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. 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

Eleven for 2011

2011 was a big year for me and the blog–lots of changes and lots of new milestones. I started posting author interviews, I was quoted on a real live book, the blog turned four. I even started tagging my posts! Since I really enjoyed sharing my top books from 2010 (and since it seemed like a fitting way to close out the year on the blog) I give you my eleven favorite books from 2011:

  1. The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta: This was one of my most anticipated books for 2011. Aside from being by Melina Marchetta–it’s a companion to one of my all-time favorite books Saving Francesca. Given its spot on this list, you can probably guess that it lived up to my high expectations.
  2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: Maggie Stiefvater is one of the most personable authors I’ve ever encountered at a signing. When I got a copy of this book at BEA all I really knew was that everyone was excited about it and there were horses. But it’s so much more that than. A truly charming fantasy that fans of Diana Wynne Jones would do well to pick up.
  3. Strings Attached by Judy Blundell: Judy Blundell’s books are magic with their blend of noir, historical detail and New York City atmosphere. In addition to having one of my favorite covers, it also has my favorite last line of 2011.
  4. Goliath by Scott Westerfeld: If you read this blog regularly, you probably know my love for steampunk already. I loved Westerfeld’s books before this series but this wonderful conclusion to the Leviathan trilogy clinched it’s spot as my favorite of his series. Definitely my most-loved sequel this year.
  5. Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter: After The Piper’s Son, this book might have been my most anticipated 2011 release. It also played a huge role in getting me and Nicole over to Book Expo America for the first time. Sleek and smart, this book reminded me why Carter’s Heist Society books are my favorite ongoing series.
  6. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: (I didn’t want to put one author on this list twice but I should say that The Last Little Blue Envelope also garnered an honorable mention for being a sequel I loved more than the original book.) Eerie, suspenseful, funny and witty this book really showed Maureen Johnson at the top of her game. Also, it had Stephen–best character EVER.
  7. Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough: This book was a big part of my year as I was quoted on the galley copies (very exciting!). I love all of MacCullough’s books but this one combined a lot of most beloved elements with magic, time travel, history and New York City all in one slim volume full of fun.
  8. All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin: A clever take on fantasy in a dystopian setting complete with illegal chocolate. The whole book felt so real and evocative with characters that stay with you–I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.
  9. Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel: Zombies, steampunk, action, and romance! What more do you need for a fun, clever read?
  10. So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti: I feel like my summer was closely tied to this book as Nicole and I kept running into Ms. Colasanti at numerous signings and events promoting this book. Set in my own neighborhood, this romantic story was as much fun to read for the settings as it was for the characters and the story.
  11. Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg: Who doesn’t love Pride and Prejudice? This delightful retelling stays true to the original while adding fun twists to make it modern and unique. In addition to being my first Eulberg book, seeing Ms. Eulberg read from this one confirmed that I really, really want Elizabeth Eulberg to be my BFF.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan: Somehow it wouldn’t feel right to publish this post without mentioning this book as it was another highly anticipated book. (Not to mention that I finally got to see SRB at a signing!)
  • Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare: This will probably be the last book I read in 2011 and is part of my other favorite steampunk series (besides Leviathan). I haven’t reviewed it yet but it’s awesome so far!

I limited myself to books I read in 2011 that were published in 2011–but there were a lot of other great ones. There were actually a lot just from 2011 but I committed to eleven books so eleven books is all you get, dear readers.

Here’s to another year of great things for all of us and, of course, great books too in 2012!

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.

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

Summertime and the Reading is Easy: A Book List

School might be starting and summer might be fading but with these books you can hold out to that summery feeling any time of year.

  • Clarity by Kim Harrington: Everyone in town knows Clarity Fern’s family is uniquely “gifted” and that Clare is a psychic. But when a tourist turns up murdered, no one expects Clare to be key to the investigation anymore than they expect her older brother to be a suspect.
  • Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson: Clio has the perfect summer planned. Too bad no one told her father. Instead of a perfect summer romance Clio ends up with . . . well she isn’t sure yet except that it involves her being on a boat with her father, an incredibly annoying assistant and her father’s new flame. Oh and maybe treasure.
  • A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley: Charlie Duskin lives and breathes music. Rose Butler is mad about science and she wants out of her nowhere town so much that it hurts. Charlie and Rose have nothing in common but by the end of the summer they might help each other get everything they’ve been longing for.
  • Sea Change by Aimee Friedman: Many are drawn to Selkie Island. Few know why. All Miranda Merchant knows is that the island, and the boy she meets there, are different. Miranda will have to sort through the facts, and the myths, to find the truth and maybe even her own happy ending.
  • The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti: Quinn has grown up in the shadow of bad relationships. Quinn already knew that her father wasn’t perfect. Charming, witty, fun Barry can also be selfish, irresponsible and vindictive. When she realizes that Barry has amassed trophies from every one of his ex-girlfriends, Quinn knows she has to take action.

This is only half of the list. For the other half, head over to The Book Bandit’s Blog.

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.

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.