Saturday, March 21, 2020

Book Review: The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious #3) by Maureen Johnson

The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson

Published: January 21, 2020

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery

Pages: 369

Synopsis: Ellingham Academy must be cursed. Three people are now dead. One, a victim of either a prank gone wrong or a murder. Another, dead by misadventure. And now, an accident in Burlington has claimed another life. All three in the wrong place at the wrong time. All at the exact moment of Stevie’s greatest triumph...

She knows who Truly Devious is. She’s solved it. The greatest case of the century.

At least, she thinks she has. With this latest tragedy, it’s hard to concentrate on the past. Not only has someone died in town, but David disappeared of his own free will and is up to something. Stevie is sure that somehow—somehow—all these things connect. The three deaths in the present. The deaths in the past. The missing Alice Ellingham and the missing David Eastman. Somewhere in this place of riddles and puzzles there must be answers.

Then another accident occurs as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm—and a murderer.

In the tantalizing finale to the Truly Devious trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson expertly tangles her dual narrative threads and ignites an explosive end for all who’ve walked through Ellingham Academy.

Thoughts: This book review comes to you from the strangest time I've ever lived in, and I'm guessing it's the same for all of you as well. But, you can go anywhere to get talk about all of that, so let's talk about this book instead.

The Hand on the Wall is the last book in the Truly Devious trilogy, a trilogy I didn't know I was getting into when I read the first book, as most mysteries end up being solved in one book rather than a series. But, I guess since this series is looking at multiple mysteries, it makes a bit more sense. Not that everything always needs to fit into the same box, but you get what I mean.

Yes, things are solved. We know whodunnit - both what happened to Alice, and who was responsible for the deaths of everyone in the modern day. The real question is - were these reveals satisfying? There were certainly surprises, and perhaps a couple of disappointments (not as a reader, but as someone who was hoping for a better end for some characters, like if they were a real person), but yes I overall would call it satisfying. I didn't leave it with lingering questions, and found certain comeuppances quite deserved.

That being said, the first book in this trilogy still remains the best for me. The next two kind of flow together, so I'm not sure if I liked one more than another. Did it truly need to be a trilogy? That is a little more questionable, because when you think about it, did a lot actually happen? Hmm. I'm not 100% certain there.

Nonetheless, I would definitely recommend this series if you enjoy mysteries, and particularly if you enjoy mysteries that happen in inherently mysterious places such as the fabled Ellingham Academy.

Rating: 4/5

What I'm Reading Next: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Friday, February 28, 2020

Book Review: The Toll (Arc of a Scythe #3) by Neal Shusterman

The Toll by Neal Shusterman

Published: November 5, 2019

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Pages: 625

Synopsis: It’s been three years since Rowan and Citra disappeared; since Scythe Goddard came into power; since the Thunderhead closed itself off to everyone but Greyson Tolliver.

In this pulse-pounding conclusion to New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe trilogy, constitutions are tested and old friends are brought back from the dead.

Thoughts: Well my friends, that was probably one of the most satisfying trilogies I have ever read. While I think I liked Thunderhead, the second book in the trilogy, the most, I still highly enjoyed this one. It's a complicated story, with a lot of different threads that Shusterman has to bring together. I felt like after I got to the end, I kind of let out a sigh of yes, thank you, that was just the right ending.

The title, The Toll, has so many meanings in relation to this story. Greyson's last name of Tolliver, The Toll figurehead itself, and the whole tonist connection. But, also the toll that must be paid for people's actions, which is basically what this book is about in many ways. Very clever, sir, very clever.

It's a very timely story, this book in particular out of all three feels very relevant to today's society and all of the dissension and power-hungriness that is currently permeating the world, and this country in particular. In some ways the book felt more about the overall story than the story of the individual characters, and while usually I wouldn't like that, here it felt like it worked.

Also, even though this book was longer than the last one I read, I read it in about half the time. So that just goes to show if I like a book, I really can read it faster, ha!

I would definitely highly recommend this trilogy. I feel like eventually it will be made into a movie or a TV show, it could very easily translate in that direction.

Rating: 4.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Book Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Book Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, by Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Published: November 5, 2019

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction

Pages: 498

Synopsis: From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night Circus, a timeless love story set in a secret underground world--a place of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a starless sea.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues -- a bee, a key, and a sword -- that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians -- it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.

Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose--in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

Thoughts: Where to begin! I wanted to like this book, really I did. The beginning does a good job of sucking you in, but once everyone starts going into the stories that they read about themselves, it really loses some steam for me. Which is sad, because I really like The Night Circus, her previous book. In fact, I think I named it as one of my favorites of the year some time back.

It seems like a book I should like - all the aspects are there. A boy who loves reading and video games, and cats, and there's a mystery to solve. And while that's all well and good in the beginning, honestly it doesn't really feel like it goes anywhere. What is Zachary really learning here? How is he changing as a character? What is his goal?

The problem is, it feels like a lot of machinations from outside forces with his story, rather than him truly having choices and making his own decisions. Any time there was a mystery element, such as when Kat's story randomly came back into things (and I had to remind myself who that even was to be honest), things were great, I was into it. In fact, I was more into her chapters later on than the main story!

It took me ages to read. I'm not like a super quick reader because I really only read before bed and on lunch breaks currently, but I will tell you I read a 704 page book in a little over a month, and this one is 498 pages and took me about two months to get through, because I legit would keep falling asleep.

That's not to say the writing itself is bad. It's very descriptive and pretty and all of that, with a very cool fantastical world. But the plot, the story, the characters, things to actually cling to and make sense of, were just lacking for me. There just wasn't a lot of there there if that makes sense.

Have you read it? What do you think, am I crazy not to love this? Let me know in the comments!

Rating: 2.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: The Toll by Neal Shusterman

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Favorite New Shows of 2019

Another year, another new streaming service to contend with. Yes, Disney+ entered the scene this year, but did any of its original shows make my list of annual favorites for 2019? You'll just have to read on to find out! Except that there aren't that many, because dang it's just tough to keep up.

I mean seriously, there is a LOT of content around nowadays that it's impossible for one person to watch everything, so these just happen to be what I got around to. Also, I want to give a shout out to a show that I did not watch when it first aired (and hence it does not appear on the list for the year where it should be), but have since watched almost all seasons: Outlander. Man I am INTO it.


Typically this type of show wouldn't necessarily be my jam, just because it's so smart and sometimes that annoys me. But honestly by the end of the season (or series?), I was hooked and looked forward to each episode. Some of that may have just been the mystery of it all - like what the heck was really going on, and how did it all connect. But connect it all did, in awesome ways. 

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series

I fully did not expect to like this show. The original TV movies are super cheesy, like Cheese McCheeserson. But, I mean, they did introduce all of us to Zac Efron, so there's that. But this show is totally in on the fact that the old movies were cheesy. It has a lot of humor while also mixing in the music in a much more realistic way. To be fair, I haven't finished the entire first season yet, but it's a lot of fun and I don't expect my opinion will change much after a couple more episodes.

The Imagineering Story

It's super interesting to see how Disneyland came to be and how things developed over the years. What Walt's vision was, versus what those who followed him ended up doing. The hits and misses, looking into the development of the various different theme parks over the years.... the show is actually pretty honest when things didn't work, which is nice since this is a Disney production after all. Definitely worth watching if you're into Disney stuff.

Want to Watch but Haven't Had a Chance Yet: The Witcher, Chernobyl 

I Wanted to Love You, But...: The Mandalorian (baby Yoda or The Child or whatever you may call it is frickin' cute and kept me watching, but the rest just didn't quite grip me like I hoped it would).

Any new shows you loved that I should check out? Let me know in the comments!

Past Years:
20182017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011

Friday, January 3, 2020

Favorite Books of 2019

Oh my goodness, I completely forgot to write this up before the end of 2019! My December was extremely busy, so it just slipped my mind. But, I did have favorite books of the year. What's interesting is that while I rated some other books higher at the time of reviewing them, two of them I wouldn't call favorites now that I'm here. What a world!

Dark Age by Pierce Brown

Synopsis: For a decade Darrow led a revolution against the corrupt color-coded Society. Now, outlawed by the very Republic he founded, he wages a rogue war on Mercury in hopes that he can still salvage the dream of Eo. But as he leaves death and destruction in his wake, is he still the hero who broke the chains? Or will another legend rise to take his place? Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile, has returned to the Core. Determined to bring peace back to mankind at the edge of his sword, he must overcome or unite the treacherous Gold families of the Core and face down Darrow over the skies of war-torn Mercury. But theirs are not the only fates hanging in the balance. On Luna, Mustang, Sovereign of the Republic, campaigns to unite the Republic behind her husband. Beset by political and criminal enemies, can she outwit her opponents in time to save him? Once a Red refugee, young Lyria now stands accused of treason, and her only hope is a desperate escape with unlikely new allies. Abducted by a new threat to the Republic, Pax and Electra, the children of Darrow and Sevro, must trust in Ephraim, a thief, for their salvation—and Ephraim must look to them for his chance at redemption. As alliances shift, break, and re-form—and power is seized, lost, and reclaimed—every player is at risk in a game of conquest that could turn the Rising into a new Dark Age.

Why it made the list: Well. My goodness. I've been a fan of the Red Rising series from the beginning, but none of the sequels has quite lived up to the original for me. But Dark Age comes close. It's a brutal page-turner that has you wanting to switch back and forth between the different characters to find out what's going on with them. If you like this series and haven't read this year, what are you waiting for? And if you haven't read the series and are a scifi fan, then get on it!

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

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.

Why it made the list: I feel like I just blazed through reading this book. It's got an intriguing mystery at its core while also focusing on the relationships of the main characters. Now, I did also read the sequel in the past year, and while it was still good, it didn't quite hook me like this original, so I'm leaving it off the favorites. I'm looking forward to the third one and the conclusion to the ongoing mystery, for sure. 

The War that Saved my Life and The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley


Synopsis of The War That Saved My Life: An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars. Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him. So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother? This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

Why it made the list: I always seem to put off reading historical fiction, thinking I'm not going to enjoy it, but lo and behold, I almost always do. And this series was no exception. The story is moving, emotional, and ends in such a satisfying way. I didn't think it necessarily called for a sequel, but the sequel lived up to expectations. Definitely a recommend!  

Other books I enjoyed this year, but wouldn't call my favorites: Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus, Circe by Madeline Miller

You can check out all of the books I’ve read on my Goodreads page, but let me know if you’ve had any favorites from this year that I should check out!

Past Years:
2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012