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If you're looking to bless that horror fiction reader on your list with the year's best release, make sure they've read author Justin Cronin's The Passage before purchasing its follow-up, The Twelve. If he or she hasn't, then, hell, you've got two gifts to give, both of which should occupy the recipient's days and nights with highly satisfying post-apocalyptic storytelling.

The plot, carried through both novels, isn't anything groundbreaking: Groups of survivors try to stay alive while fending off humans who've become ravenous killing machines due to a devastating viral outbreak. Fortunately, Cronin writes with tireless energy and vivid imagination, giving his best-sellers breathless paces and quasi-vampire antagonists that redefine everything you thought you knew about homicidal blood-drinkers.