Grief, Magic, And More: 5 Books You Must Read Immediately

Don’t put these on your to-read list and stare at the titles thoughtfully every now and then. Go out and obtain them, and then read them.

Feb 15, 2013 at 5:00pm | Leave a comment

It’s a long weekend for many of you, thanks to the fact that Presidents insist on being born and all that, so it seems fitting to leave you with some books to keep you company. Don’t put these on your to-read list and stare at the titles thoughtfully every now and then. Go out and obtain them, and then read them.

Extensive field testing has suggested you should find them deeply enjoyable. And you know we’re very scientific around these parts, so we speak from both experience and empirical thinking.

The Diviners,” Libba Bray

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This lovely novel came out last year, and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s set in Roaring Twenties New York City, with all the delightful things you’d expect from there, complete with meticulously researched period slang and delicious frocks. Yet there’s also a supernatural element, which is the key component of the plot, as our independent young woman seeks the answer to a string of gruesome murders that are plaguing (and terrifying) the city.

If you love murder mysteries with a healthy dash of paranormal elements, sassy ladies, the 1920s, and rakish lads, you’ll probably dig “The Diviners.” And if you like Libba Bray (“Going Bovine,”  “Beauty Queens”) at all, which I do, I guarantee that you are going to love this new series from her.

The Sky Is Everywhere,” Jandy Nelson

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Since I’m always recommending YA fantasy, you might think I’m incapable of reading anything else, but I do in fact read other sorts of YA! (And other genres!) This is contemporary YA, set in a small town much like my own, where a young woman is struggling with the aftermath of her sister’s death. She lives with an eccentric grandmother and an even more eccentric uncle, and her healing unfolds slowly over the course of the book, which is quite touching and sweet.

But not in a gooey way, although there is the obligatory YA love triangle. One thing I love about “The Sky Is Everywhere” is that it touches upon the strange things we do out of grief sometimes, and how we cling to the people who were closest to the deceased without really thinking about what we are doing; and sometimes while missing the fact that other people are grieving too, perhaps in different ways. The book also contains a rather fun narrative quirk that manages not to be gimmicky, but I’m not going to spoil the surprise. You’ll have to pick up a copy for yourself to see what I mean.

Magisterium,” Jeff Hirsch

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Back in fantasyland, “Magisterium” is a fascinating book that imagines a world where society has been split in two. On one side of a division, a technologically advanced world thrives, with residents told that beyond their world lies only wastelands and emptiness. But in fact, something else entirely dwells there, and Glenn Morgan finds out all about it when she’s drawn into a world of demons, witchcraft and more.

I love the worldbuilding in this book, but I also love the way the story is crafted, and the language, and all the fantastical and amazing things the characters find. It’s got a hint of speculative fiction going on interwoven with the fantasy, along with a healthy dose of serious swords and sorcery Adventure with a capital A, and it makes for a most excellent blend of genres. I gobbled it up in a single night because I didn’t want to put it down.

Etiquette & Espionage,” Gail Carriger

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Extensive study has revealed that this book is best read in The Fabulous Purple Chaise.

This book, the first in the Finishing School series, just came out this week, and I am more excited than a stack of cats in an ice cream factory about it. (As apparently are a lot of other people, because it's on the NYT bestseller list -- congratulations, Gail!) If you know the Parasol Protectorate, Gail's previous adult series, you might have an idea of what to expect from this book, which is set in the same world -- steampunk, vampires, werewolves, snarky comments about fashion, and more. 

And all of those things are present, but this is also a distinctly YA and distinctly standalone series. Like her adult books, it is so. Much. Fun. The characters are hilarious, Carriger's writing voice is wry, sharp, and witty, and the plot is quite entertaining, with plenty of breaks for tasty comestibles, tea, and thoughtful discussions about hats. (It's a Thing, okay.) This is a book you need to read because you want to enjoy yourself, and I think you're going to have a blast. 

If for some reason I haven't convinced you yet, I'm just gonna say this: Werewolf. In a top hat. 

Lovely, Dark and Deep,” Amy McNamara

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This book is last, but it’s not least. In fact, it’s the best book I’ve read so far this year, and it might be my best book of 2013. Yes, even though we’re barely halfway through February. It’s that good. This is a book that will bowl you over, knock your socks off, tear your heart out and stomp on it, gut you, and make you like it. It is a serious business book.

Also contemporary YA, “Lovely, Dark and Deep” follows Wren as she attempts to come to terms with the loss of her boyfriend in a car accident that she survived. And this is a book where grief gets down and dirty, hot and messy, selfish and complex. Everything is careening out of control for Wren and she just wants to figure out who she is, but everyone seems to be conspiring against her.

This is a really intense read; I’ll be honest, I cried like a baby while reading it. And one of the reasons it’s so intense is because it doesn’t sanitize grief, at all. It highlights the role of grief in your life as a process, one that ebbs and flows, and something that may not magically go away after a few weeks or months. As a person who’s experienced Wren’s kind of grief, I found it a strangely empowering and redemptive book. I suspect that people who are struggling to understand grief as outsiders might get a lot out of it too.

And, if I may have a moment of graphic design nerdery, the book was designed by the incomparable Lizzy Bromley, who is amazing. (She also designed The Chemical Garden trilogy -- I’ll note that “Sever,” the last of the trilogy, came out this week, FYI.) So, visually, the book is stunning, and the graphic design, which is very stark and graceful, fits utterly beautifully with the book itself. So, I mean. It’s just pretty.

What have you been reading lately, xoJaners?