One Last Book Recommendation

by Brittney Reed-Saltz

This will be the last blog entry that I post here. After a little over five great years with melmothRutherford County Library System, I’ve made the hard decision to open a new chapter at another organization. Of course, I’m not really leaving the library; I’ll be stopping in probably once a week, at least, to browse the stacks and check out books. But I will miss being able to share what I’m reading with all of you.

But before my departure, I wanted to recommend one final book: Melmoth by Sarah Perry.

First, the setup: For the past 20 years, Helen Franklin has been living in a state of self-imposed exile in Prague. She works as a translator, occasionally shares dinners with her friends Karel and Thea, and lives with a landlady she detests. Her life is much like the landscape of Prague during winter as Perry describes it, just as cold as desolate, though unmarked by the wonder that others might feel when looking at the beautiful buildings or the grand astronomical clock. Just as Helen ignores these features of the city around her, she denies herself moments of pleasure, even something as simple as a piece of cake.

Her drab routine is interrupted when Karel shares a story with her. He had struck up an odd friendship with a fellow visitor to the library. This friend told him about Melmoth, a figure he learned about as a boy, a woman cursed from antiquity to roam the earth, feet bloody, finding no rest, forever seeking companions. This friend, Karel tells Helen, is now dead.

And then, Karel, himself, disappears.

Thus the stage is set for intersecting stories of betrayal, guilt, and abnegation, told in the form of letters, journal entries, and historical documents. The narratives weave back and forth through time, united by the shadowy figure of Melmoth, forever watching from the periphery.

This book is a thing of beauty. The language shines, as does the cover, emblazoned in rich blues in a design of jackdaw feathers. Its deckled edges are as delightful as its moments of sly, dark fantasy. When I wasn’t reading Melmoth, I wished that I was, and when I finished, I thought first that I would probably read it again, sometime in the future.

Melmoth is not a mystery, and it’s not quite suspense, but you will keep reading to satisfy your wondering. You will be slightly confused, and you will want to keep going, to gather all of the pieces that you know you don’t have, but will, perhaps soon, perhaps on the next page.

I’m not going to tell you what is revealed when the pieces are assembled; after all, the pleasure is the acquisition of each piece. But I will say that I was glad that I read this book. It’s a mixture of the timely and the timeless, and is the perfect Gothic read for winter to put you in a contemplative mood.

Enjoy.

 

 

Series Recommendation: The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden

by Brittney Reed-Saltz BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE

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.

Brittney’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 Brittney Reed-Saltz.

Favorite new author or series you tried:
For me, 2017’s reading was all about making time for books I had put off, and discovering that I loved books I had assumed I would dislike. Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series, which begins with The Raven Boys, fit squarely in both of those categories.

A book that surprised you:
I read a couple of classics that I had been too intimidated to try in the past and which I found surprisingly approachable and enjoyable: Orlando by Virginia Woolf and Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. I also re-read The Stranger by Albert Camus, and I was shocked by how much I missed or misunderstood when I originally read it in high school.

A book you read for the first time that you will reread in the future:
Near the beginning of the year, I tore through the first two books of V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, reading against the clock so I could attend an author event spoiler-free. I loved them, but I feel like the experience lost something from my breakneck pace.  A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book.

The best book you read that was also published this year:
I read several great books that came out in 2017, and had enough trouble narrowing it down to a tie.

First, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which has received many deserved accolades for its timely, powerful, and much-needed depiction of the death of a black teenager at the hands of a white cop and the effects it has on the witness and on the community.

Second, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. How can you go wrong with a romantic, historical adventure featuring a bisexual young lord, his best friend, and his bluestocking sister embarking on a Grand Tour of Europe that goes spectacularly awry?

A book you read that was outside of your comfort zone:
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer is a book that I might never have picked up if not for a reading challenge that required me to read a collection of short stories. It helped me get past my oddly stubborn insistence that I don’t like short fiction and eased the way for me to read two other short story collections in 2017.

The book that you recommended to the most people:
After reading Gabrielle Zevin’s novel The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and discovering that it was heartwarming without being the saccharine mess I had assumed it was, I told everyone who would listen to me to read it. If you’re like me, and sometimes the crappiness of the world numbs you until you just need to feel something, read this book.

The best cover from a book you read this year (please include image):
Undoubtedly it’s Drag Teen by Jeffery Self.

drag teen

Turtles All the Way Down

by Jessica Bruce

image1In celebration of John Green’s new book, a coworker and I got to attend a special book tour event hosted by himself and his brother, Hank.  It was delightful! There was laughing, sarcasm, turtles, tuataras, and singing! Yes, singing… Audience participation style with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” John Green is one of those YA authors who truly connects with his audience whether it be on a stage, a vlog, Twitter, or with a story he tells. And it shows. When I looked around the audience that night, my heart was full to bursting. People of all ages were there and it was a packed house. Each of us were there to celebrate the awesomeness of this author!

When I discovered Green had a new book hitting the shelf, I was pretty excited. He has become the author I go to when I need a best friend (in a book). I can laugh or cry. I can be myself and let my emotions flow like water and no one will judge me. It’s just me and John Green…or rather his book. All of the above I say because he is a talented author. It takes talent to write YA with such compassion. But he also takes great care for his readers/fans. He writes YA because he enjoys it and he relates to the demographic.

image3Turtles All the Way Down was no different. Dare I say it might be my new favorite or at least second to Looking for Alaska? It was exceptional! Aza and Daisy are the truest definition of the title, “best friend,” I have found in literature. What an incredible and fierce love they have for one another! Everyone needs a friend like Daisy. The bulldog who will fight for you, the kindred spirit, the person you can be silent with for hours on end and it doesn’t matter, the person who accepts your annoying flaws/quirks, the person you don’t mind listening to when they rave about their fandom for hours, or the person whom you can have a knock-down-drag-out argument with and still be besties hours later. This is the person you can depend on no matter what. We all need a friend like that. Seriously.

But there is so much more to this story. Aza battles anxiety and OCD, which is something Green understands on a personal level. I think that is why I enjoyed this book so much. So many times I read a book and feel like I am exposing a part of my personal self when I read it. I experience the entirety of a book when I am really into it: from emotional dramas to the setting. But you always wonder what the author was thinking about when they wrote those words. With Turtles All the Way Down it was the reverse. Green exposed a part of himself. He shared something personal with his readers and that carries more weight than one can fathom.

If you are a YA, realistic fiction, or Green fan; this is a MUST for you!

image2

Series Recommendation: The Raven Cycle

by Brittney Reed-Saltz

I have, in the past, had a complicated relationship with series. I blame over-saturation. Every time I heard about a new book, thought it sounded intriguing, and looked into it, I discovered that it was the first of a proposed trilogy. And then I would groan and cast aside the thought of reading that previously-irresistible-sounding book. I knew that I was setting myself up for years of reading commitment, or else a book with more filler material than a chicken nugget, only less delicious.

However. (There is almost always a however.) I love diving into a good series. And I have even been known to love the anticipation of new installments, despite always feeling like I’ve forgotten everything that happened between release dates.

This is where completed series and I get along swimmingly. I get to wonder what’s going to happen, but not long enough to have to Wikipedia plot summaries before starting the next book. Because the next book is already released and it’s checked out and sitting on my TBR stack waiting for me, muahaha.

Which brings us to today’s series recommendation: The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. I checked all four books out recently because I was going on a trip, and I’m not one to under-prepare when it comes to in-flight reading material. It came to me recommended by a patron: I noticed her checking the books out and commented that I heard that they were good. She replied that she had read them three times already. It was all the endorsement I needed to finally give them a try.

The series starts with The Raven Boys, and I will warn you that when you read it, you will dread the moment when someone asks you what it’s about. Because it’s an excellent book of the kind that does not hold up well when you try to distill it into a concise, appealing synopsis. You end up sounding a bit unstable. In a nutshell, there’s

  • A boy (Gansey) who’s on a quest to locate the tomb of a medieval Welsh king whom he thinks is buried under the Virginia mountains on a ley line
  • Which is an invisible but powerful line of energy
  • That runs through the town of Henrietta
  • Where Gansey goes to school at Aglionby Academy, a prestigious prep school
  • Along with Ronan, who is a jerk but for reasons you learn later
  • And Adam, a scholarship student with a bad home life
  • And Noah, who never has the notes from class for some reason. (Foreshadowing.)
  • Meanwhile, in the same town, lives Blue Sargent
  • Whose mother is a psychic
  • Who has told Blue that if Blue kisses her true love, he will die.
  • Oh, and Blue has the power to amplify other people’s psychic abilities
  • So she finds out at a ritual at a ruined church that Gansey is going to die.
  • Before she has even met him.
  • And then things get interesting.

And that’s just the setup for the first book. It gets progressively weirder and more complicated over the course of the next three installments (The Dream Thieves; Blue Lily, Lily Blue; and The Raven King, respectively).

And I didn’t even mention the magical forest where the trees speak Latin. Or all of the dreams. (There are so many dreams.)

The Raven Cycle lends itself to enjoyment on multiple levels. There’s a complex plot brimming with tension and peppered with cliffhangers that keep you racing through the short chapters. There are beautifully-wrought characters, who reveal more about themselves with each successive book, until you feel like you know them and are deeply invested in what happens to them. And there are even a couple of romances that you will hope for and worry about, without wondering when Stiefvater is going to get back to the main plot, already.

I highly recommend this series for fans of contemporary and urban fantasy. Readers seeking pure escapism should be warned, however, that this series contains darker elements that gain prominence toward the end, so it might not suit your reading purposes right now.