Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne


Genre: YA Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

Are you looking for the retelling of the year? Stop your search, Brightly Burning is the pick for you. Jane Eyre set in space, it has the essence of the classic but reimagined in a futuristic setting to spin an old favourite.

The story follows Stella Ainsley, a teacher and engineer aboard the lowly ship, the Stalwart. Earth is inhabitable due to an ice age, and most of its citizens have been evacuated in to space. Orphaned at a young age, Stella has come to call the Stalwart home, but dreams of bigger things when it seems the Stalwart has been chosen to deorbit and go back to Earth. Money is tight, and there’s no way to know for sure if it’ll make the travel back. A surprise acceptance for a position as governess on another ship, the Rochester, changes her life around. She gives up her scrappy life for one with advanced technology, more food/water rations and a dashing captain, Hugo Fairfax. But nothing stays perfect forever. Stella hear’s strange laughs during the night. Hugo’s life is in danger. And when her own life is on the line, she must ask the mysterious Hugo the very questions he’s been keeping secret for a very long time…

I liked this book. I adore the concept of Jane Eyre so to entwine it with my love for science fiction made this an obvious buy for me.

The good:

– Stella was just great to read about. She’s quirky, smart and likeable in the aspect that she’s very down to earth and a normal teenager. She has her wits about her which definitely ties to the original Jane Eyre we all know and love.

– Hugo’s character was done well, despite what could have been obvious holes with his character. Like the original Rochester, he’s still a drunk and moody character and Alexa Donne still made that believable despite ageing him nineteen.

– The little nuances the author paid homage to made this book so the much more enjoyable. Twisting names from Blanche Ingram to Bianca Ingram for Hugo’s betrothed, and keeping the same linear storyline to the original were amongst many other great choices in the fluidity of the retelling.

The bad:

– Whilst the first half of the book felt strong, the second half fell for me. I was hoping for the plot to stay true in some aspects to Jane Eyre, but I found it steered too much in the other direction and lost some of its beauty. We found out who was trying to hurt Stella and Hugo, and instead of focusing more on this reveal, Donne focussed more on a new idea she brought in: the reveal that Hugo and his employees created the virus that was wiping out the poor citizens across the fleet. I would have loved for the mystery of who was committing the crimes to take centre point for more of the novel.

– A perhaps minor detail that also bugged me was when Hugo deorbits and goes back to Earth to escape his inflictions and is burned considerably in his crash landing. It was so intrinsic in the original Jane Eyre that Rochester loses his eye sight and Jane finds him blind, and it bugged me that Hugo had burns but his eyesight was perfectly intact. I would have loved that direct link to the original as it’s so monumental that their love for one another transcends superficial boundaries.

Overall, I’m really glad I read this book. I’d highly recommend it for all its romance, adventure, and original take on a beloved classic.

Whisper by Lynette Noni

Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopia

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Whisper was a treasure of a tale about secrets, hidden identities and superpowers.

The story follows Jane Doe, aka Subject 684, at the Lengard facility in Sydney, Australia. She’s a subject there and has been mentally and physically tested every day for over two years. Her reason for being there is unknown but it’s hinted at her possible powers throughout the first part of the book. All comes to a halt when she is assigned to work with Ward, a teenager like her who’s objective is to bring out her power. We find out Jane is a Speaker, and more importantly a Creator – an ability to speak words with intent and also create just by speaking. She’s the first Creator in a long time and Lengard soon finds her invaluable. She joins learning ranks with other Speakers to learn her craft and eventually be used by the government as a weapon. Things change though when Jane learns about the Resistance, rogue Speakers who question Lengard and its training and tell Jane about hidden experiments existing within its walls. Jane must decide for herself if she should trust Ward and her friends or if she should question her past and see past Lengard’s clean pristine surface…

This was a surprise read. I read it a bit blindly and just enjoyed having it all unfold. It was set in Australia which is rare to read about in YA these days, and I found the characters were likeable. I think I’m also really into superhero/superpower books these days and was happy this book had that and also great camaraderie.

Points of interest:

– I liked the story. I miss reading books where things unravel and you’re almost as blind as the MC. Jane unbeknownstenly is part of a bigger picture and home truths are discovered about Lengard throughout the book.

– Jane Doe was more interesting than her name suggests. We only get so much from her in the book as she’s discovering more about herself as you read, but she has a nice quality to her that makes you root for her.

– I liked the group of characters. The general camaraderie was awesome and I liked how everyone had their own personality. The humour was great.

– Ward and Jane’s relationship was interesting to read about. He played a lot of mind games with her but I liked how Jane held her own. Her honesty about her whole situation was refreshing and I’m intrigued to see her character arc.

– It’s set in Australia! YA books are never set there I feel so this was a breath of fresh air.

– It has a mild love triangle which is bearable. It’s a cheesy YA trope but I like it sometimes and felt Whisper did it right. The book had little romance and was more plot driven, so the love triangle was there but not overpowering.

– Without spoiling, we had a literal mad scientist as a villain! He’s crazy, deranged and just 100% believes in his messed up theories and I found my heart racing with his scenes.

I’d really recommend this book. Whisper had all the components of a great scifi/dystopian novel that I haven’t read in awhile, and blends it altogether with a stellar set of characters. Pick this one up!

The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars

Passion. Destiny. Politics. War

Who shall be named Queen?

The Queen’s Rising was an unexpected delight with its royal ties, political wars and slow burn romance. The story follows orphaned Brienna, one of the girls at Magnalia House in Valenia studying one of the five passions: wit, knowledge, music, art and acting. She comes to the school as a favour of her grandfather’s and eventually chooses knowledge as her passion with Master Cartier as her teacher. Failing to find a patron on her seventeen summer solstice to take her on, Brienna is horrified at what will come next but all changes when she starts having visions from her ancestors about the infamous Stone of Eventide. The stone vanished centuries ago and with its recovery, the rightful heir to the Maevana (rival kingdom to Valenia) empire will come to power. With all hell breaking loose with its current King, and Valenia ties strained, Brienna has become the source of knowledge the people have been waiting for.

She is accepted from a disgraced patron who has plans to use her visions to locate the stone and after meeting the rightful heir to the throne through him, she is set to work using her visions. But all is not what it seems, as Brienna’s past comes into play and she is torn between following her new family or her old one…

I loved this book. I put it off for awhile as it seemed daunting and I find lots of fantasy books are too similar. This one had me captivated. The characters were likeable, the political warfare between Valenia and Maevana was so interesting, and the slow burn romance between Brienna and Cartier was really great. Everyone had secret identities so the twists just kept on coming.

My favourite points:

– The slow burn romance between Brienna and Cartier was so lovely to read. You didn’t know if they were going to get together as he’s technically her teacher and there’s at least a ten year age gap, but it felt suitable. Not creepy. He was so respectable and sweet to her and when I say it was a slow burn romance, it really was, which made it all the much sweeter.

– The politics were so interesting to read about. It wasn’t too technical and the rivalry between Valenia and Maevana was well explored. The magic element also added an extra layer to the story and I liked how this book set it all up for the sequel.

– The twists weren’t major but there were enough that caught me off guard and surprised me. Everyone had alter egos and I was hooked reading it all unfold. I definitely had moments where I was like, “What!” and I’m looking forward to seeing where the characters go next.

– The pacing of the book was done well. I was interested throughout the novel as there were enough plot points to keep my focus. I just wanted to know what was going to happen next.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It’s intriguing, passionate and magical and has a strong storyline to keep you interested. The set of characters were likeable and I’m excited for the sequel next year to come out.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Genre: YA Fantasy/Science Fiction

Rating: 4.75/5 stars

Good vs evil.

Superheroes vs villains.

Who wins in the end?

You may think you know the answer but Renegades will make you question it. Marissa Meyer writes a tale from the villain’s point of view and with all its multilayered characters and rich landscape you’ll find the lines get blurred and wonder…

Who put them there in the first place?

The story follows the Renegades, a group of superheroes who run Galton City and keep it safe from the Anarchists and other rogue superheroes. We see things from Nova’s (alias Nightmare) perspective as one of the Anarchists who wants to overthrow the Renegade Council and restore power to the people so that all people with superpowers can live freely. She’s the niece of Ace Anarchy, the founding member of the Anarchists, and with his death by the hands of Captain Chromium, the Renegade leader, she wants justice served. Leaving her group of misfits behind, Nova goes undercover as a newbie Renegade (new alias Insomnia) to learn how to destroy the structure from within and bring upon the destruction needed to ruin the Renegades. Introduce Adrian (alias Sketch), Captain Chromium’s son, who wants Nightmare’s blood for her deathly past schemes, and a secret project undergoing at Renegade headquarters, Nova has more to worry about than she first thinks.

Man, I loved this book. It was reminiscent of the Reckoner trilogy by Brandon Sanderson which I absolutely adored, and I found I struggled to put it down. The characters were just great and I appreciated the scope of the world. I had faith in Meyer’s writing and she delivered.

The characters I adored:

– Nova (Nightmare) was awesome. She has light and dark elements to her and even with the moral ambiguity, I still felt a warmth to her. I’m interested to see her character arc in the next book and for us to see her powers more.

– Adrian (Sketch) was just adorable. I’m appreciating that guys in books now are more varied. He was nerdy and cute but smart. He wasn’t arrogant or demeaning – he just saw the best in others. Also, his power was to sketch things and bring them to life. Seriously, how cool is that?

– The Sentinel was a new character that joined the cast, and I liked how he was really ambiguous. Is he good? Is he bad? No side claimed him but he added that extra layer of depth to the book.

– The Anarchists were just awesome. I liked Leroy (Cyanide) the best as I felt he spoke a lot of wisdom and was Nova’s closes ally, but Honey (Queen Bee) was also so quirky and unique. Winston (The Puppeteer) was that comic relief the book needed.

– The Renegade Council held the right stature and demeanour to not make a ‘superhero’ novel seem cringey. They wore capes and superhero costumes but it never felt cheesy or funny. I understood their perspective on things despite seeing things from the anti heroes perspective, and could see they were doing their best to build a safe society with rules.

Only issue:

– Nova’s powers as Insomnia were so similar to Nightmare’s that I just thought it was obvious that they were the same person. Like how did the Renegades not see that? Also, Adrian disappearing mid scenes and coming back as The Sentinel and no one batting an eye was strange too. I just think everyone would have noticed their alter egos.

Overall, I’m really glad I read this book. It was a riveting read with a great set of characters to set the scene. I’m excited for Archenemies to come out to see how the stakes can rise even higher!

Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Genre: YA Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The reviews were right – Unearthed really is Indiana Jones set in space.

The story follows Amelia, a scavver searching for any scraps to sell and survive, and Jules, a scholar’s son who is constantly searching for answers in the world. The two meet when they arrive on Gaia, a distant planet where an ancient civilisation called the Undying have left resources that could save Earth from its problems. Except they’re both there for different reasons – one to raid the temples and grab the loot, the other to study and learn as much as possible about the origins of this alien species. Together, they form a truce and discover that there’s more than meets the eye with Gaia.

I really appreciated the two MC’s. Amelia was headstrong, had her heart in the right place, and had her wits about her. Jules had this nerdy quality, which made him instantly likeable, but also had a nice character arc. It was refreshing to have a female lead who was the adrenaline junkie, and a male lead who was more book smart. Despite crossing over in their strengths, I liked how it wasn’t a ‘tough guy’ vs. ‘brainy’ girl dynamic.

This book had my heart pounding! It was action packed, had nice tones of romance, and a hell of an ending! Like what a cliffhanger! I’m desperately in need of book two and officially won over. 😊