Monday, October 21, 2019

Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
Truly Devious (Truly Devious #1)
By Maureen Johnson
Publisher:
Katherine Tegen Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

To Sum It Up: True crime buff Stevie Bell has been admitted to Ellingham Academy, an ultra-exclusive school with a tragic history. Its namesake and founder, Albert Ellingham, was a wealthy industrialist whose wife and daughter were kidnapped. Although someone was arrested and convicted of the crime, Steve doubts his guilt. So she’s at Ellingham to solve the case and finally discover the real identity of Truly Devious, the author of a threatening letter that Albert Ellingham received shortly before his family was taken. Soon, however, Stevie finds herself with two possible cases to investigate when another death occurs at Ellingham Academy and the clues increasingly point towards murder.

Review: Having very much enjoyed Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London books, I was eager to check out Truly Devious, the first novel in a new series. I’m not a huge mystery reader, but after finishing this expertly plotted book, I have a new appreciation for the genre.

Truly Devious follows Stephanie “Stevie” Bell, a true crime fan who is about to begin her first year at the super exclusive Ellingham Academy, a private school that was once the scene of an infamous crime: the kidnapping of the wife and daughter of the school’s wealthy founder, Albert Ellingham. While an arrest was made and the case seemingly closed, Stevie is among those who do not believe that the authorities found the actual Truly Devious, the author of a threatening letter that Ellingham received days before the abduction of his family. Stevie arrives at the school ready to solve the case and uncover the real identity of Truly Devious.

The book shifts between the present, where Stevie’s story takes place, and the past, where we witness firsthand, sometimes in agonizing detail, Albert Ellingham’s life unravel from the moment he receives the terrifying phone call that his wife and daughter have been taken. Johnson intertwines the two timelines brilliantly. Both Stevie’s sleuthing, which is the real thing and not amateurish at all, and the backstory behind her whole reason for applying to Ellingham Academy in the first place are equally compelling. If the entire book had been set during Albert Ellingham’s time, I still would have read it.

As much as Stevie is driven to solve the Ellingham case, she also finds herself dealing with adjusting to a new school that her parents don’t exactly approve of as well as managing her anxiety. The latter was something that I could absolutely relate to, and I thought it was portrayed very realistically.

Another layer is added to the plot when death strikes Ellingham Academy again, and Stevie starts to suspect that it wasn’t accidental. As she tries to piece together the full picture of the victim’s life, both Stevie and the reader learn that not everything is at it appears with her classmates. I love how the tension and suspense build around both cases. Who’s responsible for this latest death? Could one of Stevie’s own classmates be the culprit? Who was really behind the kidnapping of Iris and Alice Ellingham back in the 1930s? Could the two crimes possibly be related?

The answers to these questions are not fully resolved by the end of Truly Devious. I wasn’t disappointed by this, however. Quite the opposite—I liked that there were no easy solutions wrapped up in a bow here. One minor thing that I wasn’t so keen on was the romance. It felt rushed, and I wasn’t as invested in it as I was in seeing all of Ellingham Academy’s dark secrets revealed. I’m definitely hooked on this series now and can’t wait to dive into the sequel, even if it only deepens the mysteries surrounding this seemingly unfortunate school.

All in All: An absorbing mystery/thriller with just the right amount of suspense. You can really feel the ominous shadow of Truly Devious that hangs over Ellingham Academy. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Book Loot (37)

Hello, friends! So I've been amassing books again, lol. Some of these, like The Rise of Kyoshi and Reticence, were pre-orders that I had been eagerly waiting for, and I also had a Barnes and Noble gift card that I finally put to good use.

I had to show off the absolutely stunning cover for The Ten Thousand Doors of January. It's even prettier in person!

What books have you added to your shelves lately? Have you read any of these?


Bought:

Loki: Where Mischief Lies by Mackenzi Lee
The Rise of Kyoshi by F.C. Yee
Reticence by Gail Carriger
Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe by Will Birch
The Institute by Stephen King
A King's Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Monday, September 16, 2019

Review: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
City of Ghosts (Cassidy Blake #1)
By Victoria Schwab
Publisher:
Scholastic Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

To Sum It Up: Cassidy Blake’s parents may write books about ghosts for a living, but for Cass, ghosts are all too real. After being saved from drowning by a ghost named Jacob, who becomes her best friend, Cassidy can step into the Veil, the curtain between the living and the dead. When her parents are given the opportunity to film a TV show about haunted places around the world, the family packs their bags for Edinburgh, Scotland, where Cassidy is about to discover that not all ghosts are friendly like Jacob.

Review: Victoria Schwab has become an auto-buy author for me, so of course I had to check out her middle grade novel, City of Ghosts. In it we meet Cassidy Blake, a girl whose near-death experience has given her the ability to cross into the Veil, the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead. Cass’s best friend is Jacob, a snarky, comic book-loving ghost who saved Cass from drowning. Cass and Jacob’s friendship was definitely the highlight of the novel for me; I loved the banter between them.

Overall, though, I’m bummed to say that I just wasn’t feeling this book. While I loved the concept and the wonderful, thoroughly detailed descriptions of Edinburgh, the story itself seemed to be missing something. As spooky as some of Cass and Jacob’s forays into the Veil are, the sense of danger doesn’t feel all that palpable.

I also thought that the book took a while to get going, and even then, the plot is pretty straightforward. I think I expected more suspense and tension build-up given that this is a story about ghosts. I realize that this is middle grade, but I felt there was still room to add more layers to the plot and to the characters.

Perhaps I’m too used to the complicated characters of Schwab’s adult novels to fully appreciate City of Ghosts. This one fell a bit short for me, but I do think that the book offers plenty of chills to thrill younger readers who will enjoy watching Cassidy and Jacob grow as characters as they continue their ghostly adventures together.

All in All: Sadly, I didn’t love this as much as I’d hoped despite some snappy dialogue and an immersive setting. The plot was a tad thin for me to really get into the story. Middle grade readers, however, will very likely find City of Ghosts to be a promising start to the series.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Review: Vengeful by V.E. Schwab

Vengeful (Villains #2)
By V.E. Schwab
Publisher:
Tor
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

To Sum It Up: It’s been five years since ExtraOrdinaries Victor Vale and Eli Ever faced off, with Victor seemingly killed and Eli captured. With the help of another EO, however, Victor is alive, though not well and deteriorating at an alarming rate. Meanwhile back in Merit, once the scene of Victor and Eli’s showdown, a new EO named Marcella Riggins is literally using her bare hands to destroy anyone who stands in her way of taking control of the city. Marcella’s power is so formidable that it may take turning to the currently imprisoned Eli for help in stopping her.

Review: I finally read Vengeful, the highly anticipated sequel to Vicious, one of the best stories about morally ambiguous characters EVER. I’d say THE BEST that I’ve ever read. And everyone continues to walk a fine line between good and evil in Vengeful.

Once again, Victoria Schwab jumps back and forth between the present and the past to unreel her narrative. Five years have passed since Victor and Eli met for what appeared to be the final time. Eli is now the prisoner of EON, an organization headed by Joseph Stell, the former detective who locked Victor up. Stell thinks that EOs might be rehabilitated into using their abilities for something other than wrongdoing. Eli, who once hunted EOs down and killed them in his belief that they were abominations, finds this notion preposterous and insists to Stell that heroes are not in an EO’s nature. When a new EO named Marcella Riggins threatens to destroy Merit in her quest for power, Stell reluctantly realizes that his best hope for stopping Marcella may be Eli Cardale. Watching Stell and Eli try to stay one step ahead of each other is absolutely riveting.

We also get some significant backstory for Eli that details the development of that carefully calculated veneer. I love how Schwab constantly challenges the reader, both in Vicious and in Vengeful, to rethink their views of the characters by making them so complex. You can’t help but wonder what Eli’s life would have been like if he’d had a different childhood, if he hadn’t ended up at Lockland University, and/or if he hadn’t met Victor Vale.

As for Victor, we discover that Sydney’s EO ability to bring back the dead isn’t without consequences, and Victor’s time to find a permanent fix for his problem is running out. Here again this series questions the definitions of good and evil as Victor takes lives in in order to try and save his own. As much as you may want him to survive, you’ll probably also ask, but at what cost?

While Vengeful is still Victor and Eli’s story, new EO Marcella Riggins commands an equally powerful presence on the page. After her mobster husband Marcus’s failed attempt to kill her, Marcella wakes up in the hospital with the ability to reduce whatever she touches to dust and ashes. She also awakens, understandably, in a murderous mood towards Marcus. What begins as a thirst for revenge quickly escalates into an insatiable hunger for power. She teams up with two other EOs—Jonathan, who can shield himself as well as extend the shield to another person, and the mysterious June, who can take on someone else’s appearance—with a very interesting twist. Alone, Marcella and her destructive touch are formidable, but working with June and Jonathan, she seems unstoppable. Marcella puts the “Extra” in “ExtraOrdinary,” reveling in making a spectacle of everything she does. I do think her grandstanding slowed down the book’s pacing at times, making Vengeful not quite the feverish page turner that Vicious was.

Overall, though, Vengeful is a not to be missed sequel. Once again, Victoria Schwab takes the superhero story and flips it every way imaginable, creating an unpredictable, deliciously twisted tale that you won’t easily forget.

All in All: Although Vicious just edges this out as my favorite book in the duology, Vengeful is certainly not a sidekick of a sequel. These are some of the best flawed characters ever—perfectly imperfect and incredibly compelling to read about.

Monday, August 5, 2019

July 2019 Recap

Happy August, everyone! Hope you're all enjoying summer! It's been an extremely hot summer even for Florida, as evidenced by the monthly horror story I call my electric bill. :( Ah, well—at least we have air conditioning to stay cool.

I really slacked off in July, only reading 2 books and posting 1 review. :( I did finally get around to reading Victoria Schwab's Vengeful, which I was determined to cross off my 2019 TBR. Although I read consistently (I LOVE having a daily reading tracker in my bullet journal), most days I only got in a few pages either before work or late in the evening. Noticing this pattern has really made me think about how I spend my time and if there are any things in my daily routine that really aren't that high priority and which can be swapped out a few times a week for some extra reading and blogging.

I also lost the past week to a whopper of a cold that made it difficult to do very much other than sneeze, blow my nose, and sleep. I can usually fight this kind of thing off in a day or two, but I think I was really run down this time. I'm finally feeling like myself again and trying to get back on track with reading and blogging.

Have you read anything good lately? How has your summer been going?

Reviews Posted:

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