4 star, YA

Review: The Hand On The Wall by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious #3

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.



Book number three in the Truly Devious series. The fantastic finale to the trilogy in the the Ellingham case. Rarely do mysteries get stretched beyond even a single book, but Johnson did a pretty good job having enough content to explore over multiple books. As a finale, I found this finish to be worth my while, and overall enjoyed how everything came to be tied up nicely and resolved.

The Hand on the Wall once again follows our mini Sherlock, Stevie Bell, as she once again navigates Ellingham Academy to solve the mystery of the century. As layers and layers of secrets finally come to light, how will she face all the dangers that lurk within. Were all the recent casualties merely accidents, or was there something more sinister hiding within the walls at Ellingham Academy? This book gives the exciting finish to the mystery that we have been following for two books, and ties up all the loose ends.

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4 star, YA

Review: The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious #2

All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.

For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.

The tantalizing riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unraveled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life.



Book number two in the Truly Devious series. This story takes place after the initial series of events in Truly Devious. I would say this novel had more of the answers that I was already hungry for in book one, and it really did satisfy that mystery portion that I was looking forward to. Both Andge and I felt that it was definitely more of a satisfying novel, and as such rate it at 4 Drink Me Potions, slightly higher than book one.

The Vanishing Stair refers to the last riddle of Albert Ellingham before his death, part of the entire case that our protagonist, Stevie, tries to solve. This story takes place after the disappearance of Element Walker at the end of the last novel, and Stevie had been sent home away from Ellingham Academy. How will she find a way to be sent back? And what other mysteries await there for her to solve?

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4 star, YA

Review: The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Series: The Inheritance Games #1

A Cinderella story with deadly stakes and thrilling twists.

Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes. 

Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.



I approached the newest series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes with a sense of wary excitement. Having loved and felt let down by her past stories, I wasn’t sure which side of the fence this one would land in. I am happy to say that The Inheritance Games hooked me with its main plot line and reeled me in with the characters I fell for.

Avery Grambs was an ordinary girl by all standards, possibly even less known than the average high school student as she was practically orphaned and living with her half-sister. Good with puzzles and strategy, here’s a girl who wanted to do actuarial science in the future – but only because it was something she could excel in and pays well. After all, she knew exactly how much effort it took to do well in school (not much at all between her jobs), so what would it look like to actually try? What a practical and intriguing mind.

Then comes the out-of-nowhere inheritance and the four Hawthorne brothers. Or should I say, half brothers? This family dynamic was super interesting with all the boys, their mother that they share, and aunts/uncles and family staff all under one roof, albeit a super large mansion-sized roof. I loved that each brother was different, although they could technically be put into a stereotypical box.

Grayson: the serious responsible one who is secretly a sweetheart underneath those frigid cold outer layers

Jameson: the adventurous, rebellious one that gives off bad-boy (or at least bad influence) vibes

Nash: the laidback cowboy one (they are in Texas after all) who prefers not to take on the mantle of responsibility

Xander: the sweet, fun, innocent one that is instantly your friend

I felt for Avery as she came face to face with these formidable brothers and having to navigate the sudden windfall all at the same time. Having not grown up with much money, suddenly she had to learn what it meant to be a billionaire. Who can you trust? How do you invest the money wisely? Wait, is someone trying to kill you now for your money?

Honestly, the riddles took a back burner to the relational aspects in this book. That may be why I docked off one star. I had wanted more clues, more of a hunt for the answer to everyone’s big question: why did Avery inherit everything (important) from a guy she had never known?

The little bits of clues and riddle hunting were fun and enjoyable. I always appreciate authors who craft some good puzzles for us readers to also figure out. I just wish it was a bigger part of this story. It may be that the next book will provide more now that we have been introduced to the family.

This leads me to what the story focused a little too much about. At the heart of the Hawthorne relationships Avery finds herself navigating is a love triangle between Grayson and Jameson. Obviously, I expected that from the synopsis. What I didn’t expect was some more convoluted past history between the brothers over another girl. One that didn’t end well for all parties and now impact their potential new fight over Avery. I don’t necessarily mind the backstory set up for the current-day issues, but it took up SO MUCH of the emotional arc of all three characters and impacted even the riddle hunting portion of the book. I would’ve been happier if it was limited in some capacity.

Disclaimer: if it’s not obvious yet, I don’t particularly have a great track record with love triangles. I thought I got over that particular issue in recent years, but nope. I wanted to love Jameson, I really did, but my heart just couldn’t get into their interactions. He wasn’t considerate to Avery at times, so focused on his love for puzzle solving, that I’m not sure what he truly sees in her. Or her in him, for that matter. He doesn’t have that sense of maturity, which if you read the differences in the brothers above, Grayson has in spades. So of course, I’m now Team Grayson unwittingly and hope my heart won’t be shattered in book 2. We shall see (and hope fervently).

By the end, I did appreciate where the storyline took everything and the new questions revealed from the limited answers we got at its conclusion. The pacing was good enough, and I really enjoyed Avery as a protagonist. She didn’t trust easily (which is good because we don’t want some naive girl here) but had relatively good judgment to discern when and who to rely on. Her puzzle solving mind was interesting to observe, and for the most part, I agreed with the choices she made. Although I came for the puzzles in this book, I stayed for the characterizations I enjoyed and the less annoying relationships that were forming. Here’s to waiting for the sequel!

Overall Recommendation:

The Inheritance Games brings an excellent plot line that puzzles and intrigues. Following a protagonist that doesn’t make me want to shout at her choices, I thoroughly enjoyed and empathized with Avery as she navigates a billionaire’s life that suddenly dropped into her lap. With a mystery at its heart to unravel and some romantic tensions in the form of a budding love triangle (yay…), there’s definitely plenty here to keep me flipping through its pages to the end for the twisty reveal. As more questions pile on top of the ones we already had, the sequel is definitely something I’m invested in! The only issue I had was this book had less puzzle solving than romantic entanglements (past or present). I hope book 2 will give us more puzzles and less complications in romance, but otherwise, this Jennifer Lynn Barnes novel was a win in my heart.