Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Day 82: Powerful Perennials

As many of you know, I am a published novelist.  Cedar Fort Books has been good to me and I've made some good friends among the authors.  So when I put out a notice that I would be willing to review books by people from my publisher, I got a bunch of responses.  We'll get to those later, but one of the requests was for a gardening book, Powerful Perennials.

I admit that I am not a gardener.  I have a succulent named Janet and last year, I killed my roommate's bell pepper plant by accident.  My roommate, meanwhile, has a complicated system of starter pots and seedlings and a kind of mini-greenhouse sitting on our kitchen table until the plants are ready to go in the ground.  But I'm interested in learning and that's one of the reasons that I took an interest in that request.  (Plus, the author shares a name with my favorite aunt.)

Nedra Secrist doesn't just give you the kind of advice that you find on the back of a seed packet or the side of a houseplant container.  I was relieved by the tone of the book as soon as I read the prologue and found that she had experience instructing gardeners from those who do it for stress relief to those improving their health.  She knows what it's like to try to make an Eden out of a desert and has practical advice that isn't Greek to me.  (Though, given my background in classics, Greek might have helped.)

I plan to pull this book out again when it comes for next year's efforts.  I might just request a corner of our garden to be my personal lab.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Day 83: A TIME OF ANGELS

I asked my roommate to name a genre and said I'd review a book from that category.  She chose historical fiction and after listing the two books I'd reviewed, I remembered my favorite book set in the time of the Spanish Influenza.

The story takes place in a very tight-knit community in Chicago, 1918.  Hannah and her sisters live with relatives while their parents are unable to come home from the war.  Meanwhile, people in their building are falling ill and coming to her wise old relations for help.  There's no telling if or when Hannah's own family will fall prey to the influenza and what she will do if her worst fears come true.

I love this book on a number of levels.  Her family dynamics are well-written, showing both the respect Hannah has for her elders and the misunderstandings that come from the generational gap.  She has a complex love for her family, but also cares for people who are only related by address.  This is also a very realistic depiction of a practicing Jewish family and the near-familial closeness of those of their same faith reminds me of having lived in Provo, where most of my neighbors were people I saw on Sundays.

Mostly, I enjoy that the drama is almost entirely a matter of what-if and worst-case scenarios.  Fear can be related to very intangible things, but no less powerful than fear of an assailant or a weapon.  Hesse does a great job of focusing on things that are more terrifying to the characters than the war on distant shores.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Day 84: HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA

Once in a while, Katey and I pick a library and spend an afternoon there, reading picture books to each other.  Sometimes, they're familiar--in our first session, I got choked up reading my favorite book (The Polar Express)--but more often, they're books that struck as us funny or interesting or profound when we thumbed through them earlier that day.

Yesterday, we had one such session.  I read a book about Irish step dance (complete with accents), a short biography of Babe Ruth (Boooooooooooooooooo), an Arab fairy tale about camels, a book about winter and finally, today's review subject.

I have many fond memories of my maternal grandparents.  We lived in Oregon near them and would have outings to Eagle Creek, where we would have pancakes and sausages and go fishing.  On my sixth birthday, Grandma had me stay overnight and taught me how to use a typewriter.  Even when we moved to Massachusetts, Grandma and Grandpa Nelson would come to visit and Grandpa would almost always fix something around the house.

This book, therefore, amused me greatly.  It instructs children on how to feed, entertain and comfort their elderly guest.  It even deals with how to calm a grandpa who has separation anxiety.  It shows "empathy" for Grandpa's need for a nap and understanding of what grandparents really treasure about their hosts.

And don't tell him, but I'm totally getting this book for my dad to keep around the house for when my nephews and nieces visit.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Day 85: THE MARTIAN

As you can probably tell, I enjoy telling the stories behind how I find books.  Some of them will be more ordinary--I'll be reviewing a book I had to read in Mrs. Elliott's Honors American Literature class in 1998--but I do like connecting a book to a place, a time or a person.

In this case, it's San Jose, CA over Memorial Day weekend a couple of years ago.  I was spending five days with my brother's family and as soon as he picked me up from the airport, my brother turned on an audiobook.

There aren't many books that start out with profanity that I would recommend.  The first sentence ends with one in the past tense.  Then you get a bit of context and you realize that you wouldn't be able to be polite in a similar situation.

Mark Watney, a member of the Ares III mission to Mars, was hit by flying debris during the mission evacuation.  His vital signs flat-lined and in spite of his crewmembers' efforts, they were unable to recover the body.  Where it gets complicated is that the first line of the book is from Mark's first log, recorded after he woke up alive and alone on Mars.  He is a botanist and a mechanical engineer who might be able to live long enough for the next mission to Mars to arrive at the Schiaparelli Crater in a while.  That is, if the hazards of the uninhabitable planet don't kill him first.  And the future astronauts don't know he's alive.

The book is phenomenal.  Andy Weir basically posted it on his blog and crowd-researched the plot, the science, etc.  Followers would give him information on complications or how to make things work.

Back on earth, there is a huge public relations issue after America lost an astronaut.  They hope that the next mission will be able to recover his remains and to their horror, they discover that his body doesn't show up on the satellite footage and someone is moving the equipment around and using the solar panels.

While the story is riveting (I actually screamed for joy when something went awesomely right), my favorite moments are things like the US Postal Service having to stop circulating Mark Watney's commemorative stamp because they've never had a stamp for a living person before and the NASA/JPL efforts to help him being called Project Elrond.  (In the movie, Sean Bean of Boromir fame is in on this project.)

So be prepared for a bit of profanity and lots of hatred towards disco music.  But read this book and feel the way you did when you first saw Apollo 13.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Day 86: INSTANT MOM

I found this book on one of my mailing lists recently and immediately recognized the name Nia Vardalos. If you don't know the name, you probably remember her film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  Having laughed myself silly at how familiar the Greek culture was to me, since I knew a lot of Greek-Americans in Boston, I impulse-bought her memoir.

The book chronicles her efforts to become a parent, whether going through IVF or suffering a miscarriage or finding out that her surrogate had been unable to get pregnant.  Then things turn as she finds herself able to adopt a young girl and she learns to cope with life as a parent.

Adoption stories are near to my heart.  I have a sister who is a year and twenty days older than me, but since she's been part of our family since she was three days old, I never knew life without her.  I remember having a conversation with her son about how he feels towards his step-brother.  He said something along the lines of "We're not brothers if we're not blood-related" and I immediately lamented that I couldn't be Aunt Kaki if that's all that counted.  As soon as he remembered that I'm his aunt without a blood relation, he conceded that it counted.  I also have a 7-year-old in Lowell who calls me Auntie Kaki (his brother isn't that articulate yet) and three Filipino-Cambodian children who do the same.  So I'm well aware of how close a family adoption, formal or otherwise, can create.

Nia never makes light of the subject, even some of her experiences border on the hilarious.  There are sacred moments in the book, such as when she has a dream about holding her hand out to a little girl with blond streaks in her hair and when, months later, the blond-streaked little girl she just met calls her Mommy.  As expected, her huge Greek family has things to say about her adoption of an American child.

The best part of this is that it's non-fiction.  I found myself crying in understanding of her pain after only thirty-two pages and getting just as emotional when the adoption was finalized.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Day 87: HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE

Remember when I told you about my first job, shelving books at the public library?  I had an excellent boss who worked with my school schedule and treated me as a valuable member of the staff.  But before that, she was adamant on one particular thing.  On my first day, she handed me a copy of Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle and told me I had to read it before I was allowed to work under her.

You may have seen the excellent animated movie and it does share some of the elements, but let's set that aside for now.  This is a story of a girl who, like any industrious peasant, runs afoul of a witch in her quest for her life's purpose.  She is transformed into an elderly woman and has to work out how to break the spell.  The only reliable source is the wizard, Howl, who has a reputation for causing trouble and also being invaluable.  When she infiltrates the castle as a kind of housekeeper, she finds a fire demon who knows how to avoid a question, a young apprentice wizard who gets easily distracted and a little discouraged at times and the wizard himself, who is temperamental and eccentric.  They have their own priorities and obstacles and there are often misconceptions to overcome and a secret identity for Howl that I would, in a million years, never have seen coming.

It's one of those books that refuses to fit into any category and is therefore appropriate for many ages.  I am personally more fond of the sequel (because it's one of the most absurdly adorable love stories I've ever read), but the number of subplots and twists does nothing to detract from the well-paced and character-driven story.

And I will quote my favorite line:  "I think we should live happily-ever-after.  It should be a hair-raising experience."

Day 88: BROKEN CHORDS

Since this is a book about an instrument with 88 keys, I thought I'd use it for this particular day.  I also accidentally missed its day because I was up against an anthology deadline.

The author is Barbara Gilbert and the book is a relatively short one, in which a virtuoso (she refuses to be called a prodigy) is accepted into the finals of a high-pressure piano competition.  Her most likely rival is attempting for a third time to win the resulting scholarship and has given up everything (including his apartment) to make this last-ditch effort.   Meanwhile, the main character is unsure if she wants to win and questions why she is playing in the first place when an injury forces her to scale back her life as a musician.

I have an absolute obsession with books written accurately about musicians and their training.  I read a book last year that had a wonderful plot, but the piano teacher spent every lesson in the book in awe of her student's fluid arpeggios and the way her hands moved gracefully over the keys.  This, clearly, was not written by someone who has taught any kind of music lesson.  My piano teacher is my mother and while she will sit back and quietly take notes when I'm playing a Beethoven sonata or a Bach invention, she notices plenty.  She can tell when I am half an inch too far back on the bench and have collapsed wrists.  She notices a different in the sound when I play with the inside edge of my finger instead of the flat part.  I remember putting on headphones and playing a Haydn sonata on an electronic keyboard.  She could tell from the click of the keys that I needed to change my fingering.  That is the kind of expertise and attention to detail that I expect from acclaimed music teachers.

It might be snobbish to say that I wish more people got into the technicality of music in books and Broken Chords delivers.  In this, a disaster is caused by a person applying insufficient pressure to one of the pedals during the competition.  Clara talks extensively about the difficulty of relearning a section of a concerto with new fingering because she relies so much on muscle memory.  I relate to this book because I remember knowing the shape of the first notes of a piece, but forgetting the position on the keyboard so that I started playing it several notes higher than it was meant to be and having to readjust my hands when I hit the note that wasn't where it should be.  I relate to her frustration with her wrist injury because I sprained mine on Thanksgiving one year and had to give up any piece that made me do octaves for a month.

But this is not just a story for obsessive musicians.  The characters are extremely real, whether the daughter who struggles to identify when her parents are proud of her to the brother who feels overshadowed by his virtuoso of a sister, to the rival who plays Gershwin to relax before his critical performance.  It's a book for anyone straining to find true humanity in fictional characters.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Book Blitz: The Essence of Courage




 As women we encounter multiple challenges, while simultaneously wearing
many hats. We need courage to face our challenges and commitments. In Song
of Solomon 4, Solomon ascribes the essences of his locked garden to the
courageous woman he has taken as his wife. This inspirational study will
provide an opportunity for you to discover:

• The secrets of the fruit, spices, and essential oils in Solomon’s locked garden.

• A deeper meaning of these fruits, spices and essential oil essences in Scripture by studying different women in the Bible.

• How others learn through their struggles and triumphs when you meet Cinnamah-Brosia and the women with whom she does life.

• Encouragement to allow the Holy Spirit to cultivate the essence of courage in your heart.

• Fun facts about the spices and essential oils, along with ways for you to
enjoy incorporating reminders of the fruit they represent into your life.


Pulled reluctantly into women’s ministry nearly four decades ago, Lynn Watson now treasures the opportunities that were provided to lead, encourage and mentor women through relationships and Bible studies. She wrote a few of the studies, too. Drawing from those experiences, along with years serving others professionally in the complementary healthcare field and her love for essential oils, Lynn delights in bringing her readers freshly inspired insights drawn from and focused on the many fruits, plants, oils, and spices mentioned in God’s Word. Married since 1973, Lynn and Steve call Bartlett, Tennessee home. Their
home is filled with handmade treasures and lots of love for family, especially their five beautiful (of course) grandchildren.

Top Ten List
1.    Baking bread from freshly milled grain has become a bi-weekly ritual in our home. The aroma, the taste, and the nutritional value are impossible to beat.
2.    Weather permitting, a friend and I enjoy early morning bike rides. Gloria is my tangerine cruiser. She sports a 1970’s vintage leather purse for carrying little things like my phone.
3.    A queen at the age of 5, I also had two princesses to attend me. The local businessmen in our community held a parade. My dad and grandfather owned a construction company. My doll house sat on the float with us. A banner proudly announced, “We Build Homes Fit for a Queen.”
4.    My grandmother had a vintage stove in her basement just for making fresh donuts. I loved to help, but my grandfather and I were often accused of eating donuts faster than we helped make them.
5.    For my 60th birthday my husband gifted me a hot air balloon ride. It was a dream come true around my 61st birthday when we finally experienced the adventure!
6.    I love chocolate!
7.    Between kindergarten and high school graduation, I attended 16 different schools.
8.    For a costume party once as a child, I dressed as an organ grinder accompanied by my well loved sock monkey. 
9.    There's little sun in my yard for growing veggies, but I always have an herb garden.

10. K-LOVE is my favorite radio station.

And now a snippet:

An unsightly explosion brewed. Holding back the anger I felt, I’m certain my tongue bled ’til I could taste it. I shrugged my shoulders and may have commented, “This is not my choice to make.”
from "A Woman of the Bible Displays the Fruit: Hannah Bites Her Tongue," page 173

******

Jochebed placed the basket in the water. Miriam's actions were necessarily gentle as she hid among the reeds of the Nile and waited. When Pharaoh's daughter found the baby, Miriam met the challenge. She assessed the situation while thinking very quickly on her wet feet. The Egyptian princess loved on Miriam's baby brother. In response to the hopeful sight, Miriam simply asked if the assistance of someone to nurse this baby would be helpful. A pleased adoptive “new mom” readily agreed and offered compensation for the task.
from "A Woman of the Bible Displays the Fruit: Miriam's Gentle Negotiations," page 155

******
     "Ewww.... that smells like my closet floor with all my dirty clothes and smelly socks!" That was one young lady's spontaneous reaction as my husband shared spikenard with his fifth grade
Sunday school class. The day's lesson: Mary anointing Jesus’ head. We can be sure the aroma of a full pint of the oil filled the room. Shooey!!!
     The cost – not the aroma – alarmed the disciples (especially Judas, the one who later betrayed Him for personal financial gain). The others’ concerns acknowledged the fact spikenard sold for a handsome price, and the money could help the poor. There was surely a better use for the resource than pouring a whole pint of expensive oil on someone's head.
     Considering the cost and undeterred by their criticism, razzing and complaints, Mary chose to serve Jesus. She believed He was the most valuable investment opportunity in her life. Hindsight tells us she was absolutely correct!    from "The Essence of Spikenard in Scripture: What Is Your Spikenard?"  page 69

Day 89: Dan Brown's THE DAVINCI CODE

Let me start out by saying that I'm not going to attempt to get into the theology of the book.  I remember reading this novel and sighing at how often I disagreed with an opinion, but now that I have read four of his novels, I've learned to separate my own feelings from those of the characters and I hope you will do the same.

There's no denying that The DaVinci Code is entertaining.  It starts with a murder in cold blood committed in the famous Louvre Museum.  Soon, an American professor is implicated in the crime and the only person who can save him from imprisonment and complete the murdered man's life-long quest is the man's estranged granddaughter.  It crosses France and England I wouldn't say no to a "tour the sites of The DaVinci Code" vacation.

The problem that I have is the same as the issue I take with Indiana Jones.  Robert Langdon is on a Top 10 Bachelors list and has chocolate-sweet tones and wears a vintage Mickey Mouse watch under his Harris tweed.  He is a world-renowned symbologist and on the quest for the Holy Grail.  Similarly, Dr. Jones is a knockout who looks good in specs, but also makes women swoon when he brandishes a whip or talks about excavation technique.  While both of them are interesting characters, their stories are completely implausible.  Just once, I'd like a book in which Robert Langdon would like to find the final resting place of St. Alexandra of Atlantis, but he has to proctor exams and his book tour got canceled, so he's stuck grading papers in Cambridge,  Having a PhD in symbology doesn't lead you to having assassination attempts made on your life by Catholic secret societies, just as being an archaeology professor is unlikely to mean that you dabble in the occult with Hitler's goons..

Character issues aside, I read the book with Google at my side so I could cross-reference the works of art described and deciphered.  The story drew my attention to elements that I had never considered and I was able to contemplate the interpretation of my faith as well as that of the characters.  If you're looking for a stand-out Robert Langdon book, though, try Inferno. 

Day 90: Michael Shaara's THE KILLER ANGELS

My parents claim that I was always interested in history.  After all, I once read a biography of Robert E. Lee while everyone else at a party watched Return of the Jedi and that's why I didn't see Star Wars until I was 13.  Or so the story goes.  I did enjoy reading books about World War II or the American Revolution.  Growing up in Massachusetts meant I lived around the corner from a place where George Washington's army camped and I went to high school down the street from where the Battle of Lexington and Concord took place.

Somehow, I got to seventh grade without studying much about the Civil War.  I never finished that book about General Lee, so when Mom invited me to see Gettysburg, I asked what it was about.  My friend and I cried through half of the movie because we were thirteen and overcome with respect for the historical figures and the impossible things asked of them.

Since then, I've been a bit of a Civil War nut.  I've been to a few battlefields, read a lot of books, watched movies and even had Robert E. Lee of Virginia as my second mission president.  (Not by choice.  But his predecessor used to say that "You can throw those planners away.  The South will never rise again" and he was succeeded by President Lee.  We didn't let President Bennett live that one down.)  One morning, a friend came over and confessed that she'd forgotten to prepare for her history presentation on the Battle of Gettysburg.  I drew her a few diagrams, gave her the relevant details, told her where to find Ken Burns' documentary and watched her presentation later that day.

The Killer Angels tells the story of that tremendous battle in as unbiased a way as possible.  Or rather, it tells it from the perspective of everyone.  We have Lee, Longstreet, Armistead, Hancock, Chamberlain, Pickett and so on.  It is so thoroughly written that you almost believe that Shaara is a time-traveler instead of a convincing historical fictionist.

There are a few dubious points that are in contention and one or two characters who simply did not exist, but that is the price you pay for the depth of the story.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Day 91: CHERRIES AND CHERRY PITS

Welcome back to family friendly Sundays.  Not that I try to shock and alarm you the rest of the week, but yeah, I have reviewed things like zombies and vampires recently.

In 1987, according to the inscription, my aunt gave me this book for Christmas.  It's a series of stories about people in a city, told through the medium of an older brother drawing pictures for his younger sister.  Each story will start with him drawing something simple with one of his markers and then creating an entire world from that single form.  And all of these stories have to do with the peoples' obsession with eating the cherries and spitting out the pits.

The reason I love this story is the family dynamic that the book is based on.  It shows the loyalty of siblings, but each of the stories also depicts someone within a relationship with someone they care deeply about, be it a child or a parrot.  And yes, if you love someone, you share your cherries with them.  It's that simple.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

DAY 92: Ellen Emersyn White's THE PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER

My first job ever was perfect.  Four hours a day, three days a week, I walked from my house to the public library and got paid to shelve books and make sure everything already on the shelves was in alphabetical order.

During that job, I often got to read books I'd never heard of.  My first boss wouldn't let me work there until I read Howl's Moving Castle, for example.  One of the books I discovered was the topic of today's review.

A woman is running for president and her three children are doing the best they can to cope with the pressures of the campaign and the idea of being part of the First Family.  Once they (obviously) get to the White House, there's the staff (which they call the Cast of Thousands), a new school (where everyone wants to be the guy who dated the President's daughter) and security concerns that they don't take seriously enough because, well, the oldest kid is in high school.

This was written long before First Daughter and Chasing Liberty came out.  It deals very realistically with the stresses of being in a powerful family and garnering unwanted attention.  The remaining books in the series deal with much more severe complications in the life of the Powers family, but the first book is a very good introduction to a coming-of-age in the spotlight.  None of the characters are unlikable or flawless, but have unique personalities that drive the story forward.

Best of all, it's non-partisan.  It's written with enough context that the politics are realistic, but it's not blaming whatever's happening on the terror threat of the day or trying to promote a movement.

Friday, March 10, 2017

DAY 93: Stephenie Meyer's THE HOST

Usually, when I mention Stephenie Meyer among writers or readers, I get one of a variety of reactions:
1.  EW!  THAT BOOK MAKES STALKING OKAY.  ARE YOU SAYING STALKING'S OKAY?!!!!
2.  I hate those books.  Buffy did vampires much better and Edward's stupid.  And Bella can't act.  Yeah, I mean the movies.  I never read the books because they're stupid.
3.  OmygodedwardissoawesomeifIcouldhaveoneofthoseI'dbesohappybutguysarejerks!
4.  You know you're reading emotional porn, right?
5.  People don't get that Bella's progression is a motherhood sun myth that is as ancient as any civilization on earth.  If you look at Bella and Eve...
6.  My book gets rejected every time I submit it, but she's a best-seller?  And don't get me started on 50 Shades of Grey!

Needless to say, when I bring up Stephenie Meyer, I try to forestall discussion unless I'm really in the mood for a polarizing conversation between people in the room.  Many of them have, however, given her due consideration by actually first reading the books and many have read something beyond the vampire books.

I have only one book signed by her and it's not one of the slightly-tattered copies of the Twilight series that I have on my shelf.  It's her adult science-fiction novel, The Host.

In it, the invasion of the body snatchers did happen and humans are now a minority on their own world,  Their bodies are still around, carrying centipede-like souls that have traveled between bodies and often the stars.  One of these is the narrator of the book and she is inserted into the mind of a girl who attempted suicide rather than be captured by the aliens.  The alien's handlers are interested in finding the girl's memories so she can lead them to the humans who are resisting the invasion.  The problem is that Melanie, the host mind, isn't gone yet and she has no interest in going down without a fight.  Soon, her alien is searching for the humans in order to reunite with Melanie's younger boyfriend and the man she loves.

I have to confess that the premise is a lot more interesting than any of the other books I've read by Stephenie.  It's also in a completely different writing style, since it's geared towards adults.  It deals with matters of life and death and ethical issues that are unavoidably unpleasant.  The humans, when they come into the picture, are not well-equipped enough to launch an Independence Day or District 9 scenario.  They are driven underground and live off the land with a lot of ingenuity.  (Their method of growing crops is one of my favorite aspects of her world-building.)  The book addresses the flaws and benefits of a communal society and the real dynamics of a settlement where they live in fear.

I cried at three points in the book and I won't tell where, but they have to do with an alien gaining understanding of and compassion for the people she is not meant to see as individuals.  It's less Stockholm Syndrome than the ability to grow, no matter your planet of origin.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Day 94: J.K. Rowling's THE CASUAL VACANCY

I'm doing 100 reviews in 100 days over at my new site, kakirecommends.com, but currently, none of the sites on that hosting are working, so here I am until my webmistress breaks through the veil of stupidity known as customer service.

On with the review.

                In theory,  many people worldwide have read J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy.  None of them happen to be my friends.  I’ve tried to talk people into reading it since its publication, but they resolutely go back to Hogwarts or move on to the mystery series that she penned under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, involving Cormoran Strike.
                I can honestly say this is a shame, but then again, it falls into the same genre where I keep The Catcher In the Rye.  It is a book with a group of anti-heroes that makes you philosophically uncomfortable at times and that, for me, is almost always, a story worth reading.
                I have to warn you that this is not for the same audience as Harry Potter.  The first jolt is in the writing.  This is undeniably a book for the older set and while Harry talked about having a crush that makes a monster in his chest awake, a character gets an erection on the schoolbus in the first few chapters.   Samantha, the wife of an influential man, lusts after a member of a  boy band that her daughter enjoys.  A main character’s mother is known to have turned tricks for heroin and there is one of the most apathetically-described rape scenes ever.  The characters say things a lot more graphic than “Merlin’s Beard!” and “Alas!  Earwax!”  So the first thing you should be aware of is the new culture shock.  And none of it is done for the shock value; it’s part of the story. 
The book opens from the perspective of the pivotal character, Barry Fairbrother.  He’s been hard at work for a deadline and subsequently forgotten his wedding anniversary.  Not to worry, he has a romantic dinner planned for his wife at the local golf club.  His wife is mollified that he’s taking her out until he suffers a ruptured aneurysm in the carpark and dies before the ambulance can take him to the hospital.
                I call him the pivotal character because everything from that point forward is based on his legacy.  It’s as though this were the story of how the war against Voldemort went on after Harry died (obviously not what happened, but this is the same author, so I can borrow a what-if).  As Mr. Fairbrother was on the parish council, his death causes a casual vacancy in which a replacement has to be selected before an election year.
                There is an equal balance of adult and adolescent characters and every one of them has something that makes them an unsympathetic figure.  Miles is running in spite of the fact that his father could have shoehorned him into power as head of the council.  Parminder was devoted to the dead Mr. Fairbrother and becomes vicious in her attempts to put power in the right hands.  Simon wants to win the seat on the council so he can take the bribes that politicians are supposed to get.  Among the adolescents, we have Krystal, who is the only one to reliably care for her brother, but who also lets him wander off while she fornicates with a local boy.  Sukhvinder is an underperformer who often makes excuses for herself.  “Fats” is obsessed with being “authentic,” but is mostly an unrepentant prat.  You get the idea.
                The person who, morally and philosophically, should have carried on Barry’s legacy, is Colin Wall.  He is the one who understands what his old friend was trying to do, but he is a cripplingly nervous person whose variety of OCD convinces him that not only did he have the temptation to act inappropriately, but he actually did so and now everyone is aware of it.  This is all in his head, of course, but it’s the thing that strips him of his courage and makes him no more remarkable than the person running so he can live up to the family name or the person hoping that he can be persuaded to vote a certain way.
                Every character has their own storyline and the most frustrating thing about the book is that it’s possible to despise and empathize with the players.   I love Parminder for wearing a royal blue sarong to her friend’s funeral, but want to slap her for HIPAA violations shouted out during a political debate.  Tessa, the wife of Colin, is a stable character who wants to help others as a guidance counselor, but she fails as a go-between for her husband and adopted son, making them each other’s antagonists because of misperceptions that could have been resolved.

                Apart from the characters, Rowling explores the effects of bullying at all ages, the influence of homophobia, the consequences of drug abuse, the shortcomings of the foster system, rape culture, adultery and mental illness.  In short, the entire book hinges around a very inconsequential election in the grand scheme of things, but it is a masterpiece on the duality of human nature.