Tag Archive | small town life

Book review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Barry Fairbrother, city councilman of the small English village of Pagford, dies at the beginning of this book, and everything we learn about him is filtered through the eyes of the people who knew him — with the single exception of his wife; everything we learn about her is also filtered through the people who know her. It’s an interesting way to construct a story: the two individuals at the center at the entire plot have no say in how they’re perceived by the reader. I suspect that if Barry and his widow Mary could speak for themselves, we’d have an entirely different story.

At any rate, Barry’s unexpected death leaves a “casual vacancy” on the city council. Said vacancy quickly becomes a hotly-contested seat in a hastily-called special election. A zoning decision hinges on the outcome: Barry and his allies had been fighting to keep the slum-ridden “The Fields” connected to Pagford while other council members had been equally adamant about cutting the neighborhood loose and giving it back to a neighboring township to better preserve the beauty and quality of their fair city.

Said beauty and quality aside, Pagford is an English Peyton Place filled with backstabbing, infidelity, and unrequited love. During the run-up to and aftermath of this election, vicious rivalries erupt, families and relationships fall apart, teenagers rebel in spectacular and destructive fashion, and further tragedy strikes down the innocent.

An engaging read, well-written, and genuinely shocking in some parts. Recommended.

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Book review: The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

Three of five stars

As a general rule, I don’t “read” audiobooks. I prefer the weight and heft of a real book in my real hands. But, when I decided to take a cross-country road trip, I set aside that general rule and purchased two books on CD from the bargain bin at my local megachain bookstore.

Like many reviewers before me, I picked up The Colorado Kid because I love the television series Haven, which cites this story as its base.

Before we go any further, let’s make one thing perfectly clear. The only thing the book and the TV show have in common are the two crusty old newspapermen who know more than they let on, yet less than they want.

Stephanie McCann, a University of Ohio journalism student, is serving an internship at a tiny newspaper in Moose-Lookit, an island off the coast of Maine. Her mentors, Vince Teague and Dave Bowie, have lived on the island their entire lives and know everything and everyone. They school their young charge in the ways of a small town, and specifically in the ways of a small town newspaper. Along the way, they tell her about the biggest mystery they ever encountered: the death of a Colorado businessman on their local beach.

How he died isn’t the mystery. The mystery lies in the fact that he was in Moose-Lookit at all. As Vince and Dave relate the tale of their investigation into the “why” of it all, we are treated to a marvelous character study: of Vince and Dave themselves, of Stephanie and her questioning nature, of the insularity of a small coastal village, and even of the Colorado Kid himself: although he says not a word, he speaks volumes through his death.

Jeffrey DeMunn reads the novella with excellent down East accents and engaging, easily differentiated character voices. And with only four CDs, it’s a good choice for a day’s drive.