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Works of love, death and intersexuality bring a noteworthy edge to the Colorado Book Awards

The Colorado Center for the Book recently announced its Colorado Book Awards finalists, and there's not a single John Denver biography or Cripple Creek history among them.

In fact, they're an impressive, even edgy, bunch.

From the pack of 43, the CCB will pick 13 winners in categories such as biography, fiction, creative nonfiction, history, pictorial, poetry, children's books and young adult literature. Those who prevail will receive their awards in a ceremony at the Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival on June 25.

In the meantime, you can pull from them some good summer reads. Even better, you can meet many of the authors and hear them read from their works at a series of events to be hosted at Baur's Ristorante in Denver.

The full list of finalists is available at coloradohumanities.org, but here are a few that caught our eyes:

Someone's Daughter: In Search of Justice for Jane Doe, by Silvia Pettem (history). Pettem was the mother of two young women when she learned about Jane Doe, a 20-something whose body had been discovered near Boulder but remained unclaimed years later because she couldn't be identified. Despite a lack of law enforcement experience, Pettem doggedly launched her own cold-case investigation into the untimely death. The book chronicles her fascinating journey.

Rage: A Love Story, by Julie Anne Peters (young adult literature). Though YA lit doesn't seem like an obvious lightning rod of controversy, I attended a Peters reading in 2004 that caused several audience members to walk out. The book in question, Luna, featured a realistic and sensitive portrayal of a transgender teen, and went on to become both a commercial success and a National Book Award finalist. Peters' latest, Rage: A Love Story, focuses on the complex dynamics of an abusive relationship's impact on a young lesbian couple.

This Nest, Swift Passerine, by Dan Beachy-Quick (poetry). This slender book of verse from the Chicago-born but Colorado-raised author was accompanied by such an enticing and poetic description, it would be a shame not to simply repeat it verbatim: "One of America's most acclaimed younger poets entwines original and scavenged texts, lyric fragment and lyric song, to make a new form — this book — from wild metaphor."

First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army, by Peter Eichstaedt (history). Denver-area journalist Eichstaedt travelled throughout war-torn Uganda in 2008 documenting the disturbing rise of the Lord's Resistance Army and the atrocities the group committed against the local people, including scores of child soldiers who they violently recruited.

Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the Myth of Two Sexes, by Gerald N. Callahan, Ph.D. (general nonfiction). Callahan, a biomedical researcher and associate professor at Colorado State University, offers a scientifically based but highly accessible account of people born with physical characteristics, DNA and even genitalia that are neither clearly male nor female, and the fallout of our society's push to fit them into a pink-or-blue world.

Spoon, by Robert Greer (literary fiction). Though he's probably best known for his CJ Floyd mystery series about a Denver bounty hunter, this time around Robert Greer brings to life a new character, Arcus Witherspoon (aka "Spoon"). Spoon is wandering the West hoping to uncover more about his African-American and Indian roots when he ends up on a Montana ranch, and demonstrates an odd ability to foretell not only bad weather, but big trouble.

Cup Half Full: Life in the Face of Breast Cancer, by Katy Tartakoff (pictorial). Through intimate black-and-white portraits and the subjects' accompanying stories, photographer Katy Tartakoff celebrates moments in the lives of women (and yes, men) living with a breast cancer diagnosis. Along with a group of friends, Tartakoff spent a decade-plus working on the project, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit breast cancer-related charities.

Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America, by Helen Thorpe (creative nonfiction). Journalist and first-time author Thorpe (who happens to be married to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper) follows the lives of four Colorado teens, beginning with the night of their high school prom. Soon their futures and friendships are clouded by the fact that two of the girls are undocumented. Their personal dramas become a backdrop for the bigger debate about who should have a right to live in the U.S.

The Edge of the World: Terra Incognita Book One, by Kevin J. Anderson (genre fiction). Anderson, who boasts more than 100 titles to his name, kicked off his latest fantasy series, about two nations warring over the mysterious territory beyond the map's borders, with this award finalist. While fans can be slow to warm to the unfamiliar places and faces of a new series, one reader wrote this on amazon.com: "This story kidnapped my imagination, brutalized my senses in a whirlwind of chaos and discovery and left my mind curled up on the carpet begging for more." Wow.

jill@csindy.com

  • A look at some of our favorite Colorado Book Award Finalists

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