The Vanishing Stair: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

cover art for The Vanishing Stair by Maureen JohnsonEllingham Academy is a prestigious Vermont boarding school founded by eccentric billionaire Albert Ellingham. Its students are encouraged to think of learning as a game while pursuing their passions. Some of them come to the academy to write, others to create. That’s the one thing that binds the students together: “Everyone at Ellingham Academy had a thing.”

Stevie Bell’s thing is crime; specifically, solving the Ellingham case.

In 1936, Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter, Iris and Alice, were kidnapped. Despite doing as the kidnappers asked and paying a ransom, Ellingham never reunited with his family. Iris’ body was soon found; Alice was never recovered.

The biggest clue in the case was the “Truly Devious” letter — an eerie poem reminiscent of Dorothy Parker that promised violence and maybe even death.

Stevie isn’t the first person to try to solve the case. But she has something no one else does: new evidence. It’s all contained in an old tea tin filled with “a bit of white feather, a bit of beaded cloth, a tarnished, gold-colored lipstick tube with the mummified remains of a red lipstick, a tiny enameled pillbox in the shape of a shoe, some pieces of notebook paper and black-and-white photographs, and the unfinished draft of a poem.”

Together, these “humble objects” are proof that the infamous Truly Devious letter may not have been tied to the case at all, but a student prank.

The problem is that Stevie’s parents pull her out of Ellingham mere weeks into her first term, after the death of another student, Hayes Major (whose murder Stevie tried to solve). Knowing what happened to Hayes, and knowing that another student was likely involved, Stevie senses missing pieces.

Was Hayes’ death an accident or something worse? And what happened to Ellie, the most likely suspect, after she disappeared through a passage before she could be interrogated?

Stevie isn’t sure how she can answer these questions without being at Ellingham — a problem remedied by the unlikely and unlikable Edward King, “the worst man in America” (and a thinly veiled imitation of Donald Trump), who offers Stevie the chance to return to Ellingham in exchange for keeping tabs on his son, David, who is finishing his last year there, ideally without impeding his father’s presidential aspirations.

It’s an impossible bargain, and Stevie knows she has to accept even if it means avoiding David and their mutual attraction. Knowing her time at Ellingham can end at any moment — especially since her presence seems to be doing very little to ground David — Stevie focuses on solving the case, which leads to shocking revelations about the school’s past in The Vanishing Stair (2019) by Maureen Johnson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Maureen Johnson, a mystery lover and true-crime aficionado, imbues her heroine and this second installment of the Truly Devious series with that same love and respect for investigation. Stevie’s work isn’t glamorous, nor does it involve shortcuts. She knows she doesn’t “have all the answers,” but she isn’t afraid of the grunt work it takes “to find the lead, to find the single sentence in the single piece of paper that made you stand so suddenly that your head spun and then you’d know that you cracked the case.”

Stevie’s keen eye for investigation is tempered by real-world concerns like figuring out what her feelings for David mean and managing her anxiety with a combination of medication and other coping mechanisms. Stevie’s friends are quick to help, but she knows that her anxiety can manifest at any time since “anxiety and excitement are cousins: they can be mistaken for each other at points.”

The novel follows Stevie with a close-third-person narration. Trial transcripts and witness statements are interspersed throughout as Stevie delves deeper into the Ellingham case. Alongside her, readers follow the case to its surprising conclusion via chapters chronicling the varying perspectives of key players and witnesses.

While much of the Ellingham case is solved here, readers can expect a new mystery as Stevie is left to figure out how to reveal her findings — not to mention lingering questions over the school’s more recent spate of deaths. This series is a must-read for YA-mystery lovers, but be sure to start at the beginning with Truly Devious before diving into this one.

Possible Pairings: City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson, Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett, Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend by Karen Blumenthal, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallero, Overturned by Lamar Giles, Running Girl by Simon Mason, Goldie Vance by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams, Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, Pasadena by Sherri L. Smith

Truly Devious: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Stevie Bell had a simple desire: she wanted to be standing over a dead body.”

cover art for Truly Devious by Maureen JohnsonStevie Bell has two great passions: the study of crime in general and the Ellingham case specifically. She has read all the books, all the articles, and all of the case transcripts about the kidnapping of Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter. She knows the contents of the Truly Devious letter–the biggest clue in the case–by heart. She knows every facet of the case and she knows that she is going to be the person to solve.

That passion, that certainty, is what earns Stevie admission to the elusive and prestigious Ellingham Academy–a Vermont boarding school where learning is a game. In the school students can create, learn, and study their own passions whatever they may be. There are geniuses, novelists, artists, and more.

Stevie still thinks there’s a possibility that her admission might have been a mistake.

But she isn’t going to let that, or her anxiety, stop her from solving the Ellingham case–no matter how cold it may be. She just needs to get a handle on her new classes and her housemates. Except someone has other plans. When death returns to Ellingham Stevie finds herself at the center of a case that’s anything but cold in Truly Devious (2018) by Maureen Johnson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Truly Devious is the first book (and first act) in Johnson’s tightly plotted Truly Devious trilogy which continues in The Vanishing Stair. The story follows Stevie in close third person along with chapters interspersed throughout following key players in the Ellingham case as the kidnapping and failed ransom drop unfold.

Stevie’s knowledge of mystery conventions and true crime contrast well with her open bewilderment and naiveté when it comes to dealing with her classmates–especially David the mysterious prankster who is almost as annoying as he is attractive to Stevie.

When a student dies on campus, Stevie is drawn even deeper into Ellingham’s myriad secrets and discovers that there might be more to both cases than she initially thought. Evocative settings and an intricate plot are only somewhat impeded by poorly executed characterization with some behaviors that never quite hit the mark.

Truly Devious is an ode to classic boarding school mysteries. Recommended for true-crime enthusiasts, amateur detectives, and of course anyone who’s ever dreamed of finding a body in the library.

Possible Pairings: City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson, Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett, Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend by Karen Blumenthal, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallero, Overturned by Lamar Giles, Running Girl by Simon Mason, Goldie Vance by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams, Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, Pasadena by Sherri L. Smith

On Judging Books by (Gendered) covers and Maureen Johnson’s CoverFlip

Last week Maureen Johnson made a fairly casual statement on twitter about books written by women (and sometimes marketed toward women) getting very different cover treatment as compared to books written by men.

So, being Maureen Johnson, she issued a challenge to Twitter: re-imagine some covers as if they were written by author of the opposite gender.

The results were posted on the Huffington Post website and, I’ve got to say, it’s interesting to see how tightly opinions are tied to covers on a subconscious level. I know covers play a role but it’s really interesting seeing how my opinions on a subconscious level reacted to the different covers.

You can see some of the flipped covers here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/07/coverflip-maureen-johnson_n_3231935.html#slide=2421931

You can also read Maureen Johnson’s essay about the problem here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maureen-johnson/gender-coverup_b_3231484.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

And thanks to book blogger Liz B I can also point you to this companion article from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2013/05/09/fix-the-girly-book-covers/

And then, because it sounded fun. I flipped a couple of covers (originals on the left):

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Enchanted by Alethea Kontisenchantedflipped

Timepiece by Myra McEntire

Timepiece by Myra McEntiretimepieceflipped

I’m not quite a graphics wizard but I’m pretty pleased with the results and I think you get the point of the challenge. Both of the books above feature male POVs (half of Enchanted and all of Timepiece). Guess which part the marketers thought was more viable? THAT SAID I really love both original covers and I really really love that the publishers are keeping consistent covers for both of series of books.

The Madness Underneath: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Madness Underneath by Maureen JohnsonThe Madness Underneath (2013) by Maureen Johnson is the second book in Johnson’s Shades of London Quartet. Find it on Bookshop.

It takes up very closely where book 1, The Name of the Star, left off.

I’m not even going to summarize this book because it is essentially unintelligible if you haven’t read The Name of the Star. That’s just the way it is. As such, this review is much more off the cuff than my usual postings.

(I also have a theory that the Shades of London series should really be a trilogy with the content of this book spread between book one and book three, but that’s a different matter.)

I was very conflicted about this book because I really loved the start of the series and was excited to see what happened next. Then I read the book and . . . now I don’t know what to feel because not much actually happens in The Madness Underneath. There are red herrings, there is moping and panic about school. There is not enough of my beloved Stephen. And then the book kind of ends without resolving anything–except confirming that everything is ruined forever. There is a very satisfying thread with Rory coming back to herself and learning to be strong in the wake of injury. But that is dampened by having to slog through scenes of the most unsatisfying book relationship in the entire world between Rory and Jerome.

I don’t like being held hostage by a series with cliffhanger endings and unresolved plot threads. Which is exactly what Johnson delivered in The Madness Underneath. And yet, I so loved the start of the series and I am still so fond of Rory’s narrative voice that I’ll probably continue with the series despite my extreme frustration and distress. I’ve read books where worse things happen and everything works out in the end but my faith in Maureen Johnson was sorely tested by this book. Sorely. Tested.

If you too were deeply upset by the ending of The Madness Underneath, Maureen Johnson has a handy “therapeutic” post for readers on her Tumblr.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Fracture by Megan Miranda, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

The Name of the Star: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Name of the Star by Maureen JohnsonRory Deveaux’s parents decided a long time ago that it would be good for all of them to spend some time living outside of Louisiana which is how Rory finds herself arriving at a London boarding school the September of her senior year while her parents begin a teaching sabbatical in Bristol.

Rory isn’t sure what to expect of England much less her English school–especially when she finds out she will be playing hockey every single day as part of her curriculum. Rory’s expectations become unimportant soon enough when something strange happens.

Someone is killing London women and mimicking the gruesome crimes of Jack the Ripper–the notorious killer who terrorized London in the autumn of 1888 without ever being captured or even identified. The modern-day murders leave few leads. Nothing shows up on camera. No one sees anything. Still the murders continue as “Rippermania” grips the city.

In the midst of the murders something even stranger happens to Rory. She sees a man the night before a body is found on school grounds. Rory knows what she saw. But her roommate was with her and saw nothing. It can’t be coincidence. But can it really be the New Ripper?

An outsider in every way, Rory soon finds herself at center of the investigation of the Ripper murders. As she learns more about the crimes and the suspect, Rory learns she is also at the center of something else–something stranger and possibly much more dangerous in The Name of the Star (2011) by Maureen Johnson.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Name of the Star is the first book in Johnson’s Shades of London series.

Starting with details from the original Ripper murders, Johnson creates a tense mystery all her own in The Name of the Star.  Suspense blends with the supernatural as Rory learns more about the Ripper (new and old) and also about her own strange connection to the investigation.

Rory is a completely likable, authentic heroine. Her take on London and English boarding school, colored by her Southern sensibilities, adds much needed wit and humor to what could have been an otherwise horribly grim story.By the middle of the novel Johnson turns everything upside down taking the story in a surprising direction and introducing many of my favorite characters.*

In addition to her usual humor, Johnson keeps the writing her tense building suspense to nearly unbearable levels by the last quarter of the novel.

In addition to being a mystery with a unique setting, The Name of the Star is filled with twists and not a few surprises that will keep readers guessing well past the last page–not to mention leaving readers extremely eager for the next Shades of London book.

The Name of the Star is an exceptional start to what I fully expect to be a brilliant series.

*Team Stephen forever! In all seriousness though, I think the latter half of the novel is more indicative of the direction the series will take in the next book and I’m really excited to see if I’m right. Reading more about Stephen is just an added bonus.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Fracture by Megan Miranda, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

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.

Find it on Bookshop.

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, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, 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.

Ten for 2010

In no particular order, my ten favorite books from 2010:

  1. Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson: Scarlett is still living in a NYC hotel and her life is about to get way more insane when her boss Mrs. Amberson gives her the unenviable job of befriending an annoyingly perfect young Broadway star. Add to that said star’s especially annoying brother, Max, and you have a recipe for disaster.
  2. Heist Society by Ally Carter: Katarina Bishop knows a lot about stealing. So much, in fact, that she managed to steal herself a normal life. That was before she had to leave that life to clear her father of the one robbery he really didn’t commit.
  3. A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner: Sophos never wanted to be King of Sounis. But after he is abducted and presumed dead by his kingdom, Sophos realizes that responsibilities very rarely care about wants.
  4. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta: The people of Lumatere are scattered, some trapped inside the kingdom walls while others live as exiles, haunted by the ghosts of their tragic past. But there might be hope. It all begins ten years after the five days of the unspeakable, when Finnikin of Lumatere climbs another rock.
  5. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher: Nothing leaves Incarceron and nothing enters. No one knows where the prison is or how to get to it. So why does Finn suspect he has a life Outside the Prison? And why does Claudia have a key that seems to let her talk to Finn–a prisoner Inside?
  6. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare: Tessa Gray travels to London wanting to find her brother and start a new life. Instead she is dragged into the world of Shadowhunters and London’s Downworld–people with mysterious powers not of this world.
  7. A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley: Charlie Duskin and Rose Butler have nothing in common but by the end of the summer they might help each other get everything they’ve been longing for.
  8. The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan: Mae struggles to protect her brother Jamie from the warlocks who want to exploit his power. The enigmatic Ryves brothers are willing to help–if they can overcome their own demons first.
  9. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: Duh, who doesn’t have this one on their list? Do I even need to blurb it?
  10. White Cat by Holly Black: Cassel Sharpe is perfectly content being the straight arrow, ordinary guy in a family of crooked curse workers. That is when he’s not being followed by a white cat that reminds him a lot of his best friend Lila–the girl he killed three years ago.

Is it still early in the year? Yes. That said, these are my favorites so far. Maybe before the year is out there will be more but I’m not expecting it simply because there isn’t that much time to read more books from 2010. Who knows? Maybe this will end up being my top eleven or twelve.

Girl at Sea: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review (in which I am wrong a lot)

Girl at Sea by Maureen JohnsonSeventeen-year-old Clio Ford has the perfect summer planned. She’s managed to snag a job at her favorite art store where her dream boy is already employed–the first time her crazy tattoo has been good for something. Working in the art store will give Clio a 30% discount, dibs on returned art supplies, and full access to Ollie. For an entire summer.

Clio has never been kissed but with this foolproof summer, she’s sure her time is coming.

The only problem is she isn’t going to be in the country this summer.

Instead of a summer romance she’s getting. . . . Clio isn’t actually sure what she’s getting. Life with her father can be like that. Madcap and reckless, he and Clio achieved a minor level of fame as creators of a popular board game. But that was another life. And Clio has finally gotten used to her new life. Without her father.

Until now.

The summer definitely involves a boat in Italy and one of her father’s ridiculous schemes. It will also feature Julia, his scary new girlfriend. To make the summer even more unbearable, Clio will also get to spend it with Julia’s daughter Elsa of the effortless charm and goddess-like beauty and Julia’s assistant Aidan of the strange haircut, extreme arrogance and really intense eyes.

Clio’s summer has all the makings of perfect disaster. Or maybe things can be disastrously perfect in Girl at Sea (2007) by Maureen Johnson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Every time I start one of Maureen Johnson’s books, I expect to recognize her writing style or her voice. I spend so much time reading her blog and twitter updates that it seems reasonable to assume her books will all have that same voice. They don’t. Every time I start a new Maureen Johnson book I am amazed that every character has a totally different personality, every narrative sounds unique, and even each book’s design is something special.

For years I believed Girl at Sea was the sequel to 13 Little Blue Envelopes. It isn’t (although in my defense the covers are very similar–I prefer this one).

Now that it’s clear what this book is not, it is safe to say that it is excellent.

Clio’s life is anything but ordinary which makes her story really engaging. Part treasure hunt, part reconciliation, Girl at Sea blends a bunch of unlikely genres to create a story filled with adventure, romance and Johnson’s signature humor (the one thing that really does seem to come through in every book).

Possible Pairings: Girl Overboard by Justina Chen, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Jungle Crossing by Sydney Salter, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle

Scarlett Fever: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Scarlett Fever by Maureen JohnsonSummer’s end is upon the Hopewell Hotel and the Martin family. After a summer spent working around the Hamlet production taking place in the Hopewell’s dining room, Scarlett Martin is ready to make a new start in all aspects of her life.

In fact, all of the Martin children seem to be working toward something this fall. Lola, the eldest, seems adrift and desperate to find something to cling to. Spencer is still trying to launch his acting career–even if it could mean playing one of the most hated characters of all time. And Marlene, the youngest Martin, is being nice; a little too nice to avoid raising suspicion among the other Martins in fact.

Meanwhile Scarlett is determined to stay on track at her rigorous high school–even if her new lab partner is determined to drive her insane. More importantly Scarlett is ready to get over Eric, her dreamy almost-boyfriend from the summer. Scarlett is even prepared to deal with her new job assisting Mrs. Amberson, formerly the Hopewell’s crazy resident, now Spencer’s crazy agent.

When Mrs. Amberson acquires her second client, a rising Broadway star Scarlett’s age, everything starts to get complicated. Scarlett finds herself dragged into the lives of both the new client Chelsea and her maddeningly annoying older brother Max (see mention of new lab partner above). Resolutions aside, nothing goes quite the way Scarlett planned, but maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be in Scarlett Fever (2010) by Maureen Johnson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Scarlett Fever is the sequel to Maureen Johnson’s earlier book Suite Scarlett. It is also the second book in what Johnson says on her website will be a trilogy (the books really stand alone if you happen to for some reason decide to only read this one but really if you are intrigued, reading from the beginning will make it that much more fun). If you thought you liked the first book, boy howdy are you in for a surprise with this one because you are going to LOVE it.

As Johnson’s amazing website puts it, the summer was nothing. In Scarlett Fever school is in session and things are about to get real for Scarlett and the Martin family. Law & Order and a dog with what appears to be Social Anxiety Disorder may or may not also play large roles in the story.

Sometimes with a trilogy, or any extended series, the middle books suffer because everyone knows the books before and after will be around to pick up the slack. This situation creates what I refer to as a bridge book– a book that cannot stand without the support of the series (I’m looking at you Playing with Fire).

That situation does not exist here. While I’ll never suggest skipping books in a series, you could here. Johnson provides just enough information about earlier events without getting repetitive or, gasp, boring. The story here is also fully developed and grounded, for the most part, in this book. There are, of course, unresolved threads since there is going to be a third book.

Maureen Johnson is a really funny writer, a fact that is especially clear on her blog and when she tweets. Being a talented writer, Johnson sometimes handles some heavy issues which don’t always allow her keen humor to come through. It comes through in Scarlett Fever without making this a slapstick story . . . except maybe for that one time with the cake.

I fell in love with Suite Scarlett when I saw the hardcover jacket (the paperback with the key was a bit of a surprise although having had time to acclimate I quite like the key cover for this book) but, to be brutally honest, I was really disappointed that Eric was so lame compared to Scarlett’s brother Spencer (who remains incredibly awesome). Happily, Eric is not in Scarlett Fever as much and his vacancy is filled by Max who is a much more enjoyable, generally fantastic, foil for Scarlett. I can’t wait to for Scarlett 3 to come out, whenever that is, because I’m hoping it will have a lot more Max!

Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, City Love by Susane Colasanti, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, New York City: A Short History by George J. Lankevich, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, The Statistical Probability of True Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Semi-related: Points to anyone who can direct me to the real life counterpart of Sonny Lavinski (if there is one which I don’t even know)

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.

Find it on Bookshop.

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, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, 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