BookPage Fiction Top Pick, February 2014
“The first time I saw a sleeper, I was nine years old.” Best-selling author Jennifer McMahon (Promise Not to Tell) opens her new novel, The Winter People, with a sentence that offers a tantalizing glimpse of the horrors to come in this marvelously creepy page-turner.
“Rebecca Winter” remains a household name, thanks to the iconic photograph “Still Life with Bread Crumbs” that catapulted her art career into the public eye. But Rebecca Winter, the person, has changed significantly in the decades since she captured that domestic image of her kitchen counter after her husband and son retired for the evening. She’s no longer married, for one. And it’s been so long since she made a significant sale that she can no longer afford the upscale Manhattan apartment that contains the kitchen immortalized in that famous picture.
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.
First the woman behind Frank Lloyd Wright and now Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife—author Nancy Horan has carved a niche for herself as a novelist who gives voice to strong, influential yet largely forgotten women.
“Women have been underrepresented in the history books,” Horan says by phone from her home on an island near Seattle. “I’ve chosen to write about two women who were very strong in their own right.”
Patrick Ness has made a well-deserved name for himself in the realm of young adult fiction, where he’s crafted magical tales full of sensitivity and raw emotional energy. With The Crane Wife, he brings all of those talents to a story for adults, and the result is a viscerally beautiful, subtly magical and instantly memorable realistic fairy tale that will linger in your brain.
Three of the best books of 2013 are now available in paperback—and guaranteed to delight your reading group. Spanning the globe from Texas to Italy to Chechnya, these memorable stories are sure to spark discussion.
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.
The surprising source of Bich Minh Nguyen’s enthralling second novel, Pioneer Girl, was her discovery that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter Rose had traveled to Vietnam as a journalist in 1965.
Nguyen (pronounced New-win), whose family fled Vietnam in 1975 when she was 8 months old and settled eventually in Grand Rapids, Michigan, says she “had read the Little House on the Prairie books when I was a kid, and I loved them. And I would reread them as an adult as comfort literature."
Taking a page straight out of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Margaret Hawkins begins her third novel with the preparation for a dinner party. Each year, Lydia invites a group of friends over for a midwinter meal, where they devour food, sip wine and share secrets. Except this year, Lydia has the biggest secret of all. She has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and with only a few weeks to live, she has to share the devastating news so that she can properly say goodbye.
An unnamed, ingenue heroine. A dramatic location by the sea. A wealthy and cultured older gentleman. If this sounds like the plot of the beloved mystery Rebecca, it is—but Rachel Pastan’s third novel pays homage to the Daphne du Maurier classic while adding a few new twists. Alena’s young heroine is a curator at a small art museum in the Midwest. Visiting the Venice Biennale with her employer, she is introduced to Bernard Augustin, the wealthy and enigmatic founder of the Nauquasset, a museum on Cape Cod that specializes in cutting-edge work.