January is ushering in scores of new books. I'm zeroing in on releases that have the most promise, originality and verve, partnered with strong reviews and feedback from reliable blog readers.

You'll find a passionate memoir, Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson, and on the other end of the spectrum, a sweeping historical epic, titled Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies.

So many good choices with more to come...Bring it on 2014!

Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson (January 7, Simon & Schuster)

At age 26, Henderson became a widow when her Marine husband was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq. Henderson and her mother share the painful experience of young widowhood because Henderson's father died in a plane crash when she was 5. Beautifully written, this memoir explores the meaning to be found in an apparently senseless death. —Ann Walters

Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies (January 7, Doubleday)

Belle Cora is ambitious in scope and excellent in execution. Arabella Godwin's transformation to the madam Belle Cora creates a story that forces the reader to constantly evaluate previous assumptions and belief systems. With its vibrant descriptions of the Gold Rush and San Francisco's astounding metamorphosis and with its unforgettable characters, Belle Cora is a book for the ages.—Michelle Shannon

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