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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.

The Library Book (Audiobook) by Susan Orlean

December 2018

THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean is a perfect gift for any booklover, perhaps even a “to me, from me” gift. I have spent a lot of time in libraries, remember the sheer joy of seeing the bookmobile on the corner when I was a child, have a number of librarians and library directors as friends, and have been to library conferences and programs, yet I still found myself learning so much as I listened to the audiobook. It is narrated by Susan, who not only writes a good book, but also knows how to tell a good story.

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni

December 2018

I have been a longtime reader of Robert Dugoni’s thrillers; I still remember when the first one, THE JURY MASTER, hit the New York Times bestseller list back in 2006. Somehow I missed his stand-alone title, THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HELL, when it came out in April. I was happy to catch up on what he has called his “opus.” Just as William Kent Krueger deviated from his Cork O’Connor series with ORDINARY GRACE, here Dugoni takes his writing in a new direction with a beautifully crafted story of a life well-lived.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

November 2018

I am playing catch-up on some books that are getting great buzz that came out this year that I never got to at the time of their release. One is WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens, which was published in August. I have been hearing friends talk about it for weeks, and those with such varied tastes loved it, so I was drawn to make time for it instead of doing my usual “reading ahead.” And I am glad that I did. It is a beautifully written story that will stay with me.

Family Trust by Kathy Wang

November 2018

In FAMILY TRUST by Kathy Wang, Stanley Huang is dying of pancreatic cancer. He has an ex-wife, Linda; a new wife, Mary; a son, Fred; and a daughter, Kate. All of them are wondering, What’s in the trust? Stanley has talked about his wealth for years, but these days he is being so vague. The entire family is dancing around the topic, plotting their lives as millionaires, but Stanley is so tight-lipped. Why is he not talking more about his fortune?

A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl by Jean Thompson

November 2018

A CLOUD IN THE SHAPE OF A GIRL by Jean Thompson follows three generations of women in the Wise family --- Evelyn, Laura and Grace --- who live in a small Midwestern college town. They navigate their lives trailing emotional baggage from generation to generation. I love how the story unwrapped and their messy imperfect lives slid together. There are choices made and not made --- and each has consequences.

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts (Audiobook) by Therese Anne Fowler

October 2018

I enjoyed listening to A WELL-BEHAVED WOMAN: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler, which is narrated by Barrie Kreinik. This work of historical fiction tells the story of Alva Vanderbilt and her illustrious family. When it begins, Alva Smith is positioning herself to find a husband who will secure her financially and pull her family out of the tight financial straits in which they find themselves. With a marriage to William Vanderbilt firmly in hand, she pursues her next quest: to have the Vanderbilts, who are known as “new money,” accepted by the Astors and those with “old money.”

November Road by Lou Berney

October 2018

I literally read NOVEMBER ROAD by Lou Berney in a day, as it was what I call a propulsive read. The events in Dallas in November 1963 easily could have happened the way Lou plots them out. After all, for decades there have been questions about what really happened to John F. Kennedy. The country was so mob-run in those days; their reach was everywhere. They could have ordered the murder of JFK as the ultimate hit.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry

October 2018

BECOMING MRS. LEWIS by Patti Callahan is the story of Joy Davidman, who first turned to C. S. Lewis for spiritual guidance, and then slowly but steadily became the woman who won his heart.

When we first meet Joy, she is a wife, a mother and a writer. She struggles with the burden of an uncaring husband who is an alcoholic and whose moods are often dark. He, too, is a writer, but he struggles with his work. The boys are active, and Joy is pulled in many directions. She begins a correspondence with Lewis, questioning her faith and her life. In frail health, she takes a break from her domestic world and travels abroad to, among other things, meet Lewis for the first time. Their conversations are friendly yet professional; he keeps his distance, but clearly there is a connection between them with their writing and their spirited discussions. She loves his mind; he embraces her spirit of life and her questioning of it.

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

October 2018

THE DREAM DAUGHTER by Diane Chamberlain has been one of my toughest Bets On write-ups, as I want to give away nothing about it. One of the delights of the book is the slow reveals that will unfold and be great "aha" moments.

It opens in 1970. Carly Sears is a young pregnant widow who is living with her sister and brother-in-law on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in Nags Head. Her husband was in Vietnam. At a routine doctor's appointment, Carly learns that she is carrying a daughter with a heart problem. Her brother-in-law, a brilliant physicist, is familiar with technology that can help her baby receive the in vitro surgery that she needs to survive. He actually has lived life in the future. What happens and what intervenes along the way will give readers a lot to think about.

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (Audiobook) by Sarah Smarsh

October 2018

In HEARTLAND: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, Sarah Smarsh traces her Midwestern Kansas family’s roots back four generations. Along the way, she takes readers on a deep dive into a world where everyone worked, often multiple jobs, yet they remained poor. She shares a perspective of life in this world through the eyes of the family for which she has deep feelings. Her writing is frank and leaves readers with lots to ponder, especially at a time when this country is deeply divided. Here, Sarah shares a perspective that is illuminating, especially for those on either coast. I love the voice and tone of her work, as well as the pacing of her narration. I listened to it on audio, and her Midwestern twang contributed to the success of the story for me.