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The Book Club: “Small Mercies” and 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. So we asked them, and other readers, to share these mini-reviews with you. Have any to offer? Email

“Sisters under the Rising Sun,” by Heather Morris (St. Martin’s Press, 2023)

Based on true events in World War II, this novel traces the fates of English, Australian and New Zealand women captured by the Japanese and kept in prison camps on Sumatra for more than three years. From their fearful evacuation from Singapore to the bombing of their ship and the chaotic escape into unknown waters, to family separations and the horrors of the camps, this novel highlights the women’s perseverance, inventiveness and positive thinking in the face of relentless setbacks. My only quibble is that the dialogue writing seems somewhat wooden.  But the story, my goodness, is so compelling. (Morris is the author of “The Tattooist of Auschwitz.”) – 3 stars (out of 4); Kathleen Lance, Denver

“Colorado Women in World War II,” Gail M. Beaton (University Press of Colorado, 2020)

While the war itself was no cause for celebration, it did bring massive changes to American society and a kick in the seat of the pants to the American labor force, with barriers slowly pried open by females. Colorado was a good example of how women filled  vital roles, earning the respect and accolades of their male peers. Through accounts, photos and interviews, it could be a handbook on how to move ahead and shove your way into the mainstream. The book is loaded with oral histories and newspaper articles about women from every part of the state, including coverage of nonmilitary activities that helped the war effort. — 3 stars (out of 4); Bonnie McCune, Denver (

“Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold,” by Margaret Atwood (Hogarth, 2017)

Atwood’s contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare series of modern retellings is entertaining, creative and a master class in “The Tempest.” Felix, the avant-garde director of a prestigious theater festival, is cheated of his position and retreats to a dilapidated shanty. After several years of exile, he becomes a volunteer teacher/theater director for a prison literacy program launching Shakespearean plays with casts of convicts. Ultimately, he directs them in “The Tempest,” and enacts his retribution on his betrayers in “a play about a man producing a play.” There is much glee here, with rap poetry and a bit of magic as an exuberant Atwood spins her themes of loss and recovery, vengeance and redemption, and second chances. We cheer on Felix as he has a chance to heal from personal traumas, and he transforms the lives of the very appealing convicts. I found myself marveling at Atwood’s inventiveness as I learned so much, and not just about “The Tempest.” — 4 stars (out of 4); Neva Gronert, Parker

“Small Mercies,” by Dennis Lehane (Harper, 2023)

Set in 1974 against the backdrop of the looming public school desegregation unrest in Boston, this novel explores the meaning of community and family, especially when stacked up against the powers of greed, corruption and revenge. There are no good endings here, but yet you can’t turn away. The characters are so compellingly drawn that you are either rooting for them or waiting in suspense for their downfall. – 4 stars (out of 4); Kathleen Lance, Denver

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