Mini-Reviews: The Hand on the Wall, More Than Maybe, and Sawkill Girls

The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 21, 2020
Source: Borrowed

Ellingham Academy must be cursed. Three people are now dead. One, a victim of either a prank gone wrong or a murder. Another, dead by misadventure. And now, an accident in Burlington has claimed another life. All three in the wrong place at the wrong time. All at the exact moment of Stevie’s greatest triumph . . .

She knows who Truly Devious is. She’s solved it. The greatest case of the century.

At least, she thinks she has. With this latest tragedy, it’s hard to concentrate on the past. Not only has someone died in town, but David disappeared of his own free will and is up to something. Stevie is sure that somehow—somehow—all these things connect. The three deaths in the present. The deaths in the past. The missing Alice Ellingham and the missing David Eastman. Somewhere in this place of riddles and puzzles there must be answers.

Then another accident occurs as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm—and a murderer.

In the tantalizing finale to the Truly Devious trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson expertly tangles her dual narrative threads and ignites an explosive end for all who’ve walked through Ellingham Academy.

New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson delivers the witty and pulse-pounding conclusion to the Truly Devious series as Stevie Bell solves the mystery that has haunted Ellingham Academy for over 75 years. 

I don’t even know what I can say about the third book in a series about a murder mystery that’s not some kind of spoiler for something. But what I will say is that I felt this book was a satisfying conclusion to both the mystery of what happened years ago and the recent deaths that have surrounded Stevie. The great reveal might not have been shocking, but it was realistic, and I’d rather have a realistic ending that makes sense than have something nonsensical happen that just makes me roll my eyes.

And, as always, the anxiety rep was great:

Anxiety does not ask your permission. Anxiety does not come when expected. It’s very rude. It barges in at the strangest moments, stopping all activity, focusing everything on itself. It sucks the air out of your lungs and scrambles the world.

I’d definitely recommend this series.


More Than Maybe by Erin Hahn
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 12, 2020
Source: ARC via publisher

Growing up under his punk rocker dad’s spotlight, eighteen-year-old Luke Greenly knows fame and wants nothing to do with it. His real love isn’t in front of a crowd, it’s on the page. Hiding his gift and secretly hoarding songs in his bedroom at night, he prefers the anonymous comfort of the locally popular podcast he co-hosts with his outgoing and meddling, far-too-jealousy-inspiringly-happy-with-his-long-term-boyfriend twin brother, Cullen. But that’s not Luke’s only secret. He also has a major un-requited crush on music blogger, Vada Carsewell.

Vada’s got a five year plan: secure a job at the Loud Lizard to learn from local legend (and her mom’s boyfriend) Phil Josephs (check), take over Phil’s music blog (double check), get accepted into Berkeley’s prestigious music journalism program (check, check, check), manage Ann Arbor’s summer concert series and secure a Rolling Stone internship. Luke Greenly is most definitely NOT on the list. So what if his self-deprecating charm and out-of-this-world music knowledge makes her dizzy? Or his brother just released a bootleg recording of Luke singing about some mystery girl on their podcast and she really, really wishes it was her? 

I was going to write a nice, long review of this one, but I think sometimes short and sweet is better. I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this book as part of my participation in the blog tour and I loved it just as much as You’d Be Mine.

I think my favorite thing about Hahn’s books is the way she can just casually insert a ton of music references, but it never feels over-the-top. Vada and Luke dropped a lot of song titles in this book and I loved every minute of it. I was particularly happy to see a bunch of my favorites make an appearance!

A brief selection of some of my favorite songs and bands mentioned in this book:

In short: I loved Vada and her blog, I loved Luke and his podcast, I loved Phil and his club, and I loved this book. I can’t wait for Never Saw You Coming.


Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 2, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep.

He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.

Who are the Sawkill Girls?

Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.

Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.

Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.

Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.

Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.

You may have seen me talk before about how Claire Legrand was my librarian up until I moved to Tennessee a few months ago. She’s super nice and approachable and I really wanted to love her books, but Furyborn just did not do it for me. I took a long break and then decided to jump back in with Sawkill Girls.

This was a completely different reading experience! Sawkill Girls is a little bit weird, a little bit mysterious, a little bit spooky, and filled with a diverse, well-written cast of characters. It’s about the mysterious death of girl after girl after girl. It’s about about girls helping each other and calling out bad behavior.

My only real complaints about this book are that the story got a bit confusing at times (though it’s possible that I only feel that way because I listened to the audio at work and get interrupted pretty frequently) and the pacing seemed a little off toward the end. Still, this book was much better than I’d expected and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re in the mood for some murder and empowerment.

Content warnings for:• death/murder
• loss of family members
• blood/gore
• abuse (physical and verbal)
• death of an animal
• misogyny
• acephobia (immediately challenged)
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Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good YA books recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Southern Lady Code, How I Resist, & Humans

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 16, 2019
Source: Borrowed

The bestselling author of American Housewife is back with a fiercely funny collection of essays on marriage and manners, thank-you notes and three-ways, ghosts, gunshots, gynecology, and the Calgon-scented, onion-dipped, monogrammed art of living as a Southern Lady.

Helen Ellis has a mantra: “If you don’t have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way.” Say “weathered” instead of “she looks like a cake left out in the rain.” Say “early-developed” instead of “brace face and B cups.” And for the love of Coke Salad, always say “Sorry you saw something that offended you” instead of “Get that stick out of your butt, Miss Prissy Pants.” In these twenty-three raucous essays Ellis transforms herself into a dominatrix Donna Reed to save her marriage, inadvertently steals a $795 Burberry trench coat, witnesses a man fake his own death at a party, avoids a neck lift, and finds a black-tie gown that gives her the confidence of a drag queen. While she may have left her home in Alabama, married a New Yorker, forgotten how to drive, and abandoned the puffy headbands of her youth, Helen Ellis is clinging to her Southern accent like mayonnaise to white bread, and offering readers a hilarious, completely singular view on womanhood for both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

I moved to Tennessee a few months ago, so I figured I should learn how to be a proper Southern Lady. What better than this collection of essays to teach me?

First of all, this book was hilarious. Second of all, it made me question every person that’s ever been nice to me since I moved down here. And third of all, it made me want to read more from Ellis.

Ellis is really legitimately funny, and she’s had such great experiences to write about. I feel like she’s the kind of person that it would be really fun to sit down for a meal with.


How I Resist by Maureen Johnson
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 15, 2018
Source: Borrowed

n all-star collection of essays about activism and hope, edited by bestselling YA author Maureen Johnson.

Now, more than ever, young people are motivated to make a difference in a world they’re bound to inherit. They’re ready to stand up and be heard – but with much to shout about, where they do they begin? What can I do? How can I help?

How I Resist is the response, and a way to start the conversation. To show readers that they are not helpless, and that anyone can be the change. A collection of essays, songs, illustrations, and interviews about activism and hope, How I Resist features an all-star group of contributors, including John Paul Brammer, Libba Bray, Lauren Duca, Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his husband Justin Mikita, Alex Gino, Hebh Jamal, Malinda Lo, Dylan Marron, Hamilton star Javier Muñoz, Rosie O’Donnell, Junauda Petrus, Jodi Picoult, Jason Reynolds, Karuna Riazi, Maya Rupert, Dana Schwartz, Dan Sinker, Ali Stroker, Jonny Sun (aka @jonnysun), Sabaa Tahir, Shaina Taub, Daniel Watts, Jennifer Weiner, Jacqueline Woodson, and more, all edited and compiled by New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson.

In How I Resist, readers will find hope and support through voices that are at turns personal, funny, irreverent, and instructive. Not just for a young adult audience, this incredibly impactful collection will appeal to readers of all ages who are feeling adrift and looking for guidance.

How I Resist is the kind of book people will be discussing for years to come and a staple on bookshelves for generations.

As with most anthologies, How I Resist varies a lot in both content and quality. Some of the contributions were great — I particularly loved Libba Bray’s — but others were… not. I appreciate the point of this book and I think a lot of the contributions will do a great job of encouraging teens to stand up for what they believe in. There are just some less-great essays to get through along the way.

With that said, though, I am far past the target demographic of this book, so it’s entirely possible that any problems I had might not be problems that actual teens have.


Humans by Tom Phillips
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 26, 2018
Source: Borrowed

An exhilarating journey through the most creative and catastrophic f*ck ups in human history, from our very first ancestor falling out of that tree, to the most spectacular fails of the present day.

In the seventy thousand years that modern human beings have walked this earth, we’ve come a long way. Art, science, culture, trade – on the evolutionary food chain, we’re real winners. But, frankly, it’s not exactly been plain sailing, and sometimes – just occasionally – we’ve managed to really, truly, quite unbelievably f*ck things up.

From Chairman Mao’s Four Pests Campaign, to the American Dustbowl; from the Austrian army attacking itself one drunken night, to the world’s leading superpower electing a reality TV mogul as President… it’s pretty safe to say that, as a species, we haven’t exactly grown wiser with age.

So, next time you think you’ve really f*cked up, this book will remind you: it could be so much worse.

At the beginning of 2020, I was scrolling through Goodreads and came across a list of nonfiction books that looked really interesting. Of course, I have no idea where that list has gone, but it added a bunch of books to my TBR. The one I decided to go for first was Humans, which describes itself as “a brief history of how we fucked it all up.”

Unlike a lot of brief histories, this one actually is brief. There’s no more than a few pages on each topic, and it’s just enough information that you’d be able to pull out some fun facts during trivia night, but not so much that you’ll get bored. These really are interesting bits of information, all about people screwing everything up and living (or not) to tell the tale.

This is a really well-written, funny history book. The only reason I didn’t rate it higher is that reading it all in a couple sittings kind of burned me out. (Ideally I would not have done this, but I had to worry about library due dates.) That’s on me, not on the book, but I think it would be better enjoyed a few pages at a time. It’s probably a better coffee table book than anything else.


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good nonfiction recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: The Vanishing Stair, 19 Love Songs, & The Wicked King

The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 15, 2017
Source: Borrowed

All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.

For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.

The tantalizing riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unraveled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life.

Much like with Truly Devious, I wasn’t really fully convinced by The Vanishing Stair until partway through. I was worried that this was going to be a filler book, one where the characters sort of just wander around looking for clues until we hit the final book in the trilogy, where everything finally happens. That worry ended up being unwarranted, because a ton of stuff happens in this book!

With any mystery, I’m kind of hesitant to get into details because I don’t want to accidentally spoil anything. I just want to say that Maureen Johnson has clearly thought everything through in this series and planned out every detail in depth. I can’t wait to find out what will happen next!


19 Love Songs by David Levithan
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
Source: Borrowed

The New York Times bestselling author of Every DaySomeday, and Two Boys Kissing is back with a short story collection about love–perfect for Valentine’s Day or year-round reading!

A resentful member of a high school Quiz Bowl team with an unrequited crush.

A Valentine’s Day in the life of Every Day‘s protagonist “A.”

A return to the characters of Two Boys Kissing.

19 Love Songs, from New York Times bestselling author David Levithan, delivers all of these stories and more. Born from Levithan’s tradition of writing a story for his friends each Valentine’s Day, this collection brings all of them to his readers for the first time. With fiction, nonfiction, and a story in verse, there’s something for every reader here.

Witty, romantic, and honest, teens (and adults) will come to this collection not only on Valentine’s Day, but all year round. 

I’ve been reading David Levithan’s books since I was a teenager myself, so when I saw that he had a new collection of short stories out, I had to read it. Levithan has written some of my all-time favorite books (The Lover’s Dictionary, You Know Me Well) as well as some books that I’ve really disliked (Every Day, the Dash & Lily books). He’s also written a ton of books that I’ve felt indifferent about, and I won’t link all of those reviews here, but they’re all on my “all reviews” page.

The point is, I can go either way on Levithan’s writing, and I went both ways on the stories in this collection. When they were good, they were really good. I loved the story about Taylor Swift fanfiction, the story about being snowed in, the quiz bowl story, and the Santa story. I also loved all of the music references. The stories I didn’t love mostly left me bored. This isn’t really Levithan’s fault, because I’m sure there are plenty of people who connect more with those stories than I did.

Overall, I think this evens out to a three-star read for me. If you’re into Levithan’s writing, a lot characters from his previous books make appearances in these stories, so you might be pleasantly surprised.


The Wicked King by Holly Black
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 8, 2019
Source: Borrowed

You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.


After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.

Well, 89% of people on Goodreads have given this book either 4 or 5 stars, and I am not one of those people. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this series or anything. I gave the first book four stars, mostly because it really grabbed me toward the end, but I definitely thought it had a rough start.

In The Wicked King, I had many of the same problems as I had in The Cruel Prince. Jude is less annoying than she was in the first book, but she’s equally dumb. Cardan is still mostly mean to Jude (that’s the point, I know) and I didn’t buy their “romance” at all. I found much of the plot boring, and the big plot twist at the end seemed so in-character for everyone that I wasn’t really surprised at all. In 336 pages, very little happens that actually advances the plot.

And yet. For however much I disliked this book, I still want to read The Queen of Nothing to find out how everything ends.


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good YA recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
Series: Truly Devious #1
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Source: Borrowed

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.

Truly Devious has been on my radar forever, it just took me awhile to get around to actually reading it. June’s Monthly Motif (Crack the Case) was just the push I needed to actually dive in. To start off, I guess I should say that this book was completely not what I expected. I don’t know what I was expecting, but not this!

Anyway, I really liked Stevie. She’s a true crime fanatic, she fancies herself a detective, and she’s almost too curious about everything going on around her. She gets herself into some trouble with her snooping. And her parents just don’t understand! I’m definitely not a Young Adult anymore, but I related to Stevie so much.

First of all, I’m 28 and I feel like I’m still having this conversation with my mother:

Her parents had no idea that you could meet people outside of school and it wasn’t freaky and the internet was the way of finding your people.
(I think the next generation of parents will have a totally different outlook on this.)
But also, this quote about anxiety!!!

People say depression lies. Anxiety is just stupid. It’s unable to tell the difference between things that are actually scary (being buried alive, for example) and things that are not scary at all (being in bed under the covers). It hits all the same buttons. Stop. Go. Up. Down. It’s all the same to anxiety.

It’s like Maureen Johnson took the words straight out of my head.
I don’t even know what to say in this review because I feel like I’m going to spoil everything, so let me just say that I liked:
  • the setting! I love boarding school books!
  • the teensy bit of romance that develops between Stevie and one of her classmates!
  • the totally platonic friendship between Stevie and a different classmate!
  • Stevie’s ability to make weird connections in the two different mysteries!

I didn’t really like:

  • That cliffhanger!
I just need The Vanishing Stair right now.

#mm18: crack the case