Tag Archives: maureen johnson

Gift Ideas for Christmas

Christmas is coming. I mean, some people have had their decorations out all month. And I know that gift lists are already being shared. If you are looking to add to your list or are looking for a gift idea for someone else, I may be able to help. I have read a lot of books this year (and some in years past) that I think are very noteworthy and would make great gifts

For the kid selections, I will preface this with the fact that these books are based on my own experience of having a toddler. Here are some of our favorites this year.

I try to buy a new Christmas book every year, and this year my favorite children’s book author released one in September called All The Colors of Christmas! In a nutshell, it’s a beautifully illustrated, beautifully written book full of nostalgia and the real meanings of the Christmas season listed by color.

The Truly Devious series by Maureen Johnson is a double murder mystery set in an elite boarding school. Each of the three books in the series reveals a little more of the clues of each mystery, one set in the 1930s and one present day. The character growth and inclusion in this series is stellar. I wrote about the first one here.

Neal Shusterman’s The Arc of the Scythe series is a bit more science fiction. It faces the ideas of death, mortality, love, and humanity in a three book series. It also strives to be inclusive as well. While the ending wasn’t what I expected, it was still a fun ride. The first book’s review is here.

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton, which is more of a straight historical fiction based on a hurricane that Florida in 1935. It follows three different women as they are searching for different things within their lives, defining what freedom really is in a post-WW1 America.

For a literature friend, or someone who loves Jane Austen books, The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner is an absolute delight. There is the trigger warning of pregnancy loss, but I felt that it was appropriate and well done. I wrote more about it here.

The last three are my favorite authors, so any from them I would recommend, but here are a few ideas.

Deborah Harkness who wrote the All Souls Trilogy. She is a professor and historian which comes across in her books in a beautiful way. I first read Discovery of Witches back in 2014 and wrote this review.

VE Schwab, or Victoria Schwab, is also an amazing author who writes YA, Adult, and Middle Grade. There are so many I could recommend. Most of her books are in paranormal or fantasy genres. Her middle grade series starts with the City of Ghosts which is excellent, and the next (and I think final) book in the series is coming out soon, so it would be a fun series to read straight through!

Erin Morgenstern hasn’t written as many books, but the ones that she has are amazing, lyrical fantasies. I would recommend Night Circus first, though her books are not connected. I just felt like the Night Circus was a little easier to follow for someone who hasn’t read her before.

This year there have been a lot of books about race and racial justice, and a lot of suggestions in this category from years past. I haven’t read nearly as many as I would have like, but if you have someone in your life who is reading these topics, I would recommend How to Be Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi. It follows his own journey in social justice, people who inspired him and mistakes he made.

Another book in this category that leans more towards history, particularly within the church is The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby. I learned a lot about the evolution of the church in America, both white and black.

And finally, Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski has to have been my all time favorite book this year. It changed the way I saw stress and how I was contributing and sabotaging my own life. Game. Changer.

There are so many books that I loved this year, that it was hard to suggest just a few books. What are some books you have enjoyed this year?

March Books

So, the last two months, I’ve been reading 4 to 5 books a month on average, but this month, I barely read 3 books, and two of those books I started at the end of February.

I think that’s indicative of how much has changed in just four(ish) weeks. As I was trying to figure out why my reading amount had gone down, I realized some of the differences this social distancing due to COVID-19 has brought to my life.

  1. Because my son no longer has outside activities, I no longer have that time to read, or really doing anything like write my blog, clean my house, plan meals, work out, etc. So, I have to pick and choose what I want to do during his nap times, or my early morning time or right before bed time.
  2. All of the “free” time I just mentioned is subject to change. Sometimes my son sleeps longer, sometimes he doesn’t. So, I make a list as quickly as I can and chip away at it throughout the week. Reading tends to be pushed to the bottom of the list or left off completely.
  3. And finally, the reason reading is such a low priority is that I simply don’t have the mental energy for it right now. There are bursts of time that I will read a lot, but the bursts are getting farther apart. It requires turning off the anxiety and the to-do lists that are constantly running in my head lately. Fiction seems to be a better fit for me at this time. Nonfiction can’t seem to keep my brain from wandering to a to-do list.

Now, overall, I’m doing okay, and I did manage to enjoy three books this month. Here they are:

All Systems Red by Martha Wells – This was the Life’s Library book club pick. I don’t usually read science fiction, especially set in space or dealing with half-human robots. The first half of the book (which was only 8 chapters) was a bit slow as it tried to build the world, history, and politics. But the second half of the book was amazing and well worth trudging through the first half. It follows a SecUnit who is assigned as security for a research team on an unknown planet. Several unexplained glitches happen and the team starts to realize that there may be someone or something trying to sabotage their mission. It was really good. I will definitely lend it to some of my science fiction friends who may not have read it yet.

The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson – Excellent ending to this murder mystery trilogy. There were so many reveals, even at the beginning of the book. And so many plot twists. I got so invested with these characters that I was even mad at Stevie at one point because I just wanted to shake her for some of the assumptions and decisions based on those assumptions that she was making. Which, to me, indicates a good book. Highly recommend this trilogy.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi – So, this is the second book in her series based on African mythology. As always, I don’t want to give any spoilers, but this book definitely gave me that typical second movie in a trilogy feel. It had a lot of war, a lot of politics, and a lot of information about the world. And it ended on an excellent cliffhanger. I did struggle in this book as well with a desire to throttle characters who made prideful decisions that could have avoided certain outcomes. Of course, pride does that, but it was done so well in this book. Looking forward to the next one!

I learned a lot about myself through my reading experience this month, or lack thereof. I think I will be focusing this next month on more of my preferred genre, since we are living in strange times. Thankfully, I have a few on my shelf I haven’t read yet. Here’s hoping to a better reading life in my new rhythm in April!

Have you noticed a change to your reading life in this social distancing world? What books have you read lately? Do you have a preferred genre?

February Books

My February TBR

So this was the stack of books I set out to read in the month of February. I actually read more than just these books, and I didn’t completely finish the stack. However, I knew I would be reading at least a few of these into March. Here’s how the reading month went.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.  This was a Life’s Library book club pick, and I knew nothing about it going into it.  I had never read anything by this author before, but I knew that she was very respected and lots of people enjoyed her writing.  I liked this book, but it gave me nightmares.  It’s a dystopian novel set in 2024 (the book was written in 1993).  It felt like our society would only have to take a couple of steps in the wrong direction to end up on the pages of this book.  It’s a heavy book, full of violence, sexual assault, promiscuity, and language.  But it will stretch you in much needed ways.

Followers by Megan Angelo.  I think I found out about this book either by Instagram or my local library’s website.  I believe this is a debut novel.  It is also a kind of dystopian future, but I didn’t feel as deep into this story as I did with the Parable of the Sower.  It follows two characters, Orla and Floss, in present day who are roommates chasing after fame and all the promises of being famous and then jumps every other chapter about forty years into the future after a big event called The Spill suddenly made people distrust the government and putting any of their information online (this reveal didn’t feel realistic, which it doesn’t have to, but it took me out of the story a bit).  In the future, we follow Marlow who lives in a town that is watched by millions of people (like a Truman Show type of town) and she begins to question the life that has been written for her by the powers that be.  All of the book centers around this idea of fame and the cost it takes to get it.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski.  I loved this book.  I heard about it on a podcast, and I’m so glad I picked it up.  It addresses stress, the science behind it, and how we can survive it.  It is directed to women and the stressors that most women face (including the patriarchy and the bikini industrial complex).  Everything was fascinating and challenging, and I felt like the authors really tried to take on this subject as clearly and with as much data as they could.  It’s definitely one that I will re-read at some point.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow.  The book for the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club. This was such a sweet story of fantasy and imagination.  January Scaller lives with a rich bachelor while her father hunts for priceless treasures all over the world.  One day, she manages to open a door into another world, but when she tells her guardian about this experience, she is locked away and convinced that she needs to put away such childish fantasies.  But these doors keep coming back into her life, and with a door comes change, she just has to have the courage to step through them.  Reminded me a bit of The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern.

Don’t Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life by Anne Bogel.  This is the third book I have read by this author, and I was able to be a part of the launch team for this book (which let me read the book before it came out).  Anne is the kind of writer that makes you feel like you are chatting with a friend over coffee when you read her books.  The kind of friend who does excellent research on a topic that she can’t wait to share with you.  I made so many notes with this book, great points to remember and incorporate into my life.  Highly recommend!

Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose by Rebekah Lyons.  This was a book recommended on Instagram by some other authors I follow.  I had been wanting a book about stress coming from a Christian perspective.  But I think I was expecting something a little different than what I read in this book.  I thought I was going to get more of “when this happens, it’s good to remember this” kind of language, but the book seemed to be a list of self-care options that worked for the author throughout her life.  Things that may help others.  I think I preferred Burnout because there was more science of why things work which is what my brain really likes.  It was still a good book, and the last couple of chapters raised my overall rating, but it wouldn’t be the first book I would recommend about stress or even Christian self-help.

I am currently reading Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi and The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson, both continuations of their series. So far, I’m enjoying them as expected, one being a book based on African mythology and the other a murder mystery (this is the book it will all be revealed!). Both are YA, and I will be sharing my March TBR (with these books included) on my Instagram, so check out that sneak peek there!

Did you enjoy any books in February? What’s next in your reading life?

March Favorites

This month wasn’t as short as the one before, but it still felt like it went pretty fast. Here are some favorites from the month of March.

Book of the Month

I love a good mystery series, and this is the second book in the Truly Devious series by Maureen Johnson. I wrote a review for it here.

Baby

We are entering the sippy cup phase and have tried a few of them. The
Munchkin Miracle 360 Trainer Cup is pretty neat because it allows Sam to drink without the water going everywhere. Plus, he can get water from it no matter how he holds it. And it stands up to being banged on the table, which he does a lot. It does spill a little, but it’s usually only if he bangs the cup upside down. And they are pretty affordable which is always a win. We got them from here.

Beauty and Fashion

I use different scents depending on the season, and the Spring scent is lavender. So, when I was trying to find a good shampoo and conditioner, I came across this brand. I used it last Sunday, all three products, and it was phenomenal. I really need something to help my frizz and also be something I can use quickly. The leave in conditioner is probably my favorite, but I loved all of them. Plus the brand seems very eco-friendly which is a plus. You can try it here.

Entertainment

Still chipping away at my TBW (To Be Watched) list. Michael and I finally have a couple of hours on Friday night to watch a rental movie together. This was our first choice and it didn’t disappoint.

Miles lives in New York, and Spiderman is a major presence in his life. He is a graffiti artist with a cop dad and goes to a magnet school. He is bit by a spider around the same time a portal opens which brings other “Spiderman” characters into his reality. But they need to get everyone back where they belong and close the portal for good or New York is going to be destroyed.

The movie was hilarious. My favorite was probably Spiderham, who was played by John Mulaney. I immediately recognized his voice, but I didn’t recognize Nicholas Cage who played Spiderman Noir until I looked it up. The timing was just really great on a lot of the jokes, plus it pokes fun at the comic as well.

What are some favorites you have been enjoying this month?

All disclaimers have now moved to my About Me page.

The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson: A Review

The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2)

The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book in the Truly Devious series by Maureen Johnson. I read the first book towards the end of last year, so it’s not been too long between the books. However, the next book isn’t supposed to come out until next year, and this book still has questions left unanswered!
The story follows a girl named Stevie who is invited to study at a prestigious boarding school in the mountains of Vermont. The reason for her invitation was her interest in the kidnapping mystery of the founder’s wife and daughter back in the 30s. The wife’s body was found, but the daughter was never found. This intertwines in the first book with a murder mystery in the present day while Stevie is at the school.
The second book continues that plot, but it also focuses more on the 30s mystery as well. There are some questions, big questions, that are answered in this book, but some still left unanswered too. And there are new players introduced that may or may not play a bigger role in the next book.
I really enjoyed this book, maybe even more than the original book in the series. The plot seemed to move at a steady pace, and as I got to the end, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. There were so many secrets revealed and riddles solved. And the relationships between the characters really either strengthen completely or seemed to break apart.
There is some light profanity, I believe. There is one kissing scene, but nothing more explicit than that. And there is some violence. At one point someone gets beat up, and there is, of course, death and dead bodies mentioned. It is a murder mystery, after all. But the main part of the story is the solving of riddles and relationships, which is why I find the series so intriguing.
I definitely recommend the series. The next book couldn’t come soon enough!

March TBR


Since the books from Black History month worked out so well, I thought I would try to do it again for Women’s History Month.  Of course, I have a lot of books written by women, so I tried to whittle it down to the four books. It was really hard because there is so much I want to read. Here’s my final four.

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis.  It’s funny because before I chose this book, I saw nothing but accolades for it, but after I chose it, I’ve been seeing a lot of harsher critiques.  I’m trying to go in with an open mind and make my own decision.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.  A friend recommended it a year ago and it has been sitting on my shelf for a while, so I’m finally going to read it.  I read a collection of her essays which were okay, but I’m hoping to enjoy her fiction more.

The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson.  The second book in the Truly Devious series.  I read the first on towards the end of last year so excited to continue this mystery!

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  I’m a little intimidated about this book, but I really love Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights so I am interested to see how much I like her sister’s novel.

What are you reading this month?

November Favorites

It’s almost the end of the year!  On to the November Favorites

Book of the Month

I had a few books I really enjoyed this month, but Truly Devious was really good.  And I’m looking forward to the next book in the series in January.  I wrote a review for this book here.

Baby

So, originally, I bought this outfit by ZOEREA because I thought his Halloween costume wasn’t going to come in on time.  It actually did serve as a warmer version of his costume, but we have actually just had him wear this on cooler days.  Plus, my husband loves the hat.  He basically wants him to wear this hat all the time.  It is pretty adorable.  You can check it out here.

Beauty and Fashion

Sephora at JC Penny had a face mask sample kit available this month, and I’ve been loving a nice face mask or serum at the end of the day lately.  It’s just a little bit of pampering that helps me relax before going to bed.  I tried this one, which was in the kit, and absolutely loved it.  It really does feel like you are putting dirt on your face, but my skin felt so soft and lovely afterward.  It’s definitely in the running as one of my all time favs.  You can get it for yourself here.

Entertainment

I waited until after Christmas to start indulging on all the sappy Christmas movies.  We don’t get the Lifetime channel, but Netflix seems to be bringing their own game this year.  I’ve seen this one, The Princess Switch, and the Holiday Calendar, and I was surprised that I liked this one better than the other.  Although both have their moments of cheese.

The premise of The Princess Switch is pretty straightforward.  One rich girl who longs to be normal convinces an average girl that happens to look exactly like her to switch places.  And there is a baking competition thrown in (with some very elaborate cakes showcased at the end).  Even though it is completely predictable (which is good with my anxiety), it was really well done.  It’s sweet and a nice hour and a half escape to a far-off village where royalty and sugar cookies are the highlights of the day.

What are some favorites you have been enjoying this month?

All disclaimers have now moved to my About Me page.

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson: A Review

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had heard so many people talking about how good this book was, and I thought it would be perfect to read in October. It’s a double murder mystery with many twists and turns.
Stevie loves a good murder mystery. It’s an obsession, really. And when she has an opportunity her junior year to attend a ritzy school with free tuition that also had an unsolved murder, she took it. But when there is a death on campus, her detective skills have to work overtime, to the detriment of her relationships and schoolwork.
The plot is pretty fast-paced. Most of the chapters include both the present day story and snippets from the original murder mystery from the 1930s.
Stevie’s character transformation was really well done. She arrives at the school with anxiety and a loner mindset but slowly learns to trust, have that trust broken, and trust again. The ending revealed a surprise that might test that trust yet again. I’m looking forward to learning more in the next book.
There is profanity in the book. It shows up in the later chapters so it took me by surprise. As far as sexual content, there is a makeout scene, kissing, and some discussion of sex but no graphic sex scenes. And the violence in the book is not graphic at all. The deaths are not discussed at length, though they do describe the position the body is present day is found in.
Overall, I thought it was a good mystery, not too scary and perfect for this month. The book ends in a major cliffhanger, so I’m definitely anticipating the next book in January!