The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron (Minotaur, $14). Paul Doiron's sleuth, Mike Bowditch, is a 24-year-old Maine Fisheries and Wildlife man, and most definitely not hard-boiled. Using Bowditch's youth and vulnerability, Doiron gives us a fresh sense of the harsh realities of crime and law enforcement that years of tough guys have allowed us to forget.

In the Belly of the Bloodhound by L.A. Meyer (Graphia, $9). Meyer not only has a sure grasp of place, languages, and voices, but so seamlessly interweaves those features with the action that a reader feels it is all true and all possible and all wonderful. Of all the books in his terrific series about Jacky Faber, a 19th-century teenage seafaring adventuress, this is my favorite.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (Plume, $15). During the siege of Leningrad, two imprisoned men are given the chance to gain their freedom if they can accomplish a nearly impossible task: find a dozen eggs. Benioff takes the grimness of a miserable war and winds it around characters so rich the reader can't let go, even when the book is done.

World War Z by Max Brooks (Three Rivers, $8). Zombies are not my favorite dish, but by inventing an oral history of the Great Zombie War, as told by the survivors, Brooks makes the conflict feel real and immediate. This is a book less about zombies than about war, government, politics — and individual courage and cowardice.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, $8). In growing up, too many of us leave behind our love of the drama, fantasy, romance, and mystery that we devoured as kids. Gaiman gives all that back to us. For that I adore him. This tale of a boy orphaned by murderers and raised by graveyard ghosts is magic.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (Signet, $8). Jean Valjean, the sewers, the students manning the barricades — need I say more? If you haven't read Les Misérables, you need to. If you have, reread it. It never palls. Once you have been carried through the sewers of Paris on the back of a convict, life will never be as cheap as it was.

Nevada Barr's current best seller, The Rope, is her 17th novel set in America's national parks and featuring Anna Pigeon, a park ranger with a knack for solving crimes. Barr served as a park ranger in Teas before launching the series in 1993.