Quick Review: A Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson

You thought the The Truly Devious series was over didn’t you? I did too. I’m not mad that Maureen decided to write another book but I’m also still waiting for the 4th book in her Shades of London series. I think I may have to let that go. Anyway, Stevie’s fame after solving the Ellingham murders is starting to fade and she’s back home for summer vacation when she gets the offer to work at a summer camp and help a new unsolved mystery. In 1978, four teen camp counselors went into the woods to smoke some weed and never came out alive. Stevie makes arrangements with the new camp owner that her friends from Ellingham also have jobs to help her with the case. Stevie is smart and clever and can deduce things that most of us would never think about but she’s also full of anxiety and even though she solved multiple murders, can she do it again? I like that Maureen is exploring this in her work because anxiety is a bitch. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, it never leaves you. I also really like Nate. I feel him. He just wants to be left alone in his treehouse and do nothing. He wrote one great book when he was younger and the expectations to write another great book have almost paralyzed him but it shows some real growth. I wish Janelle got a little bit more to do because she is also a great character. Here’s hoping that there are more and she gets a more central role. For mystery lovers, I do recommend this book. You don’t have to have read the first three books to know what’s going on as this is a standalone mystery but you should read the first three books because they are fun.

Review: The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson

Over three books, Stevie has been trying to figure out what happened to Alice Ellingham after she was kidnapped in 1936. The truth is truly tragic. I wont’ say what happened to her because I don’t want to spoil it but the whole affair is sad. At the end of the last book, Stevie had solve the mystery who was responsible of the kidnapping but was too afraid to tell anyone. She was too afraid that her evidence was too circumstantial but if she solved it and it’s over than what does she do next. Things have already gotten out of control. Two students have died and Stevie’s mentor has also died. David has run away and after another accident is forcing the school to close down immediately. The students don’t want to leave. There is too much left unsolved so they stay despite the massive blizzard. As Stevie unravels the mysteries we get a glimpse of what really happened and how things went off the rails from the beginning. So many people could have been spared if greed hadn’t taken over everyone. True today as it is back then. Over the series, Stevie has really grown. She has learned to deal with her anxiety. She works through her insecurities because she knows that she has more to discover and learn. A reminder to all of us not to give up despite the obstacles. I did enjoy this series. It was funny and heartwarming and a good mystery. Now if only she would finish her Shades of London series.

Top Posts of 2019

These are the Posts from this year that you all really loved! Let’s revisit them, shall we?

  1. Review: The Golden Tower by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare – This was a fun series from two great authors.
  2. Quick Review: Question of Holmes by Brittany Cavallaro – Another great series with a new take on some favorite characters.
  3. Review: The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson – I love a good mystery and this has been top notch.
  4. Quick Review: The Vagina Bible by Dr. Jennifer Gunter – Twitter’s gynecologist answers all your questions about women’s health and demystifies some long standing myths that really need to go.
  5. Quick Review: Broken Throne by Victoria Aveyard – Short story collection from the world of Red Queen.
  6. Reading Challenges – Who doesn’t love a challenge?
  7. What I’m Reading Now: Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes) by Lorna Landvik – Such a great title.
  8. Reality is Stranger than Fiction – This post by author Sherrilyn Kenyon was hard to believe. It’s like a novel.
  9. 24 in 48 – Kate attempted to read 24 books in 48 hours.
  10. Not a Review: Circe by Madeline Miller -” This isn’t a review so much as a scream into the void ” maybe the best line ever written on this blog ever.

Review: The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

I really do love a good mystery, especially when it’s well done. I thought I knew what was going to happen only to find that I was wrong. The clues were there but unless you were paying attention, you completely missed it. Just as many of the characters. Stevie is an amateur sleuth who wants to solve one of the greatest mysteries in American history. The Ellingham Academy was started by an eccentric millionaire. He had a dream to have the brightest kids study at his school and focus on what they want. An educational experiment unlike any other but when his wife and daughter were kidnapped and another student was killed during the first school year, the school became infamous. Despite it’s history, the school still strives and Stevie is determined to solve it’s most famous mystery. The problem is that once she arrives another student is killed and another goes missing. Her conservative parents pull her out of the school for fear it isn’t safe only to be convinced by their employee, Senator Edward King (not so subtlety modeled after Steve King) that the school is safe. Of course, King has his own reasons for Stevie to return. His son, David, is also a student at Ellingham and Stevie and him have a complicated relationship. Stevie doesn’t like making a deal with King but her want to go back overrides her concerns. A bright spot is when the author of the definitive book on the Ellingham case needs a student to help with research on a new edition of the book. Soon Stevie is making breakthrough in the case but at what cost. This is the middle book in the trilogy and they often times feel slow but this one moved at a pretty fast clipped. One of the revelations, I knew it was coming but I wasn’t expecting it to come midpoint of the book, really throwing me off. It was a great misdirection by Johnson, to get us to focus on one direction while the answer was in the other direction. There were answers and part of the original crime was answered but who so many more are still unanswered. Who killed Iris Ellingham and is Alice alive? What happened to David and Hunter and how do they play into the mystery? Were Hayes and Ellie’s death really accidents or did they know something more? I’m really looking forward to the finale next year.

My Top 10 Books of 2018

It’s that time of year where we take a look back at everything we have read this year and come up with our best of the year.  It’s a tough job but not one we take lightly.  It’s been a very diverse year for me.

1.Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi –This fantasy was like nothing I’ve ever read.  A little bit of magic, a little bit of adventure and a little bit social commentary.  It took me on a wild ride as Zelie discovers her own powers and does what she can to help her people from the evil King who has done all he can to erase her people.  It was a breathtaking first book.

2. A Cruel Prince by Holly Black-Holly Black is at her best when she is writing about fairies.  It really is her element.  The lush world that Black has created is so rich and vibrant that I almost wanted to go if it wasn’t filled with blood thirsty fairies.  Looking for a fantasy full of royal intrigue this one is also for you.

3. Shades of Magic Trilogy by V.E. Schwab –Technically I read the first book last year but I finished the trilogy so I’m counting them all as one.  It was one wild fantasy series.  From truly vile villains, pirates, royalty magic and supernatural forces it really did have everything but never felt too much.

4. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland- This one I think I liked for the very beginning. Jane was born a slave but when the dead of Civil War come back to life, Jane is sent to a boarding school that teaches her and other girls of color how to fight zombies so they may one day work in a nice home as protection.  Jane is resourceful, smart and funny.  She knows how to kill a zombie. 

5. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fischer –Carrie was truly one of a kind and is sorely missed.  Her diary that she wrote while filming the first Star Wars was honest, raw and funny.  Really what you would expect from Carrie Fischer.

6. Shadow and the Fox by Julie Kagawa- Add a little fox, a trained warroir with a demon infused sword and Japanese mythology and you get one fun book.  I really enjoyed the story building and characters as they try to steal save the scroll that will summon the dragon that will grant wishes was great.

7. Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake- The third book in the series was definitely a keeper.  I mean they all were but it was still great.  We finally get to see more of the world outside of Fennbirn Island and how the Queens became to be.  The mythology is really coming together and it’s going to lead to an epic finale.

8. Wildcard by Marie Lu – Emika is so cool. As she unravels the mysteries and tries to save not just Hideko from himself but everyone else from an even bigger conspiracy.  It was a fun novel and reminder that not everyone on the internet is your friend.

9..Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir- Elias, Laia and Helene are on opposite sides of the fight against the Nightbringer and keeping the balance. It’s a thrilling race against time to bring down the Nightbringer and the Empire and Elias Mom, who is just frightening.

10. Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson- I’m still waiting for the last book in her Shades of London series but this filled the void. Who doesn’t love a good boarding school mystery?  Stevie decides she wants to go to this exclusive boarding school because she wants to be the one to solve it’s biggest mystery of who kidnapped and killed the daughter and wife of the school’s founder.  Twice and turns abound in this one. 

Quick Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

truly devious Stevie Bell is starting at a new school.  The mysterious and illustrious Ellingham Academy.  Started by the infamous and rich Albert Ellingham the for the brightest students.  Ellingham opened his school because he believed education was a game, a game that should be open to everyone so he made it tuition free.  However, the history of Ellingham is tragic.  Albert’s wife and Daughter are kidnapped and another student goes missing. While there was a confession and trial many things about the case have been left unsolved.  Stevie is determined to solve the case. What Stevie didn’t count on was another student dying and a new mystery develops.  Maureen does an excellent job setting up the past mystery with flashbacks and FBI transcripts and interweaving it with the present.  At first it seemed that they cases were related and then they didn’t and then it did again.  She always able to keep you on your toes.  Stevie is ambitious.  She knows that her interest are a bit unusual and it makes it hard for her to make friends.  An issue that makes her anxious. As she tries to solve the mysterious before her she also must contend with school work, friendships and other relationships and forging your own path and not necessarily the path expected of you.  I don’t think I have read a book depict anxiety in such a realistic way before.  It really gets to the heart of how anxiety can paralyze a person but also shows how one can overcome those thoughts.  Stevie is a great role model in that respect.  The cast of characters around Stevie are interesting and I’m sure we will get more of them as the series progresses but I have to give a shout out to my boy Nate.  He is the friend that everyone needs because he was willing to put himself in uncomfortable position because he saw Stevie was in a bad place and it was the push that Stevie needed.  That’s a true friendship.