10 Fictional Characters That Are Definitely Having a Worse Day Than You

Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale (2017)/Photo © 2016 Hulu

We all have bad days. That’s an unfortunate, if inescapable, fact of life. Life is stressful, that’s part of the deal and we all need ways to let off a little steam to perhaps gain a modicum of perspective. Fortunately, the wondrous concept of schadenfreude exists, and while it may seem a tad callous to derive enjoyment from the misfortune of others, literature can give you all the vicarious joy and none of the existential guilt.

So, just remember: as bad as your day may seem, someone in the wide literary world is having a markedly worse one than you.

The cover of the book The Drawing of the ThreeThe Drawing of the Three
Stephen King
Roland Deschain

Roland Deschain’s arch-nemesis has just escaped his grasp. He just dropped a kid to his apparent death. Literally everyone he knows is dead. And now he wakes on some random beach and large lobster-like creatures have gnawed off a couple of his fingers on his shooting hand and his big toe. That’s a bad day, folks.

 

 

The cover of the book A Storm of SwordsA Storm of Swords
George R. R. Martin
The Stark Family

In the world of A Song of Ice and Fire just having the surname “Stark” is an indication that you’re in for a string of really, really terrible days. The Red Wedding is pretty hard to top, though. Robb Stark thought he was bringing allies to his side, but instead sees his men massacred and is murdered himself. Catelyn, after watching her son die, has her throat slit. Arya Stark loses yet another chance at reuniting with her family. At least she got to add more names to her list?

 

 

The cover of the book At the Mountains of MadnessAt the Mountains of Madness
H. P. Lovecraft
Danforth

Imagine you’re a grad student with an interest in the occult, what better place to be than good old Miskatonic University? What better experience than accompanying a geology professor to the Antarctica? There is the small issue of that expedition finding an ancient, evil civilization, a formless monstrosity and a terror so great the mere sight of breaks your sanity. Hopefully, Danforth got a ton of extra credit.

 

 

The cover of the book The MetamorphosisThe Metamorphosis
Franz Kafka
Gregor Samsa

Gregor Samsa, a salesman suffering an existential crisis, turns into a giant insect. A giant insect. That is a worse day than yours.

 

 

The cover of the book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Junot Díaz
Oscar de Leon

There are bad days and then there is The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Oscar de Leon suffers through two suicide attempts, a beating-induced coma, the unrequited love of a Dominican prostitute, and his eventual death at the hands of corrupt Dominican cops. Oh, and his family is probably cursed.

 

 

The cover of the book The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride
William Goldman
Westley 

You may be having a bad day, but have you ever lost the love of your life to a pompous prince and been rendered mostly dead by a life-sucking torture device?

 

 

The cover of the book 19841984
George Orwell
Winston Smith

I’m certain that most days in a dystopian surveillance state would be fairly bad, but being betrayed by the kindly old guy you and your lady love are renting from and turned over to the thought police? That just really sucks. Throw in the torture, the rats, and the existential collapse and you’re looking down the barrel of Winston Smith’s truly bad day.

 

 

The cover of the book Blood MeridianBlood Meridian
Cormac McCarthy
The Kid

No one really ever has a particularly good day in a Cormac McCarthy novel. There really all just varying degrees of bleak. Imagine being the Kid from Blood Meridian, though. After years of brutality, you think you’re out from under the sway of the Judge. Then you head to the outhouse after an evening with a prostitute and open the to door to be greeted by the massive, naked figure of the Judge who “gather [you] in his arms against his immense and terrible flesh.” There’s no way that ends well.

 

 

The cover of the book American GodsAmerican Gods
Neil Gaiman
Shadow Moon

Being released from prison early should be a good day, right? Shadow Moon likely thought so. That is until he found he was being released to attend his wife’s funeral – his wife who was having an affair with his best friend.

 

 

The cover of the book The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood
Offred

Just pick a day. Literally any day of Offred’s life in Gilead is probably worse than yours.

 

 

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5 READS FOR HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH

Penned in Don Quixote is the proverb “El que lee mucho y anda mucho, ve mucho y sabe mucho,” which translates to “He who reads a lot and walks a lot, knows a lot and sees a lot.” How beautiful and poetic is that? I would have to agree with the proverb, and I would also say that Don Quixote is a masterpiece of literature. Often; however, great works by Hispanic authors are overlooked.

I have seen countless book lists that almost always list great literature as written only by authors who are white, as if authors of color have never existed. Rarely do I ever see book lists of incredible reads by Hispanic authors. Historically, Hispanics have been marginalized, and quite frankly I am exhausted from trying to convince others that Hispanic authors have put together some of the greatest books. Call it bias if you will, but I call it passion. I have compiled a small list of great books that I recommend you read. Why not start during Hispanic Heritage Month? In no particular order, here they are:

With His Pistol in His Hand Book CoverWITH HIS PISTOL IN HIS HAND: A BORDER BALLAD AND ITS HERO

BY AMERICO PAREDES

If you have no idea who Americo Paredes is, then I suggest you learn right away. Paredes is recognized as one of the seminal Mexican American scholars of the twentieth century. He spent most of his academic career at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1967 he helped found the Center for Intercultural Studies of Folklore and Ethnomusicology there. During the 1960s he also fought determinedly for creation of a Mexican American studies program in spite of discouraging anti-Mexican attitudes within the university. With His Pistol in His Hand is the story of Gregorio Cortez, the Tejano hero of a border corrido (ballad). Cortez was virtually unknown in Texas until, in 1901, he and a Texas sheriff engaged in a good old fashioned shootout after a misunderstanding. The sheriff was killed and Gregorio fled immediately, realizing that in practice there was one law for Anglo-Texans, another for Texas-Mexicans. The chase and capture of Cortez became legendary across Texas—so legendary that until this day the heroic tales of Gregorio Cortez can still be heard  in the cantinas (bars) along both sides of the Rio Grande. This is my all-time favorite book, one that deserves much praise. I highly recommend it.
Like Water for Chocolate Book CoverLIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE 

BY LAURA ESQUIVEL

The cultural significance of this book is unparalleled. What else can I really say about how amazing this books is that has not already been said? The movie was not so bad, but it really does the book no justice. Tita, the youngest daughter of the all-female De La Garza family, is confined to caring for her mother until she dies and is forbidden to marry, as per Mexican tradition. But of course Tita falls in love with a man named Pedro. Pedro is easily seduced by the amazing food Tita cooks and is infatuated with her more and more as each day passes. Out of pure desperation, Pedro instead marries Tita’s sister Rosaura because that would mean he could be so much closer to Tita. Their love for each other never dies, and only after multiple tragedies and a spell of good/bad luck are they finally reunited. This book is one-of-a-kind and one that deserves to be on every single “must read” book list. If you love magical realism, then this book is for you.

 

Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky Book CoverFEATHERED SERPENT, DARK HEART OF SKY: MYTHS OF MEXICO 

BY DAVID BOWLES

You may be familiar with Greek, Norse or Egyptian mythology, but have you ever considered the mythology of Mexico? Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky traces the history of the world from its beginnings in the dreams of the dual god, Ometeotl, to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico and the fall of the great city Tenochtitlan. Bowles does an amazing job of retelling Mexican mythology in a way that readers will be drawn to.  Bowles states that it was not until college that he first read a single Aztec or Mayan myth. I had the same experience, even though I grew up in a border town and attended a university that was predominantly Hispanic. The importance of this book needs to be discussed. From Kirkus: “Bowles’ dense yet lyrical prose raises the narrative to a level suited to high mythological tradition and illuminates the foundations on which contemporary Mexican culture is laid. Students of folklore will find a rich trove to mine here.” This is a great read that everybody will enjoy. Do it now!

 

The Line Becomes a River Book CoverTHE LINE BECOMES A RIVER: DISPATCHES FROM THE BORDER 

BY FRANCISCO CANTU

The cultural significance of this book is undeniable. Given how border issues are a contemporary topic, The Line Becomes a River is relevant because it highlights not only the difficulties of policing the border, but the difficulties of witnessing immigrants traverse literal death traps  as they make their way into the United States. Francisco Cantu is a former U.S. Border Patrol agent who worked the U.S.-Mexico Border in Arizona and Texas. His dispatches from the border are eye-opening and leave you feeling a multitude of ways. Being Hispanic, Cantu assumed that policing the border would be the answer to all of the border questions he was so perplexed about. The border, however, proved to be an enigma that he was not prepared for. From arresting immigrants and drug smugglers to witnessing countless dead bodies, Cantu’s experiences are mesmerizing. This is a book you will not be able to put down. From Esquire: “A must-read for anyone who thinks ‘build a wall’ is the answer to anything.” Pick this one up today and enjoy.

 

Bang Book CoverBANG: A NOVEL 

BY DANIEL PENA

Although Daniel and I had a constructive disagreement on Twitter once (good times, Daniel), this did not take away from how much I enjoyed his book. Bang is an excellent novel set in the town of Harlingen, a town that is situated only a few miles from the mighty Rio Grande in Deep South Texas. Although this book is fictional, the fate of the family in Pena’s book is a reminiscent fate of the many families who have suffered at the hands of violent Mexican drug cartels. They are forced to do dangerous, unimaginable things. Uli and his brother Cuauhtemoc are involved in a plane crash along the U.S.-Mexico Border one late night. Cuauhtemoc awakes and realizes he is bound and gagged. Is he in Mexico or the U.S.? He is unsure. Uli wakes up in a hospital and is also unsure of which country he is in. Given that Uli is an undocumented immigrant, he prays that he is in a U.S. hospital, but it doesn’t take long for him to realize he is in Mexico. Their mother Araceli hears of the crash and risks her own status by crossing into Mexico to search for her two sons and her husband who has been missing for some time. In Mexico, each is forced to navigate the complexities of their past and an unknown world of deprivation and violence. From Kirkus: “A piercing tale of lives broken by border violence.” This book is a great read that details the struggles many actual undocumented immigrants face. I highly recommend this one.
There are thousands of great books written by Hispanic men and women whose talents are often passed over. Despite overwhelming positive reviews, most people never categorize their works as great. It is important to recognize authors of all color, background, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation for their body of work and for the amazing books they publish. If this list doesn’t do it for you, then compile your own list, but give Hispanic authors a chance. You will not be disappointed.

, September 

Romance Novels You Should Read, Based on Other Books You Love

Image © Shutterstock

Romance is a huge and diverse genre, encompassing historical, contemporary, paranormal, and suspenseful tales, all united by one thing: a love story with a happy ending. But knowing that ending’s coming doesn’t take away from the story. Instead, it leaves you free to enjoy its twists and turns. If you’re new to romance or looking to expand your reading in the genre, here are some suggestions, based on other books you love. (Devoted romance readers can, of course, flip that equation and find a new book to read based on your favorite romance.)

The cover of the book The Rogue Not TakenThe Rogue Not Taken
Sarah MacLean
If you loved Pride and Prejudice

You could argue that Jane Austen wrote romance, or at least its forbear, and she certainly paved the way for female authors to skewer social hypocrisy while writing sincere and complex stories about love. Among today’s romance writers, Sarah MacLean carries on that legacy with novels that will appeal to fans of Austen’s love stories and Austen’s social commentary.

In The Rogue Not Taken, Sophie Talbot is the youngest of a set of sisters thrust into society when their coal baron father buys an Earldom. Sophie is the odd duck out of her sisters, uninterested in the gossip and scheming of the aristocratic society—she’s a bit of a Darcy there—but she finds herself in the spotlight when she shoves her sister’s philandering husband into a fishpond at a ball. Rather than stay to see her name in the scandal sheets, Sophie flees for Mossband, the town where she and her sisters grew up. Now add a touch of Shakespeare as Sophie dresses as a boy to play footman for The Marquess of Eversley, named Kingscote but called King, a notorious rake who’s headed in the same direction. The disguise doesn’t last long, and the sparks that fly between Sophie and King are as much about intellect and verbal sparring as they are about physical attraction. But don’t worry, that’s there, too. And in the end, their love feels as true and well-earned—and dreamy—as any that Austen ever wrote.

The cover of the book A Hope DividedA Hope Divided
Alyssa Cole
If you loved The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

This isn’t just about “oh if you liked one interesting take on the Civil War, you’ll like this other one,” though, yes, that’s part of it. Colson Whitehead’s novel elaborated on history with fantastical Southern cities that used imaginative what-ifs to get closer to the dark essence of history. Alyssa Cole’s novel places, in the midst of a rigorously researched historical world, an invented couple through whom Cole evokes the unimaginable reality of slavery. Both novels center on a female character whose strength is mixed with naivete and hopefulness, through whose eyes the reader takes their journey.

In Cole’s case, that woman is Marlie, a free black woman who lives with her white siblings (they share a plantation owner father, now deceased). Marlie and her white sister have made their home a stop on the Underground Railroad. But despite that bravery, Marlie has a sheltered life—she rarely leaves home, working as a botanist to create medical tinctures and herbal distillations. The one time Marlie does venture out is for visits to a local Confederate prison, where she brings books and stealthy treatments to the prisoners. There she meets Ewan, who she calls Socrates for his devotion to the writings of the Ancient Greeks. A prison escape gone wrong lands Ewan in Marlie’s care, but Marlie’s home is a far less safe place than it used to be. Cole writes this Civil War world with rich specificity, showing the human reality that was much more complicated than North versus South, or good versus evil. Yet she never shies away from the moral realities of slavery, either, offering, through Marlie and Ewan’s intimate story, a sweeping perspective on both history and our present moment.

The cover of the book Garden of LiesGarden of Lies
Amanda Quick
If you loved Possession by AS Byatt

In Possession, AS Byatt melds literary mystery, poetry, and romance, interweaving two storylines in present-day and Victorian England. Amanda Quick’s Garden of Lies doesn’t share Byatt’s jumps between timelines, but readers who love Byatt will be happy to lose themselves in Quick’s Victorian world. Ursula Kern runs a secretarial agency, and when one of her best employees is found dead, Ursula suspects foul play. She takes the employee’s place as secretary to a reclusive poetess—abruptly leaving her own post, as a stenographer for archaeologist-slash-adventurer Slater Roxton. When she confesses her plan to him, Roxton insists on helping Ursula on her quest. As the two dig deeper and deeper into secrets and the dark underbelly of Victorian society, they of course find themselves drawn together as well—bringing their own buried secrets to the surface. In Quick’s skilled hands, the romance and the mystery are in perfect balance, neither perfunctory but both rich, engaging, and surprising as the story unfolds.

The cover of the book Slave to SensationSlave to Sensation
Nalini Singh
If you loved The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char is a sui generis horror novel—in its pages, Scott Hawkins conjures a totally original world, hidden within our own, full of monsters and incomprehensible powers and, at its heart, one lonely and terrified woman learning to trust her own strength and brave vulnerability, too. If you want to lose yourself in another richly imagined paranormal world, Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series is for you. And in this case, you won’t have to pine and mope after finishing one novel—you’ll have 18 more to read, and more coming down the pike.

But start with Slave to Sensation, the first book in the series, and the best introduction to Singh’s warring world. This world is ruled by the Psy, who, in attempt to eradicate violence, have eradicated—or at least banned—all emotion. But the Psy share their world with Changelings, humans who can transform into animals and, as you might expect, are the hot-blooded opposites of the icy Psy. Just as we get to know the world in The Library at Mount Char as its main character, Carolyn, coming to question everything she thinks she knows, Slave to Sensation is anchored by Sascha, a Psy at war with her own emotions and desires. When she’s brought together with Changeling Lucas Hunter, Sascha’s self-control becomes even more perilous—as does the tenuous balance between Psy and Changeling.

The cover of the book Wrong to Need YouWrong to Need You
Alisha Rai
If you loved The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

One of the great triumphs of Angela Flournoy’s award-winning novel, The Turner House, is Flournoy’s effortless evocation of a big family. The thirteen Turner siblings make for a rowdy chorus, but Flournoy deftly brings out the voices of a few soloists. Romance novels, by definition, focus on a central couple, but no relationship exists in a vacuum.

In her Forbidden Hearts trilogy, Alisha Rai situates her main characters within a complex web of familial and cultural tensions. In Wrong to Need You, the second book in the series, widow Sadia Ahmed is juggling running a small business, working as a bartender on the side, and raising her young son. When her husband’s brother, Jackson—Sadia’s former best friend—comes back to town after having been AWOL on Sadia for years, she has to grapple with old hurt and a confusing new attraction. Add Sadia and Jackson’s own knotty family issues, plus Rai’s deft treatment of her characters’ emotional lives and mental health, and you have a romance that fans of The Turner House will love.

So You Want to Read Time Travel Fiction: Here’s Where to Start

Time is a difficult thing to get a handle on, especially for humans, who are alone in our understanding of just how little of it we’re allotted. Our own lifespans are so short. There’s just so much to see and do, and we only get one go-round. It hardly seems fair. But what if you could make it stop for a moment and become time’s master?

Time travel is an all but impossible dream, but one that people have probably entertained throughout the history of our species — at the very least through recorded history. World literature offers us many examples of time travel as a plot device.

The Mahabharata, an epic poem that dates back to 400 BC, features the story of a character who returns to Earth after visiting the gods, only to discover that many years have passed in his absence. Similarly, in the seventh century Japanese fairy tale of Urashima Taro, a fisherman stays in a fabulous undersea kingdom for three days, and learns upon his return to his village that 300 years have passed by.

With the advent of the modern era, the ghosts and otherworldly forces of early time travel fiction have been mostly phased out, replaced in turn by the new gods of science and technology. H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine not only defined this new kind of story, it also helped to create an entirely new genre: science-fiction.

No matter the means, the wish to travel in time has remained ever popular, even if we’re no closer to making it a reality. Barring the sudden appearance of a souped-up DeLorean on your curb, your best bet of making a trip through time is through fiction. If you are ready to start your own journey into time travel literature, then we recommend following books.

The cover of the book The Time MachineThe Time Machine
H.G. WELLS
Any respectable list of time travel novels has to start with H. G. Wells’ groundbreaking novel The Time Machine. Casting aside the magic and mysticism of an earlier era, Wells sends his hero hurtling back and forth across Earth’s timeline by way of high technology. Wells’ adventure is no less fantastic than those that came before (the goblin-like Morlocks and placid Eloi are matches for any mythic demon or angel), or moralistic (the aforementioned creatures are part of a socialist allegory), but it is far ahead of them in putting its scientist protagonist into the literal and figurative drivers seat.

 

The cover of the book SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVESLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE
KURT VONNEGUT
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is another must-read in the canon of time travel literature. This is the story of Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier in World War II who becomes “unstuck in time”. Vonnegut’s novel follows Pilgrim’s seemingly random journey forward and backwards through the events of his own life, which includes meetings with aliens and experiencing the firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner of war. Slaughterhouse-Five is considered one of Vonnegut’s most autobiographical novels, as he, like Pilgrim, also survived the firebombing of Dresden as a POW.

 

The cover of the book RantRant
CHUCK PALAHNIUK
Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant is the story of a small-town troublemaker turned into a (literally) rabid time-traveling murderer and cult figure. Featuring super-secret nighttime demolition derbies, characters whose family are more like family poles, and time travel paradoxes that make stepping on a butterfly seem tame, Rant is as disgusting and hilarious as you would expect. There was a movie in the works, but it seems to have slipped into Development Hell. Or maybe that’s just in our own timeline?

 

The cover of the book KindredKindred
OCTAVIA E. BUTLER
Octavia Butler’s Kindred takes time travel fiction into one of America’s darkest historical episodes: slavery. In this groundbreaking work, an African American woman is suddenly and inexplicably sent backwards in time, coming face to face with a future slaveowner who has an unexpected connection to her own family. Kindred is an unflinching look at the horrors of slavery, and the ways that they still impact the present day.

 

The cover of the book The Gone WorldThe Gone World
TOM SWETERLITSCH
A government agent tasked to investigate the slaughter of a Navy SEAL’s family learns that it, and other acts of horrific violence, may be connected to a secret time travel program tasked with preventing the end of the world. As a veteran of the program, the agent knows the tolls it take on participants — she’s suffered dearly in the line of service, too — but will that be enough to stop the bloodshed?

 

The cover of the book How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional UniverseHow to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
CHARLES YU
Ready to get meta? In How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, author Charles Yu introduces us to Charles Yu: a customer service tech who repairs time machines in a minor alternate universe under contract to Time Warner Time. In between service calls, Yu and his dog (which may or may not exist) search for his father, lost somewhere in a pocket dimension of his own. Maybe one in a book …

 

The cover of the book The Time Traveler's AlmanacThe Time Traveler’s Almanac
ANN VANDERMEER AND JEFF VANDERMEER
Still don’t know where to start? Pick up Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Time Traveler’s Almanac, a comprehensive anthology of time-hopping fiction. inside, you’ll find work from Ursula K. Le Guin, Ray Bradbury, and many others. As they’ve amply demonstrated across several great anthologies, the VanderMeers know their way around speculative fiction like few do, and are the perfect guides for your journey into the genre.

Cosmic Inspiration: 12 Illuminating Books Paired to Zodiac Signs

Photo © Shutterstock

Dating back to ancient times, astrology has fascinated countless generations of seers, thinkers, and creatives. For some, the twelve signs of the zodiac offer insight on the human psyche while others view it as a celestial homage to age old gods, goddesses, and creatures whose names are immortalized by constellations. Essentially, the zodiac transforms the sky into a page upon which each luminous star tells a story. Whether you’ve had a birth chart done to determine your rising sun and moon, half-heartedly check your weekly horoscope, or consider yourself a skeptic, astrology, like fables or tarot, can help you make sense of the world around you. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, here’s twelve cosmically inspired recommendations that will undoubtedly leave you feeling inspired.

The cover of the book The PowerThe Power
Naomi Alderman
Aries: March 21 – April 19

In Naomi Alderman’s chillingly dystopian novel, young women develop the ability to wield bolts of electricity through their fingertips. In a world not much different than ours, her heroines use this extraordinary gift to cultivate destinies of their own. With each jolt and shock, they dismantle the limitations of their society’s traditions and expectations. Yet as they embrace the kinetic energy that flows through their veins, they’re forced to reckon with the double edged nature of their new strength. Much like Aries’ ruling planet Mars, The Power forces its reader to reflect on the irreversible ways that privilege and passion can change a person (for better or worse).

 

The cover of the book Fen: StoriesFen: Stories
Daisy Johnson
Taurus: April 20 – May 20

Taurus, also known as the sign of the bull,  is an Earth sign and is associated with strength, perseverance, and sensuality. It’s also part of the second house of the zodiac, which influences how dedicated one is to their personal values and their sense of self. Throughout Daisy Johnson’s short story collection Fen, Taurus’ essence – its connectedness to the terrestrial and the corporal – is embodied via the page. Like its namesake, Johnson’s stories are rooted in the process of coming undone, of transition. A world where girls become eels and boys come back from the dead as foxes, Johnson’s imaginative metaphors for coming of age commemorate the unhinged beauty that can be found in through transformation. Fen challenges readers to be patient with their journey, to trust that change is within reach.

 

The cover of the book Half Life: A NovelHalf Life: A Novel
Shelley Jackson
Gemini: May 21 – June 20

In Shelley Jackson’s Half Life, Nora yearns to be separated from her conjoined twin Blanche. As the dominant of the two, Nora’s desire for autonomy leads her to the Unity Foundation, an organization that guarantees to rid her of her twin. Yet as she embarks on her journey towards obtaining a singular life, Nora is confronted with how Blanche – who she considers to be a burden – is an essential part of her identity not only as a sister, but as an individual. A humorously dark and at times macabre manifestation of the twin star’s duality, Half Life is a cautionary tale urging Geminis not to reject their duplicity but to reveal in it instead.

 

The cover of the book Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Gail Honeyman
Cancer: June 21 – June 22

Ruled by the Moon, Cancer is the fourth sign in the zodiac. Associated with water and symbolically represented as the Crab, those who are born under this sign tend to be contemplative, compassionate, and occasionally reclusive. Each of these characteristics can also be used to describe Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. The detail oriented homebody at the center of Gail Honeyman’s novel seems to mirror the nature of the Crab seamlessly. Prone to spending her weekends in solitude, Eleanor is challenged to reconfigure her habitual routine when she kindles a friendship with Raymond, her disheveled yet kind coworker. By stepping outside of her comfort zone and practicing empathy, Eleanor gradually discovers the power of human connectedness. Through friendship she learns how to heal the fractures in the hearts of others as well as her own. By leaning into her intuition and pushing herself past her fears, she beings to fully live. Like Eleanor, you too, dear Cancer, must let go and let yourself flourish.

 

The cover of the book Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover: A NovelPlastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover: A Novel
Mila Jaroniec
Leo: July 23 – August 22

Fueled by the element of fire, Leos are full of heart. They are courageous and prone to brutal honesty and loyalty. As the fifth sign of the zodiac, Leos are ruled by the sun and like the sun, they are steadfast, but also at times stubborn. Like the astrological lion, Mila Jaroniec’s spirited protagonist navigates through the pages of Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover with electrifying determination, relatable appetite, and compassion. It is a novel brave enough to explore the beauty that can be found in brokenness as well as healing. Like the mighty Leo, Jaroniec’s debut is tangibly earnest. Each page unabashedly celebrates the way embracing the unexpected can help you discover your path.

 

The cover of the book Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng
Virgo: August 23 – September 22

Celeste Ng’s latest novel Little Fires Everywhere examines the malleability of mother-daughter relationships and how community can influence who we are. When controversy strikes, Mia and her teen daughter Pearl find their lives irrevocably altered as Mia’s previously veiled past is uncovered. The chaos at the center of Ng’s narrative brings to mind the discord that Virgo’s ruling planet makes when it’s in retrograde. Despite the gradual tension that grows between Mia and Pearl, Ng’s characters, like Virgo, remain firm believers in the best of humanity, even when goodness is obscured by darkness. Ng’s masterful prose and dynamic characterization encourage Virgos not to linger on the past but to actively invest in the present and to march boldly into the future.

 

The cover of the book Swing TimeSwing Time
Zadie Smith
Libra: September 23 – October 22

The unnamed narrator of Swing Time is one of the best literary embodiments of the seventh sign. Prone to indecisiveness, a distaste for conflict, and a deep-seated dedication to holding a grudge, Zadie Smith’s protagonist is internally sure of herself, even though it might not seem that way to others. As Smith’s narrator mulls over her friendship with Tracey, her relationship with her mother, and the ever changing dynamics between herself and the larger-than-life Aimee, readers learn the benefit of weighing one’s judgements before reacting. Although her inner world might oscillate between melodrama and romanticism, her actions are calculated. Like the scales of justice, her decisions – monumental and slight alike – are balanced. Even on her worst days, Smith’s narrator is aware of every facet of a situation. Although cautious, she ultimately seeks harmony.

 

The cover of the book Ghost SongsGhost Songs
Regina McBride
Scorpio: October 23 – November 21

Regina McBride’s soul-stirring memoir Ghost Songs aims to uncover the truth behind what caused her parents to commit an unforgivable sin in the eyes of the Irish Catholic church: suicide. Visited by phantasmic manifestations of her parents, McBride is forced to reckon with her grief and inner demons simultaneously. Unflinchingly, she sifts through her memories, in search of the proverbial key to what torments her. Reminiscent of Scorpio, which is ruled by Pluto, the planet of transformation and power, McBride’s journey forces her to confront her trauma in order to heal. Like Scorpio, she discovers the limitlessness of her strength and potential after she comes to terms with what haunts her.

 

The cover of the book An Unkindness of GhostsAn Unkindness of Ghosts
Rivers Solomon
Sagittarius: November 22 – December 21

The sign of the Archer is known for being adventurous, wise, and having a courageous heart. Propelled towards their destiny by intuition and hope, those born beneath the ninth sign of the zodiac are trailblazers. Like Aster, the intergalactic heroine at the center of Rivers Solomon’s compelling debut, Sagittarius desires and seeks freedom. Ruled by Jupiter, the planet of expansion, they despise prejudice and injustice. The moral motivations of this sign are vividly brought to life via An Unkindness of Ghosts. As if channeling the prophetic spirit of Octavia Butler, Solomon’s novel, like Sagittarius, urges readers to dismantle the institutions that bind us, to take root among the stars.

 

The cover of the book Sing, Unburied, SingSing, Unburied, Sing
Jesmyn Ward
Capricorn: December 22 – January 19

Devoted, fearless, and ruled by Saturn, Capricorns are associated with the element of Earth. Often haunted by their familial and personal pasts, the tenth sign of the zodiac, although at times reserved, is brave when it matters most. Apprehensive when confronted with their inner demons, Capricorns, like Sing, Unburied, Sing‘s JoJo, rarely look away from what haunts them. Similarly, they’re able to find enlightenment by reckoning with and honoring their individual and ancestral past. Prefacing her novel with an epigraph by the iconic Eudora Welty, Jesmyn Ward reminds Capricorns to be steadfast, to embrace the past and the present without fear, that “the memory is a living thing – it too is in transit.”

 

The cover of the book What It Means When a Man Falls from the SkyWhat It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky
Lesley Nneka Arimah
Aquarius: January 20 – February 18

At the core of Lesley Nneka Arimah’s award-winning short story collection What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, protagonists seek to cultivate individual freedom, to nurture their true self and the true selves of others. Each astonishing story portrays its narrators as evolving. The women in Arimah’s fictive world are perpetually becoming. Even as men fall from the sky, as babies made of hair cry out for their mothers, her characters, like the Water Bearer, look forward. Like their creator, (the masterful Arimah), and the eleventh sign, they’re visionaries.

 

The cover of the book Ordinary BeastsOrdinary Beasts
Nicole Sealey
Pisces: February 19 – March 20

The stanzas of Nicole Sealey’s collection Ordinary Beastsradiate with the perceptive soulfulness of the twelfth sign. Ruled by Neptune, Pisces revels in the imagination and the restorative power of contemplation. Sealey’s poetic exploration of the interior becomes a mirror, allowing her audience to revel in the meaning of every word. A celebration of vulnerability as well as strength, Ordinary Beasts is a fluid meditation on how one navigates through the world with intention, rather than merely floating adrift. Through the visceral imagery of poems like “in igboland” and the unabashed glory of “legendary,” Sealey shakes us from our slumber.

Interplanetary Love: Our Favorite Romances in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Romance might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy. Let’s face it, a lot of us come for intergalactic intrigue, swashbuckling heroes, badass heroines, and all the attendant fun. But in between bludgeoning orcs, outshooting stormtroopers, and outwitting the fae, our intrepid heroes have been known to find love in the midst of all that SFF action. Here’s a few of our favorite sci-fi and fantasy couplings.

The cover of the book OutlanderOutlander
DIANA GABALDON
Claire & Jamie

These time-displaced lovers sit firmly at the heart of the Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Claire Randall is determined to find her way back to 1945 after being mysteriously transported to 1743 Scotland. But after a chance encounter with the swashbuckling Jamie Fraser, Claire’s return to her own time becomes a tad less… pressing.

 

The cover of the book Star Wars: The Courtship of Princess LeiaStar Wars: The Courtship of Princess Leia
DAVE WOLVERTON
Leia & Han

What more really needs to be said about Han Solo and Leia Organa? The roguish smuggler and the daring princess are arguably the most beloved coupling in sci-fi. While the beginnings of their love story made for a compelling part of the original film trilogy (and pop culture’s most infamous utterance of “I know”), their continued relationship through the Star Wars Legends timeline is really why they made this list.

 

The cover of the book FablesFables
BILL WILLINGHAM
Snow White and Bigby Wolf

Bill Willingham created one of the most compelling worlds in comics with Fables, which debuted in 2002, and the will-they-or-won’t-they, more-than-a-little-rocky courtship of Bigby Wolf and Snow White was definitely a major reason for that. While their relationship certainly didn’t begin under the best of circumstances (and those circumstances most definitely did not age well), Bigby and Snow nonetheless managed to find love in spite of Bigby’s gruff, hard-boiled exterior.

 

The cover of the book The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride
WILLIAM GOLDMAN
Westley and Buttercup

A quintessential – if off-kilter – fairy tale romance in what may be the greatest of all fairy tale send-ups. Despite his beginnings as a humble stable boy and a run-in with a particularly band of legendary pirates, Westley always manages to find his way back to his beloved. “As you wish,” indeed.

 

The cover of the book LegendLegend
MARIE LU
June & Day

These star-crossed lovers most definitely came from different sides of the dystopian track. He was born in the slums and became the most wanted criminal in the country. She was an elite prodigy at the military academy, sworn to bring him to justice. Of course, they’re going to fall in love and it’s going to get all complicated. How else could it go?

 

The cover of the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
J. K. ROWLING
Molly and Arthur Weasley

We never get to see the Weasleys in the heyday of their courtship, but they are a perfect illustration of the way great relationships evolve. Arthur and Molly are still very much in love, but it’s a love that’s been tempered by conflict and strengthened by family. It’s well-worn, well-loved, and comfortable. May we all be so lucky.

 

The cover of the book The Left Hand of DarknessThe Left Hand of Darkness
URSULA K. LE GUIN
Estraven & his sibling

The impact of the late Ursula K. Le Guin on fantasy and science fiction literature truly can’t be overstated. Her startlingly imaginative and daring fiction influenced an entire generation of writers. With The Left Hand of Darkness, she created not only one of science fiction’s most thought-provoking reads, but also one of the all-time great tragic and forbidden romances. The novel is set on a planet whose inhabitants are androgynous and is a brilliant examination – and upending – of conventional gender norms. Near its center is the love story between Therem Harth rem ir Estraven and his sibling, Arek Harth rem ir Estraven. The relationship underpins the entirety of Estraven’s story arc and Le Guin reveals the devastating, touching details of their relationship with a deft and empathetic hand.