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

 

The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

Published:  26th September 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Imprint
Illustrator: Sarah Kipin
Pages: 281
Genre: Young Adult/Short stories
Format: Paperback
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

Things to love about this book: fantastic fairytales, beautiful illustrations.

This collection of stories was a divine read. I definitely loved some of these more than others, which sounds like I hated some, but I didn’t. I just adored some A LOT. There is great diversity in the style of stories and the surprises are brilliant and are incredibly clever.

The fairytales have the timeless era setting which makes them everlasting. There are sneaky characters and innocent victims, but there are wonderful tricksters with ulterior motives and who buck against their expectations.

Bardugo abides by the rule of three when it comes to fairytales. It’s great to see that fairytales are not just old tales we’ve retained or reimagined, they can be new stories as well. I love that fairytales keep being created, they are not a long ago genre we must be satisfied with only retelling the ones we already know. These new fairy tales are beautifully written and beautifully illustrated which makes them even more magical.

One thing that must be mentioned as many times as possible is the beautiful designs that border the pages. They creep their way around the pages as the stories unfold, adding an extra dark and sinister layer as they go. Perfect in their revelations and their foreboding.

If you love fairytales you will love this. It was dark and sinister, and all the creepy, unexplained magical things of the original fairytales. This is set within the Grishaverse of Bardugo’s other books but there is no need to have read them before starting this as it makes no difference if you’re coming in blind.

You can purchase The Language of Thorns via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Wordery | Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Published: 21st September 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Hodder Children’s Books
Pages: 340
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

It’s time to fight like a girl!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her high school teachers who think the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mum was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates Moxie, a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond and spread the Moxie message. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realises that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

I had been reading a lot of feminist and activist books and I picked this up expecting it to be the kind of book that ignites a fire within me and it did…to a point. One possible reason for this was that I have not experienced the American school system which this novel is so deeply based around so I couldn’t relate in that sense or figure out if things really get this extreme. I read so many American books set in high school and it is the wildest thing to read about these experiences I sometimes can’t tell whether it is just a combination of a variety of experiences or whether all these situations and these people could exist in real life at the same time. I have seen the same formula over and over again I am convinced that it is actually how American school systems work and it’s the most bizarre thing as an outsider to read about.

The other reason I think I wasn’t as impressed was that Viv is the kind of quiet girl who never does anything wrong, doesn’t stand out too much so for her to do anything it is a big deal and she does it in small steps, unsure where to go next and worried about the steps she does take. I wonder if Viv had had a stronger personality it would have changed the story at all. It would suit the character to do something like that so perhaps having timid Vivian makes it more powerful in what she does. It read like My First Feminism and I appreciated what she was doing, but it didn’t grab me. To Mathieu’s ’s credit, it did at times remind me of my own high school experiences, bra snapping was clearly a worldwide thing for teenage boys.

It’s not just the Straight White Girl who fights injustice, Mathieu’s covered the women of colour and lesbian perspectives but it’s brief and almost unnatural. The different perspectives help Viv and the readers understand that everyone has different experiences and understanding that is important. I can’t decide whether this is good inclusion and self-awareness, or a message but it stood out as being Mathieu’s attempt to cover all the bases and it took me from the book briefly because it felt like a side note for the reader to remember.

I feel a bit bad for critiquing this because it wasn’t terrible, but it just fell flat. There were positives, I admired what Vivien was aiming to achieve, and glad she managed to start the revolution she was after. In that it was a success. I don’t suppose Mathieu’s was trying to ignite the reader’s reaction, though maybe she was, but I think you don’t need to have had a strong reaction to enjoy it. I think perhaps I had had this novel build up as a girl power feminist novel that I expected it to pull a few more punches.

You can purchase Moxie via the following

QBD | Book Depository | Booktopia

Angus & Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

 

Dorothy Must Die (#1) by Danielle Paige

Published: 1st April 2014 (print)/1st April 2014 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Collins/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 452/14 hours 12 minutes)
Narrator:  Devon Sorvari
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado – taking you with it – you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still a yellow brick road – but even that’s crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm – and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.

I’ve been trained to fight.

I have finally gotten around to reading this book and it is brilliant! This isn’t quite a reimagining of a classic, what it is instead is a look at what happened after the story has finished and the original narrative comes to a close.

There is so much to love about this story. I think Paige has been very clever in playing with the known story of Dorothy and Oz and she has transformed it into a new story in its own right while still connecting to its origins. It is dark and funny and fascinating to read about just how far Oz has fallen since we last saw it and what happened to the golden girl who saved a world.

Set in the present day we are introduced to Amy Gumm, a girl who lives in Kansas in less than ideal circumstances with her neglectful mother. When a hurricane hit their trailer, Amy is transported to Oz where you soon discover things are not quite right. Originally you think this is a simple reference to how Dorothy first got to Oz, but as the story goes on you learn it may not have been entirely an accident which adds more questions and theories to a story already filled with them.

I enjoyed Amy’s character, she knows the story she has entered into but she doesn’t know it inside out, she also doesn’t fall into the frustrating trap of accepting her surroundings instantly where after a day or two gets the hang of things. Paige retains the part where Amy is out of her comfort zone, and while she is adaptable, at times she also defies rules and logic to do what she things is right based on her real world knowledge.

There are some repetitions and some moments where Amy’s character frustrates you, but these moments are few and for the most part not too disruptive. I enjoyed her exploration of the world and how we’re never sure who we are meant to trust. Everyone has their own motives and with Amy a newcomer, she has often no choice to trust who she can or trust no one.

The pace is gradual but the story moves along with ease. Paige doesn’t jump time unnecessarily and each day plays out but never feels drawn out or boring. No part of this book felt boring; the surprises are unexpected and there are numerous mysteries to keep your mind turning over. I loved how twists came from nowhere and I never found myself predicting things, or if I did I was so far off base it didn’t count.

I loved the contrasts between the characters we know and love and what they have all become in Dorothy’s new Oz, and I love the exploration of the surrounding Oz area and the new characters we interact with. This is one reason to drive you into the rest of the series because I need answers about how this happened and what happened to end up with the world we’re introduced to. If you have been thinking about reading this book I promise it will be worthwhile, and if you love classic stories getting reimagined then this story is for you.

You can purchase Dorothy Must Die via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Fishpond | QBD

Loving Lakyn (#2) by Charlotte Reagan

Published: 20th November 2017 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Inkitt
Pages: 206
Format: eBook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Lakyn James is sixteen years old and hating every second of it. He was supposed to be done, he’d tapped out. End of story, unsubscribe here. Suicide “attempt”, they said. His intentions had no “attempt” in them. 

Re-entering normal life after ‘trying’ to take his own is weird. Especially when the world keeps going like it never happened. He still has to eat breakfast, go to school, and somehow convince a cute boy that he’s too damaged to date. 

Scott White comes with his own problems, namely a habit of drinking too much and being indecisive about rather he wants in the closet, or out of it. Lakyn can’t stand him; he also can’t help smiling when Scott’s around. 

Unfortunately – or fortunately – for Lakyn, life has decided to give him a second chance. He’s not happy about it, but maybe, with a lot of hard work and a good therapist, he can learn to be. And maybe he can hold Scott’s hand at the same time. 

No promises though. 

It’s called Loving Lakyn and genuinely one sentence in I was in love with Lakyn. This is probably a biased opinion because I’d fallen in love with him reading Just Juliet so you can understand my absolute joy when I discovered there was another story about those characters and him in particular. This is a prequel/overlap kind of story from Just Juliet. It follows Lakyn’s story but we also see the backstories of Juliet and Scott which were only briefly touched on in the first book. Knowing how it all ends takes nothing away from how fascinating and brilliant this book is.

There are a few content warnings to be aware of, Reagan has a full list available here, A few obvious ones from the blurb and a few not. There are scenes of cutting, constant reference to suicide attempts and scars, and references to neglect. There are also sex scenes, nothing overly graphic, but there are details. I actually liked how these sex scenes are written actually, they are tasteful but honest and Reagan doesn’t make it anything other than what it is. I promise this isn’t all dark and depressing, Reagan balances out the heavy subjects alongside love and friendship and family. Lakyn is the central character and with the reader inside his head your understanding is unavoidable, and this is where you see how much he is trying to heal but doesn’t know how, he hasn’t got the emotional tools or the strength to do it on his own.

There are brilliant, powerful sentences that pack a punch straight to your heart as well as the story. It’s an emotional journey but it’s enthralling to see Lakyn go through it. Reagan doesn’t give us easy solutions and drives home that Lakyn’s is a complicated life to recover from. I saw parts of myself in him as well as read about things I’ll never be able to understand, but Reagan is brilliant at telling his story. You understand his struggle and it never feels fake, contrived, or dramatised. It felt real and your heart will break for him.

Reagan’s writing is addicting and I loved falling back into this world. I smiled every time I picked up this book and it was the hardest thing to draw myself away from. Every spare minute I had I read, even if it was only another couple of pages. I was drawn in by Lakyn’s story and whether it was the hard parts, or the mushy adorable romance parts it was fantastic. Lakyn and Scott together always made me smile before, and just seeing them together again brought back those memories but this time with greater understanding of their connection.

While Lakyn is not the strongest emotionally, he is also someone who knows who he is. He is not ashamed of being gay, he doesn’t announce it to the world because for him it’s both not a big deal and none of anybody’s business, but he won’t let anybody make him feel ashamed of it either. I related in some way to Lakyn and Reagan expresses his thoughts and feelings in a believable and frankly unsettlingly familiar ways. It just goes to show how believable these characters are. They could be anybody, they could be people we know and that’s what make their stories so beautiful and heartbreaking because they felt real.

With the other characters, it was nice to see Juliet’s journey and understand who she is, especially since we didn’t explore that as much the first time around. I still felt that Rick and Mr James weren’t fleshed out as much as they could have been. I understand that the story focuses on the teenagers and their lives, but so often Rick and Mr James were a bundled deal and felt like a single character. Granted they are slightly more fleshed out this time since they are in this story a bit more, but Rick I think gets left behind.

Despite the big subjects there are also fun and heart-warming moments and the exploration of a new relationship. This story deals wonderfully with the complications of having a closeted relationship, where one person is not ready to be who they are publically. While this is Lakyn’s story, Reagan does a great job exploring Scott’s emotional journey and past. His struggle with accepting his identity and his conservative parents, and his social life at school which he is trying to protect. About halfway through I wanted a third book that focused on Scott’s back story, but by the end of the book it was so beautifully fleshed out alongside Lakyn’s that I felt I understood Scott a lot as well.

Teenage boys falling in love with each other is adorable because they’re both dags and they don’t know what they’re doing and seeing them flounder can be the best thing to read about. I was grinning and making ‘aww’ noises over these two, I was reading page after page with a smile on my face but I loved it. It’s not cheesy it’s adorable and I want more of it.

You can purchase Loving Lakyn via the following

 Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Book Depository

 Fishpond | B&N | Publisher | Book Bub

 

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