A YA Coming-of-Age Tale with a Beardy Twist: Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf…

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Let it never be said that I don’t give you something different every now and again, because today I have for you a YA fantasy tale that has bearded ladies, high stakes movie action, family drama and extreme sport all wrapped up in a charming little package.  Behold, Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf, book one in the Ballad of Mabel Goldenaxe series by Sherry Peters!

Mabel has just been accepted for work in the mines of Gilliam and is now of age to begin looking for a mate and think about settling down to a life of mining and dwarflings.  Unfortunately for Mabel, she’s thin (a liability in Dwarf culture), her beard would need extensions to be considered thick and full, and for all intents and purposes, she would rather be throwing axes with her axe-throwing-champion older brother Mikey, than down the pub trying to win the affections of her male counterparts.  If that weren’t bad enough, Mabel’s best friend Emma seems to attract men like flies to fly paper and if Mabel doesn’t start pulling in the suitors soon, her Da may step in to do the work for her.  As Mabel tries to be true to herself, she is constantly being challenged by unexpected events – secrets about her absent mother seem to impact on her search for a mate in ways Mabel doesn’t understand, and Emma is behaving in an increasingly unfriendly way.  Just when Mabel thinks that things are becoming too much for one dwarf to bear, an opportunity arises that will force Mabel to choose between being her true self and doing what’s expected.

mabel the lovelorn dwarf

Read it if:

*you can’t go past a book with a strong, bearded female protagonist

* you believe that dwarven culture consists of nothing more than digging and drinking

* you’ve ever felt the expectations of a family legacy weighing down upon you like a rocky bed full of emeralds

* you prefer when the common themes of coming-of-age in YA fiction are played out against a backdrop of ale drinking, axe-throwing and the ever-present chip-chip-chip of a community of (mostly) happy miners

I really enjoyed this book while I was reading it – Mabel is an engaging character and the world-building and cultural aspects of Dwarven life were well-developed and added a genuine feel to the overall plot. Peters has played this pretty straight – it’s not a satirical or humorous take on the fantasy genre, but a proper tale of working out one’s identity where the lead character just happens to be a Dwarf.  It was refreshing to experience familiar YA themes in such a different context and the author has done a wonderful job of keeping Mabel’s experiences authentic in a fantasy setting.

The plot moves from episode to episode in Mabel’s life, forcing her to learn new things about herself as she overcomes various challenges that pop up along the way. The ending is nicely hopeful, with the way left wide open for happenings in following books in the series, but readers could be equally satisfied with the ending were they planning to read this as a standalone. So lots of good things to enjoy about the book.

There were a couple of things about this book that either puzzled or irritated me though.  For starters, the title is a bit….bland.  Admittedly, I can’t think of a better one so I really shouldn’t criticise, but after having read the book it seems that there’s so much more to Mabel (and the plot) than just being lovelorn, as well as the fact that Mabel spends a lot of her time not that bothered about how quickly she finds a mate that the title feels to me like it doesn’t quite fit.  A personal qualm, no doubt, but one that irritated me disproportionately to my enjoyment of the book.

Also, I found this book to have a lot of (in my opinion) rambling that slowed down the forward momentum of the plot. Many of Mabel’s thought processes were repetitious both within each particular section of the plot and across different sections. There seemed to be a lot of time spent just going about her everyday business, with not much happening to move the plot forward. I really felt that this book could have done with some serious editing, to chop out the long descriptions of day-to-day existence and overabundance of introspection on Mabel’s part and just let her actions speak for themselves.

As I said though, I really did enjoy this novel – particularly the sections that turn elf and dwarf relations on their head and the theme of gender image that runs throughout as Mabel struggles to fit in as a Dwarven woman when she doesn’t have the right “look” or ambitions. This is that special kind of YA novel that would appeal to a much wider audience than just the typical, targeted age group and lovers of the fantasy genre will find lots to like and plenty of new twists on the expected reading experience.

If you’re looking for a coming-of-age YA novel with a fun, well-imagined fantasy twist then Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf could be the book for you.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: Of Things Gone Astray…

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Today’s read-it-if features a very unusual book.  With multiple points of view and interconnected yet mildly bewildering stories, Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson is part anthology, part unified narrative and thoroughly engaging, once you get past the first few loss-beleaguered chapters.

Delia can’t seem to find her way to places that were once as familiar as the back of her hand. Jake collects and catalogues lost and discarded items that he finds in the street. Mrs Featherby is missing the front wall of her house.  Robert turned up to work one day to find the building had disappeared. And Cassie is turning into a tree in the middle of Heathrow Terminal Two Arrivals.  As these wildly different characters, and others, try to come to terms with their various obscure conditions, their stories become entangled in different ways.  What once was lost may never be found for this motley group…or it may just be that they have gone temporarily astray.

 

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Read it if:

*your standard response to being thrust unexpectedly into public view is to carry on as if nobody can see what you’re doing

* you are one of those people who, upon realising that you cannot for the life of you find what it is you’re looking for, makes little tutting noises before going on to complain loudly about how modern supermarkets should just leave things where they are instead of changing everything about to try and get us to buy things we didn’t come in for

* you’ve ever patted yourself on the back for helping a stranger who’s asked for directions, only to realise a few moments later that there were at least three other ways to get to the destination that are quicker, safer and less complex than the way you told them to go

After reading the blurb of this book, I was initially under the impression that it was a collection of short stories.  As it turns out – rather obviously in fact, given that the words “a novel” appear on the front cover – Of Things Gone Astray is actually a single novel, but it’s told from the alternating points of view of half a dozen characters.  In the first few chapters we are introduced to these characters in turn, and discover to some extent what it is that they have lost – for in this novel, everyone has lost something.  Or someone. Or they’re waiting for something or someone.  I found it a bit tricky in the beginning to remember who was who as the point of view shifts every few pages with each new chapter. Is Martin the bloke with the missing piano keys or the bloke with the missing job, I would ask myself as I came across his chapter heading.  Is Cassie the tree girl or the disoriented girl? Once the story gets going and the characters start bumping into each other, as it were, it was a lot easier to keep everything sorted in my mind, and by the end I had each character down pat.

I thoroughly enjoyed the brevity of the chapters and the multiple points of view in this book, as I feel I am slipping into a bit of a book slump of late, and I appreciated the choppy, quick dips into each characters’ tale that allowed me to pick the book up and put it down repeatedly without feeling like the plot wasn’t moving forward. The narrative has a certain sense of poignancy about it, dealing as it does with ways in which people cope with loss, but there was also a sense of hope and even ambiguity that pervaded the book.  I felt at the end that some people might be a bit disappointed that there didn’t seem to be any kind of moral or take-away message about dealing with grief  or moving on from loss, but I felt very content with the fact that the stories just ended, some with loose ends tied up and some without.

I don’t think this book will be for everybody, but if you don’t mind something a bit different from the usual linear, one-narrator type novel then Of Things Gone Astray might be the perfect out-of-the-box find for you.  Don’t forget to go into it with bookmark at the ready though – you wouldn’t want to lose your place.

Until next time,

Bruce

. * I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Edelweiss. *

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.

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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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