Monday, January 19, 2015

Reading recommendations: Underrated or little-known books

It's a new year and I'm sure we're all on the lookout for some good books to read in the coming months. And if you're not sure what should be next on your reading list, may I recommend some books that are underrated or not as well known as they should be? You'll see some familiar author names here, but you may not know the titles.

Boys and Girls Together - William Goldman
Years before he brought us the story of Wesley and Buttercup, and before he made us all a little bit nervous about going to the dentist, William Goldman gave us a fantastic story of five ordinary young people brought to their fates - and in some cases their dooms - by the city of New York. It's sprawling yet intimate, often heartbreaking, and occasionally funny.

Cavedweller - Dorothy Allison
Dorothy Allison's second (and to this date, last) novel hasn't the raw power of her debut Bastard Out of Carolina, and it loses its narrative focus halfway through, but it is still a remarkable tale of sisterhood, family, and healing the heart. When her rock star ex-husband dies in a motorcycle crash, singer Delia Byrd takes her daughter Cissy back to Delia's small hometown in Georgia, to reunite with Delia's two other daughters from her abusive first marriage. Though not without its dark moments, it's a much more optimistic book than Bastard Out of Carolina.

Til We Have Faces - C. S. Lewis
Though not nearly as well known as the Narnia books or The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis' retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth is fascinating. Told from the viewpoint of Psyche's sister Orual, it deftly addresses the question of faith and where the line is between loyalty to the divine and to the earthly.

Fevre Dream - George R. R. Martin
If you're waiting oh so patiently for the next book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, you could do worse than to read this intriguing mix of 19th-century riverboats and vampires. Yes, you read that correctly. Martin not only makes this unlikely combination work, but he does so while skewering the tropes of vampire fiction and ending things in a way you don't quite expect. It doesn't have the sprawl, scope, or grandeur of the Westeros books, but is still a fine read.

The Getaway - Jim Thompson
I'm cheating a bit, as The Getaway isn't really that unknown of a Thompson book. But The Grifters and The Killer Inside Me get all the press, so I want to stump for The Getaway. Married criminals Doc and Carol pull off the proverbial last big score without much of a hitch - it's escaping to safety (a South American town that's a semi-legendary haven for criminals) that's the hard part. Bad luck, miscalculations, and distrust escalate into a grim, almost existential final chapter that's unlike anything else I've read in crime fiction.

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