Review: The Box In The Woods by Maureen Johnson

I absolutely LOVED the Truly Devious series, so I was thrilled when I learned that Maureen Johnson was writing another mystery featuring the same characters! I rarely preorder a book, preferring instead to wait until it appears in one of the half dozen Kindle daily deal emails I receive, but I knew had to get my hands on this one as soon as possible, so I purchased this one months before its release date. After what seemed like eons of waiting, finally the day came when I got to see beyond the cover to the actual pages of the book!

While I really enjoyed this story, it was definitely different from the previous novels in the series. For one, it felt darker, which I didn’t mind at all, but there were other differences that were an uncomfortable fit, like a too tight sock. The supporting characters (Stevie’s friends) felt a little off to me, maybe because they didn’t have as much of a chance to show their personalities in this one. They almost felt like window dressing to me – only there to serve a specific purpose instead of adding to the dynamics of the plot.

But I think the biggest difference for me was the mystery itself. There aren’t many suspects in this one, so the big payoff of the reveal is more focused on the how and why of the crime. The author does leave a trail of breadcrumbs for readers to follow, and while I don’t mind when I can’t put all the clues together early, when the motivation of the killer comes to light it this one, it almost felt like it wasn’t fair play.

Ultimately, I did like this book, but suspect I would have enjoyed it more had it used characters I was unfamiliar with. After waiting so long to reconnect with Stevie and the gang, the reunion felt a little underwhelming, but Maureen Johnson puts on a good show! 4.5 stars!

From Goodreads:

The Truly Devious series continues as Stevie Bell investigates her first mystery outside of Ellingham Academy in this spine-chilling and hilarious stand-alone mystery.

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.

Monday (Mini #BookReview) Madness

This week I read:

Gifted teens in Vegas? What’s the worst that could happen? The 3rd installment of The Naturals series presents a tightly plotted, super smart mystery that deepens the arc that connects all the books. We get to know the characters, their backgrounds, and their motivations better as the author teases the reader with answers they so desperately want, all while deftly laying clues for them to solve the case at hand.

This final installment wraps the series up nicely. I’m sad that it’s over, but now maybe I can finally get some sleep! 🙂 Barnes is a master of creating tension and suspense even as the events teased throughout the series finally come to fruition. The stakes are high – not just because they’re life or death, but because it feels like you’ve come to know the characters and are invested in their fates. There you are, holding your breath, hoping for the best, and then whammy! What an emotional rollercoaster!

This novella picks up 6 years after the novels leave off. I was eager to read more about the characters I had come to know over the course of the series, and to discover how they had evolved as they aged. The case presented in this one was interesting and had a nice twist, but there was something missing. It felt a bit rushed, not just because there was a clock ticking down, creating a sense of urgency and suspense, but because the time usually spent with the characters and their development was missing. This was like a 2 hour movie paring down to a 1/2 hour show with half the cast. Good but not great.

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Monday (Mini #BookReview) Madness

This week I read:

I LOVED this book! And I stayed up WAY too late reading it! Some people have a natural gift for reading people . . . what happens when the FBI recruits them while they’re still teenagers? In full disclosure I did guess who the villain was, but I didn’t care. I loved the characters, the storyline, everything. Every once in a while a book comes along where I have to pick the sequel up immediately – and this was one of those books!

Barnes is officially to blame for my sleep deficit! This is the 4th book I’ve read by her this year, the 2nd in this series, and she’s quickly become one of my YA favorite authors. The stakes are no less serious in this sequel, the characters no less likeable, the storyline no less suspenseful! Teenage angst and twisty plots? I’m addicted! I just broke my book buying diet to buy the next installment!

I just started:

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Monday (Mini #BookReview) Madness

This week I read:

A woman with synesthesia – she sees colors when people speak, each with their own distinctive shades and patterns – returns home 13 years after her boyfriend and his family disappeared to take care of her aging grandmother and autistic brother. But not everybody is happy that she’s back.

This one has mixed reviews, and I’ll admit that it wasn’t without its faults, but it held my attention and I enjoyed reading it. I found it fast paced and suspenseful.

This book packs a punch! A successful black student with an Ivy League future starts writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a way to work through his feelings after suffering an injustice due to racial profiling. Despite his efforts to learn wisdom from Luther’s teachings, the MC struggles to make sense of a reality that gets progressively more confusing and hostile. A raw, insightful look into how it feels when you’re judged by the color of your skin and not your actions.

I just started:

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Monday (Mini #BookReview) Madness

This week I read:

I loved the idea behind this book – a club of high schoolers who celebrate their love of all things horror by pulling pranks and ‘fear tests’ on their fellow students. But even better than that, I loved the execution of this book! It’s all fun and games until someone takes it too far . . . that’s when things get really interesting. The thrills, the chills, the ‘everybody’s a suspect’ kept me gripped until the very end! My only complaint would be that the ending left so many questions unanswered – I can only assume that means there’s a sequel!

Three 12 year old girls who have been researching the man at the center of a local urban legend sneak out of a slumber party and go to the train yard, where one of them gets severely beaten. But who’s to blame?

It’s certainly a compelling plot, and brings to mind news reports surrounding murky figures such as slender man. Gudenkauf had me hooked! She does a good job of providing plenty of suspects for the reader, and while the twist had occurred to me while reading, it and was the one I had hoped she wouldn’t take, there’s no denying that I couldn’t put this book down!

I just started:

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Monday (Mini #BookReview) Madness

This week I read:

This was definitely a #BlameItOnLitsy choice. Despite being published almost 20 years ago, it’s been getting a lot of attention – and good reviews – lately. So much so that when it showed up as a Kindle daily deal, I had to snatch it up. It was definitely suspenseful and interesting, but, to me, it felt like the author took the long way around. Heavy on the court drama and the did she/didn’t she. The twist at the ending did blindside me, but I felt a bit underwhelmed. If you like legal mysteries, this one’s for you.

This book was described as “an homage to 1980’s slashers and mall culture,” How could I resist? The short answer is that I couldn’t. It was a quick, fast paced, fun read. That said, it was rough in some areas and seemed almost as much of a social commentary on consumerism as a teen slasher. It took an odd, unexpected turn that I felt detracted from what was promised. Definitely campy, but that’s the point. 3.5 stars rounded up.

Thanks to NetGalley, the Publisher and the Author for an advanced copy for review.

I just started:

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Monday (Mini #BookReview) Madness

This week I read:

This novella was a quick, down and dirty slice of horror by the author of “Clown In A Cornfield”. The MC is a grocery store worker by day, a horror movie director by night, and was developed in a way that felt true to life. But what happens when one of the actors takes things too far? It’s interesting to see the evolution of a writer’s style and talent from their earlier works. This one was a bit rough in places, but it kept my attention more than several more polished works have lately. I understand what Cesare was going for with the ending, and I like it, but I felt it needed just a little bit more, a page, maybe two, to give the reader the payoff they deserve.

This book is a modern day, YA retelling of some of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, and OMG does the author throw references to enough of them in here – I lost count. I am a HUGE McGinnis fan, and a Poe fan, so my expectations were really high for this book. But whereas McGinnis’s characters usually feel deep and developed, in this book they felt kind of shallow and flat. We get slices of the story from both MC’s perspectives, but even though all the reasons are there to feel for the girls, I didn’t. And there’s motivation, sure, but not enough to explain why things would be taken so far. It ends on a cliffhanger that feels more like the book just stopped in the middle. There is a sequel in the works that will hopefully wrap up the loose ends and answer all the questions, but the way it ended with really nothing to satisfy the reader who just spent 370 pages with the book was frustrating. Good, but not as great as I was expecting.

I just started:

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Monday (Mini #BookReview) Madness

This week I read:

There’s so much going on it this book! A teenage boy struggling to reconcile the wild stories his grandfather told him with reality after his loss. A mysterious island where he meets mysterious children that give him a glimpse into his grandfather’s past. And . . . Nazis? Yeah, Nazis. But the author does an excellent job of weaving all the threads together, making the outlandish and impossible seem quite sane and able. I found myself accepting even the paranormal-ish aspects of the book without question. An enjoyable adventure!

I’ve read several of White’s books before, and can usually count on her for a good thrill. This one felt different from the start, though. Usually her books center around the suspense of who will be murdered, but this one starts with the murder and switches between what led to the crime and the trial. Still a compelling read, but it didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat quite as much as I’d hoped. It did, however, wrap up with a nice twist!

I just started:

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Monday (Mini #BookReview) Madness

This week I read:

This book has such an exciting premise! Drawn by her dreams into the past, the MC joins her relatives on the Titanic – but someone may be trying to keep her there! Full of suspense, this one didn’t have me reading with quite the urgency as Mather’s other stories, but it kept me hooked! I’m officially a fangirl of this author!

This book! The MC is sent to spend the summer with her uncle who works for a circus on a remote island in Louisiana after he summons for her – only he didn’t. And it’s not just called the Circus Of The Dead – people actually die there, sometimes as part of the acts. Once on the island, she’s desperate to find a way to escape all the ghosts and danger and . . . boys? I really liked this book, but the MC was a little too boy crazy for my taste. Also, while I expected a cliffhanger ending since this is part of a series, I didn’t expect such a sudden and unfulfilling end.

I just started:

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Monday (Mini #BookReview) Madness

This week I read:

This was a really interesting book. The author creates a work of fiction while also drawing on her own family roots based on being one of Cotton Mather’s descendants. She parallels the Salem Witch Trials to modern day bullying in high school while also weaving in a some ghosts and modern day witches. It was fun and suspenseful, with likeable characters, witty dialogue, and plenty of action. I enjoyed this one so much I already bought the sequel!

I’m quickly becoming a big fan of Weiland’s books on the craft of writing! They’re full of useful information, they’re entertaining, and with the many examples she gives using both popular books and movies, they’re easy to understand. I’ve always focused on plot when writing because while reading, even a book full of characters I hate can keep my attention if the plot is good enough, but after reading this I’m going to work on making my stories deeper by developing my character arcs!

I just started:

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