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Bookreporter.com Bets On...

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.

Below are all of our selections thus far. For future "Bets On" titles that we will announce shortly after their release dates, please visit this page.

A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention by Matt Richtel

October 2014

I heard Matt Richtel speak about A DEADLY WANDERING: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention last May, and the storyline intrigued me. Reggie, a teen, was driving to work one early morning. He crossed the yellow line into the other lane, more than once, and that precipitated an accident that killed two prominent rocket scientists who were fathers and husbands. Prior to the accident, it was learned that the teen was texting, though he does not remember doing this. Texting for him is something he did all day, not thinking about how it distracted him.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs

October 2014

Back in the spring, I read Jeff Hobbs’s first work of nonfiction, THE SHORT AND TRAGIC LIFE OF ROBERT PEACE: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League, and I have not stopped talking about it since. It’s a book I cannot get out of my head. To me, it’s not just the story of Robert Peace, but also a commentary on the racial divide in this country, as well as a background history on the downfall of the inner city.

As the book opens and we are introduced to Rob’s world, Jeff sets the stage with a history of Newark that is informative and articulates why the city, like many American cities, has deteriorated. This setup paves the way for Rob’s story to unfold.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

September 2014

In THE CHILDREN ACT by Ian McEwan, Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She approaches the families that she advocates on behalf of with her mind wide open, giving strong thought to her sensitivities to culture and religion as well as the law. Her attentiveness to all sides of the issues before her --- and her meticulous attention to her cases --- consumes her on many levels.

She’s literally “on call” to the people at every hour, pulled away at a moment’s notice for discussion of tough decisions. One particular case grabs her and stays with her even after her decision is made. And it brings Fiona to examine her own life and her childlessness, which is something that gives her pause.

Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer

September 2014

FIVE DAYS LEFT by Julie Lawson Timmer is a brilliant debut that looks at two people who are counting down the days until they will be saying goodbye to the people they love. Mara is a brilliant lawyer who has a wonderful marriage to a successful doctor and is the mother of an active little girl who she lovingly adopted. Sounds like the perfect life, right? But she’s also grappling with a debilitating disease that has her assessing her future. Her chat room compadre, Scott, is a middle school teacher who has been nurturing a young boy in his foster care while his mother serves a jail sentence; his wife is carrying their eagerly anticipated first child.

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

September 2014

People start their lives with dreams. When we are young, we create a road map and typically see it without speed bumps. But then real life happens, and often it’s not what we planned. Challenges arise; it gets messy. It’s all not the holiday card newsletter or the perfect Facebook photos. Dreams fade or get reshaped.

WE ARE NOT OURSELVES by debut novelist Matthew Thomas looks at life like that. It starts with a dream and then heads off the rails. At the beginning, Eileen Tumulty has a plan. She is going to leave the Queens neighborhood where she lives with her hard-drinking Irish immigrant parents and not look back. She meets Ed Leary, who is her ticket to a better life. He has a great job as a scientist and is kind to her. She feels the tumult of her childhood being left behind and sees a bright future ahead: Success. A great house. A bigger world.

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.