Fiction Review: Venus on Mars

BY JAN MILLSAPPS
Publisher: Falernian Press
Reviewed by Lori Holuta

VoMfrontcoverI’ve always loved road trips. There is a freedom of mind and body that can only be found when you’re far from home and the only physical object that ties you to your identity is your car. Some of my favorite books and movies have involved the Classic American Road Trip.

Of course I was immediately interested when I began reading Venus on Mars and realized I’d be riding shotgun along with Venus Dawson, who’s just left New Orleans, Louisiana and is on the road to Pasadena, California. Venus has just attended to her mother’s burial in New Orleans, and is on her way home, where a job she loathes awaits her return.

Before she leaves the funeral proceedings, an uncle she’s never met gives her a package, explaining that he promised her mother it would be passed down to the next generation. He tells Venus she is ‘supposed to have this’. She cracks into the package during her first diner stop, finds her great aunt Wrexie Louise “Lulu” Leonard’s private journal, and begins to read it.

Venus is drawn into Lulu’s life, and we, the readers, are taken along for the ride. But there’s room on the road trip for yet one more notable woman. The author cleverly slips in details of the life of Letha Broussard Dawson, the almost-blind mother of Venus who’s just been buried, and is still in her ‘discovery’ stages of Crossing Over.

As Venus meanders her way across the country, she becomes more and more engrossed in Lulu’s journal. She starts to connect with her great aunt and finds a bond of both kinship and sympathy for the life of a Victorian woman who struggled with her astronomy career and the man she worked alongside. Venus has her share of both those challenges, too.

Eventually, the impact this little journal has on Venus goes well beyond words on paper. She veers off the main road, both in reality and also metaphysically, until all paths of her life are changed forever. There’s no clear way to describe this transition, it really needs to be experienced first-hand by the reader.

I’m aware that other reviews of Venus on Mars focus heavily on the planet Mars. Indeed, much of this story revolves around the red planet, which forms the pivot point of this story. Mars is wonderfully revealed (and revered) by each of our characters as they try to solve its mysteries.

But for me, what I will remember most are the lives of Lulu, Letha and Venus. Separated by time, bonded by blood, and joined by circumstances, when all is said and done, each has an amazing story to share. Inspired by their stories, you may find a chapter of your own life, just waiting to be written.

The author maintains an eye-opening website (janmillsapps.com) that’s well worth exploring. Here, she explains the ‘augmented moments’ that you’ll come across now and then in Venus on Mars. If you have access to a QR Reader for your mobile device, you can take advantage of these bonus features, but the novel plays out perfectly well on it’s own.

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