Perry’s Killer Playlist: A Review

Perry's Killer Playlist by Joe SchreiberPerry survived his disastrous prom night with crazy-exchange-student-assassin Gobi. And he has to admit things are looking up.

His college essay about said disastrous prom night earned him a spot at Columbia. His band Inchworm is on a European tour and on the verge of an actual record deal. He has a majorly hot (older) girlfriend. And, best of all, with Gobi out of the picture no one has tried to shoot him for months.

Too bad it was all too good to last.

Gobi, the Lithuanian exchange student from hell, is back and this time she isn’t making any bones about the people that need to die; the people she needs to kill.

Once again sucked into Gobi’s whirlwind of death and destruction Perry will have a lot of tough decisions to make before his European trip is over–assuming he lives that long in Perry’s Killer Playlist (2012) by Joe Schreiber.

Perry’s Killer Playlist is the high-octane sequel to Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick. This one stands alone pretty well given the emphasis on murder and mayhem but the story will make more sense with the context of book one.

This novel is another improbable but entertaining rampage as Perry unwillingly accompanies Gobi on her deadly business. Perry is still a great narrator with just the right blend of terror and pluck. While a lot of the story will feel very familiar (arguing about murder doesn’t change much no matter what the book) Schreiber delves into some new territory addressing Perry’s unresolved feelings for Gobi and featuring his family in a larger part of the story.

With lots of excitement, a breakneck pace, and lots of short chapters this is a great pick for anyone looking for a fast but satisfying read.

If you want to recreate Perry’s killer playlist, the short chapters are labeled with different song lyrics.

Uncommon Criminals: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Uncommon Criminals by Ally CarterFifteen-year-old Katarina Bishop is a small girl with dark hair and bright blue eyes. She is also the girl that, mere months before, robbed the Henley–the greatest, and arguably most secure, museum in the world.

But Kat isn’t a thief. Not anymore. At least not exactly. Think of a her as more of a return artist, a righter of wrongs maybe.

When Kat is asked to steal the infamous Cleopatra Emerald she can’t say no. Not when the Cleopatra has been waiting years to be returned to its rightful owner. Yes, the Cleopatra hasn’t been seen in public in thirty years. Yes, it is essentially a concrete symbol of the doomed love between Cleopatra and Antony. Yes, there are rumors that the stone is cursed. And a history of jobs involving the Cleopatra Emerald going bad. Really bad.

But Kat is smarter than that. And curses aren’t real, not that the Cleopatra is cursed. There has to be some other, logical, reason for why the world’s most famous emerald is bringing Kat and her crew nothing but trouble, right?

Either way, before this job is over Kat is going to have take a long hard look at who she is and what she does because all of her old tricks–the tricks her family has been using for centuries–are useless this time. This job is going to require something different. Good thing Kat and her crew are anything but ordinary in Uncommon Criminals (2011) by Ally Carter.

Uncommon Criminals is the sequel to Carter’s delightful Heist Society and the second in what she has stated on her site will be an ongoing series featuring Kat, her crew, and her inimitable family.

Heist Society was a smashing introduction to the world (and crew) of Katarina Bishop. The writing was sleek, smart and elegant. The  story was well-paced, original and exciting. It was the kind of book where a sequel could go horribly wrong. Or it could be just as amazing as the first.

Turns out Uncommon Criminals not only held up to the standards set Heisty Society, in a lot of ways it exceeded those standards.

Filled with several surprising twists, a cunning foe, and all of the characters readers loved in Heist Society (like Hale and Gabrielle), Uncommon Criminals is another great installment about Kat’s exploits. At the same time this book also deals with what it means to be a thief and, for Kat, what it means to be a part of her family. The con itself, and Carter’s beautiful writing, are deceptively simple here making Kat’s plans and the writing itself seem effortless.

Uncommon Criminals is a quirky, sophisticated page-turner that will leave readers guessing until its clever conclusion (and eager for another installment about Kat, Hale and the rest of the team).

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, White Cat by Holly Black, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Danny Danziger, The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau by E. Lockhart, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason and Lee Gruenfeld, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series), The Italian Job (movie)

*This book was acquired at BEA 2011

The Last Little Blue Envelope: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen JohnsonWhen Ginny Blackstone received thirteen little blue envelopes last summer she recognized them for what they were: a wild adventure laid out by her Aunt Peg–Ginny’s wildly interesting relative who could never do anything the simple, mundane way.

The envelopes led Ginny to England and on an adventure across Europe. Along the way Ginny learned a lot about her aunt and even more about herself. Until her adventure was cut short when the last little blue envelope was stolen. Even without that final piece, without that bit of closure, Ginny knows following the rules in the envelopes was the most exciting thing she has ever done. Too bad she can’t explain any of that in 1000 words for her college application essay.

Months later, Ginny is struggling with those college applications. She is still wondering about that last blue envelope.

Then an inscrutable English boy offers Ginny the last little blue envelope. For a price. She doesn’t much like Oliver. She definitely doesn’t trust him. And she knows he has his own agenda. But she also knows she has to accept his offer. It’s what Aunt Peg would do and, now, it’s what Ginny needs to do.

This last piece of Ginny’s adventure has no rules. It will lead her back to familiar sites and old friends. It will test Ginny’s mettle, and maybe even her sanity when it comes to dealing with Oliver. This trip will be the stuff of a great college application (and a great story) in The Last Little Blue Envelope (2011) by Maureen Johnson.

The Last Little Blue Envelope is the sequel to Johnson’s earlier novel 13 Little Blue Envelopes.

More than a wonderful sequel, this book is a delightful story in its own right. Realistically, The Last Little Envelope probably cannot stand alone. But Johnson does provide a good balance of summary and new content to make the book work well. Readers will find everything they loved about 13 Little Blue Envelopes here along with a lot of new characters and more zany adventures across Europe.

The Last Little Blue Envelope answers all of the questions left unresolved in the first book and provides a satisfying conclusion to the myriad misadventures of Ginny Blackstone during her travels abroad. As always Johnson brings her pitch perfect humor and excellent pacing to this story. The Last Little Envelope is definitely a book that will leave you smiling.

Possible Pairings: Girl Overboard by Justina Chen, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Howard’s End by E. M. Forster, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe, Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Exclusive Bonus Content: I love love love this cover which ties into the repackaging of the paperback. This is exactly how I pictured Ginny. Props to Jill Wachter who took the cover photo and Jill Bell who did the lettering.

Also, be sure to stop by Books are Wonderful to see her map of Ginny’s European Tour from 13 Little Blue Envelopes.

Heist Society: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Katarina Bishop grew up all over Europe, but she isn’t an heiress. She has a Faberge egg, but she isn’t a Romanov. Kat is used to looking at a room and seeing all the angles, but that was before she stole a whole other life at the Colgan School only to walk away from it months later without a trace.

That was before everything went sideways.

While Kat was busy trying to steal a new, legit, life the family business prospered. When a powerful mobster’s priceless art collection goes missing it isn’t all that surprising that Kat’s father is on the list of suspects. It isn’t even surprising that he is the entire list of suspects.

The only problem is the mobster wants his paintings back. And he isn’t taking no for an answer.

Kat has two weeks to find the paintings and steal them back with her own heist society and the help of her friend and long-time co-conspirator W. W. Hale (the fifth). Her pursuit will criss-cross Europe and reunite Kat with some of the most talented teenagers in the world–if, that is, by talent you mean skills like picking pockets, hacking computers, and running a con.

Time is short and the job is monumental but Kat has a crack crew and, hopefully, enough talent to pull off an impossible heist (and maybe right a few wrongs along the way) in Heist Society (2010) by Ally Carter.

Carter’s writing is poised to dazzle and enthrall right from the first page. Filled with twists, turns, criminals and even some restitution Heist Society is a sleek, clever, and subtle book that somehow exceeded even my (high) expectations.

Heist Societyis one of the best books I’ve read so far this year and officially in my Ten for 2010 list. I can’t put into words how much I love the cover or how much the writing impressed me. Let’s just say that if I could live in a book, I might want it to be this one. I fell in love with the setting, the characters, and everything else about this little gem.

Stories about criminals and their crimes have been around for years, but never has life on the other side of the law looked this exciting and dangerous all while being glamorous. A must-read for anyone with a little larceny in their soul (or a little love for an old-fashioned heist).

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, White Cat by Holly Black, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Danny Danziger, The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau by E. Lockhart, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason and Lee Gruenfeld, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series), The Italian Job (movie)

13 Little Blue Envelopes: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Rule #1: You may bring only what fits in your backpack.

Rule #2: You may not bring guidebooks, phrase books, or any kind of foreign language aid. And no journals.

Rule #3: You cannot bring extra money or credit/debit cards, traveler’s checks, etc.

Rule #4: No electronic crutches. This means no laptop, no cell phone, no music, and no camera.

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen JohnsonThe rules were straightforward, sent to Ginny Blackstone in the first of thirteen letters from her eccentric Aunt Peg. Ginny is used to her aunt’s whims and willing to play along because Aunt Peg is the only person in the world who can make Ginny seem interesting–even if it is just by association.

The letters will take Ginny to England and across Europe on an adventure that starts in the hope of understanding her wayward aunt. Along the way she’ll get a behind-the-scenes tour of Harrod’s from one of the store’s employees, meet artist/sometimes-thief Keith Dobson, and encounter youth hostels of various ilks. She will also karaoke. At the end of the summer, Ginny might discover she’s more interesting than she thought–all because of those 13 Little Blue Envelopes (2005) by Maureen Johnson.

Broken into chapters and separate headings for each envelope, this is a fast read that still has a lot of depth. The cover, along with some of Johnson’s other covers, is sometimes slammed for having a semi-headless, midriff-bearing girl on the cover. All the same, I love it. Not so much because it’s indicative of the story but of the novel’s overall vibe.

Equal parts travelogue, comedy, and Bildungsroman 13 Little Blue Envelopes is  jam-packed with excitement and appeal. It’s also a book about an ordinary girl discovering that sometimes just being herself can be extraordinary enough. Ginny is a persistent, resilient narrator that readers will be cheering for throughout this (sometimes) madcap novel.

Johnson is also working on a sequel called The Last Little Blue Envelope with a projected publication date in 2011.

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Girl Overboard by Justina Chen, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Howard’s End by E. M. Forster, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Leviathan: A (Linktastic) Review

Leviathan by Scott WesterfeldThe year is 1914 and Europe is preparing for war. Although the events leading to a world war are sudden, the lines have long been drawn between the Clanker and Darwinist nations. While Austria-Hungary and Germany put their faith in steam-driven iron machines and guns, the British Darwinists fabricate monstrous beasties as their weapons and ships.

At the center of the conflict is Alexsandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and son of the ill-fated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. With the death of assassination of his parents, Alek’s title is worthless; his own country ready to betray him. Only a battle-worn Stormwalker and a loyal crew stand between Alek and a fate similar to his parents as the young prince goes into hiding.

Meanwhile, Deryn Sharp is a girl hiding a monstrous secret to join the British Air Service. Disguised as boy, Deryn can hold her own as an airman. But the risk of discovery is as constant as the danger of battler as her airship flies nearer to battle.

Born in two different worlds, from different sides of the same war, everything will change when Alek and Deryn finally meet in Leviathan (2009) by Scott Westerfeld with illustrations by Keith Thompson. Until then, the only question is: Do you oil your war machines? Or do you feed them?

Leviathan is the first book in Westerfeld’s new series (a projected trilogy, I’m almost certain). It is nothing like his vastly popular Uglies series or anything else he has written. The first thing readers need to know about this book is that it does not fit into the traditional science fiction niche that so comfortably houses Uglies (and Peeps). Instead, Leviathan is a steampunk* novel.

Instead of looking to the future as science fiction often does steampunk looks to the past creating an alternate history where it was not the modern era but the Victorian era who made all of the great technological advances. Instead of the technology we have today, steampunk suggests a world running on clockwork mechanisms, brass and steel, and in the case of Leviathan genetic engineering that we can still only imagine.

That is the world that Alek and Deryn inhabit–a world changing before their eyes as World War One begins in Europe. Westerfeld weaves the two teenagers’ stories together to create a seamless picture of both the Clanker and Darwinist lifestyle. Their two paths also converge as both characters realize that their futures lie far from their European homes.

Leviathan might be the book I was most excited to read in 2009. It was also one of the best. As usual, Westerfeld’s writing is pitch-perfect blending science, action, and brilliant characters to create a book made of pure magic. It hardly seemed possible, but for me this book has far surpassed all of Westerfeld’s previous (awesome) books.

Keith Thompson’s brilliant illustrations set the mood for the story and bring the world of the Clankers and Darwinists to life in intricate line drawings**. The American/Canadian and Australian editions of Leviathan also feature full color endpapers with an allegorical map of Europe as drawn by Thompson*** that only adds to the book’s charm.

The series will continue with Behemoth.

* You can read more about steampunk in “Steampunk: Reclaiming Tech for the Masses” by Lev Grossman in the December 14, 2009 issue of Time Magazine (Grossman quotes Westerfeld in the article)

**If you need even more reasons to read this book, be sure to watch the Leviathan Trailer on Youtube to see some of Thompson’s illustrations quite literally come to life.

***You can view The Grand Map on Westerfeld’s blog where Thompson also provides an in-depth commentary on the making of the map.

Possible Pairings: The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix by R. L. LaFevers with illustrations by Kelly Murphy, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, Jackaby by William Ritter, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Everland by Wendy Spinale, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, Firefly (television series) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (graphic novel and movie), The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (television series), Serenity (movie)

The Grand Tour: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Grand Tour or The Purloined Coronation Regalia (1988) by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

The Grand Tour by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline StevermerOriginally published in 1988, I first read Sorcery and Cecelia after its re-release in 2004. Happily, that meant I didn’t have quite as long a wait for a sequel as Kate and Cecy’s original fans. Released in 2006, The Grand Tour or The Purloined Coronation Regalia picks up shortly after the end of Sorcery and Cecelia with both cousins newly married and beginning their honeymoons with an English tradition known aptly as the grand tour during which they plan to travel through the great cities of Europe. Like its prequel, this novel also has an extended title to offer further enlightenment as to what the story will actually relate. That title is: Being a Revelation of Matters of High Confidentiality and Greatest Importance, Including Extracts from the Intimate Diary of a Noblewoman and the Sworn Testimony of a Lady of Quality.

While the plot of this novel does stand alone, I don’t recommend reading this book before the first in the series because it just isn’t as fun that way. Part of the great thing about these books is watching the girls grow and tracing the relationships between the characters–things that are harder to do without reading the books in order.

(That said, a quick recap: The happily married couples are Kate and Thomas Schofield, Cecy and James Tarleton. My favorite couple is Cecelia and James. Thomas is a wizard, and Cecy is just realizing that she also has a magical aptitude. These novels are written with a variation of the Letter Game. Patricia C. Wrede is Cecelia and Caroline Stevermer is Kate.)

Instead of being written in alternating letters, this volume alternates between excerpts from Cecelia’s deposition to the Joint Representatives of the British Ministry of Magic, the War Office, and the Foreign office; and excerpts from Kate’s . Joining the couples on part of their wedding(s) journey is Lady Sylvia, another wizard of note in England (and Thomas’ mother).

Expecting a leisurely honeymoon, and the chance to purchase proper bride clothes and secure the services of maids, both Cecelia and Kate are dismayed when their quiet grand tour turns into nothing less than a race to prevent an international conspiracy of Napoleanic proportions. As the couples tour Europe’s great antiquities–and meet their fair share of unique tourists–the young women, and their husbands, begin to piece together a plot the likes of which no one could have previously imagined.

Like Sorcery and Cecelia this novel once again serves as a lovely homage to Jane Austen. The pacing and tone of The Grand Tour is again reminiscent of Austen’s work (or George Eliot’s for that matter). Nonetheless, some of the plot did seem more difficult to follow than, say, the first book in this series though the problem was remedied with back-reading. I love these characters unconditionally, in a way I rarely love book characters. Artless, charming, and profoundly entertaining, both Cecelia and Kate are first-rate characters in a first-rate fantasy series.

Possible Pairings: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, A Room With a View by E. M. Forster, The Clockwork Scar by Colleen Gleason, My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows; Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde