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Denver Book Club: ‘Old Babes,’ ‘Go As a River’ and more short reviews

Editor’s note: The opinions of the smart, well-read women in my Denver book club mean a lot, and often determine what the rest of us choose to pile onto our bedside tables. Sure, you could read advertising blurbs on Amazon, but wouldn’t you be more likely to believe a neighbor with no skin in the game over a corporation being fed words by publishers? So in this new series, we are sharing these mini-reviews with you. Have any to offer? Email [email protected].

“Old Babes in the Woods: Stories by Margaret Atwood,” (Doubleday)

I admit it, I would read a telephone book if it were written by Margaret Atwood.  She’s just that good, that smart, that witty.  The characters in these stories deal with aging, family relationships, enduring love and loss.  There were some laugh-out-loud passages, and some poignant, recognizable situations.  I was sorry to see it come to an end. — 4 stars (out of 4); Kathleen Lance, Denver

“Go as a River,” by Shelley Read (‎Spiegel & Grau)

Set on the Western Slope beginning in the 1950s, “Go as a River” is a confidently-written debut novel about a very ordinary young woman who finds extraordinary strength through her difficult life. It impressed me again and again with its perception and accuracy: “Scattered clumps of yellow aspen trees quaked like little celebrations across the otherwise solemn hillside.” And this: “But if these mountains had taught me anything, it’s that the land endures, riding out human folly when it must, reclaiming itself when it is able, and moving on.”

Read deserves accolades for this book, which is as sweet as fresh-picked peaches, tough as an old orchard, challenging as winter weather and, I hope, as enduring as the mountains themselves. — 4 stars (out of 4); Neva Gronert, Parker

“American Dirt,” by Jeanine Cummins (Flatiron Books)

Cummins took a lot of heat for this 2020 novel. It was an Oprah’s Book Club selection that initially was lauded for humanizing the Mexican migrant story — until it came under fire from critics who accused the author of “cultural appropriation.” Their main argument: Cummins, who is white, shouldn’t be allowed to tell a story about immigrants from Mexico. (What?) Our book club members were outraged, arguing that anyone should have the freedom to write fiction about anything. This gripping novel about family, poverty and drug cartels in Mexico and the hardships of escaping over unforgiving terrain while at the mercy of human predators was absolutely deserving of all the accolades it received. Despite a few plotline lapses (would we really expect to see a drug lord in a tiny bookstore?), we are with Lydia and her son, Luca, feeling their desperation, fears and hope on that journey to freedom in America. — 4 stars (out of 4); Barbara Ellis, The Denver Post

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