Review: The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

I really do love a good mystery, especially when it’s well done. I thought I knew what was going to happen only to find that I was wrong. The clues were there but unless you were paying attention, you completely missed it. Just as many of the characters. Stevie is an amateur sleuth who wants to solve one of the greatest mysteries in American history. The Ellingham Academy was started by an eccentric millionaire. He had a dream to have the brightest kids study at his school and focus on what they want. An educational experiment unlike any other but when his wife and daughter were kidnapped and another student was killed during the first school year, the school became infamous. Despite it’s history, the school still strives and Stevie is determined to solve it’s most famous mystery. The problem is that once she arrives another student is killed and another goes missing. Her conservative parents pull her out of the school for fear it isn’t safe only to be convinced by their employee, Senator Edward King (not so subtlety modeled after Steve King) that the school is safe. Of course, King has his own reasons for Stevie to return. His son, David, is also a student at Ellingham and Stevie and him have a complicated relationship. Stevie doesn’t like making a deal with King but her want to go back overrides her concerns. A bright spot is when the author of the definitive book on the Ellingham case needs a student to help with research on a new edition of the book. Soon Stevie is making breakthrough in the case but at what cost. This is the middle book in the trilogy and they often times feel slow but this one moved at a pretty fast clipped. One of the revelations, I knew it was coming but I wasn’t expecting it to come midpoint of the book, really throwing me off. It was a great misdirection by Johnson, to get us to focus on one direction while the answer was in the other direction. There were answers and part of the original crime was answered but who so many more are still unanswered. Who killed Iris Ellingham and is Alice alive? What happened to David and Hunter and how do they play into the mystery? Were Hayes and Ellie’s death really accidents or did they know something more? I’m really looking forward to the finale next year.

My Top 10 Books of 2018

It’s that time of year where we take a look back at everything we have read this year and come up with our best of the year.  It’s a tough job but not one we take lightly.  It’s been a very diverse year for me.

1.Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi –This fantasy was like nothing I’ve ever read.  A little bit of magic, a little bit of adventure and a little bit social commentary.  It took me on a wild ride as Zelie discovers her own powers and does what she can to help her people from the evil King who has done all he can to erase her people.  It was a breathtaking first book.

2. A Cruel Prince by Holly Black-Holly Black is at her best when she is writing about fairies.  It really is her element.  The lush world that Black has created is so rich and vibrant that I almost wanted to go if it wasn’t filled with blood thirsty fairies.  Looking for a fantasy full of royal intrigue this one is also for you.

3. Shades of Magic Trilogy by V.E. Schwab –Technically I read the first book last year but I finished the trilogy so I’m counting them all as one.  It was one wild fantasy series.  From truly vile villains, pirates, royalty magic and supernatural forces it really did have everything but never felt too much.

4. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland- This one I think I liked for the very beginning. Jane was born a slave but when the dead of Civil War come back to life, Jane is sent to a boarding school that teaches her and other girls of color how to fight zombies so they may one day work in a nice home as protection.  Jane is resourceful, smart and funny.  She knows how to kill a zombie. 

5. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fischer –Carrie was truly one of a kind and is sorely missed.  Her diary that she wrote while filming the first Star Wars was honest, raw and funny.  Really what you would expect from Carrie Fischer.

6. Shadow and the Fox by Julie Kagawa- Add a little fox, a trained warroir with a demon infused sword and Japanese mythology and you get one fun book.  I really enjoyed the story building and characters as they try to steal save the scroll that will summon the dragon that will grant wishes was great.

7. Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake- The third book in the series was definitely a keeper.  I mean they all were but it was still great.  We finally get to see more of the world outside of Fennbirn Island and how the Queens became to be.  The mythology is really coming together and it’s going to lead to an epic finale.

8. Wildcard by Marie Lu – Emika is so cool. As she unravels the mysteries and tries to save not just Hideko from himself but everyone else from an even bigger conspiracy.  It was a fun novel and reminder that not everyone on the internet is your friend.

9..Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir- Elias, Laia and Helene are on opposite sides of the fight against the Nightbringer and keeping the balance. It’s a thrilling race against time to bring down the Nightbringer and the Empire and Elias Mom, who is just frightening.

10. Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson- I’m still waiting for the last book in her Shades of London series but this filled the void. Who doesn’t love a good boarding school mystery?  Stevie decides she wants to go to this exclusive boarding school because she wants to be the one to solve it’s biggest mystery of who kidnapped and killed the daughter and wife of the school’s founder.  Twice and turns abound in this one. 

Quick Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

truly devious Stevie Bell is starting at a new school.  The mysterious and illustrious Ellingham Academy.  Started by the infamous and rich Albert Ellingham the for the brightest students.  Ellingham opened his school because he believed education was a game, a game that should be open to everyone so he made it tuition free.  However, the history of Ellingham is tragic.  Albert’s wife and Daughter are kidnapped and another student goes missing. While there was a confession and trial many things about the case have been left unsolved.  Stevie is determined to solve the case. What Stevie didn’t count on was another student dying and a new mystery develops.  Maureen does an excellent job setting up the past mystery with flashbacks and FBI transcripts and interweaving it with the present.  At first it seemed that they cases were related and then they didn’t and then it did again.  She always able to keep you on your toes.  Stevie is ambitious.  She knows that her interest are a bit unusual and it makes it hard for her to make friends.  An issue that makes her anxious. As she tries to solve the mysterious before her she also must contend with school work, friendships and other relationships and forging your own path and not necessarily the path expected of you.  I don’t think I have read a book depict anxiety in such a realistic way before.  It really gets to the heart of how anxiety can paralyze a person but also shows how one can overcome those thoughts.  Stevie is a great role model in that respect.  The cast of characters around Stevie are interesting and I’m sure we will get more of them as the series progresses but I have to give a shout out to my boy Nate.  He is the friend that everyone needs because he was willing to put himself in uncomfortable position because he saw Stevie was in a bad place and it was the push that Stevie needed.  That’s a true friendship.

Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2018

can't wait books 2018

What books can you not wait to read in 2018?  I have lots of course but here are 10 that I really Really can’t wait to read next year.

  1. War Storm by Victoria Aveyard. (May 15, 2018) The final book in her Red Queen Series.  Will Mare and the Scarlet Guard be able take down the Silvers.  Will Maven get overthrown?  Will Cal stop being a dumbass?
  2. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. (March 6, 2018) This sounds so amazing! I can’t wait to read it.  Zelie comes from a long line of maji but the new crown prince wants to banish magic from the kingdom.  Zelie has one chance to save magic and her people.
  3. Restore Me by Tahereh Mafi (March 6, 2018) It’s been 4 years since the end of the Shatter Me trilogy ended or so we thought.  Restore Me is going to pick up at the end of Ignite Me. Juliette is the Supreme Commander and Warner is on her side but now that she has the world at her finger tips, what’s next?
  4. Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir. (May 22, 2018) It’s been two years since A Torch Against the Night came out and I’ve been eagerly waiting this one. Laia, Elias and Helene are all in perilously situation.  I MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!
  5. Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. (January 16, 2018) I’ll admit I was hoping it would be the next book in the Shades of London series but I’m just so glad that Maureen has a book coming out.  I do love a good mystery and good ghost story too.
  6. The Cruel Prince by Holly Black. (January 2, 2018) So happy that Holly is back with a new series about fairies because no one does fairies like Holly Black.
  7. A Case for Jamie by Brittany Cavallaro. (March 6, 2018) The final book in the Charlotte Holmes trilogy can’t come soon enough.  In true Holmes form, Charlotte has really sabotage herself and Watson can’t forgive her.  They try to move on with their lives but someone wants them back together and well I want them back together too.
  8. Dread Nation by Justine Ireland. (April 3, 2018) The American Civil War is interrupted when the Dead of the battlefields come back to life. Jane is in combat school to learn how to take down the dead and with this comes opportunity but Jane wants more. Soon she is wrapped up in a conspiracies and plots that the dead are the least of her worries.
  9. Untitled Sequel to Renegades by Marissa Meyer. (November 6, 2018) Renegades was such a great book and can’t wait to read what’s next.  Nova has successfully infiltrated the Renegades and her old friends are no longer around to blow her cover.  Will she betray her new friends or cement herself as a villain.
  10. The Fates Divide by Veronica Roth. (April 10, 2018) Carve the Mark may have been problematic but it was still good.  I’m curious how things will turn out for Cyra and Akos. Will they be able to escape their destinies or are they running right into them?
  11. The Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor. (No set date) I’m not sure this is coming out in 2018 but I really hope so.  Strange the Dreamer was so beautiful I can’t wait to find out what happens next, especially after what happened at the end.
  12. Throne of Glass #7 by Sarah J. Maas. (September 4, 2018) The final book in the Throne of Glass series and it’s been quite a ride for Aelin and friends.  Who knows how it will all end.  Well I guess Sarah J. Maas does but for everyone else it’s anyone’s guess.
  13. Untitled (WarCross #2) by Marie Lu. (No set date) Another one I’m not sure if it’s coming out in 2018 but I’m pretty sure. I was riveted by the first book and I’m looking forward to meeting the “hacker” and all the potential he is inevitably going to cause.
  14. Heart of Venom by Sherrilyn Kenyon. (2018) It also doesn’t have a set date besides 2018.  It’s either the first in the Shadows of Fire series or #9 in the Chronicles of Nick series.  However you want to look at it, it’s a switch in tone and focus for Kenyon’s Dark-Hunters.  With a duel narrators of the Cyprian Malachai (Nick’s Son) and the Ambrose Malachai (Nick Himself) we find out if Nick truly does embrace his destiny or if the sacrifices he made at the end of Intensity was enough to forge his own path.
  15. Immortal Reign by Morgan Rhodes. (February 6, 2018) The final book in the closest YA book to Game of Thrones with it’s epic scope, world building and body count was originally scheduled to come out this month but was pushed back.  I’m sure the extra two months will be worth the wait.
  16. Aru Shah and the End of Times by Roshani Chokshi. (April 3, 2018) The first book to be published under Rick Riordan’s new imprint highlighting stories from authors and characters from around the world.  Aru Shah takes on Hindu legends to save her mother and classmates.
  17. Untitled by Maureen Johnson. (No set date) The Shadow Cabinet, the last book released in the Shades of London series had me on the edge of my feet and it’s been so long since it came out.  I’m not sure that the next book is coming out in 2018 but Maureen has mentioned on twitter that she has two books coming out in 2018 so it’s a safe bet. *crosses fingers*
  18. Untitled by Kendare Blake. (September 4, 2018)  I didn’t know that the Three Dark Crowns was originally planned to be a duology. I’m glad that Kendare Blake and her publisher decided to extend it because there are so many things about this world and these character left to be explored.
  19. Untitled by Traci Chee (2018) The final book in the Sea of Ink and Gold Series.  Sefia and Archer continue to fight what is written and defeat their destiny while also staying ahead of their enemies.
  20. The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green (May 1, 2018) I’m interested in this one since this in the first book that Sally Green has published since she ended her Half Bad trilogy two years ago.  Half Lost left me broken and in tears. I’m not sure if I’m ready for that again but I can’t wait to see what Sally does next.

Books that Rocked My Face off in 2015

This year it was hard to narrow it down to just 10 books as there were so many books I really loved this year.  So to narrow it down, I had to ask myself which ones was I still thinking about even after I started reading the next book?  Those are ones I choose for the list. (These are really in no particular order

  1. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray – This book I really wish I read when I was a teenager as so many of the messages I could have really used.  You would almost think that a book about teenage beauty queens stuck on a desert island would be caricatures but they weren’t.  They were very like girls I know or were me.  I could pretty much identify with all of their struggles.  Plus it was a lot of fun.
  2. Winter by Marissa Meyer -I am really going to miss this series so much.  Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter made me laugh, cheer, angry ( on their behalf) and proud of all of them.  Winter was by far the longest book of the series and it was non-stop action.  There wasn’t any filler or time to relax.  It was the perfect ending.
  3. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell  – A little bit Harry Potter and a little bit of fanfiction.  It was a great final book to an imaginary series.  I was surprised by many of the twists and turns and touched by the romance.
  4. Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray – I loved the first book in the series and so I was nervous this one wasn’t going to be as good.  It was better.  Now my only complaint is that she doesn’t write fast enough.
  5. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – It was fun, tense and very interesting.  I thought I knew where things were going and then I didn’t.  I’m looking forward to what lays in store in the next book.
  6. Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow – This wasn’t anything like I thought it would be.  It was surprising.  It was fresh.  It had the sassiest A.I. in the history of A.I.’s.  For that reason alone, you all should read it.
  7. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – It was sorta historical fiction with a dystopian vibe and boy did it work.  It was brutal and it was tense but entertaining.
  8. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – This was very much an Ocean 11’s style caper with a little bit of a magic and darkness in only the way that Leigh Bardugo could do it.  It’s set in the same world but after the events of her last series but a completely different vibe.
  9. The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson – This is the third book in the series so the stakes are so much higher and it didn’t disappoint.  It’s full of humor, action and ghosts.  What else can I say.
  10. The Rose Society by Marie Lu – This is the second book in the series that tells the story from the villainess point of view (though I’m not convinced that Adelina is the real villain but whatever) It was intense and was surprising, maybe a little problematic but worth the read.

There was two books that I enjoyed so much that I read the other books in the that were out in the series this year too.  So I thought they would get their own category.

  1. Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas  – For those looking for a Game of Thrones fill in until George publishes the next book, I recommend this.  It  was has all the twists and turns and is not afraid to kill of a character or two.  I’m never really sure where it’s going to take us next but I know it will be well worth the ride.
  2. Talon series by Julie Kagawa – It has a little bit of everything.  A Romeo and Juliet Love, a love triangle, a betrayal and yeah dragons.  Who doesn’t love dragons?  Ok, the idea isn’t that original but I do love it anyway.

Review: Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson and Robin Wasserman

shadowhunteracademy

For the last 10 months, Cassandra Clare, Robin Wasserman, Maureen Johnson and Sarah Rees Brennan have been treating us with Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. A set of short stories that follows one of Clare’s heroes, Simon Lewis, as he tries to learn how to be a Shadowhunter. I wrote about it a little but after the first book, Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy, came out.  This week marked the release of the tenth and final story in the series.  For those who are not familiar with Simon or Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, let me catch you up.  *Spoilers* When we first met Simon in City of Bones he was just a normal teenage boy in love with his best friend Clary.  Throughout the series, he goes from normal boy to normal boy among supernaturals beings to becoming a supernatural being himself, a Vampire, saving the world and then returning to a normal teenage boy with no memory of the supernatural world or his friends.  That is where we are now.  Simon, has been once again become aware that vampire, werewolves, warlocks, fairies and Shadowhunters exist.  After the wars of the two Mortal Instruments books are over, the Shadowhunters are depleted in numbers so they have reopened their academy and invited children of Shadowhunters as well as a few Mundanes to Ascend and join their ranks.  That is what Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy is about.  In 10 shorts stories, we follow Simon and his fellow students as they learn how to fight like a Shadowhunter and how to be like a Shadowhunter.  Special appearances from other characters from the Mortal Instruments as well as Clare’s other series, The Infernal Devices and upcoming series’ The Dark Artifaces and The Last hours, we learn more about the history of the Shadowhunters but also clues into what to expect in her new series.  It’s really just a good excuse to fill in a few gaps between the end of The Mortal Instruments and beginning of The Dark Artifaces. Also to give Clare’s readers something to read since the last book, City of Heavenly Fire came out last year and Lady Midnight doesn’t come out until Spring of next year.  However, I don’t think you are going to hear much complaining from fans.  They were fun, quick reads that give more insights to how the Clave, who govern Shadowhunters work, also gave us more time to hang out with one my favorite characters, Simon.  As expected with a collection like this not all the stories were good.  I felt some they didn’t know what to they put together a quick story with a couple of fan favorites and call it a day but others I felt were worth it.  One story I liked a lot was Bitter of Tongue.  In it, Simon is kidnapped by fairies and is saved by Mark Blackthorn, who has been stuck with faries since the last book.  Mark, who is half Shadowhunter and half fairy and because of this and what happened in the last war, the Shadowhunters have left him there and banished his sister, Helen to exile.  When Simon comes back he goes to Helen’s wedding.  It’s a heartbreaking story as they are being punished for no other reason then an accident of both.  Truly relevant to what is going on in the world.  It also gives Simon more motivation to become a Shadowhunter and make a change from the inside.  You can buy all 10 stories individually as ebooks or you can wait until next year where they will be combined together but for fans for Clare’s work it’s a must.

Summer’s End: The Pop Culture Homework Assignment Roundup

Well, folks, It’s Labor Day and summer is over. This has been a really fun summer for us at StacksXLifeX. We challenged each other in June to do a Pop Culture Homework Assignment. We each assigned the other four books that were themed and we gave ourselves the summer to read them. (We, of course, could and did read other things, too!) My theme for Beth was travel. She read Wild by Cheryl Strayed. She then followed it up with Traveling Mercies, 13 Little Blue Envelopes (with the bonus extra credit: The Last Little Blue Envelope!) by Maureen Johnson, and A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

Beth assigned me The books of Rainbow Rowell. I’ve been hearing about some of these books for awhile now (in particular, Eleanor and Park) so I was very happy to dive into them. I also read Attachments, Fangirl, and Landline. Plus, we got some bonus posts because, serendipitously, Rainbow Rowell spoke at our parents’ local library while I was visiting home, Eleanor and Park inspired a playlist and Fangirl inspired a dessert.

We enjoyed this challenge enormously. It has been so fun to read books outside of our normal fare and to discuss those books with each other and you. We hope that you have enjoyed the posts and this summer. School is back in session, the leaves will be changing soon and before we know it, everyone will be doing year-end reviews.

So, tell us in the comments: What were your favorite books this summer?

Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes and Last Little Blue Envelope

13 The third book for my pop cultural assignment has brought me back to some much more familiar territory: The YA novel. As much as I love Maureen Johnson’s series Shades of London I haven’t actually read any of her other books so I was pretty excited to be assigned this.  

 One day, Ginny gets a letter from her recently deceased Aunt Peg, that she should buy a plane ticket to London and pack for a long trip.  So she does and starts on a trip of a lifetime. She is given 13 little blue envelopes that she can’t open until she is told.  She can’t call, email or journal while on the trip. She is supposed to live in the moment.  The letters have two purposes, 1. show Ginny what her Aunt has been doing for the last two years since she just left New York without a word and 2. explain why she did what she did. Aunt Peg sends Ginny all Europe, from London to Greece.  Now if this was my aunt, I would be a little pissed that I was sent all over without a clear idea of where I was going next but that’s me.  Ginny is a smart girl that is a little bit of an introvert.  So doing this is quite the undertaking.  It forces her to branch out of her comfort zone but also say good bye to her beloved Aunt.  On her adventure, she meets playwright and actor, Keith.  Keith is pretty much the opposite of Ginny.  He is out going and not afraid to meet new people.  Ginny is immediately attracted to him and asked him to come along for parts of her journey.  He helps her come out of her shell and supports her coming to terms with the death of her aunt but it’s her journey and ultimately she does it on her own.  In the end, Ginny leaves Europe more confident in herself but at peace with the death of her Aunt.  It was a satisfying ending.

And yet there is a sequel.  The Last Blue Envelope takes place few months later.  


*Spoiler Alert* 
Before Ginny could read the last letter, it was stolen along with her backpack in Greece.  Even though, she figures out part of what was in the letter when she finds her Aunt’s paintings I don’t think she was fully ready to let go of that summer, partly because she never got to read that last letter.  Well, miracles of miracles a boy in London emails her and says that he bought her backpack while in Greece and has her letters.  So she once again goes to London to retrieve it and since she is there, she tries to pick up with Keith even though their communication has slowed as of late.  As you can imagine, their reunion doesn’t go as planned when she discovers that Keith has a girlfriend and to make things worse, Oliver drops the bomb that there is another piece of art her Aunt has left for her to find.  She once again travels all over Europe without knowing where she is going and what she’ll have to do. The last time she did this she was mostly alone, this time she has Oliver,( who basically blackmails her into sharing in the profits of the sale of her Aunt’s work for the letters) Keith and Keith’s girlfriend Ellis and it’s  full awkwardness.  We didn’t get to know that much about Keith in the first book as he came and went in the narrative.  In this he is much more present and honestly, he would drive me crazy if he was my friend.  Ellis is sweet and it’s hard not to like her even if she is the girlfriend. It is Oliver who probably understands Ginny the most.  True, he had the benefit of reading her letters (ok that’s not so great) but he knows when to be quiet and when to talk.  He’s not a bad guy if you can get past the whole blackmail thing.  This book wasn’t as good as the first.  I was satisfied with how the other one ended.  Yes, there was some unfinished business.  The stolen letter and the are they dating are they not ending with Keith but life is full of unfinished business and I believe that Ginny ended a better person than where she began.  At times it felt like all of this was meant to have a sequel and other times it felt like it was put together to capitalize on a popular book.  Also the ending wasn’t as great.  Yes, once again Ginny is in a better place than she was when she began but once again there are relationships left up in the air.  It’s like Miss Johnson is leaving it open to write another book even though the letters are all gone.

I liked the first better then the second but I enjoyed them as a whole.  They, however, are not as good as her Shades of London series, which is definitely worth the read.