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2022 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama
- Alaska
- Arizona
- Arkansas
- California (1)
- Colorado
- Connecticut
- Delaware
- Florida
- Georgia
- Hawaii
- Idaho
- Illinois
- Indiana
- Iowa
- Kansas
- Kentucky
- Louisiana
- Maine
- Maryland
- Massachusetts (1)
- Michigan
- Minnesota
- Mississippi
- Missouri
- Montana
- Nebraska
- Nevada
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York (1)
- North Carolina (1)
- North Dakota
- Ohio
- Oklahoma
- Oregon
- Pennsylvania
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Tennessee
- Texas
- Utah
- Vermont (1)
- Virginia
- Washington (1)
- West Virginia
- Wisconsin
- Wyoming
- Washington, D.C.*

International:

Australia (1)

My Progress:


6 / 51 states. 12% done!

2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:


4 / 50 books. 8% done!

2022 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

My Progress:


1 / 25 books. 4% done!

2022 Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge

My Progress:


6 / 56 books. 11% done!

Booklist Queen's 2022 Reading Challenge

My Progress:


8 / 52 books. 15% done!

Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2022


0 / 24 books. 0% done!

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge


1 / 20 books. 5% done!

2022 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

My Progress:


8 / 50 books. 16% done!

2022 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:


8 / 50 books. 16% done!

2022 Support Book Bloggers Challenge

2022 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

Friday, January 14, 2022

Series Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

I haven't done a series review in some time, which might have something to do with the fact that I haven't binge-read a series in some time! That changed in the last two months when I sped through the Truly Devious books by Maureen Johnson. I enjoyed all the novels, which together create a series that is clever, fun, and engrossing.

I read Truly Devious when it first came out in 2018, then re-read it in December since I couldn't remember more than its very basic plot. The series opener introduces true crime aficionado Stephanie "Stevie" Bell, a 16-year-old from Pittsburgh. She is beginning her first year at Ellingham Academy, a boarding school for talented kids who are allowed to study their chosen subjects with no limitations, financial or otherwise. Built by an eccentric gazillionaire in the 1930s, the school is located on a remote mountaintop in Vermont and features a plethora of hidden rooms, secret tunnels, trapdoors, and other playful hideaways. Stevie, who applied on a whim, is shocked by her acceptance there. She's determined to prove her worth at Ellingham by finally getting to the bottom of the "unsolvable" crime that rocked the school when it first opened. Not only were the founder's wife and child kidnapped, but the former was murdered as was an Ellingham Academy student. Little Alice Ellingham's body has never been found. Although a man was convicted of the crimes, no one really believed he was guilty.

As Stevie studies the case on-site, strange things start happening on campus, things that mirror what occurred back in the 30s. When a student is murdered, it sends shockwaves through the place anew. Has the "Truly Devious" killer struck again? Or is someone playing a macabre game of copycat? Stevie vows to solve all the murders, past and present. Can she do it?

Spoiler alert: Yes, she can. 

The Vanishing Stair begins shortly after Stevie solves her classmate's murder. Even though the killer has been identified, they're in the wind. Convinced Ellingham Academy is not safe, Stevie's parents pull her out of school and make her come home, where she's miserable in her soul-sucking public school. A powerful figure intervenes, allowing her return to Ellingham. For a price. Stevie makes a deal with the devil that makes her very uncomfortable. Nevertheless, she's thrilled to return to the only place she's ever felt truly at home.

Stevie resumes her investigation into the murders that occurred at Ellingham in the 1930s. While doing so, she discovers the dead body of another classmate. Why were they killed? When another strange death happens in nearby Burlington, Stevie's certain they're connected—not just to each other but also to the Ellingham cold case. Can she get to the bottom of things before she loses someone else she cares about?

In the last book of the main trilogy—The Hand on the Wall—a series of disturbing events, plus the threat of an oncoming blizzard lead to the closure of Ellingham Academy. Despite the danger, Stevie and her friends do not want to leave. It's crazy to stay with a dangerous storm on the way not to mention a murderer running loose, but Stevie's convinced she can solve the Ellingham murders and figure out how everything that's happening in the present connects with them if only she can get a little more time. Hiding out so they don't have to leave, Stevie & Co. remain at Ellingham. As tension rises, putting them all at risk, Stevie pushes herself to puzzle out all the answers. Can she do it before they all run out of time?

Spoiler alert: Yes, she can.

After Stevie solves the Ellingham case, which has stumped investigators for decades, she becomes a bit of a sensation. In The Box in the Woods, she's home in Pittsburgh for the summer, prepared to die of boredom sans friends and without a puzzling case to keep her busy brain occupied. When she receives a tantalizing invitation to work at Camp Wonder Falls, she's immediately interested. It's not because she loves the outdoors (she doesn't), but because the rebranded summer camp was the site of a notorious quadruple murder back in the 1970s. The camp's new owner, an offbeat podcaster, wants Stevie to investigate the cold case so he can feature it on a show he's producing. Stevie's game.

Summoning her besties from Ellingham, Stevie and the reunited gang began their investigation. As they talk to residents of the nearby town who knew the victims, Stevie becomes more and more confused. Why would someone brutally kill four teenaged camp counselors? The kids weren't saints, but they hardly seem like the kind of people who would inspire the amount of rage that was unleashed on them. 

When one of the people helping Stevie dies in a suspicious accident, it becomes quickly apparent that someone knows what really happened the night the kids were killed and that they will do the unthinkable to make sure the truth never comes to light. If Stevie doesn't stop nosing into the past, she might be next. Can she solve the case before she becomes the next camp counselor to die? 

It's natural while reading a series to like some installments more than others. That's true of the Truly Devious books for me, but overall, it's a very well-crafted series. The characters are fresh and likable (my favorite is Nate, by the by), the mysteries are twisty and compelling, the boarding school setting is intriguing and appealing, and Johnson's prose is skilled and upbeat. I found all of the books engrossing, which explains why I buzzed through them so quickly. In every instance, I definitely wanted to know what was going to happen next. Johnson did not disappoint. 

I believe The Box in the Woods is the last book in the Truly Devious series. While it offers a satisfying conclusion to the series, it definitely leaves room for more installments. I am 100% up for that, although I'm still waiting for Johnson to finish the Shades of London series...

Grade:

Although the installments vary in content, if they were movies, all would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Truly Devious with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha. I borrowed the other books from the library.
Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Sign Up to Support Your Fellow Book Bloggers!

Yes, it's true, I have gone absolutely challenge crazy this year. In my defense, though, the 2022 Support Book Bloggers Challenge doesn't require me to read even one book! Besides, I absolutely adore this idea for a challenge, so I want to give it my support. I hadn't heard of the challenge until today, when I was reading a post over on Wendy's wonderful blog, The Bashful Bookworm. The challenge involves checking off a list of tasks, all of which support other book bloggers by giving their blogs and posts attention and love. What's not to like? If you love this idea as much as I do, please click on over to Pages Unbound and sign up. It's going to be lots of fun!

I'm listing the included tasks here so you can see them. I'll also put them on my "Reading Challenges" page so I can check them off as I complete them.

P.S. If you're still looking for reading challenges to join this year, check out my other blog, Ready for a Reading Challenge? There are a bunch of fun challenges listed over there. If you're hosting a challenge that isn't listed in my database, let me know and I'll happily add it.

1. FIND 10 BOOK BLOGGERS YOU’VE ENJOYED READING IN THE PAST AND GIVE THEM A SHOUT OUT

The shout out can be as a blog post on your blog, a list on Twitter, or any other ways you want to show them support.

  1. _______________
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  10. _______________

2. FIND 10 NEW-TO-YOU BOOK BLOGGERS TO FOLLOW

Follow 10 new book blogs. They don’t need to be new blogs, just new-to-you. Optional: write a post, create a Twitter thread, etc. sharing their URLs with others.

  1. _______________
  2. _______________
  3. _______________
  4. _______________
  5. _______________
  6. _______________
  7. _______________
  8. _______________
  9. _______________
  10. _______________

3. LEAVE COMMENTS ON 10 BOOK BLOGS

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4. WRITE A POST SUPPORTING BOOK BLOGGERS

Ideas include:

  • A round-up of blog links you enjoyed reading in the past week or month
  • A post about why you enjoy reading book blogs in general
  • A post about how other people can support book blogs
  • A list of bloggers with affiliate links or ko-fi accounts that people can support

5. SHARE 10 BLOG POSTS TO SOCIAL MEDIA

  • ____
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6. RESPOND TO 5 COMMENTS OTHER PEOPLE HAVE LEFT ON A BLOG

Instead of leaving a comment replying to the blog posts, try starting a discussion by replying to a comment someone else has left on another blog.

  1. ____
  2. ____
  3. ____
  4. ____
  5. ____

7. WRITE A POST ABOUT BOOKS YOU’VE READ BECAUSE OF OTHER BLOGGERS

Your list can be specific (I read X book because Y blogger recommended it), or it can be more general (I read these books because they seem popular with bloggers in general).

8. FOLLOW 5 NEW BOOK BLOGGERS (LESS THAN 1 YEAR OLD)

Optional: write a post, Twitter thread, etc. sharing their URLs with others.

  1. _______________
  2. _______________
  3. _______________
  4. _______________
  5. _______________

9. WRITE A GUEST POST FOR A BLOG OR FEATURE A GUEST POST ON YOUR BLOG

Guests posts seem to have declined in popularity on book blogs in the past couple years, but they can be a fun way to increase your reach and introduce readers to new bloggers.

10. READ 10 BLOG POSTS AND “LIKE” THEM

This is the simplest way to support book blogs — read them! — but sometimes we get busy, and this falls by the wayside. So take the time to read 10 posts and leave a “like” is possible. Bonus: comment on them, as well.

Ideas include:

  1. Creating a round-up of interesting links from other blogs
  2. Writing a discussion post inspired by someone else’s and linking back
  3. Linking to other bloggers’ reviews at the end of your reviews
  4. Linking to another blogger’s post in a discussion post to support a point
  5. Including quotes from other bloggers and linking back to them in one of your posts

12. SHARE 10 MORE BLOG POSTS TO SOCIAL MEDIA

Repetitive? Maybe. But bloggers love when other people share their posts, and they get more traffic!

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smaller star divider

MINI CHALLENGES

Other small things you can do to boost bloggers this year:

  • Comment on a book tour post. (Why: So publishers can see bloggers have an audience and these marketing posts are reaching people.)
  • Comment on an author interview. (Why: These posts tend to get few comments, so commenting shows authors and publishers that people are reading them — and blogs in general.)
  • Tag a publisher on social media when you retweet a 5 star review from a blogger. (Why: These posts often get little recognition from publishers.)
  • Vote for book bloggers in any end-of-the year awards where “book influencers” are nominated. (Why: Usually these categories are dominated by bookstagrammers and booktubers.)
  • Share your secrets to blogging “success.” (Why: We’re all in this together! If you have a great way to get traffic or comments, let others know so we can succeed as a community.)

Are you in? Sign up now at Pages Unbound

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: They Just Keep Sneaking In...

If everything goes according to plan, my family and I will soon be downsizing, moving from a 5,000 square foot house into one that is half that size. This will require sorting through the thousands of books I own and getting rid of about 75% (that's the goal, anyway). Considering this should be happening in a matter of months, I really should not be acquiring more books, but between a bookstore shopping spree for my December birthday, Christmas gifts, and the gift cards I got for my birthday and Christmas, let's just say that a *few* new books have snuck their way into my home! This week's TTT topic is perfect for showcasing these gems: Top Ten Most Recent Additions to My Book Collection

I'd love to see your list, so please consider joining in the TTT fun. Hop on over to That Artsy Reader Girl for all the details.

Top Ten Most Recent Additions to My Book Collection    

Just before Christmas, I traded in some books, then used my store credit, plus my birthday discount to buy these titles from Changing Hands, my local indie:


1.  The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan—I've checked this one out from the library several times, but have never managed to read it before it's come due, so I finally just bought it. The WWII novel is about four very different British women who enter a cooking contest to win the prize of becoming the competition's first-ever female host. 

2.  Redshirts by John Scalzi—My 17-year-old son who doesn't like to read (the horror!) has had a hankering for a good sci-fi novel. Since that's not my genre, I asked for recommendations on my personal Facebook page. This novel was suggested more than once. It's about a young man who has just been given a coveted spot on a prestigious airship. He's excited about being part of exciting away missions, until he realizes that it's the lowest-ranking members of the crew (like himself) who are the least likely to survive them. When he stumbles on a secret about the airship, he will have to risk everything in order to save the lives of himself and his crewmates. 

3.  Skyward by Brandon Sanderson—This series opener also came highly recommended. It's about a group of teens who are training to be part of an elite squad of fighter pilots. Spensa has always dreamed of being a pilot like her father, but it's because of his disgraceful actions that her chances of being one are next to nil. While she fights her way through flight school, she launches her own clandestine investigation into the truth behind her father's infamous betrayal.

4.  A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw—I read this novel right after I bought it. Even though I didn't end up loving it, I did find it intriguing. It's about a commune hidden in the mountains and the secrets it holds inside its boundaries.

My favorite part of my recent trip to Europe was visiting beautiful Culzean Castle, once the seat of Clan Kennedy in Scotland. Exploring "our" castle with my stepsister (I'm a born Kennedy—she's basically been adopted in) was a fun, moving treat for both of us. She bought me this book about the castle and its history for Christmas:


5.  The 'Magnificent Castle' of Culzean and the Kennedy Family by Michael Moss

My son and his wife got me a gift card to Barnes & Noble for my birthday, which is where I bought these four:


6.  Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O'Connor—This series opener features the O'Sullivan Family, who run a bistro. When a man is murdered in their restaurant, they find themselves the prime suspects. Siobhán O'Sullivan sets out to clear her family's names by finding the real killer.


7.  Jo & Laurie by Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la CruzLittle Women is one of my favorite books of all time, so I'm all in for this "romantic retelling." Will Jo and Laurie finally get their happily ever after?


8.  Chapter and Curse by Elizabeth Penney—Like the O'Sullivans, the Kimballs have a shop to save. This time, it's a bookstore in England. Molly has to find the killer of one of their customers in order to clear her great-aunt's name.


9.  Plaid and Plagiarism by Molly MacRae—Another first in a cozy mystery series, this is one I've been wanting to read for a while now but haven't been able to find in my local libraries. It also involves murder in a U.K. bookshop, this time in Scotland. 

This one was cheap on Kindle, so I snapped it up:


10.  The Wardrobe Mistress by Patrick McGrath—Set during the brutal winter of 1947, this one takes place in a very bleak London. When a famed actor dies, it leaves his widow—the wardrobe mistress—paralyzed with grief. A secret about him comes to light, forcing her down a dark, unexpected path.

There you have it, the last ten books I purchased and received. How about you? Did you get any fun books for Christmas? Have you used your bookish gift cards yet? Which titles have made it into your home, one way or another? I'd truly love to know. Leave a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on your blog.

Happy TTT!

Monday, January 10, 2022

Historical Australian Murder Mystery Atmospheric and Intriguing

(Image from Goodreads)

Although World War I gave Penelope Jane "P.J." Martindale a unique chance to travel and have an exciting adventure, it also stole two very important people from her. While grieving the deaths of her twin brothers, she visits London's Natural History Museum where she makes an intriguing discovery. A fossil found in a gorge near the Australian town of her birth, a place where her brothers loved to search for ancient treasures, gives P.J. a new purpose—to honor her dead siblings through the fossils they loved to collect. When P.J. returns to Australia, she's shocked to receive a frosty reception from her father, who blames her for his sons' deaths. Hoping to make peace with him and commemorate her brothers' sacrifice at the same time, she heads for Bow Wow Gorge despite warnings from the locals about its sinister reputation. Seventy years ago, an eccentric female paleontologist is said to have disappeared in its bowels under suspicious circumstances along with several of her young pupils. While wandering in the gorge, P.J. stumbles across a skeleton in a hidden cave. Thinking she's just accidentally solved an old mystery, she's stunned when the coroner announces that the unidentified corpse was the victim of a murder. Who was the deceased? What happened to them? And how did they come to lie in a cave full of priceless fossils? 

Ever since reading and enjoying Tea Cooper's The Woman in the Green Dress, I've wanted to read more by the author. I was thrilled to receive an e-ARC of her newest, The Fossil Hunter, which has already been released in Australia but doesn't come out in the U.S. until August. Told in a dual-timeline format, the novel features likable characters, a plotline that's compelling (although slow), and an atmospheric setting. I'm not into fossils, so I found that part of the story a little dull. I also wasn't wild about P.J.'s romance with Sam, since I didn't feel any sparks between them and I thought him irritating in his irresponsibility and impulsiveness. Other than that, though, The Fossil Hunter kept me interested enough to keep turning pages. I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I did The Woman in the Green Dress, but I liked it overall.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything. Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love: I received an e-ARC of The Fossil Hunter from the generous folks at HarperCollins via those at Edelweiss Plus in exchange for a honest review. Thank you!
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The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson

Listening

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The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes



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