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Book Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

trulydeviousPublisher’s Book Description:

New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson weaves a delicate tale of murder and mystery in the first book of a striking new series, perfect for fans of Agatha Christie and E. Lockhart.

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.

The two interwoven mysteries of this first book in the Truly Devious series dovetail brilliantly, and Stevie Bell will continue her relentless quest for the murderers in books two and three.

Karen’s Thoughts:

I’m a big fan of mysteries so I was really looking forward to this one, and it didn’t disappoint. Well, it did disappoint, only in that it’s the first book in a trilogy so the mystery wasn’t solved. I can not wait to read the next book.

Let me start by saying The Westing Game is one of my favorite childhood books. It is the only book that I have re-read multiple times. I used to re-read it once a year and am getting ready to read it out loud to Thing 2 (age 9) in hopes that it will also be one of her childhood favorites. TRULY DEVIOUS REMINDED ME A LOT OF THE WESTING GAME IN TONE, IN LANGUAGE, AND IN THE WAY IT COLLECTED SUCH AN INTERESTING MIXTURE OF INTERESTING CHARACTERS INTO ONE SPOT AND SET UP A MYSTERY THAT YOU WERE INTERESTED IN SOLVING. As I’ve mentioned, I have no idea how this particular mystery is solved, because it isn’t yet. And to be honest, this is two mysteries in one as it has a historical mystery and a contemporary mystery.

I love the MC Stevie, who struggles with anxiety in very realistic ways. She is just one of many quirky, intelligent and ambitious teens who come to the Ellington Academy to learn in a very nontraditional environment. Each character is very unique and fully fleshed out in complex ways. I can’t help but wonder who among them may be an evil doer? I liked the people, I liked the school, and I am glad that we are getting more of it, though I’m not going to lie: When the book “ended” I threw it down yelling, “what kind of ending is that?” I want more of these characters and this school, but with a new mystery. I wanted answers. I am impatient, I don’t want to wait. Alas, wait I must.

I highly recommend it. Teens looking for a fun, engaging mystery will enjoy it.

YA A to Z: Maureen Johnson


Why I chose Maureen Johnson:

I got to meet John Green during his book tour for The Fault in Our Stars (shut up, this is relevant.) When I met him I thanked him for two things – one, everything he’s done to enrich the lives of teens, two, recommending that we follow Maureen Johnson on Twitter. Honestly, I feel it’s the best thing he’s ever given me.

On Twitter, Maureen lets her idiosyncrasies run rampant. One moment posting pictures of her adorable dog, the next going on about the Olive Garden on the moon, Maureen is nothing if not entertaining. But wait a few moments and you will get a brilliantly scathing take down of the latest article trashing YA literature. Or an engaging and convincing plea to assist in a great cause. Or a description of something or someone so unique that you feel that she must actually seek out these people and experiences in order to have material for her novels. In fact, I have often thought that the difference between Maureen and your average human is that when confronted with these people/circumstances, most of us work diligently to avoid them. Maureen seems to wade gleefully into the morass of humanity, delightedly exclaiming, “Oh! Look at this!” It shows in her novels.

Of everything she’s written, I am most fond of her Scarlett novels and the Shades of London series. Both feature characters you can easily imagine Maureen following down the street at a distance thinking, “That’s a little odd – I must see where this person goes!” Her plots are both lively and engaging, and her protagonists seem at once delightfully human and just a little bit ‘off.’ In the best possible way.

Brief Biography:

Maureen now lives in New York, but is a native of Philadelphia. She attended an all girl, Catholic high school and graduated from the University of Delaware. She has a graduate degree from Columbia University. She’s worked a variety of jobs ranging from the expected (editor) to the outlandish (working on a live tiger show in Las Vegas.) Looking for more detail? Check out her extended biography available at her website.


Shades of London series

  • The Name of the Star
  • The Madness Underneath
  • The Shadow Cabinet (upcoming)

The Ginny Blackstone Books

  • 13 Little Blue Envelopes
  • The Last Little Blue Envelope

The Scarlett Books

  • Suite Scarlett
  • Scarlett Fever

Stand Alone Novels

  • Girl at Sea
  • Devilish
  • The Key to the Golden Firebird
  • The Bermudez Triangle

And short stories in

  • Let it Snow
  • The Bane Chronicles
  • Vacations from Hell

You can find Maureen online:

If you like Maureen Johnson’s books, I’d recommend:

  • Stephanie Perkins
  • Justine Larbalestier
  • E. Lockhart
  • Rachel Cohn/David Levithan collaborations

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#YAAtoZ Schedule: Week 1 4: A ; 5: B ; 6: C ; 7: D  Week 2 10: E ; 11: F ; 12: G, H, I ; 13: J, K ; 14: L  Week 3 17: M ; 18: N, O ; 19: P, Q ; 20: R, S ; 21: T  Week 4 24: U ; 25: V, W ; 26: X ; 27: Y ; 28: Z