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: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Featured imageWhen I Rainbow Rowell announced that her next book would be Carry On the entire internet let out a huge SQUEEEE!! For those who may not be familiar with her work (which really you should) in her 2013 novel, Fangirl, she introduced us to Simon Snow, a Harry Potteresque “chosen one” and his nemesis/roommate Baz.  In Fangirl, Simon and Baz are characters in a beloved fantasy series that Cath was writing a fan-fiction for.  We got a few snippets of Simon and Baz through Cath’s writing, in which she took the characters from enemies to lovers.  Cath spends Fangirl trying onto finish her fan-fiction before the author of Simon Snow series, Gemma T. Leslie publishes the final book.  Carry On is the final book of the Simon Snow series but it’s not Cath’s story or Gemma T. Leslie’s story it’s Rainbow’s story.  I guess that’s sort of meta.  Rainbow isn’t really writing her own fan-fiction.  How can an author write a fan-fiction of her own work? I guess this is more canon then anything else since she is the original creator.  Cath and Gemma, don’t actually exist. I would say it’s in it’s own unique category.  The other thing that makes this different from Rainbow’s other book is that it’s a full fledged fantasy novel.  Her other books have all been contemporary novels though Landline does have the fantastical element of having a magical phone that allows Georgie to talk to her husband Neal from the past.  So this is new territory for her but she passes with flying colors.  In a way, Carry On is much a love letter to the fantasy novels of her life.  Obviously, Harry Potter is a huge influence but so is Chronicles of Narnia and a little Twilight among others.  She’s able to give little winks and even a little commentary on other franchises while still remaining it’s own thing.

Simon Snow is the most powerful mage of all time.  He is the Chosen one.  The one who is has come when the world of the Mages need them the most.  The Insidious Humdrum is draining the world of magic and only Simon can stop him.  Unfortunately, Simon can’t control his own magic and is beyond obsessed with his roommate Baz, who is a vampire!  When Simon comes back to school for his final year, Baz is not there and is missing for weeks.  Simon tries everything to track him down and figure out what evil plan Baz is concocting now.  Unfortunately his best friend Penelope and his girlfriend Agatha are not really all that interested.  Now when I say he is obsessed with Baz, he really is.  He spends the first part of the book doing nothing but thinking about him.  Describing him in such a detailed manner that only someone who pays attention or cares for notices.  He may not see his attraction to Baz but as readers we can see it.  When Baz finally returns we learn that he also in love with Simon but at least he knows it.  It excites him but also scares him because he knows that they can never be together. Most likely they will end up killing each other since they are on opposite sides of the war and yeah, he’s a vampire.  He’s cruel and mean to Simon because he loves him and tries to push him away.

When in Baz’s dead mother appears to Simon and tells him to search for Nicodemus and avenge her death, he and Baz team up to find out what really happened the night she died and Baz was turned.  They soon realize that they have more in common but they truly feel for each other.  It’s a gradual process but when it happens it’s breathtaking.  There was nothing strange or unusual about Simon and Baz falling in love except that they are two boys.  You could changed the gender of one of them and it would still work as a love story.  I think that’s important.  We’ve talked before on how important representation is important in books, especially in kids and teen literature.  Here we get two boys falling in love. One knows he’s gay and the other still figuring out his own sexuality but it’s still beautiful.  It’s wonderful to have this positive relationship out there.  Not just for LGBTQ teens but for straight ones too.  Love is love.

Now let’s talk about the girls.  Penelope is Simon’s best friend.  She’s smart and no nonsense.  She knows who she is and not afraid to stand up for herself.  She’s also Indian descent.  She is always there to help Simon and helps him out of some really scary situations.  She also willing to roll with anything that Simon does or feels.  She doesn’t trust Baz at first but sees that Simon is set on helping him so she goes all in.  Agatha is a little more complicated.  She is Simon’s estranged girlfriend. She loves Simon but not in love with him.  She’s struggling with the expectations of what others expect from her and what she wants.  She has friends outside the Mages world.  She knows there is more to life outside her closed circle.  She’s also tired of being just the girlfriend who Simon has to come and rescue.  She doesn’t really know what she wants but she knows it’s not that.

I truly enjoyed this book and I do hope that Rainbow writes more fantasy but I don’t care what she writes because I will read and love it anyway

There are just so many good books coming out!!!

I was looking at all the new books coming out in the next couple of months and THERE ARE SO MANY BOOKS THAT I WANT TO READ!!  I’m already behind because The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare came out earlier this month. I have to get myself in gear.  Here are just a few titles that I can’t wait to read this fall.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, 9/29/15

Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1) by Rick Riordan, 10/6/15

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, 10/6/15

The Rose Society (Young Elites #2) by Marie Lu, 10/13/15

Dark Tide (Waterfire Saga #3) by Jennifer Donnelly, 10/13/15

The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume One by Daniel Kraus, 10/27/15
The Iron Warrior (Iron Fey #7) by Julie Kagawa, 10/27/15
Manners and Mutiny(Finishing School #4) by Gail Carriger, 11/3/15
Winter (Lunar Chronicles #4) by Marissa Meyer, 11/10/15
Frozen Tides (Fallen Kingdoms #4) by Morgan Rhodes,12/15/15
Endure (Defy #3) by Sara B. Larson, 12/29/15
I’m sure I’ve missed a few but one thing for sure, I’m going to be busy!  What books are your excited to read this fall?  Let me know in the comments if they are any I need to add.

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?

Pop Culture Extra Credit: Insidious Humdrums

So, I have finished Fangirl, the third book in my pop culture homework assignment. I enjoyed this book in both execution and in concept. I loved the overlap between real life and fan fiction. I love the acknowledgement of how invested fans get into books. So, in the Fangirl, Cath is obsessed with a book series about a wizarding world and is an avid writer of fan fiction. She’s actually not just a writer of fan fiction, she’s kind of a big deal in the fan fiction world. The evil villain in the book series is called the insidious humdrum. I thought this villain sounded…desserty. And, then Rainbow Rowell gave me this beautiful line. 

“‘Insidious Humdrum,’ Baz groused. ‘If I ever become a supervillain, help me come up with a name that doesn’t sound like an ice cream sundae.'”–Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

 

After reading this, I spent a lot of time thinking about what would go on an insidious humdrum. Beth had some ideas, too. We decided that there should be two versions: the Simon and the Baz (the two main characters in the wizard books). First, we gathered our ingredients. (Me: Is Simon salty? Beth: Sure. Me: Levi is salty.) 

  

Both sundaes have a base of vanilla ice cream and marshmallow cream drizzle. 
The Baz has dark chocolate syrup and chocolate whipped cream. 

  
It is topped by graham cracker crumbles. 

  
The Simon has salted caramel sauce and cinnamon imperials.  

  
It is topped with whipped cream. 

 
They were delicious but crazy sweet. And, that, Ladles and Jelly Spoons, is how you make an Insidious Humdrum! 

Pop Culture Extra Credit: Playlist

A huge part of Eleanor and Park is the music that Park shares with Eleanor throughout the book. I started making notes of songs while I was reading. It seemed like it would be a great playlist, even if the book was breaking my heart. In the end, I compiled a pretty long list but it was in multiple places. Some of the songs were written on a post-it that got rained on. Some were on a bookmark that got left someplace. Some were in a note on my phone. Some were on a receipt. Apparently, I read everywhere and write on what I can get my hands on. So, I compiled this playlist from the pieces of paper, etc. that I could still get my hands on and read. Enjoy!

Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

So, I can’t believe how incredibly lax I have been this past month about blogging. I finished this book awhile ago (before Beth finished A Walk in the Woods!). This was the hardest of the books that Beth assigned me to get through. (Which I think is funny. I read the easiest and then immediately started the hardest). But, it was nice to know that even if I was having trouble with it, at least I was reading a signed copy.

Georgie has always wanted to be a comedy writer and she has worked very hard over the years writing for various television shows. Now, she and her writing partner have a chance to pitch their own show. This is their dream. But, it’s Christmas and she was supposed to go to Omaha with the love of her life Neal and their two kids. He tells her not worry, they’ll go without her, she should stay and write her pitch. She stays. He leaves with the kids. A chain of events is then set off in which Georgie has to wonder about her future and her past. Did Neal leave her for good or just for Christmas? Trying to get in touch with Neal she discovers that she has a magic phone that can call Neal in the past. Well, at one particular time in the past where she was sure Neal had left her for good.

This one, my last one in my pop culture homework assignment, was so slow starting. At the beginning of the book (probably for the first fifty pages) I didn’t care about Neal or Georgie and so I wasn’t invested in their relationship. It didn’t matter to me if they stayed together or if they split. But, the further I got into the novel, the more I started really getting into the context. Georgie is thinking about her priorities and what she wants from her life. I can relate to that. In fact, this was probably hardest to read because Georgie and I are about the same age and I have also been thinking a lot about my priorities this summer. Georgie is coming to realize all of the things that she has taken for granted (that you can’t take for granted.) Neal is not my favorite paramour in literature; he’s brusque and standoffish. Without Georgie, I probably wouldn’t care about Neal (without Neal, I might care about Georgie). But, Neal and Georgie do seem to have something good in the flashbacks we are treated to as Georgie thinks about her relationship (and as Rowell provides us the context of the phone calls to the past.)

It is a neat concept: a magic phone that can call one place and time in the past. That’s pretty neat. At the Rainbow Rowell reading I went to earlier this summer someone asked about the magic phone and she said, “Who wouldn’t want a magic phone they could use to talk to a past love?” Me. I wouldn’t. But, if I had a magic phone and I could talk to my past self, man that would be sweet. Past Kate could have saved Present Kate a lot of trouble. This was my least favorite of the four Rowell books I read this summer but it was still pretty good.

And, with that, I am done with my Pop Culture Homework assignment!

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

This is the story of Cath, a first year college student who is super awkward, in love with characters in a teen series, and a writer of fan fiction. She moves into her dorm room with her new roommate (after her twin sister tells her she doesn’t want to room with her) and then proceeds to try and make it as far as she can without interacting with anyone. Her roommate, Reagan, and her roommate’s friend (boyfriend? friend? boyfriend?) Levi force her to interact with them. Levi forces the issue by snooping through Cath’s stuff and eating most of her supply of protein bars (forcing her to ask where the cafeteria is) and Reagan forces the issue by making Cath eat with her in the cafeteria. They slowly become friends. Cath and Levi realize that they have feelings for each other and the story spirals from there. Additionally, there are story arcs that involve both of Cath’s parents. Cath’s father has raised her and her sister from when they were very young and now her mother would like to have some involvement. Cath’s father also has bipolar disorder. Cath’s interactions with her parents were beautiful and at times heartbreaking.

I love Cath. I love her so much.

This book has beginning of school drama. It has tension between sisters (ugh, her sister drove me crazy!). There is romance. There is friendship. There is at least one douche canoe of a bro tryna take advantage of a young woman. There’s some really satisfying comeuppance for said douche canoe of a bro. There’s an awesome professor who gets it…but also doesn’t get it. And, there’s the fan fiction. Oh, the fan fiction. I finished this book in two days and I read it on my phone because I couldn’t get enough of it. I read it in every spare minute that I had. This was by far my favorite of the books that Beth assigned me this summer. I cannot wait for Carry On!, Cath’s fan fiction, to be published this Fall!