Here are some of the books I have read and enjoyed in the past few months.
The Monstrumologist Series by Rick Yancey - YA and Teen books are often characterized by two things: the first being simple writing, the second being simple characterization. Yancey's incredible books feature neither. These are elegant tomes full of darkness, deep themes and very vivid character growth and development. The series also does something that very few authors (YA or otherwise) dare to do: be complex. Yancey presents the deep and twisty story and allows his reader to draw conclusions. Nothing is spoon fed and the answers are neither clear nor pretty. Each of the novels could be read as a standalone but work best as a series exploring the darkness within all of us. The first book The Monstrumologist serves as stark reminder that the real monsters are among us; The Curse of the Wendingo flits with the fantastical, and the nature of myth and reality (to this point the novel could be interpreted a couple of different ways, it might just be the Shutter Island of teen fiction); the final novel (so far, as #4 comes out in Fall 2013) is The Isle of Blood which again ties together the theme of monsters among us and the true horrors of the world being right in front of us. One of the more remarkable things about these novels is that at no point did I feel like I was reading a teen book. They are gruesome, haunting and resonate deeply. I am still thinking about them long after I finished reading. The characters are neither simple or one dimensional. They are real, flawed and strikingly complex. Read this series and enjoy it as quickly as possible.
The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber by Julian Rubenstein - A madcap adventure featuring a backup hockey goalie in post- Soviet Hungry who becomes a bank robbing, whiskey swilling, pelt smuggling, Robin Hood-esque hero to the people. The man, from Romania (and more specificially from where Dracula made his bones) is a fascinating character whose experience serves as a microcosm for a truly bizarre time in the history of Eastern Europe.
Sweetness by Jeff Pearlman - So many biographies are straighforward and refuse to take into account the whole measure of a person. Pearlman's subject, the much beloved Walter Payton, has been deified for a very long time and this book does a wonderful job of humanizing him. There are no punches pulled - all of Payton's faults and dark moments are captured in this moving and well written account. One can see why Pearlman took a lot of heat about "slamming his subject" but that is simply not true. He has written a great, balanced and full measure of the man known always, and forever, as Sweetness.