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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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People PICK


by Emma Donoghue |



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 |



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 |



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 |



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 |



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.