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Book Review: THE VANISHING STAIR by Maureen Johnson

Maureen Johnson ramps up Ellingham Academy’s mysteries in THE VANISHING STAIR!

The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson follows Stevie Bell’s continued education at Ellingham Academy as she continues to look for the answer to the decades-long abductions of Iris and Alice Ellingham. A great continuation to the first installment, this book captures the audience into the riveting mystery and challenges them to detangle the loose threads to form their own hypothesis.

Following Ellie’s escape from Truly Devious, Stevie’s parents pulled her out of the rich Vermont setting and enrolled her back into the linoleum and microwaved pizza hell that is public school until Edward King unexpectedly offers Stevie a way back as long as she agrees to his conditions. She of course would do anything to go back to her closest friends and connections to murders so she agrees and *poof*, back she goes. Now with the atrocities of public school avoided, Stevie has to juggle between her detective coursework while revelations continue to spring up, along with more questions.

To my relief, I found Stevie to be much more likable in this book than the first. While she is still young and makes some (aka, a lot) of foolish decisions, I can understand her motivations behind them. The tension and suspense from the first book is added onto The Vanishing Stair which makes the readers want to lose their inhibitions and cheer on Stevie as she maneuvers herself into precarious events, just for the sake of finally solving the mystery. Janelle and Nate are hilarious and supportive friends and I think their influences made Stevie more confident in her actions rather than when she felt alone in Truly Devious. The one person who I didn’t care much for was David. I didn’t hate David but there also weren’t any anticipation to see his appearance. Maybe because he only served as a romantic interest and some sort of internal conflict that Stevie needed to overcome for characterization, but he was not as endearing as he thought himself to be.

The best part of The Vanishing Stair is the pacing. I admit it started out slow, but that could be my bias from not enjoying the first book all that much and, thus dragged my feet in reading this one.  But, as I started to visualize the setting and tried to solve the Ellingham case, I found that I was pretty invested. A trend I’ve found in both books is that the last third or fourth of the book is when most questions are being answered which means the pacing is the fastest. Those are the bits I enjoyed the most so if anyone encountered the same problems as me, I’d advise you to stick it out because it gets better. In terms of writing style, this book really sets itself apart from other YA series from its dry/slightly dark sense of humor which doesn’t take itself too seriously. Maureen Johnson really did a great job with continuing the consistencies from books one to two, and her riddles are fantastic as well. As far as the mystery of the old Ellingham kidnapping/murders, I found it easy to guess who the killer was from book one, and book two serves as an explanation for the people who feel like they know the killer. The style of writing in the past and in the present is not unique but there are clues in both perspectives that are cleverly incorporated so there is no exasperation that is usually present when POV are constantly being switched.

Overall, The Vanishing Stair is an improvement upon Truly Devious with higher stakes and a better Stevie. Grab a copy to try your hand at elaborate puzzles yourself on January 22nd, 2019!


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.

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