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BOOKS ISSUE: 25 books from 2011 to check out


Welcome to Hell, as seen through the eyes of 13-year-old Madison Spencer, the daughter of a jet-setting yet eco-hyperconscious movie starlet and philanthropist. This is Dante's Inferno meets The Breakfast Club, a film that overtly informs the plot and its main characters. As in Palahniuk's breakout novel Fight Club, it's hard distinguish between reality and perception as Maddy leads readers past the Vomit Pond, across Dandruff Desert, and right into Satan's black Town Car. As she recalls her final weeks on earth, you're pretty sure that she didn't really die from a marijuana overdose. Clearly, things are not what they seem as the novel looses an American teenager's perspective on modern life in both the underworld and earthly realm, with wry commentary on everything from pop culture and capitalist excess to the defeated religions whose fallen gods roam Hades. The gags alone — like the telemarketing and chatroom porn the damned deliver to Earth, and Hell's endless loop of The English Patient — make this a tough book to put down, all the way to its slightly unsatisfying conclusion. (Steven T. Jones)



edited by Alison Bechdel

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,

352 pp., paperback $25

Chris Ware's textbooky flowcharts; Angie Wang's Technicolor, spiraling pistil-armed super-flower-heroine; Peter and Maria Hoy's intricately plotted cause-and-effect grid art — the sixth year of this hardcover assemblage of the year in superlative strip art soars as a holiday gift for your fave comic nerd. Visual trickery and innovative page staging aside, many of the graphic narratives in this book hold up on plot alone. An excerpt from Kevin Mutch's Fantastic Life effectively mines zombie philosophy, dating paranoia, and begging drinks off your service industry friends for comic gold. Many of the best pieces, perhaps indicative of the graphic novel mood these days, explore the darker side of the human psyche. But what graphic novel fan is unfamiliar with complicated? (Caitlin Donohue)



By John Schlimm

Lifelong Books/Da Capo

164 pp., paper, $17

Every time I think we're past the stereotype of the sullen, uptight vegan, I get another comment like, "Wait, don't you only eat vegetables?" Why yes, I do eat plenty of veggies, but I also eat decadent dishes such as The Tipsy Vegan's Party Monster Pancakes, loaded with the sweet nectar of amaretto and drenched in syrup. This book is a carnivorous teetotaler's nightmare, boasting 75 boozy recipes stuffed with everything from "beer to brandy" for the liquor-loving vegan cooks among us. It's not, as I initially imagined, a book on vegan cocktails — that would be far too easy. Written by John Schlimm (Ultimate Beer Lover's Cookbook), a member of "one of the oldest brewing families in the United States," the book includes booze-infused treats for parties, brunch, and supper: fried avocados, slur-baaaaked peaches with Cointreau, "Bruschetta on a Bender" — all of which kind of sound like stoner food to me. An nice touch: glossy food porn shots on every page. (Emily Savage)



By Kira Stackhouse


352 pp., hardcover, $34.99

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