General Fiction, Mystery, & Romance Finalist Reading

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The Colorado Book Awards annually celebrates Colorado’s outstanding literary achievement by commending the accomplishments of its authors, editors, illustrators, and photographers. In this free public reading, finalists will read from their work and attendees can pose questions. Select finalist books will be available for purchase at the readings and through Poor Richard’s Books & Gifts at poorrichardsdowntown.com.

General Fiction Finalists
A Light in the Forest
Melissa Payne
Vega Jones escapes an abusive relationship with nothing but her two-month-old baby and the van she grew up in. Her destination is an Ohio town her late vagabond mother left years ago. It’s one full of nobodies, her mother warned. That makes it the ideal refuge for Vega to lie low, feel safe, and maybe learn more about a past her mother never spoke of. Vega warms to the town and to new acquaintances like Heff, the young deputy and artist who prefers his yard art to actual policing, and empathetic Eve, a local farmer whose near-death experience gave her more than just her life back. But even in this welcoming community, there’s an undercurrent of something unsettled, talk of a tragedy that unfolded in the woods years ago, and a mystery connected to Vega in ways she couldn’t have anticipated. As a mother on the run and following a path of mounting risks and illuminating secrets, Vega discovers that even during the darkest of times, there’s light in unexpected places. For as long as she can remember, Melissa has been telling stories in one form or another—from high school newspaper articles to a graduate thesis to blogging about marriage and motherhood. But she first learned the real importance of storytelling when she worked for a residential and day treatment center for abused and neglected children, where she wrote speeches and letters to raise funds. The truth in those children’s stories was piercing and painful, written to invoke a call to action in the reader: to give, to help, and to make a difference. Melissa’s love of writing and sharing stories in all forms has endured. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with her husband and three children.

A Quick Trip to Moab
Kevin T. Jones
Anti-wilderness protesters have taken over a portion of eastern Utah. Stan Watson, driving to Moab, stops by the highway to walk his dog Speck, and encounters a woman who begs him for help. When he offers Lily and her injured husband a ride, they are confronted by armed men, and Stan is in for a nightmare he had not anticipated. Chased through the wildlands by ragtag extremists riding all terrain vehicles, Stan, Lily, and Frank, a lost reporter, face dehydration, starvation, and murder at the hands of their pursuers. When Stan and Frank become incapacitated, Lily and Speck lead them through the wilds in search of help and a way out of the hell that engulfs them. Kevin Jones is an archaeologist and writer who lives and works off-grid in the rugged canyon country of southwestern Colorado. He received his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Utah, and served as Utah state archaeologist for seventeen years. He is the author of The Shrinking Jungle, an anthropological novel, and Standing on the Walls of Time, essays about and inspired by Native American rock art (with photographs by Layne Miller).

The Immortal King Rao
Vauhini Vara
In a future in which the world is run by the Board of Corporations, King’s daughter, Athena, reckons with his legacy—literally, for he has given her access to his memories, among other questionable gifts. With climate change raging, Athena has come to believe that saving the planet and its Shareholders will require a radical act of communion—and so she sets out to tell the truth to the world’s Shareholders, in entrancing sensory detail, about King’s childhood on a South Indian coconut plantation; his migration to the U.S. to study engineering in a world transformed by globalization; his marriage to the ambitious artist with whom he changed the world; and, ultimately, his invention, under self-exile, of the most ambitious creation of his life—Athena herself. The Immortal King Rao is a resonant debut novel obliterating the boundaries between literary and speculative fiction, the historic and the dystopian, confronting how we arrived at the age of technological capitalism and where our actions might take us next. Vauhini Vara has worked as a Wall Street Journal technology reporter and as the business editor for The New Yorker. From a Dalit background, she is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an O. Henry Prize winner. This is her first novel.

Mystery Finalists
Aunt Dimity & the Enchanted Cottage
Nancy Atherton
It’s early May in the small English village of Finch and the air is crackling with excitement: a newcomer is about to move into Pussywillows, a riverside cottage with a romantic reputation. Will the cottage’s newest resident prove yet again its enchanting ability to matchmake? But when Crispin Windle arrives, no one knows what to make of him: he repels every welcoming gesture and appears uninterested in being a part of the community. Soon, the townspeople have all but dismissed him. Only Lori and Tommy Prescott, a young army veteran who recently moved to Finch, refuse to give up. They orchestrate a chance meeting that leads to a startling discovery: a set of overgrown ruins. They are, Aunt Dimity shares, the remains of a Victorian woolen mill that once brought prosperity to Finch. As they explore, they stumble upon the unmarked graves of children who died working at the mill. Heartbroken, Lori, Tommy, and Mr. Windle get to work on the task of identifying the children to give them a proper burial. And as Mr. Windle works tirelessly to name the forgotten children, he slowly begins to open up–giving the romantic cottage a chance to heal his heart as well. Nancy Atherton is the bestselling author of twenty-four Aunt Dimity mysteries. The first book in the series, Aunt Dimity’s Death, was voted “One of the Century’s 100 Favorite Mysteries” by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The Chimera Club 
Chuck Greaves
It isn’t entirely shocking that a man like film producer Ari Goldstone would be found murdered in his hotel suite, naked and tied to the bedposts. Goldstone, after all, had a reputation for sexual misconduct and was already facing lawsuits brought by a dozen aggrieved starlets. But the brutality of the crime takes even veteran homicide detectives aback. More unsettling still are the DNA test results, which point conclusively to disgraced financier Jimmy Kwan, the so-called “Chinese Bernie Madoff” and father of one of Goldstone’s accusers. Unsettling that is because Kwan, seven thousand miles away in Hong Kong on the night of the murder, has an iron-clad alibi. When Kwan’s daughter Mae, a fashion model turned nightclub owner, hires attorney Jack MacTaggart to defend her father, Jack must solve the mystery of how the only possible suspect in a sensational murder cannot possibly have committed the crime. But when the next body falls, Jack must solve an even more urgent mystery — how to stay alive long enough to bring the real killer to justice. Chuck Greaves spent 25 years as an L.A. trial lawyer before turning his talents to fiction. He has been a finalist for most of the top awards in crime fiction including the Lefty, Shamus, Macavity, and Audie, as well as the New Mexico-Arizona, Oklahoma, and Colorado Book Awards, the CAL Award in Fiction, and the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. “The Chimera Club” is his seventh novel, and the fourth installment in his critically acclaimed Jack MacTaggart series of legal mysteries.

Where’s Mary Bergen?
Craig Marshall Smith
Bestselling, alcoholic author Peter Du Cane hires Granby, Colorado, semi-retired private eye Frank Elgin, hoping to reconnect with an Arizona State University classmate he hasn’t seen in twenty years. Emeritus professor of art, Craig Marshall Smith taught drawing at three universities in three states for over thirty years. Marshall is an Abstract expressionist painter whose works are in numerous public and private collections in the United States, as well as Spain and Japan. Graduated with BA and master’s degrees from UCLA, Marshall has been an opinion columnist for 24 metro Denver weekly newspapers for nine-and- a half years.

Romance Finalists
All the Flowers of the Mountain
Christina Holbrook
In a Paris art gallery, Dr. Michael Pearce comes upon a sculpture by the artist Katherine Morgan. His discovery sends Pearce reeling back into his past. Devastatingly lifelike, the sculpture evokes memories of a summer many years earlier when Michael and Katherine–Kit–met as teenagers by a lake in New Hampshire. He was a small-town boy who skied, played guitar, and was destined to run his father’s hardware store; she was the restless, troubled daughter of a wealthy New York family. All the Flowers of the Mountain is the story of a pivotal summer for Michael and Kit. Michael’s ambitions are ignited by this young woman—he grows determined that their future will be together. But Kit dreams of becoming an artist and her struggle with a mysterious event from the past leads to a deadly showdown by summer’s end. Holbrook captures the dark complexities of family secrets and the painful choices we face when the need to set one’s own course in the world opposes the demands of the heart. A haunting exploration of trauma and the abuse of privilege, of desire, and of the enduring power of love. A native of New York and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Christina Holbrook now lives in Colorado with her husband, Alan Dulit. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in French and Political Theory from Wellesley College. Holbrook’s column “Lark Ascending” ran in the Summit Daily in Frisco, Colorado from 2016 through 2020. More recently her short fiction and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies.

Hope is Built
Davalynn Spencer
She’s running from a planned future. Mary McCrae flees the life her brother oversees on the dairy and heads West to Colorado only to learn her aunt and uncle have died and left their farm to her. But there’s more on the land than orchards and good grazing, and others will do anything to get it. That is, if a cantankerous neighboring cowboy doesn’t get to them first. He wants the land himself, but Mary keeps falling into danger and he keeps coming to her rescue. He’s hiding from a broken life. Hugh Hutton buried one good woman who left him with three sons and a ranch to run. The flame-haired eastern filly who shows up on a neighbor’s farm is not what he planned to spend his future on. She’s inherited the grazing land he wants for his family’s herd, but danger dogs the gal. He doesn’t have time for a woman who’s after the same thing he is, and he doesn’t have time for second chances. Especially not at love. As a child, Davalynn Spencer fell in love with horses. As a teen, she fell in love with a cowboy. That’s how she became the wife and mother of professional rodeo bullfighters and an award-winning rodeo journalist. Today she writes cowboy romances because the Western way of life is down to earth, honest, and God-fearing—even in this contemporary world. She is a two-time Will Rogers Medallion winner who lives along Colorado’s Front Range with mouse detectors Annie and Oakley, and she can’t stop loving the cowboy.

The Duke in Question
Amalie Howard
This lady won’t let a savvy duke sway her from her mission. The Duke of Thornbury, retired agent of the Crown, has never lost a target. In a flirty game of cat and mouse, a spy must keep his enemy close to unravel the secrets that threaten to tear them apart. Lady Bronwyn Chase is far from the paragon of society that her mother expects her to be. Which is why she’s on her brother’s passenger liner bound for America with a secret packet of letters that could get her into trouble. Serious trouble—the kind that a duke’s sister shouldn’t be in; the kind that puts spymaster Valentine Medford, the Duke of Thornbury, on her trail. But as the duke gets closer to Bronwyn and the secrets she’s keeping, he’ll have to decide between the mysterious woman who calls to him, or his allegiance to the Crown. Amalie Howard is the author of the Publishers Weekly bestseller, The Beast of Beswick, which Entertainment Weekly touted as “bursting with shrewd banter, inventively sexy interludes, and emotion with a capital E.” She is the co-author of the #1 bestsellers in regency romance and Scottish historical romance, My Hellion, My Heart and What A Scot Wants, and has also penned several award-winning young adult novel. Of Indo-Caribbean descent, she has written articles on multicultural fiction for The Portland Book Review and Ravishly magazine. She currently resides in Colorado with her husband and three children.

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