> YOUNG ADULT
The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge; Delacorte Press, $17.99 512 pages ages 12 and up.
This thrilling first novel for young adults from the author of "Nocturne City" and the "Black London" series is a riveting mix of sci-fi, horror and romance set in a retro dystopian alternate reality, in the city of Lovecraft, Mass. Aoife Grayson, a student of engineering at a strict boarding school, is a month shy of her 16th birthday and determined to discover why her brother and mother both went mad at 16 in hopes of avoiding their fate. Lovecraft is powered by a great engine beneath the streets and ruled by Proctors according to the laws of science and rationality. Witchcraft or fanciful thinking of any kind is strictly forbidden -- a fascinating theme in view of Massachusetts' history of executing witches.
Aoife flees in search of her brother on a dangerous journey on foot and by airbus. Kittredge masterfully creates a vividly detailed, fantastic world, peopled by memorable characters and terrifying villains. The page-turning suspense includes stunning plot twists and a cliffhanger ending.
-- Jean Westmoore
The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen; Atlantic Monthly Press, 441 pages ($24)
There's magic at the margins of Bella Pollen's wind-swept novel, the kind only a child can see, the kind that turns out to be real. When Nicky Fleming, a British diplomat working in East Germany in 1979 dies, he leaves behind his wife and three children. Jamie, 8, has some kind of learning disability and some kind of gift. On the way to the family's summer house in the Outer Hebrides after his father's death, Jamie leaves hand-drawn maps to the house so that his father can find him.
He remembers a grizzly bear he and his father saw at the zoo; he knows that bear has something to do with his father's death and something to do with his young life. The 800-pound bear, in the meantime, has escaped from a cargo boat in the North Atlantic and swum to shore. It lives in a cave in the Outer Hebrides.
The novel has a bit of the style of the Lemony Snicket series and a smidgeon of the film "The Secret of Roan Inish." Pollen's writing is clean and clear enough that you can really smell the peat smoke and feel the wind. As for the question of Jamie's father's unexpected death -- was it truly suicide? Was he a traitor?
-- Los Angeles Times
The Killing Song by P.J. Parrish; Pocket Books, 391 pages ($7.99)
P.J. Parrish's first stand-alone novel works both as intense thriller and coming-of-age story. With much of the action taking place in Paris, "The Killing Song" also is an inside view of the neighborhoods and catacombs beneath the City of Lights.
Matt Owens, 33, has a successful career as an investigative reporter. But he drinks too much, has few friends and is barely on speaking terms with his ex-fiancee, Miami homicide detective Nora Brinkley. The only person he really connects with is his younger sister, Amanda.
Matt is devastated when Amanda's body is found in an abandoned South Beach hotel, shortly after she disappeared from a crowded dance floor. The reporter in him forces him to play detective and he finds a clue -- a song downloaded on her iPod after she died. The clue leads him to Paris, where he teams up with a French police detective who believes Amanda's killer is the man she has been chasing for five years. Parrish, the pen name of sisters Kelly Nichols and Kristy Montee, are best known for their series about biracial private detective Louis Kincaid.
-- McClatchy Newspapers
My Green Manifesto: Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism by David Gessner; Milkweed Editions, 226 pages ($15 paper)
"Why does environmentalism, much of which is just common sense, so often sound like nagging? Maybe the musty way of talking about nature needs to be thrown over a clothesline and beaten with a broom," writes David Gessner, a one-man Socratic band. You get the gist of Gessner's intentions as he pushes off at the mouth of the Charles River. He wants to submerge himself in nature and come up with a new lexicon, a livelier, more emotional way of talking and being.
Between the blue herons, painted turtles and human characters, Gessner reviews the great names in American environmental thought. His grappling with these thinkers is raw and honest and often irritating; his self-consciousness amusing and his frustration inspiring. He's not for everyone, but there's a lilt in his jig that many will find invigorating.
-- Los Angeles Times