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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.

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 where 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.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

May 2014

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr is oh so beautiful. Set during World War II, Marie-Laure is a young blind girl living in Paris with her father, who is a master of locks at the Museum of Natural History. His job has him in charge of some of their most valued works. He constructs a miniature model of the streets of Paris for Marie-Laure to study so she can navigate the world around her. When she is 12, the Germans move into the city, and they are forced to flee to the town of Saint-Malo, where a reclusive uncle lives by the sea. And Marie-Laure must learn to navigate a whole new world. In a parallel story, a young orphan boy named Werner lives with his sister in Germany and is tapped to be part of the Hitler Youth, eventually given a role to breach the Resistance.

The Blessings by Elise Juska

May 2014

My immediate family is small. Growing up, we lived across the street from a family of nine, and some of my grammar school and high school friends came from large families, thus I got to know these families from afar. Their houses fascinated me with large tables in the kitchen, children of various ages spilling from room to room, and people pegging where they were in the family pecking order. Reading THE BLESSINGS by Elise Juska reminded me of these families, where alone time is hard to come by and everyone lives in and out of each other’s pockets.

The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

May 2014

While I read a lot, a book like THE PEARL THAT BROKE ITS SHELL by Nadia Hashimi is one that will stay with me and also made me feel grateful for where I live. It opens in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2007, where Rahima lives with her mother, sisters and opium-addicted father. The only way that she can leave the house is by adopting the bacha posh custom of dressing like a boy, which she can do until her body matures. In this way, she attends school and moves freely around their village. But eventually she must become a girl again. At that point, she and her two sisters are married off to give the family some much-needed money, as well as a pipeline to opium for their father. What happens to Rahima is not new to her family. A century before, her great-aunt Shekiba, who was orphaned, also adopted a disguise as a man to survive. Their stories are intertwined, and it makes for a very compelling read.