You may already know that I have a weakness for the supernatural, in children's literature, in movies, and in fiction. (Not in reality, of course.) When summer rolls around, I unwind with books that are good or even just okay, and I try to avoid books that are
bad or ugly not to my taste. None of these are new releases, but summer is partly about revisiting memories of summers past.
James Hynes's Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror contains three semi-independent novellas that combine elements of two usually separate genres: horror and academic farce. An odd combination, you'd think, but it works. My favorite is the last story, "Casting the Runes", a pastiche of the M. R. James classic (which you can read here).
Paul, the over-educated anti-hero from the first story in Three Tales, appears again in the novel Kings of Infinite Space, where he suffers for his past sins. (Hynes writes, "I don’t write autobiographical fiction, and originally I’d made Paul as big an asshole as I could... Even so, I came to think of Paul as my evil stunt double..." Cat murderer!) He's not much more likeable in Kings, but you do feel some sympathy for him. Stuck in a dead-end job at an educational testing company, Paul has constructed some challenging vocabulary exercises for middle school students, using his academic background for inspiration. He's written questions like this,
..."Mr. Humbert (brought, brung) Dolores a banana"--or arranged an exercise so that the first letter of each item spelled out a subliminally subversive message like "MEAT IS GOOD" or "BOW TO SATAN" or (in a a twenty-item review exercise he was particularly proud of) "SATAN SEZ EAT MORE CANDY."
In Kings you'll find elements of Ibsen, H.G. Wells, and Kafka. You'll also see zombies of a sort. Or maybe they're elves. It's hard to tell. Hynes's books aren't for everyone; still, for their literary quality and humor I'd count them as good.
But what if you're looking for a lighter walk through the supernatural? Maybe you'd like Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novels. Harry Dresden is a wizard, and in his world magic actually works. The action moves along at a good clip, even if the writing is just okay. (This is heresy, but I like the one-season TV series better.)
Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid novels are in the same vein. Hearne spent over a decade as a high school English teacher, which means that the writing is solid... but his roots show. If you can tolerate a 2,100-year-old Druid lecturing a vampire on the usage of "squee", and a sidekick Irish wolfhound who says stuff like this,
Can I have a treat for using “fetishistically” in a sentence? ... It’s really hard to pronounce. If you’re not careful, you could wind up saying, “feta shit stick-ally,” and then you’d feel like a puppy who forgot to lift his leg, you know?
then it's fine. (Otherwise you can skim for half a page or so.)
I think the best work in this combination of modern urban fantasy and hardboiled detective stories is the Felix Castor series by Mike Cary. In these stories, dead people started coming back around the year 2000, and some new occupations have developed--Castor is an exorcist. The setting is present-day London, populated by ordinary people as well as ghosts, zombies, and demons. Fun stuff.
As for books I won't be reading? I hesitate to point a finger--okay, I'll point a finger. Check out this:
I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me, and give up.
That's in the first paragraph of Fifty Shades of Gray. It's not supernatural, though based on the reviews it appears to be fantasy. I think I'll wait for the movie; a trailer of the audio book reading, by Gilbert Godfried, is certainly worth watching.