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Kingswinford Sunset
Kingswinford Sunset
by Richard Bruce Clay
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Black deeds in the Black Country: a hilarious, dark, wildly original novel, 7 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Kingswinford Sunset (Paperback)
This is one of the most original books you will ever read. It is a tale of murals, fascism and traction engines, leading to a titanic clash of good and evil in the unlikely setting of the titular Black Country suburb. The title is one of the novel's many subtle jokes: there are no sunsets in Kingswinford, due to a quirk of its location, under the shadow of the ominous Cally Wood.

The story is told by several different narrators, an approach which in less skilful hands might have become confusing. However the characters here are so strong, so well drawn that their distinct voices ring true and clear, and Mary Maitland, Satansfist and Harry Ronsard will stay with you long after. The tone is wry, laugh out loud funny in places, combining a cold-eyed understanding of man's (and woman's) capacity for evil with a redemptive warmth and belief in the human spirit. The writing is sharp, witty, and shot through with arcane references.

I've held back the fifth star only because the shadow of Clay's previous novel (Both) hangs heavy over Kingswinford Sunset, and for those like me who haven't read it there are some sections which as a result seem oddly incongruous (and because I don't give 5 star reviews lightly). However I wholeheartedly recommend this odd but brilliant book.

by Charlie Hill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ferociously funny literary satire, 20 Nov. 2013
This review is from: Books (Paperback)
Clever novels are rare enough these days, and funny ones rarer still. A clever, funny novel, therefore, such as Charlie Hill's Books, is something to be treasured.

Books is a ferocious satire on the contemporary literary scene, in which author Gary Sayles, king of the male confessional, writes a novel so numbingly mediocre that it shuts down the brain of anyone who reads it, causing them to drop dead. Our heroes are Richard, a drunken bookseller, and Lauren, an uptight professor of neurology, who team up to try to stop the novel being published.

Comedy relies on precision, and the humour here is laser sharp. The cultural references are spot on (except those coming from Gary Sayles, which misfire brilliantly), the comic timing excellent. And Books bristles with ideas, and with the joy of ideas: there are impassioned debates about what constitutes "good" literature, references to the Stuckists, French surrealist poetry, a pitch-perfect parody of Alt Lit, and a procession of authorial name-checks which would provide an excellent reading list for the intellectually curious.

At times the ideas crowd out the characters, and the satire becomes too broad. Gary Sayles in particular did not convince me, coming across more as an "Aunt Sally" than a real human being, a target for Hill's rage against mediocre fiction. However, he is balanced by his wife Amy, who emerges from the shadows to reveal a character with depth and humanity (this in itself is a comment on the tendency of "lad lit" to sideline female characters - Gary is not even aware of his wife's backstory.) Pippa and Zeke, the performance artists who make Sayles their "project", are marvellous creations too, transcending their satirical function to find and evoke real emotion.

What really drives Books is not its cynicism, though this is the source of most of the humour. It is the genuine passion, for art and what it means to humanity. "Books matter" is Richard's mantra, and it is this conviction that gives the novel real heft. It takes courage to describe your ideal novel in your own work, as Hill does, inviting comparison between aspiration and achievement. So how does Books match up? I wouldn't go so far as to say it made me "smart and dribble and blether and snort and gibber and hustle and ogle and fart," but it made me laugh out loud, more than once. It made me stay up till 2am reading. It made me think, and see the world in a different way. It entertained, and it provoked. Job done, I would say.

Dead Ground
Dead Ground
by Chris Amies
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and original horror, 3 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Dead Ground (Paperback)
Dead Ground is set in the fictitious Condal Islands, in the South Pacific, a place that was once the outer limit of humanity, the furthermost reach of eastward Polynesian migration. As on the similarly remote Easter Island, there are strange statues carved out of rock, left behind by a vanished people, and the novel describes how the arrival of an archaeological expedition upsets the balance of man and spirit, and unleashes an ancient horror.

The story takes place in the 1930s, and there is a stench of decaying empire about the isolated islands, with their opium-addicted white governor. Against this backdrop unfolds an intricate and highly original tale of the supernatural. Wheatley and Lovecraft are clear influences, but the convincing and well researched setting gives the story a unique twist.

If I have a criticism it is that the frequent switches of point of view can make the characters hard to distinguish at times, but once you have come to understand the conflicting forces at work in the Condals, this is a gripping tale which builds to a powerful and satisfying conclusion.

Park Life
Park Life
by Katharine D'Souza
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A warm, witty tale of contemporary urban life, 11 Oct. 2012
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This review is from: Park Life (Paperback)
Susan has left an uncaring husband and fled to Birmingham, where she rents a flat next door to Craig, who is young, ambitious and about to get some shocking news. Park Life is the story of how they face the new challenges in their lives. It's a gentle, warm-hearted paean to friendship, tolerance and communal green spaces. Craig is initially abrasive, but he is not as shallow as he first appears, and you'll find yourself rooting for him and Susan, cheering their triumphs and agonising over their disappointments. This is a tale of ordinary lives, but delivers unexpected bite as it contrasts those who take responsibility for the people around them with those who care only about themselves. It's often very funny; the prose is dryly witty, the observations sharp. A hugely enjoyable read.

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