Book Reviews: December 2014 - January 2015

16 January 15 words: WriteLion
With Kim Slater, Andrew Graves, Matt Haig, Al Needham, Rikki Marr, Jai Verna, and Andy Croft
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Smart
Kim Slater
£8.99 (Macmillan Children's Books)
I know Smart is aimed at young adults and that I fit neither criteria, but that didn't stop me enjoying every word of it. It's beautifully written, witty and sensitive. The main character is unique, and so charming and engaging that I was hooked. Smart is the fast-paced story of young Kieran as he untangles a murder mystery and the complexities of a troubled family life. Not easy for a clever, talented boy who struggles with social rules. Given the affectionate nickname ‘The Curious Incident of the Body in the Trent’ by Nottingham’s Waterstones, it’s certainly worthy of comparison to Mark Haddon’s classic: both are brilliant stories. Having said that, Kim Slater has a singular voice and Smart stands alone in its eagle-eyed perspective on life as a young boy from inner­-city Nottingham. Kim is a welcome addition to Nottingham’s ever-expanding literary walk of fame. Katie Hutchcraft

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The Humans
Matt Haig
£7.99 (Canongate)
The Humans pokes fun at the absurdities of being human while answering life’s big questions. A Cambridge professor has solved a mathematical problem that will lead to a giant leap for mankind. Or it would if an alien hadn’t just killed him. Our backward and violent species can’t be trusted to handle this new power so any trace of the discovery must be destroyed. To carry out his murderous mission, the alien assassin lives as the Professor, acting as a husband, father and friend. It’s then that he begins to learn what it is to be human. Comedic and full of heart, this is a love story and a story about love. Matt Haig grew up in Newark, where his parents still live, and the idea for the novel first came to him in 2000 when he was in the middle of a breakdown. nottslit.blogspot.co.uk

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Bendigo versus Nottingham
Al Needham/Rikki Marr
Free (Dawn of the Unread)                
Nottingham City Council have invented a Time Mine. Initially it’s targeted at stag groups so that every night can be a Saturday night. They “can pour the city down their necks” and “shout at women in pink cowboy hats” to their hearts’ content. However, there’s more money to be made in bringing back iconic figures from the past, so they send for bare-knuckle boxer Bendigo for “the fight of the centuries” against Carl Froch. But everything goes horribly wrong when Bendigo goes on a rampage through town, all of which is recorded in a hilarious Twitter feed with comments from Marilyn Mansfield, Sleaford Bod and Bulwell_Soljaah. It’s full of the bawdy, gobby humour that could only have been penned by the much-loved, former LeftLion editor, Al Needham. The artwork varies dramatically in style from page to page, with a mixture of Batman-esque punch-ups, live sketches, and black and white line drawings. Absolutely gorgeous. Matt Clay

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Colours of Poetry – An Anthology of Multilingual Poetry with English Translation
Edited by Jai Verma
A Nottingham Asia Arts Council Initiative
Editor Jai Verma has brought into focus a range of poets and voices, which reflect the – often ignored – city’s multilingual literature scene. Some have been written in English, while others have been penned in other languages and then translated. It's fair to say that, like many anthologies, it is mixed in terms of quality. Ironically, some work perhaps suffers in the very translation that brings it to a new audience, and a few pieces seem to lend themselves more to performance – there’s something too big, vibrant and overly explicit about them to imprison them within a book. But when it does work, which is often, it shines, transcending into a kaleidoscope of sun-rich silken images and sharp social commentary – modern and historical – summed up prosaically in lines like “…the continuum of light streams through oceans of space/where galaxies hang like pearls set in lace.” Andrew ‘Mulletproof’ Graves

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A Modern Don Juan
Andy Croft/NS Thompson (Ed)
£14.99 (Five Leaves)  
Tales of the fictional libertine Don Juan date as far back as the 1630s with Tirso de Molina’s play The Trickster of Seville. But it is Lord Byron’s epic poem of 1821 that has become most synonymous with the exploits of the legendary lothario. In this latest outing, fifteen poets, including TS Eliot prizewinners George Szirtes and Sinéad Morrissey, give the tale a thoroughly modern setting, as skunk-puffing nightclub DJ Donald Johnson stumbles from one romantic disaster to the next in a “drunk arcadia”. Along the way ‘Donny’ is transformed into a Brussels Eurocrat and a reality TV celeb. His travels see him do a stint in a cell and, most surreally, in outer space. When he heads into Europe, he finds the Greeks need help with austerity rather than independence. It’s the journey through popular cultural references that’s the most fun, with Jimmy Saville, Ryan Giggs and Simon Cowell all getting a hammering. James Walker

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Light At The End Of The Tenner
Andrew ‘Mulletproof’ Graves
£10.00 (Burning Eye Books)
Rooted in the streets of Nottingham but shooting for the stars, Mulletproof’s debut collection ranges from Radford Road to outer space. Building on his 2012 pamphlet, Citizen Kaned, Andrew’s writing takes flight, imbued with a sensibility and music all his own. Poems like Home are post-industrial ballads, paeans to living and loving in the urban landscape, “know this crumbling terrace/is a palace in the making/know these missing tiles/are our window onto heaven”. Andrew challenges us to imagine a dog in space, an ageing Elvis living in a trailer park, deer with Kalashnikovs, and to share a knowing giggle with him over the final line of Jeremy Clarkson Just Fuck Off. Commentaries accompany some of the poems, offering the kind of context and personal anecdotes you might get in one of his live performances – an interesting way to bridge the much-discussed gap between page and stage. Aly Stoneman

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