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2024 Summer Book Guide: 10 Colorado authors help you pick your beach reads

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It’s almost summertime, when the livin’ — and readin’ — are easy. We’ve tried to make it even a little bit easier by offering 20 thoughtful suggestions across many genres, thanks to a collection of Colorado authors who share at least one thing in common: All have earned recognition this year as finalists for the Colorado Book Awards (with winners to be announced June 21).

These writers graciously took the time to consider other offerings in the category for which they became CBA finalists and narrowed their favorites down to two. Then they shared their thoughts on why these selections might appeal to engaged fans of the genre.

They were not bound by any considerations beyond a broad definition of their specific category, so you’ll see recent releases mixed among titles that you may have missed when they were first published. Of course, we also linked to these authors’ own creations that put them in such select company.

Some of the authors already have had their finalists excerpted in SunLit, the Sun’s weekly literary spotlight. All of them eventually will be featured in the weeks ahead, so there’s still an opportunity to be introduced to this collection of Colorado talent and sample portions of their most recently honored work.

So whether you’re looking for a fun beach read or something that dives deep into the issues of our complex world, there’s something with your name on it among this collection. So as we head into summer, enjoy this menu of informative and entertaining literature.

Camille Dungy, an award-winning author and poet who is a university distinguished professor at Colorado State University, was honored as a CBA finalist for her 2023 book “Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden.” She offers her thoughts and recommendations on two more Creative Nonfiction titles.

“The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year”

In this lovely book, written in short sections, Renkl shares botanical, animal, political and personal views from her garden. If you’re a fan of Renkl’s New York Times column, or if you just like the idea of watching a year progress in a highly observant person’s garden, this book is full of rich and thoughtful moments to savor.

“Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto”

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with all the plates I find myself juggling, and I wonder what would happen if I put some of them down. I don’t often think about the intersection of overwork and our nation’s complicated human history, and perhaps I’m encouraged not to think about this question by design. In this brilliant and timely book, Hersey, the founder of The Nap Ministry taps into the power of rest to disrupt the corrupting power of capitalism and white supremacy. One of my favorite writers, Lucille Clifton, used to say that she wrote “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comforted,” and Hersey’s wise and helpful book aims to do both.

Caleb Stephens, a CPA who also found writing success with his CBA finalist, the “The Girls in the Cabin,”  specializes in the psychological thriller. He has a couple more suggestions from the Thriller genre for you to consider.

“BETA”

This is an incredible thriller with a “Black Mirror” vibe about a state-of-the-art AI home designed to meet your every need. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a prose snob, and Sammy Scott is no slouch. His writing is top-notch, which is what initially drew me in, but what kept me reading was the complex and multilayered plot threaded with heart-rending pathos. And I should probably mention “BETA” is full of twists you won’t see coming. It’s fantastic — a story that feels like it could actually happen in real life.

“Whalefall”

"Whalefall" by Daniel Kraus

This book is both tense and tender — a coming-of-age tale about a son growing up beneath a father with tremendous expectations. An exploration of grief and survival … while trapped inside the belly of a sperm whale. Jay Gardiner is a scuba diver who has an hour to escape before his oxygen runs out and his demons claim him. Trust me, this one will leave you breathless.

Historical Fiction

Buzzy Jackson has a Ph.D. in history and three nonfiction titles to her credit. Now she has added a CBA finalist honor for her novel, “To Die Beautiful,” and suggests two other Historical Fiction titles — both long and short — for lovers of the genre.

“Wolf Hall” (trilogy)

“Wolf Hall” (trilogy)

By Hilary Mantel (2020)

The first time I tried to read “Wolf Hall,” the first book in Hilary Mantel’s brilliant and moving trilogy of the life of Thomas Cromwell and his boss, Henry VIII, I put it down after only a few pages. I was overwhelmed. Then I tried again, and quit again. Finally, I watched the entire BBC miniseries version of “Wolf Hall,” straightened out who all the Thomases and Henrys and Catherines and Annes were, and tried reading it again, and it finally took. I read all three books and then read them again. At this point I’ve read them all several times over! An absolute tour de force of narrative voice, deep humanity, and ideas about how to live in this strange and wondrous world. It’s a life’s achievement (Mantel’s writing, not my labored reading).

“The Buddha in the Attic”

“The Buddha in the Attic”
By Julie Otsuka (2012)

As brief as “Wolf Hall” is long, this beautiful little novel (145 pages) does something very unusual, telling the story of an entire generation of women — young mail-order brides from Japan around 1900 — in the collective first person. “On the boat we carried our husbands’ pictures in tiny oval lockets that hung on long chains from our necks,” Otsuka writes. “We carried them in the sleeves of our kimonos, which we touched often, just to make sure they were still there.” It is a heartbreaking and gorgeous novel about courage, endurance, and facing the unknown. It’s a window into the human experience that will stay with me forever. 

Literary Fiction

Ramona Ausubel includes the prestigious PEN Center USA Literary Award for Fiction among her honors in addition to her CBA finalist, “The Last Animal.” She also has published two short story collections. These recommendations focus on Literary Fiction.

“State of Paradise”

This is a tropical storm of a novel. The real world our main character finds herself in is strange — it won’t stop raining, things and people disappear, and she’s filled with memories of being in a mental hospital when she was younger. It’s all haunted. Still, the novel made me feel strangely joyful. Maybe it’s van den Berg’s incredible clarity of observation and image, or the emotional power of a woman and her family holding tight to what matters, even as the forces around them shift. 

“Beautyland”

An alien uses a fax machine to send amazing, spot-on observations about Earth to her home planet. But the alien is also a human girl named Adina, living in Philadelphia. But the girl is an alien in her home, in her life. All of those sentences are true, even though they seem to contradict each other. This funny, huge-hearted novel is about the truth of belonging and dis-belonging, and the idea that only from the outside can we see ourselves and our home clearly. I have never felt so human than reading Adina’s alien observations, and I have never identified more with alienation. Brilliant!

Romance

Lou Dean has won several awards for her inspirational stories, and now adds CBA finalist for her novel “Autumn of the Big Snow,” a Western romance whose setting reflects the Oklahoma native’s love for her adopted home in northwest Colorado. She has two more suggestions for Romance fans.

“Chasing The Horizon”

This is an action-packed story with a determined main character. Beth will capture your attention on page one and you will find yourself drawn into her fight for survival, then take pleasure in watching her faith and hard work lead to love, when least expected. This is an inspirational novel published by Bethany House in 2024.

“The Mermaid Chair”

This novel is a love story of many depths. This author is a master at probing the human spirit and defining all that a lesser author could not reveal. If you enjoy love, loss and self-discovery, this book will not disappoint. Published by Penguin Books in 2005, this was Kidd’s second novel. Her first, “The Secret Life of Bees,” was a New York Times Bestseller and became a film.

General Nonfiction

Chip Colwell is an archeologist, digital magazine editor and former senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. He’s a CBA finalist for “So Much Stuff,” which explores the history and reasons behind why humans tend to collect, well, so much stuff. He has some ideas for other great General Nonfiction reads.

“The Bear”

How has humanity lost its way with nature? And how can we find our way back? This book joins the apocalypse genre, yet is like no other I know. OK, this is fiction, but it reveals so many deeper truths, I can’t help but recommend it here. The novella is a concise epic, unpretentious yet ponderous, about a father and daughter, who are the last people on Earth. Through their journey, they reclaim through lyrical tenderness our interconnectedness to the natural world, at last, in our species’ final moments.

“Soldiers and Kings”

Much of the experience of Central American migrants crossing from Mexico into the United States remains veiled. Jason De León is an anthropologist who spent years studying the hidden lives and labor of coyotes, the guides who take migrants along this journey. Obliterating stereotypes and easy assumptions, De León masterfully crafts a readable, gripping popular ethnography. It will haunt you with its tragic stories of how failing politicians have forced so many people into the desperation of migrating north — and created the very conditions for the clandestine smuggling they condemn.

Biography

Steve Friesen spent 22 years running the Buffalo Bill Museum on Lookout Mountain and wrote three books on the icon of the American West. His CBA finalist  “Galloping Gourmet: Eating and Drinking with Buffalo Bill” took him in an entirely new direction with what he calls a “culinary biography.” Here are his picks for two more Biography selections, both with a western flavor.

“The Earth is All that Lasts”

Gardner weaves together a tale about two of the most fascinating individuals in American history: Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Using newly uncovered information, this well-documented book is both scholarly and very readable. From the book’s opening chapter to Sitting Bull’s death at the end, it grabbed my attention and would not let go. Gardner is a master storyteller.

 “Cast Out of Eden: The Untold Story of John Muir, Indigenous Peoples, and the American Wilderness”

John Muir is regarded as one of the saviors of the American wilderness. Yet his efforts came at a price for the tribal peoples who occupied that wilderness. McNally shines a new light on a man who we can still regard as heroic but also had his darker sides. The book demonstrates that, despite our efforts to simplify them as either heroes or villains, the people who occupy our past were no less complicated than we are.  

Sci-fi and Fantasy

Ann Claycomb made a splash with her CBA finalist “Silenced” in the Sci-fi/Fantasy category, a book that some critics have described as a modern feminist fairy tale. She offers two titles (that are both part of extended series) that lean more toward fantasy than sci-fi.

“Penric’s Demon”

Don’t be deceived by this slender volume: This the first of 12 books and counting featuring a warmly compassionate young man (Penric) who is accidentally possessed by/of a snarky, brilliant demon (Desdemona), an incident that sets them on a years-long path of helping others, often in extremely unexpected ways. Moreover, this book is just one of many ways into the extraordinary catalog of sci-fi and fantasy luminary Lois McMaster Bujold, who did a lot of her writing (like I have done) in the midst of finding Band-Aids, making meals, doing laundry and generally keeping a household going.  Her world-building is wildly inventive, but it’s her utterly appealing, deeply human characters who will stay with you.

“Rivers of London”

Another gift for anyone who reads a much as I do and who has perhaps been known to panic when they finish a book and realize they don’t have another one queued up: “Rivers of London” is the first of a nine-book (and counting) series about British police officer Peter Grant, who discovers on one of his first nights on the job that he might be, well, a wizard. From there, Peter’s wry, self-aware first-person voice carries us into every corner of his beloved London in the company of his mysterious mentor, an even more mysterious housekeeper, a best friend who may not be, and a fat little dog named Toby. The magic in these books isn’t a metaphor for anything else; it’s magic — wild, unpredictable, fantastical, and often deadly — and that’s absolutely as it should be.​

History

Patricia B. Martinez and Herman A. Martinez earned CBA finalist honors for “Hilos Culturales: Cultural Threads of the San Luis Valley,” their collection of cultural vignettes from the region. They suggest two other volumes that delve into the region’s rich history.

“Trail of the Espinosa Outlaws”

Originally titled “The Other Side of the Peso,” Espinosa’s book tells his father’s story, documented from verbal accounts by his grandfather around 1857, on their ranch in western Texas. It concludes in El Valle de San Luis in southern Colorado. Based on true incidents, Espinosa brings his father’s and grandfather’s words to life in an exciting novel of revenge that reflects the “human side of violence.” 

“Memorias De Mi Familia” (“Memories Of My Family”)

A historical and biographical account by the author who through a labor of love, chronicles his family’s beginnings in New Mexico and southern Colorado. García highlights generations of his ancestors through family records, their contributions and inherited family photographs. He also identifies his great-great grandfather José María Jáquez as a co-founder of the town of Conejos. The author discovered García-Trujillo family lines dated to Abiquiú, New Mexico, in 1735 and recognizes members of his family who represented the new Colorado Territorial Legislature, representing Conejos.

Mystery

Ausma Zehanat Khan continues her rise in the world of crime fiction with the CBA finalist “Blood Betrayal,” the second installment of her Blackwater Falls crime series. She has thoughts on a couple other mysteries that fans of the genre might find entertaining and interesting.

“Guns and Almond Milk”

An astonishingly well-written thriller about the travails of a disconsolate humanitarian aid worker in Yemen and the woman — and crime — he left behind in England. Luke Archer is a British-Egyptian physician who mediates a standoff between opposing forces when a despised general is brought to his field hospital for treatment. Wrestling with questions of love and belonging, Luke must also face the consequences of a heist gone wrong in his past. “Guns and Almond Milk” is a surprising inside look at the wartime destruction of Yemen and the costs imposed by running from the truth.

“The Satapur Moonstone”

This elegant and compelling mystery set in 1920s India features Perveen Mistry as a rare female detective who is summoned to advise the Maharanis of the princely state of Satapur. The Maharanis observe a state of seclusion from men, thus trust only Perveen to guide them on the future of the royal heir, whose status is in jeopardy. With great attention to the historical period that never feels heavy or irrelevant, the novel is not only superbly plotted, but is also a fascinating window into the social mores and cultural customs of the time.

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