This summer and fall feature a cascade of strong books with regional themes — so many our reading eyes are having trouble keeping up.
We profiled four of those books in late May, added a few to a long list of favorite Grand Canyon books earlier this month, and still have a few more that has shown up on our desks in recent weeks.
So, here are three more books we’d like to recommend with strong connections to the Colorado Plateau area, a lineup that also includes a little something for all age groups.
“The Disappearances: A Story of Exploration, Murder, and Mystery in the American West” by Scott Thybony (University of Utah Press). More than a few of us are thrilled to see Flagstaff author Scott Thybony’s latest book, “The Disappearances,” finally out in print this summer. Thybony, one of Flagstaff’s great outdoor-adventure writers, has put out his best book here since “Burntwater,” released in 1997.
It’s not new hat to write about artist-explorer Everett Ruess — who disappeared into the Utah wilds in 1934 and whose writings and artwork expressed a gushing, romantic love for nature and the West. However, in “Disappearances,” Thybony finds a richer yarn casting Ruess as one of three captivating tales of vanishing people in the region around the same time.
One of the two other two lesser known stories is that of Dan Thrapp, a scientist with a fascination of the West who ended up lost in Utah’s Dark Canyon while on leave from the Museum of Natural History.
The other tells of 13-year-old Lucy Garrett, deceived into heading west with a man named Clinton “Jimmy” Palmer, later convicted of murdering the girl’s father. In an account that reads almost like Charles Portis’s “True Grit”— only a few decades later, the young girl’s story and the manhunt is a fascinating one.
What makes “The Disappearances” such a great read is how Thybony tells both steady and well-researched stories on the three, but also includes a set of interludes he calls “Fieldnotes,” where the past and present intersect within his research and travels. End to end, it’s a captivating book sure to be one of the best titles coming out of the Southwest this year.
“Wild Wisdom: Animal Stories of the Southwest” by Rae Ann Kumelos, illustrated by Jan Taylor (Rio Nuevo). This book is not out for a few weeks, but it’s such a wonderful selection that we wanted to get it on the radar. Ann Kumelos’s “Wild Wisdom” features Southwest tales of 15 different animals, adapted from Native American stories and myths. The big bonus is that the exquisite illustrations that really make the book shine are by Northern Arizona University graduate Jan Taylor.
Some of the highlights of the book include the entry for “Raven,” which is adapted from Zuni lore; “Coyote,” inspired by a Navajo tale; and “Butterfly,” a retold legend originating from the Tohono O’odham tribe. The book also presents tales from Sioux, Onieda and tribes in California, for a wide range of tradition and geography (even dolphins make an appearance).
This is a great book to share with younger readers — even though it’s marketed as inspirational — and older readers alike. It also would make a great gift for animal and nature lovers, as well.
“Solider Sister, Fly Home” by Nancy Bo Flood (Charles Bridge). Nancy Bo Flood fits well with the title beloved local children’s author. She has written a number of books for all ages with a strong and smart eye toward Southwestern themes and inspirations. Her latest book, “Soldier Sister, Fly Home,” is a young teen or ‘tween novel about a 13-year-old Navajo girl named Tess, whose older sister enlists in the Army and is deployed to Iraq.
If the situation sounds familiar, it’s not that far different from that of Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman killed in combat who was from the Hopi Tribe. And Piestewa is referenced in the novel as a friend of the family, which adds a certain tension to the book’s plot.
Flood is a master storyteller and her novel is told in a thoughtful and rhythmic way. The part of Tess being left to care for her sister’s headstrong horse, Blue, is a nice touch, as well. But the plot point does keep the story more appealing to the 9-12 set and might not connect as well to older teen readers.
“Soldier Sister,” though, is a moving narrative that is made even more engaging and inspiring with the inclusion of art by Flagstaff Navajo artist Shonto Begay. Like “Wild Wisdom,” this is a book elevated both with illustrations and with wonder.