What are Texans reading these days, you ask?

“'Tis education forms the common mind; just as the twig is bent the tree's inclined.”

Lone Star Lit has your monthly roundup of regional reads from The Twig Book Shop, a leading independent bookseller in San Antonio. Click on any title for the buy link.


JUNE 2024

Picnic: Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Tradition (Texas Music Series, Sponsored by the Center for Texas Music History, Texas State University) (Texas A&M University Press) by Dave Dalton Thomas


In 1973, a forty-year-old country musician named Willie Nelson, inspired by a failed music festival the year before, decided he was going to hold his own party. He would stage it in the same remote and rocky field where the previous festival had withered. And he’d do it in July: not the hottest part of the Central Texas summer, but “damn sure close enough,” according to music journalist Dave Dalton Thomas. As unlikely as it seemed in 1973, Willie kept the event going, minus a year off here and there, for half a century. 

Thomas has attended nearly every Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic since 1995, finding joy in an event some music reporters have compared to “death marches and prison labor.” For the last 20 years, Thomas has researched the history of the Picnic, chronicling the brutal heat and the quirky and sometimes illegal antics of fans, musicians, and others. Thomas has watched the Picnic evolve over the decades, as Willie and his audience have evolved. He has interviewed participants, including artists, organizers, promoters, and even a few colorful hangers-on.


More Finish Lines to Cross: Notes on Race, Redemption, and Hope (Maverick Books) by Cary Clack


More Finish Lines to Cross is a collection of Clack’s best short- and long-form columns since his return to the San Antonio Express-News in 2019. It includes more than eighty pieces about the issues of the day, from Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and the war in Ukraine to the impact of COVID, the death of George Floyd, and the mass shooting of schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas. Along the way we meet the people who influenced Clack, which in turn reminds us to reflect on how we become the people we are and what inspires us to be better members of our communities.



Magical/Realism: Essays on Music, Memory, Fantasy, and Borders (Tiny Reparations Books) by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal


A brilliant, singular collection of essays that looks to music, fantasy, and pop culture—from Beyoncé to Game of Thrones—to excavate and reimagine what has been disappeared by migration and colonialism.

Upon becoming a new mother, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal was called to Mexico to reconnect with her ancestors and recover her grandmother’s story, only to return to the sudden loss of her marriage, home, and reality.

In Magical/Realism, Villarreal crosses into the erasure of memory and self, fragmented by migration, borders, and colonial and intimate violence, reconstructing her story with pieces of American pop culture, and the music, video games, and fantasy that have helped her make sense of it all.



We Hold Our Breath: A Journey to Texas Between Storms (W. W. Norton & Company) by Micah Fields


Houston’s story has always been one of war waged relentlessly against water.


When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in 2017, Fields set off from his home in Iowa back to the battered city of his childhood to rescue his mother who was hell-bent on staying no matter how many feet of rain surged in from the Gulf. Along the way, he traded a Jeep for a small boat and floated among the storm’s detritus in search of solid ground. With precision and eloquence, Fields tracks the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, one storm in a long lineage that threatens the fourth largest city in America.


Fields depicts the history of Houston with reverence and lyrical certainty, investigating the conflicting facets of Texan identity that are as resilient as they are catastrophic, steeped in racial subjugation, environmental collapse, and capitalist greed. He writes of the development of the modern city in the wake of the destruction of Galveston in 1900; of the wealthy Menil family and self-taught abstract painter Forrest Bess, a queer artist and fisherman born in 1911 who hardly ever left the Gulf Coast; of the oil booms and busts that shaped the city; of the unchecked lust for growth that makes Houston so expressive of the American dream.



Canto Contigo: A Novel (Wednesday Books) by Jonny Garza Villa


In a twenty-four-hour span, Rafael Alvarez led North Amistad High School’s Mariachi Alma de la Frontera to their eleventh consecutive first-place win in the Mariachi Extravaganza de Nacional; and met, made out with, and almost hooked up with one of the cutest guys he’s ever met. 

Now eight months later, Rafie’s ready for one final win. What he didn’t plan for is his family moving to San Antonio before his senior year, forcing him to leave behind his group while dealing with the loss of the most important person in his life—his beloved abuelo. Another hitch in his plan: The Selena Quintanilla-Perez Academy’s Mariachi Todos Colores already has a lead vocalist, Rey Chavez—the boy Rafie made out with—who now stands between him winning and being the great Mariachi Rafie's abuelo always believed him to be. Despite their newfound rivalry for center stage, Rafie can’t squash his feelings for Rey. Now he must decide between the people he’s known his entire life or the one just starting to get to know the real him.

Canto Contigo is a love letter to Mexican culture, family and legacy, the people who shape us, and allowing ourselves to forge our own path. At its heart, this is one of the most glorious rivals-to-lovers romance about finding the one who challenges you in the most extraordinary ways.



Hot Boy Summer (MTV Books) by Joe Jiménez


Mac has never really felt like he belonged. Definitely not at home—his dad’s politics and toxic masculinity make a real connection impossible. He thought he fit in on the baseball team, but that’s only because he was pretending to be someone he wasn’t. Finding his first gay friend, Cammy, was momentous; finally, he could be his authentic self around someone else. But as it turned out, not really. Cammy could be cruel, and his “advice” often came off way harsh. 

And then, Mac meets Flor, who shows him that you can be both fierce and kind, and Mikey, who is superhot and might maybe think the same about him. Over the course of one hot, life-changing summer, Mac will stand face-to-face with desire, betrayal, and letting go of shame, which will lead to some huge discoveries about the realness of truly belonging. 

Told in Mac’s infectious, joyful, gay AF voice, Hot Boy Summer serves a tale as important as hope itself: four gay teens doing what they can to connect and have the fiercest summer of their lives. New friendships will be forged, hot boys will be kissed…and girl, the toxic will be detoxed. 



APRIL 2024

Grace Notes: Poems about Families (Greenwillow Books) by Naomi Shihab Nye


National Book Award finalist and former Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye’s Grace Notes: Poems about Families celebrates family and community. This rich collection of one hundred never-before-published poems is also the poet’s most personal work to date. With poems about her own childhood and school years, her parents and grandparents, and the people who have touched and shaped her life in so many ways, this is an emotional and sparkling collection to savor, share, and read again and again.


If I Go Missing (Slough Press) by Octavio Quintanilla


An astonishing debut, If I Go Missing is timely, fearless, and necessary. In these poems, Octavio Quintanilla measures displacement with language and grapples with the longing to begin anew, to return to what was left unsaid, undone. Redemption is not always possible in the geography of these poems, but there is always a sense of hope. And by this pulse we are guided, the poet's unmistakable voice that, finally, clears the way so we may find our bearing.


My Wicked Wicked Ways: Poems (Vintage) by Sandra Cisneros


With lines both comic and sad, Sandra Cisneros deftly-and dazzlingly-explores the human experience. For those familiar with Cisneros only from her acclaimed fiction, My Wicked Wicked Ways presents her in an entirely new light. And for readers everywhere, here is a showcase of one of our most powerful writers at her lyrical best.


West, Poems of a Place (Wings Press) by Jim LaVilla-Havelin


West, Poems of a Place is a book which describes and revels in the changes in the author's life when he and his wife moved out of San Antonio, into a country place in the small town of Lytle, Texas. Dedicated to the fine Texas poet, Robert Burlingame, West's focus on the dayliness of the natural world and the wonder of it to new eyes, is a celebration in keeping with Burlingame’s voice and vision. This book is rich in names—places, plants, animals—and has a celebratory tone that is infectious.


MARCH 2024

Matagorda Magic: The Hidden Life of a Texas Bay (Texas A&M University Press) by Kimberly Ridley, illustrated Rebekah Raye


Follow the lives of a resident family of American oystercatchers as you explore the diversity of an estuary, where rivers meet the sea, in Matagorda Bay. Celebrate the unique ecology of the bay as its own little world of Texas estuaries, the “nurseries of the sea.” Matagorda Magic: The Hidden Life of a Texas Bay reveals the importance of these features as critical habitats for more than 200 species of resident and migratory birds, including the endangered whooping crane.


Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (Roaring Brook Press) by Yuyi Morales


Yuyi Morales takes us on a new journey with Señor Calvera, the skeleton from Day of the Dead celebrations. Señor Calvera is worried. He can't figure out what to give Grandma Beetle for her birthday. Misunderstanding the advice of Zelmiro the Ghost, Señor Calvera decides not to get her one gift, but instead one gift for every letter of the alphabet, just in case.

Una Acordéon: An accordion for her to dance to.
Bigotes: A mustache because she has none.
Cosquillas: Tickles to make her laugh . . .

. . . only to find out at the end of the alphabet that the best gift of all is seeing her friends. Morales's art glows in this heart-warming original tale with folklore themes, a companion book to her Pura Belpré-winning Just a Minute.


Witness to War: Mexico in the Photographs of Walter Elias Hadsell (Tinta Books) by Susan Toomey Frost, Walter Elias Hadsell (Photographer), Claudia Canales (Translator) 


Witness to War presents a compelling visual record of a young American man's venture in Mexico as the country veered into revolution in the early 1900s. Walter Elias Hadsell, a skilled photographer who had recently graduated as a mining engineer, documented a critical period of foreign investment in Mexico's mining industry and, in the process, captured scenes of Mexican life in other cities. 


Susan Toomey Frost draws from an extensive collection of Hadsell's original photographic prints to narrate his ten years in Mexico. The images in Witness to War follow him from his time as a mining engineer in Mexico to his 1917 return to mining in Arizona, his home state.


Cowboys and Rodeos (Gibbs Smith) by Alyn Robert Brereton


Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) photographer Alyn Robert Brereton offers both the beauty and the dirt of the western United States in Cowboys and Rodeos. This stunning coffee-table book is a piece of art, showcasing a working ranch in northern California, horses, cattle, tack, boots, buckles, cowgirls, cowboys, and rodeos.


The Other Side of Nowhere: Exploring Big Bend Ranch State Park and Its Flora (Kathie and Ed Cox Jr. Books on Conservation Leadership, sponsored by The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas State University) (Texas A&M University Press) by Roy Morey, Andrew Sansom (Foreword by), David H. Riskind (Foreword by)


Acquired by the State of Texas in 1988 and first opened to the public as Big Bend State Natural Area in 1991, Big Bend Ranch State Park (BBR) lies within the southern Big Bend of the Trans-Pecos, encompassing some 492 square miles of the Chihuahuan Desert and representing nearly half the total acreage of the Texas state park system. Unlike nearby Big Bend National Park—BBR is relatively undiscovered, wild, challenging, and slightly intimidating. BBR is the “Other” Big Bend, christened the “Other Side of Nowhere,” a rugged wilderness outback for the adventuresome with 238 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding and 70 miles of challenging four-wheel drive roads where visitors can explore stunning geological features, remnants of the area’s 11,000-year human history, and a diversity of flora and fauna that rivals any area in the state.

In this guidebook, photographer and naturalist Roy Morey walks visitors through the wild landscape, sharing what he has learned during eleven years of studying and photographing Big Bend Ranch State Park. Organized around the six physiographic regions of the park as outlined by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, The Other Side of Nowhere guides readers through the features and locations of the park and includes a field guide section with informative profiles and vivid imagery of 281 plant species. This definitive guide to Big Bend Ranch State Park is a must-have for visitors and an important botanical resource for the greater Big Bend and Trans-Pecos areas. 


Follow Me to Hell: McNelly's Texas Rangers and the Rise of Frontier Justice (St. Martin's Press) by Tom Clavin


In turbulent 1870s Texas, the revered and fearless Ranger Leander McNelly led his men in one dramatic campaign after another, apprehending cattle thieves, desperadoes, border ruffians, and other dangerous criminals and throwing them in jail or, if that's how they wanted it, six feet under. They would stop at nothing in pursuit of justice, even sending twenty-six Rangers across the border to retrieve stolen cattle—taking on hundreds of Mexican troops with nothing but their Sharps rifles and six-guns. The nation came to call them “McNelly’s Rangers.”

Set against the backdrop of 200 years of thrilling Texas Rangers history, this page-turner details the tough life along the Texas border that was tamed by a courageous, yet doomed, captain and his team of fearless men.



Power: How the Electric Co-Op Movement Energized the Lone Star State (Texas A&M University Press) by Joe Holley


According to author Joe Holley, the story of the Texas Electric Cooperatives, a collective of some 76 member-owned electric providers throughout the state, is a story of neighborliness and community, grit and determination, and persuasion and political savvy. It’s the story of a grassroots movement that not only energized rural Texas but also showed residents the power they have when they band together to find strength in unity.


Latin American Artists: From 1785 to Now (Phaidon Press) by Phaidon Editors, introduction by Raphael Fonseca


Latin American artists have gained increasing international prominence as the art world awakens to the area’s extraordinary art scenes and histories. In an accessible A-Z format, this volume introduces key artworks by 308 artists who together demonstrate the variety and vitality of artwork being made. Focusing on those born, or who have lived, in the 20 Spanish and Portuguese-speaking regions of Latin America, and featuring historic and living artists – both those celebrated internationally and names less-known outside their native countries – this book has been created in close collaboration with an expert panel of 68 advisors and writers.


95 Power Principles: Strategies for Effective Leadership in Local Government (ELM Grove Publishing) by Nelson W. Wolff


Nelson Wolff served two terms as Mayor of San Antonio and five terms as County Judge for Bexar County-Chief Executive Officer and its highest authority-as well as the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate. Under his leadership, the San Antonio/Bexar County community became recognized as a leader in environmental restoration, therapeutic justice, the arts, sports and healthcare, among many other accomplishments. 


These 95 principles are derived from his 33 years in government as well as 36 years as a business leader. The principles can be applied in any American city or county-and are equally relevant to success in the private sector as they are to achieving political goals.


The Bullet Swallower (Simon & Schuster) by Elizabeth Gonzalez James


A dazzling magical realism western in the vein of Cormac McCarthy meets Gabriel García Márquez, The Bullet Swallower follows a Mexican bandido as he sets off for Texas to save his family, only to encounter a mysterious figure who has come, finally, to collect a cosmic debt generations in the making.



Texas Water Safari: The World's Toughest Canoe Race (Pam and Will Harte Books on Rivers, sponsored by The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas State University) (Texas A&M University Press) by Bob Spain and Joy Emshoff


In the summer of 1962, Frank Brown and “Big Willie” George launched a 133-pound motorboat—with no motor—into the San Marcos River and headed for the Texas coast. Over the next three weeks they paddled downriver, wrestling through log jams and fighting off mosquitoes on their 337-mile journey to Corpus Christi. The following year, Brown staged a canoe race that followed the same route, billed as “The Texas Water Safari—The Toughest Boat Race in the World.” Contestants had to carry all their provisions with them from the start and could receive no assistance during the competition. One hundred and twenty-six men and one woman, all Texans, lined up for the grueling race. Some boats sank at the start, others were wrecked on the river, and some people dropped out from exhaustion or injury, while others failed to make the time deadlines and were disqualified. Of the 58 vessels that started the race, only two arrived at the finish line in Corpus Christi.


In Texas Water Safari: The World’s Toughest Canoe Race, veteran racers Bob Spain and Joy Emshoff chronicle the winding history of this epic competition, documenting the many changes to the racecourse over the years, the evolution of competition vessels, and the influx of national and international racers. Drawing upon the record books, Water Safari lore, and their own experiences, the authors have compiled a collection of stories, statistics, and photographs that celebrates and preserves the history of this Texas river tradition.


Place Names of San Antonio: Plus Bexar and Surrounding Counties (Maverick Books) by David P. Green


We deal with dozens of names in the course of our daily lives--of streets, schools, parks, towns, landmarks. Do these names mean anything beyond functioning as labels for the places we live, the routes we drive, or our destinations? 


This favorite handbook identifies the origins of nearly a thousand familiar place names in San Antonio and beyond. Naming sleuth David Green reveals the cave in Cave Lane, the "First Lady of Song" behind Rosita's Bridge, and the middle school bearing the name of the first African American to walk in space. 


Chapters are categorized by streets, parks, schools, libraries, military bases, and suburbs. Origins of Spanish names are included, as are the origins of a few names less officially designated--H-E-B, the Pearl, the San Antonio Spurs, and more. Who--or what--are the city's landmarks named for? A leader or a noted citizen? A vanished family, a favorite pet, or simply someone who happened to be around when a name was needed? This is a book you'll be referring to again and again for answers.


The Tacos of Texas (University of Texas Press) by Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece


Rooted in tradición mexicana and infused with Texas food culture, tacos are some of Texans’ all-time favorite foods. In The Tacos of Texas, the taco journalists Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece take us on a muy sabroso taco tour around the state as they discover the traditions, recipes, stories, and personalities behind puffy tacos in San Antonio, trompo tacos in Dallas, breakfast tacos in Austin, carnitas tacos in El Paso, fish tacos in Corpus Christi, barbacoa in the Rio Grande Valley, and much more.


Starting with the basics—tortillas, fillings, and salsas—and how to make, order, and eat tacos, the authors highlight ten taco cities/regions of Texas. For each place, they describe what makes the tacos distinctive, name their top five places to eat, and listen to the locals tell their taco stories. They hear from restaurant owners, taqueros, abuelitas, chefs, and patrons—both well-known and everyday folks—who talk about their local taco history and culture while sharing authentic recipes and recommendations for the best taco purveyors.


Texas Cocktails: The Second Edition: An Elegant Collection of Over 100 Recipes Inspired by the Lone Star State (City Cocktails) (Cider Mill Press) by Nico Martini


From big city lounges to dusty roadside dives, delve into the Texas drinks scene with this recipe book and city guide. With over 100 recipes and dozens of profiles of bartenders, drink like a Texan, whether you’re just visiting or entertaining at home. Locals and tourists alike will discover new watering holes that are sure to satisfy tastes as varied as Texas is large.


Far more than just a recipe book, Texas Cocktails, 2nd Edition features signature creations by the best mixologists from Houston to El Paso, and everywhere in between. Mix up your own Lone Star libations with this perfect guide to the art of craft cocktails!






The Twig Book Shop began its evolution in San Antonio in 1972. Currently located at the former Pearl Brewery on the Museum Reach of the Riverwalk, the Twig provides newly released books for children and adults as well as award-winning classics. The space at Pearl has become a venue for local and national poets and authors. The Twig makes books available for book clubs, schools, and conferences. The Texana collection makes the Twig a destination for history lovers near and far. Hardcover and softcover books can be purchased from their website, the database for which accesses a national distributor for independent bookstores. Libro.fm audio and Kobo electronic books are also available.