The Vanishing Stair (#2) by Maureen Johnson

Published: 22nd January 2019 (print)/22th January 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Audio
Pages: 384/9 hrs and 13 mins
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult / Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

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 tantalising riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unravelled, 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. 

Johnson has done an amazing job with this sequel because it brings all the mystery of the first book and as the clues and evidence unravel it also raises new questions which I totally wasn’t expecting. We may find out the answers to some of the questions in Truly Devious, but the answers to the questions raised in The Vanishing Stair are as equally intriguing and in a way a whole lot more dangerous. The characters we fell in love with in Truly Devious are back, the events of the previous story still there but with a small jump in time. We get to see how the school and students have coped after the events of book one and how Stevie is managing as well.

One of the best things of this story is how Johnson has treated her characters. I love how each person at Ellingham have their uniqueness explored in a respectful and honest way. Stevie’s passion for true crime, as well as her own anxiety and self-care techniques are part of her day to day, and Nate’s introvert nature is accepted, jested about sometimes between friends but is never seen as a problem. The reasons that these students have been accepted into Ellingham is openly welcomed and celebrated and Johnson constantly reminds us that these are gifted kids who have a passion and a talent beyond the norm that they need to be free to explore and develop.

There is drama and mystery, all the things a good crime story should have. Johnson doesn’t hold back from the realities of this kind of story but she also tries not to be too gruesome or detailed. There is a good balance between what Stevie is capable of finding out due to her position, but has all the fun or sneaking out and maybe being in places you should go. The 21st century issue of technology with mysteries is used to the story’s advantage and using these modern conveniences doesn’t essentially make anything easier but it helps when Stevie is confined to a school in the mountains and has no actual job or resources to use beyond her immediate surroundings and her desire to find answers.

Rudd is once again a great narrator. Her voice captures Stevie’s uncertainties and her passion, you can see these characters come to life in your mind and all the teenage awkwardness, uncomfortableness and enthusiasm is all expressed perfectly. Her pace is wonderful and her tone keeps you engaged throughout.

This is a series you must read in order so if you haven’t already, you should check out Truly Devious. There is a third book coming soon so if you become enraptured in this series like I have, you won’t have to wait long.

You can purchase The Vanishing Stair via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Book Bingo 2019 Update #2

BingoBefore we have a small crisis that it’s almost the end of the year, let’s celebrate I made a Bingo! It’s a great line to cross off too, many great reads in there. I’ve added six this time on top of my original nine. I read a lot of things that didn’t fit into the categories recently but I am glad some still managed to fit in. I am keen to try and fill some of these other boxes because they are ones I don’t usually read. The poor Play box has been neglected from the beginning except one year so I’m hoping to fill that one at some stage.

As for the books I read they were wonderful. I got to read some wonderfully diverse stories and brilliant new authors and some books and series I have been wanting to read for what seems like an age! I will link my reviews when they go up but I’ve included a brief review as per usual. If you are ever looking for recommendations feel free to check out my current and former bingo cards. There’s still time to participate if you want a quick 3 month challenge before the year is out!

 

 

Read A Series

How to Train Your Dragon (How to Train Your Dragon, #1)How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

This series has been on my list since I was in high school and I can’t believe it has taken me so long because once I started I could not stop. I flew through all 12 of these books within a few weeks and it was the best thing I ever did. It is the perfect series if you liked Harry Potter because there are a lot of similarities in theme and grandness and it is beautiful and heartbreaking and heartwarming.

Graphic Novel

The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited!The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited by Clint McElroy

After a fantastic and successful first story, this second adaptation of the McElroy podcast is of equal standard. Funny, clever, beautifully illustrated it is the perfect way to re-experience the podcast or see what all of the fuss is about with a near perfect representation of the original audio format.

Self Published

13411999And All the Stars by Andrea K Host

This is an amazing story about friendship, aliens, and Australians. I loved it from start to finish; I read it in one sitting and I couldn’t put it down. There is more about the people than anything too science fictiony if that isn’t quite your thing. But the science fiction aspect is rewarding in itself. It was so captivating and there is a great mystery and drama that hooks you from the start.

Gay MC

Play It AgainPlay It Again by Aidan Wayne

This was a fun read, it shows how online relationships form and you get a peak at how YouTube stars do their thing. It is adorable and while some characters can be overbearing you get used to them. It’s a sweet story though and Sam is a lovely soft, sweet boy.

 

Transgender MC

GeorgeGeorge by Alex Gino

This is such an significant book and Gino has done a fantastic job at showing the innocence and the maturity of young transgender kids and there is so much to learn from this story. It is an uplifting story and seeing George’s personal development through the story makes your heart soar.

 

Free Choice

The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2)The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

This is not a series you can start in the middle of so I suggest you start with Truly Devious but Johnson brings her full game with this second book. Our favourite characters are all there, the mystery still looms high above everyone and when one is solved, there are more waiting to take their place. Boarding schools and cold cases are a perfect combo, plus realistic mental health expression and relatable characters is an added bonus.

 

Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Julie Larbalestier

Published: 21st September 2010 (print)/21st September 2010 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Margaret K. McElderry Books /Brilliance Audio
Pages: 415/11 hrs and 45 mins
Narrator: Ellen Grafton, Nick Podehl, and Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Anthology
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

It’s a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths–for good and evil–of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

What started as a discussion on a blog between Black and Larbalestier turned into an anthology where the merits or zombies and unicorns are discussed and explored. Both sides are given weight as the authors explain the good of their own choice and the bad of the other.

I listened to this as an audio and it was an amazing experience. The introduction alone was a delight as a serious, dramatic voice over explains how this anthology came into existence. Before the stories begin each author of the anthology is introduced with their side of the debate and I have no doubt wrote their own introductions because they sound exactly on point for each person. I loved the serious tone the introduction took because while the content was less serious the discussion was Very Important. The author introductions also add why each author likes their chosen subject: Scott Westfield invented the Zombie proof cravat, Kathleen Dewey brought up on a unicorn farm and learnt you can’t trust them, while whose unprecedented career as a land pirate could not have been achieved without her unicorn drawn pirate ship. The sound effects are fantastic and the fact that between each story Black and Larbalestier offer their opinions on the upcoming stories and the previous information provided add some great banter. There was even a sound effect to warn listeners that a story was coming so no unwary zombie fan will start listening to a unicorn story, or vice versa.

Even though Zombies vs Unicorns doesn’t seem like a theme, these authors have interpreted these subjects in incredibly creative ways. What is actually a zombie? What is a unicorn, really? Are they both as innocent or a menacing as we’ve led to believe? There’s stories that take a scientific approach to what constitutes a zombie, as well as the effects of having a unicorn in the modern day. I loved the modern zombie tales and I loved how there were dystopian stories that weren’t horror, but were still wonderfully creepy and zombie suited. The same can be said for the unicorn stories; they are often in the magical realm, though a few are in the real world and seeing the two collide was intriguing.

My favourites had to be Princess Prettypants by Meg Cabot, Purity Test by Naomi Novik, and Children of Revolution is such a Maureen Johnson story it’s hard not to delight in reading it. From the start I assumed I would be Team Unicorn because I have never quite enjoyed zombie stories but after seeing the unique ways that these authors have interpreted the concept, I am coming around. Looking from a stats perspective based on the stories I enjoyed and ones I didn’t, I am in a stalemate. I enjoyed four unicorn stories, four zombie stories, didn’t enjoy three and one I was undecided about. Where does that leave me? The ones I didn’t like were two zombie stories and one unicorn story. Does that make anything more solid? I really don’t know.

You can purchase Zombies vs. Unicorns via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

 

Top Five of 2018

I made a good decision last year to add all the books I thought worthy of my top five into a list as I finished them. It worked out well because I didn’t have to scramble and try and remember anything I had read or try to recall plot points and emotional responses come December. I ended the year with 5 books on that list, perfect, easy, ready to go and then there came an 11th hour addition on 31st December which made me rethink the entire thing and kick one of my books out. In the end, I think I chose the right books.

This year I have brought back the Honourable Mentions because a couple really do need mentioning. I have also started a Top Five Picture Books because they were remarkable as well and didn’t want to crowd my list. If I was really enthusiastic I might make it a top ten and just merge them together but that is a lot of pressure for next time. This way I can highlight some amazing picture books as well. Click the title to read my review.

 

A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews

This was the first book I added to my list as soon as I finished it back in May. I patiently waited for this to publish and was not disappointed at how spectacular it was.

 

 

 

 

 

Ready Player One (#1) by Ernest Cline

I adored this book. If you love cleverness, video games and are forgiving about having the 80s shoved down your throat then you will love this. There is a sequel coming after the popularity of the movie. I’m not sure I agree but I am willing to give it a go.

 

 

 

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

I could not put this book down. I listened to the audio and literally had it in my ears from dawn till dusk. It is amazing and so well planned out.

 

 

 

 

Loving Lakyn by Charlotte Reagan

Technically a prequel, technically a sequel but it can be read on its own. Either way, it is amazing and I fell hard and fast for these characters. The emotional journey I went on with these boys was incredible and heartbreaking. If I could read about them forever I would.

 

 

 

What If? by Randall Munroe

I had been reading this book on and off for weeks, piece by piece at night before I went to sleep. I finally finished it on NYE and something about it made me instantly decide to add it to my list. It was clever, funny, creative, fascinating. All of these wonderful things the entire time but it was upon finishing it I realised how much I genuinely loved this book. Therefore I had to bump another contender and rise this up the ranks.

 

 

Top Five Picture Books

A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Eric the Postie by Matt Shanks

Naughty Kitty by Adam Stower

A Boy, a Bear, and a Balloon by Brittany Rubiano

What’s Up Top? by Marc Martin

 

Honourable Mentions

Soulless (#1) by Gail Carriger

Truly Devious (#1) by Maureen Johnson

Boys Will Be Boys by Clementine Ford

What the Fluffy Bunny Said to the Growly Bear by P. Crumble

Penguin Problems by Jory John

 

Truly Devious (#1) by Maureen Johnson

Published: 16th January 2018 (print)/16th January 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Collins/Harper Audio
Pages: 416/10 hours 12 minutes
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult / Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym, Truly Devious. It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

I finished reading this book and immediately wanted to read it again. I don’t mind waiting for the next one, I will live on the excellent cliff-hanger for a year if I have to, it will give me a chance to go back and relive the wonderful clues because even that cliff-hanger had clues once I thought about it. It’s divine.

Johnson knows how to write a good mystery and is great at writing a mystery that doesn’t feel too intense or overly complicated. She balances the mystery and the regular story wonderfully but blends them together marvellously.

There are the red herrings, plus my CSI brain went over the top and I already have a suspect for the 1930s case, not so much for the current one. I love that nothing is what it seems and what might just be a shy or reclusive character is now a suspect. Having a mystery around a bunch of teenagers is a great premise and in a grand old school with grounds and hidden tunnels is a prime location.

Johnson is new to writing these kinds of mysteries but she already a master at creating a fascinating and captivating mystery filled with unique characters that have quirks and fantastic personalities. Stevie is a great character, she is passionate and a tad obsessive about the Ellingham mystery. Stevie loves true crime podcasts and detective books which drive her passion and thinking processes. But I also love that she has her own flaws; she has anxiety, she isn’t the friendliest and she is often lost in her own world. It was refreshing to read about a character like her, driven and focused and perplexed by other people.

One thing I adored was listening to it as an audiobook. Rudd does a fantastic job and the tone and voice of Stevie is natural and flows seamlessly. As with all of Johnson’s books there is so much of herself in these words. The story is written the way she speaks and tweets which was a delight, plus Rudd’s voice sounded like Johnson’s which, for me, was like having Johnson herself in my ear which made it even more wonderful.

You can purchase Truly Devious via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

 Fishpond | QBD

 

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