Roses & Thorns: New Romance

Written by Fiona Hartley-Kroeger, GA

Romance novels have changed a lot since Janice Radway’s landmark scholarly work, Reading the Romance, first published in 1984. For one thing, they’re not just about straight white women finding fulfilment under the patriarchy. (That’s never been all that romance novels have been about.) In their exploration of many kinds of love between many kinds of people, today’s romance novels create precisely what Radway hoped for: “a place and a vocabulary with which to carry on a conversation about the meaning of…personal relations and the seemingly endless renewal of their primacy” (18). Romance is a beautiful, varied bouquet.

As the recent “romantasy” trend demonstrates, romantic plotlines and relationships are frequently central to works in other genres. Romance elements can be integral to works of literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and much more.

In celebration of this versatile, ever-evolving genre, here are some recent favorites:

ROSES
These novels participate in the genres of contemporary and historical romance, with strong attention to diversity and thoughtful reflection on how they distinguish themselves from their more homogenous predecessors. HEA (Happily Ever After), of course, guaranteed!

book coverAshley Herring Blake, Delilah Green Doesn’t Care

Suuuuuuure she doesn’t. Photographer Delilah Green is on the cusp of making it in New York City, with a string of pleasant one-night stands and an invitation to participate in a gallery show. Unfortunately, she’s also agreed to photograph her stepsister’s wedding in small-town Oregon. A reluctant trip to her childhood hometown unearths a wealth of complicated relationships and family hurt, but also brings the possibility of new beginnings.

 

Alyssa Cole, A Princess in Theory
Struggling epidemiology grad student Naledi is pretty sure the emails she keeps getting are unusually persistent scams. After all, what are the odds that she’s actually the long-lost betrothed of Prince Thabiso? When Thabiso shows up in New York and in her life, though, things get interesting. As a Black woman in STEM trying to get through grad school and pay off her student loans, Naledi is an instantly sympathetic heroine; the realities of her chosen path initially clash with Thabiso’s over-privileged lifestyle in a way that’s both serious and funny. His journey toward understanding her is by turns humorous and touching, and the whole thing is incredibly fun with, of course, a sweet, solid emotional core.

Sonali Dev, Recipe for Persuasion
Jane Austen meets cooking competition (Dancing with the Stars-syle) in this second entry in Sonali Dev’s series about an overachieving Indian family living in California. (Don’t worry if you haven’t read the first book, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, though you should give that a try too!) In a twist on my favorite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion, chef Ashna Raje and her former first love, soccer star Rico Silva, are paired on a high-stakes cooking competition. Their dynamic is as delicious as the food they prepare while utterly failing to resist their feelings. This is a wonderfully flavorful novel about first love, second chances, complicated families, and—inevitably—cooking puns.

Alexis Hall, A Lady for a Duke
The traditional concerns of the classic Regency romance novel—personal autonomy, gendered social roles, issues of class, childhood trauma, and transformation through love—provide an ideal framework for a story about a trans heroine and her childhood best friend. Viola Carroll, presumed dead on the battlefield in France, has sacrificed a great deal to become her true self. Her childhood best friend, Gracewood, never recovered from her death. When they meet again, they both have a LOT of baggage to work through—but they do so thoughtfully and oh-so-tenderly, with a few (minimal) misunderstandings and a really lovely mood of trans affirmation throughout.

Courtney Milan, The Duke Who Didn’t
You’ll fall in love with the entire village of Wedgeford, something of a haven for members of the Chinese diaspora in rural Victorian England. In this series-starter, longtime villager Chloe Fong and half-Chinese, half-English nobleman Jeremy Wentworth navigate their feelings amid quaint village shenanigans. Chloe is Organized! Her prized possession is a clipboard! She WILL make a commercial success of her father’s new culinary concoction, a sauce of supreme savor! Jeremy is more complex than his jokester persona would have you think, but he’s genuinely a sunshiny, sweet man who maaaayyy have forgotten to mention one tiny detail about his identity. Oops? They’re adorable.

Cat Sebastian, The Queer Principles of Kit Webb & The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes
Cat Sebastian brings Georgian England to queer romance! Enter a world of highwaymen, coffee houses, and incredible fashion. The first book features a banter-filled romance between ex-highwayman Kit Webb and nobleman Percy, Lord Holland; the second stars Percy’s best friend/stepmother/bi icon Marian Hayes and idealistic Rob Brooks, Kit’s former partner in (literal) crime. Cuteness! Crimes! Coffee!

Further Rosy Reading:
Jane Austen, Persuasion
K.J. Charles, The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen & A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel
Emily Henry, Book Lovers
Georgette Heyer, Lady of Quality

 

THORNS
Here, the HEA is…less guaranteed. These novels hail from a variety of other genres and draw on romance tropes, comment on romantic fiction expectations, or focus less on the HEA than on the sometimes painful process of navigating feelings and relationships (or, you know, saving the world).

Akwaeke Emezi, You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty

The line between genre and literary fiction is frequently a thin one, revealing more about publishing norms and audience expectations (or prejudices) than about a work’s narrative, stylistic, or thematic content. In this novel, published as literary fiction, sex and grief collide as Feyi fights a messy, utterly necessary battle to recover from a shocking loss and rediscover love.

 

 

Intisar Khanani, Thorn

This is a lovely, fleshed-out retelling of the Brothers Grimm tale “The Goose Girl.” The unpleasant bits (identity theft, talking severed horse heads) are thoughtfully elaborated, and what begins as a tale of escaping abuse and betrayal gradually develops into a heart-tugging love story.

 

 

 

T. Kingfisher, Nettle & Bone

This is not a novel where the princess marries the prince and lives happily ever after. Actually, the prince murders one sister, abuses another, and deserves what’s coming to him when Princess Marra decides to take him down. There IS a cute romance, though, amid Marra’s efforts to complete impossible tasks, gather allies, and figure out how to murder the man she’s next in line to marry. (Maybe two cute romances, if you squint.) This is a perfectly dark fairy tale with all the unpleasant sorcery and underground tomb mazes you could wish for.

 

Tamsyn Muir, Gideon the Ninth

“Lesbian necromancers in space” isn’t INACCURATE, per se, but that description doesn’t do justice to Muir’s tangled web of love, grief, mental instability, and space palaces. The necromantic lesbians are cute, sure (by some definitions), but there’s a whole buffet of other relationships running the gamut from the wholesome to the wildly disturbing, and they’re all DELICIOUS.

 

 

 

Emily Tesh, Silver in the Wood & Drowned Country (coming soon!)
If sheer sweetness was the only criterion, these two novellas could go under Roses, but the HEA is by no means guaranteed. Tobias, the Wild Man of Greenhollow, and Henry Silver, newly arrived owner of Greenhollow Manor, undergo horror-filled trials of the heart to be together—only to undergo an acrimonious breakup that precipitates the second volume. Twining around their relationship are wonderful elements of English fairy lore; this is a great choice for fans of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell who would prefer something a little shorter.  

 

Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, Heaven Official’s Blessing: Tian Guan Ci Fu (coming soon!)

An exemplar of the Chinese danmei (boys’ love) genre by the author of The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation: Mo Dao Zu Shi (the novel on which the 2019 drama The Untamed is based). The romance between a god and a ghost is incredibly sweet; it’s everything else that’s thorny! The epic tale spans 800 years, three realms, an extensive, memorable cast, martial arts, and a love story of unmatched devotion. This is the officially licensed English translation. Coming soon!

 

Further Thorny Reading:
Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber
Freya Marske, A Marvellous Light & A Restless Truth (A Power Unbound coming soon!)
Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Gods of Jade & Shadow

Did you know? We also have a selection of romance on audiobook!

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Fiction Friday: The Murderess

“…For many nights Frankojannou had permitted herself no sleep. She had willed her sore eyes open, while she kept vigil beside this little creature who had no idea what trouble she was giving, or what tortures she must undergo in her turn, if she survived. Nor she was capable of feeling the despair to which her grandmother only secretly gave expression: ‘O God, why should another one come into the world?’”

From The Murderess by Alexandros Papadiamantis, translated by Peter Levi

The Murderess, one of the best works of Alexander Papadiamantis, is a dark story of crimes and Holy judgment under the veil of the patriarchal society of a small Greek island. Hadoula Frankojannou, an old widow, lives in poverty, raising her children and grandchildren with many difficulties on the island of Skiathos. Throughout her life, she was always serving others; first as a daughter, later as a spouse, and then as a mother. Her personal experiences and stories made her realize the tragic fate and position of the woman, filling her with anger and bitterness. All these thoughts flood her mind while she rocks her newborn granddaughter in her crib, thinking that she should do something to spare the poor child from its “ill fate”. She will do much more than that.   

Papadiamantis’ work manages to marry the true meaning of the ancient Greek tragedies with the modern social phenomena of inequality and patriarchy of his era – Hybris and Nemesis. Although written in 1903, the social novella (as described by the author) remains contemporary and travels its reader through time and space, at the darkest thoughts of the protagonist. It is not irrelevant that Papadiamantis will be called “the evil Saint” for this masterpiece. At the same time, its translation by Peter Levi captures the pure essence of the Greek Language, providing the reader with every single emotion of the original text.

You can find The Murderess at the Literatures and Languages Library. The catalog record is linked here.

This highlight was written by Elias Petrou, Librarian for Classical, Medieval, and Modern Greek Studies at the Literatures and Languages Library.

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Street Haunting: The Flâneur in Literature

Image shows an impressionist painting depicting people strolling down an intersection in Paris

Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte (1877), The Art Institute of Chicago

“The crowd is his domain, just as the air is the bird’s, and water that of the fish. His passion and his profession is to merge with the crowd. For the perfect idler, for the passionate observer, it becomes an immense source of enjoyment to establish his dwelling in the throng, in the ebb and flow, the bustle, the fleeting and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel at home anywhere; to see the world, to be at the very centre of the world, and yet to be unseen of the world, such are some of the minor pleasures of those independent, intense and impartial spirits, who do not lend themselves easily to linguistic definitions.” –Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life, 1863

In his essay, “The Painter of Modern Life,” nineteenth-century French poet and critic, Charles Baudelaire, established his definition of the flâneur, a figure that continues to capture the imagination of writers and artists more than a century later. Literally but imperfectly translated as “stroller” or “idler,” the flâneur is the quintessential observer, the outsider whose meandering path skims along, but does not directly intersect, with the paths of those that surround him or her. In Baudelaire’s eye, the flâneur was inextricably tied with the artist and the poet—the ability to return to one’s home and fashion something immortal out of these passing glimpses of modern city life.

It is not surprising then, that throughout the intervening century and a half, numerous modern and contemporary writers have explored the iconic image of the flaneur, from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway to Teju Cole’s Open City. In these works, the act of wandering a city often becomes a journey of self-discovery and inward reflection.

And while in Baudelaire’s day, the flâneur was generally assumed to be white and male, more contemporary works have challenged this preconception. Through some writer’s eyes, the act of observing, and the gaze itself, has taken on a new power and potential. Viewing the flâneur through a feminist or postcolonial lens, street haunting (as Virginia Woolf calls it) raises the questions of who is able to be invisible and unobserved in the modern city and what this capability says about modern society.

Today, we’ve highlighted a few works in the library’s collection, both historical and contemporary that explore this lesser-known image of the flâneur in literature. Why not be transported somewhere new today?

Open City by Teju Cole

Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole’s debut novel, Open City is about many things—identity, dislocation, history, and love. But first, it is about a solitary walker setting out from his home in Morningside Heights and learning the city at his feet. While the narrator, a Nigerian doctor doing his residency, wanders the streets of New York, he reflects on his recent breakup with his girlfriend and encounters a string of local immigrants who enrich and complicate his portrait of the city and himself. For Open City, the term “street haunting” is perhaps particularly apt; this post-colonial look at New York City reflects the unique loneliness that stems from isolation in the midst of a crowd.

Quartet by Jean Rhys

Rhys’ debut 1928 novel explores the sometimes squalid but often mesmerizing underbelly of bohemian Paris, a world Rhys herself knew only too well. Quartet is a roman à clef, an autobiographical novel, exploring a quartet of four lovers whose foibles and trials mirror the experiences of Rhys during her marriage to her first husband and her concurrent messy affair and financial entanglement with literary luminary Ford Maddox Ford and his partner, Stella Bowen. Isolated and increasingly troubled amidst the rich literary and artistic culture of a city in bloom, Quartet lays bare the at-times stark realities of Café Society in Paris, particularly for women.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

The titular character of Mrs. Dalloway sets out from her London home with a simple goal in mind—to buy flowers for her party. But what begins as a practical errand quickly diverges as Dalloway’s journey provides an opportunity for the protagonist to consider the complex ways her life intersects with those of the other characters that populate the novel, as well as where the path of her own life might have diverged in the past. A complex modernist classic, Mrs. Dalloway is at times challenging, but infinitely rewarding for its exploration of how a single day, and a single task, can unveil the intricate layers of a person’s life and mind.

NW by Zadie Smith

Traversing the eponymous North Western postcode area in London, NW presents a complicated portrait of the city and modern adulthood. The novel follows four Londoners as they try to make lives and identities outside of Cadwell, the council estate where they grew up. Smith’s writing style immerses its reader in the unique culture of Northwest London—from its immigrant dialects to its cultural landmarks.  This tragicomic novel swings between violence and scandal, but the protagonists’ quests to define and achieve happiness on their own terms will resonate with anyone struggling to navigate life in a modern city.

French Milk by Lucy Knisley

Known for her travelogues and graphic memoirs, French Milk, is one of cartoonist Lucy Knisley’s earliest efforts in the field. This travelogue narrates Knisley’s six-week trip to Paris with her mother as they explore the city and face milestones in life. Blending musings, photographs, and illustrations, Knisley reflects on family, love, and the looming prospect of adulthood as she samples some of the culinary and cultural delights the City of Light has to offer. While it is at times self-indulgent (what travelogue isn’t?), it offers a charming and tempting snapshot of Paris through the eyes of a consummate artist and foodie.

Taipei by Tao Lin

Many of the books that explore the figure of the flâneur traverse the line between fiction and memoir, and Tapei is no exception. Based on the author’s own life, Tapei is an undeniably modern take on the figure of the flâneur—providing an unvarnished portrait of the way we live and love today. The novel follows Paul from Manhattan to Taipei, Taiwan as he navigates his artistic ambitions alongside his cultural heritage. As relationships bloom and fail, the novel’s characters devote much of their time to drugs and screens, numbing agents that distract from the by turns bleak and absurd realities of modern life. While opinions about Tao Lin and his work vary, Taipei is undeniably effective in distilling the tedium, the excitement, and the uncertainty of being alive, young, on the fringes in America. 

Further Reading Suggestions for the Fledgling Flâneur:

The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays by Charles Baudelaire

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

My Year Abroad by Chang-Rae Lee

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta

20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo

People of the City by Cyprian Ekwensi

Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Carnet de Voyage by Craig Thompson

New York: A Mod Portrait of the City by Vladimir Fuka

Bibliography

Baudelaire, Charles, and Jonathan Mayne. The Painter of Modern Life, and Other Essays. London: Phaidon, 1964.

Baudelaire, Charles, 1821-1867 2006. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. https://www-proquest-com.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/encyclopedias-reference-works/baudelaire-charles-1821-1867/docview/2137915067/se-2?accountid=14553.

Flâneur 2010., edited by Ian Buchanan. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://www-proquest-com.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/encyclopedias-reference-works/flâneur/docview/2137953454/se-2?accountid=14553.

Lopate, Phillip. The Art of the Personal Essay : an Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. New York: Anchor Books, 1994.

Wood, James. “The Arrival of Enigmas.” The New Yorker, February 20, 2011. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/02/28/the-arrival-of-enigmas.

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Reading Recommendations for Hispanic American Heritage Month

Happy National Hispanic Heritage Month! From September 15 to October 15, our country is honoring the contributions of Hispanic Americans to our culture and nation. Hispanic Americans have positively influenced many aspects of American life, from politics to the arts to civil rights. They have also had a huge impact on our nation’s literature and literary traditions. To celebrate this impact, we are highlighting some of the incredible fiction by Hispanic authors in our collection.

Dominicana by Angie Cruzcover image for Dominicana by Angie Cruz

Fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights will be captivated by this coming-of-age story which explores immigration, love, and the shifting tides of the American Dream. In 1965, Ana Canción moves from her beloved Dominican Republic to the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City, so that she can marry and create a path to immigration for her family. Lonely and isolated in her adopted city, she plans to flee until political turmoil back home and a new romantic entanglement open her eyes to what a life in America could be.

cover image for The Spirit of Science FictionThe Spirit of Science Fiction by Roberto Bolaño

Fans of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and Jean Rhys’ Quartet will be drawn in by Bolaño’s portrait of 1970s Mexico City. This genre-bending novel follows the romantic and creative escapades of two aspiring Chilean writers as they struggle to carve out a place for themselves in the literary world. While one writer sinks into a dizzying creative oblivion, the other finds himself becoming a flâneur, haunting the dingy and beautiful streets of Mexico City with a circle of extravagant writers.

cover image for the Naked Woman

The Naked Woman by Armonía Somers

The premise for The Naked Woman can be distilled simply: a woman’s feminist awakening drives a hypocritical village to madness in rural Uruguay. But this description can only hint at the brilliant brutality of Somers’ text and Maude’s translation. This intense, surreal novel exposes the violence of the male ego and the destructive power of societal misogyny. Originally published in 1950 to an audience shocked by its graphic eroticism, it is now considered an iconic work of feminism.

 

cover image for fruit of the drunken treeFruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Inspired by Rojas Contreras’ own life, this debut novel explores youth and childhood in Colombia under drug lord Pablo Escobar’s violent reign. Born and raised in a gated community in the city of Bogotá, Colombia, seven-year-old Chula has grown up sheltered from the violence and crime that ravaged the city’s streets. But when she grows close to her family’s new maid, Petrona, Chula finds herself drawn into a new realm of secrecy and betrayal. As the novel rockets to its conclusion, both girls find themselves faced with impossible choices as their world descends into chaos.

What’s on your “To Read” list for Hispanic American Heritage Month? Let us know!

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Reading Recommendations for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month. As Anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise and the AAPI community is threatened by ignorance and cruelty, this APAHM feels particularly important. It is a time to reflect on all of the tremendous gifts, literary and otherwise, that the Asian-American community has contributed to our country and the world. With this in mind, we are highlighting some of the incredible new works by Asian-American authors in our collection.

cover art for Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless GirlsLong Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

Literary essayist Madden’s debut memoir pulls no punches in depicting her coming of age as queer, biracial teenager in Boco Raton, Florida. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls fearlessly lays bare the many contradictions of Madden’s young life–from the immense privileges of her wealthy upbringing, to the trauma and isolation wrought by her parents’ drug addiction, to the precious and devastating nature of friendship between fatherless girls.

 

cover art for The Color of AirThe Color of Air by Gail Tsukiyama

Tsukiyama’s brilliant historical novel tells the story of a Japanese-American family, set against the backdrop of Hawai’i’s sugar plantations. Just as long-standing family secrets and tensions appear primed to explode, another devastating eruption occurs: that of Mauna Loa volcano.

 

cover art for The Unpassing

 

 

The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin

Lin’s gripping debut novel interrogates the myth of the American Dream through a Taiwanese immigrant family struggling to get by in Anchorage, Alaska. When tragedy strikes, the resultant upheaval forces the family to reckon with grief and guilt amidst unfamiliar, and often unforgiving, surroundings.

 

cover art for How Much of These Hills is GoldHow Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

In Zhang’s epic Western set during the American Gold Rush, the orphaned children of Chinese immigrants set out across a harsh and unforgiving landscape in the hopes of burying their father, and their past. The unforgettable sights and adventures they encounter along the way provide a fascinating glimpse of the future that might await them.

 

cover art for Pachinko

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Lee’s powerful historical novel follows a single Korean family through a dramatic saga of betrayal, sacrifice, ambition, and love. The family’s tumultuous story begins with a young Sunja’s unplanned and potentially devastating pregnancy. Unbeknownst to her, the choices Sunja makes will reverberate through generations to come.

 

 

Anti-Violence and Anti-Racism Resources to Support the AAPI Community:

https://anti-asianviolenceresources.carrd.co/

https://www.advancingjustice-aajc.org/anti-asian-hate

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/anti-racism-resources-support-asian-american-pacific-islander-community-n1260467

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/politics/a35862857/stop-asian-hate-organizations-to-support/

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Summer Reading in the Classics

Looking for some classics-inspired reading to sink your teeth into this summer? Check out this list of fiction set in the ancient world or drawing inspiration from Greco-Roman mythology.

Blue cover with a golden Grecian helmet emblazoned with the book title.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Click for catalog link.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

A heartbreaking retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of Patroclus. Our narrator meets the heroic Achilles at a young age, and we watch alongside him as his companion grows into a seemingly invincible warrior. Throughout their adolescence and preparation for war, their relationship develops into one of profound love. By the time the pair reach the beaches of Troy, the plot churns forward as the audience braces for an inevitably tragic end. Fans of this novel should definitely check out Miller’s Circe and her earlier novella Galatea.

 

 

Purple and gold illustration of the Trojan Horse with five women in front of it.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker. Release date: June 2021.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

Set in the aftermath of the sacking of Troy, this novel gives a voice to the women left behind in the aftermath of a bloody Greek victory. Briseis, a Trojan royal captured by Achilles, navigates the shattered world of her ruined city alongside the other overlooked women of the former court. A gritty, visceral imagining that pairs seamlessly with Barker’s previous novel set during the Trojan War, The Silence of the Girls.

 

 

 

 

Illustration of Roman women in archways with stars in the distance.

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper. Release date: May 2021.

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper

A story about Pompeii that fleshes out the people living in the ill-fated town. Amara is a sex worker in a city brothel (a lupanar, or wolf den) attempting to assert her agency in a society that denies her bodily autonomy. An absorbing tale of womanhood and resistance that will resonate with contemporary readers looking for strong female characters in a vivid reimagining of the past.

 

 

 

 

A still life of a Roman feast with a robed figure standing next to it.

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King. Click for catalog link.

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King
Enslaved Thrasius navigates a dangerous political climate and the changing whims of his avaricious gourmand of a master, Apicius, as he serves extravagant dishes to Rome’s most powerful patricians in the Augustan age. Richly detailed and emotionally evocative, King presents a sumptuous feast of a novel inspired by a centuries-old collection of recipes. Her world-building is excellent; she instantly draws readers into the past through her sensory-laden prose. May leave you hungry, may not — depends on how deeply you crave peacock meatballs, milk snails, and flamingo tongues.

 

 

A woman underwater covering her face.

The Deep End of the Sea by Heather Lyons.

The Deep End of the Sea by Heather Lyons
A clever reimagining of Medusa that tackles relatable themes of loneliness and companionship. It follows Medusa through her daily life of isolation as she reminisces on her long-lost days of human existence and waits for something to break the monotony of life as a lone monster. She begins to seek solace in visits from the god Hermes, and as the years roll by, their relationship strengthens. A feminist take on Medusa that grants her much more happiness than the myths.

 

 

 

An illustration of a woman in all orange with sun rays radiating from her head.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne is a formidable new force in mythological retellings. It follows Ariadne and Phaedra, princesses of Crete, from the birth of their younger half-brother Asterion (more popularly known as the Minotaur) to their subsequent separations, marriages, and tragic ends. This is a well-written woman-centered story that breathes life into mythical characters. Saint raises questions of women’s autonomy and her characters acknowledge and challenge their own limitations in a world that disproportionately punishes women. Fans of Madeline Miller, Margaret Atwood, and Pat Barker will find much to savor in this bold new story.

 

A girl in a pink coat holds a statuette of the Eiffel Tower.

Lovely War by Julie Berry. Click for catalog link.

Lovely War by Julie Berry
Set against the backdrops of World War I and II, Lovely War follows Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Ares as they recount the lives of four teenagers finding love during the Great War. Filled with memorable characters, lush prose, and vivid settings, the novel considers how love persists even in immense peril. The Olympian trio provides a timeless framing to the woven narrative of the two young couples fighting for their lives and their happiness amidst a global catastrophe.

 

 

 

A black cover with a bust of a Grecian marble statue with the title "The Maidens" covering the eyes.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides. Release date June 2021.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
One by one, the students of a brilliant, charismatic Cambridge classics professor are found dead. Grieving therapist Mariana receives a panicked call from her niece Zoe, whose friend and classmate is the first to show up brutally murdered in the woods off campus. Rushing to Cambridge – a place imbued with memories, as she recalls meeting her recently deceased husband when they were young students there – Mariana comforts Zoe and starts to pick apart the threads of the mystery unraveling before her. If you’ve read The Secret History by Donna Tartt, this classics-inspired contemporary thriller should definitely be on your to-read shelf.

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New Fiction Spotlight: The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

Cover art for the Secret Lives of Church Ladies

“I don’t question God,” declares the titular character of “Eulah,” the first story in The Secret Lives of Church Ladies.

“But maybe you should question the people who taught you this version of God. Because it’s not doing you any favors,” the narrator replies.

This exchange is at the crux of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection. The collection is full of hope, heartbreak, hunger, and love. Its protagonists find themselves torn between the demands of church and family and those of their own bodies. They wrestle with their appetites, illicit or otherwise, and usually come out on top in one way or another.

The nine stories that make up The Secret Lives of Church Ladies span a wide array of turbulent and fascinating relationships with mothers, fathers, sisters, and lovers. In “Dear Sister,” a woman writes a letter to the half-sister she’s never met to inform her of the death of their father. In “Snowfall,” the narrator struggles to adjust to both the realities of living in a northern climate and her mother’s disavowal of her relationship with another woman.

Despite these tumultuous relationships, the stories are full of comfort—offered from sister to sister, daughter to mother, and lover to lover. These offerings are often in the form of food, whether it be homemade, fast-food, or frozen.

One of the collection’s most powerful stories, for example, is “Peach Cobbler,” which begins: “My mother’s peach cobbler was so good, it made God himself cheat on his wife.” Like many in the collection, “Peach Cobbler” deals with infidelity, unhealthy relationships, and the ache to be loved with wry humor and compassion.

Each story is told in the first-person, lending the collection a powerful intimacy. The reader is left feeling as though they really have been let in on the secret lives of these powerful storytellers. In The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Philyaw paints nuanced portraits of vulnerable and resilient women who rely upon each other and create communities worth treasuring.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is available now at the Literatures and Languages Library.

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Reading Recommendations For Native American Heritage Month

“I’ve been taught bloodstones can cure a snakebite / can stop the bleeding—most people forgot this / when the war ended.” So begins the titular work of Postcolonial Love Poem, the latest  collection from award-winning poet Natalie Diaz. 

November is Native American Heritage Month, also known as American Indian Heritage Month. To celebrate, we are highlighting a few recently published works by Indigenous authors in our collection. The books linked below are as unique and multifaceted as the cultures they depict. They explore such ideas as reconciliation, dream-sharing, feminine power, resilience, and what it means to create a home. They grapple with trauma, violence, and racism in turn, but they are also touched with a deep sense of hope and love.

Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age By: Darrel McLeod

As a small boy in remote Alberta, Darrel J. McLeod is immersed in his Cree family’s history, passed down in the stories of his mother, Bertha. There he is surrounded by her tales of joy and horror. And there young Darrel learns to be fiercely proud of his heritage and to listen to the birds that will guide him throughout his life.

But after a series of tragic losses, Bertha turns wild and unstable, and their home life becomes chaotic. Mamaskatch traces McLeod’s struggles to keep his life and family together, and come to terms with his sexual identity, amidst violence and chaos. 

 

Postcolonial Love Poem By: Natalie Diaz

Postcolonial Love Poem is an anthem of desire against erasure. Natalie Diaz’s brilliant second collection demands that every body carried in its pages—bodies of language, land, rivers, suffering brothers, enemies, and lovers—be touched and held as beloveds. Through these poems, the wounds inflicted by America onto an indigenous people are allowed to bloom pleasure and tenderness: “Let me call my anxiety, desire, then. / Let me call it, a garden.” In this new lyrical landscape, the bodies of indigenous, Latinx, black, and brown women are simultaneously the body politic and the body ecstatic. In claiming this autonomy of desire, language is pushed to its dark edges, the astonishing dunefields and forests where pleasure and love are both grief and joy, violence and sensuality.

Sabrina & Corina By: Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s magnetic story collection breathes life into her Latina characters of indigenous ancestry and the land they inhabit in the American West. Against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado—a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite—these women navigate the land the way they navigate their lives: with caution, grace, and quiet force.

In “Sugar Babies,” ancestry and heritage are hidden inside the earth but tend to rise during land disputes. “Any Further West” follows a sex worker and her daughter as they leave their ancestral home in southern Colorado only to find a foreign and hostile land in California. In “Tomi,” a woman leaves prison and finds herself in a gentrified city that is a shadow of the one she remembers from her childhood. And in the title story, “Sabrina & Corina,” a Denver family falls into a cycle of violence against women, coming together only through ritual.

Rebel Poet (Continuing the Oral Tradition): more stories from the 21st century Indian By: Louis V. Clark III (Two Shoes)

This eagerly anticipated follow-up to the breakout memoir How to Be an Indian in the 21st Century delves more deeply into the themes of family, community, grief, and the struggle to make a place in the world when your very identity is considered suspect. In Rebel Poet: More Stories from a 21st Century Indian, author Louis Clark examines the effects of his mother’s alcoholism and his young sister’s death, offers an intimate recounting of the backlash he faced as an Indian on the job, and celebrates the hard-fought sense of home he and his wife have created. Rebel Poet continues the author’s tradition of seamlessly mixing poetry and prose, and is at turns darker and more nuanced than its predecessor

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Looking for Something to Read? Try These Titles!

Undecided on what to read next? Stuck in a reading slump? We can help! Here are some recommendations you can find in the library catalog:

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

book cover: a woman in a vintage red dress stands in front of a green background

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Click for catalog link.

 

If you’re looking for a book to keep you up at night, Mexican Gothic is the perfect choice. When Noemí receives a worrying letter from her cousin, she travels to High Place, where Catalina lives with her husband and his strange family, the Doyles. When strange dreams and happenings begin to plague her, Noemí suspects there is more to High Place than meets the eye. Mexican Gothic is an eerie, gothic tale of horror that will leave you thoroughly spooked.

 

 

 

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

cover art for dear edward. click for catalog link

Dear Edward, by Ann Napolitano. Click for catalog link.

 

When Edward boards a plane to Los Angeles with his family, the last thing he expects is for it to crash–and to leave him as the only survivor. He goes to live with his aunt and uncle, where, over the course of many years, he tries to find his place and purpose in the world. A haunting coming-of-age story, Dear Edward is a breathtaking tale that will leave you thinking about it for days to come.

 

 

 

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

cover art for the stationery shop. click for catalog link

The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali. Click for catalog link.

The year is 1953. Roya loves the stationery shop owned by Mr. Fakhri. It’s her oasis in Tehran, a place she can feel safe. When she’s set up by self-proclaimed matchmaker Mr. Fakhri, a beautiful romance blooms between her and another customer, Bahman. On the day before they’re to be married, they agree to meet in the town square, though due to a coup, they are unable to meet. After attempts to contact Bahman fail, Roya moves on with her life, but years later, fate brings Roya and Bahman together again. And this time, Roya is determined to know what happened all those years ago. If you like literary fiction with a slice of romance, The Stationery Shop is a perfect choice.

 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

cover art for the secret history

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. Click for catalog link.

 

Maybe you’re interested in the dark side of academia. If so, The Secret History is a great choice. When Richard leaves his hometown to attend Hampden College, he finds himself introduced to an elite group of Classics scholars, led by the enigmatic Julian Morrow. Soon, though, he finds himself embroiled in a plot to murder one of their own: a fellow student, Bunny. Told through flashbacks leading up to Bunny’s death, The Secret History is a chilling work of fiction deserving of its bestseller status.

 

 

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

cover art of djinn patrol on the purple line. click for catalog link

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, by Deepa Anappara. Click for catalog link.

 

Nine-year-old Jai considers himself to be one of the smartest kids at his school. So when one of his classmates goes missing, he’s determined to find him, believing the crime-solving skills he’s picked up from watching too much television will help solve the case. But when more children begin to go missing and the police force remains indifferent, Jai and his friends must confront a terrifying reality. Based on real disappearances occurring in metropolitan India, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is an emotional thriller sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.

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Translating the Classics, Graphically

What’s on your to-read list?

If you’re anything like us, your to-read list is ever-expanding, as exciting new books jump the queue over hulking classics you’re a little embarrassed you haven’t read by now.

The internet is replete with articles like “Classic Novels Everyone Should Read” and “30 Classics You Should Read Before You Die.” These lists are populated by novels like Great Expectations, Moby Dick, and Animal Farm. Intimidating lists like these can discourage even the most intrepid reader.

Some people give up on the classics before they’ve truly started them, intimidated by their length or density. Others are skeptical of their relevance to modern life. Many more simply lack the time and energy to wade through “the great books.”

But while there is no required reading list for life, who among us would not like to know these classics? Or at least know them well enough to understand what’s so very “great” about them?

A page from Tim Hamilton’s graphic adaption of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

This is where the graphic adaptation comes in. This increasingly popular format blends words, panels, and illustrations to create a highly readable and accessible new work. Some of these graphic interpretations are so innovative and beautiful they could qualify as literary masterpieces in their own right.

A quick internet search will reveal that an astonishing number of literary classics have been adapted in this way. Everything from The Great Gatsby to Paradise Lost to The Stranger has received the graphic novel treatment.

And why not? Because they distill stories into essential dialogue and visuals, graphic novels are quick reads. They can thus provide fascinating introductions to topics, ideas, and even genres of literature a reader might have otherwise discounted as out of reach. In this way, a graphic adaptation can provide a point of entry to a whole new world of stories.

Have you read any great graphic adaptations of literary classics? If not, we’ve included 3 of our favorites below to help you get you started.

Thoreau at Walden, adapted by John Porcellino

 Each artist has their own interpretation of the text, and some books are more suited to the graphic treatment than others.  As in any adaptation, sometimes sacrifices have to be made to fit the new format.

John Porcellino’s Thoreau at Walden, for example, distills Henry David Thoreau’s sojourn at Walden Pond into its most essential lessons, telling the rest of the story through deceptively simple illustrations.

 

 

Meg, Jo Beth, and Amy, adapted by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo 

Some artists use graphic adaptations to put a modern spin on a much-beloved classic. Jo, Beth, Meg and Amy, for example, reimagines the March sisters as part of a multi-ethnic blended family coming up, and coming out, in modern-day New York City. It’s hard to imagine, Louisa May Alcott, a staunch abolitionist and feminist, would object to this adaptation of Little Women.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird, adapted by Fred Fordham

 In 2018, PBS launched an eight-part series called The Great American Read. The series was designed to get Americans reading and talking passionately about books, and encouraged viewers to cast their votes in determining America’s top 100 best-loved novels. The results were a fascinating mix of classic and modern titles included on many people’s to-read lists.

But America’s number one best-loved novel proved to be Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, a coming-of-age story told against the backdrop of simmering racial tensions in small town Alabama. If this classic is on your to-read list, check out Fred Fordham’s graphic adaptation, available in the Literatures and Languages Library’s very own collection.

 

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