The Shadow Cabinet, by Maureen Johnson

The Shadow CabinetHas it really been two years since I read The Madness Underneath? Am I going to have to wait another two years to see how this ends?? Things are getting crazy up in this series and I don’t think I can handle it.

If you haven’t read the series, seriously, start with the first book, read the three existing books as fast as possible, and then come back here. If you read on without doing so, I can’t promise you won’t be spoiled to the best parts of the first books.

This book starts off right where the last one left off, with an upsettingly dead person. Sad face! Rory and Co. are pretty sure the UDP is a ghost now and decide to go track UDP down, but they’re already pretty busy looking for the crazy Jane Quaint and Rory’s kidnapped classmate Charlotte. Then Rory, in the midst of breaking all the rules, meets a new ghost-seer with a wealth of information about London and ghosts and even secret society conspiracy theories that are totally just wacko theories except perhaps they’re not? Meanwhile, we get the back story on crazy Jane, who helped a pair of twins murder a bunch of people in an attempt to beat death, which twins are totally dead but possibly not for long.

This book is nuts, but still awesome because Maureen Johnson does not know how to write a not-awesome sentence or a not-awesome Rory. Rory is the best, guys, even if she is incredibly terrible at following rules. And I am super-interested in all the new characters Johnson introduces and what they’re going to do in the next, last book.

This book also introduces a lot of that intrigue and subterfuge that I like, and even though I felt like things were going a little off the rails, plot-wise (Secret societies! Magic stones! Cults of personality! People who are only mostly dead!), I was still totally interested in how everything was going to play out, and it played out quite nicely. The ending was even sufficiently creepy without resorting to killing people I like! Very excellent.

Recommendation: For those who like ghost stories with subterfuge.

Rating: 8/10

The Madness Underneath, by Maureen Johnson

The Madness UnderneathAbout a year ago I read and liked the heck out of Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star, so when I heard this sequel was coming out I put it on hold at the library as soon as it showed up in the catalog. And then I even read it right after I got it! That’s almost unprecedented.

And it was as delightful as expected, though it unfortunately suffers from Second Book in a Series Syndrome, which is to say that if you read this book by itself you would be like, uh, okay, but having read the first and knowing there’s a third you’re like, okay!

The story picks up a couple of weeks after the last book, with Rory recuperating from all the crazy back in Brighton with her parents and unsuccessfully attending therapy on account of her truth sounds like crazy. She just wants to go back to school, but when her therapist unexpectedly says that she can and she does, she realizes that maybe not doing any schoolwork for a couple weeks right before the end of term was not the best idea.

So she’s dealing with the crush of school and exams, and also the fact that she can… do that thing she does, and the related fact that she was brought back to London for a reason, and the other related fact that some new mysterious murders are going on and so is it any wonder that things go a little bit not according to plan?

I, as always, enjoyed Maureen Johnson’s writing and her accurate portrayal of a stressed-out teenager. I was also verrrry intrigued by how she ended this book, and am eager to see how this plays out in the next book. I just feel like maybe this book could have been compressed and that intriguing thing could have been the thrust of this story, or alternately that the book could have taken place over a longer timespan and we could have seen more of Rory’s schooltime woes (and that perhaps she could have spent more time trying to fix them?).

Recommendation: If you liked the first book, read this one, but maybe wait until closer to the next book’s release, because seriously I want to know what’s going to happen here!

Rating: 7/10

The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the StarOkay, so, I love me some Maureen Johnson on the Twitters, and I’ve liked me some stories written by Maureen Johnson, and so when MJ started shilling this book on her twitter feed, I was like, well, I guess I’ll check that out. If I had known how much I’d adore this book, I’d have been like, “OMG give me pre-order signed copy with presents now!” Oh, hindsight, for you are 20/20.

For those not residing in a jar (this is a Twitter MJ reference), The Name of the Star is a mystery story set in present-day London and featuring a Jack the Ripper copycat killer, which, I somehow had not realized how horrifyingly brutal Mr. the Ripper was and so let me just tell you right now that there will be stabbing and disembowelment and kidneys sent via post. Not too much, and only briefly, but now you are prepared.

Anyway, the story follows Rory, an American girl spending her senior year at a boarding school in London, not far from the Ripper’s hunting grounds. Once the copycat starts his bit up, the school gets a little lockdown-y, but Rory and her roommate sneak out on a murder night to watch the proceedings from the roof of the boys’ dorm (house? whatever) with Rory’s crush. On the way back to their room, Rory has a little chat with a super creeper face who happens to be hanging around their dorm, and then the next morning it turns out that there’s a dead body on school grounds and that that creeper was probably totally the killer. Eep!

And then there’s this twist that I wasn’t expecting and that I disliked and I was like, maybe I’m not going to like this book after all and maybe I should just stop reading but I was so intrigued by how they were going to get the SCF and then the twist just totally stopped bothering me and now I kind of like it a lot, because I think Johnson did a superb job of keeping the twist grounded in reality. Well, as much as one can, I suppose.

I’m not quite sure what it is about this book that I love, as opposed to the moderate to strong like I’ve had for her other stories I’ve read. I guess I just really liked Rory, who’s a smart kid that I would totally have hung out with in high school, and I liked the mystery and serial killer aspects, and I liked that even though I could see some things coming from pages away, the reveals were never exactly what I expected.

Now to just wait a year for the next book to come out! I’ll just be over here, twiddling my thumbs, impatiently…

Recommendation: For fans of mysteries and serial killers and boarding schools and stories that veer slightly out of the realm of reality.

Rating: 9/10