Saturday, September 14, 2019

Book Review: The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious #2) by Maureen Johnson

Book Review: The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious #2) by Maureen Johnson by freshfromthe.com
The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

Published: January 22, 2019

Genre: Mystery, Young Adult, Contemporary

Hardcover Pages: 384

Synopsis: 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.

Thoughts: The main question coming in to any sequel is almost always - did you like it as much as the first one? And while I did still enjoy this sequel a lot, and am thirstily waiting for the next one, I have to say that I enjoyed the first book more. But, I think part of the reason for that may have been that I thought it was a single book going in, rather than knowing ahead of time it probably wasn't going to necessarily have a satisfying conclusion. Well, that's not entirely true - both books have a conclusion, but also leave more up in the air.

Anyway, the point is, I still enjoyed this book and read it quickly, but did feel it wasn't quite as engaging as the first one. It picks up right where the action last left off, with Stevie back at home and wishing she was still at Ellingham. If I'm being honest, as a reader I was also wishing for her to be back at Ellingham so things could get interesting again. Luckily, she doesn't spend too much time at home, so the action picks up very quickly.

The other thing I enjoy about this series are the various characters and their relationships with each other. In particular, I have liked the romance, or sometimes the lack thereof, between Stevie and David. David is definitely an intriguing character, one of those rakish dudes that you probably shouldn't like but inevitably do because he's so damaged and you know he has a good heart at his core, blah blah blah. Typical teenage romance stuff, but I dig it nonetheless.

I'm definitely looking forward to where this one will ultimately end, as it has been confirmed that the next book is a conclusion. But it doesn't come out until January, so I'll have to wait a few months before I get it!

Rating: 3.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: Dark Age by Pierce Brown

Monday, August 19, 2019

Book Review: The War I Finally Won (The War That Saved My Life #2) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Book Review: The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley by freshfromthe.com.
The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Published: October 3, 2017

Genre: Historical, Middle Grade

Hardcover Pages: 387

Synopsis: Ada and her younger brother, Jamie, now have a permanent home with their loving legal guardian, Susan Smith. Although Jamie adapts more easily, Ada still struggles with the aftermath of her old life, and how to fit into her new life.

World War II continues, and forces the small community to come together and rely on one another. Ada has never been interested in getting to know her friend’s family—especially Maggie’s mother, the formidable Lady Thorton. However, circumstances bring them in close proximity along with other unexpected characters.

Ada comes face to face with another German! This time she isn’t sure what she should do. How can she help the ones she loves and keep them safe?

Thoughts: I had this book downloaded for quite a while, but had been avoiding it thinking I might not like the follow up as much as the first one, which I thought was a great book. Finally, when I got about 40% of the way through a different book and decided I just wasn't enjoying it at all and to heck with finishing it, I turned to The War I Finally Won, and I'm glad I did.

It picks up right where The War That Saved My Life left off, with World War II still in full swing, but immediately switching things up by changing a major part of Ada's previous existence. Of course, that old life still haunts her, as it would anyone, and though she may now be safe with Susan and Jamie, she still struggles with feelings of being unwanted and useless.

Side characters get larger roles, and new characters are introduced, all with nuanced backgrounds and stories that relate back to Ada's own story. But, of course, if Ada herself wasn't complex and interesting, the story wouldn't work. What I like about her is that she's very blunt and can be very hard-headed, but you never stop liking or rooting for her, even if that rooting comes in the way of "Oh Ada, you're looking at it wrong" or something.

Obviously, if you haven't read the first book, you can't just pick this one up and go, as you'd really be missing out on some great story. But if you enjoyed the first book, I'd highly recommend the follow up. While I'm not sure it is quite as good, it's still very engaging with important themes throughout.

Rating: 4.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

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