Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne was the 5th book I finished this year (because OF COURSE I’m counting) and it was such a delight.
It takes my favorite classic: Jane Eyre, teases out all the modern-day young-adult themes I know and love, and plops the storyline on a futuristic space ship orbiting Earth.
Stella, our main character, is a delightful young woman who is both bold and understands her “place” in terms of social structure. I could relate whole-heartedly to her, preferring to keep to her quarters and read or draw rather than socialize with her peers, getting brazen only under the influence of a few strong drinks, or once she’s comfortable. Hugo, the love interest (yes, that’s the role I’m designating for him–I suppose he could be a quasi-antagonist much like the Mr. Rochester he’s based upon), is mysterious and broody, maybe more handsome than the original but I let that slide. Personally, I liked the mysterious Mr. Rochester being so much older (maybe it’s my thing for Bruce Willis making age gaps feel so irrelevant), and so was a touch disappointed Hugo was around Stella’s age–but then I figured it’s way less ok for a 17-year-old to start a love affair with her older employer in this day and age than it might have been in Charlotte Brontë’s time.
I loved that this story had that comforting familiarity of a well-loved story, yet enough new twists/plot points to keep things fresh. More than once I found myself thinking “well Jane Eyre went this direction, but there’s no way for that to happen here” or “how will she handle X if Y is so different in this version?” so nothing felt stale.
If you like SciFi YA (that’s science fiction young adult, mom), hundo p–this book is for you. If you’re a fan of Jane Eyre, I’d also highly recommend this novel.
If you love Sherlock Holmes, you will love this book. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is the first in an amazing, 4-book series. I am 100% obsessed.
This story begins when Jamie Watson, the however-many-greats-grandson of Dr. John Watson, ends up at a boarding school with Charlotte Holmes (the however-many-greats-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes, keep up). The way Cavallaro has entwined the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (famed biographer in this world) into the plot and explained the generations of Holmeses and Watsons since is captivating. Jamie is such a lovable character, and (his) Holmes is intoxicating in her mysteriousness as well as her prickly vulnerability.
There are some more “adult” themes that (if memory serves) are only slightly touched on in the original Sherlock Holmes series (i.e. drug abuse), so just a brief note of caution, a “trigger warning,” if you will: this story does deal with such things as the trauma after a sexual assault and teen drug use (it also has some swearing, Mom). On the whole, I think the subject matter is very well-managed and real without being coarse or insensitive.
If you have an Amazon Prime account, right now A Study in Charlotte is free on Prime Reading, so you can dip your toes into this series without the commitment of purchasing the book — but I am confident you will end up devouring it and immediately stocking your library shelf with the next two books (book 4 comes out in March 2019). This is honestly such a well-written and enjoyable series — I would go so far as to say it is one of my favorites.
Do you know that feeling when you first meet someone who you just get? You love spending time together and getting to know more about them, and you just freaking adore them? Before you know it, your life is kind of taken over by this person. At first, that’s wonderful — the more of them, the better. But then it starts to wear on you, and you see their quirks for the flaws they are, and you want to roll your eyes every time they open their mouth and you start to feel like you if you have to hear one more time about how they will do anything to find their brother you will stab yourself in the freaking eye with a pen…
So that’s where I’m at in my edits…
I know my story is good. When I first finished, I daydreamed about my characters as if they belonged to some other book by some other author. I fell asleep writing my own fan-fiction, sending minor characters off on adventures that would never fit into the novel (but could find their way into a blog post eventually).
After three-plus read-throughs (and several scene rewrites), I am kind of sick of looking at this story. I have to keep reminding myself it is good. That it has the potential to find its way onto a bookstore shelf. Because right now, it feels like trash. Some of the pages of my manuscript look like a rainbow at best — a rotting, bloody corpse at worst — the black words crossed-through in red and scribbled-over in blue and annotated in green. I’ve reached a point where I’m not even sure my edits are constructive — what if I reduce all the magic to grammatical masterpieces and formulaic sentence structure?
So I’m taking a break. A week off from Solvi and her quest to reunite her brother with their family. A week where I will over-indulge in the Bachelor in Paradise finale, obsess over fantasy football, and lose myself in someone else’s fictional world. I have a whole list of books on Amazon waiting to be experienced — so hopefully I’ll be able to toss up another book review or two on here soon.
And when I get back to her, hopefully Solvi will be a sympathetic, relatable character once again.
Ernest Hemingway said “the first draft of anything is shit”. And I’m not starting any nerdy lit wars, but he’s kind of a big deal. He knows what he’s talking about when it comes to writing, at least.
This has been my mantra while writing my current novel — which I feel comfortable calling a novel rather than just a work-in-progress (even though it is) because I freaking FINISHED A FIRST DRAFT EVERYONE.
This may not seem like a big deal, but trust me when I tell you this is huge. Approximately 50,000 words relating to the same story with a beginning, middle and end. Chock-full of shoddy writing and more than a few space-saving brackets where things need to be fleshed out. But DONE.
The key was figuring out how to turn off my editor-brain, because that’s what’s always hung me up before. To do this, once I finished writing for the day, I was done with that section. I could not reread it or tweak it anymore. I created a section for notes each day, where I would put ideas for changes, things to research, etc, so when I go back to do my first round of edits (which I am so excited for it’s almost embarrassing), I’ll be able to see if the changes fit and remember what else I might be able to add.
Like I said, at some points I put in brackets — a lot of points, actually. Almost every minor character in my book is currently known simply as [X], because I’ll need to research typical names and did not want to get sucked down a research rabbit hole. I left some really shitty lines like “we all fight a lot and people die right and left” because I will need to watch videos and read articles to accurately depict battle scenes, but also needed to move the narrative of the first draft along.
But the point is, it is done and I am floating on a high like I have not known before.
And now I may be able to return some focus to this blog, which I really do love.
I know I said An Ember in the Ashes is my all-time favorite YA book. I stand by that. BUT. The Selection Series by Kierra Cass is one of my all-time favorite of the YA series (okay, so I have a lot of favorites…there’s a reason my husband promised in his wedding vows to move all my books wherever we go).
The Heir, which is the fourth book in the series, is what I read almost cover to cover the morning of my wedding day. As much as I loved America, I adore Eadlyn. And like a boy-crazy teenager, I really liked how different all the boys were.
The Selection through The One is basically The Bachelor meets Cinderella. Girls are selected from around the kingdom to compete for the affection of the crown prince. They represent different caste levels and each bring something appealing to the table, be it alliance potential, charisma for the paparazzi, or a desire to make life better for the lower castes. The camaraderie (and sometimes, the fighting) between the girls is beautifully written and wholly believable. It’s a trilogy about friendship as much as it is about love and politics.
The Heir and The Crown follow the next generation: a princess determined to prove she is the strongest person in the kingdom. She don’t need no man, and she tells her parents constantly. But the kingdom is still showing signs of unrest, and the king and queen hope a return to the traditional Selection will boost morale. Eadlyn is determined to torment the boys into leaving of their own volition, but as time passes, she grows to enjoy their company. Love blossoms in the least likely of places, and she has to decide if accepting a husband — even one she truly loves — will hold her back from being the queen she’s always dreamt of.
The writing is fast-paced and engaging, and the characters come to life with each page. I shared their heartbreaks and rejoiced over their triumphs, and actually believed the possibility of a less-than-happy ending. I’ve also read through this series at least twice. It’s a keeper on my shelves for sure!
HOW HAVE I NOT ALREADY WRITTEN THIS?! Guys, this is my all time favorite YA book that isn’t Harry Potter (because Harry Potter is really its own thing at this point, anyway).
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is about a slave and a soldier in fantasy-Ancient Rome. Laia is a Scholar, the broken and subservient class, sent as a slave to spy on the martial school in order to help free her brother from imprisonment. Elias is a Martial, and on his way to joining the upper echelons of the Empire — a position that only fills him with disgust. (And also, Helene is a badass secondary character whom I love — dare I say it — possibly more than either Laia or Elias).
I will say right off the bat, if you haven’t already noticed, I’m not too hard to please when it comes to the love interest. I know that makes me somewhat unreliable when it comes to actual opinions about the guys in these female-led novels. Set that aside for a second and trust me when I say, Elias is everything. Strong and deadly and kind and compassionate. He’s probably my favorite swoon-worthy character since Gilbert Blythe (not that anyone will ever take the place of Gilbert Blythe).
Laia is relatable, at least for me. She wishes she were braver than she thinks she is, but she’s willing to do anything it takes to save her brother. She pushes herself out of her comfort zone time and again until she learns she is strong enough to take charge of her situation.
The writing is exceptional, especially for a debut author. It’s the kind of writing that makes me question whether my own could ever be good enough. And I mean that in a good way — too many debut novels make me cringe and wonder what the point is of even trying if pretty much anything can be published.
And, if you find yourself falling a little for Helene, she gets a main character POV in the next book which will only make you love her more. Plus, the third book is due to come out this June, so it’s a pretty good time to get started on the series. DO IT!
Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller is my favorite YA book I’ve read so far this year. And guys, it’s currently only $5.99 for hardcover on Amazon right now. That’s amazing! It could be because the sequel, Daughter of the Siren Queen just came out. I say buy ’em both!
DotPK stars Alosa, a fiery pirate captain (and, you guessed it, daughter of the king of the pirates). She gets herself kidnapped by a rival pirate ship so she can search out a piece of the ultimate treasure map (and show off her overall badassery).
Of course, she meets her match in the handsome Riden. They battle wits and occasionally trade physical blows and fill the pages with wonderful tension. I loved their banter and their chemistry.
This isn’t the first heroine I’ve met who is both feminine and strong, but I love it every time. She brags about her fine clothes and threatens to murder those who get her gowns dirty. She’s been hardened by past trauma but still leaves room for hope and kindness. Alosa is both vicious and compassionate, and I greatly enjoyed her story.