Saturday, July 27, 2019

Book Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious
Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Published: January 16, 2018

Genre: Mystery, Young Adult

Hardcover Pages: 416

Synopsis: 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.

Thoughts: I think I must like mysteries, you guys. I feel like most of my reviews lately of any book involving a mystery have been mostly positive. Okay, one comes to mind that wasn't as much, but still, on the whole, yes. You're probably getting where this is going - this book is another mystery, and yes, I enjoyed it too.

I came into this book expecting it to be a one-off, but it turns out that no, it's a series. D'oh. But, the good thing is that while this book does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, the next one has already been published, so hey, if I want to, I can pick it right back up.

But I'm not talking about what I actually like about this book, am I? What I found interesting is that it goes back and forth between two time periods. At first I thought this was going to be a period book and I was like oh dang I didn't realize, not sure if I'm up for a period mystery right now, but it turns out that it jumps between the 1930s and the present day, both at Ellingham Academy. And if you don't like a book that features a private school tucked away in the mountains where children are away from their parents, I don't know what's wrong.

I also really enjoyed the main character of Stevie. She's strong yet vulnerable, with a sense of conviction and curiosity that sometimes gets the best of her. The mysteries (yes, two) both take interesting twists and turns, and I will just say upfront if you are looking for everything to be solved at the end of a mystery novel, that does not happen here. I expect it's meant to happen by the end of the third book, but we'll see.

The long and the short of it is, I'm here for the series, and am definitely looking forward to the next one. The question is - do I read it next straight away, or pause and let some anticipation build? Considering I have a whole host of other books in my queue, dang, I guess I should pause. A little.

Rating: 4/5

What I'm Reading Next: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Book Review: Wildcard (Warcross #2) by Marie Lu

Wildcard
Wildcard by Marie Lu

Published: September 18, 2018

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Hardcover Pages: 341

Synopsis: Emika Chen barely made it out of the Warcross Championships alive. Now that she knows the truth behind Hideo's new NeuroLink algorithm, she can no longer trust the one person she's always looked up to, who she once thought was on her side.

Determined to put a stop to Hideo's grim plans, Emika and the Phoenix Riders band together, only to find a new threat lurking on the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. Someone's put a bounty on Emika's head, and her sole chance for survival lies with Zero and the Blackcoats, his ruthless crew. But Emika soon learns that Zero isn't all that he seems--and his protection comes at a price.

Caught in a web of betrayal, with the future of free will at risk, just how far will Emika go to take down the man she loves?

Thoughts: I finished this a couple weeks ago and just keep forgetting to write up a review! As I'm sure I've mentioned somewhere on the blog before, I've been a fan of Marie Lu's for awhile now, ever since I first read Legend some years ago. I even went to a book signing she had once locally here. I must say that while this and her other series, The Young Elites, haven't quite hit me as hard as the Legend series did, I did still enjoy this Warcross duology. Duologies are all the rage these days!

Anyhow, yes, Wildcard is the second book in the Warcross duology following Emika Chen in a future where everyone wears these implanted lenses that connect them to a virtual world where a game called Warcross has swept the world. One of the things about this series is that it feels very prescient about where the world could be headed. You could easily see something like the NeuroLink being created, and people wanting to spend a majority of their time within it. And, of course, how those in power could come to abuse it as well.

This sequel was structured quite a bit differently than the first book, which focused very heavily on the Warcross competition itself, whereas this one barely spends any time within the Warcross environment. Though sometimes that large of a difference between a first and second book can be maybe a little jarring, or just not give the same feel (which is funny given how I hate when movies or TV series are very repetitive in sequels or follow up seasons!!), I think here it was a good choice. It was nice to see Emika in a different environment, and gave the story more of a personal feel as well.

If you dig scifi, this series is worth checking out. It's not super heavy, is fast-paced, and features compelling characters in Emika, Hideo, and the rest of the supporting characters, and also it just reads quickly, which is also a big plus in my book.

Next up for Marie Lu will be the fourth and final book in the Legend series, which I was not expecting, so I'm definitely looking forward to that one!

Rating: 3.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Friday, May 31, 2019

Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller

Published: April 10, 2018

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical

Hardcover Pages: 393

Synopsis: In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Thoughts: It's been quite some time since I've read any of the Greek myths, so my memory was pretty vague on the details, which honestly was probably not a bad thing as it didn't paint my thoughts about the story with pre-conceived ideas. And really, I had no memory of Circe herself at all, despite having read the Odyssey back in the day. I had to stop myself from looking up her story many times, as I was curious what differed here in this book vs the ancient myths.

Much like the Odyssey, Circe's story itself is a long and complicated epic that spans a great deal of time. After all, the gods are immortal, so time passes for them in a different way. But Circe isn't like the rest of the gods, who care more about themselves than anything else, her story is fueled by her own journey to find herself as well as caring about others. She's not perfect by any means, often letting herself be fueled by jealousy or anger, but in a way that is understandable to the reader.

I give the book not a full five stars because while I did enjoy it, and became more invested the more I read, and indeed would've kept reading more, it did feel a bit dry at times. Which is interesting, because often what drives Circe is her emotions, yet the story didn't feel super emotional, if that makes ANY sense. Nonetheless, I did enjoy her journey, and how she came into her own despite many being against her for no good reason.

If you like the old Greek mythology at all, I'd definitely recommend this book. That said, you don't have to know any of it to read it, it definitely stands on its own.

Rating: 4.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: Wildcard by Marie Lu

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Book Review: Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

Published: January 8, 2019

Genre: Mystery, Young Adult

Hardcover Pages: 336

Synopsis: Echo Ridge is small-town America. Ellery's never been there, but she's heard all about it. Her aunt went missing there at age seventeen. And only five years ago, a homecoming queen put the town on the map when she was killed. Now Ellery has to move there to live with a grandmother she barely knows.

The town is picture-perfect, but it's hiding secrets. And before school even begins for Ellery, someone's declared open season on homecoming, promising to make it as dangerous as it was five years ago. Then, almost as if to prove it, another girl goes missing.

Ellery knows all about secrets. Her mother has them; her grandmother does too. And the longer she's in Echo Ridge, the clearer it becomes that everyone there is hiding something. The thing is, secrets are dangerous--and most people aren't good at keeping them. Which is why in Echo Ridge, it's safest to keep your secrets to yourself.

Thoughts: It's been a little while since I read a book in such a short amount of time - only five days, ha! Granted, I have read a book in just a handful of hours before (that would be The Fault in Our Stars in case you're wondering), but it's been quite a long time. Also, I mean, I did start reading it on a three hour plane ride and proceeded to finish half the book in that time, so otherwise it probably would have taken longer.

But I digress, you don't care about my reading habits! I guess that was just all a long way of saying that I did really enjoy this book! McManus does a great job of setting up the worlds of both leads Ellery and Malcolm, and how they end up coming together through the many mysteries that plague the small town they are both living in.

The story moved at a great pace, building up the mystery and giving clues at what felt like all the right moments. Things did come to a head perhaps a little bit abruptly, but then again, you don't really want the story to draw things out when it gets to that ending point either. So yes, I did appreciate that the ending was quick and satisfying.

What was also nice was that it wasn't just about the main mystery, there were also some side mysteries going on too that had more to do with the main characters, giving the final resolution more meaning as it focused more on those things than just the resolution of the main mystery. I just noticed that the synopsis doesn't even mention Malcolm, even though he and Ellery both share first-person narrative duties here. I guess synopsis-wise, it was just easier to talk about her alone. But I enjoyed both of their chapters, which isn't always the case when authors switch between characters.

If you enjoy mysteries, I'd definitely give this a go! It's a quick read and satisfying!

Rating: 4.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: Circe by Madeline Miller

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Book Review: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Published: August 28, 2018

Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Hardcover Pages: 320

Synopsis: In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancĂ©, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection...because one wrong move could lead to her death.

Thoughts: Man did I want to like this book. It's sort of a combination of fantasy and science fiction, leaning more toward the fantasy, which should be my dang bread and butter. But it took me a whole month to read because, if I'm being honest, I was just kind of... bored. I wanted more to actually happen. More twists. More turns. More, you know, stuff.

I read one review that called it fast-paced and I was like what book did you just read? Though the book isn't long, and certainly Amani does change throughout the course of the novel, the action itself is very limited. I often find myself projecting what I think a big twist might be in many books, and oftentimes I am right. But here I was just left waiting for that twist, and it never came. Who knows, maybe it will come in the future, but it was pretty much the only thing I kept reading on hoping to find.

Now, the world-building and the descriptions are all very well done. I feel like I understand the world, the way the people are oppressed by this other empire and all, very well. And Maram, who is sort of the villain, but not at the same time, is a very intriguing character who could have been the main focus of the book as well just because she has a backstory that is arguably more unique than Amani's.

What was most disappointing to me, though, had to be the ending. I got to the last sentences and was like wait, this is the end? That's it? I can tell it's meant to continue, but it felt like an incomplete story. Maybe it's because I read the whole climax in very staccato bits rather than all together at once, but it really didn't make me want to continue on in the series, sadly. Again, I was waiting for a twist that didn't come, at least not in the way I was expecting or hoping, so I just was left unsatisfied.

All of this being said, many people have given it rave reviews on Goodreads, so maybe I'm just not the right audience!

Rating: 2.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: Legendary (Caraval #2) by Stephanie Garber