Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam

The cover shows tree branches in a dark silhouette with a dark blue sky, with the corner of a turquoise swimming pool and a lighter blue diving board with triangular metal handles in the foreground. The title, in block letters, is in complimentary shades of turquoise and blue.

by Aimee Z.

Is allyship a myth?  

Rumaan Alam explores this and more in his astute and fascinating third novel, Leave The World Behind. It begins simply enough:  A white Brooklyn family leave their hipster digs for an Airbnb week in the Hamptons. Like many Americans, Amanda, Clay, and their two teens view a beach vacation as an entitlement. It must be perfect – down to the SPF that won’t hinder your tanning goal.  

En route, Amanda orders Clay to stop at a small grocery store where she buys staples for the week: sustainable napkins, sourced maple syrup, even, Alam slyly adds, that “politically virtuous ice-cream, Ben and Jerry’s.” They pull up to the modest beach cottage and are delighted with the view of the water, a hot tub – even a pool. They barbecue, break out a $12 bottle of wine, swim – Amanda and Clay even have vacation sex that night.  Everyone falls into a blissful sleep as you, the reader, curl up with what feels like another mindlessly generic beach read.  

Then: there’s the proverbial knock at the door. It wasn’t a good thing for Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel, and it surely can’t be for Amanda and Clay. They know that the only good door knock anyone ever gets is from an Amazon delivery driver. Eventually, Clay peeks through the chained door and is greeted by an elderly African-American couple: G.H. and Ruth. 

Calmly and politely, they explain that they are the owners of the Hampton vacation house that Amanda and Clay are enjoying. Amanda clutches her phone, Alam writes, like it’s a soft toy. She’s convinced they are scammers. Worse, this is a home invasion – especially when G.H. and Ruth cook up some lie that all of Manhattan (where they were staying) has succumbed to a total blackout. 

Suddenly, that beach read you thought you were enjoying has become something entirely different – its focus now a witty and revealing spin on the social dynamics between black and white. And it is. Sort of. 

Eventually, G.H. and Ruth (over G.H.’s private stash of very old whiskey) convince Amanda and Clay that some kind of crisis must be taking place. No internet, a consistently blue TV screen, as well as dead cell phone reception are worrisome though not alarming – until Amanda and G.H. spot a flock of pink flamingos in the pool and an unearthly sound, capable of chaos, brings them all to their knees. 

Eloquent and urgent, especially as we come out of this last and devastating year, Leave the World Behind is the one book everyone must read. 

Leave the World Behind is also available at HCLS as an ebook and an eaudiobook through Libby/OverDrive.

Aimee Z. is part of the adult research staff at HCLS East Columbia Branch. She lives on a lake with her two labs, Dixie and Belle, who enthusiastically approved the content of this review in exchange for a peanut butter and jelly biscuit.

Racism, Health & Action

A photo of a hospital's emergency room entrance, with EMERGENCY in large red letters, acts as a marquee for "Dr. Camara Jones speaks on racism, health, and action."

by Katie DiSalvo-Thronson

What can we do to live in a more just society where more people thrive, and race doesn’t determine people’s health?

HCLS is proud to present Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD, a family physician, epidemiologist, and past President of the American Public Health Association, whose work focuses on naming, measuring, and addressing the impacts of racism on the health and well-being of our nation and the world. Dr. Jones speaks online tomorrow, Tuesday July 13, at 7 pm. Registration is required.

Dr. Jones’ work has been foundational to how our country thinks about race and public health and racial equity more broadly. This live webinar is a great opportunity to begin or deepen your understanding of these issues.

Dr. Jones speaks on how racism is a huge roadblock to achieving health equity in the United States, and how systemic racism, which we can act to dismantle, saps the strength of the whole society. She also provides definitions, frameworks, and other tools to equip participants to engage in a National Campaign Against Racism with three tasks: 1) name racism, 2) ask “How is racism operating here?”, and 3) organize and strategize to act.

In the Q&A segment and subsequent programs, we will bring the conversation to our county. What health disparities do people suffer from in Howard County and what can we do about it? Want a taste of Dr. Jones’ insight and perspective? Listen to this NPR piece.

Join us for the live Zoom presentation and Q&A discussion moderated by Kenitra Fokwa Kengne, Senior Program Officer at the Horizon Foundation. This is the first event in the Racial Equity and Local Action series, presented by Howard County Library System and sponsored by the Horizon Foundation. Register today.

Katie is the Community Education and Engagement Manager for HCLS. She loves people, the big questions, the woods, and chocolate.

It’s summer: TIME – and we’re (mostly) open!

School’s out and the cicadas are gone – it’s time for summer fun! Howard County Library System is open for browsing and borrowing, using computers and printing, as well as attending Tails & Tales in person, outdoor classes for children. Our hours are Monday & Thursday, 10 am – 8 pm; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday, 10 am – 6 pm, and we are closed on Sundays. At this time, our study and meeting rooms are not available, but we are otherwise open for business.

A family stands in a local park with a map spread out along a low horizontal tree branch.

We can’t wait to see you again! When you visit your local branch make sure to pickup the brand new July/August issue of source. It’s summer and it’s time for… 

Authors. We are thrilled to host two bestselling authors this summer. Daniel Silva (Wed, July 21 at 7 pm) writes the long-running spy thriller series featuring Gabriel Allon, master art restorer and Israeli spy/assassin. His latest book, The Cellist, explores one of the preeminent threats facing the West today—the corrupting influence of dirty money wielded by Russia. Gail Tsukiyama (Thu, Aug 5 at 7 pm) offers brilliant historical fiction, often centered on lives of women. Her newest book, The Color of Air, examines the threat of volcanic eruption to a Hawaiian community. Register at hclibrary.org > classes & events.

Reading. It’s not too late to join Summer Reading. Anyone can participate, with challenges and prizes for all ages. Check out Jean’s favorite children’s books for summer, listed on page 8. And Relaxing. Which is better the book or the movie? Decide for yourself from the when you read books, then watch movies adapted from the story. How faithful was it? Or, simply borrow some fun family movies to enjoy together. 

Learning. Ready for in-person classes? Join us for outdoor experiences. Prefer to stay virtual? We have online classes and book discussion groups! Pick up one of our NEW literacy activity kits for children or STEM activity kits for teens. 

Adventures. Find tips for new hikers, trail suggestions, and how to make the most of day trips. Play is a form of learning and is especially important for children’s development.

Fresh food. Everything is green and growing! Produce is at its peak, and farmers markets are happening all over the county. Read about simple ways to eat healthy, along with a few recipes and cookbook recommendations (You can also request a bundle bag.). 

Preparing. Summer is always over too soon, but we’re here to help you get ready to go back to school. Kindergarten, Here We Come! is a favorite for parents and kids preparing for their first school milestone. For students entering sixth grade, Middle School Pep Talk features tips about what to expect. 

Being Brave. Share your stories about witnessing or experiencing bias, racism, or discrimination in Howard County – as well as your stories of hope. Your stories may be shared (anonymously) with community leaders, organizations, and groups. The more stories provided, the greater the impact. 

And: We invite everyone to vote (in the Out & About category) for HCLS as the best place in Howard County to visit with kids! VOTE HERE!

Author Works with Daniel Silva

Photo credit: Marco Grob. Author wears a dark jacket, a white shirt, and black framed glasses. He leans against a wall with his arms folded
Photo credit: Marco Grob

by Kristen B.

ONLINE EVENT: Wed Jul 21 7 – 8 pm
Register at hclibrary.org > classes & events

WIN A BOOK!  One hundred lucky Zoom (randomly selected) attendees will win a hardback copy of The Cellist by Daniel Silva. Book giveaway sponsored by Friends & Foundation of HCLS.

What do you consider ideal summer reading? Do you dive into doorstop-sized classics or do you look for a bit of fun fluff to read in the sunshine? I think summer is a great time to fall into a series and get to know one set of characters. Sometimes, it’s the perfect time to re-acquaint myself with a long-running series that I’ve let languish.

Such is the case with Daniel Silva’s spy thriller series featuring Gabriel Allon, which began in 2000 with The Kill Artist. Gabriel Allon may be the perfect action-adventure hero. Honestly, I’m surprised there isn’t a film franchise yet. He’s darkly handsome, desperately in love with his young beautiful wife, has a tragic, haunting background, and works as an art restorer of Renaissance paintings. He resides in a cliffside cottage in Cornwall and goes for long brooding walks between missions. What’s not to love?!

About those missions: Gabriel Allon is also an operative for the Israeli version of the CIA (referred to in the books as The Office), and he travels the world with his trusted team protecting the safety and integrity of his homeland against all sorts of criminals, politicians, terrorists, and other nefarious folks. This series never disappoints with books set in Germany, France, Switzerland, the Vatican and Italy, Israel, Afghanistan, Russia, and the US. Often, many of those countries are involved in one story’s whirlwind, time-racing plot. As with many books in this genre, these are not for the faint of heart, as they contain graphic violence and hard people making hard decisions, most of whom will do anything to advance their own agendas and desires.

As I mentioned above, I plan to spend this summer jumping back into this series since I’m a couple of books behind. The last one I read, The Black Widow, published in 2016, is probably the best spy thriller I’ve ever read. It encompasses modern geopolitics, ancient grudges, double agents, and enough heart-pounding action that I’m pretty sure I lost sleep to finish it. The books are also excellent audiobooks, if you prefer to listen (beware the inevitable point of not being able to stop the story, though).

Book cover for The Cellist: A woman wearing a bright red coat and high black heels walks with her back to the reader. The cover is a bright blue that fades to black along the edges.

So, I invite you to join me at an upcoming Author Works event with author Daniel Silva! His newest novel (being published July 13), The Cellist, follows up the acclaimed #1 New York Times bestsellers The Order, The New Girl, and The Other Woman with a riveting, action-packed tale of espionage and suspense. The fatal poisoning of a Russian billionaire sends Gabriel Allon on a dangerous journey across Europe and into the orbit of a musical virtuoso who may hold the key to the truth about his friend’s death. The plot Allon uncovers leads to secret channels of money and influence that go to the very heart of Western democracy and threaten the stability of the global order. The Cellist is a breathtaking entry in Daniel Silva’s “outstanding series” (People magazine) and reveals once more his superb artistry and genius for invention—and demonstrates why he belongs, “firmly alongside le Carré and Forsyth as one of the greatest spy novelists of all time” (The Real Book Spy).

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, and take walks in the park.

Last Night At The Lobster by Stewart O’Nan

The book cover, a photograph rendered in shades of black and white, is of a wintery night in a parking lot, with scattered lampposts with bright lightbulbs, a handful of cars, snow on the ground, and a solitary figure in black trudging towards a building. Across a snow-covered road in the distance are more trees, cars, and buildings.

by Aimee Z.

No one would understand more about the restaurant layoffs and closures of the 2020 pandemic than Manny DeLeon, the heart beat of Stewart O’Nan’s touching ode to America’s working poor, Last Night At The Lobster. I love anything by Stewart O’Nan, but this tiny, haunting novel – about the lives of a small, fractious kitchen staff, roasting, chopping, grilling, and frying for one last paycheck will stay with readers a long time.

It’s nearly Christmas, snowing hard, and all is bright – except at a run-down chain restaurant about to serve its last Seaside Shrimp Trio forever. O’Nan’s creation of Manny as the weed-smoking young kitchen manager who has impregnated two girlfriends (one of whom, he still desperately loves) is a marvel as the story’s hero.

He arrives in his beat-up old Buick Regal (think Uncle Buck) for his last long, grueling shift with two missions: rally the troops, including prep and line cook, sous chef and server, all the time praying the irascible guy who busts suds shows up at all. His other mission: get over to Zales and buy an engagement ring. I won’t tell you for whom.

As it turns out most of the Lobster’s staff does not come in, but a ragtag few, guided by pride and what’s left of morale, do. In the ramping up blizzard, customers (none of whom know the restaurant is closing) blow in, both the regulars and the ones from hell. 

Back in the kitchen, O’Nan captures the furious chaos of a diverse kitchen culture in action. They’re a close-knit group, all about to lose their jobs, and yet they endeavor to make this last bleak day a success. Even more poignant are the positively existential cigarette breaks – moments where exhausted staff, in their dirty aprons and spattered Doc Martens share their backstories. All of them have regrets. They’ve made mistakes and struggled most of their young lives to make ends meet. 

O’Nan has written a tender tale respectful of an America we often take for granted. If you’re like me and are sick of fiction about the mindset of affluent characters that spend their stories brooding in settings like Paris, New York, or L.A., you’ll love Last Night At The Lobster.

Last Night at the Lobster is also available from HCLS in ebook format from Libby/OverDrive.

Aimee Z. is part of the adult research staff at HCLS East Columbia Branch. She lives on a lake with her two labs, Dixie and Belle, who enthusiastically approved the content of this review in exchange for a peanut butter and jelly biscuit.

Tails and Tales: Summer Reading at HCLS

A green and blue chameleon rests on a red book. The yellow banner reads: Tailes and Tales.

Howard County Library System invites you to participate in Summer Reading 2021: Tails & Tales! It keeps your family motivated to read all summer as you accomplish Missions each week. Summer Reading began June 1, and it runs through August 23.

Track your reading and play fun educational mini-games as you complete missions full of activities. Discover HCLS eResources along the way. Earn ten points to receive a free book! Earn points by either logging your books online or in a paper reading log, and then visit any HCLS branch between August 2 – 31 to pick up your book. Limit one book per reader, while supplies last. 

Choose between two versions: one for birth to age 10 and the other for ages 11-17. More information and book lists available at hclibrary.org/summer.

You can set up accounts at hcls.readsquared.com to track your progress, or you can download and print the paper version (in multiple languages this year). Each Monday, a new Mission is available online. You can enjoy the tasks listed or you can Imagine Your Own 20-minute Reading Activity by reading any way you like: Read or listen to an eBook;  a book you can hold in your hand; a chapter; a comic or graphic novel; or read a poem.

When you reach a total of 10 points, you have officially completed Summer Reading and may visit any HCLS Branch to pick up your book prize. (While supplies last; limit 1 book per reader).  What happens after you earn 10 points? Keep on reading! Continue reading, logging books, and completing mission activities.  

HCLS ADULT SUMMER READING CHALLENGE 2021 

A book lies open in grass with a pair of reading glasses resting on top. The frames are blue and the arms are multi

Give yourself some time to read, relax and learn this summer with our Adult Summer Reading Challenge. We encourage you to read in whatever format you like best: audiobooks, eBooks, graphic novels, and hold-in-your-hands books! As above, you can either track your progress online, or you can download and print a paper version.

Earn two points for each book you log. Earn a total of ten points to be automatically entered into the end of summer prize drawing! Create your own summer reading challenges or use our list of suggestions. Details at hclibrary.org/summer

Found Family in Speculative Fiction

By Kristen B.

There’s an old saying that while you can’t choose your family, it’s lucky that you can choose your friends. Some of my favorite stories include found family, where the characters forge tight bonds that go beyond simple friendship into family feeling. These are often the books that live on my comfort reads shelf. It’s also one of the oldest tropes in existence: the band of brothers (or maybe just the band) who live and die for each other. If it can’t actually save the world, friendship can at least make it a better place.

This mostly brown cover features a planet in the background and a chunky spaceship in the front. The title appears in shaded block letters which gradually increase in size.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook from Libby/OverDrive)

This is the book I hand to people who tell me they don’t really like science fiction, but want to try something new. If you ever enjoyed the show Firefly, this novel will feel familiar. Set on an older, slightly beat-up spaceship, the crew represents a wide range of galactic species who pull together as a team, a ragtag group of political and social misfits. The fairly minimal plot focuses on the need to push a new wormhole/jump, which means that one ship has to take the slow voyage to anchor the jump points. It may sound tedious but it’s never boring with all that time to get to know the quirky crew of the Wayfarer. Two of my favorites are the pacifist chef who comes from a species that essentially committed self-genocide through endless war, and Lovey (short for Lovelace), who is the ship’s AI. While not so heavy on forward action, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet provides an interconnected set of character studies that leaves you feeling more than a little warm and fuzzy.

A blue cover with an image of Jupiter in the background features a flotilla of different spaceships framing the title across the middle of the image.

A Pale Light in the Black by K. B. Wagers

Some of the most enduring found family stories tell about military outfits whose bonds are stronger than blood – kinda like the A-Team. Meet Max and Jenks, officers (commissioned and non-com, respectively) on the NEO-G ship Zuma’s Ghost. A sort of space-based Coast Guard, NEO-G (Near-Earth Orbital Guard) Interceptor teams run counter-smuggling interdiction operations and rescue missions. Max has recently joined Zuma’s Ghost, after Jenks’ brother is promoted off the ship. Part of the story revolves around Max and Jenks finding a good working relationship during various military actions. Part of the story concerns the Boarding Games annual competition, which happens among teams from all military service branches and which Zuma’s Ghost just missed winning the previous year. Jenks is the all-time champion cage fighter, and Max, navigator extraordinaire, is still discovering what skills she contributes to the team. Underlying all this surface fun, something more sinister lurks that threatens Max, Jenks, and all of Earth. This book rolls with a ton of space opera fun, hitting all the beats you expect and some you don’t. It’s also one of the most inclusive set of characters ever thrown together to save the solar system!

A woman kneels upon a beach gesturing with her right hand toward a flat sea, with symbols traced on the sand beneath her. The palette is muted beiges and blues.

Winter Tide by Ruthanne Emrys (also available as an eBook from Libby/OverDrive)

I must admit to avoiding this title for longer than I should have given its association with the Lovecraft mythos. Lovecraft’s opinions and bigotry have not stood the test of time well, and I was a little apprehensive about diving into the deeps with a Cthulu-inspired novel. How wrong I was! Emrys reconstructs the Lovecraftian milieu into a family saga that demands empathy for the Other. Set in Innsmouth along the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, down the road from Miskatonic University (home to lots of unhelpful white men), Aphra Marsh and her brother Caleb look to reclaim their heritage that was stolen when the government interred her people away from the sea in the desert. The Innsmouth community comes from People of the Water (as opposed to Air or Earth), who eventually leave dry land and evolve to live as Deep Ones in the sea. Aphra needs to find trusted friends and colleagues to re-establish a home at Innsmouth before developers demolish what little remains and to reclaim her people’s heritage from the dim reaches of the university’s library. This quiet, personal novel focuses on staying true to yourself and trusting others who travel the path with you – even if one of them happens to be an FBI agent.

A face with long ears peeks over the bottom of the cover wearing a crown shaped liked a palace.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (also available as an eAudiobook from Libby/OverDrive)

Do you love pauper to prince stories? Heroes that go from the kitchen or the farm to the throne? Me too! Half-elf, half-goblin Maya grew up in almost total isolation after the death of his mother, living in a remote marshy estate with an equally outcast, abusive tutor. His father, the Emperor of Elfland, had come to regret his political marriage, exiling Maya and his mother from court. This book opens with Maya receiving news that he is the only remaining legitimate heir after his father and older brothers are killed in a terrible accident. Promising himself to be true to his mother’s precepts of kindness and generosity, Maya tries to maneuver in an imperial court for which he has no frame of reference or requisite education. He makes his way tentatively toward a previously unimaginable royal future, grounded in the adamant idea that he will not continue the cycle of abuse levied against him. Along the way and despite assassination attempts, he finds kindred spirits – helpful councilors, his maternal grandfather (who rules the goblin empire), long-lost aunts and sisters, and devoted bodyguards – to ease the burden of royal privilege and deference. I love this book to pieces, and it only improves with re-reading. The language can be a little dense at first, but stick with it and you will be greatly rewarded with a story of courtly politics and the power of kindness.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, and take walks in the park.

Dr. Erika Lee: The Making of Asian America

On the left, the cover of Dr. Lee's book: The color shades from deep blue to bright red with lettering in gold. A paper lantern floats in the top right corner. On the right: A photo of Dr. Lee wearing a denim jacket and large blue necklace, her hair is shoulder length and she wears glasses. A sunny green yard is out of focus behind her.

Monumental. . . . Lee handles her scholarly materials with grace, never overwhelming the reader with too many facts or incidents. She tells an American story familiar to anyone who has read Walt Whitman, seeking to capture America in all its diversity and difference, while at the same time pleading for America to realize its democratic potential. . . . Powerful Asian American stories . . . are inspiring, and Lee herself does them justice in a book that is long overdue.” ― LA Times

On Wednesday, May 26 at 7 pm, Dr. Erika Lee discusses her acclaimed book The Making of Asian-AmericaIn the past fifty years, Asian Americans have helped change the face of America and are now the fastest-growing group in the United States. As award-winning historian Erika Lee also reminds us, Asian Americans also have deep roots in the country. The Making of Asian America tells the little-known history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, from their first arrival to the present-day.

An epic history of global journeys and new beginnings, this book shows how generations of Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants have made and remade Asian American life in the United States: sailors who came on the first trans-Pacific ships in the 1500s; indentured “coolies” who worked alongside African slaves in the Caribbean; and Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and South Asian immigrants who were recruited to work in the United States only to face massive racial discrimination, Asian exclusion laws, and, for Japanese Americans, incarceration during World War II. During the past fifty years, a new Asian America has emerged out of community activism and the arrival of new immigrants and refugees. No longer a “despised minority,” Asian Americans are now held up as America’s “model minorities” in ways that reveal the complicated role that race still plays in the United States.

Copies of The Making of Asian America are available to borrow (also as an eAudiobook) from HCLS or to purchase from Books with a Past. 

A stunning achievement, The Making of Asian America establishes the centrality of Asians to American history, and poses alternatives to US national and immigration histories. Asians, this remarkable text reveals, transformed the face of America, and they locate the US firmly within a hemispheric and global order.” ― Gary Y. Okihiro, Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University

ABOUT DR. ERIKA LEE One of the nation’s leading immigration and Asian American historians, Erika Lee teaches American history at the University of Minnesota, where she is a Regents Professor, a Distinguished McKnight University Professor, the Rudolph J. Vecoli Chair in Immigration History, and the Director of the Immigration History Research Center. The granddaughter of Chinese immigrants, Lee grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, attended Tufts University, and received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. She was recently elected into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, testified before Congress during its historic hearings on discrimination and violence against Asian Americans, was awarded an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, and named Vice President of the Organization of American Historians.

Citizen Science and Summer Fun

The photograph shows two orange, white, and black monarch butterflies gathering nectar from a stalk of lavender sage.
Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash.

by Jean B.

Last spring, as a COVID lockdown project, I expanded my backyard garden and planted some milkweed to attract monarch butterflies.  I was rewarded with not only bright orange-yellow flowers throughout the summer, but dozens of striped monarch caterpillars in August and then, the ultimate treasure:  one glittering pale-green chrysalis, from which I watched a monarch emerge one late September day.  Observing this life cycle drama unfold in my backyard was absolutely a pandemic highlight!

As you may know, habitats for monarch butterflies are declining rapidly, threatening their ability to make the incredible migration from Canada to Central Mexico that species survival requires. But there are tangible ways individuals can help monarchs. It can be a wonderful family activity to learn about, observe, and take action to help monarch populations, with help from some fantastic children’s books available at HCLS. Become citizen scientists!  It’s fun, it gets everyone outdoors together, and it’s rewarding. 

First, check out Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery. In this book, Meeg Pincus explores how the monarchs’ amazing migration journey was uncovered through the actions of not only scientists, teachers, and explorers but also thousands of volunteers, who helped tag and observe the butterflies to figure out where they went. When the mystery finally was solved, whose achievement was it? As this book joyfully replies, the discovery belonged to “all of them – the scientists, the citizen scientists, the regular folks along the way.”  Learning about that remarkable effort, it’s easier to appreciate how each of us can play a part in helping solve the problems facing monarchs and other struggling species.  

Now we need some specifics to get to work. Check out Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard by Loree Griffin Burns, with photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz. This beautiful, family-friendly book guides kids and their grownups through four seasonal projects: tagging monarch butterflies in the fall, counting backyard birds in the winter, frog watching (and listening!) in the spring, and photographing ladybugs in the summer. Each section contains a visually-rich full spread with practical information for “when you go,” including a checklist of equipment, close-up photos of the creature to be observed, and a quick quiz to learn some useful facts.  Links to organizations that collect citizen scientist information are provided, too. It’s every curious and naturally-observant kid’s dream to count, name, and dig around outside to find interesting creatures, right? This book gives just the right blend of guidance and inspiration to harness that excitement to a great purpose.

While you’re outside looking for monarchs, you’re bound to see all kinds of other butterflies, caterpillars, and insects you’ll want to learn more about. Capturing the beauty and wonder of butterflies, the nonfiction picture book A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston, with spectacular artwork by Sylvia Long, is my favorite guide. It contains fascinating information presented with gloriously colorful and detailed illustrations. It’s available as an eBook from CloudLibrary, too. (And since this summer will be full of cicadas, check out A Beetle is Shy, by the same duo, to boost your beetle appreciation.)

Finally, if you embark on this journey of discovery, be sure to stop in at the HCLS Enchanted Garden located at the Miller Branch, a certified Monarch Way Station. Through the HCLS website and classes, the Enchanted Garden offers more resources to support citizen scientists and monarch watchers.   

Make HCLS your partner as you encourage the budding naturalists in your family this year and maybe you’ll get to see a brand new monarch stretch its wings, too!

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch and loves reading books for all ages when she isn’t enjoying the outdoors.

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore

The book cover depicts a dust storm across a dry landscape of orange dirt,  with oil rigs and a solitary tree in the distance and purple stormclouds in the sky above.

by Aimee Z.

Content warning for book: sexual assault

1976, Odessa, Texas. The wild oil boom brings equally wild young transients from as far away as Arkansas and the Carolinas. These “roughnecks” work and play hard, drinking all night at the local cantina. When Gloria, a rebellious fifteen-year-old Mexican girl, accepts a truck ride from such a blue-eyed stranger who calls her “Valentine,” she doesn’t expect to be raped, beaten, and left for dead on the dusty Texas range.

She surely doesn’t expect to awake at dawn, shoeless, black-eyed, her spleen ruptured, ribs and jaw busted, watching her rapist sleep off his drunk in the cab of his old truck. But she does. Stealthily, Gloria wills herself over sagebrush and shale, to what first seems a mirage – a farmhouse. 

Gloria bangs on the door and a child answers followed by one of the most gloriously grounded characters in recent fiction, the very pregnant Mary Rose. Gloria is in the worst shape Mary Rose has ever seen. She sees something else, too – way out on that dusty red road, a sky blue truck is racing toward her. 

Mary Rose yanks Gloria inside, shushes her little girl, and waddles out to the front porch to meet Gloria’s sweet-talking rapist with her rancher husband’s Winchester .22.  He’s intent, too, in getting back “his little Mexican gal.”

I found the prose taut and gorgeously written by first-time novelist Wetmore, whose affection for Texas is only surpassed by her fierce and pragmatic women — Mary Rose, Corrine, Gloria, and more. You’ll love them for their pushback, for their ‘Me Too” attitude against the structural racism and ingrained misogyny that defined West Texas oil boomtowns in the 70’s.

Elizabeth Wetmore’s Valentine is also available in eBook and eAudiobook format from Libby/OverDrive. 

Aimee Z. is part of the adult research staff at HCLS East Columbia Branch. She lives on a lake with her two labs, Dixie and Belle, who enthusiastically approved the content of this review in exchange for a peanut butter and jelly biscuit.