Arabella of Mars Book Review

Arabella of Mars Book Review

When I can hear the swell of theme music from words on a page, and happy tears jump to my eyes because the heroine is triumphant in both her quest and her wholly requited romantic inclinations, that means I’ve read a damn fine Steampunk Adventure Regency Romance Novel. Of which I think only this one may exist (along with its successors) written by David D. Levine.

The order of description I gave is no accident. Arabella of Mars has more in common with Horatio Hornblower novels and Treasure Island than Persuasion or anything Georgette Heyer. What sucked me in were the excellently researched portraits of “naval” life, allowing me to learn alongside Arabella about the imaginative addition of airships and hot air balloon sailing between planets. The book is fantasy, it requires suspension of disbelief, but the part of the tale that touches on the impossible is easy to accept as young “Ashby” learns his trade and becomes a member of the crew.

But as a lover of romances, it is the relationships Arabella has with her shipmates, her captain, and her Martian caretaker that give the book a rousing finish.

 

[SPOILERS BELOW – READ ON AT YOUR PERIL!]

I gave the novel only four stars on Goodreads for two reasons: The main one was that the prologue, which gave me a glimpse into Arabella’s formative past, did not instill within me a strong affinity for the characters that explicitly motivate and drive the story. Arabella’s father does not fight for her, console her, or evidence the intelligence and affinity that Arabella ascribes to their relationship. That his loss affects poor Arabella deeply didn’t resonate with me.

Similarly, the brief interactions I saw between the heroine and her soft-hearted, beloved brother were so mild that I found myself rolling my eyes when Arabella waxed on about his merits. Her desperate adventure with the sole intent of saving him from a known threat fell hollow and made the first few chapters of the book hard for me to get into.

Once I was in, however, there were plenty of extremely well-written trials, fights, and perilous privateers to hold my interest and deepen my sympathy with Arabella. The pace and the plot of the second act were incredibly enjoyable.

The last part of the book, after Arabella is discovered to be a girl, was again, more difficult for me to enjoy.  Her treatment by the captain and crew was so abrupt that I fell out of the story for awhile, tempted to skim. Similarly, Arabella’s strangely generous nature with the villain rankled, though it was *so very Regency.* In that perhaps Levine accomplished what he set out to do perfectly.

The surprises and emotional resolutions in the last section aptly guided the book into the final resolution, underscoring themes about colonialism, family, culture, and above all else, honorable personal behavior in the face of anger and difficult circumstances.

I recommend this book to everyone interested in any of the genres above, whether romance is your thing, alternate history, pure adventure, or steampunk-ish fantasy. It is fun and has lots for a diverse array of readers to love.

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The Venom in the Valentine

The Venom in the Valentine

In the spirit of full disclosure, I provided developmental editing for this installment of the Viola Roberts Cozy Mysteries. Even seeing it in its raw form, this is my favorite read so far in the series.

Shea MacLeod has climbed to new writing heights with her unique way of mixing of the hilarious with the sinister. Every reader will be able to relate to what happens when average people fall prey to their base prejudices, but Viola’s unique perspective as a writer and amateur sleuth means that readers can again expect many unexpected plot twists!

With her friends, Viola just can’t catch a break, not even on a weekend getaway. MacLeod combines the accurate pitfalls of Valentine’s Day Expectations with the terror of having quaint, old-fashioned love notes become a weapon sharp enough to cut a reputation to the quick…or even to the kill.

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Angel’s Devil (Jake Brand, PI #1)

Angel’s Devil (Jake Brand, PI #1)
Angel's Devil (Jake Brand, PI #1) by M. Louis
Angel’s Devil (Jake Brand, PI #1)
by M. Louis

I listened to the audiobook on a long drive. I’m not usually a fan of crime thrillers, but this had enough of a mix between Jake, the main character’s, inner world and the outer world to hold my interest.

I suspect I would not have finished this book if I’d been reading. It has a pretty big cast of flat characters and a lot of wallowing. The inner dialog between the angel and devil are well intentioned as comic relief, and they work sometimes, but not often enough.

The Angel is not very angelic. Both characters berate Jake, so there’s a lot of self-harm and self-loathing on display here; not my bag. The best bits are the actual trying-to-figure-out-what’s-going-on and I enjoyed the little surprise ending very, very much.

I didn’t care about what happened to the characters, but the narrator’s amazing voice and skill in distinguishing between characters, made the book come alive.

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The Time Traveling Fashionista Series

The Time Traveling Fashionista Series

Full disclosure: this series was recommended to me by my 11yr old niece. I’m reading it specifically to discuss with her, and I am not a regular YA reader or audience. That said, this series of three (so far) books are quick, fun, reads that are fresh in their optimism. The series is entertaining without dystopia, dripping drama, or dragging descriptions of self-loathing. For that alone, I applaud the author!

What the author accomplishes well is consistency of a pre-teen voice, capturing a juvenile’s attitude towards the world, and a YA plot with appropriate danger and character growth.

What is really disappointing about the books is a lack of story that portrays the main character, Louise, as the thing that theoretically makes her special: a knowledge–nay, passion–for fashion clothing. There’s a lot of name-dropping and a distinct lack of actual knowledge. Which, come to think of it, is quintessentially YA, isn’t it?

In particular, I was disappointed by the way the book alludes to Louise and her mother’s love for old movies. I know from my own childhood experience, if that was true, she would know the difference between a hoop skirt and panniers. If Louise was actually looking things up, as she so often says she is, in her ‘Vintage Fashion’ book, I expect she would understand a lot more about history, dressing, and culture, if not from the book, from watching old movies themselves. You CANNOT have a character, ostensibly obsessed with fashion, who has seen GWTW, not know how underpinnings such as corsetry and bum rolls work.

So the book rankles because I want the heroine to be smarter and better than she is. If that is the author’s intention, she is doing it perfectly, but as a reader (and to be very fair, NOT the target audience), I want more examples of Louise’s knowledge from her professed obsession.

I give the books a first star because I love the idea; I was a costume-obsessed youngling and I am glad there is now a series out there for people like me. The second star is because of the subtly subversive way the book introduces learning history via fashion instead of by rote–Pretty Well Done! And the third star is because if my niece can read it and love it, the book MUST be doing its job reaching the target market in tone, voice, and content (though I can’t wholly vouch for that).

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The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl
The Danish Girl, by David Ebershoff
The Danish Girl, by David Ebershoff

This is a beautifully written novel, my criteria being that never once was I ejected from the prose by what felt like an out of place word. I enjoyed the portrayal of deeply interesting characters with unique life experiences, and took it at its word that it was not trying to portray a real historical event, merely taking inspiration from one.

There were things I found completely satisfying: the artists at work, the rich locations, the identity confusion we all face–to greater or lesser extent–as we come of age and our physical bodies mature. What I see as the true strength of the book is the way it illuminates the shining acceptance and flexibility of good people, acting from a place of love.

There were also things in the book that disturbed me: I wanted just a little more medical details (not graphic) in order to understand the mechanics of what was physically happening. Not enough to want to look them up, but if the book let me down in some way it was in denying my modern understanding of medicine with hints instead of descriptions. Certain interactions that I longed for between characters were also left out. I think this portrays the reality of life, it doesn’t get tied up in a neat little bow, but I was sad as a reader not to be gifted by the author with certain scenes between characters.

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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies #1) by Seth Grahame-Smith, Jane Austen, Philip Smiley (Illustrator)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies #1)
by Seth Grahame-Smith, Jane Austen, Philip Smiley (Illustrator)

This is a book with 319 pages, of which, when combined, perhaps 3-5 pages of the contents are very clever and amusing. Do not neglect the Reader’s Discussion Guide, which is perhaps the part of the book containing the utmost hilarity.

The rest of the book is the borrowed genius of Jane Austen, but because it is incorporated without the range and craft that authoress possessed, her best phrases and structure are merely repetitive.

By all means, read it (if you read quickly, or have nothing whatsoever else to do) for the sprinkling of fun you can find inserted herein; but expect much of your efforts to be unrewarded drudgery.

I expect the movie will be far more rewarding, and the zombies themselves to be able to play a more central role.

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The Final Empire (Mistborn #1)

The Final Empire (Mistborn #1)
The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sanderson
The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sanderson

I didn’t start this book April 19: I RE-started it. I actually began months and months ago and put it down to read or…do ANYTHING else…a few times. That’s to tell you this is a slow to start book.

The Last 33% of the book is fantastic though, delivering all of the emotional and intellectual punch of great epic fantasy. The plot twists were half unexpected and half-just-as-hoped-for. As a romantic, I loved the ending.

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (Dirk Gently #1)

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (Dirk Gently #1)
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (Dirk Gently #1) by Douglas Adams
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (Dirk Gently #1),
by Douglas Adams

Re-reading out of order, which makes me want to turn around and re-re-read Long Dark Teatime RIGHT NOW. Alas, I will move on to other books looking for wonderful locations for my Pilgrimage.

This book turned out to be chockablock full of not just geographical places but buildings – with addresses. On my pilgrimage I shall see if they exist (they probably don’t) and hopefully do some of the fun things the characters do: Eat pizza (anchovies are wrong. I do not care about accurately re-creating fiction when it comes to fish on pizza. WRONG!), consider a Greek menu through the window, and perhaps take in a Bach concert in London. Or feed a Dodo. Maybe not that last one.

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The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (Dirk Gently #2)

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (Dirk Gently #2)
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (Dirk Gently #2) by Douglas Adams
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (Dirk Gently #2),
by Douglas Adams

This remains one of my all-time favorite books, by one of my favorite authors. This re-read was to plumb the content for locations I want to visit during my upcoming 42 for 42 trip: I am traveling to 42 places that occur in Douglas Adams’ novels for my 42nd birthday.

I’m hoping to see Miss Schechter’s view of the Park, the street the Draycott’s lived in, the places Dirk couldn’t buy a cigarette, and the train station in our world that is hiding the great hall of Asgard.

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Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)
Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2) by Deborah Harkness
Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2),
by Deborah Harkness

Better than Book One. Far more compelling, and I was interested to know what happened to the characters. Overall, I find the book still too choppy with writing not rich enough to really convey what is happening in the characters internal worlds and external environment. Almost as if the author is writing in a language I don’t quite speak.

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