The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious, #3)

The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious, #3)

First Lines: The bones were on the table, naked and chalky. The eye sockets hollow, the mouth in a loose grimace, as if to say, “Yep, it’s me. Bet you’re wondering how I ended up here. It’s a funny story, actually…”

As always happens when I reach the end of a series, I am both terribly excited and very much dreading it. I mean, it’s the end. What if it isn’t as good as the others? What if I forgot too much? (Admittedly, though, I quickly reread The Vanishing Stair before I read this, so…I was good.) Still…

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Stevie has solved it. She knows who Truly Devious is. But does it even matter? Three people at Ellingham Academy are now dead, all of them somehow close to Stevie. With so many new murders happening, Stevie has to turn her attention to this case rather than the nearly century-old one. But it’s hard to concentrate with so much death, with David missing of his own free will, with a possible connection between the Ellingham disappearances and these murders. Then another accident occurs at Ellingham just before a massive storm. Parents and administrators can’t ignore the bad luck anymore and evacuate the school. Of course, Stevie can’t leave until she faces the murderer…and probably does something incredibly stupid in the process.

This series is just bonkers. There are so many twists and turns. I could not figure it out to save my life, and I’m someone who has grown up reading mysteries and knows what a red herring looks like!

Ok, for real, though, finally getting the conclusion of this mystery was so satisfying. I loved finally seeing everything come together and be revealed. This has been like an itch on the back of my skull for years.

Stevie is just as awesome as ever. She’s clever and insightful and constantly curious. I love her ability to sense when something doesn’t fit quite right in someone’s story. And the other characters are just as crazy as they’ve always been. David is especially off the deep end, but that’s nothing new. I did, however, discover a newfound love and respect for Nate, which was unexpected and yet appreciated. His cynicism spoke to me on a personal level this year.

The plot does get a bit melodramatic this time around, I’ll admit it, but that made it so much more fun when it started falling into mystery tropes I was used to. (Trapped! In a blizzard! With a killer!) But also, oh my God, did it get to be so much fun just seeing how X connected to Y and so on. Again, so satisfying.

I definitely recommend rereading at least the 2nd book before reading this. That’s what I did and it helped so much because everything is just so involved and about all these little clues that you have to know what’s going on.

So so good. I’m glad the gang’s all coming back for another book, even if it’s not about Ellingham! (There’s a “standalone” coming out next year!)

The Last Little Blue Envelope (Little Blue Envelope, #2)

Amazon.com: The Last Little Blue Envelope (13 Little Blue ...

First Lines: It was that time of day again. Time to stare at the question, the two lines of black on an otherwise blank page. Question: Describe a life experience that changed you. What was it, and what did you learn? (1000 words)

The whole reason that I reread the first book in this little duology was that I wanted to read this book and get a sense of closure for this series. I’m still trying to get through some older books, and let me tell you, that’s a ride. Early 2000s YA (even early 2010s YA) is waaaay different than now. It’s crazy.

The point. Yes. Let’s get there.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Ginny spent last summer backpacking around Europe thanks to some letters her deceased aunt left her, asking her to do different things in various cities. When Ginny’s backpack was stolen before she read the last letter, she resigned herself to never knowing how it ended. But months later, a boy from London contacts Ginny and says he found her bag. Ginny can now finish her mission. Only this letter sends her on another adventure, one that includes some old friends and new experiences. This time, there aren’t specific instructions like Ginny’s used to. And life will fill in the blanks.

The story starts about 6 months after the end of the first book. It’s December and life has returned to “normal” for Ginny, which means she’s trying to apply to colleges and get ready for Christmas. This seemed like a good amount of time to let Ginny grow and adjust to how she changed on her last adventure before starting the next one. Also, seeing Europe in Christmastime is pretty novel. I almost always see books set in the summer…for obvious reasons.

Anyway, I liked Ginny more in this book. She’s a little older, a little more sure of herself, and a little more assertive while still retaining her shy side. I liked seeing her more confident. The downside is that I don’t really think any other characters were that great. The book is just shy of 300 pages, which I think cut into some of the other character development time. Keith was horrible this time around. Oliver is an enigma the whole time. Ellis was fine, but she didn’t have a whole lot of personality until the end. So I was a bit disappointed with that.

I did enjoy how much the writing style in this sounded like the Maureen Johnson I’ve gotten to know and love. The story was frequently silly, quirky, and/or bizarre depending on the situation. I was able to enjoy the story more for that reason. I mean, it’s night and day between the writing in this and the first book.

The plot for this one was better than the first, I think, since at least this time Ginny was a little more active in what happened, but I still didn’t think it was great. I know they’re traveling all over, but nothing really happened. Even their setbacks were minor inconveniences that were resolved 2 pages later. Any win was only a win for 2 pages before they zoomed off to their next destination. So like, it didn’t really bring much to the table here. I wanted to like this more, and in some ways I did, but there were issues.

I think if I had read this back in like 2011 when it was new, I would have liked it more. Even with better writing, it’s still so stylistically different from writing now that it just seemed cliche and odd, and not in a necessarily good way.

Let It Snow (Netflix movie)

Image result for let it snow netflix posterWith the Christmas season quickly approaching (my tree and decorations are already up thanks to a snow day last week), I wanted to see what this movie had to offer.  I read the book years ago (so I don’t remember it incredibly well at all) and I was ready to see how it compared to other Christmas movies.

This movie follows 8 different teenagers on a snowy Christmas Eve in their tiny small town.  There’s Tobin who has a crush on his best friend, Julie and Stuart who just met on a train, Dorrie whose crush just walked into the restaurant where she works, and Addie whose boyfriend appears to be cheating on her.  A snowstorm brings all of them together.

This was super cute.  And, from what I remember, very different from the book.  I remember the book being somewhat crude and oddball (what did you expect from John Green and Maureen Johnson?) and this is definitely toned down from that.  But that doesn’t mean there’s not a fair share of teenage awkwardness.  It still has that in spades and it’s hilarious.

Someone on Twitter called this a teenage version of Love, Actually but with people of color and they’re not wrong.  It’s basically a movie of vignettes, where we keep following these stories that at first seem to have little in common and slowly become intertwined.  That is always fun to watch, trying to find those links.

There was just so much to enjoy about this.  I loved all of the characters, who I felt like we got to know pretty well even with their limited screen time.  I felt like a little of each of them.  Tobin’s charm comes from being awkward and sensitive.  Duke’s is from being strong and adventurous.  Addie is anxious and Dorrie is confident and Julie is guarded and Stuart is sweet and so many other things could describe these characters.  They were all really well done, from a writing and an acting standpoint.

But one of the best characters is our narrator, played by Joan Cusack who wears a literal tinfoil hat as she drives a tow truck through town.  Oh. My. God.  It was the thing I didn’t know I needed.

The only thing that even semi-bothered me was that because there are so many stories we’re following, they’re very simplistic.  Problems are overcome very quickly because there isn’t time to dwell on them.  I tend to like a little more complexity in my stories, but I understand the limitations here.

It was super cute and if you haven’t watched it yet, make sure you add it to your Christmas to-watch list.  It’ll make your heart happy.

The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2)

Image result for the vanishing stairFirst Lines: “Has anyone seen Dottie?” Miss Nelson asked.

I love Maureen Johnson, from her personality on social media to her writing style.  She’s fantastic.  But I let this book live on my shelf for a little while because I was scared to read it.  When you love the first book in a series so much…sometimes the 2nd doesn’t live up to the hype and I was terrified of that happening with this one.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

All Stevie ever wanted to do was solve the Ellingham cold case.  Instead, a classmate was killed, she gets pulled out of school, and she’s forced to leave her friends.  At least away from the school she won’t have to talk to David–the boy who kissed her and the boy who happens to be the son of her arch enemy, politician Edward King.  So it’s just Stevie’s luck when King shows up with a deal: return to the school but play nice with David so he doesn’t stir up trouble for King.  Stevie knows this is her chance, even if it’s a lot like making a deal with the Devil himself.  She knows she’s close to cracking the Ellingham case…but all her secrets and riddles are bound to hurt someone…

This book kind of felt like the filler book that it is. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the crap out of it because I did. But in terms of action, suspense, etc., it didn’t go to the level it could have. And part of that, I think, was knowing this was the 2nd book and there was a 3rd coming. So I already knew, thanks to the first book, to be a little disappointed in the ending.

I still loved Stevie, but I felt like the rest of the characters played very little role in this. Janelle, Nate, even David really weren’t in the book all that much. In fact, I’m pretty sure Security Guard Larry was in the book more than Janelle. (Which isn’t a terrible thing–I like Larry. He knows what’s up.) But I loved the characters so much in the first book…and this just didn’t have them playing as vital of a role.

And I missed how truly bizarre the first book was. Part of that is because of Ellie’s eccentricities, which didn’t really come into play much in this book. I love that Maureen can craft such incredibly quirky traits into a lovable character and a story that makes sense because of its weirdness, but this felt tame compared to some of her more recent books.

But the mystery…the plot thickens. I expected nothing less. The Ellingham Murders are as fiendish and dark as ever, even as we start peeling away layers of secrecy. I was sufficiently creeped out going to bed for at least one night while I read this, so it definitely gets under your skin. And I love that Stevie is so clever and that the clues are so subtle. It’s very reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s style, no matter how much this book references Sherlock Holmes. Hercule Poirot all the way.

Anyway, I did enjoy this. Not as much as I loved the first book, but here’s hoping the next book is that magical finale I’m desperately hoping it is.

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1)

Image result for truly deviousFirst Lines: Look! a riddle!  Time for fun!  Should we use a rope or gun?  Knives are sharp and gleam so pretty, Poison’s slow, which is a pity.  Hanging’s a ropy way to go, a broken head, a nasty fall, a car colliding with a wall.  Bombs make a very jolly noise.  Such ways to punish naughty boys!  What shall we use?  We can’t decide.  Just like you cannot run or hide.

So I love Maureen Johnson as a person.  Her Twitter account is outrageously funny.  But this book really wasn’t on my radar until I saw the hype it was getting.  I decided I probably had to read it, even though I feel like for the most part I’ve outgrown the mystery phase I went through in middle school.

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont, where only the best and brightest artists and thinkers go.  It was a school started by Albert Ellingham, who wanted to make a place where learning was a game and students could focus on what interested them.  But shortly after the school opened, Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped.  The only clue was a riddle detailing different ways to kill someone.  (See: first lines.)  It was signed Truly Devious, and this case became one of the most famous unsolved cases in America.  Enter Stevie Bell, a true-crime aficionado whose greatest dream is to solve the Ellingham case and become an FBI agent.  But coming to school at Ellingham is going to take up a lot of her time, especially as she gets to know her strange housemates: the welder, the writer, the artist, the actor, and the video game designer.  Everything changes the moment Truly Devious returns and murders a student.  It seems Truly Devious has returned from the grave and gotten away with murder.

As I expected, this book retained some of Johnson’s quirkiness.  I like quirky, and it’s just odd enough to bring some humor and levity to this murder mystery.  It’s an incredibly clever story, modeled after the mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, just to name a few. Having been an avid Christie fan as a teen, I saw many parallels to those specifically.

Stevie is a wannabe FBI agent. She’s obsessed with criminology, always reading about it and listening to podcasts and trying to solve cold cases. But it also means she’s well aware of how investigations work and what she needs to look for as a detective. In fact, she has traits similar to Sherlock, able to make huge deductions about a person based on scraps of evidence (a tan, an expensive watch, etc.).  So it was fun to read about a teenager who knew exactly what do to, even though she’s never actually dealt with a dead body before.

The story bounces between going back to 1936 when the Ellingham kidnappings happened and the present. Stevie’s obsession with the kidnappings shows us all the evidence of the case so we can get a better idea of what happened. And in the present, when Truly Devious returns, we see that unfold as well.

The mysteries were very clever. There are a lot of riddles in this book, a lot of loose ends that you need to try to put together. And, because this is a trilogy, there are cliffhangers that leave you feeling pretty unsatisfied at the end. I was hoping for more than I got. But I did enjoy the ride, considering there were little things along the way that didn’t feel right and then your instincts were proved right at the end.

There are quite a few characters that, because there are a lot of them, mostly come off feeling somewhat flat. But I enjoyed reading about them. Everyone who comes to Ellingham is quirky because they’re supposed to be passionate and great at whatever their passions are. Stevie’s is crime, but her roommates include a writer, a welder, a video game designer, an actor, and an artist. And every one of them is weird in their own rights. Some of them are likable because of it. Others are not, but that’s also kind of the point.  They’re being true to themselves.

I’m interested to see what the sequel brings. Hopefully I won’t have lost the thread of this story by the time it comes out.