortunate to a reader of liberal bent that Simmons's contempt for the current administration and its policies is so scathingly obvious, and that he prognosticates such a bleak future for the world based on this contempt. And yet, dammit, he's a brilliant writer. The future he imagines for us, whatever its inception, is perfectly realized and excruciatingly believable. The story alternates between Nick and Sato traveling the Southwest, often in bad-ass armored vehicles, as they chase down leads, and Nick's father-in-law, Professor Emeritus George Leonard Fox and his son, sixteen year old Val as they flee L.A. in a convoy of independent truckers. The tension is almost unbearable, as each of the small parties is faced with obstacle after life-threatening, seemingly-insurmountable obstacle, and as it seems less and less obvious that they'll ever meet up. Besides his often gorgeous prose, one of Dan Simmons's most admirable qualities is his ability to write in seemingly every genre ever invented. Flashback has elements of all of those genres, from the hardboiled Joe Kurtz novels through the uber-futuristic world of Hyperion. Throw in fully realized characters, horrifying violence and disregard of humanity, and touching relationships, and you've got a nearly perfect novel. Ultra-conservative global-warming denial, anti-Muslim sentiment, and all. And oh, it all comes together--the storylines, the investigations, the relationships--in an ending which is absolutely killer.