Reviewed by Jennifer Nelson
One thing is for certain about our 2022 fiction books: they’re full of tantalizing drama. This great assortment of novels by Colorado authors are riveting and full of imagination.
The Mark by Leah Lee
Being Mary Bennett by JC Peterson
Little Souls by Sandra Dallas
Love you, Love Your Hair, Hope You Win by Valerie Abney
By Leah Lee
Taking the mark on the back of the hand seemed like a no-brainer for most people in order to receive protection and provision from the new global leader and his government. He is captivating, motivating, and solving many of the world’s problems—and has even became known as the savior by some. Yet a group of people feel the mark was not right, demonic in fact, and refuse the symbol and with it, the security of the government and leader. Labeled the unmarked, they become outcasts and as tensions grow, begin to be hunted by the one the group calls the AntiChrist.
Led by Tucker and Molly, a small remnant of unmarked Christians felt called to travel from the U.S. to Israel to confront the dictator who so desperately sought their demise. Yet with no way to purchase supplies and with nearly every marked person shunning or reporting the unmarked, the journey would be dangerous.
Driven by their faith, group sees supernatural miracles and end times events become standard fare on the journey. And those who reach their journey’s end encounter an even more horrific challenge when faced with the world leader: the war of all wars that combines both the physical and spiritual forces.
A dramatic apocalyptic fantasy, The Mark is a must-read for those fascinated by end times theories. Woven around Tucker, Molly, and their friends, Leah Lee’s novel brings to life characters and the dilemmas that occur when faced with such life-threatening situations.
Being Mary Bennett
By JC Peterson
Marnie Barnes’ plan is to spend her 18th birthday in the library, cozied up with her favorite books and her project’s research—what she deemed a perfectly pleasant and acceptable way to spend a momentous evening.
Books have always been a significant part of her life, and she feels many of the characters in those books were akin to her best friends. Marnie’s roommate has other ideas—including a night out on the town with two of the roommate’s friends. But, what was supposed to be a fun celebration turns into a night of embarrassment in front of the love of Marnie’s life. Marnie also alienates her roommate and her roommate’s friends, and worst of all, was called a Mary Bennet—as in, according to Marnie, the Pride and Prejudice’s “sullen, forgotten sister…the ugly one who everyone wants to fade into the background.”
Marnie immediately denies the accusation—she is NOT Mary…right? But the words seep into her, and she realizes she is. I mean, that’s why her own family seems to not truly SEE her, why she always feels like the outsider, barely tolerated. After a bit of a breakdown, Marnie determines that she must change. She wants to be a different person; she wants to transform herself. But it won’t be easy, especially amidst the pressures of her school’s Hunt Prize competition, her family’s own drama and Marnie’s struggle with friendships.
What ensues in JC Peterson’s debut novel is a truly engaging, charming, relatable story of insecurity, self-awareness and forgiveness, perfect for both teens and adults alike.
By Sandra Dallas
The setting of Colorado in 1918 seems eerily similar to 2020. Churches and restaurants are closed, public gatherings are prohibited, and people are dying from a deadly epidemic—the Spanish influenza. In Sandra Dallas’ latest work of fiction, she researched historical data to infuse into the characters’ lives, creating a touching story of two sisters struggling to survive during such a difficult period in history.
Lutie is an advertising designer at a Denver women’s store whose fiancé has gone overseas to serve in WWI. Helen is a nurse who encounters the worst of the flu victims every day. The sisters try to support each other during such a fearful time, but it becomes increasingly difficult as the epidemic continues and people literally drop dead on their neighborhood streets.
Yet they could never have imagined the next hurdles they’d have to face. First one of their tenant’s dies from the flu, leaving behind a little girl and her abusive father. Then, one day Lutie comes home to see Helen holding a knife over the dead father in their kitchen. With no witnesses, how will they convince authorities it was self-defense? What will happen to the little girl? And will they be able to avoid catching the dreaded sickness themselves with so many already falling ill?
This heart-wrenching tale is a saga not to be missed, and certainly lives up to Dallas’ previous award-winning works. She was recently inducted into the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame, and lives in Denver and Georgetown.
Love you, Love Your Hair, Hope You Win
By Valerie Abney
The fictional West Highland Place is the kind of street that is not just a place to live but a true community of people who care about each other. “A funky old neighborhood just northwest of downtown Denver,” writes the larger-than-life central character Harry, who moved there in the late 1970s and has cherished every moment.
Written as a sort of collection of his memories, Harry elaborates his and his neighbor’s stories throughout the years, describing the special time and place and the people who live there. Through the good, the bad, the ugly, the differences, the similarities—it all is woven together to create a one-of-a-kind place. Harry writes from his perspective, as he was considered the “big toe” of the block, and he shows how unrelated people can sometimes feel more like family than biological ones often do.
A surprising piece of fiction that works itself into your heart, Love You, Love Your Hair, Hope You Win, seems to walk a beautiful line between the imaginative and the historical. Author Valerie Abney acknowledges that “there was a neighborhood; there was an amazing man…the names, careers, backgrounds have been changed but not the love.”
Edited by Cynthia Swanson
In the newest edition of a long-standing, award-winning anthology series, editor Cynthia Swanson oversees a collection of Mile High tales written in the traditional dark, bleak style of the noir genre. Each short story is set within beautiful Denver and provides a unique contrast of shady crime with its mature themes and language imposed against such an incredible backdrop.
In addition to Swanson, who is a local, bestselling author, 13 other renowned contributors weave their tales in a sort of journey through different neighborhoods: Aurora, Capitol Hill, South Broadway and Wash Park, just to name a few. The collection is divided into three parts, beginning with The Longest, Wickedest Street, a nod to Playboy’s description of Colfax Avenue and its 26 latitudinal miles that stretch from Aurora to Golden. Part two, titled 5,280’, delves deeper into the underside of the city and part three—Things to Do in Denver When You’re Young—ventures into coming-of-age noir.
Within the tome, each writer leaves a unique impression of Denver. There’s a fictional story that centers on the 1893 exhumation of bodies from a cemetery to create a beautiful park. Another tale depicts how one man is willing to risk everything to prevent neighborhood gentrification, while another set in Five Points centers on a young musician who must choose how much to sacrifice for his dreams. Those who appreciate noir will certainly want to pick up this collection.
Woman of Light
By Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Luz “Little Light” Lopez appears to be a typical Chicano woman struggling to make her way in a harsh 1930s Denver, which is not particularly sympathetic to women or anyone other than the Anglo elite. While Luz works as a common laundress with her cousin Lizette and lives with her brother Diego and aunt Maria Josie, she also has an incredible and unique gift as a tea reader, using her visions to show others their path.
When Luz’s brother Diego—a snake charmer—is injured and further threatened by a white mob, he is forced to leave town, making his family’s day-to-day existence even more dire. Amidst this chaos, Luz’s visions grow more personal, unearthing stories of her Indigenous family’s past, all the way back to the Lost Territory. Struggling with her own drama of love, secrets, finances and even hunger, she wrestles with a way to understand the treasured story of her ancestors that seems to be taking shape. Can she step into the role of a once-in-a-generation seer who has the power to preserve the stories of generations past?
Originally from Denver, author Kali Fajardo-Anstine has been honored with the Denver Mayor’s Global Impact Award for Excellence in Arts & Culture, just to name one of her accolades. Woman of Light is a grand, unforgettable tale.
Any Other Family
By Eleanor Brown
The explanation of how this family came to be is not simple. Its unique, its complex and its beautiful—and full of challenges. Especially when you bring the three adoptive families—linked forever through their children’s biological parents—together in Aspen for their first, two-week family vacation. What could go wrong with everyone in one house for all that time, right?
Planned by the ever-organized and Pinterest-perfect mom Tabitha, the trip is meant to be a way for the family to bond even more, to create that large, close-knit group she has always longed for. Of course, single-mom Ginger, who appreciates her own space, is skeptical that anything good will come from two weeks together. And Elizabeth, mom of baby Violet, is simply exhausted and so weary of feeling less-than in nearly every way possible. But the women know their children need this time with their biological siblings, so reluctantly they arrive in Aspen to a beautiful vacation home and brace for the time together.
Any Other Family is a charming, raw look at how one family came together through open adoption and the challenges and beauty that can come from unexpected situations. New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Brown, a Coloradoan and adoptive mother, weaves this heartwarming tale that can speak to all families as it approaches issues that are common regardless of a family’s origin.
Jennifer Nelson, once the editorial assistant at CCL, loves nothing more than curling up with a good book. She treasures sharing her love of reading with her children in their Texas home.