News of the World by Paulette Jiles

The title appears against a painting of a green landscape and blue sky with white clouds, with a silhouette of a girl leading a horse and cart in the bottom left

By Jean B.

I love a book with a map, so News of the World captured me even before page one. Throughout my reading, I pored over the sepia endpaper map of Texas circa 1870, with its bright red line tracing a path from Wichita Falls along the northern border with Indian territory, all the way down to San Antonio and the Rio Grande. As you might guess, given the map, this is a book about a journey – across both rough territory and psychological barriers. As the characters made their way along the bright red line, Giles’ beautiful prose transported me into this time and place and into the lives of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, age 71, and Johanna Leonberger, age 10.  

It’s the Reconstruction era in Texas, a time of political turmoil and uncertainty, random violence and unexpected kindness, across an incredibly varied landscape. Captain Kidd, a survivor of three wars, has dedicated his life to connecting people through information. He is alone, having lost his wife and his printing business in the Civil War. Kidd now makes his living by traveling through small towns, performing live readings of newspapers from around the country and the world to isolated residents hungry for stories of faraway places and remarkable events. Suddenly, his nomadic routine is disrupted by an unsought responsibility – he must deliver Johanna, a traumatized orphan who has lived as a captive of the Kiowa tribe for six years and knows no other family, back to her relatives near San Antonio. Traversing that 400 mile path, the characters must overcome challenges small and large and, in the process, build mutual trust and companionship.

I would not call myself a fan of Westerns, in either novels or movies, but Paulette Jiles’ exquisite descriptions of the plants, weather, and settlements of this landscape drew me in. Her writing made me want to ride a horse through the hills, canyons, and prairies of Texas (minus the deadly threats along the way). Maybe I’ll do that someday, but in the meantime, luckily, we can get the visual experience by watching the 2020 movie based on the book! Starring Tom Hanks as Captain Kidd, the movie garnered four Oscar nominations, and you borrow the DVD from HCLS.  

While both the book and the movie open a window into a beautiful yet treacherous moment in Texan history, News of the World goes much deeper than a travelogue. Across the miles, the tragic characters discover the power of empathy to leap differences in age, language, experience and loss. Although the book is barely 200 pages, it paints a picture of great historical and personal complexity. If you’re looking for some armchair traveling this summer, News of the World is a journey worth taking – and it comes with a map!

Available in print, large print,audio CD,  ebook, and eaudio, as well as DVD.

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. A fan of historical fiction and nonfiction, she also enjoys exploring the natural world through books and on foot.

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.