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

 

Good News, Bad News (#2) by Maggie Groff

Published: 1st March 2013 (print)/1st March 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pan Macmillan Australia/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 369 pages/7 discs
Narrator: Catherine Milte
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Mystery
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Intrepid investigative journalist Scout Davis has given herself a holiday, but when Hermione Longfellow floats towards her in the supermarket, wanting to engage her services, she stops to listen.

Most people in Byron Bay are aware of the eccentric Anemone sisters. Always dressed in black, they rarely leave their home nestled in the hills – but Scout is sure that the drinking of chicken blood is just idle gossip. When Hermione asks Scout to track down sister Nemony’s AWOL husband, believed to have died at sea thirty years ago, but recently popped up again on the Great Barrier Reef, Scout, checking there is no eye of newt in Hermione’s shopping trolley, jumps at the chance.

Another source of intrigue falls close to home when Scout’s sister Harper despairs over her husband’s odd behaviour. And if that weren’t enough, Scout’s journalist boyfriend is finally coming home from Afghanistan. Trouble is, Scout thinks she may be falling in love with irresistible local cop Rafe – who coincidentally is also Toby’s best friend…

Catherine Milte was a much better narrator than Parker was in book one. Once you get past the vast difference – Scout becoming a very proper sounding woman with a tinge of British in her – you settle into the story and forget how she sounded originally. One of the challenges of audio books that reading doesn’t have I suppose but you get used to the narration fairly quickly.

I originally thought the case wasn’t going to be as interesting as the first one. How does one compete with a cult? But it actually was rather interesting. Scout investigates a man who was presumed dead over thirty years ago and seeks to prove he is alive and living up in Queensland. There are quirky new characters and the same familiar characters we grew fond of in book. Scout’s sister Harper adds her own drama and flair to the story once more, another reason why this was an interesting read.

There are quite a few surprises which I enjoyed. Groff drops them in all the right places to give a nice burst of unexpectedness as the story goes on. There are also many secrets to uncover; not only for the case but for her friends and family around her. The elusive and secretive GKI makes another appearance and fits a little better into the story, it feels a bit more natural that it is in there, less like it was tacked on as a side story.

One of the things I liked about this second book was that Groff doesn’t focus as much on Scout’s condition. Her diabetes takes a backseat as it should, and only is mentioned when it is actually necessary. I actually forgot she had the disease at times which was something I couldn’t do in book one. The lack of constant diabetes talk is swapped, however, with a description of what everyone is wearing. Again, whether the audio book made this stand more or if it’s just me I’m not sure, but it felt unnecessary a lot of the time or at least a tad clunky.

Scout’s relationship with Rafe continues and comes to a resolution of sorts. I can’t say I like them being together any more than I did the first time, but Groff provides a weak excuse and justification that almost works. I still think Scout is a bit selfish and feels almost guiltless about it.

Overall this series is fun and enjoyable with more things that I liked than didn’t. Scout is a great investigative journalist and her approach to her stories and her method of tracking information down is always delightful and filled with adventure.

aww2017-badgeYou can purchase Good News, Bad News via the following

Print

Pan Macmillan Aus | QBD

Angus & Robertson

Audio

Booktopia | Angus & Robertson

Mad Men, Bad Girls and the Guerrilla Knitters Institute (#1) by Maggie Groff

Published: 3rd March 2012 (print)/6th August 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pan Macmillan Australia/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 364 pages/7 discs
Narrator: Georgie Parker
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Mystery
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

When a secretive American cult moves to the Gold Coast, freelance journalist Scout Davis’s investigative antennae start quivering. She sets out to expose the cult’s lunatic beliefs and bizarre practices, but when she learns the identity of a recent recruit, her quest becomes personal. And dangerous.

But Scout has her secrets too. In the dead of night she sneaks out with an underground group of yarn bombers to decorate the locality with artworks. The next mission ticks all the right boxes – it’s risky, difficult and extremely silly. However, Scout has a sneaking suspicion that the local police sergeant, Rafe Kelly, is hot on her tail.

Jess from The Never Ending Book Shelf reviewed this a while back and since then I have been keen to read it. It came across my desk at work and I borrowed it right away to give it a go and I was… satisfied, I think that’s the best word to use.

The story itself is quite interesting, the investigation into a cult and the second mystery and investigation at the school is really good. Scout is a great investigative journalist and seeing how she maps out her stories and her plans are a nice insight into the mind of someone in her profession. She is headstrong and good at her job, she is clever and creative and seeing her work is an engaging part of the story. But having said that, I wasn’t a fan of Scout herself at times. Yes, admittedly, she is strong and confident and snarky and sarcastic and knows how to laugh and enjoy life, but she also isn’t the most faithful, and while she is having adulterous thoughts about a friend she doesn’t seem the least bit guilty. I kept waiting for her to snap out of it, to realise she couldn’t have these thoughts while her partner is overseas. It annoyed me she didn’t try to stop herself and that she went on with no remorse. It didn’t make you like her as a character in that regard.

Also while the guerrilla knitting part was interesting, I couldn’t see the point in relation to the rest of the story. It was more like a side quest that had no relation to anything else. It is like Groff has just put a few weeks of Scout’s life together and is telling us. Which is fine, but while the rest of the events sort of blended together or connected in some way, this never really needed to be there in terms of story.

This snippet of a life approach is supported by the fact Groff goes into a lot of detail about Scout’s day to day business, a lot of little details and descriptions are included about what she does, from shopping to what she eats and her daily routine. Whether this has to do with her diabetes and Groff felt like in the daily routine we needed to know the practices and how they fit into her life otherwise it wasn’t believable I’m not sure. When exciting things happen it all comes back to her diabetes and how it comes into play. Whether it would be as saturated with detail and description if she didn’t have diabetes I don’t know, I’m not sure I really needed to know every little thing Scout did though.

As a narrator Georgie Parker probably isn’t the best choice and maybe this also came into play of how I enjoyed the story. She adds emotion as she reads into odd places and doesn’t read it…I don’t want to say normally, but she pauses at odd times in sentences, it’s very casual and seems like a fun activity rather than trying to read the book as it were. Not to mention there is little difference in the voices she uses for characters, sometimes it disappearing altogether at times. Granted you don’t always need it, but it was something I noticed. Like all audiobooks you get used to some things, but I couldn’t quite get used to Georgie’s style and her voice annoyed me more often than not, it kept bringing me out of the story and while I accepted her style, I never stopped noticing it like I have done with other audio books when I become more invested in the story than the voice telling it.

Overall it was interesting for the investigative style and the story surrounding it. Groff frames the story well and shows how Scout moves from one part of her research into another, how she fits it into her day with life’s little dramas and adventures. The writing is good, the action and suspense was good, the balance of the serious and the every day worked well and Groff flows from one event to the next successfully. It was enjoyable and I might have to find the next book to see if it really gets me into the series and maybe see more of the Guerilla Knitters in action.

You can purchase Mad Men, Bad Girls, and the Guerilla Knitters Institute via the following

Print

Booktopia | Pan Macmillan Aus

Angus & Robertson | QBD

Audio

Booktopia | Angus & Robertson

The Reluctant Jillaroo by Kaz Delaney

Published: 4th January 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Allen & Unwin
Pages: 348
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult/ Romance/ Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Harper Gage has won the opportunity of a lifetime – ten days at Winmaroo Jillaroo and Jackaroo school. The camp could give her the recommendation she needs to go to the exclusive Agricoll for years 11 and 12. But when an accident leaves Harper hospitalised, her twin sister, Heidi, goes in her place. The only problem is that Heidi is not much of a country girl – not like her sister. And to make life even more complicated, her sister’s biggest rival Trent is going to be there. Will she be able to fool him?

And then the reality of the school hits Heidi hard. It’s all dust, snakes and heat – a million miles away from the surf she loves. When she meets the fun and handsome Chaz, life at the school suddenly doesn’t seem so bad, although with Trent acting up and trouble brewing with the other students, Heidi’s not sure how long she can keep her identity secret. And if her secret is revealed, will Chaz ever be able to trust her again?

Once again Kaz Delaney had me awake until 3am finishing one of her books. Read, finished, and loved the same day I got it and it was wonderful from start to finish!

Kaz gets your attention early on by starting in the middle of a moment, we are thrown into the story with no idea what has happened, and only Heidi’s thoughts to fill us in. I love stories that drop you straight in the action; it makes your curious and engaged right away. The idea that Heidi and Harper have concocted is well within the realm of believability, and Kaz writes so well that the story flows seamlessly and you get caught up in the story naturally.

Of course Heidi’s experience isn’t going to go smoothly, having to act like her sister and hiding her inexperience is drama enough without also dealing with a budding romance and the unexpected arrival of someone who actually knows her sister. Watching Heidi deal with everything that comes her way is fun and commendable. She never gives in and covers her tracks as best she can, not without the pang of guilt and the sadness she feels at lying to people she’s become good friends with.

Heidi is a great and admirable character. She’s a Batman lover (a great start), but she is also friendly and welcoming, even when she is out of her depth, and her loyalty and determination outweigh her fears and trepidations. She’s uncertain in her surroundings but she is strong and determined, not willing to let her sister down. Her commitment to her sister drives her to succeed and sees her doing things she wouldn’t normally do. What I also adored about her is that she has a great moral sense and good nature that makes her want to help people and make them feel included. Looking after other camp attendees and noticing what others are doing or feeling, making sure they are happy, is what makes her a wonderful person.

But this is not just a simple story where Heidi mustn’t be found out, there are mysterious things happening at the camp as well. The gradual introduction of the mystery is subtle and at the same time doesn’t deter from Heidi’s fish out of water experiences. Kaz connects everything brilliantly and there are twists and turns offering up a different thrill away from watching Heidi try to drench sheep or milk cows.

The best part about reading this though is how it feels like you are right alongside these characters, riding along trails, whispering at night in bunks, and having everyday experiences. That’s what makes Kaz’s writing so wonderful, it feels so realistic. Everything happens all at once, everything overlaps, and there can be fun and drama and love alongside one another.

It’s clear Kaz has done some amazing research and gone to a lot of effort to make this story feel authentic, not just in the camp activities, but also in making sure every character feels like a complete person, full, developed, and with experiences of their own behind them. You can’t help but love them all for their quirks and their different personalities; the comradery and friendships are evident, even after such a short time.

There really is so much to love about this story, it’s fun, suspenseful, and filled with mystery and madness that keeps you hooked from the start, not to mention an ending that will amaze!

You can purchase The Reluctant Jillaroo via the following

Dymocks | Kindle | Booktopia

iTunes | Publisher

Amazon Aust | QBD

AWW16

The Crow Box (#1) by Nikki Rae

Published: 15th January 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self Published
Pages: 164
Format: ebook
Genre: New Adult/Paranormal/Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

The small wooden box is dirty, the size of a human fist, and sealed with wax. When Corbin takes it upon herself to clean it and break the seal, a voice she has tried to ignore gathers strength. Shadows play on the walls at night, and with a family history of mental illness, Corbin fears the worst. But the voice tells her it is real. That its name is Six and it will prove it in time. 

Drawn to this mysterious entity, Corbin isn’t sure what to believe and the line between reality and her imagination blurs more every day.

Some doors should not be opened; can this one be closed?

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

I think I say this for every one of Nikki Rae’s books, but she is a master at telling a story. Not only are the themes and the plots intricate and unique, but her words and descriptions and vivid and evoke images and feelings, and she places you inside the mind of her characters so well, it’s almost like you are experiencing things alongside them, even minor things like understanding the mind of an artist.

The Crow Box was nothing like I thought it would be, and I am not even disappointed by that. I was not entirely sure what I expected but Rae didn’t let me down. Corbin’s story is filled with mystery and a slow but dangerous decent and watching her struggle against it is enthralling.

When Corbin starts to hear a voice she thinks she is going mad like her mother, and seeing the way Rae introduces Six, and the way it interacts with Corbin, it’s clear why Corbin thinks she is losing her mind. But the wonder of the story is how she functions alongside it, what she does to deal with it, how she reasons with it, embraces it, fears it. Rae’s writing brings you into Corbin’s experience and makes you understand unreservedly what she is going through. Her confusion and attempt to explain what is happening is expressed and explored beautifully.

What makes Corbin so wonderful is that she is practical, she’s had years of stress and worry because of her mother’s condition but she manages to cope and enjoy her art and things around her. Her approach to the strange occurrences around her are reasoned and as Rae brings us deeper into Corbin’s mind you can see this reasoning adjust, but remain.

Rae gradually pulling you into Corbin’s mind is eerie and unsettling. The journey from being an outsider to her inner thoughts is amazing, and it unsettles you in all the right ways. Not knowing what Six is or where it comes from is also part of the experience. The unanswered questions and the non answers given by Six add to the secrets. The gradual development and the mystery is intriguing, and Rae balances the pace and story flow with the not knowing and slow burn mystery very well. There is a balance between the surreal and the real which only enhances the overall feeling because it brings in the idea that the strange and unexplained could come so easily into the every day.

Wherever you think the story is going it isn’t and where Rae takes you is incredible. Theories and assumptions get tossed aside as another thing unravels your thoughts, and tiny twists make you realise you are in much deeper than you thought. The writing is melodic and creative, but not overly poetic or dramatic, the right balance to convey meaning and portray a scene. Rae uses her words wisely and her descriptions are perfect for capturing just the right explanation for a sensation or a feeling. The writing teases you and taunts you, offering hope and answers like dangling a string for a cat.

After the experience Rae takes you on and after those final few chapters, the ending is one of the most frustrating things you’ll endure. The ‘to be continued’ makes you want to pick up the next book immediately and keep reading. From the very first line until the final full stop Rae holds your attention and once you’ve started down this rabbit hole you won’t want to stop.

You can purchase The Crow Box via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

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