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Books in brief

>CHILDREN'S

Octavia Boone's Big Questions About Life, the Universe and Everything by Rebecca Rupp; Candlewick Press, 185 pages ($15.99) Ages 8 to 12.

This charming book examines an adolescent's struggle to answer the age-old question: "How does one lead a good life?" Octavia is the only child of free-thinkers. Her mother is a lawyer who has bounced from one religious impulse to the next. Her father is a painter who finds meaning in art and Henry David Thoreau. Everything changes for Octavia in seventh grade, when her mother joins a fundamentalist Christian group that meets at a local motel. Ray's conversion ends her marriage, and Octavia must struggle to deal with the drastic change in her life. Rupp offers colorful characters, a vivid picture of small-town life, and an engaging look at a 12-year-old's voyage of self-discovery.

-- Jean Westmoore

***

>SUSPENSE

The Sentry by Robert Crais; Putnam, 320 pages ($26.95)

Laconic Joe Pike has been reliable backup to private detective Elvis Cole, hero of Crais' 14-novel series. "The Sentry" is the third novel in which Elvis plays backup to Joe. As in "The First Rule," Joe easily bears the weight of a briskly paced thriller that looks at unconditional friendship, loyalty and life's choices.

"A dull red warning vibe" goes off when Joe sees two suspicious men enter a sandwich shop in Venice, Calif., and his timing saves owner Wilson Smith from an assault. But how did Smith and his niece attract the attention of a killer who has been stalking them for five years?

This series has never faltered because the author continues to uncover fresh layers in his characters while maintaining a brisk pace and nonstop action.

-- McClatchy Newspapers

***

>FICTION

The Radleys by Matt Haig; Free Press, 384 pages ($25)

OK, so it's yet another vampire novel. The genius of Haig's book is that the vampirism takes a back seat to the blackly comic family turmoil that's at the center of the story.

Haig effectively treats the fiendish desire to feast on human blood as just another family dysfunction, like alcoholism or drug addiction.

The Radleys are a family of four living quietly in British suburbia. The parents have kept a secret from their teenage children: They're "abstaining" vampires. Everything goes to hell when Radley daughter Clara -- who has recently become a vegan -- is nearly date-raped and lets her hitherto sheathed fangs out into the moonlight. Before she knows what she's doing, the molester has become dinner.

The arrival of Peter's vampire brother, Will, launches a nasty, interfamilial feud of good vs. evil; imagine "The Sopranos," only if Tony, et al., had literal bloodlust and the ability to fly.

-- McClatchy Newspapers

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