ARC Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious

Author: Maureen Johnson

Series: Truly Devious #1

Publisher: HarperCollins

Genre: Mystery, YA, Contemporary, Thriller, Fiction

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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.

New York Timesbestselling 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.

my review

I received a free copy for an honest review.


Where do I start?

I don’t get it. I don’t get it. What went wrong? This book’s synopsis seemed so good. There were no clear things to “hate” about this book, but it just…failed to keep my attention. Reading this book, I failed to experience the Adrenaline rush, the “not being able to put the book down” feeling that I get when I read a book that I truly enjoy. Was it the romance’s fault? Or were my standards for murder mystery too high? A book that I don’t even hesitate to think, “Wow, I goddam love this book”. My experience with this book is more so like I keep putting it down and I keep forgetting about it. And when I try to pick it back up I literally cannot remember anything about what I just read even when I swore I did actually read it. When I finished the book, I sit on it for a while before I wrote my review because I wanted to talk about it with a clear mind. But before I knew it, days passed, weeks passed. Whenever I tried to review it I realized I am forgetting more and more about it…

This is so sad. But here we go (I had to rescan this book multiple times for this review).

Truly Devious follows the protagonist Stevie. Stevie was a huge murder mystery fan, and this her passion. It’s also the thing that got her into Ellingham Academy, the mysterious gifted academy that everyone wants to get into. Looking back, I did not realize the giant logic plot hole behind this school’s entire existence. I saw the words “academy” and I lost all sense of logic. It was only reading this book that really got me to realize how this school’s existence kind of…made absolutely no sense.

First off, Ellingham Academy is completely free. Only the most intelligent, capable students are admitted. Sounds reasonable right? But is it just me or is it…completely unrealistic? A school like this would never exist in real life. I have never heard or don’t think there would ever be a prestigious school that is completely free purely for the sake ofeducation.

Sorry, no offense, but in the world of American capitalism that is never going to happen. And since this book is a contemporary YA novel, I’m going to judge this from the basis of a real-world perspective, because that’s what contemporary is.

Okay, but because this is anoveland interesting plot-line-worldbuildings arenecessary, I am more than willing to temporary forget I have a brain and throw it out of the window for the sake of just enjoying the book, which I’ve done countless time before.

But something else caught me off-guard. The writing style. This book’s unique writing style reminded me heavily of Furyborn. If you remember, Furyborn is a story about two queens who were thousands of years apart, but both their stories had a direct impact on each other. This book is written alternatively between the actual events in the past that Stevie is investigating in the present.

This should be a good thing, because non-linear writing styles can be really cool and eye-catching, right?

But here’s the thing: I never really…liked the Furyborn books as much as other readers.

If I didn’t lose my memory, I gave Furyborn a decent review because just like Truly Devious, I want to give both books credit for the obvious hard work the authors put in the writing, story, and characters. But both failed to capture enough of my attention for me to love it.

However, I would finish it. This series was not horribly enough for me to be like “I would rather remove my eyeballs than to read it again”. So because I have all three copies, me being (such) a frugal person, I don’t want to waste the three books. So look forward to those. So this series definitely still have a chance of transforming my opinion immensely. Let’s see how it goes.

(please be good please be good I actually want to give you a chance)

Rating: 3/5

about the author

Maureen knew from an early age she wanted to be a writer. She went to high school at an all-girls’ Catholic school and graduated from University of Delaware with a degree in writing. She now lives and writes in New York City.

Many of the adventures Maureen’s characters face in her books are based on real-life stories. Maureen has traveled all over Europe, and is a Secret Sister to vlog brothers Hank and John Green.

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