Denver Book Club: Tom Hanks novel, more short reviews from readers

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 Vaster Wilds,” by Lauren Groff (Riverhead Books, September 2023)

The novel follows a young servant girl who escapes from the starvation and disease that are wiping out an unnamed colony in early 17th-century Virginia. Her observations of the natural world around her are simplistic and often off the mark, as everything is totally unfamiliar to her.  Yet this girl, who came from an English city, somehow figures out how to navigate the wilderness, find food and avoid capture by either Native Americans or vengeful colonists.  Equally improbable was this uneducated girl’s ponderings on the existence of God and the meaning of a life spent in solitude. Despite the questionable storyline, it was the writing that kept me engaged, from the stilted, almost Biblical language of the colonists in their daily conversations to the graphic, imaginative and colorful language of Elizabethan curses. – 2 stars (out of 4); Kathleen Lance, Denver

“Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors,” by Sonali Dev (William Morrow, 2019)

A touch of Jane Austen’s magic comes to a story plunging deep into the intricate relationships of a wealthy, Indian-American, blended dynasty, complete with their gourmet food, exquisite tastes in manners and dress, and a multitude of talents. Romance joins a female neurosurgeon and an equally talented, if poor and orphaned, master chef, outwitting an old nemesis who attempts to ruin the reign. More than a retelling, the book’s a whole new, enchanting story. of an immigrant Indian family descended from royalty. – 3 stars (out of 4); Bonnie McCune, Denver (

“How to Be A Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals,” by Sy Montgomery (Mariner, 2018)

Journalist and naturalist Sy Montgomery has authored more than 30 nonfiction books on an impressive variety of animals, as well as the people who study them. This book is a charming, brief launch into her writings. Here the emphasis is on the very personal impact of 13 animals that have enriched her life, coached her through and out of grief, and given her ballast against the parents who disowned her for making her own life choices. Montgomery’s arms embrace a variety of animals: She says of Octavia, “Being friends with an octopus — whatever that friendship meant to her — has shown me that our world … is aflame with shades of brilliance we cannot fathom.” Rescue hog Christopher Harwood was “a great big Buddha master. He taught us how to love, how to love what life gives you. Even when life gives you slops.” Highly recommended for all animal lovers. (And now I want to read her other books.) – 3 stars (out of 4); Neva Gronert, Parker

“Lucy by the Sea,” by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, 2022)

I so wanted to like this one, but it left me asking “Why?” over and over.  Why is Lucy back together with her first husband, William? Why are they in this God-forsaken place in Maine? Why doesn’t Lucy show some backbone? Why did we need another book about life during the COVID pandemic? And mostly, why did I keep on reading, all the way to the end? — 0 stars (out of 4); Kathleen Lance, Denver

“The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece,” by Tom Hanks (Knopf, 2023)

A brilliant director stumbles across a comic strip written years ago by a young man who based the action hero on his uncle. The uncle was a Marine in World War II who used a flamethrower-type weapon to fight the Japanese and who suffers from severe PTSD. The director takes this action hero character to create a version of a Marvel-type movie. The parallel stories show the history of the young boy, his uncle, and the small town he lived in, while the modern-day story shows the complicated process of making a movie. Tom Hanks does weave the two stories together, but I was disappointed. While the storyline sounded good from the cover, I wish an editor had helped make it clearer and shorter. – 2 stars (out of 4); Chery Hutchinson, Broomfield

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