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.

galentine's 1

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!
contemporary 1
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.
contemporary 5
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!

Beth’s 2017 Reading Year in Review

We’re kicking off 2018 by looking back on the best books we read in 2017. Today’s picks come from Beth Elam.

Favorite new author or series you tried:
The Mistborn Trilogy Brandon Sanderson

A book that surprised you:
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

The best book you read that was also published this year:
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepety

A book you read that was outside of your comfort zone:
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

The book that you recommended to the most people:
Poldark by Winston Graham

The best cover from a book you read this year (please include image):  
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Caleb’s 2017 Reading Year in Review

We’re kicking off 2018 by looking back on the best books we read in 2017. Today’s picks come from Caleb McLoud.

Favorite new author or series you tried:
The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis

A book that surprised you:
Down There on a Visit by Christopher Isherwood

A book you read for the first time that you will reread in the future:
Walden by Henry David Thoreau

The best movie you watched that was also released this year:
Julieta by Pedro Almodovar

A book you read that was outside of your comfort zone:
The Ritual of Love by Josephin Peladan

The book that you recommended to the most people:
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia by Samuel Johnson

The best cover from a book you read this year (please include image):
Living Well Is the Best Revenge by Calvin Tomkins

living well

Kathleen’s 2017 Reading Year in Review

We’re kicking off 2018 by looking back on the best books we read in 2017. Today’s picks come from Kathleen Tyree.

Favorite new author or series you tried:
Christopher Farnsworth.  I’d read the John Smith series (Killfile, Flashmob), then Garrett told me about the Nathaniel Cade (President’s Vampire) series – fun!

A book that surprised you:
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

A book you read for the first time that you will reread in the future:
Likely to be A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers.  I *loved* Wayfarers #1, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and have already re-read it.

The best book you read that was also published this year:
I enjoyed The Boy on the Bridge more than I expected.  Tough, to follow The Girl With All the Gifts, which was so fresh and engaging.  TBotB is a prequel, you learn some stuff (No Spoilers!) and the pacing is different.  Made it easier to take it as its own story.

A book you read that was outside of your comfort zone:
I was picky about what I read this year (minimal time) so this is NA

The book that you recommended to the most people:
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (7 people [so far] have taken my suggestion)

The best cover from a book you read this year (please include image):
Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill (also a good read)

sea of rust

Must add:
The best debut:
The Dry by Jane Harper.  Kept me riveted, read straight through, looking forward to the next by her!