Room, by Emma Donoghue

>> Thursday, April 07, 2011

AUTHOR: Emma Donoghue

PAGES: 336

SETTING: Contemporary (I think US, but it's a bit vague)
TYPE: Fiction

WARNING: Spoilers ahead! I tried to write my review without revealing much, but it would have sounded too cryptic and there are some things I definitely wanted to say that would require some spoilers. So read at your own risk. Then again, I'm not going to reveal anything I didn't know when I started it. I got some spoilers from discussions in the literary podcasts I listen to, not to mention the back cover blurb (which I quote below). I don't think those spoilers diminished my enjoyment at all...

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.
My first thought when I heard about this book was what I guess most people must have thought. A book inspired on the Joseph Fritzl case, about a woman who is kidnapped and stuck in a room for years, used as a sex slave by her captor and who bears a child inside that room? It sounded like a pretty exploitative, trashy idea. However, as I mention above, I listen to quite a few literary podcasts, and when the book was first long-listed and then subsequently short-listed for the Man Booker prize, there was much talk about it. By the time I came to read it, therefore, I'd heard enough reviews to know that the execution was anything but exploitative.

What I didn't know was whether I'd enjoy it, as I've had mixed luck with last year's Booker nominees that I've read. I loved Christos Tsiolkas' The Slap, but was very disappointed by the winner, The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson. I needn't have worried: Room was just as good as The Slap, probably even better.

It is narrated by 5-year-old Jack, who was born in Room and has never been out. He lives there with his beloved Ma and they do all sorts of fun activities together that fill out their day, from playing parrot, repeating and learning the words said on their TV to setting up an obstacle course in the room and running around it. The only boring and not-so-nice bit is when Old Nick comes visit, because Jack has to go sleep in the wardrobe while Old Nick makes the bed creak. It's a good life, but clearly Ma doesn't think so, because she has a plan to change everything.

This is a book that very much hinges on the narrator. The reason it works so well is because Jack's voice is unique, heartbreaking and perfectly believable. Donoghue manages to show us the horror of the situation and what is really going on, all through the perception of someone who doesn't find those things at all horrible and doesn't understand that others would and do. This makes it all even more chilling and sinister. And the narration makes the scene where Jack executes Ma's plan one of the most nail-biting things I've ever read. It's difficult to read, because when Jack is scared to death, as he is then, his thoughts become more than a little disjointed, but very, very effective.

Jack's is also a very consistent voice. His life changes massively during the book, but he is still always very much Jack. Strangely, the proof of the perfect construction of the narration is in the one instance Donaghue fails at it. There were 2 paragraphs where I went "This is not Jack", where the author gives in to the temptation of philosophising about the world herself, about how people don't have time to enjoy their life, and blah, blah, blah. They were 2 pretty crappy paragraphs, but they were only 2 paragraphs. It's a measure of how brilliant the rest of the book was that I was so immersed in Jack's world that I was jolted out of the story by them.

Room is very much Jack's world, but I didn't find it to be a claustrophobic novel, possibly because it was populated by really outstanding characters. Ma, even only seen through the eyes of a 5 year old, is fully developed, and a truly amazing woman, as well. I'm not the natural audience for stories of fantastic motherhood, but Ma moved me. Her efforts to make sure Jack develops normally even though he's stuck in a tiny room were truly heroic and I found her situation almost unbearable to read.

And now come the real spoilers!!

I really liked that Donoghue trusted that the very simple thing of Jack and Ma adapting to a new world would be enough to provide all the tension in the second half of the novel. I kept fearing she would introduce a villain out of some misguided idea that there needed to be more conflict -I don't know, maybe a social worker who'd try to take Jack away from Ma, or that Old Nick would escape and try to get back at Ma. She didn't, though. It wasn't needed, and this was a much better book because of it.



The Perfect Play, by Jaci Burton

>> Tuesday, April 05, 2011

TITLE: The Perfect Play
AUTHOR: Jaci Burton

PAGES: 336

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Followed by Changing The Game

REASON FOR READING: Well, the cover helped. I don't usually do mantitty, but this is outstanding mantitty!

The last thing event planner Tara Lincoln needs is the jet-set lifestyle of a football pro like Mick Riley; even though their steamy and passionate one-night stand proved that Mick is an all-star-both on the field and in the bedroom.

Tara played the game of love once and lost big, and she doesn't intend to put herself out there again, especially with a certified heartbreaker. But when Mick sets his mind to win, nothing will stop him. And he has the perfect play in mind to catch this sultry vixen.
My not finishing The Perfect Play is all about me having gone on a shopping spree and picked up a boatload of ebooks I really, really want to read => the opportunity cost of any book I'm not enjoying all that much has just risen quite a bit. I'm not getting as much time to read as I would like to lately, so I'm afraid I'm going to have to be ruthless.

TPP is all about fantasy and wish fulfilment. Tara Lincoln is a regular girl, single mum of a teenager. She owns an events planning business, and in one of her parties, which she's organised for her city's professional football team, she attracts the attention of the top player, Mick Riley. Mick pursues her quite hard, and they end up spending the night together. As far as Tara's concerned, that's it. Surely she's too ordinary for the great big star to be interested in? Not to mention that teenage son, a single mum is clearly not what a millionaire athlete would go for. But Mick is really gone over her, and determined to change her mind.

I read about a third of the book. It's not bad. It wasn't that I couldn't bear to keep reading. It was just that I was bored and slightly annoyed with it, and didn't see the point.

The boredom probably came from the wish fulfilment element. Mick is so perfect that I never got a real sense of who he was. He's a big-time athlete, but he's perfectly nice and kind, without an arrogant bone in his body. He has invested his money wisely and doesn't piss it away on partying. He trains hard and doesn't drink much at all. He does the celebrity round of movie premieres and parties, accompanied by beautiful models and actresses, but only because his agent arranges it all for publicity (and the publicity is not because he loves fame -oh, no, it's because higher profile for him --> higher ticket sales --> good for the team). He doesn't bat an eyelid when presented with the fact that Tara has a teenage son. In short: perfect. And mind you, I'm not someone who goes crazy over the bad boy heroes. In fact, I prefer a nice beta over an alpha, anytime. But Mick just didn't really do it for me. I liked him, he seemed lovely, he just never felt like a real individual for me, more a collection of lovely traits.

The annoyance was because of a number of small things. The first was the constant harping on how Tara is sooo unlike all those materialistic, plastic women Mick usually dates. Seriously, for the first few chapters, especially, it seemed like every single thought Mick had about Tara started with "Unlike all those other women...". Hon, it doesn't really say much about you that you dated all these women you disliked so much, does it?

In addition to this, I didn't particularly like Tara. I don't really know why, since she's pretty inoffensive, but she rubbed me wrong. I also didn't think she was particularly well written: she's a mass of insecurities, and yet, in bed she's assertive and confident and says exactly what she wants. It just didn't compute, I couldn't really buy that it was the same woman we were talking about. And speaking of the sex, there was way, way, WAY too much of it. Burton can clearly write some steamy love scenes, but there were so many of them that they bored me, and it was all I could do not to skim.

MY GRADE: So, it's a DNF, but as I said above, it's not a bad book, and I expect many people will like it just fine.


Wild at Heart, by Jane Graves

>> Saturday, April 02, 2011

TITLE: Wild at Heart
AUTHOR: Jane Graves

PAGES: 326
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic suspense
SERIES: Follows I Got You, Babe.


When private investigator Valerie Parker tails a cheating wife late one night, it’s business as usual—until the woman is murdered and the man she’s with becomes the prime suspect. Val gets an even bigger shock when she discovers the suspect’s identity: He’s Alex DeMarco, an old flame she swore she’d never speak to again. But then Val’s own life is threatened, and before she can blink she’s on the run, side by side with the unbelievably gorgeous man who once shattered her dreams and broke her heart . . . all in the same day.


As a cop, Alex knows better than to ignore his instincts, but for some reason he offersthe woman on the prowl a ride home anyway. When she turns up dead and he comes face-to-face with Val Parker, his problems are only beginning. As they work together to clear his name and to protect Val’s life, Alex finds himself drawn once again to the wild, impetuous woman from his past—even as the shocking secret behind the murder threatens to tear them apart forever.
Valerie Parker always wanted to be a cop. She entered the police academy and thought she was doing well, until she was dismissed for not having the right temperament for it (something to do with her unwillingness to follow orders and her determination to always do things her way). To add insult to injury, it was made clear to her that the opinions of one of her instructors, Alex DeMarco, were instrumental in her dismissal. This was quite a surprise to Valerie, as the night before Alex had come by her house, and not only did he not mention what was going to happen the next morning, the asshole actually slept with her.

A few years later, Valerie has become a PI and is following a millionaire's cheating wife, trying to get evidence of her affairs. She follows the woman to a low-rent dive, where she makes a move on a man -none other than Alex DeMarco. Valerie follows them to the woman's house, and so is right there to see the woman being found murdered and Alex become the main suspect. But much as she dislikes the man, Valerie can't deny there's something fishy about the whole set-up, and before she knows it, she and Alex are both on the run from the police, fighting to clear Alex's name by finding the real culprit.

I was kind of 50-50 after reading the opening. On one hand, I really dislike having one of the protagonists wrongly accused of a crime. I don't know why I have such a strong reaction to it, but the whole idea of people having to prove their innocence while being hindered by a corrupt or incompetent police force makes me feel frustrated and pissed off -not a nice way to feel for an entire book. This was slightly less frustrating than it could have been, but it did stretch my credulity that Alex, a cop himself, and a very good one, would be so vulnerable when it was so obvious there was something suspicious about the whole thing.

On the other hand, however, I very much liked the set-up for Valerie and Alex's relationship. Alex behaved very badly all those years earlier, and he knows it. He feels awful about what he did and very much regrets it, and he can fully understand why Valerie felt so betrayed, even as he still stands by his opinion that she wasn't right for the police. To Graves' credit, Alex's behaviour isn't justified to the reader and he doesn't justify it to himself. And possibly because of this, I was able to accept him as the hero. I did want Valerie to make him suffer, and it was good that she didn't just fold and give in to her attraction to him, but I did want them to be together at the end.

That said, I didn't care about these two as much as I would have liked to. Their relationship is exciting at the beginning, but then there are long stretches where the focus shifts to the action and all the running around trying to clear Alex's name. They also get stuck in a small town and get involved in the life of the locals, which again, was nice enough, but it all stole momentum from the romance.

MY GRADE: B-. A qualified recommendation sounds about right.


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