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"Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore" by Matthew Sullivan (Scribner, June 2017)
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“Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” by Matthew Sullivan (Scribner, June 2017)

“Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” By Matthew Sullivan

The Tattered Cover in LoDo is the setting for the debut novel of former Tattered bookseller Matthew Sullivan.  He’s renamed the store the Bright Ideas Bookstore, but the institution and setting, as well as the locations in Colorado, will be familiar to readers.

Lydia, who works at Bright Ideas, befriends the “book frogs,” the rootless men who spend their days in the store.  She is particularly close to Joey, who late one night hangs himself in the store. In his hand is a childhood picture of Lydia and two friends. Lydia is obsessed with finding out why he killed himself, especially after she discovers Joey has left his books to her.  The pages of the books have weird cutout spaces, and Lydia discovers they are a code.

Lydia herself has a secret from her childhood.  At a sleepover at her friend Carol’s house, Carol and her parents were brutally beaten to death by the “Hammerman.” Lydia hid in a cupboard, but the police believe the villain knew she was there and let her escape.  That led them to suspect  Lydia’s librarian father.

The father changed their names and moved them to a small town, where he found work as a prison guard.  Joey was one of the inmates.

Estranged from her father, Lydia reconnects with another childhood friend, Raj, and the two try to solve the mystery of Joey’s death.

“Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” is a complex story that will intrigue mystery fans, but it is even more compelling for Denver readers because of its description of the Tattered Cover, Union Station and Colfax Avenue, where Raj’s family run an establishment called Gas ‘n Donut.

"Among the Lesser Gods" By Margo Catts(Arcade)
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“Among the Lesser Gods” By Margo Catts<br />(Arcade)

“Among the Lesser Gods” By Margo Catts

Life doesn’t offer much for Lena Alvarez.  Pregnant from a one-night stand, she’s about to graduate from college with no job in sight.  She’s guilt-ridden from a childhood prank that resulted in tragedy and forced her mother to desert the family. So when Lena’s grandmother, Tuah, asks her to move to Leadville to babysit two children whose mother was recently killed, Lena reluctantly accepts the unpaid job.

Tuah is the stabilizing force in Lena’s life.  The woman divides her time between Leadville and the fictitious ghost town of Hat Creek. It is the last place where Tuah’s family was whole.  Her son was happy, her husband was alive, and so was her daughter, Benencia. Developmentally disabled,  Benencia simply disappeared one day when she was a young girl.  Her body was never found. Hat Creek reminds Tuah of the years before that tragedy.

As she struggles to deal with the problems of the two motherless children, Lena faces her own fears and guilt.  When the children are lost in the workings of an abandoned mine, Lena blames herself. She reexamines the guilt she carries that resulted in the deaths of three persons in a fire she set by accident.  With the help of a quirky neighbor, Lena realizes that the consequences of even a horrendous act can result in good.

“Among the Lesser Gods” is a first novel by Denver writer Margo Catts.  The author captures the beauty and the danger of the high mountains, the brilliant short summers, and the challenges of living in a harsh town with one foot in the past. “Among the Lesser Gods” is a nice debut for a promising Colorado author.

"All She Left Behind" By Jane Kirkpatrick (Revell)
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“All She Left Behind” By Jane Kirkpatrick (Revell)

“All She Left Behind” By Jane Kirkpatrick

Unlike the two first-time authors above, Jane Kirkpatrick is a New York Times best-selling author of some 30 books, most of them novels based on the lives of real Western women.

“All She Left Behind” is about one of Oregon’s first female physicians, who not only faces sexual discrimination but also must deal with the trying events in her own life before she gets her medical degree in middle-age.

Jennie Pickett had always dreamed of becoming a physician.  Although married at 17, she nonetheless studies the healing properties of herbs and roots and seeds for use in homeopathy in hopes of building up a small practice.  Those hopes are dashed by Jennie’s husband, an abusive alcoholic.  Unknown to Jennie, he has divorced her, and when she is away, he empties the house of everything of value, including Jennie’s distillery for extracting oil from herbs and flowers.

Jennie struggles to make a home for her son, who is angry and distant — and who will eventually follow in his father’s footsteps.  To repay a loan her husband had contracted with a local businessman and minister, Jennie is employed caring for the man’s ailing wife.  After the woman dies, Jennie and the man, Josiah Parrish, are married.

If Jennie’s first marriage brought her distress, the second one brings great happiness — and two daughters.  Just as important, Josiah encourages Jennie to pursue her hope of becoming a doctor.

Kirkpatrick is an engaging writer whose books uplift without preaching. She uncovers little-known historical figures and brings them to life as only a skillful novelist can.

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