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Two novels and two works of nonfiction.

1) Need - Carrie Jones
Need goes through the teen paranormal romance checklist: inept girl moves to rural town to recover from family trouble. Check. Girl's life is threatened by supernatural beings. Check. Girl's affections are fought over by two attractive boys, who also happen to belong to two different supernatural species bent on destroying each other's kind. Check. The keys to all those seemingly unsolvable mysteries are available to anyone smart enough to read past the first three pages of Google results. Check. Useless parental and authority figures. Check. Ditzy-spunky female BFF. Check. Fantasy elements applied without any internal consistency. Check. A world in which rational people are willing to believe the suggestion that pixies are kidnapping young boys more readily than the suggestion that serial killers are. Check.

Jones' prose is pedestrian, but not bad. Her main character's constant harping on human rights concerns comes off as just as shallow and annoying as do most teenagers'. One rather gets the feeling that this bit of realism is unintentional (as well as hypocritical, given the novel's resolution), but realistic it is.

Furthermore, there are a few things Need does very well indeed. It's nice to finally have a modern YA novel in which the main love interest is neither a stalker nor violent. It's nice to have a modern YA novel in which physical affection is deemed normal and fun instead of sinful. It's also nice to finally have a modern YA novel in which the lead character's intelligence and resourcefulness gets her out of trouble along with frequent deus ex machina. Final verdict: Need may be far from genre-busting, but it is one of the better paranormal teen romances available.

2) Proust's Overcoat - Lorenza Foschini
Taking noted literary collector Jacques Guerin as its focal point, this slim volume is part double biography, part family study, part introduction to the life of Marcel Proust, and part meditation on the turn-of-the-20th-century French fine arts scene. Foschini's style is light and playful, and she does a good job of letting the quirks of the many eccentric personalities populating the pages of her work speak for themselves. The translation (courtesy of Eric Karpeles) is lucid and precise, the inclusion of dozens of photographs and reproductions of the individuals and artworks referenced in the text a nice treat. This volume is sure to appeal to fans of Proust's novels or the works of Ciaran Carson. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible for visitors to the Musee Carnavalet to view the overcoat itself, but in the absence of the real thing, reading Proust's Overcoat will make for a nice alternative.

3) Hellhound on His Trail - Hampton Sides
When, in his Note to Readers, Sides stated that his rule of thumb was to use the novelist's methods without the novelist's license, I groaned--such statements are often an early warning signal that history is going to take a backseat to overwrought prose and tacky cliffhanger chapter endings.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Hellhound on His Trail is extremely well written--engaging and suspenseful, but not at the expense of the facts. Sides carefully builds up his portrait of James Earl Ray as a meticulous, socially-inept criminal. His prose is so vivid that readers will feel they're watching the action unfold over Ray's shoulder as he traverses the North American continent and the Atlantic Ocean. Sides' portrait of King, while less central to the narrative, is also carefully drawn.

I would quibble with Sides' decision to subtitle the book "The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt For His Assassin," as events as they are presented in the narrative leave readers with the impression that Ray's decision to assassinate King was an impulsive, spur-of-the-moment thing; Sides doesn't effectively make the case that King had been in Ray's sights for any appreciative time. Still, this is a small nitpick of an otherwise extremely well-executed book. Hellhound on His Trail is indeed better written than many novels I've touched of late, and comes recommended.

4) Shadow Bound - Erin Kellison
A rather pedestrian urban romance plotline about a young woman discovering her magical heritage and saving the world is by and large salvaged by the author's lush, descriptive language. The action is fast-paced and exciting. The sex scenes could have focused a bit more on foreplay, but that small complaint aside, I can't emphasize how nice it is to read a romance novel where the sex is 100% consensual (without being treacly, either). Final verdict: reading Shadow Bound is not going to change your life, but as a fun, face-paced leisure read, you could hardly do better.

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