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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 Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

April 2014

I am wild, wild, wild about Gabrielle Zevin’s THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY, a brilliantly smart --- and fun --- novel that has as its protagonist a charming indie bookseller named A.J.

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage on Alice Island, which houses the store, is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." As the book opens, A.J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means. Left on his doorstep is a baby girl who wins her way into this widower’s heart and changes his world. Layer in the people who live in the town and visit the shop --- including Ismay, his sister-in-law who is determined to get him back into the world; Amelia, his favorite sales rep from Knightley Press; and Lambiase, the town policeman --- and you have a quick but memorable read.

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

March 2014

It’s often said that the clues as to whether a relationship will work or not are known in the early days. The quirky “oh-so-charming” trait in a future mate that is endearing at the start of a relationship may harbor clues of something that will be annoying or devastating later. How many times do we say, “Did she/he not see it?”

In YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN by Jean Hanff Korelitz, Grace Reinhart Sachs is a therapist who feels she knows all about relationships and why they fail, and has written a book of her own: You Should Have Known: Why Women Fail to Hear What the Men in Their Lives Are Telling Them. Just as she is prepping for a round of pre-release media for the book, she learns that her own marriage is not what it seems. What then is Grace to do? This is the Grace who has grown up in New York and is still living in the apartment that her parents once owned and whose son attends the same tony private school that she once did. As the title of Janet Maslin’s New York Times review of YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN says so well, “Above It All Until Her World Turns Upside Down.”

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

March 2014

Last March, while sitting in a condo in Crested Butte, a small town in Colorado that I love, I finished reading a manuscript of Nickolas Butler’s fabulous debut novel, SHOTGUN LOVESONGS. The setting was fitting as the book is set in Little Wing, a fictitious tiny town near Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a place with a lot of heart that will touch your soul and a cast of well-drawn, memorable characters. So memorable that you will want to find Little Wing to see what they are up to while at the same time thinking about your own version of Little Wing, the place where you feel at home.

Gemini by Carol Cassella

March 2014

Like her earlier books, OXYGEN and HEALER, Carol Cassella, who is a practicing physician (an anesthesiologist), takes on a complex medical issue in GEMINI, weaving a strong story from it.

A woman is found critically injured and unconscious on the side of a road and arrives at a hospital as a Jane Doe. There, ICU doctor Charlotte Reese is charged with her care. As she unravels this case, her longtime boyfriend Eric, a science journalist and author, becomes involved in Jane Doe's plight. At the same time, their relationship is tested in ways that they never could have imagined.

A Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante

March 2014

A few years ago, I read TURN OF MIND by Alice LaPlante and was crazy about it; I have told many people the plot of that book, which inspired them to read it. I hope I can do the same with A CIRCLE OF WIVES, her new one, which is just as strong.

Dr. John Taylor is found dead in a hotel room in Palo Alto, and it looks like he may be a victim of foul play. Then we learn that this respected doctor has been harboring a secret. He's a polygamist married to three women in three separate cities. All three women are at his funeral, and their individual stories collide, with a very interesting twist we learn that one of the troika was the mastermind of this arrangement. A young female detective is assigned to the case and finds herself trying to figure out who is telling the truth and who is lying, while (let’s get real) they all are living a lie.

Until I Say Good-Bye: My Year of Living with Joy by Susan Spencer-Wendel

March 2014

Just about a year ago, I read UNTIL I SAY GOODBYE by Susan Spencer-Wendel (with Bret Witter) right before it was published in hardcover. I was so very, very moved by this story. I had read some of her Palm Beach Post columns where she had been documenting her journey with ALS, which is a truly hideous disease with no cure. From the start, she knows her fate. She also is a journalist and a very take-charge person. So instead of crying “woe is me,” she has gone on to live life joyfully, all the while the disease is zapping her muscle control. She has traveled with family and friends, planned memories for her children, and focused on doing rather than weeping.

The Innocent Sleep by Karen Perry

February 2014

THE INNOCENT SLEEP is by Karen Perry, which is the pen name of the Dublin-based writers Paul Perry and Karen Gillece. This is their first novel together (they are married but not to each other --- just friends). It opens in Tangiers where Harry and Robin are living with their son, Dillon. Harry is home with Dillon making Robin a special birthday dinner when he realizes he has forgotten her present. Dillon is asleep and makes a quick decision to race over to their friend's home to pick up the gift. While he is gone, an earthquake occurs. The building where Dillon was sleeping is destroyed, but his body is never found.

Runner by Patrick Lee

February 2014

Last April, I read RUNNER by Patrick Lee in manuscript and still remember being breathless when I read it. Thrillers that give you many “aha” moments are the ones you don’t forget --- and RUNNER certainly has many of those!

Sam Dryden is a retired Ranger special forces agent who once was part of a team that ran a lot of his operations off the grid. Now he has rebuilt his life in a small Southern California town. He’s a loner, having lost both his wife and young daughter in an accident. As an aside here, I knew someone who was a special agent for the FBI, and we talked one night about how one adjusts after having lived that kind of an adrenaline-filled life. How does one go from missions at Ruby Ridge, Waco and Yemen, to carpooling, grocery shopping and normal life? He told me that between the memories and the change in the pace of your life, it’s a real challenge. For years, he was the guy coaching baseball who might get a call in the middle of a game. It would not be that his wife needed milk, but rather he was wheels up on an assignment in two hours.

The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

February 2014

When reading THE DEEPEST SECRET by Carla Buckley, I felt the same way that I did reading DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay; it’s that good! This book is destined to be BIG. When I was three chapters in, I said to my husband, “I am in trouble…this one is an all-nighter.” There is a really exciting feeling that comes when you find a book like this.

Unremarried Widow: A Memoir by Artis Henderson

January 2014

Last summer, I never had heard the term “unremarried widow” until a friend on Facebook explained what is was in military terms. It means the wife of a dead soldier who has not yet remarried.

Artis Henderson was widowed when her husband’s Army helicopter crashed in Iraq in 2006; she was 26 and newly married. She, like her mom, was widowed by a husband dying in a plane crash. What she writes in UNREMARRIED WIDOW is a love story, as much as a story of survival. She writes about the stress and strain of surviving military life while, at the same time, the joy of falling and being in love. One of the references on it is to THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, and I can see why. It’s the kind of a book that will stay with me in much the same way. After finishing the book, I wanted to see Artis and hear her talk about the story, thus I was lucky enough to find this video where she does just that.