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 series, we are sharing these mini-reviews with you. Have any to offer? Email [email protected].
“The Bookbinder of Jericho,” by Pip Williams (Ballantine Books, 2023)
Our heroine, Peggy, is working in the Oxford University Press book bindery at the start of World War I. We follow not only her personal ups and downs as she pursues her dream to read the books, not only to bind them, but we also track the country’s gains and losses in the Great War, including the challenges of absorbing refugees into society. Peggy struggles throughout with the burden of familial responsibility vs. reaching for her own dreams, as women through the ages have had to do. A unique look at British society in the early 20th century, yet many things never change, do they? — 3 stars (out of 4); Kathleen Lance, Denver
“Nothing to See Here,” by Kevin Wilson (Ecco, 2019)
The title of this novel is a falsehood. There is something to see in the luxurious house where Lillian becomes a full-time caretaker for step-twins of old friend Madison, now married to a rich politician. One small flaw: The children spontaneously combust when upset. Page by page, the reader is drawn into the complicated web of everyone’s psychological characters, And with this dysfunctional family, there are plenty of opportunities, warts and all. Lillian struggles to help the twins despite being as damaged as they are. As the adult, she’s supposed to fix things. An Amazon best book, full of heart and humor, and a Read With Jenna pick. — 4 stars (out of 4); Bonnie McCune, Denver (bonniemccune.com)
“The Wren, the Wren,” by Anne Enright (W.W. Norton & Company, 2023)
”In those days, men were not expected to be around: the difference between married and deserted could be the seven hours your husband spent asleep in the bed.” Enright’s succinct novel dives into the impact of a noted poet’s desertion of his family — a selfish act that flows through three generations of women. Wife Terry, daughter Carmel, and granddaughter Nell all bump against sandbars in their relationships
with men, yet each succeeding generation becomes a little stronger, a little more able to navigate and to love. Much as I enjoy reading Irish writers, I had difficulties becoming invested in this book, and even considered quitting it, but I’m glad I kept reading despite my irritation with the characters (especially Nell in the early chapters). This is a very “smart” book, and appealed to my intellect. I’m sure I will continue to ponder it for a while. — 3 stars (out of 4); Neva Gronert, Parker
“Where There Was Fire,” by John Manuel Arias (Flatiron Books, 2023)
A rough beginning to this one, with strained, jarring metaphors and similes on practically every page. Was this a bad translation, I wondered? Alas, not a translation at all. Was this an attempt at magical realism? There are, after all, a lot of spirits roaming about. After a second running start at reading it, and a larger measure of suspended disbelief, I found the story both engaging and entertaining. The novel is set in Costa Rica, with a bit of history about banana plantations and the machinations of the United Fruit Co., and includes a dash of family mystery and those ubiquitous spirits. Oh, yes, and fire. — 2 1/2 stars (out of 4); Kathleen Lance, Denver
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