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Book Reviews August - September 2014

27 August 14 words: WriteLion
Featuring conditional love, a retiring detective, a ramshackle package of poems, a literary Frankenstein, and more
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Conditional Love
Cathy Bramley

£7.99 (S-P)
This is a masterclass in how to self-publish: a gorgeous cover perfect for the rom-com market, quality paper and typesetting, well marketed and a genuinely laugh-out-loud narrative. This is largely due to the author having a background in corporate marketing and a degree in business as well as genuine talent. The story revolves around Sophie Stone, a thirty-something, serial-procrastinator whose destiny is changed by two events: she is dumped on Valentine’s Day while also being named in an inheritance by a mysterious benefactor. Our likeable yet inept heroine goes on an intriguing journey of self-discovery that requires her to look at some difficult truths from her past while contending with a boss from hell, bickering flat mates and various love interests. A worthy contender for the attention of readers of Sophie Kinsella, Marian Keyes and Milly Johnson. The real happy ending is the author being snapped up by Transworld for her next novel. Ahh. James Walker
Cathy Bramley website

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Darkness, Darkness
John Harvey
£18.99 (William Heinemann)
After twelve novels and umpteen murders, Nottingham’s most famous fictional detective is finally hanging up his truncheon. Charlie Resnick has one last killing to solve, and it takes him back thirty years to the Miner’s Strike and a county riven by politics and the industrial dispute that signalled the death knell of an entire industry. A woman’s body is discovered, buried beneath a patio for thirty years, and Resnick has to re-open long-festering grievances in the community to find out how she got there. Assisting a young inspector with problems of her own, Resnick pieces together the life of the victim amid clashes between picket lines and police, strikers and scabs. Along the way there’s Harvey’s nuanced look at the social history of the strike, his utter mastery of Nottingham and its people, an unflinching look at violence against women, and, of course, many cups of coffee and much fine jazz. Robin Lewis
Random House website

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The Soul Snatcher
Phil Tomlinson
£7.99 (Troubador)

Described as ‘Dr Who meets Waterloo Road’, The Soul Snatcher is a young adult novel that sits well in this grid reference. The author carries off the blending of science fiction and angsty teen novel nicely and the plot is engaging and well thought out. Tomlinson has a skill for knowing precisely when to cut in and out of a scene, no mean feat, and it keeps a nice pace throughout the story. However, I found I was in search of a protagonist, with switching points of view making it hard to emotionally invest in anyone. While the main contender for the leading role – a police inspector – was nicely drawn, I did wonder whether a novel aimed at ten to sixteen year olds might have done better being rooted entirely in the lives of the younger characters, giving it more of the tension and suspense it needed. Clare Cole
Troubadour website

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Hand Job Zine #5
Jim Gibson, Sophie Pitchford
£2 (S-P)

Hand Job Zine reaches its fifth issue with this, a ramshackle package of poems, stories, illustrations, rants, tips and a crossword from fourteen different contributors. Embracing its hand-made traditions like an old friend, Hand Job Zine scrawls the titles of its features with marker pen and laughs in the face of spellcheck. Highlights include Jim Gibson’s Dusk, a disturbing tale of graffiti and dread, and Maggot Racing, a poem by Ben Williams about exactly what it says, maggots racing “between the fingers driven inside by black pip hearts”. But best of all is the story The Manners Test, by Eddie Wilson. A few pages about a pizza delivery girl with unfulfilled ambitions manage to touch on regret, revenge, hope and remorse with a subtlety and deftness that hits you where it counts. The quality of the zine is wildly uneven, but it’s sincere and varied enough to tickle everyone’s fancy. Robin Lewis
Hand Job Zine website

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The Deed Room
Michael R D Smith
£7.99 (Weathervane Press)

The Deed Room is a legal thriller but without the usual courtroom grandstanding. This is a world of corporate law, where lawyers thrive on threats, ambition corrupts and nooky is never far away. After a strong opening chapter we meet the competitive and suitably ruthless Toby Malkin, the company’s rising star who’ll stop at nothing to reach the top. Maria, his gal-about-town secretary, is suspicious of Toby’s devious ways, but will she, and her attractive colleague Tom, be able to stop him? Romance and murder play their part in this debut novel from a lawyer who takes the ‘write what you know’ advice and runs with it. Locals might enjoy the Nottingham setting and there are several European escapades that add colour. Where the book excels is with its pacing. The suspense and tension build throughout and Smith puts his foot on the gas as the story climbs to its exciting conclusion. nottslit.blogspot.com
Weathervane Press website

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Robin Hood
Jim Bradbury
£14.99 (Amberley Publishing)

Who is this book aimed at? The personal interjections and the paperback style suggest the casual reader but there’s such a dense mass of information that those looking for a lighter read might find it exhausting. The device the author uses to get to the heart of the matter, peeling back the layers of time like an onion, works in theory. In practice, it’s another story. Starting with perceptions of Robin Hood today and going back through the centuries means repetition to make the device work and remind the reader where they’re at. This gets a little tiresome. In mitigation, given the convoluted nature of the legend, with sparse factual details and too much conjecture, what we actually have is a thorough historical study. Bradbury delves into many aspects of the legend and their wider contexts to shine a light into the darkness of one of history’s greatest mysteries. Definitely worth putting the time in. Ezekial Bone
Amberley Books website

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That Difficult Second Volume
Frank McMahon
£3, (S-P)

People who’ve seen Frank McMahon perform live are often stunned when realisation hits that he’s read six poems in two minutes. Kicking off with football memories – the pain of supporting Wolverhampton Wanderers, terrace culture, Hillsborough, tribal rivalries. What appears to be a flat back four of everyday prose is illuminated by bursts of free verse magic, placed all over the pages with pinpoint precision by a playmaker of poetry. Frank celebrates his heroes: Hurricane Higgins, Cash the Man in Black, Brian Clough, and Robin Hood. The villains, however, do not escape – Thatcher, racist humour, and narcissism are all tackled and exposed for what they are. Bite size, even twitter length, on occasion these pieces end up with rhyme added on. Frank is one of the founding members of DIY Poets and has been performing poetry for fifteen odd years. The real mystery is why he’s only on his second collection. Andy Szpuk
DIY Poets website

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Booked: Byron Clough
Andy Croft/Kate Ashwin
Free, (Dawnoftheunread)

On the eighth of each month, Dawn of the Unread release a digital comic exploring a literary figure from Nottingham’s past. One such issue sees the birth of a monstrous hybrid, Byron Clough: We wouldn’t say he was the most arrogant, charismatic rebel in the business, but he was in the top one. It begins by quoting The Prisoner of Chillon, a 392-line narrative poem by Byron, and ends with the poet being fused to Brian Clough at the Five Leaves bookshop: “They’re both made of the same stuff: A two-for-one deal – Byron Clough.”. The comic has some great embedded content, including an essay by Duncan Hamilton, a video on creating art by Kate Ashwin and some useful tips on how to read the iambic tetrameter, the narrative device used by Andy Croft. There’s also the chance to appear as a character in the graphic novel by subscribing and answering questions. Boooks. Sally Smith
Dawn of the Unread website

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Scratch
Paul Sands
£5.85, (S-P)

Sadly, these days, many poetry collections often come with a free side order of smart-arse, either that or they’re brimming with their own (usually misplaced) confidence, which gathers like dust upon their largely unread pages. Nottingham born Paul Sands though, hands us something altogether more solid, more real. This is poetry with its gloves off, an angled worldview, knocked off kilter by its own sense of disappointment and redeeming ability to spot obscured signs of beauty through rusted iron railings and filthy, broken windows. Lines like ‘pull your shoulders off guard/a silent sob sewn with angry years/asphyxiated by tea as the lizards feebly grope the Summer’s eyes’ quickly assure us that there is a talent here which is so honed, yet so down to earth, so grubby, that it’s less like reading a book and more like walking through an abandoned underpass whose walls are lined with piss and William Blake graffiti. Great stuff. Andrew 'MulletProofPoet' Graves
Amazon website

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In The Navy!
Lord Biro
You can sail the Persian Gulf m'lad
& shoot an Airbus down.
 
In The Navy!
 
Then dock
next to the White House
& wave 2 Machotown.

 

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