Welcome to Shelf Care, where I review three books related by a theme. These aren’t necessarily the latest releases, but are hopefully books you can’t believe you missed.

This column’s theme: Run For Your Life

This time, it’s books where the main character is in trouble pretty much from the start to the end. Things would go from bad to worse, except they’ve already started at worse and are going to terrible.  So if you want to see somebody whom I hope is having a worse day than you, consider any of the following.

If you like:

Alternate realities

A Darker It’s A Wonderful Life

Smart protagonists

Not going to bed until this book is done.

You might like

Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch


A kidnapped physicist ends up in the life he might have had, and tries to escape back to his wife and son.

Sample passage

“Out of the car, Jason.”

I realize that I see the interior of the Navigator as a kind of lifeboat. As long as I stay inside, he can’t really hurt me.

He won’t make a mess in here.


My chest is heaving, I’m starting to hyperventilate, black spots detonating across my field of vision.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he says, “and I can hurt you just as easily inside this car.”


This is a go-to book any time the topic of alternate realities comes up. I hate to mention that, as it gives away part of the first act, but given how well the concept is handled throughout, and the fact that this sets up an amazingly original yet completely intuitive third act twist on the subject…well to do otherwise would be like trying to pitch The Shining as a book on hotel management. Once things get moving, it is non-frickin’-stop. The only way this guy gets out of jams is by getting into other jams, but it is so well thought out, and so well done, I never had cause to question any of it.  You’ll want to set aside an evening for this book so you can finish it in one go.

Or if you like:

Planetary colonization gone wrong

Stories with a central mystery

Young adult science fiction

The Lord Of The Flies

You might like

Half Way Home, By Hugh Howey

Half Way Home by Hugh Howey


If the planet had nothing of value, the automated colony would self-destruct to keep its technology safe. Otherwise, its colonists would be grown in vats and emerge as fully educated adults.  At least, that was the understanding of the colony’s psychologist when he breaks out of his pod at fifteen years old to find the colony in flames.

Sample passage

I fell backwards through the exit—back into trampled mud and rainy night. I clawed my way, shivering, across a tangle of the filthy and fleeing. And through the panic, I found myself dwelling on my years of training, on what was expected of me, on what I needed to do to fix the situation.

My job is to help people recover from tragedies, I thought.

But where were the people whose job it was to prevent them?


I’m a sucker for books with a compelling mystery–provided, of course, that the author doesn’t take their sweet time paying it off.  In this, there is the overall question of why the colony set up, then started destroying itself, then stopped. There’s the immediate question of how these unprepared individuals are going to survive, which is made harder when the colony’s A.I. makes other plans. Howey’s writing is tight, the logic is sound, and the pacing is great, making this one of the best Young Adult books I’ve ever read.

Or if you like:

Running for your life

Robert Heinlein’s Job: A Comedy Of Justice

Kafkaesque punishment

Fairy tales that are horror movies

You might like:

The Hike, by Drew Magary

The Hike by Drew Magary


A day hike turns into a tortuous ordeal when Ben learns he has to overcome obstacles thrown in his way, and if he leaves the path he’ll never see home again.

Sample passage

“Tell me your name, at least,” he begged her.

“It’s Mrs. Blackwell.”

“Where is Mr. Blackwell?”

“Gone,” she said, looking darkly out to the road. “He left the path.” That was all she would say.

“That’s pretty messed up.”

“Never leave the path,” she told him.

“I’ve been told that before.”

“You were told correctly.”


The fast pacing and fairy tale nightmare obstacles faced by the protagonist keep things constantly interesting. What’s up next? How’s he getting out of this one? Who is doing this to him, and why? And once you think everything’s been paid off there’s one last piece of the puzzle that falls into place that puts everything he’s experienced in a slightly different perspective.  This was a compelling read with a satisfying payoff, and it’s completely put me off hiking.

So, what other books should be on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for my next column, where the theme will be: Serves You, Right?

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