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

Recently Reader’s Nook posted the following question on their facebook page: What book or  books have changed your life and way of thinking? Do you reread it/them every year, every  few years?

Many readers weighed in on the first question with the usual suggestions of the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling and  The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien.  I can imagine most of those individuals could answer a resounding YES to the second question.  As for myself I’ve read the trilogy and The Hobbit more than once, just not once a year.

Farther down the list was another novel penned by J. K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy, her first book for adult audiences after the Harry Potter phenomenaBooklist reported that Rowling considered launching ‘The Casual Vacancy,’ under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, previously used for her Cormoran Strike Novels.  At 512 pages, some reviewers found it to be a ponderous read which probably wouldn’t have sold without Rowling’s name attached. described ‘The Casual Vacancy’ as, ” A big novel about a small town.” The small town is Pagford whose residents are constantly feuding with the undesirables living in the council flat named the Fields. (According to, “Council houses are mostly owned by the local council and rented out at reduced rates to those on welfare/benefits. As a result the council house neighborhoods fill up with poor/lazy/underprivileged people, who generally breed uncontrollably, and the areas suffer as a result”.)

Is there any wonder that the snooty Pagford Parish Council wants no part of their close neighbors just across the way. As in any small town, everybody has close ties on both sides or has, at least, heard about many of the residents.

Teenager Krystal Weedon, the only effective member of her severely dysfunctional family, hooks up with the son of her middle-class guidance counselor.  At the same time the Weedon’s social worker is dating the law partner of the son of the dead Councilor’s fiercest Council rival, who also happens to be the best friend of Councilor Barry Fairbrother.   Krystal’s great-grandmother’s doctor was Fairbrother’s closest ally and the daughters of the previously mentioned doctor and  social worker work together, along with the best friend of Krystal’s hookup.

The dominoes begin to fall when Fairbrother, born in Fields, but now a middle-class Pagforder, dies suddenly leaving an empty seat on the Pagford Parish Council (a casual vacancy).  Rowling’s ability to keep track of the hatreds and hopes of her huge cast of characters, denotes a masterful storyteller.  As the story progresses, secrets come to light, while relationships twist, turn and break apart.

‘The Casual Vacancy’ will soon debut on BBC1. Since HBO co-produced the mini-series,  the story should make its way stateside at some point.  For a short preview, click here.

Additional information and discussion questions for book clubs can be found here.

Happy Reading!!



Read More

The Girl You Left Behind Book Review

Last week th BBC reported that two individuals, a Pole and a German, have supposedly uncovered the location of the infamous Nazi gold train.

Their alleged discovery, once again, fuels the public’s interest in the ongoing struggle to recover  art and/or valuables stolen during the years after WWII.

However, Jojo Moyes 2012 novel, ‘The Girl You Left Behind’ has the distinction of being one of the few creative works based in the years during and after WWI.


Read More

The Apple Orchard Book Club Questions

The Apple Orchard Book Club Questions

Being named an heir to half an estate in Archangel, California,  should have sent Theresa ‘Tess’ Delaney, into a state of euphoria.  Instead  the 29-year-old provenance specialist ended up in the ER  with shortness of breath, an elevated heart rate, disorientation, and blurred vision.

The Apple Orchard by historical and contemporary romance novelist, Susan Wiggs, is comprised of several subplots: the long-lost family, World War II flashbacks,  saving the business along with a romance angle.


Read More