Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

Summary from Goodreads:
All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.

For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.

The tantalizing riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unraveled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life.
Ahhh. This book was everything. As I mentioned on Goodreads, “There is just something so magically wonderful about these books, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Just know this one did not disappoint. The stakes are higher, the mystery darker, and the connecting plot lines insane! I want more, please and thank you.”
This was a book that has me going over every detail in my head, days after finishing it. I can’t get it out of my head –particularly the words of one character right before a deadly fire. So much happens in this book. So much of the mystery is solved. Weirdly, so much of the big/over-arcing mystery is made clear, where the smaller, closer to home/current day murder mystery has a giant flaming question mark by it. This was unexpected.
Stevie is a force. She is so clever and brilliant while never fully understanding her brilliance. It’s like if Sherlock Holmes did not have a giant ego, but instead a somewhat crippling anxiety disorder. I love her so much. And the weirdest thing of all is that by the end of the book, I was thinking like her. I was putting all the pieces together and going over every detail like I was a detective too. And I guess the best characters of all are the ones who do this –the ones that bend reality to them and have you thinking differently.
Then of course there are the other characters. The other characters gave this little world of Ellingham Academy life. They made the whole book read like another version of the excellent movie, Clue. Each character brings another element to the story. And while they definitely bring Clue-like humor to it all (with dragons, library invading squirrels, amazing Halloween costumes, etc), there’s also this crazy, inherent darkness. Two teenagers are dead. A mother and child (in 1936) were kidnapped and never found.  And while it’s easy to get lost in the silly things like the squirrels, you can’t ever forget the reason for why Stevie is even there in the first place.
The romance drama with David King wasn’t my favorite. Part of the problem is there are possibly two other characters to ship Stevie with. But, also, David’s character doesn’t hold the fascination for me that he might have for teenage me. That being said, I did feel so bad for him and in a weird way, I goaded on his rebellion and weirdness.  I loved the friendships and the bonds Stevie has with everyone she meets –including the faculty/security of the school.
So much is revealed about the bigger picture mystery, and I wish I could comment on a few things, but I won’t because that would be major spoiler territory. But, there’s still much Stevie has to figure out. And it looks like her time will be short. One major reveal, hinting at something insane happened at the very end, and I just can’t stop thinking about it and I’m going to go crazy waiting for the last book in the series, just crazy.
All in all, I give this a 10/10. It will definitely be one of my favorite books of the year (again). I can’t get it out of my head. I can’t get the amazing characters, ridiculous setting, fun mysteries, interesting history, and final moments out of my brain. I feel bad for whatever book I read next. There is no way it will compare.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills

Summary from Goodreads:
For Sophie, small-town life has never felt small. She has the Yum Yum Shoppe, with its famous fourteen flavors of ice cream; her beloved marching band, the pride and joy of Acadia High (even if the football team disagrees); and her four best friends, loving and infuriating, wonderfully weird and all she could ever ask for.

Then August moves in next door. A quiet guy with a magnetic smile, August seems determined to keep everyone at arm's length. Sophie in particular.

Country stars, revenge plots, and a few fake kisses (along with some excellent real ones) await Sophie in this hilarious, heartfelt story.
Emma Mills has slowly found her way into my YA contemporary-loving heart. I am now accustomed to pouncing on her books as soon as they release. I may have been number 1 on the wait list for this book at my library, not even knowing I’d soon be getting my own copy for review any way. This isn’t my favorite book of hers, but I still ended up loving it.
Normally, what I love about her books is how she writes about family. And reading this felt a little strange to me the whole time because the family of the main character was never present at all. For this reason and this reason alone, I was able to call a major twist to the story that I can see shocking many other readers. I don’t want to talk too much more about this because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. But, it needs to be said that I did find this book missing a key element of her previous books. I wanted more on her family.
Maybe because of this, Mills was able to write much more interesting friend characters (the family we choose/as compared to the family we are born into). I loved all the side characters. Their group text reminded me so much of a group text that I’m in with close friends. I loved all of Sophie’s friends and neighbors.
I also thought the book would be a little fluffier than it ended up being. I thought more of the focus would be on music and the country star mentioned in the summary. Those things ended up taking a back seat to some more serious stuff.  There was still lots of fun banter with the friends, some sweet first love romance, parties, and the fun, typical teen drama I was hoping for. I also still read this book very fast. I was hooked. It just was a little sadder, and more intense than I was expecting.
I found the country singer friendship story super believable. I also felt so bad for August and his situation. There was so much I noticed and worried about him (from my adult lenses) that I wished I could force the other characters to see. But, I definitely shipped him with Sophie. All in all this was a good book. It’s not my favorite by the author, but still a solid “good” one. I give it an 8/10.

Monday, January 28, 2019

A Good Week in Books (197)

I had a great reading week I read 2 books. One was the sequel to my favorite book of 2018, so I had high expectations –which were very much met. The other one was by an author I always love reading. I also received 5 new books for review –thank you, Macmillan.
The new books:

Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills
The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me by Olivia Hinebuagh
You Won’t See me Coming by Kristen Orlando
All is Fair by Dee Garretson
Match Me if You Can by Tiana Smith

How was your week in books?

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 9: Teenage Wasteland

Summary from Goodreads:
Kamala Khan has vanished! But where has she gone, and why? Jersey City still has a need for heroes, and in the wake of Ms. Marvel's disappearance, dozens have begun stepping up to the plate. The city's newest super hero Red Dagger and even ordinary citizens attempt to carry on the brave fight in Kamala's honor. Somehow, Ms. Marvel is nowhere...but also everywhere at once! Absent but not forgotten, Ms. Marvel has forged a heroic legacy to be proud of. But when an old enemy re-emerges, will anyone be powerful enough to truly carry the Ms. Marvel legacy - except Kamala herself?
This was not my favorite installment. It kind of reads like the okay necessary book 2 of a series. It’s the filler that has to happen for the rest of the story to fully take place. Kamala is MIA for the first half of the book. Her friends all step in to make it seem like Jersey City is still protected. They dress as Ms. Marvel, fight off easy villains dressed as her, and work together to do their part. That being said, they are not her, and all look a little worse for wear.
A review I read on Goodreads really summed up how I felt about this whole part of the story well. It’s kind of like that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where the Scoobies all fill in, attacking vampires, when Buffy is MIA. They are nowhere near as good as she is at defending Sunnydale, but they feel obligated to do something. And this all works fine until a super big villain comes to play, and it becomes clear that Buffy, or the real Ms. Marvel seriously needs to come back.
I think this part of the book was meant to be fun and kind of fluffy, and it kind of was. I just wasn’t that invested in the story. It wasn’t holding me captivated and took me a few-sit downs to finish. I was hooked though when Kamala comes back. And so does Bruno!  There’s this super fun, almost love triangle moment between Kamala, Bruno, and Red Dagger. Oh, and another triangle with Bruno’s ex. I loved all these YA-type moments.
Kamala also becomes an aunt in this installment. She goes to a religious leader for some clarity. And she has a serious discussion with Bruno. It’s a book of homecomings, of talking things through, and I guess of growing up a bit and taking charge of one’s own responsibilities. I ended up liking the second half of this installment a lot more than the first. It held all of the deeper stuff, I’ve come to expect from the plot. Some stuff does finally get resolved. Though, of course there’s still so much romantic stuff that’s left wide open, keeping me hooked.
All in all, I give this one an 8/10. And I definitely look forward to continuing my reading of this fun comic.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Wicked King by Holly Black

Summary from Goodreads:
You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.
As I said on Goodreads, “Holly Black, please never stop writing. This book was masterful. Just pure adrenaline and toughness. Jude is a force in here. The power struggles, the political manipulations, the captures, the battles, the survival. This book is ridiculously good.

I loved the little nod to The darkest part of the Forrest. I loved, loved, loved watching Jude and Cardan grow into the badass characters that they are. The characters in here are all so intensely flawed and believable. And the plot twists are everything. I live for these plot twists, and I cannot wait for the next book.”
I feel like I’ve done nothing but gush about this book since I’ve finished reading it. My book hangover from it is so strong that I’ve only been able to convince myself to read graphic novels/comic books since finishing it. Like my brain is incapable of digesting more than that until The Wicked King is thoroughly out of my system.
I always seem to forget that my favorite authors all seem to be friends…In hindsight, it really shouldn’t be so crazy that Holly Black thanks Sarah Rees Brennan, Leigh Bardugo, Cassandra Clare, and Maureen Johnson at the top of her Acknowledgements Page, at the end of the book. They are all authors that succeed in totally immersing me in their ridiculously good stories. Add Libba Bray to their ranks, and that’s pretty much all of my favorites.
Any way, back to the book: this book was dark. Darker than book 1 –which is a feet in its own right. What could be darker than a girl being brought up by her kidnapper/murderer of her parents? Well…that same girl betraying her kidnapper/father, manipulating the king of Fairy, escaping attempts on her life, falling in love with the absolute wrong person, being abducted and tortured/starved, and still acting as the under-estimated/long running of joke of the realm. And that’s only the surface of this book. It was impossible to put down. The pacing was super fast. There was another big betrayal in this installment, and several moments where my jaw dropped in surprise.
The world building was even more developed than it was in book 1, which again is another remarkable accomplishment. I was fascinated by the kingdom under the sea. And I was fascinated by the secret tunnels and political intrigue of the palace. Then, of course, there are the amazing characters. I got to know Jude’s family a little bit better. Her blood family and her chosen family of “spies.” Somehow, amongst all the crazy darkness and twisted plotlines, there’s humor. I love all the commentary between Jude and her sister, Vivi. I love Heather’s introduction to magic. I love Jude and her stepmother’s weird “moment” of understanding. I love all the power-plays between Jude and her “father.” Oh, and the romance in here was on fire!
Really, there isn’t much I didn’t enjoy. I have still yet to like Jude’s twin sister that much, though I guess I’m not exactly supposed to love her…Still, the amount that Jude cares for her still kind of baffles me…All in all though, this was a killer book 2. I am beyond excited for the next book in the series to come out. Too bad I probably have to wait at least another year. This gets a 10/10.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

Summary from Goodreads:
It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.
Wow, this book shocked me in its greatness. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel because I’ve not always been a huge fan of this author’s over-the-top/flowery writing style. Thank goodness, the writing style of this was so much simpler and more direct than in the other books. This read like the actual words/feelings of a teen and not someone trying to be one.
This book took me back to high school. I saw myself in Shirin in a way I’m not used to reading in YA any more. And I’m so different from her. But, as a teen, I feel like I was just as angry as her, and equally good at keeping people away. High school was where my eyes were opened to a lot of injustices. I moved to a city from the suburbs and I had a lot to learn. I was also just shy of Shirin’s age when 9/11 happened (my first week of high school). It was a little nostalgic for me.
This book was also painful. So much of the hatred and prejudice she endured would have broken me. It would have torn me to pieces. I was expecting a lot of it. But, still, not all of it. And I guess this speaks to the fact that I’m still more privileged than I know or care to think about. Some of my closest friends in high school (at that same time period) were Muslim and they taught me a lot of things, but I know there’s still so much I’ll never know. The moment in this book that really had my jaw dropping was when Shirin was cornered in an office by the basketball coach. I literally put the book down in terror. I was terrified for her. The idea that an adult male, a leader at the school, someone the whole town respected, would talk to any student the way he did to her, had my blood boiling.
In the moments when Shirin really backed up a peg and questioned her choices and bravery, I was the most livid and angry. I wanted to go beat up that guy that her brother and dance team went after. I wanted to file a lawsuit against the basketball coach and school. I wanted to get the girl who took the photograph expelled. But, this is when Shirin worked hard to learn that not everyone is awful and that keeping the world at bay prevents the good people from getting in. This is an important lesson.  But, I also wanted more consequences for the bad behaviors of others. Why was the coach, the school, the bullies never held accountable? They all just got away with it. And this made me so angry. Though, I guess that’s believable?
I loved the romance. I loved that Ocean had a lot of learning to do too. Shirin had to learn to let people in, and Ocean had to learn that the world was not as great as he thought it was. His eyes were opened to a lot of the bad, as hers were opened to a lot of the good. I shipped them. I honestly did. I also liked that the romance brought a comfortable fun element to the story, so it wasn’t all about prejudice. I love how universal first love can be. And Mafi is so good at writing this.
I think one of the reasons this book was so readable was because of lot of the worst actions/racist moments happened in the past or was summed up in a neat package, making it a little less harsh. It was still there. And I guess in any other circumstance this telling (instead of showing) might have bothered me. But here, it made the book easier to get through. I read it in under a day.
All in all, this book wowed me. It packed an impactful punch. It opened my eyes a little bit more and had me thinking a lot about my high school days. I loved Shirin and watching her come out of her shell. I loved her family and I loved Ocean too. This was a timely, powerful story. And I hope a lot of people read this. I give it a 10/10.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Summary from Goodreads:
Spensa's world has been under attack for decades. Now pilots are the heroes of what's left of the human race, and becoming one has always been Spensa's dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring skyward and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with that of her father's—a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa the daughter of a coward, her chances of attending Flight School slim to none.

No one will let Spensa forget what her father did, yet fate works in mysterious ways. Flight school might be a long shot, but she is determined to fly. And an accidental discovery in a long-forgotten cavern might just provide her with a way to claim the stars.
I love this author. I love his YA, I love his kids books, and I love his adult books. No one, and I mean no one, can do world-building like this. I’ve never read his sci-fi before. This might actually be his first sci-fi novel…I’m not certain. I knew though that if this book read anything like his fantasy, that it was going to be filled with amazing settings, characters, and adventures. And I was right. Sanderson’s epic world-building skills is not just limited to his fantasy; it expands universes in this book and it was insane.
There was a definite Star Wars vibe to this book. The storyline with Spensa’s father’s “mistake,” the enemies fighting in space ships, the underground world, and the whole epic tale vibe just screamed that this was a story Lucas would kill to get his hands on. But, it was also more than that. The story also kind of felt like classic fantasy. It had a pinch of Tolkien, and a cup of Tamora Pierce in it. It was reminiscent of some of the best.
It was also, clearly its own unique story. I loved Spensa. She was so strong, confident, and assertive I couldn’t help but love her. I loved her passion and determination. She kind of reminded me of Meg, from A Wrinkle in Time. But, I also loved how much she was capable of learning. Her confidence takes a few nose dives (ignore the pun) and she’s willing to admit she was wrong about things and has things to learn. I loved how she changes and grows through the story. It was a great coming of age story.
I also adored the side characters. Everyone from her crew, to her teacher, to her grandmother were just amazing. I maybe have even begun shipping her with someone she may or may not ever end up with.  I loved the back-stories she learned about her people and about what makes someone a coward.  There’s this great quote, I marked down and read over and over: “It has always seemed to me that a coward is a person who cares more about what people say than about what is right. Bravery isn't about what people call you, Spensa. It's about who you know yourself to be.”
This book was filled with battles, something I don’t normally enjoy, but in this case I really did. I guess it helps if the battles are all in space, with excellent communication going on between team-mates over the air waves. I also liked the whole mystery of it all. Like, what was really going on here with the Krell? What were the cadets not being told? What really went down with Spensa’s dad?  Those questions kept me hooked. And so did the fast-paced story.
All in all, this was a great book. I highly recommend to readers who love world-building and action. I give it a 10/10.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Summary from Goodreads:
A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she's left behind. And an ending you won't be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn't had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she's been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie's entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister's killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie's story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie's journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it's too late.

Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.
This is actually my first Courtney Summers book. I have one or two of her books on my shelf, but I could never quite get to them. I guess this is because the author is known for writing intense YA, and I’m not always in the right mindset for that. That being said, there was something so compelling to me about this story, and I was craving a good thriller/suspense story.
I wasn’t expecting to be so fully engrossed in this. I’m not a podcast listener. I was thinking I’d probably be more invested in Sadie’s point of view than I was in the reporter’s. I was wrong. I was so gripped by the podcast. I almost was sad to get back to the point of view of Sadie. I think maybe because the podcast was a lot more innocent. There was just so much West McCray (podcast host) did not know, or was only beginning to unravel. Whereas Sadie’s chapters were all dark, intense, and full of all the things she could never un-know.
I like that juxtaposition of the two stories that were essentially telling the same thing. Sadie’s story was just focused on what she knew –her awful story and experiences. And I guess West’s story was about how sadly universal Sadie’s story could be. I feel like the book came out at the right time.  There’s so much going on right now in the time of #Metoo about the believability and power of women.
I also tend to be a sucker for a good revenge story. Sadie’s story was definitely that. She wanted revenge on her abuser and justice for what happened to her sister. There were definite Kill Bill/ Tarantino vibes going on here, but it also was a lot more than that. It was about a girl knowing and accepting the awful ways the world worked for her. It was about a girl who desperately needed to be heard and helped. But more than that, it was the story of a girl taking her power back the only way she had available to her.
This wasn’t an easy book to read. The abuse, rape, pedophilia, and murder made the story interesting, but also made it very dark and exceptionally sad. I cried at moments, reading this, and not even at the obvious times. I cried at the calm moments, when it all sank in for me. And at other times, my heart was pounding and I was biting my nails in horror of what might happen. This was a hard book to put down. I just had to know how it would all resolve.
I liked that Sadie did meet some good people along the way. Not everyone is terrible. And I like that some of the story did get resolution. There were some consequences for terrible acts that transpired. I was undecided on how much I liked the very end. At first I was mad that it cut off where it did. I wanted more. But, the more I think about it, and the more I look back on everything this story represents, the more I think it was exactly right. I can see this book bringing forth very important conversations. I can see people hating the ending or loving it. But all in all, I think this book is unbelievable in all that it accomplishes and I hope more people read it. I hope that things can change and more girls like Sadie can be heard. I give it a 10/10.

Monday, January 14, 2019

A Good Week in Books (196)

Happy New Year!
I’ve had a slow start to reading this year, but I know it will all pick up soon. It always does. I ended the year with an unbelievably good YA thriller. I’ve read one amazing sci-fi novel and one amazing contemporary too. I’m kind of 3 for 3 here, already. And I I’m almost sad that I read these books after my Best Books of 2018 list…but oh well.
I bought a few books this month. Two (my favorite two of 2018) I was planning on re-reading before the sequels came out. That did not happen….I might still re-read them any way so my mind is ready for their respective book twos. But, I also might just dig into the new ones instead.
The new books:

Truly Devious
by Maureen Johnson
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
The Wicked King by Holly Black
How has your week/ new year stared off with books?