In Search of My Favorite Dark Bookish Feeling, or, Gillian Flynn Ruined My Life

By Brittney Reed-Saltz

Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a workshop on reader’s advisory with Becky Spratford, an expert on connecting readers with books. (You can check out her blog here.) During the workshop, Becky talked a lot about book appeals, and about how when we look for books, we’re really looking for the feeling and the frame. We love books because of how they make us feel, not necessarily because of the plot, which varies wildly from book to book… or, at least, it should!

That spurred me to think more about why I love my favorite books, and it helped me to identify the root cause of one of my biggest problems as a reader.

I guess you could call it Gone Girl Syndrome, or OMG-Why-Hasn’t-Gillian-Flynn-Written-A-New-Book-Yet Disorder. Like most of the rest of the world, I read Gone Girl a few years ago, and I loved it. When I read Dark Places and Sharp Objects, I discovered that I loved them even more. Then I read Flynn’s novella The Grownup… And then I was finished. With her entire oeuvre. And thus began the sad Googling.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking for books that are similar to Flynn’s, with varying degrees of success and a bit of floundering. What to search for? Gone Girl readalikes? Domestic thrillers? Psychological thrillers by women? The problem, of course, is that genre lists only go so far, and suggested readalikes don’t always capture what I like about a book in the first place. You can spend all day long telling me to read Tana French, but since police procedurals are hit-or-miss for me, it’s just not going to be the same.

So, what is it about Flynn’s work that makes it so irresistible to me?

I sat down and made a list of appeal terms that describe her writing. Here’s what I realized that her books have in common: They are dark, suspenseful, and engrossing. They are literary, with plenty of time spent on characterization, and they might employ multiple perspectives or play with form. They are psychological, and they often turn up bleak (very bleak) observations about people and society. Finally, they prominently feature “unlikable” characters and unreliable narrators, most of whom are women.

Once I had that list, I realized that those terms also describe other books I’ve read that have successfully given me that elusive Gillian Flynn feeling.

Here are those books:

The Secret History by Donna Tarttsecret history
Students at a prestigious New England university develop deep, complicated relationships while studying together in an exclusive Classics course. As they become increasingly wrapped up in the world they’ve created, tensions rise and give way to betrayal and death. Tartt takes her time developing characters that I loved to hate. They are glamorously despicable and so much fun to read about as you wonder if and when their lies will be revealed. Donna Tartt isn’t exactly an unknown author, and this is far from being a new book, but if you’ve been putting off trying her work, I can’t recommend The Secret History enough.

night filmNight Film by Marisha Pessl
I got so sucked into Night Film that it made me angry at real life for interfering with my reading time. This novel follows a disgraced journalist as he researches the death of the daughter of a cult film director, employing unlikely allies and extreme measures to sniff out suspected conspiracy. There were many times as I read Night Film that I had no clue what was happening or what was real, and I couldn’t get enough. The included photographs, documents, and web content add extra layers of involvement to this convoluted mystery. If you’re like me, you’ll wish that the movies this book describes were real, but unfortunately we’ll have to settle for alternatives. (David Lynch is a suggested substitute, and he comes pretty close.)

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylanlong black veil
A group of friends go into the abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary. One of them does not come out. Twenty years later, the body’s discovery dredges up memories and secrets that could ruin the lives of everyone involved. The spooky frame of this novel piqued my interest, but instead of a horror novel set in a derelict building (which would also have been pretty fun for me), I got effortlessly drawn character studies that interrogate the meaning of identity and change. Flashbacks between the present day and the day of the murder and the switches in perspective maintain suspense. Be advised that you find out who the killer is about halfway through, but don’t worry: The whodunnit isn’t the point, and there are plenty of reasons to keep reading to the very last page. (Also be advised that this book includes some animal deaths. The two scenes are brief and serve the plot, but if that’s a deal-breaker for you, steer clear.)

ultraluminousUltraluminous by Katherine Faw
A prostitute returns to New York City from Dubai, leaving behind an ex-lover, under unknown circumstances. Who is she, and why is she back? The details unfold as the narrator recounts her daily routines and her interactions with clients, giving up piece by piece until the full picture is revealed at the end. Faw doesn’t shy away from a bit of literary experimentation, writing in vignettes and eschewing all names in favor of the  dehumanizing sobriquets the narrator assigns to her johns. If you want a gritty examination of what it means to be in control, this is your book. I loved how it played with my expectations and kept me nervous and slightly confused. I read chapter after chapter after chapter like I was scarfing down potato chips, shocked when my knuckles brushed against the bottom of the bag.

Apparently, we can expect a new Gillian Flynn book in 2021, when she will release a retelling of HamletThat’s my favorite Shakespeare play, and I think that if anyone can get it right, it’s her. Until then, I hope that these recommendations help ease your impatience as they have eased mine.

And don’t worry; I’m always looking for more. If you see me at the circ desk, don’t be afraid to ask which books have given me that Gillian Flynn feeling lately, or to share your own suggestions!

Why Tracking Your Reading Is a Good Idea–And Some Ways to Do It

by Brittney Reed-Saltz

It’s a dilemma familiar to many avid readers: You’re browsing the stacks at your local library, searching for a new book to read. It feels like you’ve read everything, and you teeter at the brink of despair, when finally, a title catches your eye. You read the blurb, and it sounds like something you would love! You proceed with excitement to the circulation desk and check the book out. Back home, you settle in for a night of literary escape. You read the first few pages, and immediately you’re sucked in… Until you realize that things sound familiar. Too familiar. You’ve already read this book.

Despair! Angst! Worse… Nothing to read! Nooo!

During the years that I’ve worked in libraries, I’ve frequently encountered patrons stuck in this dreaded cycle. And I get it. When you read multiple books each week, it can be hard to remember what you’ve read.

That’s why I’m such a proponent of keeping track of every book that you read. I’ve been doing it for years, and here are some of the ways I’ve accomplished this task.

The Pen-and-Paper Method
This is exactly what it sounds like: you write down the books you read. Looseleaf paper, notepads, fancy notebooks, it’s all up to you. The same goes for any other information you want to include: dates started and finished, genre, markers of diversity, inclusion in book challenges, etc.

You can expand this idea way beyond a simple list. Bullet journals have been a big thing for awhile now, and there are so many articles and ideas on Pinterest for finding your own bookish bojo bliss. Keep it simple, or go as wild as you like… After all, this could be a great excuse to buy multicolored pens and whimsical washi tape.

The Social Method
Maybe pen and paper isn’t your style. You don’t want to keep track of a bunch of lists or have to remember to bring your journal with you when you’re out and about. If you want an easy and portable way to track your reading, book-oriented social media sites are the way to go.

Goodreads lets you create custom shelves, set goals, and share reviews with friends, and it is probably the most popular site to track your reading. The mobile app even lets you scan barcodes to quickly look up books and add them to your shelves! There is no end to the book recommendations that you’ll get on Goodreads, so expect your Want to Read shelf to overflow almost immediately.

LibraryThing is another option that allows you to catalog your personal library with as much specificity as you want. However, the site is only free for the first 200 books you enter; after that, you’ll need to pay a subscription fee or buy a lifetime membership.

Another fun option is Riffle, which allows you to create and share curated lists of books. If you’re the kind of person who loves recommending books to your friends, you can have a lot of fun coming up with your own custom reading lists. Riffle is also great for discovering new books or finding your next read when you’re craving a specific type of story.

The Privately Techy Method
Maybe sharing everything you read with the general public–or even just your friends–doesn’t appeal to you, but you like the ease and portability of a digital option. In that case, try a reading spreadsheet! With Google Sheets, you can have your list right on your phone. You can also customize your spreadsheet as much as you would like. It’s easy to track genres, page counts, audiobook lengths, and more. If the idea of an over-the-top spreadsheet is appealing, but you doubt your prowess, never fear. Book Riot has one that you can copy to your own Google Drive and use for free. 

So, which one do I use?
I have dabbled in each of these methods, and have experienced firsthand the pros and cons of each. When I first started tracking my reading in middle school, I made a simple pen-and-paper list. That evolved into a Word Perfect doc (hey, it was the early 2000s) that I kept for each school year and summer, printing them off for record-keeping. Sometime around the end of college I discovered Goodreads, and I used it off and on for several years before I decided that I wanted a more private way to track my books.

That’s when I started my Google Sheet reading log. I adore being able to track genres, color-code my reading by months, and easily sort my data. (It’s possible that I even make charts at the end of each month. And by “it’s possible,” I mean that I definitely do.)

Sometimes I still miss the social aspect of Goodreads, though, which is why I’m on it nearly every day, and why I still periodically review books there. Sometimes I just really need to talk to other people about a book that I’ve loved–or one that made me facepalm myself unconscious–and besides, I love making disastrously long lists of books that it will take me years to get through.

Ultimately, every reader has their own interests and needs, and there is not one method that will work for everyone. If you’re new to tracking your reading, try out different options and see which one feels natural to you and best fits your lifestyle.

Track your reading carefully and consistently, and you’ll free yourself from accidental re-reads forever!


Diverse Worlds: LGBTQ+ Sci-Fi and Fantasy

By Brittney Reed-Saltz.

This is the second installment of a series highlighting genre fiction that centers marginalized peoples and perspectives. You can view the first post here.

In my post about people of color in science fiction and fantasy, I pointed out the value of representation for all kinds of people in imaginative and speculative fiction. After all, if we can have a story about dragons and space travel and arcane magic, there is no reason why that story and others can’t feature the same diversity that exists in our world.

That counts just as much for members of the LGBTQ+ community. We still have a long way to go when it comes to representation in sci-fi and fantasy, but more and more books are being published that center characters who are not straight and/or cis.

Here are some SFF novels available through RCLS with LGBTQ+ characters. If you’re looking for more, I highly recommend this post on The Illustrated Page. I consulted it frequently while compiling my list, and I found so many books that sound wonderful. If you see something that we don’t have, be sure to request that we purchase it or get it as an Interlibrary Loan!


Sheepfarmer’s Daughter by Elizabeth Moon

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Quicksilver by R. J. Anderson


False Hearts by Laura Lam

Planetfall by Emma Newman

false hearts

An Unkindness of Ghosts by River Solomon

an unkindness of ghosts

Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater


Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

river of teeth

Huntress by Malinda Lo

The Steel Seraglio by Mike Carey

Black Wolves by Kate Elliott

The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan


Borderline by Mishell Baker

Island of Exiles by Erica Cameron

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley


Dreadnought by April Daniels

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden





Returning to Reading: How to Beat Reader’s Block and Get Back to What You Love

by Penny Hilton

College killed my desire to read. Every day I would have more pages to read than hours in the day; it felt like the professors reveled in our misery. The books and articles stacked up, and my stress got higher and higher. Eventually I stopped reading for every class; if I did, it was just to scrape by. I still made good grades, but I had lost all desire to read. Me, the only librarian who couldn’t read through a single book. After years of unending tension between my passion for literature and the soul-crushing weight of academic obligation, I graduated. It was finally over, and my first goal was to recover reading for pleasure.

I needed to reclaim what was a staple of my childhood, escaping into a good book and finding yourself along the way. Reading had been an integral part of my life since birth. As the young child of an avid reader there was a chair beside my bed instead of a table so that my parents could read to me every night from a comfortable position. I was able to read and comprehend books like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire yet unable to spell my own name correctly inside the front cover. I spent most of my summers in high school reading and rereading my favorites. I developed a grand plan to love reading again and logically started with the first books I learned how to read–Harry Potter. Did it work? Not at all. Turns out when you become an adult, connecting with a book from your childhood is more about nostalgia and less about reading. I didn’t make it past the second book in the series.

I thought maybe I needed to go to an even easier reading level than juvenile fiction, so I read some adorable picture books that reminded me of what it felt like to read as a child, but I couldn’t just read easy books forever. I needed something engaging with which I could connect. My next step was graphic novels because they featured gorgeous artwork in addition to shorter stories. I picked up a few and made it through less than I checked out. I found myself spending more time looking at the art than reading the words. With this newest bust I was beginning to feel discouraged.

shambling guide

That’s when I found The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty,  a silly urban fantasy novel I never would have picked out before. The story follows a travel writer who finds herself thrust into the underground world of supernatural beings that coexist alongside humans. The prose was simple, and the story was easy to follow. I found all of its ridiculous plot points endearing and the protagonist relatable. I was hooked. I had found a novel I wanted to finish. After I did a victory dance around my apartment, I set out to carry this book with me everywhere I went just in case the desire to read hit me. And it did. I started reading this book on my lunch breaks, in waiting rooms, even while grocery shopping (a good reason to hit the in-store Starbucks). It started out sporadic, every couple of weeks or days, but eventually I developed a reading routine. It still takes me a few months to read an average sized novel, but I spend more time having quality reading experiences.

Once I finished The Shambling Guide I didn’t want to lose the momentum I had gained. To prevent this I took what I loved about The Shambling Guide and looked for that in other books–comical plots written with simple, direct diction. I created a Goodreads account (which I recommend to everyone looking for reading inspiration) and discovered a whole genre of irreverently comedic sci-fi and fantasy novels that have filled my reading list. Not only did I rediscover my love of reading, but I discovered a new reader within me. My advice to those of you like me who have developed reader’s block is to take the time to try things you never would have before. A new perspective may be all it takes to push past the block and get back to loving what you’re reading.

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.