Review of "Brightly Burning" by Alexa Donne

Donne, Alexa. Brightly Burning. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD |ISBN-13: 978-1328948939 | 394 pages | YA Science Fiction

3 stars

I had Brightly Burning on my radar for a while, and FINALLY had time to get to it. The idea of “Jane Eyre in space” intrigued me, and while it’s not the perfect book, I enjoyed it for the most part.

The best part of the book is the way it reimagines the romance. I’ve mentioned in previous Jane Eyre retelling reviews how much the Jane/Rochester romance bothers me, so I’m always up for a version that makes it less creepy. And this one is. I loved the tension between Stella and the slightly broody, but still likable Captain Hugo. They have a great slow-burn relationship that I was rooting for throughout, and without a lot of the major complications of their classic counterparts.

As a sci-fi book, my feelings are a bit…mixed… in terms of the world building. I enjoyed some of it, like the idea that they’re looking back a couple hundred years in the future on stuff that is still relatively modern to us. But it contradicts itself quickly, with the idea that Stella would leave an engineering job to become a governess of all things. It’s stated in the blurb, but I would have liked some further explanation as to why a futuristic society incorporated some concepts from Ye Olden Days, while seeming farther advanced in others.

This is a fun concept, but it could have done with some fine-tuning. I’m hoping Donne’s forthcoming Austen-inspired book will have sorted out some of these issues. But it’s a fun retelling that you don’t have to have read the classic to understand, and one I would recommend to someone looking for a fun YA sci-fi romanc.

Reiew of "Starsight" (Skyward #2) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Starsight. New York: Delacrote Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978=0399555817 | 461 pages | YA Science Fiction

4.5 stars

Given my enjoyment of Skyward, I was excited to see where the series would go next. And upon picking up Starsight, I wasn’t disappointed. However, I did find it interesting to note the way the plot made things so structurally different from what you expect from a standard SFF, due to the nature of the plot development. thus far, with this installment focused more on the wider world building, and feeling so thematically different with Spensa on her own and away from the rest of the crew that made the first one so entertaining.

Not that that’s a major drawback, as it’s nice to get more of the world and have a sense of its scope. It also presents an opportunity to Spensa to meet new characters and grow more throughout this one. And with Spensa having a knack for finding trouble, it was fun to see her in a different environment.

Not that it’s devoid of fun interactions in favor of personal growth and challenges, as she’s still accompanied by M-Bot, and he’s even funnier than I remembered, quite possibly one of my favorite Sanderson characters with all of his one-liners.

While it is a bit different stylistically, I think fans of Skyward will enjoy this one, and would recommend it to them, and the series overall to fans of YA sci-fi.

Review of "Internment" by Samira Ahmed

Ahmed, Samira. Internment. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316522694 | 386 pages | YA Dystopian

4 stars

I believe I heard about Internment through YA Book Twitter, and was intrigued at the premise of how it used historical examples of racism and xenophobia in the U.S. to predict the trajectory of the country’s current “handling” of immigration and Islamophobia, particularly as it resonates with my own family history and how other prominent Japanese Americans have spoken out at the disturbing parallels to anti-Asian laws and Japanese internment in light of government decisions like the current crisis at the U.S-Mexico border and the Muslim ban.

And the result is a sometimes bleak, but ultimately hopeful, read, as it depicts Layla, her family, and many others sent to an internment camp simply for their race and religion, and how while they at first endure, some, including Layla, choose to rise up and protest their release.

And Layla as a character is great. She presents a good balance between typical teenager focused on love and friendships and burgeoning resistance fighter, and I liked that Ahmed managed to find a way to get a healthy balance of both.

The one flaw I see is in its world-building and how it hinges on its sense of the “now.” It’s suggested in the blurb and in the note at the end that this is a “very near future” version of the U.S. While Ahmed plays with ideas that do recur due to persistent white supremacy, so the concepts may endure on that strength alone, she writes with the belief that the reader already knows about the state of the United States that led to the events of this book, and while I can assume many people today are aware, it lends itself to the question of whether it will endure the test of time. While I’m sure that’s not the writer’s first concern when writing a book, Margaret Atwood wrote with similar ideas in mind, leading to an enduring and relevant novel that still speaks to many readers, and the dystopian story has come and gone over the years with people being able to revisit those previous publications and still grasp meaning from them. However, I don’t know if that will one hundred percent be the case here.

However, I don’t doubt this is an incredibly important book for the moment, highlighting the issues that we as a nation need to fight against. I recommend it to people looking for hard-hitting YA books that tackle the state of the world today and help provide hope that there is a way to fix it.

Review of “Star Wars: Resistance Reborn” by Rebecca Roanhorse

Roanhorse, Rebecca. Star Wars: Resistance Reborn. New York: Del Rey, 2019.

Hardcover | $28.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0593128428 | 298 pages | Science Fiction

4 stars

Resistance Reborn has been billed as a “love letter” to previous Star Wars extended material, from the other canon books, to the comics, and other media. And while I remain still have a relatively surface level understanding of the current state of the wider story, I still enjoyed this a lot for the references I was able to grasp, as well as generating the expected excitement for The Rise of Skywalker.

As the title implies, this book is a lot about regrouping after the events of The Last Jedi and the Battle of Crait. It is very much a bridge book before the next film, and it’s not massively action packed, but spending time with the characters is the real strength of this book, especially as they come back together in a sense after being separated for a bit.

Love and friendship are important themes in this book, and I like that the story suggests some nuance to the relationships that wasn’t really there in the previous two trilogies, where the pairing was almost a foregone conclusion by the second installment. As much as I think Last Jedi gets too much unnecessary hate, I did feel myself a little disenchanted by the Rose/Finn pairing, so I’m glad that is given some sort of closure, along with Finn/Rey, in a way that suggests that his relationship with Poe is the most important, whether it be a strong friendship or a potential romantic relationship. And while I’m definitely not on board with the way Reylo is being promoted, I think there is at least some sound reasoning for it as a possibility provided here.

Roanhorse, like most of the SW authors, shows her love of the franchise, and perhaps more so with this book referencing so many previous books, even if it doesn’t impact one’s capacity for enjoyment. While a bit too short and lacking in major stakes to pack as much of a punch, I am definitely looking forward to the Rise of Skywalker even more now to see how it picks up from here. I recommend this book to any other Star Wars diehards out there.

Review of “Aurora Blazing” (Consortium Rebellion #2) by Jessie Mihalik

Mihalik, Jessie. Aurora Blazing. New York: Harper Voyager, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062802415 | 381 pages | Science Fiction

4 stars

Aurora Blazing is a good second book, making up for some of book one’s weaknesses, while also continuing the series’ arc of being politically engaging and interesting.

I definitely liked Bianca a little more than Ada, in part because of the extra baggage she has due to her awful political marriage and its dark outcome (which some suspect she had a hand in). And I love that balance between rebuilding herself while also dealing with the crises in the galaxy, the main one this time concerning the whereabouts of one of her brothers. And I admit I prefer the “sit on the sidelines and calculate one’s next move” style that Bianca has, as opposed to Ada’s more combative style.

And the romance is much more understated in this one, although it does linger from the beginning, as there is history between her and Ian due to his role in her family’s employ, and that lends itself to a fun “princess and the bodyguard” dynamic. While he did not necessarily win me over as a hero, he is at least much more likable than Loch in the last book.

This is a good second book, and a sci-fi adventure in its own right. I recommend this someone looking for sci-fi with romantic elements.

Review of “A House of Rage and Sorrow” (The Celestial Trilogy #2) by Sangu Mandanna

Mandanna, Sangu. A House of Rage and Sorrow. New York: Sky Pony Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1510733794 | 248 pages | YA Science Fiction

5 stars

It’s beginning to feel increasingly rare that we have second books in trilogies that not only deliver, but actually exceed their predecessor in terms of quality as opposed to falling into the dreaded “second-book syndrome.” But A House of Rage and Sorrow is one of the few exceptions to this trend, actually functioning as a second book in terms of both building on the first and building anticipation for the third, without feeling too much like filler.

And one of the technical things that made it better was that the connection between characters were made more clear with a character guide, while still leaving room for suspense, as the lack of one left me feeling a bit confused with book one. And since these can feel a little info-dump-y, I love the stylistic choice to convey it through the voice of Titania the warship, who also gets a few chapters from her perspective. She’s my favorite character from book one, so I enjoyed seeing her utilized in such a fun and creative way.

I also enjoyed getting a much more intense look at the relationships between characters this time around. As the title implies, there is a lot of “rage and sorrow,” and the fact that it’s centered around family and politics makes it all the more heightened. I could sympathize so much with Esmae’s rage, especially toward her brother following the events at the end of the lat book, and the way things come to a head in this one.

I enjoyed this sequel, with all its twists and turns, and can’t wait to see how it’ll all come together in book 3. I would recommend this to fans ofYA SFF with great world-building and complex family-centered politics.

Review of “Once & Future” (Once & Future #1) by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

Capetta, Amy Rose, & Cori McCarthy. Once & Future. New York: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown and Company, 2019.

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316449274 | 354 pages | YA Science Fiction

4 stars

A queer King Arthur retelling? Sign me up! I was never a fan of the original legend, what with there not being many great female characters, But Once & Future is a truly unique contribution to the mythos, not attempting to rewrite the story so much as to build on it, establishing more LGBTQ+ inclusivity and a outer-space setting infused with the trappings of Arthurian legend.

And while there are some rough spots (which I will get into momentarily), I mostly enjoyed this, particularly for its new takes on the characters. Merlin by far is the most fun, what with his sense of aging backwards, so he’s simultaneously super old yet somehow manages to keep up with these characters who are reincarnation of Arthurian characters, but have more modern sensibilities, especially when it comes to gender and sexuality.

I also like the relationship between Ari and Gwen, and how it’s so different from their original legendary counterparts with their love and passion for one another. And while it’s not explicit, I did like that things did get a little sexy, working to destigmatize queer sex in society.

I did find the elements of the Big Bad, the Mercer Society, and the big conflict there a bit underwhelming, since it felt a little more like the foe out of a YA dystopian than an enemy that the reincarnations of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table have to face, even taking into account that this is a science fiction/space setting.

But in spite of that, this is still a fun read with great representation, inspired by both the authors’ real experiences and nerdy interests. And if you’re looking for a radical new take on King Arthur, I heartily recommend it.

Review of “A Spark of White Fire” (The Celestial Trilogy #1) by Sangu Mandanna

Mandanna, Sangu. A Spark of White Fire. New York: Sky Pony Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1510733787 | 311 pages | YA Science Fiction

4 stars

I first heard about Sangu Mandanna and A Spark of White Fire somewhat recently on Twitter when she spoke about her own experience with non-Indian people imposing their beliefs of her culture when reviewing her book, a common struggle for authors of color writing ownvoices stories. And despite not knowing much about the Mahabharata prior to reading the book, I loved the idea of a new take on Indian mythology in space.

And this book more or less delivers. While I did feel like the cast and its connections is a bit hard to follow at times, and I would have liked a family tree or some sort of character guide to keep them all straight, yet the relationships that were conveyed and how they evolve over the course of the book, and were conveyed very well.

And Esmae is a great protagonist as well. I loved seeing the conflicts through her eyes, and how she had to constantly negotiate the competing loyalties in this tense atmosphere.

And overall, it just does some cool things with its mix of sci-fi and fantasy, like the amusing sentient spaceship, as well as the wonderful world-building, steeped in cultural significance. This is a wonderful beginning to a great SFF trilogy, and one I’d recommend to other lovers of YA SFF.

Review of “Polaris Rising” (Consortium Rebellion #1) by Jessie Mihalik

Mihalik, Jessie. Polaris Rising. New York: Harper Voyager, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062802385 | 431 pages | Sci-Fi Romance

3 stars

I picked up Polaris Rising with one of my genre goals in mind, to read more sci-fi (beyond Star Wars), and, seeing it raved about by some romance readers as a great cross-genre read, I was interested.

And when it comes to the sci-fi elements, Mihalik delivers. The book (and, it appears, the overall series) is set in an intriguing futuristic Earth, with a combination of high-tech and historic-feeling class systems. And the overall premise with the patriarchal society demanding an arranged marriage from its princess, and her fight back, is well-done.

Ada is a sympathetic heroine, and I like that, while she’s competent in the situation she’s in, with her resourcefulness. I could at least become inveted in her situation, even if I wanted so much more for her than what she got.

Which brings me to the romance…cringe. My initial problem is that the hero, Loch, is just the standard cardboard cut-out rogue, except you don’t get the sense he has much depth, because you don’t get his POV (not that I wanted it, if it was going to also be in first person). Not to mention, he “knows his way around a women’s undergarments,” but still gets possessive and jealous when Ada is interacting with someone she doesn’t even have romantic feelings for?

And the sex scenes? They lacked any real chemistry outside the bedroom, but this perfectly exemplifies why I sometimes can’t stand sex scenes, because they just further exacerbate the lack of chemistry and make me hate the character I already dislike even more.

But as I said before, the world politics seems interesting, and the best part for me was toward the end when she was reunited with her siblings, who, it seems, based on the blurb for the next one at least, will be protagonists of future books. That, along with what I heard about a slightly different dynamic for the second one romance wise, keep me interested in the series.

That said, I think fans of romantic sci-fi/sci-fi romance might enjoy this, as it’s gotten great reviews from romance readers, but people coming in from the sci-fi genre might have different expectations. Either way, if Mihalik figures out the right balance of sci-fi/romance elements in future books, I can see her doing well, as this book does have a lot of promise.

Review of “Master and Apprentice” by Claudia Gray

Gray, Claudia. Master and Apprentice. New York: Del Rey, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $9.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984819611 | 464 pages | Science Fiction

5 stars

I was excited for Master and Apprentice, both for its focus on Qui-Gon, a character I feel got shafted when the prequels originally came out due to their poor reception, and the fact that I generally enjoy what Claudia Gray has brought to Star Wars. And given that she’s working with an era where mot of the major plot threads for the characters have been resolved, I feel like she did a great job of crafting a story that still gets the reader invested.

While Qui-Gon’s relationship with Obi-Wan is only one of the master-apprentice relationships highlighted in the story, it is at the forefront, and I like seeing it elaborated on. There was always this sense of Qui-Gon being more rebellious and Obi-Wan being more by-the-book, and I’ve always found that a fascinating dynamic, especially when it’s usually the opposite. And then having this extra conflict to negotiate, while also acknowledging that they already have issues, it made me appreciate their complex bond all the more, especially seeing how they resolve it and continue to work together.

And given Qui-Gon’s less than traditional nature, it’s coll to get some insights into both his past as Padawan to former Jedi Count Dooku, as well as another former Padawan of Dooku’s, Rael Aveross, who pushes the envelope even more than Qui-Gon.

I also really enjoy the way Gray manages to portray the galaxy at a “time of peace” and make it as intriguing as it was with the intense wars going on, with the biggest issue being a smaller planetary conflict.

This is an incredible Star Wars book about an era I’m glad to see getting more love as of late. I recommend this to prequel era and Qui-Gon fans.