Book review: ‘The Last Little Blue Envelope’ by Maureen Johnson

It’s been months since Ginny Blackstone left Greece without the final of a series of envelopes from her beloved Aunt Peg — a collection of instructions that took her on a cross-European adventure and got her break out of her timid shell. While carrying out the last of Peg’s wishes, Ginny’s bag was stolen . . . and the last envelope was gone with it.

Back in the U.S., Ginny receives mysterious word that someone has discovered her bag — and Peg’s instructions. Relieved, scared and excited, Ginny leaves for London in the hope that she’ll be able to finish the project she started. But returning to England and meeting Oliver, the new keeper of the envelopes, does nothing but reopen old wounds. Coupled with discovering that Keith, the enigmatic and handsome actor she met on her first tour, is still in London — but not still single — Ginny is quickly realizing her life could get out of control.

But she’s on a mission — and has a job to finish. It might take most of her money and a bit of her sanity, but it’s time to take the plunge.

Maureen Johnson’s The Last Little Blue Envelope, sequel to her madcap adventure 13 Little Blue Envelopes, is an international romp I enjoyed even more than the first book. For all her traveling and bravado, Ginny still seems meek — but it’s the appearance of Oliver, a brooding Brit with an agenda, that really spices up the story.

The strength of this book — of all the Johnson books I’ve read — is her cutting sense of humor. The wit isn’t as overt in The Last Little Blue Envelope as it is on Twitter, perhaps, but Johnson has a talent for creating surreal situations that enchant readers and draw them heavily into a story. The pacing was brisk and exciting, and I couldn’t help but feel like something crazy was going to happen at any minute.

Being obsessed with travel, the Envelope books were both fascinating reads for me. Ginny’s adventures this go ’round take her to Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin, London and Wales, and reading about Ireland was a warm, refreshing change of pace. I did a double take after reading that Richard, Ginny’s pseudo-uncle, lives in Islington; Ginny took the Angel tube stop to reach his home. In April, I stayed at a hotel just blocks from there and used the Angel station as our “home base” on the trip. It was exciting to see it in print and immediately have a mental picture to accompany it.

I loved the romantic tension between Oliver, Ginny and Keith — not all together, of course — and thought Johnson did well to make Oliver so different from the previous object of Ginny’s affection. You want to dislike Oliver — and distrust him — but Keith somehow comes out looking like a bigger prat. I was rooting for Oliver and Ginny almost from the beginning.

And that wasn’t hard to do. The book isn’t terribly unpredictable, as it were; in fact, I could spot the ending early on. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still fun meandering Amsterdam’s canals and Paris’ cafes with this random assortment of characters, and I finished this book in two sittings. A fun, diverting read — especially for the armchair traveler.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0061976792 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘Scarlett Fever’ by Maureen Johnson

For Scarlett Martin, life at her family’s aging New York City hotel has become significantly darker since her summer romance with Eric dissipated. Scarlett’s actor brother, Spencer, has found himself a pretty exciting new gig — all at the hands of Mrs. Amberson, the Hopewell Hotel’s eccentric former resident. Even with her out of the Martins’ hotel, Mrs. Amberson keeps Scarlett on the payroll at the talent agency she establishes . . . and, needing the cash, Scarlett stays on as her assistant. Even when Mrs. Amberson’s new clients include an overworked teen Broadway star and her annoying — but adorable — brother.

As Spencer’s career takes off in a controversial way, Scarlett grapples with typical teenage family drama. Her younger sister Marlene, once a disgruntled kid and cancer survivor, has become curiously kind and attentive. Oldest sister Lola is back with Chip, her rich blue-blood boyfriend, and the Martins as a whole are none to pleased about it. Still, there’s something to be said for finding a ticket out of the family’s tight finances . . . isn’t there?

Maureen Johnson’s Scarlett Fever, sequel to 2008’s Suite Scarlett, is a fun, light look at teenage Scarlett’s attempts to heal her broken heart, mend friendships and keep her screwball family up and running. The Martins, eccentric though they may be, are a hard-working crew I’ve come to love and appreciate through two novels’ worth of focus.

With the razor-sharp wit for which she’s known on Twitter, Johnson approaches the never-ending drama rampant in her Scarlett books with humor — and tenderness. Through everything that befalls them, there’s never any doubt that the four Martin siblings love one another . . . even when they kind of want to kill each other, too. As I mentioned after finishing the first book in the series, it’s really refreshing to see a family portrayed with the right balance of affection and disdain. Because, you know, who hasn’t wanted to punch their sister in the brain from time to time? That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t destroy a cake for them. Or something.

My beef with the novel is the same as before . . . I don’t know that the third-person narration really adds anything to the story. Overall, I would have enjoyed Scarlett Fever more if we’d seen the entire story through the lens of Scarlett’s own perspective. As it stands, she’s our titular character — but I wished I’d been even more inside her mind at times. Not a novel-ruiner, but just something that irked me.

Fans of young adult fiction — and Johnson’s hilarious tweets! — will find plenty to enjoy in the Scarlett books, brimming with entertainment and warmth. And if the cliff-hanger of an ending is any indication, looks like we’ll have a third novel to add to the stacks sometime soon.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0439899281 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Copy borrowed from my local library

Book review: ‘Suite Scarlett’ by Maureen Johnson

suite_scarlettSince turning 15, Scarlett Martin’s life has changed in an astounding rush: she’s now in charge of a suite at her family’s business, the charming but decaying Hopewell Hotel in New York City; her brother Spencer has finally landed an acting gig, introducing her Spence’s gorgeous fellow actor and Southern gentleman Eric; she’s making in-roads toward spending more time with little sister Marlene; and she’s been introduced to Amy Amberson, her suite’s dynamic, demanding and semi-famous resident.

Under Mrs. Amberson’s guidance, the summer opens before Scarlett like a fan: full of unexpected turns, small adventures, money and new friendships. As the financial situation at the Hopewell seems to become more and more desperate, the Martin siblings — Scarlett, Lola, Spencer and Marlene — try to find new ways of chipping in and helping their worn-out parents drum up some new business. Ironically, Mrs. Amberson’s arrival starts to do wonders almost immediately.

Above all, Maureen Johnson’s Suite Scarlett was a really fun, almost whimsical look at the bonds of one family. I have to say honestly how refreshing it was to read a story about a family that wasn’t fractured, difficult, divorced or not speaking to one another. While the Martins have their difficulties, they definitely love one another.

Each character in the novel was fleshed-out and almost larger than life. While I could argue they were a bit “typecast” — Spencer is the funny one, the ambitious actor trying to make his way acting in the city; Lola is the type-A oldest sister, trying to keep everything afloat, etc. — I can’t honestly say this bugged me at all. Though Scarlett is our titular character, Johnson’s novel is in third person; we pop in and out of everyone’s heads, getting their take on the scene before them. Surprisingly, I loved that about it.

The sense of place in this novel was awesome — I really felt like I’d stepped into the Hopewell’s lobby and was looking up at the sparkling (but dusty) chandelier as the Martin siblings scurried around. The mild romance that developed in the story was cute, and I loved all of the theatre references as Spencer’s play gets underway.

Overall, a fast and fantastic read — and a really different, fun way to spend time in New York City. I could pack up my little suitcase and get to the Hopewell to share in family dinner and catch a performance myself! The book’s sequel, Scarlett Fever, was released in February 2010.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0545096324 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Beach reading

beach_feetFar more complicated, time-consuming and stressful than making sure I have the right clothes, shoes and sunscreen to take on vacation is deciding which books to take. My family vacations at the Outer Banks every summer — and every summer, I struggle with making sure I have the right novels to accompany me on my much-needed break!

Packing books for London last month was simple — in my “freetime,” I knew I wouldn’t really have my eyes open long enough to actually read anything. So I only brought a book, the I’d saved just for the plane ride to England: Megan McCafferty’s Charmed Thirds. And I picked up a few British books on my way home, of course, including Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone!

But this time I don’t have to worry about the heft of my suitcase and whether or not I can pull it single-handedly up and off the Tube. Oh, no — Dad and I are traveling in the SUV with plenty of space for a ridiculous amount of books! And now I have to comb my TBR stack, near collapse, for the best few to bring.

footprints“Beach reads” are, by their nature, light, breezy and often funny novels that can be read and absorbed quickly while, say, sitting out in the blazing hot sunshine with the dull roar of waves crashing behind you. I happen to think it’s a little mean to narrowly classify books as “beach reads” — often meaning they’re a little silly, not really worth thinking about — but there are some books that are just such fun, it’s easy to label them in that category.

Last summer at the beach, I carried the entire Twilight series around with me! I finished Twilight on the car ride down, began New Moon within the first few days and had a hard time setting it down the whole time I was away. Wanting to pace myself a bit, I picked up Elin Hilderbrand’s A Summer Affair at the end of the week, and I definitely enjoyed that.

And now, standing on the precipice of a fresh new vacation and a new opportunity to read like I might never read again, I think I’ve narrowed this year’s selections down . . .

Meg’s Beach Books ’09

along_for_the_rideSarah Dessen’s Along For The Ride

I rushed out on my lunch break today to grab Dessen’s latest novel, which I eagerly blogged about last Wednesday. After I carefully remove the beautiful dust jacket, that baby will be ready to sail along with me! In fact, I’m pushing it up on the top of the stack — I just have to devour that one whole. I’ll break it out as soon as we’re on the road.

Megan McCafferty’s Fourth Comings

Much like my London adventure, I’ve been saving the fourth installment in McCafferty’s awesome Jessica Darling series for another grand occasion! And I think this is finally it. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Jessica and Marcus, although reading reviews for the last two books has spoiled (a bit of) the fun for me. That’s okay, though — I have to absorb all of it myself!


Sarah Strohmeyer’s The Penny Pinchers Club

Okay, this one is cheating a little bit — because I’ve already started it! But I’m almost finished and can’t bear to leave it behind. It’s a really light, funny story about a woman who believes her husband is planning on divorcing her after she spends 20 years working her way through their savings account with her out-of-control spending — and actually a cheeky look at what we think we “need” in our society, and why. With only 40 pages to go, I’m touting it along on the sand!

Meg Cabot’s Airhead

As one of Cabot’s devout followers, I’m ashamed to say I haven’t started this series yet! I purchased the first novel in anticipation of my last trip, but ultimately decided I wouldn’t have time to read it while away. I’m eager to start!

suite_scarlettMaureen Johnson’s Suite Scarlett

Johnson is another author I thought I should have gotten to know a long time ago, but only recently read her European adventure novel 13 Little Blue Envelopes. While I felt that story was just a little too emotionally detached for my tastes, I appreciated the quality of Johnson’s writing and voice! I’m looking forward to reading this one, which seems to have been heralded all over the YA book world.

Book review: ’13 Little Blue Envelopes’ by Maureen Johnson

13_littleAfter the early death of her adventurous (and eccentric) Aunt Peg, Ginny embarks on a trans-Atlantic romp that brings her from London to Greece, Rome, Copenhagen (and back again) by way of instructions in thirteen envelopes written by Peg to recreate her own travels through Europe. Worried that her beloved niece has been too quiet and shy for far too long, Peg develops the envelope adventure as a way to bring Ginny to a totally new place — and give her the ride of her life — after she is no longer there to guide her into adulthood.

I really enjoyed Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes, though I felt as though there was a disconnect between Ginny and everyone around her. Because the book was told in third person and we weren’t privy to Ginny’s private thoughts, the book seemed to amble along and keep us totally separate from our main character. She seemed numb — someone emotionally stunted. And after she meets boisterous and talented actor Keith in London, we only find out she’s somehow interested in him through a letter she writes to her best friend . . . a person we never actually meet. It was just a whole lot of telling and not enough showing for my taste. At the end of the novel, I still felt like I didn’t really knew Ginny at all.

But that being said, I can’t say I didn’t like this book . . . I really did. I loved the glimpses of European cities, especially the ones I’ve visited. Y’all know me well enough to be sure my little heart was palpitating at Ginny’s adventures in England and the friendship she strikes up with Richard, a man from Peg’s past.  Aunt Peg’s letters were really interesting, and I found myself reading compulsively to see where they would guide her next. The characters she met along the way were fun.

This was definitely an easy read — I finished it fast. Perfect for a car or plane ride. I would have liked a little more resolution at the end of the novel — what happened with the love interest? that was just it? and what’s going to happen to Ginny now? — but my fun reading about the international locations saved it for me.

3.75 out of 5!

ISBN: 159514191X ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg