Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma Donoghue

321 Pages

Copyright 2010

Published by Little, Brown, and Company

The surface area of the world is 510,072,000 km2; Jack’s world is eleven feet by eleven feet.  In his five years of life, he has never left Room.  Jack is Emma Donoghue’s main character in her 2010 novel, Room, an unnerving novel of love and survival that was inspired by the Joseph Frizl case in 2009. Donoghue is a writer whose work is typically housed in the contemporary and historical fiction sections of the library.  She wrote the bestselling fiction novel, Slammerkin, and she experienced even more success with this, her most recent publication.  Room is an international bestseller, and has won multiple awards: Salon Book Award for Fiction, an NPR Best Book of 2010, Bloomberg’s 2010 Top Novel, and Indies Choice Book Award for adult fiction,

The story begins as Jack turns five years old.  Told in his voice, we learn how his world works.  He lives with Ma in Room, what he calls the small enclosure.  He truly believes that there is nothing peculiar about staying in the one room, for Room is all that there is.  Life in Room is routine and structured: Eating time, playtime, sleeping time, TV time, repeat. Ma keeps him entertained at all times.  However, when nighttime comes, Ma hides Jack in Wardrobe.  She is trying to keep him away from the man who kidnapped her seven years ago, whom Jack calls “Old Nick”, who comes to Room each night.

To Jack, Room is comforting; it’s home.  To Ma, it’s the prison that has held her for seven years.  After Jack’s birth, Ma used the power of a mother’s love for a child to create some sort of life for Jack in the small space.  However, now that he is five years old and his curiosity is peaking, Ma believes he might be old enough to comprehend that there is more to the world than just Room.

From Jack’s point of view, this novel is even more compelling and unique.  Jack has a refreshing innocence, however at times this innocence hinders him greatly.  Several times while reading the book, I found myself so engrossed in the story that I wished I were there with Jack to tell him what to do.  Room is a dark, unsettling tale, and Donoghue has made Room feel terrifyingly real.  From the first page, I was entranced.  “Room is a book to read in one sitting.  When it’s over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days,” says Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife.  Donoghue has created a masterpiece that is exhilarating, shocking, and absolutely riveting.  Room is a place that you cannot forget after reading this novel.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana DeRosnay

293 pages

Published by St. Martin’s Griffin

Copyright 2007

The Vel’ d’Hiv round up was one of the darkest moments in France’s history.  July 16th and 17th of 1942, French police rounded up 13,152 Jewish men, women, and children from Paris and placed them in the Velodrome d’Hiver.   They were kept in horrendous conditions there until they were sent to internment camps.

Once they arrived at the internment camps, they were split up into groups of men and then women and children.  After being divided, all the men, women, and about 4,000 children were sent to Auschwitz.  This piece of French history has been kept away and unacknowledged by the French for years.  The French author, Tatiana De Rosnay, has brought this event to the spotlight in her internationally best selling novel, Sarah’s Key.

In this New York Times best selling novel, Julia Jarmand is a journalist for an American magazine based in Paris.  She has a Parisian husband, Bertrand, and a daughter named Zoe.  In 2002, for the sixtieth anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv, Julia begins research on this event that she has never heard of.  Amidst her research, Julia discovers darks secrets about Bertrand’s family.  As Julia learns more about this event and how the people she knows are connected to it, she can’t stop investigating.

Rosnay also tells the story of Sarah Starzynski.  Sarah’s story begins in 1942 when French police knock on her door to take her and her family away.  Instinct causes her to hide her younger brother away in a cupboard, swearing that she will come back for him.  With impeccable detail, Rosnay portrays the journey and experience of being taken to the Veledrome d’Hiver and then the internment camps.

Rosnay has provided a masterpiece that shows a piece of the Holocaust that so many have never even heard of.  This book was impossible to put down till I reached the back cover.  “A remarkable novel.  Like Sophie’s Choice, it’s a book that impresses itself upon one’s heart and soul forever,” says Naomi Ragen, author of The Saturday Wife.

Furthermore, this heart-thumping story has been made into a movie, starring Kristen Scott Thomas.  Sarah’s Key is such a powerful moving piece of literature, that once you read it, you will never forget it.


Dead Unti Dark by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

260 pages

Published by Ace Books

Copyright May 2001

Looking for an enjoyable light read? Then Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris is your book.  Dead Until Dark is the first book in the Sookie Stackhouse Series (also known as the Southern Vampire Mysteries).  Charlaine Harris is an established mystery writer, having written several different series and additional non-series books: The Harper Connelly Mysteries, The Lily Bard Mysteries, The Aurora Teagarden Mysteries, and more.  Born and raised in Mississippi, Harris has been writing for thirty years; earning her New York Times Best Selling Author status.  Having read over ten of her books, most more than once, I’d say she deserves this recognition.  Her latest books, including the Southern Vampire Mysteries, are in the urban fantasy genre.

Dead Until Dark, and the rest of the series, centers on Sookie Stackhouse, a barmaid in Bon Temps, Louisiana.  As the story is narrated from her point of view, you learn that she has a little quirk, what she calls a disability; she can read other people’s minds.  However, unlike most stories, where a character’s supernatural ability is the main focus of her life, Sookie treats her telepathy as routine and just another obstacle in life.  The story begins just a couple years after vampires have “come out of the coffin”.  When scientists in Japan created a new synthetic blood, which the vampires could survive off of, the vampire community was able to integrate into human society.  However, there were still a number of human-killing and blood-sucking incidents that occurred when some vampires were not amenable to the idea of living alongside humans.  Many humans did not agree with the idea of vampires having equal rights, either.  So, when a vampire, Bill Compton, walks into Merlotte’s, the restaurant where Sookie works, she is thrilled.  However, the sparks that fly between the two may be for the worse, when a murderer begins to go after women who sleep with vampires.

Harris sets herself apart from other authors in this genre by changing the background.  Instead of an average middle class hero, this book takes working class people in a small southern town.  “Rural America finally has a vampire story to call its own,” says Tanya Huff.

Dead Until Dark is a light read, yet it still offers great entertainment.  This vampire romance/mystery has been highly successful.  In 2001, it won the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Mystery, and the entire Sookie Stackhouse Series is a New York Times Best Selling series.  Publishers Weekly proclaims, “Harris is an author of rare talents.”  Additionally, Producer Alan Ball has created an HBO series, True Blood, based on the books.

Dead Until Dark is the perfect read for the beach or airplane.  In Dead Until Dark, Harris especially invites female readers to enjoy a tantalizing yet risqué story, but even my father admits that it is a “real page-turner.”  So far, there are eleven books in the Sookie Stackhouse Series, and the twelfth, Deadlocked, is finished but not yet released.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

350 pages

Copyright 2006

Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill


Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is a rare novel with a story so engrossing, once started; one cannot put it down.  This thrilling, romantic story is Gruen’s third novel.  She has also written the best selling Riding Lessons and Flying Changes.  Her environmental values show in all of her books, showing how animals can teach people about love.  This New York Times #1 best seller is set on a depression era traveling circus that is brought to life through Gruen’s words.  Her impeccable research shines throughout this book; her author’s note mentioning many trips to Sarasota, Florida’s Ringling Brothers Museum.

Though he doesn’t speak of them, Jacob Jankowski, at ninety-something-years old, can still remember the sound of the concessions, the sight of raising the big top, and everything else about his days with the Benzini Brothers’ Most Spectacular Show on Earth.

At twenty-three, Jacob is preparing to take the test that determines his future.  After he passes this veterinary exam, he will take on the family business.  However, an interruption in the classroom brings grave news when Jacob is asked to go identify his parents’ bodies from a car accident.  Following his parents’ death, Jacob finds himself losing his father’s practice and home to the bank.  Without money, a veterinary license, and family, he sees no other option than to leave his old town behind.  With no endpoint in mind, Jacob makes his way down the train tracks.  When a train comes by, he jumps aboard.

This rickety circus train holds the Benzini Brothers’ Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  Jacob’s veterinary skills are put to use as he gains the job as the circus’s own vet.  At this point in the Great Depression, everyone working on this third-rate circus is lucky to have a job at all.  When Jacob sees the equestrian act of the show, Marlena, the star, entrances him.  She is also the wife of the boss, August.  As the circus loses more and more hope each day, life aboard the Benzini Brothers’ train gets darker and darker.  A new optimism comes with Rosie, though.  Rosie is the great, loving elephant left behind by a rundown circus.  Bonds grow quickly between Jacob and Marlena as they worked alongside each other with Rosie.  Even with their new show though, life aboard the train continues to get bleaker, especially as August’s mean streaks shone through.  The trio’s bond may be their only hope in survival.

While reading this book, you can feel the wind blowing past you as you sit atop the train, you can hear the character’s voices echoing in your head.  “This is a fiction reader’s dream come true, “ says Jeanne Ray, author of Julie and Romeo Get Lucky.  The memories of the ninety-something man mix with your own as he tells his tale.  You will be completely swept off your feet and into the circus’s dark twist and turns, unable to get out till the last page.  This book is simply and positively incredible.

The Pact by Jodi Picoult

The Pact: a love story by Jodi Picoult

389 pages

Copyright 1998

Published by HarperCollins

Jodi Picoult is the bestselling author of twenty novels, including My Sister’s Keeper.  She is known for creating provocative themes with family conflicts and difficult moral choices.  As one of the most powerful writers in contemporary fiction, Picoult has outdone herself in her fifth novel, The Pact. 

For eighteen years, the Hartes and the Golds have been nextdoor neighbors.  Their lives were intertwined.  The Hartes’ son Chris and The Golds’ daughter Emily were born just months apart and were inseparable since.  It was no surprise when their friendship blossomed into something more.  Everyone knew they were soul mates.  However, just when it seems like nothing could rip these families apart from eachother, tragedy strikes with midnight calls from the hospital.  Emily is dead from a gunshot wound to the head, inflicted by Chris as part of a suicide pact.  When a single additional bullet is found in the gun, Chris states it was meant for himself.  In spite of this, a local detective has his doubts.  As Chris finds himself on trial for murder, Jodi Picoult portrays, with extraordinary talent, families in anguish as guilt, loss, and betrayal enter their lives.

Picoult has a true gift in story telling.   Switching between different characters and different periods of time allow all points of the story to be heard.  “Engrossing… Picoult has a remarkable ability to make us share her characters’ feelings of confusion and horror… The Pact is compelling reading,” said People.  This deeply moving novel is filled with compassion and heartbreak.  The Pact made me smile and weep, but most of all it made me think.


Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

288 pages

Copyright 2007

Published by Razorbill

Jay Asher is an American author whose primary focus are contemporary novels for teens.  Inspired by events from high school, he has created a New York Times and international bestseller: Thirteen Reasons Why. 

Teenager Clay Jenson found a shoebox sized package addressed to him on his doorstep one afternoon.  Upon opening said package, he found seven audiotapes.  No note and no instructions were found, but the sides of the tapes were labeled one to thirteen.  Clay is instantly shocked when he hears Hannah Baker’s voice, for 16 year old Hannah killed herself just days ago.

Thirteen of Hannah’s classmates were selected to listen to and pass on the tapes that were mailed the day she committed suicide.  “I’m about to tell you the story of my life,” Hannah says, “more specifically, why my life ended.  And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.”  Each tape was about a specific person, and the tapes were sent to everyone she talked about.  Hannah created a system that ensured the tapes would get to all of the intended audiences.  Whoever received the tapes would send them to whoever was mentioned after them in the tapes.

All through the night, Clay listens.  He follows Hannah’s words through the small town he lives in.  He is captivated, devastated, and what he learns changes his life forever.

As a reader, I was as captivated by Hannah’s words as much as Clay was.  Jay Asher skillfully combined Hannah’s story with Clay’s ever mounting anxiety and dread.  It was impossible to let go of this book after reading the first page.  Entertainment Weekly calls Thirteen Reasons Why, “suspenseful and addictive”.  This is a book that will stay with you long after you put it back on the shelf.

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
213 pages

Published by MTV Books/Pocket Books

Copyright 1999

Stephen Chbosky was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, which served as the setting of his novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Chbosky is an American novelist, film director, and screenplay writer (“Rent”).  For Perks of Being a Wallflower, he drew great inspiration from The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger; this novel being very similar yet focused on this day and age.  Chbosky grew up in Upper St. Clair and his book is greatly based off of his high school.  Even some of the teachers are exactly the same.

Perks of Being a Wallflower is centered on high school freshman, Charlie.  He is taken under the wings of two seniors, brother and sister, Patrick and Sam.  Charlie tells his story in anonymous letters addressed “Dear Friend”.  These letters are “more intimate than a diary”.  Charlie’s unique voice is both hilarious and devastating.  Family dramas, first dates, mixed tapes, and new friends are all becoming a part of Charlie’s world.  At the same time, sex, drugs, and new adventures are also entering his world.

The novel is also soon to be made into a major motion picture starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson.  It is being filmed in Pittsburgh and will be released in 2012.

This coming of age story seized me from the very first page.  Chbosky created someone people can connect with and relate to through Charlie.  His voice expressed an uncommon innocence that was very appealing as a reader.  “The Perks of Being a Wallflower is part of an MTV Books series that targets teen-age readers. But it is more mature than most young adult literature and can be enjoyed by older readers as well,” says USA Today.

This matchless story is must-read.  After flying through this book, I couldn’t help but flip back to the beginning and start it again.