Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Arabella of Mars

By David D. Levine
2016. Hardcover. 352pp. Tor Books.
Winner of the 2016 Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book.

Arabella doesn’t want to be a lady, but her mother is determined to make her one. So when playful “hunting” with her brother results in an injury, Arabella’s mother decides to take her back “home”, to Earth. The only problem is, Arabella is from Mars. Well, she was raised there, and has no interest in returning to England and leaving her beloved Mars behind.
After receiving devastating news and tiring of the confines of British society, Arabella’s mother relents slightly and sends her to live with a cousin. Unfortunately, that doesn’t go to plan either and Arabella finds herself running away, looking for a ship that will take her to Mars so she can save her brother’s life. She has some trouble, even disguised as she is, but she eventually gets passage on the Diana with an unexpected task: to learn to work the navigating automaton. As she learns more about being a ship’s boy, the automaton, and the crew, Arabella must balance carefully her task and her loyalty on the ship.
Arabella of Mars is the 2017 winner of the Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book, joining JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows (2008) and Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight (2011) as a winner.

I first picked up Arabella of Mars because it was listed in an article highlighting science fiction and fantasy novels. I enjoyed the story, although some elements of it were as expected for the genre. Arabella was the right mix of spunky and determined, while also acting like an actual teenager instead of like an adult in a teenager’s body. I especially enjoyed the scenes with the automaton, partially because I like the idea of automata and wish they were still popular. Some of the science wouldn’t work, but I guess that’s what makes it science fiction. The scenes with Arabella and the captain got pretty heart wrenching, but I particularly enjoyed Arabella and her brother’s relationship. Instead of falling into the usual trope of siblings who hate each other, Arabella and her brother support each other. When he’s accused of a crime, Arabella instantly knows it wasn’t him who did it.
I wish some of the science had been more realistic, sometimes science fiction takes the easy way out by making the science too fictional. A good example of that is Star Trek. Although this can be used to explore other conflicts and not have to worry about the science, worrying about the science can lead to interesting conflicts. I did really like the scenes on the ship, it reminded me of the ship from Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, but with more crew-captain conflict.
This was, overall, a good summer read. It was a quick and easy read with enough action and serious moments to make a compelling story. The plot was entertaining and, while it didn’t throw many loops, it had a lot enjoyable moments and characters.

I would recommend this book to people who enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and who like steam punk and space fantasy.

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Book Review: The Invisible Library

By Genevieve Cogman
2014. Paperback. 329pp. Tor UK.

Irene works for the Library collecting dangerous or parallel-world unique books. After a successful mission, she’s given a new, urgent mission and an assistant she doesn’t really want. Once in the alternate world, Irene and Kai find that Chaos has grabbed hold of this world and it’s up to them to fend it off while trying to find the book they’ve been sent to find. With some unexpected guests, including an ominous note about the worst, most evil Librarian of all, and some unexpected twists, will Irene and Kai be able to grab the book and get it back to the Library? Full of mystery and wit, the Invisible Library brings us on a literary and magical ride of adventure and intrigue.

This book was a bit hard to summarize without spoiling a lot of the major plot points and without blending it too much with similar novels and shows. It’s very reminiscent of the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, the Librarians movies and television show, and even a bit like Doctor Who. It was still pretty enjoyable, for all its similarities with other works. The characters are full of snappy, entertaining dialogue and even a few surprises. Even though it wasn’t as much of a page-turner as I wanted it to be, it was a light read, perfect for a summer fantasy fix. The final scenes that took place in the library (as opposed to in the Library) were well-written and enjoyable.
The main characters did frequently feel like the standard quippy protagonists, always ready with a witty response and witty inner dialogue. It would have been nice to have a few more surprises from the characters themselves, but they were believable in their actions. Not once did it feel like a character was out-of-character within the story.

I would recommend this book to someone who likes the things it reminds me of. If you’re looking for a literarily-inspired fantasy work that involves alternate universes and magical libraries, this is a good place to go.

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Book Review: American Gods

By Neil Gaiman
2001. Mass-market paperback. 592pp. HarperCollins.

Shadow Moon spent three years behind bars, dreaming of the day he would be released and able to go home to his wife, Laura. Days before his release, Shadow gets news that’s even worse than his original sentencing: Laura and his best friend were killed in a car accident. On the flight home, Shadow meets a charismatic man, Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a job. At first, Shadow is suspicious when Wednesday knows a lot more about him than he should, but figures he’s got nothing to lose and decides to take the offer.
The new job takes Shadow down some weird twists and turns, including visits from his wife and Gods old and new. As he navigates this weird world he didn’t know existed, Shadow must figure out what it is he wants from life now that his old dream has died. It turns out America has more to it than meets the eye, including an impending battle where both sides are trying to win him over.
With new adaptations of American Gods coming out, including a comic series by Dark Horse and the television show by Starz, I wanted to finally read this book my friends had been talking about for a while. I was also waiting for Wynonna Earp, also rooted in American mythology but in the Old West rather than Gods, to come out with a second season and American Gods seemed like a good interlude.

At first, I was hesitant to start this book because and I read Stardust, also by Neil Gaiman, when I was in high school and ended up liking the movie a lot better than I did the book. However, what I had seen online of the series was looking very good and well-made so this time I wanted to give the book a chance first. As of this writing, I still haven’t started the new television series.
I really enjoyed the characters and the settings, particularly while Shadow was adventuring across the United States. My family has spent many summers on road trips, so the locations felt familiar, even if they weren’t really based on anywhere I had actually been. There were also twists that I should have seen coming, but I was so caught up in the turns of the story I completely missed them. Shadow is a very good main character, well-thought out and easy to identify with. He’s just along for the ride, a lot like the reader, but then gets his own agency as the story continues.
I had trouble during the book connecting with Laura’s character, but part of that may be that Shadow himself has trouble connecting to her in their new life and the reader can feel that, even if it’s never explicitly mentioned. I wanted a more detailed ending of Shadow’s life after the events of the novel play out, but semi-vague endings leave plenty of room for reader interpretation of the events that follow the novel.
The main thing I enjoyed while reading, however, was the interweaving and acknowledgement of the United States’ history as a place for immigrants. Each old God introduced made perfect sense to me, since we brought people over here on boats with their beliefs, it made sense that their Gods would surely follow. It was a similar theological exploration of Gods adapting to new worlds as was in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.

If you’re a fan of Americana mythology and things that require you to be at least a little superstitious to believe, I highly recommend this book. It falls into one of my categories with Wynonna Earp (the show, not the comic) as an exploration of American mythology and people who have to interact with it.

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Book Review: The Summer of You

The Blue Raven, #2
By Kate Noble
2010. Paperback. 352pp. Berkley Trade.

After the adventures in London, Byrne Worth has retreated to his cottage on Merrymere Lake, where he is unbothered in his solitude. He likes it this way, he tells himself, he has his daily swim and no one around to bother him. At least, until Lady Jane Cummings and her family return to Merrymere.
Lady Jane is not having the summer she wanted. She was looking forward to spending time socializing in London, it serves as a nice break from dealing with her ailing father and the responsibilities of running the household while her brother is away. Unfortunately, her brother has returned and decided he’s back in charge.
Kate Noble’s second book in the Blue Raven Series, The Summer of You follows Lady Jane Cummings to Merrymere Lake after her brother returns from his travels and decides it’s better for their father to be at Merrymere. He thinks she’ll go quietly like a good young woman, but she isn’t going without a fight. As her father’s condition gets worse and her brother continues avoiding the responsibilities, Lady Jane finds a surprising confidant in Byrne Worth. The town has decided he’s the highwayman robbing them in their travels, but Lady Jane is not so convinced. She comes up with a plan to help clear his name and he begrudgingly goes along with it. Along the way, they both realize maybe trying to do things on their own isn’t always the best way and maybe it’s easier with a supporter.

Although most romance novels can feel old hat, Kate Noble’s work always feels so refreshing, even after reading a few in a row! I was feeling a bit down the night I read this book and it definitely helped. They mystery was well-written and just as central to the novel as the romance and the sub-plots. Of course, there was the “next in the series” couple set-up, but I even found that couple to be charming rather than trite! One thing that always particularly impresses me about Noble’s writing is the characterizations. The women aren’t what would normally “go” in the time period, but they’re well-written and well-fleshed out, so it’s easy enough to believe these characters would know each other and get along as they do in the books. It’s also easy to see that she does her research for the time period and the locations. I’ve traveled a bit in England and Ireland and the settings are fully realized and historically plausible. It’s always nice to read something where the author clearly cares as much about the accuracy of the setting as they do the accuracy of their characters.

Grumpy man meets charming woman and is changed is a standard trope in romance novels, as well as teaming up to solve a mystery. Although there were a few obvious “twists” to the story, they weren’t trying. It’s easy to get caught in keeping the story in the boundaries of the genre and Noble doesn’t stray too far from the “usual” romance storyline, but the characters and the story were enjoyable nonetheless. There were even a few non-standard surprises thrown in for variety. I really disliked Lady Jane’s brother and was very pleased when he finally got over himself towards the end of the book.

If you’ve gotten tired of the popular romance authors, give Kate Noble’s books a try! She’s written a few romance novels under the name Kate Noble, as well as The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet and The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet as Kate Rorick. Her romance novels (as well as the Pride and Prejudice video series she started out working on) are refreshing takes on a genre that can be full of over-done tropes and storylines.

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Lie and the Lady


Series #: Winner Takes All, #2
Genre: Fiction, Trashy Romance, Historical
Original Publication Date: 2015


Read: 22 Feb 2017

Summary: In The Game and the Governess, John Turner made a bet with his friend, Lord Edward Granville, that the lord would have a harder time with women as John Turner, who subsequently would have an easier time as Lord Granville. When the Lord fell in love with a governess and the game was up, Turner had also fallen in love with Countess Letitia, who is publicly humiliated for falling for a man of lower stature. She travels the continent, looking for a fresh start and thinks she’s found it in Sir Barty, but when he takes her home as his fiancé, John Turner is there. Life continues to throw the two of them together and Leticia must decide if she wants to keep her standing or go for love.

Review: Even though it’s been a while since I read the first book, I still really enjoyed this one. I sort of wish I’d been able to re-read the first one before starting the second, but I still remembered the characters. I spent a lot of the book predicting what was going to happen, but I still loved it. There are always distinct patterns in romance novels, but I am always willing to re-read my favorite books and especially willing to re-read my favorite tropes.

Recommendation: I highly recommend Kate Noble if you like historic romance and want to give something new a chance.

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Publisher: Pocket Books

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Book Review: A Study in Scarlet Women


Series #: Lady Sherlock, #1
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Mystery, History, Adventure
Original Publication Date: 2016


Read: 28 Dec 2016 – 04 Jan 2017

Summary: Charlotte Holmes is tired of the constraints of a female in society; it’s a waste of her mind and her life. So she ruins her reputation to get out from under her family and society and live as a free woman. Unfortunately, Charlotte learns it’s hard to live as a woman cast from society, luckily she has her consulting detective alter ego to fall back on: “Sherlock Holmes”. Already consulting with the police as Sherlock, Charlotte sends a letter to Inspector Lestrade containing a suggestion that can’t be taken back and launching an inspection that can’t be stopped. As Charlotte finds her way as an independent woman, she must also find a way as the consulting detective.

Review: At first, it started a little slowly, but that’s true of the original Sherlock books and stories. I loved the way the hardships of being an overly clever woman in the era are depicted as being vastly different than those of being an overly clever man. After all, Charlotte finds it’s easier to be taken seriously by society as the genius detective Sherlock than the genius society-woman Charlotte. The characters were great adaptations of their originals, but I especially liked the changes that were made. Thomas made a few changes to every character without losing sight of their inspiration. So far, there’s no information about the sequel, but I’m looking forward to it.

Recommendation: If you like unruly women in a realist Victorian era and mysteries and intrigue, I highly recommend this book. I first read about it in an NPR article, which I also recommend.

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Publisher: Berkley
Edition ISBN: 9780425281406

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Book Review: Jade Street Protection Services #3 & #4


Series #: Jade Street Protection Services, #3 & #4
Genre: Fiction, Comics, Adventure, Fantasy, Favorites
Original Publication Date: 2016 & 2017


Read: 30 Dec 2016

Summary: Everyone’s favorite magical girls are back, this time they’re determined to figure out who’s doing the bad things to girls like them. Now that they’re free of their stifling boarding school, they discover just what it feels like to be able to make their own choices, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s a lot to take in, this new freedom, from crushes to fights to magic intrigue, what will happen to these girls (my favorite magical girls) now that they have power beyond magic. How will they solve the mystery and what will they do to stop the bad guys?

Review: After seeing my review for JSPS #2 & #3, Katy Rex sent me #3 & #4 as review PDFs and I have to say, I’m so glad I didn’t have to wait!! My comic dealer… I mean comic shop *ahem* hadn’t gotten my #3 in yet and #4 isn’t out until January, so I was super stoked to get to read the end of this series early. I was so excited I bounced around the comic shop and even ended up making this review 2016’s 50th review, even though I finished Snow Crash a few days ago. I keep recommending Jade Street Protection Services to my friends who also like magical girls and I can’t wait to see my friend Gage again so I can put them in his hands!! Provided he sends them back, of course, otherwise I won’t be able to share them with anyone else!! I am super sad that this is the end, but golly gosh was it a good one!

Recommendation: If you like magical girls and fantastic art, definitely check out Jade Street Protection Services, it’s easily one of my favorite reads of 2016 (and according to Goodreads I’ve read 68 things in 2016).

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Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Edition Publication Date: 2016 Preview PDFs

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Book Review: Snow Crash

SNOW CRASH by Neal Stephenson

Genre: Fiction, Cyberpunk, Science Fiction, Adventure, Mystery
Original Publication Date: 1992


Read: 30 Nov – 27 Dec 2016

Summary: One part digital, one part real world, with changing view points, Snow Crash is a fantastic foray into the future of technology, or at least the way Neal Stephenson sees it. When a deadly virus attacks Hiro Protagonist’s friend in the Metaverse that seems to also affect him in reality, Hiro finds himself in the midst of an adventure. Through a series of circumstances, he ends up teaming up with Y.T., a 15-year old Courier who also finds herself in the middle of an adventure, although hers ends up taking different turns than Hiro’s. As they race to find the source of the virus and its corresponding drug, Hiro and Y.T. learn a lot more about the universe and even linguistics and religion as they go.

Review: Once again, I’m very impressed with Neal Stephenson’s work, and even more convinced that my friend L.S. is a librimatical genius. It took me a while to get through the book since it’s so dense, but it’s a good density! I wanted to have a few days to reflect on the book before I started reading again, plus Christmas was there in the middle and I had gifts to make. I really enjoyed the book, even if I thought Y.T. fell victim to what I call “Actual 15-Year Old Riri Williams” where 15-year old girls don’t look or act like actual teenagers, but rather like simpler adult women. I still liked her, but imagined her to be more 18 or 19 than 15.

Recommendation: I recommend this if you like cyberpunk and other non-dystopia science fiction.

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Publisher: Bantam Books
Edition ISBN: 9780553088533

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Book Review: Compromised


Genre: Fiction, History, Trashy Romance
Original Publication Date: 2008


Read: 29 Nov 2016

Summary: Gail Alton is used to moving around the continent and traveling the world with her family, but when her father remarries and decides it’s time to move back to London so Gail and her sister, Evangeline, can have a proper season, Gail finds she has a lot more than a step-mother to get accustomed to. One of the first things she has to get accustomed to is a “too-handsome-by-far” gentleman who rides her and her mare into the lake, and then ends up in a compromising position with her sister. Now she has to deal with him being around and courting her sister. Unfortunately for both of them, the sparks seem to fly more readily between the mismatched pair than the gentleman and his betrothed. Will both sisters be able to reconcile the sparks they have for the wrong man and their duty to do the right thing in society?

Review: I’m going to start this by saying, worry not, Evangeline isn’t left out to dry and isn’t a wicked sister. In fact, it was very refreshing to read about the two women supporting each other, very reminiscent of the relationship between Elizabeth and Jane in Pride and Prejudice. Gail and Evangeline are beautiful young women who meet beautiful young men, but they happen to fall in love with the “wrong” one. I loved the way the conflict centered around the girls struggling against society instead of struggling against each other and, in the end, even the step-mother turns out to be not-so-wicked after all. I absolutely love Kate Noble’s writing and can’t wait to pick up another of her books!

Recommendation: I highly recommend this book to romance lovers, especially those who like period romances.

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Publisher: Berkley
Edition ISBN: 9780425219645

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Book Review: Welcome to Night Vale, a Novel

WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Series #: Welcome to Night Vale, Novel #1
Genre: Fiction, Adventure, Mystery, Fantasy
Original Publication Date: 2015


Read: 29 Oct – 08 Nov 2016

Summary: In a strange little town in a strange vast desert an adventure awaits. Jackie Fierro, local pawnshop owner, receives an item that, for once in her normal life, unsettles her. A piece of paper that reads “King City” and cannot be set down or destroyed leads her to Diane Crayton, who she definitely wants to avoid. Now, to solve their individual mysteries, they must make a dangerous visit to the library, find a way to get to a town that is impossible to reach, figure out who the man in the tan jacket is and why no one can remember him, and save their town. Will they be able to? In Night Vale, anything is impossible.

Review: I first tried to just read the book, but it was a little hard to envision the town of Night Vale without Cecil Baldwin’s voice guiding me gently through this hazardous town. Luckily, he narrates the audiobook, so I went ahead and bought the audiobook, which greatly improved my reading experience. I liked the story of Jackie and Diane’s adventure, although some points definitely dragged on a little too long. The best parts of the story were when Jackie and Diane were working together to figure out what was happening to them and in their town. I really enjoyed this side step of the podcast.

Recommendation: If you’re a fan of wacky and weird, definitely check this book out.

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Publisher: Harper Perennial
Edition ISBN: 9780062351425