Arc Review: Nine Liars (Truly Devious #5) by Maureen Johnson

Title: Nine Liars (Truly Devious #5)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Genre: YA Contemporary / Mystery
Publication Date: December 27th, 2022
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Rating: ⭐⭐

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for a complimentary earc to review! All opinions are my own.

“Senior year at Ellingham Academy for Stevie Bell isn’t going well. Her boyfriend, David, is studying in London. Her friends are obsessed with college applications. With the cold case of the century solved, Stevie is adrift. There is nothing to distract her from the questions pinging around her brain—questions about college, love, and life in general.
Relief comes when David invites Stevie and her friends to join him for study abroad, and his new friend Izzy introduces her to a double-murder cold case. In 1995, nine friends from Cambridge University went to a country house and played a drunken game of hide-and-seek. Two were found in the woodshed the next day, murdered with an ax.
The case was assumed to be a burglary gone wrong, but one of the remaining seven saw something she can’t explain. This was no break-in. Someone’s lying about what happened in the woodshed.
Seven suspects. Two murders. One killer still playing a deadly game.” (Goodreads)

To say this one hurts to write would be an understatement. I’m just not convinced that these were the same characters and this fits into the Truly Devious series. After loving the other books I am just utterly disappointed.

The book is told through dual timelines and multiple point-of-views. The present time point-of-view comes from Stevie Bell who is off on another mystery once again, although it takes quite a bit to get there. I can’t say that I was invested in the story until around the 60% mark and even then the ending was just not it. I’m actually very upset about it lol. I think that this book tried to do too much and because of that the mystery wasn’t as exciting because nothing really happens with it until too close to the ending and even then it is so lackluster! It just doesn’t feel like the same series.

I felt more irritated with these characters than I ever have before. I hadn’t once had a problem with David or Stevie, but they were both kind of selfish and it wasn’t a vibe. All I have to say about David is that he was fine, a bit bland, but then we get to the ending and he is a dillweed. I don’t like him and I never will. Stevie was too caught up in her relationship to care about her future and when she wasn’t obsessing about that she was on the case for the mystery and lying to her friends. I can see the correlation between her friend group and the nine so I guess at least there was that. 🤷‍♀️

I also felt like this book was trying to be more upper YA and it made the book have a different vibe. I think this point correlates with Stevie’s relationship having more page time and it’s also associated with the friend group the nine. Sex is mentioned quite a lot and it just wasn’t my cup of tea, especially when I am here for a mystery.

Overall, it was okay at times but honestly ended up not being a book I liked. I’m going to be disappointed for quite some time…


Arc Review: The Box in the Woods (Truly Devious #4) by Maureen Johnson

Title: The Box in the Woods (Truly Devious #4)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Genre: YA Mystery / Thriller
Publication Date: June 15th, 2021
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for an earc to read in exchange for a review!

After solving the case of Truly Devious, Stevie Bell investigates her first mystery outside of Ellingham Academy in this spine-chilling and hilarious stand-alone mystery from New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson.

Amateur sleuth Stevie Bell needs a good murder. After catching a killer at her high school, she’s back at home for a normal (that means boring) summer.

But then she gets a message from the owner of Sunny Pines, formerly known as Camp Wonder Falls—the site of the notorious unsolved case, the Box in the Woods Murders. Back in 1978, four camp counselors were killed in the woods outside of the town of Barlow Corners, their bodies left in a gruesome display. The new owner offers Stevie an invitation: Come to the camp and help him work on a true crime podcast about the case.

Stevie agrees, as long as she can bring along her friends from Ellingham Academy. Nothing sounds better than a summer spent together, investigating old murders.

But something evil still lurks in Barlow Corners. When Stevie opens the lid on this long-dormant case, she gets much more than she bargained for. The Box in the Woods will make room for more victims. This time, Stevie may not make it out alive.” (Goodreads)

When I found out about this book at the beginning of the year I was so ecstatic that Stevie would have another adventure solving a mystery. Truly Devious was the first YA Mystery I read and it’s what got me out of a reading slump as well as started my love for mysteries! Maureen Johnson never disappoints and this one hooked me right from the beginning.

As with the previous books, there are two timelines as well as two-point-of-views. In the present timeline the point-of-view corresponds with Stevie Bell. The real life Sherlock who is obsessed with murder. The past timeline has a few different point-of-views as well as something else but it’s a secret and it ties everything in.

Stevie is still the same ‘ol Stevie and she is accompanied by Janelle and Nate. I have always enjoyed Nate as he is hilarious and really gives us the comedic relief. I would say that he is more present than Janelle at times but she is still always there for Stevie which I love. And of course, David does make appearances and I’m not going to lie I actually liked him a lot in this book.

Since the mystery wraps up by the end the book is pretty quick paced and I was devouring it. It was hard to set it down once the timeline changed because the chapter would leave off on a cliffhanger and I had to know what would happen next. I may have stayed up past the time I usually go to bed because I kept saying, “just one more chapter!”. I also thought I would be murdered in my sleep but that is neither here nor there, haha. I’m a chicken!

There are a lot of suspenseful moments. I also kept trying to figure out who it could be and every time I had an idea along came another plot twist! I really wasn’t expecting the reveal as well as the why. It was intense and definitely unique.

Overall, this was another fantastic book from this author! It was just what I needed and left me wanting more. I really do hope that there will be more books because I love these characters and I never want it to end.

Arc Review: Hello, Cruel Heart by Maureen Johnson

Title: Hello, Cruel Heart
Author: Maureen Johnson
Genre: YA Retelling / Historical Fiction
Publication Date: April 6th, 2021
Publisher: Disney Press
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for an earc to read in exchange for a review!

An electric new story of teenage Cruella de Vil in an original novel inspired by the upcoming Walt Disney Studios Live Action Film, Cruella.

Swinging London, Summer 1967. Sixteen-year-old Estella, gifted with talent, ingenuity, and ambition, dreams of becoming a renowned fashion designer. But life seems intent on making sure her dreams never come true. Having arrived in London as a young girl, Estella now runs wild through the city streets with Jasper and Horace, amateur thieves who double as Estella’s makeshift family and partners-in-(petty)-crime. How can Estella dedicate herself to joining the ranks of the London design elite when she’s sewing endless costumes and disguises for the trio’s heists?

When a chance encounter with Magda and Richard Moresby-Plum, two young scions of high society, vaults Estella into the world of the rich and famous, she begins to wonder whether she might be destined for more after all. Suddenly, Estella’s days are filled with glamorous parties, exclusive eateries, flirtations with an up-and-coming rock star, and, of course, the most cutting-edge fashions money can buy. But what is the true cost of keeping up with the fast crowd-and is it a price Estella is willing to pay?” (Goodreads)

I requested to read this from Netgalley for two reasons. 1.) I am obsessed with all things Disney and 2.) I love Maureen Johnson and her writing.

This was a very quick read and one that wasn’t a bore to read. If you go into this thinking you are getting a backstory of Cruella herself, you’ll be saddened by the fact that in this book she is just an alter-ego who is in the mind of Estella (if that’s what you would call it). She is only present when things get tough and Estella needs someone to push through it all without holding back.

I did like parts of the book as well as the writing. Estella is a strong girl who goes through a lot and yet she doesn’t give up on her dreams. That is something to be admired. She doesn’t always make the best decisions but that’s what makes her human.

Backstories can always be iffy especially when they are written after the original material. I have seen 101 Dalmatians (both the animated and cast multiple times) and to me this story takes away who Cruella is. I have not seen the trailer for the new movie and so I can’t say anything about that when it comes to this book or the original movie. I am curious though.

There are a lot of things that happen to Estella that do correlate with the original movie, i.e. why she doesn’t like Dalmatians, but it doesn’t make sense. I won’t say as to keep this spoiler free but it just felt over the top and not even explained after the fact.

She also treats those who have been there for her like trash. Horace and Jasper aren’t as dim-witted as they seem in the movies and have brought her when she was down in the dumps. At one point she says they are like brothers but also says they aren’t her friends. Even when she gets left behind by her so-called new friends and a boy, they bring her back into their lair without a hesitation. They are loyal and definitely deserve more respect from her.

The plot can be predictable and I saw both of the plot twists coming. This could just be because a villain needs a lot of rough patches to make them who they are.

Overall, it was good for what it is. I don’t think it was the worst backstory but there were just elements that left me questioning the creative choice.

Blog Tour: The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson (Review + Favorite Quotes)


G_ALlEEg.jpgTitle: The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious #3)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Genre: YA Mystery/ Thriller
Publication Date: January 21st, 2020

Thanks to the publisher for the free copy! (I received a copy for reviewing. All opinions are my own.)

*Click the banner for all other tour dates!*

synopsis header
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.

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.” (Goodreads)

Amazon / B & N / Book Depository / Google / Kobo / iTunes


_ZeehEdw.jpgMaureen Johnson is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of several YA novels, including 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Suite Scarlett, The Name of the Star, and Truly Devious. She has also done collaborative works, such as Let It Snow (with John Green and Lauren Myracle), and The Bane Chronicles (with Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan). Her work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Buzzfeed, and The Guardian, and she has also served as a scriptwriter for EA Games. She has an MFA in Writing from Columbia University and lives in New York City.

Goodreads / Website / Twitter / Instagram / Facebook / Pinterest / Tumblr

reviewheaderMy first thoughts are I can’t believe this series has finally come to an end! I remember picking up the first book in the middle of this year because I needed a break from Fantasy. Little did I know that this series would be the first ever YA Mystery/Thriller books I would read and devour! I’m so glad I was able to read the final installment a bit early and it didn’t disappoint.

Stevie is back and closer than ever to solving the crime of the century and the deaths that have taken the lives of people she knows in the present. If there is one thing to learn from her is that she doesn’t ever give up. It’s such a great quality and I think more people should be like that. I also like that she doesn’t let any reward dictate how or why she wants to solve the cases. Greed isn’t a part of her and I think that is another great quality.

The other characters that have been around since book one are back as well. Some take more of a backseat approach but I was happy to see them all back.

One of the reasons I love this series so much is because of the past and present chapters. It’s cool to see everything come together and understand what all transpired in the kidnapping of Alice. It was honestly more sad than I thought it would be.

A lot went into each case and I was blind sided by it all! I really didn’t know who actually did the present murders and I was baffled when I finally found out! The twists kept coming and they were all perfect.

Overall, I thought it was a great ending and wrapped up the loose ends nicely. The author’s writing is always enjoyable to read and it makes it hard to try and put her books down. If you haven’t started this series yet and you like mysteries, definitely check these books out!

Here are a few quotes that I picked out to share. All quotes can change and may be different when the book is published.

“She’s like the owl, hunted in the dark and the shadows, looking for something new that would get her more clicks.”

The reason I picked this one out was because it really spoke to me about how our society is now when it comes to social media. There are many people out there that are waiting for their 5 seconds of fame and will do anything to continue the cycle.

“That was one of the most important parts of being a detective: keep your eye on the gun.”

There wasn’t really a specific reason for writing this one down besides the fact that it sounded cool and deadly. I also think that it can be applied to life with trusting others.

“”Murders don’t normally happen at the end of a book,” she said.”

When I read this I had to stop and think and realize that it is so true! They were talking about the Great Gatsby here and that is really the only book I can think of that has a death at the end. It’s really interesting to think about.


Win a finished copy of The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson! (US Only)

Starts January 21st, 2020 and ends February 4th, 2020.

Click here to enter giveaway!


I hope you enjoyed my blog tour spot for Hand on the Wall! Make sure to check out the other blogs as well!

Find me on Instagram / Goodreads

-Joanna TheGeekishBrunette (1)

Friday Favorites: Books Outside Your Usual Genre

friday favorites


Hello, fellow bookworms!

Today’s post is a tag that was created by Something of the Book and she has a whole list of Friday Favorites to follow. They are awesome and it is a fun way to find new books with a twist and see how others have answered it!

I am one to always pick up Fantasy. It is my go-to genre and one that I don’t ever see myself not ever reading. There are times that I do venture out of my comfort and am surprised by the books I read. So here is my list of books that are outside of my usual genre!


1.) Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco Series

I have been obsessed with this series since I finished the first book. I am so excited for the third book but so sad this series is coming to an end!

2.) Wild Blue Wonder by Carlie Sorosiak

Here’s the thing, I tend to not like Contemporary. It’s a love/hate type of relationship. I did absolutely love this one and you should definitely check it out!

3.) Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson Series

If you didn’t see this one coming then you must not have me on Instagram, haha. I love this contemporary/mystery and can’t wait for the third book!

4.) Little Monsters by Kara Thomas

I read this one recently and absolutely loved it! Creepy at times but so good!

5.) The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

Yes, another one by the same author! I have been getting into thrillers and hers are just wonderful and really help to get me out of my reading slumps.


The Vanishing Stair: Book Review

book review


Title: The Vanishing Star (Truly Devious #2)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Genre: Ya Mystery/Contemporaryborder

Synopsis: “The Truly Devious case—an unsolved kidnapping and triple murder that rocked Ellingham Academy in 1936—has consumed Stevie for years. It’s the very reason she came to the academy. But then her classmate was murdered, and her parents quickly pull her out of school. For her safety, they say. She must move past this obsession with crime.

Stevie’s willing to do anything to get back to Ellingham, be back with her friends, and solve the Truly Devious case. Even if it means making a deal with the despicable Senator Edward King. And when Stevie finally returns, she also returns to David: the guy she kissed, and the guy who lied about his identity—Edward King’s son.

But larger issues are at play. Where did the murderer hide? What’s the meaning of the riddle Albert Ellingham left behind? And what, exactly, is at stake in the Truly Devious affair? The Ellingham case isn’t just a piece of history—it’s a live wire into the present.” (Goodreads)border

My Review:

If you read my review for the first book in this series, you will have noticed that this one was rated one star higher. This one totally deserves that extra star and I will tell you why!

This book doesn’t start off right where the first left off. It talks about events that happened after that but not reactions from the characters that were a apart of that moment. I was a little confused by this approach in the beginning but in the chapter following it made it more clear as to the events that happened after that epic cliffhanger.

One reason this book rated higher is because I was finally able to connect better with the characters. Truly Devious introduced the characters to me but The Vanishing Stair took their emotions/actions and ran with them! I felt connected during a certain scene with Stevie and David. It was a quite intense scene at that. The other characters are still present and a couple new ones are introduced as well.

As for the plot, the mystery is still ongoing! You think it will be resolved and then you get to the end which has a bigger cliffhanger than the first and realize that the third book doesn’t come out until January 2020! Yes, I am bitter, haha. The mystery has really evolved and new clues and even bodies have come forth. Honestly, the plot keeps me so entwined that I had a hard time putting it down to sleep or even for a couple minutes. It is just that good!

I definitely recommend this series for fans of YA mystery. Even if you aren’t, I still recommend it. It is not a genre I pick up but I am hooked!

Truly Devious: Book Review

book review


29589074Title: Truly Devious
Author: Maureen Johnson
Genre: YA Mystery/Contemporary

Synopsis: “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.” (Goodreads)

My Review:

Since I have been in a reading slump for awhile, I decided to venture out of my comfort zone and try books I normally wouldn’t pick up. Truly Devious was one of those books and I am actually grateful for that reading slump because I would have missed out on this fantastic book!

One aspect of this book that I really liked was how the chapters were separated by past and present. It helped to really bring the mystery to life and suck you in! It sucked me in so much that I read it until I couldn’t keep my eyes open and then continued to binge read it when I woke up. The past and present chapters also made the plot quite intriguing from the beginning because of the past being the first thing you read about.

The plot twists were ones I didn’t see coming. This is great when this happens because I want to be surprised as I read. Of course, I had speculations and even when I thought I knew who the culprit might be it only covered the surface. Let me tell you, that ending was insane!

As for the characters, I didn’t feel too connected with Stevie Bell but this book doesn’t make it a hit or miss when it comes to connecting with characters because to me it is more plot driven. I did enjoy reading about Stevie because she is obsessed with crime and wants to solve the case. She is full of determination and its one quality that I love about people. Although she never would have imagined the mystery going the way it did.

Overall, this was a great read. If you are into mysteries then I would suggest checking this book out!