Posts Tagged ‘Concord Public Library’

My first review of 2014 is for “Beyond the Bestsellers,” a quarterly review sheet Concord Public Library staff produces. I’ve pasted it below. I put BtheB together now, and it’s fun to see what my fellow librarians are reading.

The Maid’s Version
Woodrell, Daniel – 2013 – 164 p. Setting: 1920’s & beyond in West Table, Missouri     FIC WOODRELL

Self-described “country noir” novelist Daniel Woodrell (The Outlaw Album,Winter’s Bone, etc.) latest is culled from actual historical events. Twelve year old Alek Dunahew spends the summer with his grandmother Alma. One night during a storm she shares a long-kept story with him: “. . . she cunningly chose that raging moment to begin telling me her personal account of the Arbor Dance Hall Explosion of 1929, how forty-two dancers from this small corner of the Missouri Ozarks had perished in an instant. . . and why it happened . . . . a great crime or colossal accident, an ongoing mystery she thought she’d solved. I knew this was a story my dad did not want me to hear from her lips, as it was the main source of their feud, so I was tickled and keen to hear more . . . .” In 1989, the angel marking the fire victims’ grave appears to dance, igniting new interest in the story, and Alek’s father says, “Tell it. Go on and tell it.” Woodrell unspools the heartbreaking tale bit by bit, introducing suspects, dance hall-goers, and Alma’s family. It’s beautifully told, historically interesting, and perfectly crafted.

I’ve also been working feverishly to get my column done for tomorrow’s deadline ahead of Downton Abbey — and I just turned it in. Before I go make popcorn, I’ll note that The Mindful Reader will run in the Concord Monitor next Sunday, January 12, and I’m reviewing Elisabeth Elo’s debut thriller, North of Boston and one of the best science books I’ve ever read, Amanda Gefter’s Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn. Stay tuned!

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Full disclosure: I’m one of those nuts who got up before dawn to enjoy uninterrupted hours of BBC America coverage of both the royal wedding and The Queen’s Jubilee.  So perhaps I’m the target demographic for Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, a debut novel from established historian and biographer William Kuhn.  I read it to write a brief review for the Concord Public Library.*

Sometimes it’s just nice to read a book you can tackle in one or two sittings, one that is witty and smart but not overbearing. Kuhn works in a variety of “issues” but I never felt like the book was messagey, even when it touches on mental health or other serious topics. Mostly I got a kick out of the clever but respectful portrayal of The Queen; we see her making marginal notes in biographies of herself, struggling with her computer and vowing not to call the IT woman again, annoyed with rogue tweets (“it’s gin o’clock!) by someone impersonating her.

There are a number of other characters, some of whom I warmed to more than others, but none of whom felt extraneous to the story. I enjoyed the train scenes very much; Kuhn’s portrayal of The Queen’s fellow passengers was terrific and reminded me of people I heard and saw on our recent trip to England. All in all, a nice little comedy of manners, which is something I always appreciate.

Here’s my review, a version of which will come out in January’s “Beyond the Bestsellers” and various other places.

Historian William Kuhn’s debut novel is reminiscent of Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader. Queen Elizabeth II is feeling low. She decides a visit to the decommissioned royal yacht Britannia, which is moored near Edinburgh, might be just the thing to set her right again. The Queen boards an ordinary train at King’s Cross Station with a string of staff on the trail, trying to keep her safe and to keep her adventure private. Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs fans will enjoy the stories of her majesty’s dresser, lady-in-waiting, equerry, stable girl, and butler, as well as a clerk in a posh cheese shop. Kuhn weaves their stories — touching on everything from the Iraq War to class and racial stereotypes, yoga, sexual orientation, aging, environmental politics, royal and family dramas, and Twitter – into the tale of the AWOL Queen, to humorous effect. A light-hearted, entertaining read packed with interesting tidbits about contemporary British life and the royal household.

* Since I mention my job here and quote from a review I wrote for it at work, it’s a good time to remind readers that my blogs represent my views and not those of my employer, and I am writing here as a private citizen.

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