Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

Oct
13
4 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 3 stars

Book: 13 Little Blue Envelopes
Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release date: August 23, 2005
Source: Free ebook purchased from Amazon

Summary: (from Goodreads) When Ginny receives thirteen little blue envelopes and instructions to buy a plane ticket to London, she knows something exciting is going to happen. What Ginny doesn’t know is that she will have the adventure of her life and it will change her in more ways than one. Life and love are waiting for her across the Atlantic, and the thirteen little blue envelopes are the key to finding them in this funny, romantic, heartbreaking novel.

First impressions: I love a book that wastes no time jumping into the action, and this one definitely falls into that category. It opens with the first letter to Ginny from her Aunt Peg, explaining the journey that’s going to take up the bulk of the rest of the book.

Lasting impressions: The travel aspects were a lot of fun to read, but I found it kind of unbelievable at times.

Conflicting impressions: For a high school student practically alone on her trek across Europe, Ginny seemed remarkably at ease. I kept waiting for her to experience some crippling self-doubt or break down and rip open the rest of the envelopes like any normal person would do, but instead she kind of wandered aimlessly at times and never seemed to get overwhelmed by this immense task.

Overall impressions: Every book requires some suspension of disbelief, but this one seemed to require it in massive doses. First, as other reviewers have mentioned before me, I find it hard to believe that Ginny is allowed to up and go to Europe. She has very few resources and is instructed (through her dead aunt’s letters) to bring no helpful guidebooks or other sources of money.

Now I get that her kooky, free-spirited aunt wanted her to go on a journey of self-discovery, and that her parents probably felt she’d be fine because said kooky aunt probably wouldn’t do anything to get her injured/maimed/killed, but…REALLY? There is no way my parents would have allowed that.

Maybe because I am an awful person, or maybe because I am sane, I also find it hard to believe that Ginny wouldn’t have opened all the letters, or even just the first few. The temptation would be so hard to resist! Sure, she wants to experience this journey of Aunt Peg’s but I certainly would not have had that kind of trust in my aunt.

But this is Ginny’s story, not mine. It doesn’t matter what I would do, because it’s about what Ginny would do, and Ginny chose to follow her aunt’s instructions on a wild goose chase around Europe. As she accomplishes tasks similar to those her aunt completed while spending her last few months alive, Ginny meets some interesting new friends and relatives, gets herself into some pretty ridiculous scenarios, and learns quite a bit about her aunt and herself along the way.

It’s a charming idea that Johnson developed well, and it was fun to get little glimpses of various European towns as Ginny makes her way to and from them. Still, some of the action dragged a bit at times, and the breakneck pace meant we were often flying off to someplace new before we’d had much of a chance to breathe and get to know where we had just been. I think 13 was a lot of envelopes to try and get through, and perhaps focusing on a smaller number would have allowed us to get to know Ginny a bit more and have her accomplish some tasks more in-depth.

This is a fun travel tale that I think younger teens would gobble up, but for the rest of us world-weary and cynical types it was sometimes too much to swallow.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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Book: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release date: September 29, 2011
Source: ARC received for review from Around the World Tours
Series: Companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss
 
Summary: (from Goodreads) Budding designer Lola Nolan doesnâ??t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit – more sparkly, more fun, more wild – the better. But even though Lolaâ??s style is outrageous, sheâ??s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket – a gifted inventor – steps out from his twin sisterâ??s shadow and back into Lolaâ??s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

First impressions: Lola is such a refreshingly unique character! Stephanie Perkins nails the teen voice yet again.

Lasting impressions: Though I didn’t connect with this story as much as Perkins’ first novel, Anna and the French Kiss, there were elements I liked much better in this tale.

Conflicting impressions: At times Lola was written so convincingly teenaged that she became unbearably frustrating.

Overall impressions: Lola is a girl with a love of costume. She chooses to express herself in vastly different ways every day through a variety of interesting fashion pieces and wigs. It’s a chance to be someone new. I loved this quirk of hers – I suppose you could call it a personal philosophy – and it gave us an instant sense of who she is.

Lola has typical teenager problems. She’s dating a boy her parents think is too old for her, leading to insufferable weekly brunches where they grill him about his life goals. He’s in a band, has tattoos, and they are in love. Or at least they think they are.

Lola is the daughter of two gay parents, a nice touch that introduces a new dynamic in YA literature as far as relating to parents goes. Perkins does a lovely job of reinforcing the fact that gay parents are just like anyone else’s parents – at times too restrictive, sometimes embarrassing, and always loving. The wrench in this relationship is that Lola’s birth mother appears from time to time, always one step away from being homeless and never owning up to her poor choices due to drinking and drug abuse. While I loved the role of Lola’s parents, I never felt the relationship with her mother was fully developed and I didn’t get how it served the story.

Of course you’re probably wondering who is this mysterious boy next door, right? Cricket, and his twin sister, Calliope, are Lola’s next door neighbors who come and go due to Calliope’s competitive figure skating. There is some history between Lola and the Bell twins, and Perkins slowly unfurls that complicated history as Lola tries to deal with it.

For those of you who have read Anna and the French Kiss, Lola’s love triangle between her boyfriend and the boy next door felt like Etienne St. Clair trying to decide between his girlfriend and Anna. In fact, at one point Lola even has a conversation with Etienne about this very topic. As much as I wish we didn’t have a re-hash of the “I already have a boyfriend and I love him but I also kind of love you tooooo!” arc, I recognize that this is fairly typical for teenagers. When you’re young, relationships seem both eternal and frivolous at once. You think you’ve found The One, and it’s hard to let go, even if you recognize that you like this other person, too.

I was disappointed at how much Lola strung along poor Cricket, though. He was a saint for hanging in as long as he did, sort of like Anna did with Etienne, and I never fully understood what was holding Lola back. There never seemed to be too much of a conflict in ditching the boyfriend who seemed to be moving on without her, yet she still clung to him. Sure, he was her first love, but Cricket seemed like the obvious choice and that she enjoyed spending time with him far more than she did with band boy.

This is a cute romance with fresh characters, a hip San Francisco setting, and lots of teen indecision. It’s a great read if you’re looking for some light refreshment in a market flooded with dark, brooding paranormal fare.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Sep
20
4 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 5 stars

Book: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release date: September 27, 2011
Source: ARC received from Around the World Tours
Series: Untitled sequel planned for Fall 2012

Summary: (from Goodreads) Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grow dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languagesâ??not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangersâ??beautiful, haunted Akivaâ??fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

First impressions: There are some books that make their greatness known from the first sentence. This is one of those books.

Lasting impressions: I will never be able to do this book justice through my clumsy attempts at a review. Laini Taylor’s work stands on its own, and this is definitely my favorite book of the year.

Conflicting impressions: Ha! It is absolutely laughable that I could even think of offering up a criticism of this phenomenal book.

Overall impressions: As I said on Twitter last night, JUST GO BUY IT!

There’s really not much more I can say other than that. Go buy it. You won’t be disappointed.

Karou does double duty in this one, functioning as both a normal art student in Prague and an errand girl for the mysterious monsters who summon her to fetch teeth. Yes, teeth. This is not your average paranormal.

And that is why I fell in love so hard. This book is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Is there any greater compliment you can pay a writer than telling them their work is inspiringly unique?

Laini Taylor, I bow down to you.

Karou and the bizarre world she inhabits are intensely captivating. I could barely stand to put this book down. I relished every word, and the suspense of not knowing what would happen at any given moment was exhilarating. Finally, a book that can genuinely surprise me!

Who is Karou? Why did Brimstone raise her? Why does she gather teeth from all over the world for him? Why is Akiva out to destroy her?

The answers to these questions are half the fun of the novel. I was in no hurry to find this information, and waited patiently for our blue-haired heroine to figure it out for herself. In the last third we are treated to a glimpse into lost memories, as Karou starts to put the pieces of her disjointed life together. There is more emotion packed into the final pages of this book than in the last 10 books I read combined.

This book is haunting, magical, strange, glorious, and beautiful.

JUST GO BUY IT.

Rating: 5/5 stars

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A fan of historical, dystopian, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, mystery, steampunk, and young adult fiction, as well as any book that thinks smartly and imaginatively.

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