Ah, WASPs: Those guilt-ridden, uptight, real estate-obsessed traditionalists. In Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town, Sarah Payne Stuart captures the essence of this distinctive culture, tracing both her own childhood in Concord, Massachusetts, and the lives of some of Concord’s famous residents, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott.
In this fascinating and deeply creepy novel by South African author Sarah Lotz, four commercial flights go down on the same day. Everyone on board perishes except three children: a British preteen named Jess; an American boy named Bobby; and a Japanese boy named Hiro. The children are uninjured, but their personalities have changed.
Writer Kaui Hart Hemmings had a lot to live up to with her second novel: Her best-selling, polished debut, The Descendants, was made into an Oscar-winning film starring George Clooney. With The Possibilities, she delivers on her early promise while making a striking departure setting-wise, moving from the tropical islands of her native Hawaii to the snowy mountains of Colorado.
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, May 2014
Robin Roberts took a leave of absence as co-host of “Good Morning America” in 2012 to face a life-threatening battle with a blood disorder, one that likely was caused by the chemotherapy she endured during a bout with breast cancer five years earlier. In Everybody’s Got Something, Roberts manages to “make her mess her message,” as her beloved mother always advised her to do.
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, April 2014
Frances Mayes’ lyrical memoir of growing up Southern was a long time coming. Worried about upsetting her family, she stopped and started Under Magnolia many times over: “Anytime I felt the impulse to start my Southern opus again, I instead headed for a movie or a new Thai restaurant,” she writes. “I’d go jogging or read a novel until the impulse faded.”
To marry their daughters off, four social-climbing men in 1790s London hatch a plot: Buy a pianoforte (the au courant instrument of the late 18th century) and have them give a concert that will have noblemen lined up for their hands in marriage.
The ladies are as varied as their fathers are ambitious: emaciated Georgiana; Everina with her unfortunate false teeth; mysterious Alathea; and the Brass sisters, practical Harriet and lumpy Marianne.
The women came from all over the nation—even the world—with little or no idea why they were moving to a remote New Mexico town with only a post office box for an address. They were the wives of scientists working at a secret research laboratory to build the first atomic bomb.
The damp practically floats off the pages in Astoria, the sweeping tale of John Jacob Astor’s attempt to settle the remote Pacific Northwest coast in 1810. Astor’s vast wealth enabled him to send two expeditions: one over land and one by ship. His plan was to set up a fur trade, the first on this particularly harsh stretch of the West Coast. Whoever could settle the area would lay claim to a vast area rich with sea otter and beaver fur, salmon and other seafood.
I was skeptical when I found out the author of The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating stars on “The Real Housewives of New York.” And when the epigram was a Lady Gaga quote, I thought I was in for a long slog. What a pleasant surprise, then, when the book turned out to be one of the richest, most deeply satisfying stories I’ve read in a long time.
Author Matthew Quick probably is tired of hearing the word “quirky,” but it really is the singularly best way to describe his storytelling. After his first novel, The Silver Linings Playbook, was adapted into an Oscar-nominated movie starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, Quick delivers a new story featuring Bartholomew Neil, a uniquely likeable protagonist who at nearly 40 has lived with his mother his entire life.