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

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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.

Pop Culture Homework Assignment: Extra Credit

So I have decided that I’m going to be that student who is going to go above and beyond. So I’m assigning myself an extra credit assignment.  I’ve finished 13 Little Blue Envelopes and decided that I’ll go ahead and read the sequel, The Last Blue Envelope. I know that Kate didn’t particularly like it since she felt it was unnecessary and that not all YA books should be turned into a series.  I can see what she means.  13 Little Blue Envelopes ended well.  I was satisfied with the ending but since I knew there was a sequel, I was curious.  So I’m going to read it and see for myself.

I’m such a good student.

What I’m Reading: Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy by Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan

Featured imageIn an older post, I talked about the trend of YA authors who write novellas as an add on to their series.  Last year Cassandra Clare took it to a whole another level with The Bane Chronicles. With the help of fellow authors Sarah Rees Brennan and Maureen Johnson. Clare wrote a series of ten novellas about everyone favorite Warlock of Brooklyn, Magnus Bane.  Over the 10 stories, they wrote about Magnus’ past that is often hinted out in both of Clare’s The Infernal Devices and The Mortal Instruments series.  It was fun to read about Magnus adventures before he met Tessa, Will, Jem and later Clary, Jace and Alec.  Of course the series also served as a introducing characters of upcoming series and fill in gaps between series as well.

This year she is doing the same thing but with another fan favorite, Simon Lewis in the Tales from Shadowhunter Academy. This time she is joined again by Breenan and Johnson and also Robin Wasserman. Now the following is sort of a spoiler to those who have not finished City of Heavenly Fire, the last book in the The Mortal Instruments series.  Simon is attending the newly reopened Shadowhunter Academy as the Clave tries to add new Shadowhunters to their numbers after the loss of life in the last war.  Those who have finished City of Heavenly Fire will know why Simon can attend the academy in hopes of becoming a Shadowhunter himself and for those who haven’t finished will want to before reading.  Personally, I thought the last three books of The Mortal Instruments were three too many but I am looking forward to several Simon centric stories since he was easily my favorite character from that series.  Also it gives us something to read while we wait for Clare’s next shadowhunter series, The Dark Artifaces about Shadowhunters in LA.

Series You Should Check Out: Shades of London by Maureen Johnson

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Maureen Johnson is very active on social media.  If you don’t follow her on twitter, I recommend you do because she’s kinda hilarious.  Anyway, because of her internet celebrity, her books are not exactly unknown but for whatever reason, she’s not a big seller as some of her author friends like Cassandra Clare and John Green.  I’ll admit that I haven’t read her other books.  Yes, they are in my stacks and I will get to them but I do adore this series.  The Name of the Star, and the Madness Underneath are the first two books.  The Shadow Cabinet is being released in the US today.  The fourth book doesn’t have a title yet.  I haven’t had a chance to read The Shadow Cabinet yet because I thought I would wait until the actually release date.  Also I couldn’t get a hold of an ARC.  That’s ok, it has given my time to reread the first two.

The Shades of London is about Rory, a girl from Louisiana who’s parents have decided to do a work sabbatical in England so she decides to go to school at Wexford College in London.  She arrives in just as London is swept under Ripper Fever.  A copycat killer has taken to recreating the Jack the Rippers murders in the East End, which just happens to be the same place that Wexford is located.  Through a series of events, Rory gets swept into the Jack the Ripper investigation.  She soon discovers that the world is far more complicated than she ever thought.  That ghosts exist and only a few can see them and she is one of them.

What I love about this series is the humor in it.  I find Rory to be hilarious.  It’s a sort of a dry sense of humor that I appreciate.  Despite the fact that they are in a middle of a pretty gruesome murder investigation, Miss Johnson keeps things light.  The supporting characters are great.  Jazza, Rory’s roommate, is sweet but I think also keeps the story in reality.  Boo, Callum and Stephen, the other Shades of London may hunt down Ghosts but keep the good sense of humor about it.  I also like the mystery side of the story.  Who is the Jack the Ripper wannabe?  Is he alive or dead?  Rory may not be a detective and may be new to this whole seeing ghosts thing but she’s smart and pretty quick on the uptake.  She may need rescue from time to time but she’s also not weak either.

So far the series has tackled what is death, person-hood and dealing with PTSD.  The last one is important issue to tackle.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not new to YA literature.  Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior have both suffered PTSD but they never really dealt with it.  In the Madness Underneath, Rory has troubles dealing with the events of the Name of the Stars.  Without going into what, I will say that Rory does seek therapy.  First her parents have her in counseling and then she seeks other counseling.  To say more will spoil the book so I will leave it at that but at least Rory is getting treatment for PTSD which is more then Katniss or Tris ever did.

So go read the Shades of London and fall in love with Rory and Stephen and Jazza and Boo.  I think you all will like it.

What I’m Thankful for

So, it’s Thanksgiving.  The one day to gorge on food, watch football and share what we are thankful for. So here’s my literary Thanksgiving list (in no particular order)

I’m thankful for Maggie Stievfater for she is amazing.  Not only is she an unbelievable talented author but she she is also a muscian, artist, goat herder and crazy driver.  To say that I love her would be an understatment.  I love her.  She gave me one of my favorite Book boyfriend, James (from Lament and Ballet).  Her latest series the Raven Cycle, only gets better and eagarly (and dread) the final book, coming next year.

I am thankful for Percy Jackson.  You sarcastic, sassy demigod you.  I hope that after everything that he and his fellow demigods went through that he will get a chance to have a normal life and go to college and live happily ever after with Annabeth.

I’m thankful for Westeros. It’s such a messed up place made up of messed up people. I love it.  I’m still not caught up but since I have a good year before book six to come out and until April for the new season, I’m in no rush to finish.  I’ve got to make it last as long as I can.

I’m thankful for Maureen Johnson’s twitter.  Yes, I do love The Name of the Star and the Madness Underneath but really, her on twitter just makes me happy.  Is she insane or do just eccentric?  Whatever, she’s entertaining.

And I’m thankful for all my friends and family who keep recommending such great books.  I’ll never have enough time to read them all.  sigh.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!  What are you thankful for?