People PICK

Room

by Emma Donoghue |

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REVIEWED BY KIM HUBBARD

NOVEL

What must childhood have been like for Jaycee Dugard's two daughters? A year after their rescue from the sex offender who kidnapped their mother and fathered them, this compelling new novel offers an imaginative take on a similar plight. Narrated by 5-year-old Jack, Room is the story of Jack's life with his ma in the garden shed he's begun to realize isn't the whole world-and (spoiler alert) what happens after they escape their captor. Thanks to Jack's steel-willed mom's inventiveness, his existence has been filled with games, learning and love: The real world-where bees sting, reporters pester and "persons are nearly always stressed"-at first seems a poor trade. Donoghue's Jack is precocious but entirely believable; his passage out of cloistered innocence more universal than you might think (it's no accident, surely, that the book's title rhymes with "womb"). As for Ma, parents everywhere will relate. "You must feel an almost pathological need to stand between your son and the world," a breathless TV interviewer tells her. Ma's reply: "It's called being a mother."

Getting to Happy

by Terry McMillan |

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REVIEWED BY CLARISSA CRUZ

NOVEL

The plucky heroines of McMillan's '92 bestseller Waiting to Exhale are back-but things are far from perfect: Gloria, Savannah, Robin and Bernadine are now pushing 50 and battling even worse man/career/family dramas than they faced 15 years ago. It's great to meet up with these old friends again; unfortunately Happy is less engaging than its prequel, featuring stretches of flat dialogue, irritating teenagers and an ending that feels rushed.

Katie Up and Down the Hall

by Glenn Plaskin |

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REVIEWED BY CAROLINE LEAVITT

MEMOIR

In journalist Plaskin's memoir, a cocker spaniel named Katie helps make five Manhattan neighbors a family. Katie connects with elderly Pearl and Arthur; little Ryan finds the grandmother he yearns for in Pearl; Ryan's dad becomes the author's confidant. Though Plaskin's imagining of his dog's thoughts is a tad precious, this is a charmer about "the abiding love of family," wherever you find it.

The Widower's Tale

by Julia Glass |

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REVIEWED BY SUE CORBETT

NOVEL

Moved by a plea from his still-floundering adult daughter, Percy Darling agrees to let the crunchy-granola preschool where she works move into a barn on his property, upending his predictable life in an affluent Boston suburb. The ripples from this choice affect everyone in his circle but no one more than Percy, a retired librarian who has walled himself off in many ways since the death of his wife three decades earlier. Glass threads the narrative with subplots taken from the Op-Ed page of Percy's local newspaper-rural gentrification, illegal immigration, environmental activism-but her real achievement here is in creating a large cast of fully realized characters. There are no villains, but there is plenty of trouble. Fans of Three Junes will find this fourth novel just as absorbing. It's like reading an involving letter from a long-lost friend.

Vermilion Drift

by William Kent Krueger |

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REVIEWED BY RICHARD EISENBERG

NOVEL

Crafty Minnesota PI Cork O'Connor is hired to find a missing woman and determine who's sending death threats to people connected with the Vermilion One mine. While excavating for clues, Cork finds the remains of six bodies. Five may have been there since 1964; the sixth was murdered a week ago. Vermilion herrings may send readers off the trail, but the surprise ending makes this novel a worthwhile find.

Room was already written by the time the Dugard story broke. Does Donoghue wonder what Jaycee would think of it? "No," she says. "That would paralyze me with self-consciousness!"

TIM MCGRAW

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

He's an old farmer guy from Kentucky who writes beautifully. Made me feel like I was back to how I grew up.

JENNY MCCARTHY

A Thousand Names for Joy by Byron Katie

I love self-help spiritual books. I've become one of those annoying New Age guru people.

ZAC EFRON

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

It's got some pretty cool philosophy in it. I'm only into it a couple of pages and I'm already like, "Whoa!"

Thirty years after The Official Preppy Handbook, Lisa Birnbach (with Chip Kidd) updates her tips for the tribe.

WHAT'S CHANGED FOR PREPS?

Well, rehab is the new prep school. We have a black preppy President and First Lady. But the biggest change would be polar fleece.

IS PREPPINESS DEFINED DIFFERENTLY?

A lot's remained timeless. A prep is charming, comfortable without being trendy, someone who believes animals belong as embroidery on clothing ...

I WANT TO BE A PREP. WHAT DO I NEED?

A blue blazer: It's the perfect topper to almost any outfit. Natural athleticism, so you can fill in on the tennis court for doubles. A memorable personality. If you can't come up with one of your own, copy one-an uncle you admire, Matt Lauer. And old friends who remember when you were young and blonde or young and not blonde. Reminiscing is such a preppy pleasure.

In his memoir, Britain's ex-PM Tony Blair chats about everything from royal valets to Bush's I.Q. Some highlights:

ON GEORGE W. BUSH

"He was very smart .... No one stumbles into that job."

ON DINING WITH THE QUEEN

At the traditional barbecue where Philip cooks, "they do the washing up... . The Queen asks if you've finished ... stacks the plates and goes off to the sink."

ON BALMORAL

A visit combined "the intriguing, the surreal and the utterly freaky... . The valet asked if he could fold my clothes and generally iron the underpants ... and so disconcerted me that when he then asked me if he could 'draw the bath,' I ... thought for a moment he wanted to sketch the damn thing."

ON DRINKING

"If you took the thing everyone always lies about-units per week-I was definitely at the outer limit. Stiff whiskey or G&T before dinner, couple of glasses of wine or even half a bottle with it ... . I had a limit. But I was aware it had become a prop."