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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 the year, 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.

Gilded Age by Claire McMillan

June 2012

GILDED AGE, a debut novel by Claire McMillan, is set in Cleveland, “the Rust Belt,” and shows a stylish side to that city that I never expected. Readers meet Ellie Harr, who makes her return to her native city after a divorce in New York and stint in rehab. But she learns that what while her beauty is dazzling, her sexual reputation matters as much as her family heritage and bankbook. Her more grounded childhood friend is living a respectable Cleveland life, and the divide between their worlds exacerbates Ellie’s troubles all the more.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

June 2012

THE CHAPERONE by Laura Moriarty opens in the early 1920s in Wichita, Kansas, where Cora Carlisle lives with her husband, Alan, and twin sons. The boys are growing up, and Cora is restless. She seizes a chance to go to New York with Louise Brooks, then just a local girl, to chaperone her as she practices and tries out for the Denishawn dance troupe. Cora has a secret reason for wanting to get back to New York, and Louise provides the perfect opportunity to get there.

The Innocents by Francesca Segal

June 2012

THE INNOCENTS by Francesca Segal opens with the newly engaged Adam and Rachel, who have been together since they were 16 (they are now 28) celebrating the High Holidays at Temple Fortune in West London with the rest of their tightly knit community. The spotlight is on this well-matched pair who seem to have it all. By page two, a new player has entered the scene: Rachel’s ravishing cousin Ellie, who lives in New York and has “a story” behind her. The contrast between Rachel and Ellie could not be more drastic. It’s the classic “safe good girl” and “the temptress” story, which is handled so deftly in Francesca’s hands. Adam is clearly questioning his choices and seeing a world beyond the safe haven he has come to know. The plot, the tension, the twists and the turns make THE INNOCENTS a page-turner, and the ending is perfect.

To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes by Francis Slakey

A few months ago, I saw a wonderful movie called The Way starring Martin Sheen, in which “a father heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while traveling the ‘El camino de Santiago,’ and decides to take the pilgrimage himself.” While I am neither a hiker nor much of an athlete beyond swimming in the pool, journeys like this intrigue me --- both for the physical endurance of them and the way people can open their minds when they are away from the everyday world.

Thus I picked up TO THE LAST BREATH: A Memoir of Going to Extremes, which I found wonderful in the way that I loved THE WAVE, CRAZY FOR THE STORM, SHADOW DIVERS and THE LAST DIVE. Francis Slakey is a physics professor at Georgetown who one day found he was going through the motions of life, not really connecting with people the way he wanted. His lectures were such that at the end of the day, he would realize that he had written long theorems, but not really spoken to students. Relationships were not working out. So he decided to take on a new challenge --- to climb the highest mountain on every continent and surf every ocean.

True Sisters by Sandra Dallas

May 2012

TRUE SISTERS by Sandra Dallas looks at the story of how, in 1856, the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS, or Mormons) brought converts from Europe to Iowa, where they were fitted with handcarts that they pulled and pushed 1,300 miles to Salt Lake City. The carts were essentially square boxes on two wheels. The four women portrayed in the book were members of the Martin Company, the last group to head out that had 575 people in it when they left. Along the way, they lost one quarter of the group to harsh conditions, including blizzards and deathly cold. While the Donner party is referenced in history as the story of a magnitude of human loss, it is dwarfed by this.

All Woman and Springtime by Brandon W. Jones

May 2012

Back in January, at a librarian conference, an advance copy of ALL WOMAN AND SPRINGTIME, a debut novel, was handed to me with a comment, “I think you will like this” from someone who usually knows my tastes. I got back to my hotel that evening and plucked this book from the stack I had picked up and started reading…and read for hours.

Paris in Love: A Memoir by Eloisa James

April 2012

Eloisa James took readers along on her family’s one-year sabbatical in PARIS IN LOVE instead of just sending out postcards. Throughout the year, she shared her experiences on Facebook, and in PARIS IN LOVE compiled those posts along with a series of essays to add additional insights to this experience. It’s a very modern-day memoir. She has a strong “voice” that makes even her briefest posts charming, and her skill as a writer makes the discordant pieces flow together to give the reader a breezy travelogue that makes you want to pack up and hit the road. She also has a gift of humor and can be marvelously self-deprecating.

The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont

March 2012

Money does not buy happiness. Just ask Jason Prosper, the protagonist in THE STARBOARD SEA, a debut novel from Amber Dermont.  As the book opens, Jason is on his way to yet another prep school, this time Bellingham Academy. The school is not prestigious and storied, but rather for wealthy offspring who need second chances. And Jason needs just that ---  a chance to start fresh.

A Good American by Alex George

February 2012

I am often asked, “What have you read recently that you loved?” Last fall, after I finished A GOOD AMERICAN by Alex George, it was the book that I found myself talking about the most. As I read it months in advance of publication, I kept having to add a coda of “but it’s not in stores until February 2012.” Over the holiday, I asked the publisher for some extra advance reading copies and wrapped them up for family members and close friends --- and their responses upon reading it mirrored mine. They loved it.

History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason

February 2012

HISTORY OF A PLEASURE SEEKER by Richard Mason is set in Amsterdam at the turn of the 20th century at the height of Europe’s Belle Époque. The book isa fast-paced story that is full of great atmospheric detail. From the rich descriptions, I immediately felt like I was inside one of the homes on the Gilded Curve with the main character Piet Barol, an attractive, cunning and scheming young man.