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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 Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

February 2021

THE PARIS LIBRARY by Janet Skeslien Charles is such a delight. It spans 60 years and brings readers from the lights of Paris to a small town in Montana. In 1939, Odile Souchet is a librarian at the American Library in Paris, whose patrons hail from many countries. It’s a dream job for her as she delights in sharing books with readers --- and the joy of working with her colleagues. Then the Nazis invade the city. And her twin brother is taken prisoner by the Germans as he fights on foreign soil. Life changes quickly with new rules coming down every day. At one point, it is dictated that Jewish people cannot receive library materials anymore. The librarians take this as a challenge and begin ferreting out this information on the sly, which brings danger at every checkpoint.

The Power Couple by Alex Berenson

February 2021

I enjoyed Alex Berenson’s earlier books, including his debut, THE FAITHFUL SPY, but had not read his work in a while. In THE POWER COUPLE, he moves beyond his John Wells series with a stand-alone thriller. The press materials describe it as Mr. and Mrs. Smith meets Taken, which is a great comp. It’s both a look at a marriage through the eyes of a couple and a brisk espionage story.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

February 2021

With THE FOUR WINDS, Kristin Hannah once again has mined a story that has both heart and soul. The novel opens in Texas in 1934. The Depression is lingering, and a drought has ravaged the Great Plains. Crops are failing, and the dust is swirling. The writing here is gritty and bleak, but vividly done. Like the characters, you will feel yourself tasting the dust. Abject sadness and desperation pervade the early pages. Kristin’s heroine, Elsa Martinelli, wrestles with these dark days on her husband’s family farm. The days get tougher and tougher until she realizes that, for her family to survive, they must head west.

Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson

February 2021

Sadeqa Johnson’s inspiration for YELLOW WIFE, her first historical novel, began a few years ago when she walked a slave trail in Richmond, Virginia, with her family and some friends. She found herself wondering what had happened as she read the marker notes and saw the site of the jail, and it sent her researching. From there came the story of Pheby Delores Brown, who was born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia. Her life is more pampered than many of the other slaves as her father is the Master. Her yellow skin means that she has privilege. She is now 17, and the Master has promised her mother that she will be freed on her 18th birthday, but from the start you feel there is a slim chance that will happen.

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

January 2021

Marie Benedict’s THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE takes readers down the rabbit hole with the real-life adventure of Agatha Christie. Many of us are familiar with Marie’s previous works, all of which looked at the woman who was “beside the man.” Here she takes a woman who we all think we know well as a writer, and walks us through the paces of an event that many of us may not know about --- the 11 days in December 1926 when she went missing. I know this is something I was never aware of. What happened and why?

What Could Be Saved by Liese O'Halloran Schwarz

January 2021

I had heard about WHAT COULD BE SAVED by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz from bookseller friends since the summer --- and I had the pleasure of hearing Liese talk about it a few months ago.

The book opens in 2019. Laura Preston is an artist who has found some success, but also clearly is drifting. She is very different from her older sister, Bea, and her mother, who is being swept into dementia. Laura is contacted by someone claiming to know the whereabouts of her brother, Philip, who had disappeared when her family lived in Bangkok in the '70s. He was eight at the time. Against the wishes of her sister and her fiancé, Laura heads to Thailand to see what she will learn. And yes, she locates her brother. But the brother she finds is an adult, and there are lost decades between them. Just what happened to him?

The Children's Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin

January 2021

THE CHILDREN’S BLIZZARD is Melanie Benjamin’s seventh book, and I think it is her strongest thus far. It’s historical fiction set on the Great Plains against the backdrop of a major event on January 12, 1888. On that day, the temperatures on the Great Plains were unseasonably warm --- and, as a result, people went off to their chores and children headed to school less warmly dressed than usual. As a wickedly ferocious snowstorm swooped in, among those challenged by the weather were teachers in one-room schoolhouses across the Plains, many of them teenagers, who were faced with a dilemma: Do they send the children home, or do they keep them in the schoolhouse? If they chose the latter, there was not enough wood or building insulation to keep them warm, but the raging storm they would send the children out into was also an issue to consider.

The Push by Ashley Audrain

January 2021

THE PUSH by Ashley Audrain is a debut novel that is both sharp and thought-provoking. In it, Blythe is a new mother. She and her husband, Fox, were happy newlyweds, and she was so excited about becoming a mother. However, once her daughter is born, she sees this as a lot less wonderful than what she had hoped for. Her own mother and grandmother were not role models; each harbored different strains of mental illness, and the ramifications from their issues made life difficult for her as she was growing up.

This Time Next Year We'll Be Laughing: A Memoir by Jacqueline Winspear

November 2020

Jacqueline Winspear’s memoir, THIS TIME NEXT YEAR WE’LL BE LAUGHING, takes readers with her to post-War England, where she shares wonderful stories about growing up in a country recovering from war. Readers may know Winspear from her award-winning Maisie Dobbs series, but even if you do not, her storytelling here will completely captivate you. I interviewed her a few weeks ago, and I felt like I was talking to an old family friend. Her stories of her family brought them all so alive to me.

Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent

November 2020

Liz Nugent’s LITTLE CRUELTIES opens with this line: “All three of the Drumm brothers were at the funeral, although one of us was in a coffin.” It goes on to say, “Three is an odd number, so there had always been two against one, although we all switched sides regularly. Nobody would ever have described us as close.” It’s a great setup, and when I reread it, I saw just how clever it was.