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is set for intersecting stories of betrayal, guilt, and abnegation, told in the form of letters, journal entries, and historical documents.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.

 

 

Crossover Alternate Universe BFFs

By Brittney Reed-Saltz

People read books for different reasons. Some people are plot-driven, seeking out books with multitudinous twists and turns and non-stop action. Others read for information, and prefer nonfiction. Some are author-centric, and tend to stick to the same familiar names that have not let them down over the years.

But for some people, characters are the most important part of a text. These readers might forget exactly how a book ended, but their favorite characters’ first appearance will be emblazoned on their minds and hearts forever. These are the readers who like to imagine what it might be like to meet a character from a book. They’re the ones who identify wholeheartedly with Elizabeth Bennet or Hermione Granger or Holden Caulfield (or insert character here) and consider said kinship as good a way as any to explain their personalities.

I said “they” a lot in that paragraph, but of course I mean “we.” I’m definitely a character-driven reader, and each new book is an opportunity to meet new people who might change my life, regardless of the fact that they’re fictional.

And just like when you meet a new person and find yourself reminded of someone you already know–“Oh, you have to meet my friend So-and-So, I think you’d hit it off!”–I sometimes imagine making introductions between my favorite literary characters.

Here are some characters that I think would make great friends, despite living in different fictional worlds.

 

Henry DeTamble (The Time-Traveler’s Wife) and Tom Hazard (How to Stop Time)
Both Henry and Tom have problems with time: Henry has a condition that causes him to spontaneously time travel, while Tom’s causes him to age so slowly as to be nearly immortal. While these are two very different problems to have, I think that they would be able to sympathize with one another. They also share a love of music, though Tom might find Henry a bit quaint and naive… After all, he’s 439 years old.

Amy Dunne (Gone Girl) and Adele (Behind Her Eyes)
It’s hard to fully explain why Amy and Adele should hang out without revealing too much about either book and thereby spoiling the reading experience. But I will say that both of these women are highly intelligent, very crafty, and know what it’s like to keep a secret. I can imagine them meeting up for coffee and sharing the salacious details of their latest schemes, delighting in one another’s intricate deceptions. They would probably be frenemies, but I think they would have a good time.

Alice (The Hazel Wood) and Vivienne (The Cruel Prince)
This is another case of characters becoming friends through the shared weirdness of their existence. Alice grew up on the run from her the legacy of her grandmother, a reclusive author who penned a deeply strange collection of fairy tales. Vivi is a girl living in a fairy tale… Literally, in the Faerie realm, until she decides to try and return to the human world where she once lived. Both girls have been through more than their share of adventure and hardship. They could swap stories and give one another what survivors of trauma need: someone who will listen and believe.

Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) and Isabel Townsend (Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord)
Elizabeth chafes against the societal expectation that women will inevitably get married for money, and refuses to enter a loveless match. She’s shrewd and independent, both qualities that she shares with Isabel, who operates an estate independent of a male caretaker, a highly unusual endeavor for a woman during the early 19th Century. Isabel is a little bit farther ahead on the timeline than Elizabeth (Ten Ways… takes place in the 1820s, while the events of Pride and Prejudice occur somwhere between 1797-1815), but I still like to imagine these ladies meeting. It would be much better for Lydia to go live with the other women in Isabel’s home than to have to marry the heinous Mr. Wickham. (Seriously, is anyone else creeped out by the fact that she has to be stuck with that boor for life, rather than getting a second chance while he’s shunned from society on a desert island or something?)

Roland Deschain (The Dark Tower series) and the man (The Road)
Roland and the man (yes, that’s how McCarthy refers to him) both know what it’s like to live incredibly bleak lives while trying to survive and look out for the people they care about. Both are gruff and cautious by necessity, both have seen and done some stuff in the way of people living in post-apocalyptic worlds, and I see parallels between the man’s relationship with his son and Roland’s relationship with Jake Chambers. This also works well given the idea in The Dark Tower series that all worlds are real and connected. (“There are other worlds than these.”) Imagine an alternate version of The Road where Roland and his ka-tet encounter the man and the boy and band together with them! How differently things might have turned out…

31 Books About Witches

by Britney Reed-Saltz

For centuries the witch has been a powerful archetype. Feared or revered, emulated or persecuted, her position in society has evolved throughout history, but one thing has remained certain: her presence.

What better time than now, as Halloween approaches, to sit for a spell and read tales of witchcraft? Whether you prefer fantasy, romance, horror, mystery, or nonfiction, this list will point you to the grimoire you seek.

Garden Spells  Sarah Addison Allen (magical realism, series)witches 1

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (magical realism, series)

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (fantasy, series)

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett (humorous fantasy, series)

The Good House by Tananarive Due (horror)

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (horror)

witches 2The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston (historical fantasy, series)

Bell, Book, and Murder by Rosemary Edghill (mystery, series)

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M. J. Rose (historical fiction)

Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft edited by Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood (YA short stories)

The Goblin Wood by Hilari Bell (YA fantasy)

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard (fantasy, series)witches 3

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay (historical fiction)

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan (historical fiction)

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Condé (historical fiction)

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (fiction)

Circe by Madeline Miller (historical fiction)

witches 5The Witching Hour by Anne Rice (historical fiction, series)

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (YA historical fiction, series)

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (YA Afrofuturism/fantasy, series)

Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen (YA fantasy, series)

The Graces by Laure Eve (YA paranormal fantasy, series)

Book of Shadows by Cate Tiernan (YA paranormal fantasy, series)witches 6

The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw (YA paranormal fantasy, series)

Dance Upon the Air by Nora Roberts (romance, series)

Secondhand Spirits by Juliet Blackwell (cozy mystery, series)

The King of Bones and Ashes by J. D. Horn (urban fantasy, series)

witches 9Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison (urban fantasy, series)

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (urban fantasy, series)

Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler (nonfiction)

Witches of America by Alex Mar (nonfiction)

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Nebula Award Winners Announced!

By Brittney Reed-Saltz nebulas logo

Each year the Nebula Awards honor distinguished works of speculative fiction. The honors are voted on and bestowed by active members of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. In other words, if something wins a Nebula, it does so because people who know and care about speculative fiction think it’s worth your time. So for fans, the list of winners and nominees is a great source for high-quality SFF that you know people are talking about.

Want to be part of the discussion? RCLS has you covered with several Nebula winners and nominees in the system, including every title nominated for Best Novel and for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation!

Check out what we’ve got below. You can view a full list and learn more about the Nebulas here.

Best Novel
Winner: The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
Jade City by Fonda Lee
Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Best Novella 
Winner: All Systems Red by Martha Wells
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

Best Short Story
You can read these online! Just follow the link and look for “Read Online” beneath the cover image for each story.

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Winner: Get Out 
The Good Place

Logan
The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Wonder Woman

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
Winner: The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller
Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren

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!

 

Asexual
Sheepfarmer’s Daughter by Elizabeth Moon

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Quicksilver by R. J. Anderson

quicksilver

Bisexual:
False Hearts by Laura Lam

Planetfall by Emma Newman

false hearts

Intersex:
An Unkindness of Ghosts by River Solomon

an unkindness of ghosts

Gay
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

amberlough

Genderfluid/Nonbinary:
Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

river of teeth

Lesbian
Huntress by Malinda Lo

The Steel Seraglio by Mike Carey

Black Wolves by Kate Elliott

The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan

huntress

Pansexual:
Borderline by Mishell Baker

Island of Exiles by Erica Cameron

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

borderline

Transgender:
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

 

 

dreadnought

 

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.

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.

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.

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
image(1)

Penny’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 Penny Hilton.
Favorite new author or series you tried:
The Magicians by Lev Grossman

A book that surprised you:
Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King

A book you read for the first time that you will reread in the future:
Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King

The best book you read that was also published this year:
Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King

A book you read that was outside of your comfort zone:
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

The book that you recommended to the most people:
Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King

The best cover from a book you read this year (please include image):
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the illustrated edition, by J. K. Rowling

image.png