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J. K. Rowling's new book: Gritty and darkly humorous

J.K. Rowling has written a gritty and darkly humorous tale of ugly realities in a pretty English village.  "The Casual Vacancy" is a story of ambition, envy, and rivalry. "There's swearing and sex ... It's a bit of a shock," says one reader.

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"The Casual Vacancy" is already at No. 1 on Amazon's U.S. chart, and bookmaker William Hill put 2-1 odds on it outselling "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," which shifted 2.6 million copies in Britain on its first day.

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Reviews have been mixed. The Associated Press judged it a challenging but rewarding read full of emotion and heart.

However, The New York Times' influential critic, Michiko Kakutani, was damning.

"The real-life world she has limned in these pages is so willfully banal, so depressingly cliched that 'The Casual Vacancy' is not only disappointing — it's dull," she said.

The Guardian newspaper's reviewer, Theo Tait, said it was "no masterpiece, but it's not bad at all: intelligent, workmanlike, and often funny."

The Independent's Boyd Tonkin found the sometimes "long-winded and laborious" writing soared when Rowling focused on her teenage characters.

Others, though, felt the lack of likable characters might alienate readers and Daily Mail reviewer Jan Moir slammed Rowling's stark focus on Pagford's haves and have-nots as the work of a "left-leaning demagogue" painting "a bleak and rather one-sided vision of life in modern England."

Technical problems also arose Thursday. Kindle readers and other e-book users in the U.S. complained that the font was so small they could hardly read it. The American publisher, Little, Brown and Company, issued a statement late Thursday afternoon acknowledging "there were issues with that file, including the adjustability of font color and size and adjustability of margins." The publisher said the problem had been fixed and that those with a flawed text should ask retailers to send a new one. Some readers also were unhappy with the e-book's list price, $17.99, although that didn't keep the digital version from topping the Kindle charts.

It's likely nothing Rowling publishes will ever match the success of the Potter books, which have sold more than 450 million copies around the world.

But booksellers are confident "The Casual Vacancy" will be one of the year's best-sellers, whatever reviewers say.

"A lot of children have grown up with Harry Potter. They're now adults who love books," Susan Sinclair, divisional manager for the Foyles bookstore chain, said.

"I think it's going to be a really big seller at Christmas. It'll be an easy gift — but also a good one."

RECOMMENDED: 10 Fall fiction books you'll want to know about

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Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless

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AP National Writer Hillel Italie in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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