My Go-To Literary Recommendations: 6 Books and 3 Short Stories
(all works are marketed for adult readers; reader discretion is advised & (possible) Trigger Warnings for 4-6)
Every year I seem to do fifty percent or so of my holiday and birthday shopping at a Barnes & Noble and an independent bookstore. Books and their literary-related cousins (bookmarks, gift/note cards, etc…) are my favorite types of presents to give. I love giving someone the opportunity to experience a new world, a new idea, a new life, and I eagerly look forward to the potential conversation to follow after the book’s been read, regardless if I’ve also read the book or not. Below you’ll find six of my go-to book recommendations and three of my go-to short story recommendations for whether you need a gift and/or are in search of your own next read.
1. Blood Books quintet (first book: Blood Price) by Tanya Huff.
Vicki Nelson is a private detective in Toronto who finds herself immersed in supernatural cases after crossing paths with, befriending, and eventually falling in love with vampire and romance author Henry Fitzroy. This is my favorite urban fantasy series. The supernatural storylines are nicely varied; for instance, the second book features werewolves whereas the fourth book features a Frankenstein-inspired plot. Third, the relationships among the characters are complex. Not only do Vicki and Henry have a friendship and a romantic connection, but Vicki is also involved with a loyal man named Mike, a cop and completely human, and Henry is also involved with a man named Tony, a former hustler and burgeoning wizard. This is an urban fantasy with depth, eeriness, mystery, and romance that you can’t go wrong with.
2. Maurice by E.M. Forster.
Maurice is the tale of pre-WWI English Maurice Hall, who, in his twenties, determines he won’t hide or reject his sexuality, and instead, pursues a same-sex and interclass relationship with Alec Scudder, a gardener. Maurice is a sharp (remember what time period it’s set in) yet poignant love story (which includes a happy ending) with diverse emotions that anyone can relate to. Plus, there’s a breathtaking Merchant-Ivory film adaptation of it that you or you and a date can compare later. Snacks, anyone?
3. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.
Amy Tan’s intertwining stories of four daughters and their mothers is an American classic. I won’t set the stopwatch, but I’d go out and pick up a copy of Tan’s delectable first novel ASAP. An elegantly and thoughtfully written novel, The Joy Luck Club depicts the cultural, social, and personal pains, struggles, and triumphs of each woman in a way that will stay with you many years after your first literary dinner with these women. While each of the women’s stories are intriguing, I personally became the most invested in daughter Waverly Jong’s, daughter Lena St. Clair’s, and mother An-Mei Hsu’s stories. Because of the myriad group of characters, you’ll have plenty of ideas and opinions to discuss. And like the above suggestion, there’s also a film version that can be enjoyed (yes, my small attempt at wit) before or after reading the book.
4. Changes: A Love Story by Ama Ata Aidoo.
One of the greatest secrets I learned about in college was that of Ama Ata Aidoo’s searing novel Changes: A Love Story. Here you’ll find a stirring feminist tale featuring the main characters of Esi, Opokuya, and Fusena, focusing on their professional and personal lives, their friendships and complex marriages. One major example of the latter is Esi’s affair with Ali, Fusena’s husband. Years after I first read this novel in a college class, Esi’s powerful choices still resonate. Aidoo’s novel provokes readers to engage with women’s anger, rape and its aftermath, sexual individuality and control of one’s self, including the sexual, and the depth of language. It is not only a privilege to read about these compelling women of Ghana, but it is a necessity. Any reader would thank you for putting this book in her or his direction.
5. We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory
We Are All Completely Fine is a post-horror horror novella whose final line continues to haunt me. The premise, at its simplest, is that the last survivors of horror movie or book situations (e.g. one was held hostage by a cannibalistic family, another had etchings carved onto her bones) have been gathered for group therapy sessions and eventually band together to help one of the members whose horror story has reemerged. I became invested in the nuanced characters so quickly that I finished it over a summer weekend, and I expect you will too. Furthermore, unlike a number of horror stories, We Are All Completely Fine is not particularly scary or gory, so this is a good choice for gore-averse speculative readers. However, it is intense in parts for it is a story about trauma and understanding that while the traumatic past may walk with us, it does not walk in front of us.
6. Love is Love: A comic book anthology to benefit the survivors of the Orlando Pulse shooting. Organized by Marc Andreyko, Edited by Sarah Gaydos and Jamie S. Rich.
Love is Love is a graphic novel that everyone should read and will benefit from reading, regardless if he or she is a usual fan of graphic novels or not. The stories demonstrate sorrow and the horror of human actions, but they also provide resounding demonstrations of love, hope, and acceptance: what our society could be.
1) “Hello Aloha” by Tony Calvert in Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction, Ed. by Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane.
“Hello Aloha” is a snarky-sweet and quirky, but not cutesy-quirky, story set in Disneyworld (yeah, the title’s a little misleading). Jory attends his friend’s wedding, unhappily at the start, but by the end, may just have experienced true love’s kiss. The romance in this story is charming, and the banter between Jory and his friend Chad, one of the grooms, is fun. My favorite example:
(Chad states): “So there I was, having a lovely conversation with Donald Duck, one of my heroes—”
(To which Jory replies): “Donald Duck is one of your heroes?”
2) “The Hunt of the Unicorn” by Ellen Kushner in Peter S. Beagle’s Immortal Unicorn Vol. 2. Ed. by Peter S. Beagle and Janet Berliner.
I’ve had a soft spot for fantasy fiction involving unicorns since I was little, probably because I watched The Last Unicorn on repeat, so when I discovered this anthology, I pounced on it. “The Hunt of the Unicorn” explores the healing yet tragic romance between Lord Thomas Berowne and Lazarus Merridon, a man who’s not quite a man through alchemy. Kushner’s tale is a prime example of a superb short story in which the characters are well-developed, the plot is original, and the ending is final-enough to not be open to too many interpretations.
3) “An Elegy for Melusine” by Claire Delacroix in To Weave a Web of Magic: Four Stories of Fantasy and Exquisite Romance.
“An Elegy for Melusine” depicts the doomed romance between the mystical Melusine and the human Raymond. The story is based upon the French legend of the mermaid-esque Melusine. Without giving too much of the plot away, I’ll say that the reason why I enjoy the legend of Melusine as well as this re-telling is because Melusine has always reminded me of a cross between Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” in which the eponymous mermaid sacrifices her voice and more, and the legend of Lilith, the first wife of Adam, who’s exiled from Eden and transforms. Delacroix’s “Melusine” is a beautiful and powerful story with characters who are hues of gray and whose greatest power(s) is how long they remain in the reader’s mind.
Who’s ready to read? ☺