The Cold Vanish

The book cover is an aerial photograph of a mountainous area covered in conifers, with a cloudy gray-white mist settled over the dark green of the treetops.

“Searching for a missing person, after that first week, is a believer’s game” (219).

The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands is a gem of a book, written by Jon Billman, a fiction and journalism professor at Northern Michigan University. He also writes for Outside magazine, where I found the article that was the germ of the idea for The Cold Vanish. Billman tells the stories of a myriad of the disappeared, people who seemingly stepped off a trail at Mesa Verde or Yellowstone or Olympic and were never seen again. He intertwines their (shorter) stories with the book-length account of Randy Gray, father of Jacob Gray, a young man who parked his bike on the side of the road in Olympic and vanished into the woods of northern Washington. Although the disappearance is Jacob’s, the story really belongs to Randy, as we see the lengths he goes to in order to keep hope alive and continue the search for his son. Randy is a character – a Christian hippie surfer and building contractor, full of boundless energy and humor, enthusiastic, and generous. He is also willing to explore (if not exactly embrace with open arms) any theory that might locate Jacob and give him and his family some closure. My favorite anecdote about Randy: “Randy Gray cannot tell a lie, and so declares the two avocados rolling around somewhere in the back of the Arctic Fox when the customs agent asks if we have any produce. The agent pretends she doesn’t hear him, hands our passports back, and welcomes us to Canada” (274).

One of the stories really struck a chord with me. I’ve been to Mesa Verde, and walked the trail Billman mentions from the interpretive center to Spruce Tree House – “more of a sidewalk – it’s wheelchair accessible for less than a quarter mile, where visitors can view the [Anasazi cliff] dwellings from the shade of the overhanging cliff” (119-120). Yet 51-year-old Mitchell Dale Stehling disappeared while walking that trail and was not found until last year (his remains were located after the book was published, in August 2020). No other park visitor has stayed missing from Mesa Verde since the park was founded, and the area encompasses just over 50,000 acres. How could someone disappear off of a trail adjacent to the park’s gift shop?

The accounts of the disappeared have many explanations, some plausible, some completely off-the-charts crazy. I love a book like this that takes a journalistic viewpoint and presents the theories without passing comment; a book about conspiracy theories *not* written by a conspiracy theorist. In that respect, The Cold Vanish resembles another of my favorites in this genre, Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide by Robert Michael Pyle. In that book, acclaimed naturalist Pyle explains why the flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest would be conducive to the existence of the Sasquatch – should such a creature exist. Like Pyle’s book, Billman’s presentation is open-minded and even-handed, and he makes valid observations and connections about why someone like Randy Gray might entertain the wild ideas of psychics and Bigfoot hunters. “Randy is the ultimate optimist. He’s wildly curious. The seeker from the Who song. ‘What else do I got?’ he says. ‘What else can I do?'”(217). Billman makes the reader understand Randy’s quiet desperation for any tenuous thread to follow.

He also explores other stories and disappearances: people who choose to go missing, the hunt for the Utah survivalist “Mountain Man” Knapp (who evaded authorities for seven years by breaking into remote cabins and stealing food and guns), and the serial killers in the Great Basin and in the Yosemite area who sought victims in remote wilderness areas. One of the best anecdotes is about Alan Duffy, a bloodhound trainer and handler who teaches his dogs, Mindy Amber and R.C., to search for the missing with a single verbal cue – either “Gizmo!” for cadavers, or “Find!” for a living person.

The book will leave you full of wonder at the majesty and hidden depths in what might seem like a benign, unspoiled setting, but which really harbors dangers that amateurs and enthusiasts ignore to their peril. You will also ponder the number of missing persons cases still unsolved: where are the (still) disappeared in our national parks and wild places, and will they ever be found?

The Cold Vanish is also available from HCLS as an eaudiobook from Libby/OverDrive.

Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch. She loves gardening, birds, books, all kinds of music, and the great outdoors.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

An illustration shows a raggedy spit of land above a blue sea, with a red house with lots of windows at its very edge. Windswept trees and a blue and pink sunset sky frame the house.

by Sarah C.

Have you ever read a book that feels like a warm hug? Not just certain scenes either, like the entire story overall, start to finish, feels…happy. Comforting. Wholesome. And despite containing a large variety of themes, concepts and emotions, highs and lows, and a bit of magic, the book still manages to wrap itself around you like a soft, well-loved quilt?

Me neither…until now! To be fair, my preferences are usually hard-hitting realistic teen fiction with some fantasy and sci-fi thrown into the mix, and I tend to avoid gentler, softer stories. Maybe that is why this particular book was so surprisingly engaging for me. Regardless, let me tell you about this charming modern fairy tale of a novel that I had the absolute pleasure of reading.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune (also available in eBook and eAudiobook format from Libby/OverDrive) was recommended by a colleague who is always on point with their choices, so I assumed I’d enjoy it, but was not prepared to fall in love like I did. Utterly and completely head over heels in love. After staying up late on a weeknight to finish this page turner, I then re-read it slowly over the weekend to savor it…then demanded my friends, my book club, my social media groups, my co-workers, and my family read it. Then I bought it, AND I requested it again from the library because at this point there was a decent waiting list but my copy was almost overdue. I proceeded to suffer greatly waiting for the copy I bought to arrive, so I began reading it yet again, together with my 11-year-old in the evening..and so on and so forth.

Perhaps you might like to hear about the actual book at some point, as opposed to my swooning?

Right, well this is the story of a group of misfit children with different special abilities and backgrounds, and the “normal” adults who play certain roles in their lives. Some try to raise and protect them, some try to control and contain them, while others fear and scorn them. Our main character, Linus Baker, is confused by them but curious and good-hearted, and throughout the book learns to see them for who they truly are and love them more for it. A lonely, rule following caseworker for the Department In Charge Of Magical Youth, Linus lives a dull and dreary life, until he is given a mysterious assignment to investigate the “dangerous” children being cared for at the Marsyas Island Orphanage and identify their threat levels. Without much information to go on, Linus embarks upon what becomes a life-changing adventure, filled with unexpected beauty and memorable characters. There might also be a sassy and insufferable pet cat, which is an added bonus.

Themes include found family, celebrating differences, facing bias and prejudice in ourselves and others, accepting help and love, and recognizing true bravery and learning that it’s never too late to start over or discover something new, with many parallels to today’s world. Darkness lurks around corners in Cerulean Sea as well as our own lives, and the author skillfully acknowledges this, lest the story become too unrealistic.  

As I finish this book for the third time, I am left with a renewed sense of hope for the future. I invite you to fall in love as I did with this intergenerational “must read” for 2021.

While you will have to request the title because it’s so popular right now, the wait will be worth the while!

Sarah is the Teens’ Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch, where she can be found geeking out over new graphic novels, spotting rainbows and drinking day-old coffee.

Reading Ursula K. Le Guin

The cover of "The Left Hand of Darkness" depicts a lunar-like surface with two opposite-facing profiles carved out of rock, against a dark sky.

By Eric L.

I read a lot of great authors, but that’s because I read great books! As we have been celebrating Women’s History Month, and HCLS has recommended a cornucopia of great material about and by women, I’d like to recommend the amazing Ursula K. Le Guin. 

Le Guin made a name for herself in the male-dominated world of sci-fi and fantasy half a century ago, and she wrote a great book about gender fluidity way before many others broached the topic. Le Guin said she recognized the ability to tell complex tales through the work of genre writer Philip K. Dick. Later, she openly criticized the way he wrote some female characters. Dick agreed, they became friends, and he thanked Le Guin for her influence on his subsequent works. I’d contend that in itself amounts to progress! 

A great starting point for Ursula K. Le Guin is watching Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin on Kanopy. It provides a great introduction to the writer and her work. The interviews with the witty and charming Le Guin are terrific, as are the conversations with Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman and others about her influence on their writing and the genre. Gaiman astutely points out that the Harry Potter series owes a great deal to Le Guin’s Earthsea series.  

As I alluded to before, her most famous work The Left Hand of Darkness (also available in eBook and eAudiobook format) is a groundbreaking work, not just for the sci-fi/fantasy genre, but also for challenging our conceptions pf western masculinity and of western masculinity and femininity in a clever and subtle way. The protagonist, an envoy to the planet nicknamed Winter, struggles to understand a gender-neutral people using the social constructs of his own culture. Left Hand centers political intrigue and a forced epic journey across an icy planet while giving glimpses at the envoy’s gradual enlightenment. The drama and action of an arduous journey mirrors the personal journey of the protagonist and the relationships he builds.  

The Left Hand of Darkness is worth borrowing just to read Le Guin’s amazing introduction concerning science fiction and writing in general. Over the years, she has taken criticism for using the pronoun “he” for the gender-neutral characters in the book. To which she replied that just because the book was finished, it didn’t mean she was finished learning. I like this sort of thinking, the idea that we can all grow more and move forward. 

The cover for The Dispossessed depicts a man standing on a barren wasteland, looking towards another purple-toned planet with the sun peeking over its edge from behind, and a red-orange sky.

Le Guin’s other popular work The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia may be the perfect book for now, as the story of two opposing political views on how best to organize a society – collectivism versus individualism. The book examines power and extremes, and interrogates the best way for a society to temper those impulses. 

The protagonist Shevek (all names are computer generated) is a scientist from the anarchist commune-like planet, Anarres. Against the wishes of many of his people, he takes the opportunity to collaborate with the scientists of A-lo, on the planet Urras. The latter is a more individualistic, capitalist society. Shevek is attracted to the opportunity to further pursue his work, as he has begun to suspect that his society has some faults. Le Guin uses the protagonist’s perspective and experience to compare the two societies. The chapters alternate between Shevek’s youth and adulthood on Anarres and his present situation in A-lo. I thought this a clever technique, in a sort of nuanced compare and contrast story, but perhaps that’s just my conflicted mind? 

I believe Le Guin’s biases are evident, perhaps intentionally, but the book offers a provocative look at entrenched beliefs. The two societies are located on different planets and only know each other via their society’s own information (sometimes called propaganda), very similar to the way each of us arrives at our perspectives, beliefs, and, yes, biases. Le Guin cleverly has each society colloquially reduce the other to one-word epithets; the “propertarians” and “anarchists.” It’s certainly easier to believe we understand each other when we reduce ourselves to singular adjectives. 

This would be a great book to have people with opposing viewpoints read and discuss. The fact that Le Guin’s father was an anthropologist is evident in her work. Lastly, I’m inclined to conclude that Ursula K. Le Guin believes any thoughtful ideology should begin with a deeper understanding of each other and the forces that create fear and hate. 

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

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts

The book cover depicts Tuesday Mooney running in silhouette at the center of a series of concentric circles, with buildings, a cat, birds, and streetlamps on the edges of the circles.

By Becky W.

Did anyone else have the experience of playing hours upon hours of capture the flag when they were young? I remember how a game consisting of just two bandanas, a few neighbors, and a backyard made me feel as though I were on a grand adventure spanning the globe. Kate Racculia’s Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts brings me right back to that simple sense of adventure. As an unlikely cast of characters race to solve an eccentric billionaire’s high-stakes, citywide scavenger hunt, I couldn’t help but let my imagination wander.

When Tuesday walks into a room, people can’t help but notice her. A tall, broad, pale woman, dressed all in black. Perhaps it’s her Wednesday Addams appearance or the fact that she rolls her eyes at the thought of socialization, but Tuesday comes across as a textbook loner. She has a good job (protected by her cubicle), a fine home (stocked with X-Files DVDs), and a long-time friend (who is always the first to text). After the death of billionaire Vince Pryce, puzzle-obsessed Tuesday abandons her content life to join half the city of Boston in solving an elaborate scavenger hunt with the hope of wining a share of Pryce’s fortune. As more clues are uncovered, Tuesday becomes allied with a group of fellow hunters: Dex, her quick-witted best friend; Nathaniel Arches, an overly charming heir; Dory, Tuesday’s lonely teenage neighbor; and Abby, a childhood friend reported missing as a teen, but whose ghost managed to follow Tuesday into adulthood.

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts is an incredibly fun, quirky, imaginative book filled with great characters and an epic plot. Racculia’s use of treasure hunt whimsy juxtaposed with the common burdens of student loans and sellout jobs, makes this a relatable, charming story of adventure and friendship.

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts is also available as an ebook on Libby/OverDrive.

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

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

A Navajo woman dressed in jeans, leather jacket, and tradition Navajo footwear and wrappings stands on the roof of an old red pickup truck, holding a shotgun and a long knife. Lightnight arcs across the image, with dust yellow storm clouds behind.

Review by Kristen B.

Meet Maggie Hoskie: monster hunter, Navajo (Diné) clan warrior, and first person narrator of Rebecca Roanhorse’s debut novel. In Trail of Lightning, the world as we know it has been mostly destroyed by earthquakes and subsequent floods. A strange thing happened during that time: Navajo history, gods, and legends came back to life and walls appeared around what was the reservation, protecting Dinétah from the worst of the predations happening in the outside world. It was something of a mixed blessing, for while traditional Diné clan life continued stronger than ever, it also brought back the scary parts of legend along with the good. As the book opens, Maggie doubts if she’s one of the good guys or just another one of the monsters she hunts. (Just to note: given the nature of the story, this book is chock-full of fairly graphic violence.)

This quick-paced, smart-mouthed action-adventure story takes place entirely within the Navajo world. The book opens with Maggie chasing a monster across the high desert hills, one who had kidnapped a young girl. We learn that Maggie’s clan powers include swiftness and battle rage, which serve her well in her vocation. In the aftermath, we meet her honorary grandfather Tah and Tah’s actual grandson Kai, who may or may not be a magician but is definitely something of a fashion plate. Tah practices the traditional scheme of grandparents everywhere by throwing his two favorite young folks together, in hopes of friendship and maybe even romance.

Maggie’s life is further complicated when her old friend Mai’i (Coyote) turns up at her trailer asking for a favor. Coyote plays his usual trickster part, but honestly, he’s only trying to make things better. The story becomes a race to find and eliminate a growing threat to Dinétah, which eventually involves a wide range of locals and legends. Maggie ends up having to deal directly with her one-time mentor and lover, Neizhgani, the (sort of) god of lightning. Maggie achieves some clarity and closure in the end, but it is a hard won truth that leaves everyone a little heartsore.

I had visited the Navajo reservation shortly before reading this book, and I could picture the locations clearly with the rock formations and scrubby landscape. Roanhorse is Black and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, and her husband and daughter are Navajo. She uses Diné terms for the clans and their powers, for the legends and gods, and it’s as strange in its own way as any other fantasy setting. This is the language of the WWII Code Talkers, which no one else in the world could decipher. It’s a powerful way to display Native American culture, asking the reader to figure out terminology from context without a glossary or other appendix. Roanhorse uses the place and language to good effect, creating a sense of other-ness that’s actually grounded in reality.

If you love this book as much as I do, I also recommend the sequel, Storm of Locusts. Maggie ventures out into the wider world … in a story no less filled with monsters and companions for the journey.

Kristen B. has worked for HCLS for more than 15 years, and currently hosts the Books on Tap discussion group at Hysteria Brewing Company. She loves reading, Orioles baseball, and baking.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

At the top, it reads "From Taika Waititi director of What We Do in the Shadows." Across an almost clear blue sky is the title "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" flanked by antlers.  Three figures are shown in close up profile - one is an adolescent boy wearing a cheetah print trucker hat, the next is a bearded man wearing a hunting hat, and the last one is a boar that appears to be mid-laugh.  Across the bottom, there are grasslands and forested mountains shrouded in mist.

Review by Kimberly

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an adventure-comedy-drama that follows rebellious twelve-year-old Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and gruff woodsman Hec (Sam Neill) on an unexpected journey through the wild bush of New Zealand. Ricky Baker has been dubbed a “real bad egg” foster kid whose crimes include spitting, throwing rocks, kicking stuff, loitering, and graffiti. This is his last chance to make it work, and he is not happy about it. The character of Ricky Baker personifies the way I remember adolescence feeling – being confident and cocky on the outside, but searching for a place to belong. It is a simple story told well with the gorgeous setting of New Zealand as backdrop. 

Director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit, Boy, What We Do in the Shadows) has an uncanny ability for storytelling. He strives to change the conversation by addressing the plights of those who have been marginalized and ignored in mainstream movies. He then captures their narrative in a touching, yet playful, way. He doesn’t adhere to standard tropes or stereotypes. Waititi creates a quirky and sympathetic characters that leaves you rooting for the underdog.

I found this coming-of-age tale funny, charming, and intoxicating. It doesn’t shy away from hard topics – delving into themes of foster care, abuse, and grief. However, it never takes itself too seriously: it is rife with banter and one-liners that are perfect fodder for inside jokes – and may even have you adopting some kiwi slang.  This film has the makings of a cult classic. Taking my cue from Ricky Baker, I’ll summarize my review with a haiku:

Its one of a kind

Finds beauty in the heartbreak

Nature meets gangster

If you watch this FILM,
please COME BACK and SHARE WITH US
your haiku BELOW.

Find Hunt for the Wilderpeople on Kanopy

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent content, and for some language.

Kimberly is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Elkridge Branch.  She enjoys reading, photography, crafting, and baking.