Mini-Reviews: The Vanishing Stair, 19 Love Songs, & The Wicked King

The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 15, 2017
Source: Borrowed

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.

Much like with Truly Devious, I wasn’t really fully convinced by The Vanishing Stair until partway through. I was worried that this was going to be a filler book, one where the characters sort of just wander around looking for clues until we hit the final book in the trilogy, where everything finally happens. That worry ended up being unwarranted, because a ton of stuff happens in this book!

With any mystery, I’m kind of hesitant to get into details because I don’t want to accidentally spoil anything. I just want to say that Maureen Johnson has clearly thought everything through in this series and planned out every detail in depth. I can’t wait to find out what will happen next!


19 Love Songs by David Levithan
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
Source: Borrowed

The New York Times bestselling author of Every DaySomeday, and Two Boys Kissing is back with a short story collection about love–perfect for Valentine’s Day or year-round reading!

A resentful member of a high school Quiz Bowl team with an unrequited crush.

A Valentine’s Day in the life of Every Day‘s protagonist “A.”

A return to the characters of Two Boys Kissing.

19 Love Songs, from New York Times bestselling author David Levithan, delivers all of these stories and more. Born from Levithan’s tradition of writing a story for his friends each Valentine’s Day, this collection brings all of them to his readers for the first time. With fiction, nonfiction, and a story in verse, there’s something for every reader here.

Witty, romantic, and honest, teens (and adults) will come to this collection not only on Valentine’s Day, but all year round. 

I’ve been reading David Levithan’s books since I was a teenager myself, so when I saw that he had a new collection of short stories out, I had to read it. Levithan has written some of my all-time favorite books (The Lover’s Dictionary, You Know Me Well) as well as some books that I’ve really disliked (Every Day, the Dash & Lily books). He’s also written a ton of books that I’ve felt indifferent about, and I won’t link all of those reviews here, but they’re all on my “all reviews” page.

The point is, I can go either way on Levithan’s writing, and I went both ways on the stories in this collection. When they were good, they were really good. I loved the story about Taylor Swift fanfiction, the story about being snowed in, the quiz bowl story, and the Santa story. I also loved all of the music references. The stories I didn’t love mostly left me bored. This isn’t really Levithan’s fault, because I’m sure there are plenty of people who connect more with those stories than I did.

Overall, I think this evens out to a three-star read for me. If you’re into Levithan’s writing, a lot characters from his previous books make appearances in these stories, so you might be pleasantly surprised.


The Wicked King by Holly Black
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 8, 2019
Source: Borrowed

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.

Well, 89% of people on Goodreads have given this book either 4 or 5 stars, and I am not one of those people. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this series or anything. I gave the first book four stars, mostly because it really grabbed me toward the end, but I definitely thought it had a rough start.

In The Wicked King, I had many of the same problems as I had in The Cruel Prince. Jude is less annoying than she was in the first book, but she’s equally dumb. Cardan is still mostly mean to Jude (that’s the point, I know) and I didn’t buy their “romance” at all. I found much of the plot boring, and the big plot twist at the end seemed so in-character for everyone that I wasn’t really surprised at all. In 336 pages, very little happens that actually advances the plot.

And yet. For however much I disliked this book, I still want to read The Queen of Nothing to find out how everything ends.


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good YA recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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ARC Review: Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi

Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Source: ARC from BookCon

After a year of college, Pablo is working at his local twenty-four-hour deli, selling overpriced snacks to brownstone yuppies. He’s dodging calls from the student loan office and he has no idea what his next move is.

Leanna Smart’s life so far has been nothing but success. Age eight: Disney Mouseketeer; Age fifteen: first #1 single on the US pop chart; Age seventeen, *tenth* #1 single; and now, at Age nineteen…life is a queasy blur of private planes, weird hotel rooms, and strangers asking for selfies on the street.

When Leanna and Pab randomly meet at 4:00 a.m. in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn, they both know they can’t be together forever. So, they keep things on the down-low and off Instagram for as long as they can. But it takes about three seconds before the world finds out… 

In case you weren’t already aware, Mary H.K. Choi’s Emergency Contact is one of my favorite books. From the characters to the message to the excellent texting, I loved everything about it. Permanent Record was at the top of my most anticipated list for 2019, and I was lucky enough to get an ARC while at BookCon.

This book was not Emergency Contact, Part Two. Part of the blame is on me for thinking it would be. But instead of loving this book, I was really, really disappointed in it. So disappointed that I’m really just sad thinking about it. I won’t get into any spoilers in this review, but here are some bullet point reasons why I didn’t like this book:

  • The slang. In Emergency Contact, Penny and Sam talked like actual teenagers. In Permanent Record, the amount of slang Pab and Lee use is almost embarrassing. Nobody talks like that. Nobody.
  • The lack of responsibility. I get that it’s one of the main conflicts of the book, but I could not get over how literally every single one of Pablo’s problems could be solved if he’d just take some responsibility for his actions. You can’t ignore your problems until they go away, Pablo!! Life doesn’t work like that!!
  • I didn’t really see a point to it? I slogged through all 417 pages of this book only to get a non-ending. That’s not even mentioning how bored I was the entire time I was reading this book.

Am I mad that I took the time to read this book? I guess not. Did I enjoy it even a little bit? No. I’m just disappointed, but since I loved Emergency Contact so much, I’m still planning to read whatever Mary H.K. Choi publishes next.


Have you read Permanent Record? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Doll Bones by Holly Black
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Source: Borrowed

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice.

But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .

I’ve read a few of Holly Black’s books now and I think that I can safely say that I really enjoy her writing style. Her books are always really readable (or, in this case, listenable? is that a word? I’m a linguist and I just made it one) and Doll Bones is no exception. I found this book while scrolling through my library’s Overdrive and figured it would be the perfect book to listen to during Spooky Season.

I was pleasantly surprised that Doll Bones is about more than just, you know, the doll bones. More than anything else, it’s a coming-of-age story about Zach, who, along with his friends, loves crafting stories featuring his action figures, until his father decides he’s too old to play like that and throws out all of Zach’s toys. While Zach’s flat-out refusal to communicate with his friends about why exactly he wouldn’t be playing anymore was frustrating, I had to keep reminding myself that he’s literally twelve years old. I couldn’t expect him to act like an adult, and I don’t know many twelve year old boys who are tuned into their feelings enough to openly discuss them with their friends. (That said, I admittedly don’t know many twelve-year-olds in general.) There’s some really good commentary on what it means to grow up and how scary it can be.

Then there’s the actual spooky story about a bone doll made out of the bones of a little girl who was murdered under mysterious circumstances. A number of things happen that could be real or imagined, and it’s never really clarified, which just makes things spookier.

One small critique is that I don’t think the romance was even remotely necessary and I was a little bit disappointed to see it even factor in to the plot. I guess a few people had paired off when I was twelve years old, but it definitely wasn’t a big part of my middle school life. More than anything, I think that particular plot felt a little forced.

Overall, I think this was a really well-written middle grade book! As an adult, there were a few things that rubbed me the wrong way, but I really can’t hold that against the book since I’m far from its intended audience.

Previously: The Cruel PrinceThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown


Have you read Doll Bones? Can you recommend any spooky MG books?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 2, 2018
Source: Purchased

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

I avoided reading The Cruel Prince for the longest time because of the hype, but I finally did it. The main reason that I finally picked this book up was Daniel‘s idea to do a giveaway of The Wicked King, and how could I do a giveaway of book two in a series without reading book one? Anyway. I read it. And it took me a little while to figure out how to rate and review it because I almost felt like I read two different books.

Let me tell you, I struggled through the first half of this book. The pacing felt off and I felt like we’d be teased with a few really exciting pages only to be bored half to death for the next couple chapters. I also didn’t enjoy the constant bullying of humans by the fae. (Not that you’re really supposed to enjoy it, I guess, but it was a lot to handle and it made me really uncomfortable.) And can we talk about Jude for a second? Because Jude is the worst, at least at the beginning of the book. I’ll elaborate.

So, in general, I have no problem with unlikable characters. I don’t need to be best friends with every character I meet. I don’t need them to make all the right decisions or be happy and cute and nice all the time. Characters can and should be angry, conflicted, and rebellious. But Jude? She’s just dumb. She doesn’t understand basic things. She makes the strangest decisions. She contradicts herself constantly.

“Oh yes, this boy is staring at me all the time and I found out that he likes to obsessively write my name over and over again. I guess he must hate me! Yes, that must be it.” — Jude, probably.

I was so annoyed. SO ANNOYED. But then something happened. Once I hit the halfway point of the book, I was so into it. I could hardly put it down! I had to know what happened next. Honestly, five stars for the second half of the book. Maybe two stars for the first half. I can’t say I was all too shocked about the ending, but maybe I’ve just seen too many people talking about this book. I won’t hold that against it.

I wasn’t going to read The Wicked King right away, but now I think I need to buy it immediately.


Have you read The Cruel Prince? Are you excited for The Wicked King? Let’s talk in the comments!


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Giveaway: Signed copy of The Wicked King!

Today is a very exciting day because it’s the first of (hopefully) many collaborations I’ll be doing with my favorite blogger, Daniel, this year. Today, the two of us are bringing you another giveaway! Because he’s the best and also the coolest, Daniel went to a Holly Black event last night and picked up an extra signed copy of The Wicked King to give away to one of our followers!

I haven’t read The Wicked King yet — I’m still working my way through The Cruel Prince — but I’ve heard such great things about it and I’m so excited to be able to do this giveaway!

The rules for the giveaway are simple:

  1. You have to be following both me and Daniel!
  2. You can enter through the Rafflecopter!
  3. One follower will win a signed copy of The Wicked King by Holly Black!
  4. The giveaway is open internationally! (The winner will need to provide us with their mailing address.)
  5. The winner will be drawn on January 19, 2019!

Good luck!

I’m abandoning the idea of carefully planning out what I’m going to read.  It always fails.  I only ended up reading one of the books I listed on my last book queue, so here we have three books I’ve currently checked out from the library.  Three books that I will almost certainly finish.  (Three books that it would be really unusual for me not to finish.)  Three very different books.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown // Outsider in the White House // Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares

What are you planning on reading next?