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Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala (HarperCollins hardback). Iweala's debut novel is an original, harrowing yet, at times, almost dreamlike view of war from a child's point of view. Agu, a young West African boy, sees his family killed and is forced into combat as a guerilla soldier in his nation's civil war. He's taken in by a magnetic, amoral leader who tells the boys he's "recruited" that killing "is like falling in love. You cannot be thinking about it." Relentless brutality runs rampant -- up to and including Agu being sodomized by his twisted guerilla leader -- to the point of blurring the line between beast and human. The horror of the story, though, is in a way offset by Iweala's impressionistic, rough-sketch narrative style and the lyrical rhythms of the main character's broken English. This is a short book filled with full-frame portraits of humanity at its worst and yet for this reader, the nasty goings-on are more than offset by Agu's survival and his determined yearnings for redemption and freedom. A troubling but electrifying and rewarding read.

Rabid Nun Infects Entire Convent by Tom D'Antoni (Villard paperback). The author once made a living writing articles for The Sun, a grocery store tabloid whose wink-and-nudge approach to the truth made them a favorite among fans of bizarre comedy. This is a collection of his Sun writings, kind of a dysfunctional, hilarious "greatest hits," as well as a recounting of the odd thoughts that inspired them. The book features journalistic classics such as "Newborn Baby Sings Like Elvis," "Grandma Turns Pet Dog Inside Out Looking for Lost Lottery Ticket," "Woman on High Fiber Diet Eats Her Clothes," "Genetic Discovery Can Make Your Dog Smell Like Pizza" and "Cult Uses Human Heads for Bowling Balls." Who could ask for more?

- John Grooms

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