A Bloodthirsty Haiku Review: The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl…

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It’s Mad Martha with you for a slightly unusual choice for a haiku review: The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl, being the second offering in the The Peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart, Esq. by Ishbelle Bee. I am going against our general rule of not reviewing subsequent books in a series here, but since we so thoroughly enjoyed the first book, The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath, we couldn’t resist requesting this one too. To that end, we received a copy of this one from Angry Robot Books via Netgalley.

Let us proceed then. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Two orphans, Pedrock and Boo Boo, are sent to live in the sinister village of Darkwound. There they meet and befriend the magical and dangerous Mr Loveheart and his neighbour, Professor Hummingbird, a recluse who collects rare butterflies. Little do they know that Professor Hummingbird has attracted the wrath of a demon named Mr Angelcakes.

One night, Mr Angelcakes visits Boo Boo and carves a butterfly onto her back. Boo Boo starts to metamorphose into a butterfly/human hybrid, and is kidnapped by Professor Hummingbird. When Mr Loveheart attempts to rescue her with the aid of Detective White and Constable Walnut, they too are turned into butterflies.

Caught between Professor Hummingbird and the demon Angelcakes, Loveheart finds himself entangled in a web much wider and darker than he could have imagined, and a plot that leads him right to the Prime Minister and even Queen Victoria herself.

butterfly girl

A contrary tale

Not so much butterfly as

thrashing Death’s Head moth

With such an eyeball-burstingly original first offering, it was always going to be interesting to see how Ishbelle Bee would approach the second book in this dazzling new series. While the wild, avant garde approach and chillingly childlike games of John Loveheart (now promoted to Lord of the Underworld) are still present, I did think that the second half of the book suffered from a certain amount of unwieldiness.

In this offering we are introduced to Pedrock and his younger sister Boo Boo as they move to live with an uncle in the village of Darkwound. Pedrock quickly falls by the wayside as narrator and Boo Boo comes to the fore after being groomed as the seventh wife of a decidedly perverse Professor with a penchant for lepidoptery (and wife slaughter). This was a bit of a disappointment to me because I found Boo Boo to be a bit of a nothing character.  In fact, most of the new characters are introduced and then quickly dispatched, which didn’t leave an awful lot of room for character development.  Pity.

On the positive side,  the delightful duo of Detectives White and Walnut make an appearance again and are joined by Inspector Waxford (who could really do with early retirement), and of course there is plenty of mayhem instigated by Loveheart himself, as well as a little romance for our favourite waistcoat-wearing weirdy.

I’ll admit to having more trouble getting into this book than I did with the first. It seemed to me that there wasn’t as much plot to go around in this second outing and the numerous decapitation and dismemberment sprees (particularly in the second-half of the book) began to feel a bit like padding. I am still very much enamoured of ol’ Loveheart – for a homicidal lunatic demi-god, he is charming as a mismatched, vintage waistcoat button. White and Walnut have also made a fond impression on me and while they don’t have as much to do in this novel (due to being magically imprisoned for a decade), my eyes pricked up, in as much as it is possible to prick up one’s eyes, whenever they appeared.

I’m not sure whether or not I’ll go back for a third helping of this series if and when it becomes available (although the charms of Mr Loveheart might yet prove too alluring to ignore!), but I will be watching out for other offerings from Bee that possibly don’t involve quite so much graphically violent death. I would certainly recommend reading the first book in the series before you read this one – not because you need prior knowledge of the characters, particularly, but because I think it’s the better book of the two. And if you haven’t come across this series yet, you’ll be doing yourself a favour to seek it out – I can guarantee you won’t have read anything quite like it!

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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imageI seem to be on a bit of a minor roll at the moment, with unexpectedly wonderful books popping up here and there, and I am pleased to be able to add another to my (very short) list of “Top Books of 2015”.

Today’s book is as unexpected and wonderful as it is singular and extraordinary, and I was lucky enough to receive a copy from the publisher, Angry Robot, via Netgalley. The tome in question is The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee, being the first in a new series relating The Peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart, Esq. I hasten to warn that this book, with its oddities and profanities, will not be for everyone but if you are hankering after a blindingly original array of characters forced into unruly submission by an author with an obvious mastery of the written word, then there is a good chance that this book will be for you.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

1888.  A little girl called Mirror and her shape-shifting guardian Goliath Honeyflower are washed up on the shores of Victorian England. Something has been wrong with Mirror since the day her grandfather locked her inside a mysterious clock that was painted all over with ladybirds. Mirror does not know what she is, but she knows she is no longer human.

John Loveheart, meanwhile, was not born wicked. But after the sinister death of his parents, he was taken by Mr Fingers, the demon lord of the underworld. Some say he is mad. John would be inclined to agree.

Now Mr Fingers is determined to find the little girl called Mirror, whose flesh he intends to eat, and whose soul is the key to his eternal reign. And John Loveheart has been called by his otherworldly father to help him track Mirror down…

mirror and goliath

 

Here, then, are five things I’ve learned from

The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath

1. Never trust a man in a waistcoat. Particularly one made of whimsically decorated fabric.

2. Never trust anyone who names themselves after an opposable body part. 

3.  Should you ever be invited to take an especially close look at the workings of a coffin-sized clock, it would be prudent to decline. 

4. When being pursued by demons and humans of dubious origin, it is recommended that you seek the services of a large, battle-trained protector with the ability to shape-shift.

5. Socks, while generally considered an unimaginative gift for older male relatives, are also much less likely to see the giver murdered for the immortality-inducing properties of their soul.

 

I’m sure I’ve mentioned more than a few times how highly an original story is valued in my reviewing world. Being that I churn through a stupidly high number of books a year – my Goodreads challenge chart is telling me that I have read 68 books this year so far – it is only reasonable to expect that much of the time there will be a niggling feeling of having read something like the story in which I find myself immersed, at any given time, before. It is a real and almost tangible treat then, to come across a tale about which one can truly say, “This is different!” The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath is one such book and I put its originality down to the obvious and remarkable talent of the author.

The story is all over the place – and I mean this in the exciting and invigorating sense, not in the “Good Lord, this book is all over the place!” sense that is usually uttered with head in hands – as various characters (both main and minor) muscle in on the telling. The setting ranges from a woody cottage to the depths of the Underworld to the deserts of Cairo to a less-than-reputable clock shop. The characters are human and demon and almost, not-quite. There’s violence and one-liners and escapes and unsavoury dinner parties. Over the course of the tale, a number of characters are referred to as mad – “mad as a spoon”, “mad as a hat”, “mad as scissors” – and while a definite atmosphere of mild insanity hangs over the proceedings, at no point did I feel that the author was letting things get out of (her) hand.

Apart from the welcome and inspiring originality of the tale, the shining light has to be the book’s narrative style. Bee manages to be simultaneously lyrical and distinctly unnerving, mixing dry wit with outlandish, almost slapstick violence and a sense of the poetical with deeds unequivocally wicked. While the title refers to Mirror and Goliath, the main character here turns out to be John Loveheart, Esq., who embodies this sense of innately flawed hilarity and carries it to the nth degree.

By the end of this book I was utterly convinced that I want to read more from Ishbelle Bee, whether in this series or elsewhere. It is rare, in my experience, to come across such finesse with the use of language that one feels excited just to be experiencing the words on the page. I therefore have to commend this book into place number four on my “Top Books of 2015” list, which is growing at a slow but steady pace.

Until next time,

Bruce

Oddly Unmoved: A Review of Unseemly Science…

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Today I have another submission for my personal Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge. I received this book from the publisher, Angry Robot, via Netgalley after pondering whether or not I should request it. You see, today’s book is the second in a series and I haven’t read the opening book. I speak of Unseemly Science: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #2 by Rod Duncan. I um-ed and ah-ed a bit over whether I should attempt a sequel without having read its predecessor, but decided in the end that the blurb looked intriguing enough to override my worries.

I am submitting this book into the Challenge under the categories of Odd Setting, given that the book features a strange version of the United Kingdom (I think – my mild confusion over this will become apparent) which is split into a monarchy and a republic. I’m also submitting under the Odd Character category because the main character is a lady who is also her own brother.

Let’s crack on into the unknown then, shall we? Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In the divided land of England, Elizabeth Barnabus has been living a double life – as both herself and as her brother, the private detective. Witnessing the hanging of Alice Carter, the false duchess, Elizabeth resolves to throw the Bullet Catcher’s Handbook into the fire, and forget her past. If only it were that easy! There is a new charitable organisation in town, run by some highly respectable women. But something doesn’t feel right to Elizabeth. Perhaps it is time for her fictional brother to come out of retirement for one last case…? Her unstoppable curiosity leads her to a dark world of body-snatching, unseemly experimentation, politics and scandal. Never was it harder for a woman in a man’s world…

unseemly science

Intriguing blurb, no?  I concur.

So what’s the Bullet Catcher’s Handbook? No idea.  Why was Alice Carter hanged? Couldn’t tell you.  What’s haunting about Elizabeth Barnabus’ past? Not an inkling.

It turns out that in this particular series, all the world building happens in the first book and if you haven’t read it, you will be mired in slight confusion for at least the first third of the story.  This is fair enough, I suspect.  If you go into a second book with an obviously obtuse blurb, as I chose to, you probably shouldn’t expect to be coddled by the author with all the information you missed by not bothering to read the first book.  And while it was obvious that the world of this story had been built while I wasn’t paying attention, the actual thrust of the story was perfectly simple to follow, albeit without the nuances that knowing Elizabeth’s past would have added.  Suffice to say, she’s an ex-monarchy-dweller on the run from a powerful Duke to whom she was sold.

It turns out that she also moonlights as some kind of detective, and sometimes impersonates her fictitious brother.  This is where we dip into the part of the story that drew me in – the mystery of the charitable organisation and the body-snatching and unseemly experimentation promised in the blurb.  It takes literally half the book to get to the real meat of any investigatory business, as the first half is devoted to Elizabeth’s attempts to escape from the Republican officials’ new law to repatriate monarchists to their place of birth.  Once we get to the investigation part, the action explodes and the pace of the plot quadruples as we charge toward a twisty, dangerous ending.

Surprisingly (for me, anyway…maybe not for you), the action and autopsies of the second half of the book didn’t make up for the slow start and extended running and hiding of the first half.  I really enjoyed the ladies’ foray into the territory of the ice farmers and Julia’s code-breaking attempts were a bit of fun riddle-solving, but otherwise I felt this to be a reasonably slow burn, with an ending that didn’t quite provide the thrill I was looking for.  Plus, of course, there was the general sense that I was missing something important pretty much the whole way through.

To my surprise, at the end of the book I discovered a glossary of sorts that spelled out all the nuances of the Gas-Lit Empire and much of the stuff I had missed.  As I came upon this after having ploughed through the whole book, I decided that I couldn’t be bothered filling myself in on the vital information that would probably have made the reading experience a bit more enriching.  I feel I have discharged my duty by having told you about it though, so if you wish to attempt this book without having read the first one, you’ll know to start with this elusive glossary first.

Discounting the fact that I didn’t have a full working knowledge of the world in which the story is set (given that this was entirely of my own choosing), I would have to say that overall this was an interesting diversion into an original imagining of England.  While the pace was slower than I expected, there was enough mystery and intrigue to keep me turning the pages.  If you’re a fan of alternative history, steampunk and strong female protagonists with mad evasion skills, then this will probably tickle your fancy, although I would strongly recommend starting with book one and saving yourself some brainache.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 9/16

Until next time,

Bruce

ARC Read-it-if Review: Last God Standing…

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Well, it’s been a long time coming, but finally today I have for you a review of the finest book about god-wars and stand up comedy I have read in the whole of this year, Last God Standing by Michael Boatman.  I was luckyenough to unexpectedly wrangle a copy for review from Angry Robot books – thanks!

Last God Standing follows everyman and stand-up comedian, Lando Cooper, as he struggles with all the problems inherent in being the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition attempting to reside in a mortal, human guise.  As if regular human problems such as nagging parents and relationship dramas weren’t enough, Lando is coming under consistent attack from other disgruntled deities who seem to have tapped into some extra divine power.  After being warned about a mysterious being called The Coming who appears to wish Lando and all of humanity nothing but ill, things begin to spin out of control and (human) life as he knows it starts falling apart.  How, in His name, is he going to keep his parents and girlfriend happy, save the earth while trapped in a human body AND make it as a stand up comedian without going crazy? Well it ain’t my job to tell you – you’ll have to read the book.

last god standing

Read it if:

* you have ever felt that you should, in fairness, have been blessed with some kind of divine power in order to make up for the fact that your parents are certifiable – as in, riding around on an ostrich to advertise their small business certifiable

* you’re the type that loves to hop on to any new spiritual fad, while simultaneously denouncing your most recent spiritual fad for screwing up your chi/karma/angel guide dog/spiritual GPS/(insert spiritual-ish term here)

* you have ever thought that awkward, messy or otherwise unsavoury experiences should come with an internal reset function

* you’re the kind of person who lives for the “Boss Battles” in level-grinding games – just to reassure yourself that what you have always suspected about yourself is true – that you are, in fact, a god in the body of a mortal

Alrighty.  Last God Standing was a bit of a mixed bag for me.  The author, Michael Boatman, is a well known actor who has appeared on many shows that I have not seen.  His face is a bit familiar though.  Regardless, going into this without any expectations about the sort of comedy he might write was probably a plus I think.

There are a number of things about this book that I really enjoyed – Lando was a really likeable narrator and the other characters in the book are all pretty well fleshed out.  There’s also a nice mix of crazy deities and arguably crazier humans that brings a nice bit of variety to the situations that Lando finds himself embroiled in.    I particularly liked Lando’s inner voice, Connie (or Constant) who is the representation of a Native American Indian goddess (of the Navajo people, apparently)  known as Changing Woman.  I admit to having no knowledge whatsoever of Native American Indian deities, of Navajo origin or otherwise, but Boatman’s writing of this particular representation was fun and added a lot to plot twists that would otherwise have seen Lando monologuing a lot about his actions.  If you’ve read any of my reviews on Goodreads lately, you’ll know that excessive monologuing is currently one of my pet hates.  So a win for Boatman!

I was surprised how much I enjoyed what I’ve termed the Boss Battles in the story.  As mentioned, Lando has a number of encounters with deities of once-great religions (Zeus, Dionysus, and even Hannibal – who, while not a deity, does come equipped with a show-stealing quartermastodon named Persi) which involve a lot of action and whacking with sharp weapons and carnage and humiliating defeat.  Normally I’m not a big fan of long action sequences in books, but these really drew me in, possibly due to the amusing banter that went on alongside all the hacking and slashing and quartermastodon headbutting and so on.

There were a few things that did drag this down for me.  Well, not a few, specifically one thing. And that was the middle of the book.  I do not in any way wish to imply that nothing happens, or that the story drags or anything like that in the middle.  Essentially, I didn’t like it because things just get weird.  A whole lot of stuff started happening that seemed to come out of the blue and unless I applied great focus and concentration while reading, I had a tendency to lose the thread of what was going on.  Now towards the end of the middle, this became something of a problem, because there are certain things that happen at this point in the story that directly contribute to the climax.  So I found myself having to go back a bit and re-read in order to fully get a handle on the events at the most exciting point of the book.  At one point, I even considered putting the book down because it was all getting too confusing….

…BUT I’m glad I didn’t, because I REALLY liked the ending.  Somehow, after a spate of weirdness in the middle, things suddenly righted themselves and the last few chapters ended up being really quite exciting.  I really enjoyed the reveal – finding out about the nefarious being known as The Coming, finding out who was behind it, who was supporting it, how Lando was going to save us all from some very unpleasant business – and by the end, I didn’t want to put the book down.  Again, a win for Boatman!

So while there were a few blips on the “this book isn’t for me” radar, when looking back on it a few weeks after finishing it, I am pleased to find that there is a little feeling of fondness for Last God Standing.  In all honesty, I don’t think this book will be for everyone, but if you enjoy a bit of comedy, a bit of divinity, a bit of gratuitous carnage and some general silliness in your reading, I would recommend giving this one a go.

Last God Standing is due for publication on the 25th of March.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Ode to a…Publisher?: Mad Martha breaks ranks…

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Afternoon my sweeties! Today I have decided to do something a little bit different with my ode.  You may be able to guess what it is if you cast your eyeballs even briefly over the title of this post.  Yes, that’s right – instead of a single author, I am going to laud a whole publishing house! Bruce has already mentioned our love for Angry Robot Books in a previous post but I must reiterate that AR is fast becoming our go-to publisher when we are looking for something just a bit different.

Angry Robot

To give you an idea of what I mean when I say different, it’s something just a little bit quirky.  A tad odd.  Both funny ha-ha and funny peculiar.  They have superheroes with demon sidekicks.  Seven foot tall skeleton kings.  Houses with whole worlds hidden inside. And of course the usual, run-of-the-mill complement of robots, zombies, armies of people in various states of death and undeath, people with animal familiars and various telepathic abilities, and so on and so forth.  Our absolute favourite of their authors (and one of the first we discovered!) is Mike Shevdon, creator of the Courts of the Feyre series…..do go and buy it, won’t you?  We also like Lee Battersby, he of the Corpse-Rat King, and we have dallied with Chris F Holm, Matthew Hughes and Guy Adams to name a few…their works are pictured below:

sixty one nailscorpse rat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dead harvestdamned busters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

world house

 

And so, to the ode.  See if you can spot the intended pun in the fifth line!

 

For Zombies and Monsters and Weirdies, oh my!,

on Angry Robot I always rely. 

For the kooky, the freakish or old-fashioned gore,

this publishing house really comes to the fore!

Want bold savage tomes and a wild, novel quest?

Then grab ye a bookmark and raid AR’s chest!

I’m not sure why I went all pirate in the last line, but such is the effect of Angry Robot.  It makes one step outside the box…usually into another larger box filled with flesh eating caterpillars or some other such freakishness.  So if the sound of an aggressive larval Lepidoptera squishing under your boot is music to your ears (…..shame on you…you should take a good long hard look at yourself Mr…or Ms….) then this is the publisher for you!

Until next time,

Mad Martha