Truly Devious ★★★★★

35008814Maureen Johnson has broken my heart in the past (I’m looking at you, Shades of London) and Truly Devious was no different.

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.

Maureen Johnson hooked little Maggie’s heart with 13 Little Blue Envelopes when I was just starting to get into the YA age group. Then I fell in love with her Shades of London series when I started using Audible on my commutes to school. And now, Truly Devious has hooked it’s claws into my heart.

Maureen has a stellar command of mystery and magic, of tossing in a twist at juuuuust the right moment to keep you reading way past your bedtime. The choice to intersperse snippets from the 1936 mystery surrounding Truly Devious and the Ellingham murders never felt intrusive. Whenever those pieces came up in the narrative, I never felt annoyed or cheated out of Stevie’s story, which was set in the modern day. In fact, I enjoyed getting snippets of interviews between the detective and the suspects and chapters following Albert Ellingham. It informed my reading and built a richer story.

Beyond that, I loved Stevie. She was clever, witty, a bit of an outcast and her anxiety spoke true to my heart. Not only that, but the queer representation was stellar itself. It never felt like it was there for “Diversity Points” but rather it felt like a natural part of the world, which as it turns out, is exactly like our real world. Shocker, I know.

Truly Devious was another great read from a favorite author of mine and it’s got its claws hooked directly into my heart. I honestly can’t wait for the rest of the series!

Truly Devious releases on January 16th, 2018.

Starfish ★★★★☆

29456598It’s always rare for me to pick up a contemporary book and love it. The last one that did that was They Both Die at the End earlier this month and that one made me sob. Starfish was emotional for different reasons.

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.

A little slow to start, Starfish took my own self-confidence and rattled it around. Kiko has confidence issues and social anxiety that stem from a past trauma and an unloving, racist mother. So when she distances herself from her toxic home, she starts to find parts of herself in California, with the help of her childhood friend Jamie.

The romance subplot didn’t draw me in (though usually I’m a sucker for friends to lovers romances) and any time there was romantic screen time, I felt like I just wanted to get a move on. I was mostly interested in Kiko’s growth into a braver, more confident person.

The portrayal of anxiety was the best I’ve ever seen. I don’t suffer from as intense social anxiety as Kiko, though I do have some milder form of social anxiety, but I know people whose anxiety is as bad as Kiko’s. Bowman knew her stuff when she was portraying Kiko’s anxiety and how people around her reacted to it, especially if those people didn’t have anxiety themselves.

I loved watching Kiko grow as the story went on, and I resonated with a lot of her insecurities about beauty. I may never full understand how societal beauty standards affect girls of color, but as a fat girl myself, I’ve felt that pressure to look a certain way just to be seen as beautiful in a parent’s eye. I’ve felt that hopelessness when I knew it wasn’t something I could control and how my simply existing was a disappointment to some people.

I cried as Kiko made the realizations about herself and beauty and as she became this braver person because of her experiences. I couldn’t put Starfish down and it changed my view on life.

Starfish publishes September 26th, 2017.

Review: The Lie Tree ★★★★☆

I’m always enamored by girls in stories that seem innocent and invisible but use that to their advantage to carve their own path — which is exactly what Faith Sunderly does in The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. It’s impossible to put down this historical mystery, set just after the advent of Darwin’s On The Origin of Species, where young Faith takes the matter of her father’s murder into her own hands.

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy—a Lie Tree.jpgproper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.

In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father’s possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree only bears fruit when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder—or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.

-Goodreads

Historical fiction has always been that tiny love of mine, the flame of a candle burning in the back of my mind while I busied myself with fantasy. It’s always forgotten while I adventure with dragons and goblins, but I’m reminded how brightly that candle burns when I read something like The Lie Tree.

When I opened Lie Tree up, I couldn’t close it until I was almost halfway through, and the only reason I did was because it was 3 in the morning and I had work in a few hours. Faith is an incredibly strong female character–and not in the ways most people expect when they hear those three words. She’s immensely flawed, selfish and brash, but she’s kind and brave and willfull too. She seeks the truth when everyone else is blind to it, and she puts herself in danger to get to the bottom of it.

Every detail comes full circle in every aspect; Hardinge is a talented writer who wastes no word.

My only gripe, if I really could call it that, is the huge cast of characters. Some are only mentioned in passing and others we physically see on the page, but they end up flowing into one another and often I find myself asking, “Wait, who is that?”

It’s not a good thing to have happen, especially in a murder mystery where everyone you meet is a potential suspect. You forget who wronged whom or when they were last seen, and it gets confusing.

But regardless of your favorite genre, whether it’s fantasy or historical fiction, you ought to pick up The Lie Tree as soon as you can.

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Review: The Vanishing Girl ★★☆☆☆

19395125The Vanishing Girl by Laura Thalassa promised to be exciting and thrilling, with adventure and teleporting girls, but it ended up being creepy and disappointing.

Continue reading “Review: The Vanishing Girl ★★☆☆☆”