Week ending August 24, 2012
Dean, Rebecca. The Shadow Queen: A Novel of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. Broadway. Aug. 2012. c.432p. ISBN 9780767930574. pap. $15. F
In this follow-up to her novel about Edward, Prince of Wales (The Golden Prince), Dean blends fact and fiction in recounting the story of Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson, the American divorcée with whom the prince falls in love. Wallis was born to a respected Baltimore family, but her widowed and penniless mother depended on relatives to survive. Wallis’s early years are filled with schoolgirl daydreams of the young prince, debutante balls, and encounters with love and betrayal. Growing up in early 20th-century Baltimore, Wallis had to contend with society’s constrictions, but her drive, determination, and ability to stand out enable her to overcome adversity and succeed in high society on two continents. The book ends in 1930 as the twice-divorced Wallis meets Edward.
Verdict Even though we know how the story ends, fans of The Golden Prince and those interested in Wallis’s story will enjoy Dean’s sympathetic portrait.—Sally Bickley, Del Mar Coll. Lib., Corpus Christi, TX
Fontenay, Blake. The Politics of Barbecue. Blair. Sept. 2012. c.356p. ISBN 9780895875853. $24.95. F
Joe Miller’s life is rather dull as a PR writer in Memphis, until the corrupt mayor Pete Pigg, owner of the barbeque joint the Pigg Pen, decides that Memphis should be home to the new Barbeque Hall of Fame. Almost immediately, Joe’s seemingly average life begins to fall apart as a friend is arrested for serial arson, he falls in love with a local movie star, and the corruption of Memphis politics invades every aspect of the new Hall of Fame. With a host of disparate characters, including a pornographer, a renegade millionaire, and the corrupt mayor himself, this debut novel tries to do it all.
Verdict This fast-paced modern romp through Southern politics falls short, with uneven dialog, flat characters, and almost comical villainy. Readers looking for the next Carl Hiaasen should look elsewhere. Purchase where there is local interest.—Jennifer Beach, Cumberland Cty. P.L., VA
Huong, Duong Thu. The Zenith. Viking. 2012. c.509p. ISBN 9780670023752. $32.95. F
Weaving together Vietnamese legend, folklore, and history, Huong (Paradise of the Blind) has created an epic account of events in Vietnam between 1951 and 1969. The novel, divided into six parts and told from the perspectives of a president (a thinly veiled Ho Chi Minh) and different strata of Vietnamese society, juxtaposes the president’s celibacy and lonely life with the fulfilled family lives of other Vietnamese. Formerly a member of the Vietnam Communist Party, now exiled in Paris, Huong writes from an insider’s viewpoint that gives her story credibility. Often lyrical, even nostalgic, the novel does contain scenes that may seem coarse; although respectful of her culture, Huong uses them to make a point, gossip and sexual innuendo being a primary interest of the common people. Ultimately, she aims to deliver a semihistorical record of her beloved nation.
Verdict This novel is a great stepping stone to learning more about Vietnamese culture and history.—Victor Or, Vancouver & Surrey P.L., BC
Pitts, Leonard, Jr. Freeman. Bolden: Agate. 2012. c.412p. ISBN 9781932841640. pap. $16. F
Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist Pitts’s (Before I Forget) bleakly powerful novel explores slavery’s legacy through Sam, a Philadelphia freedman, who takes on a new name and returns to the post–Civil War South to find the wife he had left behind 15 years earlier. Pitts also weaves in the story of an impetuous white Bostonian, whose good intentions to combat the effects of slavery lead to disaster. The two story lines become entwined at the very end in Mississippi, but along the way the author informs us of how slavery twisted the psyche of Americans of all races. Love, politics, terror, murder, and deceit are deftly mixed to illustrate the confusion and pain that followed the end of our national conflict.
Verdict For anyone who might doubt how demeaning slavery was or wonder why the effects still haunt us today, this is the novel to read.—W. Keith McCoy, Somerset Cty. Lib. Syst., Bridgewater, NJ