Tag Archives: sequel

The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

Last year’s Truly Devious wasn’t just fantastic in its own right, but also introduced me to Maureen Johnson. I read two more of her books in short order, then was left to ache for the Truly Devious sequel. Well, Stevie, our lovable, smart, anxiety-suffering protagonist is back and better than ever for the 384 pages we’re allowed with her. The book is great, as can only be expected, but heed my warning: The Vanishing Stair is only a temporary cure for Truly Devious-itis, since Johnson leaves readers with another massive cliffhanger at the end.

First things first, massive thanks to Johnson for the way she seeded the introductory chapters of the book with character and plot details from its predecessor. Before I started reading, I searched online for a full book synopsis for Truly Devious to get up to speed, but came up with nothing, so I ended up just throwing my hands up and diving right in. If you are in the same boat, fear not; you won’t feel lost if you read the first book last year.

I do want to touch on one thing which I… honestly hesitate to bring up, but what the hell, here goes nothing. I read books to get away from the world. The best kinds of books are transportive—there’s a real kind of magic to words that guide you to conjure characters, places, and scenes in your mind. In my opinion, this is what distinguishes books from other forms of media like TV and movies, which feed you pictures and audio filtered through a director’s lens. With books, the author lays all the groundwork, but the reader is ultimately the director.

That’s why I hate when things drag me out of an engrossing story—things like clunky verbiage, out-of-character decision-making, and preposterous plot twists. The Vanishing Stair suffers from none of the aforementioned literary crimes, but there are definitely a few instances when Johnson includes some politically-tinged language that instantly rocketed me out of the book. (And please understand that I am NOT bringing this up in regards to the Edward King politician character, since he’s an integral part of the story.) For better or worse,  we live in a time where it feels like politics consume all, and it is exhausting and annoying to be reading and reach a sentence that randomly throws in something about “the patriarchy.” One of many reasons I love reading is that books get me away from all that.

She was second in command to Charles, which seemed unlikely, until you remembered that Charles was a guy. Even at Ellingham, the patriarchy reared its shaggy head.

This book is binge-worthy, but unnecessary political language like the above quote keep it from being a five-star read—NOT because of the author’s political beliefs, but simply because the book shouldn’t need to get political at all, as this is not Twitter, but rather a YA whodunnit. I don’t care whether the author is on the left or right side of the aisle—unless your book has a specific political thread (political thriller, MC is a political activist, etc.) understand that you are potentially alienating a potential audience, dating your book, and, worst of all, weakening the story. What need is there for politically-tinged details in a cozy mystery? None, as far as I’m concerned.

But the above complaint aside, this was a very enjoyable read, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys boarding school stories, the perfect amount of witty dialogue, and a twisting, well-constructed mystery.

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

It’s no secret in the writing community that second books are tough. Most often, you’ve spent years perfectly crafting your first manuscript… Then it sells, and you’re given the task of putting together another viable book in a year and change that will match the expectations of your fans. In my opinion, it’s the main reason why sequels are, generally speaking, never quite as satisfying as their predecessors. And I’m willing to bet that this is the reason why Two Can Keep a Secret is just sort of… blah.

There are pacing issues, for one. The book starts off very slow, and it often feels like readers are not being shown the exciting stuff. I don’t think I’m giving too much away to say that at the end of Chapter One the MC is present when a dead body is discovered… But then Chapter Two begins at the next morning, without giving us in-the-moment, heart-racing details about that discovery. If there’s a formula to modern YA, it’s that distance=bad. That’s the reason for the close 3rd POV/present 1st POV push. Show us everything exciting in a way that feels like we’re there with you. Flashbacks from the day after are not going to cut it.

But the real unfortunate issue here are the characters. That was what made One of Us Is Lying so awesome, right? I still remember the characters in that book, especially Addy. But here, the characters simply aren’t very memorable, and there are a whole heck of a lot of them. If you set the book down for a couple days after the first sixty pages as I did (not hard to do, since not much is going down action-wise), guarantee that you’ll come back to it and not be able to keep the names and relationships straight. Even Ellery, the main POV, reads pretty weak. Sucks to say it, but her true-crime fixation is going to draw inevitable comparisons to Stevie in Truly Devious—and Stevie takes the gold medal for YA true-crime aficionado any day of the week.

Couple this with some predictable plot twists. I called two of them pretty early on, thinking that I was being led astray by McManus and it couldn’t all be this easy, could it? I didn’t predict the main baddie, but many of the other surprises didn’t land with as big of an ooh! aah! punch as you would hope.

So I don’t really recommend this book, but I understand that it’s a sophomore effort. I’ll be reading future works by the author (I think there’s a One of Us Is Lying sequel in the works?!), but Two Can Keep a Secret is a pass for me.

The Great Pursuit by Wendy Higgins

This was a book I’d been looking forward to reading for a while. After my near total abstention from fantasy last year, as well as my recent read-through of the more serious The Bird and the Nightingale, I was ready for a fluffier fantasy read, which The Great Pursuit promised to be. Come to find out when I picked the book up that this series is not a trilogy, but a duology! I just about could have kissed the cover. God knows I’ve started enough series, never to continue on.

But somehow this sequel to The Great Hunt didn’t catch me nearly as much as its predecessor. In the first book, we’re introduced to the MC, Aerity. She’s a teenage princess who loves aerial silks. (Hence the name choice, I’m sure.) All this might seem a bit random, and it is, but her hobby is a unique, defining characteristic, and—spoilers directly ahead—she’s able to use her acrobatic abilities in the first book’s climax in a combat situation. It was a memorable scene that made me want to dive right into the next book.

Yet Pursuit seems devoid of a lot of that unique charm. I don’t think there’s one scene in the second book where this side of Aerity is allowed to shine once more; I’d bet it would be easy for many readers who read the first book a while ago to forget entirely about this aspect of her character. I guess it’s a consequence of having to focus the plot on the brewing political tensions; this book simply feels more generic than the first in the series.

All this coupled with a world that feels overly small. Characters traverse vast distances to different kingdoms and climes, but their journeys feel like they take place within two days max. In the final battle scene, armies feel like they’re made up of fifty people. A chase scene in a maze of tunnels was a great moment, but that’s a confined scene by necessity of the fact that the characters are in tunnels. Once the characters emerge back out into the open, we’re back to feeling like this “war” is just a faction vs. faction small-scale brawl.

So I may be in the minority here since the Goodreads reviews speak to more people enjoying the second book than the first, but I really liked The Great Hunt much more than The Great Pursuit. I hesitate to advocate for just reading the first one, since that could maybe prove unsatisfying, but… Yeah. Just read the first one.