Truly Devious (#1) by Maureen Johnson

Published: 16th January 2018 (print)/16th January 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Collins/Harper Audio
Pages: 416/10 hours 12 minutes
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult / Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

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.

I finished reading this book and immediately wanted to read it again. I don’t mind waiting for the next one, I will live on the excellent cliff-hanger for a year if I have to, it will give me a chance to go back and relive the wonderful clues because even that cliff-hanger had clues once I thought about it. It’s divine.

Johnson knows how to write a good mystery and is great at writing a mystery that doesn’t feel too intense or overly complicated. She balances the mystery and the regular story wonderfully but blends them together marvellously.

There are the red herrings, plus my CSI brain went over the top and I already have a suspect for the 1930s case, not so much for the current one. I love that nothing is what it seems and what might just be a shy or reclusive character is now a suspect. Having a mystery around a bunch of teenagers is a great premise and in a grand old school with grounds and hidden tunnels is a prime location.

Johnson is new to writing these kinds of mysteries but she already a master at creating a fascinating and captivating mystery filled with unique characters that have quirks and fantastic personalities. Stevie is a great character, she is passionate and a tad obsessive about the Ellingham mystery. Stevie loves true crime podcasts and detective books which drive her passion and thinking processes. But I also love that she has her own flaws; she has anxiety, she isn’t the friendliest and she is often lost in her own world. It was refreshing to read about a character like her, driven and focused and perplexed by other people.

One thing I adored was listening to it as an audiobook. Rudd does a fantastic job and the tone and voice of Stevie is natural and flows seamlessly. As with all of Johnson’s books there is so much of herself in these words. The story is written the way she speaks and tweets which was a delight, plus Rudd’s voice sounded like Johnson’s which, for me, was like having Johnson herself in my ear which made it even more wonderful.

You can purchase Truly Devious via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

 Fishpond | QBD

 

There’s a Monster in Your Book by Tom Fletcher

Published: 29th June 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Puffin
Illustrator: Greg Abbott
Pages: 32
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

A mischievous monster has invaded the pages of your book!

This read-aloud, interactive picture book treat invites children to make magic happen page by page, tilting, spinning and shaking the book, and then seeing the funny results when each page is turned. A fantastic celebration of all the fun that can be had with a book, with a wonderful wind-down bedtime ending!

I love Fletcher’s books, they are funny and clever, not to mention adorable. Kids will love this book because it is an interactive experience. They can tilt the book, blow on the page and try a range of fun things to try and make the monster leave the book.

The sentences are simple and easy to understand, and I love how the monster, the story, and the illustrations all work together to create the story. Pages that give the illusion of being torn, as well as having the monster ‘peeking through’ make this a brilliant book that plays with the format and the expectations of a picture book.

The monster itself is adorable, Abbot has done a great job because it looks like an identifiable monster and not too scary, more cheeky than anything, something that kids could keep locked in a book and not mind. Abbot’s illustrations reflect Fletcher’s words and as the reader either blows on the page or tilts it per instruction, Abbot’s matched this consequence brilliantly making the monster react accordingly.

This is a fun read that certainly could be read over and over, and enjoyed every time. I think both adults and children will get delight from reading it and every read has the potential to be slightly different depending on how each instruction is interpreted.

You can purchase There’s a Monster in Your Book via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Fishpond | QBD

The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak

Published: 4th September 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Dial Books
Pages: 48
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

A book with no pictures? 

What could be fun about that?

After all, if a book has no pictures, there’s nothing to look at but the words on the page. 

Words that might make you say silly sounds… In ridiculous voices…

Hey, what kind of book is this, anyway?

I remember reading this book when it first came out and it was revered. I am glad to see it still holds up. It is so clever and it makes reading a fun experience. What I love about this is it highlights the power of formatting and the power the author has when you read. Italicised words are read differently, whether you read it aloud or in your head. Bolded words get an emphasis, big words in bright colours get read out differently and this book is fun to read because of the words and gets enhanced by the formatting.

Having no pictures bring the story focus on the reading experience and especially on the person reading it since the story revels in making them say silly things. It is about how fun words are and is a prime book to be read out to children, (though not unexciting to read in your head either).

You can purchase The Book With No Pictures via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

Fishpond | QBD

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Published: 18th June 2013Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 William Morrow Books
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark. 

I read this when it first came out and I bought the beautiful hardcover that Gaiman signed and devoured it in one sitting. This is where Neil Gaiman shines: writing dark, mysterious stories that are like a new breed of fairytale and yet they are still so real as well. I loved this book, it was mysterious, dark, funny, obscure, strange, all these things in this one little book.

I loved the structure of the story too, it’s framed in a way that makes you think you’ll get answers, but you don’t, not really. Not that this takes away from the beautiful storytelling. You never find out who the funeral is for, thought I think either we’re either not supposed to know because it is either irrelevant or it is obvious. You can certainly find your own answers based on a few snippets here and there but nothing concrete. This open ending only adds to the mystical nature of the story and though answers would be nice, they are by no means necessary.

What I like about child protagonists is that so little phases them usually, but they do get scared and they get scared excellently. So while little George seems to accept the Hempstock family and all their strangeness quite well, monsters and mysterious women unsettle him, and the way Gaiman expresses this fear was wonderfully done. It is an odd thing to like in a book, child fear, but this book is so much about what it means to be a child and Gaiman captures it beautifully and with a touch of magic.

You get caught up in the story that you kind of forget it is bookended, it is only a memory, a very vivid memory, and it is rather wonderful how Gaiman has connected everything together. Nothing is completely solved, but you understand that things will be ok at the same time. It is quite strange and certainly not the kind of story that would be enjoyed by everyone, but I certainly thought it was excellent and I loved this peculiar journey Gaiman took me on.

You can purchase The Ocean at the End of the Lane via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

 Fishpond | QBD

Worm Loves Worm by J. J. Austrian

Published: 5th January 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Balzer + Bray
Illustrator: Mike Curato
Pages: 32
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

You are cordially invited to celebrate the wedding of a worm . . . and a worm.

When a worm meets a special worm and they fall in love, you know what happens next: They get married! But their friends want to know—who will wear the dress? And who will wear the tux?

The answer is: It doesn’t matter. Because Worm loves Worm.

This story is beyond adorable and is the perfect book to show kids that love is love no matter what. There are no pronouns, so worm is worm and worm is worm and you don’t know how they identify. The worms are in love and just want to be married but with each new suggestion it becomes more and more complicated. Beetle says they need a best beetle, the bees want to be bride bees, and all of these come with the phrase “That’s how it’s always been done”.

As all the pieces come together and solutions are found for lack of feet for dancing, and no desire to eat cake, the worms can finally be married. This is where Austrian’s story shines and the worms start to change the things that have ‘always been done’. I love this because the innocence of the worms who just want to get married are happy to go along with all their friend’s suggestions, and will do whatever ‘has always been done’ as long as they can get married in the end.

Curato’s illustrations are adorable and simplistic. The animals are on plain white backgrounds which brings the focus back on them with no distractions like an environment around them. The text is simple but to the point, mainly consisting of dialogue between the animals. It is a great way to include information without explaining it as narrative and exploring ideas new and old though the conversations of the animals.

This is a beautifully sweet book about changing how things have always been done and getting to do what you want and how you want it. The amazement of the worms’ friends at their decisions demonstrated beautiful acceptance and the worms’ unfaltering desire to do what they like also shows admirable qualities.

You can purchase Worm Loves Worm via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

Fishpond | QBD

 

 

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