For What It's Worth

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Review: Truly, Devious (Truly, Devious #1) by Maureen Johnson



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. ~ Goodreads

Source: Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Review: I was pretty excited when this book showed up. I’ve always wanted to give Maureen Johnson’s books a try and I’m starting to read more thrillers/mysteries. Toss in that this became a buddy read with my blogger friend Jen & I was eager to jump in.

I wish I could say it was everything I was hoping for but it fell pretty flat for me. I’m horrible at reviewing meh books so I’m going to do a list of pros and cons instead.

The set up:

In April of 1936, the wife and daughter of Ellingham Academy founder, Albert Ellingham, were kidnapped by “Truly, Devious”. The only clue was a creepy riddle made up of cut and paste letters from magazines and sent to Albert.

There was also an additional victim, a brilliant student named Dolores, but none of the crimes were ever solved.

Flash forward to present day, and Stevie Bell, who fancies herself as an amateur sleuth, is one of the very few accepted to the quite prestigious Ellingham Academy. Her goal is to solve the Truly Devious murders.

Pros:

* Really interesting premise! Johnson weaves the 1939 case seamlessly into the present tense and does a great job of having the other students join Stevie in investigating this cold case from their own perspectives and talents. One student is a You Tube star, another – a writer, for example, so coming together to make a reenactment/documentary as a school project works.

*Stevie is a super relatable protagonist. She suffers from anxiety and panic attacks but knows to be a good detective, she’ll need to work past that. She uses the case as a tool to challenge herself. She asks for help when she needs it too. A major plus. She’s obsessed with true crime shows and she’s just really cute.

* The 1936 case is REALLY interesting. I’m not always a fan of flashback story telling but it works here. The eclectic characters, the speak easy setting, the new prestigious boarding school – it all lends to a fantastic mystery and who-dun-it.

* The Ellingham Academy is an interesting place. It was founded by the Albert Ellingham as an all expense paid school for the most brilliant minds. The application process is odd, the school itself is very offbeat and the students it accepts is so random that I couldn’t help but be enthralled with that setting.

But…..

Cons:

* This book never really goes anywhere, And it’s long, 416 pages, so I would like to have felt like the time I invested led to something…anything – but I didn’t feel like it did. Instead it threw in yet another twist.

* The romance….eek, it’s bad! And weird. And I just wish it wasn’t included. It wasn’t a big part of the story – but might be in the next because of the way things ended. The guy is - I believe my exact term to describe him while chatting with Jen about him was “squicky” lol

* So many characters. So many! The older mystery is very tightly plotted. The present day story – not so much. There’s a large cast of characters that are void of personality descriptors other than what clothes they are wearing. And Johnson manages to describe what everyone is wearing in every single scene. I just found it odd and ended up forgetting everyone other than the core group, who, other than the adorable, cynical Nate, I didn't care about.

* Truly, Devious was okay. I didn’t hate it at all, but I doubt I’ll read on. This book mostly felt like a set up for the second installment when it really could have been an excellent stand alone.

This book got MANY 5 stars so I suggest trying it for yourself if you like twists and turns, don’t mind major cliffhangers and enjoy a plucky protaganists, in the vain of Nancy Drew.
Here is Jen’s review if you would like a slightly different take on it. She tells me that this book is very in keeping with Maureen Johnson's writing style - so if you love her books ,t hen you should love this one as well.

28 comments:

  1. It sounds like I won't read a YA mystery very soon. Every single one of them seems to be lacking in some respects or redundant in some other (like the romance and the too many nondescript characters here). A pity.

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    1. It was just an odd writing style (for me) Super detailed with clothing but not with the characters personalities so I could tell them apart. But this is a series - so maybe that's deliberate and matters in future books? I don't know.

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  2. Oh I'm sorry to see that you didn't end up enjoying this one more Karen, as I could totally see why you'd have high expectations going into it. Thank you for your honest review! :)

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    1. It's very highly rated on Goodreads and by people who like the author's other books so it might be a case of her writing just not working for me.

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  3. Well, this one seems like a no-no for me. 1) Big books are scary, and 2) bad romance = angry me. The hopeless romantic in me will die a few deaths. XD ALSO WHAT IS SQUICKY. PLEASE, NO. Awesome review, Karen! <3

    - Aimee @ Aimee, Always

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    1. The LI is odd - he's very random and kind of cocky but not in a cute mysterious way. He *might* get better int he next book since it seems like he'll be a major player int he next book but I....don't care at this point lol

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  4. Meh reviews are the worst to write but you did a great job explaining why you felt that way. I don't think this one is for me ;)

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    1. Based on your reviews - I think not. It's not really horror - or at least not yet.

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  5. Sorry to hear you didn't like it more. Not everyone is going to like the same book the same amount. It happens.

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    1. Yeah. I was talking to my friend that read it with me and she said this is very much the author's writing style so I think if you love her other books then this will work if not - then not so much lol

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    2. @Mary Kirkland - Appreciate with you. BTW @Karen Alderman - Your review is wonderful.

      Test very men to men, its a normal thing. Keep it up.

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  6. Never goes anywhere? Bad romance (I can handle weird)? Not good. I do like the sound of the character and I know someone who would enjoy that aspect of it and perhaps this book would be for her. I might have to pick it up first just to see for myself if I can get past the "meh" parts of the book.

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    1. There are a lot of twists and I think if you are they type of reader that gets pulled in by the current mystery and not just the past - you will love this one.

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  7. Oo I'm digging this review format! The case sounds super interesting and I like historical settings, except I think I would be incredibly frustrated by the book's lack of movement.

    And Jen made some mention of the romance as well. I'm scared.

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    1. Yeah - it was weird. And not romantic. The older case was super interesting!

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  8. I have a hard time writing reviews for books that were just meh to me, too. The premise sounds so promising, so it's unfortunate the story was underwhelming. I don't like it when there are a ton of characters, I usually stop trying to keep tract. I get bored easily so 416 pages of a slow moving story wouldn't be my cup of tea. Thanks for the helpful review, Karen. :)

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    1. There were so many characters with no distinguishing qualities other than their clothing. I gave up trying to keep track. Maybe they matter more int he next book but meh...

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  9. Oh noooooo! So sorry to hear that this didn't work for you, Karen. I loved it, lol. Johnson's style is pretty distinct though, so if it doesn't gel for you then it's hard to enjoy the story. The 1936 plot line was amazing, and I definitely didn't see that twist at the end coming about the present-day mystery. I didn't like the romance either...but I kinda felt like you weren't supposed to? It was unhealthy and whack, and it seemed to me like Stevie knew it. 😂

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    1. Yeah, a friend of mine said that's her writing style so I thinks it's more that she's just not for me I think.

      I did LOVE the 1936 mystery though.

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  10. Squicky?? Lol! I don't think I ever want my relationship with my husband to be referred to as "squicky", so I'm going to assume bad things all around. I'm sorry this book was meh for you, especially since it was so long! Bummer.

    Psst! I'm enjoying The Cruel Prince so far! I wasn't expecting the darkness to it. I'm also liking not having any idea what's going on right now, hahah.

    Do You Dog-ear?

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    1. Well, J is not squicky! lol

      The romance is a very minor element in this book although I think it will be better int he next - and the boy less squicky lol

      I'm enjoying TCP too.

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  11. This showed up first now...weird

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  12. Oh no, this book sounded kind of cool so I'm sorry to hear this feel flat for you. I'm sad it didn't work out how you wanted as it had plenty of potential. A bad romance though? Yeah, I'd have been put off by that too.

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    1. So many people loved it though so I would still give it a try if you're interested.

      I really feel like this is a case of "it's me not you" reading lol

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  13. Sorry this didn't work out for you, but your review is wonderful and totally explains why. Hugs...RO

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  14. I really enjoyed this book. It pains me that it did not work for you, because I am such a Johnson fan.

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    1. I'm glad you loved it! It just wasn't the right fit for me but I'd love to try something else by her to see if it works better.

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