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With thousands of books published each year and much attention paid to the works of bestselling and well-known authors, it is inevitable that some titles worthy of praise and discussion may not get the attention we think they deserve. Thus throughout 2014, we will continue this feature that we started in 2009, to spotlight books that immediately struck a chord with us and made us say “just read this.” We will alert our readers about these titles as soon as they’re released so you can discover them for yourselves and recommend them to your family and friends.

Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal

August 2014

I am not sure how I missed Laura Lane McNeal’s debut novel, DOLLBABY, when it was published in early July, but I am glad I caught up to it now. Set in New Orleans during the summer of ’64 when the Civil Rights movement was infiltrating the South, it’s a page-turner. The book opens with Ibby Bell (her real name is Liberty Alice Bell) being dropped off at the home of her wildly eccentric grandmother, Fannie, by her mom, Vidrine. Ibby’s dad died in an accident a few months ago, one that Ibby witnessed, and thus it’s far easier for Vidrine to hand her off than raise her. Just before she drives off, she hands Ibby an urn filled with her father’s ashes --- you know, the perfect hostess gift when you arrive at your grandmother’s house.

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

August 2014

I was a huge fan of THE AMERICAN HEIRESS by Daisy Goodwin, a previous Bets On selection, so when I saw THE FORTUNE HUNTER was coming out, I eagerly read an early copy last winter. I closed it and knew it would be another Bets On pick. Daisy has a knack for weaving  period historical details into a book while not dragging down the storyline with them. I confess that on first reading, until I got to the last page and the Author’s Note, I had no idea that the character of Sisi was based on the actual Empress of Austria and not just a fictitious one. The story worked even when I thought she was the conception of Daisy’s imagination. Bay and Charlotte’s relationship was documented historically as well, but Daisy is clear that she took some rein in telling the story.

Charleston by Margaret Bradham Thornton

August 2014

Charleston is a place on my “bucket list.” I love cities with charm, atmosphere, history and style --- and Charleston seems to have all of that. Thus, when I saw Margaret Bradham Thornton’s debut novel, CHARLESTON, on a shelf at a conference earlier this year, I knew I had to read it.

Eliza Poinsett left Charleston years ago, first for school at Princeton and Columbia (she has two Masters; one in English and one in Art History) and then for England, where she became an art historian. At a wedding across the pond that she attends with her British boyfriend, Jamie, she runs into her old flame from Charleston, Henry. Seeing him evokes memories of home.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

July 2014

I read THE VACATIONERS by Emma Straub a bit ago and just realized that I failed to include it as a Bets On selection. I have been thinking about the Posts and their two-week vacation to Mallorca a lot since I read this; in fact, I think they owe me a postcard. So what caught my eye about THE VACATIONERS? First, it’s a story about a family; isn’t that always something ripe for reading? Now take that family and transport them across the pond from their Manhattan home --- not to a major city, but rather to an island village. Ah, now we have exotic travel.

Now layer in some secrets, and...well, let’s just say I am happier that I read about this trip rather than living it.

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

July 2014

I love well-written stories about World War II. If you page back through my Bets On selections, you can see many books set during this time period. As I read them, I find myself thinking about how I would have reacted during this turbulent time. Would I have been heroic? Would I have survived? Would my family have made the right decisions? All those thoughts again came into play as I read THE PARIS ARCHITECT.

Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf

July 2014

LITTLE MERCIES by Heather Gudenkauf reminds us that even those with the best of intentions can make a mistake with costly ramifications. One morning, Ellen Moore heads to her high-stress job as a social worker with a laser focus on saving some endangered children trapped in a house with their dad, who is brandishing a weapon. As she dashes to the scene, she forgets that her own infant  daughter, Avery, is strapped in her car seat just steps from the unfolding crisis. The temperatures rise, and Avery’s life slips into a danger zone. Ellen is charged with criminal intent to harm, and suddenly she is on the other side of the law and what is right.

That Night by Chevy Stevens

June 2014

Last July, I was lucky enough to read a manuscript of THAT NIGHT by Chevy Stevens. I remember Chevy’s  debut novel, STILL MISSING, very vividly --- so vividly that when realtor friends say they are hosting an Open House, I always think They will be there ALONE! No, they must read STILL MISSING and rethink that! I read her second and third books, and while I enjoyed them, to me they were not as strong as STILL MISSING. I plunged into THAT NIGHT and immediately got caught up in it; I  pushed every deadline aside to read it.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker

June 2014

I am crazy about THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR. As I was reading, I became addicted to it. I had a whole other stack of books calling my name for projects and pleasure reading, but I could not put this one down. Around our house, it was not just me who felt like this. My son, Greg, got back from a trip to Europe, and though he was wickedly jetlagged one night, he stayed up until the wee hours to finish the last 300 pages, proving that my addiction to reading it was not singular. In fact, it’s been a bestseller in Europe, and the last time I checked, it was translated into 32 languages.

The Hidden Child by Camilla Lackberg

May 2014

I was not familiar with Camilla Läckberg, though she is an international bestselling author, which clearly means I have some “reading catching up” to do. In her latest novel, THE HIDDEN CHILD, Erica Falck is a crime writer who has discovered a Nazi medal and some diaries among the things left behind by her late mother. She brings the medal to a local history teacher, who was her mom’s childhood friend, to see what he knows of it. He reveals few details, and more questions evolve when he is murdered two days later. Her husband, Patrik Hedstrom, is on paternity leave but finds himself drawn into this case. When he wheels the stroller into the police station, Erica becomes enraged as she fears Patrik is putting their child in harm’s way. She also resents that he is not parenting the way she feels it would be expected of her, which layers in an interesting social commentary storyline to the novel.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

May 2014

I read WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart  in four hours. For those four hours, I blocked out everything else that was going on. And since I read it in manuscript back in October, I have thought about it and looked forward to sharing it with readers. For those who like taut prose, you have it here.

Our narrator is Cadence Sinclair Eastman, who is 17. She is part of  the Sinclair family, which has old money, not new. Their wealth and privilege were born to, not earned. They “summer” --- and yes, they are the kind of people who use that word as a verb --- on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Cady’s mom is one of three sisters, and their father, Cady’s grandfather, is treated like a financial patriarch. But as always, there are family secrets and lots of lies and in-fighting. And Cady sees their family for what it is.