A Season in the Life of a Mood Reader

By Brittney Reed-Saltz

I am a mood reader, which is the literary embodiment of that Robert Burns poem about the best laid plans of mice and men. Even if I make a nicely-organized TBR list, those plans go oft awry.

Being a mood reader means that it might take me years–literal years–to get around to a book that has been recommended to me or that has been gathering dust on my shelf, but I don’t think it’s an entirely bad thing. My fickle nature leads to plenty of fun detours and pit stops that I wouldn’t get to enjoy if my attention span were more linear.

Often I find that these detours turn into pleasant little journeys, when a book contains a reference to something else that I then simply must read. Spring is a fertile time for these excursions, which is appropriate. What better time to explore and discover new things than when the earth is waking up and starting over fresh?

In Spring 2017, I had a thrilling season of mood reading, when connections abounded and every book that I finished pointed me in another direction. It all started when I read Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. That put me in mind of another book about writing that I had originally read in college: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. mood read 1

Revisiting Woolf’s analysis of women’s place in the world and the obstacles they must overcome to write reminded me of how much I enjoyed Woolf’s writing in college. It also made me think about all the Woolf novels I had yet to read. So I went on a little trip through some of her work and life, reading a biography, devouring To the Lighthouse and Orlando.

From Orlando, I became curious about its inspiration, Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West. So I read one of her novels, All Passion Spent, and whiled away some violet-scented hours with Virginia and Vita’s collected correspondence.

All Passion Spent features a French housekeeper and long passages of French, which I mood read 2had to translate with help from Monsieur Google because I do not speak the language. That planted the subconscious urge in my mind to take a detour, this time to France. I read two fun advice books, Polish Your Poise With Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott and the tongue-in-cheek delight How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, and Sophie Mas.

Well, can you spend any time reading glamorous French books without taking an existential turn? I couldn’t. I ended up reading Sarah Bakewell’s illuminating study of the existentialist movement, At the Existentialist Café. mood read 3

Bakewell’s discussions of Albert Camus reminded me of reading his novel The Stranger in high school. I realized that I remembered almost nothing about it, so I made it my next project. And then, I couldn’t get enough of Camus! I fell in love with him through A Happy Death, The Fall, The Plague, and a good chunk of the essay collection Resistance, Rebellion, and Death.

I had time for a couple more French-related interludes before my mood turned. Although Samuel Beckett was Irish, he spent most of his adult life in Paris, where his play Waiting for Godot premiered. I read it sitting on my back porch one night, wondering why I hadn’t mood read 4read it before. And American essayist David Sedaris made for witty company through Me Talk Pretty One Day, never more so than when he was recounting his faltering attempts to communicate in French.

(What happened after that? A complete departure into horror novels that lasted all summer.)

As the daffodils and pear trees bloom and the equinox approaches, I wonder what moody reading detours this Spring has in store for me. I know that no matter what catches my attention, my library will indulge my quirks and save my wallet with every book I discover.

5 Memoirs and Biographies for Women’s History Month

by Brittney Reed-Saltz

Each March we celebrate Women’s History Month, looking back on the achievements of the women who have come before us, lifting up the work being done by women today, and looking forward to the brighter future that we will build together.

Women’s History Month is definitely one of my favorite observances, so in honor of it, I’m pairing it up with one of my favorite literary forms: memoirs and biographies. Here are five titles by or about women who have inspired me with their lives and their words.redefining realness

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, and So Much More by Janet Mock
Mock traces her life, from her childhood in Hawaii, to her transition, to finding a successful journalistic career and love in New York City. It is truly inspiring to witness her owning her story and to see the obstacles that she overcame to define herself and take on the world. Everyone should read this book.

Frida by Hayden Herrera
Frida Kahlo has long been one of my heroes. She was so much more than just a trendy face on a handbag or a coffee mug, and I can’t recommend this detailed biography–and the film it inspired–enough. Both examine Kahlo’s early years, the bus accident that profoundly impacted her health and her work throughout her life, the symbolism and significance of her paintings, her relationships with family and friends and lovers, and her politics. By the end, you have a yes pleasemuch deeper understanding of Kahlo’s vibrant and uncompromising talent.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler has done much to use the platform of her fame to uplift other women, from portraying a positive role model as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation, to co-founding Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls organization, which is “dedicated to helping young people cultivate their authentic selves.” Her memoir brims with her trademark humor and passion, and is a great read.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
Kaysen chronicles of her struggles with mental illness and her stay in a psychiatric hospital during the 1960s. Her descriptions of her own experiences and those of her fellow patients are inseparable from their time, so reading it also provokes thought about how society shaped women and notions of mental illness, and about how the same this is just my facehappens today.

This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe
Sidibe’s memoir is what I want all celebrity memoirs to be: It feels like having a long visit with a really funny and honest friend. She juggles harsh realities with hilarious anecdotes, sometimes on the very same page, and by the end, I started to wish that she had her own reality TV show. And I never wish that anyone had their own reality TV show.

Do you love memoirs and biographies, too? Share your favorites by and about amazing women in the comments!

Diverse Worlds: Sci-Fi and Fantasy with Protagonists of Color

This is the first installment of a new series highlighting genre fiction that centers marginalized peoples and perspectives. By Brittney Reed-Saltz.

Science fiction and fantasy affords us the opportunity to travel beyond the bounds of our known world, to posit answers to timely and complex questions, and to imagine what could be. More than ever before, authors of all backgrounds are claiming their space and making their voices heard. These writers are keeping the genre relevant and vibrant by ensuring that more and more people can see themselves in the pages of the novels that they read.

Here are fourteen SFF novels with protagonists who are people of color:

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jonesmapping the interior
Junior catches a glimpse of a phantom dressed in fancy dance regalia late at night and realizes that the ghost of his father is haunting him. Jones blends fantasy and horror in a dark, satisfying novella.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
Sierra Santiagos’s summer plans are diverted when a series of strange events around her Brooklyn neighborhood lead her to the discovery of Shadowshapers, who use art in various forms to connect with spirits.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Skilled in technology and diplomacy, sixteen-year-old Binti leaves her family and her homeworld for the first time to attend a prestigious university. On the way, she encounters a deadly alien species. Will she survive?

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
Set in the year 2025, this post-apocalyptic novel follows Lauren, a hyperempath able to acutely feel others’ pain, as her home is destroyed and she is forced into the dangers of the outside world.

labyrinth lostLabyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
Alex is a powerful bruja who hates magic and tries to rid herself of her gifts. But her spell backfires, and her entire family disappears. Can Alex save them? And who can she trust to help her?

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Atl, a vampire, enlists the help of a young garbage-picker named Domingo as she flees Mexico City for South America. Moreno-Garcia creates a fascinating world of diverse vampire races–Atl, just one example, is a birdlike descendant of the Aztecs–that is unlike any vampire novel you’ve read.

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Evie Tanaka’s job as personal assistant to her superhero best friend isn’t easy, but she’s good at it, and content to stay in the shadows. But she is pulled into the light when an undercover mission reveals her secret: She has superpowers, too.

The Reader by Traci Cheeheroine complex
In a world where reading is unheard of, Sefia must use a book that once belonged to her father to unravel the mystery of his death and to rescue her kidnapped aunt.

The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino
Described as “a mythical feminist noir about family secrets,” this novel tells the story of two sisters who are separated by wildly different fates: One is to become an Oracle, while the other must spend her life guiding spirits to the underworld.

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
In an alternate Earth called the Stillness, where constant seismic activity renders the land unstable and some are able to use the earth’s power as a weapon, a woman embarks on a quest to save her daughter.

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen
Nettie Lonesome lives a hard life, dressing like a boy and being treated like a slave. When she kills a stranger in self-defense and he turns to black sand, Nettie is awakened to a new reality previously unseen. A paranormal Western that has been described as adventurous and unique.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Two magical creatures–the titular golem and jinni–meet and become companions in turn-of-the-century New York. This award-winning historical fantasy explores Jewish and Middle Eastern culture.

god's warThe Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
When Shahrzad’s best friend falls victim to the murderous Khalid, Caliph of Khorasan, she vows revenge. But when she enacts her plan, she discovers more obstacles than she expected, and has to contend with her own feelings in addition to deception and vengeance.

God’s War by Kameron Hurley
Nyx, a mercenary and former government assassin, has a chance to end the holy war that has ravaged her world for centuries when she is chosen for a covert mission.

Books for Galentine’s Day

by Brittney Reed-Saltz

It’s no secret that February (and most of January, to be honest) is dominated by Valentine’s Day. With the emphasis on romance, other kinds of love get buried under avalanches of mushy cards and more chocolate hearts than anyone could possibly eat.

That’s why I love Galentine’s Day.

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galentine's 2

Created on the TV show Parks & Recreation and celebrated on February 13, it’s a day for, in the immortal words of Leslie Knope, “ladies celebrating ladies.” It’s a time to appreciate and treat your friends, and to recognize the power of women’s friendships.

So this February 13, text your friends some heart emojis. Bake some cupcakes for your work pals. Take your bestie out for brunch. Maybe watch some Parks & Rec. And read about some of my favorite fictional female friendships!

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Everyone focuses on the romantic elements of Austen’s work, often ignoring not only her wry social commentary, but her depictions of friendship. I love Elizabeth and Jane Bennett’s sisterly bond, and the book simply would not be the same without their conversations and their support for one another.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
In this novel, Celie endures unbearable abuse, but her friendship with her sister  Nettie helps sustain her, and her more-than-friendship with the glamorous Shug Avery helps her to find her own way.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
How could I not include this book? Carmen, Lena, Bridget, and Tibby prove that sometimes our differences make our friendships even stronger. Plus you have to love the body-positive magic of a pair of jeans that different body types feel equally great in.

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
When you learn that you’re the princess of a small European country, you need a reliable BFF to keep you down-to-earth. Mia Thermopolis has that and more in the passionate, take-no-prisoners Lily Moscovitz. Although their friendship encounters obstacles and setbacks, it ultimately endures.

Giant Days by John Allison
This graphic novel series follows Susan, Esther, and Daisy through the trials of starting university. They have their fair share of squabbles as roommates, but they are always there for each other with laughter, advice, and tough love. You really see their friendship grow over the course of the series, and it’s a funny, heartwarming thing.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson
Phoebe is granted one wish by a unicorn, and uses it to make said unicorn her best friend. But she gets a little more than she bargained for in the vain but charming Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. I freely admit to loving this comic as an adult, even though it’s aimed at a middle grade audience, and I think everyone can find something in these stories to love.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Linh Cinder and Iko have one of the most unique friendships that I’ve ever read: Iko is an android who loses one body and spends quite a bit of time inhabiting the “body” of a spacecraft, and Cinder is an cyborg. I still need to finish this series–I understand that Iko undergoes even more transformations–but I loved the interactions between the practical-minded mechanic Cinder and the girly, ebullient Iko in the first and second books.

Who are your favorite literary BFFs? Let us know in the comments!

10 Contemporary Books to Read During Black History Month

by Brittney Reed-Saltz

Looking for a way to celebrate Black History Month? Reading books by Black authors is a great place to start! This list includes ten recent and relevant titles that cover everything from essays to young adult fiction, from poetry to romance novels, and more.

All of them are available from your local RCLS branch, so check them out today!
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We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This essay collection examines the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, extending from the Oval Office to include the wider culture at the time. It includes essays that Coates published during the Obama years, as well as new material.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Winner of the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction, this character-driven family saga deals with race, incarceration, drug use, and ghosts.

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by various authors, edited by Jesmyn Ward
This nonfiction collection draws its inspiration from James Baldwin’s classic The Fire Next Time and features writing by Kevin Young, Claudia Rankine, Natasha Trethewey,  Edwidge Danticat, and more.
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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
When sixteen-year-old Starr witnesses a white police officer fatally shoot her childhood friend Kahlil, she is thrust into a complicated morass of grief, publicity, and conflicting senses of loyalty. Read this essential YA novel before the movie hits theaters.

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours: Stories by Helen Oyeyemi
Helen Oyeyemi has been hailed as an original and dynamic voice in fiction. In this collection, keys and locks provide a means for examining the “boundaries between coexisting realities.”

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasicontemporary 2
Beginning in Eighteenth Century Ghana, this novel follows the different fates of two half-sisters, one of whom marries an Englishman while the other is sold into slavery in America.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith
The latest novel from acclaimed author examines the fraught friendship between two girls who share the ambition to become dancers, but only one of whom has the talent to achieve that goal.

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
You might be familiar with Warsan Shire through Beyoncé’s use of her poetry in the Lemonade visual album. Though this collection is slim, it packs so much into its poetry contemporary 4about race and the refugee experience.

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
Alyssa Cole expands what historical romance novels are capable of doing in terms of race, honesty about history, and whose stories are told. This is the first of her Loyal League series, and it follows a former slave who uses her eidetic memory to spy for the Union during the Civil War.

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Suzette returns to her home in Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England and must contend with supporting her step-brother through his mental illness while developing romantic feelings for the same girl he is in love with.

Hot Scots: Scottish Historical Romances

by Brittney Reed-Saltz

Occasionally, I develop book cravings. All of a sudden, I have to read a particular type of book, and nothing else will do. It might be portal fantasy, or dark thrillers with female protagonists, or vintage Gothic romance. There is rarely any rhyme or reason behind these fixations, diverse and random as they might be, but the result is the same: As soon as I have a target in mind, I go deep into research mode. I have to find as many titles as possible that will fulfill the craving.scot in the dark

Recently I read A Scot in the Dark, the second installment of Sarah MacLean’s Scandal and Scoundrel series. By the third page, I was already in love with Alec Stuart, Duke of Warnick, the kilt-wearing, broadsword-wielding, wolfhound-owning hero, who reluctantly inherits a noble title despite his disdain for London society. And thus, a new reading craving, for historical romances featuring Scottish characters, was born.

I’m not one to hoard the results of my research, so here are five Scottish and Highlander-themed romances that have made their way onto my TBR list.


scotland 1Once Upon a Highland Summer by Lecia Cornwall
Ghosts, a curse, and misunderstandings definitely piqued my interest. But when I read that the heroine flees to Scotland to escape an unwanted marriage, I knew I had to read this one.

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley
A love story between a hero who struggles with mental illness and a widow with a dark past sounds like a perfect tearjerker romance to me.

Hero in the Highlands by Suzanne Enochscotland 2
An English war hero inherits a Scottish title and its attendant enormous Scottish estate. However, the woman whose clan owns the property, has strong opinions about the matter. When it comes to romance novels, I adore strong heroines and plenty of bickering, and it sounds like this one has both.

The Lady and the Laird by Nicola Cornick
A bluestocking heroine is hired to write racy love letters for her brother’s friends. When she uses her pen to end the betrothal of a notorious laird, he scotland lastproposes a marriage of convenience as repayment.

The Trouble With Dukes by Grace Burrowes
I have a soft spot for romantic heroes with dark reputations that they didn’t earn, and for heroines who are not intimidated at all by said reputations. In this case, the Scot in question braves the demands of a London season to make his sisters happy, and that adds another level of swoonworthiness.


Do you have a favorite fictional Scottish character? Or a particular book craving that you would like me to research for a future post? Share in the comments!

Series Recommendation: The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden


Toward the beginning of 2017, Jessica recommended The Bear and the Nightingale to me. Because I’m terrible about procrastinating when it comes to reading new releases, it was only in December that I finally read it. Now that the sequel has been released, I’m here to tell anyone else dragging their feet about this book: It’s worth it. You should read it.

In truth, I don’t regret my procrastination too much, because any time in winter is a perfect time to read The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower. Set in medieval Russia, they spin a story of rough winters, political marriages, the clash between old and new religions, and fairy tales.

Vasilisa Petrovna (Vasya to her family) spent her childhood gathering around with her siblings to listen to their nurse, Dunya, tell tales of heroes and of the beings who inhabit the dense forest. As she grows up, her family tells her that she is too old for fairy tales… in direct opposition to the unseen reality around them. Only Vasya speaks with the domovoi who lives in the oven and protects their home, or the vazila who lives in the stables with the horses. Only Vasya can understand the language the horses use with one another, and learns to ride under their tutelage. Although her stepmother, Anna, glimpses enough of these beings to fear them, only Vasya understands them.

When Konstantin, a young priest, arrives from Moscow, he inflames the people’s fear of God and works to stamp out the old ways. No longer do the people leave offerings of bread for the domovoi or the vazila, and so the beings who share their world, and who protect the order of things, weaken. When a one-eyed sleeper in the forest awakens and the dead begin to stalk the living, only Vasya is aware enough to help. But how long can she protect her family and the beings of the forest, when her stepmother conspires to send her away and the entire village whispers that she is a witch?

girl in the towerOf all the things Arden does well, she excels in two areas: description and conflict. Her settings come to life, sparkling with the glimmer of newly-fallen snow and redolent with the scent of baking bread. And the plot brims with conflict. There is hardly a character without an internal struggle or a disagreement with their family, or societal expectations, or the demands of religion. As a reader, I love when an author packs so much tension into a novel. It gives me the feeling that anything could spark a fire at any moment, and I can’t stop reading until I see how everything plays out.

If you’re at all familiar with Russian folklore, the name Vasilisa probably caught your eye immediately, and the Winternight Trilogy will certainly appeal to anyone who loves fairy tales and folklore. Arden writes highly detailed and immersive fantasy that does not bog itself or its readers down with info-dumping, and that is literary while maintaining approachability even to audiences who are not avid readers of historical fiction. You don’t need to know anything about Russian history to understand this series, to lose yourself in it, and to love it.

The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower both are available through your local RCLS branch.