What is Home? asks Brandon Hobson

The book cover depicts a woodsy scene in grays and blues, with a lone figure inverted on a path in the center, framed by three interlocking triangles in pink, green, and gold.

by Rohini G.

Brandon Hobson, author of The Removed, believes that good fiction starts with a question. 

“The big question here was how do we grieve, and how do we heal. But I’m also interested in the question of what is home?” Examining these questions is the starting place for his writing, Hobson says in an interview with Zibby Owens.  

In The Removed, Hobson hauntingly weaves together two strands. First is the story of personal loss experienced by the Echota family; second, the devastating loss experienced by the Cherokee Nation – the traumatic heritage of the Trail of Tears, the forced removal by the U.S. government from 1830 to 1850 of an estimated 100,000 indigenous people (including Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole, among other nations) from their homes. 

After fifteen years, the Echotas are still struggling to come to terms with the death of their son, Ray-Ray, who was killed in a police shooting at the mall. Maria tries to keep the flame of remembrance alive for her son, as she deals with her husband Ernest’s struggle with Alzheimers, son Edgar’s meth use, and daughter Sonja’s detachment. As the family’s annual bonfire approaches – an occasion marking both the Cherokee National Holiday and Ray-Ray’s death – Maria takes in a foster child, Wyatt. Buoyant and quirky, Wyatt is a born storyteller, spinning gripping tales about snakes and birds and an underworld, called the Darkening Land. 

While reading this book, I was enthralled with the way Hobson shifted perspective with each character and got into the skin of that person, especially Tsala, a Cherokee spirit who tells a story of his own murder for refusing to be removed. Written in a lyrical, minimalistic style, The Removed is a a powerful story, a profound yet quick read, available in book format and also as an eaudiobook and ebook from Libby/OverDrive. 

Hear author Brandon Hobson in person on Wednesday, March 10. For information, click here.

The book cover depicts a stylized eagle in black silhouette with outstretched wings against an orange background, with a single feather fallen to the ground beneath.

Hobson is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, with a PhD in English and seven years’ experience as a social worker for disadvantaged youth. His previous book, Where the Dead Sit Talking (also available as an eaudiobook from Libby/OverDrive) was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award for Fiction and winner of the Reading the West Book Award. He is an assistant professor of creative writing at New Mexico State University and teaches in the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

A RECOMMENDED BOOK FROM

USA Today * O, the Oprah Magazine * Entertainment Weekly * Harper’s Bazaar * Buzzfeed * Washington Post * Elle * Parade * San Francisco Chronicle * Good Housekeeping * Vulture * Refinery29 * AARP * Kirkus * PopSugar * Alma * Woman’s Day * Chicago Review of Books * The Millions * Biblio Lifestyle * Library Journal * Publishers Weekly * LitHub 

Rohini is the Adult Curriculum Specialist with HCLS. She loves literature and rainy days.

Cooking with Ottolenghi

Table covered in plates and bowls filled with colorful foods.

by Kristen B.

Something kind of funny happened at the holidays: every member of my family was gifted a cookbook. I’m not sure if this is in recognition that we all like to play in the kitchen or the need to find some new recipes as we have grown seriously bored with our old usuals. Both?

Last year in a gift exchange, a colleague presented me with Plenty by Yotam Ottalenghi. I was only vaguely familiar with the author’s name but was no particular fan. He’s an Israeli-English chef, restauranteur, and cookbook author. He owns several delis and restaurants in London and specializes in Middle Eastern flavors and cuisines. I was immediately intrigued by the beautiful photography and the series of recipes that concentrate on types of foods. Vegetables, grains, and other plants are often side dishes on my table, and this book shows how to make them the stars. While some of the recipes required ingredients I don’t always keep on hand and the time to think my way through a new process, the couple I have tried have been wonderful. The green couscous, overflowing with fresh herbs and scallions, was a lovely addition to summertime meals.

For Christmas, my son gave me Ottolenghi Simple by the same chef author, having noticed my enjoyment of the previous book. As the name suggests, this book contains simpler recipes. SIMPLE is an acronym for recipes that stands for: Short on time, Ingredients ten or fewer, Make ahead, Pantry-led, Lazy-day dishes, and Easier than you think. Not every recipe partakes of all the categories, but it offers a nice shorthand at the top of the page. Ottolenghi’s pantry differs significantly from mine, but shopping provides part of the fun of new recipes. Discovering different tastes and textures is the main reason I like to check out cookbooks and get busy in the kitchen. I have tried one recipe from this book already: Baked rice with confit of tomatoes and garlic. Baked rice was easy and turned out perfectly. Next time, though, I will halve the recipe because we ended up eating it all week. I posted a picture of my newfound deliciousness on Facebook (like you do) and promptly recommended this book to a friend who wanted the recipe.

The library owns a wide array of cookbooks for you to borrow, from celebrity chefs such as Ottolenghi to cooking with certain kitchen appliances (Do you have an Instapot or slow cooker?) or even for specific dietary needs. Celebrity chefs is one of the current topics for Bundle Bags, where staff will browse the shelves for you. Or, you can always chat with us about what you’re looking for. I wish you happy cooking!

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to spend winter reading, baking, and waiting for baseball to return.

The Daughters of Erietown

The cover is turquoise with white lettering. Scattered around the edges are faded photographs of family scenes indicative of the 1960s, including a car and a small child peering through a window.

By Julie F.

Connie Schultz is one of my favorite columnists; her sweet daily reminders on Twitter to “breathe” are a vital moment each evening in a busy routine. Her debut novel, a summer highlight, is full of moments reflecting on the secrets and struggles of working-class families in Ohio, from 1956 through 1994. 

Brick McGinty marries Ellie Fetters just before they graduate from high school; there are no other options in the late 1950’s for a young couple about to become parents. Brick and Ellie both know and accept this, but they also accept that teenage dreams will be postponed or even eliminated – Ellie’s to train as a nurse, and Brick’s to accept a sports scholarship and become a teacher and coach. Both come from broken families who couldn’t escape the numbing, self-fulfilling dictates of their class, and both had hoped for a better future for themselves and each other. They remind me of the heartbreaking line from Bruce Springsteen’s “The River”: “And for my nineteenth birthday, I got a union card and a wedding coat.”

Ellie resolves to be a good mother, but also yearns for substance and fulfillment. When disappointments seem likely to break her, Ellie tells her daughter Samantha not to rely on the men in her life. “The sad look on Sam’s face made Ellie wish, for the first time, that she’d had only sons… No matter what she did, Ellie would never be able to save her daughter from that heartache waiting to ambush her” (395). Progress awaits with the upheavals of the sixties and seventies, though, and Sam grows, asserts her independence, and fulfills her ambitions in a way that Ellie and her generation couldn’t have imagined. I love the moment where Sam reckons with her own questioning personality: “To go through life just coasting?  That’s unthinkable” (733).

Brick, meanwhile, makes huge mistakes that temper his expectations with the bitterness of devastating consequences. His misogyny and racism are in keeping with his small-town upbringing as a white male who has never had to consider his position in society in relation to others. Brick is an imperfect father, husband, and son, and he knows it, deep down. But he makes progress and attempts in small ways to atone, specifically with his son, with Ellie, and with Sam. Brick’s little family is the best thing to ever happen to him, and despite the glaring gap between promise and reality, his strength is loving them through all the pain and disappointment.

If you love sweeping stories that develop the collective life of a family through successive generations, the journey of the McGintys across the decades will captivate and absorb you. Schultz, whom the Pulitzer committee described as writing “pungent columns that provided a voice for the underdog and underprivileged,”advocates for people from those communities throughout her work, in part because of her working-class background. Her TED Talk about the women of her generation, “A Woman Over 50: A Life Unleashed,” shares more insight into the themes of this novel, including single motherhood, women’s place in the world, and not listening to “that voice of ‘no’ in your head.”

The Daughters of Erietown is also available as an ebook through OverDrive/Libby.

Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch. She loves gardening, reading, and all kinds of music.

Listening List: Six science fiction novels with great audiobooks

By Becky W.

I love listening to audiobooks. Anytime I have the option to occupy my ears (driving, washing dishes, mowing the lawn), you can be sure an audiobook is playing in the background. Despite all the benefits of audiobooks, sometimes when we finally get a book that’s been on hold for six weeks – we are disappointed to discover that we can’t relate to the narrator. A narrator can make or break our impression of a title. While we all have different preferences as to how a book is read, here a few audiobooks that, I feel, enhance their novel’s stories.

Bonus tip: to avoid those long waits only to return the book after five minutes of listening, try the “Play Sample” feature on Libby for a short preview of the narration.

The background is a solid bright green, with the illustration of a head wrapped in cord or wire. Where goggle would appear, the text "neuromancer" is repeated in black letters on white.

Neuromancer by William Gibson 
Read by: Robertson Dean 
Available through: Overdrive/Libby 

If you are science fiction fan, you have probably run across William Gibson’s Neuromancer. We first meet Case, an ex-computer hacker, in Chiba City, Japan – broke, drug addicted, and at rock bottom. After stealing from his former employer, Case is injected with a toxin, damaging his central nervous system and leaving him unable to access the virtual reality database known as the Matrix. He lands himself on the hit list of Wage, an infamous drug lord. On the verge of suicide, Case meets Molly, a cyborg working for a mysterious hacker, Armitage. Armitage agrees to help Case heal and regain access to the Matrix in exchange for his services as a hacker. Desperate, Case accepts the trade, not knowing Armitage’s motives or what services he must provide. 

Why choose the audiobook?

If you have not read Neuromancer (or if it’s time for a re-read), I highly suggest listening to the audiobook. Written from the perspective of Case, Dean’s spot-on embodiment of the character, along with his ability to shift into other unique and relatable characters, adds another level to this already iconic story.  

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Read by: Jon Lindstrom
Available through: Overdrive/Libby, Cloud Library, Audiobook on CD 

If you are new to science fiction (i.e., not quite ready to tackle the intricacies of the Dune universe), Dark Matter provides an excellent place to start. If, however, you are a science fiction boss… you should still read Dark Matter. Is there a little bit of plot hole time magic? Yes, but look past it – it’s worth it. The story is told from the perspective of Jason Dessen, a college physics professor. On his way home, Jason is approached by a man he presumes to be a mugger. In an instant, Jason finds himself abducted, drugged, and waking up in a world that is not his own. 

Why choose the audiobook?

I originally began this as a printed book, but switched to audiobook. Though the story quickly grabs your attention, Crouch’s use of fragmented sentences and one-line paragraphs makes this a clunky read. After starting in on the audiobook, I was able to experience these fragments as they were intended, as the sporadic thoughts of an abducted man. 

3. Sphere by Michael Crichton
Read by: Scott Brick
Available through: Playaway (what is a Playaway?) 

While Michael Crichton is best known for Jurassic Park (a must read and must watch), he has a huge body of work that contains some of my favorite sci-fi reads. Sphere follows psychologist Norman Johnson and a team of other scientists who are recruited by the US Navy to explore a foreign spacecraft discovered at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. After gaining access to the ship, the team encounters an alien intelligence named Jerry. Communicating through a large sphere found on the ship, Jerry exhibits a child-like and temperamental demeanor that sparks an interest in Johnson. After unexplainable events start to threaten the team’s safety, Johnson becomes desperate to understand Jerry and explain the phenomena taking place around him.

Why choose the audiobook? 

While technically science fiction, Sphere is also a psychological thriller. As Johnson dives deeper into Jerry’s thoughts, the reader constantly questions who is in control of the conversation. Brick’s narration enhances the suspense, so much so that it is worth reaching for the audiobook. 

Lange blocky letters spell out titles and authors. For first book, letters appear against an urban apartment block. For the second, it's blue letters on a black cover.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Read by: Wil Wheaton
Available through: OverDrive/Libby, Cloud Library, Audiobook on CD

I know, I know, I’m late to the game on this one. Honestly, when this book first came out, the virtual reality video game setting just didn’t spark my interest. But with the release of sequel Ready Player Two, I decided to give it a try… and it was definitely worth it. The story follows eighteen-year-old Wade Watts who spends the majority of his time in the global virtual reality network known as the Oasis. The late Oasis creator, James Halliday, left his enormous fortune to any person who could solve the puzzle he hid within his creation. Wade, like many other “gunters,” has dedicated his entire life to learning everything about 80s–obsessed Halliday and winning his fortune. 

Why choose the audiobook? 

This book is just fun to listen to. I am definitely not a gamer, but the intensity in the narration of this book made me feel as if I were behind the controller. I am not sure if I would have developed the same level of excitement and suspense in the narration of this book if reading a printed copy. Oh, did I mention, it’s read by Wil Wheaton… why wouldn’t you choose the audiobook!  

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Read by: Andy Secombe, Eric Meyers, Laurel Lefkow, Charlie Anson, Liza Ross, William Hope, Christoper Ragland, Katharine Mangold, Adna Sablyich
Available through: OverDrive/Libby

This story opens with eleven-year-old Rose Franklin falling from her new bike into what seems like the center of the earth. When Rose’s fall is broken, she finds herself in the cradled of a giant mechanical hand. Seventeen years later, the mystery of the buried artifact remains, and Rose, now a physicist, is consumed with solving it. The story unfolds as a series of question and answers conducted by an unidentified interviewer. The unnamed man attempts to reveal the mystery of the artifact through the accounts of Rose and her team, all of whom have had encounters with parts of the artifact. 

Why choose the audiobook? 

Neuvel’s question-and-answer structure lends itself very well to audio. While listening to this story, I really did find myself duped into feeling as if I was listening to an archive of interview tapes, investigating the mystery for myself. 

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
Read by: Kristen Sieh, Hank Green
Available through: OverDrive/Libby

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavour by Hank Green (sequel)
Read by: Kristen Sieh, Joe Hempel, Jesse Vilinsky, Nicole Lewis, Kevin R. Free, Hank Green, Robert Petkoff, Angelo Di Loreto, Oliver Wyman, Hillary Huber, P.J. Ochlan, Gabra Zackman
Available through: OverDrive/Libby

Hank Green and his brother John Green (author of The Fault in Our Stars) have made names for themselves, via writing and their YouTube channel Vlogbrothers, along with other online content. Throughout An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, Green examines our newfound concept of internet fame while also delivering a funny, thrilling, and engaging science fiction story. While I have had opinions on this topic, I am not an internet celebrity (in case you were wondering). So, I was really interested to learn how Green (who has a lot of experience with internet fame) tackles this subject.  

This two-book series follows April May, a twenty-something living in New York City. When April finds what she believes to be a Banksy-inspired art installation, April and her friend, Andy, decide to create a YouTube video to introduce the giant robot sculpture (dubbed “Carl”) to the rest of the city. When a total of sixty-four Carl statues appear simultaneously all over the globe, April finds herself in the spotlight. 

Why choose the audiobook? 

While I definitely would recommend listening to both of these novels, the audio production of  A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor knocks it out of the park. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is written from the perspective of April, while the sequel switches perspectives among the core group of characters. I was already familiar with the characters from the first book, but I had doubts about relating to them if they were read by different narrators. I was extremely impressed with the attention taken in choosing the narrators for this book, and how well they embodied each of the characters.  

Becky is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS East Columbia Branch who enjoys art and everything science.

We could all use a little Paddington

The film poster depicts Paddington bear in his red hat and blue coat, eating a jelly sandwich, against a blue background of the London skyline.

By Khaleel G.

I must confess a librarian’s sin: I always mix up Paddington the bear with Corduroy (who is also a bear). Three decades after first reading these books, I only remembered a cute lil’ guy, riding up an escalator, getting into good-hearted mischief. Yet over the past few years, I’ve read amazing reviews of the two Paddington films. Critics said these are some of the best family movies ever made – high praise! But like the thousands of movies, novels, albums, memoirs, histories, and graphic novels I’ve been recommended, I filed these films away in the bursting file cabinet in my mind, labeled “To Check Out, Sometime Later.”

Well, I wish I hadn’t waited so long. These films operate not only as delightful living cartoons, but they’re optimistic, contemporary, and totally absurd in that specific UK comedy way. The director, Paul King, is most famous for having worked on The Mighty Boosh, a British comedy show from the 2000s best described as visual and narrative anarchy. Here, though, he turns what might be a humdrum kids’ book adaptation into a compelling and confoundingly fun romp. 

The premise is simple, but sorta weird, as you see it happen with real actors (and a small, talking animal).  Our protagonist bear (from “Darkest Peru”) is sent north by his auntie and ventures into London alone, with a small tag around his neck reading, “Please look after this bear. THANK YOU.” Upon arriving at Paddington station, he meets the Brown family, who take him in for the night, dubbing him “Paddington” (since they can’t pronounce his name in roars of Bearish). They hope to find a new home for him, the one promised decades ago by an explorer his aunt and uncle met, who extended his hospitality should they ever visit London. Thus, the film properly begins. 

Paddington is shown in his blue coat and red hat, riding an escalator with a small white dog with a jeweled collar.

This is when Paddington sets itself apart from its PG peers. We’re introduced to the Brown family through a Wes Anderson/Royal Tenenbaums-style montage; these carefully shot sequences detail their unique personalities. Like young Judy, who suffers from an incurable case of “embarrassment,” worried about introducing her middle school crush to her family. Or the younger Jonathan, who can’t tell his school chums that he just loves steam engines. Mrs. Brown illustrates children’s books, but can’t come up with a hero, while Mr. Brown is a work-weary insurance investigator, very dry and worried. They’re just as strange as an immigrant bear with a floppy red hat, and each Brown family member discovers and accepts this over the course of the story.

Of particular note is Hugh Bonneville, who played the regal father in Downton Abbey, as Mr. Brown, who doesn’t much like the idea of living with a bear (alluding to issues around immigration and housing, a surprisingly contemporary twist). Before long, Bonneville warms to the little scamp, as they search across London for that welcoming explorer, getting into some Monty Pythonesque escapades.

Joining him is Nicole Kidman, as a mad taxidermist intent on capturing Paddington, and boy! she really gives it her all! I haven’t seen a “serious, dramatic” actor lean so hard into being a goofy yet menacing villain in a long while – though in the second film, Hugh Grant one-ups her. He plays a washed-up actor turned thief, dressing in all sorts of costumes to steal what he needs, while performing many ridiculous accents. If you can believe it, he claims this to be his finest work. On top of that, we get delightful supporting performances by BBC regulars, like Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, and Brendan Gleeson, each stealing their scenes with panache.

Hugh Grant is depicted in a blue and grey checked suit with ascot, and a blue wide-brimmed fedora, in front of a carnival-themed calliope.
Hugh Grant, depicted in Paddington 2.

I could go on and on about these films! I haven’t even mentioned the Rube Goldberg stunt scenes. Paddington makes some simple mistake, usually based on a misunderstanding of technology or culture, and sets off a chain of chaos. In one scene, he begins by trying to clean out his ears (a gross-out gag for the kids), but ends up flooding the Brown family’s bathroom to the ceiling, as he floats in the tub. It’s pure Looney Tunes stuff, but the combination of CG with real-world props makes it seem grounded in reality…a reality where people don’t think it’s strange that a bear can talk, but a reality all the same.

So, whether you have kids to entertain, have a fondness for British wackiness, or just want to see a very polite but confused bear bungle about London spreading chaos and also understanding, you must see Paddington and Paddington 2. I cannot recommend these two movies enough, as a spirit-lifting way to spend two evenings.

Paddington and Paddington 2 are available on DVD (rated PG), as well as the original Paddington adaptations for younger kids; the Paddington books are available in print; Corduroy is also available in print (if you want to get two fictional bears confused).  

Khaleel has worked at the Miller Branch since 2015, though he’s been back and forth between HCLS and high school, college, and graduate school since 2003.  

Pandemic Reads

Against a deep blue night sky, light glows within canvas tents set against a stone wall.

By Eric L.

If you’re reading this, you probably like books. And you may, like me, find and pick stories to read that you can relate to irrespective of time and place. That said, thanks to the fantastic members of my HCLS book discussion group (Read. Think. Talk. First Monday of the month at 7 pm) for suggesting Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (also an ebook, eAudiobook, and an audiobook on CD) and The Plague by Albert Camus (also an eAudiobook). We discussed the former title as a group and it made for a good conversation.

I tend to want to know about the human experience, although some things are just too sad right now. To be sure, both of these books are sad, but I’ve definitely read more melancholy stories. What’s more, I’d contend these reads put the global pandemic in perspective. So, if you feel as though you’re up to it, I recommend these titles (I can completely understand if you’d prefer not to read about plagues and pandemic.).

Station Eleven was a good book, a suspenseful page turner with many likeable characters and some interesting commentary on the modern world and celebrity. It is scheduled to be an HBO miniseries, but unfortunately the filming was stopped due to the pandemic. Emily St John Mandel’s latest book (The Glass Hotel) made President Obama’s Best of 2020 list.

A nonlinear story, the book recounts a much deadlier and contagious flu from the outbreak to the post-apocalyptic world that remains after much of the population and civilization are wiped out. The story revolves around an aging actor and his tangential relationships. The characters include his two ex-wives (one of whom is a shipping executive/comic book artist and writer), a self-declared prophet, his business consultant best friend, a paramedic, a child actor, and a Shakespearean acting troupe and symphony traveling around the Great Lakes region of North America. The individual daily experiences told from the perspectives of these characters, pre, during, and post the pandemic, are compelling. Moreover, their individual stories intersect in creative ways. 

As mentioned before, I will concede that Station Eleven has some disturbing parts. For me, and probably for most American readers existing in relative comfort, the transition from the modern world to a more primitive existence is frightening. In some ways the inability of society to stop the unraveling seems improbable, but not impossible. I do think a cursory analysis of what holds society together can be a bit horrifying. 

After completing Station Eleven, I really wanted to read The Plague by Albert Camus. Camus is known as a philosopher of sorts, although he denied being an “existentialist,” he is perhaps an “absurdist.” Put simply, Camus’ books examine the random aspects of human existence but not in as overly academic way. Instead, I’d contend he uses fiction to spin a thoughtful tale. I’ve read The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus, and I recommend both, but The Plague is particularly apropos right now. 

A stark black background is covered with scattered white dots, some of which merge to form larger spaces where the title and author's name appear.

The Plague describes the beginning of an outbreak of a plague in a small coastal town that is too busy to be bothered with such things. The story gets much deeper into the actual outbreak and day-to-day management of the plague from the perspective of a narrator whose identity is only revealed in the end (I found this interesting). 

The reactions of the characters to the plague vary and are indicative of human feelings throughout time. For example, one character is determined to break the law and escape the quarantined town to be with a loved one. Camus adroitly addresses the feelings we all share to some extent, immortality, and that need to believe that it won’t happen here, happen to me, etc. These sentiments shape our collective response to situations like a pandemic. This is in no way an indictment, but rather a recognition of human nature. I certainly recalled my similar reaction to other epidemics, and I assumed the Coronavirus would unfold for me in a similar way. That is, abstract, contained, and impacting other people, but not my daily life. 

Camus’ idea is that terrible things, such as plagues, are inevitable. Moreover, we are all susceptible to some random demise. My favorite character in Station Eleven, Clark, recognizes this fact and angrily points it out to religious zealots who believe they’re in some way chosen because they survived. I don’t think it’s healthy for us to ruminate about the fact we could cease to exist at any minute. (It is odd that Albert Camus met what he would’ve described as an “absurd” end in a car crash at age 46.)  Perhaps living through these things, will enable us to remember and collectively take it more seriously, sooner. Some contend that Camus’ recognition of the fragility of humans and society is to engender a kinder world. 

So as not to end this post on a very depressing note, I believe both authors are optimistic about humanity. Camus and Mandel both highlight the joy that comes from being with each other and the many pleasures of life. They describe the simple pleasures of swimming, dancing, art, friendship, dogs (I certainly love all these things). These are the things that keep the characters from giving up despite grave circumstances. Conversely, both authors astutely highlight the things that perhaps we deem important, but really are not. 

Here’s hoping I’m reading and writing about books concerning rainbows next year! 

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.

Valentine’s Day – Let’s Celebrate Love!

The cover shows the titular rabbit, Mirabel, walking across a field, not noticing as valentines fly out of her bag behind her. The picture is surrounded with a frame of red and green flowers, red hearts, and more valentines.

By Laci R.

Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate love in its many forms. This list of favorites includes a chronic hugger, a snowy adventure, a wedding, and more! There are so many kinds of love, ways to express love, and forms of celebrating love. I hope these stories highlight just how special love is and that you share them with the children in your life.

Never Too Little to Love by Jeanne Willis
Love has no boundaries for our tiny mouse friend. Tiny Too-Little finds creative ways to try and reach his valentine, who’s high in the sky. He balances on his tip-toes on top of all sorts of stuff! A cabbage, teacup, thimble, clock, and many other items, but they just don’t seem to be working and then… CRASH! Tiny Too-Little is back on the ground and Topsy Too-Tall takes notice. She leans down to give him a kiss, proving that you’re never too little to love. This story is unique in page design with different sized flaps for each item Tiny Too-Little climbs. It helps practice repetition, and has an adorable pop-up book feature at the very end.

Pair with: Lilly’s Chocolate Heart by Kevin Henkes. As Lilly gets ready for bedtime, she tries to find the perfect spot to save her last chocolate heart wrapped in red foil.  She searches for somewhere special, but under the bed is too dusty, and there wasn’t any space between the books on the bookshelf. Finally, Lilly thinks of the best plan and enjoys the tasty treat!

The cover depicts to rabbits holding hands, dressed in red, pink, and yellow winter clothing, walking across a snowy field with the snow falling around them and the rising sun in the background.

Snowy Valentine by David Petersen
Jasper wants to find a special gift for his wife, Lilly. He visits his neighbors to help spark ideas by seeing what gifts they have in mind for their own loved ones. Chocolate flies and wilted flowers weren’t for Lilly, though. Jasper confides in Spalding, the cardinal, as he sits atop a tree. He expresses his disappointment in not finding Lilly the perfect gift. What he couldn’t see is that the tracks he made on his journey left the shape of a heart in the snow. In the end, Jasper found the perfect way to say “I love you.” This story highlights how special all sorts of gifts can be. Pair with: The Secret Life of Squirrels: A Love Story by Nancy Rose. See Mr. Peanuts try and impress his crush in this book told through words and photographs of real squirrels in adorable scenes.

Mirabel’s Missing Valentines by Janet Lawler
Mirabel is shy and nervous about trading valentines at school. After building up the courage, she’s on a mission to get to class and deliver her valentines to each of her classmates. Along the way, some slip away through a hole in her bag and end up in the hands of others. These cards bring such delight to Mirabel’s neighbors, but they all know the cards weren’t originally intended for them. After spreading more cheer and love than she could’ve ever imagined, Mirabel goes home with her own valentines overflowing from her sack. This book shows just how easy it is to spread love and joy, even in ways you least expect.

Pair with: The Runaway Valentine by Tina Casey. This story is told from the perspective of a valentine named Victor who is the fanciest in the shop. After being swept up in a pile, he heads out on his own journey where several people pick apart pieces of Victor to help with their needs. With just a tiny piece of himself left, he’s exactly what our last artist needs to make their valentine card complete. Victor ends up being the best valentine once again.

The cover depicts Frankenstein and his Bride in a heart-shaped cutout window in a wooden fence, holding a pink valentine heart between them as they look at each other affectionately.


Valensteins by Ethan Long
Fran K Stein is distracted and the other members of Fright Club can’t help but take notice. Normally, the fright club members are preparing for a night of scaring, but Fran is busy making something and everyone wants to know what it is. A mask with fangs? A big pink nose? A paper butt?! Phew! It’s just a valentine! However, that means Fran must be in love, and that causes the monsters to have even more questions. This book is sure to make you laugh with its silly explanations for love and clever side remarks. As a lover of all things spooky, this book always stands out to me in February as I long for October to be back. Pair with: A Crankenstein Valentine by Samantha Berger. See how things change for this crankenstein when he meets a new like-minded best friend who shares his distaste for the lovey, red and pink holiday.

Julián At the Wedding by Jessica Love
A wedding is one of the biggest celebrations of love and Julián can’t wait to be part of it. Julián makes a new friend named Marisol and they hit it off immediately. When the grown-ups aren’t looking, they sneak off together to play and use their imagination. Marisol gets messy after rolling on the ground with a sweet dog she met. Due to Julián’s quick thinking and excellent fashion sense, they’re able to put together a new outfit before returning to the party where they dance the night away. I especially love this book because so much of the story is told through body language and facial expressions. There’s love shown in a single look between friends, when a new outfit brings instant euphoria, and in the glowing faces of two beautiful brides celebrating their special day. Be sure to get a proper introduction to Julián by reading Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love.

Hug Machine by Scott Campbell
The Hug Machine is here to give everyone and everything a hug. Yes, even a spiky porcupine… with proper hugging equipment on, of course! There truly is nothing that the hug machine will not hug. Have you ever wondered how to hug a whale? The hug machine can show you exactly what to do! How does the hug machine keep his energy? Pizza – his favorite. This book shows the power of both giving and receiving hugs… and rest. Even hug machines need their rest.

Love Is My Favorite Thing by Emma Chichester Clark  
Plum is ready to take you on an adventure to show you her daily life and why love is her favorite thing. Snow, sticks, and treats are just a few of the things Plum loves. She also loves her family, but when she gets in trouble, Plum questions if her family still loves her back. This story does a great job at showing that love is always there, even when we make mistakes or get reprimanded.

Pair with: Here Comes Valentine Cat by Deborah Underwood. Cat is no fan of Valentine’s Day, but has a change of heart when they make an unexpected friend. This story is a great read-aloud as it’s meant to sound like you’re talking with Cat, with plenty of opportunities to ask for predictions of what might happen next.

I hope these books help make your Valentine’s Day special and open up a conversation about love in its many forms. Make cards for your loved ones, go on a walk, make special treats together, and enjoy all the warm snuggles and hugs. Love is always there, even if we have to look a little harder to find it at times.

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.

Evening in the Stacks: Serata Virtuale

Logo for Evening in the Stacks with an outline of Italy and scripted font that reads Serata Virtuale

by Kristen B.

I love to travel (the past year has been rough, folks). I will go just about anywhere and enjoy a new location, different foods, and all the sights there are to see. Ask me for my list of favorites, and inevitably Florence, Italy will be in the top three. It’s a small, lovely, walkable city stuffed full of Renaissance art and history and overflowing with delicious food. What’s not to love? I am extremely excited to have Italy as the theme for our annual fundraiser.

This year’s Evening in the Stacks on February 27, while virtual, is going to be the party not to miss with three great authors presenting. A tour company based in Tuscany offers an online mini-vacation with truffle hunting, a pasta-making demonstration, and a virtual wine tasting. You can enjoy a taste of Italy with a delivered meal from a local caterer. Explore our various price points for meals, wine, swag, and books! Hope to see you at our Serata Virtuale!

The orange "day by day" cover features photos of Florence, Siena, and the Tuscan countryside along with a partial map of the city of Florence.

I don’t like to plan trips in too much detail because sometimes you miss serendipitous occasions and lucky finds. Leaving a day to wander where the mood strikes always ends up as my favorite day of any vacation. You do need some clues about where to start, and Frommer’s travel guides can set your feet on good paths no matter where you go. Pauline Frommer is one of the three authors attending Evening in the Stacks! She is the co-president of Frommer Media LLC with her father, Arthur Frommer, founder of the Frommer’s guidebooks and Frommers.com. Pauline is also an award-winning writer and editor, and has authored six best-selling travel guides, as well as countless magazine and web articles.

Two sisters walk hand-in-hand through a field with mountains in the background and a blue sky above. Line illustrations of olives decorate the corners.

If you can’t travel in person, you can still read books that transport you to someplace new. If you want to travel to Calabria, Italy (back in time, too), you can dive into The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames. Juliet will also be joining the party this year! Her novel draws heavily from her family’s experiences. Beginning just before World War I, the book details the overwhelming poverty of the mountainous region of Calabria, but the people shine despite their circumstances. I chuckled at some of the scenes of church and family, while being taken aback at the casual brutality of women’s lives in the early twentieth century. Stella Fortuna (which means lucky star) survives many mishaps (7 or 8 of them depending how you count) to have a sprawling, riotous family in Connecticut. It’s a story of the joys and heartaches of family, and it offers an honest look at Italian immigration experiences. Stella and her sister Concetta are strong, vital women who ruled and loved their family fiercely.

Another strong Italian-American woman, Chi Chi Donatelli is the main character of Tony’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani. Adriana is also coming to Evening in the Stacks! Cheech, as her family and friends call her, was born and raised on the Jersey Shore. She wants more than the expected life, continuing all the local traditions. Chi Chi can sing, and she dreams of fronting a big band while traveling the country. Tony Arma, stage name for Saverio Armandonada, lives the dream after leaving his job at a Detroit auto plant. They meet via mutual friends (or maybe it was cousins) at a wedding and again later when Chi Chi goes up to the big city to audition for a singer/songwriter position with the band Tony fronts. As it turns out, they are better friends than (eventually) spouses – sometimes dreams change and sometimes they don’t. Chi Chi Donatelli is my kind of gal, though – strong, ambitious, and no-nonsense, but with a huge heart. Personally, I think that Chi Chi and Stella Fortuna could have been friends. Both women wanted more from life than what their gender prescribed for them.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS and to be part of the team planning Evening in the Stacks. She likes to spend winter reading, baking, and waiting for baseball to return.

Celebrate Black History Month with #ELKReads

by HCLS Elkridge staff

Black History Month has been observed during February in the United States since 1976, when it was first officially recognized by President Gerald Ford. Ford invited Americans to, “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” We invite you to join us in celebrating the talent of Black authors and honoring the history of Black Americans by taking a look at some of the titles selected below. You can find more on our website.

A collage of five titles. My Hair is a Garden features a young Black with hair flowing up from the top of her heard. I Am Perfectly Design has an illustration of a man and young boy seated on a park bench with people walking behind them. Child of the Civil Rights Movement shows a young girl in a blue dress holding a rainbow flag. Dream Big, Little One show rounded illustration of three Black women dressed for different professions. The King of Kindergarten has a pale green background and an oval shaped medallion with the portrait of a small child wearing a crown.

My Hair Is a Garden written and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

When young MacKenzie is teased about her hair, she turns to her neighbor. Miss Tillie lavishes her with an abundance of wisdom, encouragement, and practical care that empowers the girl to take care of herself with love and skill. Like the beautiful garden Miss Tillie cultivates in her yard, MacKenzie’s beautiful Black hair is tended with love. The appreciation of self-care grows to an inspiring and powerful message of self-love. An afterword provides many specific techniques and recipes for caring for Black hair. 

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall. Also available as a Voxbook.

Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board: he’s finished his swimming lessons, passed his swim test, and is a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all. But when his dad squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. In a sweetly appealing tale of overcoming your fears, newcomer Gaia Cornwall captures a moment between a patient and encouraging father and a determined little boy you can’t help but root for. 

Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton, illustrated by Raul Colón 

Author Paula Young Shelton, daughter of civil rights leader Andrew Young, brings you along to her childhood experiences in Georgia during Jim Crow, in the heart of the civil rights movement. Shelton shares vivid memories of swimming with Martin Luther King Jr. and marching from Selma to Montgomery. Connect with your little one as you read this moving and poignant picture book. 

Collage of five titles. Young, Gift, and Black has a bright yellow background with green, red, and white decorations and two busts of Black men. Some Places More than Others shows a woman with a ponytail and a scarf walking trough a city. The Fierce 44 has a blue background and a handwritten list of the 44 people featured in the book. The Harlen Charade has the title on a sheet on a laundry line outside of fire escape. Ghost has a bright yellow cover, almost empty except for the the fi

Young, Gifted and Black: Meet 52 Black Heroes from Past and Present by Jamia Wilson

With a title that references the late Lorraine Hansberry’s phrase “young, gifted and black,” this exuberant collected biography is one readers won’t want to miss. Children are invited to explore one- and two-page vignettes of compelling figures in Black culture worldwide. Discover how their childhood dreams and experiences influenced their adult achievements. This book inspires the next generation to chase their dreams! 

The Fierce 44: Black Americans Who Shook Up the World by the staff of The Undefeated

Get to know 44 of America’s most impressive heroes with this engrossing and beautifully illustrated collection of mini-biographies. With notable figures such as musician Jimi Hendrix and gymnast Simone Biles, and somewhat lesser-known figures like newspaper publisher Robert Abbott and dancer Alvin Ailey, this book exposes you to the brief histories of both household names and little-known heroes who influenced the world. 

Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson. Also available as an eBook.

For her twelfth birthday, small-town girl Amara gets her wish to visit her father’s side of the family for the first time in Harlem, New York City. Looking for roots to her personal heritage as well as Black culture, Amara is surprised by how overwhelming it all is at first. Through earnest and heartfelt exploration, the help of her loving family, and a school assignment to gather family history, she comes to understand more about herself than she had imagined. Love, forgiveness, and connection shine through in this tender and moving coming-of-age story. 

Collage of five titles. The Black Kids features a Black face wearing sunglasses reflecting a tropical scene. A Phoenix First Must Burn shows the title overlaid a girl with a swirling pink dress. Black Enough features a Black woman and White Man in dialogue. Crossing Ebenezer Creek lays the title in the green and white water of a creek under a full moon, with two figures standing on the far shore holding hands. The Forgotten Girl shows a Black girl with her hair down and curly wearing a white shift dress.

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tanya Bolden. Also available as an eBook.

An astounding work of historical fiction, this book is heartbreaking and graphically authentic in its depiction of violence. Following the burning of Atlanta in 1864, teenage Caleb, a pontooner in Sherman’s army, finds Mariah, an enslaved young woman, searching for rations in an abandoned slave labor camp. She and others join Sherman’s march. As Caleb and Mariah begin to dream of a better future, the horrific true events of the Massacre at Ebenezer Creek unfold. For ages 12+. 

Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi. Also available as an eAudiobook.

This contemporary fiction anthology examines the different experiences of Black youth in America. Some of the best Black young adult authors explore a spectrum of the intersectionality of wealth, status, LGBT+, class, rural/urban/suburban, and immigration that impact and represent Black youth today.

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

A coming-of-age story, this book filters issues of systemic racism, class, generational mental health, privilege, and racial justice through the perspective of Ashley Bennett, a wealthy, Black teenager attending a predominantly white school. When graphic video evidence of Rodney King’s horrific beating by the LAPD goes viral and the riots following the officers’ lack of accountability, Ashley goes on a personal journey of growth and identity and awareness.

A collage of five books. Another Country emphasizes the author's name against a black background. How Long "Til Black Future Month features a Black woman in profile with her hair up and adorned with roses. The Home Place provides the perspective of looking up at a blue sky and bare branches. Homegoing has a an orange background with illustrations of waves and two overlapping profiles of Black women. Glory Over Everything shows a painting of a wman and a shcild standing in a field, with the illustration of robin in the foreground.

How Long ’til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin. Also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook.

This collection of short stories is a wonderful introduction to one of the most innovative and celebrated authors of science fiction and fantasy writing today. Jemisin is unafraid to use her work to explore themes of trauma, prejudice, and oppression, while also creating richly-imagined worlds and unforgettable characters, whose voices have been missing from speculative fiction for far too long. 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Also available as an eBook on OverDrive and on CloudLibrary, plus as an audiobook on CD and an eAudiobook on OverDrive.

Reading historical fiction is a great way to immerse yourself in a life different from yours. Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing offers a deep look into the effects of imperialism and enslavement, and considers how the long shadows of their repercussions affect individuals and their families. Generation after generation of two half-sisters’ descendants guide us through the long-lasting consequences of systemic and systematic racism on separate continents an ocean apart.

Another Country by James Baldwin

I’d implore everyone to read anything – and everything – by James Baldwin, whom some have called America’s George Orwell. Perhaps it’s because of his contemplative and introspective essay style, but I think it refers to him as a political and social artist. My understanding is that the title refers to Baldwin’s wish for another country where one’s race or sexual preference aren’t defining characteristics, but sadly, this book is very much about this country. Another Country presents an engaging, well-crafted story about the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in the 1950s, well before most authors thought so broadly. Art, such as excellent fiction with characters everyone can relate to in some way, is a great way to explore these concepts.

The Elkridge Branch + DIY Education Center opened the doors of its new building in March 2018. All our staff wish that we could see you in person, but we are happy to help you discover new reads while we are apart.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

A clean, clear illustration of a red-headed woman in an aqua blue shirt looking down to read a book. The double-O of "Bookish" forms her classes, in the same color as her shirt. All against a yellow background.

by Piyali C.

Smart, sarcastic, socially awkward, 29-year-old Nina Hill lives by Khalil Gibran’s saying in The Prophet, “You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.” Nina is the daughter of a free-spirited single mother, a famous photographer who concealed Nina’s father’s identity because she did not consider his presence essential in Nina’s life. Nina grew up under the loving supervision of her amazing nanny Louise who was ‘bookish, loving and gentle’ while Nina’s mother traveled the world for her job, appearing occasionally and briefly in Nina’s life. Nina’s childhood was surrounded by books and solitude. For someone who finds sanctuary in book stores and libraries, what could be more fulfilling than working at an independent book store for a living? Nina works as a book seller in a book store called Knights, owned by lovable and eccentric Liz who is always behind on her rent for the store and has to hide from the landlord. The book store is only part of Nina’s commitments though. She runs several book clubs, is part of a champion Trivia team Book ‘Em, Danno, and has perfectly sane conversations with her cat Phil. Plus, there are so many books to read. Nina’s calendar, as well as life, are full and busy. If she ever feels something is missing, she simply picks up another book.

One fine day, a man comes calling for Nina in the book store with such surprising news that it throws a wrench into Nina’s well organized, tightly scheduled, semi-secluded life. The man is a lawyer who informs Nina that her biological father, William Reynolds, has died leaving behind not only something for Nina in his will but also innumerable step brothers, step sisters, nieces, and nephews. And they all live close by! William Reynolds was married thrice and was fruitful. Not only does she have relatives, they all are eager to meet her, at least some of them. Whether she wants it, she has to attend the reading of the will of William Reynolds. Nina’s well-organized world is turned completely upside down.

To add to this complication, Nina’s trivia nemesis, the lead guy from team You Are a Quizzard, Harry is cute and funny. Nina is starting to develop feelings for him. But Tom does not read!! Will Nina be able to contain her crippling anxiety that she has suffered from all her life as she deals with these double calamities in her life? Romance AND relations?

There is a pandemic raging outside. The real world looks grim and uninviting. Why not escape into the quirky, funny, filled with fun literary quotes, bookish life of Nina Hill? Abbi Waxman’s humorous novel The Bookish Life of Nina Hill not only tells a lovely story that warms the cockles of our heart but also presents us with a book loving heroine who we can not help but fall in love with. Nina’s love for books is sure to resonate with all of us bibliophiles and introverts out there. This title is available as an ebook as well as eaudiobook.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.