The Passage, by Justin Cronin. I don't usually read post-apocalyptic vampire / zombie books, but I just kept hearing so much about this one that I had to give it a try. I'm not sorry I did. It steals shamelessly from every undead-end-of-the-world movie you can think of (visit to / fight in a Las Vegas reclaimed by the desert ["Resident Evil: Apocalypse"]; supposedly-savior group which turns out to have promised its members women ["28 Days Later"]; zombie fight in mall [most recent "Dawn of the Dead']; and those are just the ones that jumped out at me immediately), but its pacing is good and it's effectively captivating. The pacing is more than good at the beginning, when the events which will release the vampire virus are being set in motion, and that part is so scary that it gave me nightmares. Then it settles a bit, and occasionally bogs, when we skip to a hundred years later and the small colony of survivors, who all conform to noble stereotypes: Warrior Woman / Doomed Teenager / Maternal Instincts / Bland And Slightly Misogynistic Hero, etc. We actually have two Bland Heroes, who are so bland that I could barely tell them apart even after seven hundred pages, and we keep being informed that the blander of the two is a "Matrix"-esque Chosen One (which I suppose means he will eventually do something, so there's that to look forward to). I found that tendency in the book - the occasional slipping into hints that this was all preordained and there are people who are destined to save humanity and so on - unfortunate, since it comes uncomfortably close to being religious. The recurrence of the Noah-and-the-ark analogy in particular had me cocking a very skeptical eye at the text, wondering if at the end of the trilogy there's going to be a big ol' C.S. Lewis God reveal. I wouldn't be surprised, but I'll be disappointed. Books like these are so much more effective and scarier when it's just people behind the events. I already got the second one out of the library, but I'm a little bit wary.
Personal digression about the C.S. Lewis God reveal: because I was raised an atheist, when I first started reading the Narnia chronicles the Jesus-analogies which would have been completely obvious to anyone else slipped right by me. Seriously, I didn't have a clue until the last goddamn page of The Last Battle, when Aslan-Jesus shows up and informs our beloved characters that they are all DEAD and that dying before you reach twenty is the BEST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, and that this whole time Narnia was just Christian heaven. The frothing-furious, soul-searing betrayal I felt at this was beyond my ability to even process. Twenty-six years later I'm still mad, and also deeply disgusted at the idea of writing in a children's book that the character to be pitied is the one who WASN'T on the FATALLY CRASHING TRAIN. (Neil Gaiman wrote a short story about Susan, which could have been a really fascinating discussion of the dangers of a religion which focuses on the afterlife and innocence to the extent of condemning all real-life experiences, and what it's like to grow up after believing that, but what Gaiman actually wrote was bestiality porn. Sigh.)
Field of Blood, by Denise Mina. It's set in 1981 and featuring a young girl who's working as a copyboy on a newspaper and hoping to become a journalist. As I have learned to expect from Mina, people who don't have the training or experience get themselves entangled in murder investigations and there is a lot of drinking and occasional shocking violence. But I liked this book's heroine and will be reading the sequel.
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith. I put off reading this for a long, long time. Sometimes I do that with highly-acclaimed books, mostly because I hate being disappointed and because I also get a juvenile "you're not the boss of me" thing going on when dozens of people are all telling me to read the same book. But this book was not a disappointment, to say the least. It's fantastic. I didn't expect the humor - I laughed constantly - and the writing is just marvelous. There are a few chapters near the end in which characters pontificate for longer than is interesting, but that's really the only flaw. Smith is very much an heir to Rushdie, both in subject matter and writing style (it's not really a similar writing style, but it's so clearly a descendant), and there was the same sheer joy in writing that you see when you read early Rushdie. Often highly-acclaimed books are so consciously crafted - The Night Watch, and most things by A.S. Byatt, spring to mind - that you can't ever imagine the author pounding away at a keyboard completely in thrall to his/her own delight in how things are unspooling. I could picture Smith like that. I could be wrong; she could have picked out every sentence with microscopic care; but that's not the sense I got, and it made me even like the flaws as evidence of the author being young and human. Wonderful book. Everyone else has probably already read it but if you haven't, do.