Friday, November 11, 2011

New Feature: Fortnightly Book Recommendations!

I've been wanting to recommend things to you all, and I did a little survey of my Twitter followers and most preferred the idea of batched recommendations rather than a short post for each one. I was considering monthly posts until someone suggested fortnightly, and, well, I just love the word "fortnight." So here we are! Every other Friday, I will tell you about some books I like. I'll try to focus on ones I've just read, but sometimes I'll throw in some older things I've never recommended before, or things that go with a certain theme, or something. You can find my previous recommendations here and here and here and here and here, and henceforth I will tag these posts as "fortnightly book recommendations" so you can find them easily.

To this week's recommendations! I have a dark smorgasbord for you: a YA paranormal, a ghost story for kids, a classic horror short story, and a very adult murder mystery.

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong

I'd meant to try Kelley Armstrong for years, so I finally got the first of her young adult series, The Summoning, from the library. And I liked it quite a lot! It's about teenagers in a group home who are supposedly mentally ill but actually have supernatural abilities. The heroine, Chloe, is neither overly perfect nor overly self-deprecating, and I love that her well-meaning but distant father's reaction to her suddenly seeing ghosts is to assume that she needs treatment for some sort of mental illness. That seems extremely realistic, and it makes me happy when characters take a while to accept that there are supernatural things going on around them. The Summoning also features a pair of brothers who love each other more than anything, which is another of my favorite things. The ending is nicely twisty, and there's a cliffhanger but it's not a maddening one. (Though it definitely made me get the next book from the library ASAP!) It's a quick read, and the characters feel much more like real teenagers than supernatural teen characters often do.

The Horribly Haunted School by Margaret Mahy

I loved Mahy's YA The Changeover, so I figured I'd give some of her kids' books a try as well. This is about ghosts, so I read it around Halloween and it seemed seasonably appropriate. It's a really cute story about a boy who is allergic to ghosts - he sneezes when one is around, and can only stop when it shows itself. His parents don't believe him and send him to a special school to make him "sensible," but of course that school itself is haunted - by a former headmaster who was much less strict than advertised and just wants to make sure that his students turned out all right. This book is hilarious, and also has some really nice things to say about the balance between sense and imagination and how to encourage that balance in children. It's perfect for an upper elementary age group. Unfortunately, it seems to be out of print in the U.S., but check your library!

"The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe

I've read plenty of Poe stories over the years, but had somehow never read this one, and when Sarah Rees Brennan recapped it in her first Gothic post, I knew I had to give it a try. And it was delightful, really, equal parts creepy and absurd, and just good. I'd forgotten what a good writer Poe was, although he obviously had some Issues, and was probably not a barrel of laughs to be around. It's amazing how much plot he gets into a story of less than twenty pages, and his language is extremely rich - "encoffined" and "clangorous" are my new favorite words. Since this story is so old, it's out of copyright, so you can read it online right now.

The Cut by George Pelecanos

I'd somehow never read anything by George Pelecanos, though I'd always heard he was good, so when I read that he was starting a new series with The Cut, I figured I'd give it a try. And I'm hooked. Pelecanos's new hero is Spero Lucas, a military vet turned freelance investigator who specializes in finding lost things. He reads and kayaks and mourns his father and worries about his mother and casually kills people when necessary, and he's one of the most interesting and multi-dimensional characters I've come across in quite some time. The mystery plotting is tight and the language is descriptive but spare. It takes place in the DC area, and while I don't know enough to say whether it's realistic, it certainly has a strong sense of place. This is the sort of book that made me want to go back and read all of the author's previous work. Highly recommended for mystery fans who like their books to be hard-boiled but still character-driven.

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